Tags: xtech07



XTech 2007, day three

The last day of Xtech rolled around and… whaddya mean “what happened to day two?” They can’t have a conference in Paris and not expect me to take at least one day off to explore the city.

So I skipped the second day of XTech and I’m sure I missed some good presentations but I spent a lovely day with Jessica exploring the streets and brasseries of Paris.

Ah, Paris! (uttering this phrase must always be accompanied by the gesture of flinging one arm into the air with abandon)

The conference closed today with a keynote from Matt Webb. It was great: thought-provoking and funny. It really drove home the big take-away message from XTech for me this year which is that hacking on hardware now is as easy as software.

I can has Arduino?

Further reading on the nanotechnology of the semantic web

For those of you who attended my XTech talk yesterday (and, indeed, for those of you who didn’t), here are a few jumping off points I mentioned:




XTech 2007, day one

I’ve been a very bad conference attendee. I slept in this morning ‘till 11am and missed the opening keynotes. I was looking forward to seeing what Adam Greenfield had to say but I guess I was more tired than I realised.

It’s not like I had a particularly late night last night. I spent a very pleasant evening in a cosy bistro with Jessica, Brian, Andy and Gavin.

By the time I made it over to the conference venue, the morning sessions were wrapping up so I had lunch for breakfast. Once I was all caffeined up, I started getting ready for my talk.

I gave a presentation called microformats: the nanotechnology of the semantic web. I enjoyed myself and I think other people did too. I might have pushed the nanotech anology too far but I got a kick out of talking about buckyballs and grey goo. I talked for a bit longer than I was planning so I didn’t have as much time for questions as I would have liked but I also think I managed to anticipate a lot of questions during the talk anyway.

I should have really stuck around in the same room after my talk to listen to a presentation on RDFa and GRIDDL but I dashed next door to hear Gavin’s presentation on provenance. I loved this. He’s thinking about a lot of the same things that I have in terms of lifestreams and portable social networks but whereas I just talk about this stuff, he’s gone and built some proof-of-concept to illustrate how it’s possible today to join up the dots of identity online. I really wish he was coming to Hack Day.

Speaking of Hack Day (it’s just a month away now), I fully expect to see plenty of hacking on hardware going on. Before XTech, this was unknown territory for me but I know I’d really like to roll up my sleeves and get hacking (and I haven’t even heard what Matt Webb has to say yet).

Today I was introduced to a piece of hardware with a difference: the Nabaztag—a WiFi-enabled rabbit with flashing lights and movable ears. I want one. The Nabaztag presentation also included the quote of the day for me:

If you can connect rabbits, you can connect nearly everything.

XTech 2007, day zero

I’ve been buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly lately. Last week I was over in Dublin for an Ajax seminar; the week before that I made a trip up to Rochdale for a workshop. Usually these trips involve an airplane at some stage of the journey and, while I don’t hate flying, the glamour of it has certainly worn off.

This week I’m in Paris for XTech 2007. I didn’t have to go anywhere near an airport or an airplane to get here. Myself, Andy, Jessica and Brian came over on the Eurostar. I know it’s not exactly a hi-tech mission impossible mode of transport any more but I’m still so thrilled to be able to get on a train in London and get off a few short hours later in Paris. The future is here and it doesn’t involve turbulence.

After a fun geek dinner on our first night, I got up bright and early to head over to the conference venue for registration. The conference proper doesn’t kick off ‘till Wednesday but it was preceded by a day of tutorials and a special ubicomp track. I went along to check this out and I found it all to be quite fascinating… though I’m not sure if I was even supposed to be there (there’s some byzantine system that explains who can get into what but I couldn’t follow it).

I caught the tail end of the first presentation which was by Dave Raggett. From the little I caught, it was stuff that would have gone way, way, way over my head. Dave then stuck around to ably steer the rest of the ubicomp talks.

