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Startup Weekend for Introverted Hackers

Last weekend (November 22 through 24) I attended the Portland Startup Weekend. It was pretty intense, and I learned a lot, although most of what I learned was not technical in any way, shape, or form.

This is not a hack-a-thon

Seriously, it’s not. I went in expecting that the focus would be technical, and that I would be dealing mostly with technical people. This was not the case. There is a serious focus on marketability, market research, market validation, and all kinds of business stuff that technical folks like me tend not to think about. Don’t be surprised when you spend the first night there with a big business plan canvas, and not hammering out code. Which makes sense, when you realize that this is a startup weekend geared towards forming a new, successful business, and not a hack-a-thon filled with people who are interested only in doing interesting technical things. Even though the startup itself may require lots of technical work, that work will be, at best, 50% of the focus of the weekend. Which isn’t to say that technical skills dont matter: they absolutely do. Just don’t expect to be the star of the show.

This isn’t to say that the hackers there won’t have serious technical chops: lots of them probably will. On the second team I worked for, we had some very, very skilled people on both the hardware and the software side of things, who accomplished an incredible amount of work in a very small amount of time. The winning team had a really impressive demo (although my knowledge of the frameworks they used did somewhat temper my wonder at what they accomplished). Having good hackers really matters. But you can’t get buy with only good hackers.

Hustlers, Hipsters, and You

Startup weekend groups people into 3 categories: Hackers (technical folks like me), Hipsters (designers and artistic types), and Hustlers (business people, lawyers, and others of their ilk). You will need at least one of each in order to do well. Try to recruit a diverse team, but don’t worry too much if you dont: at various points during the 3 days, you can put out feelers for the types you’re missing, and you will likely get some help, at least for a while. Also, don’t be surprised if your hustler turns out to actually be a hipster, or your hipster really is a hacker. Some of the people who come to startup weekend come specifically to work on things outside their comfort zone, or to hone skills they don’t already have. Embrace the people who do this, because they’ll bring a passion to the role that you may not otherwise find in someone who does their startup weekend role for a living.

Pitches

After the standard meet and greet, pitches will begin. I don’t know if portland startup weekend is representative of all the start up weekends, but there will likely be a lot of pitches. I heard that there were something like 60 pitches out of 115 participants, so settle in. Each person gets 1 minute, and they may or may not be a) coherent or 2) able to articulate their idea. That said, it’s ends up being quite interesting hearing what each of the people want to say. While 1/3 (number chosen randomly) of the people will “totally have thought this up on the way here”, the rest of the participants will genuinely believe in and love the idea that they are pitching. I want to say you should try to focus on the “serious” pitchers, but some of the non serious ideas may actually be really great. Don’t be afraid to contribute to a spur of the moment idea. I took notes during the pitches, but nothing particularly in-depth: The name of the ideas that appealed to me, and a sentence about them, so I would remember what intrigued me about the idea when it came time to vote.

Voting and Team Formation

After about 10 or so minutes of organizing, the volunteers will put up sheets of paper with the company names, and then the voting begins. You get 3 votes, and can you can put them all towards what you think is the best idea, or spread them around. This is your chance to ask any questions, and get a feel for the person you might end up working with.

Depending on the number of participants and number of pitches, the volunteers will tell you how many teams can be formed. The ideas with the highest numbers of votes win, in my case that meant there were 16 teams. Some of the pitches may end up not being an official team, but if you really really believe in an idea, you can work on it anyway. I don’t know if the unofficial teams can get any of the prizes, though, but don’t let that dictate things. If you really think it’s an awesome idea, hack away!

Once the official teams are formed, you have 15 minutes to pick the teams you want to work with. Hopefully, one of the pitches you voted for was picked, but if not don’t fret. This is your chance to really get to know the person you’ll be working with over the next 54 hours, so ask any questions you might have, see what kind of skills they looking for, and what their target Minimum Viable Product is for the weekend. This might seem like a lot to ask of 3 or more people in only 15 minutes, and it is. It’s important that you time-box the pitcher. You only have 15 minutes, and the person who pitched their idea believes strongly in it, and will probably talk your ear off for the entire time to get you on their team. Don’t be afraid to just say hey, it’s a really cool idea, but it’s just not something I’m interested in working on, and then move on. No hard feelings.

Hopefully by now, you’ve found a team with an idea you like, and joined up. Everyone will sign in and the team leaders will report to the organizers. Now it’s time to make that startup.

TL;DR

Do a startup weekend, you won’t regret it. Take the monday off. Meet interesting people, do interesting work. Maybe even start a company with the people you meet.

iPhone Cases and Bluetooth Headphones

Like most iPhone owners, I tend to use my phone for a lot of things. One of the primary uses is to keep track of my various attempts at fitness. I use software and services from Runkeeper and My Fitness Pal to keep track of my workouts and calorie consumption, along with a Wahoo Fitness Blue HR to keep track of my activity. I like the combination, although I would like to add a power meter for cycling, and maybe a smart scale. And that iPhone blood pressure monitor my doctor gave me, once I get an adapter.

