Notes From San Francisco [en]

So, roughly half-way through my five-week trip to San Francisco, what’s going on? I haven’t been blogging much lately, that’s for sure.

For once, I took some photographs from the plane. Unfortunately my camera batteries ran out just as we were coming down on San Francisco, and my spare ones were in the luggage compartment above my head. Oh, well.

Flying to San Francisco 31

I got some first-level questioning at immigration coming in. No, not the sort where they take you to a separate room, become much less friendly, and have boxes of rubber gloves on the counter. This is how it went:

  • …And what is the duration of your stay?
  • Five weeks.
  • …And what do you do in… over in Switzerland?
  • I’m a freelance… internet consultant. OMG that sounds bad. …I’m actually here to work on a book project. Yeah I know I should never volunteer information.
  • What’s the book about?
  • Er… teenagers and the internet.
  • And…?
  • Er… Well, the situation with teenagers and the internet, and what we’re doing about it in Switzerland.
  • And what are you doing about it?
  • Well, not enough!
  • And? Come on, tell me more about it.
  • Er… OK. OMGOMG Well, see, teenagers are really comfortable with computers and the internet, and so they’re chatting, blogging, etc. — they’re digital natives, see? — and parents, well, they’re clueless or terrified about the internet, and they don’t always understand what’s going on in their kids lives online, so basically, we have teenagers who are spending a lot of time online and sometimes getting into trouble and parents don’t know or don’t care about what they’re doing there, so we have this… chasm between generations and…
  • Thank you. You can go.

The pick-up from the airport was wonderfully orchestrated and much appreciated. Being driven into town by somebody friendly rather than having to use unfamiliar public transportation really makes a difference. Thanks to all those involved (yes, it took that many people!)

Waiting on the Sidewalk

Then, through some freak breakdown of all modern forms of communication (partially documented on Twitter), I ended up waiting outside on the sidewalk for almost an hour while my kind host Tara waited for me inside her appartment. We worked it out finally, and I was introduced to my (nice and spacious) room before going to hang out at Citizen Space. A nice dinner out with Chris, Tara and Jimmy to end the day, and I happily collapsed in my bed at a respectable local hour. You will have taken note that I did not collapse at 4pm feeling like a zombie, thanks to having taken melatonin on the plane. (It doesn’t seem to work that well for Suw, but it works perfectly on me, and I’m never traveling between continents without it again.)

The four next days went by in a blur of Supernova madness: too many people, too many sessions, food with ups and downs, parties with cupcakes and others at the top of skyscapers. I took lots of photographs and even a video sequence that got some attention.

Supernova First Day 33

During the next week, I started settling down. Met and hung out with old friends, made new ones, unpacked my suitcases, went walking around in town, saw Dykes on Bikes, the Gay Pride Parade, and the iPhone launch, photographed skyscrapers in the night, ordered a new camera, got my MacBook (partly) repaired, and even dropped in at Google to take notes of Suw’s talk there.

All this, actually, is documented in my Twitter stream — maybe I should add a whole lot of links? — be sure to keep an eye on it if you’re interested in a more day-by-day account of what I’m doing here.

Overall, things have been good. A small bout of homesickness a few days ago, but I’m feeling better now. I need to start focusing on the things I want to get done (blogging, writing, book, writing, fixing things for clients…) — holiday over now!

Downtown San Francisco By Night 9

I’ve been thinking about my “work career” a little, too. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing, but I’m not going to be doing “Blog 101” for ever — I can feel my interests shifting somewhat already. I’ve been interested in the “social tools at large” department for a long time, but unfortunately it seems to translated to “blogging” in most of the work I do, so I’d like to expand my horizons in that direction a little. I’ve had a couple of talks with people in startups recently, and I realize it’s a kind of environment I wouldn’t mind working in — at least part-time. We’ll see what happens.

I’m also realizing that there is more potential than I first thought around the two main things I care about these days: teenagers online and internet language issues. Hence, the book, and also a talk on the subject of languages on the internet which I’ll be giving at Google this coming Tuesday.

