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reappy a cool conference
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lawgon
pycon India 2009 will go down in history as the event that popularised the new buzz word 'reappy' (according to knowledgeable people this is an acronym for 'REAP the benefits of PYthon' - but since knowledgeable people are usually jobless, this may be taken with a pinch of salt). Anyway, to come to the point, the idea of a community sponsored python conference was mooted on the Bangpypers list about 6 months back, and we decided to dive in. The main action took place in Bangalore and I decided this was reappy a good chance to flog my conference app - fossconf. So I submitted it for scrutiny, and to my pleasure it passed muster and was accepted. (this is a very unusual occurrence because generally Indians tend to sneer at any locally produced app). This was my first experience of interacting with with a non-foss group, and I had to struggle a bit to adjust to it. To my credit I stayed cool and did not lose my temper even once. During the testing period, there were a lot of suggestions, comments and criticism, by and large constructive and helpful, although some of them were totally inane. I am especially grateful to Senthil Kumaran who took 4 hours out of his busy schedule to exhaustively test out the application. I remember spending two hours from 5.30 to 7.30 am on one morning with him in Bangalore and me in Chennai, ironing out bugs and adding features.

In the foss world, each person barges in and scratches his itch - in a bumbling sort of way, things get done. Conference management software is usually under development throughout the run up to the conference, and is rarely complete even when the conference is over. The first hurdle I had to overcome is the concept in the non-foss world of 'software as a completed product'. There was an expectation that the software be completed before being put into production - rather than putting what is available in production and enhancing it on the way. Software can never be complete because one cannot reliably predict what needs may arise. Anyway it was put in production, and almost immediatly new features were required. We had to add tee shirt sizes and a privacy box in the user profile - as also the ability to print id cards (not that anyone used that feature). Then the menu system had to be restructured so that the admins could add, delete, enable, disable and rearrange menu items. And of course, we forgot to test the scheduling part of the app - when we started using it, it was b0rked, but easily sorted out. And a pretty major rewrite of the multi-author feature was also done. As I know zilch about design, someone volunteered to do the design part, but after giving a mock-up, he vanished without a trace, so I managed to put together something that looked like a design. Fortunately for me, Anand C suddenly put aside his aversion to django and chipped in with a few patches that tidied up some of the awkwardness in the look and feel.

In the final run up to the conference, the site went down a few times. The worst was the day before the conference when I was travelling in pelting rain from Ooty to Bangalore and got a call saying the site was down. I could not do anything until 9 pm when I finally reached Bangalore and set it right. So what went wrong? My logs were showing postgres and apache running out of memory and shutting down. I assumed that some other vps on the same gandi machine was getting hosed and this was shutting my site down too. I contacted Gandi, but their reply only came after the conference was over. I now realise that the site was crashing due to load. Too many people accessing at the same time. I had an alternate site ready, but unfortunately the DNS was in Anand C's hands and he was not available. Fortunately the people responsible for crashing the site were all at the conference and were unable to hit it, so the site stayed up during the conference.

As for the conference itself, I encountered reappy on the back of the volunteer who was guiding me and was wondering whether I needed to get my eyes tested. I had the two hour tutorial slot on the first day along with Noufal and Parthan, so had to leave the keynote speech halfway through to get ready. Slowly people started trickling in to the hall, I chased out all those people who had any knowledge whatsoever of python - and even then the hall was full. I gave an hour's hands on demo of the basics of python, and it seemed to be pretty well received (every one laughed at my jokes, so at least they were not asleep). Then Noufal took over for the advanced part. After the tutorial, I could not get into any of the halls, so did not get to hear any other talks. Put some names to faces over lunch and chatted with other outstanding pythonistas (mainly from Chennai) and left early. I was staying in the Catholic Club and didn't get to sleep at night because a huge party was going on. Got to the venue a bit late - Parthan was on the job doing the tutorial (first time I have seen a Chennai guy sweating in Bangalore). After Parthan finished, I did some regular expression stuff and an introduction to urllib. By then my headache had become severe and I went home. My most abiding memory is of the long Q for registration, and the fact that large numbers of people had come on their one steam from Kerala, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai and Delhi. And fossconf benefited a lot in terms of new features thanks to the conference - and has now been chose for the upcoming Mukt.in in Hyderabad. Reappy and change the world!


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Thanks for all your help with fossconf Kenneth. It was an important piece of the whole conf. I think you need to think about the non-tech. aspects of the software though (having multiple webmasters/people with access to the site etc.) Those are more atleast as important (if not more so) than the features of the software. A write up would be nice.

Re: Thanks for everything

the biggest defect of the site was that there was no backup. I had to host it on my personal server as the NRC-FOSS server was being shut down to make way for a new server, and so I could not guarrantee that that server would be around at the time of the conference. The new server did come up, but in the rush of things, I did not shift the site to it - and when it was ready to shift, Anand C was not available to point the DNS. Ideally the conference should have it's own server/vps, and now that we have funds we could think of setting this up. Both my personal vps and NRC-FOSS server host a lot of stuff for which reason I could not give root access to anyone outside, and since the NRC-FOSS team is fresh and under training, I could not give the access to someone inside also. I had asked for a volunteer to set up a mirror on his own server, but no one came forward.

The solution to this is, as mentioned above, a dedicated server/vps for the conference with more than one person with root access. As I write this, I see a mail where some terminally braindead moron who has been granted shell access to set up a site has set the superuser rights as username admin, password admin.

Since several people had superuser rights for inpycon, we managed ok except for the three times when the server got hammered and went down.

Great job! I guess you missed the golden rule of operations - Do not have a single point of failure, either in terms of machine or humans.

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