Commanding Chaos for Coworking, Open Source and Creative Communities

Central Florida Geeks

Wed, 01/28/2009 - 08:52 -- rprice

DSCN1029 DSCN1030

CFGeeks is a community / mailing list / meetup / whatever mostly made up of Linux guys, sysadmins and Ham radio operators. I have been following the mailing lists since some time last year, after I found a bunch of pointers to it through local Linux user groups, like GOLUG and LEAP-CF.

The group was created by a guy named Kevin Inscoe (ke3vin), who currently does some administrative stuff at local publishing juggernaut Harcourt.

The other day I went to a lunchp, which is based on an old LISP joke... adding -P to something is like asking a yes/no question. Moviep? Skycraftp? and of course Lunchp? are asked quite often on the list.

To my understanding, this was the first lunchp in some time, but it was well-attended, and there were some good conversations, stories and historic context thrown around, along with the random YouTube video on someone's laptop. It kind of felt like all the time you spend in a big office wasting time standing at your friend's desk... except none of these guys work in the same building (though I think some of them used to).

In true new media fashion, there's a Flickr set of photos from lunchp, and a uStream video Kevin made just as I got to the meetup.

If ANY of the above are remotely attractive to you, or if you want to talk about iPhone development, I highly recommend you join a mailing list, give out your callsign, follow these guys on twitter, and go to lunchp this Friday downtown at Panera Bread. It's worth it.

Live Broadcasting by Ustream

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Florida Drupal Camp in 2 Weeks!

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 07:53 -- rprice

From Novice to Expert, Programmer to Designer, Peon to Executive, this free unconference all about Drupal hopes you can get something valuable and meet some fun people who are passionate about Drupal, the best open-source content management system, and a darn good PHP framework if you ask me.


What will we be talking about? Check the Schedule on Google Docs

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Palm Pre, it's better than Ritalin

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 05:00 -- rprice

"At CES, Palm announced that the new iPhone/BlackBerry/Android KILLA would be out in the first half of this year." (CrunchGear)

If this video is any indication, the main two features I see in the Palm Pre is multi-tasking, and fancy ways to hide and show the interface. I also have to say that the combined, yet sepatate, email inboxes, calendars and contacts are a nice-to-have.

The little chicklet keyboard reminds me of my old Sony Mylo, of which the best feature was the feedback that I had pushed a button. Still, unless they put a light behind that keyboard, say goodbye to typing in the dark.

With all these applications staying open, I can't imagine battery life and speed being all that great, but I may never find out, because the phone is on Sprint! Sprint?

I wonder what ever happened to Sprint's "draw in the air" guestures? Is touch really a superior technology? Hmm, I think it must be... I can't even find any references to the announcement about drawing in the air to dial numbers, answer calls, etc. - just a bunch of videos with light painting.

Will the Palm Pre be the light painting commercial of tomorrow?

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Research and Development 2.0

Fri, 01/16/2009 - 18:41 -- rprice

A few weeks ago I started reading Richard Florida's game-changing (profound? or controversial?) book, The Rise of the Creative Class. Something he spends a lot of time on in the early part of the book is watching how advances in science and technology fueled changes in the way businesses were run, and the kinds of work people were doing; this leads to changes in the layout of cities, quality of life, home and entertainment, trade, and society in general.

The Rise of the Creative Class For example, he talks about enterprising gentlemen who would buy large quantities of raw materials and ship them to various craftsmen for processing. These craftsmen would not have direct interaction with the end-users of their products. This process was called "factoring". Later, instead of working with a network of skilled labor over a wide geographical area, they consolidated their talent under one roof and created a "factory". We all know what happened next: big cities got bigger as more people moved out of the country for these new kinds of jobs, and the first-world countries and cities with factories changed in a very real way.

Web 2.0

Something very similar has been happening in the past 4 years with the way we write and deploy web applications - Tim O'Reilly noticed this change happening, and coined the phrase "Web 2.0" to try and give us a rallying point around the kinds of changes that were taking place. In the Wikipedia entry for Web 2.0, there are mostly references to the kinds of applications and content that exist on the web. Second, it talks about the ways applications interact with people, and finally the way that applications interact with each other; there is very little reference to the way in which applications are built and deployed.

