kottke.org posts about conferences
In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Fast Company presents an oral history of the SXSW Interactive Festival.
Within SXSW Interactive's march from obscurity to prominence is the story of digital culture itself. SXSW was a hive of activity for early web denizens and hackers around the turn of the century, and a birthing ground for the social media revolution that reshaped modern life in the second half of the '00s. Its emergence from the shadow of the music festival it grew out of mirrors the transformation of geeks into modern society's newest rock stars.
I went to SXSW a handful of times (maybe five?), met my wife there, and even keynoted (w/ Dooce) in the big room (which was, in my memory, a disaster of Zuckerpudlian proportions). Paul Ford noted on Twitter:
Wow this is just a tiny bit The Oral History of Talking About Yourself.
Totes get that, but South By1 distinguished itself in the early days by being a conference where anyone could participate. Attendees took ownership of this conference as they could not at the other big web conferences of the era. Everyone was someone, everyone was nobody. (I mean, not literally -- the Jeffreys (Zeldman and Veen) couldn't walk three feet without someone engaging them in conversation. But you get my drift.) As on the personal web of the late 1900s and early 2000s, you were the focal point of SXSW, for better or worse.
 There was an effort back in my day to refer to the conference as "sick-sow" but thankfully that didn't stick. I mean, Jesus. ↩
Aaron Cohen, a frequent contributor to kottke.org famous for his late-night (and, I would assume, drunken) extreme sports posts, is putting on a pair of events in Boston in February. The first is Up Up Down Down, a mini-conference on side projects. Which is such a great idea for a conference.
The second event is Whiskey Rebellion, "a showcase of American brown spirits". The tasting list includes more than 75 whiskies and bourbons. This one is sold out (unsurprisingly) but there appears to be a waiting list. My schedule for that weekend is up in the air, but I hope I can make it to one or both of these.
PopTech is a TED-like conference that takes place in Camden, Maine each October. I've been three or four times...it's a good conference. This year, they're streaming the whole thing live...not bad for a $2000/ticket conference. There are a few names on the schedule that you may recognize (Kevin Slavin, Rodney Mullen, Charlie Todd) but it looks like they've done a good job gathering folks other than the usual suspects.
I attended the XOXO Festival in Portland, OR this past weekend. I don't have a great deal to say about it because -- and I'm not trying to be a dick here -- you had to be there. As in, physically in the room with the speakers and the attendees. But I did want to mention a few things.
- XOXO was put on by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan. They killed it. And they killed it because they really really (really!) cared about what they were doing, so much so that they were (at times unsuccessfully) holding back tears as they did their outro. Do Chris Anderson or Walt Mossberg cry at the end of TED and D? I don't think so.
- At no point during the weekend did anyone on the stage make a cynical or ironic remark. Everyone was so positive. It would be easy to mistake it for wide-eyed and naive idealism but that optimism is hard-won and tempered by experience. You can do it -- we can do it -- because we've done it before.
- XOXO attendees were generally not on their computers or phones. They listened to the talks and chatted with their nearby seatmates. It was amazingly refreshing. More conferences like this please.
- Though not specifically referenced, one of the themes of the weekend was what David Brooks referred to as "the power of the particular". From his piece in the NY Times a few months ago:
It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct musical tradition, if your concerns are expressed through a specific paracosm, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all.
The whole experience makes me want to pull aside politicians and business leaders and maybe everyone else and offer some pious advice: Don't try to be everyman. Don't pretend you're a member of every community you visit. Don't try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.
Examples of this power abounded at XOXO. The indie gaming scene is insanely niche but, as documented in Indie Game: The Movie, some of the best and more unique games make millions of dollars. Emily Winfield Martin felt like a misfit in art school but gained a huge following for her illustrations on Etsy and is now living her dream of creating children's books. Julia Nunes started out playing cover songs on her ukelele in YouTube videos and now has albums and has played with Weezer and Ben Folds and appeared on Conan. Adam Savage told the story of The Adventurebilt Hat Company, which started making replicas of Indiana Jones' hat from Raiders of the Lost Ark because they were fans of the film and ended up supplying the actual hats for the fourth Indy movie. The PDX671 food cart that took home the judges' award in the 2012 Eat Mobile awards was parked outside of the festival both days serving cuisine from Guam. Another cart from the XOXO pod, Nong's Khao Man Gai, serves only a single Thai dish and boasts long lunch lines. Even the numerous craft beers available all over Portland are valued by aficionados for each beer's particular characteristics.
My pal Andy Baio is throwing a conference in Portland in September and funding the whole thing on Kickstarter.
XOXO is a celebration of disruptive creativity. We want to take all the independent artists using the Internet to make a living doing what they love -- the makers, craftspeople, musicians, filmmakers, comic book artists, game designers, hardware hackers -- and bring them together with the technologists building the platforms that make it possible. If you have an audience and a good idea, nothing's standing in your way.
It reminds me a bit of what SXSW used to be. I bought a ticket and am hoping to be there. Only 68 tickets remaining so if you want to go, you'd better pull the trigger on the ticket gun.
A marketing company is using some of Austin's homeless population as roving pay-as-you-go wireless hotspots during SXSW. The project is called Homeless Hotspots.
Homeless people have been enlisted to roam the streets wearing T-shirts that say "I am a 4G hotspot." Passersby can pay what they wish to get online via the 4G-to-Wi-Fi device that the person is carrying. It is a neat idea on a practical level, but also a little dystopian. When the infrastructure fails us... we turn human beings into infrastructure?
Matt Haughey's SXSW talk, Real World Moderation: Lessons from 11 Years of Community, was quite well received so he posted a version he recorded at home to Vimeo.
After 11 years of running MetaFilter.com, I (and the other moderators) have been through just about everything, and we've built dozens of custom tools to weed out garbage, spammers, and scammers from the site.
I'll cover how to identify and solve problems including identity, trolling, sockpuppets, and other nefarious community issues, show off custom tools we've developed for MetaFilter, and show you how to incorporate them into your own community sites.
Meant to post about this when it was announced: the Brand New Conference, Nov 5 in NYC.
The Brand New Conference is a one-day event organized by UnderConsideration, focusing on the practice of corporate and brand identity -- a direct extension of the popular blog, Brand New. The conference consists of eight sessions offering a broad range of points of view with speakers from around the world practicing in different environments, from global consultancies, to in-house groups, to small firms.
Speakers include boldface names Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, and Erik Spiekermann. Surprisingly, tickets are still available.
If you're into old school video games and pinball, the place to be in mid-July is at California Extreme, a classic arcade games show. Tickets are $60 for the weekend but the relevant pullquote here is:
Everything is on free play. You can play from the moment you arrive until we shut off the power at closing -- Play as many games as you want, in whatever order you want to. There are *HUNDREDS* of games, all set to play for free. This is a your chance to try those older games, or the newer games that you'd never put money into in an arcade. There are also many games that never got produced, and are very hard to find.
I went with some friends several years ago and it was a lot of fun.
The lineup for the 2010 Gel conference in NYC is shaping up nicely. Regular kottke.org readers will likely be interested in hearing Will Shortz (NY Times crossword puzzle dude), the Gregory brothers (Auto-Tune the News), Randy Garutti (COO of Shake Shack), Rachel Sussman (photographer of the world's oldest living things), and Matt Freakin' Haughey.
The PopTech conference is going again in Camden, Maine, but you can watch the whole thing online for free from the comfort of your desk, blogging couch, or podcasting lair.
O'Reilly is discontinuing their Emerging Technology Conference.
Since its inception, ETech has been a vibrant gathering of the alpha geek tribe, bringing together some of the most innovative people and projects across the technology community. So it's with regret that O'Reilly Media has made the difficult decision to discontinue ETech in 2010.
I think I went to Etech twice or maybe three times. The first time was mind-blowing but the second year had many of the same speakers and was generally disappointing. I've heard very positive things about it in recent years...sad to see it go. (via waxy)
I've been to quite a few conferences and almost without exception, the best speakers and presenters are people who are actually doing things in the trenches...not the folks who write books about them. The engaging and whip smart Geoffrey Canada outlined the four factors he uses to achieve success with his organization in educating kids in Harlem.
1. We have to tackle everything at the same time. Small programs touching unconnected parts of kids lives aren't that effective.
2. They start working with kids from birth and stay with them until they graduate from college. If they don't let them get behind, later superhero-type interventions (which don't often work) are not needed.
3. Scale is important. If you work with lots of kids, their collective action reinforces itself with little further effort.
4. Accountability and evaluation is needed. Canada said that if bad teachers aren't teaching the kids, they should be fired.
Canada also cautioned about complacency in business. He said that businesses, left to their own devices, find comfortable resting places without periodically refreshing their values and goals.
Update: Canada was the subject of a recent segment on This American Life. (thx, andrew)
Update: The Harlem Children's Zone has been hit hard by the financial crisis and had to lay off staff. (thx, elaine)
The big themes of the day so far are confidence and experts: should we and do we have confidence in the experts? Malcolm Gladwell kicked off the morning with a talk about overconfidence. He talked about the three types of failure possible in a situation like the financial crisis:
1. Institutional failure. The regulators and regulations were not sufficient.
2. Cognitive failure. The bankers weren't smart enough and got in over their heads.
3. Psychological failure. The bankers were overconfident and failed to recognize the direness of their situation.
Gladwell argued that the financial crisis was caused largely by overconfidence, which has two key effects. One is that people become miscalibrated. They think that the predictions that they are making are actually a lot better than they are. Secondly, there's an illusion of control problem in which people think they have control over things that are impossible to control. Fixing the situation will be hard because overconfidence is a useful trait to possess and experts are hard to purge from systems (they're the experts!).
