Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Day 3 at ETech 2008

When I saw the first speaker of the day was some old guy instead of the scheduled Kathy Sierra, I was a little disappointed. The "old guy" turned out to be John McCarthy, the inventor of Lisp and "artificial intelligence". To me it was a pleasant surprise to see someone like this along with all the "tech kiddies". Unfortunately, his talk moved really slowly and they had to cut him off. I felt bad for him.

Kathy Sierra did speak later. She talked about how we all want to be "good" at something and what it takes to do that. Surprisingly, natural ability counts less than sheer focus and concentration. Of course, that requires motivation and it's less clear how to get that. Lately I've been thinking about when I developed Suneido and my focus (perhaps fanaticism would be more accurate). I seldom achieve that kind of focus anymore and I miss it. I just haven't quite figured out how to get it back. Then again, do I want to get it back? Spending the majority of your waking moments working on something isn't exactly a balanced life, no matter how challenging/rewarding/addictive it is.

Looking at today's sessions it seemed like there wasn't that much that was attractive to me. But sometimes it's a good thing to be be forced to go to talks that I might otherwise have skipped. After all, the whole point of the conference (for me) is to get exposed to new ideas.

Brain Imaging and I Sing the Body Electric surprisingly turned out to have a lot of common ground. There's a definite feeling around that hacking humans is the next frontier. I've never been keen on the idea of "hacking" myself, maybe because I know how easy it is to screw up complex systems.

Hackers Built My Motorcycle started out by saying his talk had nothing to do with the title, and sure enough he never mentioned motorcycles. Maybe that was an example of "hacking" the conference schedule. Nevertheless, it was a fun talk. The problem with talks about security, like talks about the environment, is that they are somewhat depressing! He proceeded to explain how easy it is to hack into cell phones, web sites, house locks, RFID credit cards ... scary stuff.

The next talk, about technology in Cuba, had the potential to be quite interesting but the two speakers read a pre-written speech and that seldom works well. I've really found that a good presenter is worth going to regardless of the topic, and no matter how interesting the topic, a bad presenter will kill it.

My final session was on OpenCV, an open source computer vision library. I don't know much about this area but it was pretty amazing what's possible these days.

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