Still, talking about communications protocols and the kinds of applications that are built, fancy business models and altruistic ethics still don't explain how we got here. Out of the entire article, the only line that really talks about the manufacturing process, in this case computer programming, barely scratches the surface:

Web 2.0 technologies tend to foster innovation in the assembly of systems and sites composed by pulling together features from distributed, independent developers. (This could be seen as a kind of "open source" or possible "Agile" development process, consistent with an end to the traditional software adoption cycle, typified by the so-called "perpetual beta".)

If you read Rise of the Creative Class, you see that agile processes and perpetual beta are not new tools in the hands of enlightened managers. He shares stories from the optics factory where his father worked, where most of the managers on the shop floor had been promoted from the labor positions. He argues that one of the major things that kept the factory running smoothly was the managers' faith in the experience of the laborers - if they had an idea about how to speed up production, or if they improved a process or design, the managers understood that their laborers knew what they were doing, and that their voices should be heard. Once the factory started hiring the MBAs and engineers, the management stopped listening to what was happening on the floor and productivity (and innovation) dropped almost to zero.

Research & Development

At the same time, a new class of mega-corporation was emerging, and along with mega-corporations were mega research and development budgets. The Bell Labs and Xerox PARCs of the world ruled the roost, and tons of new ideas were hatched - some succeeded, most failed. At some point, the mega-corporation stopped spending so much on R&D, and the venture capitalists entered the scene. Instead of the large corporations innovating in-house, entrepreneurs and tinkerers created startup companies, and the innovation was externalized. Bigger corporations could now incubate businesses that rose to the top of the pickle barrel by acquiring technologies along with their inventors. The VCs get a return on their investment, and the big companies only need to spend money on projects with a healthy track-record.

Back to Bell Labs, though. There are (at least) two incredibly important inventions that need mentioning before we move on. In an effort to computerize the telephone network, some guys at Bell Labs developed an operating system called UNIX. A few years later, in order to make the code portable to other chipsets and machines, they developed the C language, and UNIX was no longer just developed in assembly code, but could now be compiled to run on different architectures.

Right there we have the birth of two technologies that have utterly defined everything that makes Web 2.0 possible. UNIX and C were used in universities, which were a very important part of the research and development ecosystem, and remain to this day a place where massive amounts of patents are filed and startup companies birthed. By the 1990s, UNIX and C were standardized, and you could run them just about anywhere and, there were now open source (freely licensable) versions of both.

The Building Blocks of the Web

Show me one piece of Web 2.0 that is not based in some way on C or UNIX (with the exception of Microsoft .NET, which is still written on top of C). Nearly every web server is running a UNIX or LINUX operating system, and all of the programming languages fueling the web sites and services we know and love are all implemented in C. Take Perl (developed at NASA), Python (developed at Holland's CWI research institute), Ruby (developed by the head of an R&D department in Japan), and PHP (developed in Silicon Valley).

One thing all of the above tools allow is the ability for the programmer to work at a higher level. That was the original promise of C, to be able to work higher than machine code. The aforementioned interpreted languages also remove the burden of memory management and lots of the noodly semantics from the development process.

One thing you'll hear over and over is that all of the technologies used to build Web 2.0 existed before the 2.0 era, and that's all too true. If you've read Florida's book, you'll remember he points out that fancy machines are not what made factories successful, it was the innovation of the people running the machines, whether simple or advanced. It was the changes in workflow, allowing workers to focus on a much smaller part of the manufacturing process, which created specialists, who then innovated on the process further.

It's not like people were never developing great ideas on the web before it went 2.0, on the contrary. One of the most successful features of Amazon.com is their user-generated product reviews, a feature which existed when the service launched.

Old Tools + New Process = Explosive Invention

OK, so we've got the same tools, and one thing that is different this time around is how freely available it all is, thanks to the open source movement. When we're talking about software, the smallest innovation can be shared with millions of people through the channels of Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS). Because of things like the copyleft in the GPL, when you make a change to GPL software and want to distribute it, you have to also license your newly distributed code as GPL, and everyone can benefit. Not everyone in the world is cool with re-distributing their work, but it's nearly impossible to avoid the touch of open source these days.

Now, instead of just using programming languages, the web community has realized that most of the code a programmer had to write for a website was being duplicated from one project to the next, and that everyone had to solve the same kinds of problems over and over. This has given rise to several web-specific programming frameworks. All of the above-mentioned languages have at least one framework available, for example: Catalyst, Django, Ruby on Rails, and Zend Framework.

