PyCon 2009 Wrap-Up

PyCon    Python    2009-04-01

I was a little nervous about going - with less than a year of Python under my belt, I still feel like a relative newbie. And the last few months of my life have been dominated by PHP (hey, that's what pays the bills).

But I'm so glad I went. To quote a favorite Grateful Dead lyric, "Never had such a good time in my life before". Okay, so maybe PyCon doesn't compare to a Dead show, but it ranks right up there with some of my favorite events of all time.

I went in early for the two days of tutorials that preceded the conference proper. Wednesday was relatively quiet - I sat in on Django in the Real World, mostly material I'd heard or seen at DjangoCon last fall. That night I committed an act of daring and went out to dinner with some folks I met at the hotel - Michelle and Chris, and a few other folks from Emma. That was my first view of the city - even in the dark, the Sears Tower was visible for miles. We had a great dinner at Frontera Grill, and I finally met someone with a more restricted diet than mine (I'd be in hell if I were allergic to potatoes and peppers).

But no one really cares about the social stuff, right? On Thursday the real work began. I took a great Trac plugins tutorial, an intro to the structure of the Trac code with lots of easy to follow lab work. My hope is that I'll now be able to introduce a little bit of Python into my day job.

That afternoon, I took off for downtown Chicago again to do some sightseeing. I took the Blue Line and detoured briefly to Wicker Park, where I strolled for about an hour taking pics. (I really want to live in this house some day ... but, uhm, no, $4.2 million is a little more than I can afford at the moment.) Seeing those homes was surreal - the neighborhood could have been any neighborhood in San Francisco, but that the Queen Annes were constructed from red brick. I was perplexed at first, but then it dawned on me "oh right, these were built right after the fire".

After that it was on to the city. I took the Blue Line to a stop just before the Loop and walked in from there. There were so many great sights - the skyscrapers, the architecture, bridges crossing over the rail yards and the river. As a sort of 'public transportation fetishist', I was fascinated by all the elevated tracks running over the main city streets. But what really charmed me was the repurposing of old buildings - 7-11's and donut shops tucked into unexpected corners. That night I had dinner with a local friend. We went to The Chicago Diner out in Lakeview, and I had the best Reuben sandwich ever - seitan 'beef', peppers and onions, vegan cheese and dressing, sauerkraut, all on marbled rye.

Anyway, back to the conference. The real activity started on Friday. I spent most of that day in the testing track learning about tools, coverage, continuous integration, and best practices, blah blah blah, etc. etc.

Of course the best part was finally meeting and hanging out with people I'd only known online up to that point - James Tauber (Pinax), Eric Holscher, Danny and Katie from NASA, James Bennett, Jannis Leidel, Brian Rosner, Eric Florenzano, Justin Lilly and a host of others.

Saturday kicked off a little late (I didn't make it up in time for the lightning talks that morning - sadly, I missed Katie's NASA talk, but I'm looking forward to seeing the video). I made it for Guido Von Rossum's keynote (in which, I might add, he called me out for twittering about him the day before - I turned about 20 shades of red). The BDFL is sounding a little tired these days. Well, perhaps not tired so much as resigned - I get the feeling he doesn't think there are many more mountains to climb with Python. Now it's about growing the Python community and bringing new blood to the language itself.

The State of Django talk was focused on the most recent 1.0 release and the 1.1 beta. You can read all about what's coming in the changelogs, sure, but it was still nice having Jacob do a walkthrough of new features. And he had some optimistic things to say about the eventual move to Py3k - it sounds like the Django core guys have the beginnings of a solid plan. They're moving carefully, which makes the eventual conversion sound a lot less daunting.

I got a lot out of the Pinax talk too. I hate admitting that, although I've read the Pinax source as reference for solving specific problems before, I had never run it locally or looked at the project from the big-picture view. So this was a nice intro to the project and an exciting preview of where it could be headed in the future.

The rest of that day involved a pretty diverse set of panels and talks:

Ian Bicking definitely wins for best talk of the conference. His Topics of Interest didn't educate or illuminate in any way, but it was f**king hilarious. If you weren't there, I don't think I can explain it. Suffice to say that we were all on IRC ... and part of the chat was onscreen most of the time. Some of the magic is captured in this video, and you can see the complete log here (I didn't have much to say, but I'm in there ... just scroll down and look for djangrrl).

On Saturday night we went for pizza and beer at Gino's East. I got to meet the lovely and talented Zed Shaw! He became a somewhat controversial figure in the Ruby community a few years ago, but I'm not going to go into that - he's an incredibly smart guy, oozing personality, loves to hold court (clearly he's a natural educator). I cannot lie - I was impressed. I hope I did a good job of pretending not to be.

I was expecting to fly out on Sunday, but when I woke up that morning Rosemont was blanketed in snow. Some flights out of O'Hare were delayed - I don't know if mine was, but I didn't want to wait to find out, I just extended my stay and booked a flight for the following day.

I was stoked - I had never seen that much snow in one place before (I grew up in Georgia, and lived most of my life in L.A. and San Francisco). So I was jumping around the hotel room giggling like a little kid, partly because it also meant I'd be able to stay for at least one day of the sprints.

I'll just say it - I don't think I'm at the skill/experience level needed to contribute to Pinax, but I really hope to get involved anyway, in some capacity. At least I spent Sunday evening with the Pinax team getting it set up locally (with the invaluable help of The Real Jay Graves). That night we went for dinner at Smoke Daddy (I did, in fact, get a vegan sandwich ... then slathered it with sweet, sweet Alabama-style BBQ sauce).

Monday was a mellow day at the Crowne, hanging at the Pinax sprint. While the core guys discussed architecture and bemoaned the Github outage, I spent the day reading the code and writing/running tests. I'm still not sure I'll get to help, but I feel like it was a productive start.

Through the course of the week, in the hallways and while I was sitting in talks, I also managed to make a lot of progress on other projects:

  • I finally got belleville up on Github (that's the code this blog is built on)
  • finished two other projects - a new blog, and a secret-for-now site that'll make extensive use of the Twitter API
  • installed and played with ... mercurial, figleaf, twill, windmill, virtualenv/wrapper and pip, and I'm sure there are more packages/tools to add to that list but it's late and I'm tired - it's time to be done with this post