All This for Nothing

Looking forward to a new episode of Breaking Bad tonight. Last night I re-watched the previous episode, and while it was superb from start to finish, one line struck me the most: Walt was lying on the bathroom floor, insisting that Skyler never give up the money, and says “Please don’t let me have done all this for nothing“. It was clear then that once he realized the end was near, he came back to his original motivation for entering the meth underworld: to provide for his family after his death. As despicable as Walt’s actions have been, you could at least understand how he rationalized the brutality of his reign as Heisenberg. As long as he knows that his family is taken care of, he can face his upcoming mortality.

Contrast that with Jesse’s melancholy: he did all this for the money, period. He did it to get rich, and now that he is, he realizes the cost to his own sanity to have left such a trail of bloodshed was too much. That’s why he gave away his money: maybe by enriching someone else’s life he might feel that his actions have brought some good to the world instead of just death and suffering.

Bastrop Revisited

Bastrop, TX is a city about an hour or so away from Austin. It is also largely synonymous with the most destructive wildfire in Texas history, which began in September, 2011.

Last weekend I drove up to PyTexas, which was held at Texas A&M University, and my route led me through the Bastrop area. Nearly two years later the effect of the fire is still very striking: you’re driving along, passing through typical countryside areas, and then – black, burnt trees for miles. There is new vegetation springing up around these dead trees, but it just seemed to emphasize the destruction even more.

On my way home from the conference I pulled off the road as I passed through the area again, and took a few photos in this one small section of the devastation. I’ve posted them in an album on Google+. They don’t really do justice to the feeling you get driving through miles and miles of similar scenery, but they show the damage that was done, and how little things have recovered in two years.

PyCon Canada Review

It’s been almost a week since PyCon Canada ended, and I had meant to write up a review, but I was busy, so better late than never.

Besides an opportunity to learn more about Python, this conference served as a “training ground” for next year’s PyCon Montréal, which is where the 2014 US PyCon will be held. Yeah, I know, it seems silly to still call it PyCon US instead of PyCon North America, but I suppose it has to do with domain names, trademarks, etc., so I’ll refrain from ranting about that. So to that end, I volunteered to be an MC for roughly half of the total conference. Normally for PyCon you have two roles: Session Chair, who introduces the speaker, times the talk, and manages the Q&A session; and Session Runner, who makes sure that the speaker gets from the green room to the correct session room, and who handles any problems such as missing video adapters, etc. But for PyCon CA, this was changed so that there was an MC and a Runner. The MC was someone with experience from PyCon US, and they served for half of the day in the room. There were fresh runners for each session, but rather than just escort the speaker, they did everything that session chairs and runners do, with the MC guiding them and making sure that they knew what was expected, and who could help out if there were any problems. So in many ways, though I spent half the conference running the talks, I felt like I hardly did anything. The runners did just about everything, and I only had to help out a few times. I have no worries that they’ll be ready for the big leagues next year!

As expected, there were many interesting sessions. I’m not going to give you a summary of everything I saw that I liked, but instead I’ll touch on a few highlights. Probably the one that made the biggest impression on me had nothing to do with Python per se, but instead was about Sketch, a programming language designed by MIT to get children thinking about programming without saddling them with the tedium of learning syntax. This was shown in the keynote on Sunday given by Karen Brennan, who is an Assistant Professor of Education at Harvard University. Besides making it easy for the kids to get started learning about programming concepts, it also makes it easy for them to share their projects, or to take someone else’s project and add to it. In other words, they are teaching kids about the benefits of open source and shared code! And while it’s designed for kids, I think it would also be a huge benefit for non-technical adults by helping familiarize themselves with programming without having to get totally geeked out.

Another talk I enjoyed was Git Happens, which was given by Jessica Kerr. This was one of the talks for which I was MC’ing, and hadn’t otherwise planned on attending, as I’m comfortable enough with Git. But rather than be bored, her way of explaining how Git works was much, much clearer than I have ever been able to manage when helping someone else get up to speed with Git.

Brandon Rhodes gave an excellent talk entitled Skyfield and 15 Years of Bad APIs , which covered his efforts to re-write his astronomical calculation library. It was fascinating to see how decisions which seemed reasonable at the time turned out to be less than optimal, and how he learned from them to make the new version much cleaner. As an aside, if you haven’t seen Brandon talk, you’re missing something special. He blends insight with an extremely dry sense of humor, making for a very enjoyable session.

I’ve already written about Dana Bauer‘s Red Balloon demo, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that it captivated the attention of everyone in the room.

My talk was basically the same talk I had given the previous month at PyCon Australia, but in a much shorter time slot: 20 minutes instead of 45! I spent much of the time before the conference consolidating my slides, and eliminating anything I could in order to cut the length of the talk. I practiced giving the session over and over, speaking as fast as I could. When the time came, I apologized in advance for the speed at which I was about to give the talk, and then blazed through it. To my surprise, I managed to finish it in 18 minutes, and had time for a few questions! Afterwards I spoke with some who attended the talk to get an idea how it seemed to them, and they didn’t feel like I skipped over anything that made it hard to follow, which was my goal when I was paring it down.

After the sessions had ended, I went with a fairly large group of people to a local restaurant. I didn’t know very many people, and those with whom I sat were all from the team in Montréal who were going to be running PyCon 2014. They started out as strangers, but by the end of the evening (and more than a few pitchers of beer!), we became friends, and I look forward to seeing them again in Montréal next April!

Vacation, and Catching Up

I had a few days between PyCon Canada and PyTexas, so I took my first vacation days in a long time to drive down to Rochester, NY, and visit my family and friends. For those who don’t know my history, I lived in the Rochester area for 15 years before moving to San Antonio a little more than 2 years ago, and since then I haven’t been back. That means that I hadn’t seen any of my friends since then, and, what was even stranger, I hadn’t seen my older son Mike in that time, either. Sure, we talked on the phone and video chatted from time to time, but it is really odd to think that it had been over two years since I had been in the same room as this person who dominated my life for so many years. I guess that’s the difference between having children and having adult offspring.

With such a short visit it was hard to consider it a proper “vacation”, but it was really refreshing to my soul to re-establish contact with some of the people who have played a significant role in my life. And it was fun to see Rocco, my puppy of many years!


PyCon Canada Begins!

Today was the opening of PyCon Canada 2013, with some volunteer prep work to get things ready in the afternoon, followed by a casual mixer in the evening. This is only the second PyCon here in Canada, and it’s already grown significantly from last year’s small venue. I didn’t go to that one, but I’ve been told it was small enough to be held in a Legion hall. This year it is being held in the Chestnut Conference Centre, which is part of the University of Toronto.


The mixer was a lot of fun, with food and beverages graciously supplied by Upverter. I got to meet several people as well as connect with many others whom I had already met. Based on my small sampling, there was a good mix of seasoned Python developers and relative newcomers to the language. One of the best parts about conferences like this is learning what others are doing with the language, and there was a wide range just in the discussions that I had: some doing web development, while others focused on internal tools for their companies, while still another was working with medical research teams to analyze data.

The conference proper begins tomorrow morning, with a keynote by Jacob Kaplan-Moss, followed by a full day of sessions. My talk isn’t until Sunday afternoon, which means that I’ll probably spend a lot of tomorrow revising my slides again and again between now and then.