The Null Device

EuroPython 2009

Your humble correspondent spent the past three days in beautiful Brutalist Birmingham, at EuroPython. This was my second visit to a Python conference in Birmingham (the first was last year's PyCon), and was just as interesting.

There were some interesting talks there: I found Chris McCormick's talk on RjDj quite interesting, not so much because of the Pythonic bits (a description of a Django-based web app, which is the online side of the app to sidestep Apple's iron grip on software updates), but because of the description of how RjDj works (it's basically Pd, hacked to work as an embedded environment). This has inspired me to look at the Pd sources and see whether it'd be possible to strip the GUI out and make a library, into which one could load a patch and then use that as an audio engine. (It doesn't seem obviously easy, though someone has gotten Pd to work as a browser plugin (with provisos about it being too insecure for anything but a proof of concept).) If one could create a Pd instance, load a patch into it, send events into it and get buffers of samples out of it, it would make a very useful component for everything from softsynths to in-game audio, but I digress.

Other notable talks I saw were Samuele Pedroni's talk about unit testing JavaScript from Python (he showed a Python script that launches a web server, starts some browsers and feeds them pages with the unit tests in iframes, getting the results back to the Python script), Orestis Markou's introduction to PyObjC, and Kevin Noonan's tour of cloud computing technologies accessible from Python (including Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine). At the end, Tommi Virtanen's proposal for Pythonic filesystem APIs to replace the legacy C-style ones (think the os module and such) was inspiring and timely; let's hope the idea gets adopted sooner rather than later.

And then, of course, were the keynotes: none other than Cory Doctorow gave a rousing speech on metaclass design patterns in Django how draconian copyright proposals threaten the right to code and innovate, and veteran computer scientist Sir Tony Hoare (the chap who invented Quicksort) spoke about the differences between science and engineering. They also tried, twice, to get Guido Van Rossum to address the audience via Skype, but that didn't work very well. Which may have had something to do with the flaky WiFi.

There were, of course, a few talks I missed which I would like to have seen; the one on CouchDB, for example, I heard was very good, as was the one about the Psyco Python to C compiler.

I was surprised to find, among the vendor stalls (Google sent two people over from Z├╝rich to give T-shirts to anyone who could solve a puzzle, and Oracle were giving some sort of product away) was one from Ableton, the company which makes music software Live. It turned out that they weren't offering any new Pythonic APIs for mashing up audio (apparently Live has a built-in Python interpreter, though there isn't much one can do with it; they did say that if one bought Max/MSP for Live, one could hack it to one's heart's content); instead, they were just looking for Python developers for web-based applications, and giving away badges and cloth bags.

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