SWITCH Conference, Coimbra: José Fontainhas [en]

Running notes from the SWITCH conference in Coimbra. Are not perfect. Feel free to add info in the comments, or corrections.

Jazz and the art of Chaos

About how José became a better musician. Everything not in English at Automattic has something to do with José. But first and foremore, he is a drummer.

Where it began: a few years back, José decided he wanted to be his own boss. Wanted to develop ideas that don’t thrive well in the online world. Generic websites. Found WordPress: open source, easy to use, and named for jazz musicians. Started WordPress-Portugal.

Playing solo doesn’t work for all musicians. Freelancing felt a bit like playing solo, studio work. He came across Automattic.

Automattic does WordPress.com, but many other products: Akismet, BuddyPress, VideoPress, etc. 11 mio blogs on wp.com.

1200 servers running across a whole bunch of data centres. The service speaks more than 60 languages, and this is where José comes in. Portuguese is the third most popular language after English and Spanish.

He sent in his application, and a few months later got an answer. Whee! Felt like getting a positive response from Mick Jagger saying he’d love to play in the band or something 🙂

He thought they would be like other companies, but they’re crazy! Same kind of craziness as him, however.

  • work is completely distributed, everybody works from home (50 people!) — 12 US states, 10 countries
  • everybody sets their own work hours
  • no offices (Pier 38 in SF though, but it’s more a space/lounge rather than an office) — used as a coworking space, open to others
  • communicate using p2; IRC channel, conversations logged, indexed and archived, but it became too busy => but afterwards, moved to p2 (they use e-mail, but really not that much)
  • in-person meet-ups every six months or so, to see each other’s faces, etc.; weeks with fun activities and small projects and workgroups to be delivered at the end

Point: the system is chaotic. No titles. No diagrammes. No PAs. But there are responsibilities. Each person needs to be grown-up enough to find his or her place in the journey.

They push code changes live to production upto 20 times a day. Direct from dev to live.

It’s a jam. Embrace the chaos, don’t fight it. Improvisation. Be a better musician. He is the master of his instrument, and his band mates know he is and trust him to use it the best.

*Here’s a video of Zé’s talk (minus a little bit when my memory card was full, oops!) if you want to listen to it.*

SWITCH Conference, Coimbra: Out of the Box [en]

Running notes from the SWITCH conference in Coimbra. Are not perfect. Feel free to add info in the comments, or corrections.

Ricardo Tomé

From a 1h talk-show to a 24h talk-show.

Stuff about pizza and sandwiches and what social media is closest to (pizza). Anybody can make pizza.

Be different, do things differently, engage, engage, engage. Different but better.

Important for them to define a goal: engage. 24h talk show! The communication is the content.

*steph-note: trouble following this one, sorry, very bad notes*

Crossmedia: really a challenge. Go from making a show for just TV to producing something that works on all platforms.

5 hosts. 3 of them had never touched a facebook or twitter account. Daily show on TV. On the web, 24/7. The show was never the same, no routine, always something new.

Changed the process: put the focus on the content rather than on the media.

*steph-note: following better now there is no talking behind me ;-)*

Webcam for the TV show 45 minutes before the show and 15 minutes after, so you can see what’s going on, and chat, etc.

3 months is really short to make something work on the web (in normal TV, it’s 2 weeks before the kill/live decision).

There is no perfect web. The real web is organic. You don’t know what’s going to happen or which direction it’s going to grow. *steph-note: the whole lack of control thing*

Each host made a commitment about their use of social media to support the show. Update Twitter, Facebook, reply to e-mail, moblog, etc etc.

6 hosts doing that => lots of interaction between those platforms, connected accounts etc.

Lots of feedback during the creative process and production, compared to less use of social media.

Daily tracking and monitoring with weekly reporting. Lots of numbers and hard work. But measuring everything means you have tons of data, what do you do with it?


