Monday, March 24, 2008



a regional Python miniconference

Ohio had a good representation at PyCon, and we agreed that the time has come.

announcement-only list:

planning list:

Almost everything is up in the air right now... all we know for certain is that we're aiming for one day, presumably a Saturday, in the Columbus, OH area. Join us, and help the plan take shape!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Teach Me Twisted

I got home from PyCon last night, having stayed for sprints for the first time (I'll blog about that later). It was amazing.

One of the amazing things was Steve Holden's Teach Me Twisted session. I came out of simple curiosity; I witnessed the invention of a whole new form of teaching, I think.

Steve had the front of the room and a laptop with a projector, just as if he were teaching a conventional class - only he wasn't teaching, he was learning. All he had, to begin with, were some ideas of what Twisted could do, not how to do them. "So, how would I use Twisted to check if my website is up?", he began. The Twisted experts sprinkled throughout the audience talked him through it. Steve asked questions to move the session along, and channeled the discussion to keep it focused on his needs as a learner. In particular, when the Twisted experts started waxing eloquent on subtleties or engaging each other in esoteric discussions, Steve cut them off and redirected them back into the task at hand - the task of directing a beginner.

It was wonderfully effective! When you think about it, the standard classroom arrangement gives all the power to the teacher, which is precisely where it doesn't belong, because the teacher is distanced from the learners' needs. By the time you're an expert, you've forgotten what it was like to be ignorant. Bad teachers even forget how to pity the ignorant, using the podium to demonstrate their mastery of the subject to an imaginary audience of fellow masters. Good teachers try to be responsive to the learners' needs, but the arrangement conspires against them. They're like a blindfolded chauffeur, trying to find the road by the verbal instructions of their passengers, who may be too shy to even speak up. It's very hard for a learner to muster the courage to tell a teacher, "I still don't understand what you're saying, and your tangents aren't helping."

By taking the role of the ultimate, empowered learner, Steve turned all that on its head, and made for a session that really was all about the learners' needs to learn. Yet even the experts said afterward that they, too, had learned from it. Perhaps that's because it harnessed the multi-directional, easygoing, collaborative spirit of a good Open Space session, while remaining technical and specific, not wandering into vague chitchat. Bravo, Steve!

Pycon-organizers is buzzing about it, with perhaps overambitious dreams of immediately start a whole series of "Teach Me..." sessions. I'm thinking about trying it out at a local Dynamic Languages SIG meeting. Teach Me Ruby, SIG guys?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

PyCon Cleveland 2010: Python Rocks!

PyCon is coming to Cleveland in 2010!

OK, I understand there are some other places bidding to host PyCon - some podunk towns like San Francisco and Atlanta - and I'm sure the PyCon organizers will hear their bids attentively, because they're generous people. But, c'mon, you don't seriously think anybody but Cleveland could win, do you? After all, Cleveland is Cleveland, and the others are not!

Anyway, if you want to help bring PyCon to Cleveland, it's time to join the ClePy mailing list and start figuring out how to make it happen.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Live from PyCon

Yesterday, I was wondering whether this year's PyCon was really turning out to be as amazing as its attendance suggested.

I'm not wondering today. I saw some excellent conventional talks earlier in the day. Mike Bayer showed yummy new SQLAlchemy with infectuous enthusiasm. Kumar McMillan gave a blessedly clear explanation of Unicode in Python. Brandon Rhodes laid out ideas like Adapter patterns very nicely, and showed magnificent stage presence, too.

During discussion of Boston's PyCon 2010 bid:

Steve Holden: "I'm not surprised food is expensive. You send them perfectly good tea, and they throw it in the harbor."

And then, as the pre-scheduled talks ended, the Open Space board went white-hot. I learned a lot at well-attended Open Spaces for DevChix, DBSprockets, and usergroup leaders, and could have enjoyed a dozen other sessions if only I could fork myself.

Right now, I'm finishing my day at Steve's "Teach Me Twisted" session, and wow. I didn't even really care about Twisted, I just wanted to see how the learner-driven idea would work out, and it's going great. About a dozen fat brains and fifty hungry brains are here, and Steve is doing a masterful job of herding us along with skill and humor. How he's managing to absorb this all at the same time as he guides it along with well-placed questions, I don't know. I guess that's what years of teaching experience can do.

Itamar Shtull-Trauring: "Can't we refactor the code a bit more?"
Alex Martelli: "No."

Monday, March 10, 2008

KDE 4: wait

I'm a habitual early adopter. For instance, I moved my production databases to Oracle 11g weeks ago. So, naturally, I had to try the new Kubuntu with KDE 4.0. Sometimes, however, "alpha" really means "alpha", as in "nope, it's not ready yet, leave it alone unless you really want to suffer for science".

So far, these are the features from earlier Kubuntu / KDE combinations that aren't working for me on the new Hardy / KDE4 alpha-alpha.
  • response to volume / mute buttons on hardware
  • Automatic mounting of USB drives (the device doesn't show up under /media until after you've navigated into it with Dolphin)
  • Alt-Tab switching between windows (AAAAAARGH!)
This last one brings it to the threshhold of unusability, and I'll probably uninstall, unless I can find a keyboard shortcut to switching windows soon (and I've had little luck finding a good users' introduction to KDE4). Now, I'm sure there's lots of wonderful stuff about KDE4. I think there's an eternal tension between brilliant designers who improve products and ungrateful users who do nothing but gripe. That's because, if you introduce fifty new features that will please me greatly - when I get around to learning to use them - while, at the same time, breaking five old features that I know and have come to rely on... well, I say the new version "sucks". It isn't fair, is it? But it's the way it works.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

learner-driven Open Space

Over one thousand registrations are in the system for PyCon 2008. Over 2**10, actually. Amazing!

After exulting a bit over that kind of growth, I moved on to worrying about whether PyCon can keep the magic that makes it so great as it grows. A look through the still-forming Open Space schedule quickly reassured me. For instance, Steve Holden has scheduled an Open Space session called "Teach Me Twisted" - not because he knows Twisted, but because he wants to learn it. So he's challenged the Twisted community to come and teach it, and it looks like they're responding.

Learner-driven content - I love it!