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  1. First Things First

    Last Wednesday I turned up in front of a friendly bunch of designers and developers at BathCamp — a regular and excellent monthly event in the city next door. Thanks to Mike Ellis for inviting me at the last minute, and everyone who attended. That day I’d roughly cobbled together a few thoughts about design culture from some old reading, a sprinkle of disquiet, and a bit of dubious optimism. Be warned, here be politics; provocative for some. My thoughts went something like this:

    1963–1964

    From what I have read, and soaked in by osmosis over the years, the early sixties were a fascinating time. In the early part of the decade UK society was emerging from the austerity following WWII. An impoverished Britain looked across the pond to the booming consumer culture of the USA with envy and ambition. Consumerism was on the rise. Advertising was on the rise. At the same time, there was a revolution going on in music, culture and politics. The baby boomers were about to change the world.

    In 1963 70,000 people marched from Aldermaston to London — part of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Test Ban Treaty was signed. Martin Luther-King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. James Meredith became the first ever black student to graduate from the University of Mississippi. The first ever X-Men comic from Marvel was published and Iron Man made his debut. The first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast. Coke launched its first ever diet drink, ‘TaB’. The Museo Bodoniano opened in Parma. JFK was assassinated.

    On 29th November, 1963, during a meeting of the Society of Industrial Artists (now the Chartered Society of Designers) at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, Ken Garland wrote First Things First, A Manifesto (plain text here). He read it out to copious applause. This is what it said:

    We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, photographers and students who have been brought up in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable means of using our talents. We have been bombarded with publications devoted to this belief, applauding the work of those who have flogged their skill and imagination to sell such things as: cat food, stomach powders, detergent, hair restorer, striped toothpaste, aftershave lotion, beforeshave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons and slip-ons.

    By far the greatest effort of those working in the advertising industry are wasted on these trivial purposes, which contribute little or nothing to our national prosperity.

    In common with an increasing number of the general public, we have reached a saturation point at which the high pitched scream of consumer selling is no more than sheer noise. We think that there are other things more worth using our skill and experience on. There are signs for streets and buildings, books and periodicals, catalogues, instructional manuals, industrial photography, educational aids, films, television features, scientific and industrial publications and all the other media through which we promote our trade, our education, our culture and our greater awareness of the world.

    We do not advocate the abolition of high pressure consumer advertising: this is not feasible. Nor do we want to take any of the fun out of life. But we are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication. We hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes. With this in mind we propose to share our experience and opinions, and to make them available to colleagues, students and others who may be interested.

    In January 1964, one hundred copies were printed by Goodwin Press. Twenty-two designers, typographers, and photographers were signatories. That same year, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law by Lyndon Jonhson, outlawing segregation in the USA. There were race riots in Harlem, Philadelphia, and Singapore. Terence Conran opened the first Habitat store. The Vietnam War escalated. Mary Poppins was released by Disney. The death penalty was abolished for murder in the UK. Nelson Mandela made his ‘I Am Prepared to Die’ speech in an apartheid courtroom. Jan Tschichold designed Sabon. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was published (with a wonderful cover illustration). Educationalist and writer, Caroline Benn was passed a copy of First Things First. She passed it to her husband, Labour politician and maverick, Tony Benn, who published it in full in his Guardian column. Following that, Ken Garland was invited to read the manifesto in full on BBC TV. What amazing times.

    By the ’80s many people, like me, had grown up with a love of the music of the ’60s, but no memory of the time. The counter-culture of the decade had been absorbed and distorted into mainstream memory: Flower-power; Hippies; Vietnam war protests; Civil Rights; Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The Stones sang Paint it Black as we watched Platoon, going out to buy Zippos right after.

    2000

    By the late ’90s, the counter-culture I grew up with had been co-opted by corporate consumerism and woven into mainstream brands. From surfers to skateboarders and musicians to DJs, heros were willingly commissioned into endorsing the messages of consumerism. Designers were commissioned along with them. Culture was easy profit. If it was niche (and thus ‘cooler’) so much the better for parting youth from coin.