Timo Arnall gave a superb presentation called Physical Hyperlinks comparing Bluetooth, SMS, RFID and barcodes. What really made this talk different was that he didn’t just talk about the technical aspects of each technology, he also examined the user experience and cultural nuances. Thought-provoking stuff.

A jetlagged Paul Hammond then told us all about location-based services and how the technology still sucks. I really like Paul’s pragmatic approach: at last year’s XTech, he pointed out the potential downsides to open data; this year, he outlined all the problems with geocoding. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. One of his insights was so blindingly obvious, it had me slapping my forehead: instead of trying to use machines to figure out where someone is, just ask them to tell you. That’s what Flickr did with their mapping interface: by dragging a photo onto a map, you’re telling the machine where you took the photo instead of the machine trying to extract geo information from your phone, camera, computer, or whatever.

Right after Paul, Matt Biddulph came on to talk about Second Life. But he didn’t stop there. He took the lessons of Second Life—quick and easy prototyping and hacking—and brought them into the real world, showing us how anyone can cheaply build real-world interactive objects. His enthusiasm is infectious and now I want to start making bluetooth-controlled toys just for the fun of it.

I skipped out the middle of the day to explore a bit of Paris with Jessica but I made sure to get back in time for Aaron Straup Cope’s talk on The Papernet: small pieces of paper loosely joined. Again, this was a very pragmatic presentation that pointed out the many advantages that a simple piece of paper has over a laptop or mobile phone. It all depends on context of course but there’s no denying the robustness and portability of plain ol’ paper. He also demoed some fun online toys that I’m going to try to find time to play with.

The day wrapped up with a talk from designer Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino. Her perspective on things—coming from product design—was invaluable. This kind of interdisciplinary cross-pollination can really help to shake things up. It was a great way to wrap up the day.

So plenty of inspirational stuff was offered up and the conference hasn’t even officially kicked off yet. Considering the subject matter, it was ironic that the WiFi is more or less non-existant at the venue. C’est la vie. Fortunately the hotel where I’m staying has a free connection. That’s where I’m blogging from right now.

I think I’d better call it a night. I need to get some beauty sleep so that I’m in a fit state to give my presentation tomorrow. If you’re at XTech and you’re curious about microformats, come along tomorrow right after lunch. À bientôt.

The good book

I’ve had a white iBook literally since the day they were first released. By today’s standards my first iBook was a primitive G3 affair. Since then I’ve upgraded to more powerful models but I’ve always had an iBook and I’ve always been more than happy the sturdiness and portability.

My last iBook is a few years old now and it’s beginning to show signs of laptop dementia. Intermittent freezing and kernel panics are telling me that it’s time to put the ol’ white thing out to pasture.

In the past I would have simply invested in a new iBook. That’s not an option anymore, more’s the pity. So I got myself a Macbook (well, technically it’s a Clearleft purchase but you know what I mean).

This looks like being a great machine—I’m certainly going to enjoy the larger hard drive, bigger screen and extra RAM—but I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness for the passing of the iBook era. Me and my little white Turing machines have been through a lot together; travelling to foreign climes and joining faraway networks.

Now it’s time to break in my pristine new Macbook. I’d better start collecting some sticker schwag. Flickr, Technorati, Creative Commons… if you guys want to some free advertising, just send some sticky love my way.

I’ve spent the last couple of days migrating all my data and operating system foibles over to the new laptop. Soon I’ll take it with me on the road and find out how it holds up.

The Macbook didn’t show up in time for a workshop I did in Rochdale last week so I borrowed Jessica’s iBook instead but I’ll giving the new Macbook its first field test at an Ajax seminar in Dublin next week. It’ll get a good workout this month when I lug it to Paris for XTech and San Francisco for @media (and maybe I’ll make it to Copenhagen for Reboot).

I’m sure it’ll feel weird at first, like wearing a new pair of shoes, but by the end of this month I hope to form a bond with my new portable computing device.