Short bits

To call the 10-minute “short bit” talks eclectic is an understatement. With the pace of Ignite, the variety of TED, and the open structure of an unconference, they’re always entertaining and often thought-provoking.

We’ve had hundreds of talks on a broad range of topics—from the carbon footprint of beer, to catastrophic molasses explosions, to an inside look at air traffic control, to the importance of footnotes.

We’ve also experienced amazing performances and demonstrations, from punching through boards, to how to sew the body together, to singing opera, to slacklining, to Sabrage.

Here’s the complete, exhaustive list of all Short Bit talks ever given.

2014

The theme this year was “teaching”—either talk about teaching, or teach us something. In true Bitnorth tradition, people pretty much ignored the theme, and we learned a lot anyway.

  • Sarah Cundiff talked about the life lessons she learned from skiing.
  • Mark Fleming gave us an inside look at Guantanamo Bay, and the legal work he’s been doing for detainees. He also brought rather unsettling souvenirs.

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  • Alex Haraldsson debunked some myths about vikings. Turns out they didn’t wear horns, and women fought alongside men.
  • Brydon Gilliss updated us on his quest for a distraction-free phone (protip: use software designed to block kids) and some of the tools he’s used to improve his productivity dramatically.
  • Aidan Nulman spoke about unstructured learning and how autodidacts have picked up knowledge through the ages.
  • Meghan Athavale sacrificed a cute, cuddly toy bear to demonstrate how to pack wounds. She later, quite literally, sacrificed this bear on a pyre.
  • Philippe Telio showed us Sabrage, the fine art of lopping the top off champagne bottles.

Phil and Sarah getting ready to cut a bottle

  • Nathalie Hazan ran a quick game that required us to coordinate, communicate, and cooperate; she also kept us busy coloring tiles for a crowdsourced piece of artwork.
  • Kamal Jain walked us through what it takes to build a solar-powered farm in Massachusetts.
  • Jim Stogdill explained his love of vintage photography, and the delight he gets from manual things and a dying art.
  • Bob Goyetche spends so much time on cloud computing, he thought he’d give us some background on theother kind of clouds.
  • Julie Matlin explained the underlying structure of jokes, ruining standup for us for all eternity.
  • Dan Koffler explained how to punch, poison, and pee on people, and tried to justify them as lifesaving tips.
  • Kipp Bradford froze water in front of our eyes, and walked us through the history of cooling.

Kipp freezes water, by Eva Blue

  • Julie Steele opened our eyes to how soy is made, making us rethink what is often positioned as a modern wonder-food.
  • Angela Misner took us inside the world of air traffic control, and answered a flurry of questions from everyone who’s ever been on a plane.
  • Kimberly Stedman asked why we get blocked in communicating with others, and what transparency and genuine engagement—with a smattering of humor—can do to overcome this.
  • Alistair Croll talked about the Vomeronasal Organ, the terminal nerve, and what it means to have a sixth sense nobody thinks about.

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  • Trina Chiasson discussed her Data + Design e-book, and what it’s like to make a book with a widely distributed team.
  • LP Maurice took us on a tour of smaller towns in Quebec, based on his summer meeting entrepreneurs, and asked whether we should encourage startups in smaller regions or centralize innovation in big cities.
  • Ari Gesher discussed how his childhood experiences taught him to infiltrate groups and insinuate himself into new social situations.
  • Jeremy Edberg gave us an extremely personal look at in-vitro fertilization, leaving no stone—or organ—untouched.
  • Kathy Young schooled us on affordable crafts for students.
  • Christine Davis explained the foundational sauces of cooking.
  • Aline Kaplan painted a bleak picture of Boston when a 25-foot-high wave of molasses brought the city to a standstill, almost literally; she also shared some short stories she’d written.

Aline Kaplan by Eva Blue

  • Seth Kaplan talked about ADHD, and some of the things parents should, and shouldn’t, do to help their children through it.
  • Jaethan Reichel explained how he’s been doing trademark archeology to rediscover lapsed brands and harness their authenticity.
  • Peter Taylor used poetry to paint a bleak picture of the future our kids are growing up in.
  • Daniel Roberts explained the interplay of simple drumming that yields complex results.
  • Francis Pieraut described his dream cottage, and how DIY, solar, and prefab can cut costs while giving him independence.
  • Brian Couchman explained how hard it is to make agile methodologies actually work in large organizations.
  • JS Cournoyer talked about balance, and how authenticity has led to genuine interactions with surprising people.
  • Liesl Barrell covered the dark history of how society has abused and isolated those with mental illness, using its stigma for social ends.

