Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Wed 8th Jun, 2011

CodeCave 2011 wrap-up

After a hectic two evenings preparing for CodeCave 2011 and a morning that seemed full of reasons to stay at work, I picked up James and Rusty and we headed up to Yarrangobilly Caves with Tridge and Ian in convoy. After a small panic of me not remembering the landscape (and trusting my memory rather than e.g. a map or a GPS) we arrived. Andreas had got there beforehand and unlocked so we moved in.

I was immediately very pleasantly surprised - Caves House is really well appointed, with an excellent kitchen, nice wide corridors, plenty of heating and great facilities all round. I had been worried about finding a forty year old oven and one knife (I brought my own favourite cleaver and carving knife just in case) but it was excellent.

The other thing that was good was that everyone pitched in and helped in the cooking and cleaning. I wasn't surprised by this - I think open source people generally expect to pull their weight and contribute, and I think everyone understood that I was only passing on costs rather than making a profit. But I had been a little worried that I'd have to set up rosters and roust people out from under their laptops to help me, and that wasn't the case at all. I had planned a group menu that pretty much everyone joined in with, and I really enjoyed having help as I cooked (as much as I also enjoyed the process of cooking for friends). Another win.

We had quite a variety of projects being worked on. Andreas was working on an Arduino home alarm system, Ian was continuing to work on his password manager integrating with the arcane complexities of XWindows' clipboard, Andrew and Tridge worked on getting SaMBa to talk to various Windows servers via IPv6 (you can guess where the problems lay), James continued ironing out the wrinkles in Zookeepr, and Rusty took up Tridge's challenge to write an algorithm that could find a bright dot reliably in a picture, not easy when the actual source is a quarter of a pixel wide - this was for the UAV Challenge: the bright dot is an infra-red light source, the picture is a IR-bandpass image of a field with that source in it, and each quarter of a second a new picture is taken, during which time the plane can move over twenty metres.

I was learning Go, something I had wanted to attempt at the previous CodeCon but had failed to get the compiler correctly installed before leaving contact with the internet. This was a general theme in the background of the weekend - nice as it was to be away from all the quotidian distractions of life, including those of the internet, it would have been rather useful in certain circumstances: looking up Wikipedia articles, for example. While Tridge's grand plan of taking his quad-copter up high enough to get his phone in contact with the 3G network, and then to use it as a wifi access point for emergency internet access, didn't eventuate, it was wished for on more than one occasion.

In between hacking and feeding ourselves, we watched Tridge fly his quad-copter (briefly) and went for tours through the three main cave systems at Yarrangobilly. I'm always left in wonderment at the amazing beauty and delicacy of the cave formations: flowstone, straws, helictites (which grow against gravity), shawls, and more, all solid, real examples of the amazing processes of crystals, physics and time. Fractals so perfect in their execution they make computer-generated ones look fake; persistent, unfathomably patient processes eroding away and building up in intricate, complex sculptures. Places where you can see these geologically slow processes already subsuming the man-made fittings that have been there for a blink of an eye. Caves really do have an aura of wonder to me that awakens the scientist in me.

Tridge had the good idea of each of us giving a talk about what we'd learnt so far and what we were working on and still to overcome, in a convenient spot in the self-guided cave. We didn't disturb anyone else and it was quite wonderful to have that completely different setting for something as interesting and familiar.

We packed up by about 11AM on Sunday to go on the final cave tour, and then to have lunch at the thermal pool. Sadly it wasn't warm - it was tolerably cool; with a cold Winter upon us there was nothing about it to entice one to stay in. Still, it was kind of fun to do something different again. And there was still one treat in store - we found an open place on the snow plains south of Kiandra and Tridge flew his model plane. It went very well despite the wind, which would have been at gale strength in scale and had the motors struggling to keep it going upwind.

Overall it was a really great weekend, full of interesting talk, cogently argued ideas, personal insights and wonder-generating surroundings. I was really glad to have been a part of it and I hope to run another one next year!

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