Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to justify attending PyCon sprints

Sad that the PyCon sprints fall on business days? Wishing you could stay but the boss/client won't let you and demands you back so 'you can work'? This is how you make it so that the sprints are something your management is demanding you attend every sprint ever.
  1. Make it foremost in your mind that the wonderful thing about the PyCon sprints is that the odds are that anyone who knows anything about whatever you are doing in Python will be there.
  2. Write up a list of the things that you are finding challenging, hard, or impossible to do with Python.
  3. Now go to the boss and say something like:
    "Because the experts and leaders of the open source tools we are using are going to be there, I want to attend PyCon sprints. All my time at the sprints will be focused on sitting around them and working on our tools. I'll focus on things that directly impact our agency / company / organization, specifically things I wrote down on this list."
  4. If the boss says,
    "Why not just use IRC or email?"
    Then you say something like,
    "Well, IRC/email is not the same as sitting next to these people. I'll be so much more productive there!"

Rinse and repeat.

Then, when you attend the PyCon sprints, follow through on what you said you were going to do. Sure, it might be more fun to work on project 'spam' even though your company uses project 'lumberjack', but if you prove how much you got done during the sprints, next year the boss will be much more encouraging. Even if a good boss says to go do what you want, at least spend some time sprinting on work related technology.

Also, once you get approval to go, consider sending your boss to this old rant of mine.

Don't forget to register for PyCon! Early bird rates end today (January 25th, 2012) which means today is the last day to get involved in the extremely unofficial PyCon Early Birds program!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Join the PyCon Early Birds program!

First off, I want to say that me and my fiancee will be attending PyCon US this year! Hooray! Can't wait to see old friends and make new ones. I'll be chairing one of the Panels at the PyWeb Summit on March 8th. We're absolutely delighted to see all the great talks, hang out in the hallway, and just be in the middle of Python for well over a week.

Now on to the extremely unofficial PyCon Early Birds program!

PyCon early registration ends on January 25th. If you register at the early bird rate that gets you the benefit of joining the elite PyCon Early Birds group. Being a member of the PyCon Early Birds gets you all sorts of incredible rewards and benefits.
  • Most importantly, you get some serious bragging rights.
  • A custom ribbon that says 'Early Bird' that you get to attach to your conference badge.
  • A discounted rate from the regular ticket rate as according to the registration page.
  • The confidence of knowing you have a ticket before they sell out.
  • A tasty and rather edible store-bought cookie provided by myself and Audrey Roy.
  • If the PyCon Early Birds program gets enough members, I'm going to challenge PyCon chair Jesse Noller to stump me with Yoga poses! There's no way he'll even consider accepting a challenge like this unless the PyCon Early Birds membership roster is big enough. So join and help me find out if his Bikram will beat my Capoeira!
  • Other incredible things that are in the works!

Of course, PyCon has tons of other reasons to sign up besides the PyCon Early Birds program. Amazing tutorials, talks, and sprints, plus great hallway tracks, a vendor room filled with great schwag, poster sessions, and startup row. Sponsorship levels are unbelievably high, and since the event is non-profit that means the money just goes right back into the community - starting with PyCon itself. This year is going to be AWESOME!!!

So what are you waiting for? Sign up for the Pycon Early Birds before it's too late!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tips for speaking

Last year I wrote a blog post called My tips for speaking. In the face of SCALE 10X and other events coming up, this is my refactoring of that talk.

My experience in giving talks? I've been presenting on the job since 1999. I've been presenting at conferences since autumn of 2008. This past year (2011) I gave a lot of talks, helped others with their talks, and did a number of cooperative talks where I shared the stage with another person. I've learned a lot, from my own mistakes and those of others. Since I like to share, here we go.

You aren't Steve Jobs

In terms of presenting, Steve Jobs was no mere mortal. He got away with wearing black in front of a black background. His slides were frequently dark. And he held up tiny objects in front of literally billions of people. He did all of this and got away with it.

You. Won't.

Steve Jobs was billionaire leading a multi-billion dollar company. His presentations were highly choreographed affairs where every detail from lighting to audio to who got to attend was tightly controlled.

For example, Steve could wear black because of amazingly proficient stage lighting techniques. Carefully watch a high definition video of him showing off the latest product while in a black sweater and you'll see that he's literally standing in a column of light. Odds are most conferences don't have spotlights or fancy lighting, and even if they do - the stage crew are not being promised a bonus for doing it right and financial ruin if they fail.

What this means is be very, very careful about using the attributes of Steve's talks for inspiration or arguments on how you are going to do a talk.

What to wear

Bring several presentation shirts to the conference so you can be sure that what you are wearing shows up in front of the background. Be a little classy and wear a polo shirt instead of that t-shirt. If the background is the same as your shirt, go and change. If you don't have a shirt that works, go buy one or wear your jacket.

The reason being is the same as why Newscasters don't wear some colors on video. They don't want to look like floating heads and hands. It happens to them, it happens at technical conferences, and it will happen to you.

Black text on white background

I said it last year and I'll say it again: High contrast slides please. If a designer, manager, friend, or spouse tries to stick colored backgrounds or text into your slides, politely remind them that what shows up nicely on the monitor or laptop will absolutely fail to be appreciated by the attendees of the talk. Social media and IRC will be filled with comments about the unreadable colors of your slides.

