OSCON 2009: Overview

I attended O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention last week in San Jose, which wasn’t my usual scene. I gave a brief, five-minute talk Tuesday night (which I’ll post shortly) and then spent Wednesday and Thursday wandering between sessions, feeling alternately like I was a) bobbing along the surface of something awesome or b) submerged several hundred feet beneath that same surface, all depending on the complexity of the content. I stuck to sessions on design, usability, business-building, and data visualization. Those were pretty great but OSCON punished me, without exception, anytime I decided to get adventurous, like the session on e-mail protocols that I would have understood just as well had it been delivered in Croatian.

Scattered notes:

  • It’s nice to know that, even at 27 years old, there are still things I don’t know, that there are at least a few things I have left to learn.
  • Everyone was exceptionally warm and welcoming, even people who, upon subsequent Google background-checking, turned out to be something of rockstars within the community. I wonder if this is particular to the open source ethos or if, more generally, I just go to all the wrong conferences.
  • Seriously, Valerie Aurora did everything but sound out the syllables in Li-nux Ker-nel for me. Such is the patience with noobs here.
  • There were no handouts whatsoever at this conference. I asked a few people about this and they looked at me like I was high.
  • Keynotes were fifteen minutes long. Sessions, forty-five.
  • The gender balance here is inverted at education conferences.
  • Everyone had an opinion or an anecdote to share about teaching. It was easy to lure someone into conversation by asking her to elaborate on why her ninth-grade science teacher was so good or bad. I had these conversations all throughout the conference, all throughout the convention center. I can’t imagine water management engineers enjoy this sort of ready social icebreaker so chalk one up for teaching.
  • Open Source Hero I: Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs, who aims to make meaning out of the deluge of data from data.gov.
  • Open Source Hero II: Michael Driscoll, who makes awesome visualizations of huge data sets using the statistical analysis software R. Check out his six-dimensional analysis of baseball pitches.
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. R is pretty world-rockin’.

    One thing on my pie-in-the-school list is a beginner’s equivalent, sort of the Logo of statistics.

    (Or maybe something like that’s already around — Excel programming doesn’t quite fit what I mean.)

  2. Driscoll mentioned the steep learner’s curve for R. Something that endeared him to me was the flash mob he organized late one night at OSCON where a group got together, selected the most commonly asked R questions on Stack Overflow and crowdsourced their answers. Nice.

  3. So I get that Open Source types are warmer and friendlier than ed tech types, but I thought you enjoyed the math conference at Asilomar. How’d it compare to that? I always wanted to go to that one myself.

    I recently got to crash my husband’s world and liveblogged at local conference on traffic engineering. Very friendly, and extremely accessible even for an outsider (although it was policy, not engineering-based). They even invited me to drinks afterwords (and not just because of my husband). I think it’s REALLY nice to go to different meetings, etc. just to expand your own thinking. Kudos to you!

  4. @Alice, yeah, Asilomar’s the bee’s knees. No complaint there. My observation is that the OSCON crowd lacks a certain edge, that they carry themselves with a certain humility, that educators – math educators, anyway – lack.