The Perl Conference 3.0 Curve


This year, the Perl Conference 3.0 joined the Linux, Apache, Python, sendmail, and Tcl/Tk conferences as part of the O'Reilly Open Source Convention. Since I am a Perl fanatic, my coverage will focus on Perl but there were many events in common, such as the keynotes. The conference consisted of two days of tutorials, followed by a two-day conference program.

I am lucky enough to be rooming with Kevin Lenzo. For those who don't know who Kevin is, he is THE MAN who organized and put on the "Yet Another Perl Conference" (YAPC), back in June in Pittsburg. The YAPC conference was a "grass roots" conference that attracted many of the Perl "die hards". It was an outstanding success and they have already begun planning next year's conference (YAPC 19100). Kevin is here at The Perl Conference as just a "regular guy" attending the tutorials and schmoozing with the Perl community.

Perl Labs

I was excited to learn about Perl labs, a web site (labs.perl.org) where anyone can go and get information on the different Perl ports for different platforms. The information available will allow others to find all sorts of portability and performance issues that a particular platform may have.

Perl Labs was the idea of Kurt Starsinic. Current platforms that are available for testing and information gathering include FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris (both Intel and Sparc), SCO, Unixware, minix, Mac OS10, OSF/1, IRIX, HP/UX, AIX and Linux.

Some of the things that The Perl Labs will provide users with is the ability to track changes between the different kernel releases as well as the different Perl releases. With this information, it will help others in the Perl community to identify areas that may need improvement and allow them to automatically test any changes across all of the platforms that are supported. It will also allow them to ensure that any changes that they make do not have any adverse side effects on the different platforms.

Your platform was not listed? That is no problem said Kurt, all you need to do is download a few programs and dedicate some CPU cycles and your machine(s) can be part of the Perl Labs as well.

Perl Labs will enable the Perl community to test for portability, reliability and performance across the widest possible range of systems. No doubt, this will prove to be an extremely valuable tool for all who use and maintain Perl.

Socializing

The evenings at The Perl Conference are filled with a lot of fun. Some "geek" movies were shown, many beers were downed (some scotch too) but the most important part of these get-togethers happens as well, face-to-face business and discussions take place. This is an integral part of maintaining the cohesion of the Perl community.

Many of us joke that the Perl community is like a soap-opera. (As The Perl Turns). When you get very smart, independent people together,  there is bound to be people with differing ideas. These get-togethers allow for the "Perl core" to conduct the real business of keeping Perl going. This would not be possible if it were simply through e-mail and conference calls. The different ideas are what make Perl great, after all - "there is more than one way to do it!"

After all of the excitement of the "normal" day at The Perl Conference, there were a couple parties to attend. 

  • The Perl Mongers threw a party and fed several hundred of us. 
  • Active State Tool Corporation's party was not nearly as big, but it was a great time.
  • At the "Open Source Cajun Soiree," the Perl Mongers presented the "White Camel" awards. 

White Camel Awards

The White Camel award is for those who went above and beyond to promote Perl and help the Perl community. Each winner got a very nice trophy and a check for $3,000!

The winners were:

  • Kevin Lenzo won the Perl Community Award for creating and organizing the "Yet Another Perl Conference"
  • Adam Turoff won the Perl User Group Award for his efforts with the Perl Mongers
  • Tom Christiansen won the Perl Advocacy Award for his work on the Perl documentation

A nice plaque was also presented to Kevin Lenzo for his mother. Kevin's Mom baked cookies for 300 people at the Yet Another Perl Conference!

The Next Curve

The opening keynote speaker was Guy Kawasaki, CEO and chairman of Garage.Com. His talk was titled "Rules for Revolutionaries". He presented us with a "top 10" list of things to do for the Open Source community. Guy's presentation was a hilarious, yet very practical look on ways to really make a difference in the world. Here is his list:

  1. Set your perspectives right.  Jump to the "next curve", don't duke it out on this curve.
  2. Eat like a bird, poop like an elephant.  Learn all you can.  Ask your customers what they want, not a group of "professionals".  Get your information first-hand.  Pooping is what this conference is about, spread it all around (the source code)
  3. Don't worry, be crappy.  In the first version of a product, don't worry about being sorry. Take the first MacIntosh computers for example.  You can't wait! If it is a great, revloutionary product - ship, then test.  If your product is 10 times greater than currently available products, ship it!
  4. Churn baby, churn.  It is ok to ship crap, just don't STAY crappy.  Plan for churning, assume you will have to fix it.  Make the product so that it can be improved by others.
  5. Enable people to test-drive your products.
  6. Make evangelists, not sales right now.  Evangelists create a cause out of your product.  Turn the facts into emotions.
  7. Let 1000 flowers bloom.  Let people use your product in any way they choose, even if it is not how you intended for it to be used. 
  8. Think digital, act analog.  In the end, the customer is always analog.  Relationships are analog.
  9. Never ask people to do things that you yourself would not do.
  10. Do not let the bozo's grind you down.  The more they grind you down, the more likely you are to be "on to" something.

Larry Wall's State of the Onion

Larry Wall said last year that he was going to use "smells" during his talk at this conference. And, of course, Larry held true to his word. He started off his Third "State of the Onion" speech by cutting a large onion. He also used a pheromone candle and a banana during his talk to fill the room with smells.

