Minnebar – An (un)conference.

Minnebar LogoI’ve been waiting to attend my first (un)conference for over a year and a half, patiently watching my Google alerts each week to catch the next one. This weekend I was finally able to catch one.

An (un)conference is an informal conference designed to bring together programmers, designers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists; anyone interested in technology.

(Un)conferences or barcamps happen all across the country. They are a great place to find local talent or make connections with other people dealing with technology.

This year’s minnebar (un)conference was held at the impressive Best Buy headquarters in Richfield, MN and consisted of seven sessions covering more than 42 topics. The sessions were grouped into tracks including design, development, start ups, social media, and other. In addition, there were several empty meeting rooms where people could talk about their own favorite topic. Over 1,000 people registered, making this the largest (un)conference in the country.

The price was free or you could pay $10 as a community supporter or $30 as an even more generous sponsor. Breakfast and lunch was provided as well as free beer and wine after conference. ip-House provided everyone with a really nice notebook (spiral bound with grid layout paper) and I am now the proud owner of a very colorful cyan t-shirt. (It is the one color I didn’t have in my t-shirt collection and looks really great with my SXSW 2009 baseball hat.)

I attended several Drupal related sessions and discovered that the Twin Cities has a very active Drupal group that meets several times a month.

Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad, along with Larry Jacobs from the Humphrey Institute and Rachel Smith, Director of Elections for Hennepin county, led a group discussion on electronic voting. Robert started the discussion out with "If I can order a pizza with my iPhone, why can’t I vote?" The discussion evolved from voting into different ways that technology could be used for more participatory and transparency in government. For example, at election time wouldn’t it be nice to have a mobile app that would give you a score card of an incumbent from the previous term? Or, to be able to fill out a form selecting the ideas and values that are important to you as a person and have these cross-matched with the platform of various candidates, giving you recommendations on which candidate meets your personal values and ideas?

In another session, Dr. Andrew Fleck, from Appleton, Wisconsin, talked about social networks based on Schumpter’s Hive. He described the theory behind innovative networks as well as giving working examples (the development of Linux). He wasn’t talking about FaceBook or Twitter, but collaborative, innovation networks and how innovators, learners, and interested people communicate and interact with each other.

If you are into technology, especially if you are a developer, designer, or web entrepreneur, don’t miss the next Minnebar!  You can register here for email notifications. And, if you have a topic you are passionate about, put your name in the hat and be a presenter at the next Minnebar.


Special thanks to Luke and all the people who continue to make Minnebar possible.








Resume Tips

It is the end of the semester and nearing graduation so I’m getting several resumes from students to critique.

Here is a checklist of things to include on your resume:

If you’ve done any volunteer work, definitely include that. It shows that you are a people person and that you know how to play well with others.

Employers are looking for the soft skills. Use words that emphasize that the following are part of your overall attitude and education:

  • Communication skills (Are you personable, can you explain things clearly, do you like express yourself in different ways such as writing, talking, sharing, turoring?)
  • Math skills (Making change as a bartender is an excellent example)
  • Knowing how to learn new things (Can you pick up new information on your own. What have you done that demonstrates this?)
  • Team building and Leadership (This is critical in today’s world.)
  • Global Awareness (Have you been to other countries? Do you communicate with people from other countries? If not, volunteer at a local education center where people are learning English As Another Language (ESL or ELL). In Mankato, MN this would be the Lincoln Center)

Use this information on your resume and update your eFolio. Include the URL to your eFolio at the bottom of the resume. This demonstrates that you know and understand today’s media and communications.

Don’t distribute your resume as a docx (unless the employer specifies this format). Instead have it available as well design XHTML page and a PDF. That way everyone can see it, not just the few that own the newest version of Microsoft Word.

Have you gotten any awards or recognition of any type? Put those in. They are very helpful in letting people know your values and what is important to you.

Do you have any web sites that you have developed or designed? List the URLs.

Take a look at the http://GPSLifePlan.com/southcentral website. They have lots of other things on career and resume writing that you might find useful. Build your eFolio on the five topics (Career, Education, Financial, Leadership, Personal) to really wow anyone that is considering you for employment.

Finally, have several people read over your resume from an employer’s point of view. Heck, why not have possible employer read it over? Instead of asking for a job, ask someone in your network to critique your resume and ask for guidance. If they can’t hire you they will probably recommend someone that may be interested in the skills and traits you list on your resume.

Secrets of a Web Developer

Secrets of a Web Developer book cover
Secrets of a Web Developer
Over the years students have asked/suggested/cajoled that I write a book with the information I present in my classes. For starters I decided to pull together all of the tutorials I have written for my Web Development course.

