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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, 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!

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