Oct 222013
 

appsweepstakes-216x100I’ve urged the Windows Developers in my outreach areas to enter their apps into Microsoft’s Tech Affiliate Sweepstakes on numerous occasions… but I haven’t really gone into just what that is.

The contest of course rewards a few randomly-selected developers and their community leaders each month for app submissions.  There’s a lot more to Tech Affiliate, however, than monthly cash prizes. Continue reading »

Oct 032013
 

I recently wrote about a long shot opportunity I thought I had to attain a “dream job”.  In the aftermath of failure, a friend mentioned that we don’t always land our dream jobs.  I had to reply that I did have one, once, in a quality assurance role in a former Nokia factory from 2005 to 2007.

Of course defining a dream job is very personal, and for me there were some distinct, key elements that inspired me to literally race to work most mornings and hate leaving some times:

  • Management trust.  My boss made it clear she trusted everyone on her team to have the necessary skills and do the right thing on every occasion.  She never hovered over us, never micromanaged.  And when I doubted myself on a tough, critical project, her faith in me got me past a brief approaching-deadline panic and on to a satisfying solution.
  • Clear goals and communications.  I was never caught off guard with ad hoc expectations.  I always knew what I was supporting.  In fact a large part of my role was to improve the team’s data mining and reporting solutions so that we ALL knew.
  • Ideal work environment.  On the first day my boss was embarrassed, she said, that I would have to sit near the edge of a mezzanine overlooking the factory floor.  I thought she was kidding– for a Maker, that was workplace heaven!  Not only that, but cube walls were almost non-existent– so low that I could actually see my colleagues at any moment.  That may bother others, but I loved it.  Out of the maze and right over the frying pan!  Not to mention that I got to spend a lot of time in a test lab.
  • Travel opportunities.  When I was told I would be going to Finland sooner or later, I was terrified.  I had never left the states and did not know how I would handle a foreign country.  A trip to Mexico was not really a big deal; it was just southern Texas with different laws.  But not only did overseas travel turn out to be tolerable, I actually enjoyed it.  I’ve been to Finland 13 times now and eagerly look forward to getting back as soon as I can.
  • Beneficial training.  Oh, the training I received!  Useful.  Interesting.  Not the usual rote lecture stuff but engaging sessions where I came away a much better employee and person.  Nokia had training down to a fine science.
  • Opportunities.  For a while, the sky was the limit in Nokia.  I have a feeling it will be again before too long.
  • Enjoyable culture.  I’ve worked for many companies but only found myself truly at home in two: Texas Instruments and Nokia.  A large part of that was culture.  The previous bullet points are reflections of rich, rewarding corporate culture.  Where employees feel empowered and even encouraged to contribute, and not just treated as cogs in a cube farm.  True, no company is perfect and even TI and Nokia had some cultural failings, but they were still far above many of their peers.

Of course those attributes work for me but may not for everyone.  They thing to take away though is that a dream job is one that easily fits your aptitude and interests.  One you might even do for free, for fun.  I think we can all agree on that sort of definition.

But I’m eager to hear from others: what defines your dream job?  Please add to comments.

Oct 012013
 

Deliver HereI’ve just recently gotten serious about learning XAML for Windows Phone development, and it’s been a real rollercoaster.  Hours of bad-document-reading, tutorial-deciphering and hair-pulling punctuated by brief bursts of accidental success.  My wife has learned to ignore my cursing but my poor dog Peanut still runs under a corner desk when some seemingly innocent code breaks.

Part of the problem for myself (and others, based on threads on MSDN and stackoverflow) is that documentation is woefully incomplete.  Too many examples telling you WHAT needs to be done but annoyingly omitting critical HOWs.  Too many segments of potentially useful code lacking the necessary prerequisite references to run.

But I digress.  And if you just want to avoid further background and skip to the solution, scroll down.

I’m working on a C# Windows Phone geolocation app designed to route an email recipient to a person in need.  One of my goals as always is to craft the best user interface for the solution.  For touch devices, that often means stripping out conventional interface objects like buttons because they tend to occupy a layer between the user and what he or she wants to do.  In this case, I want the app’s Map object to be the center of attention, and most if not all user interaction to take place on or around it.  As is my norm, I dose this work with lots of context sensitivity.

