Penguicon The Seventh

Like Xavier, I came back from Penguicon 7.0 this weekend to a mountain of work. Now I’m going to walk and talk like him (minus the epic growl) — guess that means I look like someone else here — and give my review.

The highlight was certainly the party. Friday night was phenomenal, Saturday night even more so. Where else can you be waylaid by a pirate ship at the top of the hotel lobby stairs, and told to drink rum and walk the plank to join the crew? Best Penguicon yet, on this basis. You have to be there to know.

The panels were good this year too, as usual. We could have attended a few more if it hadn’t been for a certain WTF line. Here are my thoughts on the ones I did catch:

Sustainable Computing (Jon “maddog” Hall)

A great forward-looking keynote by maddog. He deftly connected the idea of scalable distributed mesh networking for cities with providing free Internet access to kids (a la OLPC, but with fewer technical challenges), with benefits to everyone else too, and with environmental sustainability. And, naturally, he gave some highly compelling arguments as to why the sensible thing to do is use free software to implement it. A

Wil Wheaton Reading (Wil Wheaton)

Ensign Crusher, report to Penguicon. Ensign Crusher? Ensign Crusher, respond! F

Open Hardware Overview (W. Craig Trader)

A brief introduction to “open source” hardware. A big chunk of the talk was devoted to a few examples, which was surely a yawn-fest for anyone who reads hardware hacking feeds. The more interesting parts of the talk were the breakdown of the board prototyping process and the explanation of how projects apply licenses like Creative Commons to hardware design. A bit pedestrian, but not bad. B

Beginning Pygame Programming (Craig Maloney)

To be fair, I was very much looking forward to this one, so it had a lot to live up to. The talk consisted entirely of showing various stages of development of a Pong game demo. Much time was spent figuring out which revisions would actually run (blind commits are evil). A reasonable amount of Pygame functionality was used, but there could have been more explanation. Good concept, but tighter implementation necessary. C

Open Hardware with Arduino (W. Craig Trader)

This talk really made me wonder why Trader spent so much time talking about the Arduino platform in his previous talk. My main complaint is that he didn’t really contrast the advantages of the Arduino against other microcontrollers and evaluation boards, which probably left most people with a somewhat distorted perception. More original content, such as some clever uses and maybe a non-trivial demo, would have been nice as well. There was lots of good information about existing projects and add-on devices. I’ll give it a pass because it got the others interested. C

Rule-Based Programming in Interactive Fiction (Andrew Plotkin)

As an engineering grad student, I’m quite used to dry technical seminars, but I want Penguicon to entertain me more. That aside, awesome talk! I hadn’t really thought about how awkward it must be to program IF in an object-oriented programming language until this talk. Very interesting concept about how to attack the problem with a rule-based syntax model. Some of it brought to mind aspect-oriented programming. Bonus: Andrew really likes to talk about heads exploding. B

Looking forward to Penguicon 8.0! I’m hoping to get my Thousand Parsec talk in this time.

May 7th, 2009
  1. Anonymous
    Aug 3rd, 2009 at 05:12 | #1

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy my talks; others did.

    Re: Open Hardware Overview

    When the name of the talk includes the word ‘overview’, of course it’s going to be redundant for anyone who’s read up on the topic.

    Re: Open Hardware with Arduino HOWTO

    This talk was a HOWTO talk about the Arduino, not the Basic Stamp or other controllers. More to the point, it was a talk about doing Open Source development with Hardware. Most evaluation boards are ‘free as in beer’, but their development tools are typically expensive and closed. The Arduino platform actually is open at all levels above the microcontroller itself. I’m not saying its impossible to do open hardware development on other hardware, just that it is possible on the Arduino, and that the barriers to entry are very low indeed (the cost of an Arduino board).

    I challenge you to give a soup-to-nuts software and hardware demonstration and do more than write ‘hello world’ in 45 minutes, complete with Q&A. While you’re at it, it all needs to be able to survive in checked baggage (because TSA would have confiscated it all from my carry-on).

  2. Oct 18th, 2009 at 00:27 | #2

    I didn’t necessarily say that I didn’t enjoy them, and if I do give that impression, I think it’s pretty clear this is a completely subjective review — the grades reflect my personal enjoyment and nothing more. :)

    For what it’s worth, I think the first one was great for the target audience. It was just old news to me personally.

    Fair enough on the second talk. The comment about contrasting was prompted by impressions from my post-talk talk with the “others” I mention. As for creating a better demo, if you don’t believe it can be done within your stated constraints, so be it; I am simply stating my uneducated desire to have seen more.

    By the way, did you block me on Twitter? I hope we can still be friends. I didn’t mean to offend you with my subjective criticism.

  3. Anonymous
    Oct 18th, 2009 at 01:08 | #3

    I only read Twitter, I never post; consequently I block any Twitter IDs I don’t recognize.

    As for more content and a non-trivial demo, I’m currently negotiating to run a hands-on, several hour class on Arduinos for the next Penguicon. There will be some sort of a lab fee, but as part of the fee, you’ll get an Arduino to take home, as well as all of the parts for doing the exercises from the class.

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