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Computing Thoughts
The Python Conference
by Bruce Eckel
February 25, 2007
Summary
Observations from Pycon 2007.

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You can find the list of talks here. If you hover your mouse over a particular talk, it will pop up a description box which will (possibly) include links to notes, audio and video. If these things aren't available right now, they may show up over the next few days or weeks.

One Laptop Per Child

The opening keynote was tremendous. Ivan Krstic' is a software architect and researcher currently on leave from Harvard University. He is the director of security and information architecture at the One Laptop per Child project. He told us about the project, how it overcame numerous challenges after they had been told that each hurdle was impossible. He brought several machines with him, so you could see what they were really like.

The project decided to write everything in Python, except for a few pieces of low-level driver-type code. Even the file system is written in Python. And there's a dedicated button on the keyboard, with a little gear on it, to "view source." So kids can see what code is making their applications run, and even modify it.

Ivan is looking for people to help on the project -- they are supposed to begin shipping in August -- both in full-time and internship positions. I found myself wondering if there was some way that I could even fit a few weeks in to go help. I think this is a truly world-changing project.

The following morning, Adelle Goldberg (of Smalltalk fame) followed with a keynote about the hurdles and problems of education, both in the US and in the world. It's even more of a mess than I've always thought. We learn in spite of the education system. The one laptop per child initiative allows children to learn in spite of not even having an education system. My hope is that it might catalyze change in the education system worldwide. If you want a vision of what this might mean, read Neal Stephenson's novel "The Diamond Age" (which I personally like better than "Snow Crash").

One great anecdote Adelle told had to do with schools that had only one or two computers per classrom. They put them in closets, and the students would take turns going into the closets and working on the computers. But they discovered that the students in the classes that had only one computer were doing much better. Because the teacher was sending them to the computer closet in pairs. So they were helping each other. On numerous occasions she pointed out how much the educational system discourages us from helping each other. Sigh. To the point where management (and programmers) often patently dismiss the possibilities of of pair programming.

What Can Python Learn from Other Languages?

I held an openspace session on this topic. Here's a list, in no particular order, of ideas that came from that session (those of you who photographed the whiteboard, if you think I left out something important please add a comment):

Miscellaneous Notes

A universal problem with conferences is the infamous "closing session." These are usually fluffy, boring and a waste of time. Pycon ended with lightning talks. What an excellent way to finish the conference.

There were 593 attendees, which is a 44% increase over last year. The day before the conference started was tutorials, which were all full, and the days after the conference were sprints where groups got together and worked on specific problems for a few days. Real code is developed during these sprints.

Pycon 2008 will be held March 14-18 in Chicago.

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About the Blogger

Bruce Eckel (www.BruceEckel.com) provides development assistance in Python with user interfaces in Flex. He is the author of Thinking in Java (Prentice-Hall, 1998, 2nd Edition, 2000, 3rd Edition, 2003, 4th Edition, 2005), the Hands-On Java Seminar CD ROM (available on the Web site), Thinking in C++ (PH 1995; 2nd edition 2000, Volume 2 with Chuck Allison, 2003), C++ Inside & Out (Osborne/McGraw-Hill 1993), among others. He's given hundreds of presentations throughout the world, published over 150 articles in numerous magazines, was a founding member of the ANSI/ISO C++ committee and speaks regularly at conferences.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2007 Bruce Eckel. All rights reserved.

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