I began with PNG objects like those shown in this post.  I got that working fine eventually; tap on the graphic, and a context menu of several options pops up.  Select one, and the graphic updates to reflect the user’s purpose.

But as I began the task of replacing Application Bar buttons with more Map-centric interaction objects, I began thinking that bitmap graphics were too low fidelity.  If I went with vectors, and added more Map layers, I could truly orient the user better and improve engagement.  The Map itself could host most of the UI.I Need HELP

It’s easy enough to add polygonal objects to XAML.  Many of the Windows Phone content objects can host them.  But once you get beyond simple shapes, editing can be a pain.  One quickly misses Adobe Illustrator.

I found a really sweet XAML export plugin for Illustrator, but the creator has been unable to update it past CS4.  I’m using Creative Cloud, and older plugins no longer function [edit: as one reader pointed out in comments, Microsoft's Blend can import AI files.  Part of my purpose here was to identify a completely free solution.  For many uses, Inkscape works fine].  I discovered that the free vector editor Inkscape supports XAML export, so it was a no-brainer to bring my AI graphics into it and export.  Below is an SVG file of my Map Pushpin object:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<!-- Generator: Adobe Illustrator 17.0.0, SVG Export Plug-In . SVG Version: 6.00 Build 0)  -->
<!DOCTYPE svg PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD SVG 1.1//EN" "http://www.w3.org/Graphics/SVG/1.1/DTD/svg11.dtd">
<svg version="1.1" id="Layer_1" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink" x="0px" y="0px"
width="28.263px" height="72.538px" viewBox="0 0 28.263 72.538" enable-background="new 0 0 28.263 72.538" xml:space="preserve">
<circle fill="#3D5EAB" fill-opacity="0.9" cx="14.132" cy="7.041" r="7.041"/>
<path fill="#3D5EAB" fill-opacity="0.9" d="M14.132,16.012C6.327,16.012,0,22.339,0,30.143v0v42.395l28.263-28.263V30.143
C28.263,22.339,21.936,16.012,14.132,16.012z M22.332,44.275h-3.956v-8.347H9.814v8.347H5.872V23.784h3.942v8.076h8.562v-8.076
h3.956V44.275z"/></svg>

I next exported that to XAML, getting:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Viewbox xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation" Stretch="Uniform"><Canvas Name="Layer_1" Width="28.263" Height="72.538" Canvas.Left="0" Canvas.Top="0"><Canvas.RenderTransform><TranslateTransform X="0" Y="0"/></Canvas.RenderTransform><Canvas.Resources/><!--Unknown tag: metadata--><!--Unknown tag: sodipodi:namedview--><Ellipse xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml" Canvas.Left="7.1" Canvas.Top="0" Width="14.1" Height="14.1" Name="circle3405" Fill="#E63D5EAB"/><Path xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml" Name="path3407" Fill="#E63D5EAB"><Path.Data><PathGeometry Figures="M14.132 16.012C6.327 16.012 0 22.339 0 30.143v0v42.395l28.263-28.263V30.143  C28.263 22.339 21.936 16.012 14.132 16.012z M22.332 44.275h-3.956v-8.347H9.814v8.347H5.872V23.784h3.942v8.076h8.562v-8.076  h3.956V44.275z" FillRule="NonZero"/></Path.Data></Path></Canvas></Viewbox>

I am LOSTOther than redundant schema info and unknown tags, it looked okay.  I cut out the portion I needed (Canvas tag content) and plopped it into a XAML MapOverlay in my project.  Visual Studio immediately complained:

TypeConverter for “PathFigureCollection” does not support converting from a string

The offending bit was the Figures object.  Time to Bing for an explanation… but while I found many examples of people encountering the error, there were no useful solutions.  Some mentioned Kaxaml, which I downloaded.  While it’s a very helpful tool for visualizing and troubleshooting XAML, it didn’t see any problems with my code and offered no way that I could see to refactor what I had into something Visual Studio would like.

