Friday, October 17, 1997 by Dave Winer.
I'm back from New Orleans, I totally fell in love, again, with the city I lived in during college. The weather was hot, then it rained, then it got cold and wintry, and then on Wednesday a crisp fall-like day with not a cloud in the sky.
I went walking all three days. Morning and evening, rain and shine, in the French Quarter and uptown.
I lived in many houses in New Orleans. On the first day I walked past the house I lived in the longest. A gorgeous neighborhood, Joseph Street and Prytania, uptown, across from a Jewish graveyard and one block from Langenstein's grocery store. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was living in a Jewish neighborhood! Maybe, coming from New York, being in a Jewish neighborhood wasn't so impressive?
I went back to days when I was very confused by life. I felt the pain of being 18 years old, having uprooted myself from comfortable confusion in the northeast and relocating in the foreign confusion of the Old South; where boys and girls my age screwed with a system I didn't understand.
Some things are gone. In the old days black people used to ride on the back of the streetcar, now it's integrated. Some things haven't changed, white people are still afraid of the blacks, maybe blacks of whites (I couldn't tell). I was afraid then too, but since then I've been to Jamaica four times; you get over it, eventually.
A couple of days later, my buddy Chuck and I boarded a streetcar heading uptown. The streetcar driver sings (really I didn't imagine this, Chuck can verify it). He sings, "I been working on the railroad." Repeat it many times, with a New Orleans accent. He's giddy. Get this -- I think he's happy! And that's what makes New Orleans so special, it's an American city, but by default people smile and sing and say hello. It's a happy place. I think I didn't understand this when I was younger.
Honestly I thought the Web Builder conference, sponsored by CNET, was going to be much smaller and less interesting than it was. I went because Dan Shafer, the leader of the conference is a longtime friend, and I wanted to support him; and also because I was curious about New Orleans, my college days, and how it would look now that I'm more mature.
But the conference was fan-tas-tic! Almost a thousand people from all over the world. All of them accomplished web masters, designers, writers, business people. There was clearly a need for this conference. That there was such a big need, surprised me.
I led four sessions, DaveNet style, I hold the mike and travel through the audience. No panel of experts, no Q&A, no sarcasm or unanswered power trips. If you want to know more about this style of conference, check out Sept 30 in SF, 8/28/97.
The CNET folks added a twist -- every attendee got a clicker, a simple device, non-electronic, that makes a loud clicking sound when you squeeze it, and one when you let go. Click-clack. It's a way for a member of the audience to provide somewhat anonymous instant feedback to a speaker, expressing displeasure or boredom.
On Tuesday night at 9:30PM, after a walk thru the French Quarter (no I didn't drink!) I led an open mike session of people showing off their websites. We discovered new uses of the clickers.
At one point Shafer asked if we all really disliked what the presenter was saying. I offered a suggestion. "Dan, maybe we just like to make noise?" Everyone laughed.
Yeah, I think that's it.
Industry conferences are held in places with great food and music, or in big interesting cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans; or places that are inspiring in some other way like Crested Butte, Colorado. Warm places in winter; scenic beauty in spring and fall.
But the conferences are all the same, held in dark rooms with a brightly lit stage, speakers (often) droning on and on, audiences falling asleep, disconnections, questions going unanswered, people with ideas that don't get heard. The interesting stuff, the personal experiences, happen in the hallway and outdoors.
I wonder how to get the outdoor and hallway energy to enter the conference-room. Could you hold sessions on location, on top of a mountain or in a great jazz club? Or could send the attendees on a mission to experience the location, and then come back to a room to talk about it?
Aside from simply being pleasurable, bringing the locale into a conference could help steer the discussion in a positive direction. If you've just been on a hike up the mountain, or dancing on Bourbon Street, you can't help but see the big picture, the forest *and* the trees. More chances to make new friends and learn new tricks.
A bit of evangelism. While in New Orleans I checked out the real estate ads for houses in the uptown section of the city and then took a walking tour of some of the neighborhoods.
Conclusion -- housing costs much less than in New York or California, the neighborhoods and the houses are stunningly beautiful, and the quality of life appears to be higher. On the other hand, it's hot and it rains a lot, racial issues are important and the crime rate is high.
Even so, it struck me as a town with a culture and lifestyle that could support a vibrant web developer community, fors not-too-rich people who want to live in a stimulating, interesting and happy place.
Anyone interested? Anyone already there?
I read Jim Carlton's new book on Apple during the trip to New Orleans. I didn't like it. Carlton's theory, that big executive and engineering egos played a big role in the demise of Apple, is probably true.
But the only screwup worth mentioning, in my opinion, is that they never understood that the interesting stuff was mostly happening outside of Apple. In other words, Carlton made the same mistake that the Apple execs made.
An exciting book would track the migration of Mac users and developers, their ideas and creations, including the people who did various versions of the OS, starting in the late 80s and continuing thru the late 90s.
Coming home I started reading Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. A sweeping tale of greed, of a fall yet to be taken, the story of many millions of lives, including mine!
Reisner has the perspective that Carlton can't have, the cities in the US desert, Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, to name a few; are already built, and have been growing for almost 100 years.
The Mac platform that Carlton writes about may just be a chapter or two in the more interesting story of what was happening in communication technology since the founding of Apple.
Carlton misses the innovations of graphic productivity apps, desktop publishing, and even email and the web, because these innovations didn't happen at Apple. To miss that is to miss the only interesting story about Apple Computer, Inc. -- that they were so focused on themselves that they missed opportunities all around them.
I'm working with Chuck Shotton on a Java piece, but we keep seeing new angles that we want to explore before writing it. Some of the theories are on the Scripting News home page today. We may have something over the weekend or on Monday.