Mathias Brandewinder on .NET, F#, VSTO and Excel development, and quantitative analysis / machine learning.
by Mathias 2. February 2014 08:08

tl/dr: Community for F# has a brand-new page at www.c4fsharp.net – with links to a ton of recorded F# presentations, as well as F# hands-on Dojos and material. Check it out, and let us know on Twitter what you think, and what you want us to do next… and spread the word!

If you are into F# and don’t know Community for F#, you are missing out! Community for F#, aka C4FSharp, is the brainchild of Ryan Riley. Ryan has been running C4FSharp tirelessly for years, making great content available online for the F# community.

The idea of C4FSharp is particularly appealing to me, because in my opinion, it serves a very important role. The F# community is amazingly active and friendly, but has an interesting challenge: it is highly geographically dispersed. As a result, it is often difficult to attend presentations locally, or, if you organize Meetups, to find speakers.

Ryan has been doing a phenomenal job addressing that issue, by regularly organizing online live presentations, and making them available offline as well, so that no matter where you are, you can access all that great content. The most visible result is an amazing treasure trove of F# videos on Vimeo, going back all the way to 2010. While I am giving credit where credit is due, special hats off to Rick Minerich, who has been recording the NYC meetings since forever, and making them available on Vimeo as well – and also has been lending a helping hand when C4FSharp needed assistance. Long story short, Rick is just an all-around fantastic guy, so… thanks, Rick!

In any case, the question of how to help grow the F# community has been on my mind quite a bit recently, so I was very excited when Ryan accepted to try working on this as a team, and put our ideas together. The direction I am particularly interested in is to provide support for local groups to grow. Online is great, but nothing comes close to having a good old fashioned meeting with like-minded friends to discuss and learn. So one thing I would like to see happen is for C4FSharp to become a place where you can find resources to help you guys start and run your own local group. While running a Meetup group does take a bit of effort, it’s not nearly as complicated as what people think it is, and it is very fun and rewarding. So if you want to see F# meetings in your area, just start a Meetup group!

In that frame, Ryan has put together a brand-new web page at www.c4fsharp.net, where we started listing resources. The existing videos, of course, but also a repository of hands-on Dojos and presentation/workshop material. The hands-on Dojos is something we started doing in San Francisco last year with www.sfsharp.org, and  has been working really well. Instead of a classic presentation, the idea is to create a fun coding problem, sit down in groups and work on it, learn from each other, and share. It’s extremely fun, and, from a practical standpoint, it’s also very convenient, because you don’t need to fly in a speaker to present. Just grab the repository from GitHub, look at the instructions, and run with it!

Just to whet your appetite, here is a small selection of the amazing images that came out of running the Fractal Forest Dojo in Nashville and San Francisco this month:

https://twitter.com/brandewinder/status/429698353203396609/photo/1

https://twitter.com/adamskjold/status/429695835467554816/photo/1

https://twitter.com/logan_mcgrath/status/429113418667134976

https://twitter.com/NickSardo/status/429111103394570240/photo/1

https://twitter.com/orlandpm/status/429106993022779392/photo/1

https://twitter.com/calvinb/status/423677489106276352/photo/1

https://twitter.com/kimsk/status/423646284600184832/photo/1

https://twitter.com/luketopia/status/423649400372486145/photo/1

https://twitter.com/rachelreese/status/423648840466837504/photo/1

https://twitter.com/adamskjold/status/429695835467554816/photo/1

… and special mention goes to @Luketopia, for his FunScript Fractal Generator!

What’s next? We have a ton of ideas on what we could do. We will obviously add more resources as we go – but we would really like to hear from you guys. So help us make Community for F# the resource you would like to have! Here is what we would like from you:

  • Contact us on Twitter at @c4fsharp, and let us know what you like and don’t like, and want to see!
  • Take a look at the Dojos, and let us know how to make them better! Pull requests are highly appreciated. We have more Dojos and presentation material coming up, stay tuned! And if you have Dojo ideas you want to contribute, we’d love to hear about it.
  • If you are organizing a Presentation, talking at a user group or a conference, ping us on Twitter, and we’ll let the Community know about your event!
  • If you want to broadcast a presentation live, contact us, we would love to help out and make it available to the broader community.
  • If you like what we are doing, please spread the word!

