Monday, 26 July, 2004 at OSCON

by Ann Barcomb

Related link: http://conferences.oreillynet.com/os2004/




The morning dawned cool and overcast, much to the relief of everyone present
for the previous week's heat-wave. The industrial-strength hotel
air-conditioning was almost too intense.




I started the morning with Damian Conway's 'Best Practices' tutorial.
I recently finished participating the lengthy process of setting guidelines
for an organization's code and wanted to see if Damian had some interesting
ideas we hadn't considered.




Damian dove straight in with the issue of style. In my experience, style
is a battleground and the issue is best saved for the end, when everyone
is worn out from discussing the important issues. Damian, however, is braver,
and suggested that because it is less important which style is selected than
to choose and stick with a style, the issue should be tackled right away.




I was pleased to learn that God (according to Damian) and Damian also likes
K & R style, a 4 space tab, and vi. Although I'm not sure I agree with
everything this pair supports, some arguments were quite persuasive. I will
certainly try things Damian's way at least once.




It was when Damian approached the subject of naming schemes that I knew why
I was there. He put in to words the rules I'd internalized but couldn't
express. For example, a subroutine name should give an indication of what
it does, so appropriate naming templates include verb_noun
(set_surname) and verb_noun_preposition (fetch_user_by).




After lunch I attended Tim Bunce's 'Advanced DBI' tutorial. Having previously
limited my DBI complexity to transactions, I was eager to learn more about
what I could do with it.




Tim addressed optimization, error handling, and debugging. His tutorial,
which is also
available on
CPAN
, is lighter reading than the full DBI documentation. It covers
optimization, error handling and debugging. I look forward to the updated
version of his
DBI book
.




I joined a group of people who were going in to town for dinner, then had
the pleasure of browsing in two of Portland's nicer shops:
Powell's
(used and new books) and Buffalo
Exchange
(used clothing). We concluded
the tour with Mio Gelato
(new ice cream). All these establishments are
located near 11th and Burnside and are recommended. I'll be wearing one
of my purchases Wednesday.




After returning to the hotel, Michael Schwern, Bill Odom, and David Adler
offered to help me write this article. We went to the hotel bar, which,
in retrospect, was a poor choice for productivity.




I was on the third paragraph when a woman from a nearby table came over
and introduced herself as Patty. She explained that she was a retired
educator and hoped we could answer some questions about OSCON attendees.




She was puzzled by the fact that she saw people sitting near one another,
concentrating on their laptops. In her eyes, this showed a disturbing lack
of human interaction. We quickly explained that most of the evening had
been spent with our laptops tucked away, but now we were working. As for
many of the people she'd seen, this early in the conference it was likely
that they were speakers polishing their presentations.




This led to further talk on the nature of communication, the merits
face-to-face and online interaction, and the purpose of conferences within
the open-source and free-software communities. I think that by the end,
Patty was convinced that we aren't antisocial and isolated. When we
talk with like-minded people around the globe, collaborate with someone
without knowing her or his given name, and share our code with complete
strangers we're communicating. By explaining more of the ideals of the
community I was able to think about some of the assumptions of what we
consider normal interaction, and what someone like Patty considers
normal.




The most difficult concept to explain was the meritocracy and the
position speakers occupy. Patty had overheard two people on the elevator
talking about using IRC to chat about a speaker during the his or her
presentation. Patty considered this unbelievably rude, and was incredulous
when we spoke of people who speak with IRC projected behind them.
We were unable to persuade her to give a lightning talk to present her
opinions on audience courtesy, in part because she left Tuesday.




It was interesting to note that although Patty peppered her questions
with phrases about not being part of our world she exhibited characteristics
that are valued in this world. She could have observed us and left the
bar with a poor opinion of us, instead of asking questions and engaging in
dialogue. It was such an interesting experience--and certainly the first
time in quite a while that I've encountered someone with no knowledge of
the world I live in--that I am not only writing this Tuesday, I didn't
return to Château Poe (a friend's house) until 03:00 and still
only regretted drinks, not the lack of sleep.