Thursday, February 28, 2008

Toe Tapping to the Music Also Happens On Stage



And now for something completely different. No, I am not talking about Spamalot, as the Pythonian phrase might suggest, but rather I mean something different in South Sound musical theater. “My One and Only” opened last weekend and continues with the second week of its run tomorrow at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse. It is a Tony winning Gershwin showcase from the 1980’s that originally starred Tommy Tune and Twiggy.

What makes it different is not the acting, comedy, musical numbers or costumes that you might find in any number of musicals around town. In fact, the boy meets girl, boy loses girl and then boy wins girl back story is fluffier than in many shows. And no, it is not the fabulous mustache that I wear.

It starts with the 17 piece live orchestra playing Gershwin. I could just sit backstage or sneak over to just behind the curtain and listen to these folks all day. The show could work as a stand alone concert based solely on George and Ira’s music played by these musicians.

But for uniqueness, based on its availability in the South Sound, the show is an amazing tap dance showcase. Vince Wingerter, as Captain Billy Buck Chandler, wears tap shoes in every scene he is in. That should say something right there. Jenny McMurry plays his love interest, Edythe Herbert, and the two have a wonderful dance number they perform from one scene, to scene change, to next scene that I marvel at from the wings every performance.

But, as it should be, the show stopper is the twelve minute long tap dance extravaganza (yes, I said extravaganza, though admittedly there are no fireworks, mini-tramps or animals) involving almost everyone in the cast, that is the finale of the show. Kudos to every parent who made the cast take lessons and Jon Douglas Rake for giving them a chance to show off what they have learned.

No I don’t tap dance, but everyone else does. They are a great cast and they get their due in a very positive review of the show from the Tacoma Weekly’s Krista Curry.

Thank you to Kat Dollarhide who provided me with a few photos from the show. Kat always does a great job of providing many photos of each show at the TMP.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Anonymity Experiment - Catherine Price


Photo by Aaron Goodman

I often focus on privacy. The idea behind "Your Digital Double" is that so much information exists about you and is gathered every day that it can be argued the information aggregated will some day define you more than your real world interactions. It has been said that you are who you appear to be (dress for success, manners matter, word power...) but you also are who you appear to be from the data stored and analyzed about you.

In a interesting piece from the February issue of Popular Science, Catherine Price takes on the project of trying keep her every day life off that grid.

My daughter gave me the article to read, which I think is great because that means she is already giving the topic of privacy and identification consideration.

The article begins with a mention of David Holtzman's quest to see how much he could find out about himself form sources available "to any tenacious stalker". In the end, "he was able to discover so much about himself - from detailed financial information to the fact that he was circumcised" that the publisher wouldn't let him put it all in the book for privacy sake.

Throughout the piece, the author mentions the numerous ways we are tracked each day. GPS, RFID, Cookies and cell phones are all mentioned. Just as many of those topics have been mentioned within these posts over the last year.

Here are a small sampling:

Good to Go and Track You Down With (automatic toll booths)
Personal Info on Your Digital Double (Research on your own personal information)
i-SAFE From Harassment and Blackmail (Using Information Against You)
Privacy 101: If You Post It, It Can Be Seen (General Awareness of the Topic)

Check out the article.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Business Daily Paper Joins the Blogging Ranks



The Weekly Volcano has the Spew (and the Fort Lewis Ranger has the Blog-ah), the Tacoma Sun basically IS a blog that is also an online newspaper and The News Tribune uses a digital counter widget that updates every time a new blog is added. (I am kidding about the widget, but they do have a LOT of blogs).

And now, the Business Examiner has a blog as well.

Called the BE Daily Blog, it has been operating in Beta mode for a month now. In fact the first blog entry, “test blog entry”, from Jan 29th is still available in the archives.

But don't let the youthfulness of the blog fool you, the bloggers over at the Examiner have been busy over the last month posting about as many entries as I make in half a year. I stumbled across the blog while on the phone talking to BE Editor Steve Dunkelberger.

“You have a blog!” I exclaimed.

“Yes”, he answered me.

“Can I talk about it?” I asked.

“It’s in Beta, but yeah, go ahead. We are testing the comments feature right now.” he answered.

(Steve, you are a newspaper guy. Can I make up things that are close to what you said and still put quotes around them?)

((Second question. If I blog about your blog and it ends up on The Examiner's Blog Watch, which I noticed you are blogging on, will it create an endless loop of some sort.))

Any way, it is great to have another news based blog on the virtual block. Very cool. I look forward to reading the entries and hope that the BE Daily Blog joins the ranks of FeedTacoma blog feed sources for all things Tacoma.

As for what you can do?

Go take a look and make a comment on items of interest to you. At this time most of the comments there are either in some form of faux Latin or are similar to “this is how a comment would look."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tacoma Goodwill and Online Sales



Bill Kaufmann visiting the Living and Working in a Virtual World class last week, and the discussion centered around e-commerce. Back in 1999 Bill founded ImprintSTORE.com and built out the business around both corporate logo specialty items (think golf balls, pens, tote bags), and the potential of e-commerce. In 2004 it merged with CorpLogoWare. CorpLogoWare also provides custom imprinted products for corporate events, promotions, gifts and work place apparel.

His experience in online commerce made for good conversation, but the bulk of the discussion centered on the topic of what takes up most of his time these days.

He is E-Commerce Manager for Tacoma Goodwill Industries and www.MyGoodwillStore.com.

Shopgoodwill.com is the first Internet auction site created, owned and operated by a nonprofit organization. It was created and is operated by Goodwill of Orange County (Santa Ana, CA), but Bill is responsible for the build out and success of the Tacoma Goodwill’s efforts.

As the site information provides, “In 2006, there were more than 600,000 unique items posted on the site from 73 Goodwills across the country. And Tacoma Goodwill finished first in total sales, items posted and items sold.”

The Tacoma stores total sales were second to an Oregon based store not long ago. This was partly because of a watercolor painting by Frank Weston Benson which sold at auction for $165,002 dollars. The painting was anonymously donated to the site, with bidding on the shopgoodwill.com website starting at $10, and increasing after the work was authenticated. So don't think small when thinking what might be for sale.

A team is in place that determines what goes on the online auction site and how many times it gets posted if it doesn't sell at first. For each item, there is a cost associated with photographing and describing the item, so it has to have an inherent starting value.

Bill likes to talk about the idea that sales and management of sales still goes on in a very traditional fashion behind the scenes. He refers to this as the Brick and Click of e-commerce.

It is also, according to Michelle Kaufmann (no relation to Bill) a very green thing to do.

I’ll mention one last note of interest, if you are looking to check the shopgoodwill site out. If you buy something online, they will deliver it to a Goodwill store near you, so you can simply pick it up as opposed to paying shipping charges. Not only is this more convenient, but it often means additional sales at the Goodwill store it was delivered to.

And that means additional support of their mission of changing lives by helping people with disabilities or disadvantages go to work.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Origami From Space



I had some fun teaching origami again last week. This time it was to kindergartners which means the ages ranged from 4 at the youngest and 6 at the oldest. It is actually a pretty good age to begin learning origami techniques and folds, as well as talk about geometric shapes.

Given their ages, it isn’t likely that they are going to be able to do anything too complex and by keeping the models relatively simple, you can also quickly run around the room to make certain everyone stays up to the latest fold.

Also helping was the use of the newest kind of overhead projector, which actually takes a video of your images and projects them on the wall. This way, as long as you stay within the red dots that light the flat surface you choose to set the projector on, everyone can watch as you demonstrate the actual folds. By placing the folding instructions next to you, they can also see how the real project relates to the diagramed one.

The kids at Crescent Heights Elementary were incredibly well behaved and remained interested and engaged for two full hours. Whew.

Simple models that are fun and very doable for kids of that age include the candy dish (that you test by putting candy in it) ((they love that)), the paper balloon (also known as the waterbomb) or any simple sound producing toy model. I have one that is a favorite of mine, and if I can find the diagram online will link to it.

Also on the origami front, I was tipped to this interesting news.

Some University of Tokyo researchers have teamed up with members of the Japan Origami Airplane Association and are hoping to develop a paper aircraft capable of surviving the flight to the Earth once launched from the International Space Station.

Pink Tentacle writes about it and there is a BBC video on it from TechLifeBlogged.

If they come up with a design and materials that work for them, they may want to also talk to Bigelow Aerospace. Bigelow has been busy launching privately funded inflatable space stations up into space for a few years now. It may be more cost effective to go through the ISS.

“Bigelow Aerospace is dedicated to developing next-generation crewed space complexes to revolutionize space commerce and open up the final frontier to all of humanity. At Bigelow Aerospace, we're building the future today!”

Happy folding.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tacoma, Robots and Dean Kamen



What do Dean Kamen, robots and Tacoma have in common? Mark your calendars for March 20th and 21st when 31 high school FIRST teams will converge on the Tacoma Convention Center for the Seattle FIRST Robotics Regional Competition by Microsoft.

See schedule below.

Dean Kamen, is an inventor and scientist with a numerous list of awards for his creation of devices such as the iBOT Mobility System, the AutoSyringe and the one he is most often linked with, the Segwey Human Transporter. Currently he is working on a project involving Stirling engine designs to be utilized in developing countries. The idea is to create a machine that would generate power while serving as a water purification system.

According to Wikipedia,

In 1989, Kamen founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), for high school students. In 2005, FIRST held over 30 regional competitions and one international competition. In 2007, 37 competitions were held in places across the world such as Israel, Brazil, Canada, and the U.S.A.. Kamen remains the driving force behind the organization, providing over 1,000 high schools with the tools needed to learn valuable engineering skills.

Microsoft is sponsoring the competition to be held here in Tacoma. Among the 31 teams competing are three Tacoma area teams representing Bellarmine Preparatory, Wilson and The School of the Arts high schools. Official team names below.

Fikret Yuksel Foundation/Parents of Bellarmine Robotics & Bellarmine Prep Tacoma

Murdock Foundation / Dimmer Foundation & Wilson High School

Tacoma School of the Arts High School


Other schools that will be representing are coming from Seattle, Vancouver BC, Anchorage, Bend and many other Northwest cities.

Debra Mumm-Hill, FIRST Pacific NW Regional Director and Kevin Rolls, who also works with the FIRST Lego League came by and visited with me about the event. It will attract 500 plus high schoolers to the downtown, and multiply that for the adults who come to see and work at the competition.

UPDATE: HERE IS THE SCHEDULE

For those interested in the public agenda, here it is.

FIRST Robotics Competition
Microsoft Seattle Regional

Public Agenda

March 20-22, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

7:45AM 3 Team Reps to uncrate
8:30AM Pits and Machine Shop open
8:30AM-12:00PM Registration and inspection
10:00AM-4:30PM Practice rounds
12:00PM – 1:00PM Lunch
8:00PM Pits and Machine Shop close

Friday, March 21, 2008

8:00AM Pits and Machine Shop open
9:00AM Opening ceremonies
9:30AM-4:00PM Seeding matches
12:00PM-1:00PM Lunch
4:15PM Awards ceremony
6:00PM Pits and Machine Shop close

Saturday, March 22, 2008

8:00AM Pits and machine shop open
9:00AM Opening ceremonies
10:00AM-11:15AM Seeding matches
11:30AM-11:45PM Alliance Selections
12:00PM-1:00PM Lunch
1:00PM-4:15PM Final rounds
4:30PM Awards ceremony
5:00PM Pits and Machine Shop close, crates packed for shipping

**Schedule subject to change. All times are estimated based on flow of rounds.

You dorkbots out there, they are going to need volunteers for this event so stay tuned for more information as it comes out.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hearing What Your Avatar Has to Say

My son and I enjoy playing video games together. Kingdom Hearts II and Avatar: The Burning Sun and the Sonic games are the latest titles that we either cooperate in play or go head to head against each other on.

