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YAPC Reflections

Artfully Dodged[0]

Sun Sep 6 00:30:01 2015

Artfully Dodged[0]

I am back from just under a week on the continent where I traveled to the Yet Another Perl Conference, Europe. This is a reflective piece on the whole of the experience, so forgive me if we wander around the beaten track just a little.

This is probably more travelogue and response than analysis. It has roots more in the general conversation of a taverna than the short documentary narrative, so it's contents are a reflection of thoughts and experiences.

Art and Engineering

The Theme for YAPC::EU was drifting in my thoughts. Art speaks to me, not to some sense of soul as I couldn't be convinced of the possession, but to my inner priorities. By education, by choice, I am a lover and writer of fiction. I studied literature, and dabbled in languages and educational science, for my degree. Art lets my mind open a little more and speculate.

As for Engineering a part of me is wrapped in the magnificent machines of the past. If I had a period that I loved it was the Industrial Revolution, and in particular the fusion between engineering, science and art that is reflected in many Victorian machines. I guess it is why I like the image styles of Steampunk which are reflected in the avatars and logos we use at Shadowcat.

But I also am a member, one of the founders and Director, of the Lancaster and Morecambe Makers. The local hackerspace is where I can sometimes be found tinkering with machine and electronic and making little geegaws to amuse myself.

Art and Engineering drew me forwards.

On Granada

I purposefully arrived in Granada an extra day early for the event. This was for two principal reasons. I knew that Matt, who was preparing a talk, would appreciate the extra day to acclimatise and I needed a day to settle. It is a convoluted route from Manchester to Granada, an early start and far too much time spent at airports or on roads. Going from travel to event in a short period, coupled with the third reason that the fastest and most convenient routes being the highest in cost, is good for neither the wallet or the soul.

Granada as seen from the Alhambra

Granada as seen from the Alhambra

As such I had a day to do a little wandering around the city of Granada and in particular the Alhambra. I have to pause and reflect on such beauty, and not just beauty but the engineering, and understanding of mathematics in its construction.

One is immediately struck by how well the people who constructed it knew about mixing function and form - water gardens so that one can stroll and talk but with running water to hide voices from eavesdropping - the corners and doors to shade and show the light, to take the heat of the day but allow the coolness of the breeze.

A Wonderful Way to Show Light

A Wonderful Way to Show Light

Then there are the wonderful tessellations, repetitions of pattern and placement. Again form is covered in beauty, function embellished and adored.

The Tesselations are Amazing

The Tesselations are Amazing

Conference Days and Attendance

These days of children, distractions, and the many community pies I stick my fingers into I have less time for conferences than once was true. I miss attending though and it has been three years since Frankfurt (in the original version of this I said Riga, however that's because I got the YAPC's Riga and Frankfurt mixed up, sorry to both sets of guys I loved your events - thanks to DC for reminding me) so my wish was to come to Granada.

I had friends to see, I had faces old and new to enjoy, I had hallway tracks and taverns to lounge in. So I had my plan. I would only attend as an attendee this year. No need to help out, or speak or represent. I would be just another guest, a face in the happy audience. A paid up follower and member just of the community with the chance to meet friends, clients and heroes without pressure.

I was being a little bit of a fool. I have my fingers in too many community pies it seems. I was also forgetting the fact that for some they have been itching to talk to me in person, to sound me out on an idea or ask how they can help or who can guide them. I was in need and a little part of my sighed as my words of protestation 'I am just here as an attendee' were met with the smiles of people who knew better than I.[1]

However we have skipped so slightly ahead of ourselves. My conference started with the hallway track, well the hallway++ as we met new and old faces on the night before the event, sat and broke bread, drank beer and smiled in the evenings warmth.

I want to say a big thank to Rick and the Eligo team/company for sponsoring fresh pizza and beer - standing in the warm air while fresh pizza is cooked on a wood-fired stove was a great way to meet before the event.

Freshly made pizza

Freshly made pizza

Day one arrived and I was still entrenched in my fallacy that I would be subtle, almost unnoticed, as I joined the audience for the first talk. Aurum gave an excellent opening to the conference discussing the nature of understanding. She spoke about her current work building a system to analyse Armenian texts and link together sources, relationships and derrivations[2]. But she also spoke of teaching programming to Humanities graduates, of the disconnect in the way we think. She did not seek to say that one was better than another they are different and both controlled by differing doctrines of understanding. It was also amusing to hear that statistical analysis of data relationships can be amusingly shown to have significance, even if there may be only twelve pieces of statistical data in existence.

