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May GeekDinner

As I said on the GeekDinner announcement list:

Since the last GeekDinner was held at the end of March, and since we hold the GeekDinners bimestrially, it seems we are due another one at the end of May. This is the eightthhth GeekDinner, and we're calling it "Happy Habanero". What with the habanero being the national vegetable of Azerbaijan, we're going to hold the dinner on Azerbaijan's Republic Day, which, according to wikipedia, is Wednesday, May 28th.

The venue for this dinner is Mel's Kitchen, in Rondebosch Village, just off Klipfontein Road.

As usual, you can sign up, and check on the other details, on the wiki page.

We're now in our second year of GeekDinners, and they seem to be going strong. We have a good model, mostly sustainable, although it is slightly dependent on the core group of organisers to get things moving. We have a solid set of regular attendees that should provide the dinners with enough momentum to continue, though, should anything happen, and I'm very positive about the future of the dinners. We're also managing, for the most part, to keep talks short and interesting to all comers - I know that newcomers always worry that everything's going to be "too hardcore techie", but honestly, it's not about microchips and "ones and zeroes". My favourite talks have been about hippies and the buttons on car radios. So, please, if you haven't been before, why not come along, meet some new people, share some free wine, and enjoy some excellent food.

The slideshow karaoke has become a regular feature of our dinners, and is always one of the most entertaining parts. The way it works is, somebody prepares a set of slides on any topic they want (we've had "Etiquette when dealing with British Royalty", "Common problems with cement tiles", and "A primer on lesser known Norse gods"). Somebody else then presents a talk based on these slides without any prior knowledge of the topic, or of the content of the slides - always to amusing effect. This time, Darb is preparing the slides, and we have yet to find a volunteer to present them. If you're keen, do volunteer. If not, maybe you have something interesting you'd like to talk about anyway - we have no volunteers for speakers yet.

If I've sold you, sign up on the wiki, and we'll see you there!

Garrulous Grape

Last night was the seventh Cape Town GeekDinner, held at Greens in Plattekloof. For all that it was a bit disorganised, I think it went fairly well. Through a bit of miscommunication we ended up with two projectors, and no screen, so Dave and I made a rushed mission to Pick n' Pay, and came back with a roll of ten white rubbish bags, which we stuck to the wall of the restaurant, which actually worked fairly well.

Ian gave his usual stellar performance, talking about the difference in attitude to change and new technology that geeks and "hippies" (green people, ecowarriors, etc) have. He discussed how common it is for people to make a snap decision, and then find facts to back the choice up, and challenged us to try it the other way round.

Bob Meredith then gave quite an interesting exposition of what one needs to do to have credit card certification, after which we had Darb doing an excellent Karaoke Slideshow on problems with concrete, put together by Tania.

The venue was great - very accomodating, with friendly and efficient staff, and excellent, excellent food. And they let us stick stuff on their walls. Thanks very much to Greens in Plattekloof!

Finally, profuse thanks to Tim from Wired Communications and to Perdeberg winery for supplying us with 30 bottles of very nice wine. They came through at very short notice and we really appreciate it. Please support their Clink-to-win campaign, or order some wine from their website!

StarCamp - Lessons learned

StarCamp finally happened, and went off pretty well. I was a bit late for the first morning, since I had to move house (again), but the rest of the weekend was great.

From an infrastructure/organisational point of view, things were basically perfect. The large room where the talks were happening was fine for our needs, and there was enough space for everybody, although we had to open up the back to accomodate some more people at one stage. AIMS provided tea and coffee for everybody, and lunch on both days was a huge amount of great wraps from Kauai (generously sponsored by Sentient Communications and CLUG). ProsperIS sponsored computer equipment for the small venue, for the tutorials and sprints - these unfortunately only got set up halfway through the last day of *camp, which is something we must fix for next time. And, of course, there was Neil's Nintendo Wii, which provided some great fun, and was greatly enjoyed by the students at AIMS.

The talks were generally very interesting. As Ian says, the high points were probably the three talks by our foreign visitors - Alex and David from Princeton, on Electronic Voting and Net Neutrality respectively, and Phil Barrett from the UK on User Experience. I did enjoy quite a few of the others, although I'd like lots more non-technical talks next time. I think that in-depth nitty-gritty technical talks should be saved for either CLUG talks, or the tutorials: one can't take in enough from those talks for them to be useful otherwise.

