Thursday, June 30, 2011


I attended my first PAB last weekend. Even though it is in Ottawa, I hadn't heard of it until the folks at DyscultureD started to mention it. My initial thought was to crash the party a bit to meet with them while they were in Ottawa, but after looking at the schedule I decided to sign up and attend everything. It also turns out in hindsight that people wouldn't have been happy if I had crashed.

I'm not a PODcaster, and that is beyond the fact I think the term is too closely associated with my political opponents at Apple. This is an artist conference, and I'm not really an artist: I've been invited on Netcasts, I take pictures (moving and still), record audio, and I blog (really?), but I do it primarily as a form of political expression rather than artistic expression. I have attended a number of conferences in the last decade that were artist focused, and have learned quite a bit which is helpful in understanding how others see the area of policy and politics I have been focused on the last decade: technology policy, which includes things such as copyright/patent, CRTC/broadcasting, Network Neutrality, technological protection measures.

So, what did I get out of the conference?

Lets get the embarrassing thought out of the way: I would have liked to hang out more with the DyscultureD crew, but felt like I was being a fanboy rather than a friend when following them around. I listen to them every week (Multiple times for Anthony), and have come to know at least one aspect of them. It isn't a mutual interaction. This was their first time being together as a group in person, and it should be expected that they would want to focus their free time on each other. I am just some guy who happens to share some of the same interests as many of the topics discussed each week on their show.

Listening to the beginning of Dyscultured Episode 140, Andrew was suggesting he felt there was a bit of a hierarchy to the conference. I think this should be expected as it wasn't as much a conference, but a community. Some people have been participants for many years, while others (like myself) were there for the first time and were more spectators than participants.

On the boat cruise Andrew asked me if I would come again and possibly suggest a talk. I suspect I would have to wait until next year to answer that. The only thing I might have something to add to a conference is discussion of Copyright and possibly the perspective of a software author/techie, but don't think/know if either would be a fit.

There is nothing wrong with being a spectator, even at a conference that was clearly more of a community. Everyone was inviting and friendly to the new faces, and no matter how shy you were you still felt welcome.

Now if only I were less shy....

The theme of the conference was stories, but one of the most common themes of the stories was family. My favorite presentation was the less formal one Anthony Marco gave as part of Sylvain Grand'maison's "Family Jewels" talk. With some photographs and music as background, he gave an amazingly timed talk on camping with the family. I definitely felt an "Unattended Momement" (theme of his early formal talk) when listening. I grew up camping -- traveling around Canada and parts of the USA, staying in camp grounds. I had to very deliberately remember I was in public to retain composure....

I have been thinking a lot about family, camping and related things in recent years since my dad died. I think he knew how grateful I was for all those trips when we were younger, and being a very participating father.

There were things we didn't see eye-to-eye on: He was an auto-mechanic and after a knee injury he became a auto-mechanics teacher. I, on the other hand, have never had a drivers license and feel personally owned transportation is very harmful to the health of society and our species.

But... as I said when offering a eulogy, we had more in common than we were different as far as the importance we put on doing what we felt was good works for family, friends and society as a whole. His own cars never quite worked right as he spent more time fixing everyone elses (as a friend for free, not just professionally), and my own computers are often inadequately maintained (or just out-of-date) as I spend my techie time helping everyone else.

Another speaker I enjoyed was Ottawa's own Rpbin Browne who spoke about helping people with no voice to tell their stories. While I love the social justice message which is close to my heart and mind, I also like his speaking style. The style reminds me of president Obama, even if I trust Robin's sincerity -- something I can't say about Obama :-) I also liked the more familiar face at a conference where I knew so few others.

So, it is time for me to Just Hit Publish (Nod to Sue Murphy) on this post, and get to all the other writing I have in my TODO list. While I keep getting distracted with ideas for the Digital Copyright Canada blog (Access Copyright is management and not a union, Apple wants a patent monopoly on being a douchebag and remotely-disabling your camera, etc), the next thing I have to finish is my submission to the CRTC for their so-called "Fact-finding" exercise on the over-the-top programming services in the Canadian broadcasting system. Doubt they will get many facts, and don't expect my submission to have much impact, but it is always worth trying to get some new ideas in front of the commission.


Anthony Marco said...


It was great to meet to you at PAB, and I'm glad you got some connection from my ramblings. Should you choose to return next year, you should also consider proposing a session. There's much to be said about the issues you are passionate about and, seeing and hearing the general model of the talks this year, there's probably a way to frame many of these issues into what the creators at PAB do.


P.S. I get the shyness thing. Though with me it's more a real caution about invading people's space. I really like to have a grasp on an environment before "diving in" so to speak.

Mike Vardy said...


I was great to put a face to the name and voice at PAB. Thanks for being cool about us wanting to hang with the crew that we had just finally met person, but know that next year we will probably be sick of each other...that should open a door for you. ;)

Again, great time in Ottawa...I'll be back next June!

Robin Browne said...

Hi Russell,
Thanks for the compliment - and the Obama comparison. As for being a PAB spectator as opposed to a participant - that is totally up to you. Look forward to your session next year. :-)

Bob said...

Russell, I think you've hit on one of the really interesting phenomena of social media -- what I would call differential friendship, for lack of a better term.

People come to know each other (either reciprocally, or just one-way), and can become quite close via the online world; then, when the opportunity arises to meet IRL, the dynamic can be very different.

I think part of that is that many people who live much of their lives online have a shy streak, paradoxically combined with an exhibitionist streak. You could see that in John Meadows's presentation, in the nerves Andrea Ross had before presenting, and in many others throughout the weekend.

Glad to have met you. My advice: jump in.

Russell McOrmond said...

Thanks for all the thoughts.

One thing that Andrew Curry mentioned on last week's DyscultureD show that focused on PAB2011 is that he isn't used to just being audience.

After he said that, I realized that I'm more familiar with participating as well. Most of the conferences I've been to in recent years have either been law focused, or I was on the agenda. I stopped attending the Ottawa Linux Symposium when the / session wasn't included on the agenda.

There is also an advantage to people who speak when having the informal conversations later. I don't want to bore people with talk of digital copyright and social impacts of digital communications technology, but would love to know who in a crowded room have also been thinking about those topics. If someone presents or opens the discussion (As Andrew did with one question on Copyright/filesharing), people interested in those topics can gravitate to each other.

That mixture of being shy and an exhibitionist at the same time is quite common in the people I know. My wife is shy, but she is also a high-school teacher that "performs" in front of an audience for a living.

I was one of those high-school students that would go up to the teacher when there was supposed to be oral presentations and ask if I could opt out and accept the zero. I now regularly give talks in front of large audiences, as well as present in front of parliamentary committees (every word in Hansard forever....). I'm still very shy, but there are some things that can motivate even the most shy person to express themselves.