Monday, April 21, 2008
'Twas a chilly Saturday in April when the tech enthusiasts and advocates of the capital region gathered for the first local BarCamp Canberra this past weekend. Part conference, part hangout, BarCamps are a low-key way for all flavous of geeks to get together and talk about things they're working on, challenges, ideas, get some experience in presenting to live audiences and generally network with working-level peers.
Strictly speaking, there shouldn't be any passive attendees at a Barcamp; everyone's meant to pitch in somehow but not being a developer, savvy web/UI/UX designer, or photographer with a massive lens, I didn't really know what I could contribute so I just got into the discussions. I threw in a few comments during Nathanael's FreeCanberraWireless / Meraki presentation on my experience thus far and protecting yourself from legal liability using the site blocking function of Open DNS, and during the Firefox Extensions You Can't Live Without, but most other sessions were too technical for me. I suppose I could have recorded everything to minidisc and edited it down to podcast, but they had that covered.
There were some really interesting presentations:
- Nathanael Boehm on the Meraki units and a bit about the FreeCanberraWireless project. Good discussion;
- Ruth Ellison on Ruth's Design Nightmares – all the funnier for featuring Gordon Ramsey but Ruth being unable to curse;
- Gavin Jackson on some very useful Firefox extensions – great session for attendee participation;
- Janine Cahill on augmented reality games – location-aware devices are going to bring forth a bunch of cool new games we'll be able to play just walking down the street;
- Simon Pascal Klein on de-sucking the web through typography – Hmm, is it possible that there are too many fonts? (Great presentation Pascal, even though you looked pretty nervous starting out, you hit your stride);
- Darren Menachemson on design and getting away from self-imposed design restrictions;
- Stephen Collins on social tools in corporate places– awesome tipi house picture;
- Stephen Dann on teaching tech to non-tech students;
- How free content can help humanity; and
- A last minute presentation on open source GIS projects – going to keep a close eye on this stuff because MapInfo products and datasets are really bloody expensive.
The presentations by the two Stephens offered a refreshing dose of perspective. I think a lot of tech presentations talk too much to the converted; Stephen Collins said it explicitly and Stephen Dann had the stats showing the lag between early adopters (I'd say most attendees) and mass uptake (non tech students).
I have to say I found Stephen Dann's presentation on the non-tech students a bit surprising, not for the students lack of web use but for the audience reaction, their shock born from a startling lack of perspective that others might not be gadget and tech freaks and might just want appliances that work intuitively and support them doing what they want to do, whatever that is.
I think if Stephen Dann approaches those marketing students by starting with what they know and exposing them to other web tech through that, the road might be a little easier for all involved. Start with Facebook and then show 'em Twitter for status updates, Blogger for notes, Flickr for photos, Blip.tv / Youtube and Miro for video.
I got serious gear-envy. There was a abundance of laptops (many Macs), quite a few big DSLRs, a wee video camera, some audio gear and at least one iPhone (I know I've preferred the Nokia N95 for a while now, but damn Apple and their slick designs – that iPhone is just drool-worthy). I also got blog shame (lets face it, this place really needs a cleanup or redesign or something).
I walked away with one of the door prizes, a book on information management Keeping Found Things Found (sponsored by Maadmob), a twitter account and resolved to keep attending WSG and IA meetings.
Over the conference dinner I had a good chat with Janine Cahill about her presentation on augmented reality games (it reminded me of the artist in William Gibson's Spook Country, which she hadn't read) and managed to make a couple of people emotional recounting how T-bone & Cheese used Facebook during her illness, how her last status message invited us to the hospice and how it became a platform for grieving with so many photo albums, status messages and profile pictures featuring her.
I'm looking forward to the next BarCamp. I've got an idea for a FOSS system for community broadcasting, but that's in a very very embryonic pre-alpha stage but I wanted to document it before putting call for help / challenge to the BarCamp crowd; maybe the next one will be the place to get some feedback on the idea.