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August 20th, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Art, Events, Video

This past weekend, Honolulu hosted the first-ever “IconLocal” in support of The Noun Project. The workshop brought together local designers and civic-minded geeks with local community service providers to develop a set of symbols and icons to support the homeless and the groups dedicated to helping them.

“IconLocal Hawaii” was organized by Hawaii Open Data, a civic-oriented tech nonprofit cofounded by Burt Lum, Jared Kuroiwa and me. Honestly, though, it was Burt who shepherded it from idea to reality, working for weeks to find the right mix of participants and partners.

Fortunately, he was able to connect with The Institute for Human Services and the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness to bring in a number of subject matter experts. And Ben Trevino (of Interisland Terminal) and Angelica Rabang (president of AIGA Honolulu) were able to rally a number of local designers to volunteer their time and talents.

iconlocalwallAfter a brief primer on symbolic design by Noun Project co-founder Edward Boatman (created especially for our event) and a review of several dozen themes of homelessness (from barriers to specific services), participants formed seven groups consisting of at least one designer, subject matter expert, and civic participant. For the next three hours, these groups brainstormed and sketched and ultimately presented the symbols and icons they’d developed.

Of course, the “IconLocal Hawaii” workshop was just the first critical step. Now the participating designers will need to collaborate to refine the design concepts into finished icons and symbols to submit to The Noun Project.

The Noun Project is an international movement to build a “global visual language that everyone can understand.” The Chicago-based group has hosted several “Iconathons” in which participants have developed simple, universal, high quality and royalty free symbols addressing issues ranging from transportation to human rights. And in May, The Noun Project added independently organized events called “IconLocals.”

As it turns out, Saturday’s “IconLocal” in Honolulu was the first one staged anywhere.

I’ve put together a video recap of the event that hopefully captures the energy and creativity that was on display. I’ve also posted over 100 photos from the event to Flickr:

“IconLocal Hawaii” was sponsored by Pacxa, HMSA, HTDC, and Code for America and graciously hosted in Kakaako by the HCDA.

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August 15th, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Events

Jodo Mission of Hawaii Bon Dance Banner

The banner we hung on the temple isn’t exactly straight, but the message is clear: come to the Jodo Mission of Hawaii tomorrow or Saturday evening for the annual bon dance.

Admittedly, the Mililani Hongwanji is holding its bon dance this weekend as well, but Burt Lum have been on the Jodo Mission board of directors for years (having been invited by fellow geek Ian Kitajima, whose family has strong ties to the temple). The Makiki temple is a historic Honolulu landmark (described by a friend as Hawaii’s mini Taj Mahal), and its community is a close-knit one.

As in years past, there will be homemade food items for sale, activities for the kids, a taiko drum performance on Friday, and a KC Waffle Dog stand on Saturday. The social hall opens at before 5 p.m., with the blessing and dancing set for 6:30 p.m. In deference to the temple’s neighbors, the festivities will end before 10 p.m.

Like many bon dances at small local temples, parking is always a challenge. And wouldn’t you know it, parking coordination is the job that Burt and I take on each year. We basically play Tetris with cars, and so far, we’ve not trapped or smashed any of them. There are a few parking stalls around the temple, and a spillover parking lot behind the school next door… but unless you’re willing to come down early, you’ll likely be prowling the streets of Makiki for a space. Still, I think it’s worth the effort!

The Jodo Mission of Hawaii is located at 1429 Makiki St., at the dead end against the freeway coming mauka from South King Street. Hope to see you there!

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July 16th, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Business, Technology, Travel

UberUber, the startup that aims to serve as “everyone’s private driver,” had its soft launch in Honolulu today. Based in San Francisco and deployed in over 30 cities around the world, Uber empowers smartphone users to summon a “sleek black car” to take them to meetings, parties, or home (after perhaps too much partying).

Uber’s interest in the Honolulu market first surfaced in April, when Uber Community Manager Lauren Rigney reached out to me and other local contacts to spread the word that Uber was hiring. (At last check, they still are.) And last week, I heard from Paul Faguét and Tomas Campos, part of Uber’s international expansion team. The pair were on the ground on Oahu laying the groundwork for the local launch, and I invited them to meet with my partner in crime Burt Lum and me to learn more.

