Ignition & nuclear reactors: Gnomedex day 2

Gnomedex isn't over today, but I've been having some  observations I'd like to indulge in....

The close of Gnomedex yesterday  with Ignite Seattle's presentations segued into the morning of Gnomedex today with the Portland Ignite crew showing off their blitzkrieg of ideas. Like Seattle' initial Ignite events, Portland rapidly expanded to capacity even after changing venues. This morning some highlights of what we learned:

- how to get a decent car for $1,000 (really)

- boiling water using nuclear power (no really)

- why is David Hasselhoff so popular in Germany? (showed a photo that should not be shown anywhere involving dogs. Just no. No.)

- the true inspiring story of cup o noodles in graphic novel format (mmmm mmm good)

 Sarah Lacy lead a boisterous but not negatively confrontational discussion on blogging. As the center of a controversy at South by Southwest interview with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of  Facebook,  purposefully altered her format to be more interactive - "like comments on a blog" - and she got it. I thought she had a lot of poise while still nudging people to explore the fatigue of the A-listers and the echo chamber, vs. the newer or perhaps less advertising-sponsored blogs that don't resemble media organizations. People were still buzzing as we went to the coffee break.

Eve Maler (xmlgrrl) gave a great talk about "vendor relationship management" and identity issues. Businesses are familiar with managing the customers and customer data to create relationships. Customers aren't used to think of it the other way... what if my information was controlled and offered in a way that I could manage people who want to sell TO me.

The UW folks who created Adeona - a way to secure your laptop - had slow demo but some interesting ideas about weaknesses of current tracking systems.

At lunch, I got to sit with Vanessa Holfeltz, the associate reactor director of the nuclear reactor at Reed College. She is a 20something math major who studied for over a year to be trusted with the responsibility of working full-time on the reactor. (There are memory drills and weekly testing). Her envy of the Seattle ignite crew boiled down to one word: animation. I guess the Portlandites have a stricter presentation requirement than Brady insists on up here.

What was fascinating to me was:

1) I never had a student job that made such a good story

2) she knew an English major who had worked on the reactor - this wasn't just for math or science geeks

3) the reactor coming to Reed was the work of one scientist in the 60s who fundraised 300k - and now it's an educational resource for the Oregon community.

Ignition and reactors are great metaphors for outcomes that technology events aspire to.  The Ignite format is brief, fascinating, technical and humanly engaging - the brains of the people watching or hearing the talks are meant to get fizzy at the end. Reactors likewise imply (you hope they imply) a controlled but powerful reaction from energies contained inside the individual particles. One particle can have a powerful cascading effect.

Beth Kanter's amazing fundraiser during Gnomedex is an example of this sudden explosive outcome, ignition to action. And my other thought: It's not just for geeks alone. Reactors can be run by all brain types.

So on this sunny weekend in Seattle, we can ask ourselves - what action can we take, as singular beings as we are, that can have such powerful and uplifting effects? Whose brains can we light up by the things we say or text we write? I'm so done with the Olympic torch imagery by now, but in the olden days you had to literally hand over some flame to get the fire to your own hearth. What flame will you pass today, this week, this month, this year to change the world?