I went to !!con!!

Months ago, Mark Jason Dominus said to me, “Hey, I heard about a conference in New York that’s going to just be two days of lightning talks!” I thought it sounded cool and promptly forgot about it. As it grew closer, though, I realized that I’d be able to go, and it sounded pretty fun. Tickets were free, but only about 30 were open to the public. I was very lucky to get one in the first pass. Almost everyone I met at the conference had gotten theirs through the wait list.

(Actually, it wasn’t just luck. I felt like a bit of a jerk by interrupting a movie night with Gloria to try and buy the ticket right at 20:00, but it only took about a minute, thankfully. I later learned that all the tickets sold in about that one minute. Yow!)

The conference was !!Con, aka Bangbangcon, and talks were meant to address “what excites us about programming.” I thought this was a good topic, and the speakers did a good job sticking to the stuff that excited them, which meant we had a lot of excited speakers, and that’s a good thing. The topics ranged broadly, from the history of computing to interesting instructions on Intel CPUs to computer-identified accidental poetry.

The best part of the conference, generally speaking, was the speakers’ excitement about their topics. In many cases, the topics were not particularly new to me, but it was fun to see how different speakers’ excitement would manifest in their talks. I did make a to-do list of things to try or investigate after the conference, and I hope I follow through with the items on it. First up is probably a nice simple one: implement my own LZ77. From there, maybe I’ll go on to the next few algorithms in that family.

The talks were all transcribed. At first, like many other attendees, I thought that there was some very good speech-to-text software being used. Later, I learned that Mirabai Knight was serving as our stenographer. I’ve often wondered about stenography, and Mirabai was happy to answer all my questions and to let me peck at the keys on her stenotype. “How much does this machine cost?” I asked, and she told me that while her stenotype ran several grand, she had a project for open source stenography using commodity hardware. That went on the to-do list, too.

The most difficult part of the conference, for me, was socializing. Out of the hundred-odd attendees, I knew one — Mark — who was only there on the second day. I found it difficult to strike up conversations with a bunch of complete strangers, although I did try. In fact, I had a number of nice conversations, but it was difficult and uncomfortable to get started. I’m not sure whether there’s anything to be done about that, but it didn’t help that it seemed like half of the conference attendees knew each other already.

This experience really made me think again about YAPC and other conferences that I attend where I already know half the attendees and, even if I don’t, am in a privileged position by virtue of my position within the community. Remember, fellow conference veterans: go talk to the new people and make them feel welcome. It’s important.

It also reminded me of something of which I’m already quite aware: despite futzing about in other languages and with other tools, almost all the “rep” that I have is within the Perl community. This seems silly. I feel like I could make a lot more friends and contacts by just spending a little more effort interacting with the other projects that I am already touching.

The best meal of the conference was at S’Mac: their Parisienne macaroni and cheese, made with brie, roasted figs, roasted shiitakes, and rosemary. I ate too much of it, but only because it was great. Momofuku milk bar, where I went later, was a big disappointment. Both of these were a “group dinner,” which was very nice. I think it’s easier to start talking to a bunch of new people when the parameters of interaction are pretty well defined. There were six of us. I think I was the only person in the group who didn’t already know everyone else, but it was just fine.

If there’s a !!Con in the next year or two, I’ll try to go again. I’ll probably submit a talk, next time, too.

Written on May 23, 2014