We Need Space

There’s a question I get asked a lot.

“How do I find a space to hold my user  group meeting/event/conference?”

I’m not a professional event planner but I’ve got some experience in this area after having planned three Barcamps and helping out with Philly ALT.NET, Conshohocken.rb, and some of the other (un)conferences in and around Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, the answer to the “how do I find space” question is still, “depends on who you know”. That makes things really hard. Unnecessarily hard.

What I think the city, and arguably other cities could use, is a central booking site or directory where free/cheap spaces are listed, along with their availability, contact information, caveats/requirements, and equipment. User group leaders would then be able to easily check availability and cross reference their needs. Projector? Check. Room for 30? Check. The list of data points to collect for each space wouldn’t be that long either:

Address & Room Number
Available Dates/Times
Equipment (Projector? Vending machine?)
Food allowed?
Contact / Resource
Adult Supervision required? (Does the space maintainer have to be there?)

Where would all the space and location data come from? I imagine this could happen in one of two ways. A hard way and an easy way.

1) The hard way: Find a grant. Put someone on this full time. Have them schlep around the city meeting and greeting everyone with a partially available conference room or classroom.

  • Full time curation. More likely to stay up to date.
  • Some money and wiggle room for basic marketing.


  • Funding. This isn’t really a money-making venture.

2) The easy way: Borrow the weworkinphilly model. Open the site and let folks with access to spaces add theirs to the listing. They would be in charge of keeping availability data fresh and being (or delegating) the main point of contact.

  • Ready to go out of the gate.
  • May fill out spaces faster.


  • Data more likely to go stale unless everyone maintains their spaces.

Regardless of how a directory like this might come together I think it would be a big benefit to user groups, free or low cost conferences, and ad hoc meetings. Making it easier for people to find space to talk and collaborate benefits everyone, however indirectly.

There are plenty of goatchas I’m forgetting so I’d appreciate feedback!

Announcing MVCMelee!

MVC Melee

Today my friend Sara Chipps and I are announcing the creation of the MVC Melee! The contest will be a 48 hour competition where teams of ASP.NET MVC developers will have 2 days to come up with a rad web application idea and put it in action. The public will judge. Prizes will be given. Bragging rights will be secured.

What the what?

MVC Melee is based on the Rails Rumble which has been going on for a couple years now. It’s a wonderful competition which has produced some amazing web sites. I tried last year to get a team together but couldn’t make it happen. After the rumble was over I wondered why we didn’t have a similar competition in the MVC space? Sara concurred and the MVC Melee was born! The Rails Rumble folks have been very supportive so far which has been great!

How’s it work?

The rules are pretty straight forward. We’ve launched an informational site with the details of the competition, FAQ, etc. Naturally there is a twitter account too. Teams should be 1 to 4 people and any resources you use for your site should be free. The constraints are very heavily based on the Rails Rumble rules but modified where applicable. This is our first time out so we have to be a little conservative about what’s allowed to be used. Future melees may be easier to open up to additional libraries such as home brew MVC frameworks.

Lets get it on!

We anticipate registration will open around May 1st so start thinking about web site ideas and team candidates! Aesthetics and usability are part of the judging criteria so think about having a designer on the team who can sling Photoshop and CSS like a ninja.

I’m REALLY looking forward to see what folks can come up with in 48 hours! Help us spread the word and join the melee!

Hornget, Why I think it needs binaries

Today I learned about the Hornget project which is lead by Paul Cowan. Hornget attempts to solve the elusive “package manager for .NET” problem by creating a packager system for open source .NET projects.

An interesting choice the Horn project team made was to keep the repository (not the design pattern, the actual place where the project meta data is stored) building from source and eschew binary packages altogether. Paul actually makes a very compelling case for this choice in his presentation at DSL DevCon.

While I agree that having the build from source option available is a good idea, I don’t think it should be the default option. Or at least, I think that a binary install option of equal weight should be available.

The Horn dependency and package system is based, at least in part, on the Gentoo Linux Portage manager. When Gentoo first showed up on the linux scene I started using it as my linux desktop and server of choice. The Portage system has awesome dependency resolution and listed the latest and greatest versions of packages like KDE, Gnome, and all the STABLE versions my favorite applications. I highlight stable because that’s what I like to use – the stable version – especially for important or production situations.

The thing I hated about Gentoo was waiting for packages and their dependencies to compile. Most small applications built fast. Most large ones, like x-org, Gnome, and KDE didn’t. The process usually went something like this: Start build, go to bed, wake up the next day and hope there were no build errors.

Now to be fair, there are no packages in Horn that will take all night to build. However…

log4net Build Failure
log4net Build Failure

This is what happened when I tried to install log4net from source. The build failed. This happens more often than people may think. And it’s why I think a “install from binary” option is needed.

Pauls argument for building from source via his presentation goes something like this:

  1. All developers like to use the bleedingest edgiest version of a software package so we all download from trunk and compile.
  2. Because of this, we have dependency issues during builds because the source from a dependent package may be out of date. Thus, that package also needs to have the freshest source pulled and built. (ie, dependency checking and resolution)

I agree that these are issues. But only when building from source. The question then becomes, do most developers use the latest trunk builds of open source projects like Nhibernate, Castle Windsor, and MVCContrib?