2013

There was no real theme this year, but everyone had lots to share, and this was perhaps the most emotional Bitnorth on record.

  • Alex Bowyer talked about the Interfaces No-one is Building. He wants to create a cross-platform personal computing tool that isn’t beholden to hidden agendas or corporate interests.
  • Alex Haraldsson claimed that “This is NOT what I signed up for”, and by this she means raising an amazing kid (Ollie) in extraordinary circumstances.
  • Alison Livey Gibbins confessed to being a Data Marketer and told us the dirty secrets of segmentation, optimization, and how to confuse your grocery store’s loyalty algorithms.
  • Alistair Croll introduced you to the Pickleback, arguably the best drink hiding in your fridge.

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  • Andrés Aquino was originally going to talk about using our imaginations, but after his friend Maurice lost his father, he switched to the topic of Mattering.
  • Angela Case lamented how impersonal and unconnected “big” histories and spoke of asking big questions in small spaces, and the upsides of microhistories that help offer context to the past.
  • Angela Rizzo urged us to be ourselves, and delivered the best Italian Mother accent ever heard at Bitnorth.
  • Bob Goyetche explained what dits and dahs are with a history of the Morse Code.
  • Brian Couchman took us behind the scenes for a practical guide about organizing highly personal events. He also played brilliant piano for those of us lucky enough to hear him.

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  • Brydon Gilliss explained how to make great coffee regardless of where you are, with a hand-grinder and an Aeropress—that weirdly competitive version of the coffeemaker.
  • Christine Davis presented some tails of Maori folklore with the title, “Kōrero Pūrākau”
  • David Chouinard spoke about dealing with spammers, countering the flood of unwanted traffic with a flood of responses they don’t want much of either.
  • Donald Donovan led off with the elegantly titled, “99% of contractors to quote me are corrupt, lying assholes, save your cash and do your own work.” He then proceeded to show us how, and we built stuff out of concrete—short planters or oversized ashtrays depending on what you’re after.

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  • Holly Knowlman told us how to brew ginger beer on the cheap, and avoid splattering a warm closet with sticky ginger juice if you’re not paying attention.
  • Jaethan Reichel made sharp knives and age-old metallurgy hopelessly romantic.

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  • James Duncan showed us the first ever production of Shakespeare as a musical in the virtual world of Second Life.
  • Jen van der Meer had originally said she’d talk about Data and Dignity, but instead urged us to go beyond the Bad-assed startup culture and try to change the world Super-badass!
  • Jeremy Edberg told us how this summer he’d managed to cross things off his bucket list by being aware of the opportunities around him, and simply taking advantage of them.
  • Julie Matlin told us a story about storytelling, and about job hunting.
  • Kamal Jain described making a makerspace and embracing ‘the third industrial revolution’ in the birthplace of the American industrial revolution.
  • Liesl Barrell started explaining her childhood as an opera singer, then blew us away by singing in front of a crowd for the first time in seven years.
  • Lisa Green spoke about open data and how its growth must mirror that of the Open Source movement—but also proposed talks on the myth of binary sexuality, quantum physics, and more.
  • Louise Kold Taylor urged us to rethink urban transportation, using as an example the cycling revolution in Copenhagen.
  • Meghan Athavale brought a trove of ancient posters for adult movies—and posed the following questions: what happens to copyright; and does the physical artifiact become more valuable when the virtual one is abundant?
  • Oliver O’Boyle told us the strange and slightly obsessive history of pi, and how it’s been computed to increasing precision over the years.
  • Peter Taylor looked at the world of Club Penguin, showing us how even in a heavily constrained environment, children manage to find creativity, originality, and emergent game-play.
  • Pierre-Luc Bisaillon told us to stop looking for natural talent and to recognize that grit and perseverance are the dominant factors in skill—whether we’re juggling balls or winning medals or playing bass.
  • Randy Smerik shared his year of learnings running a restaurant, and the constant challenge of satisfying ever-increasing customer expectations. He also enthralled us with a Fortaleza tequila tasting.
  • Rob Coneybeer told us how satellite missions are designed, and how the miniaturization of technology is forever changing that design model.