    The product developers, public relations consultants, brand gurus, ad agencies and design teams were so slick that most people seemed not to notice. After all, their heros lead the way. If people did notice, it seemed they quickly muscled past any twinge of loss and welcomed it, feeling validated. It didn’t seem to matter that it was to brand-build and sell gadgets or khakis. They barely noticed that their culture had become a lifestyle, or that their symbols were now just another transient fashion — one that would eventually be discarded by the new corporate curators they’d sold the rights to, who would then try to suck them away and onto to the next trend.

    I know this. That was me. I was there.

    In 1999, the superb Adbusters initiated a re-write of First Things First. Co-ordinated by Rick Poynor, it was signed by luminaries like Erik Spiekermann (amongst many others, including the original author, Ken Garland) and published in Emigre 51.

    Read the re-aligned First Things First 2000.

    (You may have to zoom Emigre’s squint-inducing 10px type.)

    Also, see the text of the Emigre article by Rick Poynor (PDF). It supplied many of the incidental facts here, and Rick Poynor illuminates the First Things First Manifestos of 1964 and 2000 much better than I ever could.

    2010

    It just so happened that I stumbled across First Things First as 2009 was about to become 2010. It was also just after Analog launched. Preceded by much navel-gazing on my part about what kind of work I wanted to do, for who, and why.

    When I read it, the first thing I thought is what about web design and development? How does First Things First fit? Rick Poynor’s comments on the 1964 original were thought-provoking:

    The critical distinction drawn by the manifesto was between design as communication (giving people necessary information) and design as persuasion (trying to get them to buy things). In the signatories’ view, a disproportionate amount of designers’ talents and effort was being expended on advertising trivial items, from fizzy water to slimming diets, while more ‘useful and lasting’ tasks took second place: street signs, books and periodicals, catalogues, instruction manuals, educational aids, and so on.

    Poynor goes on to say:

    Today, the imbalance identified by First Things First is greater than ever. The vast majority of design projects — and certainly the most lavishly funded and widely disseminated — address corporate needs, a massive over-emphasis on the commercial sector of society, which consumes most of graphic designers’ time, skills and creativity.

    I agree with Poynor who suggests that, ‘Design’s love affair with form to the exclusion of almost everything else lies at the heart of the problem.’ If there’s a legacy the ’60s left for me, it’s that everything we do is political and value-driven, from the products we buy to the jobs we take. Web design is no exception. If it is, where do we draw the line? At producing material for the intelligent design movement? Or perhaps designing insignia and making uniforms for the Nazis?

    I veer from accepting the political and economic status quo as the 1964 manifesto did. After all, it’s almost 46 years later, and the commercialisation doesn’t seem any less to me. In fact, to my mind, the barrage is ascendant.

    In Pynor’s article, author and book artist Johanna Drucker urges us to ask, ‘in whose interest and to what ends? Who gains by this construction of reality, by this representation of this condition as “natural”?’ In light of the current furore surrounding the Digital Economy Bill, that seems very close to what Tony Benn urged us to ask in 2005:

    What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interest do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? How can we get rid of you? Only democracy gives us that right. That is why no-one with power likes democracy. And that is why every generation must struggle to win it and keep it — including you and me here and now.

    We already apply our morality, politics, and sensibilities to our work in a multitude of ways. All the designers I know are subtle, thoughtful, detailed, scrupulous people by nature. It seems odd somehow that any of them would think their work as being apolitical. Or, to put it another way, that form matters more than content and the agenda behind it.

    1964 seemed like a much simpler time where the lines were much more clearly drawn between differing agendas. Culture had not been co-opted by commerce so ubiquitously. Advertising was not synonymous with design. The latter still seems somewhat true to me on the Web, too. But, with the increasing concern over commoditising relationships through ‘monetising’ everything, especially social networks, I wonder for how long will it remain so. Already the rather obvious message that design can improve profitability is at the core of how many people represent our craft; a step up from being seen as frivolous stylists, perhaps, but is it genuinely enough?

    Everyone needs to earn a living; me included. However, at the risk of being called naive, much like the signatories of the 1964 manifesto, I definitely see the need for a debate. Without being too precious about this profession I hold with great regard, web design (with development) is the filter between content and people. As designers and developers we have great power to solve problems, provide amenity and guidance, educate and enthuse. Surely we also have a responsibility, too. So, where is our own First Things First, 2010, the web manifesto?

