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OReilly ETCON 2003

For the second year in a row, Alec, Pete and I attended the OReilly Emerging Technologies Conference. This is, in theory, a conference for developers about what new stuff is coming down the pipe. Last year the theme seemed to be the "Internet Operating System". This year? Its hard to tell... I dont know if there is one, but "We Like Macromedia And Apple" seems apt...


Day One

My tutorials were good, but overall I think the pickings this year were slimmer than last year. I learned a few tricks about Web Services, and that hacking into hardware isn't nearly as hard as I thought... although I still see little value in it for myself. I dont watch TV or play video games - I have so little free time already. I wonder if I can hack into Alec's GPS widget? har...

One question I was asked by my buddies Alec and Pete was this - where exactly is the new stuff? Flash? AppleScript? Web Services? These we know a lot about already. Why are they here at a conference that is supposed to be all about whats NEXT?


Day Two

OK... Im starting to agree with Alec and Pete when they claim that there is a deep funk here.

The first keynote on Smart Mobs was ok, but it was nothing new. If people communicate, cool things happen. Good to know.

The second keynote was a panel... and it also was nothing new. Hollywood is evil, and they can lobby well. If it was a pitch to scare us into joining the EFF, it worked. On me at least (yes... i am the highly suggestable type). But is this emerging technologies? I hear this stuff every day on Slashdot.

The third keynote was what got to me. It was almost word for word the same keynote he gave at last year's conference.

The problem with having wireless access, is that its hard to tell when you're losing your audience. Two years ago, I would have just left some of these lectures. Now I just surf the web

The sessions were good... the stuff on wireless was nice, and I really liked hearing about Apple Rendezvous. Im warming up to the idea that Flash is not such a stupid platform for writing apps... but it would have to be more open for me to endorse writing any important apps with it.


Day Three

Woah... this first talk was pretty cool... I feel like Im losing some of the funk. SQUEAK sounds great. I loved the talk by a couple of old farts about how all these problems with the internet and most 'killer apps' were solved 30 years ago at MIT. The problem isn't writing solutions, the problem is with the tools. We shouldn't be writing solutions for people, we should be writing tools that let our customers write their own solutions.

The second talk seems to be mostly about Macromedia, AGAIN. There's a lot of shiny stuff here, but what about performance metrics? What about stability? There's a lot of cool stuff in Flash, but a lot of this "Rich Internet App" stuff seems plain 'ol bolted on. Of course, that's just a feeling. The developer seemed concerned on all fronts, and had good answers for my questions, but I think I'll have to run a few tests myself. Who knows? I might be a convert... SWF is an open format, even if their player isn't.

The sessions today seem extremely thrown together... especially the social software stuff. As one attendee said to me, "if he didn't have slides, I'd have thought he'd was making it up as he went". I tend to have the same feeling...

This place is choked to the brim with very bright people doing very odd things. Social software can't be written - it just happens. I mentioned this to a few people, Clay Shirky had a decent point that the research people do in social software is probably most useful to see what things DONT work. If that's true, then maybe people should be presenting on FAILED projects, instead of neat new ideas that will never get off the ground.

My innate hatred of anthropology is welling up, and making it hard for me to enjoy myself at this conference... I mean really guys, where's the technology???

Our PGP Keysigning Party is tonight... hopefully we'll get more than 5 people there. I brought a printer to print out any last minute walk-ins that we may get. I was amazed by the number of folks who have keys, but dont use them...

I had a blast at the Beer BOF, naturally. It was great to be able to just BS with these big brains from all over, and see what they're up to, what technology they like, what they think is broken, what should be done about it. It was cool to chat with James Duncan Davidson again, and bitch about how ANT doesn't have loops. He seems really enamored with Objective C ... I'll have to check that stuff out.

Later we crashed the Emerging Man party, which was cool... I guess its a geek take on the Burning Man event. Pete was disappointed that he didn't get to see Larry Wall do a beer bong. Alec said it was kind of like going to somebody else's high school reunion.


Day Four

Talks by Google, and others on nanotech... neither of which interests me too much. You should have heard the groans and hisses from the audience when the chief architect of web services from Microsoft said, "what's GPL?" Yeeeesh! At least he had a good sense of humor about working for an evil company... these dudes really grilled him good.

It looks like the rest of the conference is mostly nanotech and social software. I think I'll be mingling more and going to fewer sessions...

The IP0 talk was good, as was the one about Zen and the art of Software Maintenance, but there was still an awful lot of this social software stuff.


Overall...

I guess the true measure of a conference like this is what you get out of it. I think I got a great deal out of going to this conference. I have a lot of new ideas about usability, scalability, and robustness. I guess it doesn't matter if I got it directly from some cult leader's jive talk, or from hallway chats with random folks, or if they were totally unique thoughts. The point is, that I dont think I would have had them if I hadn't been saturated with ideas from my peers - both good and bad.

Overall, Id say that this was a very enlightening conference. I learned about new ways I can be active in charities with my talents, interesting new projects that might go somewhere, horrible new projects that will crash and burn, and the fact that Java is nowhere on the radar anymore.

The last one wasn't too surprising... Java just isn't 'cool' anymore. They have shunned the open source geeks once too often, and they keep piling on half-baked enterprise features, without any real practical thought put into scalability, robustness, or usability. It will be the death of them.

Im also excited about the proliferation of Apple Powerbooks among the 'alpha geeks.' I think they are doing some really great things over there... I hope that their new music service, also takes off, and they bring down the prices on their desktops a bit... that way they might around in five years!

I have a few pictures from the conference, including shots of my buddies from Minneapolis Carren and Frank. I also have several shots of Jason, Vinny, and wild-haired James... the three dudes we hung out with the most at the conference.

I like the one with ANT Man showing off his powerbook... and making Alec and Pete drool.

Oddly enough... both James and Jason studied anthropology... I HATE ANTHROPOLOGY! Sometimes the universe is so damn ironic it makes my brain hurt.