The Imaginative Universal

Studies in Virtual Phenomenology -- by @jamesashley, Kinect MVP and author

ReMIX Atlanta: Soup to Nuts and Bolts

ReMIXAtlanta 

If you have ever wondered how a major technical event gets thrown together, I’ll tell you.

ReMIX Atlanta started with a conversation in which Corey Schuman suggested that it would be a good idea to do a ReMIX event like they do in Boston and Chicago every year.  The appeal for us was that MIX is totally unlike every other Microsoft sponsored event.  In turn, every community event in Atlanta tends to model itself on MS conferences like the PDC.  Wouldn’t it be fun, we thought to ourselves, to do something different.

Meanwhile in another part of the world, Richard Campbell and Carl Franklin, the hosts of the .NET Rocks! Podcast (and producers of Hanselminutes, I believe) were planning to bring their roadshow to Atlanta on May 7th.

Glen Gordon and Murray Gordon, Microsoft Evangelists in Atlanta, suggested that we associate the two events and do some cross-promoting.  So an invitation went out and on March 25th, a bunch of guys got together at a Fuddrucker’s and started laying out plans.

The first thing was trying to scope the event.  Should we go small or go big?  Corey and I wanted to do something really new and different and ambitious for the Atlanta area so we pushed for something big – 400 attendees big – and we got our way.

Having pushed for the idea, we were now on the line for making it happen, of course.  We next had to find a venue for both the .NET Rocks roadshow as well as the ReMIX that could accommodate 400 people.  Cliff Jacobson (Cliff helps to run the MS Pros user group and helps out lots of other user groups in innumerable ways) got on the phone that following Monday and just started making calls.  It turned out to be a bad time of year to plan an event.  We were competing against proms and weddings.  We had used colleges and universities for events in the past, but the main problem there is that they either do not have the space or have weekend classes or are on the edges of Atlanta making them hard to get to.  Besides, we wanted to use the same space for both the .NET Rocks! roadshow as well as the ReMIX event.  Finally the Marriott at the Perimeter came through for us (and have continued to work with us every step of the way to get us what we needed for a fantastic conference).

So the next question was: how do we pay for this?  We decided to charge $25 dollars initially as a way to cover our costs for a bare minimum conference.  This doesn’t even cover lunch, but at least the Perimeter is a nice area and there are lots of excellent restaurants within walking distance.  (If you’ve ever wondered, getting conference space with catering is expensive, yes it is.)

Now we needed to promote the event.  I contacted my favorite web designer, Dennis Estanislao, part of our Minus Five team from MIX (there’s an embarrassing picture out there somewhere of our Minus Five outing), and he put together a design concept and website for the event in three days.

So next – what were we going to present at the conference?  You may think that this should have been our first concern – we did have a few MIX inspired ideas – but the truth is we weren’t ready to start recruiting speakers until we knew we could actually have an event.  Silverlight 4 and Blend 4 were just about to come out, so we knew we wanted to do that.  Then there’s Windows Phone 7 – we decided that we needed to do a whole track on Windows Phone 7.  So for the third track?  Believe it or not, the first suggestion was to do a catchall track for RIA Services, Sharepoint 2010, SQL Server Reporting Services and so on.

But that wouldn’t be MIX-like, would it?  We were sitting around with Sean Gerety and Dennis who began describing an Abbott and Costello routine they had developed around common misunderstandings between developers and designers.  We were on the floor laughing and knew immediately that that should be in the conference.  Very quickly we realized that we wanted to do an entire track on the sorts of issues they were pointing out.  It’s a Kumbaya kindof idea, but developers really need designers to make their applications shine, while designers need developers to make their applications functional.  And yet these are two fields that simply don’t talk to each other and even have a bit of a chip on their shoulders about it.  We knew we wanted to break down those boundaries with the ReMIX conference.

And so the User Experience track was born.

Now we needed speakers.  We wanted the best and we wanted to include excellent speakers that the Atlanta community hasn’t seen before.  Back on the phone we all went and before we knew it we had speakers from Alabama and Tennessee committed to speaking at ReMIX.

We then got a lucky break.  Richard Campbell was talking to Brandon Watson, the new Director of Developer Experience for the Windows Phone 7 team, about being our keynote speaker.  In the process, Brandon offered to provide us with hand-picked speakers for the entire Windows Phone track.

We put out the registration site http://remixatlanta.eventbrite.com (Eventbrite turns out to be amazing – Brendon Schwartz recommended that we use it and he was right!), asked all the leaders of the user groups in Atlanta to promote the event to their members, and within a few days had a hundred people register.  We were excited.

Now we really had a big event on our hands.  We needed money to make it better.  With only three weeks before the event, everyone started hitting their contacts and we reached out for sponsors.  We were worried that no one would even respond to our emails.

Instead, lots of companies have come through at the Platinum level (we honestly thought only one or two would offer to sponsor us at the Platinum level).  Richard Campbell hooked us up with the great people at DevExpress; Doug Ware reached out to Matrix; Veredus Staffing even added a comment to our website asking if we needed sponsors.  Very quickly Dunn Training, Agilitrain, the wonderful Bethany Jones Vananda of Wintellect, my own company Sagepath, Stacy Koehn at Slalom and Emily Parker and Telerik all offered to help sponsor the ReMIX – on very short notice, let’s remember.

Dan Attis set up a non-profit bank account to put all these pledged funds into.  I can’t thank him enough for that.  We’d been talking about setting up an account like this for well over a year, and Dan finally got it done just in time for ReMIX.

