Archive for July, 2009

BARcamp wrap-up

This past weekend I went to BARcamp Chicago.  This was my first un-conference and I have to say, it was a blast!  The venue was the UIC Innovation Center (think 90’s era tech start up office space complete with bean bag chairs and white boards).  On Saturday the place was packed with nerds ready to get their learn on (and their drink on, too).  There was a whole room devoted to talks on Android, where the Android code-sprint was eventually housed (which I would have loved to be able to participate in).  I went to two Android talks, one on intents and services, and one on persistence.  Both were quite informative and well given presentations.  There were a good many startup related talks, some of which looked interesting but none of which I attended.  The guys from PS:1 brought a couple of their modded Power Wheels and tore up the place driving circuits around the main floor.  Some of the best time on Saturday was just drinking beer with fellow nerds and bullshitting in between (and through) the talks.  My only complaint on Saturday was the lack of food.  Apparently it is easier to get sponsors to give beer than it is to give food, because while there was a steady supply of beer (I think the final tally was 8 cases and a keg on Saturday alone) there was nothing but pretzels and chips until around 5.  At 5 they ordered pizza, which disappeared almost before it hit the table.  I had to leave shortly after, but it sounds like it turned into quite the party after the sun went down.

Sunday was a more laid back affair.  I got there late, expecting it to go later in the day, but by the time I arrived, there was only one more talk and most people had already cleared out.  That was kind of a disappointment, but the talk I saw sure wasn’t.  Pek Pangpaet (blog) from Roundarch gave a great talk/demonstration on Rich Internet Interfaces Beyond the Keyboard and Mouse.  It was quite fascinating.  He went through a nice little history of computer interfaces (CLI, WIMP) and then touched on some of the different areas of current research (augmented reality, touch computing, my kinda stuff).  Then he started showing us some of the projects he was working on with new interfaces (all written in Flash).  He had some using the wiimote and the wii balance board, and some pretty nifty ones using a camera.  Two demos stick out in my mind.  In one, he used the balance board to control a race car, which just looked like absolute fun.  The other was a 3D desktop.  Some parts of it were basic desktop flash that compiz has already done and that even Microsoft is picking up on (like multiple desktops and flashy 3D alt-tab animations), but there were a couple of really interesting bits.  First off, he had one main desktop area, and the side desktops were being used more like reminder areas where he could stick post-its.  With a button click (or mouse wheel scroll, I couldn’t really tell) he could zoom out and see the reminders on the ‘side’ desktops.  Pretty neat.  Especially when he clicked a checkbox and started controlling the zooming/panning with his head movements.  Lean your head to the side like you’re trying to see  more in a certain direction and the camera tracks your head movement and tilts/pans the desktop accordingly.  Very cool!  I talked to him afterwards and he was incredibly friendly.  And his talk inspired an idea for a new project!  More on that in another post.

All in all, BARcamp was a great time and I’d like to thank all the organizers, speakers and sponsors for helping put together one damn fine event.

Why I have to support nuclear power

I don’t like nuclear power.  It creates waste that last for thousands of years, has potential negative health side effects for those living near them, and the possibility of having another Three Mile Island or Chernobyl is, frankly, terrifying.  So, why, with all these negatives, would I be willing to endorse nuclear power?  Two words: Waxman-Markey.

The Waxman- Markey bill that just barely passed the House is already so watered down (it has been rejected by some environmental groups already, including Greenpeace) that by the time it gets through the Senate it will be almost useless.  Already huge concessions have been given to energy lobbyists and the polluters they represent (including for the incredibly fictional “clean” coal and the completely untested carbon sequestration).  If this bill is to make it through Congress one of two things will need to happen (hopefully only one).  Either we add loan support for nuclear power plant construction to lure some Republicans on board, or we give even more money to “clean” coal and carbon sequestration to bring some Rust Belt Democrats inline.

As bad as nuclear is, it is, in this case, the lesser of two evils.  “Clean” coal technology is an absolute farce.  It is greenwashing of the worst sort and does nothing but funnel funds away from viable alternatives into the coffers of Big Coal.  Carbon sequestration is similar.  In the media and in Washington it seems like people are talking about it as if it were a tried and true technology.  It’s not.  The problems with carbon sequestration (summed up here) include, but are not limited to: serious scaling issues, leak dangers (CO2 killed 1800 people in Cameroon in 1986), and the fact that Big Coal has yet to produce a test facility.  Carbon sequestration is to CO2 prevention as corporate self-regulation is to actual regulation.

Another potential side effect of supporting nuclear: if we can swing some Republicans on board perhaps we can take out some of the other Big Energy giveaways we needed to get it through the House.  That and we’ll be able to call it “bipartisan”, which is fine with me in a bill already as compromised as this one.


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