July 06, 2008

Digital Evidence: Musing on the rocky path to wisdom

I've notched up two events in London: the International Conference on Digital Evidence 10 days ago, and yesterday I attended BarCampBankLondon. I have to say, they were great events!

Another great conference in our space was the original FC in 1997 in Anguilla. This was a landmark in our field because it successfully brought together many disciplines who could each contribute their specialty. Law, software, cryptography, managerial, venture, economics, banking, etc. I had the distinct pleasure of a professor in law gently chiding me that I was unaware of an entire school of economics known as transaction economics that deeply affected my presentation. You just can't get that at the regular homogeneous conference, and while I notice that a couple of other conferences are laying claim to dual-discipline audiences, that's not the same thing as Caribbean polyglotism.

Digital Evidence was as excellent as that first FC97, and could defend a top rating in conferences in the financial cryptography space. It had some of interactivity, perhaps for two factors: it successfully escaped the trap or fixation on local jurisdiction, and it had a fair smattering of technical people who could bring the practical perspective to the table.

Although I'd like to blog more about the presentations, it is unlikely that I can travel that long journey; I've probably enough material for a month, and no month to do it in. Which highlights a continuing theme here at on this blog: there is clearly a hole in the knowledge-to-wisdom market. It is now even an archaic cliche that we have too much data, too much information to deal with, so how do we make the step up through knowledge and on to wisdom?

Conferences can help; but I feel it is far too easy to fall into the standard conference models. Top quality names aimed at top paying attendees, blindness by presumptions about audience and presenters (e.g., academic or corporate), these are always familiar complaints.

Another complaint is that so much of the value of conferences happens when the "present" button is set to "off". And that leads to a sort of obvious conclusion, in that the attendees don't so much want to hear about your discoveries, rather, what they really want is to develop solutions to their own problems. FC solved this in a novel way by having the conference in the Caribbean and other tourist/financial settings. This lucky choice of a pleasant holiday environment, and the custom of morning papers leaving afternoons freer made for a lot of lively discussion.

There are other models. I experimented at EFCE, which Rachel, Fearghas and I ran a few years back in Edinburgh. My call (and I had to defend my corner on this one) was that the real attendees were the presenters. If you could present to peers who would later on present to you, then we could also more easily turn off the button and start swapping notes. If we could make an entire workshop of peers, then structure would not be imposed, and relationships could potentially form naturally and evolve without so many prejudices.

Which brings us to yesterday's event: BarCampBankLondon. What makes this bash unusual is that it is a meeting of peers (like EFCE), there is a cross-discipline focus (finance and computing, balanced with some legal and consulting people) and there isn't much of an agenda or a selection process (unlike EFCE). Addendum: James Gardner suggests that other conferences are dead, in the face of BarCamp's model.

I'm all for experimentation, and BCBL seemed to manage the leading and focussing issue with only the lightest of touches. What is perhaps even more indicative of the (this?) process was that it was only 10 quid to get in, but you consume your Saturday on un-paid time. Which is a great discriminator: those who will sacrifice to work this issue turned up, and those looking for easy, paid way to skive off work did not.

So, perhaps an ideal format would be a BarCamp coupled with the routine presentations? Instead of a panel session (which I find a bit fruitless) replace one afternoon with a free-for-all? This is also quite similar to the "rump sessions" that are favoured in the cryptography world. Something to think about when you are running your next conference.

Posted by iang at July 6, 2008 05:54 PM | TrackBack

Deeply effected? Don't you mean "affected"? Please don't confuse "it's" (it is) with "its" (possessive pronoun). It's a credibility thing. On another front, can you tell us anything about the NSA's contest to produce the best hash algorithm? Is it being taken seriously?

Posted by: G Brenner at July 9, 2008 10:33 AM

Affected, ok, fixed, thanks. Pronouns, not found. Credibility, that elusive quality?!

Hash algorithms are more of a concern for cryptographers, not financial cryptographers. As far as the FCers are concerned, the current batch is fine. In more theoretical terms, SHA2 is pareto-secure, so where's the fire?

Posted by: Iang at July 9, 2008 11:01 AM
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