Now I take a break from talks, an early one, but there are many people here that I want to speak to. Three days is not a great deal of time to catch up with the lives of friends you may not have seen So I sit in the hallway track and talk about the world, history, of family.

Matt's talk on the DX tools he has been working on is an interesting aside, unfortunately for him he did not have chance to bring the code to the point that he wanted so it is much a repeat of his YAPC::NA talk.

Curtis gives the second keynote of the day, before the closing Lightning Talks. In this talk he looks reflectively at where we stand in regards to the spotlight we may soon have. Perl5 may soon have a sister language released as an official Perl6 is waiting just off stage. We have a unique chance to show the world, in fact we will have little choice in some of that, our community and our language.

Battle-Tested Perl

Battle-Tested Perl

However do we have that much to fear as Curtis points out Perl is Battle-tested, an image of Perl5 as a tank, he declares he needs a similar phrase for Perl6 and I give him 'Future tested'. However Curtis' also provides a change point in the conference for me, he states quite clearly that we should discuss this focus we will be having and how it affects us, he asks that people talk to him and to me. It is about time I started using some of my time for talking about community anyway, I have lots of people who are around me who are worth listening to and have good opinions.

It is for this reason that I make sure to go onto the stage and speak about the London Perl Workshop being held on the 12th December.

The Lightning Talks for day one are a great deal of fun, aren't they always with the usual mix of fact, fiction and fancy. Matt gives a great talk about being in the trenches and the tricks one pulls to make things work, and Dave Cross delivers a delightful Modern Perl and not Modern PERL discussion.

Modern PERL

Modern PERL

A Sudden Mood Swing

An incident happens on the way out of the venue, Jeff (Dr Forr) slips and lands quite heavily on a smooth slope. A few people gather and we then leave it to the organisers who speak Spanish to arrange an ambulance as he is clearly in distress and not keen to move. Matt and I exchange thoughts on how he seemed to fall and Matt asks him a few questions, we are concerned as it was much the way that Matt fell and broke his hip.

A sign that shows a slippy path near to where Dr Forr fell

A sign that shows a slippy path near to where Dr Forr fell

Day one closes and we attend a great event of buffet food, drink and general conversation aside a magnificent pool. The walk to the venue with a group of Perlers is a particular highlight and I am finally able to chat with Upasana who the EPO sent to Sophia as part of the Send-A-Newbie program. Wendy paddles for a little while in the pool, people chat and we Brits meander through conversations on politics and language. The evening is gently washed away but Dr Forr is not too far from our minds.

Community Rises

Day two starts and Sawyer segways into this with a gentle introduction to how he will take the reins of State of the Velociraptor. Like the State of the Onion speeches by Larry the SofV was an idea by Matt to talk about the community. Matt has passed on the reigns, as Sawyer tells us it is a James Bond or Dr Who role, not a person but a position with a title.

For sawyer he sees the key element of our language, that key piece is 'community is family'. To pretext my thoughts we see perhaps the stroke of the hidden artist, perhaps captured by the archetypes of audience that our magician shows science to but the elements of which are almost mysticism.[3]

Community is such. An affiliation that cannot just be curiosity it is also an attraction, a seeking to have the unknown, the unexplained performed to us. We are onlookers and participants, moths and acolytes at the same time.[4] The conference has moved into its second day and amongst the talks of language and function we have a strong flow of discussion on community, of people and of place.

Never make time-based promises

A fun talk for me to attend is Dave Cross discussing Conference Driven Publishing. At LPW2014 he dedicated his talk to writing a book within a year. This was an update and a discussion about the process he has been using. I will not ruin his thunder, and I am hoping he can still make his deadline since he has two extra weeks, but he only has three months left to write a book. You can help him of course, the book, the shape of it, is on Github and Dave would be happy to talk to you I am sure.[5]

Outside and In

Our second keynote of the day is by Xavier Noria. Xavier used to be a Perl Programmer a decade ago before he changed career and life paths. These days he is a core Rails hacker and spends most of his days consulting with Ruby.

It was great to hear a talk by someone who has moved from Perl simply because that was a sensible choice, not out of a hatred of language. Xavier in fact gave a passionate speech that was more homage to a community he clearly cares for, us. He also spoke of how much he liked using Perl. The choice of speaker was inspired, even though he once was part of the community Xavier has spent enough time away that he can look back fondly as well as give some outside insight.

