Category Archives: reviews

360Flex:Milan – The Good Bits

Oh yeah, things I liked.

  • USB key – much better idea for handing out presentations and sponsor pamphlets than anything else I’ve seen. I’d love to see this managed via a plug-in/pull-out uber-lightweight terminal, so that Tom and John don’t have to spend all their bar time, slowly updating USB keys
  • Michael LabriolaDense and Hot – An Introduction to Your Application’s Start Up – this was the sort of detailed examination I was expecting from 360Flex. I would have liked it to have gotten even denser 🙂
  • Dan ThomasDeveloper Best Practices – I liked how this effectively turned into a conversation with all the attendees in the room. I tend to see sessions less as lectures and more as severely one sided conversations, so it was good to be able to converse back and forth with various people their points of view.
  • Finally, Milan, whilst not being to my taste (I care not for fashion), is remarkably centrally located for pretty much all of Europe – less than 3 hours to most of Europe.  While I’d prefer the Eurostar, I don’t think it quite stretches out to Romania.

360Flex:Milan – A Critical Review

Firstly, I should note that I believe in the 360Flex concept. I flew all the way to San Jose to attend the first one, and even purchased replacement plane ticket when the first one went wrong due to booking complications. I was the first person to buy a ticket for 360Flex:Milan, before the tickets were even publicised. Also, I can see the need for a purely technical conference in contrast to more designer focused conferences. And finally, I can only commend their complete and utter transparency towards all aspects of their business including traditionally taboo subjects such as money.

Secondly, I should note that there are two factors that were completely outside the control of the 360 Conferences team:

  • OnAirTour conflicts – It is really unfortunate that Adobe scheduled the Brussels and London legs of the OnAirTour when 360Flex was in Milan, and the Milan leg for several months later. This is in complete contrast to the way Adobe arranged the USA OnAirTour which coincided the Atlanta leg of the tour not only with 360Flex but also with the Flex 3/Air 1 release date.
  • Heathrow Terminal 5 – Even British Airways and BAA didn’t expect the complete shambles that was the Terminal 5 launch. John Wilker mentioned that they were expecting merchandise, such as session posters that have been lost within the disaster that is the baggage system of Terminal 5 – up to 15 000 bags have been misplaced so far.

However, with those mitigating factors out of the way, in my opinion 360Flex:Milan was a failure. Financially by their own figures revealed in the keynote, they lost about EUR 9 400 (EUR 15 900 with refunds issued for the first day). As far as the conference itself went, I don’t think it worked either – and it certainly did not meet the high standards already set by previous 360Flex incarnations.

There were minor problems with things such as Internet access, buffet food or even bottomless coffee, but you can always have those sorts of problems with any organised event. Specifically, as far as the conference went I feel there are three main areas where Milan did not match up to previous conferences: speakers, attendees, and less importantly, added-extras.

  • Speakers: Previous editions of 360Flex had a breadth and depth of world class speakers, talking on topics from complete entry level to extremely advanced. 360Flex:San Jose in particular benefited from being near the head quarters of EBay, Google and of course Adobe, but even the other US based variants were able to leverage a good cross section of speakers. 360Flex:Milan on the other hand had very few advanced sessions and a plethora of introductory ones.
  • Attendees: The attendees that did turn up were good value. It was good to see people from all over Europe – I met people from Croatia, Romania, Italy and Switzerland – however there simply weren’t enough of them. By my rough count, there were only about 100 people at the keynote on the first day. While this did make the conference more intimate it also dramatically reduced the critical mass for cross pollination of ideas and networking opportunities.
  • Extras: Finally, one of the things 360Flex has become known for are its added extras. For example, at Seattle, there was an internal video system, FlexTV, rebroadcasting sessions from throughout the day and at Atlanta, they gave away free training and copies of The Cluetrain Manifesto. Milan didn’t have any of those sorts of extras – sure, they made the first day free but I have to say that this really felt like a last minute attempt to boost numbers, and it did not have any direct benefit to existing attendees.

These three issues, in my opinion, boil down to problems with speakers and advertising. Speakers directly drive attendee numbers – attendees go to conferences to see speakers’ sessions. Attendees know about the conferences via some form of advertising, whether grass-root or more traditional. And of course, with enough paying attendees there hopefully can be enough of a profit to be able to have nice-to-have added extras.

On the final day of 360Flex, I noticed the large amount of Twitts from world touring UK based speakers attending the OnAirTour event in London. Why didn’t these people attend at least the first 2 days of 360Flex?

In a similar vein, why did I not hear any official mention of 360Flex:Milan at either the London Flash Platform or Flex London user groups? The London Flash Platform group has attendances between 50 and 100 people every month. The Flex London user group has 428 people signed up for the group, a good proportion of whom are UK based. Where were these people?

I can only assume that the decision to only partially compensate speakers for their expenses meant many European speakers were unable to attend. I personally know of one speaker who decided to dramatically cut down on speaking engagements and concentrate on direct paid work, due to the amount they were out of pocket through speaking at conferences around the world – I fund all of my conference attendance directly out of my own pocket, so I can complete appreciate their position. And as far as US based speakers go, at least one of the scheduled ones was unable to attend, simply because his company just didn’t do business in Europe.

