Inspiring TED Talks

One of the best things about a 45 minute commute each way by train is you can watch some TED videos for inspiration. Here are some of my favorite talks from the series.
Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds
Temple makes the case that there is a little autism in all of us. Its what makes great minds and needs to be celebrated.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight
What happens when a brain scientist experiences the very thing she has been studying? Jill talks about her experience during a massive stroke which she knows all about.

David Blaine: How I held my breath for 17 min
David goes into detail about the great lengths he took pushing his body to the limit of oxygen deprivation.

Lewis Pugh swims the North Pole
This guy is tough. To help spread awareness to global warming, Lewis swam in the icey waters of the North Pole in nothing but a speedo.

Kevin Kelly tells technology’s epic story
Kevin explains how technology evolves like a cell or a meme.

Hans Rosling: Asia’s rise — how and when
Hans has a thick Sweedish accent that you would expect from a great mind. Here he predicts the exact day when India and China will outstrip the US as the economic powerhouse of the world. I marked the date in my Google Calendar.

Willard Wigan: Hold your breath for micro-sculpture
Willard makes incredibly detailed sculptures out of single grains of sand. His patience for his work, which can be inhaled without thinking , is really mind blowing.

BarCampDC 3 Recap

This past Saturday, November 14th, a hundred DC tech enthusiasts gathered at the Martin Luther King Library to create their own conference. Topics were suggested by participants and the group at large determined the schedule. It was a BarCamp at it’s best!

The final schedule as picked by the particpants at BarCamp DC

Large crowd at BarCamp DC 3

This year’s BarCamp had a few twists. The word ‘Twitter’ was banned and anyone violating that rule had to pay a dollar to the Twitter swear jar which was donated to charity. The other rule was no PowerPoint slides which was an effort to promote group discussions and participation over lectures.

I got to catch up with former co-workers from USNews as well as other DC tech-heads I met at other local events. The entire event including lunch was free of charge thanks to the generous sponsors who helped make BarCampDC possible. The pizza was quite good.

Typical techie BarCamp food: PIZZA!

Some of the talks I went to included:

Russell Heimlich and John Chen during the How To Play Tetris talk at BarCamp DC 3.

How To Play Tetris led by John Chen. John didn’t actually think anyone was interested in his talk but we had a good-size group talking about video game politics, strategies for Tetris, and the fact that there are Tetris pros making US$100k per year in Korea. The key takeaway was being good at Tetris takes practice, practice, and more practice. And after you’ve practiced some more, you wake up one day and realize you’re good at Tetris.

An Introduction to the Android Platform Gyuri Grell and Zvi Band led an introduction to the Android mobile OS platform. The talk was a little over my head as it was mostly about Java, which I know nothing about. The source code for Meetro DC, the DC Metro app demoed, can be found on GitHub for anyone to poke around and play with. I did enjoy seeing from a high level how Android apps work and shedding some light on the magic running behind the scenes. I’m really excited to see where Android goes in the future.

The most thought-provoking talk I sat in was Generalist vs. Specialist led by Kelly Gifford. It was such an open-ended topic that spurred a healthy debate. From my point of view you are both a generalist and specialist depending on what level you are comparing to. For example, in your company you might be the only “web person”, making you a specialist but with so many different hats to wear in a sole-developer position, you have to do many different things making you a generalist. Like most anything in life, nothing is cut and dry black and white but a lot of gray areas.

Ryan McGrath is in a unique situation at his job at  He is in charge of Improving the Performance of the Frontend for millions of sites hosted there.  Crufty code, too much JavaScript, and a less-than-ideal backend issue are some of the problems plaguing his pursuit for excellence. An engineer from Clearspring, which distributes billions of page views of widgets all across the web,  was in the room and provided some great insight into tuning performance for large-scale sites. They talked about some geeky stuff like serving images as base64 strings instead of binary data which can yield some performance gains. I was pretty much lost after that.

The final talk of the day was about TemlarPHP, a cascading template framework built with PHP. It separates presentation from content to create websites that are easy to maintain and standards complaint with the need for a database. It was created by Shawn Brown and looked like a lighter alternative compared to the other feature-packed, and somewhat bloated, web frameworks out there.

