Upcoming Events and Talks

I'm attending BarCamp Vancouver 2010

There are some excit­ing days ahead, and I’ve been spend­ing a lot of time get­ting pre­pared. First of all, in less than a week, Bar­Camp Van­cou­ver 2010 takes place on Novem­ber 19th-20th at the new loca­tion of the Wal­dorf Hotel, just to the East of down­town. It’s a unique venue, com­plete with the city’s most spec­tac­u­lar vin­tage 1950s Tiki bar and it’s recent­ly been ren­o­vat­ed and is ready to host events. I’ve put togeth­er a pre­sen­ta­tion and demo called: Play­ing with Future Tele­vi­sion, What I learned Mess­ing Around with Plex 0.9. I’m a huge fan (per­haps even a fanat­ic) of this free soft­ware that turns any Mac (Intel only) into a Media Cen­ter. Built orig­i­nal­ly from the XBMC (XBox Media Cen­ter) project, but now an inde­pen­dent ini­tia­tive, Plex includes a gor­geous (and skinnable/customizable) TV inter­face (that like Apple’s own Front Row, works with a remote), an omniv­o­rous video play­er that can han­dle most of the video for­mats I’ve ever come across, iTunes and iPho­to con­nec­tiv­i­ty out of the box, plu­g­ins that add the abil­i­ty to stream media from all sorts of places: YouTube, Shout­cast, Hulu and Pan­do­ra if you’re in the US — although I have found a sneaky workaround — Apple Movie Trail­ers, MSNBC, and again, if you’re in the US, Net­flix. (That last ser­vice ought to work in Cana­da as well, because we now get Netflix…sort of, but the US plu­g­in won’t work in Cana­da, and the com­pa­ny has not offered any sup­port for devel­op­ers try­ing to use their API in Cana­da, despite the cries of protest from the small but vocal group of Cana­di­an Plex users and devel­op­ers.) So that’s my con­tri­bu­tion, and I’m also look­ing for­ward to pre­sen­ta­tions by Kris Krug on iPhone pho­tog­ra­phy and John Biehler and Duane Storey on Arduino.

But Wait, There’s More…

Vancouver WordPress Meetup Group LogoA few days after Bar­Camp, I’ll be doing anoth­er pre­sen­ta­tion, on a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent top­ic. It’s enti­tled “User Expe­ri­ence Design for Word­Press Web Sites: Does Your Blog Design Sup­port Your Con­tent?”, and I’ll be pre­sent­ing it at the Novem­ber meet­ing of The Van­cou­ver Word­Press Meet­up Group at The Net­work Hub, a co-work­ing space in down­town Van­cou­ver. I’ve been doing a ton of research and work on this pre­sen­ta­tion, so I’m look­ing for­ward to giv­ing it. The atten­dance so far is com­plete­ly full, with a wait­ing list of over 16 peo­ple as I write this. Wow.

Back In the Saddle

I’ve learned what it’s like to get out of the habit of writ­ing in this blog. For me, at least, just start­ing again has been excru­ci­at­ing.  Part of the prob­lem is the first few para­graphs. I’ve been try­ing to invent a clever, or unique way of resum­ing, but there doesn’t seem to be any­thing I can do that’s nov­el, wit­ty or deliv­ers a sat­is­fac­to­ry expla­na­tion as to why I’ve not added any­thing here since we were on the beach in Hoi An, Viet­nam. I’ve been told that you should nev­er, nev­er apol­o­gize for not hav­ing writ­ten in a blog for quite some time. In fact, some par­tic­u­lar­ly pathet­ic blogs are noth­ing but a series of these ‘O-I’m-so-sorry-I-haven’t-written-lately’ posts. So there, no apolo­gies.

OK, since I’m break­ing a long, awk­ward silence at this table, I’m going to clear my throat and move the con­ver­sa­tion back to you. So, what have you been doing for the past 2 months, dear read­er? Noth­ing much?

With no smi­ley equiv­a­lent of a shrug, I’m just going to pick up with the here and now, and prob­a­bly will fill in some of the details about the past 10 weeks or so in due course.

