My company was kind enough to let me take a couple of days off this week to attend the Open Web Vancouver conference, held at the new Convention Centre. Today was day one.
The keynotes were both quite good, in their own ways. The first was by Rickard Falkvinge, the founder of Sweden’s Pirate Party, which just won two seats in the European parliament. Rickard’s talk centered around associating what’s perceived as “piracy” (downloading and exchanging copyrighted music, video, data etc) with civil liberties and the entertainment industry’s harmful attempts to enforce and secure copyright over artistic content. Throughout the talk he used the analogy of the Catholic Church’s doomed attempts to lock down the printing press – how wrong they were, how it backfired and how it was destructive to society and culture.
It was more interesting and frankly more relevant than I thought it would be, but I’d like to have heard more from the Dark Side: namely, the entertainment industry. The argument I’ve heard again and again is that they’re “protecting the rights of the artists” – which is simple and convincing, foil though it may be to cover their own vested interests.
What I did find interesting was the goal of the Pirate Party: it wasn’t to abolish copyright (which I’d incorrectly assumed) but just to keep it under control – limit copyright to commercial uses, not personal. He described the clear civil liberty violations with laws that allow a private industry to monitor our personal correspondences to check for copyright violations. To my mind, the argument comes down to a question of practicality. If there was a way to monitor any copyright violations across the planet without intruding on people’s right to privacy, then the entertainment industry would have a legitimate case. But they don’t, so any laws that allow such intrusions for the sake of some companies’ bottom lines are simply wrong.
The second keynote was by Angela “Webchick” Byron, on “Women in Open Source” which made me groan and smack myself on the forehead when I first read the title. Sorry, but there you go. In my little bubble where I work and play, there IS no sexism or bigotry (or certainly none that I’m aware of) so anytime I hear about “women in ….” it makes me cringe. For me there’s an inherent element of guilt to such topics – when I hear about sexism, racism or any other acts of idiocy by my ethnic group (I’m a male, middle-class honky)… well, let’s just say it sure doesn’t feel good.
But it was a good talk! She said that when she was first approached with the topic her reaction was kinda similar to my own and only after she did the research did she feel it was a legitimate issue. She argued that it was important to encourage women in IT & open source in order to get their viewpoints. I don’t entirely disagree, but I did wonder about the extent to which women are discouraged from the field. She cited various examples of ignorance, bigotry and hate mongering that kept women from the field which were, frankly, rather depressing, but at the end of it I was left unconvinced that the problem is systemic.
She did raise one astonishing fact: the ratio of women to men working in open source is a mere 1.5% / 98.5%! HOLY CRAP, that’s insane. So perhaps there IS something discouraging women from the field… open source is fun! EVERYONE should be doing it!!
I also wasn’t wholly swayed by her argument that we need to encourage more women in the field. I mean, of course we do in the sense that we should encourage any human being to pursue any subject of interest to them. But to my mind this should be more concerned with removing obstacles than encouraging people to pursue areas for which they may not be suited. Quick back-track: obviously I’m not saying that women aren’t suited for IT or open source, but hell – men and women are different, and I think some fields are more suited for one gender than another. Call me crazy. Just don’t call me a sexist.
Anyway, it was a hell of a lot more interesting that I thought it would be. And what an unbelievably cool lady – very personable.
There were a few other talks which I won’t bother discussing here, except for one. For me, the highlight of the day was Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith’s talk on “The Future of Web Applications”. I’ve long been a reader of Ajaxian.com, so seeing the two co-founders in person was pretty exciting. Plus the substance of the talk was really fun: they demoed an early version of “Bespin”, a web-based IDE for code editing and discussed how web technologies are getting used all over the place – not just on the web.
While I was chatting with him, I confess it crossed my mind to name-drop a few projects I’d done (generatedata.com anyone?) but, well, it just felt waaayyy too cheesebally. *sigh*. Oh well.