The people were great. It was nice to see quite a few new faces (i.e. not part of the usual CLUG/GeekDinner crowd), although I wish we'd had a bigger turnout overall. This probably ties in with the talks: the nature of an Unconference is that the attendees shape the events, rather than the other way round, which is the norm for traditional conferences. If we had lots of artists, we'd have lots of art-related talks, if you see what I mean. I know that there were a few people who felt a bit trepid about attending, because they didn't think it was targetting them as an audience. This is not how an Unconference works! If you're in the audience, you participate, and you define how it goes.

Lessons learned

Venue, venue, venue: This is not so much a lesson we've learned from organising StarCamp, but a lesson I've picked up over a year of trying to organise this sort of event. If you don't have a venue, all other organisation stalls. You can't pick a date with absolute certainty unless you know the venue will be available on that date. You don't get attendees signing up unless they know what date they are signing up for (and, in some cases, how far they have to travel). You don't get speakers if you don't have attendees. Basically, it all boils down to finding a venue - once that is done, everything else falls into place. In this case, we only settled on AIMS a week before the event was due to happen, and even though everything went off beautifully after that, it was a bit touch-and-go up until then.

Attendees: We blogged the event, and sent out reminders on the mailing lists, and we got a fairly good sign-up rate, but it could have been so much better. Some of the best returns-on-investment in this regard were the personal invitations we sent out: directly approaching a person/group/company and saying "We're having this thing, and we want you to be there". Neil did an awesome job with this in the week before the event, but we really need to get the word out there beforehand, and make sure that people know what sort of event it will be (and that if they come, it'll be the sort of event which they want to attend).

Sponsors: people are surprising willing to sponsor things, if you ask them to. Make a note of that.

Set up: wasting half of the event time on setting up tables/power cables/a lab of computers is really counter-productive, and we lost some valuable presentation time because of this. But, of course, it's all a learning experience, and we know better for next time.


All in all, I think the event was a great success, and I'm really looking forward to the next one... Which we should start organising NOW.

Final call for *camp

A recent mail from Neil to the StarCamp planning mailing list outlines what the current state is for StarCamp:

In case you were late and missed the previous email, we have a great venue at AIMS in Muizenburg. They're giving us a bunch of rooms on their ground floor, but they have some simple rules and requirements from us. But we should be able to have a good event there. We need some volunteers to man the doors and sign people in. We'll have some help from people at AIMS, but we should try be as little an inconvenience to them as possible.

We have T-shirts being made by Quirk. We have free lunch on both days provided by Sentient Communications. We have name tags and stickers from AlterSage. We have free drinks provided by the Western Cape Linux User Group. AIMS has connectivity, so we won't be using Amobia, but they'd be there if they were needed. Hopefully ProsperIS will cover the last-minute minutiae of infrastructure that AIMS doesn't have for us. We're in good shape in this department.

We have 21 talks/events offered over two days, as well as at least 4 others I'm trying to finalise. My expectation is that a few people will drop out at the last minute, but I think we're covered.

Our problem is that we only have 67 people signed up to attend. We have lunch for quite a few more people available. I'd hate for that lunch to go to waste.

CALL TO ACTION: So, the most important thing over these last two days before the event for you to do is invite people to attend StarCamp. Get them to sign up on the main event page (ie, not only on Facebook, if at all possible). Blog about it. Mention it to user groups you're part of. Mention it to your colleagues.

So, tell your friends, have a look at the wiki page, come along, and hope to see you there!

GeekDinner, *camp, again

Once again, it's time for a Cape Town GeekDinner. The next one - dubbed Eccentric Eggplant - is being held upstairs at Ferryman's at the Waterfront, this Wednesday (the 28th of November), at about 7pm. We're getting sponsored wine from Wine23.co.za, and there are some talks which look quite interesting.

Something new that's happening at this GeekDinner is the Slideshow Karaoke. Bryn Divey and I are the victims in this case - we will be presenting two talks based on slides written by Russell Cloran and Jeremy Thurgood. We will not have seen the slides before, nor will we even know what subject they are on, until we start presenting the talk. It should be interesting, at the very least.

And then, of course, there's the *camp coming up. We're still struggling a little bit with the venue, although we have some good offers. Please, go look at the wiki, and come along!

*camp

The Open Content Party

On Saturday, we had the Open Content Party with Jimmy Wales and Heather Ford. I won't say much, since Arno and Christel have both given rather good roundups of the atmosphere at the place, and I can't really top that. It was a great evening, with all sorts of people bring what they could. Photos are up.