The Calculus

In man's quest to understand the world, a number of methods of communication have been developed which are ubiquitous: arguably the most universal would be numbers and mathematical symbols, like those used in calculus. The word calculus actually comes from a word used to refer to small stones used for counting and calculations. The human race is often in need of tools to communicate, yet math has achieved that communication with a shared vocabulary, theories, Laws, and symbols that communicate instantly and universally.

Mathematics is called "the language of science" - I can think of few situations where this is more true than computer science and relational databases. A large part of low-level languages and operating systems is simply allocating and recalling bits of data from memory, and of course performing simple operations or instructions on said data - an incredible feat that now can take place over one thousand trillion times per second in modern super-computers.

Think of programming frameworks and design patterns (on which frameworks are based) as the shared language - the calculus and theories - of modern computer science. Instead of lengthy explanations of abstract concepts, experienced programmers are able to speed up their communication with each other with the vocabulary provided by these frameworks. Additionally, growing popularity of practices such as Don't Repeat Yourself (DRY) and favoring Convention over Configuration have helped frameworks gain widespread adoption, taking frameworks out of the realm of trends and fads, because programmers are able to focus on the parts of their jobs which are specific to the problem at hand, instead of having to "re-invent the wheel".

Frameworks allow programmers to tackle 80% of their problems in 20% of the time, which reduces the time between invention and realization. Because these frameworks are open source and widely available, communities have begun to support technology-focused user groups, and hundreds of new Ruby on Rails programmers (e.g. "Web 2.0" developers) are entering the ecosystem all the time. Some cities have a higher concentration of these developers than others, and these cities also tend to be those with more entrepreneurs and inventors, especially if you pay attention to the cities on Richard Florida's creativity index.

R&D sans University

What am I getting at? Research and Development, particularly on the web, is no longer fueled by big corporations or universities, despite the fact that the tools that are enabling the current advances were all developed in the "R∧D 1.0" institutions. In the past, you needed a big government contract or a CEO who was liberal with his research budget in order to get the capital to develop new products. These days, we've got tons of self-starters, folks who are going months without pay, working nights and weekends, getting funding from mom and dad or other Angel Investors, and roping their friends and relations into some crazy scheme... and it's all happening on the Internet.

Then Yahoo, Google, AOL, or Microsoft will come along and snatch up your company and make you a millionaire... that's the dream, at least.

Try to think of the last startup you heard of that was born in a research lab at a university... Google and Ask (Teoma) came from university, but those were almost 10 years ago. The part of this blog post that I can't research is this one, but I hope people will leave some helpful info in comments, and I'm sure I'll post about this subject in the future.

Our Opportunity

So here we are, the young, resourceful, well-educated youth of America. What is stopping us from developing new products, starting our own IPTV station, running for government office or just releasing some open source projects? Nothing. Try to find some inspiration, experience the world, travel, meet new and interesting people, try new things, eat food that scares you, speak in front of large groups, run a BarCamp, make some friends, get involved with your community, learn a new skill, and above all, invent something.

A huge thanks is in order to the fine editors and contributors who make Wikipedia such a great resource. You guys rock.

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Florida Opportunity Fund

Fri, 01/16/2009 - 13:32 -- rprice

I've been a long-time follower of Dan Rua, and I've even had the pleasure of meeting the guy. His business, Inflexion, is venture capital - they invest in biotech and technology startup companies. It's a great thing for the state of Florida to have funding like that available locally.

However, for smaller, "early stage" companies, venture funding is not really the way to go. There are phases to these things... and that's not Dan's business.

Now, there is someone playing that middle field, and it's the Florida Opportunity Fund. It's their mission to "...focus on identifying and investing in a diversified, high-quality portfolio of seed and early stage venture capital funds that target in whole or in part opportunities within Florida".

So, it's a collection of early-stage funds? Huh? But there's money? What's it for?

Ah, some clarification here:

The FOF is a fund of funds that directs investments into venture capital fund managers who in turn invest in seed and early stage concepts in Florida. The $29.5M program is sponsored by Enterprise Florida and is managed by Florida First Partners ("FFP").

They're trying to create an ecosystem of investors and funds, the right atmosphere for funding a startup, or growing an existing company. It looks like if you have an existing pool of money, they can help, by giving you more...?

That's all well and good, and thanks to the state legislature, but what do the experts have to say?