  • more interaction between hosts and audience and amongst them
  • long-tail effect
  • active participation
  • mobilization
  • faster learning curve (season1)

TV show got a 9.7% share (channel average is 4.7%) (double the channel on almost all targets, and peak at 20% share)

Videos on the web, huge jump in views between season 1 and season 2.

*Ricardo is now showing us figures, all impressive — views on the blog, video views, webcam and chat participants, facebook fans, etc.*

Have fun! They were doing a humourous talk-show, so if they weren’t having fun doing it, now way people would have fun watching it…

Rewarded the host with the biggest web engagement, each week.

Prof. Freitas Magalhaes

The science of facial expressions. *projector problems*

Micro-expressions. *showing us lots of moving faces and expressions on screen; steph-note: I’m not sure where we’re going with this.*

  • FACS is a tool for the study of micro-expressions. Code the face.
  • F-MPF is the Portuguese face database.
  • Psy7Faces: detects movement in the face.

what he studied:

  • Psychopaths: they have different facial expressions.
  • Human fetus smile.
  • Alcohol addicts.

Alexandre Lemos

Bubok: we publish every book that comes our way. A recent project! (Not Alex’s project. He just loves it.)

How do they do it? POD (print on demand), I+d, Ebook, Cloud computing, Social networks… A bunch of technologies that give us easy and cheap access to publishing.

Why? it’s a challenge. It allows us to take position, make people look at them. Lots of publishers! Helps them stand out.

Their point: they publish without choosing. But nobody does that! Publishing *is* choosing. The authors choose. They are the ones who choose to publish — self-publish.

  • first book
  • morabilia
  • self-marketing
  • dreams
  • education
  • independance
  • special books

All sorts of reasons to self-publish. Most of the time, books are self-published because the author has a dream.

After only some months of activity, bubok started receiving partnership requests from other publishers. Most publishers gain prestige by refusing books. It’s a strategy! “I’m more important than your book.”

Other publishers get in touch with them, not understanding how they do it — how are they not overwhelmed? how do they afford it? etc.

SWITCH Conference, Coimbra: Technology [en]

Running notes from the SWITCH conference in Coimbra. Are not perfect. Feel free to add info in the comments, or corrections.

Pedro Bizarro

What’s common between a traffic jam, a bad surprise with your energy bill, a heart attack?

Bad surprises can sometimes be avoided if the right person has the right information at the right moment.

Real-time information. Lots of information to process in traffic management, measuring energy consumption, or running a hospital.

steph-note: very dark room and glaring white slides, not helping me focus; grumble: don’t give your whole talk in the dark for a series of dark slides, not worth it — or turn the light down just when you show those slides.

Cheap sensors everywhere, easy to capture information now; ubiquitous networks, no limit to storage.

Use case for this type of technology: monitoring ICU patients to predict risk of cardiac arrest.

Another is monitoring energy consumption in the house, which can give you a prediction for your bill at the end of the month.

Hugo Pinto

Personal journey: getting technology to do stuff to you. Most entrepreneurs have a dream they pursue. Hugo is a bit different — was a strange kid, reading strange kinds of books: SF comics. Imagining he’d play a part in this SF future.

But where are the hover cars, the spaceships, the house robots? A future that never was. Economics have kicked in. Hugo’s probably never going to land on a lunar base anytime in his life.

So, what’s the story? Hugo is a kind of entrepren– dreamer. Programmed during his teens, took computer engineering at university, corporate programming in his 20s, and then management (heck, he lost his way!)

Reboot, back to his dream: can we do pragmatic stuff? Co-started Inovaworks in 2006. Do fun tech stuff that has business value and sell it. Inspiration: read The Muse in the Machine by David Gelernter. (Something about predictive outcomes in creativity steph-note: if I understood right)

Started a company, but ended up getting a state-sponsored fund (around their work on creativity). As always, the company ended up doing some stuff they’d predicted they’d do, and some stuff they hadn’t. For example, more mobile stuff. iPhone apps and casual games. Oropoly (?).

