f o o

[ 19:25 sunday 13 july – bodega head, california ]

here i am, a couple of hours north from san francisco, looking out to sea as the evening sun casts a golden glow over the jagged rocks. from where i stand a narrow ridge leads across to a guano-covered islet thick with nesting seabirds. below me is a little cove with a coarse sand beach an a kind of seaweed i’ve never seen before; thick elastic sheets dappled in cream and forest green. i nibbled at some but it was tough and rather flavourless. on my way here i stopped at a beach the other side of botega bay and took a swim in the icy-cold pacific.

for the past two days i’ve been embroiled in an event called foo camp just east of here in sebastopol. each year tim o’reilly, the technology publisher and impresario, invites three hundred technologists, scientists, artists and thinkers to spend a weekend camped out in the orchard behind his company’s offices. this year i was lucky enough to be included.

the event was structured very loosely. after supper on friday evening a couple of big boards were propped up against the wall with a grid comprising a dozen or so spaces along the top (ranging from meeting rooms to marquees) and time slots down the left hand side. anyone could take a giant sticky note, write down a topic for a session they wanted to lead and put it in a square on the grid. as soon as the boards went up there was a stampede of people eager to claim prime slots. this was followed by a gradual jostle of revisions through saturday and sunday.

some of the interesting sessions i attended included neuro-mechanics and techniques for disrupting how your brain functions, the emergence of data visualisation as a mainstream interface discipline and modifying the knowledge-worker lifestyle to be better matched to the ways of living for which we evolved. on saturday evening i led a session on the relationship between technological innovation and the emergence of new organisational structures. a lot of ad hoc conversations happened outside the sessions and there were all kinds of projects and activities going on at the fringes.

on saturday night the campus turned into a kind of esoteric kindergarten with clusters of people in every corner making puzzles, fabricating circuit-boards and playing games. i had a whale of a time playing gypsy jazz with my bass clarinet in a group consisting of two guitars, a ukelele and a baby accordion. this is the first time i’ve done anything other than experimental improvisation with the clarinet so having to play in key and in time was quite a challenge. the session ended with me singing a somewhat unorthodox of weill’s “mack the knife”.

the most striking aspect of the weekend was its fluidity and openness. things just happened. i was expecting it to be uncomfortably cliquey but in fact it was easy to walk up to anyone, however well known, and talk to them about anything you felt like. my thinking was challenged on several fronts, i made a bunch of new friends and i came away fired up to do great things.

: c :

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