    Two things stand out for me, re-reading this post:

    1. There is an imbalance in how we value design: Too much emphasis is placed on commercial work in publications, lauding style over substance. Content, presentation and interaction are interwoven and shouldn’t be examined separately. To do so infers that the substance can be ignored as long as the æsthetic is good.
    2. We must somehow help to open up the opportunity of public work to designers, and redefine the value of design away from either pure style, or profit. That’s the tricky one. The way public work is commissioned often seems constipated and self-destructive to me. I don’t have a solution but I have a feeling the large agency dominance is part of the problem, and co-ops part of the solution.

    At the end of my talk at Bathcamp, there was only one question that mattered, really:

    Given the choice, what work would you choose to do?

    The answer to that is, perhaps, all one needs to know.

    For those masochistically interested in the Bathcamp material: the rough slides with even rougher notes are available as a PDF.

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  2. SxSW Pick ’n’ Mix for 2010

    I know I’m woefully late. Voting ends today! I don’t really mind, though. It embodies this restful period I’m having. However, I did want to write a bit about SxSWi 2010. I loved Austin when I went for the first time earlier this year. Perhaps it was the grumpy dude at Bobalu on 6th street making cigars by hand who Matthew Smith and I visited on a leisurely stroll. Perhaps it was sharing a room with Chris and Elliot. Maybe it was the Brit invasion. It could even have been the polar bear nochalantly strolling down 6th Street.

    SxSW Interactive logo

    I’m hoping for a return visit to Austin from March 12th to the 16th, next year. If you have the chance to go, go! You honestly won’t regret it. This post is part plea for your endorsement and part top picks from some friends who were panelists last year, with some juicy bits thrown in at the end. Panel voting ends today!

    Homemade sweets:

    1. Web Typography: Get Your Glyph On 2

      I was so surprised at how packed the room was last time out. In the last few months, we’ve seen Kernest, TypeKit, and Fontdeck emerge (I should mention I’m invloved with the latter). Proposals have been flying around like chilli in a Singaporean kitchen. Foundries and designers are optimising for the Web. It’s all about to explode, beautifully. Who knows what the next six months will bring. We’ll try and explore it all. Richard, Elliot, Samantha, and I will be pontificating and hosting the discussion again. Join us!

    2. Is Your Website Heading for a Car-Wreck?

      Behind the ominous title are a few simple questions that have plagued many a good idea for a web project: How can ideas be successfully brought to life by design? Why do so many good ideas fail, and how can designers help make a good idea become a good product? Join Giles Colbourne, Rich Rutter (penciled in), Alan Colville and I for a few insights into successful collaboration. We are (in order) user experience designers, a UX designer who used to be a product manager, and a web designer. We don’t necessarily share the same viewpoint; should be fun!

    Friends’ favourites:

    1. Where the Sidewalk Ends

      Elliot Jay Stocks:

      ‘I’m really intrigued by Where the Sidewalk Ends because I’m fascinated by the difference between good design and great design — a concept I personally find very difficult to put into words — so it’ll be interesting to see what sort of definitions the panel come up with.’

      Elliot Jay Stocks

    2. Samantha Warren:

      ‘My #1 panel for SXSW 2010 is Where the Sidewalk Ends. I am really in favor of seeing more design thinking content at SXSW, not just web design content and feel confident that anything these guys would talk about would leave me feeling reinvigorated.’

      Samantha Warren

    3. Secrets of Open Source Communities

      Ed Finkler:

      ‘For me, it’s Secrets of Open Source Communities mainly because I’m trying to build a FOSS community around Spaz and SpazCore. As the project lead, I find it challenging to know how to encourage involvement, manage devs, and work with commercial interests.’

      Ed Finkler

    4. Cross Device Accessibility: Is This For Real?

      Jon Gibbins:

      ‘Accessibility is so often portrayed as a boring subject, so I’m excited to see some interesting accessibility panels proposed. My #1 pick would be Cross Device Accessibility: Is This For Real?, which touches on the Mobile Web and geolocation, which should be very interesting, even for beginners.’