Over sushi and honey toast at Shokudo, we learned more about Uber’s model, the niche it fills in local transportation, and how it sets up shop in various cities.

Uber Team at Shokudo

One of the main milestones is today’s soft launch, in which a small network of Uber drivers and cars come online to serve the first few users of their service. Each city launch requires the first Uber request, and for Honolulu, the company’s “rider zero” was Kala Alexander, pictured above getting picked up on the North Shore.

20130716-100457.jpgOf course, “soft launch” means the car network is modestly sized and the drivers are relatively new to the operation.

“Very few cars will be available during Uber’s soft launch phase, and we don’t want to over promise and set the expectation that anyone can get a car in five minutes,” Campos noted yesterday. “That will only begin to happen after the official launch.”

Nevertheless, Honolulu’s growing community of mobile geeks and early adopters is invited to give Uber a try. This invite link will get new riders (and me) a $10 credit. You can set up your own invite link to spread the word and earn credit as well.

Uber has been widely described as a disruptor, coming up against often entrenched transportation service providers. As a result, Uber has had some contentious launches in other cities. The company has a number of offerings, from the “black car” service coming online here, to taxi service, to “UberX,” their lower-cost option that can be more of a local ride-sharing network. Campos and Faguét note that Uber in Honolulu is operating like a limo service, with state PUC-licensed and properly ensured drivers making up its network.

Indeed, Campos describes its “black car” service as “affordable luxury.” You wouldn’t use it to commute to and from work on a daily basis. But if you’re on your way to a client meeting in parking-constrained downtown Honolulu, or picking up a special someone for a night on the town, Uber brings a touch of class with its already compelling at-your-fingertips convenience.

There’s a pattern to how Uber grows in a new city, according to Uber founder Travis Kalanick. Earliest users tend to be people heading out on Friday and Saturday nights, arriving in style and getting home safely. But as they get used to firing up the app to get places.

“It sort of works its way from the weekend into the weekday,” Kalanick says. “That simplicity around not having to think about how I’m going to get from point A to point B is huge.”

One thing that the Uber team is curious about is how Hawaii’s visitors use their service, as Campos notes that Honolulu is one of the first cities in which Uber is launching where tourists comprise a significant portion of the day-to-day population.

Campos also takes pride in the fact that Uber is good for limo drivers as well as riders. The company is adamant that it’s a technology company, not a transportation company — Uber owns no vehicles and does not employ drivers. Instead, it brings its expertise in mobile, logistics, and demand response to independent operators that previously spent too much of their own time lost in the daily trappings of running a business.

He says there are small, hard-working operators that have been able to vastly expand their operations as part of the Uber network.

Today’s soft launch is only part of the work Uber is doing in Honolulu prior to its official launch later this year. Campos and Faguét are spending at least six weeks on the island. Having invested countless hours in researching the local market (and its regulatory requirements), the pair is now reaching out to local businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs to learn about and introduce Uber to the community. And they’re looking to establish a local team, seeking an associate general manager as well as a community manager.

You can learn more about Uber at Uber.com, get local updates on Twitter at @Uber_Honolulu, or just download the app for your iOS or Android device and just try Uber yourself.

“Rider zero” photo courtesy Uber.

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July 7th, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Events, Family

Dancetta Feary has been raising butterflies for nearly a decade. A Realtor with Prudential Locations and the older sister of the late Hawaii musician Mackey Feary, she fell in love with the creatures and found inspiration in their beauty and independence. And she’s now able to offer people an up-close-and-personal encounter with them.

This week at Pearlridge you can check out “Flutter.” The summer exhibit is billed as “a green experience,” and features a butterfly pavilion hosting dozens of live butterflies, exploration stations with hands-on activities, and regular workshops and prizes. Thanks to social media maven Melissa Chang, my family and I were able to participate in a tweetup yesterday to experience “Flutter” first hand.

Feary explained the life cycle of butterflies, demonstrated how she fed them, and explained how to tell the males from the females. I remembered that I used to see monarch butterflies all the time as a kid, and not so much anymore.

