Categories
Current Events Hardware Players Tampa Bay

Win a System76 Thelio Linux desktop in The Mad Botter’s Fourth of July contest!

Mike Dominick’s Tampa Bay-based consultancy The Mad Botter — which develops automation/integration software — has a Fourth of July contest for high school or university undergrad students where the prize is one of System76’s gorgeous Thelio desktop Linux systems!
Mad Botter Fourth of July content icon (Mad Botter “Bot” dressed as Uncle Sam in front of American flags, fireworks, and balloons)

This is an election year, and The Mad Botter’s contest is an election contest. Contestants are asked to develop an open source project that addresses ballot access or in some other way assists with voting. Perhaps something to help people find the closest polling station? Virtual “I voted” stickers? An aggregator for open information about candidates? A “Yelp” for polling places? (You can find more ideas here.)

Here are the contest details:

  • No purchase is required to enter.
  • Your solution must be posted to a publicly accessible Github repository with the appropriate license included.
  • You must be a US high-school or undergraduate college student.
  • If you are below the age of 18, you must provide written parental consent to have your submission considered; this can be done via email.
  • In the event that you win, The Mad Botter INC is granted the right to post a picture of you in the winning announcement and other applicable venues; if you are below the age of 18 your parent or guardian also provides permission for this by consenting to your entering the contest.
  • The winning entry will be the one that shows the most practical potential and creativity and will be selected by The Mad Botter team.
  • All submissions should be sent to sales@themadbotter.com and include a brief bio, explanation of the solution, and a link to the Github repository.
  • Submissions will be accepted until 9/1/2020.

You can find out more at The Mad Botter’s Fourth of July contest page.

Also worth checking out

Mike has a podcast, The Mike Dominick Show, which covers technology and open source.

I was a recent guest on the show (Episode 25), and we talked about how the Toronto tech scene changed from dismal to dynamic,  how I stumbled into developer evangelism, learning iOS programming via raywenderlich.com and then joining them, SwiftUI, Python and Burning Man, the hidden opportunities that come with having to stay inside during the pandemic, and more!

Categories
Current Events Players Programming Reading Material Tampa Bay

Local hero: Mike Dominick and his tech podcast, The Mike Dominick Show

Mike Dominick, who runs The Mad Botter — which develops automation/integration software — moved to the Tampa Bay area three years ago. It’s been my experience that Tampa Bay techies don’t do things halfway, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that in addition to the day job, he also has a technology- and open source-focused podcast named The Mike Dominick Show.

I had the privilege of being the guest for Episode 25 of the Mike Dominick Show, which we recorded yesterday afternoon (that’s its player above), and it was a fun conversation that covered:

  • The Toronto tech scene
  • Taking up the accordion
  • How I got into developer evangelism
  • Learning iOS programming via raywenderlich.com and then joining them
  • Remote work and the pandemic
  • WWDC 2020 and SwiftUI, Python and Burning Man
  • Windows Phone and my time as a Windows Phone Champ
  • What I’ve been doing while looking for work
  • The hidden opportunities that come with having to stay inside

Scrabble tiles in a tile holder spelling 'QUESTIONS'Mike ends each podcast with two questions — one tough and one easy. The tough question he asked me was “What question should I have asked you that I didn’t?” You’ll have to listen to hear how I answered that one.

Don’t just listen to my episode — be sure to check out previous ones, including these ones that I’ve enjoyed on my daily bike rides:

Categories
Current Events Players

Robert Blacklidge and the Feeding the Future hackathon: This weekend, online

Robert Blacklidge

Robert Blacklidge on a bus full of Startup Bus hackers
Robert Blacklidge at Startup Bus 2017.

You can’t talk about the Tampa Bay startup scene for long before the name “Robert Blacklidge” comes up. You’ll often see him at Tampa Bay tech and entrepreneur events, and when he’s not organizing or facilitating hackathons, he’s winning at them. One of his creations, Course Align, made it all the way to finals at Startup Bus 2017 (be sure to check out Gimlet Media’s Startup podcast episodes where they follow the Bus, including the creation of Course Align).

