This weekend I spent Saturday at MinneBar, a technology and design un-conference. I've never been to one of these before and it was an interesting experience. It's a free conference where anyone can sign up to attend and present. Over 380 people signed up. I'm not sure that many actually attended, but the space was packed and got really hot. I went up to the roof a few times to cool off.
The conference started out with some opening remarks and a demo/talk by William Gurstelle, a writer and tech enthusiast. He was drawing comparisons between BarCamp and the "technology underground" which he writes about. He was also pushing his latest book, Whoosh Boom Splat.
The first session I went to was Does the world need more storage?. Since storage is my day job, I couldn't not attend this session. I've spent most of my career working with the shared file systems CXFS and GFS. It was good to see what else was going on in the industry.
Next I attended You can do that? Selling agile to the enterprise. I felt that the presentation was missing an overview of what agile development was all about. I got the sense that it was a most flexible and reactive method of developing software. I certainly want to read more about it.
For the last session before lunch I headed downstairs to Designing for Use. I've seen some really aweful interfaces since I joined Red Hat. We've started design discussions for some major internal infrastructure for the QE department. I was hoping to get some ideas on how to avoid another design disaster. Instead of a talk on the fundamentals of design it was more of a group theray session. I didn't get as much out of it as I was hoping to.
After lunch there were two slots for demos. I think the best one was for Crash Plan, a backup tool with an interesting twist. Instead of backing up to tape or CD, it lets you back up to other people who use Crash Plan. What happens is that you and your friends and family buy the software. Then you allow each other to backup each other's data. I think that's innovative.
After the demos was a special session, an interview with David Heinemeier Hansson from 37 signals and Ruby on Rails fame. Interviews with founders of open source projects are always good and this was no execption. It's great to hear how they and their projects got started. Hopefully the audio or video will be posted on the MinneBar web site.
A fellow TCZPUG member, Gary Berosik, co-presented the session Introduction to natural language processing. This was certainly the most technical presentation I went to. They didn't explain the math behind the techniques, but they did have the equations on their slides. One technique they highlighted, naive Bayes, is one that was once popular in spam fighting. I can see how it would work really well in categorizing non-hostile content. It also brought a different idea applying it to spam fighting. If you could train the network on the blog posts, it might make a good decision on comments for the post. I get a lot of spam comments that aren't at all related to the blog, let alone each post. Being able to toss them out automatically would be great.
The final session I attened, I actually organized. One of the organizers, Luke Francl, sent an email to the TCZPUG mailing list about doing a Web Frameworks Panel. After some thought I decided to do it. I volunteered to support Django. Jack Ungerleider volunteered to speak on behalf of Zope. I left an open invitation in the session description so other attendees could join the panel. We ended up with five including David Heinemeier Hansson. I was pretty nervious going into the panel as I was the only hobbyist on the panel and everyone else did web development professionally. I think I did okay. There were a bunch of times I wanted to answer a question from the audience but by the time someone else finished answering the question, the topic had headed somewhere else. Oh well. I'm still glad I did it.
Overall, I'm glad I went to MinneBar. Next time I won't bother taking a laptop with me. I should also try to present something Linux related. The un-conference was heavily dominated by web specific topics so I felt a little out-of-place. I also think the sessions felt really short. I would have loved another 10-20 minutes because the discussions could have easily gone that much longer and hit more important points.