Review: Willfully Inciting Fire in a Theater (and Your Mind) — Ignite Portland 10 1

* Editors Note: You might be wondering to yourself why the heck would a theatre review blog be posting about tech related stuff in Portland? I gave my blessing to Faddah who wrote this article because I felt that it was different and unique enough to be reviewed – after all, we’ve never reviewed tech related events before, and how cool would that be? Letting theatre/dance/opera goers know that there’s some other educational and entertaining stuff going on around town too! Who knows, maybe some more of the technical theatre aspects might make their way to you through a forum like this. “Using wireless capabilities to fuel the special effects in a play, using your iPad” Who knows? It could happen ;)
~ Sabrina

Portland’s local tech scene is pretty demanding in the events they put on — they want their geeky, braniac, knowledge-sharing cake, they want it tasty, and they want it entertaining too. And most of all, they want it free, and usually with some local microbrew beer involved. The usual bi-yearly local event at the Bagdad Theater, Ignite Portland 10, fits all these needs and then some. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you have your geek street cred, the topics at Ignite are not just for programmers involved in creating killer robots or online gamers who have never left their parents basement — there’s plenty here to enlighten, entertain and start the synapses popping for all tastes. Plus, at McMenamin’s classic Portland Bagdad Theater in Southeast on Hawthorne Boulevard, the quota of fine microbrew and pizza to go with your heady talks is met. Score, FTW!

Inspired by the original Ignite talks started by folks from Tech Publisher O’Reilly in Seattle, which in turn took some of it’s model from the T.E.D. (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talks, Ignite differs from the T.E.D. in that instead of 18 minutes, speakers try to catch your attention on subjects that excite them in only five. In addition, their pre-set 20 slides change every 15 seconds, and once started, there’s no going back. Makes for keeping the subjects brisk and presenters on their toes. And, as they like they say, kind of like Portland weather — don’t like a particular speaker/subject? Wait five minutes.

And there was plenty in two hours worth of 20 talks to sample, and in some cases, even at which to marvel.

Nitya Wakhlu at Ignite 10: Graphic Recording - What it is and why you should

Nitya Wakhlu at Ignite Portland 10 on Graphic Recording (photo: Hockley Photography).

For the geek in all of us, highlights included a beginner’s primer to using library and google search engines with more intermediate skill from Ember Stevens and Curtis Chen perhaps had the hit of the evening with a tale of himself, an engineer, and his scientist wife inventing an on-line cat-feeding robot with web cam. They approached the issue like a scientist and engineer would, with hilariously reductive, Occam’s-Razor-like slides: “Problem: CATS; Solution: ROBOTS!” For geeking-out on more social or general issues, we were treated to Clifton B.‘s chat on why his work with tech start-up businesses was very similar to his experience as a Yo-Yo Trick enthusiast (including a cover of a book on what to do when doing Yo-Yo tricks and a girl actually talks to you); Nitya Wakhlu gave great examples of why her using the graphic/visual recording techniques during talks, like the kind you’ve seen on the YouTube RSA Animate series, increase memory retention of what was shared; and, Willem Larsen of Language Hunters gave an inspiring talk on how languages of micro-cultures disappear daily around the planet and what to do to save this cultural diversity. Perhaps the two most amusing talks of the evening were Bridget Pilloud on why, from a sociology/evolutionary point of view, we tend to favor and help cute animals to survive (the pictures alone were for the LULZ) and Nim Wunnan showed how fun like this (along with some tricks to kiddingly trip up the audience) can continue at the monthly presentation meetings of the local Research Club.

Nim Wunnan at Ignite Portland 10

Nim Wunnan and friend present at Ignite Portland 10 (Photo: Hockley Photography)

The evening was not without its occasional hiccups and duds. Brad Fortier’s otherwise fascinating talk on how theater improv games connect us through intuitive mind processes was marred by those minding his slides failing to advance them properly. Andrew Nhem’s encouraging people to work from coffeehouses and other WiFi hotspots seemed rather silly in a city that already specializes in this and came off as more of an advertisement for the Wireless Network provider he works for. David V. Horste’s history of our love/hate relationship with coal power technology and his desire to remind people of it by making jewelry of coal did nothing else to ask what possible next steps or alternatives were; and, Mary Anne Thygesen seemed to have been left to flounder by the Ignite organizers, warbling parody Christmas Caroles about foreclosure amidst slides of her own harrowing experience with this, when simply telling her own story would have engaged the audience so much more. But these were minor issues — like we were advised before, don’t like a particular talk? Wait five minutes.

All and all, an inspiring evening to truly excite the mind. I hope this fun Portland institution sticks around to continue getting us all thinking about more creative ways to embrace our future.

Missed this round of Ignite Portland 10? The talks should be available for viewing at the Ignite Portland Site soon. Think you might have what it takes to get an audience excited about what thrills you or what you geek-out on? They’re now accepting proposals for the next Ignite Portland 11 this fall on their Web Site. Perhaps next time, you will be the one with the exciting, big ideas. Just remember: only five minutes, and once started, there’s no turning back.

All Ignite Portland 10 Speakers and Crew on stage at the Bagdad.

Photo: Hockley Photography -

Ignite Portland 10, Thursday February 9th, 2012, 7:00 p.m. at McMenamin’s Bagdad Theater, 3702 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, Oregon, 97214, (503) 467-7521. Produced by Stumptown Syndicate. With talks by Angela Stacklin, Brad Fortier, Brandt Stickley, Clifton B., Sarah Stricker, Curtis C. Chen, Ním Wunnan, Amy Dubin, Mary Anne Thygesen, Nitya Wakhlu, Willem Larsen, Andrew Nhem, Ember Stevens, David V. Horste, Denise Rothman, Kevin Murphy, Garin Etcheberry, Bridget Pilloud, Jolie Guillebeau and Josh Marinacci. Tickets: Free, Festival Seating (Those bringing in Canned/Packaged Dry Foods for Oregon Food Bank donation were admitted 45 minutes earlier).

FULL-DISCLOSURE: The writer of this Review, Faddah Wolf, has previously been a speaker (on the subject of Gypsy Jazz music) at Ignite Portland 9 and has done other volunteer work in the past for the current parent organization of the Ignite Portland events, Stumptown Syndicate, including BarCamp Portland and Open Source Bridge. He is no longer associated as a volunteer for Stumptown Syndicate or these related events, only as an attendee.