Sunday, 29 September 2013

A report on PyConUK 2013

As usual, this was a very enjoyable conference. I had fun, I met lots of interesting people, and I learnt things.
This is mostly a report on the program, because that's the easiest thing to write about, and because some of these notes are for work.

On Friday Zeth re-instructed us to join up in groups according to where we come from, and so half-a-dozen of us from East Anglia ended up at a table in the dining hall. It looks as if Peter Inglesby has been volunteered to try to put together a weekend meeting some time in the future - but as he was heavily involved in the programming for the weekend, I'd expect him to need a while to recover first.

Also at the table was Pranjal Mittal, who came to the conference from India, and was giving a talk on Ganeti on Saturday. (I'm assuming this is he) This interested me because I'd already figured out from the program notes that Ganeti might solve some problems for us at work, as colleagues had recently tried to get OpenStack up and running (following on from hard disk problems with our virtual machine cluster). It looks like this probably needs the traditional couple of weeks of learning before it works, which wasn't feasible, and Ganeti sounds as if it might do what we want (and the Vagrant and Ganeti project may be useful as well). Anyway, talking to Pranjal then, and watching his talk later convinced me it probably does do just what we want, and should (hopefully) be relatively simple to get going.

My prize for aplomb and sheer style has to go to Gautier Hayoun. For some reason his talk, An overview of Ansible, started early, which meant that a lot of us (coming from another talk) dithered outside the room assuming the previous talk had overrun, until we realised that, no, this was the talk we wanted. However, Gautier had apparently believed he only had time for a 10 minute talk, so it ended shortly after the audience had doubled in size. At which point, he gave the talk again, and still had time for questions at the end. Moreover, it was a very good talk, and gave me exactly the information I wanted.

Ansible is a radically simpler alternative to Puppet and Chef. It's not daemon based (at either end), and uses YAML playbooks which provide a description of the state you want your server to be in, by describing what actions should be taken in what order to get there (as opposed to Puppet, for instance, which specifies results and leaves the tool to sort out ordering). It is idempotent - it won't redo an action on a client if that action has already been completed. Gautier did recommend, though, that one should also checkout Salt if one was considering Ansible (and vice-versa).

(Aaron Brady's Python for Configuration Management then expanded on that introduction (although the talks were independent), and reinforced my idea that Ansible may be something I want to use. His talk is online at, and links to a github repository with examples.)

The Breaking Things for Money talk by Tony Simpson and Peter Russell from The Test People was just fun.

I missed Geoffrey French talking about Ubiquitous Larch, the latest incarnation of his Python programming environment, but luckily he was willing to show it to me at the social evening. As I would expect from him, it is visually attractive (and yes, that matters). I've played a little with the IPython notebook recently, and the Ubiquitous Larch feels much more polished, not least because it can rotate 3-d graphs. However, I suspect the killer feature may be the ability to interact with other people running the same environment - live changes such as moving a slider on his laptop and seeing a graph alter both there and on my phone. Put it together with a voip session and that could be really useful. I do hope that he can get funding to develop this further.

(If people are interested in trying it out, then contact him, but his previous project, The Larch Environment, is available at

Larry Hastings did his introduction to Python bytecode (All-Singing All-Dancing Python Bytecode), which I think I've seen a version of before (there are versions out there on the web to read/watch, including on LWN). I thought it was a good overview of the subject, and his disassembler Maynard produces much more useful output than the standard tool.

Ian Ozsvald's talk on detecting/disambiguating words in tweets was fascinating. He made what he was doing sound simple, but was managing what may be useful results when I'd have given up before starting. He's been talking about the project on his blog (which shows up on the London Python aggregator, and I think also on Planet Python), but the talk made it all a lot clearer to me. Talking to him in the hall later, I've also signed up as interested in the O'Reilly book he's (now) co-writing on High Performance Python.

I session chaired on Saturday afternoon. PyConUK speakers tend to make this easy, as they're generally good at keeping to time, so my hardest job was getting the microphone to people with questions. One of the reasons for session chairing is that it can get you to see talks you might not have gone to otherwise (and this has yet to work out badly for me). I really enjoyed both of the turtle talks. Mike Sandford gave an introductory talk, presented as a turtle program, running on a RaspberryPi, which was very cute, and Simon Davy gave a talk on how he is trying to write a more powerful turtle library that will allow running thousands of simultaneous turtles, so that users can emulate flocking and other interesting behaviours.

My "unexpected find" talk was Matthew Hughes with Teaching Data Science With Really Scrapable Web App. This didn't start well, as his laptop took a while to connect properly to the projector, and so he lost five minutes from the start of his talk. Despite that, he still managed to do a good and coherent presentation, and have time for questions at the end (heh, I was session chairing, I was impressed). The talk, though, introduced his "Really Scrapable Web App" (RSWA), which is a tool/set of examples for learning how to scrape the web. As he says in his article:
Borrowing concepts from Project Euler and Code Academy, RSWA runs locally on the users computer and contains a number of challenges which aim to gently introduce core skills used by data scientists.
I've looked a little at web scraping in the past, and bounced off because I didn't have something I needed to scrape as a motivation. This sounds like just the thing to fill that gap, and playing with it is now on my list of things to do.

What else?

Well, the conference dinner was excellent, as usual (and I need to look out for ntoll's O'Reilly book on futures and deferred in JQuery - it sounds as if it will be a good read almost independent of the JQuery part, and I love his tumble dryer analogy).

The staff were always helpful, too, and kept up a constantly replenished supply of coffee, and the food for lunch was plentiful (although I think the attempt to get people to have starters first on Sunday was probably doomed to failure).

I liked being given a canvas bag - they're really useful, and the PyConUK bags are normally attractive, but this year's especially so. The conference T-shirt is wonderfully daft.

Other people have mentioned the RaspberryJam happening as a part of the conference - I only nipped over once for a quick look, but it was very busy, and there was something good about seeing how many of the adults and children were wearing the same T-shirt.

And, of course, the lightning talks were good. I love the fact that Harald Mass ( came over to present them - it wouldn't be the same without him. Here are some random links from the lightning talks:
Other reports on the conference, as well as links to talks online and so on, are being collected at

Next year's conference will be at the same place, and on the weekend of 19th September. I hope to be there.

Tibs, 2013-09-29

(This is also posted to the Cambridge and East Anglia Python User's Group, at!topic/campug/0CM0oVVQ8i0)

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