Wednesday, June 14, 2006

SLA Conference, day 3

I hadn't planned on attending courses today, but I'm very glad I did.

The Science of Chocolate, presented by Debra Miller and Dave Stuart, both of Hershey Co. - A very well presented and informative course. Dave Stuart started out with the history of chocolate, from its discovery between 1500 and 300 BC by the Olemics to building of Hershey, PA. While chocolate started in South America, currently over 70% of it is produced in West Africa. Some random facts:
  • The word 'chocolate' comes from either Xocolatl or Cacahuatl, depending on the language you're talking about.
  • Ancient glyths reveal a god of Chocolate, who happened to have a scorpion tail.
  • Cacao beans were used as currency in the New World for a while; 10 would get you a rabbit.
  • Spanish sailors originally mistook cacao beans for almonds, due to their size and shape (not their taste, of course).
  • Chocolate was a drink only until 1820, when Cadbury mixed it with sugar and cocoa mass to make the first bar.
  • While chocolate has caffiene, a bar contains less than a cup of decaf coffee.
Debra Miller then went on to explain the health benefits of chocolate. Naturally, she is coming from the angle of a chocolate company, but her cited research was valid and scientific. Apparently, cocoa has more antioxidents per gram than any other natural substance tested so far. More than blueberries, more than coffee, more than tea. This results in a statistically significant reduction in blood pressure and related cardiovascular diseases. The darker the chocolate, the better, generally speaking.

Closing General Session, featuring Walt Mossberg - This was mostly a thank you and rah-rah session for the conference, with some previews of next years' event in Denver. Walt Mossberg gave a very good talk on the future of the internet and information technology. He envisions the internet falling into the background, like the power grid, and for our devices to plug into it and get what information they need (microwaves that can download cooking programs for specific foods, for example). Cellphones will become the dominant devices for retrieving content, since they are more portable and longer lasting than laptops, and can do just as much these days.
The major impediment to this is are the "Soviet Ministries", the communications companies who want a return on their investment, but are going about it in stupid, counter-productive ways. He calls for a rewriting of copyright law to be centered around the consumer, not the copyright holder, enumerating our rights, rather than merely barring copying totally and then adding a few exceptions. He favoured DRM, but not the way its implemented currently.
Walt also spoke of how search engines haven't really done anything new in the last half a decade, and that figuring out a way to improve them will be the next big leap in internet technology. Products like Yahoo! Answers he calls "ethically irresponsible", since it claims to give real answers, but really only gives anonymous people's opinions. Anonymity is a major problem, he believes, since people lack responsibility. Just as Open Source will never take off because no one is responsible for the content; it will never get past the 80% development that geeks take it to.
He covered several other topics, which can likely be viewed on the SLA's website in completion. I found the talk to be excellent, witty and definately worth my time. I'm glad Prof. Stankus had me go (pre-requisite to the free lunch he provided, which was absolutely delicious, and gave me a chance to catch up). I look forward to SLA 2007 in Denver, if I can make it.

1 comment:

elsa said...

I spy with my little eye a blog belonging to Ian. Hi!