FOO Camp

by William Grosso

Related link:

(photo from Doc Searl's web site, as modified by Andrew Watt).

I spent the weekend in Sebastapol, at a retreat organized by O'Reilly and Associates (and named "FOO Camp"; FOO standing for "Friends of O'Reilly"). It was your basic two-day-long, two-hundred-people-big, brainstorming-style event, centered around self-organized hour-long talks (after the introductions on Friday, people who wanted to speak, or facilitate a session, stepped up and scheduled a time. This was a great way to take advantage of the group's expertise and enthusiasm).

I missed Tim O'Reilly's breakdown of the book market, but I did participate in the discussion about search (same link, scroll down) and I got to hear Scott McCloud give a talk that was almost as good as the book.

I learned about subversion, I spent some time learning about the truly astonishing growth of wi-fi networks, I heard some cheese jokes I didn't quite understand (apparently programming in Python leads to watching Monty Python, which leads to the fact that Cheddar is the world's most popular cheese which leads to a table filled with great cheese at the Friday night reception. I'm not comfortable with the logic, but I can't argue with the outcome), and ....and I got to meet a lot of great people. I'm not going to list them all, but I will say it was especially nice to finally meet so many of the the O'Reilly staff I've corresponded with over the years.

For me, the highlight of the conference was the presentation by the folks from HowToons (check out the references at the bottom of the page; some of those books look interesting). The basic motivation behind HowToons is simple: children today aren't taught the joys of fiddling with things. Science education has swung too far towards book-learning and observation. The solution? Create a library of simple projects that:

  • Appeal to kids.
  • Are easy to complete.
  • Rely on very easy to find and highly available (to children) materials.
  • Illustrate a scientific or engineering principle.
  • Engender a "tinker with it" attitude.

In addition, the project descriptions are illustrated cartoons that fit on a single sheet of paper (so they can easily be photocopied and passed around).

If that doesn't make sense, check out the draft HowToon for the ice-butt skateboard. That's something I would have loved to build when I was 10.

Note: You can also see some movies of people on real-world ice-butt skateboards at ZeroPrestige. Be warned, however: the movie files are very big.

FOO Camp was a very good way to spend the weekend.

Did you attend? If so, what sticks out in your mind as the highlight of the weekend?


2004-01-09 17:05:11
I envy you. oh well. It looked rather interesting, i would love to be around that many smart people. Come to Savannah,Ga theres no one here with an IQ. how do ya get to go?

Simontek at simontek dot net