So for Vancouver’s Barcamp 2010, we made a pong game for the iPad that people could control using their eyes.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a Vancouver Barcamp summary. However, my good friend Mack Flavelle wrote a great summary and another guy named Shivanand, whom I wish i had met, did another awesome job.
What this is, is a post explaining the project I hacked together during Vancouver Barcmp 2010 with Craig & Tom: eyePong
I hate when people make me read to the end, so here’s a video of the project:
What is pong?
For those who don’t know what pong is, it was an old arcade game where a ball goes back and forth between two human controller paddles. You can google it or read the wikipedia article for more info. But a picture should pretty much explain it:
The eye gazer equipment is from Craig Hennessey, founder of mirametrix, and I worked with developer & overall hilarious person Tom Schultz (@appskicker).
By the time I joined them on Saturday, Tom had already gotten the backend “secret sauce” working, which passed the x & y coordinates of the eyes to the iPad over a TCP socket connection. We pair programmed (read: I watched him type slowly on this weird wireless keyboard while we both laughed a lot) the initial pong paddle & the ball. I then took over, fixed the paddle’s position, recorded persistent high score (so you could play against others), added sound to the ball hitting the paddle, & made the direction & velocity of the paddle change the way the pong moves.
The green “box” is the pong ball, and the white square is the calculated eye Gaze. It’s pretty cool how people tend to watch the ball as it moves around.
Here’s the same video as above: some random guy playing it near the end of barcamp & me narrating (I hate silent videos).
Here’s a movie of Craig playing the game & me hiding laughter, while someone gives a completely unrelated barcamp talk. Ironically, it’s more of a silent video, which I usually hate.
Obviously the codes pretty messy since we pushed this out in, literally, a few hours. I’ll be cleaning it up a bit & maybe githubing it if there’s enough interest (read: ping me if you’re interested). Craig’s plan is to make an API out of it.
I’ve been thinking a lot more about Vancouver’s startup community recently.
In the last week, I’ve met with a few genuine & hard-working entrepreneurs here in Vancouver. Two that come to mind are Ashish Gurung (@AshishGurung), CEO of NuXD, and Ryan Holmes (@invoker), CEO of Inoke Media’s Hootsuite. Great people. If you haven’t met them yet, you should. Looking at them from the outside, there seems to be little connection between the two: One is relatively unknown in Vancouver and the other created an app used by large organizations like the White House & Disney.
But in my meetings with them I found one similar trait: they both genuinely cared. And not just about my questions on startups, but they really exuded a genuine desire to help without much in return for themselves. And this was in the midst of their rushed, busy schedules.
I often forget that in addition to just writing about it, building community takes people who actually care about other people. This has definitely challenged me to rethink the way I interact with people I network with.
However, many people I talk to don’t see the need in building community here in Vancouver. It’s not a direct statement (hey, we’re Canadians), but more of a subtle undertone in many of my conversations. For a while, I was quite discouraged. So you can imagine my catharsis at reading David Crow’s recent post where he addresses the very question & quotes Paul Graham’sWhat Startups Are Really Like. In particular, 17. The Value of Community:
“One of the most surprising things I saw was the willingness of people to help us. Even people who had nothing to gain went out of their way to help our startup succeed…The surprise for me was how accessible important and interesting people are. It’s amazing how easily you can reach out to people and get immediate feedback.” – comments on What Startups Are Really Like
“If you’re not passionate about something you can’t possibly be successful in it.” – Mike Desjardins (CEO of VIRTUS)
18 year old Vancouverite Brian Wong embodies this quote. As the co-founder of FollowFormation.com, a tool that helps twitter “noobs” follow the top users in the category of their choice, Brian Wong has traditionally stayed “under the radar” and allowed his products to take the spotlight. Now, as he’s admitted to me, that’s about to change.
I caught up with him at downtown Coal Harbour for a quick interview on what he’s up to. When I say “caught” I mean it in the literal sense as we’ve been playing email tag for the good half of this year. Earlier this week, I finally got to sit down with him & he, being the A.D.D energetic wizard kid he is, initiated my first walking interview:
Passion & Skill: The Driving Forces Behind Brian’s Success
Anyone that has met Brian in person knows that he’s passionate about what he does. That, and he loves talking. Take a look at followformation.com, his design company aer marketing, or his recent slide presentation at Mini Enterprize and you’ll see the perfect blend of aesthetic appeal & quality content.
When I asked him where he learned all his design skills, he said they were “self-taught.” The simplicity and elegance of his design style rivals many top designing companies I know and yet he taught himself! He’s obviously got some natural skill & talent. Imagine if even a fraction of students discovered that unchartered territory of where their passions meet their skills and build those skills!
