Of Crockery and Hard Surfaces

Sign at the entrance to Perl

Between Friday 17th August and Sunday 19th August 2012 we held the first ever Perl Reunification Summit in the town of Perl just inside the border of Germany near to the borders of France and Luxembourg.

The summit was an invite-only event and was the brainchild of Liz and Wendy of Dijkmat who were hosting, organising and sponsoring the event. It would be held at the Hotel Perler Hof

The event came into existence when Liz decided to take a sabbatical earlier this year. She was in a position where she could take some time from her regular work to think about the language of Perl and the community.

Very quickly she came to a conclusion, she wanted to “Throw a cup against a wall”. This was an outpouring of emotion, she is a strong advocate of the Perl community and a keen supporter of Perl for use in business. Liz is also active in many Perl projects and organisations and is ably supported by her wife Wendy who is a prominent member of the  community and organiser at many events.

So why was she so spurred to this emotion?

Although Liz is a member of the community and has seen, as many of us have, a motion in the community to unite the groups that are Perl 5 and Perl 6 she didn’t see the two groups merging. She believed the animosity had left the community along with the silly arguments that spurred it, but the two groups were branching into distinct communities that didn’t identify with each other.

This had to stop.

We shared far more than features than we could be separated by, but to many people and to a broader world we were different species.

Liz was also concerned that for the language this split did not, and would not, answer any of the challenges we face.

This was frustrating, this meant crockery must hit hard surfaces (but only, at the time, in a metaphorical sense). There was no real crockery, there was just the emotion that could be expressed in this manner.

Liz’s answer to her feeling was simple. Gather together as many of the strong community members, those people who are active and visible, people with ties and links to a wider number of project and get them together to discuss this.

Thus the reunification summit was born, and it would be held in Perl as it was about Perl.[1]

Reunification, A Side Trek…

The word reunification, for me, has some lingering overtones. There is a level to which I can abstract the word from its historical context but when it was declared we would be having this summit just inside the border of Germany it didn’t make that task any easier.

The word itself is a wonderful choice. The communities that are Perl 5 and Perl 6 do work as strongly cohesive, and therefore unified, entities. But they needed to be seen as part of one larger Perl community body. So they had to be reunified.

Attendees, A Side Trek…

When I was first invited to attend the summit I wasn’t sure that I could make it.[2] When I discovered that I could attend I naturally looked at who else was coming and had been invited. It was a broad group but it was also some of the very big names of the Perl world.

 

My reactions to this were two-fold. I could naturally appreciate that Liz and Wendy had chosen people who do a lot in the language and community, these people represented nicely the two language groups.

The sociologist in me[3] was appalled. This wasn’t the best way to represent the community. Labov would have had a fit, you need a randomly selected group of individuals who didn’t know they were on the list as this would give you a broad cross-section in which to conduct a  better experiment and achieve a more natural response.

Which of course would not be suited to the purposes of the summit so I quickly had my inner sociologists taken away and shot.

The eclectic mix of people we had was actually enough of a variance. The randomness of who could actually make it provided us with our indeterminacy.  Then there is the importance of influence and immersion. Things needed to be done by those who had been empowered by history, selection or ability to do that. A true random selection (if such a thing is possible) may give us a more natural indicator of the overall system, but they might suffer from lack of exposure to the issues and have insufficient ability to propose or engage with solutions.[5]

Day One

My arrival at the conference on day one was delayed as I had to travel in the very early hours of the morning from Manchester to Luxembourg via Amsterdam. I was met by a very excited Wendy and we were able to have a chat in the car on the way to the event.

The first order of business at the summit was for each of us to talk about where we were in the Perl world and how we had gotten to that point. We also had the chance to discuss a little of what we were hoping to achieve at the event.

Gloria Wall Talks about herself

I missed many of these so had to infer from later conversations what people wanted. For myself I gave my usual line of being fascinated with Perl People as I was in fact a stalker who fascinated on Perl celebrities, and the fact that I was kidnapped into Perl then mugged into various groups. My fondness for flippancy and whimsy to distract from what is a boring, drawn out and complicated irrelevancy.