      Jon Gibbins

    5. Delight

      Alan Colville:

      ‘Delight, inspiration, pleasure are all words that we as designers strive to deliver. However, at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of needs, delight is often hard to achieve. So, I’m very interested in hearing how to replicate delight first time and every time.’

      Alan Colville

    6. Design Thinking: Create Lasting Ideas and Better Brands

      Matthew Smith:

      ‘I’m a huge advocate of the idea that design is about problem solving more than about exercising one’s visual skills. Design Thinking is a topic that parallels some of the work of Edward DeBono who promotes thinking as an exercise you should practice to perfect. I don’t plan on just designing pretty things the rest of my life, I want to effect change, I want to solve real problems, and I think Design Thinking is addressing that. Plus I’m hoping Ian Coyle will sign my chest.’

      Matthew Smith

    Other sugary treats:

    1. Social Web Security: From Psychology to Programming

      Put Ed Finkler, Simon Willison, Alex Payne, and Chris Shiflett in a room together. It’s like a talent and experience super collider. Have them talk about where user experience and security overlap. It can’t be anything but interesting.

    2. Travelog With Maps: When 1000 Photos Aren’t Enough

      Maps, pictures, and GPS. I’ve seen the little app that luminary developers, Andrei Zmievski, Helgi Þormar Þorbjörnsson, and Chris built for their trip to Iceland. It’s a wonder. Definitely worth a vote if you’ve ever wanted a better way to record your travels.

    3. New Publishing and Web Content

      The future of publishing is a subject I find fascinating. I wrote a piece for OmniTI around it, and with Jeff Zeldman hosting a panel on the topic, there’s bound to be some erudite opinion.

    4. Web Fonts: The Time Has Come

      When it comes to designers who know about publishing, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more knowledgeable than Roger Black. I’m curious who else might appear, but I’ll be there, regardless. Definitely worth your vote!

    5. For more hand-picked goodness, there’s Joe Leech’s south west picks, and to give the Brit contingent in general some love, see the 60 Brit panels in a handy list from Chinwag. For the designers reading this also see Ian Coyle’s panels for designers, or Samantha Warren’s top ten panels.

      Thanks to everyone who made ‘South-by’ such a blast last time, and here’s to seeing you there in 2010!

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  3. OSCON 2009: incoming!

    Just a quick note. More of a test really. Can I crank out a quick post in the lounge at Bristol airport? Will the wifi not fail? Faced with the prospect of spending the next 17 hours in planes and airports, and a manic schedule that always seems to halt any attempt at the usual essays, can I post something this in a brief hiatus? We shall see!

    I’m on my way to OSCON for the second time only. Last year was a blast, and I’m hoping for more of the same. This year I’m lucky enough to have had a talk accepted called, Grokkin’ Design — an introduction for developers to the principles of design. I have to be honest and say this is very much a talk for developers, focussing on the 80% science that makes up much of what designers do, rather than 20% art that we love so much. It’s hopefully going to be a mix of practice and theory, with a bit of my own opining thrown in about ways designers and developers can collaborate to go from good to great. It’s in meeting room J3 on Wednesday 22nd at 10:45am. Love to see you there if you can make it. Feel free to bring questions in abundance   I’m hoping it can have a good chunk of debate in it, as well as my monologuing.

    There are other bits of goodness in the design and usability sessions as well as many friends and colleagues giving tutorials and speaking at sessions. Here’s a few:

    There’s a lot of technical stuff in that list for a lowly designer like me, but I often think that the more diverse the interests of your circle of friends, the more you get exposed to the intellectual food for interesting ideas. All of the people in my list are super smart and definitely worth listening to no matter what your primary discipline may be.

    If you’re heading to San Jose next week, stop by and say ‘hi’!

    PS. They’re boarding so I have to dash. No proofing time! Please forgive any typos but feel free to email me and let me know!

