OSCON Highlights

by Anthony Baxter

I thought I'd start this blog by presenting a few random highlights
from OSCON 2005. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, and please
don't feel that I'm slighting you if I don't mention your talk - this is
written a week later after a long plane flight home, so my memory is
not going to be fantastic.

I didn't get to any tutorials on Monday - in the morning I was presenting
my Effective Python Programming tute, and the afternoon was mostly spent
recovering. The response from attendees at the tutorial was pretty positive - I got a lot of good feedback over the course of the week.

Tuesday morning I saw Jim Huginin and Martin Maly's IronPython tutorial.
This was an excellent tutorial, and covered a lot of the things I wanted
to know about FePy. I will note that seeing the demonstration of cross-language
debugging in Visual Studio (stepping through Python and C# code, being able to
set breakpoints in both, the whole ball of wax) gave me a serious case of
debugger envy. A fancy .gdbinit that lets you dump out a nice representation of Python objects really isn't even close.

(It might seem strange that Micosoft folks were presenting at the open source conference - but IronPython is actually open source, and not in a bogus "Shared Source" kind of way, but real open source, with a decent license.)

Tuesday afternoon was Brian Capouch's Asterisk tutorial. I already knew a
lot of the material covered, but I still got a lot out of the tutorial. My
only complaint would be that the handouts were of a bunch of configuration
type things, and didn't include the tutorial slides. I hope the slides end
up on the web somewhere.

On to the conference proper.

Wednesday morning's keynotes were a bit disappointing. Tim and Nat's
Open Source Trends was fun, but it would be nice if one of them posted a
blog entry with a list of the various things that they mentioned in the
talk. The Linux talk and the Schwartz interview didn't do much for me,
although points to Nat for really hitting Schwartz with some tough questions.

Following that, I presented my VoIP Is The New Black. Luckily, I was in
one of the E rooms downstairs. These were small enough that I could do the
talk without a mike. This was important, because for some reason, OSCON didn't
provide wireless mikes, and my style of speaking would have resulted in me
either ripping the mike out of the desk, or throttling myself as I bounced
in a random direction and forgot about the cable.
The talk was well attended, and the material seemed to go down well. One slight positive of the less than great keynotes in the morning was that I had time to ruthlessly hack into my slides - as of the night before, I was up to around 280 slides. I know from experience that around 6 per minute is a good number to aim for, so I took the axe to the slides and got it down to 240.

Other highlights from Wednesday included r0ml's Semasiology of Open Source
talk (lots of fun) and Conway's latest "my solution to the huge number of
CPAN modules available for task X is to write a new module for task X" talk.
Lots of pointless evil in there. I'm a big fan of pointless evil.

I was good and refrained from heckling during Guido's State of the Python
Union talk.

Thursday morning's keynotes were a better lot. The comparison of TCP/IP
to Shipping Containers was a novel take on the power of standardisation.
The Origami talk was fascinating, and massive points to the conference
organisers for scheduling it. Wrapping up the keynotes we had Dick Hardt's
Identity 2.0. While this didn't contain a lot of material that was new to
me, the format and the presentation of the talk blew me away. This is a man
who really knows how to present. I was left slightly in awe - and well done
for acknowledging Lessig for the style pointers at the end. More people need
to do talks this way - it produces a far better talk all round.

Randal Schwartz and Tom Phoenix gave a talk on various spam-filtering
technologies that they've used at Stonehenge. I got a bunch of ideas from
it - I'm currently doing a lot of thinking about the pending problem of
VoIP spam (I'll post some ideas in a future post).

Sam Ruby gave an update on the parrotbench on Parrot project from last year.
The material was good, although it was slightly let down by his presentation
format. He went into some of the evil that Guido put into Parrotbench. Never
let it be said that Guido doesn't have a twisted and strange sense of humour.

why the lucky stiff presented his Ruby rock opera during one of the afternoon
breaks. It was initially scheduled for earlier in the day in a smaller room,
but was moved after that room became dangerously crowded. What we saw of it,
between technical snafus, was a lot of fun. I'm still not planning on switching
to Ruby. "It's better than Perl" really doesn't cut a lot of ice with me.

Jeff Waugh gave a survey of a bunch of interesting new toys in Gnome and
Ubuntu in his Running with Scissors talk. Again with the "post a list of
links to the software in your blog". I'd also suggest that Jeff invests in
a watch, or at least a small travel alarm clock that he can put in front of
himself to be aware of time. I was amused to notice just how many times
Jeff swore during his talk - mostly because I'd tried very hard not to swear
at all during my talk the previous day. (I think I succeeded, but I have no
real idea - my brain tends to think in swearing. I blame Deadwood, it made
me a potty-mouth. No, really, it did. Honest.) No-one seemed upset at
the swearing, which really does show that Australians can get away with
almost anything at a US conference.

Friday morning's keynotes were a mixed bag. The CA presentation on Ingres
was intensely crap - I don't go to this sort of conference for a marketing
talk. The only question from the audience was (paraphrased) "Aren't you just
dumping your old rubbish software out there as open source because no-one
will buy it?" I'm sure I wasn't the only other person thinking that.

Danny O'Brien's On Evil talk was extremely entertaining - but anyone who's
read his 'To Evil'
series at OSDir.com would have expected that.

Asa Dotzler presented his "Linux suxx0rs" blog entry as a keynote. The
entertaining bit about this talk was that I was sitting next to Jeff
Waugh at the time, and it was fun to watch him seethe and seethe and
seethe. I thought he was going to explode by the end of the talk.
Of course, there's a major difference between Linux and Firefox. Linux
applications, in general, understand how to free X resources. It would
be nice one day if Firefox gained the same ability, rather than requiring
regular restarts to free up the hundreds of megabytes of memory that it

Other highlights of the morning keynotes (really, they were all good on Friday)
included the Howtoons talk (really, Make magazine for kids) and the Open Source Biology talk from a guy at MIT. I want my grey goo!

Friday was a half-day. I can understand why O'Reilly does this (a lot of
people leave during the afternoon) but given the utterly insane number of
tracks during the conference, I would have probably included one more session
on the Friday and cut down the number of tracks a little.

The conference finished with Miguel de Icaza demonstrating a bunch of the
eye candy and useful bits and pieces that Novell and Gnome have been working
on. I'm not convinced that I'd use much of the eye candy, but it was still
pretty, and X getting a decent compositing system is something to be praised.
I'm also really hanging out for Beagle.

And that wrapped up the conference. All in all, it was a lot of fun. I'm
not covering the drinking or random conversations in hallways that also made
the conference useful and fun. I'm definitely considering returning next
year - particularly if it's in Portland again. What a fun town.