Stubborn Dreams

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How to win a StorySlam or GrandSlam

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Ryan Barlow being crowned as Philly's best storyteller 2008

Ryan Barlow being crowned

What makes a story win?

I had the honor of competing yesterday in First Person Art’s 2008 GrandSlam at the Painted Bride in Philly because I was confident and comfortable enough back in April to tell a signature story well. I believe the level of competition at this GrandSlam was better than last years (and the venue rocked – made us feel like stars for the event – thank you Painted Bride for being great hosts).

I’ll admit I was a bit preoccupied with preparing for the GrandSlam, and some of that pre-competition preparation and nerves wasn’t helpful.

Based on my crackpot analysis of last night’s competition, the stories told at Juliet’s post-party (one by The Moth’s GrandSlam (NYC) winner Jim O’Grady), previous StorySlams, stories I overhear on in public (you get the idea – I love hearing stories), I believe that a winning story/storyteller has these characteristics:

#1 Tell a specific story, not your life story

The thing about storytelling is anyone can tell a 30-minute or even 10-minute story. To tell a 5-minute story, that is a particular constraint that forces you to be concise and focused. If you spend 30 seconds rambling at the start (or worse, midway through), you’ve lost 10% of the time!

The classic Toastmasters rule is that you can make 3 points in a 5-7 minute speech. Well, StorySlam ain’t Toastmasters. If you attempt to make 3 points by the mistake of 3 or even 2 little stories – you’ll be watering down the whole effect of the story. By attempting to go into separate stories, you’re forcing the audience to do extra overhead/keep track (whether consciously or subconsciously) of “where is the storyteller headed”. And you’re sacrificing time – details that could make or break your story might have to be watered down or worse – eliminated completely. Don’t tell 3 stories, don’t tell your life story, tell one story. Tell your signature story. Ingrid had a difficult story, in a sense, too because of the setup required (explaining the whole reality show business from an insider view), and she did well.

For the contest, I made the mistake of attempting to tell the “Kevin November 2008” story – e.g. a snapshot of my life. With broad themes, no particular details. As Kendra told me afterwards, she didn’t think people understood the story. (it didn’t help I didn’t realize I wasn’t speaking into the mike, until I spoke into the mike late) Maybe because it was about my life (I don’t claim to understand my life!)

#2 Entertain the audience

Katonya told a story that was part of a tapestry/a life narrative. It was poetic and took us on an emotional journey. It made us think. But it did not make us laugh. There have been winning stories at StorySlams that were not funny (Ben Drinen’s comes to mind) but to my recollection, the full house consistently beats a straight (all thing considered, the entertaining story will beat the somber story). As Juliet told me prior to the competition, people are paying money and choosing to spend their Saturday night there, to see you (in theory) perform. They’re not there to be confronted with the dark side of life – they’re there to show their friends how fun/cool StorySlams is. It’s ok to have a somber portion to your story, as long as you balance it out (sandwich funny-somber-funny). Ryan’s story convincingly managed to turn something that could be told in a pretty scary context (getting conned) into a forget-what-the-Dow-did-last-week-last-month-last-quarter 5-minute laughing escape. Good StorySlam stories can be summarized in three sentences but that is only a skeleton – the actual telling, the energy, the vibe, the commitment, the in-the-momentness, the presentation is key.

#3 Commit to the story / be the story

Ted, Ryan, and Kendra really got into their stories. Each of them got so in to their stories that they carried the audience along with them. Katonya got into her story but I could sense a tension (as in, we didn’t know if she was going to drop a bomb on us – e.g. nervous).

I loved how Ted took us to India almost in the terms of a B-horror movie (oh, no, he didn’t; don’t go there). Kendra took us along with her actually-pretty-scary but funny drug blackout episode. Ryan had the symptoms of a great storyteller – pacing, vocal variety, even pauses for dramatic effect – but I think the source was he just got 100% into it. The difference between reading a story and hearing a story is someone telling a story gives life to it.

Usually, at the StorySlams the winning story is a tangible notch better than the other ones. At the GrandSlam, the top three were so close I’m wondering if the very important adding needed auditing (sorry, Andrew ­čÖé ) The top three all gave it their all – and the best storyteller of the night won.

#4 Be true to yourself

This is more intangible. As Ingrid says, the person on stage is not necessarily you – it is a persona. A truely good story reveals a bit of yourself, maybe without even stating it. All personas aren’t fake just as all good fiction is grounded in reality.

#5 Follow the theme

A single story that fits the theme. That’s it. Don’t overcomplicate things. And, as Juliet advised me, please to try to avoid saying ‘I was the chump’ or ‘that was the winning moment’ (we’re all smart enough to realize when your story fits the theme). As an aside, It goes without saying – do not thank the audience (that could be construed as pandering even if its sincere) – you will thank them by giving your best story. The end to Ryan’s story (don’t want to give it away) was a great example of nailing the theme – not too contrived, subtle. In my story, I did attempt to tie the opening to the closing (as all good stories I believe do) but my opening (‘what is a life’) actualy didn’t have anything really to do with the theme. Juliet’s story that won the GrandSlam last year (2007) was superb – her closing brought us back to the beginning of the story, literally ‘in a tightly-wrapped’ package.

#6 Tell a story like a “professional”* storyteller

At Juliet’s post-party, I was fortunate enough to stick around (it was late) and hear Jim O’Grady tell a story. Since Juliet introduced him as not only a winner in the Moth StorySlams but the winner of the Moth GrandSlam, there was a pretty high expectation set for him. He delivered to expectations, of course. Makes me want to schedule a trip up to NYC to see The Moth live (but it’s on weekdays). I think the way he told the story was professional – in fact, I think he could probably go off his daily routine/shopping list and make it into an interesting story. A sense of feeling. How it all flowed together smoothly. His use of details. His unhurried, confident delivery. I particularly liked his metaphor of a particularly brute way of male bonding – how if you fight someone, you will have a bond that is indelible and different (from the normal smalltalk -> friend passage).