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  • Sean Power demonstrated a mix in Ableton, showing how DJs stitch together two tracks to get us moving.
  • Timothy Grayson examined how we are acutely aware of mortality in our lives, but somehow fail to consider it in the destruction and rebirth of organizations, nations, and societies.
  • Trina Chiasson gave us a taste of juggling, and told a tale of bike camping with people who’ve never lit a fire before.

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  • Hooman Beheshti shared the history of Koalas—far less adorable now you know they’re angry, doped-up, pap-eating monsters. He also told us the tale of Gumnut.

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  • Margaret Dawson told us about working on existing relationships, and yourself, and finding out that your soulmate is right under your nose.
  • Christer Haraldsson showed us 3 ways to find North without a compass; and played a live set on his Hercules controller on Saturday night.
  • Dan Koffler showed us how to trap things, making himself immediately the number one choice for our Zombie Apocalypse Survival Team.

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2012

This year, after the Short Bits, we played a game of Would I Lie To You, where everyone shared a secret truth with Alistair, and then sat in groups of three, each claiming the lie was their own.

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The audience had to try and decide who was lying, and whose unlikely truth was in fact true. We’ll be doing this one again.7997916432_3c6fda1ba1_o

  • Aidan Nulman talked about linguistic Relativity.
  • Alex Bowyer presented a clear case for how Internet economics threaten useful computing.
  • Alex Haraldsson unearthed some of the Swedes’ stranger traditions, and let us taste crayfish.
  • Alex Ruaux talked about 3D printing and how it’s changing the face of manufacturing.
  • Alison Gibbins shared her love of old-school printmaking, and used foam trays to get us all to do our own printing.
  • Alistair Croll spoke about the risk of searching for an answer, rather than asking a good question, and how search tools are polarizing us more than ever by confirming and reinforcing our biases.
  • Amanda Williams gave us a history of her work bringing an interactive lamp to life, and talked about designing for the third industrial revolution.
  • Angela Case explored fantasy tropes and conventions in modern media.

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  • Bob Goyetche offers a history of amateur radio.
  • Brian Couchman showed us how to play piano.
  • Brydon Gilliss talked about building a beer fridge, and how that helps team cohesion.
  • Che-Wei Wang spoke of the constraints of time, and how it affects design.
  • Christine Davis talked us through the steps of cheese making, and shared some of her cheeses with us.
  • Claude Theoret looked at why your anthropology degree might we worth something in a few years.
  • Courtney Stanton spoke about a Twitter bot she created and automating social justice.
  • Dan Levy had us play a poetry game
  • Donald Donovan offered a curmudgeonly take on purchasing a new car and squeezing the dealer for everything possible.
  • Helen Adilia Arceyut-Frixione talked about Kombucha and the benefits, and weirdness, of growing mushrooms for tea.
  • Kamal Jain offered up a call to action and against complacency.
  • Hooman Beheshti talked about Michaelangelo and the painting of the Sistine Chapel.
  • James Duncan talked about how Formula One racing has changed with the advent of serious lifesaving technologies, and what it took to get there.
  • Jenny Jones gave us an inside look at a summer spent chasing crop circles, and how they’re colored by complexity, patterns, and messages.
  • Jeremy Edberg spoke about his youth in karate, and ended with a demo on punching boards!

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  • Jeremy Taylor talked about the unexpected physics of transitional phases.
  • Jonathan Ginter recounted a mugging.
  • Jude Fitzgerald shone a light on the Irish sport of Hurling.
  • Julie Steele looked at advances in 3D printing and how custom prostheses are letting technology make us more human.
  • Julien Smith talked about architecture and designing spaces.
  • Kate Leadbeater delivered some slam poetry.

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  • Liesl Barrell offered some confessions of a caregiver.
  • Margaret Dawson spoke about how parenting after divorce isn’t about you.
  • Peter Taylor listed a few of his favorite things.
  • Randy Smerik spoke about travel and knowing.
  • Taylor Levy talked about her experiences building Pen Type A, the challenges of offshore manufacturing and unreliable supply chains, and her plans for an awesome skateboard.