So, from the here and now front… Today:

The Vandusen Garden Sale

Pam, a friend of ours and I all got up ear­ly this morn­ing and drove down Oak street and parked about a block before the entrance. Before we got out of the car, there were 4–5 cars pulling in behind us along Oak! We got in line, and soon the rain start­ed. About a half hour lat­er, they opened the doors, and we all sloshed in, many folks with wag­ons, carts and bas­kets. For us, this year was herb year. We picked up some sweet basil, Thai basil, Rose­mary, Viet­namese corian­der and thyme. I’ll be cook­ing with most of that, and hope­ful­ly the herbs will grow all sum­mer enough to keep up with my har­vest­ing them. We found out at the check­out that any­thing edi­ble (i.e. herbs) was tax-free! Note: Odd­ly enough, we learned that manure is also tax-free, although I have no idea why.
We were in and out with­in about 2 hours, and Pam is repot­ting some of the plants now. Good times.

Good-bye to the Oughts

While the past year has been good, I must admit that I’m in com­plete agree­ment with those like Time Mag­a­zine, who dubbed the first 10 years of 2000 as The Decade from Hell. It was a decade that belonged to Bush, whose ascen­dan­cy to the White House I have often said was the worst sin­gle event in US His­to­ry. It was for us, a great leap into the unknown, leav­ing the city of Boston and the coun­try of our births. It was def­i­nite­ly scary in the begin­ning, but we’ve slow­ly climbed back, at least in terms of our finances, to where we were when we left, more or less. We dodged much of the hous­ing bub­ble, and although Pam and I both saw time out of the work force, I sus­pect that would have been just as bad (or worse) if we had stayed.

After the elec­tion of Oba­ma, many peo­ple have asked us if we were con­sid­er­ing return­ing to the US. After all, we were ‘Bush Dodgers’, accord­ing to some. Well, the ridicu­lous debate on Health Care reform had us con­stant­ly shak­ing our heads in bewil­der­ment. The fact that the US still fails to acknowl­edge health care as a human right (like the ones of reli­gion and guns that they extoll so often), is some­thing we’ll nev­er under­stand. The lack of acknowl­edge­ment that the pro­lif­er­a­tion of guns is caus­ing more and more vio­lence and death through­out Amer­i­ca is also baf­fling to us. When­ev­er we see peo­ple being inter­viewed on the US evening news con­stant­ly refer to God, their belief in reli­gion and oth­er mag­i­cal think­ing also seems fur­ther and fur­ther from us. Nope, we’re not going back to all of that.

Good-bye to 2009, Then

Look­ing back on just this year, I do have some events that I’ll remem­ber fond­ly. Here’s a brief list:

  1. The Con­cert of works for and by Dutch com­pos­er Louis Andriessen for his 70th birth­day. Back in April, I got to see and hear him (and one of his works), as he rem­i­nisced about per­for­mances by air­port run­ways and mused that the bass line in Bach Chorale Pre­ludes is “like a cow moo­ing, inter­rupt­ing chirp­ing birds”.
  2. Rid­ing the brand spank­ing new Canada­Line all day on my Birth­day, and play­ing Foursquare (and ‘tourist in my own town’) as I went all the way from the south of Rich­mond to North Van­cou­ver with­out burn­ing any gaso­line (not count­ing the fuel on the Seabus).
  3. Actu­al­ly not one but sev­er­al fun and stim­u­lat­ing Mee­tups for blog­gers, graph­ic design­ers and Social Media folks. Sev­er­al were at Caeli’s Pub, which has become one of the most pop­u­lar social water­ing-holes in town.
  4. An after-hours tour of the new­ly-ren­o­vat­ed Arc­tic Ocean exhib­it of the Van­cou­ver Aquar­i­um as part of the local chap­ter of the Inter­ac­tion Design Asso­ci­a­tion (IXDA)
  5. Excel­lent meals at Provence at Mari­na­side, a tea (thanks to Tiny Bites) at the Fish House in Stan­ley Park and this past week, a warm­ing Hot Pot (Shabu Shabu) at a new Kore­an Restau­rant, Dae Bak Bön Ga, on 4th Avenue in Kit­si­lano.
  6. The Inau­gu­ra­tion of Barack Oba­ma (of course)
  7. Bar­Cam­p­Van­cou­ver, which was a blast this year at Dis­cov­ery Parks.
  8. Help­ing to run and par­tic­i­pate in UXCam­p­Van­cou­ver, the first User Expe­ri­ence ‘uncon­fer­ence’ in the Van­cou­ver area. Many thanks to Karen Park­er for pro­vid­ing the lead­er­ship and guid­ance. Next year, it will be even big­ger and bet­ter. This was, per­haps, the big high­light of the year for me.

