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.

A Glimpse of a Future Transit Option (for a short time, at least)

The Olympic Streetcar During Testing

The Olympic Streetcar During Testing

While walking back from grocery shopping at Granville Island today, we saw the new Olympic Streetcar, which they are testing on the tracks nearby. I did get a fuzzy picture of it a couple of weeks ago. It’s simply beautiful. We went a little closer and thanks to a friendly Bombardier employee, we got a look inside. I wish I had my camera in hand, and I inadvertently left my iPhone in its cradle back at home. That also wouldn’t capture the fact that the train smells new inside. It’s a 5-car model with 2 articulations, which are the ‘hinges’ between cars (if you ride the B-Line Bus, you know well what I’m talking about), according to the engineer. It’s operated manually, and to open the doors, you press a button on either the inside or outside while stopped (the door stays open for about 20 seconds after that). There are info screens at various points on the ceiling, and the engineer said that they are linked back to the communications system back in Bruges, Belgium, where this train was built.
The streetcar, which is really much more like a train, will begin operation on January 21, and will then run back and forth between Granville Island and the Olympic Village at Cambie street for 60 days, where it will be free. We were surprised to find out that it won’t continue past the Olympic Village and connect up with Main Street/Science World, which would have created a perfect circle around 1/2 of the downtown area plus False Creek (See map below. Annotation and dashed line for the continuation of the route are mine. Click to see a larger version):

Olympic Transit Map - From Translink - With Annotation

The Translink Olympic Transit Map (from a PDF on their site).

While I was a big fan of this new addition to our transit system, if it only goes from Granville Island to Cambie, it’s not as big a deal as if it had gone to Science World. If it had gone that far (as we had always assumed – since the original tracks that are originally there go that far) it would have provided a really easy way to get to Chinatown and other parts of downtown from our neighborhood. Transit lines always open up new neighborhoods to explore, but getting to Cambie and 6th from our area is already reachable by a pretty fast bus. Still, I’m looking forward to riding this new tram. What is perplexing, is that in addition to the abbreviated route, is why it isn’t a permanent addition to downtown Mass transit.

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.