Report from YAPC::Europe

This is written for those poor souls who couldn’t make it to give them aflavor of the wonderful event they missed.

Despite being an ex-Londoner, I got on the wrong tube Friday morning. The train was packed and boiling hot; there weren’t any bomb scares which was a nice change, but elevators weren’t working in some stations, which were therefore closed. I arrived rather late in the first part of Johan Vromans talk. I’d opted for this instead of Stas Bekman’s talk because I’d been to all Stas’ excellent talks at Apachecon in March and have read his mod_perl Guide many times. The talk was interesting and solid, moving rapidly through the material. The threat of being dropped into a bucket of water silenced the last mobile phone.

During the lunch break I had a chance to go out into the hot sunshine; the predicted weather for the weekend was ``warm and wet,” but it was sweltering, sunny and dry, quite uncharacteristic. I also met some people I knew through e-mail; it’s amazing how different people are in person. After lunch, the first dilemma arose: Writing Solid Perl or The Template Toolkit. I ended up going to the Toolkit talk by Andy Wardley and Simon Matthews. The talk was excellent; there are many similar tools available in Perl – we’ve all written our own (I know I have), but I was so impressed with the Toolkit that I expect to use it in my projects in future.

Most people gathered into clusters and went off into the evening to pubs, clubs and the like to enjoy London’s lowlights. I’m not one for socializing with more than a handful of people at once, so at the end of the day I left, exhausted by all the input I had received, and met my wife. She spent most of the entire three days up the road at the National Gallery with 2,000 of the world’s finest paintings, free entrance and a nice cafe; she was in heaven. Back at our accommodation, I finally got to look through the goodie bag. The T-shirt is something to take rock-climbing or mountaineering – it’s orange color is so bright it could save your life. BSDI thoughtfully enclosed not just a CD, but a nice pair of red plastic horns. I tried them on, but they didn’t seem to do anything. When my wife tried them, well, it was like my birthday all over again. O’Reilly thoughtfully enclosed Johan’s Perl 5 reference book which was most appreciated.

By Saturday, I was beginning to get an idea about who was who. Greg McCarroll is a big man, both physically and in personality; he’s full of energy and fun, and spent endless hours rescheduling in the light of last minute changes. His name tag read ``grep,” indicating he was either too tired to spell his own name or he’s read one too many Unix books. Dave Cross,’s chieftain, was also involved as an organizer and a sponsor. He’s the type of man who gives consultants a bad reputation. His obvious sincerity, honesty and competence will unduly raise client expectations, ruining customers for those consultants who follow him. A few Americans also made it; some guy called brian d foy tried to attack grep; apparently grep had spoken Brian’s name in uppercase. There was also an insect who grep called Nathanial. The entire conference was haunted by an Australian spirit called Damian that keeps telling Larry Wall to be objective when reading the RFCs.

The next talk was Art and Open Source by Simon Cozens. It was sheer synchronicity; he put up a slide of a Seurat painting while up the road my wife was looking at a real Seurat in the National. The talk was interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking. Simon likened modern artists who are no longer bound by patronage to produce flattering and `nice’ art to suit their patrons to open source software developers who are not constrained by their employers but can build the software they want in the way they want.

Kevin Lenzo talked about YAS (Yet Another Society) and hoped for future YAPC’s in North America, Europe (Amsterdam?) and beyond. It was clear that despite being thousands of miles away, Kevin had been of considerable help to Leon Brocard and in getting things off the ground. Next up was Honza Pazdziora from the Czech Republic. He’s written software that allows a user on a Linux box to convert Word or Excel documents into more tractable formats by executing Word or Excel on a single Windows box and getting the results back on their own machine. For those of us who see Windows as a legacy OS, this looks useful. BRIAN D FOY (who’s too far away to hit me :) ) gave a summary of what the Perl 6 process is and a taste of some of the issues it will address. There is unlikely to be any progress on the Do::WhatIWant module, but many other issues will be addressed.

