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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Attending the August NEPA.js Meet up

The NEPA.js Meet up is really hitting its stride. Each meet up is pretty well supported – even in the summer – and the camaraderie and general feeling around each event is pretty great. Also, the Slack channel is pretty active.

If you’re within an hour or so of Scranton I’d recommend joining the meet up group, jumping into the Slack channels from time-to-time, and attending at least a few events per year. If you need help with any of these things send me an email.

Also, within the past few weeks we’ve seen a new group spin out of the NEPA.js group. A more general meet-and-work-on-stuff type of group created by Den Temple. This event fills the gaps for when there isn’t a NEPA.js group event.

This month’s presentation was by Ted Mielczarek. Ted works at Mozilla on build and automation tools for Mozilla’s primary product Firefox. He has, though, dabbled in a variety of other things at Mozilla like crash reporting and the gamepad web API. It was his experience building this API that spurred this month’s topic; Web APIs.

I remember jumping onto the web in the 90s and being blown away when I was able to put animated GIFs of X-Wing fighters on my personal Star Wars fan page. Today, web browsers support a variety of Web APIs that make the open web a true software development platform. There are APIs to control audio and video, to connect to MIDI-enabled devices, to connect to Bluetooth, VR and – of course – to allow for game controller input. There are lots of others too.

Ted did a great job showing demos of many of these APIs. Just enough for us to get the idea that the web has matured into a powerful platform upon which just about anything can be made.

Thanks to Ted for the work he put into creating the presentation and to all the attendees for helping the NEPA.js community thrive.

Presenting at the July NEPA.js Meetup

Earlier this week my Condron Media cohort Tucker Hottes and I presented at the July NEPA.js Meetup. Our presentation was about automation and all of the things we can automate in our lives personally and professionally. And also how we employ automation in our workflows for creating applications and web sites using our own task management suite.

Here are just a few examples of reproducible tasks that you can automate that perhaps you haven’t thought about:

  • Your home’s temperature
  • Applying filters to multiple photos at once
  • Social media posts
  • Combining many files together into one
  • Deleting unused files
  • Calendar events

There are countless others. Perhaps you’re doing some of these things now. You might set a reminder for yourself to clean the bathroom every Tuesday. Or, your using a Nest to control your home’s temperature based on your preferences.

But there may be others that you’re not doing. Posting regularly to social media can seem daunting to some. But automating those posts can make it much easier to set aside time to schedule the posts and then go about your day. Or editing photos or video may never happen because you don’t have time to go through them all and edit each one individually. But these are tasks that can be automated.

We showed a quick demonstration of automating the combining of multiple text files using Grunt. There are a lot of ways something like this can be useful. Combining multiple comma-separated value (CSV) files that are reports from many retail locations, web development, and others.

Then Tucker provided a list of all the tasks we do when we get a new client at Condron Media. The full list can take a person up to 1.5 hours to “start” working on that customer’s project. So we’ve begun working whittling away at that list of tasks by using another task manager called Gulp. We call this suite of automation tasks Bebop – after one of the thugs from Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Bebop is separated into the smallest tasks possible so that we can combine those tasks into procedures. Creating new folders, adding Slack channels, sending Slack messages, spinning up an instance of WordPress, adding virtual hosts to local development environments, etc. etc. Bebop can then combine these tasks in any order and do them much quicker than a human can clicking with a mouse. We estimate it will take 1 minute to do what took 1.5 hours once Bebop is complete.

Another benefit of automating these types of tasks is that you can nearly eliminate human error. What if someone types in the wrong client name or forgets a step in the process? Bebop doesn’t get things wrong. Which saves us a lot of headaches.

Here is the example Gulp task that we created to demo Bebop to the NEPA.js group.

We then asked the group to take 5 minutes and write down what they would like to automate in their lives. The answers ranged from making dog food to laundry to simple development and environmental tasks. Every one in attendance shared at least one thing they’d like to automate.

Tucker and I had a blast presenting but we enjoyed this final session the most. Similar to my event suggestions to Karla Porter earlier this year, I find that the more a group interacts with one another the more I personally get out of a meetup or conference. Presentations can be eye opening but personal connections and calm discussions yield much fruit for thought.

Thanks to everyone that showed up. I think we had 14 or 15 people. The NEPA.js community is active, engaged, and I’m very happy that it is happening in Scranton.

Attending the 2017 Pennsylvania sUAS Expo

Acronyms are all the rage these days and so it can be tough to keep them all straight. Don’t be ashamed if you have no idea what UAS stands for. I didn’t either.

UAS stands for Unmanned Aerial System. Like an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) an UAS involves more than simply a vehicle and usually also includes camera, or multiple cameras, various sensors and other instruments, etc. Why the need for this other acronym? I’m not really sure but I believe it is to denote that these systems are generally more complicated and nuanced than your typical hobby “drone”.

