by brian d foy

Note: As I correct mistakes in typing, diction, noun choice, I'll simply strike out what was there. You can use this to gauge how exhausted I am and how that changes throughout the conference.

Monday morning Randal and I made it down to the Oregon Convention Center around 10:30. Everyone was in their tutorial sessions so the place had the feel of a slepy airport. It's spacious, mostly on one level, and there are several indoor shops, including Starbucks, Kinko's, and a gift shop. There are some, but not a lot, inflatable seats and sofas along some of the walls, and a few small tables outside the Starbucks. It's too bad that there aren't more tables---the conference support for the "hallway sessions" isn't there, or at least not yet. Some bigger tables, especially with power pulled to them), would sure help people sit next to each other.

I wander around a bit, find my press pass, get a speaker pass somehow, and also end up with a decent conference backuppack. Usually us low-life press and speaker types don't get the bag or the cool stuff that comes with it, but I'm not complaining. Well, I could complain a little. The backup is tapered toward the top so It doesn't fit my Powerbook. Oh well.

As I wander around I notice a lot of nice Dell monitors. That's right: Dell, not Apple. Apple decided in one of their fits of cultish behavior not to sponsor things that aren't them. There are no shiny Apple displays, the registration desks are missing the cool Apple displays, and there is no Apple terminal room. Actually, there might not even be a terminal room. I haven't found it yet, but I haven't looked that hard either.

A large group led by Schwern heads out for lunch. I guess the conference isn't providing food this year (and I realize that I don't see any snacks in the afternoon either). There are plenty of places close by, including which serves all-fresh-never-frozen food. Schwern's group ends up there, but the line is already long so a group splinters off to go to Red Robin>, a burger chain only a short block away. The splinter group ends comprising Randal, I, Adam Kennedy (Perl Parsing, JavaScript Archive Network (JSAN), Perl modules list), Bill Odom (The Perl Foundation), Ricardo Signes (Rubric), Kevin Altis (Pythoncard.org), and one more Python guy I'm forgetting.

The conversation at lunch is good: it's not the fistfight that people expect between proponents of different languages. The toughest part of the whole affair is the waitress who wants to ask too many questions, and pauses a bit too long between them. Just when we think she's finished bothering us and we start talking again, she asks another question. It was so effectively distracting that I started to smell intent. No matter: once we got our lunch and she left us alone, we spent a lot of time talking about CPAN and JSAN, the new JavaScript Archive Network, and how all of that might apply to Python. The short answer is that these things work because there is no barrier to entry (i.e. no editorial control) and that the base layer is just a storage mechanism. Everything else is a separate project the build on top of (or to the side of) everything else. That way, you don't have to have all the answers to start building the archive. At first it's just the storage, and you have to be patient enough for eveything else to show up incrementally. All the CPAN add-ons weren't built in a day, or even by the same people.

After lunch I set up camp outside the Starbucks in the convention center. It's at the nexus of two major halls, so just about everybody has to walk by the table. Chip Salzenberg (Geeksunite and now Cloudmark spam ninjas) shows up and joins the camp, followed by Dave Adler (New York Perl Mongers), Ricardo, Jan Dubois (ActiveState), Gisle Aas (creator of libwww-perl), Josh McAdams (PerlCast, which is podcasting from OSCON), and many other people who join and part throughout the afternoon. It's definitely the cool table (there are only six to choose from, so the odds where already good and we had already stolen the chairs from the surrounding tables, lessening their chances). That was the afternoon hallway session and many people wandered by with a longing look in their eye not realizing they could just pull up a chair and we wouldn't mind (and I'd talk about that later in the "Conference for Beginner's" BOF later that night.