I can also only assume that 360Flex:Milan was not publicised as widely as it could be. Whenever I spoke to other Flex and Flash developers about attending 360Flex:Milan, I was either looked at in surprise, or they hadn’t even heard about it (and then I gave my spiel based on my experience as San Jose)

360Conferences stumbled a little when it came to Milan – I certainly don’t feel that the 360Flex team put as much effort into advertising and organising 360Flex in Milan, as they did for Seattle or even Atlanta. The sad  consequence of this of course is, using their own numbers released in the keynote, if they’d managed to increase the number of attendees, then they probably would have ended up in profit, and other benefits would have flown from that.

In summary, I think that the core idea of a transparent, developer based, community focused conference is a good one. I also think that in Europe at least, the rest of the equation (speaker policy, choice of on-site location and subsequent costs, advertising) needs some reworking.

Sadly, I’ve now changed my opinions of 360Flex conferences. SanJose:2008 has too many things in its favour not to succeed – but my conference dance card is now full up for the year. I might attend Europe:2009, but I certainly won’t be signing up on day one, sight unseen.

Hugo Awards 2007

This post was originally intended to be written just before the Hugo Awards ceremony in Japan; unfortunately I came down with Influenza at the end of August that knocked me out for two weeks, and I’m still not 100%. This also meant that I didn’t get a chance to read any of the the selections in novella and short story categories and I missed one of the “Long Form” selection as well.

Earlier in the year I decided to expand my horizons on Science Fiction. I figured that the Hugo Award would be a good barometer of new and upcoming fiction, so I decided to read and watch all of the things nominated. I started a little bit late, so didn’t quite manage to finish everything I intended. I’m considering expanding this out to other awards next year, although I’m a little bit daunted by the Man Booker Prize.

I’ve ranked them according to my opinion, with a brief blurb about them; the weblinks go on in greater detail. The 2007 Hugo winners in bold.

Best Novel

  • Blindsight by Peter Watt
    This was by far my favourite out of the five. Charles Stross sums it up far better than I ever could – “Imagine a neurobiology-obsessed version of Greg Egan writing a first contact with aliens story from the point of view of a zombie posthuman crewman aboard a starship captained by a vampire, with not dying as the boobie prize.” This book kept me guessing all the way through. Highly recommended.
  • Glasshouse by Charles Stross
    A war damaged veteran from a post accelerated society is forced to live in a social experiment replicating life in the 1950s, although the experiment is not quite what is seems. Cool future tech mixed in with commentary on “ancient 20th century” concepts of social roles and identity.
  • Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
    2 decades into the future, a man wakes up from a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease to find a world full of always-on network augmented reality devices. This book was full of really cool fairly realistic extrapolations on modern technology. Even though I preferred Blindsight, I can see why this book won the Best Novel award.
  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
    What if there were Dragons during the Napoleonic wars? A fun book – I’ve already read the next two in the series – but not as ground breaking in my opinion as the books above.
  • Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
    I could not get into this book at all – these things happen some time. I didn’t like the style of writing, I found the shift in focus between the present and the past jarring, and the pseudo-quantum physics knowledge of the Dark Ages priest properly broke my suspension of disbelief. Oh, and I was bored, always a terrible crime in any media.

Blindsight, Eifelheim and Rainbows End were all available freely online as e-texts. This I was very grateful for, as publication dates in the UK would have otherwise made reading these books far more difficult than neccessary. There is also a tradition of putting the nominees for the short story categories online, in an attempt to boost their exposure. I did download these in an attempt to read them in a park on a nice sunny day – but being ill robbed me of my ability to read, let alone walk to a park.

Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form

  • Pan’s Labyrinth
    This is a gorgeous film juxtaposing a little girl’s fantastical quest against the horrors of the Spanish civil war. Beautifully crafted by Guillermo del Toro
  • Children of Men
    A deeply depressing tale about hope in a dystopic near future world that is sterile, shaped by current events of terrorism, Iraq and Abu Ghraib. In any other year this film would have been my favourite.
  • A Scanner Darkly
    Philip K Dicks slightly psychotic tale of a NARC officer investigating a group of drug users under cover, one of whom just happens to be himself. 
  • V for Vendetta
    I didn’t like this compared to the book, and to be honest I was a little bored by it and forgot to finish it. But, I’ve added to my list of movies to watch again, just
  • The Prestige
    I missed this at the cinema, bought it on DVD, but caught influenza before I could watch it. On “the List”, where it will probably stay their until I die.

Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form

  • Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace
    My favourite episode of “Series 2” of the new Dr Who. A love story with a bit of timeline complexity, clockwork robots and a horse. The write also wrote last years winner The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and next years winner Blink.
  • Doctor Who: “Army of Ghosts” & “Doomsday
    A decent season finale, without too much of Russell T Davies’s trademarked Deux Ex Machina.
  • Stargate SG-1: “200
    A fun episode, sending up all sorts of science fiction shows, Thunderbirds, The Wizard of Oz, and especially Stargate SG1 itself.
  • Doctor Who: “School Reunion
    Sarah Jane Smith rejoins the cast for an episode to investigate mysterious happenings at a school. Mickey’s character really starts coming into his own here, and there’s a nicely un-Giles guest spot from Anthony Head.
  • Battlestar Galactica: “Downloaded
    All of the revamped BSG is currently on the to be watched queue – I’ve spent most of the year rewatching all of Babylon 5 instead.

I really enjoyed this mass influx of new books, movies and ideas – I’m definitely doing it again next year.