2011

  • Angela Case said the best thing she read all year was a lamentation on the loss of experimental thought.
  • Anila Patel explained portable podcasting.
  • Donald Donovan talked about experiments in socially structured relations.
  • Dov Amihod reminisced about his first year working in Korea. Not, he was quick to point out, as an English teacher.
  • Ed Saipetch and Gina Minks ran a scavenger hunt with videos in it.
  • Jonathan Abrams turned a skeptical eye on the quantum soul.
  • Jonathan Ginter insisted that there’s no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAAFL)
  • Kamal Jain took a swing at the absurdity of homeopathy
  • Kyle Seaman demonstrated for us how to wear an Indian saree

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  • Alexandra Haraldsson briefed us on the art of Belly Dancing, and then led an activity at lunch around it.
  • Arun Jain showed us how to make samosas.
  • Beau Haugh explained the history of classic cocktails, and then gave us the chance to mix and taste our own.

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  • Bob Goyetche insisted that everyone’s story deserves to be told.
  • Brydon Gilliss talked about his ideas for hacking the world.
  • Christine Davis showed us how to hula hoop—and then reminded us we have a lot to learn.
  • David Chouinard walked us from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg and looked at how content publishing is changing.
  • David Hulton explored the future of Moore’s Law, logic, and complexity.
  • Guillaume Bourgault explained how analyzing the entire environmental life cycle of a good or service was a way to expose greenwashing.
  • James Duncan built on past talks about peak oil and civilization collapse, offering some tongue-in-cheek—but serious—lessons on surviving impractical times.
  • Janina Szkut showed us how today’s knitting is not your grandma’s knitting.
  • Jeremy Edberg explained the art of FU and Internet memes.
  • Julie Matlin proclaimed herself a suffere of Impostor Syndrome, and then dealt with a chorus of agreement from everyone else in the room.
  • Laurel Ruma recounted a story of a bear attack, and how most of it was her fault.
  • Lenny Rachitsky explained how the filters we use to deal with information are failing us, and how information overload is destroying our ability to concentrate as a result.
  • Lionel Gibbons showed how every part of a racing motorcycle is designed to curve smoothly.

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  • Nick Meti spoke about measuring one’s life and the rise of the quantified self.
  • Nicolas Krutchen showed us how he’d hacked a Kinect.
  • Oliver O’Boyle organized a beer tasting with help from Laurel Ruma.
  • Rafal Jeglinski explained what software licenses really are, and why that matters.
  • Randy Smerik talked about people.
  • Marc Pare explained how slacklining works, and then led a lunchtime balancing act.

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  • Sanjay Patel talked about going from white collar to blue collar.
  • Stephane Bousquet spoke about attention deficit disorder and how easily we get distracted.
  • Dan Koffler explained how spies and intelligence agencies can crowdsource intelligence from many sources.
  • Theo Ephraim demonstrated some crazy beatboxing skills.
  • Tracy Lee wove together business and sexuality, giving us a provocative way to look at office politics. She also organized jewelry making and nail painting.

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  • Yelena Rachitksy spoke about what drives her to do what she does, and screened a short film.
  • Aine Shivnan spoke about her work in mobile Augmented Reality.
  • Caroline Léger discussed carpooling, social norms of ridesharing, and why she needs her headphones.
  • Julien Smith explained how to be the best-dressed person in the room.
  • Robin Ahn talked us through what happened when she stopped drinking.
  • Eric Packman explained how to solve some basic residential electricity mysteries.
  • Ilana Benari talked about why Shabbos isn’t just a day of rest, and offered to run them via Skype.
  • Sarah-Jane Morris spoke about the history of and varying opinions around beards.
  • Alistair Croll wondered why unsolicited paper mail is still allowed, and how hard it is to opt out from it.
  • Elan Dubrofsky talked about finding equilibrium.

