Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

Minnebar 2012

This was the 7th Minnebar, the 4th I've attended, and the third I organized a session. Minnebar is an "unconference" with content driven by the attendees, although it's a bit more structured than most Barcamps with a schedule created ahead of time. But there was a whiteboard open to schedule some of the empty rooms at the last minute.

The past couple years I've given tech talks, but I wanted a more discussion-like session this year. I decided to talk about the challenges of scaling a startup to larger numbers of people--- not money, but organizational and social issues. I pinged a couple people to try to get them on a panel with me, without success, but fortunately I got two very enthusiastic and articulate people from the audience at the last minute! (That's more in the BarCamp tradition anyway.)

I had prepared about 6 questions and expected to spend about half the time taking audience questions. We had such a good discussion on the first couple questions that I skipped the rest of the prepared ones, and even so we only got a couple audeience questions. I asked about building company culture, and about the challenges of "releasing control" as a technical founder. There was one question from the audience about money (of course), and another question going back to the first topic and tasking about how to build a diverse company. I'm really happy with how the session went; I got some compliments afterwards and there was a reasonable amount of twitter traffic.

Photo from my session. There was a video recording as well--- I hope those come out OK, because there are a lot of sessions I couldn't attend but would like to hear.

The first session I attended was about a reference implementation of a RESTful Android application pattern. The core idea is to put REST requests (and responses) into the persistent database to access them, rather than just a background thread doing a synchronous request and returning the data directly. This helps deal with interruptions and avoids duplicate data transfer. Some of the implementation choices seemed a bit odd (like finding the appropriate action for a response by comparing it one-by-one with saved request IDs) and I'm not sure I understand the value of all of the levels in the stack described.

Mike Horwath from ipHouse led a session on cloud hosting which had an interesting discussion, but unfortunately he was depending on Wi-Fi to get at his slides.

A talk on "Every HTTP Status Code" was fun. It's surprisingly difficult to track down the complete list, as there are several in common use that aren't in the standard--- and some in the standard that are never used. Twitter, famously, uses "420 Enhance your Calm" instead of the standard 429 to tell a client to back off.

Nena Street presented on a "Global Robotics Innovation Park" she wants to build in Minnesota. The idea is to create a robotics campus with one or two major tenants (like ReconRobotics) as well as space and shared facilities for startups (or an incubator) in the robotics space. There might be an educational or government partner as well. Ms. Street was looking for input from robotics entrepreneurs as to what they would want, but there were unfortunately not many in the audience. The session was thus sort of unsatisfying on both sides--- the attendees wanted to get a picture that wasn't really there yet. My question on other (successful!) examples of this sort of model that she could point to didn't get a great answer. She mentioned a robotics research park somewhere in the South (Alabama?) and a couple successes, not named, in nanotechnology.

The session before mine was a 3-D printing demo which was very cool and well-attended. He said that his printer required at least 6x the time building it spent on fiddling and tuning. He brought a bunch of samples, including this bracelet which was one of his experiments on finishing pieces to look less "printed", by sanding or dipping in acetone.

The last session I attended was on NoSQL and while there was some interesting stuff, the large number of panelists and the long day were taking their toll, and I left a few minutes early. One of the panelists talked about Redis and how once you had an in-memory database it was easy to start reusing it for other purposes, like memoizing generated HTML pages, or adding work queues, using the same back-end. If you combine this with the features that many NoSQL databases have of replicating to other machines (using filtering) you have the basis of a pretty sophisticated distributed system. The discussion sort of bogged down in normalization and denormalization, though, without a compelling example of why the denormalized version was better. (Somebody tried to claim that often you split a table in SQL for performance reasons?)

Lunch this year was pretty good, catered by ChowGirls instead of the usual stack of pizzas. There was a salad, some pesto pasta, and the choice of chicken salad or BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.

One negative I heard is that there were a very large number of no-shows. There were about 1300 people registered but a few hundred did not attend. Since the number of tickets was limited, this means many people who would like to have come did not. It would be nice to keep Minnebar as a free event--- perhaps they could charge a $5 ticket fee and hand everybody who comes in a $5 bill. :) Or, with better tracking of attendee numbers they could oversubscribe. (However, many of the conference rooms were already packed!)
Tags: conferences, geek, minnebar, minnesota, nosql, startup
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