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The Conference

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In: Columns > DigiSect

By Stephen Van Doren

Published on February 20, 2002

I

've spent an incredible amount of time sitting in the Denny's that I frequent and my personal think tank recommended that I be little satirical bastard this month. So, as I have never been to SXSW (and I'm not going to be there this year), I'd like to share with you my dream conference. As this is an editorial column, I'm allowed a certain amount of levity in what I write, am I not? All names from henceforth are used without permission and are used purely for plot development, not for the defamation of anyone. All copyrights and trademarks are reserved to the parties responsible.

I'll always remember the lights. When I first set foot into the Apple© Web Innovations Conference 2002™, I was in awe of the lights. Those folk really know how to throw a great party for us, the web designers of the world--we don't get out too often, so bright, shiny things are always a big draw.

The conference this year was being held at the Convention Center in Denver, Colorado. The place was packed. Locals came in by the Downtown train system, and visitors left from Denver International Airport (DIA) on buses chartered especially for this convention. All the major new stations were there, and they were all very busy catching glimpses of the great names in Web Development--what they were carrying, what they were wearing; anything.

I was standing just outside the entrance with my camera and a pad of paper.

I remember Jeffrey Zeldman©'s entrance. The King of Subtlety himself was dressed in a completely orange suit with a white shirt and white tie. His white shoes shined brightly in the intensely strong floodlights. He was followed by a small man in a bland suit pushing a cart full of copies of Taking Your Talent to the Web, all autographed on the flight over from New York. He paused for the cameras and handed his digital camera to one of the KUSA cameramen to take his photo for his collection. Then he walked inside.

Jakob Nielsen was a striking contrast to Zeldman©. He approached the red carpet, exiting from a black limousine, and marched triumphantly towards the cameras. He was dressed in a Star Trek t-shirt (red, original series shit complete with gold Starfleet emblem) and black jeans. There he stopped for at least fifteen minutes having his pictures taken in various poses. One turned to the side, head turned towards the camera. One face on, hand on chin, deep in thought. One facing the camera and both hands pulling his hair back, eyes closed and upturned to the sky with frustration. One hunched down and both hands giving "thumbs-up" signal. Finally, when the cameramen started taking pictures of the trees around 14th Avenue, he moved on, mildly humbled, but his ego sated.

Josh Davis and the Kioken crew were next on the runway. They were all dressed in black Armani silk suits that buttoned up to just a few inches below the chin. Under these suits, they wore white dress shirts with collars that seemed just a little too large. Their white silk ties were barely visible. They all seemed to be carrying violin cases, though I didn't know they were musicians. On each case was a Macromedia logo. I didn't ask.

More filed in, one by one and in groups of ten or more, in styles custom-tailored to their presences online (and it was interesting to learn that Haughey is not a singular person, but actually a collection of millions of tiny people, all talking at once) and they settled in the main conference hall for the welcoming by Apple's Steve Jobs.

His speech was, as you might expect, a collection of jabberwocky, framed by his constant desire to promo Apple products. It was a very pretty presentation, and easy to understand, but for some reason only a handful of people (myself included) were actually listening. It was a pity, too, because one of the things he spoke about was the cure for cancer that Apple had developed, as well as the thriving colony on Mars Apple was sponsoring.

I went wandering after Jobs explained the Theory of Relativity in simple, yet precise terms. The entire center was flourishing with booths handled by companies like Apple (of course), Microsoft (Gates himself was explaining why an FBI warning on their Windows XP product wasn't so much a problem as it was a "challenge"), Macromedia (lots of people were watching, but nothing was being said) and Adobe. I was surveying by myself, but AOL/Time Warner employees were constantly stopping me, giving me CDs of the new version of AOL. I left with over 100, as well as several phone numbers of AOL staff, each asking me to call them, "for the good of the company."

The first night of the conference, I learned by reading the digital brochure that was passed out to anyone with a Palm Pilot that the first night was just an exhibition night for products and services offered by those involved in selling the Web. Nothing too ground-breaking besides the new Apple laptop that was waterproof, fireproof and napalmproof (as well as being a food replicator, GPS system, and personal secretary), so I gathered up a few people and headed out to Wazee Street to enjoy some local beers and food.

