Birds of a Feather

I’m still abuzz after the Oxford Geeks Nights #1 last night. Working as I do in the slime pits of Microsoft Windows ASP.NET, it was exciting just seeing so many Macs lined up on the stage, their little apple logos glowing in the semidarkness; the only non-Macs I spotted were running Ubuntu Linux or similar.

I haven’t been upstairs at the Jericho Tavern since forever, so I was pleasantly surprised at how salubrious it now is (as music venues go): it has tables and chairs and comfy old leather sofas in dark corners, perfect for hiding in when you don’t know many of the people there. They also have a screen set up with a projector showing the stage: very useful during gigs, because the space is L-shaped so you often don’t have line-of-sight to the stage; for Geek Nights, if they could work out a way to show the presenters’ presentations on it it would be even cooler.

Photo by Natalie Downe

The format is like a miniature parody of a weekend conference: we had keynotes and then two blocks of tutorial or demo presentations on a variety of subjects, all compressed in to one evening. So Simon Willison has to work hard to fit his 22-minute talk on his recent obsession, OpenID. The joy of OpenID is that it relieves you of having a bewildering array of logins on different web sites; the flip side is that to demonstrate it, you have to create a bewildering array of logins on different web sites. I’m a big fan of OpenID (and experimented with TurboGears and OpenID (and part 2) in a web game I never finished). Nice to see it so lucidly explained. Attribute exchange was new to me—I wonder if it means it can replace dauntingly large Single-Sign-On Solutions like Shibboleth.

Photo by Natalie Downe

I don’t use anything so posh as Adobe Photoshop at work, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the other keynote, which was about demonstrating some of the new features of the upcoming Adobe Photoshop CS3. To those of us who grovel about in lesser graphics editors, seeing the new magic selection brush at work had a definite ‘wow’ factor. Adobe also have some tools for doing reversible transforms on RAW images (where you store the recipe for the final image, rather than creating a new massive raster file), which reminded me of the Core Image demos from Apple; poor old Adobe presumably have to implement all this cleverness themselves. The corresponding free software is something called Gegl.

I won’t attempt to cover the lightning (5-minute) talks, except that the second half had a strong mapping theme, whether it was applying councils’ bus timetables to Google maps in real-time, replacing Google maps with something freer, or inventing your own version of the Diagram (the schematic map of the London Underground) through automated graph layout. (Train-spotting and bus-spotting both in one evening! Whee!)

There were lots of people there—they expected thirty or so and got about a hundred—so it looks like Oxford is more of a hotbed of web alchemy that I had realized. Met some people I know, and some people I know only from their web sites—if only I were better at asking people their names and then remembering them, I might even be able to claim I had been networking. :-P