Day 2

I attended a talk given by David Bellona, a designer from Twitter. His presentation was called Paradox of the Cloud. There was a depressingly low turnout for the event, which was a surprise to me. Nearly everything that we attended (or tried to attend) was swarmed with people. Before giving the talk, he expressed concern that continuing to give this presentation could cost him his job.

David compared the age of technology we are in to the industrial age. This isn’t to be confused with the many references floating through numerous presentations at SX that refer to a “new Industrial Revolution” that is happening right now. What David is talking about is specific to the way business and production were handled during the industrial age and comparing them to how the scaling of cloud computing is happening now.

His concerns center around the fact that in the industrial age there was a quest to improve efficiency in order to reduce smog, make work more predictable, and a ton of other reasons. This all sounds great, but what actually happens is a lot different. As efficiency goes up, so does your manufacturing power. Naturally to make more money with your new efficiency you scale up your production. All of this drives the prices down and creates more demand. With more demand comes more consumption (see Jevon’s Paradox). This is pretty much exactly what is happening with cloud computing today.

For his thesis project at SVA, Bellona worked on a project called Canary. Canary is a prototype of an app that can’t exist. It allows you to see the carbon footprint that your are leaving with all of your digital artifacts (tweets, instagram photos, facebook likes, so on and so forth). The reason it cannot exist is that virtually none of these companies are forthcoming about the energy used in the production of their services. We do know that very few of them use renewable energy.

You can find out what a hashtag’s carbon footprint is at Bellona’s site, tweetfarts.com.

While I was at the Twitter talk, Chris attended a talk by Tim Berners-Lee. During the talk, Berners-Lee gave insight into how the original HTML and HTTP were designed while working at CERN. He made the case for favoring the HTML5 standard over things bolted on to web browsers like when people would frequently use Adobe Flash on their sites. He concluded by emphasizing the importance of an open and free internet, citing ability for governments to pull the plug on an entire nation’s internet access.

After the Bellona and Berners-Lee talks, we quickly met back up before lunch to attend a talk given by Ping Fu. Ping is the co-founder and CEO of Geomagic, a company that specializes in 3D modeling and printing. Ping’s talk was a retrospective that spanned from her time in China during the 1966 Cultural Revolution to the future of 3D printing. This may sound like a really broad amount of territory to cover, but her story makes what she has managed to do in her life even more impressive.

Ping’s formative years were difficult. She was forcibly removed from her adoptive parents at the age of eight by Maoist forces and sent to live with her biological parents. The problem was, her biological parents were already exiled by the Chinese government. After that she was forced work in a factory and raise her younger sister.

Through hard work and extreme perseverance she was eventually able to attend university where she studied Chinese Literature. Ping began writing her senior thesis on the topic of infanticide. China’s one child per family policy caused the abortion of countless infant girls in the rural countryside. Ping became obsessed with this topic and would often skip class to investigate this issue. This landed Ping in hot water with Chinese authorities. She had the choice to leave the country or be exiled to rural China herself.

After a year of searching for where to go upon exiting China, Ping was able to attend college in San Francisco. While there she studied Computer Science and discovered that instead of programming, she had a passion for the design of software.

After graduating from Stanford, Ping began work at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. It was here that she hired the developer Marc Andreesen. Yes, that Marc Andreesen. It was at the NCSA that Marc worked with Ping and developed what would become the Mosaic browser (and later still, Netscape).

After that, she then ended up starting the company Geomagic with seven people who held doctorate degrees. Naysayers would posit: “Math just doesn’t make money. How are you going to do that?”. But her team found their niche in three-dimensional modeling and printing.

To conclude her talk, Ping demonstrated Geomagic’s work. Two gentlemen walked around the room carrying small 3d printers, hamming it up with the crowd and posing for pictures. The printers were in full operation printing off chess pieces while the audience looked on. Ping also revealed that her high heeled shoes and scarf were actually printed on a 3D printer without any sub-assembly. This was an impressive icing on the cake.

Come back tomorrow for Part III, which will include Chris’ celebrity encounters!

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