With the advent of great video and audio recording of many conferences, is attending the ‘big conferences’ really an issue anymore?

I’ve been to some truly huge conferences MacWorld Expo (3,000) , Cisco Networkers (5,000) , and National Education Computing Conference (>10,000). There are some truly spectacular aspects of big conferences to be sure. I met Chuck Yeager at the Cisco conference where he was the Day 3 Keynote. I stood beside (actually got bumped out of the way) by Steve Jobs and John Mayer working the booth at MacWorld, and got Steve Wozniak to sign my Newton at a NCCE conference. Those types of names don’t show up for a couple hundred people.

Or do they ….

Northern Voice in Vancouver has drawn some pretty big names Anil Dash and Matt Mullenwag to a crowd of about 350. Those were the keynotes, attendees included social mavens like Robert Scoble and Chris Pirillo.

But more important than the names on the Keynote is the quality of the interaction. I can’t think of a conference worth attending where people haven’t raved about the lunch conversation and the debates over a beer.

In contrast, my worse conference experience was probably Networkers in Las Vegas. About a sterile experience as you can imagine. The content is great, don’t get me wrong, but I could have got as much from a video stream as I got from the cost and time of a 4 day trip. I wouldn’t trade any of my Northern Voice trips for a Networkers (well maybe the on where Chuck Yeager signed my logbook).

Well it was another weekend conference, coming on the heals of Northern Voice in Vancouver last weekend (moved because of Olympics) I had a back to back with WordCamp Victoria. My brain is still trying to process all the great stuff I’ve heard over the last two weeks.

My first ‘big’ thought is on session selection at conferences. Researching presenters before you go to a conference really helps reduce disappointment. Read these folks blogs, follow them on twitter, look at their writing elsewhere.Presenters I know from other events like Nancy White(Full Circle) and Dave Olson (UncleWeed) at Northern Voice or Tris Hussey (A View from the Isle) and Mike Vardy (The Mike Vardy) at WordCamp are examples of folks I will always put on my schedule. But you need to start finding new people an new voices. Cathie Walker’s session at WordCamp was a good example. I’ve been following Cathie on Twitter for a while and that made putting her session on my schedule was also I no-brainer and I wasn’t disappointed.

My second ‘big’ thought is “small is awesome”. Northern Voice got a little bigger and I felt less engaged in it than I had in previous years. WordCamp Victoria is still growing but can handle getting a lot bigger before I’d worry about it being too big. I think conferences that really engage have to be in the Dunbar Number range or at least your stream of the connference shouldn’t get much over 100 people. You can have big conferences with awesome keynotes but if you want to have a sharing and supportive breakout environment you need to form relationships and trust – and if people don’t already know each other – you may need to do that very quickly.

That is why local Victoria events like WordCamp really can compete with anything. If you can be the smaller conference but still draw the good speakers then your Golden. Anything bigger I’ll catch on TED talks or the Conversations Network.

I’ve had a couple post about trying to sort out online service and what is worth paying attention to. I was happy to sit in on part of Alexandra Samuel‘s session at Northern Voice. In discussing, Coping with Social Media Alexandra hit some of the same things I had been struggling with.

There is just so many ways to contribute, participate and listen over social technology that you really have to pick your spots and, if you really want to drink from the fire hose, have a process in place to handle what will flow back in your direction.

Between the home centred pattern of Amusing Ourselves to Death and the work based Myth of Multitasking there is a real danger of technology reversing all the ‘productivity’ gains that we have supposedly reaped over the last decade. You could almost say that technology is eating its’ own (Long) tail.

From a personal point of view you really need to decide what it important and dump the rest. I’ve been fingered for missing important messages because they got piled under hundreds of lesser bits of noise. With a little technology, I’ve managed to get my inbox and RSS feeds down to a manageable, double-digit, daily traffic count.

The other key has been to get the tools align with a purpose. As a presenter, I’ve always tried to put my focus on who the audience is. What I haven’t done until recently is have my technology set up to provide information for the different situations when I prepared to receive content. That includes setting up different email accounts and use a small (but >1) set of tools for each type of content such as RSS, twitter, and Facebook.

In the end, it is a matter of all things in moderation. I’ve cut my social networks in half this year. Sometimes more isn’t better, it’s just more.

