BarCampMilwaukee, Part One: The Saturday Sessions

Yesterday, I said BarCampMilwaukee was “an experience like no other.” Today, I’ll begin a series of (possibly lengthy) posts that will try to pass that experience on to those of you who missed it. I’m seeing this as a 4-part post, covering the “formal” part of the unconference, some relevant stories, some of the people I met, and some lessons learned.

Based on this weekend, I heartily recommend the BarCamp experience. If there’s one happening in your neighborhood next weekend, GO! It’ll be fun! … and so, on with the Show!

The Sessions

At first, we all gathered in the big main warehouse room and introduced ourselves. There were too many of us for everyone to hear what each of us had to say, as the only microphone we had was plugged into the video camera. But it was a useful exercise, anyway. We got our marching orders from the core organizers (Pete P, Bob D, James & Tegan, and perhaps some others I’m forgetting), and then had lunch.  There was some awesome chili, a great tuna salad and mounds of other great stuff. I brought some store-bought deli taco dip and a 12-pack of Water Joe caffeinated water, which the campers drank right up. Then we started in earnest.

You can find a list of all the sessions here. I will just tell you about the ones I saw.

Ruby on Rails

This was a great presentation, with a trio of developers discussing the still-hot, but not-so-new-anymore web development framework. One pair of guys showed the basic RoR model, and explained the ease of install via RubyGems, a CPAN-like repository of all things Ruby. Another guy outlined the process involved in creating his AJAX-based dictionary-lookup tool created in Rails the night before. Way cool!

Intro to Drupal

Blake from Madison works for the nonprofit org that puts on the Badger State Games, and has become deeply into the Drupal content management system. I can clearly see why! This really is an awesome thing, that I’ve been meaning to play with — and now I’m really ready to.

Blake said that while the install was not especially intuitive, the power of Drupal is worth it for many reasons. WIth a GUI installer and assorted other usability features planned for v5.0 (due for release in a few months), it will almost become a no-brainer for folks to adopt the system. Unfortunately, the advanced Drupal session conflicted with my own, so I couldn’t go. But you’ll see more about Drupal as I experiment with it down the road.

Flat World

This session started out with stories from the presenters on the telework lifestyle, and moved quickly into a more theoretical discussion of the “flat world” idea related to the global digital divide. It was interesting as far as it went, but no conclusions were drawn.

A Brief History of Desktop Linux

I was deeply grateful that my session was scheduled early. It allowed me to be not quite so obsessive and nervous. It also meant I was reasonably well-rested at that point! We had maybe 10 people in attendance, and while it was readily apparent that the presenter was not a professional speaker, he wasn’t entirely worthless. We (as a group) even persuaded one person to install Linux on his laptop! That’s a story to be saved for later, however (tease, tease).

Linux Multimedia Studio

If you’re following along with the wiki schedule, you’ll find an error. History was at 4, and Multimedia at 5 — in the same room. And if I’d known that Eric was going to follow me with his GNOME desktop projected on the screen, it would have been better (but enough kvetching). Eric Howland works with DaneNet, another non-profit working on the Digital Divide in Madison. One of the things they’re trying to do is get musical tools into the hands of folks who think they’re out of luck when it comes to the music business. If you think you need ProTools to make samples and loops, and since ProTools isn’t exactly affordable for minimum-wage workers, you might think it’s a hopeless dream. But open-source tools can help to bridge the gap, as Eric demonstrated.

I got a good look (and listen) at LMMS, a relatively new GNOME-based clone of the Windows “Fruity Loops” package. What an amazing thing! We built songs, added instruments, messed with all sorts of levels and buttons. Eric also demonstrated the Linux drum machine, Hydrogen. Much fun!

After a fine pizza dinner, there were still more sessions!

Our Sci-Fi Like Future

This session began as a discussion of the recent Pew Internet survey, the Future of the Internet II. Some interesting stuff, here. But, as so often happens in the more theoretical/speculative venues, people decided they wanted to talk about the possibilities and potentials for “virtual government” existing alongside “geographic government” and having power over the networked world. This was discussed further on Sunday, but I missed it.

The study is interesting in and of itself, though. It’s definitely fodder for a future post.

NonProfits and Technology

A great session, if slightly disorganized. This began inauspiciously, as two sets of people started having conversations while “waiting for the session to begin.” Suddenly one group realized the other had already “begun the session,” and moved over. By the time introductions were complete, the allotted hour was done too. So most, if not quite all, of us moved to the second floor to a big light table to continue the discussion. We outlined and diagrammed ideas for promoting technology to our clientele and/or bridging the Digital Divide (sensing a theme yet?). Some great ideas, and I hope we can pull the group together again at some later date to explore this further.

And that’s BarCamp Saturday. There’s much more to tell, starting with the Mini-Mashup and concluding with The One Session That Had Nothing To Do With Anything Else. Stay tuned….

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