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PyCon presentations, Hollywood style

Saturday 26 February 2011

PyCon 2011 is right around the corner, which means the Boston Python Meetup is doing its annual PyCon on the Charles practice sessions, and I'm thinking about what makes a good presentation.

The advice I wrote last year is good, but I thought of a new analogy: a PyCon presentation should be a trailer for your expertise. That is, imagine your expertise on your topic is like a full-length Hollywood movie. Then your PyCon talk should be the trailer for that expertise.

A trailer is by nature short, so is your talk. Not as short as a trailer, but shorter than you want. You have to think hard about what to take out and what to leave in. Like a trailer, your talk needs to tell a compressed story, it should have some relatable emotion in it, and ideally it will have some action (demos).

The point of a trailer is to convince people to watch the movie. The point of a PyCon talk is not to make people experts, but to convince them to learn more about your topic, which they can do afterward. You don't have to cram all the information into them, just as the trailer doesn't have to tell the entire story of the movie. If they leave thinking, "I'd like to know more about that," you've done your job.

Writing 25-minute technical presentations is hard, and this trailer analogy may not be perfect, but I think it's a good mindset to get into for crafting a good PyCon talk.

How to not get reputation points on Stack Overflow

Thursday 17 February 2011

I love Stack Overflow, for a number of reasons. First, they have great answers to programming questions. When I need an answer to a detailed issue I'm having with code, the answer is usually on Stack Overflow, and with the recent Google tweak to tamp down content farms in search results, it's usually the first hit on Google as well.

But the reason they have the best answers is because Stack Overflow is essentially a MMORPG that awards points for expertise and other valued behavior. I understand well the incentives the site offers for answering questions, because I've accumulated a lot of reputation there:

My rep

The combination of being awarded points, and debating with other knowledgable experts, plus being able to learn along the way, and help people, is very compelling. But it can get obsessive. Joel Spolsky claims that tons of rep means you are a superstar developer, but it also implies that you've spent a lot of energy chasing reputation points.

After a recent too-long session of someone's wrong on the internet, I decided to kick the habit. And like any addict, I needed a little help.

A simple Greasemonkey script was just the thing. It just hides the form that allows for answering questions:

// ==UserScript==
// @name           No answering on Stackoverflow
// @namespace      http://nedbatchelder.com/greasemonkey
// @description    Hide the answer box on Stack Overflow 
//                 to stop obsessive behavior
// @include        http://stackoverflow.com/*
// ==/UserScript==

    "@namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml); " +
    ".question-page #post-form { display: none; }"

The great thing about this solution is that it's effective, without meaning I have to avoid the site altogether, and if there's an question I really should answer, I can just disable the script, which is enough of an action to make me think twice.

You can install no_so_answers.user.js yourself if you find yourself similarly afflicted.

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