the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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Processing PyCon 2008

Stairway
Stairway
Originally uploaded by mikepirnat.

The security line at O'Hare was almost non-existent, so now I've got a bit of time to kill and (since "free wireless network" doesn't seem to want to give me any DNS) have the laptop open, it's probably time to digest and process my PyCon experience.

Overall, I felt strangely disconnected this year. I didn't end up dining with any of the circles I'd overlapped with in years past, didn't go to any parties, didn't stay up late hacking on personal projects, didn't hang out on the IRC channel (thanks a lot, wonky wi-fi), didn't have a presentation to worry about, and didn't end up being able to wake up in time to get my name on the list for Lightning Talks. Heck, since I didn't have the laptop out much, I barely even took notes this year.

What I did do was shoot a lot of photos, some of them acceptable, nearly filling my 2GB card over the course of the conference. I've only had time to upload one as I just haven't had the time, motivation, or energy to sort through everything at the hotel. (And it's not like uploading via the sippy-straw of the hotel's in-room wireless would have been terribly practical either.) I enjoyed briefly meeting Ted Leung before the opening keynote, and was amazed (and somewhat intimidated) by the number and variety of fancy camera toys he'd brought with him as he performed his duties as official photo dude. A number of folks stopped me and asked me questions about my camera and flash; I tried not to sound like too much of a moron when answering them. The weird thing is that everyone assumes if you are toting a DSLR around that you can't possibly take bad pictures with "a camera like that," when in reality shooting with a DSLR is the fastest way to find out exactly how much you suck at photography. I can get some good (and sometimes above-average) results, but I really have to work at it, so I try to stay humble. Also it helps to never show anyone your bad shots. ;-)

While I'm still on the camera talk, I learned that I need to bring extra batteries for the flash, recharge the camera battery while I sleep or bring a spare, and that I should probably buy a spare memory card so that I don't feel any last-day storage pressures when I've been too lazy to dump things down to my laptop. I've also learned to swallow my pride and kick the camera over to automatic metering when the lighting is tricky and I need to shoot quickly--I have some almost-good shots ruined by camera shake that could have been avoided if I hadn't been trying to be all manly and shooting in full manual with no flash. Finally, a happy discovery--the bad-ass heavy-grade Gorillapod that my wife gave me for Christmas makes an excellent hybrid of monopod (albeit rather short) and grip/brace. I found that I could keep the camera very steady by placing two of the legs against my body and supporting the camera with the third, making it easy to track and shoot moving subjects without too much wobble.

On the dining front, the huge posse of Cleveland folks managed to get out to some tasty meals. On Wednesday night we lucked into an unheard of thirty-second wait for a table at Frontera Grill and enjoyed a meal that simply cannot be described in words. Friday night we (along with Bill Zingler, a compadre from the Turbogears sprint in '06) hoofed it down to Ram, a grill and brewhouse, where the beer and food were pretty good. We didn't stay for too long though as we were greatly outnumbered by a vast sea of douchebaggery--drunken BMW-driving jerks in their sport jackets acting out a sad, strange re-enactment of their college (or more likely high school) days. We rounded things out on Saturday with a visit to the local Giordano's for deep-dish pizza, a first for one of our number, where we proceeded to annihilate their supply of Fat Tire.

Gosh, that's an awful lot of text without really even talking about the conference... Which might in itself be a comment about the conference.

Everyone knows the wireless network was stinky, so I won't spend too much time one that. It wasn't until this afternoon that I was able to even connect in any way approaching reliability. By then, really, there wasn't much point.

It seems like the consensus is that the Lightning Talks really suffered this year from the overwhelming dominance of the (lackluster) sponsor talks, to which I can only agree. It was really disappointing to see so little time available to community speakers during what, to me, is really the heart and soul of PyCon. There were a few gems on Friday and Saturday, but mostly... ho-hum.

And I was underwhelmed by a lot of the presentations too. A lot of things that I thought would be really useful or deep ended up being too light, too dull, or just not well presented. I seemed to have a knack for picking a lot of duds. Even two thirds of the tutorials that I attended (Eggs and Testing) were letdowns, due to the lack of being able to do any of the exercise material thanks to the network (Eggs), and the repetition of material from last year's PyCon (Testing).

The big wins for me were the Advanced SQLAlchemy tutorial (slide runner rocks! and if it's possible to be in love with an ORM, I think I am!), Kevin Dangoor's talk about TG2 and Dojo, and John Harrison's insanely cool Halloween laser-zapping extravaganza, which was probably the most fun presentation I've been to in four years of attending PyCon. The first two will have practical benefit for me in my daily existence, and the latter--complete with head-tracking, 3D VR goodness--was just frickin' awesome. A note to future PyCon presenters when coming up with your proposals--lasers, lasers, LASERS!

I don't mean to be so down on PyCon. I had a good time, I was just exhausted from one end to the next. Exhausted before I even left, exhausted while I was there, and (surprise surprise) exhausted now that I'm home. I did really enjoy meeting folks, networking a bit, and soaking in the vibe... It just didn't manage to leave me as energized as I'd gotten used to, spoiled as I've been by PyCons past. Though stumbling across the excellent performance of "Stairway to Heaven" in the atrium thoroughly lifted my spirits. So few people seemed to even notice that it was almost like a private gift just for me.

I've got about seven hundred photos to wade through to find promising candidates to share; please bear with me as the lucky few take their time to escape into my Flickr stream.

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