* – I don’t think there are many professional storytellers (it’s too much of a pure skill) but there are many who are able to use their storytelling skill in their profession and business.

Resources: The Moth (NYC)

“But in that year of trying and sometimes failing but always studying how the winners moved or thrilled or cracked up an audience, I started to figure out how to compose and perform an effective five-minute story.” -Jim O’Grady

“Gather Round, City Folk. Here’s a Storyteller’s Tale”, NYTimes, 11.16.08 – Article by Jim O’Grady relating his 1.5 year journey from storyteller debutante to reigning GrandSlam champion

The Moth (NYC) Podcast – These stories are not only entertaining and good but they can teach you about what makes a good story (through your own personal filter, which is important)

So what I would have done differently?

I’m glad I was picked first. It let me relax and enjoy all of the other stories. But, if I had foresight, I would have told a single story. I would have written it out and tuned it for maximum comedic punch – make every sentence count (as Juliet advises). I would have practiced. Before the competition, I wrote a composite story about my years-long quest to be the dancer – ala Pulp Fiction. But it was a composite. The story I should have told: the one about my friend Jorge and me walking by Washington Square park – that could have been a contender.

Written by kleeruby1

November 17, 2008 at 3:22 am

Philly didn’t burn but there were fires

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I’m proud that Phillies fans partied relatively responsibly. Celebratory fires, free fireworks shows, traffic light acrobatics, excitement, energy, alcohol.





Written by kleeruby1

October 30, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Ignite Philly (2) – Evolution of Entrepreneurship

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Thank you to Geoff DiMasi, Alex Gilbert, Far McKon, and Vanja Buvac for organizing another interesting event, full of diversity and aerogami.

In the late 90s/early 00s (in the era of the dot com boom and Philly Tech magazine), when I drove east towards NJ on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I couldn’t help but notice the building with castle-like turrets trumpeting its presence as the headquarters of Half.com. I always thought the building was a little ugly but I was always like “Wow. Half.com was founded here. In Philly.”

Yesterday, Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital and the founder of Half.com, kicked off ignitePhilly #2 at Johnny Brenda’s. Josh has been involved in several initiatives (Tech Council, Greater Philadelphia First) to help answer the question of the Philly Brain drain (why do talented graduates choose to leave Philly after they finish school here). He honestly admitted that none of those initiatives really worked; they were trying to address the problem from the top-down.

As an investor in LinkedIn, del.icio.us, and Stumble Upon,┬áhe has learned that communities can be nurtured but they cannot be created from the top-down. Times change, Philly evolves. IndyHall, DreamIt, Philly Startup Leaders – these are Philadelphia-based ventures that were started by entrepreneurs. Josh says that these ventures are really getting traction. Succeeding because they are not top-down driven but started by entrepreneurs.

If there was a hidden subtext to Ignite Philly #2, I think it showcased the evolution of Philly. Maybe true to its stereotypical/fictional”Rocky” roots. A democracy for technology. Interesting people doing interesting things outside the Silicon Valley mindset and spotlight (until they’re ready). Bringing art/design/technology to people who want to learn, reinventing the practice of teaching/public television. Making it easier for good developers to spend more of their time developing. Bringing people together who might not have met. Adding value.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we want/can have more look-at-me high profile companies and their flashy headquarter buildings, but I think Philly is at the ground-level of the evolution of entrepreneurship. Small, focused teams with big ideas that can make an long-term impact (and money – passive income: good) ┬á

Eve H., PARK(ing) day, Philly

  • (PARK)ing day started by Rebar in San Francisco.
  • Event was last Friday. Mostly started by architects and landscape designers. Started off with sketches.
  • Success was based on the involvement of key individuals (Pam, Jeff) and organizations (City Planning Commission, City of Philadelphia)
  • What is a parking space? Pennsylvania Horticultural Society had staff meetings in their PARK(ing) space that day. Up in NYC, A HR firm held job interviews.
  • Green space is very important in the city. Green spaces allow people to connect. People have the urge to talk to one another. People just need a little nudge to connect
  • Random walk-ins: David from UPenn – stopped by the parking space, sat down on rocking chair, and chatted for 5 minutes and left (this is what the day was supposed to do – connect strangers we live and work with)

Chris Lehmann, Science Leadership Academy

  • School 2.0: Creating the schools that we need today. Progressive education with 21st century tools.
  • Stop thinking tests can measure learning. Right now, schools are very data driven (but really good data is hard to collect – hint: not tests).
  • It’s not what students get on tests but the work they do that is important
  • Student-centered-learning: Make schools inquiry driven. Something to figure out vs. not what they want you to know.
  • Traditional classroom: Hierarchical assessment. Recall-based learning. Obsolete in the age of Google.
  • “Certain technologies are not additive. They are transformative” -Neil Postman.┬áTechnologies must be like oxygen
  • Projects. Students doing amazing things: Flow process bio-processing engine project. Installed in Guatemala – helping villages get off the grid.
  • Students using UStream to share their classroom lectures and discussions with the world
  • Research/collaborate/communicate should be part of learning
  • “Good person + Bad system” -> (Bad) system usually wins
  • What is the role of the teacher in the age of Google? Wisdom

Jameson Detweiler, Drexel’s Smart House

  • “Better Living Through Smart Design and Technology”. It’s not just about green, but helping people. Focus on solving problems that affect people in their daily lives
  • Location of Smart House: 35th & Race. Former fraternity house in less-than-ideal condition
  • 10 students will live in the house. They will try out the new technology in a real-world environment, every day. The house is a test framework for smart design and technology.
  • Five areas of focus: Environment, Energy, Interaction, Health, Lifestyle
  • Examples of technology being tested: Globule-infused paint to reduce energy consumption; Summalux LED lighting to help circadian rhythms, counteract SAD; open-source format for nutritional information
  • Smart House focus on *integration* – how well do the technologies work with each other *and* with people
  • Affiliate program – opening up Smart House to smart minds outside of Drexel. Let them know.
  • Design competition. Announcing final design/winner in November

