Braindump: Managing Documents

POSTED Mon Apr.14.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Musings, Process TAGGED

Happy Monday! Today I am thinking about my document management practices. It’s on my mind because I have quite a mixed list of writing assignments to tackle today, from strategic documents to training primers to process definitions. For some reason it’s really bothering me this morning that I don’t have one place where I keep everything, nor do I have a preferred writing application. So I think I’ll just think aloud here in this post, and see if some clarity comes to me. >>> Continue reading


“Coding for Charity” at New England GiveCamp

POSTED Wed Apr.09.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Encounters, Inspiration TAGGED

New England GiveCamp 2014 CAKE

This past April 4-6 saw me pitching a new tent in the hallways of the Microsoft NERD Center near MIT in Cambridge for New England GiveCamp, where around 100 developers of all stripes joined forces with their designer and marketing brethren to give 24 of New England’s most interesting non-profit organizations a big boost to their website and digital content management in a 36-hour no-holds-barred hack-a-thon.

This was my second time at GiveCamp, having been introduced to it in 2012 by area tech maven Kelley Muir, who with her husband Ian are two of New England’s great promoters of positive-minded social geekery in the tech community around Manchester. They are also part of the team that organizes New England GiveCamp every year as one of many similar conferences loosely affiliated with the world-wide GiveCamp organization. Like many of the “camp-style” tech conferences, the event structure is comprised of two groups of people: the organizers who arrange for the venue/food/sponsors to make the event possible, and the participants who provide the expertise and willingness to participate. Unlike a more formal event, a camp-style tech conference is largely self-organized and fluid, which can be very surprising the first time but quickly grows on you. Although I understood the concept intellectually, it really took me five years to understand how it worked on a deeper level. I needed to replace my hermit-like social proclivities with a far more adaptable and heartfelt set of rules, and I am a better person today because of this.

New England GiveCamp 2014 Sunday Meeting New England GiveCamp 2014 Main Room New England GiveCamp 2014 Hallway

But I digress. At the heart of GiveCamp is the idea of gathering together and pitching in to help those who are helping others. A large percentage of participants are web and software developers, some of them affiliated with the non-profits that they are helping. This year, I decided to participate as a designer instead as a WordPress developer, though I declined to lead a team because I wasn’t sure that I would have the energy to do it. Kelley had mentioned before that GiveCamp often doesn’t have as many designers available, so it seemed like it would be an interesting experience for me to try to fill that role. I have historically been reluctant to call myself a designer, but I figured I could suck-up my anxiety and risk failure for the good of the overall project. And, as I reminded myself, I was in the company of people who were doing the very same thing. This year, as in previous years, developers offered their weekend to take on technical work that was unfamiliar to them, learning-on-the-fly. It’s a very supportive environment, which isn’t surprising because the kind of people who volunteer for GiveCamp are by nature generous people. The spirit of pulling-together and helping ensure that every project gets done means that there’s a lot of resource sharing. It’s pretty awesome to be in a huge crowd of can-do, competent nerds with a penchant for lending a hand.

New England GiveCamp 2014 Night

The Experience

The event runs for two days and two nights, starting on Friday afternoon with pizza, registration, and final team assignment check-in. Each participating non-profit introduces themselves in the big room, which is pretty exciting as there are many interesting non-profits that you haven’t heard about. One of my favorites conceptually was Project Laundry List, an organization that promotes clothesline drying and fights to get cities to allow it so people can reduce their energy needs. We also are introduced to the schedule, the raffle, and hear from the sponsors who are on-site.

On the first night, the teams are very driven to figure out what they can do over the next 36 hours, and the first of several “team lead check-ins” occurs on the very first night. To keep things moving, the team leads are each asked whether they are “condition green, yellow, or red”, and whether they need something or have some extra capacity to pass along; the goal of GiveCamp is not just to get your own project done, but to get ALL the projects done. The meetings go very quickly.

At night, people start to wind down. Some people leave the premises to sleep on real beds at home or in hotels, but quite a few of us stayed in. “Tent Alley” is filled with tents with gently snoring techs inside; earplugs are highly recommended, as are eye covers. Some people brought inflatable mattresses, while others made do with whatever flat surface they could find. I had purchased a tent just for the occasion, and found it remarkably comfortable. It was a little sanctuary that I could escape into at the end of the day, but I found myself hanging out in the main room into the wee hours just sitting at one of the team tables and enjoying the late-night work vibe.

Meals, snacks, and beverages are all provided for by the GiveCamp sponsors. There were quite a few of them, and they provided a very solid array of food. Plentiful Monster beverages, sandwiches from Whole Foods, coffee and facilities provided by Microsoft, books from O’Reilly, cakes and cookies and S’mores and ice cream sundaes from night-to-night. We did not want for food, and vegetarians and gluten-free diets were accommodated. I can’t think of one bad meal…it was better than what I usually eat at home.

New England GiveCamp 2014 Food New England GiveCamp 2014 Participants New England GiveCamp 2014 Organizers

Most of the non-profits were looking for improved websites, and in some cases improved organizational workflow. As I was a “floating design resource”, I wasn’t assigned to anyone in particular so I followed one of the other designers, a 7-year veteran of New England GiveCamp, to see how it worked. I got assigned to a team who wanted a bit of logo work done, and then also got tapped to do a little WordPress training for one of their developers who was new to the platform. WordPress was the dominant platform at GiveCamp this year, though there were a few Drupal-based sites I believe. Not everyone was familiar with WordPress, so there was a lot of learning-on-the-fly and impromptu workshops given by the experienced developers, who gave tirelessly of their knowledge. It was very inspiring. It was also inspiring to see many of the non-profit executive directors on-site, actively learning about WordPress and working closely with their teams.

After the day’s work was done, a few people played board games, but largely people were there enjoying the work and the camaraderie of their peers. I ran around taking pictures (see the Flickr set) when I wasn’t drawing logos, and helped a few people with their WordPress questions when I could.

On the very last day, I got assigned to a team that wanted to develop a mobile app (Project Laundry List), and needed some design help, so I drew a quick UI mockup. Unfortunately, there was no time to actually implement it, so I have to finish the design work this week, but it should be pretty cool and I’m seeing it as an opportunity to develop some improved process for myself. I am increasingly being drawn into web development these days for my own work, so I might as well get good at it! There will be opportunities to share what I know in the future.

There was also cake! This year’s cake was in the shape of a lighthouse on an island (as the logo of NEGC is a lighthouse) with a tent next to it, and it was delicious.

The event ended around 3PM on Sunday, when every team gives a short 5-minute presentation on what the challenge was and what they did. After the last team presents, there is a raffle drawing for prizes; this year it was a Kindle Fire, a Kindle Paper White eBook reader, and a $75 American Express gift card. Then, it was time to go home. I got trapped in a detour on the way out from Boston and ended up driving through my old neighborhood in West Cambridge, out through to Route 2 by Alewife Station and on toward home. Then I slept for 12 hours.

It took me all day Monday and most of Tuesday to just pull myself back together; while GiveCamp is loads of fun and doesn’t feel like work, it IS pretty draining. On top of that, it appeared that I didn’t drink as much water as I thought I did, noticing only when I got home. Next time I should bring a big water bottle, as I was trying to avoid caffeine and sugary drinks and ended up less liquid as a result.

I can’t wait till next year! Truly one of the best events I have attended! Much thanks to the sponsors: APEX Systems, Bluefin Technical Services, Blue Metal, Catching Joy, Equity Office, General Assembly, Meltwater Group, Microsoft NERD, Monster Energy, NBI, Oomph, Pragmatic Works, SQL Saturday, and Whole Foods.

New England GiveCamp 2014 Participants

See you next year! MANY THANKS to the hard work of the organizers whose names I caught: Jim O’Neil, Kelley Muir, Ian Muir, Rachel Morris, and…the rest!


2014 Resolutions Review 02: Developing Realistic Expectations

POSTED Sat Apr.05.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Musings, Process TAGGED

It’s APRIL 4TH (actually, it’s April 5th at the New England Give Camp, the “coding for charity” event held every year at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge), and this is the SECOND of ten monthly reviews of my year’s goals: “Groundhog Day Resolutions” (GHDRs). After picking the goals on February 2nd, I review my progress monthly on 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, and so on until 12/12.

It’s been a very busy March, but I feel generally good about my progress because I am learning to be less demanding / more realistic about what I can do in a day. I’ll never be as fast as I want, or as good as some of the people I admire, but I can still make things happen.