2010

  • Mike Gero wondered whether hobbies like fishing, rife with innovation, are true escapism or technology-enabled passion.
  • Steve Shah spoke about scale: that we because we don’t properly understand it, how can we teach it.
  • Tracy Lee explored food, love and sex.
  • Gina Minks asked whether the new social fabric is being built without the input of disenfranchised groups, and creating a new digital divide—and how we might create new social norms to deal with it.
  • Paige Finkelman explained a better way to mug, tongue firmly in cheek as she talked about how an assault might have gone better with effective communication.
  • Hooman Beheshti talked about the bleak history of Norwegian Black Metal, and accidentally terrified some innocent CAMMAC visitors.
  • Jeremy Edberg spoke about why an engineer needs to be aware of the world around him or herself.
  • Ilana Ben-Ari spoke about building toys to teach empathy, then demonstrated on Alistair and Hooman.
  • Julie Steele delved into about how we tell stories.
  • Julie Matlin considered the tradeoff between transparency and privacy in blogging.
  • Bryan Watson looked at how we can apply game theory to relationship capital management.
  • Raymond Luk argued why classical music sucks.

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  • Aidan Nulman spoke about music and community.
  • Lenny Rachitsky cautioned that an over-optimized life makes us lose serendipity and miss the accidental wonders around us.
  • Jonathan Ginter explained the collapse of Incan civilization, revealing how a handful of unwashed Spaniards managed to defeat a great empire.
  • Donald Donovan spoke about the augmentation of the human body with technology.
  • Brydon Gilliss shared what DemoCampGuelph taught him about running a company.
  • Christine Davis talked about—and demonstrated—musical collaboration and using video signals to generate sound.
  • Sean Power did an AMA on being adopted.
  • Oliver O’Boyle spoke about Virtual assistants.
  • Nicolas Kruchten demonstrated an Arduino-based robot he’d created.

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  • Angela Case explored some of the problems of getting to know very dead people when all your secondary sources may be lying, using a content analysis of the fragments of Sappho.
  • James Duncan spoke about how we are what we eat.
  • Alex Bowyer speculated about what a human-centric computer would look like.
  • Bob Goyetche spoke about hosting for humans.
  • Rocio Tamez showed us how to make tamales.
  • Kim Fuller told us what she learned from helping to raise a MIRA guide dog.
  • Alexandra Haraldsson spoke about how to not bleed to death, using a pig’s leg and sutures to sew skin back together.

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  • Stéphane Bousquet revealed a darker side of Facebook.
  • Randy Smerik spoke about Tequila, and capped it off with a tasting.

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  • Alistair Croll spoke about how tablets and analysis might improve education, but how unions will resist the accountability they provide.
  • Andrea Wood looked at how improv is an essential part of innovation.
  • Jen Betz talked about rescue dogs.
  • David Chouinard explored business education, suggesting that the current models are broken.
  • Peter Taylor spoke about the joy of depression.
  • Theo Ephraim spoke about projection, interaction, and making the world your touchscreen.
  • Hugh McGuide spoke about open source models, and why free fuels innovation.
  • Anila Patel spoke about how people can motivate themselves to succeed.
  • Sanjay Patel spoke about renovations.
  • Xiao Yu spoke about keyboard and typing.

2009

The second Bitnorth happened on a Hallowe’en weekend—we hadn’t booked the venue far enough in advance for our usual September slot. The theme was “disguise”; and the scheduling made it hard for parents to attend.We also held a gameshow, in which two teams of three tried to win over the audience in a variety of contests.

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  • James Duncan kicked things off with an analysis of Peak Oil and how we’re halfway through the Oil Age.
  • Pauline Wolff works as an urban planner, making her well suited to show us how transportation issues are more complex than just replacing one kind of fuel with another.
  • Ian Rae explained the sport of Ultimate and how it wouldn’t have taken off without the Internet.
  • Pete Taylor used his 14 years in England to look at the British, and how their love of irony and playfulness informs everything about them.
  • Rachel Dhawan encouraged us to buy local fashion, providing many reasons why (which, apparently, all lead to having more sex.) And she did it without pictures, thanks to an errant USB key.
  • Alex Bowyer looked at why your computer needs to know which hat you’re wearing in order to serve you better, exploring personae in interface design.
  • Christine Davis hooked up her iPhone and a webcam to show us the musical instruments hiding in your PDA.

