Steve Carl already wrote up his notes from BarCamp Austin and I enjoyed his viewpoint very much. This was only my second BarCamp experience, and this year, I decided to take the plunge and actually volunteer to present. Whurley was very encouraging despite my inexperienced questions. “What’s a badge that you wear vs. a badge for your blog?” for example. There are graphics for each, as it turns out. The graphics are completely awesome, and the t-shirts were great, arriving despite an actual train derailment preventing the first shipment from arriving on time.
For those not familiar with the BarCamp format, it’s an unconference where you show up in the morning and put your session into one of the time slots on a white board or on a post-it note. The wiki also had sign-up schedules but the hand-written timeslots at the event win over the wiki page.
The week before BarCamp, I went to the wiki’s Sessions page, clicked the Edit button, and wrote up a short description of a session called Hug the XO. I basically wanted to see if others could bring their XO laptops and I could show them the tricks I’ve learned recently, plus run the Sugar emulation on my Dell laptop.
Getting to Idea City
(photo by Chad Hanna from theotherpaper on flickr)
The morning of BarCamp, getting to BarCamp turned out to be more difficult than I had planned. I got downtown by 9:00, but couldn’t find the Silver Dillo to ride over to 6th and Lamar to GSD&M’s Idea City. So, I took a few touristy photos of Ester’s Follies and the row of SegCity’s Segways, turned around and went back to the Austin Convention Center. I attended a 10:00 SXSW Interactive session, Creating Findable Rich Media Content, and then went back to Sixth street seeking the ‘Dillo. I walked about five blocks until I was past Congress Avenue when I saw a Silver Dillo sign and a person waiting at the sign, then turned and looked up the street to see the trolley coming our way. I double-checked with the woman waiting to make sure there wasn’t a charge since I was silly enough to have not gotten cash out, and sure enough, it’s a free ride. I boarded the Dillo and was on my way.
Getting into BarCamp
Idea City itself is an incredible workplace, full of creative vibes and a wonderful open design with full windows in front. Steve Carl greeted me, I registered with a cool registration application that Twittered my arrival to @barcampaustin (very cool), I had my picture taken for the flickr photo stream, and Steve and I proceeded to the schedule board to see where I could fit in my pres. I really felt more like doing a demo than a full-fledged presentation, so I was happy to see that the demo room had a free half-hour slot at noon. I drew little XO icons on a post-it, titled it “Hug the XO” and headed upstairs to figure out the room layout. On the way up, I saw my old BMC buddy Cote, and ran into Decibel, a good friend of my husband’s, and also met Snax finally, having friends of friends of hers.
Hugging the XO
In the demo room, I hooked up my laptop and ran the Sugar emulation image downloaded from the RedHat Site by using QEMU. In emulation the Activities run pretty quickly, and it’s very easy to display on a large screen. There’s discussions surrounding a projection display for the XO itself, but it’s easiest to emulate for me.
I showed Turtle Art which is really exciting to programmers. People expressed an interest in showing the XOs at Codemash because there’s a grassroots Kidsmash that happens in parallel, so I’ll definitely be following up with Josh on that idea.
I also learned some neat tricks to get deeper into the XO. One way to view the files on the flash memory without using a command line is to launch the Browse Activity and type file:///home/olpc/ as the URL. Now that is a handy shortcut.
I also learned that you can transfer files to and from the XO by using scp from the Terminal Activity by reading the XO setup user guide at OLPC Austria. First, get the IP address by typing iwconfig at the prompt. Then, you can use these instructions:
To upload the file test.py from a pc to the xo (into /home/olpc), use: scp FILE_NAME USER@IP:TO_DIRECTORY
scp test.py email@example.com:/home/olpc
To download the file /home/olpc/xo_test.py from the xo to a local pc, simply reverse the arguments:
scp firstname.lastname@example.org:/home/olpc/xo_test.py ./
We finally got the Acoustic Tape Measure Activity working correctly, and I’ve updated the instructions on Floss Manuals appropriately. Test your task instructions, I always say! Fortunately, this was a fun one to test. We had to have the laptops beep at each other at least 4-5 times before the measurements came into a reasonable range, starting out at nearly 200 meters, and eventually settling on just over 3 meters. Success! The noise they make to each other almost sounds like they’re spitting at each other. Kids will love this activity with a pair of laptops.
People really enjoyed the Speak Activity and we laughed to discover you could give it multiple eyes.
I think we had at least a dozen people stop by the demo room, and after the demo session was over, we set up two of them near the lunch pickup line. Steve was nice enough to “babysit” the XOs while I went back to some afternoon SXSWi sessions, and he said he thinks at least 100 people got to see and try out the XOs for themselves. We downloaded Flipsticks, played some Tam Tam Jam, showed off the Browse Activity, surfing to any URL we needed to, and generally had a great time. We met other XO owners and I told them about the XO-Austin users group, and told everyone they could meet us at Las Manitas on Sunday for an XO meetup. I’ll write another story about my lunch meeting with SJ Klein from OLPC, Robert Nagle, the XO-Houston user’s group organizer, and Melissa Hagemann from the Open Society Institute (OSI). We had a great time together.
Summing it up
This experience was such a great opportunity for me to talk to people about things I believe in (kids, technology, and education) while having fun being a technical writer. I was intimidated initially because I’m not a programmer, and so I wondered if I’d be questioned for even volunteering to present, but I realized that no matter how technical I was, I would be less technical than someone in the room and more technical than someone else in the room. So, the correct action to take is to share the knowledge you have and listen to others to learn more about the topics that interest you.
My only regret from BarCamp is not staying longer for Dawn Foster’s talk about Community Management. I had asked my husband to meet me at the Convention Center with my two sons so we could go to Screenburn together, but after seeing how intimidated my four-year-old would have been by the shoot-em-up video games there, I cancelled on them and wished I had stayed at BarCamp longer. I’ll just have to settle for reading Dawn’s notes about her BarCamp experience instead.