Hudson Valley Tech Meetup: The Musical

Hudson Valley Tech Meetup returned to Kingston last Wednesday, where members beat the heat in the beautiful air-conditioned Senate Garage. Throughout the night, the crowd was treated to a few surprises—including the unveiling of two brand-new videos that we produced for the Ulster County Economic Development Alliance (featuring Karina Dresses and Dennis Crowley’s work with Stockade FC), and the introduction of Zac Shaw and Joe Maggio, our HV tech house band.

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What’s an HV Tech house band, you ask? Well, Wednesday’s attendees found out when Zac and Joe (AKA “Ads”), who often cover ad jingles, performed a series of hilariously on-point theme songs—one for the HV Tech event itself (“Let’s Get Technical,” their version of Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical”), and one for each of the speakers, custom-written based on their work (and, in the case of Amy Hoy, on her Tweets). They also proved to be funny in a pinch, filling in transition moments—and cracking up the audience—with their ad-libbed musical entertainment. We hope to see these two return to the HV Tech stage some time soon.

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Tim Brown, typography director for Adobe Type and Typekit, began his talk by giving the audience a few pointers on choosing a typeface for body text—the text that makes up the majority of what your viewers will read. “Taking time to care about your body typeface is really important,” he explained. “It affects everything else.” The three key characteristics of a good body typeface? Sturdy shapes, even color, active texture. Flourishes and details that look great at large sizes can make smaller sized body text difficult to read, but “texture”—contrast of stroke thicknesses and white space—makes reading easier by helping the reader distinguish individual letters. And the most important factor for any typeface, be it body, header, or other, is balance. “Great type designers imbue their typefaces with balance,” Tim explained, demonstrating the way that letterspacing (kerning and leading) can help designers achieve a sense of balance.

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In today’s content-heavy world, these typeface considerations are no longer superfluous. “Typography has changed forever because of the web,” Tim said, explaining that the digital world has changed both the expectations of readers and the responsibilities of designers. (That’s why he’s working on transitioning Typekit from a website to a platform and sketching out guides for web type choices.) Tim has come to these conclusions after over a decade working in the world of type. Before making his home in Kingston, he studied design at SUNY New Paltz, and felt that the rest of the world wasn’t really up to speed on what was happening in the Hudson Valley tech and design scene. So he started a blog, where he shared his thoughts on type and design in the world of the web. That blog is what launched his typographic career; he was soon offered a position at Adobe. His one caveat? He didn’t want to leave the Hudson Valley (and was thankfully told that location was not an issue). A man after our own hearts.

This month’s demo came from Jack Chen, CEO of B2B start-up Loud-Hailer—both the Australian term for a megaphone and an “augmented connectivity” technology developed right here in the Hudson Valley. Loud-Hailer was inspired by a problem with which many upstaters are familiar: the fact that, even in this day and age, there are still places without cellular or data service (Jack mentioned Minnewaska State Park, cruise ships, deserts, and even parts of the White House as examples). How can we share information without connectivity? Loud-Hailer uses “BLE” or Bluetooth Low Energy technology to extend network coverage, allowing people to connect with others within a 250-foot spherical radius, even without cell or Internet service—and giving users the ability to create a “mesh network” of multiple devices in order to expand even further. Their goal? “To make digital communication as easy as talking and listening,” Jack explained.

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His case study demonstrated all the flexibility that this technology has. Loud-Hailer is in its beta testing period, but they have created a primary messaging platform at a public university, using Bluetooth repeaters called “Chatterboxes” (hardware that can transmit messages from the cloud to Bluetooth-enabled devices). This allows students to receive messages from the university and from others without using their data, and without the university installing campus-wide wireless Internet, which was cost-prohibitive. Now, the university can send messages about classes and community events, location-customized safety messages (without using geo-tracking, thereby protecting user privacy), and can even receive “panic button” alerts from students in trouble, which go directly to campus security.

The night ended on a motivational note with a talk from programmer, author, and co-creator of time-tracking app Freckle, Amy Hoy. In her signature snarky style, Amy detailed the history that led to her current work—from her colorful Ruby “cheat sheets,” which originally led to her Internet fame, to the founding of her blog Unicorn Free, to the creation of her series of business classes (which has led to over $3,000,000 in revenue for her students). Along the way, she encountered plenty of boring, overwhelming technical books that tried to tackle “everything” within a topic. This inspired her to try her hand at writing her own technical book—a book that instead, would focus on one short, self-contained topic. She began with Just F#*!ing Ship, a book about tech productivity and finishing side projects, which went on to make over $47,000 in profit.

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Amy had some advice for the audience. First of all, she says, you can write a book, too! If you have knowledge on a particular topic—if there’s something you’ve wasted hours figuring out or hard lessons you’ve learned—chances are that other people have had the same experience, and would love to learn from you. Plus, she says, teaching–whether it be through a book, a workshop, or a screencasts series—“increases your aura of expertise” within your industry. You don’t need to rely on the publishing industry; as Amy stated, “almost no technical books earn out their advances.” Instead, self-publishing is an excellent choice for technical books and a great way to add to your income; she and her husband have made a collective $269,000+ from self-publishing.

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Marketing is key. “Start a blog,” Amy advised, “write about your topic, and Always Be Collecting e-mails.” And most importantly, your book must stay very focused on that self-contained topic you decided on at the beginning, both for marketing purposes, and because if you try to write a book about “everything,” you’ll never be able to finish it. “Because the world is constantly changing,” Amy reminded us.

If you’re kicking yourself for missing July’s Meetup, not to worry—we have TWO events in August! The first will happen August 23 in Newburgh—our very first time in Newburgh—and the second will be our regularly scheduled monthly Meetup in Poughkeepsie on August 31. Join us over at HV Tech for more details. See you there!

Photos courtesy of HV Tech partner Eberhardt Smith.