In short – we intend to make C4FSharp the best resource we can make it for local F# communities, and we would love your input and help on how to make that happen!

by Mathias 1. September 2013 13:39

I have been back for about a week now, after nearly three weeks on the road, talking about F# all over the US. The first day I woke up in my own bed, my first thought was “where am I again? And where am I speaking tonight?”, now life is slowly getting back to normal, and I thought it would be a good time to share some impressions from the trip.

  • I am very proud to have inaugurated two new F# meetup groups during that trip! The Washington DC F# meetup, organized by @devshorts, is off to a great start, we had a full house at B-Line Medical that evening, with a great crowd mixing F# fans, C# developers, as well as OCaml and Python people, it was great. My favorite moment there was with Sam. Sam, a solid C# developer, looked very worried about writing F# code for the first time. Two hours later, he was so proud (and legitimately so) of having a nice classifier working, all in F#, that he couldn’t resist, and presented his code to the entire group. Nice job! Detroit was my final stop on the road, and didn’t disappoint: the Detroit F# meetup was awesome. It was hosted at the Grand Trunk Pub; while the location had minor logistics drawbacks, it was amply compensated by having food and drinks right there, as well as a great crowd. Thanks to  @OldDutchCap and @JohnBFair for making this happen, this was a suitable grand finale for this trip!
  • In general, August seems to be the blossoming period for F# meetups – two other groups popped up in the same month, one in Minsk, thanks to the efforts of @lu_a_jalla and @sergey_tihon, and one in Paris, spearheaded by @tjaskula, @robertpi and @thinkb4coding, this is very exciting, and I am looking forward to meeting some F#ers next time I stop back home!
  • A lesson I learnt the hard way is that San Francisco is most definitely not a good benchmark for what to wear in August in the US. My first stops were all in the south – Houston, Nashville, Charlotte and Raleigh, and boy was I not ready for the crazy heat and humidity! On the other hand, I can confirm the rumor, the South knows how to make a guest welcome. For that matter, I am extremely grateful to everyone who hosted me during this trip – you know who you are, thank you for all the help.
  • One surprise during this trip was the general level of interest in F#. I regularly hear nonsense sentences like “F# is a niche language”, so I expected smaller crowds in general .NET groups. Well, apparently someone forgot to tell the .NET developers, because I got pretty solid audiences in these groups as well, with an amazing 100 people showing up in Raleigh. Trinug rocked!
  • In general, I was a bit stressed out by running a hands-on machine learning lab with F# novices; for an experienced F# user, it’s not incredibly complex, but for someone who hasn’t used the language before, it’s a bit of a “here is the deep-end of the swimming pool, now go see if you can swim” moment. I was very impressed by how people did in these groups, everyone either finished or ended up very close. Amusingly, in one of the groups, the first person who completed the exercise, in very short time, was… a DBA, who explained that he immediately went for a set-oriented style. Bingo! The lesson for me is that F# is not complicated, but you have to embrace its flow, and largely forget about C#. One trick which seemed to help was to ask the question “how would you write it if you were using only LINQ”. Otherwise, C# developers seemed to often over-think and build code blocks too large for their own good, whereas F# works best by creating very small and simple functions, and then assembling them in larger workflows.
  • Another fun moment was in Boston, where I ran the Machine Learning dojo at Hack/Reduce, language agnostic (thanks @JonnyBoats for making the introductions!). Pretty much every language under the sun was represented (C#, Java, F#, Scala, Python, Matlab, Octave, R, Clojure, Ruby) – but one of the participants still managed to pull “something special”, and tried to implement a classifier entirely in PostgreSQL. It didn’t quite work out, but hats off nevertheless, that was a valiant experiment!
  • As a Frenchman, I take food seriously. As a scientist, I want to see the data. Therefore, I was very excited to have the opportunity to investigate whether Northern Carolina style BBQ is indeed an heresy, first hand. I got the chance to try out BBQ in Houston and Raleigh, and I have to give it to Texas, hands down.