Have you ever noticed the difference from when the animations have written dialog as opposed to spoken dialog in the game. This happens frequently throughout Kingdom, but only on occasion with Avatar (probably due to memory or disc error from our side). Not that it matters much in the scope of things, but there is a distinct difference in feel to the play when you read as opposed to listen. If the characters have a distinct voice it is especially distracting when they stop talking and you have to read the dialog.

So it is interesting to me that online virtual world play may take on a new feel, as the avatars (not the Avatar mind you) are getting their voice, at least on IMVU Virtual World.

Cepstral LLC and developer Cassiopeian Ltd announced the release of imVoices, a new widget for use on www.imvu.com. When using the chat within the graphical environment the widget converts the instant messages into audio that the characters then speak.

"We're excited to bring the first 'personality' voices to a virtual world," said Liz Strevens, Managing Director of Cassiopeian. "The key is giving the user interesting voices. No one wants their bank's computerized voice."

That is of course unless it is the computers voice from the original Star Trek series as provided by Majel Barrett. There is both some good nostalgic and present day value there.

Anyway, users can pick from a menu of over 30 different voices in a variety of accents, ages, and genders. This allows users to find a voice that matches their avatar's identity.

It’s new, so the feel of speaking to someone on a cell phone with a short latency is present, but as it matures it could be a fascinating element to add to what is already an alter ego for many. There is also a bit of the Stephen Hawking synthesized voice quality as well.

For a demo which can be viewed on YouTube here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

WSA, I Mean, Washington Technology Industry Association Awards

Great evening last night.

The Westin Seattle was packed and the crowd buzzed with all the excitement you would expect to surround an awards show, even for the technology sector. The keynote from Suzie Reider, Director of Advertising, YouTube.com was great, with some pretty interesting stats.

She mentioned every second 10 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube, which is akin to ~8700 Russ Crowe "Gladiator" movies a minute. I saw Gladiator at the Cinerama after drinking a 64 ounce Diet Coke in the center seat of a crowded row, so that may seem a little longer to me than others. OK, I don't remember the number exactly, but it was definitely impressive. Once I confirm I will adjust. You should just know that it was a lot of Gladiators / Time Measure.

With the number of viewers they get a day, they are the 6th largest media outlet.

What was the big announcement that came from Ken Myer, President and CEO of the organization formerly known as the WSA? The news, which proceeded the keynote and kicked off the evening, was the name change from the WSA to the Washington Technology Industry Association (note the absence of an acronym here). The change reflects the fact that technology is so pervasive that large companies have IT departments that measure in size and scope comparative to many software and media companies. This allow for expansion of the organization which is already the largest state-wide association of technology companies and executives in the world.

The winners for the evening were:

Business product of the year: Tableau Software

Breakthrough technology of the year: TravellingWave

Consumer product of the year: Yapta

Service provider of the year: Ramp Group

Technology Innovator of the year: Bryan Mistele, Inrix

Best Use of Technology in the Government, Non-Profit or Education Sector: King County District Court

Finally, the newest award, the Technology Leader of Tomorrow, which came with a scholarship (and a Zune for all the nominees) went to Jennifer Chen, an eighth-grader at Washington Middle School.

Congratulations to all who helped put on the event.

I have updated to include links to the winners.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sliding Into OpenSocial at MySpace



I belong to a number of online social networks. Many to get a better understanding of how they work, some because of my involvement with activities pertaining to them, a few based on the local community and occasionally because I simply find them fun.

Facebook is fun. Though for me, it generally means a lot of activity with very little practicality. A rich environment where quizzes are taken, simple gifts are given, contests are launched and cake is thrown.

