Day two of Open Source Bridge is complete and the Warm Fuzzies are emerging en masse. As the conference hits its stride, it’s great to see attendees of all stripes step back and say “Wow, this experience here is pretty awesome.” Being able to see many people observe this at once (thank you Twitter!) brings forth an avalanche of Good Feelings. So, no wonder I was feeling a bit of a “glow” when sessions wrapped up today.
I’ve been somewhat disappointed that I’ve felt so shy and antisocial during this conference, but I’m balancing a heavy load outside of my professional life right now and I suppose this is the way things have seeped in. Although I was hoping to do a lot more proactive socialization – introducing myself to people, hopefully striking a connection – I’ve found myself a lot more content to sit back and observe others do the socialization instead. There’s a magic in watching the dynamics of the conference unfold around you, and apparently I am more in the mood to sit on the sidelines than be a direct participant. Except for the effusive tweeting – given how frequently I’ve been posting the last two days, you’d never know my account was mostly dormant for the past 10 months.
On my first attempt at this entry, I tried repeating yesterday’s tactic of a chronological walkthorugh of the day’s events and the talks I attended / wanted to attend, but it was feeling really clunky. So I’m going to try a different tack, and hope it still summarizes the essence of the conference in the way I’d like.
Talks I Watched via Ustream
- The Rise of Hacker Spaces by Leigh Honeywell
Well, I had an embarassing morning. One of the current struggles in my personal life revolves around the problems I’ve had with maintaining anything resembling a normal sleeping schedule for… as long as I can remember basically. (I’m finally seeing a doctor for it and am hoping to get a better understanding of things soon.) I think an entire entry could be written about dysfunctional sleep as a part of the identity of many programmers, but for me it stopped being cute once I graduated from college and started working the theoretical “9 to 5″. I really have trouble waking up in the mornings, even if I have an awesome conference to look forward to. So this morning was apparently one of those mornings, and I only became cognizant of my alarm clock at 9:15 am, 15 minutes into Leigh’s talk. After some vigorous mental swearing, I was able to recoup some of my losses by watching the Strange Love Live ustream of the session, but I nonetheless feel like I lost something by not being there in person.
I’m hoping other attendees were able to gain a lot from the talk, though – this talk was totally relevant to all local attendees, as we’ve lacked a common space to meet since CubeSpace’s closure nearly a year ago.
In other news, I totally plan on getting my own copy of Leigh’s great Get Excited and Make Things tshirt.
Talks I Didn’t Attend (And It Hurt)
- Organizing User Groups, a Panel Discussion
- Using Modern Perl by chromatic_x
- Non-visual location-based augmented reality using GPS data by Amber Case and Aaron Parecki
- Move Your Asana with Sherri Montgomery
There were other talks that I wanted to attend and couldn’t on account of another talk talking higher priority, but these were the most painful to miss.
The User Groups discussion wasn’t necessarily going to give me any special insights as the Portland tech community is already ripe with successful User Groups (thus the talk) and I don’t have any that I want to add to the mix. But the panel consisted of a lot of the community’s most interesting and inspiring people, and I find it particularly energizing to watch them do their thing.
As a Perl programmer in my present day job, Modern Perl was probably one of the most workplace-applicable talks of the conference. I have had a generally negative experience with the language, and this is only partially due to the legacy code I have to work with at my workplace. Even “new”, non-legacy Perl code that I have to deal with makes me wince. But I know Portland is home to a vibrant and enthusiastic Perl community composed of some highly likeable people (a couple of Code N Sploders are members). I want to see what these people see in Perl; I’d love for it to redeem itself. chromatic_x’s talk promised to do this on a lot of levels; “Modern Perl” is supposed to be “Perl that doesn’t suck.” But on account of my semi-toxic relationship with the language I opted for another talk during this time, and bookmarked the Modern Perl Blog instead, so that I can examine the topic more thoroughly post-conference.
Amber and Aaron’s talk sounded incredibly interesting and I’m sure I would have found it immensely engaging. That said, the Bug talk I went to during the same timeslot was the highlight of my day, so I don’t regret opting out of it. I’m really happy to see that such thorough session notes have been posted.
This is the second year that Sherri has offered a yoga session through Open Source Bridge, and this is the second year that I’ve had to miss the session on account of fitting in my dinner hour. But I’ve taken classes from Sherri elsewhere and she’s a great yoga teacher. I also think the incorporation of yoga into the conference says a lot about the conference itself – as well as its host city. I want to be a part of a community that encourages balance of the whole self – I also believe that the entire community is better off when populated with well-balanced individuals.