Russell Heimlich discussing frontend tips at BarCamp DC

Like the past two DC BarCamps, I gave a talk. The topic was HTML/CSS/JavaScript Tips & Tricks which I have picked up over the past few years and thought were worth sharing. I felt it was one of my best presentations as my talking points came to me naturally with code details to back up what I was saying. I was stoked to see so many people show up to hear what I had to say as well as contribute a few points of their own. Shaun Farrell managed to capture video from a part of my talk.

So as you can see there was a lot going on. There were so many other presentations I wanted to see and people I wanted to meet and chat with but there just wasn’t enough time. A big thanks goes out to the organizers (@jfc3 , @thorpus, @corbett3000, @farrelley, @patricktimony & all the others) that helped put on another great DC tech event.

Other BarCamp DC Resources

Top 5 Talks At TEDxMidAtlantic

TEDxMidAtlantic Badge And Program

Today was a long but enjoyable day at TEDxMidAtlantic. It’s refreshing seeing so many different perspectives and open minds converge on a single stage at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Perhaps even more mind blowing is videos from every talk are already online for anyone to view. Here are 5 of my favorite, must-see TEDxMidAtlantic talks from today (sorry no direct links yet, you’ll have to scroll through and find their names):

  1. Will Noel – Talked about restoring a book from Archimedes and sharing it with the world under a Creative Commons license.
  2. Scott Simon – Talked about his most memorable story that he covered in Sarajevo in the 1990s.
  3. Peter Agre – Story about his career in science and winning the Nobel Prize in 2003. Very funny guy.
  4. Tony Geraci – Talked about how he transformed school lunches in Baltimore City Public Schools.
  5. Marcus Ranum – Talked about how everyone on the Internet is using TCP/IP and how upgrading the whole planet earth would be hard to do.

A big thanks goes out to the hundreds of volunteers who made this event even possible. Here’s a picture from @sengseng of their standing ovation.

TEDxMidAtlantic Volunteers Standing Ovation

Other coverage of TEDxMidAtlantic:

Bootstrap Maryland: A Conference For Entrepreneurs

Bootstrap Maryland

A group of technopreneurs made it out to the University of Maryland campus for Bootstrap Maryland.The aim of the conference is to teach budding entrepreneurs “the necessary tools for running a lean and successful technology business.” The event had 4 main panels covering a variety of topics from marketing and public relations to picking the right technology. I learned a lot from the anecdotes of the local entrepreneur panelists. While I ‘m more HTML than MBA, the event inspired me to keep thinking about the business angle on the projects I take on.

Panelists of the third session at Bootstrap Maryland

Panelists of the third session at Bootstrap Maryland

Since every seat in the business school lecture hall had a power plug and the WiFi was strong throughout the entire event, I managed to take a copious amount of notes on my wiki. Here are some of the highlights:

  • When it comes to a business plan, do you need one? Whole panel answers “Meehh… not really.”
  • Recessions are a great time to start a business because everything is cheaper and there is a ton of talent available.
  • Businesses don’t fail because of the technology, businesses fail because they don’t understand their market.
  • How to better understand your market: Experiment, Evaluate, adapt.
  • MYTH: Experience in the corporate world translates to the start-up world. The start up world is a totally different beast.
  • Want to get rich quickly? Rob a bank. Sell crack. Don’t start a company.
  • Best brand right now is “swine flu”, “susan boyle”
  • If considering outsourcing, go with a brand name firm.
  • Don’t under-estimate the value of play.
  • The MD/DC/VA area has tons of groups and events

That last point is big. If you are looking for a local group of people who are interested in media/technology/business, the DC metropolitan area has something for you. After all, where else would 200 people get together to share ideas and stories about starting businesses on the cheap on a Saturday. Jared Goralnick did a great job organizing everything and I would expect the attendance to double for the next one.

Jared Goralnick polls the audience of Bootstrap MD

Jared Goralnick polls the audience of Bootstrap MD

Drinking a Diet Coke with pizza and salad for lunch.

Drinking a Diet Coke with pizza and salad for lunch.

Genius Rocket (lunch sponsor) distributes fliers while everyone is out in the hallway eating pizza.

Genius Rocket (lunch sponsor) distributes fliers while everyone is out in the hallway eating pizza.

