E-tech report and UI talk slides

Missed the first day of E-tech and never got into the swing – conferences are fun if you can get the conference mindset (lots of smiles, introductions and politely forcing ways to meet people you don’t know) but it didn’t happen for me. Apologies if I snubbed anyone or didn’t say hi: was just in a crappy mood this whole week.

The sessions I caught were hit and miss: wide range in quality. Highlight was Clay Shirky’s short talk “Shut up, not you shut up” and Tom Coates Native to a web of data – unlike many of the sessions they had clear points and focused talks. There were just way too many sessions that felt like drive-bys or first drafts for a conference of this size. Author George Dyson had a fascinating and equally frustrating talk called Turing’s Cathedrial – Knowing much of the history of early computing I enjoyed the bits of archival sketches and notes he showed, but I couldn’t understand what points he thought he was making – it seemed even he hadn’t digested all of the material he was working with.

The worst session I saw was The Real Nature of the Emerging Attention Economy By Michael H. Goldhaber. Ordinarily I’d shut up and keep mean comments to myself – presenting is hard and risky – but this frustrated me on so many levels it deserves a special mention. First, this was a 15 minute talk. In 15 minutes you can make 3 points, maybe 4 if you’re clever. But you better be sharp, tight and crisp. You better practice and get feedback on the slides. He took an alternative, attention-blind approach: he wandered through a history of ideas and formalisms about the nature of economies but never quite got anywhere, finished a thought, point or idea. He offered a a vague description of his book on attention, which after a decade in is still unfinished, mentioned someone else calling him the Einstein of Attention, compared the universe to a game (but no mention of game theory, economic or otherwise), and delivered all this on some of ugliest, harshest slides I’ve seen since I left Microsoft. Frankly, his presentation gave off every signal of not being worthy of my attention. Mr. Goldhaber is smart and I bet he has many insightful ideas on attention – I had lunch at his table and he was a great guy – but whatever insights or teachings he has, none of them surfaced for me . (His paper, Attention economy and the net seems to be a better introduction to his work.

Slides from my Thursday talk, Data vs. Design: UI in a Web 2.0 world. Good, vocal crowd in a tight room. I understimated the number of Tufte fans in attendence and things got hostile. Normally this would be fun – but I was in a lousy mood and didn’t make the most of it. Somewhere in my future is a Tufte critique defense, but I didn’t have the brainpower today.

Thanks to Rael, O’Reilly and the conference organizers for letting me speak. I had fun and was glad I did it.

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