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.

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.

Dec 312008

We spent Christmas and a few days either side in Sakatchewan, land of -27 C days and even colder nights. But, as it turns out, little snow. Driving along Highway 1 you could see the stubble of plants sticking out of the slim white covering, giving the horizon a green-brown tinge. There was more snow in sheltered places, dry and feathery, the sort of snow that doesn’t get you wet when you fall in it as it brushes off so easily.

Coming home to Vancouver it was a different story. We missed out on being there for the almost-record snowfalls (I gather we only need another 2 cm to beat the record set in 1964), but enough remained on the ground to require lots of snow-shovelling. Maybe next year I’ll break down and get a real snow shovel with better ergonomics; my back muscles are groaning using our emergency folding one with its too-short handle. Snow at temperatures around zero C is wet and sticky, not at all feathery, and it doesn’t brush off easily. In places the snow has the choppy look of whipped egg whites that have started to break down, in others like smooth piles of icing sugar, 60 cm (2 feet) or more thick. On the roads it’s a dirty grey colour, piled high in spots, interspersed with pockets of water that can’t make it to the storm drain and pockets of ice where the sun can’t reach.

It was the first coast to coast white Christmas since 1971, and we’re in the middle of another snowfall warning with snow forecast for the next three days (which should easily break that record). I’m glad I work from home.

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.

Jun 192008

There’s been a lot of discussion in the papers about the newly-tabled Bill on Canadian Copyright; suffice to say there are lots of issues with it and it needs to be sent back and turned into something that meets the needs of the citizens and residents of this country. If you’re living in Canada, I’d recommend you read some of Michael Geist’s blog, particularly the summary of last week, and then email your MP about the issues that concern you the most. For me, it’s the potential that playing DVDs from a region other than Canada could violate the law. If I’ve bought the DVDs legally, or had them given to me, why should playing them violate the law? Why should getting a cell phone unlocked violate the law? Why should backing up my CDs violate the law? This is one of the few issues I can remember where it seems that every newspaper has the same tone to the editorial – and it isn’t complimentary to the government.

Mind you, my local MP isn’t exactly known for listening to his constituents (there’s still a lot of local anger at his crossing the floor after being elected), so who knows how much good my email (a heavily edited version of the one at that used to be found at http://www.copyrightforcanadians.ca/action/firstlook) will do.

Update: it looks like the Minister supposedly in charge, isn’t – Canadian Industry Minister lies about his Canadian DMCA on national radio, then hangs up – Boing Boing.

Mar 132008

I just got back from the NorthernVoice organizing committee’s post-conference lunch. The conference motto is personal blogging and social media but lots of people who attend or speak are interested in the professional or corporate aspect as well. As a result, one of the perennial topics we talk about is who the conference is for, and what do participants want to listen to. I touched on some of this in my Ebbs and Blogs posting. Personally I’m more interested in the personal blogging aspects than the company PR aspects (YMMV, of course).

Which raises some interesting questions – why would personal bloggers come to a conference? I can think of a few reasons:

  • to learn more about techniques, e.g., how to podcast, or how to embed video
  • to get ideas for content
  • to learn how to write better, to express ideas better
  • to meet up with people with some related interests

I guess there are a lot of people who blog who would never come to a blogging conference because what and how they blog is enough for them and they don’t see any need to change anything. But there are also people who don’t do well in crowds, so one issue I see is how to encourage people who are less comfortable at conferences (even small ones), how to make them more comfortable. I don’t know what the answer is; I’m an introvert but it seldom stops me going places, so although I sympathize with those for whom it’s a problem, I’m not sure of what to do to help. If, indeed, anything can be done at the conference organizing level to help.