The “s” in sUAS stands for “surveyors”. I was wrong, it stands for “small”. Thanks Frank.

As I’ve said in the past on my blog… I don’t mind using the generic term “drone” (even when referring to non-autonomous flight vehicles) so I will for this post too. However, I’d like to make one addition my own personal use of this word on my blog. Now when I refer to a drone I may also be referring to a fixed-winged system rather than your typical quadcopter or propeller style.

With that housekeeping out of the way, let me tell you about this expo.

The 2017 Pennsylvania sUAS Expo was in State College, PA at the Penn State campus in the Penn Stater building and was run by the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors. The building was excellent for this type of conference and I really wish we had a facility like it in Scranton.

I felt like I had a pretty good handle on many of the topics, services, and uses of UAS that would be covered at this expo. However, I found that my knowledge had a ton of gaps in it and was out-of-date. So the vendors and experts at the expo ended up filling in those gaps and bringing me up-to-date with what is possible in the industry, what challenges it still has, and also how the applications for this technology is still being explored.

I still feel like we’re in the infancy of how UAS will be used. We’ve all seen Amazon’s drone delivery videos. And land surveyors are already taking full advantage of these affordable and incredibly capable systems to bring down the cost, reduce the time, and enhance the practical applications of their work.

Here are a few things I learned.

  • The algorithms for stitching together multiple photos to create an accurate 3D spacial platform are getting incredibly good. Following best practices with on-site markers, good optics, and being comprehensive in your coverage of an area, a surveyor can get accuracy levels to be within centimeters.
  • That being said, there is still much room for improvement on the cloud services front. Most of the enterprise level services offered do not yet have a cloud component (though all of them said they were coming soon). This means for every 20 gigapixels of mission photos you’ll need an entire day to process on a typical GPU. And, most of the apps do not support multi-threading so they cannot span that across multiple GPUs on the same system. You can, however, process it on multiple machines paying for a license on each. So processing time could be greatly reduced using the cloud and likely the cost also.
  • Also disappointing was that these cloud services do not take advantage of any advanced machine learning or crowd-sourced mapping to help the client-based algorithms to get better at their edge detection, transparent surfaces, or water detection. When I brought this up it didn’t even seem to be on their roadmap. Which I found odd. These apps need to improve very quickly to stay competitive.
  • The general public is still under-educated as to the deliverables for these missions. What I mean is, it seems the surveyors typically have to show their clients how incredibly useful this data can be for them. An example given was a hospital with a brand new roof had no idea they had been struck by lightning. So public education on these services has much work to be done.
  • On the surface the toolset available to most surveyors seems complex and unaffordable. Currently it can cost a brand-new business nearly $20,000 just to get up and running. I believe we’ll see this cost plummet by nearly half and the capability of the software and services to increase exponentially in the next 5 years. So I believe the real opportunity to get involved in this is over the next 24 months.
  • The people and companies to best bring this new technology to the market are the ones that already serve the customers that use surveying on a regular basis. Most often these industries have rigid requirements, data security policies, and other specific things that – if a company already has these measures in place – can be a real competitive advantage to someone just walking off the street with a UAV under their arm.
  • While the hardware and software are getting better and better it still does not allow the pilots or data crunchers to get complacent in their process. The more serious someone takes each of these steps the better the data will be and the more valuable their services will be as well.

I enjoyed attending this expo and look forward to how I’ll use what I learned to help Condron Media to service these industries and the surveyors themselves.

Attending NEPA WordPress Meetup for March 2017

Last night was the NEPA WordPress Meetup for March 2017. It was a panel discussion regarding how agencies use WordPress with Jack Reager of Black Out Design (our gracious host, thanks Jack and team), Liam Dempsey and Lauren Pittenger of LBDesign in the Philadelphia-area, and your’s truly of Condron Media.

As these types of events typically do, the discussion meandered through many different topics including the reasons our agencies have decided to use WordPress as our platform for many of our projects, about how someone can get started using WordPress, about JavaScript and how it is the language that is currently eating the web, and even a bit about baking bread somehow.

One question that was posited by Phil Erb, our moderator for the evening, was what do the agencies or individuals get out of the WordPress community. Most of the answers were focused on what each individual gleans from WordPress-related events. If you’ve read my blog at all you know that I’m a strong advocate for attending events and that I think they have immense value. It was good to see all of the panelists agree on this point. I hope it spurs some in the audience to attend even more events and certainly more events out of the area and bring that energy and knowledge back to our nook in the mountains here in Pennsylvania.

It was a great meetup in a great space. Very glad to have been part of it.

Thanks to Phil and Stephanie for organizing the event, to Jack and his team for opening up their new space to us (they should be proud of the space they’ve created there, it is lovely), to Liam and Lauren for driving a few hours through fog and lastly to Liam for sharing his Duke’s pizza with me.

