Working from home over the last year and a half has been a blessing and a curse. I don’t think I’ve ever been as consistently productive as I have been during this time, as working from home affords me the ability to focus. I’ve worked with awesome teams to ship several awesome projects, I released my first open source Jekyll theme, and launched A Wonderful Shop of Wonderful Wonders.
The flip side to this is that when I’m working alone in my apartment, it’s very easy to remain in my cave and only come up for food and water. Now that I don’t live in a more central location and don’t have an office to go to every morning, I can go days without speaking to anyone besides the cashiers at my local coffee shop.
For the last 3 months, I travelled between Montreal, QC, Mount Pearl, NL, Toronto, ON, and my hometown of Dorchester, ON to visit family and friends. I spent a lot of time in planes, trains, and automobiles, but more importantly around a lot more people than I was for the first few months of the year. Though still able to get away when work needed to happen, it was awesome to be able to sit with my family or go out for dinner with an old friend in the evening.
When I got back to B.C., I thought I’d relish some time to be alone. But, it only took a few days of settling in and reorganizing my belongings for the quiet to become uncomfortable.
Which is why when Boris Mann suggested a day trip to Nanaimo, BC for a “one day coworking and meetup adventure,” I signed up immediately.
The plan was to take a float plane to Nanaimo, hang out at the recently relaunched Input Cowork office, spend some time exploring the neighbourhood, and finally attend a local tech meetup hosted by Input Logic, owners of Input Cowork.
I took an Evo into Gastown and was joined at the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre by Boris and his Fission co-founder Brooklyn Zelenka. The free coffee provided by Harbour Air and the incredibly comfortable seating at the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre was a stark contrast to the experience of most airports and made the eventual rain delay a relaxing time to discuss the future of Web Assembly, the InterPlanetary File System, and the current state of open source software, ideas that would permeate through the entire day.
Once boarded, I sat behind Boris and Brooklyn and prepared for the apology I surely owed whomever was doomed to sit next to me for taking up so much of the narrow bench. But before anyone could sit next to me, the best sentence I’d heard in some time emerged from in front of me:
You should ask to sit in the copilot’s chair.
Immediately my eyes lit up. I’ve been on countless flights in my lifetime, and a big part of that was the fascination I have with the stories my father would tell me of his time as a pilot. Before he and my mom had kids, he got his pilot’s license and would fly Mom and their friends and family all over the place. That sense of adventure stuck with me, but the feeling of sitting in the last row of coach with no ability to recline the seat for an 8-hour flight is not quite what I had always envisioned my dad’s flight experience was like.
When the pilot agreed to let me sit next to him, I was elated. He was quick to instruct me to keep my iPhone out of his field of view so as not to obstruct his vision, but this didn’t feel like a moment I much wanted to capture on camera (aside, of course, from a quick selfie with the killer headset I got to wear and a couple more I knew I’d want for this post). Sitting and watching as the plane flew through the rain clouds was as mesmerizing an experience as I can remember.
And don’t worry, there were no controls at the copilot’s seat. I mostly offered moral support.
Coming from a long history of travelling in large commercial airlines at altitudes well above the clouds, I wasn’t expecting the entire flight to be as turbulent as it was. The rain, I’m sure, didn’t help. But as we approached Nanaimo the clouds began to clear and as we crossed over Protection Island the city of Nanaimo was aglow in the midmorning sun.
We met Input Logic & Cowork co-founder Shawn Adrian at Gabriel’s Gourmet Cafe for breakfast and shop talk, then walked up to the Input Cowork office for even more shop talk.
Boris led a discussion about lean startup methodology and Pirate Metrics with a group of over a dozen entrepreneurs and creative professionals. Hanging out with Boris reminds me of two fundamental truths: there are people who don’t know what I know and a lot more who know what I don’t.
The rest of the afternoon was spent chatting about different startup ideas, ones that we’d heard pitched to us or that we’d been tinkering with in the back of our own minds. I was reminded that I really enjoy discussing new and untested ideas with people who are smarter than me.
After a late lunch at The Vault Cafe, we walked along the sea wall and came upon the statue of Black Frank, who in 1967 started the Loyal Nanaimo Bath Tub Race. A stop at Cold Front Gelato was the perfect way to cap the afternoon as we made our way back to Input Cowork for the meetup.
Boris kicked off the meetup doing what Boris does best: get people excited about an idea (it was Boris who first proposed the idea of flying halfway around the world to live in Kampala, Uganda). This time, his topic was open source software. After sharing his history as a Drupal advocate, Boris led the group through topics like the various open source licenses, the controversy surrounding the initial React license, the recent purchase of Github by Microsoft, and a whole lot more.
Next, Brooklyn gave a high-level overview of IPFS, the InterPlanetary File System. IPFS aims to move us away from centralized data storage to a system that is distributed and content-addressable, which opens the door to peer-to-peer sharing of content anywhere in the world — nay, the universe! I don’t know Brooklyn as well as I know Boris, but the few opportunities I’ve had to hear Brooklyn speak lead me to understand exactly why the pair work so well together. Her level of understanding of complex mathematical and technical concepts, in addition to her ability to translate those concepts to n00bs such as myself, make her as excellent an advocate for technology as she is a practitioner.
In a nutshell, rather than storing everyone’s data on a centralized server, IPFS lets you store your data on your own device (laptop, phone, IoT device, etc) and lets other people access that data by addressing the content itself rather than the device the data lives on. For example, rather than having a chat conversation be stored on my phone, my friend’s phone, and a server that’s owned by an untrustworthy third-party, the only devices that host the messages are mine and my friend’s.
I’m definitely going to be doing a lot more reading about IPFS in the coming weeks. Maybe prototype an idea or two :)
The final talk of the night was given by Carson Farmer, Lead Data Scientist at Textile. Textile is building open source tools for developers who wish to build on IPFS. I haven’t had a chance to dig through their projects yet, but am excited to play with one of their initial products. Textile Photos allows you to store photos in IPFS and create private groups to share them with. I’m interested particularly because most of my friends and family don’t use iPhones and therefore don’t have access to Apple’s private photo sharing service. This could be a very cool cross platform tool for sharing private photos without having to store your photos on an untrustworthy private company’s servers.
The evening wrapped and Boris, Brooklyn, and I set off on the Coastal Renaissance to return to Vancouver.
It was an awesome day that reminded me of the value of getting out of my apartment and into the world. Thanks again to Boris, Brooklyn, and Shawn for letting me join you on yesterday’s adventure!