And a few sad loss­es:

  1. The loss of Work­space, a mar­velous public/private space that host­ed many great techie get-togeth­ers. It was the clos­est thing to a ‘par­lor’ that the Geek Scene in Van­cou­ver had. I’m hop­ing that anoth­er will come, but some­times these things take time to replace.
  2. The clos­ing of a bunch of restau­rants: Chow (which I reviewed in this blog), O Thai (which was replaced by anoth­er Thai restau­rant in the same spot that is decid­ed­ly poor­er), The Fish Café (on 4th Avenue in Kit­si­lano), and a few oth­ers that I for­get at the moment (maybe for that rea­son, they should have closed).

When I look back on 2009, I know that I will sad­ly have to note that it was the year that Bec­ca Ham­mann died (see pre­vi­ous entry), and it will be some time before I am used to that fact.

I also note the birth of many babies by friends and rel­a­tives, and once again, our orchid is bloom­ing.

My next post, will be about next year. Oh look: the clock says that it’s here already. Well, come in, 2010. Make your­self at home.

My BarCamp Wrap-Up

BarCamp Underway on October 3, 2009 - Photo by Gus Fosarolli

Bar­Camp Under­way on Octo­ber 3, 2009 — Pho­to by Gus Fos­arol­li

It takes some time to digest a Bar­Camp. For me, it was about 3 to 5 pre­sen­ta­tions and dis­cus­sions, pep­pered with 10–20 great con­ver­sa­tions, sprin­kled with a half a dozen reunions and many oth­er new intro­duc­tions. It also had a cou­ple sur­pris­es: some of the ses­sions I thought were going to take place were can­celled (usu­al­ly at the deci­sion of the presenters/attendees), but on the oth­er hand, some that I hadn’t known about were announced in the morn­ing. David Saslav’s remote ses­sion regard­ing Cho­rus America’s study on the effects of Choral Singing on School­child­ren and Adults did take place, and came off very well, despite the fact that he was pre­sent­ing from his home in San Fran­cis­co via Skype video. I attend­ed two dif­fer­ent design work­shops. In one, I col­lab­o­rat­ed with a group (1 among sev­er­al oth­ers) in a ‘Design Char­rette’  to work on the prob­lem of traf­fic acci­dents along the stretch of East Hast­ings as it cuts through the Down­town East Side of Van­cou­ver. I also par­tic­i­pat­ed in J. Karen Parker’s ses­sion on Paper pro­to­typ­ing, where I noticed a pre­pon­der­ance of  touch­screen solu­tions to every­day gad­gets, appli­ances and obsta­cles (like dig­i­tal cam­eras, microwave ovens, and sky­train tick­et dis­pensers). What the iPhone hath wrought! While I think our UI sug­ges­tions to improve the tick­et dis­pens­ing prob­lems was pret­ty good, I real­ly loved anoth­er group’s solu­tion to a microwave: make the whole oven front a large touch­screen, with a large cir­cu­lar slider/indicator, through which you can see your food cook­ing. As Karen not­ed, in this day and age where the com­pet­i­tive advan­tages of good design can some­times get you ahead in the mar­ket­place, a real­ly snazzy microwave touch-screen con­trol might be some­thing they should look at!