Also in the “work” department, two other things have been on my mind. First, the idea of opening up a coworking space in or around Lausanne (Ollie is having the same kind of thought — we’re talking). Second, trying to find a solution so that I don’t have to do maintenance on my clients’ WordPress installations once all is rolling, or spend hours swimming in HTML, CSS and WordPress theme PHP template tags. Not that I don’t know how to do it or don’t enjoy it once in a while, but it’s really not the kind of work I want to spend my time doing. So, I’ve been starting to ask around for names of people who might do this kind of thing (for a reasonable fee), and even thinking of recruiting some students in Lausanne that I could coach/train so that they can do most of the work, and call me up only for major problems. So, see, I’ve been thinking.

Some people have been asking me if I was planning to move here. Indeed, 5 weeks in the city looks suspiciously like a scouting operation. Actually, traveling has an interesting side-effect for me: I tend to come back home thinking “gee, Lausanne is such a great place to live! I’m never moving!” Sure, I have some underlying personal issues which contribute to making me overly attached to my hometown, and I know that someday I might end up living elsewhere. But really, for the moment, I don’t think I’d want that.

And even though I’m told San Francisco is very “European” compared to the rest of the US (which I have yet to see) I can’t help seeing how “horribly American” it is. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this city and am enjoying my time here. I know that what I say can give wrong impressions (for example, people — especially Indians — read the story of my year living in India and think that I hated the country; it’s not true, I really loved it, and can’t wait to go back). But I walk around San Francisco and see all the signs with rules and regulations and “stupid” warnings (like, God, the pineapple chunks I buy at Whole Foods haven’t been pasteurized and may contain harmful germs! or, don’t use the hairdryer in the bath tub!), the AT&T Park and other manifestations of what to me is “consumerism gone mad”, I hear about health care and “you’re expected to sue” horror stories, visa lotteries for non-renewal, the education system…

So, yes, I’m focusing on the negative. And Switzerland, even though it’s a wonderful country ;-), has its negatives too. Like many natives all over the world, I’ve developed a selective blindness to what is “wrong” in the land I come from, considering much of it “normal” as I have been brought up with it. I know that. But too much of what I see here makes my skin crawl. I’m really enjoying spending some weeks here, I love my friends, the food and the sunshine, but I don’t think I’d be happy living here.

Misty Skyscrapers in Downtown San Francisco 10

Well, this was one of these longer-than-expected posts, and it’s occupied most of my morning. My tasks for this afternoon are (in this order):

  • one WordPress install for a client
  • spending a little more time trying to see if there is hope for the aggravating Google Groups problem I bumped into, and if not, setting up a Yahoo! Group instead
  • writing a post for or working on my book — whichever I most feel like.

David Weinberger and Andrew Keen [en]

Random, scattered notes. Not necessarily understandable. Might contain outright mistakes — I don’t always understand everything. No who-said-what either, sorry.

David Weinberger

Supernova Second Day 29

1993: Too much information. Solution: more information. This has always been the problem of the web: too much info out there. Why aren’t we drowning?

First order: ?

Second order: physically separate. steph-note: great slide with photos of cars demonstrating that we can’t put two physical things at the same place

We like taxonomic trees: everything in one place and the right place. Sorting clothes in a pile. Animal kingdom tree.

We have absorbed the limitations of the physical and applied it to the world of ideas. Terrible limitation!

We take the leaves of the trees.

  1. leaf of many branches (put one thing in many categories)
  2. messiness as a virtue
  3. no difference between data and metadata (everything is online — “I remember a bit of the content” => you can find the thing, and all the metadata. Everything becomes metadata.)
  4. Owners of the information do not own the organisation of that information. We have invented techniques to allow us to find stuff. The web is not flat, it’s lumpy.

  5. We are used to favoring simplicity because that’s how you get the message out. (cf. politics steph-note: slide of Bush) Blog posts commenting on Bush’s speech made it more complex, commenting on little aspects of it.

  6. Experts. Publicly negotiated knowledge. Wikipedia. Usually Wikipedia is better than what we get from any one individual. No matter how much of an expert Howard is, the mailing-list is smarter than him. Kids using social tools to do homework. Doing homework socially.
  7. Understanding. What we do on the web is understand what we know. We have a huge pile of stuff we enrich with metadata (tags!!) We’re creating links between things. We’re building the real semantic web!

Infrastructure of meaning. It’s ours.

Andrew Keen

Supernova Second Day 34

This is supposed to be a debate about the value of authority in a connected year. Troubled by the idea that authority has value.

Power being defined as religious, charismatic, expertise

Are all these changes a good thing? Are they a threat to what we truly value?