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  4. SkillSwap Goes Typographic

    Right. I’m blitzing this. Two posts in one day. It’s unheard of! I’ve finally managed to put up my slides together from SkillSwap Goes Typographic:

    The night was fun and informal — heaps of people thinking, talking, and asking about web typography; a treat! The Clearlefties were great hosts in the day, and a special thank you goes to James Box for looking after and inviting me, and to Natalie Downe for helping James organise a fun, relaxed night. The pub inevitably followed with more type talk, and Señor Richard Rutter generously gave me a bed for the night in his fantastic house. The walk to the office in the next morning along the seafront was also a treat. Almost as good in fact as riding the travellators at Gatwick when changing trains on the way there and back.

    Rich’s Facing up to Fonts talk had a lot of very well-researched detail about the technical aspects of web typography. I recommend downloading the slides. Mine had some food for thought and a bit on technical legibility. Between us we seemed to cover quite a lot of ground. Thanks for all the kind feedback both on and offline. Hopefully, I’ll make it back sometime and share a few drinks with the fantastic Brightonians again.

    Coming up on Saturday at SxSW, there’ll be more typographic musings from Richard Rutter and nefarious others including myself at Quit Bitchin’ and Get Your Glyph On. I tagged them good in the previous post. If you’re going to be in Austin, say hi!

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  5. Events & The Favour Bank

    SXSW 2009.

    Have you ever heard of the Favour Bank? It’s a derivative of karma, using an obviously capitalist metaphor, but Paulo Cohelo used the phrase in his novel, The Zahir. That’s when it first grabbed my attention.

    “Zahir” is an Arabic word meaning visible, evident, obvious, or always present; an obsession; that’s what the novel is about.

    The Favour Bank is something we are all aware of. According to Pablo, we withdrawl from it by receiving the help of friends and contacts when we’re starting out. We also deposit in it by helping others later, after establishing ourselves. Hopefully we end up in credit. An example might be Jeff Croft’s intention to highlight the work of less well-known people who aren’t the usual suspects, but are still doing great work, regardless. I try and do the same in my asides and rare posts. Hopefully you do, too.

    I mention the Favour Bank because it fits neatly with a two events happening over the next few months; both might put all of us in credit at the Favour Bank:

    1. Web Developer’s Conference, 2008

      The Watershed, Bristol, UK. 12 November, 2008.

      This is a conference run by, and for, the students on the Web Design degree course at the University of Western England (UWE). It’s an opportunity for them to meet and mix with industry professionals. There’s some interesting talks by folks such as Patrick H. Lauke. I will be on a panel discussing working in the Southwest with Joe Leech, Rick Hurst and Peter Coles. As of writing this, my profile hasn’t been added to the panels page but everyone else is there, so there’s much more interesting stuff to read.

      The conference is free to attend, and based on last year’s event, should be fun and interesting. If you’re around at the time, consider popping in.

    2. South by Southwest (SXSW) 2009

      Austin, TX, USA. 13–22 March, 2009.

      This time I’m asking for your vote for our typography panel, Quit Bitchin’ and Get your Glyph On. It will be hosted by Samantha Warren, and fellow panel members will be Elliot Jay Stocks, John Boardley, and Ian Cole.

      We’ll be discussing web typography and I have a sneaking feeling that there will be some very different views on the panel so it should be fun. There’s also a fair amount of experience and passion there, too. So, if you can join us I’d love to see you there, but even if not, your vote would be very much appreciated! To vote, go to the panel picker page and either cast it, or quickly sign up to give us a thumbs up. Thanks!

    In other news…

    Locally, BathCamp is happening on the 13th and 14th of September at Invention Studios. I’m going to try valiantly to make it, and drop some typography musings on the unsuspecting crowd, but there’s already a heap of people going so it will be a fantastic day of geekery regardless. Keep in mind, according to BathMaster, Tim Beadle, any talk you give doesn’t have to be technical. Someone gave a talk about growing veg last year; it’s just a chance to geek about your areas of expertise in front of an audience who will appreciate the geekiness of it, no matter what.

    Away from the Southwest, Scripting Enabled takes place on the 19th and 20th of September at the Metropolitan University of London. It’s a two day “conference and hack day” that aims to break down the barriers between disabled users and the social web. The first day will be a summit to discuss and identify the barriers with anecdotal evidence from disabled users. The second day will try and solve some of them — especially in regard to existing sites  — with a hackathon. Sounds like an event bursting with social karma, and thus, very cool. My accessibility lexicon and good mate, Jon Gibbins, will be in attendance, too. I’m tempted to ask you to heckle him if you see him, but I think I’ll reserve that right for myself.

    If you know of any other interesting events coming up, feel free to share them by throwing the relevant HTML in the comments. It’s all good credit in the Favour Bank, or good karma, or however you want to describe the wonderfully seductive and aspirational concept of mudita.

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  6. OSCON 2008, the Year of the Butterfly

    Writing this is my way of remembering my first OSCON. It’s also a good way of taking a break from the research I’m doing into the next web typography post. I’m also a little frazzled by moving house, and a recent period of sleep depravation after my eldest son’s operation. This is my therapy.

    The stage

    Sometime in the very early hours of Monday 21st July, after leaving New York nine hours earlier and being tortured by JetBlue and JFK, Chris and I arrived at the Doubletree in Portland. It was balmy. After the tropical heat of New York, to be cool was a treat.

    The next morning I got chance to explore a little. The center of Portland is a good place. The free tram is a great idea. Tree-lined avenues break up what would otherwise be a sterile business district into human-friendly spaces. You can walk around the city. That might sound like a strange statement to make but, in my experience of the States so far, a walkable city is exceptional enough to highlight. OSCON takes place for a week at the Oregon Convention Center which sits on the Willamette River’s east bank. A pair of glass pyramids and spires call the faithful to prayer from above the main entrance. Architectural comparisons with cathedrals and palaces are hard to resist. The pyramids reminded me of the Louvre in miniature. On closer look, the spires almost seem like an afterthought. OSCON only took up the south end of the centre. In the eery quiet of the other empty concourses a dragon boat and pendulum wait in patient suspense for admiring glances.

    Players & acts

    I’m averse to some of the more negative aspects of professional conferences. Sometimes, I get a sense of some people’s innate self-consciousness that can go one of two ways in the social mælstrom: Quiet humility that should be treasured, or competitive haughtiness attempting to mask insecurity. The latter is suboptimal. OSCON has almost none of it. Thanks to Chris, from the moment I stepped through the door, to the last night, I seemed to meet a whole bunch of people who were comfortable in their own skin, and with their own proclivities. They even accepted mine. There’s nothing so pleasant than having good things to say about people one meets. These of just a few of the characters:

    The mighty Wez Furlong was possibly the busiest man at OSCON, giving three talks, and sharing his PHP / Cocoa explorations with the world. His obscure cultural reference library is almost as smart as his code, which is saying something. Andrei Zmievski has rightly been called the social director of OSCON before now. He has a unique ability to organise dispersed techies into a night out, and find the best food and drink. Like Wez, he’s also a core developer of PHP; multi-talented like most of the folks I met.

    It was great to meet the Funkatron (Ed Finkler) too; security dude, publisher of a rather fine blog, and Spaz developer (for all of the Twitter fans out there). The Chay, first name Terry, arrived late during a great Tuesday evening at the Doug Fir. Another person who, like Ed, I’d only known via the Metaverse before. Watching Terry in live debate around Rails and PHP was a gift, flavoured with some choice vitriol, and prepended with some Physics.

    Ben Ramsey also contributed his fair share of choice phrases to that particular evening, too. He went from custard to goats to communism, all within the space of two mis-interpretations, and the unique Ramsey filter that emerges to great effect when the sun goes down. Elizabeth Naramore of PHP Women and the forthcoming PHP Appalachia conference also kept me company one Thursday night in the Vault. We put the world to rights, and lamented the joy and pain of younglings. The Vault was also the place of more Ramsey mayhem and obscure cocktails. They included a strange take on the Mojito with lemon grass, a favourite of the beatific Marcus Boerger of Google.

    Mint Restaurant, Portland, Oregon.