Dan recently wrote on his blog:

I think it's another smart step in the right direction. A pool of $30M split among a few early-stage venture funds isn't going to change the state's venture ecosystem overnight. However, I've seen firsthand how quality in-state lead investors bring national venture dollars to the state. For example, Inflexion, Florida's Venture Fund, has experienced 11-18 dollars of co-investment for every Inflexion dollar invested into early-stage companies.

Now that the politicians have taken a key step, setting up the fund with its core goals, it falls to the Florida Opportunity Fund to deliver on those goals, in the face of a difficult macro-environment, plenty of naysayers and likely political pressure along the way. Florida presents unique challenges and opportunities for early-stage venture funds, requiring local access to multiple hotspots across the state combined with national relationships. Early-stage company building is a local business and flying in for periodic board meetings, even by the largest funds in the country who will claim some Florida connection, just doesn't cut it for early-stage.

It's an older blog post, but Rich Swier had something to say when the initial bill was passed.

In looking this up, I also learned about the state of Florida's venture economy:

Some of those companies have already attracted top venture capital firms. This year, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Index Ventures invested $34.5 million in Lehigh Technologies, a Naples company that makes rubber powders for greener manufacturing. Benchmark Capital invested $12 million in Pentaho, an Orlando open-source business intelligence software company that has also been funded by Index Ventures and New Enterprise Associates.

Pentaho? WTF? Who's that? Enterprise Business Intelligence, you say? In Orlando? Open Source? Why don't these guys come to BarCamp?

Back to the topic at hand, it looks like perhaps the state has managed to make something that will look really great, but in practice, maybe not the best...

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Coworking Rocks!

Wed, 01/14/2009 - 09:52 -- rprice


Alex Hillman, originally uploaded by Aeioux.

Alex Hillman is a very no nonsense guy, and the founder of a kickass coworking space in Philadelphia called IndyHall. If you've ever met him, he was probably talking in front of a group of people about building community and other such coolness.

The fine folks from CoLab found out he is visiting Orlando next week, and it happened to fall on the day they were planning a party at their fresh-and-shiny coworking space downtown, so they asked him to come and make a guest appearance. Alex won't be speaking, just there amongst the mingle, spreading the good word.

Where: CoLab Orlando
Date: Wednesday, January 21st
Time: 6:30 pm

Too bad he won't be here Monday for Florida Creatives Happy Hour. Still, I'm very excited that CoLab is getting 2009 kicked off with a party, and continuing their $49 deal through January! I know a few people who could use a financial break right now.

Coworking is really starting to feel normal in Orlando, and a dedicated space is steadily becoming part of that ecosystem. New people are signing up for CoLab all the time - I haven't been alone in the space since the new year started - that means there's an uptake, and from all different kinds of people. Certainly worth checking out for a few hours next Wednesday, wouldn't you say?

This event is posted to every social network imaginable, so don't claim you didn't know it was happening. I will also remind you in person on Friday for Likemind and Monday at Florida Creatives. Be there!

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Peter Hirshberg on TV and the web - TED Talks

Sun, 11/23/2008 - 11:38 -- rprice

Just a few minutes after I wrote my most recent "Internet killed TV" rant, I see this more well-informed and context-rich talk about the very same subject, complete with references to Marshall Mcluhan.

From Peter Hirshberg on TV and the web | Video on TED.com:

In this absorbing look at emerging media and tech history, Peter Hirshberg shares some crucial lessons from Silicon Valley and explains why the web is so much more than "better TV."

A Silicon Valley executive, entrepreneur and marketing specialist, Peter Hirshberg might just be the definitive voice on how new technology affects business and culture. Full bio and more links

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YouTube Has Replaced MTV

Sun, 11/23/2008 - 09:16 -- rprice

It's official - crappy reality TV has been replaced by reality, captured on your Flip™ brand camera!

You tube held their first ever awards show - YouTube Live, complete with Discovery Channel stars, pop (and anti-pop) music, ukuleles, breakdancers, vulgarity and lots more, all in a familiar MTV Music Awards-style format.

Now that YouTube has peaked, it's time for some of the verticals and startups to try again. A few years ago, all you heard about was Yet Another Video Site popping up every 5 minutes. Now I fully expect cable networks, magazines, radio stations, and companies none of us have heard of to adopt similar tactics -- most will fail, but a few will succeed, and we can stop subscribing to cable TV, because crappy entertainment, gossip, infinite programming and cheesey awards shows have now arrived on the internet too!

