PyCon wifi is going mildly funky; the hammering of hundreds of geeks with laptops is remarkably effective at Taking Things Down.
To wax poetic in the meantime: conferences (and classes with lectures, to a large extent) are moving streams of knowledge into which I can't quite dive, but can lounge on the side of, blowing dandelion seeds of other-subjects into the wind, occasionally dipping in a foot into this stream of information, or plunging in for a moment to get a cold jolt that'll wake me up and reorient me to the world. It's great. I get stuff done.
However, if you ask me to fill in what the lecture was about afterwards, I'll only be able to recount a bit of it, or talk about whatever off-topic activity I was pursuing instead of listening like I was "supposed" to.
Do I get something out of talks? Oh, yeah. Perhaps not what's intended, but I do. By filling in peripheral noise around the edges (which magically turns into information when I focus on it), it lets me zone in on a task; it's almost like I need the background thing-I-should-be-paying-attention-to in order to pay attention to something else. For instance, I'm here in a lecture about Pythonic math classes (in the course/school sense, not the object-oriented one) watching code on a large screen do something with Pascal's triangle, but I'm actually writing this post, and a pilot proposal for a school, and catching up on WSGI before Paul's talk on it this afternoon.
I think this is a side effect of how I process information into understanding in a more general sense - I need to walk around a subject, not linearly through it, in order to grok something beyond a mechanistic ability to parse through pre-set directions A, B, and C. I have a difficult time following sequential information (except in books, and even then I need multiple quick reads to parse things most effectively). Step-by-step steps tend to step nicely into one side of my brain and out the other. I don't need to do, although messing around helps quite a lot - I need to be able to write or tell or teach the bigger picture to somebody else before I can get into details and implement things on my own. (This reversal is really strange; I have to teach something before I'm able to learn it, which leads to me doing a lot of Talking About before I do a lot of Doing.)