Monday, July 28, 2008

OSCON 2008: Wrap Up

So I've returned from Portland after all of the OSCON activities. The conference was good, but I definitely didn't feel like it was a good as in years past. The keynotes were OK, but there weren't any that were spectacular. I hit a few sessions that were bombs, but I didn't get to one that rocked. Many were good, but nothing off the charts.

Hadoop was big on Thursday. Derek Gottfrid of the New York Times talked about how they used Hadoop and Amazon EC2 to process tons of data. Derek's presentation style is great, which mate the talk entertaining. Some folks from Yahoo were also getting into the nitty gritty details of how the whole thing works too.

The MySQL Proxy talk was good. It seems like a pretty handy tool for performance tuning and all sorts of SQL trickery.

The last talk that stood out to me was Selectricity. The project is a both a site to run elections as well as the software you can use to run elections where ever you want. One point that Benjamin Mako Hill made that I thought was interesting is that most election research goes into government elections... and these are the least likely to change. By building a tool to allow folks to conduct elections for simple things (what movie to see, who will lead the coffee club, etc.) using methods different from plurality, it's a good way to sneak in alternative voting methods to the masses. That way if people get familar with Condercet when voting for the next American Idol, they may be more likely to push for election reform in government elections.

I'm not sure if I'll hit OSCON again next year. I like going because it's nice to get an overview of a lot of different techologies, as opposed to something like Rails Conf. But things did feel pretty shallow this year.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

OSCON 2008: Day 3

Today, I gave my first OSCON talk on Laika. I think that the talk went pretty well. I had plenty of good questions from the audience, and I think I may have been able to snag a few people who were interested in contributing.

The speaking experience was pretty cool. I was in a fairly small room, and probably had about 20 to 30 people in the audience, which was pretty non-threatening. I would have been more nervous in one of the more cavernous rooms with 200 people.

As for the rest of the conference today...

XMPP has a lot of buzz for communicating in the cloud. There were a few talks on that today.

There is a lot of Ruby stuff going on outside of web apps. RAD seems to have a lot of buzz for using Ruby to work with Arduino. Ruby's also behind Adhearsion, a tool for building IVR's.

I missed the talk on CouchDB, but some of the folks I'm out here with said it was great.

On a conference logistics note... I was kinda bummed that some of the talks had filled, so I couldn't get in. I wound up missing the talk on Hypertable as well as one on XMPP in the cloud.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

OSCON 2008: Day 2

Day 2 at OSCON.... Some of the highlights...

Practical Erlang Programming was great. Francesco Cesarini is a great speaker and delivered a great tutorial. While Erlang does make you look at things differently, I can see how it makes it a lot easier to write concurrent code.

While I was physched to see Mark Shuttleworth give a keynote (given my fondness for Ubuntu), the best keynotes tonight were definitley Robert (r0ml) Lefkowitz and Damian Conway.

R0ml's talk compared various software development methodologies to Quintilian's 1st century works on rhetoric. My take on his talk was that open software has a good development methodology since it doesn't really have a requirements phase. Code gets released early an often. Bugs are filed and patches are submitted. Then users and developers can look at bugs and patches are there to determine what is in the next release. This is different form a typical development methodology, where you need to decide what you want up front. In this model, people do what they want, and you take what you like in the end.

On the other hand Damian Conway is somewhere between insane and brilliant. His talks are hillarious, but the stuff that he is actually able to implement is crazy... I'm sure that we'll be seeing some talk of positronic variables on the tubes in the comming days.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

OSCON 2008: Day 1

The first day at OSCON 2008 has come and gone... This year looks to be another good one. Here's what I saw on my first day.

The first session I went to was Python in 3 Hours. While I do most of my work in Ruby, I do try to keep an eye on Python. It seems like a pretty clean scripting language, and quite speedy when compared to Ruby.

The tutorial was good. The material is kinda dry (it's language syntax after all, which is pretty hard to spice up). Steve Holden's presentation was clear and well thought out. I walked away feeling like I could approach Python code now without too much fear. However, I still have some pretty mixed feelings about Python... There are a lot of little things that bother me... having to add a self parameter to instance methods, double under bar naming conventions and the whole significant white space thing. At any rate, I though the tutorial was informative.

The second tutorial I did was Making Things Blink: An Introduction to Arduino. This was a lot of fun. I haven't played with a microcontroller since college... but I've always loved working at the place where software meets hardware.

In the session, we worked through coding for Arduino as well as some basic circuits. The class culminated by building an Etch-a-Sketch. This is accomplished by hooking up two potentiometers to the Arduino, which reads the values and passes them to your computer via USB. We then used Processing to read and visualize the data on the screen. This meant that you could turns the knobs on the pots and draw on the screen pretty cool stuff.

Overall, one of the vibes I'm getting from the conference this year is big data. How do deal with really big databases and how to process tons of data in parallel. We'll see if this continues throughout the conference.