The Solution

But reading more about the PathGeometry object tickled a few brain cells.  I found a Path example that looked like it would work for what I wanted.  So I changed the essential code to what follows (key portion in bold):

<Canvas Name="Layer_1" Width="28.263" Height="72.538"><Canvas.RenderTransform><TranslateTransform X="210" Y="300"/></Canvas.RenderTransform><Ellipse Canvas.Left="7.1" Canvas.Top="0" Width="14.1" Height="14.1" Name="circle3405" Fill="{StaticResource PhoneAccentBrush}" Opacity="0.8"/><Path Name="path3407" Fill="{StaticResource PhoneAccentBrush}" Data="M14.132 16.012C6.327 16.012 0 22.339 0 30.143v0v42.395l28.263-28.263V30.143 C28.263 22.339 21.936 16.012 14.132 16.012z M22.332 44.275h-3.956v-8.347H9.814v8.347H5.872V23.784h3.942v8.076h8.562v-8.076 h3.956V44.275z" Opacity="0.8" /></Canvas>I Want to Play

Success!  In a nutshell, the trick was to remove the PathGeometry and use the Figures string as Path Data…. which just makes sense.  My custom Pushpin rendered exactly as it should, and looked much sharper than the PNG bitmap.  Now to construct other UI elements, add Map layers, and wire up the events.  I’ll post more later, and will provide the full code on app release.

Hope you find this technique useful!

 

Aug 232013
 

I’m behind on publishing some content but an opportunity has come up that trumps just about everything else.  Except beer and pizza.  First the background.

Many of you know that for several years now I’ve been supporting creative communities, both on and offline.  If I really want to date myself then this activity goes back further than I’ll usually admit, to a stint as a writing forum moderator in the heyday of America Online.  Don’t judge: it meant free dial-up.  ;)

As you can see on LinkedIn, my more recent history has gone from Maemo to MeeGo to Windows Phone plus local Makers.  An interesting mix of communities that has helped me understand myriad arguments for and against various platforms and preferences, as well as learn to socialize with creative types from all walks of life.  This understanding has pushed my thinking above and away from the sort of religious dogma that can cripple a project, and in turn helped me (I think) be a really good all-around community leader.  And even as I’ve helped Nokia’s efforts to pull in Windows Phone developers, I’ve kept a watchful eye on Jolla and kept fairly current with Qt developments.  I even assisted Tuukka Ahoniemi with Qt outreach in Dallas (although other activities got in the way, something I would fix if I got this role).

Which leads me back to the opportunity.

Against all odds, I will be interviewing with Digia soon for an Online Community Manager position.  Exciting!  I think I’m the ideal candidate, and so do a few others who have already spoken on my behalf.  But landing this position will take some serious effort: they really want someone situated in Norway, Finland or Berlin.  I have to prove that I can do even better than someone in close proximity.

Now, I’ve done the remote working thing both voluntarily for the aforementioned communities and professionally for Nokia.  I know I can perform this role with the same success.   Heck, I’ve always said I can work from Antarctica as long as I had Internet.  I just need to convince Digia.

To that end, I’m looking to the communities I serve for advice.  What should I emphasize?  In what areas do I still require polish?  Feel free to add comments here.  Be critical if you feel led.  Or contact me privately, too.

I had a similar opportunity with Scarlet Motors at one point, and touched on that in an article about keeping a childlike aspect in communities, but unfortunately they lacked the means at the time to make it a paid position.  The Digia role will be full time, and involves work I love and have been preparing for.  I relish the opportunity to take lessons learned from other communities and see where it will support Qt’s desire for broader adoption.

I really, really want this job.  Your feedback will help, and perhaps so will lobbying Digia.  Make sure to hit Qt Project and Qt by Digia on twitter, as well as their Facebook page.  After all, a good online community manager should mobilize Internet citizens, right?  ;)

Thanks.

Aug 042013
 

In the last community update I included one upcoming hackathon and omitted some promotions.  Time to rectify the latter and expand on the former!

General Promotions

Unity has a new contest going for Windows platforms.  Big prizes involved!  From their website:

Unity and Microsoft are inviting Unity developers to enter a new contest by submitting beautifully crafted, high-quality new or existing games or content for the upcoming Windows Store Apps and Windows Phone 8 platforms. Over $100,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to a number of talented and lucky winners.

Deadline is September 30, 2013.  Get your game on now!

