The Best Laid Tracks… Community at HighEdWeb New England

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Brianna Doxzen
Marketing and Research

(From left: Last Call Media’s Alan Wolf, Kelly Albrecht, and Brianna Doxzen with conference organizer Sven Aas and Keynote speaker Dave Cameron)

Recently, I had the honor of attending the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference. It was a fantastic group of higher education web professionals from across New England, the surrounding regions and a long plane ride (or two) beyond. 

All Drupal All the Time

At Last Call we’re pretty invested in the Drupal community. And when I say pretty invested, I mean we’re completely invested. We live and breathe Drupal and open source everyday. We go to conferences all over the world, sharing our own expertise and learning from others in the open source community. This event was our first in the HighEdWeb Association community and what a fabulous introduction it was!

We Like to Build Stuff

We are made up of insatiably curious and driven problem solvers. We love to tinker. When we have spare time, or are between tasks and need to clear our minds with a fun activity, we design cool gifs, add neat features to our own site like “making it snow,” or -- in HeWebNE’s case-- build a Twitter Train.

We were honored to be able to sponsor HeWebNE as their Gold Sponsor to support Dave Cameron’s moving keynote as well as accessibility (sign language interpreters and live captioning) to support Svetlana Kouznetsova’s session “Communication Access for Deaf Students & Employees“. I mention this because Gold Sponsorship also came with the added benefit of a slightly larger exhibitor space. When we were informed of the increased real estate our first thought went to: room for activities

Ahem, I mean, the Twitter Train.

Now, this was not the debut of our Twitter Train. In fact, HeWebNE marked it coming out of retirement. Previously the Twitter Train has been seen at The United Nations in NYC in participation of NYCCamp, a regional Drupal event.

What's a Twitter Train, Anyway?

Previously we’d written a program in Python for a Raspberry Pi to hook to a toy train and have it run around the track when triggered by a follow on our Twitter, @LastCallMedia. This was cool, but it meant that participants could only interact with the train once, and where’s the fun in that? For this event we added mentions, so you could follow us on Twitter and mention us as much as you wanted to make the train “choo-choo” as the program triggered the sound effect through an attached speaker. This was immensely more satisfying, or at least it was when we first set it up in the office as our developers (and I) tweeted to get it to move non-stop for about an hour… because trains.

The train in action GIF
(The train in action)

What If the Internet Didn’t Exist : The Horror

Internet is crucial, that goes without saying really, but in this case we needed the Raspberry Pi to be connected to internet to receive the Twitter trigger to run the program. When we got to the conference we were unable to connect as there were issues within the facilities. Despite the herculean efforts of the conference organizers, the ethernet ports, and then with our Raspberry Pi’s Wi-Fi dongle, the train wasn’t choo-ing.

A Reroute to Show The World

So it seemed as if the Twitter train was something of a fail. 

Why am I blogging to the world about what some might see as a failure? Because people came together to help. Not just the wonderful organizers, but random attendees, too! We each had a different piece of the puzzle, from knowledge of laying toy train tracks to finding a computer with a working ethernet port. Eventually, Kelly saved the day by setting up a DHCP server on his laptop to give the Raspberry Pi an IP address and to shell into it directly. It was a beautiful coming together of people that spoke so strongly to this particular higher ed community.

We’re Stronger Together

The collaboration and willingness to share is exactly why we do what we do. It’s why we love the open source community and now it’s why we love the HighEdWeb Association community, too. By lunch time the Twitter Train was racing around the track, powered by a mini Twitter storm.

The high ed web community as viewed from above
(The wonderful HighEdWeb New England Community as seen from above!)

Thank you to everyone that made the Twitter Train and HighEdWeb New England possible. We can’t wait to see you next year!

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