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.