The Further Adventures of Child of the LIbrary

Posted by Piers Cawley on Aug 8, 2011

Or… what I did this summer.

Summer as been frantic. Mostly joyous, but frantic.

I had talks accepted at both YAPC and OSCON. Because YAPC was in Asheville, and the Swannanoa Gathering Traditional Song Week fell the week after YAPC, that meant I flew out to Asheville for an intense fortnight of Perl community engagement followed by a week spent singing myself hoarse and being blown away by Sheila Kay Adams’s singing and her stories of mountain life and listening to future stars like Sam Gleaves and inspiring activists like Saro Lynch Thomason. I could write entire posts on every one of those, and that’s before I get on to the magic of watching the sun go down and the fireflies come up from the grass of the Warren Wilson College’s natural amphitheatre. Magical so it was.

On the last night of the gathering, there was a student showcase. Of course, I sang Child of the Library. Rather embarrassingly, I skipped a verse, but the response was great. Several people came up to me afterwards and told me their library stories and, I hope, went home with a determination to help protect their libraries.

Then it was back to the UK for a fortnight before heading off again to OSCON in Portland, OR. I was down to give two talks, one on Higher Order Javascript and a second on Polymorphic Dispatch which proved to be a bear to write. I’d planned to have everything done and dusted and the slides learned by the time I flew out, but spent a huge amount of time blocked on how I was going to present the ideas using a motivating problem that hit the sweet spot between too simple and too complicated. It wasn’t until I arrived in Portland and talked things through with my host, David Wheeler, that I got that worked out. The slides were written in a tearing rush and weren’t as good as I would like them to be. I still owe the talk attendees a full writeup, so I’ll take this opportunity to apologise for the lateness and promise that a writeup will arrive. The Javascript talk was based on one I’ve given before, but I’m starting to realise that it’s a full tutorial masquerading as a short talk. More on that later, I hope.

What with flapping about the unwritten talk, and the 10 minute gap between them, I didn’t really worry overmuch about the Perl lightning talks. It’s been my practice to sing a lightly massaged version of Lou and Peter Berryman’s very splendid song A Chat With Your Mother with tailored verses about different language communities and various Perl luminaries. I had decided to retire it, but at YAPC I came up with a snide verse about myself and another about Larry Wall, so it felt renewed enough to be worth singing this year as well. I ended up singing Child of the Library again.

The response was phenomenal. I’ve been singing it for long enough now that I know it gets people. Hell, when I was writing it, there were verses that were hard to sing because they got me and I was choking up as I tried to sing them. But the lightning talk got a standing ovation. Again people were telling me library stories and I found that the UK isn’t the only country with local governments stupid enough to consider closing libraries, it was happening in the US too. So, fired up by that response, I went to see Sarah Novotny and begged her for five minutes on the OSCON stage before the closing keynote. Bless her, she let me have it.

Pics, or it didn’t happen!

I have proof too! The main stage at O’Reilly events has serious video equipment pointed at it. Because it’s important that people get to see serious talks about known bugs and exploits in wetware. Because my performance wasn’t on the schedule, and I didn’t have a video release all signed and ready to go beforehand, it’s taken a while to get the video available. But last night, that changed, so here I am, in all my corpulent glory. Enjoy. And please, spread this video as far and as wide as you can. Libraries are important.