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Yanick At Perl Conference: Notes of Attendance (YAPC::NA)

created: July 20, 2014

It's hard to believe that Orlando was only my third YAPC. And yet, I only attended my first YAPC ever in Asheville in 2011. The next year I went long and had a taste of the ::EU namespace with Frankfurt. For 2013 I had to take a sabbatical for cause of a sprint/summer-long alluring game of strip-thyroid. And that brings us to 2014, and Orlando. This year I don't have any tall tale to tell, but nonetheless, here are a few of my notes and impressions for the event, hoping that they will somehow whet your appetite, and tempt you to come and join in the fun next year.

Organization

The show rolled like a well-oiled machine. The venue was a pleasant one, the coffee kept flowing, and good munchies were available during the breaks (honorable mention must go for a vegetarian option being present for the two buffets we had). The real-time streaming was nothing short of spectacular, and the list of talks and keynotes was superb.

Now, some grumbles have been heard about the low level of communication going on for this YAPC. I must say, information was not disseminated as well as it could have been. Both before the conference, and during the events (the BOFs weren't as strongly advertised as they should have been, I'm still uncertain how the t-shirt printing was supposed to work). But when you know how short-handed the organizers were, and how Life really had a good go at driving them insane, it makes you appreciate what they still managed to pull off. With a little luck, next year will see more volunteers, which should help with the communication, and the overall general workload (not to mention mental health) of all concerned.

Game Night

This year was the first time that I experienced YAPC::NA's game night. In a nutshell, the more official dinner party of the days of yore have been replaced by a logistically simpler buffet (this year Mexican-themed, and quite yummy), and a focus on games. The official game was Magic: The Gathering, but a lot of people brought other games, going from classics such a Scrabble, to party favorites like Cards Against Humanity, to more involved wargames like OGRE. The shift from the previous official-ish dinners is to promote more intermingling, and I must say that I like it. You grab some food, you pick a table, and you play. As an ice breaker, it's genius. And it's fun as heck.

As it happens, I landed at Ricardo Signes' table, and has he reported in his own YAPC blog entry, he had brought a few OGRE mini-kits. While the rules were pretty simple for a wargame, it was still quite the challenge to grasp all the details after a quick introduction and a demo game. But, in all honesty? I don't think anybody cared. Metal behemoths rolled on the battlefield. Desperate squadrons of men and balefully underpowered vehicles tried to make a stand. Hilarity, and much pyrotechnic demolition, destruction and discombobulation ensued, and we all had a blast.

Keynotes

Oh my did we have many keynotes this year. Which, mind you, I don't begrudge, because they were so darn good. Mark Keating and Dan Wright were quite informative. Larry was endearing as always (I swear, this man could give a 3-hour seminar on TCL and I would still be charmed by it), Matt Trout was his usual entertaining self. Charlie Stross was, hell, he was FRIGGIN' CHARLIE STROSS, how more cool could it get?

And the dual keynotes of Sawyer and Genehack on the last day were like the two sides of the same coin -- the bold, unbridled enthusiasm of one being met with the wise, weathered experience of the other. They uplifted, they stirred the soul. Ultimately, they begged the question: why are we doing what we do, and how must we grow to stay who we are. Those men are good. It was glorious.

Knitting

You haven't slept all that much the night before. It's 1:30pm, right after a hefty lunch. The talk is interesting, and the person giving it is a good talker. But your eyelids feel so, so heavy. More coffee is in order as soon as you reach the break, but until then you'll have to soldier o-- oh my, you hope that nobody saw you sharply nod down and wake yourself up.

Sounds familiar? If so, do you want to know something that helps surprisingly well against those attacks of languor? Knitting! It's just involving enough to keep the body awake, but sufficiently automatic to let the brain concentrate on what's happening at the front of the room. I've been lugging my knitting around for a few conferences now, and I must say it works pretty well. I recommend. And might be tempted to give a quick tutorial one of these days. Which brings me to...

Off-Perl Track

This year, the organizers tried a whole track of talks dealing with extracurricular stuff. It went to other languages like Rust to more broadly general life-related things like coffee roasting. Frankly? I love the idea. Not only can it help draw outsiders who would not be that tempted by an all-Perl conference, but it broaden the scope of the knowledge we get to share and be exposed to during the conference to all the shady nuggets that are peripheral to our core activities. I really hope to see more of that during the upcoming years.

Dancer

Within the premises of the conference, was the presence of three members of the Dancer crew: Sawyer, Mickey and myself. So it goes without saying that we /had/ to have a Dancer BOF. The BOFs were a little bit stealthy this year, so the crowd that showed up wasn't huge, but that's okay -- quality over quantity and all that. In all cases, we talked about the status of things, of when to use Dancer versus the other frameworks, of specific use cases, of plugins, of templates, of horror stories and of things to consider for the future. All in all, it was a pretty nicely filled hour.

And while we're talking about Dancer. If there is one thing that made me squee with delight at the conference, if had to be how much Dancer is used by the community. It's one thing to know that the project you're part of is somehow popular, but it's something else to see listed on the stack of serious systems and part of so many talks. That soooo made my day.

Meatspace Meetings: Massively Meaningful

So, the event was smoothly operated. The talks were informative. The overall atmosphere wholesomely pleasant. But I didn't mention yet why I really enjoy going to YAPC. Oh, it's a little bit for all those reasons, sure, but mostly? It's for something much greater: it's to rekindle with the Tribe.

It's funny. Even though emails, Twitter, bug reports, blog entries, IRC, and dozen of other interfaces ensure that we are interconnected in a diaphanous yet ubiquitous web, even though I personally thrive in written-based media, even for all that, gathering together for a few days once a year does us good. It's where we put a human face on our community, and find back why we belong.

In my experience, this human contact, this very literal handshake between two sides of a transmission, also works wonders to make sparks happen. YAPCs are not where things happen. Rather, and much better, it's where things are started, set in motion. Alliances are forged, potential projects are planned, seeds are thrown in many nooks and crannies.

So yeah, YAPC is mostly, for me, a human experience. A joyful, odd-bally and loving one that would not feel out of place in an old comedy from the Cohen brothers.

And that's why I'll do my best to be there next year.

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