The Last Superhero | November 29, 2006

This is just a quick note to thank everybody who came along to my How to be a Web Design Superhero presentation at Refresh 06 a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately the session didn’t end up being recorded, but you can grab a copy of the slides if you’d like. I’ve given the talk a few times now, so if you’re interested you could always listen to the podcasts from SXSW06 or Web Master Jam.

The talk was originally written by myself and Andy Clarke as a light-hearted introduction to SXSW06. It was intended as a one-off talk but both myself and Malarkey have ended up giving it at several other events around the globe. However with the year nearing an end and SXSW07 around the corner, I think it’s time to put my superhero costume back in the closet and start working on next years presentation. Entitled, How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0, Jeremy Keith and myself will be teaching you everything you need to know in order to flip your latest hair brained idea for a ridiculous sum of money.

I know it’s a long way off, but if you haven’t already got your SXSW accommodation sorted, you’d better hurry. All the cool hotels have already sold out, and you don’t want to end up in the Hilton, now do you?

Comments (9)

Refresh 06 | November 22, 2006

The conference itself was an interesting one. One the first day myself and Jeremy ran cut down versions of our CSS Mastery and Introduction to Ajax workshops to a group of about 25 people. Thinking that a lot of the attendees would have already read the book, I added in some new material, mostly dealing with new CSS3 techniques. Jeremy was on his usual good form and everybody seemed to enjoy the day.

I really like running workshops the day before a conference as it gives the attendees and speakers a chance to get to know each other in a more informal setting. On this occasion we all went out for food afterwards, followed by copious amounts of alcohol.

The conference was smaller than most, with about 75 people in attendance. This turned out to be one of the best things about the event as it was possible to meet and chat to everybody involved. As such it was a very social event. I got the opportunity to catch up with old friends as well as making some new ones. One of the most enduring memories has to be Jeremy being set up by Jina Bolton at a Japanese restaurant. I have to admit that I laughed so hard it hurt. Talk about schadenfreude.

The speakers were all great and I particularly enjoyed Cameron Moll on UI design and Brian Fling on mobile design. After chatting to Brian at some length over dinner, it seems like the mobile web design industry in the US is very different from the UK. Here we have several well established mobile agencies including our friends over at Future Platforms. However Brian was saying that in the US, most of the content is developed inhouse and there aren’t any dedicated agencies. If this is true, I see a huge gap in the market opening up very soon.

I think the biggest surprise for me was Paul Boag who delivered two very eloquent, although somewhat contentious presentations. In stark contrast to his weekly podcast and despite our constant ribbing, Paul’s presentations were extremely well organised and for the most part, factually correct. Imagine that! As such, I look forward to seeing Paul speak at future events.

I wasn’t aware of this, but apparently the organisers got some flack for using the Refresh name. I think some of the other refreshing cities were concerned about the concept getting too commercialised. I can understand these concerns but the actual event managed to maintain that self organised feel and was more of a big Refresh event than a small conference. With the Refresh concept proving a testing ground for new speakers, a yearly Refresh conference could give novice speakers the exposure they need, and create a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Comments (6)

Geeks in the (Theme) Park | November 22, 2006

Last week I had the pleasure of travelling out to Orlando to speak at the Refresh06 Conference. Despite being a classic British holiday destination, I never went as a child. My summer holidays mostly consisted of trips to Cornwall in my parents Caravan. Think rainy holidays sat inside a cramped space playing solitaire and wishing I was somewhere else. So to put right the injustices of my childhood, I decided to go out a day early and sample some of the theme parks that attract overweight British families like moths to a flame.

Accompanied by Paul Boag and Jeremy Keith, we headed over to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure first thing. We were so keen in fact, that the majority of the rides hadn’t even opened by the time we got there. Because we were visiting midweek and out of season, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We walked right on the first couple of rides and we rarely had to wait more than five minutes for a seat.

I tried to convince Paul and Jeremy to try one of the bigger rides, but they were having none of it. Admittedly the idea of being blasted out of the Incredible Hulk Coaster at 60 miles an hour straight into a corkscrew terrified the hell out of me, but I could have been convinced if other people were up for it. What I really wanted was the opportunity to try out an intermediate coaster first. However it was all or nothing at Universal I’m afraid.

As it was we went on some cool rides including the Jurassic Park River Adventure and Spider Man 3D. We also went on a couple of water rides, and managed to get absolutely soaked. If you’re interested, here is a small flickr set of the day.

