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Tuesday's Tech Salon Show Notes

A former member
Hi Everyone,

We had a good mix of showing projects and conversation at the Tech Salon meetup on Tuesday, here's what happened, what we talked about, and links to all the good stuff.

The technological highlight of the evening was when Dave took an object out of his backpack that looked like a glowing eight ball (called a Sphero), put it on the floor, took out his iPhone and started steering this glowing ball around the restaurant by tilting his iPhone, a true Tech Salon moment: all of us looking upon this thing like it was some kind magic orb from the future. He passed his iPhone around so we all could give it a try. I know someday I'll tell my grandchildren about last night and "the first time I controlled a distant object with a smartphone". It won't be the last time, I'm sure. Thanks, Dave, awesome.

I showed my Learn Academy site that I made for my kids to encourage them to do useful things when they are on the Internet, which led to a conversation of how today there is so much content available when you e.g. want to learn a language, or watch a show, or read the news, etc. and the goal today is to actually reduce the content for people and give external incentive to use this or that resource, this is the idea behind the Learn Academy and behind gamification in general.

This led to a conversation about how we organize the sheer amount of information that we read, Patrick showed us the tool that he uses to organize (and write on and in) his PDFs GoodReader. That seemed to be a topic of the evening: there is so much information today, we used to have a "reading stack" which we could see, but today we just have "endless stuff to read on the Internet" and dozens or hundreds of PDFs on our hard drives that we want to eventually read. How do you mangage this today? I talked about my ELLABB Meetup Group for language learners in Berlin which I created to develop an open source platform for language learners to share resources in a way so that these resources become learning resources for others, a gamification structure that helps you focus on quality learning material and motivates you to make continual progress by giving you achievement points, awards, etc. If you are in Berlin and learning languages, and especially if you are a developer, please join us.

I was impressed last night with how the two iPads were used. They floated around the group, people easily looking up this and that, while Dave was talking about his Sphero robot, Stephan had brought up a video on it in the background. When I wanted to demonstrate my site, it was just easier to show it on an iPad than dig my laptop out of my backpack. I've listened to many podcasts which talk about the future being "Internet screens everywhere", and last night was the first time when I really felt the "technology disappear" and just having absolute easy access to any information we wanted. Very nice.

Dave talked about SciPy­ which is "better than R­ and S-PLUS­, since it is easier to program an interface on top of".

Jan gave a demonstration of org mode in emacs (your life in plain text) and experienced how org mode is a way of life as well as a way to organize your stuff, and were also shown that you can change the underlying text file and org mode isn't bothered, just keeps on parsing your text with rich semantics. He also showed "mobile org mode" on his smartphone which showed just how deeply you can integrate org mode into your life and organize everything you do if you so desire.

The whole talk of "semantic text" led to me show how my Learn Academy site is done with my PHP framework called Datapod­ whih uses text files as its database. I showed how you can create a "database table" from a text file in about 30 seconds so that you can add text to the text file and "items" pop up on the screen and can be searched, ordered, and programatically queried. If you are interested in how this works, here is a video of me demonstrating a Silverlight version of Datapod.

Stephan showed a number of pictures he took of the current Berlin Festival of Lights talking about some of the projector technology that was used, some impressive 3D renders done on the builds to make it appear that windows were projectin outward, as well as the larger-than-life colors on the Brandenburg Gate and the Berliner Dome.

We also had a conversation about agency­ (the capacity of an agent to act in the world) as it applies to user interface design, e.g. my paper ThinkSpanish magazine that I use to learn languages has more agency than working with a language learning app on the iPad since I can e.g. write in the margins, between the lines, and I can bend the corners of the pages to indicate that I have read them, etc. On the other hand, the iPad has more agency in terms of being able to search through the text of the language learning material. This is important to realize that "old" ways of learning such as with paper are not out of date, but simply have different advantages and disadvantages in terms of how you can work with them. Interesting, we geeks then all compared the kinds of pens we use, all of us had high-agency pens, mine being a Faber-Castell Uni-Ball Micro 0.2mm, for instance.

The evening didn't end before the conversation moved onto technology and politics, where Dave explained social choice theory, which made us at once sad that there is not another way to elect people in a democracy, yet glad that there is enough inertia in the process that at least our democracies function well enough to allow people to generally have a say in how things are run.

And with that, another Tech Salon session came to an end. My head went home full of ideas, thanks everyone. See you next time.

Edward
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