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ConConUK

OK, my main post about ConConUK. By the time I regain bandwidth and post this, others will have covered far more in more detail, so I’ll just add some personal notes and observations.

General impressions

  • It’s easy to forget quite how invigorating/knackering congregations of clever people can be. Sure, I work with such people, but it’s slightly different in one’s day job. At least, one’s brain spins rather less.
  • The corollary, of course, is the faintly patronising assumption people make that only ‘their’ group produces such gatherings. Bunk. I was amazed, for example, that nobody I asked had ever been to the British Association meetings. I know they’ve shrunk of late, and the last one I attended (three years ago?) wasn’t remotely as mind-blowing as, say, Sheffield in 1989, but still… a different set of geeks. Interesting.

Digital Democracy – Ra! Ra! Ra!

  • I’ve posted about YourParty here before, and I was aware of the whole MySociety thing, so you might expect me to be interested in digital democracy ‘stuff’. You’d be right, but for some reason it surprised the heck out of me. Sure, that portion of the proceedings featured hugely amusing/incisive summaries, but there’s more to it than that.
  • The analysis of the lack of analysis of the Dean campaign failure was brief but made me sit up; odd details of some of the current UK projects had me nodding in approval. I’d have gaped in slack-jawed wonder, only that makes me look foolish. I think I’m most impressed that the UK folks are picking simple projects with clear utility that make a genuine difference, rather than gunning for big headlines with meaningless fluff. FaxYourMP is a terrific service – the sort of thing that plain should exist. There’s clearly a whole heap of stuff coming along of similar efficiency, and I heartily commend the people who are spotting the gaps, and filling them.
  • All the democracy stuff reminded me of peoples’ approach to the net environmental movement five years ago. I think the BBC actually ran a story titled ‘Will the internet save the environment?’ – I certainly heard that question asked at the BA more than once. The answer, of course, is ‘Durr… no. But people might.’ It’s arguably too late for the environment, but at least the democracy folks appear to be avoiding the same error/sloppiness. In the UK, anyway.

Not hi-, not low-, but just-the-right-tech

  • Email in Cambodia – and if this story checks out, it’ll be in series 15 of How2 – is apparently delivered by motorbike. With a PC and WiFi on board it simply drives past a string of post offices, doing a bi-directional sync as it passes. Simple, elegant, probably very effective, if rather high latency. Two aspects amuse me in particular: firstly, this is somebody taking the phrase ‘never underestimate the bandwidth of a lorryload of tapes’ commendably literally; secondly, I like the idea that to increase bandwidth, you simply slow the bike down a bit so it has longer to sync.
  • Lovely observations of technology use in India where, as the speaker pointed out, you don’t need a 3G mobile with push blah and geowarchalked WAP whatever to find out where the nearest photocopier is – you simply ask somebody. Makes one wonder what proportion of Western technology is dedicated to solving problems that can more readily be solved by talking to people.
  • Speaking of which – Tom Steinberg, ‘I employed the killer research technology of the 21st Century – a British accent on the telephone.’

Lucky Dip

  • OK, so Tom Coates convinced me that I have to read up about ‘FluidTime.’ I don’t know what the heck it is, but it sounds like the sort of way I work anyway.
  • Dave Green should take his snackspot.org rant to the Edinburgh Fringe. I’m very serious about this.
  • That was fun, let’s do it again.

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