The reason for this is a wealth of widgets, applets, gizmos or whatever small embedded application name you wish to give them. Not that you are getting anything done with them, but they are like the nudge, wink, chuck on the arm or other gesture of friendship you might make to someone you know.

One of the primary suppliers of these applications (and some practical ones as well) is the company Slide. According to Slide...

Slide products -- including Slideshow, FunWall and SuperPoke -- are popular on the world's top social networking and blog platforms.... Slide is also the leading application provider on Facebook with more than 50 million unique users each month (Quantcast). The company launched in 2005 and was founded by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin.


Yesterday, Slide announced that it will launch several new applications, including Slide FunWall and Slide SuperPoke, on MySpace. MySpace considers itself "the world's most popular social network." This follows on the announced Developer Platform that MySpace announced. Slide utilized this platform through the tools available at http://developer.myspace.com).
It runs on OpenSocial, with MySpace extensions to enable javascript and html, as well as REST for server-to-server communication. OpenSocial, whichi is currently being developed by Google in conjunction with members of the web community, is built upon Google Gadget technology. According to Google's web site, "The ultimate goal is for any social website to be able to implement the APIs and host 3rd party social applications."

On the same day as the Slide, MySpace announcement, Google also launched it's free Team Edition of Apps.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Google and Twitter Map Out Politics

As I went through my daily news fix, I noticed something different from Google. They invited me to add a politics gadget to my iGoogle page in order to better follow the events of the day as they unfolded. Nice filters and tabs allowed for me to move from blogs, to news, to maps and videos, all based solely on the candidates I wanted to track.



But it was another tab that caught my attention. In a cooperative service between Google and Twitter, messages from around the nation popped up to give you a sense what was on the nations mind. (or the subset of the nation that has Google, Twitter and reports on their activities).

Making it happen is Twittervision which says about itself:


What is Twittervision?
A real-time geographic visualization of posts to Twitter. Samuel Morse, meet Carl Jung.

How do I get on Twittervision?
Join Twitter and post. You must have a location and an image defined to appear on the public feed (and to be located on the map).




I admit I am still not ready to weigh in as to the value of the service. It was interesting, like twinkling lights or the ripples in a river. Twitter posts from Maryland, then Texas, then California would pop up, following one another with the quick note that they were out to vote, surprised by West Virginia or off to a party. I actually enjoyed watching it for a while.



But my interest was more centered on my own location. What if I could drill down on the map and see what the folks in Washington were saying. Or the Puget Sound region. Or best yet, my own city of Tacoma.

Unfortunately, every time a Twitter entry made it's way to the map from another region, the map would re-adjust itself to hone in on the area the post came from. A bit frustrating.

I do love the concept however, and hope that by the national elections, the ability to go local will be part of the gadgets feature set.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Big Mergers and Escalating Salaries


The scramble for controlling Yahoo is on. Google is entering the fray and trying to change the frame of the discussion while alternately offering a different path for Yahoo. Microsoft has made a bold play and the company shows it still knows how to shake things up.

But the side story that I am interested in is how this reflects on the current market for software developers and computer scientists.

The New York Times sees it as a difficulty for the Microsoft/Yahoo combined force, suggesting that it is not an exciting proposition for developers seeking opportunities to innovate and advance. The speak of long lines at a Silicon Valley employee recruitment fair in front of Google and Facebook, while students looked but didn’t linger and the Microsoft and Yahoo booths. They suggest that does not bode well for the easy hiring of Microsoftiehoos, as the hiring pool is once again shallow.


The competition for engineering talent in Silicon Valley and other redoubts of technology is as fierce as its been since the late 1990s, if not fiercer, some in the Valley say.

The battle for tech supremacy, then, is largely a battle for talent. And so one crucial question about Microsoft’s $44.6 billion bid for Yahoo is whether a combined company could more easily attract software engineers — an increasingly precious commodity. Both companies are already fighting the perception that their most innovative days are behind them.

I'm not sure MSFT's employees would agree with that.