[Experts talking about how experts are wrong! My brain is seizing up.]
Next up were Nassim Taleb and Robert Shiller. Shiller believes that confidence drives the economy and that macroeconomics is flawed because there's no humanity in it. Taleb was very quotable and the most full of doom of all the panelists so far. He doesn't like economists. Like wants them gone from the world, or to at least marginalize their effects so that their opinions and decisions don't affect the lives of normal people. In talking about why this crisis is different than similar situations in the past, he argued that globalization, the Internet, and the efficiency of global financial markets has created an environment where very large and very quick collective movements of money are possible in a way that wasn't before. Taleb had the last word: "people who crashed the plane, you don't give them a new plane".
The panel moderated by Suroweicki was a little odd. Two out of the three panelists kept repeating in reference to the solution to the very complex financial crisis: "this isn't that complicated". There has also been a undercurrent to the discussion so far that the goal of any solution to the financial crisis is to get the economy back to where it was. I'm with Taleb on this one: where we were wasn't very good, why do we want to go back.
I'll be at The New Yorker Summit today attempting some sort of live-ish coverage.
With a new President in office, our country is in a period of immense challenges, from unprecedented economic tumult to a worldwide environmental crisis. With more at stake than at any time in recent memory, we are compelled to put forward new solutions and new thinking. In this spirit, The New Yorker Summit: The Next 100 Days will gather economic heavyweights and national-policy voices to look at the formative days of the new Administration, and to explore what lies ahead in the next hundred days.
What We Do is a one-day ad hoc conference being held at RISD on April 11.
On Saturday, April 11th, 100 members of the RISD community (students, faculty, staff, and alums) will share something that they do with the rest of the RISD community and the larger surrounding community of Providence.
Leading up to the day of the event, 8 site-specific "spaces" will be created by members of every department at RISD; majors paired up to encourage cross-departmental collaboration. The spaces that they build will house the day's events creating a street-fair environment for the open sharing of how people at RISD spend their time and energy.
What we do might include studio work, performance pieces, what you did last summer; anything and everything that RISD does in any manner of presentation.
Announced topics include cartooning, disaster simulations, typography, GPS poetry, and cars that run on vegetable oil. Oh, and the whole thing is free and open to the public.
This continues to be annoying: yesterday's IDEA conference had 12 speakers, all men. Blech. The Web 2.0 Summit has the same problem. And I stopped updating this because it got too depressing.
The PopTech conference has started in Maine and on the web. They're streaming the whole conference live on their web site.
Dan Lyons (né Fake Steve Jobs) explains why panels at tech conferences are so pointless.
Was at the EmTech conference at MIT today and suffered through a panel led by Robert Scoble with four geeks (Facebook, Six Apart, Plaxo, Twine) talking about the future of the Web. No prepared remarks, just totally random conversation. Basically they all just spewed whatever came into their heads, at top speed, interrupting each other and oblivious to the fact that an audience was sitting there, glazing over... It was like watching five college kids with ADHD and an eight-ball of coke trying to hold a conversation.
The irony of the post is that many of the blogs in Lyons' list of "Things I Read" in the sidebar are like that panel, only in blog form.
British architect David Adjaye observed that not only are public buildings built for "the public" but they also create "the public" by establishing a space for it to exist. I guess by the same token, buildings built for private citizens also create private citizens...hence, eventually, gated communities and the like.
Adjaye also described his native Africa as layered combination of its different eras: colonialism + nation building + European + Islam + urban/capitalist.
The chefs panel, with Bill Buford interviewing Daniel Humm, Marc Taxiera, and David Chang, was the most entertaining of the day. Right at the end, David Chang told a short anecdote about a customer who complained to him about the amount of fat in the Momofuku pork bun...pork as in pork belly and pork belly as in mostly fat. Chang told him that's the way it came and that he wasn't getting a replacement. Shrugging, he told the audience he had a different idea about hospitality than most restaurateurs..."the customer is not always right".
Michael Novogratz, the 317th richest American, explained the current financial crisis. Goes something like this. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening up of China and India for both trade and labor laid the groundwork for globalization. Lots and lots of cheap labor available made for cheap goods and low inflation. Between early 2003 and late 2007, globalization kicked into high gear and people thought, this is it, this is the end of inflation forever. But the workers in Eastern Europe, India, and China gradually became consumers. They bought TVs and cars and better food and whaddya know, inflation is back. The bubble burst.
Amy Smith challenges her students to try living on $2 a day for a week...that includes food, transportation, and entertainment. This video of a talk that Smith did at TED in 2006 covers much of what she talked about today at the New Yorker Conference. The NY Times covered her clever inventions back in 2003.
Haseltine came from an unusual place to the NSA: Walt Disney Imagineering. Between his overuse of the phrases "bad guys" and "war on terror", there were a couple of interesting moments.
In Haseltine's estimation, something called Intellipedia is the biggest advance in the intelligence community since 9/11. Intellipedia is basically an internal Wikipedia for people who work for one of the 16 US intelligence agencies. Its goal is to break down some of the barriers between these agencies in terms of information sharing and colloboration.
Right at the end of the session, interviewer Jane Mayer asked Haseltine if perhaps the Bush administration is overreacting to terrorism...if the mindset that danger lurks everywhere is appropriate and realistic. He replied that since he got involved in the intelligence community, he doesn't sleep well at night. "I know too much."
I'll admit I don't watch politicians speak that often, particularly in public. So maybe I'm being a little naive here, but San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is nothing short of a magician up on the stage. He talked for 20 straight minutes (his would-be interviewer could only get in 2-3 questions during that time and Newsom pretty much ignored them and talked about whatever he pleased) and it felt both like 5 minutes and exhausting at the same time. By the time he'd finished what I would term a sermon, I wanted to sign up for whatever he was selling at a price no lower than my heart and soul. I haven't non-sexually crushed this hard on a speaker since Robert Wright.
Ok, two particularly interesting things that broke my gaze long enough for me to scribble them down in my notebook.
1. Newsom talked about building filling stations for electric cars that relied on exchanging batteries instead of plugging in and waiting for your car to charge. You don't need to own your particular battery.
2. In SF, he's hoping to exchange the payroll tax for a carbon tax. In his words, tax a bad thing (carbon use) instead of taxing a good thing (jobs). That way, the incentives are in the right place...people aren't penalized for working but are penalized for using excessive amounts of carbon.
Update: Oh, don't get me wrong, I have no idea if Newsom was telling the truth or what...it's just that it all sounded so good coming out of his mouth. Even when it sounded like bullshit I wanted to believe him. I felt so dirty and manipulated afterwards, but still wanted to believe. Like I said, love...what's truth got to do with it?
Picking a subject from his upcoming book, Malcolm Gladwell talked about the difficulty in hiring people in the increasingly complex thought-based contemporary workplace. Specifically that we're using a collection of antiquated tools to evaluate potential employees, creating what he calls "mismatch problems" in the workplace, when the critera for evaluating job candidates is out of step with the demands of the job.
To illustrate his point, Gladwell talked about sports combines, events that professional sports leagues hold for scouts to evaluate potential draftees based on a battery of physical, psychological, and intelligence tests. What he found, a result that echoes what Michael Lewis talks about in Moneyball, is that sports combines are a poor way to determine how well an athlete will eventually perform as a member of their eventual team. One striking example he gave is the intelligence test they give to NFL quarterbacks. Two of the test's all-time worst performers were Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Famers both.
A more material example is teachers. Gladwell says that while we evaluate teachers on the basis of high standardized test scores and whether they have degrees and credentialed training, that makes little difference in how well people actually teach.
I'll be at the New Yorker conference today and some attempt to provide an alive weblogging of the goings-on will be made. On the slate are kottke.org tagholders David Remnick, Rebecca Mead, David Chang, Malcolm Gladwell, and James Surowiecki.
It's been awhile since the last conversation about gender diversity at web conferences. Here's a particularly high profile example of more of the same: Google's just-announced Web Forward conference appears to have a single woman speaker out of 38 total speakers.
This talk by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor was universally considered the best talk at the TED conference last month. In it, she describes the lessons she learned from studying her stroke from inside her own head as it was happening.
And in that moment my right arm went totally paralyzed by my side. And I realized, "Oh my gosh! I'm having a stroke! I'm having a stroke!" And the next thing my brain says to me is, "Wow! This is so cool. This is so cool. How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?"
I went to a mini conference put on by Core77 on Friday and I'll post a bit more about a couple of the participants in a day or so, but if you were in attendance, you may not have noticed that the person onstage claiming to be artist/designer Tobias Wong was not actually Tobias Wong (more).
The setup was an art project on Tobias's part, they practiced together for some time to make it work. There were a lot of little jokes in fake Tobias's talk for people who knew what was going on. Tobias was in the audience, actually answered a question for fake-Tobias during his talk.
