Portland: Part the Second

The Oregon Convention Center is a super-cool place. Its most obvious feature from the outside, and indeed anywhere around downtown, is two jutting glass spires that claw at the Portland sky. The interior is spacious, nicely appointed, and features a giant Foucault Pendulum, apparently there to remind you that the world is still out there and turning. Additionally, the facility has taken strides to be one of the premiere sustainable conference centers in the country, with an emphasis on recycling all the waste the conference visitors generate, capturing and filtering rainwater through gardens before returning it to the Columbia river, and use of natural light and energy efficient materials.

Wednesday morning I met up with [Seth->] in person for the first time outside of the hotel, where we tromped on over to the conference center with Mary, my coworker from the University who also came out for the conference. It was great fun to finally get to spend time with someone who I have known for seven years now, but never met face-to-face. We were joined shortly thereafter by [Jim->], another veteran of the glory days of Macrobyte Resources. In spite of the fact that none of us had spent time in person before, it was a meeting of old friends; the shared meals, conversations, and photo/mischief excursions were among the highlights of the trip for me.

Since my circadians do not turn on a dime, I found myself popping unwillingly out of bed each morning shortly after 5:00am — my normal time to wake up minus the two timezones I was away from my accustomed place. I was initially a bit at a loss what to do with that time, but since it was getting light very early and the metro rail was free to ride in the downtown area, I took to exploring the city a bit. I especially enjoyed a stroll through Portland State University’s campus, which has a nice central park area, some cool trompe l’oeil murals on the buildings, and an abundance of the rhododendrons that were so enthusiastically blooming around the city.

The conference itself was one of the most odd and entertaining I’ve been to. In addition the previously posted ukulele/accordion cover of Radiohead, we also were treated to a performance of the Extra Action Marching Band, which is exactly the sort of band you’d expect to be leading a parade through the Castro district in San Francisco, and an over-hour-long exploration of next-generation participatory media from the always-entertaining Ze Frank. His presentation revealed depths of thinking about this stuff that his 3-minute The Show appearances wouldn’t have belied; he’s an incisive and insightful guy. Even the corporate representatives got in on the fun with photoshopped Dick Cheneys inserted into Battlefield Earth shots. Fun and funny all around.

In the middle of all the shenanigans, there was a lot of good technical information as well. Some of my favorite bits included details on integrating Rails apps with Interactive Voice Response systems, discussions of refactoring code for readibility and elegance, a framework for data warehouse reports, javascript AJAX frameworks, and running rails in a Java VM. Overall, it was an excellent conference, and I’m glad, both personally and professionally, that I was able to go.