One or two people had a minor interest in Perl 6, so there was an impromptu lunchtime discussion with Nathan Torkington on problems people have with Perl 5 and what they want from Perl 6. My own contribution to the discussion was so exemplary that gnat said that he had memorized every one of my ideas and that he would personally implement all of them without me even having to go through the bother of writing an RFC; needless to say everyone else’s ideas were either barmy or impractical, or both. With less than a week to go until the RFC deadline, it isn’t too late to get the full richness of COBOL syntax into Perl.

Lunch was on O’Reilly, but I opted for sunshine in case we didn’t get any more for another year. After lunch it was lightning talk time. They were fast furious and fun. Some serious, some not, but each one was worth listening to. Because Kevin made us keep to time (no one argues with a whip) we managed to get some extra ones in, the last one being gnat’s Python talk in which he gave a wonderful overview of Python’s virtues in a calm and balanced manner, pointing out one or two minor drawbacks in passing. In a conversation afterward, it was clear that gnat really likes the RFCs which amount to ``make Perl 6 into Python.”

Charlie Stross gave a somewhat calmer talk on his NetServer::Generic module. This talk reminded me of the adage: ``Don’t do it until you look in CPAN!” I’ve written quite a few programs recently that could have been made far more robust and considerably simplified had I used this module. Dave Cross followed with his talk on data munging, plus a shameless plug for his new book on the subject. Piers ``Heckler” Cawley rounded off the day by confessing to some of his Perl sins. Pier’s sin was to reinvent the wheel, and to do so thoroughly and with an exemplary expenditure of time and effort over several weeks. He had to produce a sophisticated sort function that would work on a variety of data, some strings, some numbers and some combinations. He ended up finding the perfect algorithm to convert his data into a form that would compare properly in all cases from Knuth’s third volume. He later realised that the entire function could be replaced by a simple call to pack().

Piers asked others to come up to the stage and confess along with him. What was sad about this was, no matter how awful the sin, no one was surprised because we are so jaded by seeing bad programming practices.

For the evening, Dave invited everyone to walk around Southwark with an occasional refreshment stop; by all accounts this was a popular trip. I arrived at 10 a.m. Sunday to find a new schedule (first event, 9 a.m. – bah!). I went to Marc Mosthav’s talk on IrDA with Perl and Windows even though most people ran to the other talk rather than face the Win32 API. It’s amazing what you can get working on toy OSs. Chris Young from the BBC described how his little bit of the BBC makes extensive use of Perl, surrounding perfectly good live TV with text boxes filled with facts and journalistic jottings – it was almost enough to make me rush out and buy a digital TV. Leon popped up again with a talk on Graphing Perl – I wasn’t looking forward to it, bar and pie charts don’t give me much of a thrill but it turned out the talk was about proper graphs, the nodes and edges sort; Leon presented visualizations not just of Perl data structures, but of Perl programs, including graphical representations of a profile of a program which uses color and position to identify hot spots. It was an excellent presentation given with dry, reticent humor.

Because of the popularity of Saturday’s Perl 6 discussion, another discussion took place before lunch. Gnat is a charming and engaging man, but one can’t help wondering when his brain would explode from all the conflicting demands. Things will doubtless be better once Larry has decreed the language that we shall speak and the energy can go into implementation.

Foolishly, I went for a walk at lunchtime and got soaked; warm rain is unusual and it took hours for me to dry off. Kevin Lenzo’s talk on Speech and Perl followed lunch; it was heartening to see that the open-source world is keeping up with both speech recognition and speech synthesis, and to see the amazing processing work that Kevin is doing in Perl. My final talk was Benjamin Holzman’s on XML::Generator where he showed that what should be a simple task has many subtleties and isn’t straightforward. The winding up time was conducted by grep, who will never get a job at Sotheby’s; auctions aren’t supposed to lead to rugby scrums, bloodshed and fighting, but this auction came close. Buffy finally made an appearance, in the form of videos provided by sponsor BlackStar. It was a fitting end to three great days; I certainly had a wonderful time and I’m sure that must be true for just about everyone. Congratulations to all concerned.

References: YAPC::Europe site Nouns, My lightning talk



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