As they did last year, Poptech is streaming their entire conference live on the web for free. October 18-20. They also take questions from the web audience, several of which they used last year on stage.
Design, Wit, and the Creative Act, a half-day event put on by Core77.
How do designers employ wit, irony -- even subversion -- in the service of making a connection with their audience, and how can they replicate these connections across a body of work? Are there limits to commercializing this kind of design, or are we seeing new opportunities for the provocateur in an ever-commoditized world? What is the role of the brand in this context, and to what degree does a sly exchange between designer and user create a new kind of brand experience?
Featuring Ze Frank, Steven Heller, and others...Nov 9 in NYC.
Nice summary of the Steve Jobs/Bill Gates conversation at the D: All Things Digital conference. "Asked to give advice for others considering starting their own businesses, Gates explained that in the early days, he and his colleagues never considered the value of the company they were developing. 'It's all about the people and the passion, and it's amazing the business worked out the way it did.'" Here's a briefer summary with context and a transcript and video of the entire interview is available on the conference site.
Following up on my post about gender diversity at web conferences, Jeffrey Zeldman of An Event Apart commissioned a study by hiring "researchers at The New York Public Library to find out everything that is actually known about the percentage of women in our field, and their positions relative to their male colleagues". "There is no data on web design and web designers. Web design is twelve years old, employs hundreds of thousands (if not millions), and generates billions, so you'd think there would be some basic research data available on it, but there ain't." I found the same thing when poking around for a bit back in February. They do have stats for IT workers in general...men outnumber women by over 3-to-1 and that gap is growing.
Update: NY Times: "Yet even as [undergraduate women] approach or exceed enrollment parity in mathematics, biology and other fields, there is one area in which their presence relative to men is static or even shrinking: computer science." (thx, meg)
Instead of giving out wasteful schwag bags and tshirts that no one wears, the Interesting 2007 conference is asking participants to provide their own used tshirts (they'll screenprint the logo on it) and will be using plain old plastic bags with the conference logo screenprinted on them. What a great twist on recycling. (via bbj)
Dale Dougherty: maybe we should get rid of the wasteful conference schwag bag that everyone ends up dumping in the garbage anyway. Amen, brother.
Todd Levin takes the whiz out of SXSW. "In addition to discussion panels, SXSW features an interesting mix of daily keynote speakers, including Sims and Spore game creator Will Wright; Phillip Torrone, the senior editor of Make magazine; and, of course, cyberpunk visionary Dan Rather. Who better to talk about emerging technology than the septuagenarian former broadcast news anchor who still refers to his (unused) computer as an 'electronic pickle barrel' and the internet as 'the World Wide Possum Stew?'"
Notes from Will Wright's keynote at SXSW 2007. "Movies have these wonderful things called actors, which are like emotional avatars, and you kinda feel what they're feeling, it's very effective. Films have a rich emotional palette because they have actors. Games often appeal to the reptilian brain - fear, action - but they have a different emotional palette. There are things you feel in games - like pride, accomplishment, guilt even! - that you'll never feel in a movie."
Here's one for your SXSW calendar: Buzzfeed and Ze Frank are hosting a party on Saturday, March 10 at 10pm with music by Juiceboxxx. Disclosure: I'm an advisor to Buzzfeed and as such, I advise you to check out this party.
Update: If you're planning on attending, make your mark at Upcoming.
Every few months, the blogosphere addresses the matter of gender diversity of speakers at conferences about design, technology, and the web. The latest such incidents revolved around the lack of women speakers at the the Future of Web Apps conference in San Francisco last September1 and the Creativity Now conference put on by Tokion in NYC last October. Each time this issue is raised, you see conference organizers publicly declare that they tried, that diversity is a very important issue, and that they are going to address it the next time around.
With that in mind, I collected some information2 about some of the most visible past and upcoming conferences in the tech/design/web space. I'm reasonably sure that the organizers of these conferences were aware of at least one of the above recent complaints about gender diversity at conferences (they were both linked widely in the blogosphere), so it will be interesting to see if those complaints were taken seriously by them.
Future of Web Apps - San Francisco
September 13-14, 2006
0 women, 13 men. 0% women speakers.
Tokion Magazine's 4th Annual Creativity Now Conference
October 14-15, 2006
6 women, 30 men. 17% women speakers.
October 18-21, 2006
8 women, 30 men. 21% women speakers.
Web Directions North
February 7-10, 2007
5 women, 16 men. 24% women speakers.
February 7-9, 2007
10 women, 33 men. 23% women speakers.
Future of Web Apps - London
February 20-22, 2007
1 woman, 26 men. 4% women speakers.
March 7-10, 2007
12 women, 41 men. 23% women speakers.
SXSW Interactive 2007
March 9-13, 2007
147 women, 378 men. 28% women speakers.
164 women, 373 men. 31% women speakers. (updated 2/22/2007)
165 women, 379 men. 30% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
BlogHer Business '07
March 22-23, 2007
43 women, 0 men. 100% women speakers.
An Event Apart Boston 2007
March 26-27, 2007
1 woman, 8 men. 11% women speakers.
O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference
March 26-29, 2007
9 women, 44 men. 17% women speakers.
12 women, 79 men. 13% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
Web 2.0 Expo 2007
April 15-18, 2007
17 women, 91 men. 16% women speakers.
Future of Web Design
April 18, 2007
2 women, 12 men. 14% women speakers.
4 women, 16 men. 20% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
April 19-20, 2007
2 women, 11 men. 15% women speakers.
1 woman, 16 men. 6% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
April 30 - May 2, 2007
0 women, 4 men. 0% women speakers.
8 women, 89 men. 8% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
The New Yorker Conference 2007
May 6-7, 2007
3 women, 21 men. 13% women speakers. (updated 2/28/2007)
6 women, 29 men. 17% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
Dx3 Conference 2007
May 15-18, 2007
5 women, 48 men. 9% women speakers. (updated 3/2/2007)
5 women, 70 men. 7% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
An Event Apart Seattle 2007
June 21-22, 2007
0 women, 9 men. 0% women speakers.
1 women, 9 men. 10% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
From this list, it seems to me that either the above concerns are not getting through to conference organizers or that gender diversity doesn't matter as much to conference organizers as they publicly say it does. The Future of Web Apps folks seem to have a particularly tin ear when it comes to this issue. For their second conference, they doubled the size of the speaker roster and added only one woman to the bill despite the complaints from last time. This List of Women Speakers for Your Conference compiled by Jen Bekman is a little non-web/tech-heavy, but it looks like it didn't get much use in the months since its publication. Perhaps it's time for another look. (If you think this issue is important, Digg this post.)
Update: To the above list, I added An Event Apart Boston 2007 and corrected a mistake in the count for GEL 2007 (they had one more woman and one less man than I initially counted.) Ryan Carson from Carson Systems, the producers of The Future of Web Apps conferences, emailed me this morning and said that my "facts just aren't correct" for the count for their London conference. He stated that the number of speakers they had control over was only 13. Some of the speakers were workshop leaders (the workshops "are very different" in some way) and others were chosen by sponsors of the conference, not by Carson Systems. I'm keeping the current count of 27 total speakers as listed on their speakers page this morning...they're the people they used to promote the conference and they're the people at the conference in the front of the room, giving their views and leading discussions for the assembled audience. (thx, erik, mark, and ryan)
Update: I added the Future of Web Design conference to the above list. (thx, jeff)
Update: Hugh Forrest wrote to update me on the latest speaker numbers for SXSW Interactive 2007 (he keeps close watch on them because the issue is an important and sensitive one to the SXSW folks)...the ones on their site were less than current. In cases where counts are updated (and not inaccurate due to my counting errors), I will append them to the conference in question so that we can see trends. I plan to update the above list periodically, adding new conferences and keeping track of the speaker numbers on upcoming ones.
 Sadly, when I Googled "future of web apps women" while doing some research for this post, Google asked "Did you mean: 'future of web apps when'"? ↩
 All statistics as of 2/22/2007. Consider the gender counts rough approximations...in some cases, I couldn't tell if a certain person was a man or a woman from their name or bio. ↩
 This conference has released only a very incomplete speaker list. ↩
Read it and weep: the TED 2007 speaker list...unless you've already got a ticket, you're not going (the waiting list is like 1000 people long). Lots of interesting speakers tho.
Notes from day 3 at PopTech:
Chris Anderson talked about, ba ba baba!, not the long tail. Well, not explicitly. Chris charted how the availability of a surplus in transistors (processors are cheap), storage (hard drives are cheap), and surplus in bandwidth (DSL is cheap) has resulted in so much opportunity for innovation and new technology. His thoughts reminded me of how surplus space in Silicon Valley (in the form of garages) allowed startup entrepreneurs to pursue new ideas without having to procure expensive commercial office space.
Quick thought re: the long tail...if the power law arises from scarcity as Matt Webb says, then it would make sense that the surplus that Anderson refers to would be flattening that curve out a bit.
Roger Brent crammed a 60 minute talk into 20 minutes. It was about genetic engineering and completely baffling...almost a series of non sequiturs. "Centripital glue engine" was my favorite phrase of the talk, but I've got no idea what Brent meant by it.