The best thing about conferences are the things that don't happen in the talks, known as the "hallway sessions". A conference is all about getting people together, so it's kinda silly to program their whole day to make them sit in a dark room and not say anything. Get out and met people! Seee the faces behind the screen names. Autrijus Tang and his Pugs crew turned conferences and workshops into multi-day hack fests. They discovered that although online collaboration is good, in person is even better. Unfortunately, the United States government is so paranoid about foreigners and air travel that Autrijus has given up being mistreated by our government and won't come back to the US until we fix it (and that's not looking good).

I skipped dinner, still digesting my lunch, because the Perl Trainer's BOF started at 6. I had just enough time to take a backstage tour of the convention hall with Randal and Jim Brandt led by Ted, the guy in charge of the electrons for the facility. We got to see the network closet which collects allthe internal traffic and sends it up a radio antenna "pointed somewhere". We saw where they store hundreds of chairs, tables, whatevers, and got to ride in the staff golf cart. It looks big in the user space, but it's even bigger behind those locked doors. Ted was able to explain to me why my laptop wasn't charging from the wall outlet in the conference hall: the janitorial staff run high powered vacuum cleaners from those wall outlets and don't bother to tell anyone when they short them out.

Peter Scott's annual Perl Trainer's BOF (Birds Of a Feather) had 15 or so people, but this year a lot of the people where teaching in academic environments. Although we all introduced ourselves at the beginning, some people didn't recognize Randal's or my name, so when one guy started talking rather unfairly about "Learning Perl" (he hadn't seen the latest or the previous edition, so was operating on very, very dated information, but maybe he didn't see the press release that turned up on my RSS reader while he was talking---now that's internet time for you), he not only didn't realize we were the authors, but also thought we were O'Reilly editors and wanted to pitch a book. No biggee, stuff happens and I've done that sort of thing myself.

Following that, Jim Brandt led the "Conferences for Beginners" BOF. At YAPC::NA in Toronto he had noticed that about half the people had never been to a conference before. They didn't quite understand the culture (Why is everyone looking at their laptops during talks? Why are all the laptops Powerbooks?) and that they were reticent to join in conversations or groups since they didn't know anyone. This is our first time putting together a talk like this and we hope to do it at other conferences as a sort of training camp or kindergarten so that people can get the most out of their conference dollars.

That was about all I could handle for the night, and although it was late (8-ish?), the sun was still up. My body was still on East Coast time though. Despite that, I needed some marionberries. It's a local Oregon food: a cross between the tart raspberry and the sweet blackberry made in Marion County, Oregon. You end up with a killer super-sized berry that ends up in cobblers, pies, jams, and milkshakes at Burgerville. I'd already been to several restaurants in the area but hadn't found the marionberry yet. Randal, Jim Brandt, and I ended up at McMenamins Pub, an Oregon chain. In fact, we ended up in the same pub where Randal had his first beer, the "Ruby", a raspberry ale. I felt like a part of history, and definitely had a new trivial item since his first wasn't "Pearl". I didn't see a "Python" ale on the menu.

Glory be, McMenamins had Marionberry Cobbler, although the server apologized that they were out of whipped cream. Damn the whipped cream, full marionberries ahead! Marionberry Cobbler all around my good man!

As promised, the cobbler was good, but Randal also noted it was probably made from frozen berries so I shouldn't think that I've had the true marionberry experience just yet. I should wait for a marionberry milkshake at burgerville, although I'm unlikely to get one. I can also stop by The Oregon Store in the airport to by some preserves on my way out.

So ended day one, exhausted and sated. To me, it already felt like wednesday.


2005-08-02 13:22:45
Having been to 5 OSCONs in a row, but missing this year's, this blog takes me right back :) Thanks brian.
2005-08-12 20:57:36
You nailed me
Quoting: "At YAPC::NA in Toronto he had noticed that about half the people had never been to a conference before. They didn't quite understand the culture (Why is everyone looking at their laptops during talks? Why are all the laptops Powerbooks?) and that they were reticent to join in conversations or groups since they didn't know anyone."

Those were EXACTLY the two questions I left Toronto still wondering! I laughed out loud when I read your column, Brian!