BookCampTO was held yesterday at what was billed as iSchool. “iSchool? How trendy,” you think. It turned out to be the dismal exposed-aggregate fortress known as Robarts Library, an assault on the human condition that Spacer™ apologists fashionably defend. Worse, iSchool is actually the completely unremediated ass-end wing of Robarts known as FLIS or FIS, the Faculty of Information Science. It’s where you disappear, never to be seen again, if you want to become an MLS, which has nothing to do with selling houses, or making money, or seeing daylight.

BookCamp was supposed to be stretched the concept of an unconference to its limits., but so many people signed up that organizers had to set aside any debased anarchistic vestige of lesbian-style community facilitation and just decide who got a speaker slot and who didn’t. How was that really worse? Show up too late to an unconference and some Creative Commons apologist will inform you there’s no more room for your idea. Convenient.

Even viewed optimistically, there were only four viable sessions out of 23, one of which I missed because I was having my regular double espresso while reading the Globe. That one documented a method of translating XML (hence XHTML) directly into native InDesign documents. My kinda progress. (I later chatted up the inventor, John Maxwell. Surely we are now best friends forever.)

I got there halfway through luncheon and saw attendees splayed out on the lawn like kindergartners. That especial public intellectual with the neon-green backpack was, surprisingly, in attendance. (Now less reprehensible! We’d probably get along famously, but this theory seems unlikely to be tested. I can’t figure out how he survives in broad daylight without hat or sunscreen.)

I filed in for esteemed colleague Stephanie Troeth’s session “The Evolving Ecology of the Book,” cohosted with Carlos Scolari of Argentina. I had not seen Steph, surely the sole Malaysian-Chinese-Australian Montrealer extant, in some years, and quizzed her on Canadian English. (She flunked.) She now finds me a bit much.

We sat around arguing about vaguely related topics in E-book and P-book production, while some motormouth “designer” kept loudly declaiming graphic-design bromides he’d seen on blogs (line length, Zuzana Licko [mispronounced]). Somebody else complained about poésie, and the only solution anybody offered him was audio recordings. (This is the talking-book argument write large: Why teach blind kids to read when they can just listen to everything? Why even bother writing poetry down?)

It was a mixed audience, so I didn’t expect technical competence from everybody, but I adamantly do expect minimum competence from people who dare to complain about typography of E-books. How long will it take them to learn that ePub is XHTML 1.1 plus CSS, hence ePub files are Web pages? If you can Google “We read best what we read most” well enough to holler it twice in a session, why can’t you learn what happens when you separate content and structure from presentation? What happens is you lose control. (But! You can use max-width to limit line length. Poetry is a problem you solve with BR and hanging indents.)

This went on for some time. I’m back to believing that, at a technical level, Toronto sucks. It took an American, Liza Daly, who actually owns a Kindle and a Sony Reader, to steal the show with her announcement of ePub Zen Garden, which aims to do for XHTML+CSS (“E-books”) what CSS Zen Garden did for XHTML+CSS (“Web sites”). That same designer laboured to show everyone his brilliance and exclaimed “Oh! So you wrote an emulator for—” at which point I lost it and, after he finished, explained she hadn’t emulated anything but single-page display. All of it is styled markup. So is what you’re reading now.

I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do next. I thought “Books & Podcasting,” with no session description, would be least awful, and trudged upstairs to find a Victrola running an LP record at high volume. A hitherto-unknown podcasteuse with a foreign name and one of those grating mid-Atlantic accents (“BookKahmp”) struggled to keep her hair out of her eyes. (Baldness has its advantages.) She promoted her program of reading authors’ works out loud without their permission and distributing them via RSS. Illegal at best, but so are a lot of things.

Various publicists and publishers wondered exactly how to set up author podcasts. I was the sole voice of reason telling people not to use Skype for such interviews, since dropouts are guaranteed. “But people are so very much more forgiving with a podcast,” I was told. “In fact, whenever I find an ‘overproduced’ podcast I turn it off.” These were the closest things to outright lies I encountered all day. Nobody on the planet considers nice clean spoken-word audio “overproduced.” And you can do it in 48 kbps. (You want to use Skype? Use it to do a glorified double-ender.)

I was distracted during this nonsense by a trim, well-put-together old guy who walked in. Everyone immediately looked his way as though he were important. Turns out he was: Mr. Hugh McGuire put this whole thing together. I kept wondering: Why is an obvious heterosexualist so well dressed? Much later, it came to me in a flash: Of course – he’s from Montreal. It’s permitted there, a city where nobody ever laughs at your hat.

I was just barely able to stomach the title of a later session, “Open-Source Publishing,” despite the fact it is a complete oxymoron. What I ended up with was some fat nerd writing “FOSS” on a blackboard, a sure sign I was going to be given another indoctrination into the virtues of open-source software, which everyone in the room already knew about. (The true purpose of any vertical-market conference: To remind the audience of what it already knows.) Who can function without open-source software? But what does it have to do with books?

I walked smartly into the perfect afternoon sunlight, with hat but sadly without sunscreen, and thumbed my nose at misapplied open-source philosophy by enjoying a soyaccino at the very nearest Starbucks. (Not artisanal, not locavore, not fair-trade, not free as in beer. And no harm caused to cows.)

I gotta quit going to these things.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.06.07 13:01. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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