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Previsualizing Wall and Floor Combinations

POSTED Tue Apr.01.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Personal, Process TAGGED

To get started on my Living Room Cafe, I dropped by a furniture store to get a sense of some floor/wall color combinations. I also started a Pinterest board to collect inspirational design.

To get my head around the colors, I made some thumbnails swatches. While I had originally thought I wanted a light-colored floor based on people’s feedback, I’m finding the darker floor with light-colored walls to be more dramatic. The light-on-light Scandinavian look seems to rely on everything in the room being white, with some bold colored accents. I’m not sure I want that. I want something a little darker and intimate. I also am not sure if the sun-bathed Scandinavian interior looks good at night when lit with artificial light.

Next step will be to use a 3D program and try to visualize both daytime and night-time with to-scale objects.

Thumbnail Color Combinations


My Future Living Room Cafe

POSTED Tue Apr.01.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Personal TAGGED

“When I’m rich,” I have told myself since I was 16, “I’ll buy some land and build an awesome creative facility with a gourmet kitchen, underground shooting range, helipad, a big barn full of tools, with guest house and outdoor firepits. There will be ultra high-speed internet, of course, and rooms full of books. I’ll invite my friends to come out and jam with me on projects, and we’ll make awesome stuff.” I figured I would need a couple million dollars to do it right, and since I don’t happen to have that kind of money lying around, it’s remained a pleasant dream.

It only occurred to me earlier this year that I’ve been deferring more of my dreams than I needed to. I’ve had more work this year to pay the bills, and so I’ve been thinking of doing some home improvements. My couches have been scratched to pieces by my cats, and the carpet must be 25 years old. Interior decorating, however, scares me. I really just want to be comfortable, have lots of light, and have high quality furniture. I can’t afford the kind of couches I’d love to have, and so my home has accumulated a hodge-podge of inexpensive pieces because I haven’t wanted to commit to a theme. And besides, these days I am spending all my time at coffee shops anyway.

But what if I could turn my living room into a coffee shop? Who says I need couches, console tables and easy chairs? I’d much rather have some small tables and chairs, some spot lighting, and accessible walls to hang artwork and other collectibles to share. I have a ton of stuff I’d love to display somewhere, my own version of the “Museum of Useful Things”. Turning my living room into a cafe would also solve my lack of a set for shooting product photography, and it would be a cool video conferencing backdrop. And, with small tables instead of large couches, I would have a 15×20 foot space where I could work on larger project, host co-working sessions, and maybe even teach some classes if I put a giant TV on the wall. This could be really cool…so this is going to be my first real quest for 2014: Operation Dave Cafe.


In the diagram above, you can see the dimensions of the space, and messy pictures of the way it is now. My couch and armchair are much too large for the space I have. I would get rid of them and then move the desk downstairs into the basement, to be replaced with smaller 26×26 square tables on cast iron bases, which are quite affordable when purchased from a restaurant supply store. I would reuse the existing wooden dining room chairs I have, which are pretty sturdy and attractive as is. I bought six of them last year for $65/chair, and I can buy two more for a total of eight to be split around up to 4 tables.

Over the next few months I’ll start doing more detailed pre-visualization and costing, posting the details somewhere on the blog. It would already be a huge improvement to get rid of the furniture and put in the hardwood floor; a fastidious wood-working friend of mine has said he’ll help, and he’s even fussier than me with regards to craftsmanship. More importantly, he has already done this kind of stuff. Then, it’s a matter of building the tables and maybe hanging some track lighting, and perhaps repainting the walls a lighter color and deciding what to put on them. It is going to be a while until I have the money to redo the floors, but since my condominium is not that large it may be more affordable than I originally thought.

It seems doable. I AM SO EXCITED!


Fogbrain Battle Five: Saturday Sunday Slugfest

POSTED Mon Mar.31.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Process TAGGED ,

It’s been an eventful weekend, starting with Saturday as a “exploration” day that began with a field trip to a restaurant supply store and ended with a new personal mission. Sunday was more of a catch-up day, and I got to practice the “mental ritual” of clearing my mind once more. >>> Continue reading

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Fogbrain Battle Four: Friday Fisticuffs

POSTED Sat Mar.29.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Process TAGGED

Here’s Friday’s log…a fairly productive, singularly-focused day that surprisingly also provided plenty of variety. >>> Continue reading

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