Adam Turkelson, Neat Receipts

  • Practitioner of Neural Networks.┬áNeural networks are used everywhere. Expert systems, knowledge bases. You probably have used one already.
  • Biologically ingrained processing models applied to Machine Learning
  • How it works: (Biological neuron) Dendrites -> Soma -> Axon becomes (Virtual neuron) Input -> Activation Function -> (adjustable weight) > Output
  • Exaggerated claims of success hurt NN
  • 1940s-1960s: Various models. 1970s: Nothing happened ­čÖé 1980s: Back Propagation.
  • Back Propagation: Saved field of NN. (non-linear -> stochastic)
  • Back Propagation most widely used NN. Many open source implementations. However, slow algorithmically and computationally
  • NN are amazing, powerful. Be creative. treat them like toys, not like complicated programs

Stu Hankin and Wil Robinson, IdeaBlob

  • IdeaBlob is a new venture from Advanta
  • The idea with the most votes at the end of the month wins $10,000
  • Any kind of idea goes.┬á(Poor) Hanging bag hand guard. (Good) Business cards to help student get elected
  • Important concept: Don’t be afraid that someone is going to take your idea. Be afraid that no one will ever see your idea.
  • IdeaBlob features top advisors and guest advisors (president of Kiva.com) – Connects experienced entrepreneurs with aspiring entrepreneurs
  • IdeaBlob contest – 8 ideas for grand winner (Sept. 22 to Sept. 31)
  • October 22nd. BlobLive in Philly. Prince Theater. Free drinks! Brings IdeaBlob to the people. People in audience give advice/support to people presenting their ideas on stage. Free drinks!!

Steve Welch, DreamIt Ventures

  • Change is overused term. He prefers evolution (better ideas/more efficient systems)
  • Great ideas come from more efficient systems
  • Differentiate, Select, Amplify (Biology) applied to business creation/evolution
  • World GDP per capita has increased rapidly. Driven by evolution of open markets that share ideas and products across borders
  • Early-stage companies. Very few VCs (except for Josh K.) invest in them.
  • DreamIt. Darwinism. 11 companies. 3 months incubator. 1 on 1 mentoring. Legal/accounting/startup counsel.
  • Costs have gone down dramatically. Evolution of business: East Indian Trading Company to Microsoft/billg to Facebook. Costs go down with outsourcing of development and manufacturing.
  • Speed. The World is too competitive. Your idea needs to get out there.
  • This past DreamIt: Lots of great ideas, not enough requisite technological skill.
  • Next DreamIt: HackerTrack – allow hackers to apply. Meet up and team up with people with big ideas.
  • Diverse teams – don’t want others who act like you, talk like you.
  • Fail quickly – Josh K. – testing ideas out with as little capital as possible
  • Businesses that survive long term bring value to society

Mark Yim, University of Pennsylvania, GRASP lab

  • Talk given to engineering education conference about teaching / how he teaches
  • Demonstration: Asked audience to point towards the sky. Most people pointed with index finger. In Japan, people lead with their thumbs (thumb-centric society – texting). Point: Technology changes people
  • Push model of learning. “Chalk and talk”
  • Pull model: Interactive with web
  • Learning from phenomenological obervation. Engineers taught theoretical concepts, but not design
  • Traditional labs: Push model. Tell them what to do exactly.
  • New labs: Give the students a problem, tell them to solve it but not how to solve it. Don’t tell them what to do. They come up with their own experiments.
  • Learn a lot more from failure than successes – students designing vibration dampening-type system. Some of the more crazy ideas – Mark told them so but regretted telling them so.
  • Non-linear elasticity of rubber. Students develop model of rubber band/how it stretches. Tested via bungee cord with action figure. How close can you get the action figure to the ground? Some got close, some action figures hit the ground (hard)
  • Heat transfer: Students taught theory – told to design a heat sink for an iPod like device (but not told how to design it)
  • Paper Aqueduct: Students build out of cardboard and glue. How much water can it transport without the system breaking down.
  • Conclusion of students: Must claimed they learned more in the new lab (but it might be that they think they learned, not that they learned)

Beth Van Why, Design Philadelphia

  • Beth found Make:Philly a permanent home at UArts (big part of Make:Philly’s livelihood/success)
  • Her new project: helping to find design a permanent home in Philly.
  • Design Philadelphia – celebrating its 4th year. October 16-22, 2008. Funding from William Penn Foundation, City of Philadelphia organizations, design firms.
  • Open up what’s going on in design in Philly to people in Philly. 450,000 people see DP brochures.
  • DP = Lectures and “all-out parties”. Lots of professional organizations and local gallery (F.U.E.L) involved
  • Showcase local designers. Josh Owen.
  • 15 open houses. Behind the scenes at architectural and/or product design firms. See the different types of creative work going on.

Don and friends, 8Static.com

  • DesignPhiladelphia 8Static.com party. October 18th. $5/$8. Studio 34. 4522 Baltimore Pike. 6:00 Free screening of “Reformat the Planet”
  • “Reformat the Planet”. No-budget documentary about the chip music scene. Premiered at SxSw. 150k views on PitchFork.tv. Free screening at 10.18 party.
  • Joey – 17 years of guitar playing experience. Makes GameBoy foot controllers
  • Dino – 3 channels of GameBoy sound.
  • Don – Visuals for 8Static. Likes simple, repetitive patterns (because he’s neurotic). Likes to remix original video game graphics (especially if they’re female)

