Going home after a busy few weeks

So yep after a very busy few weeks I'm going home to London. I have enjoyed myself in the west coast of America but its time to go home.

How was the Emerging technology conference? Well it was good and I got to meet lots of people who I've been reading or had heard of. The actual conference its self was good but I was expecting something even bigger and grander that what we got. Afterwards when Ben asked me that exact same question, we figured out that it wasn't as busy as it was in previous years. The main hall was over half full on the Tim Oreilly keynote, which happened on a Monday morning (more about that later). Now I have only heard Etech's talks on IT Conversations but they had always sounded like something everyone would want to go to. This is why I was shocked to find out the keynotes happen 7:30pm on Monday night. I was told by some people its so people can fly down after work and go the conference keynotes. This may also explain why there were no social events on Sunday night (Although, me, Tom and Noor did go out for dinner). This culture of work also seemed to extended towards leaving to early on Thursday, so to be back at work on Friday morning. Likewise I was surprised there was no real end to the conference. In the timetable it said – Closing get together between 3:50pm – 4:30pm but besides the odd flavored popcorn and sweets there was just people wondering about outside the main rooms. A couple of us went to Frys electrical shop in north San Diego then came back for a dinner with Cory, Danah and others in some Thai restaurant just off the gaslamp district. So yeah, no real big finale or end talk, oh well.

Now although I may sound quite negative about the whole thing, I'm not. Actually I had a really good time and went to some cracking keynotes and sessions. As you can see before, I tried to live blog most of them but alas I'm not very good at that. So I'll direct you to the ones I rated and other peoples write ups. Monday

  • Monday
  • ETech Opening Salvos
  • The O'Reilly Radar
    New presentation from Tim Oreilly and it was well worth going to.
  • Secrets of Mental Math
    This was such a fun session and there was lots learned about calculating maths quicker
  • Tuesday
  • Amazon Web Services: Building a “Web-Scale Computing” Architecture to Meet the Variable Demands of Today's Business
    Heard pretty much the same thing at the future of webapps. Now if they got Jeff Bezo to do it that would be great
  • Creating Alternate Realities
    this talk was awesome, All about crossmedia games, stiring up real life and alternative reality gaming I wanted to talk to Jane afterwards but never got the chance.
  • Why Can’t a Computer Be More Like a Brain? How a New Theory of Neocortex Will Lead to Truly Intelligent Machines
    This seemed like a good session but it was tons of detail in a very short period of time.
  • Making Offline Web Applications a Reality
    Vendor Pitch but reasonable enough to watch. Those Zimki guys have got it down
  • Successful Open Communities on the Internet
    Good balanced presentation using Wikipedia and Wikia as examples through-out
  • No Program Left Behind: Liberating TV from the Tyranny of the Ephemeral
    Tom Loosemore was on fire with this one. Cory felt Toms box distracted from the real matter at hand and some people didn't quite see what all the fuss was about. But generally Toms Box is a box which uses Digital Broadcast TV to fill up a box which automaticlly joins a torrent network and shares with neighbours. Great idea and would love to see it working.
  • Birds of a Feather Sessions ATOM Publishing, Microformats and Digital Mixing
    As you can guess I was involved in the last one and although not many people turned up, the right people turned up and thats what made it a good chat. I need to do more in this area in the future I think.
  • Wednesday
  • The Coming Age of Magic
    I walked in late on this one, so didn't do much note taking, but honestly this was another one of those awesome sessions which you would only get at somewhere like Etech. 
  • Incantations for Muggles: The Role of Ubiquitous Web 2.0 Technologies in Everyday Life
    Like the one before, awesome. Stopped typing up notes and just listened for most of this. Never heard Danah live and she lived up to expectations. Although I would have loved to have had a european and asian point of view on the same thing.
  • The Core of Fun
    A lot of people I spoke to didn't like this one, but I did enjoy it although yes it was a little short on examples compared to the previous two.
  • Big Company Hacks at Yahoo!
    Chad did a good job showing how much fun it can be to be in a large company. Hackday was talked about, but Chad didn't mention or announce the first European Hackday which is a joint adventure between the BBC and Yahoo!
  • Patterns: From Fabrics to Fabrication
    Only stayed for half of this, but it seemed to centre around the reasons for Craft magazine and some of the projects in Craft.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Magic
    Interesting up till he started doing some magic. 
  • Pipes: A Tool for Remixing the Web
    This was good but the guys didn't show off pipes that well because of the lack of internet connectivity. They showed a canned demo video which worked but wasn't as good. The after talk of how it was built was interesting but like I said afterwards. This is the most interesting stuff Yahoo's been doing for years, they need to make it sound like it. More energy wouldn't have gone a miss. I did in the end meet all the 5 guys working on Pipes and I did suggest they should use Yahoo Widgets to extend Yahoo pipes on to the desktop. I was very surprised to find they had never thought about it.
  • Emerging Technologies from IBM Almaden Research Center–Koala & Spintronics
    I was late for this one but Koala is a macro recorder for your actions online in a browser. This means you can play back logins, actions, etc. Its all saved in text files and can be modified independently of the Firefox extentsion. When I saw this I thought wow, combined with Pipes, you could do some amazing things.
  • Make Fest
    A mini makers festivial, good fun but a little small for 2hours of its allocated time. Plus I really wanted to play werewolf.
  • Werewolf
    Finally werewolf and its actually on the schedule so the turn out is huge. The first game I play is something like 25 people in a circle and there were about 3 different circles or games to start off with. The first game I get killed off quickly because I'm one of the most experienced people in that game which is fine because they were playing reveal, which is fine if your all starting out as newbies but is ever so boring and frustrating. The 2nd game is much better as a couple of us move to a new circle/game. Danah is our moderator and shes pretty good except she plays the game differently in regards to voting. She seems to pick the first person who pointed the finger and works her way around in a clockwards motion watching for voting hands. I'm not convinced about this because like in the way we play it in London. If everyone votes at once, people tend to wacth for the most dominating people of the game to vote and decide to go with them or against them. This is also a good chance to look for werewolf type play or the undecided villagers. Yes I'm saying this is a great chance to get a idea of whats going on in the game.
    Anyway without going into details the games were pretty good and by the 5th game it was getting close to 1:30am. We did play till 2am in the end. I think somewhere along the 3rd game we hooked up with Heaverscent who had some disagreement with Cal in the previous game. She certainly brought some spark to the games following.
  • Thursday
  • From Pixels to Plastic
    Good talk from Matt Webb, well worth listening although I've seen and heard a lot of it before.
  • Apollo : Bringing Rich Internet Applications to the Desktop
    I didn't like this one not because of the presentation but because it was more like a tutorial that keynote. I was also dying to ask some questions but didn't get a chance. Oh that was a consistent problem across most of the keynotes. Not much a chance to ask questions straight after the keynote.
  • Body Hacking
    I was in two minds to watch this or not. Not because I'm screamish of body modifications but I am terrified of needles and metal stuck in the skin. I did record this session, and it was well worth going to. Specially the bit about that drug which can help you stay alert after 72hours. Crazy!
  • Sonic Body Pong
    I thought they were going to do a live demo of this but it wasn't to be. So yes it was cool but it would have been better with a demo.
  • Closing Get-together
    I have already talked about this in some detail above.

