Open Tech 2008

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

A couple of weekends back Kat and I went to the Open Tech 2008 one day conference in London. I had planned to write about some things I came across there in some depth, alas time is against me. It would be criminal for me to let it go completely unmentioned though.

There’s something amazing about OpenTech: it costs just £5 to attend. For the breadth of coverage, interesting speakers, things learned, and inspiration gained over the day this is an extreme bargain.

Giving myself a few minutes to note down a few points still in the top of my head 10 days later:

  • There was an overwhelming theme of “public good” running through the conference. From the projects devoted to this, such as, through to entrepreneurs and icons pushing to inspire everyone to follow their various leads. This is a great change from the usual case of “this tech is cool because, well, it is” – I loved to hear that tech was cool for the ways is was actually helping everyday people.
  • Further contrast between the geeks and the suits (generalisations, I know.) A few weeks back I went to a serious business-tech conference hosted by the 451 group, this was also good stuff but coming at security from a completely different angle (security was just one of several topics covered.) The contrast is all the more interesting because there’s a convergence. At the business conference we hear “security is difficult, we have to try harder, alas, some things may be impossible” at OpenTech we hear “security is impossible, but we can try harder and do better.” There’s far too much depth to this for me to go into right now, not that my own thoughts are in any good order. Suffice to say, studying the application of security from social and economic standpoints would be very interesting right now. There’s a lot of material out there, and people(/businesses) are speaking more openly about security issues these days I think.
  • More on/around security. People get very confused about identity versus reputation, especially when technical definitions of authentication are worked into the mix. People, even a room full of geeks, know very little about the history of currency, and banking in general (a cultural weakness in the geek horde?) Cryptographers are regarded as some sort of higher being… maybe they are! (Aside: I’ve just read Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Last Theorem – it lives up to its reputation, and man those number theorists are an insane bunch!)
  • Ubiquitous networking has changed the world, maybe those of us who’ve lived through the changes sometimes don’t appreciate how revolutionary the changes are (I have trouble seeing it sometimes, much older geeks seems to see it more clearly.) What’s scary, is that the field is still young and haphazard, what further refinement will bring is difficult to imagine.
  • The above is amazing, now how to we deliver this to the rest of the world. Can it actually help solve the terrible problems most of the world has? I’d like to think so.

Of the sessions I attended these are memorable:

  • Most entertaining: The Web is Agreement, Paul Downy. A talk/rant around current trends centred on Paul’s sketch of the same title. (The talk “Living on The Edge” from Danny O’Brien was also entertaining, and the only time I’ve seen a geek talk “flood” with what can only be called “groupies”, it was strange.)
  • Most inspiring: Digital Money, David Birch. This guy’s online presence seems to be a blog about digital money. In essence this was a short, angry rant about the fact that us geeks have not solved the problem of “digital money.” At the core of the rant was the idea that functional digital cash will make the world a better place, breaking down unnecessary barriers in the world of money (think of sending aid/donations right to where they’re needed, family members sending money home without the “Western Union” tax, etc.)
  • Most relevant (to me): Security Discussion with Ben Laurie and Friends. Four security/crypto geeks/experts talking about how much things are broken. Entertaining, enlightening, and (to some) challenging.
  • Most disappointing: Android and the Open Handset Alliance. It just wasn’t techie enough, more a marketing spiel from a “developer advocate.” I wa hoping for a crash “how stuff works” intro to Android.

On reflection… of the talks I saw there were a lot of “grumpy old(er) men.”