Hudson Valley Tech’s May Meetup: Celebrating Agents of Change

Change was the name of the game at May’s Meetup! Members gathered at the beautiful Senate Garage in Kingston and, after an exhilarating opening performance by the Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (POOK), engaged with talks on the way tech is transforming the educational, media, and economic landscapes.

This month’s Meetup was sponsored by Lightower, a fiber optics network that services the Hudson Valley and the entire Northeast (including our own offices here at Evolving Media Network!). We were also treated (literally) to vegan, gluten-free and organic ice cream from Organic Nectars (yum!).

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Sean Nixon discusses community college graduation rates nationwide.

First up: a talk by SUNY Ulster professors John Sheehan and Sean Nixon. Like many educators and advisors in community college classrooms, John and Sean were noticing a trend: many of their students did not have a solid plan for their future (and if they did have a plan, it was often someone else’s idea, like a parent’s). And when students don’t have a plan, they don’t have anything to motivate them to continue—leading to drop outs. SUNY Ulster students aren’t alone, here; according to the talk, only 28% of community college students nationwide ever graduate.

As computer science and graphic design professors, Sean and John wanted to use technology to empower students to create their own plan to motivate themselves through school. But they wanted to make sure that whatever they developed what was their students really needed, so they put the project in their hands. The result is the Real World Classroom Road Map App, an interactive tool created by students, for students; the goal is to ask students a series of questions that will lead them to discovering their own path. “Education is about becoming self-aware,” Sean stated in the talk. The app will also allow students to network with one another to make connections and find jobs, based on the “road map” they’ve created.

Kris Walker introduces the crowd to Odd Networks.
Kris Walker introduces the crowd to Odd Networks.

Our next talk came from Kris Walker, a seasoned developer responsible in part for the success of MadGlory, a Saratoga-based game development company. After creating custom software to stream video game play to a live audience in Madison Square Garden, Kris and his team began to think about the way that media is created and consumed, and how that landscape is changing. Television watching, for example, is on the decline for the majority of age groups—the only demographic watching more television now are those over 64 years old. “Cord cutters are changing the way media is consumed,” Kris said on Wednesday.

That means that live web streaming, like the sort his team created for MSG, is experiencing a major boost, and Odd Networks, an off-shoot of MadGlory that Kris co-founded for this kind of work, is at the forefront. They create what Kris calls “Netflix in a box,” a platform for brands and events to launch their own content streaming service to an audience over the web without highly expensive technologies or time-consuming development. Odd Networks released the SDK (software development kit) to create apps for Roku, Apple TV, etc.—which can be connected either to their cloud service, or to a content server developed with their open source platform. (We especially loved Kris’ shoutout to working outside traditional tech hubs. “We’re not in Saratoga Springs by accident,” he said, “just like you’re not living and working here in Kingston by accident.”)

Chris Hewitt explains the Hudson Valley Current, the fastest-growing local currency in the country,
Chris Hewitt explains the Hudson Valley Current, the fastest-growing local currency in the country,

And last, we learned how technology—in the form of a digital local currency called the Hudson Valley Current—could change the local economy. The Current can only be spent at businesses in Dutchess and Ulster Counties, ensuring that money spent locally stays local, explained co-creator Chris Hewitt. And that’s important because local restaurants keep two times more money in the local economy than chains—and local business keep four times more in the local economy than big box stores. In fact, Chris said, if each of us shifted just 10% more of our spending to local businesses, we’d keep $475 million more in our local communities.

The Current is entirely digital, functioning via a web-based “credit clearing” system (with the option of text-based and app-based payment, as well). Each Current member is offered a credit line of 300~ to begin; as they spend those Currents at local businesses and then accept payment for their own goods and services through Currents, they create what Chris called a “loop” of local spending. And those loops help develop “robust, interconnected, and resilient communities”—which is what we’re all looking for, after all.

This month's fantastic speakers!
This month’s fantastic speakers!

Thank you to everyone who joined us at this—and every—Hudson Valley Tech Meetup gathering, helping us create and cultivate a vibrant community. HV Tech isn’t limited to certain disciplines—it’s made up of people from all realms who care to innovate upon the existing systems and create positive change in their communities and the world. We’re so excited and inspired to be part of such a group.

Want to join us? Become a member now and attend the next Meetup in Poughkeepsie on June 29! (And don’t forget about the Day of Women In Tech Meetup on June 25!) See you there!

Photos courtesy of HV Tech partner Eberhardt Smith.

Your HV Tech team!
Your HV Tech team!