Doing More With Less

The schedule for The Perl Conference 6 has been announced. And, for me at least, it’s a disappointment.

When the Call For Participation was put out, the theme was announced as “Doing More With Less”. The heavy focus on Perl 6 and Parrot this year seems only to meet this if we take “less” to mean “not yet available”. I’ll be surprised if Perl 6 is in existence by TPC 7. At one level I’m looking forward to its arrival, but I don’t believe it’s anywhere near time to start making the lead talks of a conference.

For whatever reason there also doesn’t really seem to be very much else at the conference I’d really want to hear. Over on London.pm, my criticism of this led Randal Schwartz to challenge me to describe what I would want to see.

I thought about it for a day, and came back with the following. It’s not enough to build a whole conference around, but it shows the sorts of things that would have enticed me to go:

Doing More With Less Money

The obvious one for an Open Source conference. What are the open source equivalents to big dollar approaches? Some of this exists in the conference (an overview of the perl content management systems etc), but I’d have expected more (I’m surprised there isn’t something on RT, with its recent introduction as the bug-reporting arm of CPAN).

Doing More With Less Skill

(or some more ‘politically correct’ version of this that wouldn’t have made people think that attending was the equivalent of being seen with a shelf full of “… For Dummies” books.)

A lot of modules on CPAN have quite complex and arcane interfaces which provide you a lot of power, as long as you’re happy with closures and callbacks and anonymous data structures/subroutines etc, when actually quite a lot of Perl programmers are frightened even of references.¬†Recently however quite a few people have been writing ::Simple modules aimed at providing a large subset of the functionality wrapped in an easy interface. I’d have liked to have seen a few talks on this sort of approach, possibly with a BOF for people who are interested in not just providing the sorts of Power Tools that let other developers do amazing¬†things, but providing a nice learning curve into them. (This doesn’t have to just be aimed at beginners: Damian could easily have done a bit on Filter::Simple and Attribute::Handlers which took exactly the same approach at a more advanced level…).

Doing More With Less Hassle

Even advanced and experienced Perl programmers spend a lot of time doing monotonous tasks again and again. Joel Spolksy explained in a recent article why he was moving Fog Creek gradually to .NET. One of the reasons he gave was that: “All the grungy stuff that takes 75% of the time creating web applications with ASP (such as form validation and error reporting) becomes trivial. ASP.NET is as big a jump in productivity over ASP as Java is to C.” What are the Perl equivalents of this?

Doing More With Less Time

One of the things I’ve found when building applications (usually web-based, but not always), is that most of the “heavy lifting” has been done before, and released to CPAN for me, saving me huge amounts of time. I still have to write a lot of glue code though, tying all these things together. And I know that lots of people have probably written almost identical (but probably much better) glue before me. I’d have liked to have seen some people talking about how they tie lots of packages together: perhaps a “How to Build a $20,000 website in an afternoon” session – my version would have been on how to tie Class::DBI, Template::Toolkit, CGI::Untaint, Class::DBI::FromCGI, Date::Simple and Spreadsheet::ParseExcelSimple together to provide a database-backed website based on information supplied by a client in Excel files. But I’d like to hear other people’s equivalents.

Doing More With Less Power

I don’t really mean the “political” power question here (“My company is moving most of its development to Java / C# / whatever. I know I can get work done ten times faster in Perl – what should I do”), although that could be interesting too.

Instead, I’m talking about things like The Fractional Horsepower Webserver. Jon Udell presented a wonderful paper at TPC 2 (1998) on a desktop HTTP server that ran a distributed contact manager application. 4 years on, with desktop servers on the rise again, and peer to peer much more commonplace, what’s happening in this area?

For years the Perl world has been great at writing (unix) server based applications, but relatively poor at writing (windows-based) desktop applications. As the two continue to coalesce what great Perl-based desktop applications are being (or could be) written using a local web-browser as their front end?

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