After lunch at the worlds largest Hard Rock Cafe (ironic w00t) we headed over to Universal Studios which was a much more sedate although somewhat dated affair. Still, the Terminator 2 show was interesting and the Back to the Future Ride helped put Spider Man 3D in perspective.

Running around the theme parks was a lot of fun, and defiantly an entertaining place for kids (and geeks).

Comments (4)

A Refreshing Change from Big Web Conferences | November 12, 2006

Tomorrow morning I’ll be jetting off to Orlando with Jeremy Keith and Paul Boag to speak at Refresh 06. In contrast to a lot of conferences, Refresh 06 will be a small, intimate affair. More like a big workshop than a conference. I’m really looking forward to this as it means we’ll be able to spend a lot more time talking with the audience. So if you’re planning to come along, start thinking about your questions now.

Talking about workshops, both myself and Jeremy will be running workshops on the day before the conference. I’ll be doing a cut-down version of my CSS Mastery workshop while Jeremy will be presenting the highlights of his Ajax workshop.

I’ve never been to Florida before, let alone Orlando, so I’m looking forward to experiencing a new city. One of the things I love about public speaking is the ability to visit places you normally wouldn’t get chance to see. So while we’re there, I’m hoping to check out Universal Studios Island of Adventure. I’m not a huge theme park fan, although I did enjoy Universal Studios in LA when I was there a few years back. I’ll probably have a crack at one of the bigger rides, although I’m not sure I have the nerve to try Duelling Dragons or The Incredible Hulk after checking out some of the videos on YouTube.

If you’re in and around the Orlando area, I’d love to get some recommendations for good bars, cafes and restaurants. Better yet, why not come along to the event and let us know in person. I think there are still some tickets left and it should be a lot of fun.

Comments (8)

Patently Unfair | November 3, 2006

In a current British car campaign, the advert proudly exclaims that the manufacturer filed for 9,621 patents during the development of it’s latest gas guzzler, while NASA has only filed 6,509. The intention here is clear. The car manufacturer is trying to claim that the filing of patents is evidence that their engineers are more innovative that the worlds best rocket scientists. This works because the majority of people still assume that patents relate to complicated innovations that take yeas to perfect. Sadly this couldn’t be further from the case.

The purpose of patents is a good one–to protect the time and efforts companies put into research and development in order to create new innovations. However when you look at some recent patents you realise they are often vaguely worded descriptions or badly drawn sketches used to describe obvious, and sometimes pre-existing, concepts. Rather than protecting the commercial cost of innovation, patents are actually doing the exact opposite. Being used a way to extract levies off other companies for their hard work and effort.

A classic example is Amazon and their one-click patent. Many companies are now forced to pay Amazon a licence fee just to be able to use the concept of one-click payment. Then there is the GIF file format, which allowed Unisys to tax graphic design packages for many years. And any article on ridiculous patents wouldn’t be complete without mention of British Telecom’s ludicrous claim over the hyperlink.

In a glorious case of “the shoe being on the other foot”, a couple of weeks ago IBM announced they were going to sue Amazon for patent infringement. It seems that IBM own patents for “Presenting Applications in an Interactive Service”, “Storing Data in an Interactive Network”, “Presenting Advertising in an Interactive Service” and “Ordering Items Using an Electronic Catalogue”. In a beautiful demonstration of doublespeak, IBM’s senior VP for technology is quoted as saying “When someone takes our property… we have no option but to protect it through every means available to us”.

Rather than companies spending money coming up with new innovations, and then bringing those innovations to market, it seems that companies are filing more and more patents with the sole purpose of extracting licensing revenue from unsuspecting companies. This seems to be in exact opposition to the original point of patents.

If the worlds courts wanted to do something about this, they could. By limiting legal pay outs to a multiple of the effort spent coming up with the patent, you could protect the work and effort that goes into real innovation, while at the same time making spurious legal cases completely redundant. For instance if somebody infringed the patent on a new drug that cost the manufacturer $10 million to produce, you could claim compensation of $100 million. However if you spent half an hour one rainy Sunday morning deciding to patent the idea of “Presenting Advertising in an Interactive Service” then I think a days wages is all you should receive in return. After all, the value isn’t in the idea, it’s in the successful implementation.

Sadly this isn’t the case and as time goes on, the disturbing misuse of patents is only going to increase. I worry that one day, if you want to set up a website of any kind, you’ll be forced to pay a percentage of all your income to an industry body like the BMI, set up solely to collect payments for spurious patent infringement on behalf of a few large corporations.

Comments (12)