Homaro Cantu gave a puzzling presentation of a typical meal at his Chicago restaurant, Moto. I've seen this presentation twice before and eaten at Moto; all three experiences were clear and focused on the food. This time around, Cantu didn't explain the food as well or why some of the inventions were so cool. His polymer box that cooks on the table is a genuinely fantastic idea, but I got the feeling that the rest of the audience didn't understand what it was. Cantu also reiterated his position on copyrighting and patenting his food and inventions. Meg caught him saying that he was trying to solve the famine problem with his edible paper, which statement revealed two problems: a) famines are generally caused by political issues and therefore not solvable by new kinds of food, printed or otherwise, and b) he could do more good if he open sourced his inventions and let anyone produce food or improve the techniques in those famine cases where food would be useful.
Richard Dawkins gave part of his PopTech talk (the "queerer than we can suppose" part of it) at TED in 2005 (video).
Bob Metcalfe's wrap-up of the conference was a lot less contentious than in past years; hardly any shouting and only one person stormed angrily out of the room. In reference to Hasan Elahi's situation, Bob said that there's a tension present in our privacy desires: "I want my privacy, but I need you to be transparent." Not a bad way of putting it.
Serena Koenig spoke about her work in Haiti with Partners in Health. Koening spoke of a guideline that PIH follows in providing healthcare: act as though each patient is a member of your own family. That sentiment was echoed by Zinhle Thabethe, who talked about her experience as an HIV+ woman living in South Africa, an area with substandard HIV/AIDS-related healthcare. Thabethe's powerful message: we need to treat everyone with HIV/AIDS the same, with great care. Sounds like the beginning of a new Golden Rule of Healthcare.
2.7 billion results for "blog" on Google. Blogs: bigger than Jesus.
Photographer Clifford Ross shared his list of the necessary ingredients for invention and art at PopTech:
3. ready to embrace the unexpected
4. ability and willingness to collaborate
Ross showed some rough results from his new pano-camera. I love Ross' Hurricane series:
Some notes from day 2 at PopTech, with a little backtracking into day 1 as well. In no particular order:
The upshot of Thomas Barnett's entertaining and provacative talk (or one of the the upshots, anyway): China is the new world power and needs a sidekick to help globalize the world. And like when the US was the rising power in the world and took the outgoing power, England, along for the ride so that, as Barnett put it, "England could fight above its weight", China could take the outgoing power (the US) along for the globalization ride. The US would provide the military force to strike initial blows and the Chinese would provide peacekeeping; Barnett argued that both capabilities are essential in a post-Cold War world.
Juan Enriquez talked about boundries...specifically if there will be more or less of them in the United States in the future. 45 states? 65 states? One thing that the US has to deal with is how we treat immigrants. Echoing William Gibson, Enriquez said "the words you use today will resonate through history for a long time". That is, if you don't let the Mexican immigrants in the US speak their own language, don't welcome their contributions to our society, and just generally make people feel unwelcome in the place where they live, it will come back to bite you in the ass (like, say, when southern California decides it would rather be a part of Mexico or its own nation).
Enriquez again, regarding our current income tax proclivities: "if we pay more and our children don't owe less, that's not taxes...it's just a long-term, high-interest loan".
Number of times ordained minister Martin Marty said "hell" during his presentation: 2. Number of times Marty said "goddamn": 1. Number of times uber-heathen Richard Dawkins said "hell", "goddamn", or any other blasphemous swear: 0.
Dawkins told the story of Kurt Wise, who took a scissors to the Bible and cut out every passage which was in discord with the theory of evolution, eventually ending up with a fragmented mess. Confronted with this crisis of faith and science, Wise renounced evolution and became a geologist who believes that the earth is only 6000 years old.
The story of Micah Garen's capture by Iraqi militants and Marie-Helene Carlton's efforts to get her boyfriend back home safely illustrates the power of the connected world. Marie-Helene and Micah's family used emails, mobile phones, and sat phones to reach out through their global social network, eventually reaching people in Iraq whom Micah's captors might listen to. A woman in the audience stood during the Q&A and related her story of her boyfriend being on a hijacked plane out of Athens in 1985 and how powerless she was to do anything in the age before mobiles, email, and sat phones. Today, Stanley Milgram might say, an Ayatollah is never more than 4 or 5 people away.
Lexicographer Erin McKean told us several interesting things about dictionaries, including that "lexicographer" can be found in even the smallest of dictionaries because, duh, look who's responsible for compiling the words in a dictionary. She called dictionaries the vodka of literature: a distillation of really meaty mixture of substances into something that odorless, tasteless, colorless, and yet very powerful. Here an interview with her and a video of a lecture she gave at Google.
Juan Enriquez had a nice idea for rebalancing the priorities in the voting booth: proxy votes for parents of children under 18. That is, if my wife and I have two kids, the family gets four votes, not two. Juan's rationale for this plan is that the voting public is currently made up of a lot of baby boomers, who are going to begin to vote for things that benefit their age group, which can be thought of as an investment in the past. By voting on behalf of the 0-18 year-olds, the parents might support issues that benefit that age group (education, etc.) and invest in the future instead. Here's a quote from Juan in CIO Magazine:
Why not give parents of kids under 18 one proxy vote per child? Only then will there be a strong voting block to counter growing gray power. It is also time to quit spending more than we earn. And above all, it is time to realize just how fragile countries can be.
If you missed his talk on PopTech Live, the CIO article covers some of what he talked about.
One of the coolest little gadgets at PopTech is Onomy Labs' Twisty Table. This one is round and it's got a satellite map of the world projected on it. When you spin the table, the map zooms in and out and tilting the table scrolls it. Here's a photo of the table in action at Foo Camp.
A couple from Ireland (by way of Mexico), Rodrigo and Gabriela totally blew the audience away here at PopTech with their thrash metal-influenced Latin percussive acoustic guitar. I know that's not much to go on, but trust me on this one. Check out some of their stuff on YouTube and then buy their new CD. (Best part of their set: they threw in a little Enter Sandman by Metallica, which went over the head of everyone in the audience over 35, i.e. almost everyone.)
Hasan Elahi ran into some trouble with the FBI in 2002 (they thought he was a terrorist) and ever since, he's been voluntarily tracking his movements and putting the whole thing online: photos of meals, photos of toilets used, airports flown out of, credit card receipts, etc. His goal is to flood the market with information, so it devalues the information that the authorities have on him.
Since my internet access has been somewhat spotty at the conference (I'm trying to pay attention and power is hard to come by here so the laptop is closed most of the time), I'm going to do rolling wrap-ups as I go, skipping around and filling in the blanks when I can. Here we go, soundbite-style:
Alex Steffen: Cars equipped with displays that show gas mileage, when compared to cars without the mileage display, get better gas mileage. That little bit of knowledge helps the driver drive more economically. More visible energy meter displays in the home have a similar effect...people use less energy when they're often reminded of how much energy they use. (Perhaps Personal Kyoto could help here as well.) At dinner, we discussed parallels between that and eating. Weighing yourself daily or keep track of everything you eat, and you'll find yourself eating less. In the same way, using a program like Quicken to track your finances might compel you to spend less, at least in areas of your life where you may be spending too much.
Bruce Sterling is the Jesse Jackson of technology. He has this cadence that he gets into, neologism after neologism, stopping just short of suggesting a new word for neologism. Wonderful to experience in person. Perhaps not as upbeat as the Reverend, though.
Bruce also related a story told to him by an engineering professor friend of his. The prof split his class into two groups. The first group, the John Henrys, had to study and learn exclusively from materials available at the library...no internet allowed. The second group, the Baby Hueys, could use only the internet for research and learning...no primary source lookups at the library. After a few weeks, he had to stop this experiment because the John Henrys were lagging so far behind the Baby Hueys that it is was unfair to continue.
Kevin Kelly noted that the web currently has 1 trillion links, 1 quintillion transistors, and 20 exabytes of memory. A single human brain has 1 trillion synapses (links), 1 quintillion neurons (transistors of sorts), and 20 exabytes of memory.
Kelly also said that technology has its own agenda and went on to list what it is that technology might want. One of the things was clean water. You need clean water for industrial manufacturing...so water cleanliness is going to be a big deal in China. In a later talk, Thomas Friedman said, "China needs to go green."
Hasan Elahi, during his ordeal being mistaken for -- what's the term these days? -- an enemy combatant, learned that language translates easier than culture. That is, you can learn how to speak a language fluently way easier than to have the cultural fluency necessary to convince someone you're a native. In his interrogations, Hasan liberally sprinkled pop culture references in his answers to questions posed by the FBI to help convince them that he was a native. Workers at call centers in India for American companies are not only taught to speak English with an American accent, they also receive training in American geography, history, and pop culture so as to better fool/serve American callers.
"The best laid plans of mice and men turn into a nonlinear system." -- Will Wright, with apologies to Robert Burns.
Speaking of Wright, a couple of Spore trivia bits. The data for a creature in Spore takes up just 3K of memory. And entire world: just 80K. And these worlds are amazingly complex.
Brian Eno: With large groups of people, the sense of shame and the sense of honor that keeps the members of small groups from misbehaving breaks down. The challenge for larger groups is to find ways of making honor and shame matter in a similar respect.