Remember, unlike Steve Jobs, you have no control over the AV team or whatever the conference venue provides when it comes to projectors and screens. So play it as safe as possible.

I really prefer the black text on white background. The people in the vision community (arts, theatre, animantion, and eye doctors) all agree with me.

This past year I've had technical people (all with jobs outside the vision community) quote some interesting material about the validity of white text on black background, but I personally find it hard to read those slides if I'm in the back. Also, if the room is brightly lit, the letters are barely visible.

The happiest alternative I've seen was at a Mongo event, and was a certain shade of dark blue with bright yellow letters. However, I think like the black background, it would be suspect in the wrong light.

One last note: Don't use color gradients in your slides. Please.

Cheat at the command line!

I'm giving a talk today at Southern California Linux Exposition 10x called Intro to Python. It's inspired by folks like Raymond Hettinger and David Beazley. And the big thing I'll be doing is avoiding the command-line like the plague.

This is because the command-line is treacherous in front of an audience. Conference networks are notoriously prone to going down at the wrong moment. Same goes for laptops, especially when connecting to projector hardware it's never touched before.

Also, you know what it is like typing with someone looking over your shoulder? Imagine that times hundreds, or thousands when your video is being uploaded so people around the world can view it.

So either use something like PLayer Piano to record a command-line session in a docstring, or do what I do and use slide transitions to mock typing.

Be rested, fed, and sober for your talk.

In 2011 I watched a guy fumble through a talk with beer in hand, a personal hero of mine blearily try to get through his talk after a late night of drinking, and a couple people try to present after all-nighters.

Respect your audience and take care of yourself before the talk. Get some sleep, eat well, and drink moderately. This will really help you get invited to more events.

Practice, practice, practice

In the past I've said I don't practice much. If at all. Ahem...

It has been pointed out to me that I practice. A lot. Maybe not in front of a mirror, but I'm constantly going through my slides and coming up with things to say. I'll go through all my slides one-by-one and mouth what I'll be saying, and work out the timing of things. Which means that while I haven't been projecting my voice, I have been practicing.

In 2011 I did the curious thing of actually trying to practice on a couple presentations. And I have to say that I've seen a huge amount of improvement. I certainly felt more confident and I feel like the talk goes better! For example, A talk I gave at PyCon AU 2011 that had some issues after a lot of practice went smashingly better at DjangoCon 2011.

Push questions and comments to the end

Your talk should have a flow, a pace as it were. And lots of interruptions will cause you to lose your chain of thought, or cause the audience to lose focus. If someone asks a question during your talk, ask them to wait until the end.

If they keep asking questions or giving comments, ask them nicely to talk to you after your presentation. People are decent and will respond nicely to your request.

Sign up for Pycon US!

Early bird registration closes on January 25th. Sign up for it beforehand and you'll have enough money for a really good dinner with drinks. What are you waiting for? Go do it!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My SOPA boycott

I'm against SOPA and PIPA.

I believe that those bills will kill not just free speech, but also business within the USA. Innovation will wither. I'm also of the belief that those companies trying to get SOPA into place don't realize that no idea is new and if SOPA passes they'll be hammered with an increasing amount of takedowns and suits against them for anything they do. Litigation based on SOPA won't be as easily handled as the current status quo.

I've signed the petitions, I've posted on Twitter, Facebook, and Google. That isn't enough. I have to be willing to make a sacrifice. And in this case I'm going to make the sacrifice my vote.

My vote sacrifice is a boycott. It's directed at any politician, local or otherwise:

My Boycott:

  • If you as a politician vote for SOPA/PIPA then you lose my vote. Regardless of whatever other opinions you have or party you belong to, you've lost me as a supporter.
  • If SOPA/PIPA passes you can get my vote back by voting for what bill that destroys SOPA/PIPA is nominated.
  • If SOPA/PIPA fails you can get my vote back by voting against whatever bills are resurrected to replace SOPA/PIPA.
  • I will ignore party boundaries. I will vote against my normal grain simply to get you removed from office.


Like campaign finance reform, controls of freedom of speech often have unpredictable repercussions. 

The terrible thing about these bills is that their supporters are bi-partisan. While it's wonderful to see political opponents working together, in this case, it's for a terrible cause. 

So I'm going to cross political boundaries too. I'm going to say that as a registered Democrat I'm going to vote Republican if a Democrat candidate at any level votes for SOPA/PIP.

About Me

I don't use pirated software. I don't read, watch, or listen to pirated content. I purchase everything legally or use open source equivalents. I make a pretty decent salary and am pretty much in the direct center of what is called the 'middle-class'.

I'm also pro-business and a rather patriotic citizen of the United States. I believe in our nation and what it represents, and I know these bills are going to be a dagger in the heart of what our founding fathers gave us.

Finally, as I said, I'm a Democrat willing to vote Republican, Green, Libertarian, or whatever to make my point. That's my sacrifice. My vote and role in this nation that took my family in over 100 years ago is now in the hands of politicians.

What's yours?