I just got back from the MnSCU IT Conference. It was a blast. For the first time, there were enough web-related sessions that i couldn’t get to them all.

A guy from Apple was there, with a thrown-together-at-the-last-minute session called “Microsoft Office on UNIX.” Lame. The audience was filled with Unix geeks, offering an awesome opportunity to show off the Unix underpinnings of OS X. Did the Apple guy do that? No. Instead, he fumbled through an obviously unplanned series of standard Mac apps. For an entire excruciating hour, I sat there thinking: show us more than the frickin’ command line, fool! Show us the GIMP, show us Apache, show us OS X Server, show the networking tools. But no, none of that. Well, he showed Apache when someone asked about it. Idiot. I would have walked out but there was nothing else that seemed interesting at the time.

There was a two-hour hacking demonstration at the same time that Matt and I were giving our presentations on XML. Bummer. But the demo was repeated and I was able to go to at least an hour of it. One of the reasons that I was excited to take my job a year ago is that in every conversation with my supervisor, I learn something. His hacking demo was certainly no exception.

The XML presentations went well. The first was very well attended — a packed house! — but not with the people that I expected. It was a basic introduction to XML: what XML is, what it can be used for, that sort of thing, so I think it appealed to a broad audience. Matt noticed that a guy from Microsoft kept writing stuff down whenever we mentioned Microsoft. Weird.

Our second session, which got into some details about ways that you can start using XML on the Web right now, drew a mostly developer-type audience. I think. Hard to say. We dealt with stuff like RSS, content management systems, and web services. Constrained by time and the sheer enormity of the topic, we couldn’t get into enormous detail, but we still did inject some useful code examples and ideas that I hope will get people excited about using XML. Or at the very least, be able to intelligently consider whether it could be used to solve problems they’re working on. Our whole point is that XML isn’t some up-and-coming technology: you can use it now. Even if you don’t know a damn thing about XML, you can use it in things like web services and impress your boss. <grin />

I plan to expand the presentation slides into an article of sorts and will post a link here.

As I mentioned before, I used AxPoint to create the PDF slides from an XML source document. Pretty nice little tool. The markup’s easy to use, AxPoint’s easy to install and run. My only disappointment is that at this point the sldes that it creates are pretty basic. I’m looking forward to having more control over the font selection, placement, that sort of thing. Still, it’s a good tool. I recommend it.

I got to thinking, though, that using Flash for presentation slides would be fun. (Remember, I’ve sworn off learning to use PowerPoint. I have no explanation for this.) I’ve decided that it will be worth my while to get to know how to use Flash MX, with its XML support and improved accessibility. I’m curious to see what it would take to create an accessible Flash-based chat client, running over Jabber-RPC (XML-RPC over Jabber).

They’d set up a wireless network, which gave me yet another reason to buy an iBook. Next year, I’ll be there, iBook in hand, blogging the whole conference for a completely disinterested audience. I’m sure you’re giddy just thinking about it.

The best part of the conference, though, wasn’t the sessions and presentations. It was connecting with my web developer peers throughout the system. Good folk all. It’s wonderful to see us coming together as a community and start to do good work together.

Anyway. I’m back. Now I’m off to spend some time away from computers. Curl up with a book and a cat. I’ll be back tomorrow, though, I’m sure.