May 272014
 

Every serious fisherman has a One That Got Away tale, usually shared with wistful regret and a declaration to get back out there and overcome the loss.  Fishermen are a stubborn lot, rarely letting anything get in between them and the prize.  They will always make the effort.

Fort Worth is surrounded by many nice lakes and as a consequence we have more than our share of committed fish stalkers.  But I’m curious: why wouldn’t that sort of dedication translate to opportunities in technology?

That’s not just a rhetorical question.  As I wrote last time ["Cowboys and Culture"], we can be a laid-back bunch in these parts, exhibiting a skepticism over urgency that would make Show-Me-Staters proud.  And as I promised in that previous article, I will now share the perfect example of one that got away… and maybe shouldn’t have. Continue reading »

May 232014
 

Yesterday I wrote about tech events in Fort Worth, Texas ["Cowtown and Code"] so it’s only fitting I expound on that theme with another alliterative article.  Today I’ll dare to get politically incorrect and lay bare one aspect of Cowtown culture that is simultaneously brag-worthy and yet fiendishly aggravating as well:

Folks are laid back here.

Stereotypical cowboy talk includes words like “mosey“, a colloquial verb describing walking much like glacial describes progress.  Like their trail-dusting forebears, Fort Worthians are usually in no hurry.  Whatever it is, it’ll wait.

This is at once endearing and maddening.  Sometimes it can’t wait, and that’s especially true with technology. Continue reading »

Dec 062013
 

Greetings all!  It’s time to dive back into Windows Phone developer community land.  In this post I’ll be sharing the good and not-so-good news for WP development in my region, which is physically centered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area but also includes Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota.  I’ll summarize the year and share some ongoing/upcoming stuff too. Continue reading »

Jun 232013
 
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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

May 222013
 

I wrote a DFW-specific piece on civic coding in the area a while back and more recently followed up with a more general article on preparing cities for civic coding events.  Now I want to double-back to DFW in particular again and drill down into one aspect of the first article.

First, a lamentation familiar to just about every resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex: traffic.  As this area has exploded, practical tranportation options have lagged.  Sure, new highway segments like 161 have popped up here and there, relieving some congestion, but massive construction such as that on 114 and North Loop 820 shows that our ability to get from point A to B is woefully inadequate.

This point was especially driven home today as I received responses to an invitation for a social mixer at the TECH Fort Worth business incubator.  In this regard, Fort Worth is well behind other areas, such as Plano and North Dallas.  One of my goals has been to support increased tech event and meetup opportunities west of Highway 360.  But anyone living in and around Dallas quickly experiences the pain that we Westies have been enduring for years: it can be near impossible to attend cross-town events, especially in the early evening.

The ultimate answer in my opinion is a drastically reduced emphasis on automobile-oriented solutions and more rail.  A LOT more rail.  That can be a hard sell in Texas, but we’re getting better at entertaining the notion.  We just still have a long way to go.

Meanwhile, DART and the TRE do serve major parts of the metroplex fairly well; the closer to Dallas the better that service gets.  And there are plenty of stops in well-planned locations.

When I visit other countries and even some other states in the US, I see city centers have developed around rail hubs.  Government services, shopping, entertainment and other amenities tend to naturally sprout around these stations.  Even without nearby rail, the city center concept has been gaining great popularity in the US in recent years.  It’s easy to see why: the alternative, malls, proved in many cases to be an unsustainable premise.  There are many reasons why and that’s out of the scope of this article.  But one aspect of failure was how indoor malls isolated people from their environment.

In outdoor city centers, you tend to see far fewer cars and much, much more foot and bicycle traffic… especially if they are fed by public transport.  The oppressive atmosphere of cavernous malls is gone.  Along with these features, you see higher degrees of social engagement.

Which gets me back to the social coding premise.  While trying to launch a DFW-wide civic hackathon, I focused centrally in the hope of helping to create that civic center experience where it doesn’t quite yet exist.  But we DO have a strong candidate in DFW: the CentrePort business park.  I was just unable to convince anyone that the time was right to start adding another layer of usefulness to the campus.  And perhaps the time is not right, just yet.  Still, it would be a shame to completely ignore the potential.