Xavier spoke of pragmatism, context and community. How a member of the core Rails team sees Perl as making him as a programmer. The fusion between the analysis of language types and paradigms with the formulation of a person. Once again we are fusing art and community. He likes how we seem to focus on client code first, does it work for the client and the purpose, good then let's move on is a feature of Perl culture. He states that our strong documentation - core of the Perl culture - Perldoc being given special notice, a surprise to all of those who decry the lack of docs.

Xavier continues with observations that obedience to testing is strong, ingrained into the culture. That our 'Crazy creativity' is evident, not found anywhere else in this level of crazy. One of the nicest statements he makes is this:

The Perl community has empathy

Once more we have some great lightning talks all cheerfully chaperoned by Grand Master Geoff and the day ends for most.

We have learned through the day that Dr Forr has broken his hip and thigh, he had an emergency operation. However there is a light in the darkness as he sends message to us all that he is well and starting already on the road to recovery. However in calling for everyone to wish him a speedy recovery Matt makes an interesting note. This type of injury is normally only recorded in those above a certain age and ability. The fact that a small, but statistically significant considering the pool, number of Perl programmers have that injury may start to class it as the common injury likely to befall a Perl Programmer whilst they are sober.

After the lightning talks on Day Two I stay for the panel discussion. To my mind they chose a poor background image, I know it was lighthearted but I think it was misguided. I also think that some of the discssion was as well. Or at least I did at the time as I saw a disconnect between what the Panel intended (discuss growing the Perl community) and what many people were thinking, which was raising awareness.

Not the most well-chosen background image IMHO

Not the most well-chosen background image IMHO

To me these are complimentary but separate things and each deserves their own individual focus. That is something I want to talk about elsewhere. What this panel discussion highlighted for me is that it is not a discussion I need to spend my time on. The community is strong, we have good tools, and we have intelligent and welcoming people. I can do little but let those people work to improve those things themselves as they already have done so well.

However I became more certain, and as I went to my hotel room to reflect on the day, that I knew my course as the panel discussion had let me feel my own passions. The focus of my efforts in the coming months should have just one goal in relation to community growth and the coming changes and announcements.[6]

A Time of Reflection

Day three begins and I am a little saddened as it feels that such a great event is finally on the close. The clouds are darkened over the venue as I walk into it, perhaps sign of a coming storm.

I am quickly dragged into several conversations this morning, all on community and the previous nights discussions. The more I talk to people the more confident I feel that it was a great second day that really spurred a lot of individuals.

Of the talks I watch today I have to make special note to Salve. He has started to compile it feels a guide for the people new to community to understand the various components and people. He calls these the backchannels. This is actually a great idea and should maybe be condensed somewhere, a resource of who knows who and who is doing what isn't such a bad resource for us all.

Thanks Salve

Thanks Salve

Most gruesome slide ever

Most gruesome slide ever

The Lightning talks on Day Three are amongst the best of the conference, and some of the best I have ever seen. Abeje gives a witty response to Dave Cross' talk on day One with his new old Modern PERL. We have talks on building items in Perl6 (this conference has shown more Perl6 than any other, and it shows it in a good light). But then there is the excellent Lestrat who presents a talk entirely in Japanese with one of the conference motifs casually played with. This is writing and presenting of the highest quality and done while at the event.

JJMerelo, one of the conference organisers, ends the days LT's with a talk on Art and Engineering. A programmer, a professor, a writer (published and of Literary award fame) and also an organiser. I cannot express enough respect of him and I am using the term Literary Engineering, I just must.

Literary Engineering

Literary Engineering

The magnificent sailing ship

Throughout the final day two paintings are sat in my thoughts. I know some of the talks to come and I am tempered by what I have heard. The first image is the Fighting Temeraire. This, Britian's favourite painting, has perhaps come to me as it is a transitional piece focussing on two different technologies that share the same environment. However one of them was built for war and the other built for industry and then future.

Turner: The Fighting Temeraire

It was Ovid who started this as he imagined us on the move from fighting a war to returning to a more industrial future, we move from one phase of industry to another and this painting reflects that. But it is also Sawyer because he mentioned James Bond and the picture is used allegorically in that film and given a different semantic than the casual one normally taken.

Most people's take on this is that the Temeraire is bowing out, a ghost ship, a hero of battle, finally reaching her sunset. But look at her magnificence and you know she still has great fight, battle hardened not dismissed. The writer's of James Bond's Skyfall took this allegory to show Bond but we know that he rises in that film, from the retirement to renewal. The ship goes on, probably because our ship is a tank.

Battle tested and future tested that would be our twins

These thoughts swim around, some formed, others not[7] as Larry begins his talk that I have already heard (I was at FOSDEM) but am delighted to listen to again.