The highlight is definitely spending time in the pavilion, which is kept slightly warm for the butterflies’ comfort. Colorful, delicate butterflies are everywhere, in every nook and cranny, and even on the floor (so you have to step carefully). Feary was especially proud of a white monarch butterfly, which she said was especially rare, and it got the celebrity treatment, surrounded by camera and phone wielding admirers.

Admission into the pavilion is $3 (children under eight are free with a paying adult), and there are also “Adopt-a-Butterfly” kits available for $22, with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit Goodwill. “Flutter” runs through July 14.

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June 18th, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Events, Gadgets, Technology

Oculus Rift

The concept of “virtual reality” has been around for decades, and has inspired science fiction and popular culture in countless ways, from the “cyberspace” of William Gibson’s novels to “Tron” and “The Matrix.” But with the breakneck speed of technological innovation we’re seeing today, we’re perhaps closer than ever to seeing VR taking hold in the mainstream.

Next week brings the first meeting of the Hawaii Virtual Reality Club, focused on exploring the potential of these virtual worlds. Founded by graphic designer and web entrepreneur Ka’i Kau, the club will convene at HICapacity in Kaka’ako.

“Virtual reality is set to make a comeback and change the world of videogames like the iPhone changed the world of phones,” Kau says. “I want to help establish Hawaii as a hub for software development for this exciting new platform, as I see the potential for any software written right now to take off in a big way.”

The focus of Tuesday’s inaugural gathering will be the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. The device was born on Kickstarter, where it raised an incredible $2.4 million (blasting past its initial goal of $250,000). Kau was an early backer of the campaign.

At the meetup, Kau says, attendees will be able to check out two Oculus Rift headsets and their accompanying development kits. The device has made quite a splash in the gaming and technology community, and perhaps most notably earned oohs and aahs on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

“We’ll be demonstrating the technology for the local community, and to further stoke interest in developers and designers for the new platform, we’ll have a pair of talks about the Oculus Rift, virtual reality, and how Hawaii developers have the opportunity to get involved early creating for this innovative hardware,” he explains.

The Hawaii VR Club meeting will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25 at HICapacity (307a Kamani Street). Anyone interested in attending is encouraged to RSVP online. The hashtag for the event is #hicapvr.

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June 6th, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Media, The Web, Video

PBS Insights

Last week I was honored to be a part of a panel discussion that explored the news business in the era of social media. The venue was the weekly live roundtable program “Insights” on PBS Hawaii, hosted by Dan Boylan (who is also a political columnist for MidWeek). My fellow panelists were Mark Platte, news director at Hawaii News Now, Nick Grube, a reporter at Civil Beat, and Melissa Chang, vice president of marketing and social strategy firm AdStreamz.

It was a great conversation (although as usual I talked too much and too fast). And while Dan Boylan was clearly not as into the social web as the rest of us, he was both delightfully curious and understandably skeptical.

You can watch the hour-long program now on YouTube:

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April 22nd, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Events, Technology

Hawaii Geek Meet

Every year I look forward to organizing the Hawaii Geek Meet. And every year I get so wrapped up in it that I only get around to blogging about it after it’s over.

This year was the sixth year, and I think the most diverse yet. A lot of the perennial favorite groups were there (from professional and amateur astronomers to ham radio operators to sci-fi costumers), but there were some new faces as well, from solar power firm Greenpath Technologies to medieval fighting troupe Schola St. George Honolulu to local players of the alternative reality geolocation game Ingress (which I’ve recently become obsessed with).

Here are my photos from this year’s Geek Meet:

You can also check out photos by Kyle Nishioka (@madmarv), Russ Sumida (@parkrat), and Burt Lum (@bytemarks).

The Hawaii Geek Meet was also featured on Hawaii News NowKITV, and Hawaii Public Radio!

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March 15th, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Business, Technology

2013-02-18 12.48.57

Earlier this year, retail job postings on the Microsoft web site revealed the company’s plans to set up its first Microsoft Store in Honolulu. Sure enough, shoppers at Ala Moana Center soon spotted the future location of Microsoft’s island invasion, positioned almost directly across from the state’s first and largest Apple Store.

It’s one of six Microsoft Stores opening this year, and only the second outside the contiguous 48 states (along with Puerto Rico), bringing the total number of locations to 50. Of course, that’s compared to Apple’s nearly 400 stores around the world.

