Discussion in the RoundI attended my first “unconference” this weekend at Transportation Camp, which came for the first time to Washington, DC. The conference was for anyone interested in urban transportation and technology.

The “unconference” aspect meant that the attendees themselves created the presentations. Anyone interested in leading a session wrote their proposal on a large fluorescent sticky note. The camp leaders then culled the proposals and organized them into four time slots. Presenters with similar content were encouraged to merge their sessions together. The choices were presented on a large grid, referred to as “The Board.”

The day began with a great breakfast, as folks gathered at the cafeteria tables in the School Without Walls, a public high school on the George Washington University campus. I was really impressed with the facilities.

The conference was organized by OpenPlans, Arlington’s Mobility Lab, and Greater Greater Washington. After brief opening statements, two microphones were passed out to the attendees to introduce themselves. I normally detest this waste of time, but the unconference had a nice twist in that everyone was told to simply state their name and organization, followed by three words that described them. So, this went fairly quickly, with the highlight being a recent college graduate who said “looking for work,” after which the next person’s three words were “we have jobs.” And then a guy from Google Transit added “so do we.”

Lights DimmedMy favorite session was a demo from local company MapBox. They showed how easy it is to combine public data from the DC governmnt’s amazing Data Catalog with their TileMill software, creating beautiful maps with relevant data with unconventional ease.

The fourth time period offered the “lightning round,” with a series of of demos of cool transit applications. Eric Fidler started off showing the new TransitNearMe app, then Kurt Raschke gave some cool demos. It was especially interesting to see his animation of New York City’s MTA subway trains moving along their tracks.

Afterwards I shared my three transit-inspired games. First off was Washington Metro Hangman. It was a lot of fun to display the puzzles on the big screen and have the group try to solve them. We also played one game in French using the Paris MĂ©tro Hangman game. One of the attendees was from Chicago, and at her request I wrote a version for Chicago “L” Hangman. Then we played a version of Concentration which used images from Metro trains and stations. And finally we looked at my Metro Distortion Map, and saw how it can be turned into a game of Pacman. (Be sure to read the About page for instructions.)

The day was over too fast, though there was a small after-party at the bar Science Club. It was good to mix and mingle with like-minded geeks. Many thanks to the organizers.

Transportation Camp 2012

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