    The person who starred in my best picture of OSCON, was security and PHP guru, Damien Seguy. On a mis-guided first attempt to find Mint, the best restaurant in Portland (truly), Damien brought his elephant along. Arguably, his elephant had more directional smarts than us that night. I visited Mint three times during OSCON. Andrei took us there the first time (hence his accolade for finding good food.) Chris and I also dragged his royal amusing contrariness, Theo Schlossnagle there as he flew into town, assaulted the world with his brain (and huge velcro-covered lens) then departed. The third visit topped them all with an en-mass invasion after a glorious afternoon at Brewfest on the Friday. Apart from the strange Brewfest wave of sound — a cheer that started nowhere and undulated around the tents — and the excellent beer, the evian-esque gigantic atomiser was a person favourite. Who would of thought to put an urgency-inducing sprinkler system just before the queue for the loo?

    I also got to spend a bit of time on Friday with those excellent equestrians and technical authors, Luke Welling and Laura Thompson of OmniTI and Mozilla, respectively. Earlier that day, Luke and I shared the affirming experience of donating to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. For me, this was partly to support the EFF’s help for people like Luke, who’s currently dealing with a ridiculous attempt by confirmed spammer, Jim Mirkalami, to sue Luke after he re-published information on his blog that was already in the public domain. Anyway, we got the tshirt, and it was good. After such great company, great food, and drinks, Mint is definitely in my top two Stateside restaurants so far, along with Gen in Brooklyn (it has incredible Japanese-Rastafari sushi). Later that night, Chris and I said a fond farewell to Mint, jumped in a cab and headed to the airport via the Doubletree to soar back to Brooklyn on the red eye. An apt name, for sleep was not forthcoming. After a few hours rest in Chris’s place on Saturday morning, I dragged my bags into town for present shopping. I fell into another flight that evening and landed back in Bristol and the beautiful embrace of my tribe on Sunday morning. Knackered is an understatement. Then we moved house four days later.

    Apropos

    If this post is packed with names, that’s because OSCON was all about the people for me. I haven’t mentioned everyone I met (just those I spent most time with), and didn’t manage to attend many talks, but the atmosphere alone was worth the trip. Chris Shiflett and I gave a talk on experience-driven development which took place on Thursday. A good thing, because some of our best ideas dropped into slides on Wednesday afternoon. It was fun, but still a little raw in its first outing. We got some great feedback—almost all positive—so hopefully it will have more meat and equal amounts of fun the next time around.

    OSCON was a blast. Here’s my OSCON ’08 Flickr photoset if you’d like to see a bit more. It was superbly organised, at a great venue, with some of the best developers in the world exchanging mental energy for a conference pass. Details make big ripples when it comes to conferences. Details like the fantastic help of Shirley Bailes — O’Reilly’s conference speaker manager — who even offered to send me this year’s butterfly t-shirt after I forgot to grab one while I was there. If you wondered at the title of this post, there’s your answer. I only met a handful of people out of the three thousand or so who attended, but they made it great for me. I encourage everyone to consider going in years to come. With luck, I’ll see you next year!

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  7. Collaboration at OSCON ’08

    OSCON 2008

    In just under two weeks time I’ll be delivering a joint talk with Chris Shiflett at OSCON, the biggest open source convention in the world run by O’Reilly. It happens to be my first time at OSCON, as well as my first talk. It also happens to be OSCON’s 10th birthday. Needless to say, I’m a little nervous: First, at the privilege of speaking in front of such an erudite crowd at such an important event, and second, because losing your cherry is always nerve-wracking, unless you’re drunk.

    Just for the record, I have no intention of being drunk.

    It was Chris’s idea. He thought that our working process was valuable enough to share. I’ve really enjoyed the way we’ve worked together over the last couple of years, so thanks Chris for suggesting we talk about it.

    Our talk will be about collaboration, what we’ve called experience-driven development. We’ll be exploring how we can do our best work, and enjoy the relationships and processes that get us there, no matter the size or complexity of the project. I don’t want to give anything away, but hopefully it will be fun as well as informative. With a bit of luck we’ll leave folks with some food for thought to take away with them and re-heat later.

    The talk will take place on Thursday 24th July from 10:45am to 11:30am in room E145. If you can make it, I’ll see you there! Also, let me know if you’re going, and feel free to come and say hi anytime. I’m looking forward to meeting people and generally soaking in the vibe! If anyone is considering grabbing a last minute pass, and could use a 15% discount, contact me. You don’t have to come along to our talk, but we’d love to see you.

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