My ambitions were fairly easy. I think that the efforts to get other programmers to use Perl, and to see the current advances in Perl are noble, and necessary. However, I don’t think they will have a great affect on the number of people using Perl in the future or into starting new projects and developments in Perl.

We instead a need to focus on bringing new people into the programming world, the next generation of programmers who are in our schools and colleges, we must also focus on having an environment that is conductive to learning and focussed on Perl.

I also hoped to be able to engage with the Perl 6 community more. I am fairly prominent in the Perl 5 world, and I know many of the people in that world, but I have less relationship with Perl 6 and I wanted to change that.

Lunch

At lunch I was able to catch up with and talk to Schwern and Ribasushi. In particular we discussed the need not to regulate the submission to, or modules on CPAN. The broader community needed to be given faster access, more control and they themselves would build the consensus that we really need.

We also, Schwern and I, called for a slight shift of thinking, let’s not worry too much about finding the best Perl or best modules on CPAN. Let’s not police our system, and in reference to finding a Python module on there wrapped in Perl, let’s not expunge it. If it is a good module and people use it, what is the issue. The whole of CPAN will not suddenly tun into a Python environment. It is a tool and if we get thousands of Python developers giving us Perl based tools to use, what did we lose? Even if we didn’t get that, what would we lose?

We then discussed having a ‘light’ version of Perl. Not necessarily cut down but constrained where the  best practices already existed. This wouldn’t be  a standard or forced on people build of Perl but a teaching environment. This wasn’t to imply training wheels but guard rails. Let people play freely but don’t let them fall off the ledge.

I really benefitted from talking to Schwern, it is clear that he has been putting a lot of focus into thinking about these issues and covering that with a lot of discussion across a broader society and insight from a greater range of people.

SWOT Teams and Borg

The  afternoon of the first day we conducted SWOT analyses of the various factors facing the world of Perl. This was useful to let us hear other people’s thoughts and how they analysed the issues. It let us convey the various attitudes that are common in our own sub-groups about those issues.

We broke the days formal talks at about five-thirty and went to dinner. Liz and Wendy had booked us into a nearby Roman Villa in Perl Borg[7] where we had a guided tour before an evening meal inspired by Roman diet. Before reaching the villa we stopped at the old station in Perl and had a group photo taken with the signs.

The tour at Perl Borg was a good way to break the pattern of thought and let our minds regain some energy and in my case focus. I sat with old friends at a meal and drank some beer.

When we returned to the hotel I was able to sit down with Patrick Michaud and talk about the Perl 6 docs effort and how that might be used in Perl 5 and about the TPF website being written as a Perl 6 application and my personal preferences for that. It seems that both of those will go ahead and this is a start of a Perl 5 and Perl 6 collaboration on code and documentation.

Day Two

We took a less formal approach on Day Two of the conference. Tux, mst, Flavio and Gabor all gave talks about projects or issues and a general consensus was made to start to work on some of the things we had identified as issues on the previous day. It would also allow us to mix and discuss the things we had heard of.

DWIMPerl

My initial discussions were with Gabor. I had just heard him speak about DWIMPerl and I thought it was nicely related, though not the same as, my thoughts for a Perl Environment.

DWIMPerl was originally focussed on Windows but now has a Linux flavour, and is a collection of a Perl install with selected, best case, projects and modules. So you can install them from a single file. It is a great way to give people an initial snapshot of Perl and Perl development.

DWIMPerl is part way towards what I want in a Perl Environment and using mst’s principal of it is better to start small, test, learn and grow, along with use the tools already available and learn from them, I asked Gabor to allow me to join in with his project and maybe help promote, find contributor and get a good design for the effort.

So my first actions were to be added on Github, download, do a design review of the current site and plan a design in my head. I also spoke briefly with Gabor about the current look and promised to return to the discussion. We did speak briefly about my targets for the Perl environment and Gabor had some cogent, and really intuitive, input on the distribution.

