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Aroma Elite

The coffee maker in this Westin hotel room is called "Aroma Elite". I love the idea that someone spent thousands of dollars coming up with that name. And now I have joined the Aroma Elite, as I sip my cup of joe.

The Westin is a schizophrenic place. Promises of endless luxury, and rapacious fees for the tiniest bit of service. They have strangely fetishized the beds here - the elevators each carry a big prominent poster that says something like "The New Face of Luxury", with an inviting photograph of the thick covers, and an exhausted yet comely executive sinking into the depths of the Westin mattress after a hard day of board meetings. A big selling point is that there are five pillows - two big, two regular, and one mysterious burrito-shaped pillow of uncertain purpose. That pillow makes you feel vaguely uncultured, like when you are at a fancy dinner and there is an unidentifiable utensil at your place setting. I'm sure there's a whole class at the best Swiss finishing schools devoted to teaching the proper use of the burrito-shaped pillow. Advice is welcome.

The truly creepy thing about the Westin bed is that it has taken over the "Do Not Disturb" sign, which instead of saying "do not disturb", has a photograph of a beefcake guy lying shirtless and euphoric on an vast tundra of high-thread-count linen. The print underneath the picture says "Can't come to the door right now - I'm in Heaven."

Of course, in Westin Heaven®, there are bottles of water that cost $3.50 if you open them, Internet service is twelve bucks a day, the printer costs a dollar a page, and you pay a month's rent for three days' lodging.

Gripe, gripe. That's my only complaint about this conference - that it was so expensive, and therefore so exclusive. I got to come because I work in a job that has a budget for conferences and travel. But considering that a pet idea of Tim O'Reilly's is that innovation often comes from 'alpha geeks' on the fringes of the corporate world, it's ironic that just showing up here cost over a thousand bucks, plus travel and Heavenly Bed fees. The "Emerging Man" campsite some people set up sounded like a lot of fun, but fun born of necessity. There's no need to have this kind of event in the heart of Silicon Valley.

What really impressed me was the massive and coordinated effort to take notes, edit them, and make them available. People were able to follow along on IRC chat, or get quick access to notes and supporting material through the likes of Jason Kottke and Cory Doctorow, to name two of very many bloggers who made an effort to get things online fast. I'm in awe of all of them, being completely unable to take notes on the fly like that.

I thought that whole effort was very democratic and a credit to the people participating. If you didn't come to the conference, you missed out on daily O'Reilly salads and lemonade, but all the meat of the conference is now out there on the Web. Davos this isn't!

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