What he values: he’s a modernist. Believes in the nation-state, mass-society. It’s good. Radically new access to culture, education. Mass education, mass media, mass literacy — good thing.

Where is this world going? In spite of digital utopians’ hopes (genuine hopes, they believe what they say!) steph-note: sentences too long, can’t keep track concerned about what we’re losing in the withering of mass-everything, bigger divisions between the rich and the poor.

More scarcity of education in this digital world. We’re doing away with the access to education for the masses by taking down the gate-keepers.

Hierarchies: digital revolution is creating profound new hierarchies. Dramatic contrasts in terms of wealth and poverty.

Fragmentation of mass society: we’re seeing complex boundaries of the middle ages reappear. steph-note: to me, he seems to be saying lots of things that ring well with people’s fears, but for me it’s disconnected from reality. “it’s making access to education more difficult” — how? where? when?


Supernova Second Day 37

steph-note: DW asks a question, don’t have the feeling AK is answering — asking another question. Noticing I have lots of trouble following conversations. DW engaging more than AK who tends to just ask questions back at DW’s questions.

steph-note: AK now answering questions, but I’m still crap at taking notes in this kind of situation. I still think he’s somewhat hindering the conversation by going on tangents and flying out in abstractions with no examples. Sweeping generalisations and references to how we’re going back to medieval times.

AK: people need authorities and experts.

DW: the web is more of everything — the good, and the bad.

Tom: there is actually very little authority in the world which is derived from expertist.

AK: the media system is relatively meritocratic regarding to society steph-note: couldn’t disagree more, and the audience visibly doesn’t agree either

Update, July 25, 2007: Full Text: Keen vs. Weinberger

What Do You Care About? [en]

[fr] Hier soir, au lieu de me demander "alors, qu'est-ce que tu fais?", David Isenberg m'a demandé "de quoi te préoccupes-tu" (ou, peut-être, "quels sont les thèmes chers à ton coeur" -- traduction pas évidente de "what do you care about").

En bref, je m'intéresse à l'espace où les gens et la technologie se rencontrent, particulièrement sur internet. Plus précisément:

  • les adolescents et internet
  • le multilinguisme sur internet

Yesterday evening in the skyscraper, I met David Isenberg, who instead of asking the very conventional “so, what do you do?” question, asked me “so, what do you care about?”

What a great question to ask somebody you’ve just met. It kind of blew my mind. Personally, I’ve come to dread the “what do you do?” question, because the answer is usually something like “uh, well, I’m a freelance consultant… blogging 101, stuff, teenagers, talks… bleh”. Which actually, does not adequately cover what I do and who I am. Actually, the evening before, somebody told me “you need to work on your sales pitch.” To which I answered that I didn’t have a sales pitch, because I don’t want to “sell myself” — if people want to work with me, they call me up or e-mail me, and I’m in the lucky situation that this provides enough interesting work to keep me busy and fed.

So, what do I care about? Mainly, about people, relationships, technology (particularly the internet) and where they intersect. That’s the whole “internet/web2.x consultant” thingy. And in a bit more detail, these days, there are two issues I care about a lot:

  • teenagers and their use of the internet, and the educational issues it raises (what the risks are and aren’t — insert rant about predator hysteria here — what is changing, what parents need to know)
  • languages online, particularly doing localisation right — insert rant about “country = language” here — and providing tools and strategies to help bridge people bridge language barriers better, and creating multilingual spaces (“multilingualism” stuff).

So, what do you care about?

Supernova 2007 — John Kneuer [en]

[fr] A la conférence Supernova en train d'essayer (et d'échouer) de prendre des notes. Blabla politico-gouvernemental.

Random, scattered notes. Not necessarily understandable. Might contain outright mistakes — I don’t always understand everything. No who-said-what either, sorry.

Announcing the next speaker, John Kneuer. Some stuff about government and Washington and some acronyms I’m not familiar with (FTC etc.)

Supernova First Day 39

DTV transition. Everything will be digital. Interesting and important from a broadcasting perspective. Consumer demand. Really significant changes in the market. Spectrum, transmission of that spectrum.

steph-note: sorry, this is gobbledygook for me…

Single-cell tower, four tower-system. Technology one generation beyond incumbents. Access layer. Open access to the wireless network: problem is, government sets terms and conditions for access. steph-note: too many four-syllable words for me here.