Panelists mingle with the audience after the 2nd session at Bootstrap MD

Panelists mingle with the audience after the 2nd session at Bootstrap MD

More of my photos from Bootstrap MD: Picasa / Flickr / Facebook

Other coverage of Bootstrap MD:

BarCamp DC 2 Is Coming

It seems like just yesterday I was telling you guys about SocialDevCamp East. But the other day I got word that the 2nd DC area BarCamp is happening on Saturday, October 18th. This time it will be at the Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University in Georgetown. Why there is a Boston University in DC is beyond me. But lucky for me, the conference is right across the street from my work so I’ll be familiar with the area.

Last year’s BarCamp was the first technology conference I had ever been to and I had a great time meeting other like-minded web folks like myself. I gave a presentation about Firebug which was pretty much by the seat of my pants. This time I hope to present again except this time around I will come better prepared.

I hope to see you there on October 18th for BarCamp DC 2! More details can be found at the official website and wiki.


Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University
1055 Thomas Jefferson Street NW
Washington, DC 20007

A Few Thoughts On The TechCrunch 50 Finalists

TechCrunch 50 Logo

Today was the first day of the 2nd annual Techcrunch 50 conference. The goal of the conference, dreamed up by entrepreneurs Micahel Arrington and Jason Calacanis, was to promote 50 great start-ups to the “industry’s most influential VCs, corporations, fellow entrepreneurs and press.” They also hoped to eliminate the fee for start-ups to present like other conferences.

Today they announced the 50 finalists where a few companies caught my eye right off the bat.

Fitbit Logo

Fitbit wants to make living a healthy lifestyle easier. The company is developing an “ultra-compact” wearable sensor that transmits various data (like calories burned, quality of sleep, number of steps, and distance) to it’s website for analysis. The wearer can track data and mark their progress as they strive to reach personal goals.

This product resonates with me. I’ve been trying to keep track of my health, like what I eat and how much I weigh, but it becomes tedious. A small, compact device that can do a lot of the tedious recording for me is certainly welcome.

Yammer Logo

Yammer is like Twitter for companies. Instead of answering “What are you doing?” Yammer wants you to answer “What are you working on?” The service is more secure than public micro-blogging services because you can only join a network if you have an approved e-mail domain. The hope is Yammer will be a central repository which can archived and searched will make everyone more productive.

I would find something like this useful to keep tabs on what projects my co-workers were working on without being a nosy micro-manager. The problem is older people don’t really get Twitter so it would be a tough sell to get everyone on bored. Younger works already update what they’re doing on Twitter and other micro-blogging services albeit a little more obscure.

Popego Logo

Out of all the websites of the Techcrunch 50 finalists that I visited, Popego looked the best. The service sounds vague according to the Techcrunch description: “Surfaces the most meaningful information from within your social graph based on your interests and other factors.”

Blah Girls Logo

Blah Girls probably had the biggest buzz of the bunch because it is being pitched by Ashton Kutcher. The premise is “a gossip site that features a group of animated teenage girls who provide opinions on what’s going on in the world of entertainment.” I’m curious to see an episode or two to see if it is worthy of joining my video podcast playlist.

Shryk Logo
Finally, the biggest WTF award goes to Shryk. How is their name pronounced? Shrike? Shreik? I have no idea. The goal of the company is something I can get behind however. They hope to promote financial literacy and good saving habits among teens/tweens with web based software built specifically for that age group.

Playce Logo

There are many more companies I didn’t have a chance to get to either for lack of time or because the company just sounded flat out stupid. Like PlaYce, which aims to go head-to-head with the often misunderstood Google Lively. Browser based virtual worlds seem like such a losing proposition.

It will be interesting to see who the Techcrunch50 judges pick as the most interesting startup of the conference.

Crunchbase links for the start-ups mentioned:

SocailDevCamp East Fall Edition Is Coming!

Social Dev Camp East Logo

I just got an e-mail today from Dave Troy, the SocialDevCamp East organizer, announcing the fall edition of SocialDevCamp East! Like last year, this unconference is taking place at the University of Baltimore’s Thumel Business Center Building. If it is anything like the first SocialDevCamp East then expect to meet lots of interesting people and sit in on a bunch of great talks.

