Open Source Bridge 2010: Day Three: BRAAAINS

As a person who often feels like I’m struggling with a sleep addiction, it’s interesting to re-acquaint myself with actual feelings of sleep deprivation. There’s a noticeable difference between the sleepy head-cloud I spend the majority of my time fighting as a reasonably well-rested person and the way I feel today. A few hours into the conference today and it felt like a zombie had eaten away the back of my skull (thus the headline). Followed by that weird alert headache I knew so well in my college days. Oddly, I’ve felt more awake sleep-deprived than I do a lot of the time from day-to-day, so the head-zombies haven’t interfered with my ability to enjoy the conference.

The last day of scheduled talks went by in a rush. Tomorrow is the unconference, and especially in the absence of BarCamp this year, I think it has the potential to be tremendous fun.

Keynotes I Skipped

  • Portland Mayor Sam Adams

I know it’s really cool that our city’s mayor cares about our local software community, but I find last night’s Civic Engagement discussion to be a lot more meaningful in that regard, especially due the reputation that Adams has built up as a sucker for photo ops. I saw Adams last year, and rarely find speeches by politicians to be particularly authentic or engaging. As a result, in the battle between an extra hour of sleep and Portland’s mayor, an extra hour of sleep won.

Many Talks Painfully Missed

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wishing I was Hermione Granger with her Time-Turner for today’s events:

Slides for the Professional JavaScript talk are here. (Woo hoo!)

To be noted: the last three talks listed were all at the SAME TIME (which means there was a fourth at that time that I opted into instead.) The Twitter stream was also packed with statements saying “x talk is the best / most hilarious talk of Open Source Bridge!” about all three. It was utterly painful to be missing so much goodness at once, but so things go. I will try to recoup my losses in the form of session notes and hopeful recordings.

Delightful thing about that magic hour in which so many incredible talks were happening at once: the Internets are Leaking talk started spying on the traffic for the Facebook Stalking talk. That’s conference culture I can believe in.

Talks Attended

Igal’s testing session was excellent as expected, but really suffered for the lack of a noise boundary between our conference room and the one next to us. The problem has been pronounced in the rooms that have been divided only with heavy curtains for the entirety of the conference, but in this case things seemed especially distracting. Still, gleaned some good things from the talk: learned about Behavior-Driven Development, which feels a lot less scary to embrace than Test-Driven Development. I also am glad that Igal covered testing on legacy code, which fits my development use-case so much more than testing for brand new code. The idea that code coverage was more of a social agreement than any strict requirement, as simple as that sounds, helped take away a lot of the intimidating factors surrounding testing for me as well.

I was interested in both DB talks because I’ve wanted background on other options than MySQL. I’m interested in trying out Postgres with a future project, and although the intro talk was rushed (given that it was only allocated 45 minutes), there were enough details covered that it made further exploration sound worthwhile. I’ve also been interested in Postgres simply on account of how passionate the local community seems to be about it.

I’m apparently out of the loop when it comes to what’s “hyped” in tech, but I finally clued in that this year it’s been all things database, especially all things that go against the traditional model of a relational SQL database like MySQL. So non-relational databases, and / or non-SQL databases (these two distinctions can cover a multitude of variations), have been a hot topic throughout this conference. The two talks I attended today were only a subset of the larger collection of database talks available. I liked how “Relational vs. Nonrelational” looked at a comprehensive number of use-cases and revealed which specific implementations worked best in those use-cases. As expected, anybody coming in hoping for a declaration of “X database implementation is the best, through and through” came away with the more traditional nuance. Big surprise there – hype is tremendously unreliable.

(Speaking of the “X technology is the best”, I have a little rant stored up about the head-butting between Apple and Linux users at OSBridge. I do find it a little weird that there’s a larger Mac than Linux representation at an open source conference. Just making that fairly innocuous observation is enough to bring out the Mac fans to sell you – whether you want to hear it or not – on why Mac is on the best, an attitude that bothers me with regards to any single-minded advocate of any technology. But this is all for a separate entry.)

Here’s the most delightful thing to come out of Audrey’s “Creepy / Fun” talk: Creepius Bear on Facebook. Lucky for Creepius, he has all sorts of great skeezy apps which he can use to creep out his friends.

