OpenTech 2009, ULU

I had a great day at OpenTech, seriously the best value tech conferences at £5 entry and one of the friendliest meet ups. Well done & thanks UKUUG!

This year I missed the majority of the excellent talks because there were three streams – so choosing was very hard, and also I was having such a good time chatting to peeps that I missed out on a few too.

So here’s a small bullet pointed smörgåsbord of what was on offer:

The very amusing Bill & Ben show:

Bill Thompson – Two Cultures

Bill discussed Charles Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ thesis from the 50s on culture, technology and solving the world’s problems, culminating in evangelising for more respect for geeks shaping contemporary life.

• It’s fifty years since Charles Snow’s famous lecture on the ‘Two Cultures’
• At the time Snow was writing he thought the world was run by people who did not understand the potential of technology or see what was possible by the use of technology
• Snow had some very patronising thoughts on changing Third World culture to vanquish poverty and change people to be better through Western ideals
• At the end of the 50s things were already being transformed by digital technologies

• Of course now technology is ubiquitous – it is shaping the modern world
• The choices that we make during the design stage affect how people use technology, so we have to think carefully about how we go forward.
• The political system needs to listen and respect the geeks, because they will design our systems of the future
• Some tech will be exploited by the system – e.g. ID cards
• I want us all to go from this room and educate people – get rid of Microsoft Word in schools and get people to install proper open systems
• We can start to inject in society some positive role models, so not Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but ‘Buffy the overflow slayer’!
• We need to talk to people about tech and code as a fundamental part of our culture
• Snow wanted to impose our western ideas on people, I want something different
• We need to use code to make the world a better place, not a divided world, but for good.

Question from Kathryn Corrick – who should we be looking to as role models & get skills?

Bill joked – Richard Stallman and hairy men eating pizza are role models, but more seriously, everyone who works for My Society are good examples of role models.

Here’s a couple of random links I found on the interwebs if you want some views of CP Snow & Two Cultures:
* Telegraph article
* Danny Yee’s review
* Some academic links

Ben Goldacre – Science and Communication

Ben Goldacre gave some very witty observations on sections of the media being ridiculously bad at science reportage.

• People want to know about science so they can make judgements about things like their own healthcare, but the basic problem with science coverage is that media make publishing decisions based on their own criteria to make money and they also make up stuff
• Example: Mail online article – human race will split into two species, which was rather spurious
• PR companies know that the way to get bulshit stories into the media is via science
• Made up figures example – ‘cannabis is 25 times stronger’ headline in the Independent, 2007
* PowerPoint game – take random PowerPoint slides and present them off the top of your head

What can we do about this shits and giggles economy, beyond just taking the piss out people?
• Have clear guidelines for journalists
• Competition – be better than the others
• Clever structures – reference material / investigative work

Debunking site 1: Quackometer – searches the internet for quackery on the internet, it made a formal complaint to the British Chiropractic Council sbout 550 chiropractors offering practises which contravened / broke rules

Debunking site 2: Badscience – aggregates bad science blogs & quite amusing too!


Women in technology

A panel of women: Sue Black, Zoe Margolis, Janet Parkinson, Kathryn Corrick and Suw Charman-Anderson talked about their work and experiences in tech.

Sue Black:
• Experiences of being a woman in tech
• Set up BCS women in tech groups forums where all sorts of subjects supporting women in tech are discussed
• Urban myth of the different approaches that women and men look at job specs

Janet Parkinson:
• Silver stockholders
• don’t think pink
• Della – Dell campaign – campaign with patronising tech tips that included calorie counters, cooking videos and nutrition
• Nike has very empowering campaigns aimed at women
• Apple came out on top with their colourful ipod campaign
• Dove’s campaign that have 36 different websites for countries all designed differently and have different content
• How do you encourage more women in tech?
• In South Africa almost half applicants for tech courses are women

Suw Charman Anderson:
* Story of Ada Lovelace Day to promote women in tech – mash up with over 1000 posts and currently wondering how to repeat it next year – ask for 5000, 10000 blogs?
* A friend of Suw’s started up a facebook page for Ada Lovelace day – there were differences between the pledgebank and facebook. 400 of the 2000 on facebook signed up for pledgebank
* Top four choices : 1. Ada Lovelace 2. Grace Hopper 3. Hedy Lamarr 4. Barbara Liskov – others included ‘my mother’, Cathy Sierra, Delia Derbyshire, * In the top 20 Ada Lovelace choices only 9 were still alive
* Suw announced a trip to Bletchley Park to find out more about the women who worked there on 26th July

Kathryn Corrick:

Ran a brainstorming session, where post it notes were handed out and people wrote their women in tech role models and inspirations, and then stuck them on the wall to be collated for later inclusion on a website.


Gavin BellEphemerality? Real time web vs persistence

How we might start to think about documenting and being able to look back on our digital lives.

• Aggregation is key to real time data feeds – integration of real time photos, etc of concerts, trips etc on and dopplr
• We forget friends too
• What might we want from social applications in the future? Stories from our lives, events, social interactions, favourites on a timeline, replies, cross-referenced views of our lives
• Want RSS feeds from our social lives – a social atlas over time: for example: what were my favourite photos, events, etc in 2008. Would be better than trending – would be stuff my friends have favourited across the web


Gary Gale, Yahoo! – Location, privacy & opting in and out

* Talked about zero privacy and opting out as well as in – using some examples of location service such as Latitude and Fireeagle – with some fear-mongering examples of how this tech was covered in the media


Gavin Starks, AMEE – Your Energy Identity

Ways of looking at your carbon footprint in the future.

• Apple have worked out that an Apple laptop = footprint of 460kg 0or 0.5 tonnes of CO2e
• Estimated range of global warming is underestimated
• Carbon will be part of the US budget by 2011 – source the White House
• Your energy identity will soon exist like your online identity does = purchases, materials, buildings, travel + transport, fuel, water + waste
• Suggests looking at Act on CO2 website

Finally, I was most honoured to be namechecked in Phil Whitehouse’s talk ‘How to Build Developer Communities’ as someone to follow on Twitter which was very kind of him. I’m ever so flattered to be Caprica 6 too – cheers Phil! 😉