Talks I Did Attend
- Connecting to Web Services on Android by Sean Sullivan
- Hacking Space Exploration by Ariel Waldman
- How to Report a Bug by Michael Schwern
- Foundations, non-profits and Open Source by Carol Smith
The Android talk was the technical talk I’ve been craving. I’ve owned a G1 for about a year now, and have been meaning to look into Android development, but the typical “hadn’t gotten around to it” applies. Now I feel a lot more prepared to play around with it. Sean did a great job of lying out a toolkit for getting started with Android development, using RESTful web services to narrow the development scope (the Android apps I use the most often also rely on these services). An Open Source Bridge Android app, using exactly the techniques laid out in this talk, was developed before the conference and complemented this talk perfectly. I’m excited to have some example code to work with and was thrilled that Sean passed on a handful of clients that were ready for use with Android development. That said, the magical idea for an Android app that came to me during this talk would require that I build out the client code as well. I’m honestly looking forward to digging into it, and brushing up on my rusty Java skills.
Slides from the talk are online as well!
The Space Exploration talk was pure fun. I don’t find the idea of sending mini satellites into space to be that personally exciting, but I *do* love the idea of working with all of the great space data that is already available and currrently being collected. It connects me with my Inner Geologist, born of my two summers with the Southern California Earthquake Center in college (they, in turn, have ties with JPL and NASA, so it’s easy for me to see the path between earthquakes and space), and any chance I have to do that makes me happy. I’m excited to start playing with and contributing to Galaxy Zoo. What a treat!
I also loved some of the larger themes that Ariel brushed upon in her larger talk. What makes a “real” scientist? Are “real” scientists the only people who should have authority to explore space? How can the open source ethos and collaborative efforts help us expand our understanding of space, so that we aren’t reliant on the government models (like NASA) as the sole means for advancement? What can I contribute, even as an amateur?
Schwern’s “How to Report a Bug” was the highlight of the day. Not just for the content of the talk, but for the social dynamic that emerged in the session’s duration. The talk captured the essence of this conference, and left me giddy. The content is really worth digging into, as well.
“How to Report a Bug” felt like 2010′s Assholes are Killing Your Project. In other words, commiserating about the exaggerated Asshole Problem in technology (especially Open Source) with people who also hate it, and don’t accept that “it’s just the way things are, deal with it”.
I’ve probably mentioned this before: the tech industry is packed to the gills with “filtering mechanisms” that have been put in place to scare away people who are, to put it simply, “technology duds”. In the case of bug reports, these would be the people filing a bug that says “How does email work?” for a completely unrelated technology (as one extreme example). Of course, these filtering mechanisms tend to keep out a lot of good people, too, who have no interest in the “gating” or hazing process as a prerequisite for participation. Schwern’s talk examined the issue: why does this filtering mechanism exist in the case of filing bugs for open source projects? What do we lose out on as a result of this filtering mechanism?
The conclusion was that, although handling bugs can be a pain for anybody, and a lot of this can be the result of the difficulties of dealing with people in general (assholes or not), the real pain is caused because the bug tracking software sucks. I totally see this. If resolving a bug is cumbersome, you set up walls to discourage people from filing bugs. If rejecting “dud” filings, duplicates, or other problematic tickets is immensely difficult, you will go above and beyond to ensure that such filings don’t get through the filter. Unfortunately, as a result, your user base becomes mostly invisible. It’s so much fun to see concepts that pretty much every developer can agree with (Bugs help drive a project towards improved quality; they are the lifeblood of a project) contrasted with the patterns inherent in the system that seem to exist as antagonists to the concept. I feel like that’s the best way of dismantling the many counterproductive habits of tech communities – by establishing a concept we can all agree with, and then pointing out how our current way of doing things is working against that concept. How powerful is that?