No Free Lunch: Hard Work Pays Off
However, Brian would also argue emphatically that he worked his butt off to get where he’s at. I wouldn’t agree more. Lucas Lemanowicz, his now co-founder who started off as a developer for Aer, tells me of the time Brian got the idea for FollowFormation:
“It was 4am, and Brian had just called me to wake me up & tell me about his crazy idea. All I could say is, ‘what time is it?!?!’ ” – Lucas Lemanowicz
These stories and more abound in Brian’s life. He’s also known for his sporadic sleeping pattern, which you can ask him about yourself.
However, it’s not just hard work & crazy sleeping that brought Brian to where he is. It’s the fact that he actually went out and did it. He didn’t talk about it, complain about how hard the economy is, or whine about how his previous employees didn’t give him the freedom to create. He went out and made his own company and did all those things.
That’s the pattern I’m seeing over and over in interviewing successful entrepreneurs. When everyone else was talking about it, they went out and did it.
When I probed him further about his lack of personal online presence, he admitted:
“People are telling me I’m hoarding all this information but that’s not it at all. I spend time making presence for the things I do. My actions matter, not my thoughts.” – Brian Wong
Those words speaks highly of the maturity that has led to his current success. Brian has mastered at 18 years what many people still have trouble mastering @ 40.
Connecting with people that matter: Not Just Hard Work but Smart Work
In addition to Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, Brian has been traveling the globe connecting with influential people like Gary Vaynerchuk & the team behind RetailMeNot & BugMeNot. To him, they are “people that matter.” That’s his advice. To connect with the people that matter to you.
But he doesn’t like telling people who he’s met with because they get so focused on those people, they’re missing the point. It’s not the names of these “celebrities” he’s connect with, but rather how he made those connections.
As a quick story to end off, Brian talks about how he started to build his worldwide network & got connected with Kevin Rose. FollowFormation had just made some big news through Mashable and other similar sites and Brian phoned the worldwide Twitter conference in LA, told him he was a poor student, and asked if there was any solution. The receptionist replied that only speakers get in for free. He then asked to be a speaker. The rest is, as they say, history!
As Brian heads off to San Fran to work for Digg, I’ve asked him if he plans on coming back.
“Of course! Vancouver is my home! I won’t forget her!”
I’ll end off with a quote from Guy Kawasaki. Brian chatted with him in LA & Guy told him this:
“Focus on making meaning & the money will come.” – Guy Kawasaki
This past weekend, I organized the first Innovation Camp for Vancouver’s most passionate student leaders & entrepreneurs from UBC, SFU, & Langara. The party included presidents, execs, & champion members of the following organizations: Enterprize Canada, SIFE SFU, VSEA, SIFE UBC, UBC’s VCPE, Langara Business Association, & SFU’s Venture Networks.
I’ll be honest: In general, I hate twitter contests.
They’re too ‘spammy’, in-your-face, & don’t give enough value to the people entering (other than the incentive of winning). They’re kind of like those multi-level-marketing “we can help you make $8,030,100 a day without trying” meetings.
Now, I’m sure they work (for the same reasons spamming thousands of people & getting those people to spam others works), but I wanted to brainstorm a way to offer the benefits of contests without the spamminess.
So I came up with this: People “enter” the contest by tweeting something of value to others. Simple. That way, even without the contest ‘incentive’, you get pure value just by reading the entries.
Motivated in part by my earlier post where I mentioned that we need to talk about each other’s success more, this week, I asked the 1000+ Vancouver Startup Digest readers which local startups they’re excited about & why. Every tweet to @SDVancouver with info on the best Vancouver startups will be an entry into a contest to win free tickest to Launch Party Vancouver 10!
You can win tickets to Launch Party Vancouver 10 too!
Startup Digest is a weekly curated list of the best startup events in a city. We’re in over 55 cities with almost 50,000 subscribers worldwide. I curate the Vancouver SD, which you can sign up for here.
I had the privilege of interviewing Boris Mann of Bootup Labs on why students don’t know about Bootup, why some might be scared of him, and his number one advice for student entrepreneurs.
To his credit, this was spur of the moment and he didn’t have time to prepare. For zero preparation time, his answers were pretty darn good. Here’s his top, number 1 advice to student entrepreneurs:
My lovely wife, Vicki, typed up a transcript of the entire interview which you can check at the end of this post for those of us who don’t have time to watch the four minute interview. So kudos to her! Here’s the full interview:
For those who are like me and don’t even want to read a transcript to find the main points, here they are:
When I realized I wanted to be an entrepreneur at the end of University, it was pretty late in the game and I found it difficult to connect with other like-minded co-founders. I had just turned down a job offer as a PM at Microsoft, and, gauging the economic recession, was beginning to think I just shot myself in the foot. Continue reading “My Current Passion: Revolutionizing Vancouver’s Startup Scene”→
In hindsight, I could have gotten seriously injured in this experience.
Nevertheless, for the advancement of better user experiences, it illustrates my point succinctly.
I ate a char siu bau this weekend from Kam Do Bakery in Richmond – half way through my delectable appetizer I found, to my horror, a thin staple-sized piece of metal in the middle of my bun. (see the picture below, no dramatization here folks!!!)