At lunch I managed to speak to Tux who is attempting to do a similar project but aimed at a different operating environment. He was helpful in making me formulate some thoughts about how DWIMPerl would be useful to us and how it differed from his approach and needs. It also allowed me to formulate how my effort is more about the specific markets we need to target and how we achieve that.

CPANoGraphic

Jess (Castaway), James (theorbtwo) and I also started the discussion of how we would put into practice the CPANoGraphic that I wanted to begin that was originally inspired by a conversation with Castaway.

Once again we started with the idea of the smallest possible item to achieve being our start point. We decided that the first metric to base our health graphic on would be the ‘I Use This’ preference in MetaCPAN. With that in mind Castaway started to download a snapshot of Metacpan.

We also discussed the nature of the top-level graphic and what it would be. After some thinking we wanted to use a symbol that would have a number on it, to help with this we would also have a colour shift from orange to blue in percentage. This would be worked on by Me and theorbtwo.

Perlito

I spoke to Flavio at lunch time about his Perlito project. This is one of the most interesting and potentially exciting things I have seen for some time. In particular we talked about how it handles the various compilations and how it might be used to say turn Perl into Objective-C or Java. There would be a lot of consensus needed to work out which parts, libraries or modules could be needed and used, but the notion that we could write an application in Perl and then port it to slim or mobile devices is fascinating.

Flavio is looking for people to help him move the Perlito project forward and I am deeply hoping he finds some and i know i am going to help encourage people to help out.

Writings

During the afternoon I was able to update the YAPC.org website, add some links to Damian Conway presentations on some community and business sites and wrote a short news article for the company website.

I also started to write and take notes on two articles about the Summit,[8] so that I would have a reference to work from later.

Reporting on the Day

“What we learn in Perl 6 is how much, and how quickly, we learn from mistakes”

At the end of the second day we all made a short report on what we had done so far and the topics we had covered. It was useful to see how many conversations were started. I made some rough notes at the time that I can share with you, I hope to see on other people’s blogs a better explanation in their own words.[9]

  • Matt and Patrick had a lot of conversations about making Perl 6 work in Perl5
  • Patrick spoke on making Perl 5 work in Rakudo
  • Larry started the long task of getting Perl 5 to work in Perl 6, and he was going through it line by line as our reports came in.
  • “Unifying perl 5 and Perl 6 is exciting”
  • Schwern spoke about the ‘Raptor Pack’ he and Matt had discussed and the guardrails he had discussed with Ribasushi, myself and others.
  • Documentation dominated the discussions for many as did improving the user experience of coming to projects.
  • A need to increase the value and the interface for users coming to Rakudo
  • Matt spoke of a pure Perl build of modules and the Rakudo build (in discussions with Patrick) for the OR connector.

Tux Talks

We then listened to a personal response from Tux about the event, he wanted to share with us his thoughts and feelings.

Tux felt that his expectations of the summit were vague, he wasn’t sure that there would be a great deal of value gained. But he had come to discover new things over the few days both about the community and about himself.

The mixing of people in the community is changing in how we perceive and understand the relationships and elements around us.

Tux felt that his personal position on Perl 6 before the summit was skeptical and negative, he didn’t see a future for the specification, but in the conversations, by seeing how the people who make up the Perl 6 community are willing, and able to, accept and see change, how we are moving forward to work with each other has made him positive in his outlook on the future of Perl 6 and the balancing of the community.

Of cups and walls

(And railway signs)

Martin Berends[10] had brought a number of mugs with him to the summit. His feeling was that we should take Liz up on her wish and if the summit was successful physically throw a cup at a wall.

We decided to make the metaphor and actuality, but to use that as a symbol of the death of another meme. The whole issue of the corporeal state of our community, our languages and about future was over. It was as broken as the bag of cups we threw at a wall. Perl is alive, it will be here for some time and we have a revitalised feeling of a potentially great future.

Liz throws her cup against a wall

We dined at a restaurant in Perl in the evening and I managed to speak to Liz about the summit. In particular I wanted her feelings as it was Liz that inspired the whole event and infused it with a power that made it successful.