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  • Jessamyn West used a library story to show us why manners are simultaneously outmoded and tired and also the best way to get anything done.
  • Kamal Jain talked about disguise, and how our ability to take on new personas in virtual worlds is the lubricant we need when worlds rub together.
  • Sebastien Pierre showed us tools for visualizing expenses, making it clear that without useful, fun, interactive visualization, open access to data isn’t that useful to citizens.
  • Patrick Lozeau explained the problems of traditional research publication, and the open access movement that wants to encourage scientists, professors, and researchers to share and reference their content more openly.
  • Lionel Gibbons used his teenage daughter’s message-centric behavior as the basis for a chat about sexting, texting and the new literacy, concluding that while L33Tspeak might be annoying, it’s also part of the greatest resurgence of creative writing in recent history.
  • Archeologist Katrien Janin talked about how radiocarbon dating revolutionized her field, forcing historians to re-think wide swaths of our past.
  • Oliver O’Boyle talked about getting in touch with your feminine side, explaining how androgyny is a useful communications tool because adopting only masculine or feminine approaches to communication is limiting your options.
  • Sean Power played some jazz and spoke about how jazz influences most modern music. He also told us about the documentary he wants to make, tentatively titled “2 degrees of separation from Miles Davis.”
  • Alistair Croll observed that the tides of history are invisible to those who swim in them, and that things we take as permanent, like cars and television, are really ephemeral.
  • JoAnn Robichaud showed us how root cellars work and how to keep food fresh by playing tricks on your vegetables.
  • David Mirza Ahmad and Bruce Leidl showed us the issues facing the Internet as it becomes less neutral, and how Deep Packet Inspection technologies are being used in Iran to censor access to online resources.
  • Rocio Tamez talked about the social pressures and cultural prejudices that make dating difficult in Mexico.
  • Jonathan Ginter blew our mind a little bit, offering a simple layman’s explanation of quantum physics and talking about Parallel Universes and the Biocentric theory.
  • Julien Smith told us about the time he spent meditating in Japanese Zen Temples.
  • Angela Case‘s discussion of footnotes and editorialization showed us examples of how apparently truthful narratives lie.
  • Nicholas Kruchten showed us the Engineers Without Borders social network, and the dilemma of how social platforms like Facebook and Twitter can sometimes fragment an existing community.
  • Aine Shivnan told us a story of possums, skunks, and small, fearless dogs, showing us what happens when the fur flies.

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  • Despite the FAA’s protestations, Ray Luk showed us how to fly a plane in 10 minutes.
  • Will Stevens demonstrated how to repair kite sails with simple tools.
  • Inspired by early learnings in pirate radio, Bob Goyetche asked us, “are you following rules that don’t really exist?”
  • Bryan Bogensberger took the meta approach to his fear of presenting and gave us an entertaining, Twilight Zone look at mental blocks, phobias and fear.

2008

This was the first Bitnorth; we didn’t really know what it was yet, and the talks were still fairly tech-centric. The theme, ostensibly, was “the other 99 percent.” But many of us ignored that suggestion, with great results.

We also invited a panel of teenagers to discuss how they used online tools, and it was so fascinating we let it run long.

  • Will Stevens talked about designing for elastic screen sizes.
  • Kamal Jain said we have no excuses not to tackle the disruption that social technology brings to our world.
  • Sound engineer John Garrett showed us what goes on behind the scenes in movie sound engineering.
  • Oliver O’Boyle explained Kiva and how microlending works.
  • Raymond Luk showed us a different perspective on startups in the developing world.
  • JoAnn Robichaud talked about the rise of community gardens.
  • Bob Goyetche argued that accessibility stunted the growth of podcasting compared to other online media.
  • Sébastien Pierre explained how he works with data visualization.
  • Kim Fuller spoke about yoga, and hacking the technology within.
  • Alistair Croll railed against encryption and DRM, explaining that copy protection is an attempt to put the genie of information back in a monetizable bottle.
  • Duncan Hill explored the carbon footprint of beer, and how to consume it with the least environmental impact.

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  • Bryan Bogsenberger shared ten lessons from his last failed startup.
  • Donald Donovan talked about how social media has ignored the rural masses.
  • Marc Paré discussed how mobility is changing the consumer landscape.
  • Chris Amen-Kroeger laid out the roadmap for how we consume live video.
  • Jonathan Ginter looked at the cultural shifts that happened in China in the 14th century.
  • James Duncan explained how to disrupt nearly anything.

Disconnect to reconnect