Vancouver Day 3: Northern Voice Conference

We awoke Saturday morning to sleet. But believe me, after Friday, I would have taken bad weather over Moosecamp anytime. And fortunately, the actual conference was better organized and more interesting than the previous day.

Anil Dash of Six-Apart opened the day as the keynote. Although a very good speaker, to be honest, I can’t remember anything really concrete or profound to share. Except possibly his comments on how carbon copying someone on an e-mail is really a backhanded insult.

After that, Megan and I spent the better part of, no, scratch that, the entire day in the windowless Room 1003. And because anyone has the option of listening to the sessions on Podcast Spot (the reason why we were there to begin with), I won’t bore with many details about the AM presentations, except to say that I was disappointed that there wasn’t more content directed at secondary or elementary school teaching. The education-oriented lectures focused on academia and post-secondary applications of social software and wikis, and even after squinting, I found transferable applications difficult to find.

Dickson preparing to record

Mack playing Hexic on the big screen

Following lunch (at wet & wild McDonald’s!), we were treated to the southern twang of an Owen-Wilson-esque former lawyer in a session entitled “Legal Rights and Liabilities for Bloggers.” Of note was the fact that U.S. law protects those who choose to write defamatory comments on others’ (or one’s own) blog. Also, due to repetition, I now have the phrase “You have the right to blog, but no right to a job” permanently etched in my brain. Funny, with the number of times the speaker had to repeat the fact that he “didn’t know Canadian law,” it made you wonder why the organizers didn’t, you know, host a Canadian speaker instead.

The “Social Web for Karmic Good” session was a write off (I still can’t tell you what was presented in that hour I will never get back), but the last discussion in the afternoon on “Love and Dating Online” was great. Among the panel of speakers was the CEO of plentyoffish.com and a woman who recently married a man she met online. I was very impressed by the moderator who was well prepared with a list of talking points, but more than that, kept the dialogue positive and lighthearted. Topics included how to define “dating” (e.g. a “monogamous correspondence” haha), rules of meeting someone, profile writing, and trends (apparently, there will be a movement in the next six months towards free services because it’s much too tough to maintain paid-only sites). Essentially, it’s not like You’ve Got Mail, and your soul mate probably won’t be a Manhattan millionaire.

Panel (Markus Frind, Ponzi Indharasophang, Leah Szabo, Rebecca Holt)

Megan and I at the end of Day 2

As Darren, one of the organizers, mentioned in his closing interview, the day did feel kind of long. But at the end of it, though much of the tech information was over my head, I don’t regret coming to Northern Voice. It was definitely a new experience, and not a wholly negative one; I learned many new things, and subsequently would like to believe that I can now hold my own in a cocktail party conversation about certain technologies (“What do you think about wikis?”).

We headed back to the Village for dinner that night, settling on Vera’s Burger Shack. The prices were reasonable at this cute and cozy eatery, but we were unpleasantly surprised with the quality of the food, particularly because their burgers had been voted one of the best in the city by readers of a popular weekly. The menu insisted the patties were made “fresh” and with “full fat,” but for some reason, were ultimately tasteless, as the ground beef obviously hadn’t been flavored with marinades or spices of any kind. On the bright side, the fries hit the comfort food spot just right.

Restaurant interior

Menu

My Vera Burger with Cheddar

Mack & Dickson’s Power Burger

Dickson digging in

On to Sunday, where I got to exchange my work hat for a tourist’s cap.

Vancouver Day 2: Northern Voice Moosecamp

Early Friday morning, the four of us walked to the nearby Forest Sciences Centre for the “unconference” portion of Northern Voice called “Moosecamp.”

The facility is new, and as with all things sparkly, becomes an object of envy to those who know what it’s like with the Silverfish in CAB or the bunkers in the basement of Tory Lecture. The atrium in particular was breathtaking. Still, with the number of skylights in the common area, I was hoping for windows in the actual classrooms where the sessions took place.

Forest Sciences Centre atrium

The best thing about UBC – Starbucks right on campus!

Moosecamp by nature is ad hoc – topics are driven by attendee interest as garnered from the wiki on the website. When we arrived that day, organizers were putting the finishing touches on the day’s schedule. Although each presenter was given 30 seconds to pitch their session to the group, it was barely audible above the rustle and bustle of opening day excitement. So without a laptop, I had to select sessions blindly, as the descriptions were available only on the wiki, and some with limited detail. Perhaps I’m more traditional that way, but it was too last minute and chaotic for my taste.

Moosecamp schedule

At times, I felt like part of a cattle herd (or a moose herd?). The schedule only had one scheduled break besides the brief 45 minute lunch period, making it virtually impossible to digest the information discussed, get a coffee, or congregate. It made the day drag, and without a constant supply of caffeine, really uncomfortable.

At times, I did feel out of place. Nothing was deliberately exclusive (besides my inability to get online), but between acronym city, a fluency in the proliferation of Web 2.0 companies and services, code, and the incestuous network of attendees and presenters, it was a little overwhelming to say the least.

There were a few bright spots in the day, including two sessions I sat in on in the morning. The first was easily the most accessible to me, and focused on social media’s effects on cultural diaspora. The majority of the time was taken up by personal stories of roots, ethnic identities, community belonging, and increased engagement due to social networking. It reminded me of my English 363 class with this discourse on post-modern lines of thought regarding the fluid nature of identity.

Looking engaged (photo by Kris Krug)

The second session pulled some themes from the previous one, but instead of cultural groups, centred on online communities, in particular, how “communities” are defined (e.g. is active participation necessary? Consensus? Discussion?). Dickson didn’t enjoy this as much as I did, and though I agree that the topic was never fully dissected, and mainly talked around, I still marveled at the fact that everyone was so willing to contribute their thoughts on the matter. And really, the keyword record on the blackboard was pretty cool:


An observation from Moosecamp: multitasking, or multidistracting, which is rude in any other context is not only accepted, but encouraged. People were simultaneously blogging, e-mailing, IM-ing, uploading, and performing other computer-related activities during the presentation. Not doing so, or engaging only in active listening seems to become a sign of disrespect in some way.

By the end of the day, after yes, a session called “Mac Programming for Mortals,” and a “Geowalk” hour minus the “walking” part, I was ready to ship out. Megan felt the pain as well.

Not impressed

Thankfully, it was time for food. The Village (about a 5 minute walk from Triumf), had several non-chain restaurants we ended up sampling over the next few days. A Chinese eatery, University Village Restaurant (5778 University Boulevard), was the first.

We ordered the combination dinner for 3-4, and as you’ll see below, involved quite a bit of food. The meal was nothing exceptional, but because the pictures turned out well, that alone makes them worth posting:

BBQ Pork Fried Rice

Beef Chop Suey

Pineapple Sweet & Sour Pork
Almond Chicken

“Look Mom, I can use chopsticks!”

Next up: Northern Voice proper.