Pro-consumer benefit of open access. Significant… steph-note: something. Market forces are going to provide an open network… Opportunity forgone… people in this room… global reputation of the Bay Area… innovation… shattering the business models… overcoming… large incumbents…


David Weinberger: basically, the US markets are closed. steph-note: not understanding what this is about, but filming part of the response. Video below contains another question and answer, and a point made by Doc Searls and a very incomplete response (ran out of memory card space — maybe I need a real video camera)

Feel free to add tags and comments to the video. I hope the audio is understandable.

Update, Tuesday 26th: David Isenberg has a transcript of the video.

Update, Friday 21st

Check out:

Update, Saturday 22nd

The video was broken, sorry. It now works.

Taking Photos at Supernova [en]

[fr] Je suis toujours à la conférence Supernova, où je prends des photos plutôt que des notes (vu l'état).

I’m still at Supernova (gosh, third day!), feeling a lot more human now but still taking more photos than notes. I’m sitting in the second row now, so we’ll see. I might take notes. Do check out my photos, though — as for Reboot, I’ve organised them into sub-sets and one general, recapitulative set which contains all the photographs. Here are the sub-sets so far:

Supernova Open Space 7
Supernova 2007 Open Space

Supernova Twit Jaiku Party 1
Jaiku/Twit Party

Supernova Cupcake Party 52
Cupcake Party

Supernova Cupcake Party 29
Just the cupcakes…

Supernova First Day 1
Supernova, First Day (today!)

Update, Friday 21st

Please add tags as you look through them (particularly names of people, I really don’t know everyone!) and if you take photos of Supernova, consider opening up tagging to the whole Flickr community.

San Francisco Skyscraper Party 62
Reception in a skyscraper, with a view you shouldn’t miss!

San Francisco Skyscraper View 44

Broadcasting Supernova Live [en]

[fr] Je suis à la conférence Supernova à San Francisco, et on m'a recrutée pour retransmettre en direct une des sessions.

If you’re not at Supernova but would have liked to, you can follow the sessions live online. I’m broadcasting one (finally, after solving a bunch of logistical and technical problems).

The three other sessions are being broadcasted too but I’m not sure at what address. Add them in the comments if you have them and I’ll update this post.

Je suis à San Francisco [fr]

[en] I'm in San Francisco until July 22nd. Just now, I've been "recruited" to film some of Supernova2007 (which means I'll be there, behind a camera), so I haven't really had time to settle down (I was at Supernova Open Space yesterday).

Juste un petit mot rapide pour vous dire que j’ai fait bon voyage jusqu’à San Francisco (avec très peu de “jetlag” grâce à la mélatonine). J’y serai jusqu’au 22 juillet. Il fait chaud la journée mais froid la nuit, et j’ai été “recrutée” pour faire camérawoman lors de la conférence Supernova2007. Donc, journée un peu occupée, mais entrée gratuite à la conférence.

Waiting on the Sidewalk

J’ai commencé à mettre des photos sur Flickr — vous pourrez donc suivre mes péripéties depuis là si vous le désirez.

Avec un peu de chance le rythme de vie devrait s’être calmé d’ici la fin de la semaine (quoique… il y a tout le temps quelque chose qui se passe, ici, c’est effrayant) et je tiens vraiment à profiter de ce séjour pour écrire, bloguer, me reposer…

Supernova Open Space: Presence [en]

[fr] Notes de conférence/discussion.

*Random, scattered notes. Not necessarily understandable. Might contain outright mistakes — I don’t always understand everything. No who-said-what either, sorry.*

Classicly, presence comes from IM. Now, more to do with context.

Systems try to define presence for us, but in a way completely broken (“Away”: often not true). Kids: using SMS — just send it, get (or not) a response. Something muddy in the waters, because doesn’t really tell us, from a communications point of view, what we want to know. Can I talk to you? Can we chat? Fragmenting presence (Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook).

Different types of interruptions. Buddy list groups.

*steph-note: damn, really incapable of participating AND taking notes. Really really spotty notes.*

Difference between “conversation” and “communication”.

Jaiku as stream of consciousness of your community. *steph-note: that’s why it feels different (finally nailed it!) — it’s more about thoughts and intellectual/media production than about actual presence. Twitter has a higher ratio of presence. It’s more focused (yes, even though it’s chatty/microbloggy).*

Social etiquette.