Stewart Brand: "We are terraforming the earth anyway, we might as well do it right." Stewart also noted that cities are very effective population sinks. When people move to cities, the birthrate drops to the replacement rate (2.1 children per family) and keeps on dropping. Combine that with the fact that by early next year, more people in the world will live in cities than in rural areas, and at some point in the next hundred years, the earth's population will start to fall.
The Brian Eno/Will Wright session kicked things off quite well at PopTech. Lots of interesting stuff to say about this one, but I quickly wanted to highlight two things that Eno and Wright said independently in their presentations. Eno:
Art is created by artists so that the viewer has the opportunity to create something.
Later, Wright said in relation to games:
The real game is constructed in the player's head.
Eno started his presentation by wondering about a overall system for describing culture, from high to low. He and Wright may be onto something here in that respect.
77 Million Paintings, a generative artwork by Brian Eno. "Work that continues to create itself in your absence."
Onstage at PopTech just now, Brian Eno said that a musical piece by Steven Reich had a huge influence on how he thought about art. He said that Reich's piece showed him that:
1. You don't need much.
2. The composer's role is to set up a system and then let it go.
3. The true composer is actually in the listener's brain.
I'd never heard of Reich, but the name sounded familiar when Eno mentioned it. I realized I'd seen it yesterday when reading about Cory Arcangel's show at Team Gallery in reference to his piece, Sweet 16:
Cory applied American avant-garde composer Steven Reich's concept of phasing to the guitar intro of Guns and Roses' track Sweet Child O'Mine. Rather than use instruments, Cory took the same two clips from the song's music video and shortened one clip by a single note. As the videos loop, the two intros grow farther apart until they are back in sync.
He's veered away from video games, but Cory's new work is looking really interesting these days.
Postings around here may get a little sporadic because I'm heading up to attend the PopTech conference in Maine. PopTech is near the top of the heap of all the conferences I've attended and I'm really looking forward to this year's event, especially since I didn't get to go last year. Speakers include Thomas Barnett, Richard Dawkins, Homaro Cantu, Juan Enriquez, Stewart Brand, Thomas Friedman, Will Wright, and Ze Frank, as well as the sleepers that I've never heard of that inevitably knock everyone's socks off.
If you didn't get yourself in gear to make it to PopTech this year, no need for despair. For the first time, they're broadcasting the whole thing, live and for free. I will also be doing some blogging from the audience (as will others, I imagine), so stay tuned for that as well.
There has been a recent rash of technology and creative conferences whose speakers are mostly white males. The lack of diversity caused Jen Bekman to compile a list of women speakers for your conference. If you've got a technology or creative arts conference coming up and need some diversity in your speaking lineup, this is a good place to start.
On Friday, September 1, I'll be speaking at the 2006 Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria. I'll be taking part in a symposium on simplicity organized by John Maeda (schedules: part 1, part 2). I've been furiously preparing my slides in Keynote for the past week or so. It's my first talk using either Keynote or Powerpoint and I'm having fun messing around in Keynote. It's a great little program. Thanks to John and the folks at Ars for including me...it's a real honor.
Updates for the next few days will be spotty at best; the internet connection situation at both the conference and our hotel is unknown and I'll likely be busy preparing for my talk1. And after the conference, we're heading into the Alpine wilderness for a few days (maybe Salzburg, Munich, or Zurich as well) during which my internet status will likely be "offline" and my sausage intake status will be "every 6 hours". See you when I get back.
So, now's your chance to catch up on some recent doings around the site. Here are some of my favorites from the past few weeks/months:
 "Preparing for my talk" may or may not be a euphemism for "throwing up repeatedly in worry about my talk". (Actually, practice is a wonderful thing. It makes perfect, builds confidence, and reduces abdominal discomfort.) ↩
I was fortunate enough to attend the Taste3 conference in Napa Valley, CA over the weekend. What a nice change from technology conferences. Instead of software demo CDs in the schwag bags, there were bottles of wine and chocolate and instead of BOF gatherings on podcasting, there were dinners with fine wine and yummy cheese. As you would expect, the folks in the hospitality industry are a lot more outgoing than the nerds; except for me, there was a distinct lack of people standing in corners looking down at their shoes.
For the next few days I'll be posting some thoughts and links from the conference; I hope they'll be as interesting as the conference was.
A couple of great quotes from the 2006 Fortune Brainstorm conference in Aspen. "It just so happens that there's an enormous fusion reactor safely banked a few million miles from us. It delivers more than we could ever use in just about 8 minutes. And it's wireless!"
I'm going to be away for a couple of weeks, but my pal Greg Knauss is taking over posting some remaindered links while I'm gone, aided by special guests David Jacobs and perhaps even Anil Dash.
Greg was the very first guest blogger here on kottke.org (and perhaps the first guest blogger ever anywhere) back in March of 2000 when I went to SXSW and they didn't have wifi at the conference (nor did I have a laptop). Good times, back then.
When I get back, house on fire.
Early photo of Pyra Labs, circa 1999. Ev was on the startups panel this morning at SXSW, which was excellent.
Report from Etech on Jeff Han's demo of a "multi-touch user interface". Be sure to watch the videos linked to at the end...it's the interface from Minority Report in action.
Through an improbable series of clerical errors, I am scheduled to participate in a "keynote conversation" about professional blogging with Heather Armstrong at SXSW in Austin, Texas next month. Armstrong, so the story goes, got fired for blogging at work and was rewarded with a loving husband, cutie-pie daughter, photogenic dog, several television appearances, hundreds of media mentions, and a new job -- talking about poop all day -- that supports her entire family. And so but by the way, she's also headlining the entire SXSW Festival along with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Neil Young. Which makes me approximately chopped liver. When I told Meg about the headlining thing, she said, "boy, that conversation had better be good". Pressure's on, Heather.
To sum up, a piece of chopped liver will be having a chat with a nice lady from Utah next month about blogging for groceries. Should be fun.
kottke.org favorites Andrew Zolli and Marissa Meyer (from a little company called Google) are going to be speaking at Core77's panel on Design 2.0 in NYC at the end of February. Looks pretty interesting.
Going to try doing an live update of what Jobs is announcing at MacWorld. If you'd like to drink right from the firehose, here's the MacRumors feed. (Note, I'm not at MacWorld, so I have no idea why I'm doing this except it's kinda fun and old school in a way.)
- 32 million iPods sold in 2005
- Selling at the rate of a billion songs a year on iTunes Music Store
- Offering SNL skits through iTunes, all your old favorites
- Remote control for iPod with an FM tuner in it...listen to FM radio with the iPod
- 40% of the cars sold in the US in 2006 will have iPod integration
- Announced some new Dashboard widgets, including one for snow conditions for skiing
- Update to iLife....iLife '06
- New iPhoto will handle 250,000 photos (!!!), full-screen editing, more printing options (postcards calendars)
- Photocasting - podcasting for photos (Flickr competitor?), uploads photos to .Mac to iPhoto, people can subscribe, anyone can view photos via RSS
- Create video podcasts with iMovie, dump video to iPod
- iDVD creates widescreen DVDs, something called Magic iDVD that makes it super easy to create DVDs...drag and drop and push a couple buttons
- use iChat to record audio interviews with GarageBand (I think....), ah, ok, GarageBand has a Podcast Studio in it, use it to produce podcasts
- Announcing iWeb. Share photo albums, publish blogs, podcasting, Apple-designed templates. One-click publishing to .Mac. RSS, of course (lots of RSS stuff in iLife). A bit hard to see what this is exactly when you're not watching these demos in person. Also includes some sort of online media browser w/AJAX...works in any browser. "integrated with your music library", whatever that means.
- iWork '06.... (nothing really new here)
- Talking about new hardware. Intel update...looks like OS X on Intel is ready. New Mac today with Intel chip. It's the iMac. Ahead of schedule (Apple originally said mid-year).
- Intel iMac is 2 to 3 times faster than the G5, Tiger (10.4.4) is native on the Intel processor, all of Apple's apps are too.
- Microsoft will make new versions of office for the Mac for a minimum of 5 years
- New Intel iMacs shipping today. They will be doing Intel versions of all their hardware this calendar year.
- Famous Jobs' "one more thing"....MacBook Pro, Powerbook with Intel chip, 4-5 times faster than the G4 Powerbook, magnetic power adapter
Ok, all done. Check out Apple.com for all the new stuff. Apple's stock price is up 5 points (~6%) on today's news.
If you happen to be in NYC on November 3rd, stop by Eyebeam in the evening and check out a panel that I'm on about criticism called "Everybody's A Critic, Or Are They?" Here's a description:
With 9 million blogs, umpteen online message boards, thousands of shows on hundreds of cable channels, and an increased number of magazines on the newsstand, the number of outlets for expressing criticism has never been higher and the barriers to would-be critics have never been lower. Is this devaluing evaluation or does the shotgun approach result in better criticism? YOU be the Judge!
Joining me on the panel are Emily Gordon, Village Voice film critic Michael Atkinson, and Columbia professor & author Duncan Watts. The wonderful Steven Heller will moderate and no doubt bring the conversation to a higher level. Details:
November 3, 2005
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
540 W. 21st St.
New York, NY 10011
TED (the conference folks) have got themselves a blog. If you enjoy kottke.org, it looks like TEDBlog may hold your interest as well.