Social Network DTM* list

  • Yelp
  • Friendfeed
  • BrightKite
  • Ning
  • Yammer
  • Google Buzz (kinda dead on arrival actually)
  • Google Wave
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Lastfm

*- Dead to Me

Two of the best sessions at Northern Voice were all about the graphical.Now drawing is cool, but I can’t draw. A good gentleman, Scott Leslie, kept the MooseCamp tradition alive with a series of sessions on Friday. The first was Rob Cottingham’s take on Webcomics. That wasn’t a natural fit for me because:

Did I mention, I can’t draw

But Rob really did a nice review of the range of online graphic ‘blogs’ that realy made me think. We are so hung up with words that frequently we don’t give the graphic arts the credibility that it deserves. As an example here’s Rob’s ‘notes’ from the Rachel Smith session

Rob Cottingham

And then, in a nice bit of Symmetry, Rachel shares her own graphic notes from the Friday Keynote: Ninmah Meets World blog>

Rachel Smith's notes from Friday Keynote

I also attended two sessions by my perennial favourite Nancy White. These are always the most engaging sessions I get at the conference. In both sessions Nancy made you do stuff. This is not class participation, I mean you are going to do something. The best was the second on making the invisible – visible. I really liked the quote – if CO2 was dark red and hung in the air – we’d have it cured by now.

We were sent out on a drawing/video/picture exercise about something else at the conference or surroundings. I sat in an another session and attempted to grasp the presentation there in a graphic form.

Field trip from Nancy session

And that is even for people like me that can’t draw.

Conferences always ask for feedback and the recent North Voice had a post conference Evaluation. In the middle of filling mine out I figured ‘why not share this’, I would hope other attendees would as well.

What was your favourite session and why?
David Ng Science session and Rob Cottingham Webcomics were both at the top of my list.

What session disappointed you and why?
Location mobile apps was a little too one sided and didn’t really have a message beyond this is cool – and the assumption that most/all attendees use Gowalla or 4Square. I want N.Voice to provide reality check on new media tools that include pros and cons.

In terms of session content, what kinds of sessions were the conference missing?
I seemed the local ‘startup’ community wasn’t as prominent at this conference as it has been in previous years. That may be an industry trend but Now Public, Flock, Sxipper, and dozens of others have either presented or been floating around the building.

What was your favourite thing or things about the conference?
The People: The keynotes that draw big names (Dash, Mullenwag, now Messina) are always a reason to go. For me this has become a community that I only get to see once a year. When I pick sessions, I research the presenter and go by their work rather than the session title or description. For example, I will always attend a Nancy White regardless of what it was about.

What disappointed you most about the conference?
Other than the Moosecamp track on Friday most sessions were fixed presentations with very little interaction/discussion. If the Conference is going to be bigger we need to increase the number of concurrent sessions. Many of the smaller rooms were horribly oversubscribed. A couple of big theatre sessions (LCS 2/3) are good but there should be enough smaller sessions to break up the attendees into manageable sizes.

Any other comments, suggestions or feedback?
How about a way to email or blog my conference evalutation when I hit the submit button on this form.

So I ran my iPhone through the wash yesterday night. Not intentionally you understand, but as a consequence of just being a little stupid. But it is still running this morning, slightly worse for wear thanks to a sandwich bag and a couple of scoops of rice – and a little science geekery.

I heard with a weird clunk, a noise as my washer finished up late last night. Then it hit me, the thunk was likely my iPhone left in the cargo pocket of my walking shorts. Oh no. A rumble through the laundry confirms the evil truth.

So my science teacher brain goes to what my options might be. Normally that moisture sucking gel that they pack with electronics would be the best choice, but not being an electronics supply store – that really wasn’t an option. The alternatives run through my mind and I settle on dry rice and a Ziplock bag. (Apparently this choice wasn’t unique) I pack the iPhone in and hope for the best. It recovered slightly in about an hour but I left it over night. The LCD is still a little rough, either from the water or the thumping in the washer. However it is working and functional enough that a replacement isn’t immediately required.

Science to the rescue – and it made me miss being a science teacher.

It wasn’t the only time in the last couple days that I wanted to jump back into a classroom. I attended Northern Voice this weekend as well. That will be the topic of a number of posts here – it is a blogging conference after all. On friday, David Ng’s session on science education which included the Phylomon Project. It is amazing that kids can keep track of thousands of animated characters, know the rules to complicated games – online and otherwise, and have the manual dexterity to run through the toughest first person shooters. Compared to most Flash-based maze games, the periodic table is a walk in the park. It all comes down to context.

School Science still hasn’t found a context that is compelling to kids on a regular basis. We still teach science as history in many cases rather than the practical reality of the world around us. Dave had a great quote that “Science is the closest approximation we have of the truth”. If that isn’t compelling I don’t know what is. Not to mention it helps you fix your wet iPhone.

Thanks David, you make me want to teach Science again:

David Ng is a geneticist, science educator, wannabe writer, and faculty based at the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia. You can find out more about his academic dabblings at http://bioteach.ubc.ca You can follow his twitter @dnghub

UPDATE: read David’s Comments on Northern Voice – Here (05/11)

Harold Jarche nailed a great point in his article on Learning Management Systems (LMS).

Learning is no longer what you do before you go to work, never having to learn anything else in order to do your job. In the 21st century networked economy, learning and working are becoming one.

via Harold Jarche » LMS is no longer the centre of the universe.

