ReMIX Atlanta: Soup to Nuts and Bolts


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 (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: and the Atlanta’s Interaction Design and User Experience Community: 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:

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. 

War of the Wing-Men

war of the wingmen

Recently, a reader wrote to ask about the image used as a header for this blog.

It is a scanned and photoshopped cover from a 1958 ACE pulp science fiction paperback.  The paperback includes two short novels by Poul Anderson.  The side above shows an illustration for War of the Wing-Men.  The verso has an inverted illustration for Anderson’s The Snows of Ganymede.  The text of the two novels meet somewhere in the middle of the book and then flip upside-down (or right-side up, depending on whether you are reading from front-to-back or back-to-front).

Here is a short summary of the plot from the insert to War of the Wing-Men:

Only three humans survived the wreck of that space-ship on the little known planet of Diomedes.  One was the beautiful ruler of a distant colonial world; another was the fat, slovenly owner of a great Solar trading company; the third was a handsome, blue-eyed engineer.

The survivors had food for only six weeks, for the native food was one hundred percent poisonous to people.  So in that limited amount of time they had to gain the trust of the winged barbarians who held them prisoners, end the terrible war that these Diomedians were engaged in, and persuade the wing-men to carry the three across the thousands of miles of unmapped territory to the single Earth spaceport.

Their desperate efforts to beat that fatal deadline makes WAR OF THE WING-MEN one of Poul Anderson’s most exciting novels.

My wife inherited this pulp novel – along with a hundred more like it – when Walter G. Steblez, her father, passed away a few years ago.  Walter had collected sci-fi, mystery and horror pulp novels from his childhood and later became a collector as an adult.  His tastes were eclectic, and ranged from books of poetry in Latin (he was a classics major in college) to the complete series of The Saint novels by Leslie Charteris (though he was also a keen advocate of the mystery writings of S. S. Van Dine).  Walter’s book collection also included the books belonging to Nikolai Elenev, a distant relative and Russia scholar who was part of the Russian émigré community in Prague during the 20’s and belonged to a circle of friends which included Marina Tsvetaeva and Sergei Efron.  We also have correspondences between Nikolai and Walter, though the majority of Nikolai Elenev’s correspondences are archived at Amherst College.

Walter George Steblez was born in Germany in 1945 on the road between an Auschwitz labor camp for Osterlanders and Hanau, where his family was able to make contact with Allied Forces and eventually arranged passage to America – having escaped both Stalin and Hitler.  His family was originally from Mariupol, a city on the Azov Sea, but left for Germany during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine in the hopes of a better life.  This may seem strange, but it should be remembered that they had lived through the revolution, the famine in the Ukraine, and had watched Avraam, Walter’s grandfather, be dragged away to the Gulag with no expectation of ever seeing him again. 

Walter grew up a bilingual speaker of Russian and English and was fluent in French.  He later picked up classical Greek and Latin in college.  He worked for the State Department in the 70’s and was well known for hosting soirees in Washington, D.C.  He later moved to the US Geological Survey and ultimately to the U.S. Bureau of Mines where he was an expert in Central and Eastern European minerals.  A Bing search will bring up his publications for the USGS.

Richard Levine, one of Walter’s longest friends, wrote this about the childhood collector of War of the Wing-Men:

I knew Walt Steblez as a best friend and colleague with whom I spent either the entire day at work or talked with after working hours almost every day for 30 years.  I could go on and on with stories about Walt’s humor, philosophical insights, and varied interests, but the one overriding thing which informed everything he did was his sense of righteousness and the courage he displayed in acting according to his beliefs. If a person was ever being treated unjustly and needed a defender to stand up for them despite any personal consequences there was no better person than Walter Steblez.

I should also add that Walt was the Union Steward where we worked so he did this not only for his friends but for everybody in need that he was in a position to help and he would even go against his politics if he felt it was necessary to help people. For example, although Walt often sided with Republicans in their fiscal views, he voted for Walter Mondale over Ronald Reagan in 1984 because he told me he thought that Reagan’s policies were adversely affecting the homeless and disabled.

On a personal level I think that one of the ways that he helped exemplifies how he lived his life and what he did for others.

We were in a work situation where we had an unstable supervisor whose many problems I won’t go into, but the supervisor had decided that he could advance himself further if he could get rid of me and promote Walter to my position who he thought would be a loyal minion. He proposed this plot to Walter, even lamenting that because I did a good job it would be more difficult.

This would have meant for Walter a promotion and a chance to do a job which may have given him more personal satisfaction and fully employed his unique bilingual abilities in Russian and English.  Rather than being tempted, Walter found the person despicable, and without any authorization physically moved his office so that he would not have to look at this person.

Nevertheless, the supervisor thought that Walter would still be in on the scheme and began to carry it out. He laid the groundwork by giving me a lousy performance rating although I had the best year of my career and by giving Walter a superlative performance rating. I of course was infuriated and launched a grievance about receiving too low an evaluation. 

Walter, who knew his game, also launched a grievance procedure, claiming that he gave him too high an evaluation by listing false accomplishments. Walter just as doggedly pursued his grievance for too high an evaluation as I did for too low of one.  Not only that, but Walter went with me personally to the head of our agency to describe what was going on with the supervisor. 

So the result was I kept my job, the supervisor, who had harmed many others, was moved, and Walter stayed doing what he was doing and only much later was he promoted. 

Until Walter’s last day he maintained this blazing sense of justice and would have pursued any just cause as vehemently at whatever cost to himself. If all people, were like Walter, then the Biblical prophesy would come true of let justice roll down like waters. I am not only personally appreciative to Walt for saving my career, but live in awe of his example which I forever hold before me as a standard to which I must always try to live up to. 

Speaking at DevLink

Our far-flung correspondent from self-promotion land writes:

I received an invitation this past week to speak at DevLink.  I will be presenting on two topics:

The C# 4 Dynamic Objects session will be a longer version of the talk I gave at the MVP Summit in February.  The Advanced Windows Phone 7 talk is one I find I am updating every few weeks as more tools and information about the platform become available.

DevLink is a three day conference being held in Nashville, August 5-7.

My Dance Card is Full


I’m overcommitted.  I recently changed jobs, moving from Magenic Technologies, a software consulting firm, to Sagepath, a creative agency.  I knew the new job would be great when they paid my way to MIX10 my second week at work.

On top of that I submitted talks to several regional conferences and the voting has begun to select speakers.

For CodeStock I have submitted the following three presentations:

For the DEVLINK conference I also have three talks which are currently doing well in community voting.  This is a blind vote, though, so I won’t list the sessions I have submitted.

With Ambrose Little and Brady Bowman, I have started a reading group on Umberto Eco’s A Theory of Semiotics called ‘Semiotics and Technology’ and hosted on google groups.  We have just finished the first chapter and are beginning our discussion of the Introduction.

In addition, I have been working with several members of the Atlanta developer community to organize ReMIX Atlanta.  The goal of ReMIX is to have a different kind of conference – one that caters to both the developer community and the design-UX community.  These are traditionally two communities that do not necessarily get along – and yet they must if we are ever to get beyond the current proliferation of unusable applications and non-functional websites.  To quote Immanuel Kant:

“Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”

I also need to stain the deck and build a website for my wife – and in the time left over I plan to build the next killer application for the Windows Phone 7 Series app store.  This time next year I will be blogging to you from a beach in Tahiti while reclining on a chair made from my Windows Phone app riches.

In the meantime, however, my dance card is full.