Archive for October, 2012

PrizCon 2013 Comes Further Into Focus

I was talking to the JavaGuys last night, and they’re planning to split PrizCon 2013 into two tracks: one heavily software-oriented track, and one oriented toward what they call digital arts–that is, computers as applied to things like music, video, 2D and 3D modeling and animation, and so on.

Right now, it looks like the presenters on the digital-arts side of things will be mostly prisoners, and the presenters on the software side of things will be mostly outsiders.

We’ve got three ideas hammered out pretty well on the software side.

One of the things we definitely want to put together is a panel discussion with three or more people about How I Came To Agile.  I get the idea that this is intended to be an interactive version of what in church they call “testimonies.”  What were you like before?  How did Agile change that?  What are you like now?

Another thing we want to concentrate on this time is Perlis languages–specifically, Perlis languages for Java programmers.

Alan Perlis was one of the inventors of ALGOL and the originator of a number of pithy quotes about programming, the most relevant of which, in this context, is: “A language that doesn’t affect the way you think about programming, is not worth knowing.” A Perlis language, for you, is one that makes you look at software development in a different way.  So…for a Java programmer, the DEC PDP-8 instruction set would be a Perlis language; J would be a Perlis language; C could be, depending on how it was presented; but C# would not be.

So we’re looking for a series of presentations about far-from-Java programming languages that are intended not to teach people how to write in them, but to demonstrate new ways of thinking about software.  So far we’ve got Nilanjan Raychaudhuri presenting Scala, and it looks like I might get stuck with Clojure if we can’t find anybody better.  Bob Allen has pointed up a PDP-8 emulator that we could use if folks really really want to see a presentation on that instruction set.

I don’t know how long these talks will be, but a good starting estimate would be “short.”

The third thing they want to know about is mobile development, with primary emphasis on Android and secondary emphasis on iOS.  My guess is that the mobile talks that were really hot two years ago, appropriately updated, would be similarly hot now at PrizCon.  Mobile devices are fascinating to the guys inside because in general they don’t get to come anywhere near them.  Things with cell radios are in general unwelcome in prison; it’ll be interesting to see if and how we can get some tablets or cell phones in there for the conference presentations.

Speaking of getting things into the prison, my thoughts at the moment are that we probably won’t get permission to take in a dozen or so laptops.  Instead, I’m going to see if I can get permission to take in USB flash drives.  As a presenter, you’d put all the stuff you need on a thumb drive–including Eclipse, Grails, Sublime Text, whatever–and plug it into the communal laptop when it was time for you to present.  I’m pretty sure we can make Windows 7 and Ubuntu 12 available; MacOS might be an issue if we can’t put it in a VirtualBox VM.

Again, if you’d like to present, get in touch with me at @dnwiebe on Twitter or dn_wiebe@gmail.com (without the underscore) and let’s talk.  If you don’t, I’ll probably get in touch with you.

PrizCon 2013: Possibly the World’s Second One-Day Tech Conference in Prison

In 2010, a bunch of us both inside and outside got together and put on a technical conference inside the prison at Marion Correctional Institution in Marion, OH. You can read about it here.

It was a positive experience on the whole, but things did not go as planned, either on the inside or on the outside.  Many of our eagerly-anticipated outside speakers turned out not to be able to make it, and miscommunications in the prison led to a much smaller turnout than expected.

So Mark Roberts, perhaps the hardest-working prisoner I have ever met, has decided that we’re going to do it again and again until we get it right, or something like that.  Here’s what he had to say to me:

We are actively moving forward with planning for the Tech Conference. SuAnne [supervisor –Dan] is contacting The Columbus College of Art and Design to see if there is any interest. We have tentatively scheduled January 19th 2013 [this has changed, see below –Dan] in the chapel. You will have to tell me to “Slow Your Roll,” in your best gangsta voice, if you want me to slow this down. Strike while the iron is hot, but not in a rush.

So at the moment I guess we’re looking for outside presenters who would be willing to come in and give presentations on something tech.  The word is that we’re going to be concentrating harder on IT this year than we did in 2010, but a presentation on, say, how digital synthesizers or hard disks work would be welcome, as would something about the various obstacles confronting the union of tech employers and tech employees who are ex-felons and how to surmount them, or why computer programming will be obsolete in ten years.

It looks like I’ll be doing a presentation on test-driven development, and I’m being pushed pretty hard to do one on Arduino as well, although I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to get a bunch of discrete electrical components into the prison.

The handy thing about presenting at a conference in prison is that you have a captive audience, and chances are good that anything you do is better than anything they’ve ever seen before, so the acceptance bar is pretty low.  Of course, you won’t get paid in money; but you’ll get some practice making presentations, which is never a bad thing, you’ll get some renown in the community, you’ll get to make completely outrageous statements with a straight face (“Joel Helbling?  Oh, yes, I know him well–I met him in prison!”) and back them up, and you may very well end up having significantly more fun than you’d expect.

Remember Sandra Bullock in The Net?  Remember Hugh Jackman in Swordfish?  Remember how true-to-life and faithful to the real-world experience of the software developer those movies were?  Well, prison movies are just about as accurate as they were.  Talk to veterans of Coding in the Clink for corroboration.

So if this sounds like something you’d like to take a swing at, contact me and let me know, and we’ll start putting a definite shape on this thing.  Once it has a definite shape, we’ll be able to be more specific about what we’re going to do.

The best way to get hold of me is as @dnwiebe on Twitter.  You can also try dn_wiebe@gmail.com without the underscore.

I hope to hear from you!

Update 10/17/2012: We decided last night that January 26th will be the day–two weeks after CodeMash.