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.