Liz Henry and Danny O’Brien’s OpenStreetMap / OpenSeaMap talk, during the coveted “every single talk during this time is the best talk of the conference” timeslot, was a lot of fun and a lovely story of inadvertently stumbling upon a new technical interest and open source passion. I think my favorite part of the talk was Liz mentioning how she became a “data tourist” as a result of her work with the nautical data she’s found for her area: “So this is the famed Beacon 18.” It spoke to a sense that I get when I’m immersed in a project sometimes too – when the abstract thing you’ve been wrestling with for so long finally reconnects with reality. That object you’ve been wrangling in your scripts actually corresponds to this real, physical object, Beacon 18, and although nobody else may understand how cool that seems, Beacon 18 (or the data tourist destination of your choice) might as well be the Eiffel Tower for how much it’s been built up in your head. I can totally relate to that after working with earthquake data at the Southern California Earthquake Center, and I think it’s beautifully geeky.

The OpenSeaMap talk also tied in to a larger ecological discussion that has been amplified by the BP Oil Spill. If we have no data available on our seas, we can conceive of them as empty and formless, and that leaves such bodies to be exploited. Thus tragedies like the state-sized trash pile in the Pacific or the Oil Spill. Pretty poignant stuff.

Code N Splode BoF

All of the familiar faces and a few new faces at the Code N Splode Birds-of-a-Feather meetup tonight. We had about an hour and a half of discussion that covered a real range of topics. Definitely the most (outwardly) social I’ve been the entire conference, but Code N Splode is my “safe space”, so no surprise there. Along those lines, we discussed the idea of creating safe spaces or merely places where people feel comfortable. One thing I really want to examine further in another entry is the idea of “filters versus magnets”, as we ended up describing it. As I mentioned when discussing the Filing a Bug talk yesterday, the tech world is rigged with altogether too many unfriendly filters. They’re a means of keeping people out, and although they may succeed at filtering out the “wrong” people, there will be many who self-select as false positives and choose not to participate simply because the filter is there in the first place. Instead of selecting a social / working group by filtering the wrong people out, wouldn’t it be interesting to dismantle these filters and build up new systems that are based on drawing the right people in?

One thought project from this discussion will be identifying these “magnets”, the things that draw the right people in. Once they exist and start attracting people, these social groups built on “magnets” can establish a critical mass that then starts to change the larger communities around us for the better. Some examples we came up with were friendly and welcoming open source projects, the OS Bridge conference itself, the Geek Feminism blog, and our good friend Creepius Bear (as Audrey pointed out, he ended up being the perfect conversation starter, attracting the people she wanted to talk to about her “Creepy vs. Fun” topic).

Pub / Startup Crawl

Dropped by with some Code N Sploders after our meeting and the atmosphere at Wieden + Kennedy / Urban Airship was really nice, but my social self quickly fizzled out. Lesson learned: don’t combine sleep deprivation with the Pearl District. That said, the pizza was delicious.

My Unconference Talk

Oh, what a fun group of peers I have. I had made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion on Twitter earlier in the conference that I was going to propose an unconference talk with a name like “How the Internet has Improved the Life of the Cat Lady”, where Cat Lady is a nongendered term (I will probably change it to Cat Lover, but that ungendered naming just doesn’t have the same effect as Cat Lady does for describing the men or women who become different people around their felines.). I meant this as a joke, although I think I could probably write a five-minute talk waxing philosophical on how the internet has allowed us to not just enjoy our own cats’ weird quirks, but the weird quirks of cats the world over, and how we can build communities around our Cats in Sinks or Cats Who Throw Up Grass (I have one of each). That said, the Code N Splode ladies said to me, “No seriously, you should do it.” So we may have an unconference session where everybody shares their favorite cat-themed media for 45 minutes. Epic.

More thoughts?

If I have them, they’ve gone somewhere else to hide. Girlfriend’s gotta sleep. Hoping for some fun on the last day, and a sequence of post-mortem entries further exploring the multitude of topics and themes I’ve been able to examine the last few days.

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