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 Webs.com.  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

Accessibility Camp DC Recap

The schedule as determined by participants of Accessibility Camp DC.

Accessibility Camp really opened my eyes to how people with disabilities experience the web. The Martin Luther King Library in downtown DC was the perfect venue for this barcamp style event. The adaptive services department has all sorts of assistive technology that anyone can use and learn more about.

A braile printout using a special printer at the Martin Luther King Library in Washington, DC.

I met a lot of diverse people like Patrick Timony (Adaptive Technology Librarian at MLK library), Jennison Asuncion (IT Accessibility Consultant from Toronto), Jamal Mazrui (a visually impaired software developer) and about 100 others who were passionate about sharing what they know to make the web a better, and more accessible, place. Here are some of my take aways.

Carolyn Klinger reviews tips for making PDFs more accessible at Accessibility Camp DC

Carolyn Kelley Klinger talked about making PDFs more accessible (PDF) by structuring documents with headers (using Headline 1, Headline 2 etc. styles instead of making the text bold and bumping up the font), adding column/row headers for data tables, supplying alternative text to describe images, and making sure anyone links are within context (no “Click Here” or “Read More” links). I was surprised at how similar preparing an accessible PDF is to preparing an accessible website.

Jamal Mazrui is a blind software developer who wants to make sure accessibility isn't forgotten in emerging technology.

Jamal Mazrui wants to build web apps to benefit disabled netizens. He’s afraid that as broadband speeds increase over the next few years we will see an influx of visually oriented interfaces with no accessibility in mind. The same thing happened in the mid 90’s with the move from an entirely text based DOS operating system, to a graphical interface driven OS like Windows. Today, emerging technologies like Adobe Air, Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, Google Wave, Google Android, Second Life, and the Amazon Kindle have little to help handicapped users. Apple’s iPhone is fairly good when it comes to accessibility as evident by all the people who had one at Accessibility Camp. Hopefully the tech industry will learn from its prior mistake of ignoring the needs of handicapped users.

All of the Accessibility Camp DC participants got a hearty lunch free of charge.

For lunch everyone got as many Potbelly sandwiches as they could fit in their bellies. Thanks to the generous sponsors who made the event not only possible, but free for everyone we were able to enjoy a scrumptious meal.

Jennison Asuncion demonstrates surfing the web with JAWS.

After lunch I got to see a live demonstration of Jennison using the screen reading application, JAWS, to navigate the web. Holy Cow! I can’t believe how different the web is when you can’t see where you’re browsing. It takes a while for a visually impaired user to get acquainted with a new website since every site has a different set of pitfalls. The source-order of your website, that is the order of your content with no styles applied, makes a huge difference to the experience of a blind user. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to user test your project, make sure to get feedback from a visually impaired person using a screen reader too.

Other events that were going on throughout the day included Practical Ways to make Your Site More Accessible, Making Mapping More Accessible, eLearning Tools, and Online Gaming for Persons with Disabilities. It seems like everyone there had something to share.

Accessibility Camp DC was the brainchild of John F. Croston, a web developer for the US Army.

A big thank you goes out to John Croston and Patrick Timony for organizing, the staff at the MLK library for providing an awesome venue, all of the sponsors who made the event even possible, and everyone who attended with something to share. This event really opened my eyes to accessibility and the web.

Other Accessibility Camp DC links:

Next up is Bar Camp DC 3 on November 14th.

DC Tech Events For Fall

The DC tech scene is just bursting at the seams with interesting (and free) tech events and un-conferences coming up this fall. I don’t know If I will be able to attend them all but here are a few that made it on to my radar.

Accessibility Camp DC Logo
Accessibility Camp DC is taking place at Martin Luther King Library on October 10, 2009. The event will cover topics and discussions about making the web more accessible.

Public Media Camp Logo
PublicMediaCamp will be at American University on October 17 and 18, 2009. The event aims to put 100 developers, 100 public media supporters, and 100 people who work for public broadcasting companies in a room and see what comes of it.

TedX MidAtlantic Logo
TEDx Midatlantic will be held on November 5, 2009, at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD.  The event will feature presentations by many of the leading thinkers and doers in the MidAtlantic Region.

BarCampDC Logo
BarCamp3 is the grand daddy of all DC tech events. It will be at the Martin Luther King Library on November 14, 2009. This is always my favorite event of the year.

