Barcamp Philly

Yesterday’s party was fun and I looked forward to going to Barcamp proper.  It was held at UPenn, the nicest school that I never went to, and I was in my ersatz attempt at casual with my lone pair of jeans and a button-down shirt.  The venue opened at 8am with food and session arrangement.  Again, we were nerds, we had won.  We made purchasing decisions that would move millions of dollars in aggregate to the chosen vendors.  The food was free.

Bagels and Bacon



The schedule for the event was somewhat ad hoc.  If you had a session you wanted to run, you’d post it on a card and place an initial time slot.  If people liked that session idea, they would literally put a star on it.  If there were a bunch of popular sessions held at the same time, the organizers would re-arrange.  If all the sessions in a given horizontal were all technical, the organizers would re-arrange.

Da Board

This process of rearrangement went from 8am to 10am and at around 10:15 the event kicked off.

Opening Comments

This was the final board for the event.

Final Board Position




The first session I attended was on surviving Grad school.  Get a masters or appending “PhD” to my name is something I’ve considered doing for while.  The advice seemed useful if narrow.  I’m skeptical of any session presenter that only has data about their experience and only in a particular field.  The second session was held by Kevin Hale who held an interesting hypothesis that design is constrained by the words we use.  He tries to teach his designers words from different languages pertinent to design so they won’t be constrained by their words.

The image below is how he describes the output of allowing engineers to choose color palettes.

Engineer Color Choice



The next session was on the nature of expertise with Dr. David Timony.
Timony on Expertise
His major contention was that expertise is vastly oversimplifed in terms of the number of hours required to get it.  He thinks a key aspect is drive to be willing to put in that kind of time and generating that kind of interest is hard.  He told a wonderful story of norming.

So you’re a parent of a small child who one day points at a plane.  You think the kid likes planes so you buy them plane toys, plane wallpaper and other plane crap.  Their first word is plane and you have a birthday at an airport because you think this kid is crazy for planes.  What does the kid thing?  “Wow, my parents really like planes, otherwise why would they be surrounding me with all this plane stuff?”

He also didn’t like dealing with the interruption of hands and people calling out so he handed out whiteboards that people could write questions on.  I really really liked this methodology.

Contrasting Technologies
I walked around a bit during lunch and tried to figure out where my partner for the day was. UPenn has a gorgeous campus and I replayed in my head what would have turned out differently if my college finances had zigged instead of zagged. I wouldn’t have been ready and the process would have crushed me moreso than steeled me. Temple had been good to me. Maybe grad school.

After lunch, Chris Bartlett gave a presentation on serendipity in organizations.  He’s an organizer in Philadelphia and struck me as someone who is everyone’s friend.
Chris Bartlett on Serendipity

The session I attended after was terrible and I walked out.  Chris and I met up in one of the areas where people were charging devices.  He asked me what I did, I told him and we talked about statistics for a bit and the areas where I feel people lack important understanding.  We talked about community organization and I posed to him the following:

I work with the Boy Scouts because at the end of the day, my goal is to jam science into children.  I can do that for 200 kids in a weekend but feel uncomfortable having to do a religious ceremony and knowing that none of these kids can have their sisters attend.  Is there a better organization for me to accomplish that goal without that cost?

He thought for a second, and replied:

Terry, I was a Boy Scout and it was something I loved.  It pains me to know that I can’t volunteer for them.  But for now, no, I don’t know anyone where you could better accomplish your goal.  Maybe you should build something.

Today was wonderful and there was a twinge of regret that I had no one in my normal of circle of friends to share it with.  Next year I’ll ask more people and maybe run a session of my own.  I have a few arrows in my quiver from Scouting that I think I could flip.