Attending Small Agency Idea Lab (SAIL) in Walt Disney World, Florida

Last week I attended SAIL, Second Wind’s Small Agency Idea Lab, at the Boardwalk Resort in Walt Disney World, Florida. This is the first marketing and advertising agency event that I’ve been to (usually attending technology or internet related events) and I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot.

SAIL is pitched as a lab and at times it really felt like one. The attendees were engaged, asked questions, provided answers, and steered the conversations and presentations as much as the presenters did.

Being that I was representing Condron Media for this event I did my best to jot down a myriad of notes and bring back what I thought was applicable for our business. I figured I’d take a moment during this week’s Homebrew Website Club to share a few of those notes so that perhaps you can benefit too.

  • “the only thing to continue will be the pace of change” – Brian Olson of inQuest said this during his presentation and it reverberated through the entirety of the two-day event. Most business sectors have already, or are in the process of, coming to grips with this fact already – change, or die. My boss, Phil Condron, laid that out great during our rebrand.
  • Profit sharing as a strategy – This is nothing new, in any industry, but the way Ross Toohey of 2e Creative and his CFO created a program that helps their team do their best work and service the customer better was inspiring.
  • workamajig – I’ve been online since 1994 and I had never heard of workamajig before I attended SAIL. I’ve used tons of project management software so I plan on looking into it and seeing if it may be right for our team or not.
  • Using IP to generate revenue – I tell this same concept to every single company I advise. I call it “sawdust”. Which I believe was inspired by Jason Fried in 2009. Turn your sawdust into revenue. Sharon Toerek ran a great presentation to show the myriad of ways that creative agencies can do this.

There were many other takeaways from SAIL that I plan on expounding on in future posts.

I get asked sometimes if the fees associated with these types of events are worth it. Yes. Without question. I am a strong advocate of attending as many events as you possible can. If you only come away with one tool, one contact, one new idea, one new process – nearly any price tag is worth it.

Plus, in this case, I managed to get a little bit of sun in March.

Attending February’s NEPA.js meet up

NEPA.js is quickly becoming my favorite tech-related event to attend.

On Monday night at the Scranton Enterprise Center a solid group of attendees listened and shared in Jason Washo’s presentation on whether or not to handwrite or generate JavaScript through transpiling. Jason is a big believer in transpiling JavaScript but he kept his presentation balanced by providing both the pros and cons of doing so. He also opened the discussion up to the group several times for feedback throughout his presentation. His presentation was very good, but the discussion was even better.

Afterwards topics began to fly regarding next month’s topic, future topic ideas, and how everyone really enjoys these meet ups. If you’ve been watching from your chair and thinking about attending – please do. You won’t regret it.

Scranton’s first Homebrew Website Club

Next Wednesday I’ll be hosting the first Scranton-based Homebrew Website Club at Condron Media‘s headquarters on Penn Avenue. There are other locations HWC will be happening on that day too. If you have your own site and I you care to work on it in anyway at all please do stop by.

Homebrew Website Club is not a typical meetup, like say a WordPress meetup, in that you stop by to learn a particular topic (although I have no doubt you will learn if you attend one). It is more a reoccurring time that is set aside to allow you to work on your personal web site. Perhaps you’ve been meaning to finish up a blog post that has been in draft for weeks, or you need to fix a theme issue, or you want to do something more complex – whatever it is, HWC is your opportunity to do that while sitting next to other people that are trying to do the same.

I’ll be using the this time, each meeting, to fit more Indieweb building blocks into my personal site. I’ve recently added Backfeed, POSSE, Webmention, and others. And I plan on continuing to tweak them to get them just the way I’d prefer. Also, I plan on pushing my code and work back out into the world through this blog, my Github account, and #indieweb on IRC.

So, if this is something you’re into. Drop by.

Attending January’s NEPA.js meet up

Aaron Rosenberg NEPA.js

Photo: Aaron Rosenberg presenting an intro to Node.js.

January’s NEPA.js meet up, the second monthly meet up for this group, was held on Tuesday evening at the Scranton Enterprise Center. This group, though only a few months old, is starting to get its legs underneath it and it is really great to see the community building.

The meet up’s discussion was centered around an introduction to Node.js and it was extremely well presented by Aaron Rosenberg. Aaron did an excellent job explaining the project’s raison d’être, history, and growth. One bit I especially liked was him showing how the browser’s JavaScript engine processed requests using Loupe. All-in-all an excellent introduction. (Link to presentation slides forthcoming. Check back here.)

Following Aaron’s presentation was Mark Keith showing some real live coding of a simple Node app using Express, a framework for building Node web apps, which quickly devolved slightly into discussions on scope, globals, “this“, etc. which was all good because the attendees were steering the conversation.

After the two hour meet up we made our way through the parking lot to Ale Mary’s for a beer or two. I’m looking forward to February’s meet up.

Thanks goes to Aaron and Mark for putting together the presentations and to tecBRIDGE for the pizza.

Attending the Wilkes-Barre Programming meetup

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On Saturday I braved the frigid temperatures and attended a Wilkes-Barre Programming meetup at the Osterhout Free Library in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

I arrived a few minutes late – it was Saturday so of course I had to make myself some breakfast, enjoy my coffee, watch a little YouTube prior to getting out in the elements – and then I couldn’t find the room the meetup was in at the library. Once I found the group there was already 6 attendees and they were over an hour into their programming.

One of the attendees proposed a problem to be solved; convert a number into a Roman numeral using Python. I have little-to-no Python experience, and unfortunately not much was discussed at this meetup regarding the language (since it wasn’t for beginners) but I decided to try my hand at solving this problem in JavaScript. Here is my attempt (though incomplete). It can do the thousands and hundreds. I’d need a little more time to do the tens and singles but I ran out of time at the group.

I was happy to see this small group meeting in Wilkes-Barre. Some of the attendees mentioned they’d be visiting the #nepaJS meetup happening on Tuesday, which would be great. We need a lot more of these smaller groups and we need them all to be connected to the larger NEPA Tech group. In larger metropolitan areas these smaller groups would be hundreds strong and so consolidation wouldn’t be needed. We don’t have that here. So we need as much effort to be consolidated as possible. These small groups are where skills are honed, where partnerships and companies can be formed, where careers are forged. If you are someone that works in technology please consider joining one of these smaller groups. Even if you aren’t into programming. As they grow I’m sure they will end up fragmenting into more specific groups for the areas you’re interested in. The more support the better.

Attending the Inventor’s Guild at TekRidge

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Last night in Jessup at TekRidge, I attended the Inventor’s Guild – another meet up orchestrated by the folks at TecBridge – to meet inventors from the area. The turnout was very good (about 25 or so I’d say) and I’m hoping this event happens again.

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that there were three presenters that had just a short presentation each. First was Jim Babinski who gave an inspiring short presentation about the state of crowdfunding using online services like Kickstarter and Indie GoGo. It is an amazing time where an inventor can find customers for their product even before she manufactures it.

Second was the founders of Kraken Board Sports talking about their start in manufacturing their products. They assured aspiring inventors that it is important to learn as you build, to iterate your product, and to pay close attention to what your market can bear.

Third was Bob Cohn who invented a safe needle that would protect the doctors and nurses who used it from accidentally sticking themselves with the needle after treating an infected patient. The licensing deals from this needle has earned him and his company millions of dollars and so Cohn had many lessons to share with the group regarding patents and licensing. Cohn is currently working on the Deep Grill.

After the presentations I was able to catch up with the folks at Site2, which is an excellent company here in Scranton that I recommend you check out, Fader Plugs, and Kids Ride Safe. All excellent things happening in our area.

Attending the NEPA.js meetup

NEPA.js

On Tuesday I attended the first monthly NEPA.js meetup at the Scranton Enterprise Center. Mark Keith, a JavaScript developer who somewhat recently moved into the area, was the organizer and TecBridge – who organizes the NEPA Tech meetup group – helped to coordinate, host, organize and provide pizza for this brand-new group.

The common refrain in our area is that those of us who build software products, enjoy a good bit of nerdery, or want to reach out and socialize with people who know what a npm package is… are somehow alone. That simply isn’t true and the first NEPA.js meetup proved that. Twenty-five or so people made it out to this first meetup even with the snow. There were young and not-so-young, men, women, and even those that didn’t know what JavaScript was but knew it was important for them to understand it.

After some introductions Mark did a great job of giving an overview of what JavaScript the language was and how it can be used. He kept it high-level and, though I’m sure some didn’t understand everything he said, surely they left knowing more about what JavaScript is then when they walked in. We also had those in the room that have been developing with JavaScript for years and years – and even one Mozilla team member.

The group meets again next month and will continue to do so the second Tuesday of each month. The group also has a Slack channel so if it you want in just ping me on Twitter.

Being on the “Ask the Web Marketing Experts” panel

Yesterday I was privileged to represent Condron & Cosgrove (more on this in January) at the NEPA Defense Transition Partnership panel discussion, through the Scranton Small Business Development Center, called Ask the Web Marketing Experts. I was flanked by other experts in the area including Jack Reager of Black Out Design, Gerard Durling of Coal Creative, and Ben Giordano of Freshy Sites.

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Left to right: Jack, Gerard, myself, Ben.

The panel discussion lasted a few hours and ranged topics from the elements of an effective web site to how to find your voice with social media for your business. It was a great discussion and it was recorded. If the video is made public I’ll be sure to share it.

There were a few overarching takeaways from the panel. Here’s mine; Don’t write-off a new social platform simply because you do not use it or understand it. Don’t get stuck using the same marketing techniques for your business year-after-year. Just because you did one thing one year, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying something different the next.

