Archive for Python

PyConUK 2013

Every PyConUK has a different feel to it. By which I mean: I chart a different course through the weekend each year. Of course, the specifics of the conference itself change each time, too: the talks being given, the rooms being used, the people there, the special events or tracks being offered; all those things affect the feel of things too. But, as the ever energetic Zeth (”Really I should call this ZethConUK”) pointed out at one of the several opening addresses: this is a community conference; it is what you make it.

This year I’d committed to being a session chair for an hour and a half in one room on the Friday afternoon. Being a session chair means you’re going to be listening to three sessions, whether or not you’re inherently interested in the subject matter. In my case matters were made more interesting by a misunderstanding by one of the speakers who mistakenly took another speaker’s slot. At the exact same time that the Wiki was out of action after over-zealously shutting down when detecting an IP-bomb. (ie all the people at PyConUK on the *same* Nat-ted address all trying to access the schedule at the self-same time). This meant that I couldn’t check the timetable and I had to believe the quite-certain speaker’s version of events. The thing was resolved amicably and we moved on.

My own talk had been in the very first slot of the Fri afternoon sessions and nobody walked out or evidently fell asleep so I’m willing to judge it successful on that basis!

Following on from last year’s “Teachers’ Track”, the indefatigable @ntoll [actually: very fatigable as we saw on Monday] had organised both an education track on Saturday and a Raspberry Jam on Sunday, assisted in the latter by “Mr Raspberry Jam” himself: Alan O’Donohoe. There are pictures and videos of both around the web, for example here and here.

This year we had bigger rooms, which worked for me. I slightly missed the Tweetstream which used to be projected in the [this year’s] “HP Room” but Twitter traffic didn’t seem that great when I checked so maybe the Twitter-buzz is tailing off, or at least plateau-ing.

As always, the chance to meet people, the evening meals and drinks, looking around historic Coventry, all the not-conference things add to the occasion. The Ibis hotel is perfectly pleasant and reasonably priced (and effectively on-campus for the conference). The staff at the Technology Centre are helpful and friendly and competent; several times this and previous years I’ve witnessed the dining room staff go out of their way to try to accommodate someone’s needs even when, for whatever reason, they haven’t been given advanced notice.

My particular take-home idea from talking to teachers at the Education track was the idea of “One Screenful of Python”. I’ve started a Github organisation but I haven’t yet fleshed the thing out fully. The basic idea is that programmers would like to contribute to helping teachers out, but don’t necessarily have the time or flexibility to go into schools directly. But teachers would be helped by having a self-contained piece Python code which does something interesting. A screenful is the right size to put in front of a class and go through in the course of one lesson. Don’t know if it’ll come to anything, but it’s worth a try.

Anyway, big thanks as always to John Pinner and the PyWM team and everyone else who helped. (Hat-tip here to Peter Inglesby who very ably coordinated speakers and session chairs). I enjoyed it and I look forward to next year.

PS There are links to write-ups and photos over on the wiki.

The BAML-Sponsored PyConUK 2013 Raspberry Jam in Coventry

An unwieldy title for a great event.

Everything came together on Sunday at this year’s PyConUK in the TechnoCentre in Coventry for the 3rd year running. We were lucky enough to get Bank of America to sponsor a Raspberry Jam and lucky enough that Alan “Jambassador” O’Donohoe was around to lend his manic energy and unique style.

Despite the relatively short notice we were able to give, we had 25 youngsters plus their parents helped by as many Python developers from the main Conference plus some of the teachers who’d come for Saturday’s Education Track. I’ll link to some of the photos that were taken when they’re posted up. But it’ll be clear to you just how much manic energy was involved and how much youthful mayhem was harnessed.

We had people bringing robots and Python-controlled helicopters; we had children bringing Minecraft-inspired ideas and wackiness; we had people controlling LEDs; we had Scratch and Minecraft and pure Python; some people brought their own Raspberry Pi’s and other people used the ones we’d supplied; some of the parents caught the bug and were coding along with their kids; sometimes it was the other way round.

At the end, a group of three girls (and we had probably a 50-50 mix) went over to present a Lightning Talk to the main conference itself, showcasing their Minecraft-powered UFO.

Overall I think we can count our first foray into Raspberry Jamminess an success. We’re tremendously grateful to Bank of America whose sponsorship enabled us to use the excellent Simulation building as a completely separate space for what was, in effect, a subconference. I hope that it’s inspired people to run their own version of a Raspberry Jam, and that it’s given kids and their parents a flavour of what you can do with a little creativity.

UPDATE: There are photos here

London Python Dojo: does it have a keyboard?

Those of you who don’t frequent the London Python Dojo wouldn’t appreciate the in-joke behind the laughter which greeted the selection of “20 Questions” as the challenge for last night’s Dojo. For months Nicholas Tollervey, the main Dojo organiser, has seeded the list of Dojo suggestions with the idea of implementing a simple expert system where the computer maintains a taxonomy of objects and tries to identify an object of your selection within 20 guesses by a process of elimination. It’s become a source of humour that Nicholas has to offer the same explanation every month and that the idea is never selected as the challenge du jour. Well last night it was.

And I admit that it was much more involved than I had thought it would be. I honestly thought we’d be done in 10 minutes and looking for ways to fancy up the interface or whatever. How wrong I was! The teams split between a tree-based structure with nodes holding questions & answers and yes/no pointers; and a matrix of questions which attempted to eliminate possible objects with each question. Getting the exact looping and yes/no pointing right is harder than you might expect, especially when you’re pressed for time and you have a team of five people to consider.