Texas-BBQ

  • Lesson learnt the hard way: do not ever depend on the internet for a presentation. Some of my material was on a Gist on GitHub, and a couple of hours before a presentation, I realized that they were under a DOS attack. Not happy times.
  • I am more and more of a fan of the hands-on, write code in groups format. It has its limitations – you can’t really do it with a very large crowd, and it requires more time than a traditional talk – but it’s a very different experience. One thing I really enjoyed when starting with F# was its interactivity; the “write code and see what happens” experience rekindled the joy of coding for me. The hands-on format captures some of that “happy hacking” spirit, and gets people really engaged. Once someone start writing code, they own it – and working in groups is a great way to accelerate the learning process, and build a community.

Great afternoon with @phillyaltnet crowd hacking at #kaggle machine learning dataset with #fsharpMachine learning and lots of fun with #fsharp @trinug tonight, you guys rocked!

  • I have been complacent with the story “it works on environments other than Windows/Visual Studio”. It does, but the best moment to figure out how to make it work exactly is not during a group coding exercise. In these situations, fsharp.org is your friend – and since I came back, I started actually trying all that out, because “I heard it should work” is just not good enough.
  • I saw probably somewhere between 500 and 1,000 developers during this trip, and while this was completely exhausting, I don’t regret any of it. One of the highpoints of the whole experience was to just get some time to hang out with old or new friends from the F#/functional community – @panesofglass in Houston, @bryan_hunter and the FireFly Logic & @NashFP crew in Nashville, @rickasaurus, @tomaspetricek, @pblasucci, @mitekm and @hmansell in New York City, and @plepilov, @kbattocchi and @talbott in Boston (sorry if I forgot anyone!). If this trip taught me one thing, it’s that there is actually a lot of interest for F# in the .NET community, and beyond – but we, the F# community, are very scattered, and from our smaller local groups, it’s often hard to get a sense for that. Having a chance to talk to all of you guys who have been holding the fort and spreading F# around, discussing what we do, what works and what doesn’t, and simply having a good time, was fantastic. We need more of this – I am incredibly invigorated, and very hopeful that 2014 will be a great year for F#!
by Mathias 21. May 2013 12:55

Last week, we had our first Coding Dojo at SFSharp.org, the San Francisco F# group – and it was great! A few people in the group had mentioned that at that point they were already convinced F# was a great language, and that what they wanted was help getting started writing actual code, so I figured this would be a good format to try out.

What I wanted was something fun, something cool people could realistically achieve under 2 hours. I settled for one of the Kaggle introduction problems, a classic of Machine Learning, where the goal is to automatically recognize hand-written digits. I didn’t think it would be fair to just throw people in the shark tank without any guidance, especially for F# beginners, so I prepared a minimal slide deck to explain the problem and data set, and a “guided script”, with hints and language syntax examples.

And… it worked! The attendees were absolutely awesome. We had people from Kaggle, Rdio, and two people who drove all the way from Sacramento; we had beginners and experienced FSharpers – and everybody managed to get a classifier working, from scratch. Having some beers available definitely helped, too.

FSharp-Dojo

My favorite part is this one attendee, a F# beginner, who kept going at it after the meeting was over, and posted an algorithm improvement in the comments section of the Meetup a couple days after. Way to go! And given the positive response, we’ll definitely have more of these.

Also wanted to say a huge thanks to Matt Harrington, first for starting this user group back then, and then for still being an incredible supporter of the F# community in SF, in spite of a crazy work schedule. Thanks, Matt!

Introduction slide deck

“Guided script”

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