All that they do, they do cheaply (or at least cheapish). Hardware is getting cheaper. Open standards make it easy to exchange knowledge. Globalization helps you connect with people having useful resources, like alibaba.com. 3D printer: horrendously expensive, but they have one for 950$. Not that good quality, but it works great for prototyping!

Unless you’re doing fundamental tech research, technology is about doing stuff. Ideas per se have little market value. Build a prototype, social market the hell out of it, bootstrap or get it financed!

Possible to make great products out of cheap technology. It’s really really hard to protect IP. It’s way easier to just kickstart it by making a product. Going to market is the most important thing nowadays.

Hugo’s company are doing research on interactive 3D. AAA3D as a new enabler. 3D game engines have been maturing, cost of developing this type of interactive media has decreased dramatically.


What about the space thing? Very costly. The chemicals needed to lift you into space are not getting any cheaper. Space elevators and space loops are decades away. Hugo won’t go into space, but can he fake it? Computer imagery, as we have seen, is catching up 🙂 (DID is getting cheaper and cheaper: 290$)

Maybe we’re all going to space 🙂 — 3D cameras on the Mars spaceship!

Here’s a video of Hugo’s talk if you want to watch it.

Frederico Figueiredo

Boosting user experience. Best practices in large enterprises. How to produce good UX. @fredfigueiredo was born the the computer science department of his university 😉

Joined Siemens in 2005 (amongst other things). His passion is usability. Finished his MSc in 2007, papers and talks with people in many parts of the world. Liked basketball — is not just a geek, though he’s probably not in good enough shape to dunk anymore!

Boring ISO 9241 definition of usability. Has to be a better way to explain it!

Effectiveness: accuracy and completeness. Efficiency: ressources expended. Satisfaction: what you gain afterwards.

Fred’s definition: How easy is it for a “user” to do “something” in a given “environment”.

Example: how easy is it for you to know when the next rain is in Amsterdam airport, etc. gives us a bunch of examples of usability fails in offline environments

First step (Nielsen): know your users. This is where you really get value. Observe them in their environment. User-centred design. Put the user in the focus of everything you do.

UX: mix of usability, visual aspects, good design, brand. => nice product people use enthousiastically

In the past, the brands were in control. Now, users are in control, the market is very competitive. Users have expectations based on past experiences, and based on real world experiences. Users are demanding and they don’t always demand the same thing.

Look at the iPhone: less features than any other smartphone on the market, but #1 seller.

But organizations keep providing services and products which are not usable, etc => need usability as a core competence in the organization. Cannot be something external you add on as an afterthought. Quite easy in small organizations, but hard in larger corporations. Nobody gets to meet the CEO. Too much distance between decision power and ideas/concerns. Companies driven by ROI, etc => who cares about usability?

Multiple sites, different cultures, different roles and backgrounds. So many different takes on what usabiilty is.

Bureaucratic processes, turnover.

How can people recognize the brand when they want products that are customized to their needs. Also, hard to know the users as they are so far away. Is usabiity really accepted in a corporation? What can we do about this?

Fight the organization, but intelligently and smoother. Aikido.

  • path to self-discovery, requires a team
  • use the energy of your opponent and make it your own
  • be aware of your environment
  • make the decisions in the action *steph-note: didn’t get that*

Infiltrate. Don’t go in with a big sign saying “I’m here to change your organization”. Observe. Go in as a software designer, etc. Strategy.

Challenge: don’t know what the difference is between a customer and an end-user.

Build a team, an identity, get peer recognition, network, convince other people to pay attention to usability, educate others and train them, and only then can you make a change, make a difference.

It’s all about selling usability, in the end. You don’t sell the concept of usability, but the end product, the value it brings. Sell it with emotion and enthusiasm.

Two of Fred’s favorite tools:

  • presentations: with results/value (what you have gained by applying usability) — but don’t do crap powerpoint, target to the audience
  • just do it!

Luis Borges

We are at war! An information war. Fast, tech-based, and global.