In reflection I had a whale of a time but I was expecting even bigger. I did also get a chance to interview Tim Oreilly with Chris Valance for BBC Backstage.

My hotel I know was better and that the Hyatt or W. Simply because I heard the complaints from different people. Imagine paying 300 dollars a night for a hotel and then they charged 10 dollars a day for broadband access. Sorry but thats taking the piss in my book. The Bristol was a nice modern hotel with art deco styling, nice large rooms and free wired and wireless access in every room. Its once of the best hotels I've ever been in.

Something very strange also happened near the end of the conference.

I was walking up to the W hotel with some American guys after werewolf (my hotel the Bristol wasn't far off the W). And one of the guys commented that I'm quite different from the rest of the London guys. I asked what he meant and he and couple others started talking about the London Mafia. I was very interested in what these people meant. And it seemed to break down into how a group of London people tended to hang out together a lot. I won't mention names but I don't really see any harm in it, however I do worry about being automaticlly tied to such things. Yes I'm always proud to say I'm from London but I'm also on a learning about places like San Francisco. Talking of which…

San Francisco was something else. I met many people including the guys from  Citizen Agency, Ruby Red Labs, Adaptive Path, Technorati, The Obvious and Creative Commons. I also went to a couple of events including the SwapSF and SuperHappyVlogHouse which were both very cool. Thanks to Ben and Sofia for making me feel at home. Tara and Chris were also very friendly and we had a really good meal at there house on Tuesday. The obvious guys gave me a Tshirt in return for a backstage one and Citizen agency already have plans to hang the backstage tshirt in the tolilet next to all the others (check out the photos). Cheers to Photomatt and his girlfriend for driving us home late from the vloghouse too. The south park area is certainly a mecca for internet related startups with a good 30 or so in a 2 block radius of that small park. Its a bit like Clerkenwell Green (and funny enough about the same size).

I like San Francisco but not as much as I like Minneapolis. The bums on the streets can be ignored but its reminds you every time of the massive divide. I also saw lots of the same divide in race which I've spotted in the mid west. Different races mixing only with there own, not really mixing outside of there race. I know it sounds negative but I just notice this type of stuff a lot and I see it a lot in America where space is abundant. On a lighter note I did go up to the Bay Bridge and check out the Golden Gate Bridge. I would have liked to have hired a scooter so I could drive across them both but thats the way it goes. Oh talking of which, it was good to see a range of motorbilkes and scooters on the streets. I even spotted a Burgman 400 and Tmax 500. No Silverwings though… I'm sure it would be great fun to drive in California, next time I'll make sure I sort that out beforehand. San Francisco certainly has character but theres something deep rooted underneath which I don't really like that much. Maybe its the race thing or maybe its simply a class thing. When I was outside the Soma area, I got a better feel for how most live.

So all in all it was fun and I did enjoy my time away, but geez its good to be going home.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.