PyCon 2005 Impressions

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It’s been a week since PyCon 2005 has started. I must admit that I’m having some difficulty in assembling my thoughts. It was difficult entering into this conference cold.

There are really two aspects to PyCon that I would like to talk about. One is the technical state of Python and the development effort. The second is the impressions of the volunteer conference and perhaps what are the strengths and weaknesses of this type of conference structure. I’m going to have to mix these factors to give an accurate representation of the conference.

Who, what, when, where, why…
PyCon 2005 is in its third year … and growing. Again, it is held in Washington, DC at The George Washington University. I arrived on Tuesday evening, checked into my hotel and wandered down to the conference center. There were many people working at computers in one of the rooms in coding Sprints, as other volunteers were rolling up the PyCon T-shirts. Evelyn noticed me standing there and asked if I would be interested in helping with their task of rolling the shirts. I was happy to help. We rolled many shirts for the approximately 500 attendees. Once the shirt rolling was completed, we moved out to assembling the inserts that would go into the tote bags. There’s nothing like good repetitive tasks with good humored people to make the task more palatable. Once the shirts, and give-aways were complete and stored away, Evelyn offered to buy the volunteers dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. About 7 of us hoofed it down the road and into the nearest Chinese eatery. We discussed Python, the conference, what role it serves, what the impetus was for holding the conference.

Income and expense…
One of the most interesting points that was brought up was the concept of balancing any increase in income from sponsorships and the potential loss of drive from the same increase in income from sponsorships. At this point, let me discuss the sponsorship of PyCon. Sponsorship was made up from approximately 10 companies. Many of them are hosting companies such as, Interlix, Izetai and Others are tool companies such as Active State, Iron Port Systems, Osaf, Wingware, Secure Software and White Oak Technologies. Sponsorships were divided into tiers such as the Platinum, Gold, Silver and media tiers. Volunteers were an important part of the conference as I imagine they are for any conference. The difference here is most likely that the person attending the conference also has the mindset that they may be called upon to also assist with the conference. The typical 80/20 rule applies. Erm, perhaps it’s more 90/10. Or 95/5. Say no more, say no more, a wink is as good as a nudge. The thinking is that if too much sponsorship money comes in, the volunteer mindset will slip away and expense will go up. Slippery slope, slippery concept.

The PyCon format…
Each presentation was 30 minutes. I’m thinking this was too short of a slot. Many presentations didn’t show any code, or any operating applications, just Powerpoint. If I’m a programmer and I’m at a programming conference, I’m expecting to see some code. There were also follow up time slots called “Open Space” that the presenters could hold for follow up questions later in the day, following their presentation. This was an excellent idea as well. Again, these open space slots were too short at 30 minutes in length. It would have been nice to have the presentations be something like 1 hour to 1.25 hours long with the open spaces being an hour. Overall though, the conference was excellent. There was even a continental breakfast served at the conference that put the hotel’s breakfast to shame. One other minor irritant was the split of facilities between the first floor theater and the other third floor presentations. This meant lots of elevator and stair time. Again, just a minor thing. When the Marvin theater filled up however, whew! it was hot in there. Evidently GW University didn’t have the AC on. The best they could do was to open the doors before the presentation. It’s not good to nod off in the heat during Guido van Rossum’s keynote presentation. The Pythonista’s wouldn’t think that cool.

Regarding Python…
Python has an evangelical user base. Each person that I have been speaking with are strong advocates of the Python language and the productivity that it brings to their employments. This sounds a lot like the MS VFP crowd. During each presentation, you would hear almost verbatim the “I’m doing it better, faster, with less code.” mantra. I believe them. Python is truly an amazing language. It was easy to pick this up. Python appears well on its way to becoming the default language for the Open Source world in the same veil as Visual Basic used to be in the Microsoft world. It’s funny that in both worlds, you can always choose C, C++, or Java, but life is just too short. (Kevin ducks behind his desk from all of the things being thrown at him.)