Far McKon, Aerogami

  • Goal: 300 Paper Airplanes folded during <5 min of presentation

Jen Yuan, Web 2.0 Free Agent

  • Emailed Geoff saying she wanted to speak at Ignite Philly (2). Topic? “Smart Pet Tricks: Hacking Cats into Dogs”. Geoff sold on the topic alone.
  • Teach cats to sit, beg, high-five. And even jump through a flaming ring of fire a.k.a. hoop!!
  • 9 lives, 9 tips. The twist: These nine tips are not just for teaching real cats to do tricks. Managing programmers said to be like herding cats. These tips also apply to managing projects.
  1. Step back from your preconceptions
  2. Recruit every useful skill set
  3. Make the most of what you’ve got
  4. Get on board as early as possible
  5. Communicate expectations clearly. Use simple unambigious gestures
  6. Give immediate positive reinforcement (make a clicking sound to let them know reward/food is coming.
  7. Gradual steps. Teaching cat how to sit. Looking at you -> looking up -> (food behind ear) -> sitting down
  8. Set a realistically generous timeline
  9. Maintain what you’ve developed (do it over and over and over)

Howard Blumenthal, MiND TV

  • Worked for Viacom, MTV in their formative stages. Wouldn’t work for them now.
  • Mainstream TV not for the people. Billion dollars spent by presidential candidates on TV advertisements (contrast: $1b/yr spent on cure for cancer/cancer research). Rupert Murdoch of Fox wants to control what you watch. ┬á“If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking”
  • “By the people, for the people”.┬á5 minute long shows. Diverse collection of shows.11 different 5 minute programs in a hour. Channel 35 / Channel 20 (Comcast)
  • MiND TV: The New Public Television. Open Forum for sharing and learning.
  • Teaching people to make television. Recent workshop: high school students to senior citizens learning to make shows.
  • MiND TV evolving from Janice Davis: 1st person with show on MiND to new stars: 9 yr old State Fiddling chamption.

Jim Stogdill, Accenture

  • 5-yr veteran of defense contracting. Wants to bring Open Source Systems into Defense Land.
  • Eisenhower. 2nd World War. Foresees permanent armament industry of vast proportions. The military/industrial complex.
  • 50 years later, very isolated military/industrial complex
  • Inside the Defense bubble – warped version of Prisoner’s Dilemma/Nash equilibrium (No one gets what they want). CMMI/System engineering/formal systems.
  • Open source collaboration – 2 directions (e.g. don’t expect that you will not be changed)
  • Culture and Trust. Culture comes first. Trust comes later.
  • People are fractals too.

Jason Allum, RipIt

  • Building small. Little projects that you can sell.┬áPassive income is cool.┬á┬á
  • VCs not really interested in small apps/projects.┬á
  • Building is the easy part. Money/time/help
  • Microfinance: small amounts of money for little piece of the action
  • IndyHall Labs – framework for micro-entrepreneurship. Logical extension of IndyHall. Automates process of user buying, getting email, paying, you getting paid
  • Accounting. Real-time dashboard: Put something in, what do you get out (earnings down to the pennies)
  • Customer support: Through IndyHall labs, access diverse talent pool. Free you up to do new things.
  • Next step: community to match up projects and ideas with talent and cash.

Kristin Groenveld, ArtSphere

  • ArtSphere. Celebrating 10th anniversary
  • Bring art to people who don’t normally have access to art
  • Involve lots of different people. Get people from other countries, other parts of Philly. People isolate themselves/communities are isolated.
  • ArtSphere has events in public spaces. Everyone feel welcome. Meet someone who you might not meet in your normal sphere.
  • Fishtown Recreation Center. Good location (easily accessible via public transportation) in a neighborhood with lots of crime.
  • Fishtown Diaries I and II: Document ArtSphere and the good things going on

Harris Romanoff and Dana Schloss, MakePhilly

  • MakePhilly: Started with Craigslist posting that drew 15 random folks to Dark Horse(?)
  • 2.5 years old. 18 meetings, funded by own members
  • “All of us are makers as long as we’re willing to play”
  • “Making is more of an attitude (thing) than ability”
  • MakePhilly meetings: 1) Open make 2) Guest speakers 3) Maker challenge
  • Maker Challenge: “1 hour to make something with people you don’t know.” “In the end everyone comes up with something different”
  • Successful Maker Challenge. Rube Goldberg machine. Why? Little bit of planning but with parameters that allowed creativity (Rock’em Sock’em robot integrated into Rube Goldberg contraption)
  • Not-as-successful Maker challenge. #16 – Marble Run (Similar to Rube Goldberg). Why? No parameters. Couldn’t fit together (integration problems). Weren’t really that organized. Did not really provide materials that sparked inspiration┬á
  • [Note: I participated in the marble run (above) and I was thinking that it wasn’t a failure. You form an ad-hoc team. Time literally flies – you have to make decisions quickly and go with it. You’re arguing with people you don’t know – what is the line – have I crossed it? We decided and started building. Adjusted. We made something worked and we were proud of. Integration is always tough. 10 more minutes and it would have worked]
  • October 19th: Art Buggy Derby. Washington Square Park. http://www.artbuggyderby.com
  • Monthly meetings. Sunday at 3pm. Next one: November 23rd

Geoff DiMasi & Paul Wright, Open Source Philadelphia

  • Declare Philly an Open Source city
  • Worked with Mayor’s office (6 months)
  • Improve on the information we share
  • Philly as place to not just work, but to live and to grow
  • Ben Franklin was an early open source pioneer
  • From video: “We talk openly. We speak honestly. We motivate, we innovate, we create. Creativity is everywhere.”
  • Open hearts, open minds. City of brotherly love. Open source city. Not just technology, communication. Greater impact than sum of parts.
ignite Philly (2) was fun. It was different from the first one. The first one, the kick-off is always unique just for being the first. The second and thereafter – those are the important ones – that prove that there is momentum. I didn’t mingle but I had a nice time meeting William (soccer coach). Yes, I should have talked to that cute girl taking notes too, right next to me.

Written by kleeruby1

September 24, 2008 at 3:20 pm

I love First Person Arts’ StorySlam

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What is StorySlams? Is it just one of those cool, word-of-mouth, interesting Philly happenings? I originally wrote this testimonial for First Person Arts in May 2008. Tickets for the GrandSlam competition on November 15th during the First Person Festival can now be purchased online and they will sell out in advance.

I’ve been going to First Person Arts’ StorySlams since the inaugural one. I do not have a perfect attendance record, and I believe missing a couple proves that I am not completely hooked.

In April, I had the honor of winning the StorySlam contest at the StorySlam’s Slammiversary. In the post-win afterglow, I sent out the YouTube video link of my story to some (ok, a lot) of my co-workers and friends. I was surprised to hear from some of those who watched it that they thought I had a pretty good standup routine. That it was entertaining. A few even requested that they inform them when I was performing next so they could be part of the audience.

Performing? I probably couldn’t deliver that same story again, on demand. That night, for the first time in my history of StorySlams, I was relaxed (and in the words of awesome storyteller Juliet Wayne who I adore) and was able to be myself and tell my story, going off multiple tangents. Traditionally, prior to getting picked (or not picked), I’d be a non-conversational nervous recluse. However, in April, storyteller Ingrid Wiese spotted me when I entered and invited me to sit down at her table with friends (including Juliet). Well before the magical moment at the end of the night when my name was drawn as the final storyteller of the evening, I was relaxed and having fun.

Sadly, I feel that my friends who see my winning story as a good stand-up routine are missing what StorySlams is about. I never went to StorySlams to win. I go to StorySlams to hear other people tell their own stories and learn from them. To hear that some people don’t actually obsessively think, dissect, and analyze before doing something.

At the inaugural StorySlam, I told my story of how moving to Philly from the suburbs was a stretch for me and how insecure I felt, relating how I actually turned off my lights on those first few Friday nights to pretend (to myself and my neighbors) that I had gone out while sitting alone in the dark. I followed that initial story with a stream of similar but different stories about my insecurities and weaknesses. Even with opening my kimono and revealing myself, I never scored highly, and I resigned myself to not realistically ever winning. Yet, I was addicted to StorySlams – the variety of storytellers hooked me – it quickly became one of my favorite aspects about living in Philly. Even if I had a long day at work that particular Tuesday, I would drag myself over to L’Etage and walk in and feel at home. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the attention/sense of power I’d feel because I’d become part of the regular lineup of storytellers. However, the point I want to make is this: when I go to a typical bar/event, I usually feel out of place. I’ve always felt at StorySlams that I didn’t have to try to be anyone, I could just go there, go up and reveal myself and be me. And people actually liked it. After one of my stories, an audience member once complimented me that she liked how “I tell my insecure stories insecurely.”

While I still struggle with getting out of my cube/getting out of my apartment, I feel that StorySlams and First Person Arts has helped me find a sense of belonging to something in Philly. I’ve met some interesting and unique friends who I would not otherwise have connected with through this monthly celebration of storytelling. I’ve even been recognized on the street more than once. I don’t claim to know where my life is exactly going now, and I feel that StorySlams has become part of my personal story, as I work on revising who I am now to who I want to become. Some people say that you have to be brave to get up there and tell a story, and I’ve never felt it was a big deal – which makes me realize that some things which I think are a big deal aren’t really.

Written by kleeruby1

September 21, 2008 at 7:45 am

Philly FailCamp win

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“One of the best things about failure is expectations. So, for this FailCamp, no expectations.” -Alex

“Success gets between you and others. Failure is easier to relate” -Amy

“You’re like a little boat. You know where you want to go and where you are. But you’re not a big tanker. You can’t go in a straight line; sometimes you have to zig-zag, make constant adjustments.” – Love this analogy about success/failure from a FailCamp participant

I went to Philly’s first FailCamp not knowing what to expect but with an expectation that I would learn from other people’s experiences. Thanks to Alex Hillman and Amy Hoy for keeping the day going and changing the structure when it was needed.

After going around with introductions (lots of Rails developers!), Alex Hillman and Amy Hoy started FailCamp by asking everyone to (anonymously) write down a personal failure experience in one of many categories (dating, business, etc.) on the scrap of paper that they were given. I was expecting them to jump from that into 5-minute failure soapboxes, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the failure icebreaker worked. I listened intently as discussion evolved naturally from the initial input of each anonymous initial failure story. Tangents galore. Some stories were fantastic, some we identified with, all were true and personal. We broke for lunch on a high note. Talking about failure was a fun and interesting way to spend a nice Saturday.

After the lunch break, after a while, I felt something changed – the stories were still the same but the discussion became increasingly more abstract. For example, in a discussion about someone’s business, people would start taking the (easy) expert stance – talk in abstractions like ‘compartmentalization is important’, without relating or sharing why they were giving that knowledge as-is or why it was important.

Other people, notably Christine, noticed this change and during the break, she made a suggestion to focus on failures-in-progress not keep exhuming the dead failures from our pasts. After the break, Amy and Alex start-shutdown FailCamp and booted up HelpCamp. HelpCamp was interesting because it was like a support group – all the problems were still very much alive to each contributor and the discussion flowed.

What did I learn? Lessons about failure, even though some lessons can’t be learned third-person; they have to be learned emotionally, it helps. And a tidbit about social vs business filters – if I ask you to do something as a friend, a decision center in the brain is activated. If I pay you to do something (business), a different decision center in the brain is activated. So, when you ask someone to help you move and at the end of the move, you try to pay them (it jars and insults them, at a fundamental level). If someone asks you to lunch to discuss business but is not paying you, what is it? TNSTAAFL.