Schwern’s talk focused on the two things that discourage users from filing bugs: walls and hate. Walls are the concepts discussed above; the unintentional assholery of the filter. Hate is the assholes in all their glory, from the curt and dismissive reply to a bug, to outright hostile defensiveness. It’s the exact reason I don’t want to file bugs – I don’t trust myself to deal appropriately with such behavior; it’s good at stoking the emotions. The “hate” portion of the talk is where the session really got fun; Schwern tried to stoke these emotions in us before we jumped into some examples of combative bug reports and the exchanges that followed them. This “connect with your hate” exercise mostly involved liquor, and suddenly the talk involved an open bottle of Old Grand Dad bourbon being passed around the room; Schwern took swills while transitioning between slides. I don’t think anybody started feeling hateful, but boy we were having fun. This is why I love programmers – the ones that “get it” are such a delight.
The talk wrapped up with a larger discussion on “How to be a Better Person” – because, in general, to handle both reporting and receiving bugs as a non-asshole adult, you need to be mindful, balanced, and emotionally in check. You have to be aware of the impact that a defensive or curt response might have on a developer or bug-filer, and take the extra time to choose your words carefully. You have to have such a grip on your emotions that even the inevitable poor responses to your carefully-chosen words can be handled with grace. That takes quite a bit of personal development and constant hard work, but Open Source Bridge is the perfect environment for such a discussion. Being a better person in day-to-day interactions with the community ultimately feeds a healthier community. Once we’ve started that journey ourselves, how do we encourage other community members to do the same? I’m hoping that this is a discussion that picks up again at the unconference.
(I didn’t even mention the “Howard Dean Strangling a Kitten” slide. Yes, it was Photoshop, and yes, it was part of the whole “Hate” portion of the talk.)
I’m not sure why I went to the “Foundations and non-profits” talk. It examined the question of “when should an open source project become a non-profit, or join an umbrella non-profit?”, and I don’t have any sort of project like that in the mix. I suppose it could have been the Googler in me, wanting to support a fellow Googler as an alumnus. Or my inner altruist. Either way, the talk was interesting if not personally useful. It’s really fascinating to learn about all of the components that go into orchestrating an open source project, especially on a large scale: things go far, far beyond just writing code. And, for the record: I learned that creating a non-profit out of your open source project is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, so the best route is to start by latching on to an umbrella non-profit, and moving to your own non-profit when you start to need its benefits (like independence).
Birds of a Feather
I attended the Civic Engagement Meetup after dinner and was treated to an engaging conversation between city and PDC officials and BoF attendees, who represented a lovely spectrum (tech business owners, local developers, those still looking for work and exasperated by the employment problem). This is one of those topics where my interest snuck up on me and then really grabbed me, so it deserves its own entry (which I will probably write asap post-conference). Audrey’s blog and Silicon Florist are great starting places for this discussion; they’re certainly two resources that “planted the seed” for this interest.
I would have liked to attend the Open Data BoF. The topic is interesting to me, the social dynamic of BoFs can be a lot of fun, and some of my Geek Feminism heroes were in attendance. But I was tired and desperately uncomfortable after a day confined to conference seating, and the BoF was starting late (8:30 pm).
I was something of a crazy cheerleader for OS Bridge before the event. I think the event has something for everyone, even developers who mostly deal with proprietary technologies, but I surprised myself with who I tried to sell the conference to. For instance, during a chance run-in with my ex-boyfriend, who I’m not on good terms with, I found myself raving about the conference and encouraging him to attend (even though it’s to my benefit that he hasn’t been there). Similarly, I have been heavily pushing the conference on the other two developers on my team, especially because I knew the talks that grabbed them would be totally different than the ones that I was interested in. One of my coworkers loves to obsess over technical details that make me want to gnaw off my arm, and I saw a place for him at this conference. But the response from both him and my other developer peer (who actually attended the conference last year) seemed tepid at best, even after I convinced my boss to let all three of us attend the conference.
What a treat, then, to spot both of my coworkers attending sessions today. I worried that they’d be caught up in work and might not take advantage of the opportunity, but I was excited to see them in presentations that I wasn’t attending. I think we all stand to gain from bringing our different conference experiences back to the workplace; that’s the fun of these events as “professional development” opportunities.
Slightly related, there’s a discussion to be had about the pros and cons of having a conference that is so local I can return to my office two blocks away between sessions. But that’s probably also for the conference post-mortem.
Looking forward to tomorrow but not looking forward to the draining nature of a conference schedule + my lack of sleep this week catching up on me. I suspect the return of NapCamp will come tomorrow – sneaking power naps into the gaps in my schedule. Bodes poorly for feeling more social, but as long as I’m feeling boisterous during the Code N Splode BoF (and the Code N Splode ladies are good at bringing that out of me), I’ll be happy.