Wednesday, August 03, 2005

More from OSCON

I spaced the fact that Max now goes to Expo (yellow line), and snapped out of it a stop or two north of the Steel Bridge. I was happy to see this part of town: the Gotham Building (complete with coffee shop); those large grain elevators, one with painted on the side. I joined a last trickle of geeks headed into the great hall on the 2nd floor of the Convention Center, bypassing the OSCON/StarBucks coffee bar, missing part of the first keynote.

Summarizing the keynotes:

Speakers: Nathan Torkington, Tim O'Reilly (both O'Reilly Media), Kim Polese (SpikeSource), Andrew Morton (OSDL), Jeremy Zawodny (Yahoo!), Jonathan Schwartz (Sun Microsystems).

Apparently there's considerable ferment as IT moves to support open source in self interest, meaning geek cultures need to adapt to more corporate hookups, usually around more vertically integrated software stacks with a faster release cycle.

The more slowly evolving backbone of free resources (e.g. LAMP, kernels) provides raw material for more malleable, form-fitting services, with much of that malleability stemming from the fact that the source is supplied to the customer (as customers increasingly demand).

Open source is often safer and/or of higher quality than protected source, because the field is so Darwinian i.e. what survives strict public scrutiny usually has some strong advantages. The code ends up more robust, more vetted.

Enthusiasm for open source is spilling over in the realm of hardware per O'Reilly's Make: magazine (shades of Popular Mechanics).

Atop this growing open source stack, bleeding edge innovation occurs out of necessity, oft times in secrecy. Successful closed projects of today provide the new open resources of tomorrow -- a pattern being followed by Sun's Solaris, now OpenSolaris (there's a big booth about that).

Python stock seems to be on the long term increase, although market share is still small, judging from O'Reilly's statistics. Tim keeps close tabs on technical book sales data, as one might expect of a publishing czar. His talk dovetailed with the Yahoo game demonstrated last night, which uses search engine data to track the buzz on specific technology topics, which is graphed alongside game player trading on these same topics (as if topics were companies) within a virtual stock exchange.

Old timer do-it-yourselfers may be suspicious of this new do-it-together work ethic. They worry about communism or some other failure-prone altruism, per Larry's allusions last night: the People's Republic of Perl slide; his cast of cartoon spies, at least one of whom (cute chick) was no doubt Russian (Larry himself identified with the Chinese guy). I think today's keynotes would prove reassuring to these worry warts: this is unbridled capitalism at work, in the ancient sense of "using your head" (Latin root) as a private individual, as free as your peers to collaborate, to partner, to take risks and reap rewards -- and as willing to make it all work.

Across the speakers' lounge, I spy Jim Hugunin (IronPython) chatting with Miguel de Icaza (Mono) -- bright stars in my private sky. Interesting how few from the conventional press report on these doings. Granted, the storylines are somewhat esoteric, yet history is being made nonetheless. I still think we need one or more geek channels on television, along with an open source archive of downloadable, recyclable clips.

I chatted with Alex earlier. He's quite satisfied with the work environment at Google, where he doesn't feel pressured to always be the smartest guy in the room (lots of smart cookies at Google, which company has a popular booth showing off all the global data it serves -- partly as a result of collaborating with the keyhole people).

My presentation:

I had tech support fiddling with sound during the opening, while I browsed my presentation manager's source code for a minute or two -- didn't get into it as deeply as I'd have liked, but hey, it's on the web. The sound problem was soon solved.

Then I launched into the slides, with an interruption at slide 9 to go out on the web and run both Springie and Fluidiom. My general theme: thanks to open source and design science, our school's ability to collaborate has become vastly easier and more effective over the years.

I covered a lot of material using a sort of frenetic pin-ball/scatter- gun approach, using the slides as a guide: the nationless Fuller Projection, Rick's dome program, Kenneth Snelson, tensegrity, elastic interval geometry, Alexander Graham Bell and the octet truss, sphere packing, quadrays, Grunch of Giants, E.J. Applewhite, intellectual property, education reform, making a difference -- a bit too manic for my taste (45 minutes isn't much time). The people who came to the table afterwards seemed seriously into learning more, especially with regard to providing kids with a better education. One guy asked what planet I was from.

At one point in my talk, I predicted we'd soon have open source repositories of downloadable audio/video clips, which kids'd pull down to their computer desktops, mix with new content, and reupload back to the servers (the same process used with software today, but applied to making video). Schools like ours could harness this economy to foment the production of more relevant educational materials.