In arandallarnoldddition, Microsoft has created a program slightly similar in goals to Nokia’s DVLUP, called App Builder Rewards.  Might as well double-dip!

Finally, I missed that Microsoft Tech Affiliate had restarted the great APPortunity sweepstakes.  Submit your apps for August ASAP.

Remote/Virtual Hackathons/Events

Nothing to report yet– let me know if you discover any!  In addition to online events, those in any region I cover will be promoted here.

DFW Hackathons/Events

Here’s more info on what’s coming (I will not attend all events and/or all times; more on that as details firm up):

August 2013 NDDNUG Meeting
August 8 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM 2013
5543 Legacy Drive, Plano, TX (MedAssets bldg)
link: http://northdallas.net/location/

August 2013 FWDNUG Meeting
August 20 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM 2013
100 Pier 1 Pl, Fort Worth, TX (Pier 1 Home Office)
link: http://fwdnug2013aug-es2.eventbrite.com/?rank=1

UTD-Microsoft Windows 8 app dev workshop
August 20 9 AM to August 23 5 PM 2013
800 West Campbell Road, Richardson, Texas (University of Texas at Dallas, ECSS 2.412)
link: https://ezpay.utdallas.edu/C20239_ustores/web/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTID=1055

UNT Startup Primer
September 6 6:00 PM to September 8 6:00 PM, 2013
Sycamore Hall 119, University of North Texas
307 Ave. B, Denton, TX 76201
link: http://untuniontickets.universitytickets.com/user_pages/event.asp?id=187&utm_source=Co-Founder&utm_campaign=CoFoundersLab+08082013

UNT Music Hackathon
September 13 6:30 PM to September 15 8:30 PM 2013
1155 Union Circle #305189 Denton, TX (Innovation Greenhouse)
link: http://innovation.unt.edu/events/september-2013/music-hackathon

20 over 20 Hackathon
September 19 12:00 PM to September 22 4:00 PM 2013 (team announcement September 18)
315 S. Cesar Chavez Blvd, 2nd Floor, Dallas, TX 75201 (Dialexa)
link: http://the20over20.com/

AIGA DFW Hackathon with Open Dallas
September 21 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM 2013
2919 Commerce St, Dallas , TX,
link: http://thecommondesk.com/event/aiga-dfw-hackathon-with-open-dallas/

HackerNest DFW September Tech Social
September 30 8:00 PM 2013
(No location yet)
link: http://www.meetup.com/HackerNestDFW/events/123491032/

LeadingAge Hackfest
October 25 7 PM (optional meetup) to October 27 5 PM 2013
650 Griffin Street, Dallas, TX (Convention Center)
link: http://leadingagehackfest.org/
link: http://www.meetup.com/LeadingAge-HackFest-in-Dallas-Group/events/132040302/

HackerNest DFW November Tech Social
November 25 8:00 PM 2013
(No location yet)
link: http://www.meetup.com/HackerNestDFW/events/123496772/

Others with no firm dates (more details to follow):

Nokia DVLUP Day DFW
August?  September?  2013

UNT Aged Well Hackathon
September 2013

Mobile Monday DFW – Windows Phone App Showcase
October? 2013

Nokiathon DFW
October?  November? 2013

UNT Energy Hackathon
November 2013

Hope to see some of you at one or more of these events!  Again, send me any I may have missed.

Jul 292013
 

me

Greetings all,

I’ve decided it makes much more sense to do all updates on this blog and email the link rather than send it all via email.  That way the content gets greater exposure and you have shorter emails.  ;)

Now onto business… topics are:

  • Nokia Promotions
  • Lumia 800s
  • General
  • Dallas-Fort Worth
    • Meetups
    • Hackathons

Nokia Promotions

I was about to launch a Windows Phone promotion tied to my local Civic hacking activities, but another need has come up and I’ll focus on that first.

The Nokia Developer Ambassadors are working hard to make sure we’re serving you in the best way possible.  That means having the most recent contact and program data for you.  I’ve already spoken with some of you individually, and others have responded to Rich Dunbar’s appeals, but consider this a broadcast to my community:

I’m doing a simple drawing and giving away some cool Nokia prizes for those meeting the criteria below.  You can win JBL Power Up Speakers, Wireless Charging Plate, or Nokia Purity Headset with Monster technology.

