Saturday, September 30, 2006

Barcamp, Day 1


Our party of three is the youngest at Barcamp by far, being the only undergrads in the conference. Ben, Becky, and I are sharing a small "team room" in Microsoft's headquarters for our sleeping bags tonight, and I labeled the door "Barcamp Junior Members." It's 9:30pm, I'm stuffed with Indian food, hapily tired from a day of talking to random strangers, and really need to go to sleep. Before I do, a recap of some highlights from the day.

Presentation: Creative Habits for Entrepreneurs
My three favorite tips from this session were
  1. Eliminate distractions; get up early. Basically, give yourself down time. I'm notoriously poor at this, especially the "waking up" part. Still trying to figure out how to make this happen, but this is more confirmation that I really should be getting up more than 10 minutes before class starts.
  2. Create an archive. An institutional memory is something I've been bad at ("oh, none of my stuff really counts yet, it's not good yet.") The perfect is the enemy of the good.
  3. Go halfway and then look back. It's a balance between action and reflection.
  4. You don't learn from victory. Painfully true. When you fail, it's important to know whether the failure was because of skill (or lack thereof), concept, judgment, nerve, repetition, or something else.
  5. Don't burn out. Not actually part of the presentation, but a question asked afterwards. General consensus was that scheduling breaks/gym-time/dinner with friends every day (or almost every day, giving you 1-2 days of intensive work) was a good thing.
Discussion - How to spread the meme
This was the one that Becky, Ben, and myself hosted. It was small and we didn't really know how to get the dynamics of the group discussion going, but I still learned a lot - we went around the circle talking about how we got interested in technology and how we would have introduced our kid-selves to it if we'd known what we know now.

The most common point made was that kids needed something to care about; make them do projects that they want to make, not abstract exercises. Have them shadow experienced people, see real problems, not just textbooks. Another oft-heard refrain was that the right tools were vital (BASIC, Logo, Lego NXT, something flexible, powerful, extensible, moddable, and simple-yet-impressive that works perfectly straight out of the box). Curiously enough, this was the first time I'd heard the argument that modern toys might be making kids more creative; we've got more powerful toys, so we can do more powerful things. I'm still in the "the less you give them, the more they'll do with it" camp, but it was refreshing to hear that different perspective.

Half-baked idea: Earth 2.0
A geek conference isn't a geek conference without the obligatory "make up a rocket pitch in 10 minutes" activity. Forced to choose our name from a list of words, my 5-person team pitched Earth 2.0, a branding service that offered oil companies the image of positive contribution to the environment. We'd provide free recycling for consumers, with recyclables redeemable for gas credits (each consumer would have to choose one oil company to get credits from, building brand loyalty). The oil companies would pay the gas credits, the recycling fees, and our overhead for marketing them as friends to the community and environment. Everyone wins.


We even had a full-fledged website prototype (man, but the folks at Barcamp move fast) and a catchy tagline: "Recycle. Refuel, Renew." That's me in the white shirt standing second from right during our pitch. Ultimately, a group that proposed sending celebrities into space won the coveted prize of five glorious laptop bags (which I might just buy one of, if I ever decide to spend money on a laptop bag).

Presentation - Time Management for System Administrators

Tom Limoncelli, author of the book with the same title as the presentation, gave a talk on time management for geeks. It was quite good, and he was awfully helpful answering questions afterwards - I've got to get a copy of the book and talk to him again tomorrow when I'm not completely addled from lack of sleep. As a completely unorganized student geek, I've searched long and hard for a student-specific version of a book like this. The conclusion is that no good student-specific ones yet exist. A good starter would be a white paper on the topic. I'm putting it on my list of articles to write (right after I finish my two tirades on the first-year and electrical engineering curriculums at Olin respectively, and another on lecture-free learning); if anyone's interested in contributing let me know.

Here are the things Tom suggested, and what I'm going to do about them.

  1. Mutual interruption shield - get a coworker to switch off with; you handle their calls in the morning so they can work uninterrupted, and vice versa in the afternoon. I wonder if I can do this with a teammate or suitemate. It's somewhat less relevant since I'm a student and no longer on-call. But the message is clear - I need to schedule some non-interruptable time to work during.
  2. Turn chaos into routine - getting into the right groove/habit is incredibly efficient and frees up mental and physical resources for other things. Especially good for repeating, forgettable, and tiny maintenance tasks; also useful for social life ("Thursdays are dancing nights with the gang"). Just because my schedule's quasi-regular doesn't mean it can't still be exciting.
  3. Record all requests - also known as a ticketing system.
  4. Use a tickler folder as a to-do list - have one to-do list for every day of the week. I might not actually do this one, but his points of the two extremes (One Massive List Of Doom that never gets completed vs Millions Of Tiny Lists that are forever getting lost and confused) being terrible things to do are quite well taken.
  5. Document procedures you hate - huh. I never thought of my love of documentation as being a technique for coping with a hatred of redundancy before. If you document a task, that means someone else can do it.
Other events
I'm leaving out tons of stuff here - the talk on "Osama Bin Laden's Strategies as applied to entrepreneurship" (which was really about the atmosphere and strategies of startups in America today) included such gems as the concept of religion being the first form of media (it's where you went to get all your news), debates on how VCs evaluate proposals (a shiny presentation of a bad concept can win over a poor presentation of a good one), the similarities between filmmaking and startups, and the rise of rapid prototyping devices and consequently user involvement and customization in rapid-fire creation as a startup strategy instead of long and careful planning.

Then the discussions over dinner on open-source licensing, volunteering for engineers, and CMS design for nonprofits. And the room filled with gaming consoles and people fragging each other while waiting for Indian food. And now I'm sitting around the sofa listening to people talk and seeing pictures that folks have already posted from today on flickr. The schedule from today is still up on the wall (it's all ad-hoc; you post a piece of paper with what you want to talk about when you want to hold a session), so I have no idea what's happening tomorrow.

This means it is time for me to go to bed and make up for getting a half-hour of sleep last night so I can safely drive us home tomorrow evening.

3 comments:

Ben Salinas said...

That sounds incredibly awesome! I want to hear more later.

Reid Beels said...

Hello, I came across a museum exhibit that seemed to fit with the theme of the Spreading the Meme presentation you gave at barcamp. I didn't get to actually go to that presentation, but the title/concept stuck with me.

Blogged here: http://reidab.com/2006/10/connections/

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