Just a Theory

By David E. Wheeler

OSCON 2004 Notes

I’m finally getting round to typing up my thoughts on my OSCon 2004 experience. I would’ve done it sooner, but I spent most of last week on the road and fixing bugs in Bricolage.

OSCon 2004 was, in a word, great! I spent every day of the week there, getting there around 8:30 each morning, and finally leaving the hotel or a party each night somewhere between midnight and 3 am. I was even there late on Sunday night, talking to folks who just came in, and late on Friday night, at a party in Matt Sergeant’s room. It was great to see so many friends there, including Casey, Schwern Jesse, Nat, Bruce, Josh, David, Elein, Dan, Nicholas, James, Arthur, Robert, Ask and Vani, my brother, Alex, and probably lots of other people I’m forgetting about.

There were more conversations between members of different communities than I can recall seeing at past OSCons, and people were generally excited and engaged. I’m told that they had the highest number of attendees since 2001. The energy at the conference was very positive, and people seemed very interested in things that other people were doing. Some of the highlights for me:

PHP on Parrot

Speakers Sterling Hughes and Thies C. Arntzen talked about how amped they are at the idea of poring PHP to run on Parrot, the virtual machine being developed for Perl 6 and other dynamic languages. The session ended up as a conversation between Sterling and Thies, on the one hand, and Larry Wall and Dan Sugalski, who were sitting in the front row, on the other. Larry assured them that any programming language community’s members would be “first-class citizens” in the Parrot world, and Dan told them that all they need do is ask for things they need and the Parrot developers would help as much as they could. Sterling wrapped up by saying something like, “I guess the real reason we’re so excited about Parrot is because we really love Perl!” That got a good laugh.


There was a bigger PostgreSQL presence than ever at OSCon this year, with lots of great discussion. There seemed to be quite a few Perl folks going to the PostgreSQL sessions, too. Dan Sugalski was suitably impressed with what’s coming up in PostgreSQL 8.0 (formerly 7.5) that he told me that he was moving up his plans for implementing pl/Parrot. A few of the core PostgreSQL folks said that they felt like people were finally being more open and exited about their use of PostgreSQL, rather than keeping quiet about this “strategic advantage.” And the features in 8.0 sound extremely promising, including Win32 support, save points/nested transactions, point-in-time recovery, tablespaces, and pl/Perl. It’s going to be a kick-ass release, no doubt about it. Watch for the beta this week.


SQLite is fast, ACID-compliant, relational database engine in a public-domain C library. It’s great for embedding into an application because it’s not a client-server application, but a simple library that stores databases in files. It’s twice as fast as MySQL or PostgreSQL because it doesn’t have the client/server overhead, and its extremely portable. Version 3.0 adds UTF-8 and UTF-16, which makes it a real possibility for use in Bricolage 2.0 (for small installations and demo servers, for example).

I was pretty amazed at what this little database can do, and not only is it open-source, but because it is in the public domain, there are no constraints on its use. It’s just one sexy library. Everybody run out and use it now! Perl users get it for free by installing DBD::SQLite from CPAN.


A year later, Dan lost the bet with Guido, and gave him a case of beer, ten bucks, and the right to put pie in his face. Dan even made two key-lime pies for the occasion! At the Python lightening talks, Guido graciously declined to pie Dan. The Pythoners seemed to think that this was very nice of Guido, but the Perlers in the audience (including yours truly), were shouting, “Get him! Give him the pie! Do it, Guido!”. As Allison commented later, it’s nice how “the Perl community takes care of its own.”

Dan later auctioned off the right for someone else to pie him in the face. Schwern ponied (heh) up the cash, a ca. $500 donation to the Perl foundation for the right, but gave it to Ponie developer Nicholas to enjoy. The event came off just ahead of the final keynote. This time Guido decided to go ahead, and he doused Dan in cream pie. Then Nicholas came out and gave Dan the dessert, so to speak. Great fun for all.

The upshot, according to Dan, is that Guido wrote a really evil test suite with seven tests exercising 75% of Python’s ops. Of the seven tests, Dan got 4 working on Parrot, and 3 of those were 2-3 times faster than on Python. Things look very good indeed for Parrot going forward. Look for the tests to be fully working on Parrot (and fast!) in the next few months.

There were parties and conversations every night, lots of great talk, good food, good friends, and, well, I just had a great time. I can’t wait until next year’s OSCon!

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