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PyDX 2016

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I'm back in Portland, land of the hipsters. PyDX was this past weekend, and I had a great time! To be honest, I was looking for an excuse to visit the Pacific Northwest again after going there for PyCon, so when PyDX accepted my talk proposal, I knew I had found the right excuse. :)

About PyDX

PyDX is a pun on "PDX", the abbreviation for Portland. It bills itself as a "Community-Driven Python Workshop in Portland", with "Post-Ironic Artisanal Code from Local Farmers Programmers" and "Small-Batch Gluten-free Vegan Workshops and Talks". Direct quotes from the conference website. Clearly, the conference organizers know their target audience.

PyDX is a small, local conference. The conference sold out at 150 attendees, which felt like a good amount. There were two speaker tracks plus a large area for hanging out and chatting: the "hallway track", as it's often called. I spent most of my time attending talks, which I kind of regret -- I should have pushed myself to be more social and spent more time on the hallway track. Oh well, there's always the next conference!

Day 1

Juliana Arrighi's keynote was about creating "learning adventures": managing risk to find a balance between low-risk low-reward guided instruction, and high-risk high-reward personal challenges. Learning new topics by yourself involves a lot of "unknown unknowns": roadblocks that you don't know about ahead of time. It's hard to find the motivation and perseverance to succeed, but if you do, you'll end up with some valuable knowledge that you won't soon forget! I really enjoyed Jules' keynote. :)

The other presentations were also good. I liked Josh Simmons' presentation on building community in open source, and Chris Neugebauer's presentation on organizing tech conference. (A presentation at a tech conference about tech conferences -- it was very meta.) I also really enjoyed Tom Offermann talking about the trace module in Python, taking a complex topic and making it approachable and understandable. And Jeremy "Penguin" Tanner had a fantastic presentation about using Python to make smart picks on daily fantasy sports websites. He's so engaging that he could make any topic interesting, and while I have no interest in sports or fantasy leagues, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The conference provided free pizza for lunch, and after that, Philip James led an expedition to the nearby Portland Saturday Market, which was so quintisenntially Portland. Full of handmade crafts, artisinal what-nots, and delicious streetfood, and populated by stand-out locals and blend-in tourists. I was only there for a few minutes, but I had a great time, and took a few pictures.

Dinner was an interesting affair, as well. We all divided into five groups and went to five different restaurants, and the conference paid for everyone's dinner, including tip! Thursday Bram, who helped organize PyDX and was in my dinner group, explained that it was actually cheaper to pay for everyone's dinner at a restaurant than to organize a catered event, and they wanted to encourage attendees to eat with and talk with each other. Small groups also makes it easier for people to talk, and the groups were organized in a "Birds of a Feather" style: anyone could propose a topic, and others who were interested in that topic could sign up to join. Our group's topic was "static site generators," proposed by yours truly (because I'll take any opportunity I can to talk about Lektor!), but the conversation ranged across many different topics. We went to Sushi Ichiban, which was not only delicious, but had an adorable little choo-choo train that went around the main bar carrying small plates of sushi. It was the most creative take I've ever seen on conveyor-belt sushi!

Day 2

Portia Burton's keynote on Bitcoin, Etherium, and blockchain technology was a really interesting start to the second day of PyDX. She created a new cryptocurrency called "Snake Dollars" during the presentation! Seems like cryptocurrencies aren't going away, although they haven't risen to prominence yet, either. Portia also talked about Etherium's "smart contracts", which personally I'm very skeptical about, but that's another topic for another blog post.

Next, Heidi Waterhouse talked about applying principles of garbage collection to documentation: a brilliant idea! The older and less referenced a piece of documentation is, the more likely it is to be outdated and incorrect, so why not mark it as such? After that, I heard from Jerome Comeau about the role of support in technical organizations: informative, but bleak. He claimed that one out of every four people in tech suffers from migranes, and that for people in support positions, the ratio rises to one in two. Shocking, and yet not unbelievable; I'd love to see a source for those claims. Nicholle James gave a presentation about how to run a workshop and help people learn; she mentioned a few principles I plan to put into action the next time I teach a class, including pairing up more experienced people with less experienced people. Nate Smith talked about some basic optimization techniques for Python: I didn't learn anything new, but it was nice to see how to put basic knowledge about IO and Python types put to work gracefully. Finally, Sev Leonard did an awesome presentation about getting started with hardware: he built the "Internet of Cats", an IoT device that displays cat pictures in response to HTTP requests. His excitement was infectious, and I really enjoyed hearing about hardware, a topic that I still know comparatively little about.

After all that, I gave my presentation on Advanced Git. It was the same presentation I gave at PyCon, OSCON, and PyGotham, and I think word is getting around, because the room was packed. The presentation went off without a hitch, and the attendees asked some good questions, so I count it as a great success. A lot of people seemed interested in my book, as well: I guess I need to hurry up and finish writing the damn thing!

Other Thoughts

PyDX was the first "dry" tech conference I've ever attended: there was no alcohol allowed. The code of conduct stated that if anyone brought alcohol into the conference venue, or showed up drunk, they would be asked to leave. While I don't think that every tech conference should be dry, I'm really glad that there are at least a few that are trying it out. I thought it worked quite well, and certainly made me feel more comfortable, since I don't drink. Alcohol is deeply entrenced in tech culture, and being in a space where choosing not to imbibe was a complete non-issue was really nice.

I heard many people talking about how much they enjoyed Philip James' talk: "Frog and Toad Learn About Django Security." Apparently, it was given in the style of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books, inspired by the blog Frog and Toad are Cofounders. I really want to see this talk when the video is available online!

I learned more about the Internet Archive from Vicky Brasseur, and particularly about its capabilities for hosting slides and video for talks. She even has a great blog post about how to upload video to the Internet Archive, which I plan to reference when finding and uploading my OSCON video. I also learned from Barbara Miller that the Internet Archive provides APIs, and provides infinite storage for free, including an S3-like API! This is definitely something I'll need to investigate futher. In the past, I've hosted my slide decks on SpeakerDeck, which has a very pretty interface. However, moving forward, I think I'll be using the Internet Archive.

Thursday Bram, one of the conference organizers, declared that she would get a PyDX tattoo if the conference sold out. Well, the conference sold out, and she's very excited to be getting that tattoo! That's awesome, and I look forward to seeing it when it's done!

I'll still be in Portland for a few more days. If you'd like to say hello while I'm in the area, please let me know! I love hanging out with people and making new friends. :)