Larry used molecular models during his speech to explain Perl as a glue language that holds everything together, sort of like a molecular bond.  Perl will always belong in the middle of things. 

Larry talked about how the Perl community can help act as a molecular bond between the open source and the commercial sector. There is an attraction/repulsion as necessary. He showed a simple molecule to describe this. On one side was Richard Stallman, on the other was Bill Gates. Even though they might not agree on much, there is a common bond there. There is a state of equilibrium that holds the software community together.

Not- So Risky Business 

Next, it was off to the "Reducing Business Risk With Perl" talk by Randal Schwartz and Tom Phoenix. This talk was designed to help others describe the benefits of using Perl in a business environment. Many businesses are very apprehensive to use Perl because it is "free". What many of these businesses fail to realize is that they are probably already using Perl somewhere on their system.

There are many reasons why Perl is a good choice, some of them are: 

  • Source code readily available
  • no cost
  • ported to just about every platform
  • Perl has a wealth of documentation available
  • commercial support *is* available
  • Perl is great for getting jobs done quickly
  • Perl is an excellent "glue" language that can be used to bring together many other programs, even if they are not written in Perl.

The bottom line here though is that Perl is a full-featured, commercially supported programming language that can reduce development time while providing excellent end-results.

The Perl Pro-bowl

This  "Perl Deathmatch" was a contest where the people interested in participating had to take a pre-test. The winners were then called from the audience in pairs and they had to write a program that the judges had explained. While this sounds fairly simple, it wasn't. The programs themselves were not too difficult, but the contestants only had 20 minutes to do this in, and then they were judged on style and technical merit by a panel of judges.  There were two "commentators" Chip Salzenberg and Chris Nandor, who were "critiquing" the code on the big screen as the contestants were programming. And to top it all off, there were about 500 other Perl geeks in the room heckling them as they worked.

I felt really sorry for the contestants - but the winner of the competition was Jason Krueger and the VA Linux people gave him a computer for his efforts! I think that makes up for all of the pressure he was under!

Convincing Others to Adopt Perl

Many of us at this session were already convinced of Perl's power, we learned new ideas to help promote Perl in places where resistance is being met. Since this was more of a brainstorming session, and not a formal presentation, I will present some of the key points discussed:
  • Many clients use Perl and don't even know it.
    • IBM writes a lot of system administration tools in Perl.

  • If you can demonstrate the usefulness of Perl, it can often be a big factor in gaining acceptance in a corporation.
    • A prime example of Perl's power, the human genome project. This is a HUGE project and is utilizing Perl's power and ease of use to accomplish this task.

  • Perl is a "quiet movement" especially in comparison to the Java language, but it is nonetheless doing very well.
  • Visible source-code can be a problem with some companies.
    • You can never truly hide any language from reverse engineering.

  • If there are others out there with Perl success stories, please write them down and send them to the Perl Advocacy people at advocacy@perl.org

The Perl Quiz Show

The Perl quiz show was another hit at this years Perl Conference. Jon Orwant did an excellent job writing the questions and getting things together for the competition.

The winning team was the London Perl Mongers consisting of Richard Clamp, Peter Haworth, Nick Ing-Simmons, and Andy Wardley.

The questions ranged from easy to absurd. In the end, it was all about having fun.

Perl Town Meeting

The conference was once again wrapped up with the Perl town meeting. The town meeting gives everyone a chance to ask questions about Perl, its development, future plans, etc. The panel on hand consisted of Larry Wall, Chip Salzenberg, Gurusamy Sarathy, and Tim O'Reilly.

Topics discussed were:

  • How do we "legitimize" Perl, and get it more widely taught in schools?
    • One suggestion was for those who know Perl, to go to a local community college and offer to teach a course on Perl.
    • It was also suggested that a list of schools offering Perl should be put together so that people could search on it in their area and find the nearest courses.
  • Perl "certification" was also mentioned.
    • The certification issue is really a touchy subject with some in the Perl community. We, as programmers, know that just because someone has a certificate does not mean they really know how to program. Yet, many managers look to certification to judge the quality of applicants. The room was still divided on the certification issue when we moved on.
  • It was asked if the future versions of Perl would optimize subroutines and reduce their overhead.
    • Chip wrote this down and was going to look into it further.

  • Embedding Perl in network devices was suggested by someone.
    • This interested the panel members. By embedding Perl into network devices, you could both legitimize Perl in corporations and make the devices easier to manage with Perl.

This was about all that the Town Meeting got to talk about before the time was up. There are so many issues that can be addressed with any project as large as Perl that it makes it difficult to hear them all.

The best way for people to get their issues heard/resolved, is to become active in the Perl community and either work directly on Perl development, or bring the issues up with those directly involved.

Wrapping it up

If you missed the conference this year, and are use Perl, seriously consider coming to the next Perl Conference in July. If the regular conference is too expensive, think about attending the next YAPC!

Don't forget, the Perl community is made up of programmers just like you! Become active in your local Perl Mongers groups. If you don't have a local group, start one! The Perl Mongers will help you get it all organized.

If you need to unwind from all of the partying that went on at The Perl Conference (or just feel like hanging out), consider coming to Camp Camel. No, there won't be any computers or phonelines there, just Perl programmers getting together for a weekend of "goofing off".

See you at the next Perl Conference!

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