Perl people are always careful to collect their garbage!

Liz said that she knew that she had to do something and that the summit seemed to have been the right thing. She now felt more encouraged about the whole community, about the interaction of the people and ideas and how this reflects well for the future. She indicated that the whole community, Perl 5, Perl 6 Rakudo and others now felt like a single organism who had goals that could be shared.

Birthday Blues…

The 2nd day of the summit was also my birthday. On such days I generally don’t celebrate it, I don’t commiserate it either, I just prefer quiet family affairs so the celebration is muted by that. This year was different and everyone was being kind and wishing me a good birthday.

But they had a little surprise.

In the evening I was treated to the Champagne of Beers by Liz and Wendy, and the whole of the gathering sang happy birthday to me and it was sung in four languages (English, Polish, Dutch and German). I had a cake and there were serpentines (streamers). This was especially awesome and it is no surprise that it was Wendy who organised it. I have two cards (one for age forty and one for age four) which contain signatures and messages for me. I must especially thank Martin and his wife and son who stayed behind late to be part of the event (they were driving off after the end of the second day).

I will never have such an experience again and I am never going to forget it.

Final Things

The town of Perl has an information board

This reads (approximate translation): If you have any trouble or issues with Perl call this number

The final morning we all met before checking out and moving on to home, holiday or YAPC::EU::2012. We were all presented with a bottle of sparkling wine (German champagne) of choice by Wendy.

A few people spoke of the things that we wanted to see happen next:

  • Liz said she had “a warm fuzzy feeling”.
  • We made an irc channel and will investigate a mailing list to keep the ideas moving onwards.
  • We would tag the photos on flickr, either p5p6 or p5p62012;
  • Patrick would like us to summarise after 6 months what we thought the results of the summit were, we set a date of February 15th 2013 for that.
  • A call was made to talk about and post what was done and that all the members should do it. Liz agreed to start a blog.
  • Gloria Wall came up with one of the best ideas of the summit. We should all collaborate on a book/teaching materials all about the vast project that is Perl in its many forms so that it can be distributed to educators and used in the future evolution of our community. This wouldn’t be a single persons work but a combined effort.

The last words were from Larry:

“Thanks for not making me do all of this.
You guys are great.
I love you.”

Exunt

I had mixed feelings about this event myself. Like Tux I didn’t know the need or value of it but was happy to be a member. My feelings are no longer mixed and I feel greatly revitalised and confident about the future. There are going to be issues, side treks and pitfalls to live with, work through and avoid, but our real job now is to keep the momentum and to keep the communication going.

When you get so many positive people in a room together and let them mix and inspire one another the positive impact is overwhelming.

I am looking forward to speaking about what we have achieved in six months time.

 

[1] It was many years ago that Liz discovered the town of Perl. She was playing with a browser and wondered if the word Perl would bring up any location links, this is when she found the town of Perl. The town has an interesting neighbour. Just across the river is the city of Schengen, where the treaty was signed to create an area in Europe where people cold move freely, the importance of this cannot be understated.

[2] But that’s a whole different story.

[3] Yes, yes, I know I was an art student and did some Humanities.[4]

[4] “Oh the humanities…”

[5] Of course an argument could be made here that if we did empower the individuals by asking them to attend, no matter who they were, and acted upon their statements then we would empower them and achieve the same effect.

Prior immersion can have a negative component, it can be a hindrance as well as an advantage, it is a blinkered approach along with an ignorance of factors affecting neophyte community members.[6]

[6] But the gunshot sound you just heard put an end to seeing this as a social thesis.

[7] Resistance was futile.

[8] The first of these articles is the one you are currently reading

[9] Apologies to anyone if I made a misinterpretation in what I wrote, a lot of people were talking. I had to leave so many people out, everyone had great things to say but I was busy listening for a lot of the time not writing.

[10] Thanks to all who pointed out this was Martin and not Mark (original text: “Mark Overmeer(spelling!)”).

nota bene

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