He’s also been bringing tech events and amenities to his home, Lakeland (about 35 miles east of Tampa). Thanks to his work, Lakeland has its editions of 1 Million Cups, Startup Grind, and Techstars Startup Weekend. He also co-founded CO.STARTERS, a 9-week program that teaches entrepreneurs to achieve their long-term goals.

This weekend, he’ll be a mentor at the Feeding the Future online hackathon.

Feeding the Future: A FoodTech hackathon

The world’s food chain supply chains have been greatly disrupted by COVID-19 and its cascading effects. Most of these disruptions will have unpredictable long-term lasting effects on our food systems. The Feeding the Future hackathon’s challenges are all centered around solutions to address and counter these disruptions.

The challenges are:

  1. Sustainable farm-to-fork solutions. How can we use digital technologies to build a more resilient and agile food supply chain for local producers and farmers after CoVid-19 using sustainable farm2fork solutions and further increase e-commerce and home delivery services? How can we apply dynamic models to support seasonal trade and preparation tools for all parts in the food chain?
  2. Reducing carbon “food”prints. The importance of food within cities and urban design is central from several angles. There is a need to transform our urban food systems with a focus on sustainability and resilience.
  3. Make a new and tasty fish product. Baltic Herring is a tasty, small fish found in abundance in the Baltic Sea. Increasing it’s consumption can help lower our carbon footprint. What kind of food product(s) can we create using the Baltic Herring to increase consumption?
  4. Increase Finnish/African food trade. (The hackathon is being organized from Finland.) Africa is an untapped potential market. Finland is known for its world class research in food engineering. What kind of product or services can be utilized to help increase the quality and quantity of food export between Finland and Africa?

Feeding the Future’s kickoff/orientation session happens tomorrow (Thursday, June 25th) at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

Here’s how you can join in:

NOTE: You can only compete in the Hackathon as a TEAM of two or more members. If you don’t have yet a team, join the hackathon’s Discord community to find one.

Categories
Players

Jerry Lawson, inventor of the videogame cartridge

Fellow gamers, pay tribute to the gentleman in the photo above. He’s Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, and he was in charge of creating the first videogame console that could play different games by using interchangeable ROM cartridges:

That console was the Fairchild Channel F (also known as the Fairchild Video Entertainment System), which debuted in November 1976, almost a full a year before the better-remembered Atari VCS (later renamed the Atari 2600).

The Fairchild Channel F console. Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Here’s a quick run-down of its specs:

Feature Notes
CPU Fairchild F8 8-bit microprocessor running at 1.79 MHz
RAM
  • 2 KB for video framebuffer
  • 64 bytes of “scratchpad memory” (memory used for temporary storage of calculation results, data, and other processing)
  • Some cartridges would provided addition static RAM if needed — as much as 1 KB or slightly more
Video
  • Screen resolution of 128 * 64 pixels, but depending on the TV set it was connected to, typically 102 * 58 pixels would be visible onscreen
  • 60 Hz screen refresh rate
  • Support for 8 colors onscreen
Sound System could generate beeps at three different frequencies:

  1. 120 Hz
  2. 500 Hz
  3. 1 KHz

 

A younger Jerry Lawson. In case you were wondering, that thing in his hand is a slide rule or “slipstick” in engineering slang, an analog calculator that made use of logarithms to perform multiplication and division. You should be thankful we don’t need them anymore.

Lawson was born in Brooklyn on December 1, 1940 and grew up in Queens. His father was an avid reader of science books, and his mother was a city employee who also was president of the PTA at his nearly all-white school. He kept inspired in his studies with a picture of black scientist and inventor George Washington Carver.

He pursued a number of scientific and engineering interests as a boy, performing chemistry experiments and using ham radios. In his teens, he earned money repairing TVs, which was a little more hazardous in those days, as the cathode ray tube-based televisions of that era worked with extremely high voltages (I myself used to play with them as a teenager in some highly unrecommended ways).

