Last Thanksgiving we went on a wonderful holiday in the Florida Keys. We flew to Miami, picked up a rental car from Hertz, and drove away. There are a couple of toll roads along the way, but we had Hertz’s PlatePass, which would work on those toll sensors. I’ve used similar things with other rental companies, where a few weeks later I receive a bill for the accumulated tolls.
Not with PlatePass, however. Not only did I get a bill for the tolls (about $11), but a $25 service charge on top of that! Turns out that Hertz charges $5 a day (up to $25), even on days when you don’t run up any tolls! I’m stuck paying this, but you can be sure that I will avoid using and recommending Hertz in the future. Yeah, I found out that it’s documented on the website, but it wasn’t documented when I got in the car, nor was I given an option to disable it. So yeah, Hertz and/or PlatePass made an extra $25 off of me on that trip, but they will lose so much more than that in the future. This is what happens when businesses are short-sighted and go after the quick buck instead of developing long-term relationships with their customers.
PyCon 2015 ended over a week ago, so you might be wondering why I’m writing this so late. Well, once again (see my PyCon 2014 post) I blame the location: the city of Montreal. We like it so much that Linda and I planned on staying a few extra days on holiday afterwards. After returning, though, I again payed the price by digging out from the accumulated backlog. It was well worth it, though!
If you weren’t able to go to PyCon, or even if you were there and don’t possess the ability to be in multiple places at once, you missed a lot of excellent talks. But no need to worry: the A/V team did an amazing job this year, and not only recorded every session, but got them posted to YouTube in record time – many just a few hours after the talk was completed! Major kudos to them for an excellent job.
PyCon is an amazing effort by many people, all of whom are volunteers. One of my favorite volunteer activity is the stuffing of the swag bags. Think about it: over 3,000 attendees each receive a bag filled with the promotional materials from the various sponsors. Those items – flyers, toys, pens, etc. – are shipped from the sponsors to PyCon, and somehow one of each must get put into each one of those bags. Over the years we’ve iterated on the approach, trying all sorts of concurrency models, and have finally found one that seems to work best: each box of swag has one person to dish it out, and then everyone else picks up an empty bag and walks down the table, and one item of each is deposited in their bag. Actually it took two very long tables, after which the filled bag is handed to another volunteer, who folds and stacks it. It’s both exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. We managed to finish in just under 3 hours, so that’s over 1,000 bags completed per hour!
In between talks, I spent much of my time staffing the OpenStack booth, and talked with many people who had various degrees of familiarity with OpenStack. Some had heard the name, but not much else. Others knew it was “cloud something”, but weren’t sure what that something was. Others had installed and played around with it, and had very specific configuration questions. Many people, even those familiar with what OpenStack was, were surprised to learn that it is written entirely in Python, and that it is by far the largest Python project today. It was great to be able to talk to so many different people and share what the OpenStack community is all about.
Last year PyCon introduced a new conference feature: onsite child care for people who wanted to attend, but who didn’t have anyone to watch their kids during the conference. Now, since my kids are no longer “kids”, I would not have a personal need for this service, but I still thought that it was an incredible idea. Anything that encourages more people to be able to be a part of the conference is a good thing, and one that helps a particularly under-represented group is even better. So in that tradition, there was another enabling feature added this year: live captioning of every single talk! Each room had one of the big screens in the front dedicated to a live captioned stream, so that those attendees who cannot hear can still participate. I took a short, wobbly video when they announced the feature during the opening keynote so you can how prominent the screens were. I have a bit of hearing loss, so I did need to refer to the screen several times to catch what I missed. Just another example of how welcoming the Python community is.
True to last year’s form, one of the keynotes was focused on the online community of the entire world, not just the limited world of Python development. Last year was a talk by John Perry Barlow, former Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sharing his thoughts on government spying and security. This year’s talk was from Gabriella Coleman, a professor of anthropology at McGill University. Her talk was on her work studying Anonymous, the ever-morphing group of online activists, and how they have evolved and splintered in response to events in the world. It was a fascinating look into a little-understood movement, and I would urge you to watch her keynote if you are at all interested in either online security and activism, or just the group itself.
The highlight of the conference for me and many others, though, was the extremely thoughtful and passionate keynote by Jacob Kaplan-Moss that attempts to kill the notion of “rockstar” or “ninja” programmers (ugh!) once and for all. “Hi, I’m Jacob, and I’m a mediocre programmer”. You really do need to find 30 minutes of time to watch it all the way through.
This last point is a long-time peeve of mine: the notion that programming is engineering, and that there are objective measurements that can be applied to it. Perhaps that will be fodder for a future blog post…
One aspect of all PyCons that I’ve been to is the friendships that I have made and renewed over the years. It’s always great to catch up with people you only see once a year, and see how their lives are progressing. It was also fun to take advantage of the excellent restaurants that the host city has to offer, and we certainly did that! On Sunday night, just after the closing of PyCon, we went out to dinner at Barroco, a wonderful restaurant in Old Montreal, with my long-time friends Paul and Steve. Good food, wonderful wine, and excellent company made for a very memorable evening.
This was my 12th PyCon in a row, and I certainly don’t plan on breaking that streak next year, when PyCon US moves back to the US – to Portland, Oregon, to be specific. I hope to see many of you there!
PyCon 2014 happened two weeks ago, and I’m just getting around to write about it now. Why the delay? Well, I took a few days of vacation to explore and enjoy Montréal with my woman after PyCon, and when I returned I found myself trapped under a mountain of work that had built up in my absence. I’ve finally dug myself out enough to take the time to write up my impressions.
