Brian Shaler

Occasionally Interesting

Gravity is for chumps

Archive for November, 2009

Knowing Your Limitations

This came up a couple of times tonight at dinner. It’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses. Even if you would love to do X, if you suck at it, maybe you should just focus on excelling at Y.

Tonight, I was asked, “Brian, why don’t you take on any side work?”

I have a pretty strict zero side work policy. As a Flash developer, opportunities come to me regularly, and I do my best to deflect them to other local Flash developers. It makes sense for people to wonder why. There’s money in front of my face and I’m not reaching out to get it.

There are several reasons I don’t do side work. First of all, I don’t need the money. I make enough to get by with my day job, so I would rather spend the rest of my time on me — traveling, going out, working on personal side-projects. However, I could work about the same amount, have just as much free time, but make more money if I freelanced.

I know my limitations. I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. I’m good at making stuff move with code. I’m good at turning someone’s idea (“It should move like this.”) into a reality. I’m not good at keeping organized. I’m not good at paperwork. I’m not good at maintaining client relationships.

Maybe I should get over these problems at some point, but for now, I focus on what I’m good at and avoid what I’m not good at. And it works.

I get asked from time to time, “Brian, you’re the organizer of [some event], right?”

People know I’m involved with a lot of the tech events around Phoenix. Even when I’m not, I try to help spread the word. With only one recent exception (I stepped up to organize SustainaBIL at the last second when the organizer realized he was going to be out of town), I haven’t organized any events.

I know my limitations. I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. I’m good at taking tasks and getting things done. I’m good at connecting people with the resources they need. I’m good at coming up with and vetting ideas. I’m not good at organizing. I’m not good at following up and keeping the ball rolling. I’m not good at leading the charge and getting people to take orders from me.

So I stay where I’m most valuable. I’ll perch on the captain’s shoulder and squawk ideas into his/her ear. I’ll swab the deck or pitch the anchor. More specifically, I’ll help line up speakers, or design & build web sites, or live stream & live tweet events, or pick up food, or hand-craft badges, or program a Twitter wall. That seems to work.

There’s merit to saying, “if you’re not good at something, try harder or find methods to do it,” but it can also be a good idea to step back and avoid causing a disaster.

Geek Week AZ Recap

As @AbeVigoda would say, “I am alive!”

Somehow, I survived Geek Week AZ. I went to Ignite Phoenix, TEDxPhoenix, Desert Code Camp, SustainaBIL, AZIMA, Developer Ignite, Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference (AZEC), Social Media Club + AZEC Mixer, Phoenix WordCamp, #evfn, and PodCamp AZ. All without taking any time off work. The only events going on during working hours were AZEC & WordCamp, where I co-worked!

The spaghetti is on the wall, and it’s time to see what stuck. The event organizers who banded together to make it happen pulled it off. It was no easy task, because they’ve already got their handful with their own events, but this year, they went above and beyond to create something new. The culmination of 2 years of conversations about making a big splash in the local tech community resulted in a festival of independently organized tech-focused and tech-related events.

Geek Week AZ became what it was because the idea evolved WITH criticism. “You don’t think this will work? Then propose a better way of accomplishing the same goals.” What Geek Week AZ was looks nothing — NOTHING — like what Geek Week AZ initially set out to be.

Now that it has happened, there are new criticisms. It’s very important that this criticism doesn’t fall of deaf or defensive ears.

There are at least a dozen people who have said they are opposed to multi-day events. Perhaps something like Geek Week AZ isn’t for everyone, but the beauty of the model is that most of the events are free and you don’t have to pay for the full event and feel obligated to attend as much as possible. Some people just can’t handle 4 days in a row of learning, networking, and staying out late.

I thought one of the major problems would have been people not knowing what is going on and where to go. That’s why I put together a pocket guide to Geek Week AZ. Either the site solved the problem, or the problem didn’t end up being there to begin with.

There are justifiable concerns about the momentum and energy of attendees who participated in multiple events. It also seems possible that events could have built up more excitement and anticipation if they were standing alone and not a smaller part of a bigger thing.

Does this mean Geek Week AZ shouldn’t exist? No. This means there is valid criticism that should be addressed — not ignored — and addressed in a way that still accomplishes the same goals. What are the goals? I might have posted about them before, but feel free to ask me.

