PyCon 2009 notes

Monday 30 March 2009

I had an amazing three days at PyCon 2009 in Chicago. I won’t have a coherent write-up (at least not just yet), so these scattered notes will have to do:

The weather was a great example of why not to hold conferences in Chicago: cold, wet, even snowy. Maybe next year we can hold PyCon someplace warm, like Siberia (it will actually be in Atlanta). On the other hand, it was great to be able to get on the Ell and be in the middle of a vibrant city.

Twitter was much bigger here this year than in the past, certainly for me. It helped create a sense of a single hive mind, letting me keep up with the talks I wasn’t watching, and find out what was going on elsewhere.

I focused a lot of my time on testing topics, both because it’s the thing I need to learn more about for work, and because of my interest in providing tools to other developers. There was a huge amount of energy devoted to testing at this PyCon. The testing BoF on Saturday night was a combination frat party and lightning talk session that went on until 11pm.

I gave two talks, on coverage testing and C extensions, which I think went well, and seemed to be well received, so that was very gratifying.

I took note of good one-liners, newsworthy tidbits, and interesting projects to follow-up on:

  • Barry Hawkins on the Python community: we’re like the Elves at Rivendell, and hobbits show up and are impressed, and ask, “Why don’t you tell more people about this?”, and Elves/Pythonistas respond, “Meh, we just do what we do.”
  • Brett Cannon is making the choice of what DVCS to use for Python core development. He compared svn to prune-juice: the old standby, but not interesting any more. Git is out of the running, they will choose between Mercurial and Bazaar, maybe as early as this week.
  • Jonathan Ellis lightninged on distributed databases, emphasizing Cassandra, which he claims does a good job on scalable writes, unlike many other solutions.
  • Jonathan Hayward: Asimov said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science is not “Eureka!” but, “that’s funny..”
  • Windmill deserves another look for in-browser web app testing. It looks really capable.
  • Mike Fletcher talked about his profiling visualizer called Run Snake Run, which I saw a little of in the speaker prep room. It looked very impressive, but I didn’t see his talk.
  • Kevin Boers demonstrated his approach to testing with twill. He had a really good approach, building up abstractions to get to a point where each web page is represented in the tests by a class that can operate the page, and then building scenarios up from there. Unfortunately, twill won’t help with Javascript applications, so it’s good for basic HTTP testing, but doesn’t get to rich applications.
  • In his GUI testing talk, Michael Foord offered this quote: “If you write applications without tests then you are a bad person, incapable of love.” —Wilson Bilkovich.
  • Catherine Devlin did a lightning talk showing off a very cool SQL tool that lets you work with tabular SQL data as if it were Unix file data: sqlpython.
  • playerpiano is a tool for better Python presentations. It runs doctests in an interactive Python session so that you don’t have to try to type code on stage.
  • pymite is a micro-Python (subset) for micro-controllers: it runs in 4Kb of RAM!
  • web2py is another web framework that looks very slick, and was used to build the PyCon site.
  • DVDev is like Trac for Mercurial.
  • Melkjug is a tunable news reader.
  • txLoadBalancer is a Twisted-based load balancer.
  • Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit gave an entertaining keynote discussing the history of Reddit and some of the interesting things they do now. Reddit has been open-sourced, leading to some, shall we say, interesting clones.
  • Reddit is working on an open-source CSS compiler called C55 to provide variables, nesting, and functions in CSS, just like what every procedural programmer who writes CSS wants.
  • Reddit has an interesting thumbnailer that looks for the most interesting square of pixels in an image, sometimes with humorous results.

I met a lot of great people, some of whom I knew by name, some of whom were new to me. Both knew and new were great to meet face to face: Aaron Maxwell, Menno Smits, Ken Whitesell, Mike Pirnat, Mark Ramm, and Rand Batchelder (!).

There was of course a lot of playfulness at PyCon, Beards of Python being my favorite (I was never a pony fan).

I’m already looking ahead to PyCon 2010 in Atlanta!


_Mark_ 10:53 AM on 1 Apr 2009

Twitter was a good way to keep up with news from the sprints on the way home - I read about GvR's final decision (to go with hg) while waiting for my flight at ORD on Monday morning :-)

Jon Homan 12:18 PM on 1 Apr 2009

I used twill for a testing class last fall. I found it to be pretty simple to use. Much simpler than HtmlUnit in the Java world. But you're right, it's not made for rich webapps.

William McVey 1:54 PM on 1 Apr 2009

Just as an FYI, web2py *is* cool, and some of the PyCon site utilized it; however, it's certainly not fair to imply that the bulk of the pycon site used it. I believe web2py was limited to the registration application. The scheduling applications and the bulk of the rest of the PyCon automation was done with Django. More information on "the python behind pycon" is at

_Mark_ 11:06 PM on 1 Apr 2009 has the registration-page web2py code itself (I went to the web2py dojo, it was a nice way to get started with the framework.)

Jim Carroll 9:19 AM on 3 Apr 2009

51 PyCon videos are available so far on the PyCon channel using Miro.

But I haven't seen your Whirlwind talk yet!?!

Andrew Montalenti 2:31 AM on 9 Apr 2009

Hey Ned, I met you after your Whirlwind C Extensions talk (we spoke a bit about cog). Anyway, I'm glad to report that at the end of PyCon 2009, I considered your talk my favorite from the whole event! :-)

Thanks for the great talk -- I've already implemented my "hello, world!" C extension module! And thanks for the great blog posts over the years.

Ned Batchelder 5:54 AM on 9 Apr 2009

See, everyone, this is what I'm talking about! I write basically a self-involved post about a meaningless milestone in my personal site, and I get positive feedback! On to 3000!

Jonathan Hartley 12:53 PM on 10 Apr 2009

The Rivendell idea is fun, but Pythonistas are, without a shadow of a doubt, more Dwarf than Elf. :-)

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