tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

BarCamp Brighton write-up

(Please excuse huge lateness, only two-and-a-half months after the event!)

Being one of the organisers, the run up to BarCamp Brighton was quite stressful - trying to make sure we'd covered all the potential problems before they came up, or had a plan for them. I'd dealt with a lot of the equipment needs and promotion, so most of my stuff was over by the time the weekend started. I got there, helped Glenn lump some chairs around, then went up to SCIP to pick up the projectors they were kind enough to lend us.

Glenn and the Madgex team did a fantastic job over the weekend. They'd cleared several of their offices for our use, and took care of the door, the badges and chunks of the food when it arrived. Matt, Andy and I could basically enjoy the weekend without having to do much more than help the sponsors out occasionally.

I was surprised how easily the day runs in some ways. Glenn lead the introductions and then sent everyone downstairs to fill out the schedule board, and they just did it, and then went to the first talks - easy! BarCamp makes for a very self-selected, self-organising group, so it should work, but it's great to see it actually happen.

As only a couple of people had agreed to do a first talk, I agreed to do mine - 'A Crashcourse in SEO' - in a first slot, and so did Richard Dallaway, which meant I missed his talk about Xserves.

I was still writing my slides as people were coming in to the room, but luckily only had a couple of points to add before I could get on with it. I rushed a bit as we were running late, but managed to get most of my points across. I needn't have rushed as everyone else was running a bit late as we'd started late.

Getting my talk out of the way meant I could relax some more. The talks I went to were:

Google Earth - the GEO browser by Brian Suda - showing what you can do with cheap GPS units and integrating them in to Google Earth.

OpenStreetMap Brighton by Mikel Maron - describing why OpenStreetMap exists and how they created a free map of Brighton using GPS, the community, and a good dollop of effort.

Web Biology 101 by Phil Blything - talking about how the behaviour of animals can be compared to the behaviour of groups of people as they use web applications and sites. I was completely zonked by the time I watched this talk so wasn't much help in the question and answer section at the end of the talk.

After a break it was in to Let's talk about SWX baby by Aral Balkan - SWX is a very easy way of Flash to get information from various popular APIs, such as Flickr and Twitter, in to Flash as a native object. He'd only just launched it and it looks very easy to use, and that's coming from a non-Flash developer.

Electronics from a Grease Monkey Perspective had (someone who's name I'll fill in shortly!) talking about hardware hacking - he'd built a set of timed glowing lights to help him focus at work. He took us through the various stages of development of the physical product, and talked about other options available for the interested but naive would-be hackers.

Next was Social Networking is Dead! by Ian Forrester - this started out as a talk about how Social Networks could be (much) better by using microformats and shared APML to profile your interests, but was mainly about Ian's 'adventures' with various dating sites. Ian runs the London BarCamp's and his experience with speaking was obvious, especially as he put up with large amounts of mickey taking from the audience.

Dinner arrived in the shape of 100 pizzas, provided by Pizza Express and sponsored by BT Osmosoft. Watching 100 pizzas being carried in is a great experience that I recommend to anyone - it's like a cartoon where more and more people come through a doorway holding armfuls of pizza and the stream never seems to end.

After dinner I went to Bootstrapping piertopier.net by Dave Phelan. Pier to Pier is a free wireless project in Brighton which is best known for providing wireless between the Palace and West Piers on Brighton beach. Dave covered the history of the project and some of the technical details of the kit that they use, and also a call for donations and sponsorship if anyone has some. This is a project I'd love to help out in some way so I really need to think about how I can help, especially if it's bringing some dosh in to help it keep going.

Proving how good Dave's technical ability is and how piertopier.net helps, he brought along some routers and added wireless to BarCamp Brighton for us. We'd sorted out a wired connection for everyone to use because wireless has been so unreliable at previous events this year. The piertopier nodes worked perfectly, which just goes to show: if you need wireless done properly, get someone who's passionate and knows his stuff, i.e. get yourself a Dave Phelan.

There was a couple of talks going on to finish the day, but I was knackered and went down to the kitchen to upload some photos, update the blog and generally try to get my brain straight. By the time I'd finished there was a table football tournament going on, and BarCamp perennial Werewolf was being played up in the main meeting room.

Forgoing the enticement of Werewolf, I stumbled home to a decent bed, and made my way back on Sunday morning, to a slowish start and...

Sales for Geeks, by Ian Oszvald, in which Ian talked us through how to cope with being a salesman if you're also a geek, and how he's used his successful freelance career to bootstrap his new tutorial website showmedo.com

Then it was in to Depression in the World of Geek by David Thompson. This was a very frank talk about living with depression and how it affects you, and how some aspects of being a programmer actually suit depressive personalities, and how other parts can help people with depression. I wasn't sure about going to this talk, but it was one of the best of the weekend, partly because it triggered a very interesting discussion in the group after the main talk.

Next, a double session - Ready, Steady, MVC! where Simon Willison, Jay Gooby, Mark Ng and Wayne Douglas showed off their favourite MVC framework by building a basic job board as quickly as possible. Shown off were Python with Django, Ruby on Rails, PHP and Symfony, and .Net respectively. There was a lot of programming talent in action, I think Jay and Ruby on Rails just got it as the quickest, but Simon and Django wasn't far behind.

After lunch was Liars need Apps too which was another Ian Forrester presentation (I think) and which actually became a more interesting talk and discussion about helping geek kids before they lose interest in being the next generation of programmers and hackers. Some good ideas came from this and I hope it actually turns in to something.

Finally I managed to blunder in to What's a wireframe - and how to avoid it! by Tom Coady, which was partly about wireframes, and partly a demonstration of Rapidweaver (co-incidentally developed by one of our food sponsors, Real Mac Software.) Unfortunately I had to leave party way through the talk (having disturbed it at the start) to sort out the projectors so they could be picked up.

And suddenly, that was it! The talks were over and Glenn was making the closing speech. After clean up, which was greatly helped by the attendees, and Mat appearing from SCIP to pick up their equipment and some of the hubs one of the sponsors was donating to them (I swear Mat was a pack horse in a previous life, there's no way one man can carry so much stuff), it was off to the 'Madgex Arms' - the Victory Inn, for a post-BarCamp pint.

I can't believe how well it all went, and it inspired me to get on with sorting out Hack Day for the digital festival. Getting active members of the new media community together and great things happen, pretty much naturally.

A quick final thank you to Alex for helping me back up the hill with some of the equipment!

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