A few days prior to that article, TechCrunch spoke of the battle between Google and Facebook for new graduate hires. They talk of escalating salaries matched only by the run up in the 90’s.

Last year, salaries of up to $70,000 were common for the best students. This year, Facebook is said to be offering $92,000, and Google has increased some offers to $95,000 to get their share of graduates. Students with a Masters degree in Computer Science are being offered as much as $130,000 for associate product manager jobs at Google.

Having to deal with hiring employees during that period I have doubts to the exactness of that comparison as well as hopes that my doubts are correct. It was crazy and dangerous to have salaries soar the way they did.

It isn’t just the cost of the new hire that has an effect on the company. It is the bringing into alignment the other salaries of those already employed that starts to hurt. Not to mention that employees in positions outside of software development and information technology start to wonder how these younger and less business experienced people are making two and three times what they are.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that newly hired CS and CE students and employees should be making good money, and they are. I am just hopeful that we don’t escalate too quickly and out of control.

The good news is for the students at the Institute of Technology here at the University of Washington, Tacoma enrolled in those aforementioned programs. There are currently 252 enrolled in the undergraduate and graduate programs on this campus and there appears to be no shortage of internships and job opportunities for them at graduation. That goes beyond Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo. We’ve got the Silicon Forest up north, and there are plenty of companies and opportunities in the South Puget Sound as well.

Friday, February 1, 2008

WSA Industry Achievement Awards' New Award

Coming up this February 7th, next Thursday, is the WSA's 13th Annual Industry Achievement Awards at The Westin in Seattle. This is like the Washington State Oscars for technology companies and achievement.

There are unfortunately no South Sound companies in the running this year. (correct me if I am wrong) but there is one excellent South Puget Sound connection.

For those unfamiliar, the WSA is the largest state-wide association of technology companies and executives in the world.

With more than 1,000 member companies representing more than 80,000 technology sector employees in Washington State, WSA is a catalyst for setting new industry directions, sharing expertise, fostering collaboration, delivering key business services, and advancing the economic value and global impact of technology companies doing business in Washington.

I have been lucky enough to be one of the category judges in the past and this year as well.

This has always been a pretty amazing event, with keynote speakers from Google, Microsoft, Jeff Bezos from Amazon and this years 2008 keynote speaker Suzie Reider from YouTube.com.

The categories and finalist this year are:

Breakthrough Technology of the Year:
Next IT, TravellingWave and Zumobi

Business Product of the Year:
BioPassword Inc., Tableau Software, Inc. and Formotus, Inc.

Consumer Product or Service of the Year:
Picnik, Redfin Corporation and Yapta, Inc.

Service Provider of the Year:
Slalom Consulting, GrapeCity, Inc. and Ramp Group

Technology Innovator of the Year:
Fred Brown, founder, Next IT; Bryan Mistele, co-founder, president and CEO, INRIX, Inc.; and Brian Roundtree, co-founder and CTO, SNAPin Software

Best Use of Technology in the Government, Non-Profit or Education Sector:
eCityGov Alliance, King County District Court and Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

As I said, the only downside that I see to this year’s festivity is the absence of South Sound finalists. Last year, Tacoma Goodwill was in the running for best use of technology by a non-profit with its www.mygoodwillstore.com.

But there is also a new award this year for the "Technology Leader of Tomorrow". The finalists are selected from among students participating in the Technology Access Foundation's (TAF) TechStart program. All three finalists receive scholarships.

In November of 2007 The Federal Way School District finalized an agreement to open a TAF technology-based academy at a middle school in September of this year. Starting with 150 students this is good for potential students interested in entering the Institute of Technology's computer science and computer engineering programs, and is a nice complement to the Math Science Leadership program at the Institute as well.

Called the Technology Access Foundation Academy, it will focus on science, technology, engineering and math.
It will aim to reach students underrepresented in those fields, such as girls, African Americans, Latinos and American Indians, said Trish Dziko, the academy’s executive director.

The IAA information on the Technology Access Foundation.