IT Conversations will be streaming presentations from PopTech 2005 live...Windows Media Player required. :( From Etech to the AIGA Design Conference to Web Essentials 05, more and more conferences letting those of us who can't attend listen in anyway.
The AIGA has podcasts and presentation materials up for some of the speakers from the Design Conference (my full coverage here). Several of the main stage speeches are up, as well as backstage interviews with some of the participants. In particular, I would recommend:
- Audio of the main stage presentation and interview with Juan Enriquez.
- Audio of the main stage presentation by Bill Strickland on The Design of Leadership.
- Audio of the main stage presentation by Milton Glaser and Nicholas Negroponte.
- Audio of the main stage presentation by Murray Moss, although I'm not sure how well this one would work if you listened to it without the slides.
- The PDF of Stefan Sagmeister's presentation doesn't make too much sense without the audio, but the last 50 or so slides are worth checking out for the design candy.
These aren't just for designers; they're perfectly fine for non-designers as well. Here's the RSS file with all the resources...it should work well with your favorite podcasting software or newsreader. It's great that the AIGA is making these presentations freely available...you're getting a lot of the conference for free here. If I remember correctly, not even O'Reilly offers the presentations or podcasts for download after their events like Etech.
Update: Wrong again! IT Conversations has several podcasts from the last Etech conference. (thx tim)
Here's a sampling of the rest of the AIGA Design Conference, stuff that I haven't covered yet and didn't belong in a post of it's own:
Juan Enriquez gave what was probably my favorite talk about what's going on in the world of genetics right now. I've heard him give a variation of this talk before (at PopTech, I think). He started off talking about coding systems and how when they get more efficient (in the way that the Romance languages are more efficient than Chinese languages), the more powerful they become in human hands. Binary is very powerful because you can encode text, images, video, etc. using just two symbols, 1 and 0. Segue to DNA, a four symbol language to make living organisms...obviously quite powerful in human hands.
- Enriquez: All life is imperfectly transmitted code. That's what evolution is, and without the imperfections, there would be no life. The little differences over long periods of time are what's important.
- Enriquez again: The mosquito is a flying hypodermic needle. That's how it delivers malaria to humans. We could use that same capability for vaccinating cows against disease.
- Along with his list of 20 courses he didn't take in design school, Michael Bierut offered some advice to young designers:
1. Design is the easy part.
2. Learn from your clients, bosses, collaborators, and colleagues.
3. Content is king.
4. Read. Read. Read.
5. Think first, then design.
6. Never forget how lucky you are. Enjoy yourself.
Nicholas Negroponte: If programmers got paid to remove code from sofware instead of writing new code, software would be a whole lot better.
- Negroponte also shared a story about outfitting the kids in a school in Cambodia with laptops; the kids' first English word was "Google", and from what Negroponte said, that was followed closely by "Skype". He also said the children's parents loved the laptops because at night, it was the brightest light in the house.
- Christi recorded Milton Glaser's mother's spaghetti recipe. "Cook until basically all of the water is evaporated. Mix in bottle of ketchup; HEINZ ketchup."
- Ben Karlin and Paula Scher on the challenges of making America, The Book: Books are more daunting than doing TV because print allows for a much greater density of jokes. In trying to shoot the cover image, they found that bald eagles cannot be used live for marketing or advertising purposes. The solution? A golden eagle and Photoshop. And for a spread depicting all the Supreme Court Justices in the buff, they struggled -- even with the Web -- to find nude photos of older people until they found a Vermont nudist colony willing to send them photos because they were big fans of The Daily Show.
Bill Strickland blew the doors off the conference with his account of the work he's doing in "curing cancer" -- his term for revitalizing violent and crime-ridden neighborhoods -- in Pittsburgh. I can't do justice to his talk, so two short anecdotes. Strickland said he realized that "poor people never have a nice day" so when he built his buildings in these poor black neighbohoods, he put nice fountains out front so that people coming into the building know that they're entering a space where it's possible to have a good day. Another time, a bigwig of some sort was visiting the center and asked Strickland about the flowers he saw everywhere. Flowers in the hood? How'd these get here? Strickland told him "you don't need a task force or study group to buy flowers" and that he'd just got in his car, bought some flowers, brought them back, and set them around the place. His point in all this was creating a place where people feel less dissimilar to each other...black, white, rich, poor, everybody has a right to flowers and an education and to be treated with respect and to have a nice day. You start treating people like that, and surprise!, they thrive. Strickland's inner city programs have produced Fulbright Scholars, Pulitzer Prize winners, and tons of college graduates.
- I caught 30 minutes of David Peters' presentation of Typecast: The Art of the Typographic Film Title and realized I should have gotten there in time to see the whole thing. I could sit and watch cool movie titles all day long. Among the titles he showed were Bullit, Panic Room, Dr. Strangelove, Barbarella, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Superman. The title sequence for Napoleon Dynamite (which was discussed on Design Observer last year) was shown later in the main hall.
- At the closing party at the Museum of Science, we checked out the cool Mathematica exhibit that was designed by Charles and Ray Eames, two designers who were also pretty big science/math nerds.
- And some final thoughts from others at the conference. Peter Merholz says that "form-makers", which make up the vast majority of the AIGA audience, "are being passed by those who are attempting to use design to serve more strategic ends". (That's an interesting thought...) A pair of reviews from Speak Up: Bryony was a bit disappointed with the opening Design Gala but left, like everyone else, in love with emcee John Hockenberry while Armin noted that the preservation of digital files is a big concern for museums in building a collection of graphic design pieces...in 35 years, how are you going load that Quark file or run that Flash movie?
For more of what people are saying about the conference, check out IceRocket. There's a bunch of photos on Flickr as well.
I quite enjoyed Sagmeister's presentation on happiness...where else but a design conference would you find a talk on that topic? Early in, he suggested that visualizing happiness with design is easy (photos of someone laughing or a smiley face will do it) but that creating design that provokes happiness in the viewer is something else entirely. He then shared three designs that have made him happy recently:
Emma Gasson made a day-planner with room for 82 years, the current life expectancy of a British citizen. It looked to be about a foot thick.
- Omnivisu. Richard The and Willy Sengewald constructed a kiosk in Berlin with video cameras inside. When you look into the kiosk through the viewfinder (very much like peering into a pair of binoculars), the cameras record your eyes and beam the video to a nearby location where the images are projected onto a building which rather looks like it's got a head. When you blink into the kiosk, the building's head blinks also.
Ji Lee pastes empty speech bubbles over advertisements on the streets of Manhattan, people often fill them in, and Lee returns to photograph the results.
Sagmeister wrapped up his talk with a list of things he has learned and how he's used that list in a recent series of projects:
- "everything i do always comes back to me"
- "trying to look good limits my life"
- "everybody thinks they are right"
- "money does not make me happy"
- "thinking life will be better in the future is stupid. i have to live now"
- "complaining is silly. act or forget."
- "having guts always works out for me"
"Complaining is silly..." is my favorite, both as advice and his implementation of the design. A few of these are in this video shot by Hillman Curtis.
 Ok, maybe at a clown conference, but still.
At the beginning of the conference, sketchbooks were distributed to every attendee. We were urged to sketch our thoughts during the sessions & panels in our books and then tape the results onto the Sketch Wall in the Design Fair. As I was too busy typing into my virtual sketchbook (plus, I can't draw), I left the drawing to others, but I did head down to the Design Fair to see what other attendees had done. Here's a couple I found interesting:
In addition to the sketches, the wall was also being utilized more generally for graffiti, both written (with marker and paint) and created with the tape used to fasten the sketches to the wall. Here's a favorite bit of tape graffiti (tapeffiti?):
That would make a great tshirt.
Coming soon to the MoMa: Safe: Design Takes on Risk "presents more than 300 contemporary products and prototypes designed to protect body and mind from dangerous or stressful circumstances, respond to emergencies, ensure clarity of information, and provide a sense of comfort and security".
Update: Business Week has a preview of the exhibition as well as a slideshow of some of the objects in the exhibit.
As part of my ongoing series of thoughts about conference badge and program design (Poptech 2004, Web 2.0 2004, PopTech 2003), here's a quick review of the AIGA conference badges and programs. The badges are pretty good. Both first and last names are printed in large type for easy glancing and the schedule fits in the badge holder.
The badge lanyards are not the usual string/cloth, but a simple length of thin hollow plastic tube that's looped together with a small piece of plastic that fits inside the tube like so:
If the lanyard is too long (as they often are at these things) and your badge is hanging down to your belt buckle, just grab a scissors, cut a bit off one end of the tube, and stick it back together. The program is a small thick book which I've left in my hotel room the entire time, preferring to rely on the Web site for event descriptions and the smaller schedule that fits in the badge holder for times, room numbers, etc. The schedule is actually not a booklet, but a series of folding pieces, one for each day of the conference, so when Friday is over, you can take the Friday schedule out of your badge holder and leave it behind, which is kind of handy.