So if I’ve piqued your interest and you’re free all day on Saturday November 1st, then I’ll see you there! If anyone from the DC area wants to go and needs a ride up to Baltimore then let me know. I’ve got a mini-van and live right next to the Glenmont metro station (red line).

Time and Place

Saturday, November 1, 2008
8:30am – 10:00pm
University of Baltimore
1420 Charles St.
Baltimore, MD

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Other Resources

PodCampDC 2008

PodCamp DC Opening Keynote

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the very first PodCamp DC. PodCamp is a new media unconference, meaning the participants decide the schedule of events and topics on the day of the conference rather than in advance. There was quite a diverse set of topics ranging from the nuts and bolts of podcasting in Podcasting 101 to an interactive discussion on the future of Social Media and New Journalism. The attendees were just as diverse as the topics from the young techies like myself all the way up to retired grandparents.

One thing that really surprised me was the number of senior citizens at the event. I saw a guy typing away on his Acer laptop running Ubuntu and another lady who looked to be a grandmother wearing a Red Hat Linux baseball cap. I thought the people that attended these things were mostly young computer nerds though I was pleasantly surprised to see people of all gender, color and creed.

Her Flip video camera (atleast that is what I think it is) matched her glasses.
Her Flip video camera (atleast that is what I think it is) matched her glasses.

Probably the most insightful talk of the conference was given by Gretchen Vogelzang of the MommyCast. She talked about how her and a friend turned a simple podcast about motherhood into a six-figure business attracting big name advertisers like Dixie, National Geographic, and Warner Independent films. Gretchen and Paige put a lot of research into their work and it shows with a loyal following that rivals that of a major media property.

Gretchen Vogelzang gave on of the best talks of the conference about how the MommyCast got where it is today.

Gretchen Vogelzang gave on of the best talks of the conference about how the MommyCast got where it is today.

Social Media and New Journalism was a great talk with old media veterans Jim Long (NBC News) and Andy Carvin (NPR) discussing how new media was shaking things up in the traditional news space. They covered the mass propagation of information via Twitter citing the recent Illinois earthquake which quickly spread around the Twitterverse before any traditional news team even had a clue about what was going on.

New tools like Qik let you stream live video over the Internet from your cell phone. While the quality is low there is the ability for people watching the stream to chat and send comments straight to the cell phone creating a new dynamic between producer and consumer. You can see their whole talk which as recorded using Qik below.

Another product mentioned called Utterz lets you call a phone number and leave a voicemail which will be converted and uploaded to the Internet and pushed out as a podcast. Interactive tools like Qik and Utterz make covering an event in near-realtime a possibility.

This dynamic duo talked about how New Media is disrupting journalism. They demoed Qik and Utterz and sparked lots of good ideas from the packed crowd.
This dynamic duo talked about how New Media is disrupting journalism. They demoed Qik and Utterz and sparked lots of good ideas from the packed crowd. See the footage from their talk below.

When lots of geeks get together, a gadget meet-and-greet is sure to happen. I saw a Nokia N810 Internet tablet and Asus Eee PC. Both were small, portable devices for surfing the web in a Wifi-heavy area.

Lots of gadget gawking going on at a geekfest like PodCampDC

Lots of gadget gawking going on at a geekfest like PodCampDC

The rest of the time was about meeting new people and trading ideas. I helped answer a few questions for a guy named Andrew who wanted to run a blog and video podcast all from his Blackberry. Using WordPress and Postie he can accomplish this as he travels around the country. Everyone seemed to be all abuzz about Twitter and I found a few more people to follow although it is getting harder and harder to keep up with all of my followers. I think I will be cutting back some.

Hard Time Hearing
There was so much discussion and exchange of ideas going on.

All in all, PodCamp DC was light on content but heavy on people. I heard a few complaints about the lack of technical podcasting instruction like the New Media Expo of late last year, but that’s what you get with a free, local conference. I know there will be a whole lot more presentations next year! I still had a great time hanging out with fellow web nerds.

You can see the rest of the photos from the day on my Flickr page. And if you want to see all of the pictures from the event just search for the tag ‘podcampdc

If you missed out on this unconference, there is the Social Dev Camp East coming up in 3 weeks. It is on May 10th, 2008, in Baltimore. I’ll be there and if you’ll be there do say hello.

Other PodCamp DC Recaps: