Monday, July 06, 2009

My view of EuroPython 2009

I was not very enthusiastic going to EuroPython this year. I don't like it when all I do is fly in, give a talk then fly out again, but that was all I could afford to do for EuroPython. I go to a few conferences in a year, and all of them can be filed under expenses for me, since I don't have an employer that pays for my conference trips. With EuroPython being in Birmingham and the UK not being the cheapest country there is there was no chance for the to afford staying more than two days.

My plane landed Tuesday at lunch time, and my talk was the first talk after the afternoon keynote. I arrived to the venue with about two and a half hours to take care of registration and payment. I had requested to not pay when I registered online and was told that the best solution would be to pay when I arrived. My reason was of course that I didn't have any money when they required my online registration, freelance open source development does not pay every month. The only problem with this was that when I arrived there was no one there to take care of registration, it was only open in the morning. I tried asking a few guys in staff t-shirts, but they were not very helpful, and seemed like they just wanted me to go away. I decided to wait until the next day with my registration and went to see the keynote.

It was nice to get to see Cory Doctorow in person. His keynote was about the copyright war and why it matters to us as developers. Scary stuff. The world that the media industry is forcing on us is all but pleasant. He could even provide examples of actual cases that have already happened where large music publishers have forced open source developers working on projects they didn't like to change profession or face millions of dollars in fines. Not on the basis of the software being illegal (it wasn't), but with a lawsuit on copyright infringement from downloaded MP3 files. He also talked about how the media industry seem to prefer the entire internet to be illegal, along with open source software all together, something that Reinout van Rees has a more complete summary of.

My presentation on what would make Jython a better Python for the JVM felt like the best presentation I have given to this day. The material was an updated version of the talk I gave at PyCon earlier this year. Experience really does make you a better speaker and this was the 11th presentation of my speaker career so far (in less than two years). It really feels good to stand in front of people and talk when a large number of people are nodding and smiling at what you are saying throughout most of the presentation. And the audience was great here, they asked a lot of good questions, both during the presentation and afterwards. I didn't go through all of my slides but I covered all of my material. Some things came more natural with other slides with this crowd, so I altered the talk slightly while doing it. This was a scenario I had prepared for, I was prepared to use the slides in either way, and with this audience I felt more comfortable doing it this way. The only negative aspect of the presentation was the room, it was laid out in such a way that if I stood by my computer I would block parts of the projected screen. I had to switch to my remote control and step away from the computer to allow everyone to see the material, which meant that I could not read my speaker notes on my screen. Fortunately I knew my material well enough.

The rest of the day I went around to a few different talks in the venue, still without badge. Then me and the rest of the Jython team that were there rounded off the day at a chinese restaurant with Michael Foord and some fifteen other attendees, followed by a pint at an outdoor bar before me and Frank headed to our hotel. The food and beer was great but the conference venue and the hotel were not. As I mentioned the venue had a problem with the room I presented in, but being in the basement of the Birmingham Conservatoire it was dark and small, with corridors to all the presentation rooms. Not an ideal place for a conference. The hotel (Premier Inn) was probably the worst I've experienced at a conference so far. When we checked in they were out of twin rooms even though that was what we had ordered, so we had to share a queen size bed. There were not enough towels, no AC, breakfast not included, and only one of our key cards worked. When showering one could choose between scolding hot drizzle, freezing cold shower, or loudly howling pipes. All of this at a rate of £65 per night.

The next morning I made a new attempt at registering. This failed again, this time due to the fact that my registration had not been paid. At this point I felt rather put off by the conference, I had payed for the plane and the hotel, and was expected to pay for entrance to a conference where my talk had been the only rewarding thing. I sent an e-mail to the organizers expressing my disappointment and asking them if they wanted my money and what I should do in order to give it to them. In the response I got they said that if I was not happy then maybe I should not have proposed a talk. How was I supposed to know that I was going to be unhappy about the conference before I got there? EuroPython 2008 in Vilnius was great, I had no reason to expect it to not be good in Birmingham 2009. It took me until the afternoon before I was able to track down the organizers, pay for my registration and get my badge. I did not get a t-shirt since they had made a mess of them and were unable to find a shirt in the size I had ordered.

Now that I was finally registered and all I felt that I had earned the EuroPython dinner that night. This was a very nice addition to the conference, a purely social event with the other attendees. After dinner and a pint at a nice pub I got about four hours of sleep before I headed to the airport. My plane took off at 6:30 am, so I got to the train station at 4 am to catch a sufficiently early train to the airport only to find out that the first train of the day left at 5:30. I had to run when I arrived at the airport with only 20 minutes until final boarding call. With check in luggage I would have never made it, but since I like to travel lightly and only had a small backpack I made it to the gate just after priority boarding had finished. It still would have been much better if the flight had departed an hour or so later, because I had to wait 160 minutes for the bus after I landed in Sweden.

Despite all the problems I think it was worth my time and money to go to EuroPython, the community is great, I love the Python people! But I don't think I'll attend next year unless I get the entire conference payed for. When it's not in Birmingham anymore I'll be more interested in attending again. There were also a number of interesting talks that I will now summarize.

Frank Wierzbicki's talk about web frameworks and Jython
Franks talk was right after mine, in the same room. Frank has also become a much better speaker in the past year, and I enjoyed seeing all the web frameworks that we now support with Jython. And the fact stands that for normal applications Jython performs about the same as CPython, which is nice for all of these web frameworks. I tend to forget this since I spend most of my time looking at the places where Jython performance should improve.
Mark Shannon's talk about his Python VM "HotPy"
Python is now starting to see the phenomenon that Charles Nutter has been talking about in the Ruby community: a number of new implementations and VMs are popping up and claiming to have better performance on a lot of things for different reasons. HotPy is a research Python VM that builds on a research VM toolkit by Mark Shannon from University of Glasgow. It is not complete but has a good approach to optimization, optimizing the code yields better result than compiling it.
Christian Tismer's talk about the status of Psyco
This was really impressive to me. Psyco V2 is being released this weekend. An heroic upgrading effort done by Christian alone. Everything about Psyco V2 is impressive. It yields enormous performance boosts to Python, to the point where Christian has started replacing builtin functions that are written in C in CPython with corresponding versions written in Python to improve performance. And properties get about a 100 times speedup with Psyco. I need to look at the source for Psyco and find out which of these optimization techniques we can apply to Jython, and perhaps even in the JVM.
Thursday afternoon keynote about Bletchley Park
Sue Black of the Saving Bletchley Park project and Simon Greenish gave a keynote presentation about Bletchley Park and how they are using social media to attract more visitors. The presentation featured an actual working Enigma machine on stage.
Thursday evening keynote by Sir Charles Antony Richard Hoare
Tony Hoare talked about the difference between science and engineering. Not the most entertaining talk, I had hoped for some interesting and motivating story on what had been driving his career. It would for example have been great to hear how he came up with the idea for quicksort, or hear about what interesting projects he is working on now. I did like his conclusion that Computer science and Software engineering are still allowed to be imperfect, being a much younger science than for example physics or biology, both of which were just studies of simple observable phenomena when they were at the age that computer science is today. His vision was that at some point in the future software engineering will be the most reliable form of engineering, since software never degrades. I like this vision, but I agree that computer science has to mature and evolve before we can develop zero fault software. Finally his response during Q&A to the question "Is there research that can help marketing come up with specifications so that we engineers can build the software?" was very entertaining: "That's the engineer's job. Marketing doesn't understand programming. Neither does marketing understand the customers.".

1 comment:

Michael Foord said...

Hey Tobias - picture of you and the guys at the restaurant: