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Utah Geek dinner

Last night I went with Mike Triunfo to Utah Geek Dinner #2. The idea is to bring together all the programmers and technologists from around Utah to network and brainstorm. I also went to the 1st meeting and enjoyed both. Here are a few points from the meeting last night:

  • What happens at Geek Dinner stays at Geek Dinner. I.e., people at these gatherings should feel comfortable enough to talk about work and professional challenges without worrying their boss will be tipped off to a problem.
  • Phil Burns, COO of Provo Labs, brought up the idea of building a “geek community center”. It would have wireless internet access, tons of whiteboards and collaboration areas, a food court, a game room, business offices, and even office space for rent for as little as an hour or a day or a week (for startups.)
  • Utah Geek Dinners should be (technically) non-denominational. Open source people can intermingle with Microsofties, etc.
  • It was clear from the meeting that Utah has many talented technologists and cool companies.
  • These gatherings can be a great place for business owners and entrepreneurs to find programmers and for programmers to find jobs.
  • Everyone interested should put “devutah” in their list of Groups and Associations on Linkedin.com
  • Geek Dinners are intended to supplement not supplant user group meetings. Each user group was given time to make announcements, recruit people, and talk about upcoming meetings.

One of the sponsors and attendees was Jamis Buck, a top developer at one of my favorite companies. So to all you Web 2.0 companies looking for Ruby on Rails programmers in this new era of irrational exuberance: I sat 5 feet away from Jamis Buck. That ought to count for something.

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Outsourcing the small stuff

When I was home for Thanksgiving break, my brothers told me that for a fee you can get Chinese kids to play video games for you. Why? Because some online adventure/role-playing games are so tedious and boring at times that you’d prefer to pay someone to beat those areas for you so you can enjoy the fun parts. I had no idea this existed, but this week the New York Times confirmed it: Ogre to Slay? Outsource it to China. It’s interesting how such a disparity in income can turn one man’s play into another man’s work. Only the internet could make this sort of arbitrage possible, and you have to feel good about this flow of disposable income to low-income countries.

On a similar note, Amazon.com recently introduced a service called the Mechanical Turk. It’s not really mechanical, but the name is based on a famous hoax from 18th century wherein a large machine was built to play chess against famous people (it beat Ben Franklin) but actually had a chess master inside.

Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk allows people to perform Human Intelligence Tasks for money. The tasks have little to do with being intelligent and everything to do with being human. Questions might include “What is written on this CD case?” or “Does this photo contain a grocery store?” They are tasks that would be difficult or impossible for a computer but which are easy for a human. And Amazon is willing to pay for them to be done. (Though not very much — I did it for 5 minutes and only made $0.15. I’m sure rates vary.) Some of the tasks are to double-check the tasks others have done. Amazon uses this information for its book search and A9 local search.

The interesting thing about the Mechanical Turk is that it could become a platform for outsourcing small tasks, perhaps especially to persons in 3rd world nations where the tasks, even in English, are doable and the money goes a lot further than it does here. I’ll be watching this one with curiosity.

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Gas prices over the last 30 months

On Monday my motorcycle turned 30 months old. (It was a big day for both of us.) About the time I got it, I put together a little WML app that would let me record my mileage. Each time I buy gas I open up my phone and record how much gas I bought, how much it cost, and my current odometer reading. I don’t quite know why I started doing it, probably just for fun, but now I have 30 months of historical data which is sort of interesting to look at.

Here is a graph of gas prices over the last 30 months. It’s not scientific:

  • Most of these prices come from Provo, UT, but there were trips to Las Vegas and Logan and everywhere in between.
  • Prices are for premium gasoline — usually 91 octane.
  • The dates on the x-axis are not constant; there are more data points when I ride more during the warm months, and fewer points during the cold months.
  • The green area marks $1.00/gallon and is just to make the graph more colorful.

Premium gas was cheapest on July 21, 2003 at $1.64/gallon. It was most expensive during September of this year when it reached $3.06/gallon. The average is $2.19/gallon.

gas chart

Ingredients: One web app (WML, PHP, and MySQL), Actual Technologies ODBC Driver for getting the data into Excel X, then a copy-and-paste into Pages for graphing.

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Paul Allen gives keynote at BYU e-business day

A few notes from Paul Allen’s keynote lecture at the BYU Marriott School’s e-business day:

Brent Barlow’s talk on marriage [mp3] includes a quote by poet Robert Browning that says the “best is yet to be.” That should be our attitude in life; it’s an attitude that helps us be happy. We can’t be happy by thinking the best has already passed. (Paul Allen said Brent Barlow’s talk is also the best talk he’s heard on strengthening one’s marriage.)

Several inventions have come from or been made popular in Utah. Paul Ahlstrom, who started vSpring Capital, talks about technology in Utah in a recent podcast.

Advances in technology mean we can “approach omniscience” — we can learn almost anything we want (e.g. Wikipedia), and we can connect to and communicate with almost anyone in the world (e.g. Skype, Linkedin).

Ten things you can do to learn more and connect more:

  1. Take notes always
  2. Store everything you learn in a personal knowledge base (e.g. Folio, Gobinder)
  3. Start a blog
  4. Google Alerts
  5. Linkedin
  6. Read Love is the Killer App — “the book that changed my life the most in business”
  7. Use time wisely: audible.com, ldsaudio.com
  8. Volunteer with the More Good Foundation
  9. Become an “e-mail missionary” — email people you love more often
  10. Be a spokesman for BYU and the Church (Carrie Jenkins) — how many people have heard you speak about or read something you wrote about BYU or the Church?
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Tim O’Reilly on Creating Value

The longer I go without blogging, the more pressure I feel to say something profound when I come back. And it’s been almost a month. While I won’t pretend to have anything grandiose to say, I just wanted to pass along a quote from Tim O’Reilly that I heard today. Tim O’Reilly is the publisher of O’Reilly books, which produces fine computer books. I listened to the podcast version of his interview on NerdTV while jogging. (I jog as often as I blog.)

Tim said companies should seek to “create more value than they capture.” That’s something I’d like to live by, personally and professionally. There are plenty of opportunities and riches out there to give away a lot.