Wednesday at OSCON

by Ann Barcomb

Related link: http://www.oreillynet.com/oscon2004/




Wednesday morning I just missed the MAX train and arrived ten minutes late for
Tim O'Reilly's speech. I decided to spend the time organizing my files and
setting up Monday's report.




During the morning break there was a brief press conference with Tim O'Reilly
and Nathan Torkington. Paul Blair came with me to take pictures. Most of the
initial dialogue related to the talks I had just missed. Things were a little
rushed because Tim had to attend a panel; I also wanted to go to a speech in
the next slot. Before I left I asked Nathan about the possibility of a future
European OSCON. I remembered hearing about one before the economic downturn
and wondered if there was a chance of the idea reviving. Nathan indicated that
2005 was a possibility, then began talking about the difference between American
and European hackers. Although I was interested in the subject, I left to see
Megan Conklin's talk entitled 'Do the Rich Get Richer? The Impact of Power Laws'.




In the past I have primarily attended talks in the Perl track, supplemented with
a few on tools I use, such as Postgres. This year I have developed an interest
in analysis of social dynamics, which was why I found Monday night so intriguing.




Megan explained the basic scale-free model as akin to an airport hub system:
airports (nodes) which already have a lot of traffic (routes/links) get more traffic,
unless they change by becoming less appealing (lose fitness). In open source
development, projects are nodes and developers are links. Her initial theory
was that open source development would follow this model.




Using Sourceforge as a source of data, she graphed the number of developers per
project. There were thousands of projects with only one developer, and, at the
other end of the scale, one project with 180 developers. Most projects had no
more than a dozen developers. The ratio remained consistent even if inactive
projects were discarded. Furthermore, even highly successful projects--such
as Apache--failed to form a monopoly when compared with other projects of a
similar type.




Therefore, Megan proposed, there are barriers in the open source world which
prevent this. She made several suggestions: projects are divided in to small
teams, so that they seem less monopolistic; one node simply can't accept all the
links because there are too many links; there is a mutual selection process where
the node can choose to reject or re-deploy a link. Finally, the developers themselves
discourage a monopoly through a desire to be innovative and distinct.




The term 'innovative' reminds me of the comparison between programmers and
cats: trying to get all developers to do the same thing at the same time is
like herding cats. I'm not at all surprised that there are a limited number
of opinionated people who can work together on the same project.




Lunch was provided by Microsoft, but I opted for Indian food instead. After
lunch I went to the exhibition hall and collected stamps, swag and information.
Yahoo had the nicest freebies: pens that lit up if you tapped on them, purple
coffee containers, and playing cards. I also liked the bookplates from
Developer's Library. It was interesting to see some local flavor in the form
of two booths promoting Oregon.




In the afternoon I attended the Perl Lightning Talks, hosted by Geoffrey
Avery. The network in the room was unbearably slow, to the point of affecting
Schwern's talk. There were 8 talks in total. Thomas (who did not provide
his surname) gave a talk about his NGO in a box project, which provides free
software for non-profit organizations in a format they can access. David
Turner argued about Parrot licensing in a humorous fashion.




In the main, the talks were less amusing than they have been in previous years.
I was especially disappointed that Allison Randal didn't follow her success
in 2002 (with a Dr. Seuss inspired rhyme on Perl 6) and her 2003 singing effort
by performing the Perl 6 Elements song (based upon the
Perl
6 periodic chart

and
Tom Lehrer's
Elements song
), despite the fact that I hinted heavily that
I would like to hear it.




I decided to leave early in order to catch up on writing and get enough sleep.
After my exhaustion Tuesday, and slight weariness Wednesday, I wanted to enjoy
Thursday with more energy.




I got several compliments on the lucky find shirt from the
Buffalo Exchange.
It reads: "Putting the RIOT back in patriot".