In the early 1970s, Lawson joined the Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation in Silicon Valley as a design consultant who roved from project to project. One of the projects he worked on was the classic 1970s arcade videogame Demolition Derby (the Chicago Coin version, not the Midway version from the 1980s), which featured some surprisingly clever programming — the computer-controlled cars acted “smart” enough to try and dodge your attacks. In his spare time, he was a member of the legendary Homebrew Computer Club, where he was one of its two black members.

Lawson’s experience in videogames — a bleeding-edge and esoteric line of work at the time — led Fairchild to put him in charge of its videogame division. As leader of the team that created their console, he helped bring about the concept of game cartridges, a revolutionary concept at the time. In those days, consoles had their games “hard-wired” onto their circuit boards, and what you bought was what you got. He also oversaw the development of a new processor, the Fairchild F8, to power the system.

Unfortunately, the Channel F was eclipsed by the Atari 2600. Lawson left Fairchild in 1980 to found the videogame company Videosoft and also did consulting work.

Let’s all hold a controller in the air for Jerry Lawson, videogaming pioneer!

Find out more about Jerry Lawson

Here’s a 2018 video from Microsoft Developer, featuring Jerry’s children talking about their dad:

Here’s 1Life2Play’s tribute:

Here’s an ad for the Channel F from 1976:

Here’s a RetroManCave overview of the Channel F:

Here’s Erin Play’s review of the Channel F, which includes reviews of several cartrdiges:

And finally, here’s a three-party featuring Lawson speaking at the Computer History Museum in 2006:

Categories
Players

An homage to John Henry Thompson, creator of the Lingo programming language and the interactive CD-ROM boom of the nineties

At some point in the mid-90s, after the release of the games MYST and The 7th Guest, came an explosion of multimedia software on CD-ROMs. Until that time, building any kind of software was a tedious, error-prone process, and doubly so if it had to display animations and video, play multi-channel sound, and react to users’ keyboard taps and mouse clicks, drags, and drops. You’d have to double that effort again if you wanted to make it for both Mac and Windows.

John Henry Thompson changed all that with Lingo, the programming language for the cross-platform multimedia authoring tool known as Macromedia Director (formerly MacroMind Director, and later Adobe Director). It was the very first programming language that used to make my very first applications at Mackerel Interactive Multimedia, my very first workplace, for paying customers. As with Marc Canter, who co-founded MacroMind, I will be forever grateful to “JT,” as he was known in those days, for helping get my start in what’s turned out to be a pretty nice career.

Here’s a quick taste of the sort of things people created with Lingo and Director. It’s also a taste of the digital aesthetic of the mid-1990s:

Since the download speeds of the time were about 10 minutes per megabyte on the fastest modems under ideal conditions, there was really only one way to get Director: in a shrink-wrapped box like the one pictured below…

…which contained CD-ROMs and a lot of manuals fashioned out of dead trees:

John was always living with one foot in the world of tech and one in the world of art. He studied computer science at MIT, but while there, he also minored in visual arts. During that time, he took a year-long break from MIT to take part in a year-long program in painting and drawing at New York’s Art Students League.

Here’s what he said about his time at MIT, and how it took him to the San Francisco Bay Area and Macromedia:

“While I was there, in ’83 or ’84 I started combining my interest in the visual arts with computer graphics… I started doing stuff at the media lab. I focused there on integrating my interest in multimedia into my computer science degree. I got a minor in visual studies where I got exposed to film making, graphic design, photography, all that… It was actually not well known, but there was a lot going on there in the visual arts in MIT. I did a lot of independent work there, I built some 3-D graphics systems and an interface to broadcast equipment, some real-time video processing things, sort of like music video effects, and from that, that took me more into the video production end of things, and I was hired from there, that was ’84, I got a job at the Droid Works [a spin-off company of LucasFilm], on the EditDroid project, which we were building a non-linear editing system. This was before digital video, this was based on laser disks, and so that’s how I ended in the Bay Area working in San Rafael.”