All you need to do is the following:

  1. Live in North Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska or South Dakota (see NOTE below if you live in USA or Canada but not in my region)
  2. Have a published Windows Phone app
  3. Send me the following (via email or blog comments) by midnight July 31, CST:
    • Full Name
    • Email address
    • Microsoft Dev Center name (not GUID)
    • DVLUP name (register ASAP if you’re not!)
    • City/State
    • Twitter name if you have one (not required)

If you’re out of my area, see http://richarddunbar.blogspot.com/2013/07/developer-registration-drive.html.

Note that I’ll launch the Civic Hacking promotion soon after this and will post a special announcement for it.

As for others that had been running, I’m sorry to say that the Microsoft Windows Phone Keep the Cash and APPortunity promotions have ended.  At this time I have no idea if anything else is coming from Microsoft (or other sponsors), but I will let you know once I do.

Lumia 800s

I’m happy to announce I’m almost out of Lumia 800s for app incentives.  Why happy?  This means you’ve all been busy!

But if you have not yet released a Windows Phone 7 or 8 app, make sure you get published ASAP to qualify for one of the remaining phones!  People tell me they make excellent reserve and test devices.

General

Many of you have already registered for the Mailchimp email list, and I appreciate it.  But I’m wondering now if it’s even necessary.  Since I’ll be using this blog more, maybe it makes sense to fully use its subscription and group communications abilities.  What do you think?  Let me know in comments.

Oh, and to get a view into what we Ambassadors do at big events, check out my recent write-up on //build/ 2013.

Finally, please share this article and related info about Nokia’s outreach to anyone you feel may be interested.  I am especially looking to connect with more schools in the DFW area.

Dallas – Fort Worth

Meetups

I’m still planning to put together DVLUP-specific meetups for the DFW area, called DVLUP Days.  The idea will be to get developers through a DVLUP challenge and an app ready for publishing in one day (if possible).  Should be fun!  Make sure you’re registered– if not, you’re missing out on benefits!

I’m also working on a Mobile Monday WP App Showcase for DFW, with some local powerhouse development firms.  I’m looking for developers to submit one of their apps for consideration.  If you’re selected, you’ll be presenting your app at an upcoming event.  The goal will be to get you more downloads, reviews and notice.  I will also do a special twitter push for the apps selected.  So start submitting!  Use email or this comments section.

Finally, we need to hold more general meetups as well.  I haven’t seen any scheduled recently by corporate or community leaders so I’ll be filling the gap as I can.

Hackathons

This fall is going to be busy in DFW!  The University of North Texas is planning three hackathons (September, October and November).  No details yet, but I’ll post when I have them!

There’s also the 20Over20 hackathon coming in a couple of months, running from September 19 through September 22.  It looks very interesting so far; check it out.

As for the planned Nokiathon, that’s still under discussion.  I’m excited at the possibility and hope to be able to schedule mine before too long.

That’s it!

Thanks everyone, and as always: call, tweet or email me at any time with any question, concern or proposal.  I will do my best to address your needs promptly!

 

Randall (Randy) Arnold
Nokia Developer Ambassador

Twitter: @NokiaDevNorthTX
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/texrat
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NokiaDeveloperOutreachNorthTexas

Jul 272013
 

In 2012 I “attended” Microsoft’s //build/ developer-focused event virtually, envious of friends with the good fortune to attend.  Thanks to my Nokia Developer Ambassador gig, this summer I got to enjoy the excitement first hand.  Instead of a lot of text, though, I’ll share some highlights with the focus on photos (all taken with a Nokia Lumia 920):

sim key

Here’s a little gift I had made up for fellow Ambassadors: a 3D printed, DVLUP-branded SIM key for unibody Nokia Lumia phones.  It replaces the stock key that can stab delicate areas.  Thanks to Shapeways for printing them up, and Rich Dunbar for approving the expense!

George

SoCal Ambassador George Salcedo waits for the rest of the gang on Day 1.

ant

Nokia Developer Champion lead Antoine Naaman shoots the cool Wall of Windows Phones.

