Remnants of a Deeper YAPC
This year I attended my third YAPC. As always, here are my thoughts.
General bits and bobs: I thought the venue was pretty decent. It’s definitely the best hotel showers I’ve ever had: excellent water pressure and never even a hint of running out of hot water. Perhaps they have on-demand heaters. I could have used more open plugs in the room, but that’s a minor complaint. The wifi was pretty awful, as usual—one person even did a lightning announcement suggesting we complain about it. I didn’t see the point, personally. Several hundred geeks, most with multiple devices, plus several dozen spouses, partners, and children,1 all descending on a single location for four days ... hell, that could break anybody’s router. And I don’t think it’s particularly reasonable to ask a place that can comfortably house all those people to maintain a super-network year-round that will only really get used once a year. Just point your laptop at your cell phone instead and move on with life, I say.
As always, I met several new folks this year. A special shout-out to Kevin, Alan, and uncanny_kate, who shared former employers with me and were willing to commiserate.2 I also had a great conversation with scrottie, a game of Munchkin with two German fellows named Thomas and Alex, and got introduced to Ann.3 And I got to see plenty of other folks that I’d had fun hanging out with at previous YAPC’s, including the Slashdot guys (2/3 of whom I also share former employers with), and spq_easy, who I helped interview once at a former employer. Socially, it was a ball, despite the fact that many of us geeks (myself included) can be painfully shy in many social situations.
Talk-wise, there were good and bad sides. On the bad side, I missed some of my favorite speakers, like Piers Cawley, Ingy, schwern, and chromatic. On the other hand, I got to see mst speak twice, which is always entertaining, and Sawyer X twice, who is rapidly becoming one of my new favorite speakers. If I had to pick one talk as the absolute best of the conference, Sawyer X’s “The Joy in What We Do” wins it, hands down. If you choose only one YAPC video to watch because you couldn’t make it this year (and you’re silly enough to listen to my advice), choose this one. It was the best keynote of the conference.
Yes, we had multiple keynotes. Two or three a day, even. I thought that was a bit weird. My friend David Hand kept joking that we had gone beyond keynotes and were now into keychords. Almost enough for an entire keyscale, even. One of them, of course, was Larry’s State of the Onion, which was pretty good, and one was mst’s State of the Velociraptor, which was also pretty good, although he did have to go and recycle part of his speech from one of the few other YAPC’s I’d actually already attended.4 One was a mostly non-Perl talk by a fellow named Charlie Stross, who is apparently a Hugo-award-winning scifi author, although honestly I felt the most exciting part of his Wikipedia article was finding out that he invented the githzerai and the githyanki. His talk was pretty good too, as was Mark Keating’s, who is also a very entertaining speaker. But I thought the final two keynotes—Sawyer X’s that I already raved about, and genehack’s, which I’ll come to in a moment—were the two best.
Outside the talks, I once again had a blast at Game Night and the Bad Movie BOF. I wish they hadn’t both been the same night this year. At Game Night, we played Munchkin for an hour with me, my son, two former co-workers, and the two aforementioned German gentlemen. All were new to the game except my son and I. It was utterly insane (which, if you know anything about Munchkin, is not news to you), and at one point we were all sex-changed and I found myself playing with Charlene, Xena, Isabel, and Jemima.5 Once that finally finished (with Thomas coming up from behind to win it at the wire), we adjourned to Bad Movie Night, already in progress with the classic Godzilla vs Megalon, which I hadn’t seen in ages. After that was over, we watched a few shorts while we waited for people to decide whether they wanted to see a whole ‘nother movie or not. There was something about pork, which was strangely terrifying, and something about a “creeps machine”, which was strangely not, and then something about the “spirit of music”, which was just wrong. Finally, we settled into Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, which was basically so bad as to be indescribable. Santa was definitely in it, although his sleigh was stuck on a beach for some reason, and then Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn showed up for some reason, and then we were interrupted to show scenes from an amusement park for some reason, and then we were suddenly watching the story of Thumbelina for some reason, and the ice cream bunny never did show up. Well, he did at the very end, so I heard later, but the boys and I couldn’t make it that far.6 At 1:30am, it hurts your brain too much to try to follow that “plot.”7
So all that was lots of fun.
Deeper Thoughts: This year, as we did last year, we spent a fair amount of time convincing ourselves that Perl is not dead. Mark Keating in particular did a fine job of boosting morale on Day One. I do think it worth noting that the mere fact that we need to try to convince ourselves that Perl is not dead is a sign of something, although I suppose I’ll leave it to other, wiser heads to attempt to figure out exactly what.
