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 Bon 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.