White Camel Awards

The Perl Conference brought us the first “White Camel” awards. The White Camel Awards were created to honor individuals who devote remarkable creativity, energy, and time to the non-technical work that supports Perl’s active and loyal user community. The awards were conceived of and administered by Perl Mongers, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to establish Perl user groups. In addition to Perl Mongers, O’Reilly and sourceXchange, sponsored the awards.

I recently had the chance to talk with the winners and ask them a few questions about the White Camel awards and their contributions to the Perl community.

Kevin Lenzo

You won the “Perl Community” White Camel Award for YAPC. Briefly (50 pages or less), what was YAPC and what went into planning it?

Yet Another Perl Conference is a grassroots Perl conference, and the first one (YAPC 1999) was hosted at Carnegie Mellon University. YAPC 19100 will stay in Pittsburgh, incubating here for another year, and then I’d like to find another host city somewhere in Eastern North America&#151probably somewhere there’s a Perl Monger’s stronghold near a university.

The conference was cheap: $60 conference cost, including food, covering the two-day event. We actually ran a little short on the budget in the end, but this was pried out of me in the closing session, and the community had $1000 on the stage in about 30 minutes! You don’t see that very often. The next one will probably cost a wee bit more, just to avoid the shortfall, but the whole thing is intended to be zero profit.

The aim of YAPC is to be an affordable, regional conference, that people can get to, and that students, hobbyists and enthusiasts can get to without selling their computers. We had some great speakers show up and volunteer their time, also&#151I think the speakers did a great job, even when the mechanics of the conference occasionally broke down.

Next year, we have some interesting challenges&#151we’re not the best-kept secret anymore. Even with double the capacity, I think we will have to turn people away, and we’ll surely get more talk submissions than we’ll be able to show. One goal I have is to bring some discussion of the internals and directions of Perl itself more to the next YAPC, and from the response so far, I’d say we’ll be seeing it.

What does receiving the White Camel award mean to you personally?

It’s pretty overwhelming&#151and I’ve felt that way ever since the conference. In a way it’s a physical symbol of the goodwill that almost broke me up at the end of YAPC. It’s not something one can scheme to get!

Does the award mean more to you because you were chosen by your peers?

Quite. I feel like I’ve been elected as a Tribune by my peers, and it’s my responsibility to carry that trust, and use any power it may grant to battle evil magistrates.

Has receiving the award renewed your enthusiasm or have you always been active in the Perl community?

I’ve had increasing activity in the Perl community over the last five or so years. I’d like to point out that Internet Relay Chat, newsgroups, and mailing lists have been really important to me, and I’d say the EFNet IRC channel #perl really helped catalyze YAPC. If I have any great involvement, that was the gateway to it.

As far as renewing my enthusiasm&#151it had never waned. We do have some serious issues ahead of us in carrying Perl to the next level, as a language and as a platform. Perhaps my enthusiasm is tempered by the looming due diligence.

How do you think the White Camels will affect the Perl community?

I think the awards certainly help raise awareness, both inside and out, of the Perl community&#151which appears to be becoming self-aware. This sort of recongition certainly helps me when I ask major speakers to come and speak at YAPC. The award has, in some ways, legitimized me with respect to Perl, so that I can ask about things and speak of it as “for Perl.” I think these awards are strong indicators to the places folks work, for instance, that their involvement with Perl is justified, and I know Carnegie Mellon University took it quite seriously. It has both freed me to officially focus, but also has brought certain responsibilties. The award made me look “presidential,” as they say in election years, and that apparent legitimacy helps me work for Perl.

Do you have any exciting plans for your new found fame and fortune?

Well, just gearing up for the next YAPC. If you’ve seen any of the Infobot work, you know I have an interest in group communication and discussion. Well, I’d really like to expose the planning process of YAPC itself through interactive means and web sites that can be group-authored. I’d like to see the community helping to structure the conference, and give feedback during the planning stages&#151to bring groupware to the whole conference planning process. It is a community event, after all.

I’d like to mention one other thing I’m working on here at CMU, though&#151 we’re about to release Sphinx, a major speech recognition engine as open source, and I’m intending to make a Perl module to go with it, so you can start talking to your desktops. Speech isn’t good for everything, and there are lots of things it’s inappropriate for, but it’s nice to say “turn on the lights in the kitchen.” Desktop agents, global communication using the net, and speech interaction are going to change the way we work and talk, and I’d like to see speech technology available in Perl.

Adam Turoff

You won the “Perl User Group” White Camel Award. What were some of the things you did for the Perl community to earn this award?

  • Founding member of NY.pm
  • Founded PHL.pm, with the monthly “social” dinners
  • Started the monthly tech meeting series for PHL.pm
  • Started the biweekly perl reading group for PHL.pm (at this point, we meet 4 weeks/month)
  • Started the (mostly) weekly reading group at ISI (my employer).
  • Organized the signup lists at TPC2.0 (helping ~2-4 dozen groups form or grow IIRC)
  • Perl evangelism at general tech events (conferences, LUG meetings)
  • Free Stuff!! (Mostly FreeBSD goodies at large events.)
  • Hardware scout for pm.org. (Many thousand thank you’s to our anonymous donor, Elaine Ashton.)

What does receiving the White Camel award mean to you personally?

I think it means that the Perl Community is hitting the next level. Two years ago, the Perl Community wasn’t very well formed, except for groups like p5p and other people interested in extending Perl technically. Today, we have three categories where people can be rewarded for making non-technical contributions to the Perl Community.

Taking Perl to the next level means bringing Perl to new audiences and in new directions. One way to do that is to promote Perl user groups where we are interested in discussing common CGI idioms, venting about Microsoft, swapping Twilight Zone stories, talking about Postmodernism or sharing really cool observations about Perl. All at the same time, of course.

Has receiving the award renewed your enthusiasm or have you always been active in the Perl community?

I’ve been active in the Perl Community since TPC 1.0. [TPC 1.0 is The Perl Conference 1.0]

How do you think the White Camels will affect the Perl community?

The Perl community is both quite social, very eclectic. I hope that the White Camels (specifically the user groups and community awards) will help to highlight and encourage user groups everywhere to continue these traditions.

One of the themes that has been circulating since the conference is that of the quiet majority of Perl users. We may not be as big or as vocal as the Java or Win* communities, but we use Perl and get the job done without making lots of noise. That makes it more difficult to advocate Perl and help it to grow in new directions. I hope that over the next few years, Perl advocacy grows and becomes more effective and more visible. I can’t wait to see the White Camel awards for Advocacy over the next few years.

Do you have any exciting plans for your new found fame and fortune?

Taking phl.pm out to dinner, and buying an exotic computer or two.

These were some of the first people who distinguished themselves enough in the Perl community to earn the White Camel Awards. These awards were an excellent idea, the presence of peer awards such as these will undoubtably affect the Perl community. Any Perl programmer out there would be very proud to display their own White Camel award.



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