Oxford Geeks Run the Gamut from Hardware Hacking to Navigating Social Media

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The most recent Oxford Geek Night had a record number of attendees — well over 150 — and filled the Jericho Tavern in Oxford to bursting point. Given they're a regular event and we've been holding them for two years now, it was really good to see them more popular than ever. In contrast to previous events, OGN10 hosted design and marketing keynotes, which meant we could cater to the more varied nature of the geek scene in Oxford. Elliot Jay Stocks, designer and writer for .net, launched into a history of type on the web, moving from the misleading nature of website tools listing every font on your local machine, through the sameyness of web-safe fonts, into replacement technologies such as sIFR and ultimately the future of embedded fonts in the browser and the @font-face CSS directive. Next, Sylwia Presley of 1000heads explained how an individual or organization could adapt to the existing ethics and mores of online social communities, specifically Twitter, and to what extent they could plough their own furrow while still being accepted by the community as a whole.

The two keynotes were supported by more technical microslot sessions. David Sheldon, fresh from investigations into scaling at online music distributors We7, explained the various problems inherent in multi-machine scaling, including such oddities as individual machines' garbage collection leading to a deadlock of the network, and the importance of adapting to your application's individual behaviour as Facebook have done. Drew Mclellan ran through RGBA colour support in modern browsers, using the experiences of the 24ways team last advent to show how new designs involving transparency can be made to degrade well for older browsers.

Tom Dyson demonstrated how the combination of live data from the National Grid might, via his home-made single-serving site, provide signals for hardware hackers to turn on household items like fridges whenever the UK power grid has spare capacity. We also had some great talks from Peet Morris and Tim Davies respectively, about the history of Microsoft culture circa Windows 3.0, and about the future of online culture for adolescents, how site design and application flow need to adapt to privacy and child-protection legislation and goals. Finally, Bruce Lawson spoke about BS 8878, the new British Standard for accessible websites. He explained how these non-binding standards dovetailed with UK accessibility law, and how they might be used internally to support good accessibility within top-down development management.

Our end-of-night book raffle was courtesy of Pearson Education, with a number of T-shirts thrown in by We7, and a couple of Sitepoint books donated by their author. As always we overran, and as always the Oxford geek community continued to chat, discuss, network and argue well into the night. Videos and slides from the evening will be up on the OGN site shortly. Thanks to Google's Open Source Team and our other sponsors, Oxford Geek Nights continue to be a free event, and the number of attendees at the first OGN of 2009 suggest that they'll also continue to be popular among the local geek crowd for some time to come.