The Secrets of a Web Developer is now available for $39.00. You can view some excerpts from the book as well as the complete table of contents out on the site.

There are over 300 pages covering all the major aspects of web page development with lots of screen shots and graphics and step-by-step instructions.

  • The
    Web and the Internet
  • XHTML markup
  • Page styling with CSS
  • Page layout
    using CSS
  • SEO – Search Engine Optimization
  • Design Principles and the Design Process
  • Web Marketing
  • An introduction to JavaScript

These tutorials were written for anyone interested in learning
how to build web sites with no prior knowledge of programming or HTML.

This is an entry-level book and all you need is an understanding file
management and basic typing skills.

The tools are all free. You will need a color-coded text editor (such as NotePad++)
and a browser. FireFox is recommended because of the many add-on tools that are available.

If you are interested in taking the complete Web Developer course online there is more information at http://southcentral.edu/cc/course/webDev.html.

Being A Knowledge Worker

On February 11th, 2009 Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times, “We live in a technological age where every study shows that the more knowledge you have as a worker and the more knowledge workers you have as an economy, the faster your incomes will rise.”

What are you doing to become a knowledge worker?

Knowledge Worker – a person employed due to his or her knowledge of a subject matter, rather than their ability to perform manual labor. It includes those in the information technology fields, such as computer programmers, systems analysts, technical writers and so forth. The term can also refer to people outside of information technology but who are hired for their knowledge of some subject, such as lawyers, teachers, and scientists.

Who has YOUR domain name?

Who has your domain name?

As domain names become more scarce you might want to think about saving your own. Many people use their own name. Right now this may seem like a vanity thing, but it could be a valuable professional asset in the future.

Think of 5-10 domain names that you would like to own, then do a search to see if they are available. You’ll be surprised to find out how many are already taken. You can use Network Solutions to see if the name is taken. (Virtually every hosting service allows you to check domain names.) You can register your domain name for around $15/year.

Once you have a domain name you will need to get a hosting service if you want to have a presence on the Web. Some hosting services offer free domain registration, but their monthly rates are much higher.

Be smart and get the license to your own domain name now while you still can. Most likely it will become a valuable asset in the years ahead.

Photo from iStockPhoto.com

Hosting Traps to be Aware of

One of my students sent me a link to an excellent article on things to be aware of when purchasing a web hosting server package. Here are some highlights from Jason Faulkner’s article:

  • Be cautious on paying for your own dedicated server
  • Be skeptical of the claim “Our Data Center Is Top Notch”
    • Cisco router and firewall (I have a Linksys – a division of Cisco – home router with a built in firewall).
    • 100 mb backbone (all my equipment and NICs are 100 mb capable), but you would probably see gigabit backbone instead.
    • Backup power supply (pick any consumer level battery backup).
    • Climate controlled environment (we have heating and air conditioning).
    • [insert a stock photo of row of server racks here which I paid $20 for the rights to use.]
      Granted this is a very absurd example, but you get the idea of how easy it is to stretch the truth.
  • Avoid The “Free” Domain Registration With Hosting Package
    If there is nothing else you take from this article, remember this: Never let your hosting provider register your domain name for you as part of a hosting deal. Often times you can purchase a hosting package which includes free domain name registration and renewal as long as you remain a customer. While this may seem appealing, it is the worst thing you can do because your hosting provider, not you, owns the domain. This may not sound like a big deal, but as soon as you want to move hosting providers, guess who controls your domain? Not you. Worse yet, there is absolutely nothing you can do to get control over your domain unless the current owner (the hosting provider) transfers it to you.
  • Be Aware of “Unlimited Bandwidth and Storage”
  • Less Than $5 Per Month Hosting: As the adage goes… you always get what you pay for. Putting it bluntly, if you are paying $3 per month for hosting, you are only going to get $3 worth.
  • Beware of the claim ” 99.99% Up-Time Guarantee”
    If you do the math, 99.99% up-time means the server is only unavailable 4 minutes and 22 seconds per month (53 minutes an entire year).
  • Don’t trust the offer of “100% Free Hosting”
    bandwidth is not free. Make sure you read the fine print in any agreement claiming this as most likely there are ads embedded somewhere in your site, or the hosting package is so limited that it is virtually worthless.
    1. Go out to Jason Faulkner’s article for all the details.

      Thanks Pat for the great tip.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts is a great tool to help you keep the pulse on specific topics being published to the Web.

