journal for 2003-07-11

oscon: day the fifth

von neumann

The first keynote of the day was “Von Neumann’s Universe.” It was a talk about the earliest days of computing, when Professor Von Neumann (one of the Great Old Ones of whom every geek should already know something) built a very early computer at Princeton. It was awesome. Looking at the technology was really interesting; CRTs were used for storage—not display—and there were complicated devices to read the state of the CRT. Since they were pretty crummy, early tubes, the speaker said that “if someone walked by in a polyester suit, there went your core.”

Also amusing were the notes kept by the engineers who worked on the project. “Damnit! I can be just as stubborn as this thing!” and “My code is right, the machine is wrong!” They nick-named the computer MANIAC. There was an acronym expansion, of course, but it was forgettable. Someone said, and I agreed, that it would’ve been just dandy if they guy had kept talking for an hour. I hope he publishes a book.

beyond .net

The next keynote was on Mono, the project to bring the .NET VM and platform into free software. I really couldn’t have been less interested, so I wandered off and did a little work while I waited for the next talks.

perl6 rules!

I had planned to go to talks on Perl single sign-on and the use of Perl for proprietary software, but the slant of the talks wasn’t quite what I wanted. Nothing else looked good, either. Of course, Damian was giving a double-length talk called “Beyond Parse::RecDescent,” but I never use RecDescent, and the topic seemed pretty darn scary. Well, I decided to go anyway; it was supposed to talk about some Perl 6 stuff and Damian’s a great speaker.

It turns out that Damian didn’t like the title, either. He talked about RecDescent for about five minutes just to introduce the real subject “Perl 6 Rules.” Basically, he spoke for ninety minutes on the new regex system in Perl 6. Once again, I realized how fantastic Perl 6 will be. He also revealed a recent creation of his, Perl6::Rules, a module for using Perl 6 regexen in Perl 5. Wuh!

I feel (again) somewhat tempted to pick up the new Perl 6 book, but it might just be too frustrating to find out about all the neatness and then be unable to use it.

the two towers

A guy from the studio that does the CGI for the Lord of the Rings movies gave the final keynote. While he spoke very briefly about the fact that open source software was helping give them better performance and agility, it clearly wasn’t the point. Most of his talk was spent showing us how they went about designing and implementing the CGI characters in Two Towers, especially Gollum. It was pretty cool! There were some great “test sequences” like one in which a simple polygonal Gollum tore off Gandalf’s head, or one in which a sphere with some tree limbs growing from it bounced up the screen and did a little dance.

“In some scenes with the ents, it would take up to four hours to render each frame,” he said. Wow. Their render farm was over a thousand processors, and he went into all the problems that created: heat, cabling, space, and so on.

the zoo

The talk ended pretty early, and at 1400 was the zoo trip. I almost didn’t go; Joshua and some others were going to a new sushi place they’d heard of. I would’ve loved to get some sushi, but I’d already eaten a protein bar, and that was plenty for me. I went to the zoo. Getting tickets for the train was a bit of a pain in the butt, as the machine didn’t accept plastic or bills for small orders. Fortunately a few people were willing to buy large amounts of tickets and give them away. Yay collaboration!

The zoo was cool. It was at the Washington Park station, which I’d been advised to see because of its depth. I wasn’t very impressed; clearly it was deep, but there wasn’t any way to really see that. The only way up and down was an elevator, and it wasn’t clear. I’m not sure whether Porter Square is deeper; I don’t think so. Still, Porter has a greater appearance of depth, because you can look down the huge escalators.

I took a lot of pictures of the animals and talked with some guys who do IT for colleges. I drank a two dollar bottle of water; there didn’t seem to be any obvious water fountains around the place. It was pretty cool, as zoos go.

ground kontrol

I hopped off the train near the middle of downtown and tried to find the arcade where there was going to be free gaming. I tried to find it in the phonebook and via Nextel 411, but I had the name wrong; I kept thinking Action Kontrol when, in fact, it was Ground Kontrol. Eventually, though, I gave up and called Gloria and asked for help. She got me pointed there quickly, and we talked a little more. I was really surprised that my phone battery, which had been chirping “low battery!” all day hadn’t died yet!

The arcade was pretty great. They had a few of my old favorites, like Burger Time and Spy Hunter, and they had a few oldskool games that I only got to love during later years, like Tetris and BattleZone. I also played Ms. Pac-Man, and didn’t do too badly. They had the speed cranked up so it was really fast, and it felt great. I played Missile Defender and Donkey Kong (and DKJr) and a bunch of other games. I took two breaks for drinks (a Barq’s and a porter) and to check my mail or make a note online; the place had 802.11; it was a very hip place.

I also tried Star Castle, which someone at work had told me to look for. I was a little disappointed that their Elevator Action machine was out of commission and also that they didn’t have Tapper.


Eventually it was 2000 and they kicked us out. Randal suggested that our next stop should be some comedy club, but I was glad with a few people formed a dissenting group (basically led by Joshua) and struck out for some dinner. It was my second real dinner of the week, and it turned out to be quite good. We changed our destination several times on the way out, each time opting for someplace further. I’m glad we did, both because the place we hit was quite good and because some of the earlier options were beer places. I do like beer, but I drink it in extreme moderation. Until a week or two ago, I hadn’t had it in months (I think).

We ended up at a place called (I think) the Daily Cafe. It was that sort of semi-swanky relaxed nice food place that is A-OK by me. They had this awesome fish soup, but I didn’t get it, because I wanted to fill up on other stuff. I got a “sweet corn and pancetta pizetta.” It was Awesome. I could’ve just eaten that—and maybe the soup. That was the appetizer. The entree was a burger. It was a really nice burger on an onion roll with french fried onions and jack cheese and some kind of smeary sauce. I got it rare; it was good, but maybe I should’ve gotten medium rare. I’m used to ordering burgers rare because so many places think “rare” means “medium.” This burger was really red and cool inside; it was great meat, so it was fine, but it wasn’t exactly what I had expected.

Anyway, it was good.

After dinner, Joshua and most of the other guys booked over to a cab stand; they were going to see LXG. I wasn’t really interested, so I wandered back toward the hotel with the only other non-moviegoing diner, a coder from Xerox. I was going to swing into Powell’s (again) on the way back. That would’ve been bad—I would have bought something, and I was already out of room. He saved my from that fate by offering me a ride; his var was parked over by the arcade.

When I got back to the hotel, I finished packing and put out Saturday’s clothes, so that I’d be able to just get up and wander down to the shuttle. I also managed to drop knave for the first time. I’d put it down on the bed. I wanted to move it to the other side, so I gave it a little shove. Unfortunately, the comforter on the bed was a much lower-friction surface than I’d estimated, and I watched in horror as my beautiful powerbook slid to (and then off) the edge. I picked it up, and it seemed fine. Then it spontaneously slept and, upon waking, was a little sluggish. After a reboot, everything was normal. I think the sleep and waking might have been unrelated, actually. I’d had the thing in sleep mode nearly all day, and I’m still suspicious of how well the sleep/wake works.

Written on July 11, 2003