Jambassadors

The Nokia “Jambassadors” team discussing their //build/ hackathon project.  From left to right: Paras Wadehra, Jan Hanneman, Lance McCarthy.

lance and jan

Boston area Ambassador Lance shares his thoughts with team member Jan (northwest region).

designing

I helped a little by designing a custom part for the project…

pad design

…and here’s the design in progress on SolidWorks.  Amazing that it runs on a Surface Pro!

Jan and 3D printer

I decided to print up two of the parts.  Here Jan enjoys watching one get underway on an UP Plus.

3D printer

Closer shot of the part in process.

Nokia booth

Meanwhile, the Nokia booth got really busy after we put out word about DVLUP tee shirts…

finished green pad

The 3D Systems team kindly printed up another part for us with one of their Cube devices.  It was extremely helpful to have this resource at the event!  There were 3D printers everywhere, cranking away on all sorts of things.

2 pads

The two completed parts.  Each took about 2 hours to print.  I hand-colored the red apple.

app at work

The end result.  Lance had the novel idea to combine a Netduino with a pressure transducer and replicate the “test your strength” carnival games on a smaller scale.  The parts I created were pads.  Unfortunately, the pad wore down the pressure transducer, putting the entry at risk, but Radio Shack saved the day with conductor repair compound.

leaderboard2

Look who tops the iSmack leader board!

interview

Peers voted iSmack the best app of the hackathon!  Here the Jambassadors are interviewed on stage by Microsoft’s Clint Rutkas for Channel 9.

Of course, there was a lot more going on, but these photos essentially cover where I was.  ;)  Hope to make it next year!

Jun 242013
 

Well, here I go again: my current day job contract is ending prematurely, apparently due to budget constraints.  This happened earlier in the year but I was saved by a last-second extension.  This time there seems to be no such rescue.  I did pleasantly interview today for a different role with the same employer, but as with most things, there’s no guarantee.

Many of you might be surprised to learn that my Nokia work these days is part-time.  I say that based on the reaction of locals when they learn of it.  I have spent a lot of time around Dallas-Fort Worth at various meetups and events so I can understand the amazement.  It’s the most full part-time gig I’ve ever had.  ;)

But, part-time doesn’t pay the bills, and being the sole breadwinner of this bunch, I need to find something new ASAP.  What usually follows that statement is the traditional query from interested parties: “So, what are you looking for?”.

Good question.

What I’m really looking for is to make the Nokia thing go full-time.  I have thoroughly enjoyed whipping up the enthusiasm of mobile developers.  But there are no hints of that possibility so I’m not banking on it happening.

Even more, I’d love to get my own business going.  I’ve shared some thoughts on that previously.  Technically, only time and some skill shortcomings have gotten in the way.  That said, I have been steadily working on a number of potentially big projects as I find time, and at some point hope to take advantage of BizSpark or AppCampus offerings and get something launched.

But, right now I have to think short-term.  Very short-term.  While I have not had a true vacation in four years, and one would be really nice right now, renewing my tan between sips of margarita doesn’t pay any bills.  Well, not for me, anyway.

You can see my raw skills here, but specifically, I’ve been working with SharePoint lately.  I’m 95% self-taught– not sure if that’s good or bad.  I wouldn’t mind continuing on that path, as painful as SharePoint development can often be, but I’m open to possibilities in the engineering, manufacturing or information management fields.  Heck, I’ve been dusting off solid modeling skills the past year or so and could happily plug back into that world as well– especially with 3D printing catching on.  Fun stuff.

Anyway, just thought I would inform everyone where I’m at.  If you don’t hear from me, I might just be on that unpaid vacation.  Mentally, anyway…

Update: found a new gig within days of losing the other one.  Whew!

Jun 232013
 
WP_20130601_002

Gathering in the cool TECH Fort Worth foyer…

After months of exploring civic hacking possibilities for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a brainstorming session finally came together early this month.  Held at TECH Fort Worth on a breezy Saturday, the event sought to identify challenges and develop plans for future events that bring needful municipalities and contribution-minded citizens to the same table.

We decided to take a traditional brainstorming approach, throwing ideas on the board and carefully guiding them toward a refined, useful set of actionable items.  TECH Fort Worth is the right facility for it!  But first, I shared a presentation on the subject.  I’m sure I violated some unspoken rule by launching a Prezi from a PowerPoint deck, but at least it worked!