I didn’t want to do a full recap. At the very least, I thought I’d strip out details. In the spirit of failure (recaps are boring and safe) and feeling the spirit of Zen, I’ve reduced the stories (and sometimes lessons learned) into 5-7-5 haikus…

crashed big server grid
panic call sysadmin friend
true friends can save you

conned out of thousands
capped off by getting mono
survived! and thriving

nine-teen ninety-four
almost started ISP
mentor influence

PhD student
interests have evolved since start
dropping out with tact?

coworking wiki
how to monetize knowledge
free has no value?

young and ambitious
wants to grow non-profit fast
counsel reign her back

non-coder founder
how to find coders out there
who share my passion

son born with issues
challenges make you stronger
ongoing again again

should have left business
12 months ago why did not?
exit strategy!

pricing strategy
charge too much or too little
test out with adwords

have project idea
just atom of molecule
verdict: build it now. why wait!

leaving consulting
feel scared uncomfortable
natural. OK.

a perfectionist
how to start, so many things!
just get it going

new coworking space
how many will sign-up now?
escrow before lease

too many pitches
what if I turned down right one?
pick and make them great

polished presenter
preparation is stressful
flexibility?

burning out with job
wants to quit and go travel
would you regret it?

made awesome software
how to find right salesperson
network maybe start right here

Written by kleeruby1

July 30, 2008 at 3:35 pm

First ignitePhilly recap

with 7 comments

First ignitePhilly

The first ignitePhilly was an energetic circus of ideas. Hip and respectful crowd. Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown was packed to the gills with the mostly-young and the young-at-heart.

Thank you to Geoff DiMasi, Alex Gilbert, the Junto, Vanja Buvac & Far McKon of The Hacktory, and Make:Philly. And thank you to all the presenters for investing their time in sharing a 5-minute capsule of what is currently igniting and inspiring them. Live streaming video of the event was provided by DigitalLifestyle. Looking forward to the next one.

Update 6-14-2008: ignitePhilly #1 2008 Presentation Videos. Big thanks to DigitalLifestyle.

In order of presenting:

Marissa McClellan & Scott McNulty (Video), ForkYou

  • Started cooking podcast in Spring 2006 with no business plan. They make no profits, but make good food, met a lot of people, now they are together (a couple).
  • Make your podcasts short and entertaining. fast-paced.
  • Keep doing it. It’s the best way to build an audience, keep showing up. Showed slide of SETI antennas (which are still listening even though they haven’t heard anything).

Blake Jennelle (Video), PhillyStartupLeaders & Anthillz

  • This is not Silicon Valley. VCs will not give money to pre-revenue companies in Philadelphia region, so Web 2.0 (a.k.a. free services) may not work here.
  • Don’t fight gravity. Ask for money from people who will say yes: 1) family/friends. 2) Your customers: charge a price.
  • Your idea may not work – so…let go of it – join another project, champion another (possibly not yours) idea. Form a team – you need hackers, designers, marketers, people who can bring product to market.
  • Think small and useful, put something out there. “Validate, de-risk, disprove” –Quote from Josh Kopelman, Philly VC, founder of Half.com. Read Paul Graham’s “Ideas for Startups”

Brittany Bonnette (Video), Philly Bike Share

  • Many European cities have public-use bicycles for community-use. Paris (20,000 bikes)
  • How it works: Go to kiosk, checkout bike (you are charged deposit), ride it. When you return it, no longer responsible for bike
  • Bikes are specially designed to thwart theft of parts by not having parts that are interchangeable with regular bikes
  • Bikes are free for the first 30 minutes. Get through the city free!
  • Philly Bike Share wants to bring public-use bicycle fleets to Philadelphia. We would be the first city in the U.S. Aiming for 5000 bicycles (Washington D.C. proposing 1000).
  • Good public relations with Philadelphia politicians. Mayor Nutter rode the European-model bike-share bike to work during BikeWeek. Been working for 13 months on bringing community-use bikes to Philly.
  • Please email bikeshare@phila.gov if you support a fleet of public-use bicycles in Philadelphia

Evan Malone (Video), Fab@Home [I thought this was the most wow-ish presentation]

  • Traditional manufacturing: requires transport of materials, making of parts, shipping of parts, assembly/manufacture, more shipping

  • New manufacturing: Transform raw materials into products

  • 3d printers – given CAD model, print plastic prototype

  • Next evolution: Fab@Home. Evan researched in graduate school.

  • Fab@Home can make: batteries, transitors/relays, replacement tissue (for surgery), LED flashlights, food concoctions (perfect for harried host), custom toys
  • 11 million page downloads. Fab@home installed at science museum of London along with LED flashlight
  • 130 Fab@Home users from Brazil to South Africa
  • Corporate support: KOBA industries making commercial printer. Solidworks supporting with donations of CAD software

Leah Murphy & Mindy Watts (Video), Interface Studio [This was the most out-there, head-scratching session]

  • They specialize in Urban Provocation
  • Create images to provoke and inspire public participation. Call & Response (funny audience moment – audience member called out “Yeah, that’s right” (Example from 1970s: Archigram)
  • Ideas for provoking South Philly: Goats pacing down the street
  • Kensington & Allegheny: Big problem with gum on sidewalks. Decided to flow with it, cover concrete with various-sized circular orange blobs
  • Northern Liberties: Floating path (over water) to emphasize community waterfront access
  • SEPTA bus stations: Allow people to buy tokens at street level. [Great idea!]
  • Take the abandoned viaducts going through Center City and create a slip & slide. To commute. To work. [This was the craziest idea, one I will remember]
  • Reverse graffiti – Artists painting using soap+water “Wash me” on dirty public structures so they have to be washed.
  • Protest PLCB policies by shutting down the city with drinking in the streets party. BYOB, of course ­čÖé [OK, this was a crazier idea]
  • Turn Ben Franklin parkway fountain into giant bathtub (homeless use it as such sometimes)
  • Suggestion booth in City Hall. Fires suggestion straight upstairs to Mayor’s office.

Kristin Thomson (Video), Future of Music

  • Member of Tsunami band. Co-founder Simple Machines Records.

  • Wrote “Mechanics’ Guide to Putting Out Records” (which Geoff, ignitePhilly co-founder, actually used to make a record)

  • Owns huge music collection. Vinyl/LPs, tapes, CDs. When she moved, she packed them up in boxes (organized and labeled). Hasn’t unpacked them yet.

