What has Ben been up to?

Not that anyone was really asking, but I want to tell the few of you who aren’t search engines and spiders, what I have been up to recently (and hey if the spiders are amused, all the better). It has been a very busy year so far for me and I have realized that too many of the posts on Alt Text recently, have been links to other sites, posts, and videos and a lot less of me. I’m not contending that people think I am all that interesting, but a side-effect of not talking about myself is that I have not been talking about things I am doing and things I care about, and this is perhaps effecting how much passion I have had for blogging. How can I ask you, the reader, to care about what I am writing here, if I have been less than passionate? The answer is, I can’t. So I am hoping to start some more off-the-cuff style posts – perhaps putting less research into some topics, but also adding more of my own personality.

So what have I been up to? As I was saying it has been a very busy, but also a very fulfilling and, in many ways, extraordinary year so far. The first thing to note is that I co-founded a company with my friends, Scott and Jesse. My work as part of Refactr has been rewarding and fun. We have developed a product that we plan on releasing soon and we are working with a medical startup company to help them develop their flagship product. In addition to working in a very agile way we are leading the way in the Groovy/Grails development community by building a large application using this new language/framework.

To help foster community here at home in Minnesota, we have started the Groovy(and Grails) Users of Minnesota. Meetings are the 2nd Tuesday of each month. In late April, minnebar, the (un)conference I help to put on was a huge success with over 330 people spending a Saturday indoors geeking out. By all accounts, it was the second largest barcamp event in the world and the largest outside of India.

In addition to work and community related stuff, I have been playing volleyball and kickball this winter and spring. Jena and I threw a Cinco de Mayo party with her sister and husband that was quite fun and then my loving wife gt me a Wii for my birthday so I have been busy playing Wii sports like golf, tennis and bowling, as well as trying my luck with Super Paper Mario, Zelda, and Call of Duty 3.

MinneBar remembered

Lots of folksBy our count nearly 350 geeks and “geeks at heart” converged on the Railroader building in downtown Saint Paul this past Saturday and I think most everyone has been very positive about the result. I believe that number (or any number over 300) would make minnēbar the largest barcamp outside of India (Barcamp Bangalore 3 – just a couple weeks ago – drew over 500 people!). I know that barcamps are supposed to be about local community and ours was no exception, but it was still nice (and a little amazing) that we had quite a few people drive or fly in from New York (at least 2), South Dakota (at least 2), Wisconsin (6 or more), and Chicago (at least 1). Knowing that this event is worth someone’s Saturday is one things, but also worth a six hour drive, or several hundred dollar plane ticket? That is awesome.

I am very happy with the way the event turned out. I think the sessions, by and large, were first-rate. The special guests such as William Gurstelle and his excitement for making things that go Whoosh, Boom, Splat as well as the Scout Robots from the University of Minnesota gave a nice real-life tech component to the day. Of course David Heinemeier Hansson was a highlight as he was his usual witty and charming self. I have had lunch with him before (at Etech last year) and have seen him present, but he seemed even better in this setting. All his answers came very freely and he didn’t really seem to struggle with any of the questions. I am sure he had been asked about such things time and time again. Even so, I thought Jamie Thingelstad did a very good job with his side of the interview, as well.

I was very worried that the size of the crowds would really take away from the intimacy and sense of participation that is crucial to barcamps, but I don’t think these fears turned out to be warranted. Plenty of people talked between sessions or headed off to an “ad hoc session room” to discuss this or that and the sessions (with a few exceptions) never got too full. I still believe that the 50 minute session length is good. It is not so much that it can get too detailed so people really have to know their stuff. I spoke with Shourya Sarcar, one of the planners of barcamp Bangalore, and he said that one of the differences between the Minnesota and Bangalore barcamps was that their sessions are 30 minutes and that they “vote with their feet” meaning they leave a session if it is no good, or not what they had hoped. Minnesota “nice” retards that practice a bit, but there was still some wandering between sessions.
Continue reading


I would be remiss if I didn’t post a followup to the successful MinneDemo event put on last week by Luke Francl and Dan Grigsby. Aside from being a victim of that success (the room soon got to be too small for the burgeoning crownd) I think things went off really well and the way has been paved for future demo events to keep the community engaged between the larger MinneBar events (mark your calendars for the 2007 event to be held sometime in April). Here is a followup and here’s another followup of MinneDemo and here are some photos from the event.

Agile design

At the MinneBar conference in May I presented a session titled Agile Design and a great discussion ensued. The talk centered around the concepts and ideas of the Agile Method, but, you guessed it, as it related to information and visual design. I have had a great opportunity in my current role to help to define and evolve our process and practices surrounding software design and development. I love the team I work with and hope to continue breaking new ground with them.

I also wanted to post a bit about some ongoing and upcoming projects I am involved in so you know what I have been up to and what to expect.

First, I am planning to launch a new site with some peers of mine that will be focused on the agile method and particularly how it pertains to the development of “web 2.0” apps. You might think of it as a Signal vs. Noise type blog with less of a marketing spin.

I am also helping to plan OpenBar for the fall of 2006. OpenBar will pick up where MinneBar left off but its entire focus will be on open source software, using open source in your business, and is aimed at developing, enriching, and bringing together Minnesota’s large but disjointed open source community.

I also have a Minnesota blog aggregation site brewing slowly, but my decision to write in Ruby and on the Rails framework (as my first foray into such technologies) is retarding my progress. Hopefully, I will post more on this soon.

Lastly, this site is on the verge of another facelift. I really like the new visual design a lot, but am more excited by some of the ways the new site will be organized as well as some of the additional features and content I will be adding. Not sure when this will happen, but I am hoping for a June launch.

minnēbar comes to a close

MinneBar was great. It was interesting, active, creative, technical, loud, hot, and fun. It is over for now. So far the feedback both in person and on the wiki has been overwhelmingly positive. There were some issues with the wifi staying up and we were pretty much at capacity with over 110 people attending. I plan to write a recap soon, but for now you can browse some of the Flickr photos tagged with MinneBar (there have been so many that MinneBar is a hot tag right now). And here are some links to the people posting them:
Jesse Ross
Sopheava (aka Margaret Andrews)
Tim Wilson
Mark Danielson
Ethan Galstad
Jamie Thingelstad
Peter Fleck

minnēbar update

With 90 participants as of about 5 minutes ago, MinneBar is really gaining momentum. Now I fear the venue will not be able to accommodate this mass of geeks, hipster designers, and open-sourcers all in one place. I think all this pre-conference excitement will really boil over to some great discussions at the conference. I hope everyone can check their “Minnesota Nice” (aka introversion) at the door and really participate.

The idea for a Fall event has already surfaced, this time with a focus on open source and open solutions: OpenBar. I will keep people updated on the event status and will post a review and such after the event. But with less than one month to go, I just hope I don’t have to turn anyone away.

Let’s find a place that can accommodate 200 next year. Any ideas?

I have a lot of take-aways from the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference but one of the most exciting was the rather unexpected discovery of barcamp. A collaborative (un)conference where everyone participates in discussions and sessions is a great idea and an ideal setting for meeting interesting people, growing community, and exchanging ideas and is something that I decided I wanted to bring to Minnesota. So I have picked a date (May 6th), a venue (local shop Catalyst Studios), some sponsors, and some great participants and started planning for MinneBar.

All the details are at the minnēbar wiki so for now I will just say that this will be a great event and if you are interested in participating add your name to the wiki and, if you want, please add what you would like to speak about or learn about.