The way you respond to criticism shows your ability to think creatively. You can say, “It doesn’t work like this, so maybe we should go back to the old way of doing it.” Or you can say, “If it doesn’t work like this, what can we do to make it work better so we still go in the same direction: forward.”

Here’s to going forward.

Blogger’s Block

I think most non-pro bloggers know about blogger’s block. The less defined you are in your blogging goals and the more broad the scope of your blog, the easier it is to get stuck. The more stuck you are, the more pressure you put on yourself to make your next post significant. As you can see, that can become a vicious cycle.

This is one of the main reasons I tell myself I’m not a blogger. People may or may not read my posts. If there’s something worth posting, post it and post it quickly. If I don’t have anything to say, do what I usually do when I don’t have anything to say: STFU.

One thing I noticed, however, is that I don’t have to suppress blogger’s block on one of my other blogs, I don’t post much there either, but when I do, it’s easier. There’s less pressure. It’s a simple task, versus being somewhat of a monumental piece of literature.

Why is that? Well, first of all, it’s not really ME. I don’t dig into my thoughts and try to come up with useful (To whom? I don’t know!) information. I’m not trying to write something I already have trouble verbalizing. The biggest challenge is the time it takes to sit down and type it out. Not much thinking necessary. Not much personal investment in the content.

I wonder how this applies to people who want to blog. I have both a personal blog and a not-so-personal blog like SofaJumper. If someone else was looking for advice for setting up their first blog, it might be beneficial for me to help them find a suitable middle ground between the bloggers block of a broad, undefined blog and an easy and focused blog.


TEDxPhoenix – Nov 6, 2009 6:00pm-9:00pm

I’m going to this event, and I think you should, too. I’m a fan of TED talks and have even helped organize a TED talk viewing party. TEDx is even better, because it mixes TED talk videos with live presentations from local individuals who have ideas worth spreading.

To explain the event a little more thoroughly, I’m going to re-post some info Tomas Carrillo (lead organizer for TEDxPhoenix and all-around awesome dude) has been sending out to local bloggers:

I’ve been in the trenches for the last few weeks putting the finishing touches on Arizona’s first ever TEDxPhoenix event which is scheduled to take place this Friday, November 6th from 6pm to 9pm at the Mesa Arts Center.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with TEDxPhoenix, it’s been described as a Cirque du Soleil for the mind. Our inaugural event will feature six of Arizona’s leading experts brought together to enlighten, inspire, and entertain via ideas worth spreading. For fans of the environment and sustainability, we are excited to announce that Urban Farm founder and sustainability guru, Greg Peterson, will be speaking at the event.

TEDxPhoenix is also a place where you can meet individuals who are interested in leveraging ideas, technology, education, and design to help create a better future for the Phoenix-metro communities and beyond. For more information about the event, I highly recommend checking out our TEDxPhoenix Beginners Guide.

I really hope you will join us this Friday, and here are all the event details for your viewing pleasure:

Event Date & Time: Friday, November 6th, 2009 from 6pm to 9pm
Location: Mesa Arts Center – Google Map
Tickets: $5 – Get your tickets here


Ignite Phoenix 5

Another Ignite Phoenix is coming up, Tuesday, November 3, 2009 6pm-9pm. I had the pleasure of speaking at Ignite Phoenix #2, where I took 5 minutes to show how data visualization can give us new ways to see things.

If you haven’t been to an Ignite, you should. Even if you’re not in Phoenix, there are Ignites held all over the world. Find one near you and check it out!

Videos from past Ignite Phoenix presentations.

Tempe Center for the Arts (map)
700 W Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ

Ignite Phoenix is an information exchange for fostering and inspiring Phoenix’s creative community. In one evening, you hear 18 passionate speakers from our creative, technical, and business communities talking about their current projects or favorite ideas for just five minutes. Presentations will educate and inspire you, and maybe make you laugh in the process.

Up to 20 slides and 5 minutes is all you get. Not a second more. The presenters need to get to the point quickly, and make it exciting and engaging.

We welcome topics about anything that other people will find interesting. That’s a wide criteria and that’s just fine. If the most interesting submissions end up being technical, then Ignite will have a technical feel. There is a wide mix of topics. If you’re not interested in the current topic, all you have to do is wait for 5 minutes and a new one starts.

Via Eventification, the Phoenix tech event site

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