But this year we also had another interesting meme which is a bit of an offshoot of that: is YAPC itself dead? or perhaps merely in danger of dying? On the one hand, it seems not, since conference attendance has just about doubled since 2009.8 But, on the other hand, genehack made an excellent point in his talk: I do remember how many people raised their hand in Austin when asked if that was their first YAPC, and, comparing to how many raised their hands in response to genehack’s query if this was their second, it does seem hard to deny we may have a retention problem.
This year there was an entire track called “Awesome && !Perl”, which featured talks on such topics as Scrum, devops, Selenium, cognitive linguistics, and brewing your own beer. You know: stuff that isn’t technically Perl, but is probably of interest to a significant subset of Perl hackers. For next year, may I suggest talks on TDD, creating virts on AWS, Pathfinder for D&D grognards, and maybe get dha and DrForr to demonstrate how to sync up your RiffTrax with the original movie on Linux. What genehack pointed out is that such talks may help broaden our appeal, and possibly attract some new blood to YAPC. Maybe even attract some not-JAPHs.
And this was the tricky part of his talk. Which, as I say, was good (and definitely my second highest recommendation for a talk video to watch if you missed it) ... but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything he said. Although I can’t actually disagree either. I’m seriously torn on this one. Because, first of all: OSCON. A brief detour on my personal conference history: There are many reasons that I first learned Perl in 1996 but first attended YAPC in 2011, and most of them are pathetic. But probably the biggest (most non-pathetic) one is that it took me till 2009 to find an employer willing to spring for my tickets. So why wasn’t I at the 2009 YAPC? Because I was at the 2009 OSCON instead. Silly me: I thought that was the best conference for Perl because it was the first: remember, YAPC is called “Yet Another Perl Conference” because the original name for OSCON was “The Perl Conference.” But I found that I was bored much of the time ... I enjoyed talks by the Damian and Ingy and RJBS, but there just wasn’t enough Perl there, and too much other crap I didn’t much care for. Plus OSCON is stupidly expensive compared to YAPC ... sure, I wasn’t actually paying for it, but I felt pretty damned guilty getting my employer to pony up that kind of cash for a conference I wasn’t getting that much out of. In contrast, I found YAPC to be interesting, engaging, and pleasantly cost-efficient.
So, on the one hand, I’m leery of genehack’s suggestions if they might eventually lead YAPC to fall down the rabbithole that OSCON has stumbled into. But, on the other hand, I can’t refute the logic of his introspections: have some talks on topics that engage Perl-ers, but also may attract some non-Perl-ites, and suddenly we’re cross-pollinating and bringing new blood into our community. Why the hell shouldn’t we pursue that? It’s like, win/win/win. Or something. And, I also have to admit: it makes sense to be thinking about this now, while our numbers are up, instead of waiting until we start to see a decline and then try to scramble to fix things.
In essence, I believe genehack wants Perl (and YAPC in particular) to pitch a bigger tent. And I guess I can’t argue with that. As long as we tread carefully to insure that we keep our uniqueness. I don’t want to try to emulate Python or Ruby. They, after all, started out emulating us. Let’s try and keep it that way.
Closing Thoughts: I didn’t speak this year, mainly because last year was quite the crappy year in terms of $work.9 This year is shaping up to be better, I feel, and I have a few good thoughts for topics for next year already. But, even though I was just another schlub, a couple of people made a point of coming up to me and complimenting my writing, including ribasushi, whom I’d never had the pleasure of meeting before. On top of that, David Farrell from Perl Tricks was kind enough to throw me up in a slide in his lightning talk, where I was called an “essayist.” Check it out, and especially note the company I’m keeping up there on the board. I’m very flattered by that, and probably not entirely deserving, but I really want to thank all those folks who had kind words to say about my writing. Your encouragement is noted, and appreciated.
Likewise, I would like to echo the sentiments of esaym, who posted on the YAPC mailing list today, thanking the volunteers who organized this year’s YAPC. I’m sure you don’t get to hear it enough, so let me add my voice to the chorus: your efforts are so valued. For many of us in the Perl community, YAPC is the highlight of our year, and it couldn’t be possible without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on the part of a lot of people that most of us generally don’t even recognize. Please accept my deepest gratitude.
As always, looking forward to next year!
1 And you can bet even the children in this group are using wifi connections. I know mine were.
2 This essentially means we sat around and had extended bitchfests. But that can be cahtartic.
3 I suspect she may not have been the only Ann there. But she was the only one I met.
4 The latter half of his keynote was from Asheville in 2011.
5 I’m terribly sorry, but I forgot Alex’s nom de femme.
6 My first YAPC, I brought no one. Last year, I brought one child. This year, two children. Next year I suppose I’ll have to bring three, and, for the year after that, I suppose I better get busy having more children.
7 And I’m being very generous in calling it a “plot.” In fact, some might say that I’m blatantly lying in doing so.
9 At least up until I found my current position. But, even then, a new job can suck up a lot of free time as you try to find your footing.