Instead of the traditional lecture presentation style, I prefer a more inclusive, audience-friendly approach.  It can take a little longer to get through, but I find the attendees come away more informed and engaged.  This technique also better sets the stage for true brainstorming afterward.

We were extremely fortunate to have Pete Anderson and Brian Chatman from the city of Fort Worth and Karen Siddall of Irving Public Works.  The strongest civic hacking events enjoy a high degree of municipal involvement, as demonstrated by Palo Alto seeing around 5000 participants in their Hack for Change event this year.

It’s very doubtful DFW will see such numbers in 2014, but we feel a year’s worth of planning and preparation will lead to a successful event for us.  We are targeting a participant level of 75 but it could go even higher.  It comes down to the support we get!

WP_20130601_007

What’s a meetup without pizza? Pizza Hut was fast and courteous, and the food was great.

Discussion continued over lunch, although we lost Cone Johnson and George Battle III beforehand.  They had a good reason to leave, though: as it turned out, small Hack for Change events sprang up in south Dallas and Red Oak, and the two of them went to check on progress at both.  Even though the core goal of this committee is to put together a metro-scale event for 2014, smaller surrounding events are of course welcome and we will support them any way we can.

Oh, and thanks to the Microsoft Tech Affiliate program for buying the meal!

WP_20130601_014

Jorge Varela moderates. So glad to have him aboard!

We were every fortunate to gain the participation of Jorge Varela, assistant director of TECH Fort Worth.  Jorge was invaluable in leading the discussion from the storming to forming portion and development of specific action items.

WP_20130601_011

Discussion results

As brainstorming discussions do, this one wandered over vast territory before reaching critical paths.  I had originally proposed CentrePort business park as the ideal general location, and was pleasantly surprised to see our talk end up there.  As I blogged previously, it really is a great spot; we just need to identify a site host.  We narrowed top three candidates down to:

  1. New KXAS Studios
  2. AT&T
  3. American Airlines

I drove out there after the session to reacquaint myself with the property.  I could not find the AT&T site; even an internet search was no help, which I found to be very odd.  I’ll have to do a little more digging to find it.  They would make an ideal partner for this sort of event… however, I got nowhere with them this year so I’m not very optimistic for next year.

The under-construction KXAS news studio was number one on our list so I made sure to check it out.  The building looks nice, but smaller than I expected.  KXAS would be a perfect partner for the event, but I’m not sure their facility will work as an event site.  We’ll see.

The American Airlines campus is huge, and given their high level of community involvement and social media awareness I believe they would be able to support us.  We will definitely pursue them.

There are other possibilities to explore as well.  Bottom line, CentrePort is the place to hold a DFW event.  New bus lines will be added to CentrePort Station soon, which just increases its attractiveness for our planned use.

Wrap-up

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Backpack winner Raj Daniels

As a thank-you for participation in the brainstorming session, I conducted a random drawing among participants for a sharp Nokia DVLUP-branded Wenger backpack.  Karen Siddall was kind enough to bring various useful items promoting water conservation.

For future communications purposes, we have a Google group set up, and have taken out the domain DataLibreDFW.org.  Nothing on the site yet, but that’s coming!  We’re going to be holding periodic meetups, and welcome anyone wanting to attend.  Follow this blog and the Twitter account MakeDFW for future developments.

Amidst all the successes, there remain some challenges.  I was disappointed that the following cities neglected to respond to requests for involvement: Keller, Southlake, Grapevine and Coppell.  It’s critical that between now and next year we get every local municipality to understand the huge benefits of civic hacking [note: the linked article is a must read for team members!].  Of course, we can pull an event off with backing by Fort Worth and Irving, but we don’t want to leave anyone out!

I want to encourage anyone reading this to get involved in civic hacking for your locality, or even on a larger scale.  For North America, start with the Hack for Change organization, which puts an incredibly big effort behind the activity in general and specifically the National Day of Civic Hacking events.  Here in DFW we’re going to need a lot of help making this happen here.  The growing Maker community stands ready.  If you’re interested, contact me to see how you can contribute, or just join the Data Libre DFW Google group.  I guarantee you there’s a way you can help!