Rubbing Elbows With Robert Scoble & Gary Vaynerchuk

Robert Scoble (Scobelizer) and Gary Vaynerchuk (Wine Library TV) were both in the nations capital today which is a good enough cause for the DC tech community to hold a bash! The Capitol Valley Media group managed to pull together a great event at MCCXXIII on Connecticut Avenue. With nearly 500 expected guests, the place was packed with passionate DC technologists and social media gurus. I caught up with a few friends and managed to have a word or two with New Media Jim and Robert Scoble.

New Media Jim and Robert Scoble

Social mixers aren’t really my thing so I ducked out early to catch the metro home to Glenmont. I hope I didn’t miss anything but it was great to see how big the tech community is in DC. 500 people just to see two famous Internet people, wow!

FCA’s Annual Picnic

The Filipino Cultural Association, which Kristina is a part of (and therefore me too), had their annual end-of-year picnic this past Sunday. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day as there were no clouds in sight and the sun was out in full force. Maybe the sun was a little too forceful as I forgot to put sunblock on my arms and face which were burnt to a crisp.

A shot of the picnic from the hill.

Everyone met at Centennial Park, Maryland, for food and games. There were plenty of burgers, hot dogs, and hungry college students but our poor chef Casper couldn’t cook them fast enough on the tiny charcoal park grill.

Life size hot dog with ketchup makes you feel like you were actually there.
A life size hot dog with ketchup makes you feel like you were actually there.

Kristina put together a series of games dividing everyone up into 5 color “families”. The events included:

  • Balloon Toss – Passing a water balloon back and forth with a partner until there was only one team left. After each successful toss the teams would take a step back.
  • The Three Legged Race
  • Pie Eating Contest
  • Balloon Stomp – Where each team member had a balloon tied around their ankle as they tried to pop other peoples balloons.
  • An Obstacle Course/Race – Consisting of spinning around a bat 10 times, a human wheelbarrow race, and a mad dash carrying an egg on a spoon.

Preparing to catch a balloon.
Paolo prepares to catch a water-filled balloon.

Messy remnants were the only thing left of those Apple pies.Bits and pieces on his glasses were all that was left of Daryl’s Apple pie.

Racing to the finish line carrying an egg on a spoon.Jen races to the finish line carrying an egg on a spoon.

An FCA picnic wouldn’t be complete without a tug-of-war match between the upper classmen and the lower classmen. It is tradition for the upper classmen to win and immediately tie an underclassmen to a nearby tree. This year sure didn’t disappoint, all in good fun of course!


Upperclassmen vs. lowerclassmen in tug of war.
Upperclassmen vs. lowerclassmen in tug-o-war.

Tied up underclassman
They say it’s an honor to be tied to the tree.

At the end of the games everyone was too tired to care who won (it was the red team if you must know). Everyone had a good day out in the sun, laughing, having fun, and eating picnic food. This is Kristina’s last year in college so we probably won’t be back next year. Atleast we have these memories and the 495 pictures I took of the day, which was more fun for me than getting worked up over picnic games.


A shot of the whole FCA gang at the annual picnic 2008

See more pictures from the day.

What I Learned On My 23rd Birthday

Today is my 23rd birthday, but I’m not the only one who has a special day today. Did you know American Idol first season winner Kelly Clarkson‘s birthday is today? Or how about Chipper Jones, the 3rd baseman for the Atlanta Braves who was also born on this day? Apparently Benedikt Lechler, a famous composer, celebrates his 414th birthday today. He was born in 1594.

Thanks to BrainyHistory.com I know all of this random trivia about April 24th. But not just limiting themselves to birth dates, Brainy History also offers a catalog of death dates and important events. Estee Lauder died at the age of 97 on the same day I turned 17 in 2004. But my favorite event that happened on April 24th hands-down has got to be from 1982 when the IBM-PC was introduced. Those that know me realize this is a perfect fit for me.

Charlie Chaplin standing next to an IBM PC

But birthdays aren’t all about looking back and reflecting; they’re about getting free stuff on your special day. HeyItsFree.net (via Pammy) has the ultimate list of food, entertainment, and services that give away free offerings to birthday boys or girls. We’re talking mostly about free ice cream and cake but some places like Chevys mexican restaurants give away a free desert and a sombrero. The catch is you have to sign up in advance to take advantage of most of the offers. Too late for me now, but maybe next year.

Finally my Dad reminded me that when he was 23 he was in Vietnam in charge of 30 guys in a supply department on the USS Warrington. I sure am lucky I’m not off in a war zone and get to spend my birthday with family and friends.

The loot and brownies from my 23rd birthday celebration.
Kristina made me brownies and got me grown presents like shoelaces, belts, and the movie 300 for my birthday.

Russell blowing out the candles on his 23rd birthday.
Blowing out candles is still fun no matter how old you are.

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: