Freelancing Gods 2015

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23 Mar 2015

Pre-festival Recommendations for MICF 2015

I wrote a post last year listing excellent comedians to catch at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – and now I’ve got friends pestering me for this year’s list. Perhaps this will become a regular missive, perhaps not. Either way, here’s some tips for this year.

Please note, the festival hasn’t started yet, so this is purely based on previous quality, not this year’s shows!

From last year’s list, the following performers are returning: Celia Pacquola, Hannah Gadsby, Justin Hamilton, Michael Workman, Sammy J & Randy and Wil Anderson.

My favourites from last year include Celia Pacquola (nominated for the Barry – aka the best show) and Michael Workman (who should have been nominated!).

Celia Pacquola is actually repeating her 2014 show, so that’s a solid gold pick right there.

Additionally, I can vouch for the following:

  • Adam Hills – one of Australia’s best comedians, who regularly warms the heart as well as many laughs. The video below also includes the Swedish Chef, because he’s also excellent (and relevant to Adam’s skit).

  • Daniel Kitson – His show this year is not stand-up, but something rather different (at least by the sounds of things). One of my most favourite performers ever, but certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. A master of the English language, and a brilliant storyteller.

  • Doctor Brown – utterly odd physical comedy, though I’d recommend avoiding aisles and front-row seats. I’ve also heard great things about his kids show (from adults!). This video should give you some idea of his style:

  • Mark Watson – reliably loveable and funny with a touch of whimsy. Perhaps the English equivalent of Adam Hills.

  • Pajama Men – sometimes a little crude, regularly odd, and always hysterically funny.

  • Tripod – the musical comedy trio are still rocking the festival scene, this year with a show about gaming (and featuring the MSO!)

  • Trygve Wakenshaw – another physical comedian/clown, last year’s show Kraken was daring and hilarious and deserved its Barry Award nomination. No videos online do him justice.
  • Watson – consistently chaotic fun, I was heartbroken when they didn’t have a show last year, and in turn thrilled that they’re back this year (with Liam Ryan now an official member of the group). Videos are far and few between (and don’t really communicate their style), but here’s an intro to perhaps my favourite show of theirs:

I would love to hear of others’ recommendations, but my credit card doesn’t have quite the same level of enthusiasm.

01 Mar 2015

Diversity, Awareness, and Welcoming Spaces

(Photo taken by Emily Alexandra)

Yesterday Melbourne was host to yet another Trampoline unconference. This time around, I was taking a break from organising (something else had demanded a lot of my time lately), but that gave me a bit more time to craft together a session I’ve been keen to run for some time: a discussion on diversity.

While nothing is as good as being there on the day and partaking in the dialogue, here’s what I covered (you’ll just have to imagine all the insightful conversation you missed from others who were in the room).

Firstly, it’s worth acknowledging that I am a straight, white guy – thus in some ways it feels like I’m not the best source to discuss things related to diversity, given how dominant my ‘type’ is. I do feel like I’ve learnt a lot over the past few years, and so this is me sharing what I’ve learnt, and how I’ve learnt, but also noting that I may get things wrong, and feedback and corrections are very much welcome.

The target audience for this talk was other straight, white guys – I hope they can connect with my own evolution of thinking. I’m sure plenty of what I have to say is obvious (and possibly condescending – but I hope not!) to those who don’t have as much inherent privilege in Australian society.

At the recent Link Festival, Angus Hervey noted that he was a young white guy, but didn’t want to become a old white guy – or at least, the kind of old white guy that seems to be causing so many problems in our world – and this strongly resonated with me. Our world is wonderfully diverse, and yet our leaders, our media, our world views (especially those of us who fit the dominant type) are not. How do we change that?

What?

And as for what I mean when talking about diversity: a plurality of everything: gender and gender identity, sexuality, race, religion, age, financial situations, physical ability, political views, and so on. I’m not going to even try to provide a definitive list, because there’s just too many things to take into account, and I’m sure I’ll forget some.

I’ve noted this before in other talks I’ve given, but bringing together a wide group of people together and getting them to think in the same way is not diversity. The goal is not just diversity of peoples, but diversity of thought and culture.

Why?

If you’re not sold on why diversity matters, well, here’s just a few reasons, from different viewpoints – pick one that works for you:

  • Diverse teams are more likely to be successful (there are studies that back this up).
  • Nature is a great example of diverse environments/systems being more resilient, and imitating this to have more resilient societies is a good thing.
  • Diverse groups are more interesting! You end up with a wider mix of ideas, which can lead to more innovation and wisdom (which is part of our goal with Trampoline).
  • I like a culture where no one gets left behind, and where everyone matters. Something that strives for fairness and equality – and I think this is only possible in a diverse society.

How?

If you only get one thing from this post, it should be this: practice empathy and compassion as much as possible, towards as many people as possible.

And listen, because your path through life is different to others – be wary of your own assumptions, and be open to hearing others’ perspectives. Keep in mind that society usually serves the dominant ‘type’ – which, certainly in Australia, is straight, white men. You may initially struggle to understand others’ perspectives because of this – we can unconsciously surround ourselves with friends and media that reinforce our presumptions, which makes breaking out of that filter bubble all the more difficult.

This growth in awareness helped me become more aware of the privilege I have, and the power implicit in that privilege. From there, I can then aim to drive that power in ways that can help others. Of course, this is (always) a work in progress, as I’m always learning.

The listening and learning is grounded in a lack of ego – a recognition that it’s not about you. White guys: don’t get carried away with your own righteousness and announce that you’re fixing the system, that you’re an ally. Go and read AndrĂ© Arko’s wise words, and then promote the voices of those who would otherwise not be heard. You already have the privilege and influence – try to share that around.

Another thing to keep in mind is the intersectional nature of discrimination/diversity. Putting people in boxes – whether that’s white box, eg: white, or many, eg: white, straight, male – will not capture a fair representation of who they are, nor will it provide a clear picture of the discrimination they may face. The impact of discrimination and oppression is deep and complex, and proposed actions to deal with this need to understand that complexity as much as possible.

When it comes to people speaking about discrimination they suffer from, they may be angry, and their perspectives may not be calm, and you may not think they’re rational – but you should listen and seek to understand anyway. Their anger is justified, and they shouldn’t have to sugarcoat their perspective just to please you (especially if you’re in a comfortable position of privilege).

My journey has come from a position of blissful ignorance, and once upon a time I would have been in favour of meritocracy. That is most definitely not the case any more – sure, meritocracy could be considered, but only in a society where everyone is on equal footing, and we’ve all had the same opportunities, and no one has any conscious or unconscious biases. Impossible.

And because of this, I think there is value in things like affirmative action and diversity quotas. They’re just one small step, mind you.

I’m going to finish this section the same way I started: please, ground all of this in empathy and compassion.

Practical Examples

I have a habit of running events, and more and more I’m trying to have these events reflect my growing awareness. Through this, one of my goals – particularly in the Melbourne Ruby community, where Mario Visic and I just wrapped up our two year stint of running monthly events – has been to create welcoming, friendly, safe spaces.

Granted, you can’t please everyone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Good satire (and good comedy) should be directed at those higher up on society’s ladder, but good communities should aim at the other end of the spectrum: assist those who don’t get the same opportunities and implicit support as the majority.

This perhaps isn’t so much about diversity in a direct sense, but I believe it can help: when you’re dealing with groups of people, particularly at semi-organised social events, be wary of cliques. Newcomers can find established groups daunting as it is, and cliques just reinforce that. Don’t be afraid to ask those in cliques to make an extra effort to talk to those who don’t have anyone to talk to.

Certainly, at RubyConf AU (which happened last month, and I was one of the organisers) I think this is one area where we can clearly improve. I’d love to see official greeters and social connectors, as a role for volunteers and other regulars: if you spot someone who looks a little lost or lonely, go and have a chat with them.

Also, strive to make events as accessible as possible – and this covers things from dietary requirements, to wheelchair access, to hearing assistance, to facilitating child-care. Don’t be afraid to make a statement on this too (something that we learnt from the eurucamp organisers).

Speaking of statements, I think it’s important to show people that you take creating a safe space seriously. Codes of conduct are a good first step, but make sure they outline the desired behaviour, what will not be tolerated, and how you will go about enforcing this. You need to walk the talk – saying “we’ve not had any problems before” is not enough.

Lastly – and this is another thing I need to be better at – be aware that language matters, from how you describe your events through to how you address people. The term ‘guys’ is an excellent example – some consider it to be gender-neutral, others don’t. You could argue about semantics and context – or, you could find a more welcoming term that suits more people.

At the end of the day, being a great event host is hard work, and maintaining an awareness about peoples’ needs is hard work, but both really help to strengthen an event or community and make them welcoming places for wider audiences.

The Shoulders of Giants

I cannot say this enough: my perspective is constantly growing and evolving and improving, and there are many people to thank for this – in particular, my parents, and my dear friend Melina Chan. A lot of my recent growth has come from Twitter – here’s a selection of folk who’ve helped me (whether knowingly or not):

I don’t want to hold up these people as the token ‘diverse’ Twitter accounts I follow, because that’s not the case (and some have been friends for many years), but they have opened my eyes to a broader and better understanding of diversity, discrimination, and the world. Following all of these wise minds would be an excellent move.

All of what I’ve written above comes with the disclaimer that I don’t think I’m doing this topic justice, and many people have written far better things on this topic (the links I’ve shared are definitely worth exploring). If I can provide people with just a small step towards a much deeper understanding, then that’s a fantastic thing. Thanks for reading, this turned into a longer essay than I expected!

10 Feb 2015

RubyConf AU 2015: Thank You

Last week RubyConf AU 2015 took place in Melbourne. A year prior to that, I’d put my hand up to run it… and over the course of twelve months, had assembled an excellent team, lined up speakers, venues, and a whole bunch of fun.

On Wednesday morning, it became real, as the workshops kicked off. By Saturday evening, it was finished with our after party at the Melbourne Lawn Bowls club in Flagstaff Gardens.

Going by the feedback we’ve received, I think it’s safe to say it was a success – at the very least, I’m thrilled with what we achieved.

But, of course, it would not have been possible without contributions from many, many people. I do want to list them here, even though it’s guaranteed I’ll forget someone and then feel terrible once I realise.

Firstly: to our sponsors, who not only gave us considerable amounts of money (no small thing in itself), but trusted and supported our efforts to grow the Australian Ruby community. Thank you Envato, realestate.com.au, Redbubble, reinteractive, Digital Ocean, JobReady, Torii Recruitment, GitHub, Pluralsight, BuildKite, Lookahead Search, EngineYard, Soundcloud and Travis CI.

To our venues: Jasper, Zinc, and Deakin Edge. You provided fantastic spaces for our community to listen, learn, eat and socialise within. A special thank you to the AV team at Deakin Edge: Blake, Wes and Brad, plus our own video recorder Anthony, returning yet again to make sure our talks are captured for future generations.

To our stenographer Rebekah, who provided live captioning of our conference proceedings. She was not only extremely good at her job, but also responded to Keith and Josh’s banter in style.

To the weather gods – Melbourne’s traditionally fickle weather gave us four days of warm sunshine, which was perfect for showing off our fine city.

To the team behind our ticketing system Tito, who helped us with beta features and late night support.

To the Ruby Australia committee, who were super supportive when I first asked about running this conference, and provide essential and appreciated financial and organisational support. You play a massive part in the health and success of our community.

To our event manager Deborah Langley, and her colleague Sam. Engaging Deb to work on our event made our lives a great deal easier, and helped us to achieve great things. Plus, Deb and Sam helped the running of the conference and events purr along smoothly.

To our volunteers, lead by the inestimable Liam Esler and Mel Sherrin, and our stage manager Maxine Sherrin. You took excellent care of our attendees and speakers, kept things running to schedule, and deserve all of the credit for how calmly the conference ran.

To Amanda Neumann and Darcy Laycock, who worked with me to select presenters from our massive selection of proposals. We agonised over which talks made the cut (and there were many excellent choices that missed out), but I think our choices were great ones!

To our local Rubyists: Healesville guide Pete Yandell, and cycling leaders Gareth Townsend & Gus Gollings, who all ensured our attendees from near and far got to experience a different aspect of Melbourne beyond just the conference sessions.

To our fabulous illustrator Dougal MacPherson, who, with his 15 minute drawings hat on, drew a picture of every session (including workshops), which then became lovely gifts for our speakers.

To Tim Lucas, for his tireless work on our slick website, plus the corralling of our beautiful and popular t-shirts – which were designed by Magdalena Ksiezak (for the conference) and Carla Hackett (for the Rails Girls workshops).

To the organisers of the previous RubyConf AU events – Keith Pitty, Martin Stannard_, Michael Koukoullis, Josh Price, Elle Meredith, Jason Crane, Georgina Robilliard, and Steve Gilles. We have only been able to create this event by standing on your shoulders and reaping the rewards of your hard work.

To Ben Askins, who kicked off the bonding of our fantastic Australian Ruby community by organising the very first Rails Camp. That event changed my life.

To the large number of conferences that provided inspiration, including (but certainly not limited to) JSConf US and EU, FutureRuby, NordicRuby, eurucamp, and Web Directions: Code.

To our speakers, workshop presenters, Rails Girls organisers, and our entertaining and excellent MCs Josh Kalderimis and Keith Pitt. We gave you the stage, and you made us so very proud.

To my fellow organisers: Melissa Kaulfuss, Matt Allen, and Sebastian von Conrad. Through our shared vision and skill-set we have crafted a special event, all contributing in different and most definitely valued ways. I really cannot thank you enough.

To our employers: Inspire9, Envato, Lookahead Search and Icelab, who supported us in our endeavour, with time and patience and suggestions.

To our families, who recognised the commitment we had to give to make this real, and looked after us, loved and supported us. You’re the very definition of amazing.

To everyone else who helped in any way – I was inundated with offers of support and assistance over the past year, and while I didn’t have the opportunity to take everyone up on that, the offers themselves are greatly appreciated.

And finally, to everyone who attended the conference, and the broader Ruby community. It feels far more that we’ve done this with you than for you.

Thank you all, so very, very much.

24 Mar 2014

MICF 2014 Recommendations

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is about to kick off this year – and I can’t wait! It truly is the best time to be in Melbourne.

Because I often see more than my fair share of comedy shows, I’m often asked for recommendations… and while it’s hard to be super sure what’s good this year before any performances have happened, I’ve scanned through the program to put together a list of performers I regularly enjoy. In alphabetical order…

  • Bane Trilogy – I was lucky enough to catch all three parts of this in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, and they’re all excellent. Mobster-style storytelling, with all roles performed by one man, Joe Bone. Start with part one (on Tuesday and Friday nights), and if it takes your fancy, see the other two as well.
  • The Boy with Tape on his Face – silent comedy, but it’s a tonne of fun, even if you do get called up on stage as part of the audience participation. I’ll put money on him being big this year in Melbourne.
  • Celia Pacquola – Regularly hilarious, clever, and with a bit of heart too (perhaps my favourite comedy recipe).
  • David O’Doherty – All his shows feel kinda the same – but that’s not a bad thing at all. Music and comedy that’s both charming and funny.
  • Felicity Ward – her show in 2012 was nominated for the Barry Award (best show of the festival), and would have been a deserving winner. Hilarious even while sometimes being extremely personal.
  • Hannah Gadsby – last year’s show was very brave and very funny and I wish I could see it again. I’ve already got tickets to see this year’s show.
  • Justin Hamilton – he’s a stalwart of the Australian comedy scene, and yet I only saw his show for the first time in 2012, and it was a clever mix of laughs and storytelling. Cue much regret for missing him in previous years. Odds of me making that mistake again this year are slim.
  • Michael Workman – his show last year, Ave Loretta, was one of the most wonderful and beautiful shows I’ve ever seen. Don’t expect comedy, even though you will laugh, because the storytelling is the highlight. I was wiping tears of sadness from my eyes at the end of Ave Loretta, for Michael Workman brings both the laughs and the feels.
  • Sammy J & Randy – the description on the site sums them up perfectly: catchy songs with chaotic tomfoolery and outbursts of filth. Rarely clean, often very, very funny.
  • Tegan Higginbotham – Tegan’s recent solo shows been great narrative stand-up shows, and she doesn’t get the attention she deserves. Given she’s not performing in the duo of chaotically hilarious Watson this year, I’ll be making an extra effort to see this show.
  • Tim Key – some people hate his odd, dry style, but I’ve loved his shows (at least, the two I’ve had the great pleasure of catching). His last show involved him having a bath on stage. Not your average comedy, but all the more enjoyable if it does float your boat.
  • Wil Anderson – I think Wil’s stand-up shows are better than anything he’s done on television… last year’s Goodwil was an excellent mix of intelligence and wit.
  • And for bonus points, my good friend Ben Hopper is performing in The Law Revue – this is Ben’s first festival performing, so there’s no past performances to judge by. Ben’s a funny guy though, so I’m expecting a top show!

These are just a dozen shows that I feel super happy with recommending to all and sundry. There are a few hundred that are part of the festival, so you don’t lack for choices (or excuses) – make sure you catch a show or two before it all wraps up on April 20th.

30 Dec 2013

Melbourne Ruby Retrospective for 2013

The Melbourne Ruby community has grown and evolved a fair bit in this past year, and I’m extremely proud of what it has become.

Mind you, I’ve always thought it was pretty special. I first started to attend the meets back when Rails was young and the community in Australia was pretty new, towards the end of 2005. The meets themselves started in January of that year – almost nine years ago! – and have continued regularly since, in many shapes, sizes and venues, under the guiding hands of many wise Rubyists.

Given I’ve been around so long, it’s a little surprising I’d not had a turn convening the meetings on a regular basis (though I’d certainly helped out when other organisers couldn’t be present). After the excellent, recent guidance of Dave Goodlad and Justin French, Mario Visic and Ivan Vanderbyl stepped up – and then Ivan made plans to move to the USA. I was recently inspired by discussions around growing and improving the community at the latest New Zealand Rails Camp, and so I offered to take Ivan’s place. (As it turns out, Ivan’s yet to switch sides of the Pacific Ocean. Soon, though!)

And so, since February, Mario and I have added our own touches to the regular events. Borrowing from both Sydney and Christchurch, we’ve added monthly hack nights – evenings where there’s no presentations, but people of all different experience levels bring along their laptops and get some coding done. If anyone gets stuck, there’s plenty of friendly and experienced developers around to help.

More recently, reInteractive have helped to bring InstallFests from Sydney to Melbourne. They are events to help beginners interested in Ruby and Rails get the tools they need installed on their machines and then go through the process of setting up a basic blog, with mentors on hand to help deal with any teething problems.

For the bulk of Melbourne Ruby community’s life, the meets have been announced through Google groups – first the Melbourne Ruby User Group, then in the broader Ruby or Rails Oceania group. It’d become a little more clear over the past couple of years that this wasn’t obvious to outsiders who were curious about Ruby – which prompted the detailing of meeting schedules on ruby.org.au – but there was still room for improvement. reInteractive’s assistance with the InstallFest events was linked to their support with setting up a group on Meetup.com – and almost overnight we’ve had a significant increase in newcomers.

Now, many of us Rubyists are quite opinionated, and I know some find Meetup inelegant and, well, noisy. I certainly don’t think it’s as good as it could be – but it’s the major player in the space, and it’s the site upon which many people go searching for communities like ours. The Google group does okay when it comes to discussions, but highlighting upcoming events (especially if you’re not a regular) is not its forte at all.

We’ve not abandoned the Google group, but now we announce events through both tools – and the change has been so dramatic that, as much as I’m wary of supporting big players in any space, I’d argue that you’d be stupid not to use Meetup. We’ve had so many new faces come along to our events – and while we still have a long way to go for equal gender representation (it’s still predominantly white males), it’s slowly improving.

With the new faces appearing, we held a Newbie Night as one of our presentation evenings (something that’s happened a couple of times before, but certainly not frequently enough). Mario and I were lucky enough to have Jeremy Tennant step up to run this and corral several speakers to provide short, introductory presentations on a variety of topics. (Perhaps this should become a yearly event!)

We’re also blessed to have an excellent array of sponsors – Envato, Inspire9, Zendesk, reInteractive and Lookahead Search have all provided a mixture of money, space and experienced minds. We wouldn’t be where we are now without you, your support is appreciated immensely.

Mario and I have also spent some time thinking a bit deeper about some of the longstanding issues with tech events, and tried to push things in a healthier direction:

At many of the last handful of meetings for this year, instead of pizza, we’ve had finger food from the ASRC Catering service, tacos from The Taco Guy, and a few pancakes as well. In each case we’ve ensured there’s vegetarian, gluten-free and lactose-free options. This trend shall certainly continue!

The drinks fridge at Inspire9 (our wonderful hosts for the past couple of years) now have plenty of soft drinks and sparkling mineral water alongside the alcoholic options – and we’ve been pretty good at making sure jugs of tap water are available too. There’s also tea and coffee, though we need to be better at highlighting this.

We’ve also adopted Ruby Australia’s Code of Conduct for all Melbourne Ruby events. This is to both recognise that our community provides value and opportunity to many, and to make it clear we want it to continue to be a safe and welcoming place, offline and online.

We’re by no means perfect, and I’m keen to help this community grow stronger and smarter over the coming year – but we’ve got some great foundations to build on. The Melbourne Ruby community – and indeed, the broader Australian Ruby community – is growing from strength to strength, and a lot of that is due to the vast array of leaders we have, whose shoulders we are standing on.

Alongside the regular city meets, there are Rails Camps twice a year, RailsGirls events becoming a regular appearance on the calendar, and the second RubyConf Australia is in Sydney this coming February. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2014 brings – thanks to all who’ve been part of the ride thus far!

02 Mar 2012

Drop in at Inspire9

I was about to write a new post about something technical, but that can wait for another day. Right now, I want to highlight to the world Inspire9, a coworking space here in Melbourne.

Now, Inspire9 is also a web development business, run by the talented and generous Nathan Sampimon. When the word spread a few years ago that he had an office for himself but others could drop by, I started visiting – as did others. Slowly the numbers grew, and instead of being just “Nathan’s office”, there was a growing sense of community and shared ownership, and it had become a much-loved coworking space.

As part of that growth, we had clearly outgrown our existing space – a measly 77 square metres – and so plans were hatched for something much larger. Halfway through last year, we moved into our new residence at 41 Stewart St, Richmond (right beside Richmond Station), with 370 square metres to work and play in (and that’ll eventually double to 720).

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Our office is now a bustling hive of activity – there’s usually somewhere between 20 and 30 people in each day at any one point. Many of us have dedicated desks (it is something I happily pay for). That said, not everyone who works from Inspire9 are residents – anyone is welcome to drop by and use a desk, and it’s free.

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It’s occurred to me to write about Inspire9 now because of what’s happened in the last 24 hours. Last night, someone stole Kealey’s iPhone while she was making sure an event in the office was running smoothly. Kealey is not only our events manager, but also a key part of the heart and soul of Inspire9 – so we were all pretty upset, and doubly so because it happened in our midst, in our home.

Not content with this situation, this morning Ned got a pledgie running to help fund a new iPhone for Kealey. Within two hours we had the funds, and by the end of today Kealey had a shiny new iPhone in her hands. The full story has been covered on the Inspire9 blog, and I particularly love the title, a very appropriate ‘Restoring Balance’.

While Inspire9 is a fantastic place to work, it’s the community that makes it stand out. I consider myself very lucky to be a part of it.

So, if you find yourself in Melbourne, please do visit. You’re welcome to pull up a chair and get some work done, or perhaps challenge someone to a game of pool. We also now host the Melbourne Ruby and Python meets every month (as well as plenty of other events), and we’re a friendly bunch – don’t be afraid to say hello!

14 Jun 2010

Laughtrack Review

So, it’s been a couple of months since the Melbourne International Comedy Festival wrapped up, and thus, a couple of months since LaughTrack went silent. I just want to write up a last batch of statistics, as well as some broader thoughts on how the site went in general.

I should have been doing this back when the festival actually finished, but some things got in the way of catching up on classifying all the tweets, and so I only actually got through the last of it yesterday.

The Leaderboard

A quick look at the top 10 (well, 11, given tied scores), going by quality:

Show Rating
The Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason 93
Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand 93
Ross Noble: Things 91
Jamie Kilstein: Revenge of the Serfs 91
Adam Hills: Mess Around 91
David O’Doherty: David O’Doh-party 91
Good Evening: Shaun Micallef & Stephen Curry 91
Frank Woodley: Bewilderbeest 90
Celia Pacquola: Flying Solos 90
Josie Long: Be Honourable 90
Melinda Buttle: Sista Got Flow 90

Most of those are quite established, but it’s worth noting those who are relative newcomers to the comedy scene: Celia Pacquola and Melinda Buttle – and those who are relative newcomers to Australian shores: The Pajama Men and Jamie Kilstein.

Gains

Here’s who made the biggest gains by rating over the final two weeks of the festival (I’ve trimmed the list to 8 – there’s another 7 on the next score down):

Show Initial Rating Current Rating Difference
Poet Laureate Telia Nevile: While I’m Away 0 65 65
Smart Casual: Same Mother, Different Fathers 0 60 60
Spontaneous Broadway 27 84 57
Mark Butler: I’ve Been Watching You Australians 0 53 53
Good News Week 0 53 53
Stevl Shefn and His Translator Fatima 0 53 53
Terry North: Life’s A Joke 0 53 53
Die Roten Punkte: Kunst Rock 27 72 45

In most of those cases, it only took a handful of positive tweets to gain some serious quality points. So again, let’s go by tweets instead of rating – because this turns out to be a far better metric for who has been getting a lot of buzz.

Show Initial Count Current Count Difference
Arj Barker: Let Me Do The Talking 43 77 34
Ross Noble: Things 29 62 33
The Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason 26 54 28
Josh Thomas: Surprise 17 38 21
Rich Fulcher: Eleanor the Tour Whore 23 42 19
Tim Key: The Slutcracker 32 50 18
Adam Hills: Mess Around 26 44 18
Sam Simmons: Fail 15 31 16
Jamie Kilstein: Revenge of the Serfs 15 30 15
Josie Long: Be Honourable 13 28 15

I’m not going to bother analyse the data from which shows were sold out – it’s far from complete.

What’s next?

LaughTrack was a fun experiment for the festival, but I’m not quite sure of its future.

It’s possibly useful for other festivals (especially those with repeat performances – so, Fringe festivals much more than Film festivals), but I don’t quite have the passion for those festivals compared to the MICF. In other words, I’m probably not going to commit the time to keep the site up-to-date for the Melbourne Fringe (for example) without some personal incentive.

The classification system also needs a lot of work. I spent many, many hours classifying tweets, because automating that kind of intelligence into a website is far from easy, and I couldn’t get it to a reliable state without human interaction. I could open the classification out to everyone who visits the site – and if I run this for next year’s MICF, that’s quite likely – but again, it’s additional work.

And it’s worth noting that most tweets that LaughTrack picked up were not reviews – there was a lot of noise, and very little signal (which is the main problem with automating classification).

So where does that leave us? Well, I’m definitely interested in reprising LaughTrack for next year’s Comedy Festival, and hopefully can get the people behind the festival to send some data on ticket sales through.

As for other festivals, I’m going to need some financial support to dedicate any time to adapting and maintaining the site. If you’re interested in sponsoring development on LaughTrack for a festival, then please do get in touch.

I would love to hear feedback on whether you found the site useful during the festival, and how it could improve. From a personal level, I know I found new shows to go see purely by reading the thousands of tweets that came through.

13 May 2010

Trampoline Thoughts

Just under two weeks ago, we ran the third Trampoline – an informal unconference which brings people from a variety of disciplines together to share what they find amazing.

The day is filled with 20 minute sessions on whatever people who are there offer to discuss. We get a fantastic mix of topics: health, technology, education, dance, meditation, music, media, juggling, comedy, entrepreneurship and more. In true unconference style, none of this is planned beforehand – no speaker is given preference, there’s no keynotes.

IMG_6053

All three thus far have been in Melbourne. We’re definitely interested in sharing the love to other cities (but nothing’s locked in yet). That said, it’s a pretty safe assumption that Melbourne host its fourth sometime towards the end of the year.

From a personal perspective, I find these days amazingly energetic and inspiring (granted, I’m a little biased, being one of the organising team). It’s provided me (and many others) an avenue to connect with interesting, passionate people they wouldn’t normally meet. It’s just one of many things happening in Melbourne that solidifies my belief that it is truly – if you’ll excuse the hubris – a global cultural hub.

Adding to the Grid

If you’re interested in keeping an eye on future events, add yourself to the email list, and maybe follow the official Twitter account. There’s also a set of videos – the bulk being from the latest Trampoline – on Vimeo, and a growing set of photos on Flickr.

Trampoline 3 0449

I’m pretty stoked with how well received Trampoline has been thus far, and looking forward to making the next one even better. Would love to see some more new faces there too, so if you’re keen, jump on the list or get in touch!

05 Apr 2010

LaughTrack: Week Two

Another week has passed, so time for some more LaughTrack statistics.

First up, acts with the best ratings improvements since the start of the Festival:

Show Initial Rating Current Rating Difference
Good Evening: Shaun Micallef & Stephen Curry 0 88 88
Ursula Martinez: My Stories Your Emails 0 84 84
Celia Pacquola: Flying Solos 0 84 84
Adrian Calear: Code Grey 0 79 79
Asher Treleaven: Secret Door 0 79 79
Daniel Burt: Yes Man Syndrome 0 77 77
The Festival Club 0 75 75
Catherine Deveny: Gold is Bullshit 0 72 72
Peter Helliar: Dreamboat Tour 0 72 72
Nelly Thomas: I Coulda Been A Sailor 0 72 72

That list is almost identical (ignoring the order) to last week… essentially: those who did well to start with, have solidified their position.

So let’s look at the differences just in the last week instead.

Show Initial Rating Current Rating Difference
List Operators For Kids: More Fun Than a Wii 0 60 60
Puppy Fight Social Club 0 53 53
And The Little One Said… 0 53 53
Jack Druce: Wild Druce Chase 0 53 53
Peter Helliar: Dreamboat Tour 27 72 45
Simon Keck: Dead Under Fluorescent Lights 0 43 43
Sadie Hasler: Her Lady Bones 0 43 43
I Heart Frankston: The Musical 0 43 43
Matthew Kenneally Flips the Bird at the Finger Pointers 0 43 43
Bart Freebairn: A Breathtakingly Magical Journey into the Ordinary 0 43 43
Greg Fleet: Big Love 0 43 43
Supermanchild 0 43 43
Metrosketchuals 0 43 43
Nick Cody: Lust Actually 0 43 43

This list could be considered shows with potential: towards the end, it only took two positive tweets to get them onto the list.

So, let’s now look at who has garnered the most positive tweets. Again, since the start of the festival:

Show Initial Count Current Count Difference
Wil Anderson: Wilful Misconduct 11 42 31
Arj Barker: Let Me Do The Talking 23 43 20
Good Evening: Shaun Micallef & Stephen Curry 0 19 19
The Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason 7 26 19
Rich Fulcher: Eleanor the Tour Whore 5 23 18
Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand 13 30 17
Celia Pacquola: Flying Solos 0 14 14
Ursula Martinez: My Stories Your Emails 0 14 14
Tom Green: World Standup Comedy Tour 8 22 14
Tim Key: The Slutcracker 19 32 13
Melinda Buttle: Sista Got Flow 4 17 13

Some big names there, though good to see some relative newcomers appearing too (Ursula Martinez, Melinda Buttle and Celia Pacquola).

As for the increases over just the last week:

Show Initial Count Current Count Difference
Wil Anderson: Wilful Misconduct 17 42 25
Arj Barker: Let Me Do The Talking 25 43 18
Tom Green: World Standup Comedy Tour 8 22 14
Good Evening: Shaun Micallef & Stephen Curry 9 19 10
Ursula Martinez: My Stories Your Emails 5 14 9
The Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason 17 26 9
Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand 21 30 9
Frank Woodley: Bewilderbeest 19 27 8
Sammy J and Randy: Ricketts Lane 6 14 8
Melinda Buttle: Sista Got Flow 9 17 8

Not much difference in the names this time around…

But what can you take away from this?

  • Ursula Martinez was an unknown before this festival. She’s just added three extra shows, which matches the buzz she’s received.
  • Melinda Buttle is another festival newcomer who has been getting a lot of buzz.
  • The big names draw the tweets – but Wil Anderson and Tom Green have both finished their festival runs.
  • The Pajama Men won the Barry Award for the best show last year in their first festival, and they’ve followed it up with another fine offering, going by numbers (and reviews).

I’ve also started tracking which performances are sold out – but there’s no point offering stats on that, because my data is far from complete. However, some of the smaller names regularly selling out:

Nick Cody, Daniel Burt, Vigilantelope and Clodhopper: Miami all sold quite well too – but they’ve finished their runs.

29 Mar 2010

LaughTrack: Week One

Last week, I launched a website I’ve been working on in my own time: LaughTrack. It follows what people are saying on Twitter about the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and provides ratings on whether the crowd thinks a show is good or not.

I’m not going to get too caught up in the site itself right now – that deserves a separate blog post, and I’ve not found time for that.

However, I just wanted to report on the acts that have had the most buzz over the course of the opening week:

Show Initial Rating Current Rating Difference
Celia Pacquola: Flying Solos 0 74 74
Ursula Martinez: My Stories Your Emails 0 65 65
Catherine Deveny: Gold is Bullshit 0 65 65
Geraldine Quinn: Shut Up and Sing 0 65 65
Good Evening: Shaun Micallef & Stephen Curry 0 65 65
Asher Treleaven: Secret Door 0 65 65
The Festival Club 0 65 65
Daniel Burt: Yes Man Syndrome 0 60 60
Adrian Calear: Code Grey 0 53 53
Dave Jory: Men Are From Mars 0 53 53
Donna & Damo: An Asexual Love Story 0 53 53
Fear of a Brown Planet Returns 0 53 53
Nelly Thomas: I Coulda Been a Sailor 0 53 53

I chose the top ten, but there’s quite a few that jumped up to 53, so you get a few extra.

It’s worth noting that those last five gained just three positive tweets. So, at this point it doesn’t take too many tweets to get someone jumping up the board. However, the higher the rating is, though, the slower the rating increases, so let’s look at who got the most positive tweets as a comparison:

Show Initial Count Current Count Difference
Rich Fulcher: Eleanor the Tour Whore 5 16 11
The Pajama Men: The Last Stand to Reason 7 17 10
Celia Pacquola: Flying Solos 0 8 8
Tim Key: The Slutcracker 19 27 8
Nina Conti: Talk to the Hand 13 21 8
David O’Doherty: David O’Doh-party 7 14 7
Russell Kane: Human Dressage 7 13 6
Tokyo Shock Boys 6 12 6
Ali McGregor’s Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night 1 7 6
Wil Anderson: Wilful Misconduct 11 17 6
Fiona O’Loughlin: On a Wing and a Prayer 6 12 6

Again, a top ten, with one extra because of the same increase.

It’s interesting that almost all on the first list are comedians still making their stamp on the comedy scene. The second list has several more established acts. Only Celia Pacquola made it into both.

Of course, the older tweets were from other festivals – in particular, the Adelaide Fringe and the Brisbane Comedy Festival, which both happened in the lead-up to Melbourne’s Comedy Festival. So these numbers are far from perfect (but then, divining quality from Twitter isn’t a science anyway).

Hopefully you’ve found this somewhat interesting (well, if you’re a comedy buff) – expect more reports as the festival progresses. If you’re in Melbourne, I hope you’re making the most of this fabulous time of year!

30 Dec 2009

Wandering Freelancer

At a recent Melbourne Ruby meet, I was asked to speak about my travelling freelancer lifestyle, and the talk was recorded. I feel a little self-conscious about the topic, but perhaps you’ll find it interesting.

Massive thanks to James Healy for not only recording the talks that night, but producing the neat slides-and-video output. I’m looking forward to the Melbourne Ruby channel building up a good collection of sessions.

Also: I’ll be posting a review of my month working on Thinking Sphinx soon.

14 Jul 2009

Rails Camps - Coming to a Country Near You

This weekend, there’s going to be a Rails Camp. In October, there’s going to be a Rails Camp. Then in November, there’s going to be a Rails Camp. That in itself is pretty freaking cool. What’s even cooler is that they’re in Maine, England and Australia respectively.

Definition

If you’re not quite sure what Rails Camps are – they’re unconference style events, held away from cities, generally without internet, on a weekend from Friday to Monday. The venues are usually scout halls or similar, so the name is slightly inaccurate – most people don’t bring tents, but sleep in dorm rooms instead.

Getting Down to Business

Also, they are events for Rubyists of all level of experience – and not just focused on Rails either. Anything related to Ruby and development in general is a welcome topic for discussion.

Communal Hacking

The weekends are made up of plenty of hacking, socialising, talks, and partying. Alcohol and guitar hero usually feature. A ton of fun ensues.

Making Pizzas

Rails Camp New England

A quick rundown in chronological order: first up, from the 17th to 20th of July, is Rails Camp New England. This will (as far as I know) be the first Rails Camp in North America. We’ll be up in the middle of Maine, at the MountainView House (a bit different from most Rails Camp venues) in Bryant Pond.

Unfortunately, if you want to come to this camp, we’re all sold out. Let me know anyway, just in case someone drops out (although it is late notice).

Rails Camp UK 2

Building on the success of last year’s first UK Rails Camp, a second one has been put together by Tom Crinson out in Margate, Kent.

Balancing

If you’re anywhere in the UK, or even Europe, you really should be keeping the weekend of the 16th to 19th of October free. In fact, go book your spot right now.

Rails Camp Australia 6

Last on this list is the original Rails Camp, that started back in June 2007, run by the inimitable Ben Askins. We’re returning to Melbourne (the host of the second camp, in November 2007), but this time we’re down by the beach in Somers.

John showing us how it's done

November 20th to 23rd are the dates for this, and going by the names of confirmed attendees, alongside what looks to be an fantastic venue, it’s going to rock just as much as the last five (and quite possibly even more). Feel like booking your place?

For all of these events, you should beg, borrow or steal to get your hands on a ticket. The energy, intelligence and passion of past camps has been amazing (which is why I do my best to spread the word), and they are a breath of fresh air compared to the staid and structured setup of RailsConf and most other technical conferences.

Thanks to John Barton, Max Muermann, and Jason Crane for the photos above.

06 Mar 2009

Trampoline

Born out of a discussion about BarCamps, Rails Camps and the value they could bring to those not so technically minded, Melbourne will be hosting the first Trampoline on Saturday, the 28th of March.

This is something Mel, Steve, Bei and I have been discussing for a few months now – bringing one hundred inquisitive people together to discuss interesting and amazing ideas covering various disciplines. In true unconference style, the schedule will be determined on the day by those who are there – you don’t need to be an expert in your field to share what you think is awesome.

We’ve got some fantastic space at DonkeyWheel in the CBD lined up, and already half the tickets are taken (so if this sounds like fun, I recommend registering sooner rather than later). People are already sharing the topics they want to share and hear about, and that discussion will ramp up as we get closer to the event.

09 Feb 2009

Victorian Bushfire Appeal

I’ve been stewing on a few blog posts about Cambodia, but this is a higher priority.

In case you’d missed the news, the state of Victoria (in Australia) has been suffering from some devastating fires over the weekend. Over a hundred people have died, and that number’s certain to rise as the fires are put out and areas can be accessed by emergency crews. Towns, such as Marysville, have been razed.

If you’d like to donate, the Red Cross’ website seems to be the best place, from what I’ve read.

To get a good idea of how bad things are, it’s worth browsing the latest Boston Big Picture post, which features photos of the fires and destruction.

Smoke clouds (7)

Photo taken by Warren, on Flickr, with a Creative Commons licence.

29 Dec 2008

Nullus Anxietas 2 Approaching

Yes, I know it’s been quiet here – there’s several decent blog posts on the way though. I just wanted to post a quick reminder for any Discworld fans in or near Australia that Nullus Anxietas 2 is happening at the end of February, and will be awesome fun. There’s also a discount of $15 off attendee prices (a Hogswatch special) if you get in before the end of the year (going by AEDT/Melbourne time, of course).

The above little clip was done by the fantastically talented Snowgum Films (also responsible for Run Rincewind Run).

07 Jul 2008

Nullus Anxietas 2

A quick post for any Discworld fans that may peruse this blog.

Nullus Anxietas 2, the second Australian Discworld Convention, will be happening from the 27th of February to 1st of March 2009, in Melbourne, Australia. The first (in February 2007) was a fantastic success, which is why we’re doing it again.

While Terry Pratchett sadly can’t make it over this time around – he’s cutting down on travel because of his Alzheimer’s – we’ve still got some exciting events happening (including the follow-up to Snowgum FilmsRun Rincewind Run – watch it if you haven’t already).

Details are a bit thin on the ground at the moment, as we work on fleshing out programme ideas, but if you’d like to come along, registering in the next few days scores you $15 off the already-low early-bird rate of $120 ($100 for concession holders).

If this sounds like your kind of thing, but you’re not close to Australia and can’t justify the journey, you may want to check out the UK version – which has been going for over a decade now (although this year’s is already sold out), and the upcoming American edition.

31 Mar 2008

Every Film Ever Made

Another quick Comedy Festival show review – The Hound of the BaskervillesEvery Film Ever Made. A chaotic hour of film references and banter, which is extremely entertaining, if a bit scattered.

The same three local comedians (Tegan Higginbotham, Adam McKenzie, and Rob Lloyd) performed an adaption of the film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles in a similar style at last year’s festival, and they’re just as delightful this time around. Probably useful knowing a decent portion of well known films though (like The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Godfather, Casablanca, Titanic, Back to the Future, and, err, 8 Mile).

Definitely worth seeing if you can spare the time – and it’s always good to support some local up-and-coming acts. I wouldn’t say it’s brilliant, but it’s a massive amount of fun.

23 Mar 2008

The (Beautiful) Ballad of Rodger and Grace

The Comedy Festival is running again here in Melbourne – which is one of my favourite times of the year. Just saw my first show this afternoon – Daniel Kitson and Gavin Osborn’s The Ballad of Rodger & Grace. In short, it was amazing, funny, heartwarming and beautiful.

Kitson is a fantastic wordsmith, sometimes using words that don’t get used enough, and using otherwise common words in clever and different ways. Osborn provided a touching and emotive soundtrack to the story Kitson wove, filling in a different perspective.

I know I’ve raved about Kitson before – and I’ve got a different show of his for this festival that I’m yet to see, so I likely will rave again soon – but do yourself a favour and go catch one of his shows (this one is only running for a few more days, but his solo festival show runs until mid April). He is one of the finest comedic talents out there – and a masterful storyteller to boot. Osborn’s music just adds to the brilliance.

26 Nov 2007

RailsCamp Wrap-up

RailsCamp 2.0 finished earlier today – and I think it’s safe to declare it a fantastic success (even given my bias).

Massive thanks to Ben and Karen for their hard work getting everyone fed and co-ordinating people in the kitchen (and the RailsCamp bus from Melbourne to Sunnystones). Thanks too to everyone who helped at various points – both in the organising and over the weekend.

Finally, thank you to everyone who came along – these camps are so much fun because of the calibre of people who attend, and their willingness to share ideas, code and laughs.

Will be posting a version of my talk at some point soon… once I’ve recovered from the weekend.

30 Oct 2007

RailsCamp Reminder

In case the few readers of this blog are not aware, there’s a RailsCamp happening just outside of Melbourne, from the 23rd-26th November (not far away at all). It will be a weekend of hacking, chatting, food & drink, and very likely some gaming (along the lines of GuitarHero and WiiSports), taking a similar approach to barcamps. The first one, back in June near Sydney, was a fantastic success, and judging by the current list of attendees, I’m expecting it to be much the same.

We’re edging closer and closer to being sold out, so if you’re considering coming along, I recommend signing up as soon as possible. Day passes for the Saturday and Sunday are also available.

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About Freelancing Gods

Freelancing Gods is written by , who works on the web as a web developer in Melbourne, Australia, specialising in Ruby on Rails.

In case you're wondering what the likely content here will be about (besides code), keep in mind that Pat is passionate about the internet, music, politics, comedy, bringing people together, and making a difference. And pancakes.

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