Open Source Bridge Will Rock Your Socks Again This Year

Posted by Scott on May 16th, 2010

Last year marked a new first for Portland, OR – the birth of the Open Source Bridge technical conference. In a previous post I expressed a great deal of enthusiasm about how awesome last year’s event was. Those weren’t just kind words – I found myself moved enough by the incredible activism and community in the Portland tech scene to get involved for this year’s conference as a volunteer. That’s right, Open Source Bridge is back in 2010! June 1-4, to be exact.

This year’s event has an outstanding presentation lineup and will be held at the Mark Building of the Portland Art Museum. I had a chance to tour the venue with the OSB organizing crew and must say that the location is really unique, inspiring, and truly fitting for a conference of people who are working to improve the world through quality open source software projects. There will once again be a 24-hour hacker lounge (a major highlight from last year), this time on-site at the Mark Building.

One of the great things about OSB is that it’s a very diverse gathering of open source citizens, and offers a great opportunity to expand your horizons to learn about tools and platforms you may not have encountered before. I will also be giving a variation of my PLUG Advanced Topics talk on OpenEmbedded if embedded Linux systems pique your interest.

Check out the Open Source Bridge website to learn more and register. Trust me – it’s gonna rock your socks.

Startup Weekend Recap – Rawr!

Posted by Scott on Mar 8th, 2010

Last weekend I had an incredible time launching an idea at Portland Startup Weekend. Somewhere around 50 folks showed up, and exciting products were started by nine different teams.

I had my heart set to work on an embedded Linux project over the weekend, and pitched an idea to create a device that could play internet radio streams over FM. This simple media server would allow you to walk around your home with a cheap FM radio and listen to internet radio. Given that the purpose of the event was to embrace constraints and have something noteworthy to demo by the end of the weekend, I felt this was a viable goal to work toward, even if the feature was somewhat of a novelty.

To achieve this, I took an older model Gumstix Connex embedded ARM board, loaded Angstrom (an OpenEmbedded-based distro) onto it, and paired it with an off-the-shelf FM radio transmitter I picked up Sunday morning from Radio Shack. I organized the following milestones and knocked them down one by one:

Milestone 1: Select a command-line media player that can play remote mp3 streams (I used mpg123) and verify that it can be run on the gumstix board with good performance (cpu utilization was only around 10%). Some scripts also had to be developed to make sure that network streams would get restarted if they failed or cut out suddenly (this can happen frequently with internet radio).

Startup Weekend Portland - Getting Alsamixer Running on the Gumstix

Milestone 2: Create a web-based interface for controlling the device, allowing the user to select one of several streams and start or stop playback of them, using a crude user interface.

Milestone 3: Improve the user interface by AJAX-ifying the playback controls, and add an indicator to show which stream is currently playing. This was done using the jQuery javascript library. The resulting web page still lacked a lot in the way of style, but it worked as intended and the HTML passed W3C validation.

Milestone 4: Integrate and test this setup with the FM transmitter and portable receiver. Polish the concept and prepare the demo.

The final result? Check it out:

Screenshot of the Streamasourus Rex Web Interface

As you can see, I had a bit of fun with the project. I named the device Streamasourus Rex. The T-Rex was lifted from Dinosaur Comics. Also, the guys from Mugasha (a Portland-based electronic music webapp startup) were at the event, so I thought it would be fun to surprise them by playing one of the DJ sets they offer from their site during my demo.

I have no intention to follow-through and actually create a business or product out of this, as I have my hands full of interesting projects as it is. But the exercise itself was extremely valuable and is something I hope to keep doing. It’s also wonderful and energizing to meet and hang out with people who don’t just think about ideas, but actually execute them and take some risks.

At the end of the event, each team demonstrated their progress before a panel of experienced entrepreneurs. EyeClash, a team working on integrating videoconferencing with online flash gaming, was chosen by the panel as one of the most exciting projects, and they are receiving three free months of office space at NedSpace.

Team EyeClash

I’d like to thank everyone who came out and put effort into trying something new, and especially to the organizers of the event, who did a great job keeping things rolling. I doubt this will be my last Startup Weekend!

Portland Startup Weekend, March 5-7th

Posted by Scott on Feb 22nd, 2010

In a kind of interesting mix between unconferences and programming contests like the Rails Rumble, Portland is holding a Startup Weekend event the first weekend in March. The idea is to bring together people of different backgrounds – including software developers, marketers, attorneys, and so on – and see what kind of product ideas they can start developing over a focused weekend of effort. With a bit of luck and a lot of elbow grease, some of these ideas and teams are likely to blossom into full-fledged technology startup businesses.

When I first read about this event I felt a kind of nervous energy as the realization crept in that yes, this was going to be one hell of an effort, and I would have very deep regrets if I didn’t give it a shot. So I registered for the event and look forward to some high-intensity growth experiences.

For the most part I expect the product ideas to be web application or web service-related. However given my background in embedded Linux systems, I’m planning to bring a couple of embedded boards with me and see if anyone is interested in developing an idea based on a physical product that could be sold. I’ve been becoming a big fan of the gumstix platform, but am also quite excited about the Sheeva Plug.

If anyone else in the Portland area is reading this and is even remotely considering attending, I urge you to go for it! Even if a viable business doesn’t come out of the weekend, there’s no doubt it’s going to be an incredible way of networking with other startuppy people and learning a lot about yourself.

A Great Quotation from Roosevelt

Posted by Scott on Apr 14th, 2008

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Amazon Startup Challenge

Posted by Scott on Oct 30th, 2007

I’d like to give a shout-out to Nick and wish him and Ty the best of luck with their application to the Amazon Web Services Startup Challenge. I’m rootin’ for ya!

Books I’ve Been Reading

Posted by Scott on Dec 1st, 2006

About a week ago I finished reading Jerry Kaplan’s Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure. It’s an old book from 1995 about the rise and fall of a pen computing company in the late 80’s called GO. I’ve seen references made to the book in various places, I think most recently on one of the stikkit development blog posts, and figured it would be a good “downtime” read between CampLev hacking sessions. I found the book entertaining and took away from it the perils of competing with industry behemoths (like Microsoft) and the fact that partnerships don’t always go so well (GO’s constant fighting with its “ally” IBM was just amazing).

Speaking of recent reads, I also devoured Steve Wozniak’s iWoz earlier in November. I recommend that one even more highly than Startup. Wozniak’s autobiography includes tales of his technical accomplishments early in life that reminded me of the atmosphere in Steven Levy’s Hackers, which is one of my favorite hacker culture books of all time. iWoz reads very much like how Woz speaks in real life; I found this somewhat amusing and it didn’t detract much from my enjoyment of the book.

So what’s on my reading stack now? Robert Hoekman, Jr. released a book last month titled Designing the Obvious which offers advice on how to create great interfaces for modern, rich web applications. Hoekman embraces a minimalist and pragmatic philosophy much like 37signals’ Getting Real. There are practical tips on writing use cases and other design elements that I hope will improve my design-fu. I’ve also gotten through a couple of chapters of Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while which discusses the phenomenon of ideas spreading like viruses and reaching large populations via tipping points.

Every so often I tell myself not to start any new books until my current reading stack is empty, but that never seems to happen. 🙂

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