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Barcamp Houston–Postscript

Whew, I came back from Barcamp Houston. Exhausted.

(work in progress. I’ve going to add comments later when I have more time). The talk went pretty well, but I’ve noticed that I usually put too much stuff in presentations. It’s hard to have a sense how long a presentation actually will be until you’ve done it a few times. Teachers often have a chance to repeat a lecture and do it within a time limit.

There is a tendency for semi-geeks like myself to move the techie stuff to the end–which is unfortunate, because the information at the end of the talk tends to be more detailed and useful. I can’t tell you how often a talk has had general blather for 30 minutes, and then the meat of the talk comes in the last 3 minutes (and they were running short on time).

Ebooks is a narrow and specialized topic not likely to interest a large number of people (even in this geek crowd). On the other hand, the general questions raised about reading do have universal applicability, and I feel I raised some good points.

People who give technical talks basically have to choose between two things: do you wish your talk to be relevant (appealing to a general audience) or practical (appealing to a narrower audience)? More often that not, I end up going up the first path. For future talks, I want to try to give a talk of the second kind (practical).

Robert Nagle, presenting at Barcamp Houston, 2007

(I’m speaking about the nature of 9/11 coverage. Photo by Ed Schipul).

Other observations (I’ll add to the list as I think of it).

  • In the initial Open Office presentation I prepared a diagram of the typical workflow for ebooks and when Gerry Manacso (my copresenter) saw it, he said, that’s not the way it’s done at all. He saw the ebook production process as centered around Adobe InDesign 3 (which is a typical PDF-centric and design-centric point of view), whereas I saw the process as centered around the xml database and xslt transformations (which is a typical technical writer point of view). Actually both points of view are wrong. Adobe Indesign is a $700 tool that no writer could afford (and smaller publishers will probably not be able to afford). An XML toolchain is less expensive, but more complicated and requires technical expertise (which most writers lack). Writers and small publishers can handle Openoffice/MS Office and simple HTML –but little more than that. Also, writers have figured out blogging software and using plugins. But even that may be unnecessary. It’s conceivable that future books will be uploaded via an online editor and then published to www.readyourebooksonline.com (like what Google Docs is trying to do). It’s also conceivable that simple freeware programs like BookDesigner may end up becoming the default tool of choice because it’s free and converts things easily.
  • In keeping with the Designer vs. Techie dichotomy, I spent my time putting my points in slides. There were typos and layout problems galore (I didn’t care; i could get to that later). Gerry on the other hand made a visually appealing presentation and ended up importing my slides into his own presentation program. Major help!
  • I particularly enjoyed the last talk about SEO with Ed Schipul and Steven Evatt of the Houston Chronicle. (Here are their presentation slides )
  • After my presentation, I thought of  another example to prove my point.  I recently read Michael Isikoff’s amazing book covering the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Uncovering Clinton. It was amazing because it presented events in sequence and in depth (along with a lot of backstory). I had already read most of Isikoff’s articles and was a Lewinsky junkie (I downloaded the Starr report and had read the whole thing within hours of when it was released). And yet, the book presentation did more to depict the chain of events and the people involved than individual articles could. I’m beginning to think that the most misunderstood historical events are those which appear when we are adults. Because we follow the events on a daily basis, we lose perspective and often lose a sense of the timeline. Even the best reports fail to recognize significance in certain details or situations.
  • (other points to be included later).
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