We were hosted, not for the first time, by Mind Candy (of Moshi Monsters fame) in their gorgeously child-friendly offices with Mind Candy local Al Broomhead as MC. And, as always, O’Reilly provided a book for the end-of-evening raffle. I’m consistently impressed by O’Reilly’s readiness to support us: I imagine it doesn’t cost them loads to give away a book a month, but they could so easily turn us down and they continue to provide, month after month.

There have been discussions, on-list and in private, about various aspects of the London Python Dojo and the organisers have various ideas in mind, but we’re not planning to do anything drastic to the current approach. (Although our setup means we can easily experiment with something if we want). Our main idea is to emphasise our status as a beginner-friendly forum where everyone can and should get a chance to code in Python even if they’re a newbie amongst experts. I’m glad to say that, in our team yesterday, everyone got a chance to code, however lightly.

Beforehand, @ntoll gave a talk about the upcoming PyConUK and particularly about the education track, encouraging people who know or are teachers and who know or are children to come along to these special aspects of the conference. I also gave a lightning talk about the socio-political challenges in Python core development — and about how people could and should contribute.

[The title of this post refers to a commonly-asked question shouted out from the audience as the various teams were demo-ing their approaches. Demonstrating necessarily involves going through as a series of “Is it …?” “What question could I ask…?” prompts and this one turned out to be a popular question, especially if the object in mind was a Robotic Catfish!]

Activity on distutils-sig

A long time ago (I don’t remember exactly: years) I subscribed to the Python distutils-sig mailing list. And then I unsubscribed because it was noisy and not terribly fruitful.

Now, chasing down a Windows-related pip issue, I’ve come across it again and discovered that there’s a shed-load of useful work going on there. I had no idea that distribute (a fork of setuptools) & setuptools had [re]merged as of setuptools v0.7, and I’d lost sight of the many PEPs on naming, versioning, distribution formats and the like. I still haven’t worked out which is which, but at least certain of them seem to have reached the stage where they’re the point of reference for other discussions — not discussion points in their own right. There’s an initiative to get pip into the main Python distribution — which I also had no idea about.

I’m especially happy to see Paul Moore holding up the Windows end of things in discussions — thanks, Paul! Despite our both being UK-based [*] and Windows types and long-term Python users, we’ve never actually met AFAIK.

I’ve resubscribed now and I hope to be able to contribute in some small way.

[*] I’m fairly sure — and he did recently make a reference to Gunga Din, which is something I’ve never heard outside this country.

Python meets BoA

[tl;dr photos here]

Last night’s London Python Dojo was held, for the first time, at the very spacious Canary Wharf offices of the Bank of America. They’re big users of Python and, as we were told in an brief introductory, were keen to give something back to the Community.

They certainly did it in style. Their main reception is about the same size as Ealing Common. The meet-and-greet bar area where we had Pizza on classy platters & Beer served by bar staff is not much smaller than the whole of the offices of Fry IT, our long-standing default hosts. And the area below where a few of us gathered feels like a swimming pool with a long slide-like flight of stairs leading down. The function room where the main business of the evening was transacted was spacious with large tables (and *lots* of pencils!).

The guys at BoA had really done their prep work: power strips were already in place and every possible laptop-to-screen adapter was available. (For those who haven’t done this kind of thing: there’s *always* some kind of mismatch between a screen which can only take DVI-I and a Mac user who doesn’t have the Mini-HDMI-to-DisplayPort adapter. Or whatever: I use Windows which never has these problems ;) ).

As well as the friendly intro from one of the BoA guys, we had an enthusiastic lightning talk on Bitcoin from Sam Phippen (who comes in from Winchester or Bristol for the Dojos!). With over 30 people present, we had about 15 suggestions for the evening’s challenge, including old favourites (How does 20 Questions work, Nicholas?) and new ideas, some around the theme of banking. After the usual two rounds we settled on Steganography and made use of the generous table space (and pencils) which our hosts had provided.

The results are on Github (or will be, depending on when you’re reading this) as pull requests come in and are honoured. In short, two (three?) teams went for piggybacking on image bits; two teams (including the one I was with) encoded bits in the extraneous whitespace of a text document; and the last team tried to use the Python’s indentation to carry information in some way which I couldn’t quite understand at the time. I think that every team bar the Python-indentation one had a working result[*]; ours even had unittests!

FWIW my first idea for our team was to encode the characters in Morse code (using spaces & tabs as dots & dashes). We finally settled on binary but I still think Morse would have been cooler — and we could have played the message out as a midi file for extra points!

Of course at the end we had a draw for O’Reilly’s usual generous contribution to proceedings along with an added bonus: an historical map of programming languages. Appropriately enough, the book was won by Sal who’d been the driving force behind Bank of America hosting the Dojo this month.

Next month we’ll probably delay by a week to come in after Europython. Not sure where we’ll be yet, but follow @ldnpydojo or look out on python-uk.

And, of course, big thanks to Bank of America for being our hosts this time round.

TJG

[*] And they may have got things working after a live “Aha!” moment by Al who was demo-ing. [UPDATE: Al was actually in another team per his comment below; so many teams, so short a memory span…]