Feb 222009

I’m slowly recovering from the whirlwind that was Northern Voice this year (I’m one of the organisers). All our hard work paid off, we had the usual last-minute glitches but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, to make new friends and contacts, to learn new things, to discuss issues they care about, and to have fun.

On Friday I spent most of my time on the registration desk, apart from introducing the conference and listening to Stewart Butterfield’s keynote. Saturday was a little different; I made it to lots of sessions (both keynotes, Aidrie’s panel, my own panel, bits and pieces of other talks/panels). What I took away from all was a sense of community, a sense that the people attending are truly interested in sharing their knowledge and experiences, in being genuine. Even though some blog from a purely personal standpoint, and others from a professional, there was discussion about how to be genuine, how to show who you are within whatever limits you find reasonable (some people blog about their children, others don’t, for example). I’m looking forward to watching the videos of the sessions I didn’t manage to make it to; we only had three sessions concurrently but lots of good topics. The energy in the whole space was amazing.

Saturday night after we got home, we found Vancouver was in the top ten for two trending Twitter topics: Northern Voice and the Canucks. As someone tweeted (sorry, can’t find it now), that really shows that Vancouver people understand how to use these tools for communication. I feel proud, as one of the organisers of Northern Voice, to do my little bit to help, by giving people who care about these things an opportunity to get together and discuss them. And it’s fun – at a Serious Conference we could never get away with putting out a basket of yarn and telling people to make their own lanyards (yes, we had some of those white elastic things for those uncomfortable with the notion). Lots of people gravitated to the bright fluffy stuff, or used multiple strands, creating their own bit of wearable art. And then there was the Moose collection — Rahel Baillie donated her collection of moose as a fund-raiser for the conference, so we had these moose statues and ties and kitsch spread over one corner of the registration desk. Again, not something you can do at a Serious Conference. Which doesn’t mean to say we didn’t talk about serious topics, there were lots of those, and lots of discussion about them.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Northern Voice.

Nov 192008

I’m still recovering from three intense days at the Banff Centre, taking part in the CanUX Forum. The original motivation was to learn more about user experience, usability, and design. I learned enough about that to fill my brain, and also learned ideas for brainstorming, the relation between creativity and muscle memory, and how sometimes computers get in the way more than they help when you’re trying to figure out the answers to issues.

I’m not going to try to recap the entire time although in future posts I’ll probably come back to specific parts. Some write-ups I’ve seen are from Mack Male (who was on the same design slam team as me on the first day), and teehan+lax. I have lots of pages of scribbled notes that may or may not make sense when I come to transcribe them; much of the time was also spent in team work doing exercises to really bring those points home. Now I’m wondering how much interactivity I can put into my own talks, of course, as well as wondering how the “creative play” aspects can work in finding solutions in more technical discussions.

Much to my surprise, the room wasn’t full of graphic designers, or even people with tons of usability experience. There were quite a few of those of course, people who could draw and sketch, but there were also people who come at things from a more text- or code-based perspective, like me. Coming from that perspective, I learned, simply means you take a different path to design. You may not get to the same place as an artistically gifted person, but where you land is not necessarily worse, either.

And I found lots of people there sharing my concerns, as well as my requirements for solutions that work for remote designers and developers, solutions that bring out the creativity in developers and not just those who’ve been to art school. Most of the ideas for creating viable designs involved reams of paper and several hurriedly sketched solutions that are taken as the basis for discussion, with lots of iteration to get from those quick sketches to realistic solutions. I was astonished to learn how long it can take to solve issues, a week on one small menu on a web page is not uncommon. Although that thought is mildly frightening, it’s also reassuring to learn that even the experts take time to come up with good solutions. I’m inspired, as well as tired, and looking forward to putting some of these ideas into practise.

Nov 122008

The Executive Women’s Forum is a conference put on for women involved in information security at a leadership/executive level, and I had the chance to go for the first time this year. I’ve never been to an all-women conference before and although I have mixed feelings (it is, after all, inherently discriminatory to exclude men) I found it worthwhile. I met some very interesting people and had a chance to think about some issues that I don’t often run across in my daily project work, as well as a different perspective on some issues such as risk management that are relevant to my daily work. I also got the chance to try out playing golf for the first time as part of a networking event pre-conference, which was an experience that left my right upper arm/shoulder sore for a couple of days afterwards! Oh well, all par for the course as a golf newbie, I expect.

One notable difference to many other conferences I’ve attended: the lack of posturing. Most people there were genuinely interested in discussing the issues at hand rather than proving how good they were (yes, there were exceptions, but they were few). That made the event more valuable, and a lot more fun.

Jul 242008

It seems that August is conference season, at least for me. More precisely, one week in August. First Balisage in Montréal (for which the online registration is closing next Friday) August 12-15, and then Vinocamp here in Vancouver, at the UBC Botanical Garden, on August 16th. I’m speaking at the former, and helping organise the latter (for which numbers are limited to 120, so don’t wait too long to register). The premise for Vinocamp is a friendly conference about wine, put on by a bunch of techies; this is its first year. Both conferences should be fun! Entertaining as well as educational, and a certain amount of good food and wine in both locations. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a week in August.

May 272008

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a summer conference or two. There’s something about walking the streets or sitting in cafes, talking about technology, in balmy weather (well, when it doesn’t rain like it did at last year’s CSW XML Summer School in Oxford). This year I’m off to Montréal for Balisage in the middle of August. Even if the weather decides to be nasty, and the streets are too unpleasant to stroll, there will be lots of interesting people to talk technology with and cafes near the conference hotel to frequent. If you missed the deadline to speak, there’s no need to panic just yet. There is still room on the schedule for late-breaking talks as long as you get your proposal in by June 13. I was one of the reviewers of the main batch of talks so I got a sneak peek at some of the submissions. There is thought-provoking stuff on the program and I expect lots of hefty discussion, at the talks and in the cafes afterwards. Warm weather, interesting people, good food – I guess I should brush up on my French a little for those restaurants.

Mar 282008

Balisage is this new XML++1 geekfest, put on by some of the people who used to put on the Extreme Markup conference, which is aimed to get the brain cells running again after summer. It’s being held in Montréal in the middle of August, which means all those street-level restaurants, and brushing up on French cuisine (if not the language).

Oh yes, the deadlines…

If you want to speak at Balisage or the Preconference Symposium on Versioning, you need to submit your full paper by April 18th, using the supplied tag set. If you want to attend, advance registration closes on August 1st, so you have time for that. Hotel reservations must be made by July 1st if you want to stay in the conference hotel. The conference should be fun and mind-boggling at the same time, at least if XML-related theoretical musings are your idea of fun.

1: this means XML is one of the subjects discussed there, and most of the others are in some (albeit tortuous) way related to it.

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