Some miscellaneous bits I haven't had a chance to post yet about the conference:
- Congressman Barney Frank didn't talk at all about "Design and Civic Leadership", but he did say he was in favor of limiting free speech in one small way: he would ban the use of metaphors in the discussion of public policy.
- Dj Spooky on the standarization (i.e. Gapization, Starbucksification, etc.) of American retail (paraphrased): If you think about it, the US is almost more totalitarian than the Soviet Union was; we buy our own uniforms.
Peter Merholz on the death of user experience: What people not call "user experience" used to be called "design" (by the Eames generation). The term "user experience" was necessary because "design" had become associated almost exclusively with the way something looked. The pretty, the aesthetic. Who did Peter blame? Professional organizations (including the AIGA) and designers themselves. Peter notes that design is making a comeback, particularly in the business press, something I noted in earlier in the week.
- From the Three Minds blog, a summary of a presentation by Murray Moss of 10 things that he likes right now. Well, not so much things as ideas or trends. Or commerce...all of the items he showed are on sale in his Soho store/gallery.
- More blog action from the conference: Peterme has some quick thoughts, David Panarelli has several posts from Friday (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and UnBeige tells us about Ellen Lupton, Dj Spooky, a David Carson sighting (I totally didn't know he was here...seeing his work for the first time made me want to be a designer, so I may have to accost him and gush a little), and then promptly goes off to nap. Nap!? That's allowed??
More tomorrow, already the last full day of the conference.
Something to look forward to: podcasts from the AIGA Design Conference. I've been told they'll be up in a week or two and that they will include many of the presentations as well as a lot of interviews with speakers. I'll point to them when they're available.
The Designing for User eXperience conference "[gathers] together researchers and practitioners of all the design disciplines and related fields to share their stories and experiences on how the needs and goals of both users and businesses are met through design". Looks like the blog has yet to get going.
Are you at the AIGA conference? Are you taking notes? Are those notes on a computer or posted to a blog? There are several sessions going on at a time now and I'm trying to get to as many as I can without, you know, going insane. If you've got notes (especially from sessions I didn't get to) and you don't mind sharing them, send them along and I'll put them up on the site. If you're blogging, send your links or post them in the comments below. Thanks!
ps. Did anyone go to the yoga at 6:30am this morning? What percentage of the participants were hung over? Was everyone in black?
UnBeige blogged the blog panel that I participated on with Michael Bierut, Jen Bekman, Armin Vit, and Steven Heller. More here and here.
Design for Democracy is utilizing the skillset of designers to improve the election process in America, including ballot redesigns and polling place signage.
In preparing for the conference, I read up on the last conference (held in Vancouver in 2003) on the Speak Up design blog: 1, 2, 3, 4.
As part of the conference within a conference for students, Michael Bierut listed 20 courses he did not take in design school (I think I got all of them):
Contemporary Performance Art
The Changing Global Financial Marketplace
Early Childhood Development
Economics of Commerical Aviation
Biography as History
Introduction to Horticulture
Sports Marketing in Modern Media
The 1960s: Culture and Conflict
20th Century American Theater
Philanthropy and Social Progress
Studies in Popular Culture
Building Systems Engineering
Geopolitics, Military Conflict, and the Cultural Divide
Political Science: Electoral Politics and the Crisis of Democracy
His point was that design is just one part of the job. In order to do great work, you need to know what your client does. How do you design for new moms if you don't know anything about raising children? Not very well, that's how. When I was a designer, my approach was to treat the client's knowledge of their business as my biggest asset...the more I could get them to tell me about what their product or service did and the people it served (and then talk to those people, etc.), the better it was for the finished product. Clients who didn't have time to talk, weren't genuinely engaged in their company's business, or who I couldn't get to open up usually didn't get my best work.
Bierut's other main point is, wow, look at all this cool stuff you get to learn about as a designer. If you're a curious person, you could do worse than to choose design as a profession.
I'm sitting in a huge room filled with ~2,000 people at the opening remarks of the AIGA Design Conference and there's no single other person on Bonjour (formerly Rendezvous) in iChat:
I may be the only person in the entire room with his laptop open. Instead, everyone is listening to the speakers. Like Jeff, I'm torn: is this lack of a back channel a good thing or does the presence of an online component of a conference make the experience more rewarding?
One of the pre-conference events was a talk at Fenway Park followed by a tour of the ballpark. Janet Marie Smith, VP of planning and development for the Sox, kicked things off with how the team (especially the new management) works really hard to preserve the essential character of Fenway while at the same time trying to upgrade the park (and keep it from getting torn down). She talked about the advertisements added to the Green Monster, which was actually not a purely commercial move but a throwback to a time when the Monster was actually covered with ads.
Lots of talk and awareness of experience design...the Red Sox folks in particular kept referring to the "experience" of the park. One of the speakers (can't recall who, might have been Jim Dow) talked about how other ballparks are becoming places where only people who can afford $100 tickets can go to the games and what that does to the team's fan base. With Fenway, they're trying to maintain a variety of ticket prices to keep the diversity level high...greater diversity makes for a better crowd and a better fan base and is quite appropriate for Boston (and New England in general), which has always been an area with vibrant blue collar and blue blood classes.
Janet also referred to the "accidental" design of the park. Like many other urban ballparks built in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, the placement of the streets constrained the design of Fenway and made it rather an odd shape....these days larger plots are selected where those types of restraints are removed. And over time, the game has changed, the needs of the fans have changed, and the fire codes have changed and the park has changed with the times. In the dead ball era, the walls of the stadium weren't for hitting home runs over; their sole function was to keep people on the street for catching the game for free, so the Fenway outfield ran over 500 feet in right field -- practically all the way to the street -- where there's now 30 rows of seats. Jim Holt observed that American butts have gotten bigger so bigger seats are called for. Fire codes helped that change along as well...wooden seats, bleachers, and overcrowding are no longer a large part of the Fenway experience (save for the wooden seats under the canopy).
The design talk continued on the tour of the park. Our guide detailed how ballparks are built around specific ballplayers. Yankee Stadium was the house that Ruth built but it was also seemingly (but not literally) built for him with a short trip for his home run balls to the right field wall. Boston added a bullpen to make the right field shorter for Ted Williams. Barry Bonds does very well at PacBell/SBC/WhateverItsCalledTheseDays Park. And more than that, the design of Fenway also dictated for a long time the type of team that they could field, which had some bearing on how they did generally. Players who played well in Fenway (i.e. could hit fly balls off of the Monster in left) often didn't do so well in other parks and the team's away record suffered accordingly.
In preparation for the AIGA design conference, I'm looking over the session descriptions and speaker list. The theme for this year is "Design", which seems a little broad but somehow appropriate given how much design has been taken up by the press (especially the business and tech press) recently as something Important and the design profession may be in need of a little wagon circling to figure out how to effectively explain design to someone who is all fired up about incorporating it into their business process because they read a blurb in Fast Company about Jonathan Ive and the iPod.
My knowledge of and involvement with the AIGA up to this point has been fairly minimal, which either makes me the ideal person (fresh eyes!) or a horrible choice (head up ass!) to cover their design conference. I'm particularly interested in learning how they've incorporated the fast-changing disciplines of Web and digital design into the mix. When I was working in Minneapolis as a Web designer in the late 90s, my company got me an AIGA membership, but I never used it because although they were trying to be more relevant to those of us working on the Web, my perception is that the AIGA was still largely a graphic design organization and I was finding more of what I was looking for on Web design sites like A List Apart. Now that the Web design profession has matured (and Web design practitioners along with it), it seems to fit better with where the AIGA is going (and vice versa). After all, design is design, no matter what word you stick in front of it.
So, back to the speakers list, I'm looking forward to hearing from Michael Bierut, Lella and Massimo Vignelli, Steven Heller, Matthew Carter, John Maeda, Peter Merholz and Jesse James Garrett from Adaptive Path, Ze Frank, Stefan Sagmeister, Steff Geissbuhler, Caterina Fake, and Milton Glaser (but no Malcolm Gladwell or Errol Morris, both of whom I swear were on earlier speaker lists), some of whom you may recognize from past mentions on kottke.org. They've also added some sessions in response to Hurricane Katrina on design, safety, risk, and disaster management, which is an excellent use of the opportunity of having a bunch of designers in the same place.
If you want to follow along with the complete conference coverage here on kottke.org, here's the AIGA 2005 page. As I mentioned previously, I'll be opening up comments on most posts (incl. this one), but will be active in gardening off-topic and trolling comments.
 I just realized all these URLs are going to break when the next conference rolls around in two years or so, which is disappointing. Would be nice to have something like http://designconference.aiga.org/2005 that would permanently point to this year's festivities. Bloggers like permanent links (well, this one does anyway).
From September 15-18, I will be attending the AIGA Design Conference in Boston. As an experiment (for both the AIGA and me), I will be covering the event at their request on kottke.org. I'll be covering the conference as a blogger, but the easiest way to think about it in terms of a conference is that I'm a speaker...a sort of roving speaker with the readers of kottke.org as the audience and my topic is the conference itself.
As usual, I have no solid plan as to how this is going to work exactly, but I'm looking forward to seeing how the conference goes and adapting accordingly. I'm hoping to provide a moving snapshot of the event so that readers of kottke.org can follow along fairly well without being at the conference. I'll probably have comments open on most posts so hopefully those reading along at home and those reading along at the conference can have some dialogue, with each little world spilling over into the other a bit.
