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Stage Fright under the Covers

04 Mar 2008

We finished the video for Dries’ keynote just under the wire, as pretty much all such events need to be. Arto, Miglius and I had stayed up until past sunup for the last few days to make it happen. First Dan left, and then Miglius left on Saturday morning so that he could get stuck in Frankfurt for 24 hours. Once he got in to Boston, he logged on quick like a bunny and went back at it. Arto and I worked another 30-odd hours during Saturday and Sunday. Sometime during Monday, which I largely slept through, some of the office folk sent out a message noting that that our pile of pizza remains, chicken bones and coffee stains was not particularly helpful to the kitchen’s ambiance. I don’t think they know who did it, and I’m kind of afraid to fess up. Sorry, ladies.

Unlike most demo work, a ton of what went into this will be useful later. If our organizations were not keen on using RDF, we’d not have worked on this so hard. Arto’s module stuff is anything but smoke and mirrors, and we figured out a lot of limitations to Exhibit and Potluck that will be important to understand later. These are now posted in our internal wiki and I will go and post them on the Simile project’s site if I ever get a chance. It’s worth a whole post in and of itself.

While Arto busied himself turning Drupal into the world’s easiest to use RDF endpoint, Miglius and I combed datasets that would make for a decent demo and messed with Exhibit views. There’s a lot of RDF data out there, but it doesn’t all lend itself to being shown on a map, and people can only read so much on a video screen during a presentation. At the end of the day, I’m the only one with Leopard (and thus Screenflow), so I ended up doing the actual screencast.

Screencasting is an interesting thing. It’s easier to script than a regular movie, but difficult to properly realize. There’s a fine line between too little and too much data, without having awkward pauses and without skipping over too much. You have to take into account that different viewers have different levels of experience with the material, different reading speeds, whatever. I made a detailed narration that was a bit too fast paced for the keynote; that wasn’t a problem, as Dries had already communicated that he’d prefer to do the narration himself.

On Monday, Arto and I woke up about a half hour before the talk and got on IM. As the talk began, we realized that we really needed to have this data up where people could get it. And we really wanted them to be able to get it–we’d worked ridiculous hours on this thing. So that’s when we decided the site needed to be public.

We started to make that happen. There was a fair bit of configuration to be done to make it useful; Arto got the video onto s3 while I messed about with some permissions and redirects. I typoed just about everything I did related to that–I don’t think I did a single thing once. Halfway through the whole thing I realized I had stage fright; I couldn’t type because my hands were shaking. The video I had worked so hard on was about to be placed up to awe or bore a sizable number of people, on whom much depends. And there was still a possibility that Dries would use my narration, in my mind, as we’d given him the final cut of the video with extremely little time to rehearse anything he wanted to say. So there I was, still in bed, with the door shut and the window blocking out what passes for sunshine in Stuttgart, and I was nervous as hell about being up in front of a crowd.

Stage frightened of nobody at all. What a cool world we live in, that such a feeling can now be transferred over the wire.

Anyways, we did a good job (well, mostly Arto did a good job) of getting the video out there for anyone who wanted it, and at least a couple of people did. Here’s another copy, if you’re curious: