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.








Quoting a New Customer

A graduate of mine is quoting on his first project and he sent me an email asking what he should charge.

I thought this information might be helpful to you.

Quoting a job for a new client is always a difficulty.

  • You could ask for a lump sum for a specific task.
  • Or, set up an hourly rate and a set number of hours.  And then renegotiate when that time/project runs out.
  • Another idea is to work for a lower rate but ask for shares in the profits. Make sure it is a specific things ($10 per sale or 10% of the gross sale) and something that can be tracked and verified by a third-party.
Start small. Do a simple add/change to the program just so you can get the feel for it. Make it a specific task that you can estimate better on how long it will take.
Encourage your client to chunk the project so you can bid on each task or a group of similar tasks.
After awhile,  you will have a working relationship with the client and will have a better feel for what he can afford and how fast you can accomplish it.Also, look for things that the client might not think of. The more “value added” you bring to the project (from his or her point-of-view, not yours) the more you will be worth.An earlier blog entry I wrote might help you determine a rate for yourself:

Figuring out a rate is very personal. Don’t think so much about what the client will pay, but more of how much your time is worth. If you bid to low you will be cranky near the end of the project because you will feel like it has kept you from doing what you really wanted to do and all you got for it was a lousy t-shirt.

Above all, work towards a partnership vs. how much money you can make, that will pay off the highest dividends in the long run.

Publishing on LuLu

LuLu LogoThe established way to publish a book, or calendar, or photo book was to beg a publisher to accept your manuscript. An editor would help refine your writing and get it prepared for printing. For economy hundreds or thousands of books would be printed and stored as inventory while the publisher and the author worked on marketing the book. The author normally gets 5-10% of the sale of the book.

If changes have to be made a new edition is set up and another printing run.

WIth Lulu.com all of that changes.

Here is a great opportunity if you have anything you are passionate about. From your business to a hobby, you can write about what you know and love and publish a book about it for minimal costs. And, you can make about 80% on the sale of each book.

This is a great way to promote a product or establish your expertise in your field. (What a great resume builder!).

Or, if you are into photography you can publish a calendar or photo book with your writing and images.

I recently published my first book, Secrets of a Web Developer using Lulu.com and discovered the following:

  1. I could use Word to write and layout the text and graphics.
  2. Word will build a table of contents and an index with just a few clicks of the mouse. Both of these can be quickly updated if any changes are made to the text.
  3. Using Word styles greatly simplified the editing and formatting process. With every element on the page marked with a specific style all I had to do was change the style and that element changed throughout the entire document. (Very much like CSS styles.)
  4. PDF format (printed from the Word file) is much more stable and easy to work with, especially when using fonts that are not common on Window machines.
  5. My start up costs were zero (not counting the weeks and weeks it took me to write, edit, and fine-tune the contents.
  6. Errors could be corrected immediately. The only challenge was the time it took to upload a 300 page file (80 meg).

90 percent of the work was preparing the manuscript. I had over thirty Word documents that were converted into web page tutorials using a program called Wimba Create. After updating and revising each of these doc files inserted them into a master document. In the master document I changed each of the styles that I had used for Wimba to the look and feel I wanted for the book. As I inserted each new document the Wimba styles automatically changed to the new look and feel of the master document.

To build the Table of Contents all I had to do was position the cursor near the beginning of the document and use Insert/Document elements/Table of Contents. Each of the major headlines was used to build the table of contents. If I changed the document all I had to do was right-mouse click on the table of contents and select “update field” from the list of options.

The index was a little more difficult. Going through the document I highlighted each keyword I wanted in the index and hit CTRL OPTION Shift x. This made a hidden field containing the index information. After the keywords were selected I went to the end of the document and used Insert/Index and Tables and selected the format for the index.

The only real problem I had was when the index word was bold in the document it showed up bold in the index as well. Even after going in to edit the index markers the bold would not go away. For my next book I will create the index marker in the main text so it won’t be bold.

webdevfullcoverOnce I had everything ready to go and had created a cover using PhotoShop I used the Lulu.com publishing wizard. It took about four hours one morning to complete the process. Along the way I discovered that it was easier to use a PDF file for the cover art instead of using the online cover creator. When I had first designed the cover I had only thought of the front and had to rebuild it to a specific dimension including a back cover as well.

I also used the FTP uploading service because of the larger file size I had. Once the FTP transfer is complete the file is automatically transferred into the My Lulu files where it can be selected as part of the content. That means that each time you connect to the FTP server it will be empty.

I first uploaded the Word document. However, Lulu gave an error because I had used a special font (Adobe Caslon) and Lulu didn’t have that available. They recommended that I make a PDF file from the Word document which effectively embeds the font as part of the document.

After I finished the wizard Lulu automatically built a web page with a preview window. I am able to customize which pages show up in the preview window as well as add a text describing the book. (I used the introduction section from the book itself.)

I also built a landing page on my website describing the book and added a brief summary on my home page.

My start up cost was zero.

And, here’s the best part: Instant Revisions. As a proud published author I sent an email out to members of my family. About ten minutes later I get an email from my son pointing out that I misspelled XHTML (XHTLM) three places (the magic of copy and paste!). I quickly made the fixes, reuploaded the files, and ran through the wizard again. The correction was made in less than an hour. Now that’s my kind of publishing.

The downside of Lulu.com (and other self-publishing venues)

  • You are in control of the entire process. You are your own editor and graphic designer and it is very hard catching all those errors, weak writing, and horrible design flaws.
  • The finished book will only look professional if you create a professionally design document. Headers, page numbers, typography, page layout, and graphics are all essential to making a book look and feel “right”.
  • Designing a cover is especially important and a step I found very difficult. I put off publishing for weeks as I agonized over the cover design.
  • Having a book from O’Reilly or Harcourt Brace is like having a degree from Harvard or MIT. It means you have gone through the wringer and survived and that most likely the text fairly high quality
  • No one will buy your book unless you get the word out and market it

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

The benefits of Self Publishing

  • The book is immediately available and easy to update
  • You are in control of the entire process
  • The books are printed as they are ordered. You don’t have to buy any expensive inventory that might sit in your basement for years.
  • You make about 80% on the sale of each book
  • You book is available to a global market
  • You can be any age, any body, any where, writing about any thing

Let me know when you are published. Leave a comment with a link to your newly published text!

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.