With me was Peter Fielding, fellow columnist, Nick Finck, Digital Web's Chief Editor (we surprised him with a birthday celebration, but it wasn't standards compliant, so Jakob Nielsen put us all in headlocks and gave us noogies), the charming Sooz who entertained us with local Boston music that played, oddly, from speakers embedded in her ears, and a motley crew of other designers and developers that I've met in my travels through the Net (most of whom don't have websites, so I can't pimp them here). We stayed up too late theorizing about how the greatest minds from history would react to the Internet and what we've done with it. All we agreed on was that Nikola Tesla would think Google was kinda nifty.

The next day we were welcomed with more television cameras than the previous night including a UPN newsman who tried to sketch the ceremonies because he wasn't given one of the two reel-to-reel cameras that his network had. The festivities started at noon, it was assumed that everyone had hangovers--I know I did--and were scheduled to continue through midnight.

The first presentation that I went to was the WaSP presentation on web standards. They called it Web Standards & You: How you can piss off your clients and still appear professional. It was a brilliant presentation, of course. Everyone in attendance was nodding his/her head in agreement with each thing that was said, including when Zeldman himself came on stage and said that we "must all follow his lead, or the Jade Monkey will appear and destroy you." Nods.

Next, I wandered into a presentation sponsored by the folks over at MySQL. They were presenting the newest version of MySQL (which appears as a spelling error in MSWord, but SQL and MSSQL do not). It was quite impressive. I fancy myself a bit of a DBA when I have to be, and it seems that MySQL has finally surpassed MSSQL in all but price. We were all given handouts that laid out all of the features of this new version in comparison to most of its competition. Apparently, the new version of Microsoft's SQL database has as many issues as Windows XP. I guess it's just a matter of time before the FBI issues warnings about that.

Next, I passed by a room with all the lights off, save for a red lamp in the center where a man in all black robes stood. Curious, I entered. It was a FreeBSD clan meeting. Being uninitiated--I hear the rites involve self- and group-flagellation, which isn't my favorite thing in the world--I was asked to leave and the door was closed behind me.

The rest of the events planned for the evening (it was approaching four o'clock) didn't appeal to me very much, so I gathered up my crew and headed out on the town. Most of them had never seen Denver, and fewer even had left their computers for more than a couple of hours at a time. Rather than deal with the sweaty-palmed, pale-faced antics of this group, I directed us to a Village Inn not far from downtown Denver. It was the second floor of a building complex, the first floor of which was a Radio Shack© (did you know that we have a Radioshack.com in Denver? I'll never get used to seeing ".com" in a building sign). I figured we'd be safe for a brief time.

Continuing our discussion from the previous night, we surmised that Nikola Tesla probably would think we were pretty nifty, too. We all retired for the evening.

The final day of the convention was quite different than the first two. It started with Steve Jobs, again, thanking everyone for coming and demonstrating Apple's new invisibility potion. Everyone in attendance seemed quite impressed (only a small group noticed that Steve Jobs was even there, but everyone noticed when he wasn't). He handed out the itinerary for the rest of the day, which had a large collection of seminars that I was incredibly uninterested in (How To Use CSS in <table> Layouts, I'm an Out-Of-Work Developer, and Underwater Basket-weaving, just to name a few). I'm not sure where they came up with the last day's festivities. I think they were just scraping the barrel, and everyone had already heard all the seminars that were useful.

After all, there's only so much anyone can talk about the Web before he runs out of words.

Speaking of which, I believe I've run out of words. I hope you enjoyed my little fantasy. My group and I headed back to Village Inn and were greeted by Nikola Tesla who said, in fact, that he thought Google was pretty nifty, we were downright swell, and he was tired of being blamed for TV, but was okay with taking at least some of the blame for the Net.

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Stephen Van Doren is a software developer and graphic designer from Denver, Colorado.

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