If I’m going to build my experience and skills, why would I want to tie that up in someone else’s system. I spent some time last night archiving old content on my Drobo. I have all these snippets of content that I’ve created over the years that I need to sort and maybe even save. [Note: the addition of Hazel has really helped this – more on that later]

I recently dropped some social networks and I’m on the verge of dropping Facebook. I don’t like the idea of pouring inside someone else’s bucket. I think the real line is desire to be considered a professional. Being a professional means owning your knowledge and the tools that go with it. Whether it is a work or education system, I can’t see leaving my career and personal goals to other people or their software.

Given my background in Physics, its safe to say I have fascination with Albert Einstein. Frankly I feel he was more a comtributor to scientific thought than he was to Physics in particular. In reading his work, the science is compelling to be sure, but you get this sense of insight that is awe-inspring.

I’ve had this post in my ‘to read’ file for a while. I’ve gone back to it several times to re-read it. Again the 10 points he makes there is very powerful. These are the onesthat speak the most to me.

  • Follow Your Curiosity
  • Perseverance is Priceless
  • The Imagination is Powerful
  • Make Mistakes

via 10 Amazing Life Lessons You Can Learn From Albert Einstein – by Dumb Little Man.

Spent a lot of time recently considering my professional development, including career changes and skill improvements. What keeps coming back to me is the inability to extend my knowledge on a daily basis. Don’t want to go back to Grad School for some deep thinking, but need to find those mental streches.

One of the big problems with the online world is the lack of apparent borders in a world that has many real borders. Being next to the USA makes understanding the differences in Canada even tougher.

I worked in Education for 15 years and the number of times I ran into US assumptions on things like Canadian copyright. For example, the US has a concept of ‘Fair Use’ that doesn’t exist in Canada. Whether for education or other purposes there is no amount of a book or publication you are allowed to use without payment or permission.

This became such an issue that the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) formed a consortium to pay license fees to cover schools use of copyrighted materials. They have advocated for a ‘Fair Use’ provision in Canadian Copyright.

Another major difference between Canada and the US is the ownership of ‘public’ data. In the US, the Constitution created a government ‘of the people’ so by definition the people ‘own’ the data produced by government agencies. Canada (and most other Commonwealth nations) the government is a extension of the Crown. All contracts signed by the BC Government are “Her Majesty the Queen, in the Right of the Province of British Columbia” and the results of any work are subject to Crown Copyright.

This makes is extremely difficult to us the material produced by Canadian Governments without seeking explicit permission. That hasn’t been much of an issue but the advent of online tools that can mashup data as made the need to access and reuse data increasingly important.

On the access side, data.gov in the US has been a major initative to provide ready access to government content. In Canada, a new site datadotgc.ca attempts to do the same for Canada. And the project is asking for help with datadotgc.ca. Props to David Eaves for his great work on this topic. David will be hosting a panel at the upcoming Northern Voice conference that I’m really looking forward to.

We’re still left with the issue of permission to use, but hopefully the current sources will start to provide permissive licensing until a more broad standard can be set for all government data. Statistics Canada provides a good example of permissive licensing.

We still run into a regular problem with the online world, just because material is freely available – doesn’t mean its free to use.

This is part IV in my little story arc on re-organizing my technology use. As stated in my first installment:

I’ve been looking at what I have and how I’ve been using it and it was time for a little Personal Technology Tune-up. I went on a little Data diet – sort of.

So you have all these places that information comes from, so the next question is where does it go?

As I mentioned in the opening of this series, that expecting to use a single tool in multiple situations is a little silly. After trying several ways to do things I ended up with 5 tools that collect information from all my online sources.

The longest running tool I’ve been using is Delicious for bookmarks. In addition to being a way of publicly marking useful sources, it has good support through many browsers. I still use it regularly but it tends to be my web archive rather than something I refer to in my workflow.

Screen shot of delicious bookmarks

Instapaper is my new workflow bookmarking tool. This is a little different because it actually caches the content of pages for you. This is especially useful in mobile access. I can collect up some pages and view it on my iPhone whether I’m connected or not. Again it is supported well with a bookmarklet in all my browsers and quick links in my feed readers. The idea here is if there is something worth reviewing I can send it to Instapaper which then becomes my ‘to do’ list of web content.

Instapaper - read later content

Where Instapaper really works well is during the distracting moments in web surfing. When you are searching with a specific purpose and find some content that is compelling frequently you get pulled off your main task. With Instapaper I can grab that content and know that I will get back to it when I review my Instapaper list.

So while Delicious is an archive, Instapaper is a transient ‘to-do’ list of items for review.

With other content I have a similar breakdown, one archive, one more transient source. For the grab and archive tool Evernote has worked well for me. Like Instapaper it works on my computer and iPhone and it can collect just about anything text, images, audio, and webpages.

Evernote Screen shot

Notational Velocity / SimpleNote

Notational Velocity Mac Application Screenshot