May 282013
 

For those who have been active in the Dallas-Fort Worth Windows Phone developer scene for some time, the headline here may seem odd.  After all, the Meetup.com group has been gathering on occasion since this time last year.

But what’s been missing, according to the most common feedback I receive, are semi-social gatherings with a focus on Getting Stuff Done.  Attendees have had enough consumption; they’re ready to create.

With that in mind, I have spent the past few months scouring DFW for good venues for this activity.  I put together the following criteria for sites:

  • Should be free (or at least low-cost)
  • Should have easy facility access (preferrably no security hurdles)
  • Must have decent, dependable WiFi
  • Must have easy access to power
  • Must have comfortable seating for at least 15 attendees for 3+ hours
  • Should have easy access to food and drink (including catering)
  • Must be available weekends and/or evenings

This is not an easy bill to fill.  I encountered many potential venues that had one or more of the must-have items but lacking something critical (usually weekend/eveing access).  To increase our prospects, I asked community members to aid in the search.  Pointing out a possible location wasn’t enough– I needed these foot soldiers to compare sites against the requirement list, talk to managers, and even take pictures.

It may come as a surprise to readers that grocery stores turned out to be generally good locations.  Specifically, the Tom Thumb flagship stores, which meet every Must and Should.  The only drawbacks I’ve run into were man-made… such as the strange reluctance of one store manager (who was worried about us displacing customers, when I saw only 3 people occupying a 35-seat area) and human mistakes.  Mostly mine.

I had scheduled a meetup for May 25 at a Tom Thumb store in Arlington after one member, Dallas .NET’s Omar Villarreal, got clearance from the manager.  Unfortunately I misread Omar’s instructions and secured the wrong store.  When the group arrived, we discovered that there was no WiFi or Starbucks.

Oops.

We waited for stragglers to show before moving to another Tom Thumb a few miles north.  This cost us an hour and a half of valuable time.  Lesson learned: read the fine print.

The second store turned out to be acceptable.  WiFi was mostly reliable (I had a couple of brief drops) and the deli sandwiches were excellent (I recommend the pulled pork).  The 5 other attendees seemed fairly pleased.  However, the late start combined with another error on my part got in the way of getting any work done.

I had set aside the beginning of the meetup for introductions and announcements, which would be okay for social meetups but took way too much productive time from this one.  Socializing is certainly useful, but we’ll hold separate events for that.

I would like to think that the attendees at least benefitted one way or another, but I welcome constructive criticism to help shape future get-togethers.  I definitely need to arrive early to get things set up.

The good news is that this somewhat-rough experience was useful in certain contexts, especially since we had new members attend, and allowed me to get a good idea of what works and doesn’t work.  Going forward, I will put together a handout for updates and trim the initial verbal presentation down to about 5 to 10 minutes.  Less time of me chatting, more time Getting Stuff Done.

Ideally, we will see a good mix of skill levels and experience at these sessions.  I really want to pair mentors and experienced app publishers with beginners, for one.  Same with bringing in more data modelers and UI designers.  To motivate members in that regard, I am offering a recruting incentive: bring in any new member with any useful skills for app creation, and get a $10 gift card.  Bring in any new member with at least one published app, and that amount goes up to $20.  Stipulation: new members must agree to sign up at DVLUP and also provide me full contact information before I award the gift cards.  This promotion runs until I am broke or we have too many members.  ;)

Speaking of DVLUP, I’m also considering holding specific “DVLUP Days” events with the goal of just tackling DVLUP challenges at the event.  XP building opportunities, if you will.  I’m also working on partnering with various companies and instructors for educational meetups– stay tuned!

My intent is to “bounce around” the metroplex and hold these sessions in various parts of the area, with a preference for central locations.  If you know of any, let me know!  By all means, ask the managers about the items on my list, and pictures of the venue are very helpful.  And ask your employers about hosting!

We’ll probably hold another such event in North Dallas next, at an office near highway 35E and Beltline Road.  Registration will be at the Meetup.com website, and I will announce in the usual social channels.

Ultimately, we’ll get into a rhythm that will benefit everyone involved.  I can’t wait to see the results!