NotCon04 notes

by Suw on June 9, 2004

So, herewith my NotCon04 report.
This isn't going to be a hugely detailed discussion of what was said. Others were blogging and taking notes as we went, and each of the sessions was recorded, so the entirety of the conference will at some point be posted online for your delight and delectation.
Best place for relevant links is Ewan Spence's blog. I was painfully unconnected, so couldn't use the #notcon backchannel, but conversation was archived so that's not so bad.
11.30 – 12.30
Life Hacks: Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks
Dan O'Brien
First session of the first geek conference I've been to, and what an opener. Dan's an excellent speaker – funny, interesting, informed, exactly the sort of thing that all speakers should be (but sadly aren't). The weird thing about this session was how much I identified with Dan's description of the habits kept by prolific programmers. Now, I'm not a programmer. I can barely programme the video machine, frankly, but a lot of the stuff he describes alpha geeks doing, I do, particularly the multiple open windows, the long to-do lists, the using email as a filing cabinet and organisational tool, and the 24/7 monitoring of irc.
About halfway through the session I realised that I am really and truly a geek, just not a programming geek. I have all the traits and habits, but paired with a different skill set.
Cory's notes are well worth reading.
12.30 – 1.30
Politics OF the net
Chair: Tom Steinberg
The Consensus view – Cory Doctorow
The Neo-con Net – Bill Thompson
Sociological perspectives – Will Davies
Stefan (?) exUpMyStreet
Not sure that the format for this panel quite worked for me. Cory and Bill appeared to be pitched as opposing view points and it would have been good to see them going head to head, but in trying to get a more rounded discussion, it all got a bit diluted. That's a shame – Cory's eloquent and passionate, and has a clear talent for public speaking. I would have liked to have seen him talk for longer, but maybe that's because I already have an interest in the sorts of stuff he's doing so I'm biased.
Will Davies' points were lost on me – too many long words and run-on sentences. I still have no idea what his point was.
The last of the panel to speak, Stefan (?), touched on some really interesting stuff about how all it takes is 10% of people to rebel against a system of control such as the Poll Tax or DRM and the system will become unworkable. He also made some points about the digital divide not being quite so stark as perhaps we think, giving the example of Laos as a country in which internet cafes are proliferating wildly despite the general poverty of the area. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be enough time for him to expand upon these points.
Seems, though, that I wasn't the only one to find this discussion a little hard to follow: James also did.
Thence to lunch. Had a chat with Neil McIntosh, Mike Jones, Azeem Azhar and a few other people. Kewl.
2.00 – 2.50
Copyright Part 1 – Universal access to human knowledge
Brewster Kahle
Excellent session – one of the ones I'd been looking forward to, about Kahle's project to archive all of human knowledge in a digital version of the Library of Alexandria, the Internet Archive. Most of the talk was about how you store terabytes of data, and what you do with it when you've got it. (Give it away, I'm glad to see.)
Miraculously, Kahle has managed to negotiate an exemption from copyright law, allowing him to rip and archive old software, much of which is on outdated storage media like old floppies. They have two years to rip as much old software as they can get their hands on, although hopefully by the time the deadline comes up they'll be able to prove that doing so didn't kill off the software industry and they'll be allowed to continue.
Interesting ramifications for copyright, but I'll leave that thought hanging for now.
Anyway, this was one of the sessions that I'd been really keen to see, and I wasn't disappointed at all. Right up my alley.
James's notes are good on this.
3.00 – 4.00
Copyright Part 2 – Goodbye (Project) Gutenberg? What's the new world of IP doing to plaintext?
Chair: Dan O'Brien
Panel discussion:
Brewster Kahle, The Internet Archive
Rob Hamadi, The Publishers Association
David Tannenbaum, Union for the Public Domain
James Wallis, niche publisher and author
Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
James Wallis has been on both sides of the copyright fence, as a publisher who got stung by an extension to copyright term which plunged his source material from public domain back into copyright, and later by one of his books being scanned in and distributed by KaZaA, which in itself would not have been disastrous had the booksellers not got wind of it and slashed their orders.
There was also a bit of a discussion about how you earn money as an author and whether or not having your book online helps or doesn't in terms of sales of the physical thing. Spooky, really, considering my last big essay.
Along with Copyright Part 1, this was a session I'd been looking forward to and it was well worth it. Once again Cory stole the show, once again there were episodes of resounding applause for his comments.
And, once again, James's notes are worth reading.
Popped off to the courtyard then for another mingle. Had the opportunity to briefly meet copyright lawyer and activist Wendy Seltzer, which was great. She, Cory and some other people were heading off to Geneva straight away for a World Intellectual Property Organization meeting, so I didn't really get the chance to chat, but it was good to meet her nonetheless.
Also, after several texts and a short whirling dervish impression, I got to meet PeteBW, who is a star. Also met Snowchyld, one of the guys from IRC who's just moved over here from South Africa and is also good company.
Pete and I then went over to the Park Lane Piccadilly to meet up with Our Illustrious Leader, Joi Ito (details in another post). It sadly meant sacrificing the rest of NotCon – I had particularly wanted to see the blogging and P2P sessions, and was gutted like a fish on market day to miss Yoz Grahame's What's Actually Happening with the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy Movie, but I couldn't be in two places at once.
Ok, so I know NotCon04 was my first conference, and as such novelty value hasn't yet worn off, but I really enjoyed myself. I felt totally at home amongst a couple of hundred geeks, I enjoyed the sessions, and I had a great time meeting new people.
Can't wait for BlogTalk 2.0

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