This PyCon (my 11th) was different in many ways, not only for the fact that for the first time, the US PyCon was not in the US! It was held in Canada in beautiful (and cold!) Montréal. It was the first time in years that I did not arrive early enough to help with the bag stuffing event, which has always been a highlight of my PyCon experiences. I arrived late Thursday afternoon, and just made it to the Opening Reception, where I not only touched based with my fellow Rackers, but also ran into dozens of Python people I have gotten to know over the years. PyCon is special in that regard: while I have technical contacts at many of the conferences I attend, I consider many of the people at PyCon to be my friends.
He pulled no punches, and let the audience know exactly where he stood on matters of security, openness, government spying, and free information in a society. I enjoyed his talk immensely, but I knew that some with more conservative views might not respond positively to the anti-corporation, anti-BigBrother tone of his talk, and judging by the sight of several people leaving during the talk, I think I was right. Still, I appreciated that the primary conferences for one of the most important Open languages took that risk.
I attended several sessions, and bounced between them and my duties at the Rackspace booth in the vendor area. We were once again a major sponsor of PyCon, and this gives me great pleasure, as I had first convinced Rackspace to become a sponsor shortly after I joined the company 6 years ago. We benefit so much from Python and the work of the PSF, it’s only right that we give something back.
I won’t go into detail about the individual sessions, but I would encourage you to check out the videos of all the talks that are available on the pyvideo site. The quality of the presentations keeps getting better and better every year, which is a great reflection on the talk selection committee, who had to select just 95 talks from a total of 650 proposals. That is a thankless task, so let me say “thank you” to the folks who reviewed all those proposals and made the tough calls.
I would also like to note that this year 1/3 of the speakers were women, and by some estimates, the percentage of female attendees was nearly as high! (They don’t record the sex of a person when they register; hence the need for estimates). This is a phenomenal result in the traditionally male-dominated tech industry, and it isn’t by accident. The PSF has actively encouraged women to attend, both by creating (and standing behind) a Code of Conduct, as well as offering financial assistance to those who might not otherwise be able to attend. And this year was another first: onsite child care during the main conference days. I think this is an amazing addition to PyCon, even though my kids are grown. It allows many people to come who would otherwise not be able, and also encouraged more families to travel together, making PyCon the hub of their vacation plans.
That’s exactly what I did, too. Linda flew into Montréal on Saturday evening, hung around PyCon for the closing session so that she could get a glimpse into the strange geek world I inhabit regularly, and meet some of my friends. We spent the next few days exploring this city that neither of us had visited before, enjoying ourselves immensely. Coming from South Texas, we could have done without the near-freezing temperatures and snow, though! Here was the view from our hotel window:
It was a wonderful vacation, but much too short! We’re really looking forward to returning next year for PyCon 2015!
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.
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!
After a few more days down under, some more observations:
Overall, people in Sydney are not nearly as fat as Americans. What is even more remarkable is that I have not seen any fat children. It takes getting out of America to realize that no, 10-year-olds don’t typically have rolls of fat around their bellies.
I’ve spent hours walking throughout downtown Sydney, in both the residential outskirts, the business office areas, and the tony shopping districts. I have yet to see a single police officer on patrol. Maybe they’re all undercover, but still – in most US cities, there is always a uniformed police presence.
Even though I’m sure there are a number of tourists among the crowds, people on the streets know how to walk without bumping into others. Coming from New York City, I always took this skill for granted – until the first time I tried walking through Boston. Boston is a great town, but no one seems to have any awareness of their surroundings as they walk down the street. Since then I’ve noticed that each city I’ve been in has a general level of sidewalk awareness, though none are close to Boston in terms of obliviousness. Sydney is the first city which approaches NYC in this regard.
I always had the impression that Aussies were heavy beer drinkers – perhaps too many Crocodile Dundee movies. Yet it is difficult to buy beer here unless you know where to look. Convenience stores don’t sell it; supermarkets don’t sell it. The only place I’ve found to buy a beer are the “bottle stores” (their ‘liquor stores’). And while I’ve seen plenty of local beers on tap, I’ve yet to see Fosters anywhere. I’ll bet that if you ask Americans to name an Australian beer, the only one they know of is Fosters.
Understanding people speaking with the native accent isn’t too bad, but it is much, much more difficult to understand them on TV. I initially thought that it was due to crappy speakers on the TV in my hotel, but flipping around I found an old American movie, and the voices were crystal clear. Flip back to an Australian show, and I get about every third word.
I arrived in Sydney this morning. Not only is this my first time in Australia, it’s my first time in a place where cars drive on the left side of the road. I took a cab from the airport, so I didn’t have to deal with it from behind the wheel, but it still seemed very odd visually. Still, it was pretty much what I had anticipated.
What I didn’t anticipate, though, was how different it would be as a pedestrian. When crossing the street, I reflexively turned to the left to look for oncoming traffic, and seeing none, began to cross… until I heard something coming from my right! The reversed traffic flow meant that I had to re-learn how to cross a street!
There is another, much more subtle effect of this that I noticed as a pedestrian: when walking along the sidewalk, I naturally keep to the right, but here more often than not, people keep to the left while walking, too. I suppose that makes sense, given the convention for automobiles, but it was surprising nonetheless. It’s striking how such small differences can change your routine so dramatically by making you focus on things you would normally take for granted.