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Response to Titus Brown's "PyCon '08: The Brain Dump"

This is a response to Titus Brown's article, "PyCon '08: The Brain Dump". My response was too long to post as a comment.

Titus' text is in block quotes (indented):

I wholeheartedly support the adoption of an advanced-technical-only track. As it was this year the talks I was interested in (mostly very technical) were embedded in the middle of a bunch of other talks that were not technical. I wasn't up to picking them out of the mix.

I hope you show your support by joining the PyCon organizers, and specifically the program committee! We need people with backgrounds in different areas, to help make a well-rounded conference.

Speaking of "good talks", I think the whole review system is effed up. What's with the anonymous authorship of proposals?

There's an anonymous review phase, during which proposals are rated based on the information we were supplied. This is to level the playing field and allow new speakers a chance. Then there's the decision phase, during which the proposals are NOT anonymous, and the experience of the authors is taken into account. We have debated the question of anonymity before, and it may change in the future. Those who participate get to choose the process. (hint, hint)

Yes, it's a flawed system, but it's the best we came up with. I invite you (or anyone with a strong opinion) to join in and help make it better!

During dinner with Leapfrog people, a talk scheduling proposal emerged: rather than trying to group talks in some logical coherent way, why not try to minimize scheduling conflicts and auditorium changes by asking people what talks they want to go to?

We had that capability (sort-of), but too late to be useful. The scheduling app was only avaialble a couple of weeks before the conference. Even if we'd had it months before, I wonder if people would have used it early enough for the data to be useful.

It wouldn't be too difficult to make an app that lists the talks and asks people's preferences, but we simply didn't have time. Even if we did, scheduling is a hard problem.

The conference support for tutorials was kind of minimal: normally we don't need anything more than a projector and a mike, but (for whatever reason) the conference organizers alternated between treating us really impersonally (sending mass mailings that ignored previous information we'd sent them) or really curtly ("No. That's your problem.")

I know that there were some reminder mailings that went out to all instructors, even though the content may not have applied to all.

I think I found one specific instance you refer to: my March 7 reply to you request for info on the network. I replied, in part, "that's up to you". Who do you suggest should have taken care of it? We're all volunteers with day jobs; please cut us a little more slack.

If there were cases beyond this, could you provide specific examples? Feel free to write to me privately (goodger at python dot org). If there's a problem, I'd like to fix it.

Next year I may also ask for the tutorials to cover up to my own expenses (registration, hotel room and flights) from student fees, rather than having them simply give me $500 & free reg. I feel like I'm paying out for the privilege of giving each tutorial, and that's a bit frustrating.

PyCon paid $1000 plus free registrations for each tutorial. Your tutorial, with two instructors, worked out to $1440. Should PyCon have paid double because you had two instructors? Last year PyCon paid $50 per tutorial attendee, up to a maximum of $1500; no free registration though. That was a bit of a pain to administer though.

PyCon was budgeted to lose money -- includng the tutorials. (That PyCon probably ended up making a bit of money, for the PSF, was unexpected and thanks to the hard work of volunteers.)

OSCON tutorial instructors get reimbursed for airfare ($300 west coast, $500 east cost, $700 international), plus they get one night at the hotel, free registration, and a $500 honorarium. (I don't know how OSCON handles multiple instructors per tutorial.) One big difference with PyCon is that OSCON's registration & tutorial fees are many times PyCon's. OSCON is a much larger, more established and commercial conference, and I think they have more money to work with than PyCon does, but their tutorial compensation is about the same as PyCon's.

Probably they'll say "no", which will then leave me/us with the option of cancelling the tutorial or just sticking with it...

I can't say "yes", but I'm not saying "no". Let's talk.

we could also move the tutorial to a "sprint day" and encourage people to stick around for real "free consulting with grig and titus". I think we'd have more fun that way, and I'm damn sure we'd be more useful!

That would be great! We had a pre-sprint intro talk & tutorials this year, which seemed to work out well.

Oh, I almost forgot -- I'm now a member of the Python Software Foundation (unless they retract it for criticizing both PyCon and OLPC in a single post)!

On the contrary, this kind of feedback is valuable and wanted! The PSF needs active, passionate members to move forward. But even more than words, the PSF, PyCon, and the Python community needs action. Titus, through your stewardship of the PSF's participation in the GHOP contest you've shown that you're a man of words and action. Thanks!



I guess this means I'll have to run PSF/GHOP again, yeargh.

Much appreciated!


Titus Brown said…
I'm sorry, I'm much more interested in criticizing and getting other people to do the work.

Damn you.


Re the tutorial cash, I have to see how that works out financially this year. I paid about $500 just for the hotel, so the airfare cost me; next year I'll be driving, so it'll be cheaper. Anyway, it was hard to manage and I think for unsupported students it would be hard to argue that they should give a tutorial. There's a real dichotomy in attendance, I think -- a number of people whose work pays for it all, and then a number of people coming on their own dime. Not sure how to manage that.

Re the curt replies, there were several in there. It got to be a bit of a joke between me and Grig -- "wonder who is going to say what, and how, this time?" I understand the busy-ness, I've run & continue to run conferences... not sure what to say, except that I'm not terribly sensitive and I managed to take offense.


(I didn't know about the two-phase bit for conference reviewing. That makes sense. Thanks for explaining!)

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