Having all these electronics is nice, except for the small fact that I live in a place where it rains pretty much constantly for 8 months of the year. As a result, I’ve been looking into weatherproof cases, and have consulted a coworker of mine who sails and kayaks, and a friend who lives in a place with actual monsoons. They both recommended the same case: the LifeProof frÄ“. So I picked one up.

The Case

Overall, I’m quite impressed with the case. It doesn’t add too much bulk, given the protection it provides, and I haven’t had any issues using the touch screen, the home button, or any of the controls. The Gore-Tex screen protector works well, although it does occasionally stick to the screen itself, leaving a kind of rainbow pattern. It’s not too noticeable during normal usage, though. I did remove my Invisible Shield screen and body protector (hands down my favorite screen protector, I’ve used them since I had an original iPhone) because 1) it was recommended by Lifeproof and 2) I figured the full on protection of the Lifeproof would be enough, especially since I haven’t been removing it from the case. It keeps the rain off, and provides a lot of shock protection as well. Paired with the bike mount it’s basically ideal for my purposes. There is one small problem, although it’s not completely a problem with the case itself.

The problem

The problem comes with the provided connector for use with headphones, and the plug for when you’re not using headphones. The headphone connector is actually a pretty ingenious solution, in that it has a longer screw-in plug with a gasket, and a length of rubber cord into which you would plugin standard headphones. It’s clearly designed with protection first in mind,
and as a result it’s pretty unweildy. It also doesn’t appear to invoke the auto-pause feature of the phone when headphones are unplugged from the connector. When the connector is not in a use, a small, simple plug with a gasket is screwed into the case where the connector would normally be.

My primary concern regarding the connector and (moreso) the small plug is that I am almost inevitably going to lose one or both. The connector has a small rubber pouch into which the plug can be inserted, but it’s still on a matter of time before either the plug, or the connector gets lost. And while Lifeproof does sell replacements, they’re $19.99 a pop, and I would probably have to get one for the office, the car, and home in order to avoid losing any in the shuffle. The only effective solution to this is to keep the headphone connector in one place, and only unplug the small plug when it can be immediately placed into the rubber pouch on the connector. Even then, it’s all too easy to drop the plug into the nether regions of my car.

The Solution

The solution to this problem, then, is something that will let me listen music on the phone, without using the headphone jack. Which basically means wireless headphones. Luckily, since this is a smartphone, I can use bluetooth for my wireless.

The Headphones

After reading a bunch of reviews, I decided to get the bluetooth headphones recommended by The Wirecutter. What I actually ended up getting, however, was the most recent revision of that model, the LG TONE+ HBS 730. I found them at, of all places, Best Buy on sale for 60 bucks. I really, really love these headphones. They’re comfortable to wear for a full day in the office, and the weight is negligible. The flexible ring sits nicely on my neck, and I dont’ even notice it after a while. The neck ring also works while running, and I worry more about the sweat affecting the headphones than I do about the headphones themselves falling off. That said, I can’t image the headphones staying put in a less vertical workout: situps, bench press, or the like would probably not be great with this headset.

The battery life has been great thus far. The manual claims 10 hours of music and 15 hours of standby, and I believe it. No problems at all for eight or nine hours of near continuous usage. Curiously, in spite of the fact that the charging port is a Micro-USB port, the charging cable itself is actually a wall wart, rather than a standard USB cable. The unit does full charge in 2 hours, and I wonder if perhaps the use of a wall wart has something to do with it. I haven’t yet tried to charge the unit from a computer with a normal USB cable. The unit can’t be used while charging, which sort of makes sense given that it’s supposd to be a wireless headset.

The controls on the neck band are good, not great. There’s basically no tactile difference between any of the buttons, and you have to remember that the fast-forward/reverse buttons are on the right hand side, along with pause. The volume controls and call answer button are on the left side, and basically the exact same form factor as the other buttons. The on/off switch is also on this side, and is a little small for my tastes, but again, is serviceable. The neck band also contains a microphone for when the headphones are being used as a handsfree headset. The quality of the microphone is good, much better than the iPhone speaker phone mic, and the sound quality when being used as a headset is also very good.

The neck band also has magnetic cradles on the right and left side, which will hold the earbuds themselves when they are not in your ears, to keep them from dangling off to the side. This is a nice touch, and i think a good solution to the only thing I really worry about on this headset: the cables connecting the earbuds to the neck band. They feel much too flimsy for my liking, and I worry that they will fray/snap/otherwise break. Holding them in the magnetic cradle rather than having them dangle seems like it would reduce any potential wear and tear, but it’s still the biggest thing on my mind as far as points of failure for the headphones go. Time will tell how durable they end up being.

The headphones also support multipoint pairing, which is a feature I doubt I will ever use.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the lifeproof case with bluetooth headphones is a pretty killer combo. The phone is protected from the elements, I don’t have to worry about losing the tiny pieces that will keep it protected, and I get nice sound with no dangling cables. Next up: a bluetooth head unit so I can avoid the hassle of screwing/unscrewing the connector every time I get in or out of the car.