I expect also (more like hope) that there will be lots of directory services and lowest-common-denominator channels showing up, like the TV Guide of the web, the Home Shopping Channel (I guess SlickDeals and the like have gotten us part-way there), the religious video, and what have you.

One reason why we don't see more cable networks rushing to put all their content online in its full form is the on-demand nature of it all. If you want to watch the Sopranos, you're forced to watch what comes on a few minutes before and after, perhaps the entire show, and for HBO, especially the commercials for their other original programming and the movies of the month. This was an important way to hook the viewer into coming back.

However, DVRs and Tivo have killed that for people who don't care about watching it in real time, so why do prime-time schedules even matter any longer? Everyone made a big deal about Barack Obama breaking in to the World Series for his 30 minute commercial, but weren't people watching it on Tivo a few hours later, or the next day?

In the future, there will not be any possible way to grab the attention of that many people at once, unless we have another 9/11 (knock on wood). I don't even have to watch the Superbowl any longer, I can catch all the commercials on YouTube the next morning.

What do we do now?

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WordPress Plugins that stand the Test of Time

Mon, 11/17/2008 - 21:24 -- rprice

I've been engaging in a personal project recently to get all my OLD wordpress sites upgraded to 2.6 and on the latest versions of plugins and such. This has helped me notice that there are things I'd like to do with the software that it doesn't do by itself, either because of 3rd party services or for SEO reasons.

One thing: I wouldn't create a new WP site without the amazing K2 theme. Just get it. You'll thank me later. No price tag, just CSS and some awesome AJAX, plus plugin integration and an alternate sidebar manager. The theme that kicks WordPress into high gear.

Here are 10 plugins I probably wouldn't deploy wordpress without:

  1. FeedBurner FeedSmith - If you use FB, this is a no-brainer
  2. Flare Smith - Eric Marden's excellent FeedBurner stats and FeedFlare plugin. No more copy and pasting javascript
  3. K2 Hook Up - Every site has those couple of places where you need to paste some javascript for tracking or ads, and K2 provides hooks into all of them. This plugin exposes those to blog admins. Another Xentek creation.
  4. Related Posts - I don't think this is in active development anymore. I have no complaints, though. A great reason to have K2 and K2 Hook Up.
  5. Landing Sites - Let's get real. Not all visitors hit your site from the home page. When people reach your site via a search engine, this plugin helps you display some helpful pointers to what they might have ACTUALLY been looking for. Useful for very old blog posts. Another great reason for K2 Hook Up.
  6. All in One SEO - This is a very recent addition to my list, but something that is sorely needed if you pay attention to your Google Webmaster reports, and you're concerned about how your blog shows up in SERPs (when it shows up in search engines). This plugin is actually pretty brainless, but powerful at the same time.
  7. Google XML Sitemap - Again with this one, as soon as I started paying attention to Webmaster Tools, the sitemap stuff was jumping out at me, and I felt the need to address it.
  8. Secure Accessible Contact Form - Websites don't exist without contact forms. That's a statement. However, spam and usability can get in the way. This plugin leaves nothing to the imagination, and apparently it's blocked 17 spam on this blog. Go team.
  9. FeedWordPress - For planet-style sites or other syndicated sites, this plugin has tons of options but works pretty well out of the box. Integrates with your built-in Blogroll and Categories, too. As I remember, installation is gummy, but this plugin is still an essential part of my toolkit.
  10. Akismet - I would have stopped blogging a long time ago if I had to put up with the thousands of spam comments I get on a weekly basis. Wordpress must be an easy target, because the spam rolls in, and it never stops. Ever. Install this plugin no matter what. Requires an API Key from Wordpress.com

This is not an exhaustive list of every plugin I use or endorse, just 10 you should know about, or some that are too essential to pass by.

Honorable mention goes to the built-in WP Widgets - without those babies, life would be hard. K2's sidebar manager actually approaches a new level of sophistication with widgets, and I often wish I were running K2 on this site. Either way, you're getting the chance to display lots of dynamic stuff that lives near the content, without needing to be the content itself.

Lately I'm a Drupal guy, but I still think WordPress has its place in my day-to-day, especially for a blog like this, or when you miss the days of 5-minute setups.

These plugins all (except FeedWordPress) get first priority on every WordPress site I configure for myself, clients or friends. I have donated to several of these developers' tip jars, and I hope that by writing this post, I can do something just as good as loose change in the virtual hat.

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