Geeks gather to share, network and play

The Kiwi Foo Camp aims to bring many experts, scientists, hackers, eccentrics, government officials and all-round geeks together to exchange ideas

It’s over, I feel shattered, my mind is going at 900 miles an hour and my body is craving sleep. The recovery process involved lots of water, two afternoon sleeps on returning home and the unpacking of many toys, including the Wii, my radio controlled plane, Guitar Hero Les Paul replica guitar (yes it is plastic) and assorted computer equipment and electronics.

I spent last weekend at the coveted Kiwi Foo Camp 2008, also known as Baa Camp, held over three days at Mahurangi College in Warkworth. The event — free but invites only — aims to bring many experts, scientists, hackers, eccentrics, government officials and all-round geeks together to exchange ideas.

The event kicked off last Friday afternoon. A hundred and fifty attendees gathered in the staff room and were addressed by Nat Torkington, the Foo Camp organiser, who has put this event on for the last two years. The session began with a quick intro — name, company and three words only to describe your vast array of talents.

Foo, or friends of O'Reilly, is about participation and sharing. A blank schedule is drawn up where anyone can lead an hour-long session on a topic of their choice. Within the next ten minutes, 67 sessions were filled into the schedule, including:

iPhone development. hardware to software, by Layton Duncan; Usability session with Ross and other special guest stars; My programming language is better than yours! Multicore, concurrency, making the pain go away, by Andre Pang; Digital content strategy, with Judith Tizard and; RFID and Biometrics: not the panacea we've been told it is, with Peter Gutmann

Then, just as quickly, a small team of web developers converted the pen and paper grid into a new iPhone/iPod Touch-friendly website so sessions could be accessed anywhere using the ubiquitous wi-fi network.

While the direction of Foo Camp is to impart and share knowledge through informal and interactive presentations, the networking that goes on in-between — like a session of speed dating, where people furiously chat to each other before being accosted by the next person — is just as important.

The talking that goes on is far from fizz. The number of projects, plans and schemes that comes from this process is nothing short of amazing. Last year’s talks, for example, raised the issue of peering in the telecommunications industry. Many new projects that were talked about then have since been built. Through this momentum I have helped unite the Auckland web development community, with a group of 400 people which meets monthly.

My goal for this year’s Foo was to network with local iPhone developers and get my first native application running on my faithful iPhone. After the 7pm session on Saturday — on iPhone development — we quickly went back to the staff room to install all the tools and attempt to create the first application. Three hours later and with much support I had my first simple application running on my iPhone.

Further talks revealed that Layton Duncan from PolarBearFarm.com — the creator of an application which allows users to search their iPhone address book and calendar events — has had 300,000 downloads of his application in the last three months. Christchurch-based Duncan has also built an application which allows users to record and save video on their iPhone. I need no further convincing that the iPhone will be the next digital revolution, and building applications for this device could be very lucrative.

Due to the sheer number of sessions and the limited time, it was hard to fit everyting in and the next few weeks will be spent with friends, filling in the gaps of anything important that was missed.

But it’s not all hard work. Usually, sometime in the evening a game of Werewolf (also know as Mafia) will begin. This game, which can grow in size to involve 30+ people, was introduced into New Zealand by Chris DiBona from Google (who works on the One Laptop Per Child project) and is now being played in the boardrooms of many New Zealand tech companies.

This year the Werewolf game was more frantic than ever, with nearly every game 30-people strong and every time ending in "just one more", continuing until 4am in the morning. Other geek activities during the weekend included playing Guitar Hero, sharing source code, solving computer problems, trying other new party games, playing with fire pois, engaging in banjo sessions and introducing many fellow aviators to my radio controlled plane.

By 2pm last Sunday the camp was over, our final free lunch was consumed, the final 11,325 handshakes were exchanged and arrangements were quickly made to stay on Keith Ng's couches in Wellington for this week’s Webstock conference.

John Ballinger is an Auckland web application developer.

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