PyCon 2009 Day 1

python-logoAh, the business trip. I’d love to say I know it well, but I don’t, because this is my first one! I am attending PyCon, the convention for U.S. users of the Python Programming Language. This year it’s in Chicago so in exchange for helping to do a little bit of recruiting and helping get the name of my company out there, I get to attend cool talks and network with other pythonistas from all over.

I attended six and a half talks today (out of eight possible) and all of them were very interesting and informative.

The firt was Python for CS1 Not Harmful to CS Majors (and good for everyone), which basically summarized the benefits of using Python when teaching the entry level Computer Science course in universities. Non-majors actually learn enough to put it to use, majors do just as well in CS2 (even if the course is C++ or Java) and it builds the Python community at the university among TAs and grad students. I liked this talk a lot even though it was pretty much only pertaining to academia and not all that useful to me in my work. Who knows, though, one day I may stop being able to do and start teaching.

Next was Python in the Enterprise – How to Get Permission. This was mainly a work decision because, while we already use Python at my company for “The Enterprise,” we sometimes have to deal with customers who are wary of it or cooperating organizations who are the same. The scope on this one was pretty narrow and pretty much could be summed up as “work within the system and tout Python’s benefits” but it was still good.

Apparently the speaker for the next talk missed his flight from Africa and so it was postponed. Hopefully I can catch Giving back and helping expand the Python community. A roadmap for South America and Africa on Sunday. Since this was the only talk I really wanted to go to during this time, I headed over to our booth for recruiting. It was just about set up, and a few other coworkers were hanging out. We started shooting our nerf rockets (with our job website on them) at the sparse crowd.

(The vegetarian) lunch was Caesar salad and lasagna with some sort of cream sauce. Also, Teramisu (it very much seems like they are trying to caffeinate the attendees heavily).

After lunch, I was conflicted about which talk to attend. I ended up attending Strategies For Testing Ajax Web Applications because it was helpful for my work, opting out of both a talk on capturing neutrinos in Antarctica (cool) and a panel discussion on the different Python interpreter implementations (cool and brainy). The panel discussion was extra long so I was able to catch the end of it.

The fifth talk I attended was called Python in a Sandbox by the implementers of PyPy (the Python interpreter written in Python). An interesting adjunct of their work is that they can abstract all the operating system calls that Python does out and replace them with whatever they like; for example, they can write an interface for reading and writing files that never actually writes to the machine, it only simulates the fact that there is a file system. This version of PyPy could eventually be run inside Web browsers safely, without giving Web sites dangerous access to your home computer.

After a short break, there were two talks left. I chose Introduction to Multiprocessing in python, about the new multiprocessing module (I know little about this, but it seems cool) and Easy AI with python which was very interesting and well-presented and led me to two modules I definitely want to experiment with – one on Bayesian filtering and one on simulating neural networks with a relational database. The code he showed for each of these things seemed incredibly simple (Python almost always does) but also very powerful. Maybe I can do that Bayesian work I was looking into for the Netflix prize.

After the talks, I hung out at our recruiting booth for a while and also checked out a few of the other booths. EVE Online was there, which was very cool, and they talked a little bit about their MMORPG. Then I got invited to a blues club by some coworkers; I turned them down (the main act didn’t even come on until 10:30 and I need my beauty rest.) Instead, I opted for the “board game social.” I learned two new games that I enjoyed immensely and want to buy, and met a few people. We went out to eat at a tiny Polish restaurant in Chicago proper. I had Pirogi.

And so ends the first day of the Conference. I am looking forward to keynotes tomorrow and Sunday by Guido van Rossum (inventor of Python) and the Reddit guys!

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