Every social network that we use today was, at one point, written off by those that didn’t think they’d ever make a difference. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest – all of these got their fair share of shrugged shoulders in the beginning. Don’t be that person. Be willing to move and adjust as the market does. You’ll be able to do better marketing for your business.

Attending the Philly Burbs WordPress meetup

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Do you know the visible signs of a strong community? If you’ve ever attended a Philly Burbs WordPress meetup then you definitely do.

Last night my new coworker Tucker Hottes and I drove the 2.5 hours to Pheonixville, PA for this month’s WordPress meetup in the Philly Burbs meetup group. What we saw during the evening was the clear, visible signs of a healthy, vibrant, and active community.

Those signs were:

  • Conversation – People were talking to one another from the jump. They greeted one another when a new person arrived. And even if they had already found their own seat, they got up and moved to have a conversation with someone else.
  • Inclusivity – No one. No one feels like an outsider at one of these meetups. Race, gender, or distance from the area (like us) doesn’t matter. Everyone feels very welcome.
  • Questions – Lots of questions and answers. And people really trying to help one another.
  • Lingering – After the event was over people stuck around, got more food, chatted more. In fact, if it wasn’t for the long ride home I would have stayed longer.

I’ve attended this meetup before as a presenter in West Chester. And I felt welcome then too and I could feel the strength of the community then as well. This is a well run group and I highly recommend attending one of their meetups if you can.

Oh, if you’re wondering why I’m willing to drive 2.5 hours just for a WordPress meetup. Read this.

Attending Cropped! a rebranding competition

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Last night I attended an event created by AAF NEPA to help a non-profit organization rebrand. The idea was simple; create a few teams of branding professionals from local agencies and have them compete to create the best ideas and solutions to rebranding a local non-profit company.

I’ll leave the details of the competition to the event page itself. But I thought I’d take a second to discuss how rebrands are about problem solving and how this event demonstrated that perfectly.

Branding is an exercise in getting a company’s culture, message, and purpose demonstrated and communicated through every single thing the company does. I know it has been said a million times but it worth reiterating that branding is not a logo. Branding permeates a company’s activities from the way they answer the phone to how easy it is to unsubscribe to their monthly email newsletters. I was happy to see that everyone at Cropped! knew exactly what branding was.

Rebranding, on the other hand, is about solving problems. When a company decides it needs to rebrand itself there are generally reasons for doing so. Perhaps the overall aesthetic of the company feels dated or, as was the case with the EOTC (the non-profit that was part of this competition), the company’s purpose was being mis-communicated through it’s brand messaging.

This is when the company’s honesty about itself really needs to shine. What do people really think we are? How do they feel when they interact with our products or services or employees? Why do they think that? Why do they feel that? And so on.

I thought it was excellent that the competition began immediately by acknowledging the weaknesses of the EOTC’s current brand and laid them all out in front of the contestants so that they could begin to break them down and work through them one-by-one. That’s when the solutions to these issues became clearer and clearer. Certain colors were off-limits, specific branding icons weren’t to be used. This helps the teams to avoid the same traps that the previous EOTC brand team (if there was one) fell into.

Overall it was a cool event in a cool space and well worth getting out in the cold windy evening for. The THINK Center, where the event was held, was a great space in downtown Wilkes-Barre. If you have a chance to attend an event here it is worth checking it out for the gear alone.

Attending TecBridge’s Entrepreneurship Institute

On Friday I was able to pop into TecBridge’s Entrepreneurship Institute at Marywood University. It is an event designed to pull back the veil of starting, funding, branding, and generally running a company.

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When I arrived the panel for early stage funding was going on and the questions and answers seemed to be going pretty well. If you’ve ever been to an event like this the questions were the usual – “how are valuations created?”, “how can I sell my product overseas?”, etc. I believe in our area there isn’t as much awareness of how early stage startups are founded, teams built, and funded and so events like this one are sorely needed. Entrepreneurship isn’t part of the lexicon here in northeastern Pennsylvania. There are some people that have that spirit and have aspirations of building great products or companies. But not nearly enough.  Go to New York or the Bay Area and you’ll see events like this happening every week. If we want to see this sort of spirit happening here we need to continue to beat the drum. Tweet. Write blog posts. Start meetups. Have chats over beers. Continue to let people know that we can build great products and companies here and that there are tons of resources to help them do so.

The breakout sessions, or workshops, were where most of the practical value of this event was likely received by the attendees. Rather than a panel simply answering questions broadly, the workshops helped the attendees to work through a problem and see the processes work step-by-step. I was able to pop into a few of them – notably Kathryn Bondi’s workshop and Mandy Pennington’s workshop. Both would add extremely practical processes and workflows to any entrepreneur’s bag of tricks. Essential tools to help any one starting a business.

