Live from BarCampRDU

It's 8am and I'm sitting in a room with about 150 guys (and a couple of women) at the Red Hat campus in Raleigh, NC. So what would get me up so early in the morning on a Saturday? BarCampRDU. I'll be updating this entry throughout the day as I go to the sessions and learn more.

8:00am: I'm sitting in a room with about 150 guys (and a couple women) at the Red Hat campus in Raleigh, NC. So what would get me up so early in the morning on a Saturday? BarCampRDU. According to the web site, a Bar Camp is "an unconference where people interested in a wide range of technologies come together to teach and learn."

Bar Camp RDU


Rather than having scheduled speakers, everyone pitches sessions this morning; the sessions are put on a schedule and small groups form for group learning. (Hmm, I just heard a proposal for a juggling class, interesting.) (Here's another interesting proposal - "Teach your wife to use version control").

10:00am: Ryan Cox lead a segment on the Google Web Toolkit (GWT). He talked about what GWT is, why you'd want to use it, and the GWT licensing. He walked through the creation of an iTunes-like GWT application from scratch. A poll of the audience showed almost half of them developing web applications on the Mac, which is not fully supported by GWT (hosted mode/debugging is not ported yet).

11:00am: The next session was about handling big data. They have done OCR on millions of patents and are creating a full text searchable database called They have 4TB of image data in TIFF form. The text format is smaller of course, and the size of the index is about 40GB (using Xapian). Much of the discussion centered on solutions for storing and managing multi-TB data sets cheaply, and partnerships with universities and storage companies. Bringing this data to light can bring out unknown history and artistry of some of the old patents.

12:00pm: rPath sponsored a nice lunch from Neomonde. People gathered around in informal roundtable discussions - I sat with Andy Hunt (Pragmatic Programmers) and Jared Richardson (Ship it!). Andy is wearing a custom T-shirt with his name on the back, spelled like the always does in his email (/\ndy). Andy is much younger than I imagined. I signed about a month ago with Andy and Dave Thomas to produce an e-book on GWT.

Images from the un-conference are being posted on Flickr using the tag 'barcamprdu'.

Bar Camp RDU

(Credit: Wayne Sutton)

1:30pm:  After lunch I went to a session lead by Fred Stutzman on social networking. A poll of the audience showed a majority had profiles on social networking sites - many having profiles on four or five. Fred talked about the network effect of adding new members using the examples of flickr and myspace.

2:00pm: Over in room F they were having a discussion of continuous integration systems. Cruise Control and Continuum were demonstrated.

2:30pm: Rick Cecil gave a talk called "User Experience for Programmers". The most important lesson was probably "I am not the user" - even if we do use the product, the fact that we're working on it makes us different. You need to talk to the real users, watch them use it, identify your assumptions, goals, and contexts. This helps you identify the features that really matter, not just the ones you thought would be nice.

3:30pm: Andy Hunt gave an interesting presentation this afternoon on Publishing. He talked about the history of books, all the way from hand-copied versions to pdf e-books. Advantages and disadvantages of e-books were covered. What is the future of publishing? Andy sees authoring, editing, and promotion becoming more of a continuous, collaborative, community effort. Robbie Allen (who has authored 10 books) talked more about internet publishing and problems with the print publishing industry.

4:30pm: For the last session of the day I went to the "Multiuser Blogging" talk led by Robbie Allen and Fred Stutzman. Fred is the project leader for Lyceum. Other systems discussed included Wordpress MU, JRoller, Traction, DogEar, and LiveJournal. The differences between internal and external blogs, anonymity, blogs vs. wikis and email, internal social networks, and other issues that corporate bloggers face were discussed.

Wrap up: BarCamp reminded me of a day-long BOF (birds of a feather) meeting. Quality was hit-and-miss, but you could always "vote with your feet" and switch rooms until you found something you liked. Organization, food, and facilities were surprisingly good thanks to the efforts of many volunteers and sponsors.