CentrePort

CentrePort is the home to many high-contributing companies, such as American Airlines.  It’s also an important logistics hub to others like Whirlpool, Johnson & Johnson, et al.  Combine that with convenient hotels such as Marriott, plenty of eateries, proximity to DFW Airport, a rail/bus stop and accessible highway connections, and you have the starting point for a truly dynamic civic gateway.  And a great future site for events like hackathons.  We just need a few more additions, starting perhaps with a true intermodal center at the CentrePort DART/TRE station.

So my plea to DFW municipal leaders is simple: let’s take a long look at other civic centers, and get to work enhancing CentrePort in similar fashion.  Yes, Dallas has a nice DART gateway near the American Airlines Center, and Fort Worth has two downtown with potential, we still need that central nexus with fairly easy access for anyone and everyone.  A civic center for all of us, regardless of where we live and work.

Let’s get that on the agenda.

Oct 302012
 

Yesterday I received an email from a Dallas entrepreneur who wondered why he kept seeing my name pop up a lot.  Then today I got a call from a former Nokia colleague following up on a LinkedIn update, wondering what I’ve been up to lately.  So it’s no doubt time for Yet Another Boring Update.

Only it hasn’t been boring for me.  Far from it!  Here’s why, explained by what I am and will be doing, in order of priority:

  • Full time job and family.  Hard to say which really comes first, since I could only go without a full-time job if I had no family.  But I’m stuck with both, and regardless of pecking order they come before all else.  I love working for BNSF Railway and hope that continues as long as I need it to!
  • Nokia developer outreach.  As many already know, since 2005 I have supported Nokia’s business in some form or fashion, and it just got real again.  I am now officially working part-time for my former favorite employer, as a project coordinator with the cooler-sounding label of Nokia Developer Ambassador.  The goal is to get developers cranking on Windows Phone.  I’m currently working on getting my embassy in order.  That would be home office (corner of our bedroom and a tiny spot on a living room table), this website, twitter account, a local meetup site, and various coffee shops around town.
  • Qt.  I can’t give up on this platform, even though I sadly retreated late last year and set it aside.  I’ve been asked by Digia to help with Dallas-area meetups and I believe I can fit that in.  I just hope there’s enough interest!  I’m also eager to find out what’s brewing at Jolla; the new mobile phone manufacturer may offer renewed hope to mobile Qt developers.
  • Tarrant County maker community.  Since returning from the Devaamo Summit in Finland some months ago, full of fire and foolishness, I have been trying to pull together a local maker community.  There’s no shortage of talent and interest in my home county; just little in the way of Big Picture Organization.  That hurdle appears to have been crossed, thanks in large part to Sherry Huss of O’Reilly Media and the visionaries at http://DFWI.org.  A makerspace website has been constructed by the hardworking Robert Bradbury, and the community is taking shape!  There’s synergy with Qt and Windows Phone efforts, which will help minimize my time.
  • Hildon Foundation Board.  This is a new organization chartered to find a future for Nokia’s Maemo assets and community.

I’ve also been helping Scarlet Motors on community-building.  But you’ll notice no specific mention of 3D printing or Tribal Method in that list.

Where the former is concerned, I’m not stopping activity– just reducing it.  3D printing will be a large part of maker community activities, and I’ll still putter with my inventions as I find time.  But it won’t be as high a priority as it has been… unless something changes in the list above.

As for my ventures, aka Tribal Method, I’m putting that on a distant back-burner.  I still have big ideas, and strongly believe one or more of them could create many millionaires, but I continue to struggle in selling my business ideas and building the teams necessary to bring them to life.  Yes, for those in the know that includes Kintegrity, Conkin, unfolo, Resuflex, Cocoa Labs and others.  Maybe at some point I’ll be able to get something going on one or more of them, but it isn’t now.

I’m busy enough.  ;)