We need new tools to deal with information overload, check for information quality, and support knowledge. steph-note: related, addicted to technology — I’m a bit tired of that topic

“No, you weren’t downloaded. You were born.” comic strip

Time and space.

Places are important for us: where human activity takes place; central for life, learning, work, fun.

Time and space change in the digital world. We’re not sure yet how to use these new “time and space” to support our human activities.

Digital time and space are more independant, elastic.

But! More time to do, less time to react. Space is almost impossible to control, but easy to reach.

The digital world allows time and space to overlap in different ways than in the physical world.

The world suddenly becomes our place, no more boundaries at human scale. We can be in more spaces at the same time. But we cannot not be where we are, or be at another time.

Human limits still apply! Physical location and place remains important.

The world has changed and will never go back.

Digital is part of any place, but we always come back to offline.

steph-note: this is interesting — I’m not sure I agree with everything, but I like the idea of rethinking space and time in the light of the presence of digital technology.

We need tools that free people from data-information-knowledge tyranny steph-note: I disagree, we simply need to set boundaries, learn to say no, etc.

Some Advice on Being Your Own Boss (My SWITCH Conference Talk) [en]

[fr] Une conférence que je viens de donner à Coimbra. Quelques conseils (de survie ;-)) pour indépendants.

I just gave a talk this morning on some advice on being a freelancer (dearly learned along the 4 years of my solo career), at the SWITCH conference here in Coimbra. Here’s the presentation:

This presentation is really aimed at people who are already working freelance, and are doing so as a result of turning a passion into a job. “How to become a freelancer” is a completely different talk (which I might give some day!)

Also, there was a misunderstanding about what I mean when I say “be expensive”. I mean “ask for what you’re worth” — no way do I mean “overcharge”. Most people who are freelancers by passion are a bit like hippies when it comes to money, and most people undercharge and feel they are being horrendously expensive when they ask for the right price.

This talk is not either advice for people who want to become freelancers out of nothing. Start out with a passion, something you’re good at. Maybe you might be able to turn it into a job. Only then will this advice come in handy.

If you’re interested in seeing more on this topic, you should check out the videos of the talks given at Going Solo, a conference on freelancing I organized in 2008. I also have a series of posts about procrastination that might come in handy to some (but don’t read them now, do it tomorrow ;-)).

Oh, and here’s Why the 15-minute timer dash works, and Let’s buddy work. My office and coworking space (in Lausanne, Switzerland) is eclau. I’ll add related posts here as I think of them.

*Here’s a crappy video of the talk (SWITCH will provide a better one) which I shot so I could make it available quicker ;-)*

SWITCH Conference, Coimbra: Web Today [en]

Running notes from the SWITCH conference in Coimbra. Are not perfect. Feel free to add info in the comments, or corrections.

Hugo Almeida

Machinima. Films made in virtual worlds. A new form of art! Real film techniques in virtual worlds.

  1. choose your virtual world (Second Life, WoW, Sims…” — Hugo likes SL because you can build anything
  2. choose your screen capture software
  3. edit in your favorite video editor

3D mouse to control the camera!

3D world as a collaborative platform.

Project: Hugo looks for a team in SL — no budget! In SL, he looks for artists: Japanese, British, Portuguese, Polish…

scenarios: multinational team

actors: SL avatars, animated by real people — so you need to direct them like real actors

real-time filmmaking: several weeks to make the movie (+production).

Different visions, different cultures: a melting-pot of different ideas.

Budget: 50K for a regular project in this area, but they manage with 300 €

*steph-note: Hugo is talking in Portuguese, but I’d like to know why 😉 — now he shows us a video, beautiful.*

Me 😉

Here’s the blog post about my talk (some advice to freelancers) , with link to my Prezi 🙂

Luis Monteiro

Blogging for a dream. E-mail: “do you want to make a trip to Antarctica?”

