Jun 262012

This year’s North­ern Voice was held down­town, and was smal­ler than the last couple of years. I like the small con­fer­ence per­son­ally, it’s easi­er to chat with lots of dif­fer­ent people, the lines at regis­tra­tion aren’t as long, and the con­fer­ence as a whole feels more per­son­al. This is the strength of North­ern Voice for me, it’s a pleas­ant con­trast to large con­fer­ences where key­notes are sold to the spon­sors and there are advert­ising ban­ners every­where. Yes, North­ern Voice has spon­sors who show up and have a pres­ence and may­be even a table, but they are all respect­ful of the spir­it of the con­fer­ence. For which I, at least, am grate­ful.

I spent the first bit of the con­fer­ence help­ing out on the regis­tra­tion table. A cer­tain amount of hec­tic, but not too bad. I then mod­er­ated Martha Rans’ talk on Copy­right for Cana­dians did a good job, I thought, of giv­ing inform­a­tion without over­whelm­ing every­one. The Artists Leg­al Out­reach site has more in-depth inform­a­tion, in what they call toolkits.

Lunch at the W2 cafe was great and the big wooden circles in the middle of the atri­um space were full of people chat­ting while bal­an­cing plates and glasses. After lunch I sat in on Moose­Camp for a while, knit­ting and listen­ing and relax­ing. And singing with Nancy and the ukule­les. I really must get back to singing, it’s been a long time since I sang reg­u­larly.

Another import­ant talk was Daniel Cowen’s talk on pri­vacy. A lot of the sub­ject mat­ter was famil­i­ar to me from my work at Sun, where I was part of a pri­vacy and iden­tity group, but Daniel took it a step fur­ther by see­ing how much someone without spe­cial­ised tools or know­ledge could find out about someone online. In four hours they had a wor­ry­ing amount of inform­a­tion about a woman they code-named “Tara”, enough to run any num­ber of social engin­eer­ing attacks or com­prom­ise any “secret ques­tion” sys­tems. People in the ses­sion were genu­inely shocked at just how much inform­a­tion is avail­able online, and how many details, innoc­u­ous in them­selves, can be added togeth­er.

Fri­day ended with the wine tast­ing and party in the atri­um.

Sat­urday dawned bright and early with Blaine Cook’s won­der­ful key­note, cel­eb­rat­ing diversity in cul­ture, life, and tech­no­logy plat­forms in the face of glob­al­isa­tion and mar­ket forces. He tied togeth­er archi­tec­ture, rain­forest, and people fight­ing to save their cul­ture with the dom­in­a­tion by large plat­forms such as Face­book and Twit­ter to encour­age diversity and inde­pend­ence.

Shane Birley’s key­note was of a dif­fer­ent style but had some of the same under­ly­ing themes, cel­eb­rat­ing indi­vidu­al voice, chart­ing his per­son­al jour­ney online, and encour­aging all of us to try out new ways of com­mu­nic­at­ing and shar­ing who we are. All delivered in inim­it­able Shane style, of course!

All in all, it was a lot of work and I was exhausted by the end of the two days, but it was all worth­while. The energy and enthu­si­asm was obvi­ous with all the dis­cus­sions and inter­ac­tions and it’s also been great to see all the tweets and blog posts con­tin­ue.

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