  • Didn’t digitize entire music collection (not enough time). Didn’t get music off P2P network (doesn’t support because they don’t compensate creators). Didn’t buy (not enough money).
  • She uses Rhapsody. 20 million tracks of music for $12.99/month

  • Yes, it is renting music. Stop focusing on ownership – you can still collect but…
  • Criticism #1: “Renting” music. Our society/culture focuses on ownership. Counterpoint: Cable TV, Internet is like renting
  • Criticism #2: You lose the music if you stop paying the bill. Counterpoint: Same with Cable TV.
  • Criticism #3: Not portable. You can’t put it on your iPod/iPhone. Counterpoint: You can put it on your Microsoft Zen. [ok, this was the weakest counterpoint]
  • The Future of Music is (on demand). Wi-fi, high-speed wireless access will change everything [I’m assuming this means over-the-air, on-demand streaming]

Slavko Milekic (Video), University of Arts “Making Sense of Touch”

  • Touch is the oldest of our 5 senses.
  • Touch is fundamental to our existence. Lack of touch with baby animals/babies, failure to thrive, sometimes death
  • Touch defines our boundaries. Where the road ends?
  • As society becomes more touchless, strange and unusual ways to cope: Tattoos, piercings. Sports like football. Hobbies like dancing [I highly recommend Salsa]. Pay to be touched (massage).
  • Development of new technologies make things more virtual.
  • Slavko: “Connect virtual (abstract) information with tangible experiences.”
  • Tangible virtuality = Tanguality. How: Consistent physical feedback.
  • Pre cell-phone era: Public telephone booth with hand to squeeze while talking on phone. [PDF]
  • Industries leading haptic (touch) interfaces: Gaming (The Wii), Pornography (though had problems when elderly customers suffered heart attacks?).
  • His research: Digital data needs to be feelable, mashable, touchable
  • Nice ending slide: “Stay in touch”. Email him if you have ideas. He’d love to hear from you.

Brian Lang (Video), The Food Trust

  • Want to ensure everyone’s access to good food: fresh fruits & vegetables

  • Education in schools: Trying to ruin the “chocolate milk tater tot” lunch special
  • Why healthier lunches? Obesity is an epidemic. 1 in 6 children. 300% increase since 1970s
  • 50,000 kids in South-Eastern PA educated on importance of eating healthy, fresh fruits & vegetables
  • Led successful effort to ban soda vending machines in Philadelphia schools. Changed to dispense water, 100% juice, and milk in Philly schools.
  • Access to $120 million fund to help supermarkets setup in underserved areas. Example: Romano’s Groceries. As a result, 1.3 million more people able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Going from “hard time eating healthy” to “thanks for bringing farmers to sell here”
  • Farmers benefit too: Headhouse square farmer, 6th generation family farm, keeping it in business
  • Food Trust’s modest big goal: “Change the food system”

Randy Schmidt, Chris Conley & Jason Trembley (Video), iSepta

  • How to achieve fame” [paraphrased, can’t read notes]

  • Step 1: Search out real world frustrations & problems
  • Step 2: Get going. Dont plan it out too much. If it’s too overwhelming, build a team. March 27, 2008 twitter ignited iSepta
  • The SEPTA problem. Too much information. How do you read a SEPTA schedule? Especially if you don’t read it regularly.
  • Step 3: Break down any preconceived notions. Why do you need the route number to find out where you are going? Why not just ask their start location and end destination?
  • Step 4: Deceive your users [Rick-rolled]. Hide the complexity, just provide the results
  • Step 5: Flaunt it. Get people testing it. iSepta twitter account. Let people hammer on it, find what works and what isn’t working.
  • Bonus Step: Problem solving should not be sent to auto. If you encounter another problem, restart the process from Step 1. Example: Bus schedules. People really just want to know when the next bus going their way is… [This will be a killer feature and one that I can see people using on their cellphones all over Philly]

Don Miller (Video) aka No Carrier

  • Part of the 8-bit music scene: Using low-bit hardware to create live audio-visual & installation pieces. Humbled to have been featured in galleries but likes the street cred
  • Why? Like working with limitations and restrictions
  • Center of 8-bit scene: Pulsewave NYC. Don creates custom invitations.
  • History: Visual artists pushing the limits of their hardware creating cool, interesting demos. Eventually music separated from the demos, became “chip music”.
  • Low-bit hardware used: GameBoy/NES/C64
  • “This is an interesting time for chip music. It’s like 1976 for punk. We’re on the edge of something crazy.” – Don’s friend (from philosophical instant messenger chat)
  • Movement becoming more mainstream. Worldwide network of artists & fans. 16-year olds are starting to emerge as talented “chip musicians” (true test of popularity)
  • See: no-carrier.com, 8bitpeoples.com, 8bitcollective.com

Sean Buffington, President (Video), University of the Arts

  • He was dressed in a suit, by his admission square and “dressed like a narc”
  • One of the most interesting presentations, text of the poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” by W.H. Auden with photos of UArts student work [interesting one – stuffed animal suicide, bunny in tub]
  • Challenge of arts education. Equip the student for the ability to do all types of work. How? Teach them the ability to learn for themselves.
  • Impart basics. How to tell a story. Innovate through collaboration. Organize teams. Make meaning out of materials without inherent intrinsic meaning.
  • This summer: Answering the question of “what does it mean to educate/be an artist in the 21st century” and “we’re fundamentally trying to reinvent what it means to be an arts university”
  • Sean said this passage from the poem represented what an artist does/is: For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives In the valley of its making where executives Would never want to tamper, flows on south
    From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
    Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
    A way of happening, a mouth.