Here are a few more poorly shot photos:

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More of these types of events are needed for our area. In fact, they don’t even need to be as well resourced or supported as this one was to be successful. Marywood’s campus is a gorgeous venue but these sorts of discussions can just as easily be held in the conference rooms, lunch rooms, pubs, or high school gymnasiums of our area. I’m glad we have TecBridge to continue to create and help promote these sorts of things. Even you do not follow TecBridge on Twitter do so.

I look forward to popping into as many as I can.

SAGE Awards winners

NEPA Scene:

The Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce has announced the winners of the 2016 SAGE Awards, the Scranton Awards for Growth and Excellence that honor outstanding local businesses for their talent, creativity, and innovation. The winner of each award category was publicly announced at the Chamber Gala on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at The Theater at North in Scranton.

I was able to attend the SAGE Awards this year. The Theater at North is a great space. They did an amazing job refurbishing it. Everyone seemed to have a great time and those striving to help make the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area better in their own way were deservedly acknowledged.

Oh, to the lady behind the bar with the handsome pour, I thank you.

NEPA BlogCon 2016

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I often wonder what it would be like to be a first-time attendee at a conference like NEPA BlogCon. Even with the speakers attempting to keep things easy-to-understand I’m sure the flood of information can be overwhelming. I think that is why the mix of presentations at these sorts of events is so important. It can’t be all buzzword-ridden tips and tricks and how-tos. Some of it needs to raise high above the how and address more of the why. Principles rather than rules.

I think NEPA BlogCon does a decent job at striking this balance. This year’s presentation line-up showed how to add visuals to blog posts to make them more effective but they also discussed motivations and passions. No matter what blogging or social media platforms you use yourself, everyone can identify with the passion behind the topics they choose to write about or create media for. There is emotion behind why we do what we do (even if you do it for work) and many times that emotion was palpable during the presentations.

Blogging started as journaling. Public diaries written to connect with someone outside of your bedroom out in the world where hopefully someone would read and listen and understand what you were going through. That same passion has spilled over into every topic under the sun including parenting, technology, food, wildlife preservation, and vacation planning. People love these topics and so they write and create and share and record and speak and draw about them. And they put this media out into the world to hopefully connect with someone outside of their offices that will understand and connect with that passion too.

How can one harness that passion to achieve their goals with their content? That’s the question that ultimately gets answered at events like NEPA BlogCon. The goal could be to earn a buck. But the goals also could be to change minds, to educate, to have fun!

NEPA BlogCon may have the word “blog” in the name but blogging has become so much more than a singular activity and toolset. Tools do not matter any more. One’s blog may be rooted at one source web site (hopefully) but one’s content spreads out over the ether like daffodil seeds blowing in the wind passing over the plains of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. How does one harness these tools? Which one’s should I use for my audience? Which one’s shouldn’t I use and why? NEPA BlogCon touches, and rightly so, on all of these things also.

If you are passionate about something and have been attempting to share that passion through online media, and if you’re reading this because you are curious about whether or not you should attend next year’s NEPA BlogCon then you’ve already answered that question. Yes, you should.

This year’s conference was held at Penn State Worthington Scranton in Dunmore, PA. This was the closest NEPA BlogCon has ever been to where I live. And, it will be at the same location next year. I’m very excited about this because a few attendees have already expressed interest in adding an activity or two to the day prior to the event as a result. I hope to see some time slated for hacking on our blogs and also for doing something outdoors (like a hike) and using the experiences and photos we gather on the hike to help new bloggers share that online. Should be great.

Thanks as always to the organizers and volunteers and sponsors.

Here are a few photos I snapped at the event followed by a few other blog posts shared by attendees.

James D. Gallagher Conference Center

Videographer

Food and coffee

Food and coffee

Rubik's Cube

My capturing setup

5th anniversary cake

Orange Whip Band at SBC in Pittston

A few other attendees have shared their experiences. Britney Kolodziej shared a very Buzzfeed-esque, gif-filled post. P.J. shares his first experience at the con. And I’m not sure who did this but there is a shared Google Doc with tons of notes from the presentations.

Oh, and don’t miss the official NEPA BlogCon 2016 Photoset on Flickr.

Hope Hill Lavender Farm’s Lavender Festival 2016

Lavender festival

This weekend a few friends, Eliza, and I went to Hope Hill Lavender Farm‘s Lavender Festival. As one would expect with all lavender events, it was an absolute smashing success with thousands upon thousands of people turned away due to it being overcrowded.

Wait, what?

Let me back up and explain what happened then I’ll give you my review of the event. And by back up, I mean a few years.

A few years ago Eliza and I decided to drive to Pottsville to tour the Yuengling Brewery. It is a great tour and I recommend you take it if you’re ever in the area. It is the oldest brewery in the United States and the tour guides are pleasant and knowledgable. We had searched online for a few things to do after the tour, since it is a bit of a drive for us, and we found a nearby lavender farm that we thought might be neat to see.