I also got to a ses­sion on Day Trad­ing using a com­bi­na­tion of  com­put­er soft­ware, twit­ter, and some knowl­edge about how peo­ple behave. I can’t say that I’ll be doing much of that soon, but it was real­ly intrigu­ing to hear how some are doing it these days. Anoth­er ses­sion involved a more com­mon top­ic: Hap­pi­ness. Here, Inter­net Mar­keter Ray Kanani asked some pro­vok­ing ques­tions about what makes us hap­py, and how adver­tis­ers try to sub­vert and direct our desires.  Far from being a loose and vague ses­sion, it end­ed up being an intense dis­cus­sion about what each of us is look­ing for in life, and whether we could ben­e­fit from being hope­ful, sat­is­fied, cyn­i­cal or none of the above. We could have eas­i­ly tak­en twice the ses­sion to exam­ine the sub­ject, and I almost think there should be a Hap­pi­ness­Camp about all of the var­i­ous facets of the sub­ject (attend­ed by, wait for it…Happy Campers!)

Final­ly, a ses­sion near the mid­dle of the day was one of the ones I was in fact wait­ing for; an update and con­ver­sa­tion, led by Boris Mann (one of Vancouver’s most well-con­nect­ed and influ­en­tial techies), about the var­i­ous new venues and offered resources in town that are jump­ing in to fill the void left by the demise of Work­Space. Roland Tanglao, record­ed the ses­sion, so I was able to lis­ten to it once more to make sure I got all of the 45 min­utes of sub­jects and places men­tioned by the large gath­er­ing of con­cerned peo­ple.

I’m hap­py to say that for me, at least, the day seemed to go smooth­ly, the sched­ule and pac­ing seemed to work well, lunch was tasty (and there was enough food and cof­fee), the Dis­cov­ery Parks venue was excel­lent, and there was a notice­able ‘good vibe’ about the day. I believe that the many ‘first time’ Bar­Camp atten­dees prob­a­bly got a good intro­duc­tion to this very spe­cial meet­ing of minds.  I’m now proud to say I con­sid­er myself a vet­er­an of Bar­Camp, and I’m even more proud to have been able to work with such a great group of vol­un­teers this year. They  helped plan, run and man­age the event, which was a suc­cess in many ways.

Update: Check out this awe­some Bar­Camp com­ic, cre­at­ed from pho­tos tak­en that day.

Imminent BarCamp

Im attending BarCampVancouver 2009

Tomor­row is a big day. About 300 or so peo­ple are going to con­verge at an office park not far from here, The Dis­cov­ery Parks build­ing (old QLT build­ing) at 887 Great North­ern Way. We are all, once again par­tic­i­pat­ing in the annu­al Bar­Cam­p­Van­cou­ver, an ‘uncon­fer­ence’ and part of an inter­na­tion­al net­work of sim­i­lar con­fer­ences, “born from the desire for peo­ple to share and learn in an open envi­ron­ment.” In a Bar­Camp, (a move­ment that start­ed in 2005). It’s hard for me to believe that the first Bar­Camp (in Palo Alto, in August of that year) was orga­nized from con­cept to event,  in less then a week, because this year I’ve been involved in the orga­ni­za­tion­al plan­ning of the event, and I can tell you that it took us longer than a week to orga­nize this one (more like sev­er­al months).

I like to think that I have a lot of smart and inter­est­ing friends. I’m very much look­ing for­ward to some of these pre­sen­ta­tions, includ­ing a remote pre­sen­ta­tion via Skype from my child­hood friend David Saslav, who is lead­ing a dis­cus­sion (from San Fran­cis­co) on “how choral singing makes you smarter and improves mem­o­ry”. Not only is this a top­ic near and dear to me, but I’m also fas­ci­nat­ed by the idea of a remote and inter­ac­tive pre­sen­ta­tion at a con­fer­ence — hope it all works! Oth­er top­ics dur­ing the day range from Data Min­ing Twit­ter, to how sto­ry­telling is remak­ing video games, to a pub­lic dis­cus­sion of how we are going to per­haps fill the hole cre­at­ed in the Van­cou­ver Tech scene by the demise of Work­Space.

If you are in the area, have a free day this Sat­ur­day, and are inter­est­ed in a day of stim­u­lat­ing pre­sen­ta­tions and dis­cus­sions, head on over to Dis­cov­ery Parks on Great North­ern Way. As I always say about Bar­Camp, it proves that every­body is an expert in some­thing, and hang­ing around experts can def­i­nite­ly expand your mind and make your day.