“From the early days I was interested in the Macintosh, so I took that opportunity to start looking around for work on the Macintosh, and I got a Mac Plus and through some people at DroidWorks, actually the husband of one of the employees there, I got in touch with Marc [Canter, founder of MacroMind, the original name of Macromedia]. At that point Macromedia was based in Chicago and they were making VideoWorks and MusicWorks and GraphicWorks. They’ve been around for a while – they were one of the first major applications on the Macintosh. They were there from, I think they started in ’84. I don’t know if you know, but VideoWorks started out on even before the 512K Mac. It was quite a feat that it was able to run.”

A 1987 magazine ad for VideoWorks II. Tap the image to see it at full size.

“So I got in touch with Marc through this friend from DroidWorks and he said he was looking for someone to write the accelerator – it was in a lot of ways similar to QuickTime. That was my first work with them.”

From the accelerator project, John moved to working on the color paint program in Director, which let you create and edit bitmap images in Director projects. He was still a contractor when he added Lingo into version 2.0 of Director on his own initiative:

“I wanted to see some of my work on interactive languages that I had been using for interactive art in a commercial product… I was still a contractor, or a consultant, but most of my time was spent with MacroMind products at that point. The company’s focus at that point was 3-D Works. It was kind of an unsupervised project – what they had at that point was VideoWorks Interactive, which was a central, BASIC-like language hooked on to the animation engine and that was used for the Guided Tour on the Macintosh.”

“And that was where Lingo started – it was a replacement for that BASIC language. (We were using a BASIC language) that I think was copied out of an article in Dr. Dobbs, so it was a very rudimentary implementation of a BASIC interpreter – you had single character variable names, the variables were typed by their names.”

“Lingo was a replacement for that. It started out just incrementally, because I was doing interactive stuff myself and I wanted to use Director to do it, so first I plugged in the xobject stuff, which was some code I had set up to control video disk and some other stuff that I was using in my interactive art. So, xobjects went in from day one, and then I started putting in more of the traditional features you find in a language: recursion, untyped variables, all that kind of stuff.”

“…from its very first incarnation it was object-oriented. Back at that point – this was ’87 – this was when C++ and Objective C were making headway and I’ve done a lot of research on Smalltalk and the Lisp environments.”

I programmed in Lingo from 1995 to 2000, and there are unmistakable elements of Smalltalk and Lisp in there, along with a strong HyperTalk accent. These screenshots of script windows should give you a taste of the language:

Lingo allowed me and the other developers at Mackerel to crank out applications for floppy disk, then CD-ROM, then Shockwave apps for the web, for both the Mac and Windows, in a fraction of the time it would’ve taken in C. I wrote interactive multimedia desktop applications for a number of clients, including AOL, Microsoft, Toyota, USF&G, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, and Delrina, and I wouldn’t have been able to do so without John and his language, Lingo.

I had the opportunity to meet John in 1996 at the afterparty for the Macromedia User Conference in San Francisco, and it was wonderful to speak with him. It was the first time I’d ever had a chance to talk to someone who’d made a programming language that I’d used. I thanked him then, and I’d like to repeat it now: Thank you, John, for Lingo, and for getting me started on my career!

What he’s been up to recently

He made an appearance on the YouTube channel The Coding Train in 2018, where he talks about Director and some of its modern descendants:

Earlier this year, he was a guest on the Coding in the Wild podcast, where he talks about his recent project, DICE, short for “Distributed Instruments for Computed Expression,” which is an open source platform for exploring that intersection of art and programming:

He also maintains a personal website at johnhenrythompson.com.

Categories
Current Events Players Tampa Bay

Don’t miss the 7th annual WITI Geek Glam this Thursday!

