FooCamp – After the fire

Well, I made it.  After driving back and forth numerous times to the O’Reilly campus in Sebastopol I am now back in Marin and reflecting on what an incredible time I had at FooCamp.  Here is the Wikipedia definition of FooCamp which is fitting as I found myself at one point talking to Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales over chicken and black beans.  Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch, who was also in attendance, has posted his review of FooCamp here.  One of the best parts about the event is that only your name appears on your little tag with no mention of affiliations other than your favorite Star Wars character (which I didn’t quite get).  For the semi-technorati illiterate like myself it makes for good fun as you get to just walk up to people and say, “Hi, what do you do?”  I met a whole slew of people who I knew nothing about but after getting home and Googling their name I would sit back and say, “No s@#$!”

It was an impressive collection of PhD’s from MIT, astronauts, investors, journalists and dozens of tech icons.  The brain power was overwhelming and I had a hard time geting my head around some of the discussions.  (After dinner one night some folks got together and synthesized bacteria to smell like bananas.)  At one point it occurred to me that if 1% of the folks in attendance focused their energy on some of the problems facing the aid industry we would be in a much better place.

I took part in a disaster tech event run by Jesse Robbins which had a good size turn out.  Some folks presented a very cool app having to do with geo-location and information in emergencies. The development was for Google’s Android and not the iPhone 3G so I was a bit off in my previous post where I surmised that the weekend would be about the iPhone 3G.  (As a matter of fact almost no one spoke about the new iPhone 3G.)  We told some good stories, brainstormed possibilities but mostly just spent our time trying to explain to the rest of the room just how difficult it is to work in an emergency setting.  As always, the biggest obstacle to progress is the total lack of understanding, on the part of both the tech industry and the relief industry, as to how things get done in our worlds.

I am hopeful that by attending such events (I am pretty sure I was the only aid worker in attendance) I can not only come away with new ideas that can make our job easier but also educate and energize the tech community to rally around our efforts and come up with some solutions that could greatly improve the way we do things.  Hopefully, FooCamp will serve as a catalyst for future events that will draw the both the humanitarian aid community and the tech industry closer together.

I had a great time and thanks to Tim O’Reilly for throwing the event.

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