Tuesday, July 26, 2011

At the Carnival

I think O'Reilly was working boldly with "symbolization" here, to use a term I learned from Trevor's ethnography on the Technocracy movement.

From 6 pm to 8 pm, one of the capacious Oregon Convention Center exhibit halls was turned into a memefest centered on the carnival theme: cotton candy, corn dogs, nachos, popcorn, caramel apples, what amounted to rides, games, photo booth... pinball machines.

Everything free to conference attenders and in unlimited amounts... for two hours.

I left around 7:33, having saluted my new Brazilian friends from last night.

Why this carnival imagery was deep, in a form of life sense (just "lifestyle" sounds too shallow), is the etymology of the word "geek".

The original geeks were in carnivals, down on their luck, and willing to engage in self-demeaning activities in front of gawkers, such as biting the heads off live chickens.

None of that went down here. We've come a long way. This was a wholesome event, even with a few true children. The rest of us faked it pretty well.

I dorked around a bit myself, made the bell ring with the hammer a few times, played Star Wars pinball, and floundered through the inflated obstacle course, falling off the cliff in the middle and taking the "death door" out the side (I wasn't the only one to perish in that way, though some managed to climb back out -- I even witnessed a rescue, of one woman by another, in true girl scout fashion). I rode a "monster tricycle" a few laps.

This morning was all business.

I rolled through my queue on the laptop, working the day job, teaching school for this same O'Reilly company. I'm on a superpass this year because I helped with some of the tracks, stressing medical research data (harvesting from medical records, sharing), and of course Python.

During the first lunch yesterday, I had a long talk with a medical data person, with offices around the world. At today's lunch I just listened.

One of my neighbors from across the street is here too.

Today's talks: the OSCON Data track is in a state of mulling things over. The Internet has thrust us into a state where swift evolution of data storage tools is a fact of life.


Open code is better code, and some of these tools just wouldn't hack it as proprietary offerings. They need to get worked on.

If you're a LinkedIn or Netflix, you don't want to wait for some vendor to fix bugs and make enhancements. You hire your own talent and get to work, on whatever it is.

Netflix is building out atop Amazon, about to fire up in South America, with other services to follow. They're happy enough with this solution to be willing to give up "Roman Riding", meaning one leg on each horse as they dash around the ring. Their own data center is the other horse.

How wonderful to be able to configure a ring of Cassandra machines in Japan with the touch of a button.

Netflix makes deals in Hollywood and then actually sources the streaming formats and DVDs from master originals. They're involved in the actual digitization process. Their GUI front ends serve off Java Tomcat.

LinkedIn, on the other hand, is more into in-house solutions, not renting in the cloud. They use lots of Harry Potter sounding open source tools, plus Kafka, which they may be willing to take public soon.

In-house development with the perspective of working on "products" is an advantageous mindset, as more general, sharable solutions also tend to be more robust, have a longer half-life.

If you just do vertical market silo stuff, you become unintelligible to yourself more quickly. I could hear a kind of anti-pattern against private language, shades of Wittgenstein.

The State of New York sent some people. Like in the other states, the political machinery is old and creaky and also not particularly accessible to ordinary people.

You might think it would be easy to look up the laws and monitor new ones as they wended their way through committee. You would be wrong, at least until recently. New York had been charging a hefty subscription to anyone wanting access to real time information. This has been changing, thanks to a small crew of geeks and a more aroused public.

I settled in to the HTML5 / CSS3 track again for the afternoon (up until carnival time), continuing to grade student work and monitor threads.

On the bus and Max to and from, I managed to finish How the Hippies Saved Physics by David Kaiser. More on that some other time.