The WITI (Women in Technology International) Geek Glam is Tampa Bay’s most glamorous tech event, and it takes place this Thursday, March 5th at Tampa River Center at Julian B Lane Riverfront Park. One of the events at the Geek Glam will be the fashion show, featuring a number of Tampa Bay tech women, including my favorite, Anitra Pavka:

The event will also feature:

  • A silent auction, whose proceeds will go to the WITI Tampa Network Scholarship fund at SPC and USF to support future generations of Tampa Bay technologists
  • A pop-up market
  • Door prizes
  • Networking with 350 of your peers in the Tampa Bay tech community
  • A DJ to keep the tunes going and a photographer for some non-selfie shots
  • Some nerd with an accordion providing scintillating conversation and additional musical merriment

…and it all happens in this gorgeous venue with a wonderful riverfront view:

Here’s the event schedule:

  • 5:30 – Event Starts
  • 6:00 – Welcome from WITI
  • 7:00 – Welcome from Sponsors
  • 7:15 – Fashion Show
  • 8:30 – Silent Auction Closes
  • 9:00 – End of Geek Glam 2020!

And here’s how you can attend:

  1. You can go to the event registration page and buy a ticket, which is $30 for WITI members and $45 for non-members.
  2. You can attend for free by volunteering. Suzanne Ricci is looking for a handful of volunteers; the details are on LinkedIn.

This will be a fun, stylish event, and it’s both a great cause as well as a great opportunity to catch up with local techies and other business movers and shakers. Don’t miss out on this one!

Categories
Current Events Players Tampa Bay

Scenes from the LaunchCode CodeCamp’s all-women cohort’s graduation

Photo by Maria Vanessa Moreno. Tap to see at full size.

On Tuesday, Anitra and I attended the graduation ceremony for the latest LaunchCode CodeCamp cohort, a class made up entirely of women. It was an immersive “coding boot camp”-style course that they attended for 14 weeks, Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., where they learned programming in Java and Python. With the effort and time required, it’s a commitment that the students couldn’t take lightly. We’ve met a good number of the women in the class, and we were happy to attend the ceremony!

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

The goal of the 14-week program is to teach its students how to code, but more importantly, how to think like a computer programmer. The curriculum comprises these four phases:

  1. Programming fundamentals: An introduction to the concepts of programming, using Python (a good choice, in my opinion). The idea is to set up the students with the building blocks that every programmer needs.
  2. Universal web: A look at the foundations of a modern web application, as well as languages, frameworks, and other tools used in web development.
  3. Java deep dive: Hibernate and Spring MVC. The fact that they were made to use frameworks that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole and a hazmat suit speaks volumes about the dedication and capabilities of these women.
  4. Portfolio project: After all of the above, they spent the last few weeks of the program working on a project to showcase what they’ve learned and what they can do.

Here‘s local news coverage of the event:

LaunchCode is an unusual coding school: It’s a non-profit that provides its courses free of charge. Their goal is to help people enter the field of technology by providing them with what they need to do so: accessible training and job placements in paid apprenticeships.

LaunchCode was founded by Jim McKelvey, the co-founder of the payment processing company Square. Square started in McKelvey’s hometown of St. Louis, but he moved it to Silicon Valley when he couldn’t find enough talent at home. LaunchCode started as his to help people from his hometown find work in technology. It has expanded from St. Louis to four other U.S. metros, including Tampa Bay.

Here are the photos I took at the event:

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Jill St. Thomas, Executive Director of Tech Tampa Bay, gave an inspirational commencement address. She reminded us that women make up slightly more than half of the workforce, yet are underrepresented in many areas that define modern life and society, including technology and leadership. Rather than emulate men, she said that women should embrace that they are different from men and play to those strengths.

The students were given an opportunity to speak for a couple of minutes to talk about their experiences during the 14 weeks. They told stories that will be familiar to you when you think of the first time you encountered programming, look back on your first serious project, or if you’ve ever been in a group with a strong sense of camaraderie.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Congratulations to the graduating class!

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.