PyCon AU 2019

As folks probably know, this year I’m in Canberra at the 3A Institute at the Australian National University, as part of the first cohort of Masters in Applied Cybernetics – itself an experiment in helping to build a new applied science in taking artificial intelligence and cyber-physical systems safely to scale. I haven’t written much about the experience to date; nominally because the course is quite intensive, and doesn’t leave a lot of free time, and, importantly, because many of the reflections that surface belong within that experience.

That said, the course is broadly structured in two brush strokes; a theoretical foundation in multiple disciplines – anthropology, sociology, computer science, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and human computer interaction – and a technical foundation in several components – Git, Arduino, 3D printing, and, importantly, Python.

To this end, many of us from the cohort headed to PyCon AU 2019 in Sydney as an excursion to gain a deeper understanding not just of the language, but the community, the ecosystem, its standards, its norms and its idiosyncrasies.

Members of the 3A Institute – Staff and students – at PyCon AU 2019
From left to right: Tom Chan, Matthew Phillipps, Zaiga Thomann, Katrina Ashton, Felicity Millman (seated), Elizabeth Williams, Zac Hatfield Dodds, Kathy Reid, Charlotte Bradley (seated), Sam Backwell, Danny Bettay, Alison Kershaw
Photo courtesy of E. Dunham

Aurynn Shaw – Making lasting change

Aurynn has written extensively on the topic of contempt culture; the default communications culture we have adopted both in Western society and in tech organisations in general. Contempt culture is where we identify ourselves by being pejorative to other languages, practices and disciplines. We create distance rather than intimacy – hostility rather than harmony. Aurynn’s keynote called for long lasting cultural change by understanding what businesses really need – they care about stability, and risk and outcomes. As technologists we need to communicate these pieces effectively. Businesses have stopped listening to us, because we haven’t cared about their needs in the past.

My key reflection here is that multi- and trans-disciplinary practice will be a key feature of work of the future. As practitioners, we will need competencies in understanding, responding, communicating and engaging with the needs of others in ways that build rather than erode social and intellectual capital.

Watch Aurynn’s presentation on YouTube here.

Mark Smith – It’s Pythons All The Way Down: Python Types & Metaclasses Made Simple

Even though I have a deeply technical background – see my toolchain if you’re in doubt – Python is still a bundle of dark magic in many ways. Mark’s talk was well structured, conceptually clear, and disambiguated types, classes and inheritance patterns in an engaging way.

The talk here covered basic data types in Python – Python is a strongly typed language – and then went deeper into the rabbit hole of types and meta classes by explicating the different types of inheritance that the language uses.

Kudos to Mark on an excellent presentation here – it’s a fantastic introduction to Python types and metaclasses for people transitioning from other programming languages.

Watch Mark’s presentation on YouTube here.

Amanda J Hogan – Pretty vector graphics – Playing with SVG in Python

Why would you do SVG in Python rather than Javascript? Excellent question, and Amanda’s talk shows why Python is a fantastic tool for experimenting with generative art. The talk covered basic SVG primitives, and went on to more complex constructs such as paths and symmetry. Her work with algorithmic generation of art using SVG was incredible – both the mathematical approach and the end result.

Amanda’s work is beautiful, engaging and an intriguing ‘in’ to working with generative art.

SVG linters

One comment I did ponder at length here was the lack of SVG linters available – in Python or otherwise. Having used Inkscape for several years – whose default output format is SVG, I was surprised that there weren’t more linters or validation approaches in this space. So, I went digging and found this linter on GitHub. Unfortunately my npm is segfaulting at the moment and I don’t have time to debug it, so it will have to wait.

Watch Amanda’s presentation on YouTube here.

VM Brasseur – The real costs of Open Source Sustainability

Grounded by Nadia Eghbal’s excellent “Roads and Bridges” report, Vicky’s talk started with a critique on the current methods for improving open source sustainability – for example the funding that comes in for donations needs to be managed – through legal entities, through tax. This can place additional burdens on maintainers.

Drawing from the experiences of other communities, she laid out a three-pillared plan for improving open source sustainability;

  • Contributing back: this can take the form of “time, talent or treasure” (per Tiffany Farriss) – contributions don’t have to be about just money. We need to find ways to attract non-technical talent to open source – and that starts by valuing it on an equal footing.
  • Human and environmental diversity: Diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams. We especially need to look at linguistic diversity – the open source world is English-centric. We also need to think about open source in the supply chain. What happens when open source companies are acquired and absorbed? Open source can also be single provider, single service, auspiced by a single foundation – and thus a single point of failure.
  • Community safety: Creating psychological safety for teams allows tough conversations to take place.

View VM’s talk online here.