Reflections on PyCon UK 2007

Now the dust has settled I thought I would just say a few words about my experience of PyCon UK, my first conference where I have been involved in helping out with the organisation and running on the day(out of only 4 conferences I have ever gone to) .

Firstly, overall I think this was an excellent conference, the number and range of talks was amazing and it all ran pretty smoothly. With the exception of the comedy take away dinner at the pub on the Friday night (Zeth still hasn’t recovered from the stress of that I think) I was only aware of one other problem: No one was available to chair the last session in the room I was just vacating. (I did the intro and left them to it as I had to do some other stuff but it seemed to go ok and it was lunch after that. )

I looked through the feedback forms as we were sorting them out at the end of the conference and I did not see any major criticisms of the conference as a whole.

This is a remarkable achievement due in no small part of the work of the committee (of which I was not a part in case you think I am being immodest). The drive and commitment over several months paid dividends and though all the committee played their parts special thanks must go to Zeth and John for being the drivers and enablers for the conference.

I had a great time and enjoyed all the set up and chairing sessions (well I like the sound of my own voice). However it was really tiring and on Monday at work I was fit for nothing. Next time I will definitely book the Monday off to recover.

It does make a difference to how you perceive a conference if you are involved in the running of it. Seeing 200 people milling about and knowing you’re are helping them have a good conference is a great feeling. One thing I found was that when I wasn’t session chairing I didn’t actually want to go to any other talks I would rather chill out a bit and take stock. ( Well that and do some live blogging.) However cunningly I had chosen to chair sessions where at least one of the topics was something of interest to me. I wonder if I can get away with that next time.

This was also the first conference where I had been able to attend the social events and that was great fun and definitely something I will try and do at future conferences.

I would recommend anyone thinking of helping out at a community driven conference to give it a go. It’s hard but very rewarding work.

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Live from PyCon UK 2007 – Part 1

It’s half-way through day one of the UK’s first national python conference PyCon UK. I’ve taken a few minutes out between talks to review things so far. As this is a live post I’ll reference it up later with links to people and products I mention. [ References added 18th September]

I declare an interest as I am part of the crew for the conference helping set things up and chair some sessions.

I should also declare I’m a bit of a fraud in as much as I have only ever written three python programmes. It’s something I want to do more of so this conference will be my catalyst hopefully.

Before the main conference started today we had a pub meet in the evening on Friday. This was held at Bennett’s pub in the centre of Birmingham. There were about 70 people there at its peak.

As organisers we faced our first crisis because the chef at Benetts had “disappeared” just before we arrived so no food was available and we had 20 hungry pythonista’s hoping for food. Zeth and John struck on the idea of buying take out food from the Thai restaurant across the road and ferrying it. Chaos abounded with dishing out the various portions but everyone got fed, crisis averted. As a vegetarian I didn’t expect to spend so much time dishing up food to corpse crunchers half the evening but it’s all hands to the pump.

Day One

The main conference is being held at the Birmingham Conservatoire and we have 200 delegates using 4 rooms for talks and tutorials. Here’s a brief outline of the ones I have heard so far.

Database Magic with SQLAlchemy

This talk was given by Paul Johnston and as the first talk up in one of the rooms he was setting the standard for the day. The talk was quite a technical overview of the use of SQLAlchemy an Object Relationship Mapper that allows python objects to be stored in standard SQL RDBMS . What was particularly interesting was the way relationships between objects could be mapped and then the SQL generated for queries could be done in an “eager” mode that uses outer joins etc. to reduce the number of sub-queries and calls to the database to get a set of data.

Introduction to Django

This was an eagerly anticipated talk from Jason Davies and was well attended. Jason ran through a broad over view of the Model View Template approach of Django and the background to Django. With just slides to view, it lacked a bit of the interactive element to show the speed with which sites can be developed but Jason handled a good 20 minutes of questions at the end and was able to address them all in a reasonable level of detail without overwhelming the mostly beginner audience with technical detail.

He also showed a slide showing the relative performance of Django, Turbo Gears, Symfony and Ruby on Rails. Django comes out really quite well on this.

Ok off to more talks, not sure if I’ll get time to do another live post but we’ll see.

Early Day Motion – A Result

Well following my previous post about the EDM for Open Source Software in schools my MP has signed the Early Day Motion. I sent my email on the 28th January and he signed the motion on the 30th January so I like to think that my prompting him helped.