When we arrived at Hope Hill Lavender Farm we quickly realized that the lavender farm was a few small acres of land in the front of someone’s home. We almost turned around since we didn’t see anyone around and didn’t want to intrude on someone’s property. It was then that we spotted Wendy and Troy, the owners of Hope Hill, and they invited us to come and see the lavender, to even help cut a bit of it, and took the time to show us the process behind their work.

Wendy and Troy were beyond gracious with their time and we knew we’d end up coming back someday.

Fast forward to a few months ago when we saw, on Facebook, that Hope Hill Lavender Farm was going to have a lavender festival at their farm. I quickly clicked the “I’m Interested” button on the event and sent it to Eliza and one or two friends I thought might want to come with us and do exactly what Eliza and I did a few years ago; tour the brewery and go to Hope Hill and see Wendy and Troy’s place.

Well, it turns out tens of thousands of other people did the same thing. Thus demonstrating the power of Facebook. The event spread like wildfire. Over 65,000 people clicked “interested” on the event. 9,000 said they wanted to come. And 8,000 more were invited but never responded.

Obviously the Hope Hill team knew they would never, ever be able to accommodate that many people. So they decided to ask people to grab a limited number of free tickets on Eventbrite to limit how many people could come. They decided to limit it to 3,500 people total. (I would have picked a lower number, more on this in a bit).

Of course, people being people, thousands freaked out because they missed the boat. Fortunately, Eliza saw that tickets were needed and grabbed some before they were sold out.

One point to make here: Of course you could argue… this is Facebook, no way would 9,000 people actually show up. Sure, that’s possible. But if you look through Facebook and on Instagram you’ll see that people traveled from near and far, some even made a weekend or week trip out of the ordeal. So, I wouldn’t doubt that out of those 9,000 far more than 3,500 would have shown up. I don’t know if Hope Hill kept a number but I would say they easily had 3,000 people there during the day and would have had more if they could have possibly fit them all.

I’m really happy for Hope Hill. I’m happy their event went viral. And I think they handled it as best as they could. I’ve been part of planning, in some capacity, several large events and I know how stressful they can be. I once gave myself a fever from working way too hard during an event. I hope they didn’t.

So, now onto my review.

I thought the event was great. And so did everyone with me. We had a really nice time. Getting into the event took about an hour or so. And getting out took about 20 minutes. If there was anything I would have changed about the event it would have been that. But is also sort of added to the experience. We ended up chatting with several other cars going into and out of the event. They had some nice vendors, good food, good music, and some nice things to see around the farm. And, of course, lavender. It was exactly as I expected since Eliza and I had visited there before.

If I had never visited Hope Hill in the past and I hadn’t known that the event went viral on Facebook and was completely out of the control of the owners… I think I would have had a different mindset going in and likely had a different opinion. I don’t blame people for being upset that they couldn’t go. But I think compassion for the Hope Hill team is warranted.

I have no idea if we will go to the festival again but I do know that we’ll likely visit Hope Hill Lavender Farm again. Thanks to Wendy, Troy and everyone else that made the event possible and a huge success.

Greenville Grok was different and better

This past week Kyle Ruane and I drove to Greenville, South Carolina for the Greenville Grok – a half-week long string of events and activities put together by the great folks at The Iron Yard.

Grok is unlike most conferences in a number of great ways. Most conferences focus on providing headline speakers to bring in a crowd. The crowd is usually separated from the presenters by a stage and dark lighting that doesn’t allow the presenter and the crowd to interact. The Grok doesn’t run this way.

There are times when there is a single speaker and everyone else is listening. But those talks and demonstrations were sprinkled into the schedule as a way to break up the core part of the event; talking to each other in small groups.

The main feature of the Grok are called 10/20s. All attendees are given a random number at the beginning of each day which denotes which group they are in. I pulled 10 twice and 9 once. Each group has 15-20 people in them. The groups go off into their own area of the spacious building in downtown Greenville to discuss whatever topics they would like.

A group may consist of a designer, an entrepreneur, an architect, the CEO of a relatively large successful corporation, and a freelancer trying to decide if she should learn HTML and leave Photoshop behind. No one person has the stage. Everyone’s attention is on the person who happens to be speaking. Topics can be provided by anyone willing to raise their hand and if the group would like to chat about that they will. If any one person thinks that the topic being raised is boring they only need to sit through it for 10 minutes before the alarm sounds and the next topic is suggested.

It is like group therapy. And it works really well. How else are you going to get a ton of feedback from so many people that have dealt with or will deal with the same pressures and circumstances as you have? It is a great mix and a great platform for people to grow.

The Grok was held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Each day has a very slightly different feel to it and a slightly different schedule. But each day seemed to be part of the same conversation; how can we all do better? Do better work. Be better people. Build better things.

