Sunday, June 19, 2011

Maritime DevCon 2011

I'm back from a jaunt to Fredericton, New Brunswick, for Maritime DevCon. Here's a post that lies between a 'random walk' and a review.


From PEI originally, I've spent most of my career in St Louis/USA. I've been an active member of the user group/conference scene there. When I moved to the Maritimes in 2010, I wondered if I could find 'my people' who can/read write in the original Geek.

The upshot is: these are my people. This one-day event was a gem. The organization was first-class (good food, killer door-prizes). The topics were interesting and straddled the fence between pragmatic and esoteric-but-neat (reminiscent of Strange Loop). Most importantly: the 'spark' was there; that palpable energy that naturally spins out of conversation between interesting techies.


Maritime DevCon was held at the Wu Centre at the University of New Brunswick. About 70 people attended, notably giving up a Saturday to spend time talking tech.


Here is the schedule. I attended these talks:

OpenStack 101 (by Sandy Walsh)

I'm not especially familiar with cloud computing, or virtualization, so I was surprised to learn that Open Stack is a huge initiative among big players (e.g. Intel, Cisco, and... NASA!?). The architecture involved here is mind-blowing: will the real platform please stand-up?

Random thoughts:

  • I often wonder if programming language X will be the Next Big Thing. Though it is in a different scope, virtualization is Right Now. Every time I think I have an appreciation for its influence, I see another talk where the landscape has changed ever further.
  • Pythonistas unite! Though thinking at this level often reduces the programming language to an implementation detail, I was delighted to hear that the underlying system is written in Python.
Redis (by Peter Doan)

At other conferences, I've missed talks on Redis, the key-value store. On the way to NB, I listened to a changelog interview with the author, Salvatore Sanfilippo. Consequently, I expected a simple, near-minimalist API, and Peter confirmed that with his code examples. Works for me.

Natural Language Processing with Java (by Chris Nicholls)

Interesting piece on the state-of-the-art in NLP, especially sentiment analysis. The two main libraries are LingPipe (not free) and Apache's OpenNLP. I hadn't thought about NLP in a long time, and certainly not with respect to Twitter: (a) Twitter could be a gold-mine (b) '#' is a legit, vital punctuation mark.

Git (by Chris Dail)

This was a thoughtful, solid intro to Git. I've been away from Git for awhile, so this was useful refresher, and pulled together a couple of tectonic plates floating in my consciousness.

I especially enjoyed a section described branching in terms of highway lanes rather than trees. I appreciated anecdotes about using the Git client for Subversion as a rebel effort to 'subvert Subversion'. Note that Chris has a detailed blog post about migrating from Subversion to Git.

Node.js (by Justin Vaillcourt)

Node is another topic that I haven't seen yet. For this talk, as my friend Weiqi Gao would say: you had to be there. This was pure, unadulterated hackage, executed by a pack of young, feral dogs with unbridled enthusiasm for technology.

Justin grinned though an abbreviated talk that ranged wildly. Just when frat-house interactions with his posse threatened to steal the show, out came jaw-dropping illustrations of Node.js.

A key example used the package:
  • a visitor hits a website and scrolls around
  • an admin console shows a thumbnail of page the visitor is viewing
  • as the visitor scrolls, navigates in his/her browser, the thumbnail scrolls in the admin console
This was done about 150-200 lines of Javascript. I don't know if this is a strong Node example. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it.

MongoDB (by Derek Hatchard)

As with Redis and Node, I'm familiar with the buzz of MongoDB but hadn't looked into it. From the perspective of presentation techniques, this was a strong talk. A good arc from the motivation through to code examples, with images instead of bullet-lists.

Like Redis, the MongoDB API is deceptively simple. It's hard to appreciate the power. I was happy to see explanation of sharding with MongoDB, and very happy for an introductory theme on "no silver bullet", applied to relational DBs and NoSQL tools.


My main suggestion is that the sessions should have written evaluations. This benefits the speakers, the organizers, and ultimately the attendees. Also, there should be an overall conference evaluation.


It is non-trivial to travel from PEI to Fredericton, but DevCon was worth it. The material and the energy felt like events in larger urban centers, and that's saying something.

A shout-out to Derek Hatchard, other organizers, and sponsors: thanks! I'll be back next year, as an attendee (or possibly as a speaker?): after all, these are my people.

No comments: