Where could you find a Brad Pitt-lookalike and
a 6'6" tall (here's why
he's lucky) Latino guy who's into kinky women? Why, at mobileCampLondon
2007 last weekend, of course. Who says BarCamp isn't for girl geeks?
You'll have to view the presentation videos
to figure out who I might possibly have meant. I'll even offer a prize to the non-attendee who works it out by 23.59 on Sunday 21 October 2007 - attendees are disqualified, I'll pick duplicate winners out of a hat. Entries on a postcard (or SMS text!) please, or preferably via a comment on this blog entry...
But lest you think girl geeks are only interested in just one thing - the weekend wasn't just about hacking mobile apps, nope. The wide range of presentations included the open mobile comms platform OpenMoko
, mobile text to speech via Otodio
, social mobile networks, and even wearable technology where you can hug yourself to give a friend a hug (if you're both wearing "hug shirts" and carrying Bluetooth phones), and I got a few ideas about what Psion 5mx
replacement with usable keyboard I might get, or should avoid.
Overview of Barcamp
So, what was BarCamp
like? Barcamp involves the concept of "user-generated conferences
" run according to certain loose "rules". It was my first BarCamp ever, fun and fascinating but exhausting. I volunteered to wield my newish camcorder, bought especially for geek events - partly because I thought I'd be less likely to be caught in front of a camera if I was behind it, as I blog anonymously
, and partly because I was a scaredycat about presenting (see rule 8 of the rules of BarCamp
), plus again I thought presenters were more likely to get photographed or videoed.
As it turned out, no one went round saying "Aha! Newbie!" and forcing us to present at mousepoint (or even Powerpoint), so I needn't have worried on that score. Shame no one told me that people don't
in fact stalk around BarCamp tying newbies to a chair in the middle of circling laptops and prodding them with laser pointers to make 'em talk.
The venue was a huge concrete-floored room provided by Fjord
, in one of those tucked-away streets you'd never know existed till you had to find your way there, just off Carnaby Street in the heart of London. The room was huge in the floorspace rather than high-ceilinged sense, with a fun 3-walled bean bags area, but otherwise just partitions between different presenting and hacking spaces. Someone had come over all the way from Amsterdam to set up free wi-fi for the weekend.
The mobileCamp London event, organised by Victor Szilagyi
, was sponsored by:
and hosted by Fjord
The idea with BarCamp is that, having signed up in advance on the Barcamp wiki
, you turn up and sign in (and get your freebies from the sponsors!). There's a whiteboard with timeslots, and whoever wants to present just writes their topic and name against a slot (see pic above).
But hardly anyone had turned up at the scheduled registration time of 9 am except the poor volunteers who'd offered to help with registrations (hats off to Feren Calderwood and Nick Middleton!). The day was meant too kick off at 9.30 and I squeaked in at about 9.40 am, but in fact the first session didn't start till 10.30 am, no surprise there - sensibly no presenter had put their name down for any earlier slots. On day 2 I arrived at 10.30. I figured with free beer the previous evening I'd be one of the earlier ones. Amazingly, some had arrived for 10.
At the risk of making Tantek Çelik
tsk tsk or even tut-tut, I have to report that, as you can guess, they didn't stick strictly to the rules of BarCamp
- topics and names weren't written in presentation slots (a rule I really wish people had
stuck to, and more), intro lengths were totally variable and definitely more than 3 words long, and presentation lengths didn't stop when they ran into another slot - the other slots just got moved to start later.
Cafetière coffee and small bottles of water were available all day, and even scones, thanks to the host and volunteers. But though coffee is a major food group for geeks, it did make for some hyperness especially as the room got quite cold, so if you wanted a hot drink you had to have a coffee. One of the presentations incidentally included a slide showing pics of webs woven by spiders who'd been fed marijuana, LSD, caffeine etc
. Guess which webs were the worst? That's right - spiders on caffeine wove the most incoherent webs, they couldn't even manage more than a few random threads. Luckily, on the second day there was hot water and teabags, but I think my brain has only just about recovered from all that caffeine!
As a result of concentrating on videoing, I didn't get to chat with as many people as I'd have liked to, or (sob, wail, tearing of hair) play with as many prototypes - there was a 8GB Nokia N95
there, I heard. But still I managed to swap cards with some people, and even got a few LinkedIn
invites after the event, which has prompted me to make a note to send out a few myself too.
What about the girls?
I was chatting with Sarah Blow
(founder of the London Girl Geek Dinners
and related blog
), and we were both surprised and pleased that there were more geek girls there than we'd expected. But when "Ooooh, sooooooo many women!" means fewer than 10 out of the nearly 100 who signed up
, that's still very telling about the IT industry. And at least 4 or 5 of the women there were from Fjord, the host, or from sponsors or speakers like Orange Partner and Cute Circuit. Hmmm, maybe girl geek attendance wasn't that good after all.
At the 2nd anniversary Geek Girl dinner
(see also Maz's Girlygeekdom post and videos
), one issue discussed was how at tech conventions often men wouldn't talk to the women until they had proved their technology credentials. Ironically, this story from last weekend proves the point (names withheld to protect the guilty and innocent!). A geek girl was talking to a guy at MobileCamp about precisely this subject, i.e. the way that the guys at that event were totally ignoring the girls, when 2 guys sat down opposite her, right next to the man she was chatting with. She said "Hi" to them, but they totally blanked her. She had to prove herself to be worthy of their time before they would even say a word to her: they listened in to about 20 minutes of her conversation with the guy she was talking to, before saying anything to either of them.
It is very disappointing that in this day and age that kind of attitude towards women still exists in such abundance in the technology industry. May I point out the following women who made great advances in technology that fundamentally affected computing/communications - and I'm just naming one per century, there are more:
- 19th century - Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord Byron) - who documented Charles Babbage's analytical engine, widely thought of as the first computer, and added notes which Babbage himself acknowledged corrected his mistake, with a specification recognised by historians as being the first computer program
- 20th century - Hedy Lamarr - who co-invented a system of frequency hopping on which modern spread spectrum broadcast communications technologies are based, including wifi wireless networking and CDMA mobile telephony, and who was honoured by the EFF
- 21st century - Wang Xiaoyun (home page) - who, with her team (including Yiqun Lisa Yin, another female scientist) cracked the two hash functions most widely used: at the end of 2004 SHA-1, an algorithm invent by the US National Security Agency and described by New Scientist as "the gold standard security algorithm that underpins online transactions" - it's used in digital signatures and other internet encryption protocols such as SSL, SSH and also PGP - and before that, she broke MD5. While it will still take a lot of computing power and a lot of time for this attack to succeed in practice, the fact is that she cracked it, and the search for a more secure successor is on.
Who says women can't compute?
Anyway, back to mobileCamp, I will
say that the girl geek in that story wasn't me. But then if I really want to talk to someone I usually just go up and corner them where they can't get away, as I'm used to most people not coming up to talk to me - and that includes women, so I think it's more than just my gender which puts them off approaching me. Maybe it's the 666 tattooed on my forehead. Go figure.
Moving on, here's a different story, which might show how males and females approach tech quite differently - or might not! Being a keyboard fan
, my fave gadget is my Psion 5mx
for productivity and play on the move, and I'm still looking for my dream gadget
to replace it, oh arrrr, nothing can beat the good ol' gadgets we had in my
time, arrrr. I bugged the Nokia boys and others about why phone handset manufacturers don't build a phone with an "in between" form factor - bigger than the teeny-keyed Blackberry
or Nokia N95
(or even E90
- just a tad bigger than an E90, please!), but smaller and lighter than a UMPC
- i.e. exactly like the Psion 5mx, especially the patented sliding keyboard which you can touch type on, combined with mobile phone and updated with colour screen, wi fi, etc.
The guys all thought there w