  • are you commited to the environment?
  • do you have an urge to photograph penguins?
  • do you have a passion for polar regions?
  • do you have a blog?

For Luis, yes to all these 🙂 — created a blog and got a team together to take part in the competition.

Joined all social networks to be all over the place.

Tough opponents — hate mail/messages! But Luis and his team were also tough 🙂 — with an automatic dashboard.

4 hours per day for 3 months (*steph-note: when I say social media takes time…*)

Has a pretty cousin, and after accidentally showing her on the webcam following his house, he used popular request for seeing her again to get people to vote 😉

“If I get enough votes, I’ll dress up as a penguin in summertime in Portugal” *steph-note: this guy is great fun!*

*photo of Luis dressed up as a penguin playing the guitar near a big roundabout*

It worked out! (And the comments on what he was doing became a bit more positive…)

And they went to Antarctica 🙂 *steph-note: I like the soundtrack on this slideshow, what is it?*

The question: was it worth it? *steph-note: another video clip. wow.*

Blogging every day, he wasn’t the live-blogger on the team for nothing!

SWITCH Conference, Coimbra: Science [en]

Running notes from the SWITCH conference in Coimbra. Are not perfect. Feel free to add info in the comments, or corrections.

José Pereira-Leal

Human genome: internal representation of our building blocks (assembly plan). Reading that “book” is an operation that has been going on for more than 10 years, and is an ongoing battle between public and private initiatives. Thousands of people involved, billions of dollars. Halfway through the process, somebody decided it was going nowhere, and went “private” => do this and make money in the process.

Public: taxpayer money goes into research, research is public, made available, and not owned by a corporation.

Genome: 3G letters (A, C, T, G)– 1 human cell = 1.8m of DNA in a space < 0.00001m. Very compact! Today, we know that less than 5% (probably less than 2%) actually means anything. Each cell reads a different part of the instructions.

Bioinformatics is at the crossroads of biology, computer science, maths, physics… Breakthroughs in computer science (e.g.) can dramatically speed up the process of deciphering the genome steph-note: I think that’s what he said.

Malaria: mass murderer => in the cell of the plasmodium, there are the remnants or an engulfed algae, and bioinformatics predict it should be possible to kill the parasite by using stuff that kills the algae, without harming the host.

For a proposal like that (fosmidomycin) to go into clinical trials, it would take 10 years. With bioinformatics, 2 years steph-note: if I understood correctly.

What else? Breast cancer. We need markers for disease prognosis and response to chemotherapy, and we need to know how well they predict. Approach: take an oncologist and a computer scientist, and data integration tools (bioinformatics) + data. steph-note: something about HLA-G.

Other thing: bacteria who live in human cells. Bioinformatics discovered that these bacteria lack copy redundancy (no spare tires) and we can predict which drugs will kill them.

From academia to commercialisation: need a business-friendly environment.

Archon Genomics Prize.

Monica Bettencourt Dias

PhD on cell biology of heart regeneration.

Cell proliferation. Mutant drosophiles (fruit fly).

Seeing is believing: with a microscope you look at fixed cells, but now it’s possible to actually see live cells. steph-note: photo of jellyfish, reminds me of my trip to the Oceanarium on Monday 😉

Cell cycle. If you lose part of the genome in the process, you can lose very precious proteins. Two important moments for us: chromosome duplication, and mitosis (where it can go wrong from the DNA point of view).

steph-note: Monica is showing us some video sequences of cells dividing, etc. — pretty cool! Nuclei tugging away from each other to separate the chromosomes. tug-a-war!

Centrosome helps distribute the genetic material equally between the two cells.

Interesting questions: How are the centrioles formed, and what is the role of the different structures in development and disease?

SAK/PLK4 is a centrosomal protein needed for centriole duplication in flies and humans. Does SAK-dependant centrosome duplication rely on a template? What happens if there is too much SAK? steph-note: oops, the science has lost me — very interesting but I must have skipped a bit here and there

Of course, all this has a link with figuring out cancer cells…