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ETech 2004 Kicks Off

Posted by sspielman on February 9, 2004 at 9:52 PM PST

O’Reilly has gathered quite the diverse crowd at the Emerging Tech conference this week taking place in San Diego. Where else could you be exposed to a digital democracy teach-in and relativistic time dilation in the same place? Alpha geeks, start your engines.It was quite the interesting first day kicking off with leading edge technical tutorial sessions and a packed room of about 400 political activists, bloggers, and quite the variety of hair colors that ranged from blue to green and everything in between. Sometimes the leading edge technology is the people. I was splitting my time between the GIS Open Source tutorial, democracy teach-in, and J2ME and Web Services tutorial. Relativistic time dilation is how GPS devices correct for the time warp of the satellites because time travels faster for the satellites (to the tune of 38 milliseconds per day), then it does here on earth. Who knew? The GIS session covered some of the basics for working with GIS. While I guess if you didn’t know anything at all about GIS, this would have been useful, I thought it could have been a better presented as it was a bit disorganized. If you’re thinking of doing some open source work with GIS, then take a look at GRASS (no, not that grass…) which is a full scale GIS solution that you can find at It was hard to ignore the active partying (or is that activist party) going on in the room next store.

The digital democracy teach-in was a whole other beast. It was actually pretty interesting to see how the political process here in the States, and around the world, is being affected by the technology and how bloggers have been used to build a political community. I have to say, this was a room of alpha bloggers. In one conference I’ve never heard as many tapping laptops at the same time with everyone on wi-fi. Of the 400 people in the room, 399 of them had laptops going, and the one person that didn’t was probably in the batheroom. The part I sat in on was talking about the Dean campaign and how it formed Blogstate – a set of bloggers who can emerge that can stand for a candidate. This is something that hadn't exisited before as it did in the Dean campaign. Can it really make the difference in who becomes the leader of the free world? A few comments were made to read the bloggers that you least agree with first and then take back the democracy using blogs. While the whole discussion was interesting (and very animated) personally I thought that some of the bloggers making their statements were more interesting in hearing their own voices and full of themselves, then moving the cause forward. I’d rather see some of these bloggers reach outside the blogging world to empower people then just talk blogger to blogger. What was far more interesting was how these technologies can help emergent governments and help people getting involved at a local level. While political blogging can cause a ground swell, do the political bloggers put just a bit to much weight in what is being said vs. what is being done? Do bloggers really represent the echo chambers? They might be hearing each other from the right and left, but does the middle listen or are those middle folks just reading what’s thrown on their front porch every morning anyway? I guess I left that part of the session with a lot of questions still, but what was clear was that this was an extremely interesting way to bring technology and politics’ together for discussion.

In the afternoon I sat in Russell Beatties J2ME and Web Services tutorial. It was a small, but very enthusiastic group and it definitely was a lot of fun. There was so much Bluetooth going on in that room, for a minute I thought I might actually have to put on a lead vest. If you’d like to take a look at the progression of source code that was built, including an RSS reader, Google searcher, and Amazon author search (all for a SonyEricson device), you can download it from . More fun to come tomorrow when ETech is in full swing.

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