The eTech Ohio technology conference wrapped up this week. Throughout the conference, people kept asking me if I was enjoying the conference, or if I was getting a lot out of it. Mostly, these were eTech employees. I’m not sure whether they were nervous about how things were going, or if they were looking for honest feedback, or if they were just trying to make small talk. I gave them… umm… lots of suggestions. But I’m going to dwell on positives, here.
- The keynotes were excellent. Robert Ballard pointed out that more than 40% of the land that legally belongs to the United States is under water. This land is full of natural resources, and it’s been largely unexplored. While he loves the space program, if we took one year of Nasa’s budget and used it for undersea exploration, it would fund that program for 1,000 years. I was surprised to see him making the economic argument of untapped resources. I don’t think that Cousteau would have argued for undersea mining and drilling operations. Ballard is certainly interested in undersea life and ecologies, but he’s equally interested in what the sea can do for us.
- Ray Kurzweil is a fascinating mind. Mostly, his talk centered around exponential growth. Once you understand that something is following an exponential curve, suddenly the “unimaginable” future becomes fairly predictable. The one thing that stuck with me was Ray’s sense of optimism. Moore’s law can’t continue forever because (as Intel founder Gordon Moore once put it), “the subatomic nature of matter starts to get in the way.” But Kurzweil’s point is that we find new ways to do things that continue the growth. When vacuum tubes got as small as they could be, we moved on to transistors. When transistors couldn’t get any smaller, we moved to integrated circuits. Those trends will continue. When we run out of oil, or when it gets sufficiently expensive that it doesn’t make sense to use it, we’ll move on to other technologies that make more sense.
- SmartEd Services had an enormous presence. They pretty much took over the hotel next to the convention center, using all of their meeting rooms and lobbies. They gave away T-shirts to everyone, and had their own competing mini-conference, with concurrent sessions running the full length of the first two days. In the interest of full disclosure, they did treat us to a customer appreciation dinner one night, which included speeches by Smart Technologies CEO Nancy Knowlton and technologist Ian Jukes. At one point, someone from my district was talking to a SmartEd representative. “I didn’t realize you had this many employees.” “Yeah, neither did we.” My own conversations with people about interactive whiteboards seemed to center on why we choose to go with Smart (we let a group of teachers evaluate the products and make the decision), and on whether they’re actually a transformative change or just a toy that gets teachers excited about technology (Edit note: text in italics above added to clarify that this was a SmartEd event, not a Smart Technologies one — SmartEd is a Smart Technologies reseller).
- The most valuable part of the conference for me is the networking. I get to see and talk to lots of people that I only see at this conference. I was able to spend some time with Alvin and Anjie, Ryan, John, and John. I also met several really interesting people who are about to become part of my RSS feeds.
- My presentation was… endurable. I had lots of technology problems, and very little time to solve them. That meant that I couldn’t integrate Skype, Twitter, and Yugma the way I wanted to. I did manage to get uStream video working, but forgot to record it, so there’s no archive available. One person told me that she came to my presentation because I was one of the few presenters at the conference who had blogged about it. I thought that was really neat. Another person stopped me two days later in the cafe and thanked me for my presentation. So at least a couple people got something out of it, which was wonderful.
- Finally, I was able to get my hands on a couple “little laptops.” The Asus eeePC is a $300-400 laptop. Despite the enormous potential of these devices, I couldn’t find a vendor who had one. I did hear later that there was someone, way off in the corner, who had one under a table or something, and would show it to you if you knew it was there and asked nicely. It reminds me of the Muppet in the trenchcoat. “Would you like to buy an Ohhh?” I did ask lots of people about them, and finally someone pointed me toward Chris Hamady. He did indeed have one, and he let me play with it quite a bit. We talked for a while about Linux and laptops and all kinds of neat things. Ryan Collins also brought his, and made a point of showing it to me. I’m sure I’m going to have more to say about these soon.