Twin Cities Drupalcamp 2013


Drupalcamp is over, thank the Universe. 

It was the biggest camp we've ever held here. All told, we had almost 300 people attend for during the three days of the camp. I rarely heard any complaints, and the quality of sessions seemed even better this year compared to last year.

Despite the fact that I was at the end of an editing cycle for a particularly nasty class, I decided to volunteer for all three days. The first day I was participating as a mentor during the training sessions. While it sounds intimidating, it was actually quite relaxing. The class used an unusual delivery method: There was no instructor. Instead, students watched a series of videos and affixed a bright Post-it Note to their laptop if they encountered any issues. I rarely needed to do more than resolve a lost account or fix a faulty internet connection. I did encounter the same bug for two different people, but it has a well known solution that was easily implemented. As a result, I spent most of the day working on my session slides. 

That task didn't last long either. Once I asked some of the other mentors for advice, they all told me to stop right where I was. Technically, each session was about 45 minutes long. 15 of those minutes were best left to questions, leaving only 30 minutes in which to talk. While I can get quite animated when I'm giving a presentation, 30 minutes isn't very long to deliver information on an already complicated topic. Furthermore, the topics that I had yet to write where unforgiving cans of worms and best avoided in an introductory session. What drove the point home was how they reacting. Any mention of teaching about "views themeing" resulted in a nervous sigh, and a faraway look like a weary hunter confronting an approaching colosus. The trainer cannot simply ignore the hulking question before them, nor would it be easy to topple it. 

Instead, I took the opportunity to run an export of the presentation. I had been using to create a Reveal.js presentation. This worked extraordinarily well until I crossed some critical size. Afterwards, the web app would easily require so much memory and CPU that my laptop would overheat and shutdown. I decided to try to export the presentation and run it as raw HTML instead. My theory was that without the editor my presentation would not require so much CPU. This turned out to be true for the most part, but the export looked horrid. All the images were hosted on Amazon S3, and many of the WYSIWYG formatting did not carry over correctly. Since mentoring didn't require as much effort as I imagined, and we had so many more mentors than were needed, I decided to try to quickly fix these issues.

It actually only took half of the day. I maintained a backup copy of most of the images, editing all of the image tags to use a local file was a straightforward process. The formatting errors turned out mostly to be lack to automatically vertically center content. This required a bunch of spacer tags that were unnecessary in the raw Reveal.js presentation. I removed most of those, finding that editing source code to create a presentation a far more rewarding experience than any graphical tool I've ever laid a cursor upon. Before the day was over, I declared the presentation "done enough" and uploaded it to the site.

That night was a speaker party at a local bar. While I was reticent to go, I'm glad I did. It was enjoyable despite the warm, noisy, and cramped conditions. 

The next day was the first of sessions. The last session of the day was mine. I helped at the registration desk and performed many smaller tasks as asked. During the keynote and put some finishing touches on my presentation, and decided to upload the entire thing to GitHub. Since Reveal.JS is just HTML, and git can handle images with ease, why not make the presentation "open source" for others to use and improve? I'm still excited to see where that might go. I was beginning to think that I wasn't doing enough by lunch time. I decided I'd get my lunch to go, then go sit at the registration desk until the first sessions of the afternoon. Apparently, this was exactly the right thing to do. It allowed all the other volunteers to go out and get a much needed break. I only wanted a sandwich and some quiet, and the largely empty reception area provided just that. 

My session was held in the large auditorium -- the same used for the keynote. While it was intimidating -- especially as more and more people came in to fill the seats -- I forgot all of that as soon as I started speaking. By the end I didn't think my session had gone all that well. The audience was very, very quiet. One young woman kept staring gobsmacked, as if I had just extracted my skull from my head without pausing mid-sentence. On the other side of the auditorium, an older gentleman looked as if he had fallen asleep. Afterward, however, five or six different people took a moment to express their compliments privately. Perhaps the big room intimidated them as well.

The next day, Saturday, was far more relaxing. For most of it, I camped out in a single room and monitored the recording equipment. It was convenient for me because most of the sessions I wanted to attend were in that room. The venue did most of the cleanup for us, leaving me very little to do after the closing discussion panel. I headed home, picked up Pazi, then had a lovely Indian dinner out. 

Today is technically the last day of camp. They're holding coding sprints in Bloomington. While I attended last year, this morning I just didn't have the energy in me to attend. The stress at work, combined with the three days of volunteering created a debt that now needed to be repaid.