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Sat, 19 Apr 2008

Participating the BarCamp way - 15:02
So I suspect this is of course one of the main interaction channels that Barcampers are expected to use, however I am finding it interesting to do it here today. Barcamp is promoted as a place where you sit around with your computers engaging in the content online as well as off line all throughout the day. Part of the online thing is most of the people there will have a web presence, likely a blog of some form.

So when I have talked to people during the day, or when someone has given a presentation, I have looked for the link they placed on the Barcamp page and been able to go read some of their blog and see what they talk about more. I probably should participate to the extent of adding myself to the wiki, after all I am here all day. However it is interesting to note Bob and I have both had the same sort of reaction to our involvement. The Unorganisers suggested we all sign up to some yahoogroup or something for more of the discussions leading up to hosting the event. As far as I know Bob did not join, and I did not either, too much effort involved to sign up to another mailing list. So I just had a look at adding my name and diary link to the BarCampCanberra page and to edit the wiki requires a login so I decided not to bother.

Sure it makes perfect sense that to edit the page you need to go through some form of authentication to stop spammers and such from blowing the wiki apart. I simply can no overcome my web forum/online login apathy enough to sign in here, kind of strange, though I notice Bob has not done this either.

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Reminder that other people exist - 14:33
Listening to Dr Stephen Dann (or ANU Page, he really needs to get his staff photo updated as he does not look that silly/wrong I promise) giving a talk about getting his completely non Internet savvy and seemingly not up on modern Internet culture students up to speed on what many of us geeks and Internet people consider normal and everyday.

It is a highly amusing presentation, he has been talking about many things we all know and recognise that his students seem to not understand or know about. He mentioned that the Comp Sci students he had the first year or so he ran the course no longer do the subject as they seem to think they do not need it, so all the students are marketing commerce students who do not live in Internet culture.

Something that I am reminded of listening to this is that we often forget there are people dissimilar to ourselves out there. For example a somewhat elitist example I often have to remember is that most people in the population are not university educated, however living in Canberra and hanging out with people who generally are, and working at a university, I often forget that not everyone shares my background. Dr Dann is dealing with non Internet savvy people and trying to induct them, it is interesting to hear his experiences. Good talk.

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Getting deeper into the materials - 13:31
On the badges being worn by the people at Barcamp most people in the room have various letters across the bottom that describe what geek things they are involved in in shorthand. The short hand is a geek periodic table of elements that is hanging up on the wall in N101. I was briefly chatting with Kate Carruthers before she headed off to the speed networking session. I instead of being a sociable well adjusted geek and joining in that session remained sitting here typing away on the laptop. Wondering something about the Unorganiser Stephen Collins I headed to the BarCampCanberra1 page to see what he put up there. Realising that people had put their website links on there I paged down and found the Kate Carruthers link there. On her blog there is a link to the Geek Periodic Table of Elements which was created in Sydney a few weeks ago.

So the fact that people using the abbreviations on their badges is so prevalent today it had me wondering if there would be a cool way to obfuscate this a little bit (so I admit I like geek in jokes). Alas the symbols on the table are not the same abbreviations as found on the real periodic table so his is not quite as simple as I first hoped. My idea is if you select your list of elements to put on your badge and then could arrange them in such a way as to create materials or more complex things made up of the elements bonded in specific ways. For example water is H2O (two hydrogen molecules bonded to one oxygen molecule), so if you had a drop of water drawn on the bottom of your badge you are indicating your geek interests included H and O (you could even use it as a way to indicate you do H more than O if you want to be exact about this).

The idea above falls apart a bit as the letters do not match the elements. However if you wanted to go ahead with this obfuscation you could simply use the elements in the same place on the table as those you select to try and choose various compounds then represent these compounds on your badge rather than the letters them selves. However no one would easily be able to work out what you mean now as they would need to know the chemical make up of the compounds you use, know where those elements are placed on the periodic table and then have memorised the geek periodic table to the extent they know what geek interests are in those positions.

This is however a unconference that focuses on cool geeky online apps to some extent, you could fairly quickly extend the geek periodic table to enable translating from a selection of geek elements into a selection of real materials and have some symbol suggestions for the materials. People who want to use the obfuscation could use the tool (in both directions) to work out what is on a badge.

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User interface discussions - 12:23
So the talk that just finished a few minutes ago was asking why we have not evolved our computer interfaces significantly in the last 40 years. The presenter mentioned the 1968 Douglas Engelbert Demo (definitely recommended watching). A few people in the audience suggested a large part of why alternative interfaces (touch screens etc) are not pushed out to the world at large is the technology and reliability of these devices is still not there for reliable and cost effective deployment.

The presenter did have a definite point, when you consider where interfaces were at in 1968, why has there not been more research into different interfaces for different use cases and scenarios. It occurred to me that it is interesting to look at life possibly imitating art. In the Neal Stephenson book Snowcrash. Most users interface to the virtual reality world via the real life interfaces there and also appear to access computers in reality via a VR environment. However the hard core hackers all still access the low level real code with a keyboard and VDU and a Unix style command line interface (not too surprising from Stephenson when you consider his brilliant essay In the Beginning ... was the Command Line)

So there are likely to be real uses for the currently accepted interfaces all the time, however the uses of alternative interfaces is likely to apply in a more specific use case scenario, and thus manufacturers, designers, researchers exactly need to somehow align and market them in specific ways and inform the people who want that use of a better (if it really is better) way to use the technology.

An amusing aspect that came up for me (from a cycling background) was the question asked why in The Tour de France the UCI has banned recumbents. The person asking the question has obviously drunk the kool-aid on offer from the HPV community on this issue with there constant claims that they are obviously faster and superior for all uses. The reality of this is that they simply can not climb as fast, thus any race with climbing (such as The Tour de France) will make them useless. The reasons they do not climb well is they can not be made as light as a modern diamond frame road bike (they can be easily purchased at 6 KG ready to ride now) and you can not get out of the saddle in a recumbent and really work more muscle groups, the limitations of muscle uses restrict the ability to go hard up hills. Also when climbing with the rather limited motor available in a human body the aerodynamic advantages of a recumbent do not matter at such low speeds and can not overcome the advantages of low weight and more muscle groups.

Thus Paul had some basis in suggesting that one reason computer interfaces have not advanced is that they are rather optimal for the purpose, though I strongly tend to agree more with the presenter that computer interfaces have a lot of room for improvement.

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Barcamp thing - 10:28
So a bunch of people were keen to hold a Barcamp in Canberra. Bob and I were asked if we could ask DCS if the event could be hosted here. So Bob and I are here today (with a broken collar bone I am of course unable to do anything active, I had however volunteered to be here today anyway if Bob had been unable to make it) to provide any venue stuff and setup and venue care.

So it will be interesting to see how the talks and other stuff go all day, there are a rather large number of people here so it is likely to work well. Right now there is a talk about Meraki on.

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