Having spent a lot of time on both the MSDN and ALT.NET side of the developer camps, I’m comfortable saying that a lot of people don’t want to build from source. They don’t want to use the latest bleeding edge version. They just need the package to work stably and reliably. Horn pulls the source from the repository itself where the project is hosted. (so far only svn is supported but git is on the way) There is no gateway to be sure packages are stable and feature complete. Just because something builds doesn’t mean it’s ready to be tagged as the next version.

This raises some more questions which I haven’t been able to answer myself yet: Who decides what packages are inside of Horn right now? Presumably Paul and his team are playing things a little close to the vest right now, adding prominent open source projects to their repository, and making sure they build correctly.  And that’s the right thing to do. But who decides when the next version of a package is ready to be included in the repository? Does the original developer team have a say? If they commit each night and the Horn build “checker” doesn’t fail does this mean that a new build of a project is available each day? In the future, will I be able to add my own open source project to the Horn repository? Will I have any control over how often it’s versioned?

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this problem over the last couple of months and I think I have a solution which I’ll detail in a future post.

For now, however, I really do wish the Horn project team well. I’ve already joined the Google Horn Developer Group to follow the goings on and will hopefully be able to inject some opinion about adding binary support.

Give the Horn project a look. It very well could be the future of .NET package management for community and open source projects!

You signed up for twitter. Now what?

A question I’ve been getting a lot lately is, “What is twitter?” Invariably this is followed up with, “Why would people want to know what I’m doing all day?” New and prospective twitter users are often somewhat baffled by the service and aren’t quite sure what to make of it or how to put it to good use. I’m going to try and jog through the main reasons I like twitter and back them up with examples, helpful tools,  and some personal anecdotes.

Quickie Introduction

First, I’m going to briefly (very briefly) touch on the basic machinations behind twitter. The upshot is that you get 140 characters to type something. Anything. Usually a “tweet” describes what your doing but can be anything from a random thought to a question for your followers.

Who are followers? The other major mechanic to understand about twitter is that in order for people to see what you’re writing, they have to subscribe to your feed or “follow” you. There are several ways to do this but the most basic is simply to open a browser to your profile at http://twitter.com/profile_name and click the “follow” button under your avatar. Presto. now anything you type will show in your subscribers’ feeds. Likewise, when you click another user’s follow button, anything they tweet will show in your feed. This interaction is the fulcrum upon which twitter’s power really lies.

So? Now what?

From this point there are many directions you can take. You may choose to follow only your friends and have them follow you. You may choose to follow celebrities, news anchors, or organizations. You may even only follow companies, if they’re on twitter, that have a product your are interested it knowing about.

The direction I took was a little bit different than any of those but I do use twitter for each of the previously mentioned purposes. The main reason I like twitter so much is community. Community is the key idea I want to try and get across. To me twitter isn’t very useful for following people I’ve never met, will never meet, and who are half a world away. I am interested in following local people who are involved with or are interested in the same things I am. For me, that’s local technology and culture. For you it could be real estate. Or marketing. Or public relations. Or art.

I signed up for twitter in April 2008. I didn’t really “get it” but I knew I wanted to get better plugged into the Philadelphia technology and culture scene. I wanted to meet the people involved and get involved myself. One of the BEST tools I used to get started was Twitter Local. Twitter profiles allow you to set your location. Mine says “Philadelphia, PA” for example. Twitter Local allows you to search for tweets by location as they happen. From there it’s just footwork… so to speak. I spent a long time sifting through local tweets to begin to stitch together the community I was looking for. From there I started following people and paying attention to what they had to say. Then I followed people they were following and paid attention to what THEY had to say. Along the way I replied to some tweets and got into plenty of interactive conversations but my main goal was to FIND people. If you are trying to find people by topic, regardless of location, there is http://search.twitter.com This is the reverse process of the one I just described but it’s certainly worth mentioning. You’ll know when you have found the people you’re looking for. They will start tweeting about local community events or pointing out people who are contributing to projects. My first Philadelphia technology community event was Ignite Philly where I met Roz Duffy who I would later team up with to put on our own event! But that story is for another post.

It’s the Community, Stupid.

Today I’d say about 85% of the people I follow on twitter are local community leaders, planners, contributors, and Philadelphia enthusiasts. I sprinkle in a few Internet celebrities, too, so I can keep an eye on things but like I’ve been saying, the power of twitter is local community!

What’s your next step? If you’re a Realtor, search for other Realtors on twitter! If you’re in marketing, search for other marketers! When you find the rest of your local community, whatever it is, things will start to happen. Conversations will unfold. And you will be part of them.

Give a little bit!

On Tuesday, December 9th Geeks Who Give will be hosting their inaugural event, a combined tweetup, and Philabundance food drive, at National Mechanics in Old City. Of course you don’t have to be a geek to attend and the raffle prizes are looking downright fantastic!

As well, Scott McNulty and Marisa Mclellan of Fork You Live will be giving a cooking demo! Events like these are a constant reminder to me of the power of Philadelphia’s people and culture. Community leaders are constantly stepping up to put on events, raise awareness, and contribute to wonderful causes. Moreover, Philabundance is reporting low stocks this year so contributions are needed more than ever! See you on the 9th at National Mechanics!