Thursday, July 28, 2011

Perl World

:: from July 3-5, 2011 ::

Jeff Zucker is here, my old friend and associate from CUE days (that was Center for Urban Education). We sat around the table in the foyer of the ballroom, catching up.

I'm walking the talk of the totem toter, diving deep into Perl culture coming from snake charming (a related brand of geekery). The totem spent the whole convention at the Perl Foundation booth, nuzzling with the camel. An inflatable globe also got into the act, perhaps signifying world domination (yet again, yawn).

Apropos of this theme, Trish hosted a Perl versus Python debate on the convention TV station, if we might call it that. Is Netflix a TV company or an Internet company?

We've been talking about, the domain name.

The debate was most friendly. Steve thanked Perl culture for helping to get this O'Reilly circus off the ground in the first place. OSCON is an outgrowth of the Perl conference. In coming to State of the Onion, I'm in some sense at the core. I may not stay for lightning talks though.

Staff is over on Hawthorne welcoming a new mentor. I'm eager to meet him too. My schedule took me back to 97214 for Food Not Bombs duty, adjutant to officer Walker (Blue House has offices).

Once David showed up, I was sure she had enough help, so bowed out, having helped with those coconuts, washing and sterilizing serving utensils, sharing some Quaker lore with our kitchen mates.

Earlier, at the Expo, after yet another excellent Google lunch, Scott sidled up to me yakking about Simple Gifts, as frequently cited by Copland in that famous symphony of his.

He's interested in the Quaker angle as well.

Trish was emceeing the televised debate with Chairman Steve and Peter. They took turns counting from 10 to 1, showing slides, going through their respective languages' best features, each somewhat teasing the other, a good-natured rivalry.

"Learn both" was Trish's advice, as a PHP coder.

You can see me on the video towards the middle, during the crowd shot: a hunchy gray big guy with the green PSF snake, which I was in the process of transporting back to its hovel on the Max and bus, given the booth fest was to end. At the booth fest: lots more talk with Computers for Kids (hand-me-downs, not spanking new OLPC stuff), and DemocracyLab. Open source TV production.

State of the Onion: mixed with lightning talks this year. I'm learning a lot listening to all this. I should go look for a bus soon.

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.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

This One's For You

:: annual session, npym 2011 ::

We turned off on Hwy 512 just north of McChord AFB and the joint facility with Ft. Lewis. Check Google maps, satellite view if interested. A big Bud billboard supports the troops. That's a Euro company used to provide advertising encouraging a certain image of "American". Euros are always making up stuff about the USA. They like the idea of a "martian police" (a dick brain neocon concept).

I caught the org reps meeting, as an NPYM guy (AFSC Corporation), mom too, on the Board. I pointed out towards the end of the meeting that since Quakers scarcely do titles, these signs of role serve as badges or c.v. credentials when addressing non-Q 3rd parties, not just our internal agencies (FCNL, FWCC, WF, FLGBTQC, QUNO and blah blah alphabet soup).

Speaking of Quaker entities, a topic on our plate this Session is shall NPYM affiliate overtly with the Friends General Conference (FGC). My table at dinner was focused on this. Tom Head, on the committee to make a recommendation, finds the demographic argument compelling. NPYM isn't about to turn on a dime and change its character, so if consolidation is the name of the game, then FGC is whom NPYM should hang out with. EFI and FUM would have no truck with us.

Chris on the other hand, daughter of a Quaker minister in Whittier, thought NPYM was more a beacon on its own and should not sacrifice its unique heritage in some effort to blend with the Quaker hoi polloi. Her meeting had broken away from FUM but still kept an orbit, and NPYM too has its special path, less squeamish in some ways.

I told Gayle afterward I didn't think NPYM was giving up its identity either way, and that FGC too would be changed, should the affiliation occur.

I also suggested these relationships were not mutually exclusive and NPYM was in no way monogamous (think of the "sister cities" program). Given we look "East" (i.e. towards the Far East, as in Asia), we should be looking to affiliate with some of those regional groups as well.

Our Branch

NPYM could jump in with some Quaker branches in Japan. Look at the University Meetinghouse in Seattle. Clearly Zen is an influence, and Buddhism more generally.

Of course Quakers, especially of the unprogrammed variety, are quite esoteric and you won't find many of them anywhere, not even in Philadelphia. Getting permission to settle in Pennsylvania was a breakthrough. The western USA states let us keep to our own rule book pretty closely as well. We're able to freely build on historic friendships with pre-Columbians for example, such as the Stillaguamish. Ft. Lewis is close to Steilacoom.

The Friend in Residence talk was about a Quaker meaning for "clear". I could imagine doing some creative videography and twisting this into a meeting for wannabe scientologists, spreading clearness around the world and, even more to the point, getting clear themselves. Just a passing thought.

There was also this Kierkegaardian theme: to will the good is to will one thing. What might you really put your heart into, out of conflicting motives? Maybe nothing? Expectant waiting is the Quaker form of meditation, a kind of not knowing. Satori (Eureka!) is not an uncommon result.

Quakers have a knack for remembering about sangha (community) even while emphasizing the individual's mystical powers to connect directly to some source of "right action upgrades" (cloud services). That explains all this talk about "corporate worship" which has the sound of some zombie worship capitalistic idolatry and/or superstition.

The Friend in Residence quoted extensively from Margaret Fell and John Woolman, two of the anchoring bodhisattvas in our Friendly tradition.

Given our closeness to the airport at McChord, we get to see some interesting mechanical fauna in the flight path, at about the same height as over DK's place in Minneapolis, though not nearly as frequently.

I brought the PSF totem in a bag with some speakers, mentioned doing this on Diversity. Tara might use those speakers. She's playing several responsible roles during this Session, from JF recording clerk to presenter regarding their recent "away team" delegation (no, not to Cuba).

That was a part of my remarks at the end of the org reps meeting: I mentioned my PSF affiliation, pointing to the decal on my uniform. I also tried to get clearer on former President Hoover's trajectory. Some NPYMers are holding puzzle pieces about him.

As I was mentioning to Eddy and Marty, now that we've escaped the gravitational vortex of establishment Christianity, we should do more to dabble in its forms, using retrospective allusion as well as pioneering new forms. Why not have some Synods, like the Lutherans do. We could dress up more, invent some costumes. I've been looking at fashion anyway, in connection with those Tarzania courses (advanced STEM). "How about Quaker tattoos?" I was saying, before our paths forked (not mandatory of course).