Engineering from Art

Larry using literature as a metaphor, as always the words are about community with the pretence that it is about himself. Larry thanks the people who came with him, the companions on his quest. He pays a gift to the community as much of the conference has and that theme will stay with us and play out in his talk.

In Larry's talk he plays at first with numbers and also making threaded discussions of connections and separations. The casual asides to rhymes, the jokes on numerology hide the little games of conferring respect. Then we move to comparisons, The Hobbit is Perl5, Lord of the Rings is Perl6. It is noted that like Tolkien, Larry has taken 15 years to move from one masterpiece to another.

Should we see the Hobbit less than the Lord of the Rings? No, they are different and we should see them as such, in one short line he destroys an irrelevant trail and reveals two masterpieces not a sequential progression. However, Tolkien, grew up and wrote something more complex that befitted his love of epics, of Nordic myths and balard. It is also about greater structures of condition.

Larry tells us that the two books contain many of the same elements and much of the same function just with a greater spread perhaps in LotR than in The Hobbit. There is also a sense of improving the form, a language created a second time should learn, repeat what was successful and refine what needed to be evolved. It is a genetic construction based on a living thing. Larry is a linguist after all, like Tolkien he has created languages based upon his love of studying them.

The Scientist Magician

So my second painting shifts to the fore. Larry appears to me now like the engineer, or scientist, the distinction is moot for the age of Joseph Wright Derby's magnificent: An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump 1768.

An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump 1768

An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump 1768

The experiment he is revealing to us is his '6.Christmas', a new wave of science, using tools to reveal the nature of the world. We strip the face from mysticism and replace it with engineering, the construct of thinking, logical deduction and experimentation.

The analogy stirs further as we see the natural world revealed and looking on, and slipping those classical references of the Mediterranean back into my thoughts as the moon is shown and Diana flirts with Classical Ode's.

Immortal Moon, in maiden splendour shine;
Dispense thy beams, divine Latona's child.
Thy silver rays all grosser things define,
And hide harsh Truth in sweet illusion mild.
(H.P. Lovecraft)

This science is done at night and to the horror of some of the onlookers, but they stay to the end, not too shocked to flee. While others seem taken in wonder. I feel we the audience for our Larry/magician/scientist/engineer who has fused the science of language construction with that of the natural world populated by community. Language and its grammatical constraints is complemented by the seemingly random frisson that is community. To the deeper observer though we see how they are intrinsically linked and that community itself is governed by similar forms, Chomsky's transformational grammars and the frameworks that imply nurtured forms.

The Magician

The Magician

As Larry closes the keynotes on his discussion of the works of Tolkien and the release of Perl6 the talk gets reflective. The words are more about what has been achieved, has changed and how the original journey became quite different to how it was originally conceived. We may not have what most people conceive as Perl6 when it is released, but as Larry would note, Frodo did not get what he wanted either.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

A Standing Ovation for the Larry

A Standing Ovation for the Larry


The conference ends and to a standing ovation for our Magician. But so to do we stand and applaud all the wonderful people who made this conference happen. To them I add my humble thanks and my deepest respect. Magicians they are themselves, and in a feat of 'Literary Engineering' they, and all the people I spoke and met at this event, give me a new chapter to my story.

A Standing Ovation for the Organisers

A Standing Ovation for the Organisers

So this has ended up a little more flighty and speculative than I wanted when I started writing it, I guess somewhere a little bit of my own Muse took over. In case you are curious I do not think they care to be defined by a gender, and they probably listen to punk, and drink red wine and cider.

You are just a concept
You are just a dream
Of the new regime
You're just a reflection
You are just a theme

(Obsessed With You, Polystyrene, X-Ray Spex,)

[Don't forget that you can join in this conversation by using the comments form or by tweeting at @shadowcat_mdk]


[0] First pun wedged in to fit my Literary history and the theme of the event.

[1] And rightly so if truth be told. I was being neither optimistic, nor naive, I was just forgetting that I am drawn to this community, I love it and the people inside. It is what spurs me to be a member and help, and it is what they have come to love about me. I was foolish to deny the passion that powers part of my existence.

[2] I just massively simplified there to the point that it was almost a misrepresentation. i do apologise, but I reccomend that people watch the video for this talk, like all the keynotes it was recorded.

[3] Some more of that meander in a moment.

[4] I did warn you that I might be waxing lyrical, right? Catch the beat and let the symphony unfold, or stay with me I'm drawing a feeling.

[5] Maybe I mean desperate.

[6] But as I said there is more to be said about that elsewhere, it isn't part of this.

[7] Much as they are here.