Set up alerts for any topic you are interested in:

  • sports team
  • products or trademarks
  • your domain name (who else is referring to it?)
  • favorite topics or business names
  • people, famous or otherwise

The service is free and whenever Google sees a phrase that matches your Alert it will send you an email with links to that page.

Here is an example: I work with Drupal, an open-source content managment system. By setting up an alert for “Drupal” I can find out about all the latest reference to this program including potential security holes someone has discovered, tutorials, and new books.

Asking the Big Questions – The TED Conference

TED Conference LogoEvery once in awhile the power of the Web still surprises me. Recently, reading David Pogue’s blog from the New York Times,  I discovered a real gold mine: The TED Conference. Technology, Entertainment, and Design.

Every year some of the brightest people in the world meet in Monterey, CA for a few days to talk about what they are doing. It costs $4,400 to attend a conference and the 2008 conference is already sold out. Speakers are not paid but get to attend the conference for free. (You can also request an invitation from their website based on your enthusiasm, ideas, and success in your field.)

A little pricey you say? But wait, they’ve put some of the presentations on line. You can watch the videos of some very amazing presentations . Each is about 20 minutes (although there are a few three minute specials), and you will be thinking about them for days. The TED videos are especially effective if you watch two or three in one setting. I usually catch a couple before I go to sleep at night, just to give my brain something to think about in my dreams.

Here’s a quote for the upcoming 2008 conference, The Big Questions:

"Many people come to TED seeking something out of the ordinary. A chance to mentally recharge. A chance to step back and consider the really big stuff that’s happening. A chance to understand life in a richer way. "

Check out these videos and you’ll see what they mean.

Your Own Piece of the Web for $40/year or less.

Peter K Johnson's home pagePeople understand the Web because they use it every day. But, not everyone knows how easy it is to get your own web site up and running on the Web. You can do it for less than $40/year.

Domain Names

The first part of getting published is to get your own domain name. A good domain is hard to find because most of the common ones have already been taken. You want one that meets the following requirements:

  • describes your site
  • is easy to remember and easy to spell
  • is available on the Web

The DNS (Domain Name System/Server) keeps track of all the domain names on the Web so there are no duplicates. Domain names can be ordered from InterNic and other DNS vendors. For your convenience most web hosting services allow you to order a domain name as one of the services.

An annual license for a new domain name will cost about $17/year. Many web hosting services offer domains for free or very low priced as a loss-leader. Existing names are more expensive. Many people around the world purchase domain names hoping to resell them later. Often names licensed names will cost $1,000’s, especially if a company really wants a particular name as part of their product identity.

Because of the scarcity of good names it is best to make up a list of 20 or 30 names that would be appropriate for your web site. Prioritize them, then visit your web host provider as outlined below and do a search for each one. Be ready to purchase any you find. I’ve heard tales of people searching for names only to come back a few days later to find that their names have been licensed by someone else.

Purchase as many years as you can. (This is one of the criteria that Google uses to determine how to rank a web page.) Also, think of purchasing multiple endings (.com, .org. .net) as well as multiple names. If there’s a variation (or commonly misspelled version) purchase that as well.

Keep in mind that domain name licensing is separate from having pages published on the Web. You can license a domain name now without having the added expense of hosting a site right away.

Because of their high value and growing scarcity, a good domain name is an important asset for any company or business.

Web Hosting

There are thousands of hosting services available. A simple search on the Web (for example: web hosting comparisons) will give you lots of options.

Beware of GoDaddy.com. They are very popular right now and market their services heavily. However, their servers have very strict policies and a lot of tools such as Drupal, a popular CMS (Content Management System) , and CGI scripts are very difficult to install.

Building Web Site

You can create your own web site with a text editor and a browser. Cost: your time. More sophisticated web programmers use DreamWeaver from Adobe/Macromedia. Please don’t use FrontPage. It is now defunct having been replaced by Microsoft’s new product: Expression. There are also many free web editors available including NVue, FirstPage, AlleyCode, and Amaya which runs on Mac OS X as well as Windows.

Often people take my Web Programming I course just to learn how to write HTML and build their own site.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to build your own web site you can always contact the computer science or art department at your local college. Ask if their web students need projects to work on. For example, my Web Programming I and Web Programming II courses both have capstone requirements involving community business partners.

Your Own Piece of the Web

So, for less than $40/year you can have your own site up on the Web. At the very least you should consider setting up a personal home page. And, if you are an entrepreneur (or even thinking about being one) now is the time to get your piece of the web. At the very least, reserve your domain names.

Want to see more details on all of this? Check out my business presentation out on my web site: Web Marketing