I’ve left many conferences motivated to make more money or to capture a market or to squash the competition. But once that wears off I usually return to wanting to work on something fun with a team I really like and, hopefully, others will like what we build too. After leaving the Grok we felt motivated to improve at every level. Improve our industry in our area by donating our time and resources, improve our product and business and team, and improve ourselves, our skills, and how to interact with the people and world around us.

There are a lot of conferences that happen every year. If you’re looking to have a relaxing few days in a gorgeous city chatting with people that are smarter than you and want to leave wanting to simply do and be better… to go the Grok.

 

Related links: Matt McManus of P’unk Ave., photos of Day 1Day 2, and Day 3 by Jivan Davéthoughts from Allan Branch of Less Accounting, and some thoughts from Elyse Viotto.

Recollecting BlogPhiladelphia

If I had a dime for everytime someone asked me why I lived in Pennsylvania, instead of somewhere not so “behind the times” like Silicon Valley, I’d probably have a free cup of coffee. But this past week’s BlogPhiladelphia unconference flies in the face of the misnomer that Pennsylvania is indeed “behind the times”.

The main problem is; we’re all hiding. In general the entire east coast is overridden by old-world companies that are closed, non-communicative, and local. With more events like BlogPhiladelphia – I think we could start to see some real change in Pennsylvania. I think we’ll start seeing some of these companies start to reach for the open, community-driven successes of their west coast “competitors”.

BlogPhiladelphia was thoroughly enjoyable. Unless you knew it, you’d never guess that this was the first event of its kind (that I know of) that has been held in the Philadephia area. The unconference was well organized, well attended, and properly represented outside of its venue walls.

The sessions of BlogPhiladelphia

Every session on the BlogPhiladelphia schedule seemed to have just the right balance between education and discussion. Each seemed to also hold enough value that it made me wish that I could have attended them all instead of needing to choose between two conflicting sessions.

Each session had a “leader” who acted as the moderator for the discussion topic rather than a lecturer. This worked very nicely for the majority of the topics and each moderator seemed to do a very good job at involving the attendees into the discussion topic. My favorite sessions ended up being those where the leader of them didn’t end up saying a whole lot, but rather steered the conversation in a way that kept with its topic. I think the vast majority of the session leaders did a fantastic job!

The food of BlogPhiladelphia

Pleasantly surprised. That is how I would describe my reaction to the food that was served at BlogPhiladelphia. Breakfast and lunch, for each day, was provided by uwishunu.com, ziddio, and philly.com. Thanks to each of those organizations, and whomever picked the menu, for providing good food rather than what is typically given at some of these types of events which would eventually have you going home holding your stomach.

The after parties!

When I arrived in Philadelphia on Wednesday night I drove straight from my home to the studio offices of P’unk Ave for a pre-party hosted by my new friends Geoff, Alex, and Rick. The P’unk Ave guys are excellent hosts! The pre-party was great and I can’t wait to get back to Philadelphia sometime to spend more time with the P’unk Ave team.

After Thursday’s sessions we were invited by the Radisson-Warwick hotel to the bar in the lobby ( I think it was called Tavern 17? ) for free finger-foods and wine. The wine was actually fairly good (I’d venture a guess that it was some type of Australian Shiraz. Can anyone confirm?) and I wish there was someone there to thank for everything before we headed to the next location.

 

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Alex Hillman

 

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Marisa and Roz

 

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Crazy people!

 

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Owen Winkler

 

The party at Triumph Brewing Company. All photos credit Roz.

 

The party moved to the Triumph Brewing Company where, and I think I can speak for everyone that attended, we all had a very good time chatting, playing games, taking photos, and just generally enjoying the company of our fellow attendees. Thanks to Indepedents Hall (Alex Hillman) and anyone else that helped pick up the tab for us all to enjoy ourselves until Triumph closed. If it wasn’t for you I may have remembered Geoff Dimasi of P’unk Ave picking on me all night.

I was unable to attend the final after party on Friday night due to my long drive home. In retrospect I should have stayed for a few hours because all I ended up doing is sitting in traffic. Ugh.

The value of BlogPhiladelphia

Photo descriptionScott McNulty and I

Photo credit: Marisa McClellan

As Chris Conley pointed out in his recap of BlogPhiladelphia, there is much more value than meets the eye with BlogPhildelphia in the relationships and conversations you hold during offtimes of the event and after the event has come and gone. This is something that is true for nearly every event I’ve attended over the last half year with Viddler. The value of these events is in the relationships you build while attending them.

Not that there was not any value in the sessions or discussions that took place during BlogPhiladelphia. To loosely quote several attendees that commented about their experiences: “I’ve learned more in the last 48-hours than I have in the last few years.”.

BlogPhiladelphia was a huge success and was very meaningful for everyone that attended. I’m very happy to have attended and I look forward for the next event in Philadelphia.