Is Python as good as Visual Foxpro?
No. Or perhaps I should say, not yet. The monolithic solution that VFP provides is just too good. Spoiled, I am. I can develop fat client, GUI, COM+, XML or web apps with a built in report writer from a single IDE. Foxpro is amazing that way. My solutions must run on Windows however. Let me say that again. My solutions must run on Windows. No other. Python has an energetic mass that is building around it, lifting it up. Next year, Python and the solutions that can be built with it will be more capable than today. The year after, it will be even better still. Can you hear the optimism?

FoxPro for DOS, Unix, Mac, and Windows…
You should have seen the bug eyed looks when I informed people that Fox used to run on all of these platforms. Ahead of it’s time, I’m afraid. Paul McNett and I were pondering this question: If VFP was Open Source, do you think it would have a 2 Gig limit? Do you think VFP would be made to be run on the 64 bit processors? Do you think VFP would run on Linux, the Mac, BSD and other platforms? I certainly don’t have the skills to do the C code to make that happen, but I know there are capable programmers out there that love Fox as much as I do and I would like to think that they would make it happen. Harrumph. Wishful thinking. I am very grateful and indebted to Microsoft for the amazing tool that they have provided me. The Fox Team has enabled me to purchase this roof over my head under which I write these mad ramblings. I better shut up now.

Dabo, dabo, doo!!!
Very cool. Dabo made its debut at PyCon 2005. The silence was deafening during Ed Leafe’s excellent presentation. This was a good silence. You could see all of the light bulbs coming on. A three-tier framework to help take the pain out of building applications as a business solution. I forget how ahead of the curve the fox community is when thinking of frameworks to help jump start development. The fox crowd has had development frameworks since before we were object oriented. How come other development communities haven’t caught on? They were smart to put the Dabo presentations in the large Marvin Theater. Dabo is a natural path for the VFP crowd to enter into the Python/cross-platform development arena. I think the Python developers will take a long look at it as well. Ed and Paul; well done. Keep up the good work. I’m counting on riding your coat tails to success. (I better get off my duff and start contributing too!)

The Volunteer Foxpro Conference…
I’m convinced that this could work for us after seeing the success that is PyCon. This would take some thinking out of the box and lots and lots of hard work. You can’t just take DevCon and make it cheap, change it’s name, and make it a success. You have to offer something different, do it different, and hope that you turn a minor profit. To take the PyCon volunteer conference model and make it work for Fox, well … lets say someone is going to need some brass ones. It can work though.

The Python Challenge

Michelle Levensque made an excellent presentation on Wednesday titled “PyWebOff: Mapping the Python Web Application Frameworks.” She listed something like 40 different web frameworks available to Python developers. Each framework has its own strengths and weaknesses. This is both cool, and disturbing. If someone was to choose to develop a web application with Python, which would this person choose? How would they decide? The feeling is that eventually, the strengths of one (or three) will dominate the landscape. Until then, however, it’s a bit of a mess. This mess is also it’s strength. At least 40 different groups of people thought they had a great idea that hadn’t been seen before. Choices. People from the Microsoft world are a bit put off by this however. They are used to choosing between Microsoft (Win2K), or Microsoft (XP), or Microsoft (Win2K3) or Microsoft (Win2K7) or … You get the idea. Choices are hard to make. Choices are freedom however. With each freedom, comes a burden. As a whole, I like freedom. I want to reach out and embrace the freedom. Freedom for me is looking like Python.

Many thanks …
Everyone was very friendly. My thanks to Ed, Paul, Guy, Stefano, Bill, Evelyn, Patrick, Kirby, Coltrey, and all of the people that I’ve forgotten their names. (I’m bad that way.) I hope to be back at a PyCon again someday. Hopefully, I’ll be a presenter. My presentation will shock and amaze all those attending. So much so, that they will all want to buy me donuts and Mt. Dew. Hey, a guy can dream! Can’t he?!?

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