Actually if you look at the EDMs Andrew Mitchell has signed they are mostly in his area of interest (he’s spokesman for International Development) so it gives me a bit of satisfaction to think that he has signed the EDM for OSS in schools as a result of requests from his constituents (of whom I am one).

Power to the people. Freedom for Tooting!

BBC Internet Media Consultation

Both Jono Bacon and my local LUG mailing list have had comments about this BBC consultation and I think it is really important that anyone interested in either Open Source software or open standards for public bodies makes their views known.

The whole questionnaire is of interest and importance but question 5 about how important is it to have non-Microsoft software work with the 7 day catch up of broadcasts is crucial.

If the BBC only support Microsoft software for this it’s like broadcasting programmes that can only be viewed on TVs made by Samsung. (To pick an example.)

I’m a huge fan of BBC Radio4 and BBC7 and regularly use their “listen again” features. Now I may have to do this over Realplayer but at least I have an option to do that on Kubuntu.

Birmingham Linux User Group Meeting

Today I attended the January meeting of the Birmingham Linux User Group. ( Note that we have changed name from the South Birmingham LUG now that the defunct Birmingham group name has become available. [ Note also that after only attending 3 meetings and a half dozen posts to the mailing list I say “we” ] )

The core of the meeting was a talk by Clive de Salis about setting up a home or small office network for file sharing and printing. The talk was well presented and the approach he had taken for a group of three users in a small business was interesting. The printing set up was a fairly standard CUPS installation, but the filesharing was achieved by using sftp over sshd and users had book marks in Konqueror to be able to access each other’s areas to transfer files.

There was a good discussion of options and the pros and cons of various approaches amongst the group (about 10 of us).

Clive’s day job sounded particularly interesting as he is a chemical engineer involved in process safety work relating to dust explosions and in a preamble to his talk he showed us some interesting pictures of explosions and regaled us with a tale or two in the bar afterwards.

I look forward to the February meeting.

Cyrillic Russian Keyboard and Fonts

Well for once a post with questions but no answers. I’ve been spamming a few forums and sites with the following:-

When I am not playing with my Kubuntu system one of my other hobbies is learning Russian.

In attempt to combine the two I have bought a bi-lingual keyboard QWERTY and Cyrillic (ЙЦУКЕН) I’ve installed the ru localisation for KDE and set up the keyboard variants. As you can see it works fine in Russian mode. Я говорю по-русски (I speak Rusian) but as a student I need to know where the stress goes in a word and this is usually done by adding acute accent above the stressed vowel. Then I can put them in applications like KWordQuiz the vocab trainer.

The only way I have found to do that so far is to type the word in Open Office Writer then use the insert special symbol option and choose the accent from the Combining Diacritical marks, then I can cut and paste in to KWordQuiz or any other KDE app. (Interestingly pasting into google mail in firefox strips out the stress marks, I have just discovered, but it works here although the accent is a little off to the right Я говорю́ по-ру́сски )

I believe I should be able to just add these accents from the keyboard using either a “dead key” or a compose key setting but so far I have been unable to do this.

Any ideas what I need to do?

In case it is of relevance the keyboard was bought from a trader on ebay details here

This certainly makes me realise how much I take for granted using English on a keyboard in a computing context.

Practise what you preach….and write it down

Over the last couple of months or so I’ve been using Kubuntu on my laptop at work. I thought it would be a good way to find out if Kubuntu can really hack it in a commercial environment specifically an almost completely proprietary Microsoft one. I administer HP-UX servers so I connect to Unix systems all the time and aside from anything else it is just easier to manage that connectivity from a Linux based system.

So while no-one was looking I set up my Toshiba Tecra P4 256MB 40GB system to be dual boot with Kubuntu Dapper. I encountered quite a few little hurdles to overcome to get the system doing everything I could when it was booted in Windows XP but was able to sort them all out. I had the idea of write a series of posts on what I had to do to tweak Kubuntu so other people could perhaps find the answers easier and quicker than I did and of course it would be a handy reference for me whenever I wanted to do this again.

Well you know how it goes one thing came up then another and I never got to writing stuff down; and serves me write too. When I got my new company laptop, a Dell Latitude 520 Intel Core Duo 1GB 40GB, I found I was floundering around to work out how I did some of the stuff I did before.

So this time I’ve made notes of all the steps I’ve taken to get Kubuntu working how I want and I’m going to post them here over the coming days and/or weeks. In an unusual attempt at brevity I’ll do a separate post for each item. Watch this space………