Last week I went to three talks, that were on quite different topics. It was a feast of information, and I’m still struggling to digest some of it, but here’s my initial impressions.

Talk 1: Alec Coles, WA Museum CEO

Alec gave a talk at the Royal Society of WA (RSWA) meeting last Monday night up at Kings Park (RSWA do have regular talks – find out more about those at their web site I’m a Research Associate at the WA Museum, and we also manage their databases commercially at Gaia Resources, so I have some strong ties to the organization, and was keen to hear what Alec had to say.

Alec talked about his new vision for the WA Museum, and really opened my mind to what has been a big part of my professional career. The WA Museum complex in Perth has been in decay for a while, although some great exhibits lately, such as the Pompeii exhibit, have been extraordinarily successful. Alec is very enthusiastic, professional speaker, and I was excited about the possibilities that he charted for the Perth site, and can’t wait to see him start to implement his vision!

Talk 2: Richard Stallman, Free Software Foundation

Imagine that there is a spectrum of people involved in software development, ranged along from proprietary software vendors on the right through to open source supporters on the left.  Hold your arms out in front of you about three feet apart. Richard Stallman is about six feet off to the left past your left hand.

Stallman’s talk was entertaining, but something I’ve seen on Youtube and other places before.  Please note, I’m paraphrasing, and these are my recollections/perceptions of what he was saying. He was quite bitter about some things (e.g. Linux being credited to Linus Torvalds, not him), ranty about other things (selling commercial software is like selling drugs in schools), arrogant (he didn’t answer questions he didn’t want to) and comedic (St Ignucious turned up and he did his Church of Emacs skit).

I wasn’t particularly impressed with this talk. His extreme views tended to put me off (some would say due to the fact I’m employed in a commercial entity). I do appreciate his view that free software is a good thing, but I also think that if, as an industry, we released all software out as free, this would be a bad thing for the industry.  There is a case for free software (and I’m particularly interested in this as I am finally reading the book “Free” by Chris Anderson – check out, but I’m not sure it’s every software package.

It was an entertaining evening with Stallman, and I’m glad that extreme views exist to give us things to consider we wouldn’t, but I don’t agree with him completely – and I wouldn’t see him speak again.

Talk 3: David Suzuki, David Suzuki Foundation

David Suzuki has been someone I have personally admired for a long time. His latest tour focused on his book The Legacy, and his lecture he was treating as his “last lecture”. I hope that this isn’t the last time I see him speak, though.

Suzuki is a naturally enthusiastic and inspirational speaker – and when introduced by Josh Byrne who is also very enthusiastic – it was a great event. I really enjoyed this and thought long and hard about what I do both in business and in my personal life – and how can I do better, in terms of sustainability. His web site,, is really very useful and full of great resources.

I really liked Suzuki’s discussion about economics, and where the word comes from (“rules of the house”), and his whole discussion about growth being not a great thing. I agree with that – and that sounds weird coming from a guy running a company that is getting bigger!  What I didn’t like was his view that money from companies is not accepted by his Foundation. I would like to support that sort of thing, but if he was saying “companies = bad” then I would have found a point of disagreement with him (though I think he was saying they were independent of corporate pressure/politics/agendas).

David’s talk proposed that we should do several things to make the world a better place – apart from the fact there were 2,000 people in the audience, who could go and talk to politicians, vote for change, etc.  He talked through some technologies that are out there that work, and we need some real change to happen – not just changing light bulbs, but changing drivers for economies and the like. Big picture stuff.

This talk was equally inspirational, depressing, enthusing and sobering. It was a perfect way to end a week of talks, by ending on a high point.

So, where to from here?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the weekend thinking about these talks. When I started Gaia Resources, I had some grand visions for how we would make the world a better place, and in the craptacular year I’ve had this year (admittedly, there were some highlights!), I’ve lost a bit of focus on this.  So, these were some quite timely talks – I have thought about the importance of vision, the possibility of free software, and the way we run Gaia Resources sustainability – and I suspect some aspect of each will turn up in the plan for 2011.

Stay tuned for more on these in 2011, if not before!

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