Jeff Stockbridge [Awesome visual presentation] (Video)

  • 26,000 abandoned homes in Philly in 2000. 16,000 of those in 5th District (where many of us live)
  • Takes pictures of the insides of abandoned homes in Philly. Not just rooms, sometimes time-capsule personal writings he finds (letter from returning Vietnam War veteran about dream he had, lyrics to a rap song)
  • Uses only available light (but decides when to take the photo). Takes the scene as it is.
  • Tries to recreate what he sees. Uses special camera equipment to produce an effect of peripheral vision (outside of focus, blurriness). Example: Set of empty glasses on table. Recreates focus.
  • What you don’t see: Drug addict detritus, putrid garbage, human shit. You can get covered in human shit going in these places.

Nic Darling (Video), 100k house

  • Chad Ludeman was too scared to speak so Nic doing all the talking
  • After leaving corporate hell, Chad loved the cool, modern houses but saw a market gap between the boring, low-cost cookie cutter houses and the cool, expensive modern designed houses
  • Goal: $100/sq. ft. to build a house and make it green and modern
  • Started blogging before feasibility and before bringing team together. http://100khouse.com
  • Design/Blog: Collaborative process of design (As designing, blogging about it. Get feedback loop)
  • Building 100k house in Philly. Found lot near Fishtown (where both Chad & Nic live)
  • 100k House will be first LEED Platinum (highest level, only a few in the entire country) certified house in Philadelphia
  • Presentation’s drawings done by mybigmuddy.com

Alex Hillman (Video), Indy Hall

  • Classic question: “What did you learn today?” Classic answer: “Nothing”
  • Why “Nothing”? Perception vs invention.
  • Why do kids do acts of defiance? (cutting class, etc.) Maybe it’s because they wonder “what am I going to school for?”
  • Embrace the chaos. Level with the kid. “What do you want to know/learn”
  • Great story from TED: Student acting out. Teacher tells parent “Your daughter is not troubled, she’s a dancer, send her to dance school – she needs to move!”. They sent her to dance school. She choreographed “Cats”
  • Walk with a pantheon: Hang out around those who do whatever you want to do, who are whoever you want to be
  • Apply agile software development principles to learning. Fail: It’s good. It might be bad if you are not *failing* – success might be an illusion.
  • Iterate: Fail cheaply, quickly. Don’t be Alex’s mom. Let them learn from mistakes. “Let the kid the fork in the electrical socket” (They’ll learn).
  • Be electric. Find path of least resistance
  • Alex runs IndyHall, Philly’s first co-working site. Co-working provides diversity. A group of people hanging out. Great mentors.
  • Accidental learning / serendipity – Putting yourself in a situation where you can learn by accident
  • Alex’s goal: coworking.edu = Students + coworking. Bring coworking to students. Allow them to work with industry experts on their projects.
  • coworking.edu (To get .edu you need accreditation. Does anyone know about the process?)

Rick Banister (Video), P’Unk Avenue

  • “Achieving an Absolute Aesthetic”. Rick is a UArts graduate.
  • Developing your own style. Martha Stewart has one. Why not you?

  • Clothing: Find what colors/fits work on you. Wear them
  • Furniture: From single period (no mixing Crate ‘n Barrel with Arts ‘n Crafts vintage) Better: Make your own furniture (can do it cheaply using minimum of materials) or commission your own pieces for your home
  • Deliberate consumption: Buy brand names. Be consistent. Buy what you like. Buy things for their packaging.
  • Reading: Read. Read every book by an author.
  • Philosophy: Develop a moral compass
  • Synthesis: Be your own brand

Sarah Selepouchin (Video), Etsy

  • Etsy is a website to buy and sell anything handmade
  • Etsy is a community of people who make things. Some make a living, some do it just because they love it (and selling it is a bonus)
  • Etsy just celebrated 3rd birthday and it’s 1 millionth user. Cool visualization: Etsy at night.
  • Sarah is part of the Etsy street team in Philadelphia. Etsy encourages artists to meetup. You can meetup via interest, geographic location, what materials you use, anything, really…
  • You go to the gym to work out. Use their equipment. No need to buy/lease an elliptical machine for your house
  • Why not have a gym for making things? Show up and make stuff
  • We can make it happen in Philadelphia. Philly would be great for a space where you can go to make things. Want to help? Email handmakerphilly@gmail.com

Jeff Burk (Video), Neat Receipts

  • Vanja works at NeatReceipts.com (his day job when he is not inspiring creative hackers at The Hacktory and co-organizing events like ignitePhilly)
  • Neat Receipts – just finished 3.0 release
  • Interesting company to work for. They use Agile Development and XP Principles
  • 69 people in a cross-functional team. Open workspace

Robert Cheetham (Video), Avencia

  • Cutting-edge GIS. Team behind PhillyHistory.org
  • PhillyHistory.org: Put in a Philly address and go back in time. See what was where you live, ten/fifty/hundred years ago
  • Robert and his wife were shopping for a house. Large list of factors (including bikeability to fencing). Used it to generate a hot spot map of places they might want to live.
  • Hot-spots, not a new idea. 1969 – Ian McHaig “Design with Nature” (Great book). Acetate maps, overlapped together (low-tech GIS mash-up). Dana Tomlin (Great teacher according to Robert). Map algebra [PDF]. Gave away all the algorithms. Used in GIS products everywhere (ArcGIS).
  • Decision Tree – 2 year project – bring Hot Spots to the web. [PDF]
  • Live Decision Tree client: City of Asheville, NC mapAsheville Development Mapper
  • Election campaigns (interest in optimizing canvassing)

Pete Tredish (Video), Prometheus Radio Project

  • They spend 50% of their time trying to change the rules of broadcasting. The other 50% demystifying the technology
  • FCC Chairman: I’ll keep shutting down your radio stations but before I leave office I’ll make it legal. He did it: Community Radio Licenses. Link
  • Radio Barn-Raising. Start on Friday with boxes of equipment. Over long weekend, setup equipment, share/transfer knowledge. By Sunday, have radio station up, local volunteers trained (and able to train others)
  • They have to go scary places. Like Washington, D.C. To lobby. Sometimes they mix it up (Dress up in FCC cheerleading outfits)

Written by kleeruby1

June 12, 2008 at 7:15 pm