See you all at the GeekDinner next week!

Fourth GeekDinner coming up

The fourth in the new series of Cape Town GeekDinners will be held on Thursday, September the 27th, at Summerville in Camps Bay, at 19:00 for 19:30.

Details can be found on the wiki page - head over there and sign up to the wiki if you want to come along.

We also need speakers - if you have an idea or something interesting that you want to talk about, let us know, or just add it to the wiki. Talks are only 5 minutes long, followed by a few minutes of questions, and everything is very informal.

Heather and Jimmy Wales Party on Software Freedom Day

Jimmy Wales (the founder of Wikipedia) and his wife Heather Ford from iCommons in Johannesburg have hatched a scheme to hold 50 parties in 50 cities around the world, with an Open Content/Creative Commons/Free Software sort of theme. You can read about it at iCommons or on Wikia, but what I'm most interested in is the Cape Town party, which is happening in a week and a half's time, on International Software Freedom Day.

Jimbo Wales will be here, and it should be good. It's at Deer Park Cafe in Vredehoek - head over to the wikia page and sign up!

Updated - I have no idea why I thought Heather was Jimbo's wife.

July 2007 GeekDinner

Well, another GeekDinner has come and gone. The July 2007 GeekDinner went off fairly smoothly last night, and I think everybody was fairly pleased with how it turned out.

The venue (Krugmann's grill) wasn't completely organised: they had people eating in part of our part of the venue right up until about 6:45, and then had to ask us all to go and stand by the bar while they rearranged all the tables, as they hadn't realised we had projectors and equipment. To be fair, our booking was for 7:30, although I don't know why, as we've said that the dinner was at 6:30 for 7:00 from the beginning. Anyway, that said and done, everything else went off fairly smoothly: the food was decent, the service was not bad, and there was plenty of space for everybody to sit where they could see the speakers and screens.

We were quite worried at first about the venue layout: there was a big partition halfway across the venue which cut the two sides off, and meant that anywhere that we put the screen would only be visible by half the attendees. In the end, it worked out fine, because we had two screens and two projectors, with a split, and the speakers stood in the middle where everybody could see them. There was still a sense of "us and them" in terms of the two sides of the venue, but it wasn't too serious.

That brings me to the awesomeness of Antoine and Ryan, and the guys from SimplyAV. They donated a screen and projector each, and the splitting equipment to enable the two-screen system, and came and spent an hour or so beforehand setting up and testing everything.

The speakers were pretty good. Dave Carman gave a good (if a little too long and technical) talk on the community wifi mesh down in Scarborough, which was very inspiring. Ian Gilfillan gave a nice talk about his experiences in writing a technical book. Alan Levin stood up and started a discussion about whether peering was actually needed in South Africa right now, and managed to let Andy's heckling slide right past him. Then came a talk I had looked forward to, but been somewhat worried about: Johan Wegner and Sam Paddock from GetWine. I invited them to come along to the dinner, and asked them if they'd like to speak about their experiences selling wine on the internet in South Africa's current technological climate, but I wasn't sure whether they would just give us a marketing blurb, or what. As it turns out, their talk was perfect. Johan gave us an overview of the business and its history, and how it got to where it is today, and Sam talked about the technical side of the business, and ended with lessons he'd learned from trying to sell things over the internet. It was very interesting, and prompted some good questions. It certainly didn't hurt that they had generously sponsored the wine for the event (and offered to sponsor future events too!). Finally, Aslam Khan gave a really good talk about Behaviour Driven Development. It was engaging and interesting, for both the non-technical and technical listeners, in spite of the fact that it was basically about writing proper unit-tests for your programs. (Update: he has written about the dinner and linked to his slides.)

I was very pleased with how the evening turned out, and as I said, I think everybody enjoyed it. We didn't have as big a turn-out as last time, and I would have preferred to have a few more non-technical talks than we did (for those in the audience who don't know what all the acronyms mean), but I think it was a success for all that. Photos will be up sometime this weekend.

Now, of course, we have to start thinking about the next one...

July GeekDinner

The third in the new series of Cape Town GeekDinners, "Carnivorous Cantaloupe", will be happening on Thursday the 26th of July, at 18:30 for 19:00, at Krugmann's Grill, at the Waterfront.

Details can be found on the wiki page.

Please put your name on the wiki if you are going to attend the dinner, or if you are willing to give a talk.

In addition, feel free to sign up to the geekdinner-announce mailing list.

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