Indeed, it also looks like Honolulu’s three Apple stores (Ala Moana, Kahala, and Waikiki) are about to get some reinforcements from Cupertino.

Thanks to retail job posting’s on Apple’s website (spotted by a job-hunting friend), we can surmise that there may soon be an Apple store in Aiea and — at long last — on Maui. (There’s been talk of a Maui location for nearly as long as Hawaii’s had any Apple stores.) The Aiea location could be at Pearlridge Center, which could be a nice leeward counterpart to the Kahala location. And the Maui location appears to be in Upcountry Maui at Makawao… perhaps at Pukalani Terrace Center?

Apple Store Aiea

Apple Store Maui

Job postings don’t necessarily mean a store is in the works, but it’s been a pretty good indicator in the past. I think Maui is long overdue for an Apple Store, given the demographics and typical traveler profile. And I certainly wouldn’t mind having five locations on O’ahu to choose from (though I suspect windward residents will start to feel a bit left out).

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March 8th, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Technology, The Web

Lasso App

The South by Southwest (SXSW) festival is now underway in Austin, Texas, starting with SXSW Interactive, which draws thousands of startups and entrepreneurs hoping to make connections or launch the next big thing. And as usual, there are creative and talented people from Hawaii in the mix.

This year, Chad Podoski and Jason Skicewicz are at SXSW to officially launch their new company, and their new app, Lasso. It’s a photo sharing app with an interest twist: rather than serving as yet another tool to push pictures out to friends on other networks, Lasso is designed to help you request, or pull, photos from your friends.

For example, if a bunch of friends had a party on Saturday, and were connected on Lasso, they could “lasso” each other to get photos taken that day. After getting sets of photos from friends, you can easily browse them in the app, “like” them, add or request more photos, or save them to your own collection.

Podoski and Skiecewitz have collaborated before as Shacked Software, and I’ve enjoyed trying earlier apps like FlickPad, Gube, and TeleTweet. But Lasso is definitely their most complex, and most elegantly designed, app yet.

“We co-founded Lasso with the former founder and CEO of Photobucket, Alex Welch, who happens to be a part time resident of Hawaii Kai,” Podoski tells Hawaii Blog.

You need to make a little mental shift to think in terms of “lassoing” (requesting or pulling) photos from people rather than pushing it to them. And it’s a little odd to start with a largely empty app (as you wait to connect with friends and request photos from them). Finally, I’d actually like to see more “push,” like sharing sets to Facebook or Flickr or simple web galleries of lassoed photos… but that would probably dilute the secret sauce.

Ultimately, Lasso is a promising new way to tackle the “how to compile other photos from an event” problem… a problem that even well-funded startups like the ill-fated Color couldn’t solve.

Even better, Lasso is already available for both iOS and Android, and a Mac desktop client is in the works.

lasso-1 lasso-2 

Lasso isn’t the only startup with local ties in Austin. On Wednesday, Burt Lum and I featured Austen Ito and Ryan Kanno on Bytemarks Cafe. The founding members of HI Capacity, now living in D.C. and NYC respectively, were on two separate teams participating in the Startup Bus program. The challenge? Building new startups while taking a three-day bus trip from New York to Texas. Ito pitched Jobber.io, and Kanno worked on Readin.gs.

While their pitches didn’t earn them passage into the final round, the trip did deliver them to SXSW, where they’re no doubt reveling in the annual maelstrom of tech.

I really enjoyed SXSW Interactive the couple of times I was able to attend as part of the Wondermill team. The energy was so infectious, I rushed to get my own web app built, just to have something to talk about with the interesting people I met. And Austin was a great city to visit. I hope to return someday!

 

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March 3rd, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Events

The sixth annual Unconferenz, a grassroots, peer-driven technology gathering (where the agenda is set by attendees the morning of the event), was held on Saturday, March 2, 2013. Sessions covered topics like planning a Hawaii Maker Faire, the digital media arts industry, open data, and journalism. The grand finale was another set of Ignite! presentation focused on STEM.

In addition to my photos above, you can check out a gallery of Unconferenz images by lead organizer Burt Lum.

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