The Atlanta Web Developers Group: http://www.awdg.org/ and the Atlanta's Interaction Design and User Experience Community: http://ixdaatlanta.ning.com/ are going to help us with the event (yay designers!) and be present in The Commons to talk about design issues.  J. Cornelius, leader of the AWDG, will even stick around to give tips on improving your apps – so bring your laptops with your current web, windows or Silverlight project and get a free appraisal from an expert.

What is The Commons, you ask?  The Commons is a concept a bunch of us first encountered at MIX.  While learning new information at conference sessions is valuable, the greatest value one can get out of a conference is a chance to make new contacts and expanding your network.  The Commons is a place that facilitates that.  We’re going to make it extremely comfortable and inviting.  It is where you will want to be when you want to take a break – and really, who can sit through five talks in one day – you need to pace yourself.  So we are setting up The Commons as your personal retreat.  Here developers will get a chance to talk to designers (I know developers who have never even met designers before).  Designers will get a chance to reevaluate their opinion of Microsoft products.  People who are job hunting, or just thinking about job hunting, will get some casual time with recruiters to find out what the market is really like now.  We’ll have an XBOX 360 there for a little bit of RockBand action.  Software vendors will demonstrate their products (which Silverlight charting control should you use? – you’ll get a chance to compare them side-by-side from the vendors themselves).

Sean Gerety has been the biggest proponent of The Commons concept and is doing the majority of the concept work.  It is going to be fantastic.  He has also been putting together the UX track and has the most amazing soft skills I have ever encountered.

If you haven’t picked up your ticket to ReMIX Atlanta and the .NET Rocks roadshow, yet, please do so at: http://remixatlanta.eventbrite.com

The Roadshow is a free event on Friday night.  Richard and Carl are giving out lots of software licenses and books, and anyone who has ever listened to their podcast will know how fun these guys are.  Think Prairie Home Companion for geeks and without so many jokes about Minnesota.  There will be food and refreshments.

And that, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story. 

Death of the Laughing Man

9stories

I found out about the passing of J. D. Salinger through, of all places, an article in the Onion called “Bunch of Phonies Mourn J. D. Salinger” written in the style of Holden Caulfield – a brilliant, if overly subtle, homage.

I first read Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye sometime in middle school when it turned out to be the only book on an English class reading list that I could find on my dad’s bookshelf. After finishing it I immediately asked my dad for the remaining books in Salinger’s limited opus and quickly consumed Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters, and Nine Stories. I re-read these books over the following years up until my first year in college, at which point I discovered John Updike’s critical assessment of Salinger and decided that Salinger was “pretentious and puerile” – a phrase I repeated whenever Salinger’s name came up in my own pretentious and puerile conversations with classmates. 

Nevertheless I maintained a secret, embarrassing and abiding fondness for J. D. Salinger’s characters.  I would criticize myself over the years for sharing too much in common with Holden Caulfield while at the same time looking for other kindred spirits with Holden characteristics.  I made a furtive effort to trace The Laughing Man through literature, at one point, and even chose Magister Ludens as my tag when I first started posting on the Internet.  I have an ongoing crush on Zooey Deschanel in large part because she shares a first name with one of Mr. Salinger’s characters.

J. D. Salinger’s central theme, of course, was puerility: the youthful contempt for the falsity and compromises of the adult world.  Salinger’s approach to his theme, however, was always ironic.  He seemed to recognize – though it only became evident when I reread these books in my first year of college – that there is something naive and self-destructive about this attitude.  It is a stance that cannot abide, and one must eventually outgrow it.  Salinger, in effect, prepared his audience to outgrow him.

Having outgrown him, I nevertheless waited over the years for Salinger to write something new, to find out what comes after the romance of puerility.  His last published work, however, was in 1965, following which he became a recluse and never had another word printed for the public.  While waiting, pointlessly it turns out, I have learned the lessons of adulthood – I have learned how to play by the rules, how to reconcile my views to others’ opinions, how to self-promote, how to betray friends, how to get ahead.  I have gained experience and the sort of wisdom I know that Holden Caulfield would never understand or appreciate.

Craft and Exposure

derek_jacobi

With Silverlight 3, Silverlight seems to have reached a critical stage – that is, people are starting to criticize it.  This is a good thing since it means we can now talk about the reality of Silverlight rather than the promise of Silverlight as a technology.

Some recent comparisons have been made between Silverlight and Flash by Michael Lankton as well as Silverlight and HTML + JQuery by Dave Ward, a truly great developer.

One topic that hasn’t been broached, I believe, is the comparison of Silverlight and WPF.  For some die-hard WPF developers I know, Silverlight just seems like a crippled version of the technology they love.  This is somewhat unfair.  Silverlight has definite limitations when compared to WPF; it also, however, is able to reach a much broader audience because it is browser-based and platform neutral.  Until a mono version of WPF is implemented, Silverlight is going to be the main way for .NET developers to get their state-of-the-art applications onto their Mac using friends’ computers.

This reminds me of a comment I heard Derek Jacobi, the great Shakespearean actor, once make to the effect of:

“I do movies for the money.  I do television for the exposure.  But I do theater for love of the craft.”

As much as I have always enjoyed windows development and have cursed the many tricks and hacks one must know to do web development, web development was still always fun because people had a greater appreciation for what one did.  In part this is because web applications simply reach a wider audience.  It is also due, I think, to the fact that users are much more savvy about the web and the way they feel it should look than consumers of desktop applications.

And so those lessons might be applied to how we look at the relationship between Silverlight and WPF.  WPF allows one to practice one’s craft – which is an enjoyable but mostly solitary affair.  Silverlight, on the other hand, provides the developer with exposure for his work – and this is no bad thing.