Second Paris Hackers Meetup

The second Paris Hackers meetup was held yesterday Oct. 5th at 7:30 pm local time. Of the people who were there, most love and use Apple products; most were tweeting on an iPhone during the meeting, or typing things on their MacBook in their lap.

No one knew that at the same moment, Steve Jobs was dying. He would be dead the following morning.

The history of computing has many heroes, but no one exemplified what it means to be an entrepreneur and an inventor better than Steve. Much more than an icon, he was the soul of the "ecosystem" that he helped create and which is becoming the whole of our world.

Yet here we were, having beer and pizzas, like kids playing upstairs during a funeral wake, oblivious to what was unfolding thousands of miles away.

Steve's words from his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address have been printed many times, but today they resonate differently.

Second Paris Hackers Meetup

We tried to keep the same agenda as last time, with some innovations.

Upcoming conferences

  • RuPy, a conference about "software, by developers for developers", in Poznan, Poland: Oct. 14-16
  • DLD for Digital-Life-Design is a global conference network on innovation, digital media, science and culture, in Tel Aviv: Oct. 30-Nov. 2 (some events on invitation only)
  • Percona Live MySQL conference: Percona is a fork of MySQL; the conference is in London, Oct. 24-25
  • European Bitcoin Conference in Prague, Nov. 25-27 (appropriately, you can buy your tickets in Bitcoins)
  • Hack Day Paris, not technically a conference per se, but a very interesting event nonetheless: Nov. 4-6
    • the point is to spend a weekend hacking, and coming up with something brillant and new
    • no limitations of any kind are imposed on participants: anything goes as long as it is created during the competition and can be presented onsite on Sunday
    • the winner(s) will take home a €1500 prize and maybe a shot at being funded by TechStars

Buzzwords decoding

This time we talked about:

  • Bitcoins: an online currency with a fixed money supply, controlled by algorithms instead of governments; although this was not mentioned yesterday, I find Paul Krugman's take on the subject enlightening
  • Functional programming: a functional programming language is one or both of two things:

    • a language that has higher-order functions, ie functions that can take functions as parameters and output another function as a result; Javascript is one such language
    • a language that is "pure" in the sense that it has no side-effects; no language can be 100% side-effects-free (or it would be quite useless) but Haskell is probably the closest
    • (... and yet spreadsheets are the embodiment of functional programming: in a spreadsheet a function cannot modify anything, it can only output its result to the cell it's in (macro languages are usually imperatives, but not spreadsheets themselves; and in fact prior to Excel 5 and VBA, Excel had a fairly functional macro language based on functions))
  • Go: a new language by Google that takes its syntax from C but has garbage collection, high-level constructs (esp. for high-concurrency) and somehow lets programmers use asynchronous features in a seemingly synchronous style; its drawbacks is that the ecosystem is still poor and that the language keeps changing; but the presenter was very optimistic Go will be ever more important in the future.

Skype Call

We then had a fascinating call with Solomon Hykes, founder of dotCloud. DotCloud is a Y-Combinator-backed startup that does automatic server deployment and scaling in the cloud, using any mix of languages, databases, messaging components, etc.

Solomon, seen here standing alone in an empty office space for no particular reason, is an incredibly nice, articulate and knowledgeable guy. An American citizen, he was educated in France and graduated as an engineer from Epitech; for a couple of years, he tried to start dotCloud in France, consulting by the day and coding at night. But the team could never interest anyone with money in what they were doing, so eventually they applied to Y-Combinator and successfully joined the S10 batch.

Solomon said yesterday that he or dotCloud would never go back to France because, in the Valley there's a critical mass of people who understand technology and what dotCloud is trying to do. But he was quick to add that people anywhere should start with what they have, and if you're lucky enough to have motivated co-founders in Paris, then go with that. The most important advice he received from Y-Combinator and was happy to pass on was "make something people want" (it's actually the founding motto of YC).

It's difficult to otherwise sum up the call which went on for over half an hour but this (unrelated) interview can give you a sense of what Solomon's doing. He's living the dream.

Top10 | !Top10

Just like last time, we tried to comment on the top (and non-top) ten links on HN, but contrary to last time, the discussion was a little long-winded and the purpose a little hard to find.

In fact, written like this, the title of this section matches anything and everything, and that's a pretty accurate description of what happened. This should be more prepared (for example, by having people comment on subjects they know or are interested in, whether or not these topics are on the front page of HN right this moment).

Presentations and demos

Next on the agenda were various presentations, the first one by Sacha Greif who talked about Design by the Numbers. Being a little design-challenged myself, I found his approach very effective to bridge the gap between developers and designers (of which he was apparently the only deputy!); numbers reassure geeks in a special way.

Sacha is also behind Folyo, a marketplace for designers -- in a word, the antithesis of 99Designs. (He also promised a discount to anyone coming from Paris Hackers!)

Then Antoine Durieux had a demo of Jérôme, an application that lets one browse recipes on the web and automatically parses unstructured text to extract information about ingredients, that it puts into a shopping list. Although it's in private beta right now (and the video on the home page won't launch for some reason), the demo was very promising.

After that, Nicolas Debock, a part-time postal worker venture-capitalist fromXChange, a private-equity full subsidiary of La Poste talked about startup financing in France; asked whether "winter was coming" to the world of VCs he acknowledged that VCs had had a harder time raising money recently, and that this should eventually show in their ability to sign deals; but he added that at an early stage, angels matter more than VCs and since angels invest their own money no one should worry.

While he admitted that European VCs were more risk-adverse than their North-American counterparts, he insisted that VCs the world over were looking for the same thing: momentum, stickiness, traction (acronym: MST). If you double the number of loyal users every month, you won't have a problem finding capital anywhere. (If you're just at the idea stage however, better head West.)

Next Ronan Amicel demoed, a web application that filters and formats articles and news from one's Twitter feed.

Sylvain then talked a little about Chess@home: modeled after SETI@home, the project aims at putting together the largest networked chess computer; people participate and contribute ressources, just by visiting the website of the project.

Sylvain also presented, a game where one has to produce functioning Javascript programs in less than 140 bytes (so that they fit on a tweet). Sylvain's entrydraws fractals using the little-known (and, frankly, crazy) String.fontcolor method.

And after that, the excellent free Stanford courses on AI were mentioned.

Geek T-shirt contest

At some point in the evening there was a geek T-shirt contest, won by Gabriel, who took home no less than a free burger.

I entered the contest not with a T-shirt but with a regular shirt, because I wear my HN handle embroiled on it and thought it was kind of funny. It turned out no one else thought that. Oh well. (Bambax is also my stage name. Some people have suggested I stop singing. Those people are wrong.)


Thanks to Sylvain and Thomas for putting this most excellent event together; thanks to Solomon for his time and optimism; thanks to all the presenters who were most interesting; thanks to everyone else for being there and taking part in the discussion, and making the event a success.

Thu, 06 Oct 2011 • permalink