Skip to main content

Why It Is Great To Be A Geek

Posted by sspielman on February 10, 2004 at 11:13 PM PST

There are times when it’s fun to be a geek, and then there are times when it’s great to be a geek. I go to a lot of conferences throughout the year, and I have to say, if there is only one conference that I get to pick to go to, it’s going to be ETech. It is the very reason why it’s great to be a geek. If you are only interested in what goes on within the walls of your cube, don’t bother reading this blog. This conference isn’t necessarily Java focused, so I really don’t want to hear any flames if you don’t see Java plastered in this blog. But just because it isn’t totally Java, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be interested in what’s going on . I’ve decided to keep the many of my notes in this blog, including most of the links. While I won’t go into all of the links, surf around and check some of this stuff out. This blog is probably longer than normal, but there is just too much exciting stuff to worry about editing it down. This conference is about sharing information from developer to developer by following the hacker frontier. In fact, many of the hackers leading the frontier are here in attendance.

It is always fun to listen to Tim O’Reilly speak. He opened today’s keynote with what’s on the O’Reilly radar. He described how new technology emerges and the hackers push the limits. Then someone takes those insights and makes the technology easier for users and it gets incorporated into ubiquitous platforms. Then the hackers move on to the next thing. So here’s where we’re talking about what’s on the radar. We’re moving into the world of where software is ‘somewhere else’, not necessary what’s on your desk or in your lap. The internet is the platform, it’s the services not the packaged applications that we’re interested in. The platform players are the ones accessible via web services API’s and the data aggregators and the user contributions. We’re talking about using the user base to find what’s best, the social networking aspects. Harnessing the power of the user community, like Amazon (using ratings, and things like listmania). The most successful apps will be those that take advantage of those social services. While we’ve seen web services around for awhile now, it’s as if the can of worms is finally being opened, and it’s very exciting.

Social software, is one of the main tracks at this year’s conference. After the search for the holy grail of the killer app for all these years, is it really people after all that becomes the killer app? Take a look at sites like and for information on how social organizations have figured out how to leverage the internet and point people at a project. is a great example of pop culture in action. It gives a dictionary style entry for words as they emerge, so if you want to know what bluejacking is, go check it out. Bluejacking has been going on in almost every session here at the conference, which has been quite amusing at times.

Many of you might have already heard of by now to organize friends into groups. How do we manage our relationships? Has anyone really figured this out yet? The joke today was ‘Are YOU my friend?! Yes or no. If you’re on orkut, your understand why.

But I have to admit, one of the best examples of social networking in the wireless space was this (as Tim explained): A company called FirstMile in Ratanakiri, Cambodia. 5 guys ride around on motorcycles with antennas attached to the back of their bikes. They drive around for 100’s of miles each day. While they are traveling they pick up emails on their antenna and that’s the wireless service for some areas. Talk about the hacking spirit.

Helen Greiner, founder of iRobot, builds robots like roomba (that robotic floorVac that you see traveling around the rooms) as well as military robots, wants to make robots part of the mainstream. When you think about it, there’s an aweful lot of technology going into that little vacuum. The technology is the navigation (coverage algorithms, wall following using specialized infrared sensors, edge detection so it doesn’t fall down the stairs, escape algorithms (areas where the robot can get in, but how does it get out?), cleaning (edge cleaning, transitioning from carpet to hard wood, linoleum, low power). It was a pretty impressive demonstration on what’s available today, and the types of robot research going on. Tactical mobile robots used for military operations like searching for booby traps, bombs, chemical agents, and dangerous situations like bomb disposal for people. PackBot, can send back pictures of the situation. A round of applause was given when the video was running showing the PackBot being tossed out of buildings, thrown threw windows, going underwater, and still being able to have the robot right itself and continue on. Think of that next time you bounce your laptop off your table and then need to get the duct tape out. Another video clip showed a beta of swarms of robots that can aggregate as a totally distributed hardware system in real time. Pretty cool stuff. Robotic trends seem to be that they are now affordable, have communities, their own hack sites, and are finally going mainstream.

If you haven’t checked out Technorati, which is a web services for bloggers, you might want to get a cup of coffee and take it for a spin. Some infoporn (check if you need to know what it means), over 11,000 new weblogs tracked/day one every 7.8 seconds (ok, so about 35% are abandoned weblogs) over 100,000 updates per day. Median time from a weblog post to live index is 7 minutes. The bottom line is that you’re able to see what is being talked about. But the interesting thing is how technorati is combining searching, social commentary, products, and rankings all under one roof. Take a look at this page to see how the web is being annotating in real time. It’s almost an archeological dig because you’re looking at information by time, not by authority. You can see how links start becoming established, and then see the trends. It’s an interesting to look at information from a ‘contagent’ perspective. We did a real-time experiment with everyone in the room blogging and then seeing it show up on technorati with its stat’s.
With Blogpower you can see how many inbound links you have and who really is the blog with the most power. It’s a great way to see how you are reaching people, even if you’ve only got 5 links.

Technorati isn’t just a destination site, but it’s also a platform and has XML API’s for all functionality and a non-commercial free-to-use license. Take a further look at the developer site if you’re interested.

An interesting note was made about the vote links. If you link to something implicitly you are endorsing it, but what if you’re linking to something that you don’t want to endorse? You can set your vote to -1 to sites that you don’t want to endorse. By setting a vote=’-1” in your href tag as an attribute. However, someone in the audience made an interesting observation – ‘What about extending this to be NOT bipolar, -1,0,+1 but have an infrastructure to express a range’ Good point. Do we always have to be so black and white about everything. I think not.

While you’re on technorati, don’t missing the beta of the breaking news feature. Give it a whirl and let them know what you think. Breaking news, use the news aggregates from the professional sources and uses the bloggers as your filters, so that becomes the latest breaking news. What’s the difference between breaking news and current events? The most recent article that people are talking about first will have the most staying power.

Another interesting session was ‘Untethering the social network or what happens to social networks in the untethered wilds?’ This was a panel discussion about making mobile services user hackable. Mobile email, picture messaging, and messaging is changing the way that social contact takes place. Mobile social networking is different than that in the pc space. It is a more intimate group, done on a smaller scale. It fits into the ‘haircut genre’, as in sending a picture of your new haircut to your significant other while they are on the train or at work. Use simple technologies to conduct new social network that emerged from the user space. Users are able to take a simple tool set and develop rich social networks. In this session it was amusing to watch the IRC channel traffic as you could send something directly to the heckle box, which was a scrolling LCD. With all of the laptops tapping, the IRC channel, and the presentation all going at the same time, it made you feel like you were in the land of the ultimate ADD audience.

As you can see, there is a lot going on here and it's very exciting. This conference is one of the very reasons that it makes you realize why it's great to be a geek. I didn’t even touch on the mobile hack session or the collaborative mapping project yet. More tomorrow.

Related Topics >>