euroGel 2006 Conference

I’ve just come back from the Good Experience Live (euroGel) conference in Copenhagen (more on the city and Denmark in a later post). It was a superb and surprisingly moving experience, and as a conference that I paid for myself, I would say it was worth every penny for personal development reasons alone. I would recommend it to anyone with a wide range of interests.

The theme of the conference is hard to pin down; it is defined as ‘good experience in all its forms’. I’m still struggling to ‘get it’, but it didn’t seem to matter that I didn’t. In practice, this seems to mean a variety of speakers from across the arts and technology, some of them specialising in user experience or customer experience, coming together to share their stories.

This is the first time the conference has been run in Europe (it has been run in New York City since 2003), and current indications are that it will return to both places. The creator of the conference is Mark Hurst, who also leads the sessions at the conference, and who I unfortunately didn’t get to meet. A large number of the speakers are obviously personal friends of his and there is accordingly a sense of community, which is also explored online (see the Gel blog category on goodexperience.com)

The presentations were almost all entertaining, and most informative and passionate. Some of the highlights were:

  • Han Bennink - I’m ashamed to admit I’d never heard of Han before. It turns out that he is one of the top Jazz drummers in the world, and his natural exuberance for his work was obvious for all to see - a man who managed to enter the stage, drop a bunch of metal pipes haphazardly on the stage, and make it part of his performance, he obviously has more talent than just a natural sense of rhythm.

  • Stephen Bauman - Stephen is a Methodist minister in New York, and in true ministerly style, he told stories. These helped to illustrate what he called ‘Basic Truths’ (on which he has also written a book). I was lucky enough to discuss these and others things with him later on, and he struck me as an extremely perceptive and open-minded religious man: an inspirational American preacher who didn’t hector about Jesus.

  • Alison Young - Possessed of a beautiful voice, Alison Young is a supremely talented singer with Southern influences. Why she isn’t more famous is a mystery to me.

I also met some interesting folks:

  • Kareem Mayan - Kareem is a returning Gel participant (and volunteer), and obviously enjoys it greatly. His blog has some interesting discussions about emerging technology, including plenty of media and YouTube links (including this ‘How to drive a stick shift’ video - sadly, this doesn’t impress chicks here in the UK, where manual cars are the norm).

  • **Alexander Kjerulf **- Alexander is an irrepressibly bubbly fellow, and describes himself as ‘The Chief Happiness Officer’. He writes and consults on happiness in the workplace, and his passion for his work is obvious. What he says is not rocket science, but it bears repeating. His blog is well worth a read.

I was also lucky enough to win one of the prize draws - for a set of books written by some current and previous Gel speakers, so I now have the following to work my way through:

Thanks to all the folks who donated books for this - and to Mark Hurst and his team for organising euroGel. I will go again.

Update 2006-09-12: Alison Young’s website can be found here.

Will Media Shops Ever Disappear?

Why do high-street media shops (Videos, DVDs, CDs, Books) still exist? These items were amongst the first to be available for online ordering on the internet, with Amazon and others offering them from around 1995. Yet HMV, Waterstones, and so on don’t show any outward signs of disappearing, or even reducing prices significantly, apart from the hit they allege that virtual media (i.e. MP3 downloading, legal or illegal) is having on their business.

I would estimate that I buy 90% of my media online, for two reasons: cost and a wide selection (half of the books I buy aren’t in my local bookshop). The only reason I ever buy offline is speed: for example, forgetting to buy birthday presents (ahem). Many other people I know do the same. I can but assume we’re not typical of the population at large. Maybe most people aren’t prepared to be patient, and are prepared to pay a premium for having something now. Is this true, to the scale necessary to sustain these businesses?

Anyone have any other theories?

Farmers' Markets Will Be Commodities Soon?

To some people, Farmers’ markets, such as those that visit Winchester on a monthly basis, are an interesting part of a day out. Browsing round provides the opportunity to buy bread, cheese, beer, jams, and other such produce that’s no doubt better than most of what the local supermarkets stock. Many people get stuck on particular brands (read: particular stalls), because they prefer them, and go back again and again to the same place.

However, for myself, these stalls are becoming commoditised. In the same way as organic produce was rare in supermarkets 10 years ago, and is now commonplace, it appears that more and more such markets are springing up in rural, affluent, areas such as Winchester, as the local economy becomes able to support them and farmers learn how profitable they can be. In fact, I rush round such markets picking up bread and jam, not normally bothered by where it comes from - on the basis that all of it’s bound to be better than Sainsbury’s, right? - and I don’t want to spend the time investigating.

I think this is an illustration of how goods become commoditised as economies grow richer. Personally, I treat the entire market as essentially one homogenous whole - I pick the bread stall with the shortest queue or cheapest prices, not that I’ve been to before. Sure, I’m being boring, but then I’m boring when it comes to selecting my brand of toothpaste too. I’m probably the exception at the minute, but if Winchester ran one of these each day, I wouldn’t be for long.

In any event, if you haven’t been to a Farmers’ market lately, give it a try.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the UK Farmers’ Market Association.

Beverly Hills Cop

Let’s be clear: long before Chris Rock came onto the Hollywood scene, Eddie Murphy was there in his place. This film is classic Murphy, with his wise-cracking, fast-talking, slightly camp personality in full flow.

The plot isn’t much to speak of, but the comic characterisation is well-done, if a little clichéd - the bumbling duo of Taggart (John Ashton) and Rosewood (the strangely-named Judge Reinhold) are straight out of the book of cop stereotypes. The film is well-directed and edited - some of Martin Brest’s opening scenes, showing a-day-in-the-life of poor America, could belong to a film much more serious than this.

Everyone who has seen it remembers Beverly Hills Cop as playful, and indeed it is, with music such as the ‘Neutron Dance’ (80s disco, when such things were hip) playing over the car chase - complete with the traditional American cops who can’t find the brake pedal when it comes to an end. But there is nevertheless a scene of surprising violence not more than 20 minutes into the film, which gives it a more adult edge and allows Brest to provide a motivation for Murphy’s character in the film that’s necessary to allow it to make sense. Interestingly, this violence is copied in a similar manner in the first sequel, Beverly Hills Cop II.

All in all, a classic 80s comedy action film, and well worth seeing, along with the first sequel (which, incidentally, includes a bit part by Chris Rock). Avoid Beverly Hills Cop III.

The Future of Programming

Marc Andreessen discussed the history of programming in a recent podcast, noting the shift from machine-targeted languages to human-targeted languages. Although he seems to think that the change was fairly sudden (for him, it was started with Java in 1995), and he spends a surprising amount of time discussing PHP, which seems to be his favourite example of an easy-to-use language, his general point is still well founded.

It’s certainly interesting to see how languages like C and C++ are fading, their place being taken by Java. This is simply due to economic incentives: why spend expensive programmer time solving problems than can be solved by a cheap machine? Java is in danger of becoming overly feature-laden, but it still has a single important strength over its predecessors - simple dynamic memory management - no more explicit object creation/destruction. This does for memory what filesystems have done for disk. It’s hard to see just how much this has done for development speed and robustness until you compare it to what went before. PHP, Python, and so on, have the potential to do more, particularly for the new breed of web-based applications.

Andreessen also briefly discusses Web Services. He certainly seems to believe in Web Services - as he notes, the majority of major languages have good bindings for them now. I can see good things ahead for Web Services as the annoying details are sorted out by the market: see the doc/literal discussion from Andre Tost’s article I linked to a few days ago for an example. I look forward to seeing how this pans out.

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