One other quick thing...if you're going to be at the conference and plan to blog it, let me know...I'll definitely be linking to other people's stuff. I'm sure Design Observer and Speak Up will be covering things pretty well. I'll also be watching Flickr and del.icio.us for links and photos...I'd suggest tagging relevent entries with aigadc2005 for easy aggregation.
More next week as the conference draws near.
 Disclaimer: Kottke.org's budget for covering out-of-town conferences with costly entry fees is limited, so I'm exploring other ways of gaining access to be able to bring you some interesting content that you might not get otherwise. The AIGA is a curious organization and they're looking at various ways of using weblogs, so they asked me to come and blog the conference as an experiment. To make it economically feasible for me to be there, they are paying me a small speaker's honorarium and putting me up in a hotel.
In talking with the AIGA about this, they've made it exceedingly clear that I'm to consider myself independent and write whatever I want about the conference, which is pretty much what I intend to do. If I thought the hotel room and honorarium would be a problem w/r/t my objectivity in covering the event, I would have declined them both. The bottom line is that if money were no object (if the conference were free and took place entirely within walking distance of my apartment), I'd want to go and write about it anyway.
 Although I will also be appearing on a related panel about blogs, journalism, and design with Steve Heller, Michael Bierut, Armin Vit, and Jen Bekman.
Update: I've changed the first paragraph slightly, from "covering the conference as a blogger/journalist" to "covering the conference as a blogger", which under the circumstances is more accurate. I am not a journalist in this instance or any other.
Today's helpful feature: how to tell if you didn't get invited to the exclusive Foo Camp soiree. One method: see it referenced in a blog post and realize that it's in 4 days and there's no way your invite is still forthcoming.
Michael Hawley gave the Poptech audience a wonderful tour of Bhutan and the giant book that resulted from his journeys there. A couple of photos of the book at Poptech:
Turning the pages involved a short walk. If you'd like to own this baby, it's available for only $10,000 on Amazon.
One of my favorite talks at Poptech was Janice Benyus' presentation on biomimicry, or innovation inspired by nature:
Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf. [It] uses an ecological standard to judge the "rightness" of our innovations. After 3.8 billion years of evolution, nature has learned: What works. What is appropriate. What lasts. Biomimicry is a new way of viewing and valuing nature. It introduces an era based not on what we can extract from the natural world, but on what we can learn from it.
In the talk, Janine outlined 12 ways in which nature can inform the development of technology:
1. Self assembly
2. Chemistry in water
3. Solar transformations
4. The power of shape
5. Materials as systems
6. Natural selection as an innovation engine
7. Material recycling
8. Ecosystems that grow food
9. Energy savvy movement and transport
10. Resilience and healing
11. Sensing and responding
12. Life creates conditions conducive to life
Those are a little vague and I wish I'd written down more notes, but it was hard to type and really listen at the same time. To fill in the gaps, you can listen to the audio of her 30 minute presentation.
I'll write more in-depth about a few of the speakers here, but for now, here are some soundbites (my comments in brackets):
- Andrew Zolli: All societies have an image of the future. Those that have optimistic images have better outcomes than those with pessimistic images. [The US right now seems optimistic overall, but getting a bit more pessimistic. At PopTech this year and last, about 1/2 the speakers said during their talks something to the effect of "we're screwed".]
- Malcolm Gladwell talking about a chapter from Blink:
One of the many ways in which asking someone what they think isn't necessarily the best way to find out what they want: people move away from the more sophisticated idea and they go for the simpler choice because they don't have the necessary "vocabulary" to explain their real feelings. [You may prefer The Hours to Goldeneye, but when asked to justify that choice, you may find yourself favoring the Bond flick more than you would if you didn't have to justify it.]
- Frans de Waal studies primate behavior to gain insight into human behavior. One of his findings: aggression does not disperse, it brings primates together more often than normal. [Destruction is creative. Creativity is destructive. Or something.]
- Bruce Mau: Not all countries have embraced democracy, but most have embraced traffic (individual transportation). [There are many different ways in which openness can be introduced into a culture.]
- Thomas Barnett: China is 30% Marxist Communist, 70% The Sopranos.
- Phillip Longman: Secular societies that cannot reproduce will be replaced by fundamentalist countries where children are an economic asset and a gift from God. And in Brazil, television viewing time predicts birth rate...the more TV a woman watches, the less likely she is to have children.
You can always tell (well, I can always tell) I'm enjoying a conference when I'm not writing much about it at the time. I've got the computer open for taking notes, but that's about it...not doing a lot of connecting the dots with online research or anything and not trying to write any of it up yet. In lieu of actual content, here's some random stuff from the last day or so:
- The conference badges here are fantastic. The names are huge for easy glancing and the entire conference booklet (with schedules, author bios, etc) fits in the badge holder. It's got all the info that you need and it's still small enough that it doesn't weigh you down.
- There is a 2 square foot area in the park across the street from the conference that is the only area in a 30 mile radius in which my cell phone gets reception. Hi-tech conference, hell.
- Driving to the conference this morning, I noticed a car from New Hampshire in front of me. The state motto was emblazoned on the license plate: "live free or die". But the screws affixing the plate to the car were positioned in such a way that it actually read, "olive free or dio". Hmmm.
Some random notes from my three days at the Pop!Tech conference in Camden, Maine:
- The substrate of complexity is irrelevant, whether it's carbon or silicon. That is, a computer is a computer is a computer, be it a Powerbook or a human being. The level of complexity is the important part.
- Patent clerks spend an average of 4-6 hours per patent on a prior art search. Yikes.
- Lessig imagines an 18th century DMCA: the (D)aguerre (M)achine (C)ontrol (A)ct. I've seen Larry speak three times now; it's interesting to see how he's refined his argument.
- URLs cribbed from Golan's presentation: Danny Rozin's Wooden Mirror and Kelly Heaton's Furby wall.
- Audience member on the Jewish perspective on stem cell research: "A fetus is a fetus is a fetus until it becomes a lawyer."
- Cloning + embryonic stem cells is a powerful combination. Cloning takes "old cells" back in time, creating identical young cells. Embryonic stem cells can then be harvested from the cloned embryo and used to create new cells and organs for the original organism. Wild stuff.
- The Methuselah Mouse Prize is encouraging work on anti-aging, giving out prizes for the longest-lived lab mouse.
- Q from the audience about humans possessing indefinite life spans: "But doesn't this mean there won't be any children?" Answer from Aubrey de Grey in a most straight-forward tone: "Yes, it would mean a world without children." At that point, a chill went up my spine.
- A population pyramid for the US from the US Census Bureau's IDB Population Pyramid page.
- The shortest summary of the past 100 years I've ever heard: "the 20th century had its ups and downs." - Clay Shirky
- James Kunstler: "We are creating places we don't care about [living in]"
- Overheard about Virginia Postrel's talk on the Age of Aesthetics: "for someone who thinks aesthetics is so important, you'd think she would have used something better for her slides than Comic Sans on light purple." That and her increasing shrillness toward the end of her talk turned much of the audience off her argument I think.
- David Martin raised a question I've been preoccupied with for a couple of years now: "How much of the global economy is just an hallucination?"
- Geoffrey Ballard on the future: 12% of the population is currently ruining the planet. What happens when the other 88% get involved?
- Here are the goals that the 191 United Nations Member States have committed to meet in the next 12 years.
- An audience member asked space architect Constance Adams about sex is space (within the context of designing habitats for procreation), and she indicated that erections in space are difficult to achieve because in zero gravity, blood tends to collect in the head and feet.
- Robert Wright, author of the excellent Nonzero, is tall, handsome, witty, so very smart, and possesses impeccable timing. I think I am in love.
The badges at Pop!Tech were wee interactive computers called nTags. When engaged in conversation with someone, you could choose to send your contact information to that person, see what that person is interested in (based on your interests), get recommendations on people that they have met that you should meet, and generally augment (or hamper) networking.
Many attendees liked them and used them happily, but others revolted. Some people started trading their badges with others. Early on during the conference, Whit Diffie hacked his nTag badge to send a sleep command to any nTag badge in range, effectively deactivating them. As word spread of the hack, people sought him out to sleep their hated badges. Others were pissed that he was turning off their badges without permission; someone asked at the end of the conference if sending a sleep command constituted an attack (When Sleep Attacks!). Following Diffie's lead, a woman hacked her badge to send the sleep command and a disgrunted Pop!Tech goer tried to rip her badge from around her neck (When Liberal Nerds Attack!).
I didn't particularly like my nTag badge (it was too heavy for one), but I can't argue that it didn't result in some interesting social behavior, though perhaps not the behavior that the nTag folks promised in facilitating networking.
This is the second time I've listened to a talk about nanotech from someone representing the Foresight Institute (the first was Robert Drexler), and both times the talks were full of politics and not that interesting at all. They seem to have so much baggage attached their efforts that it's impossible for them to take a fresh look at it. Disappointing.
I'm at the Pop!Tech conference for the weekend in Camden, Maine. Maine is the 47th US state I've visited...hopefully I'll get to see a bit of it while I'm here. More to come if I feel like posting.