What the Sex Pistols and Tampa Bay Startup Week have in common

never mind the bollocks

Here’s a story that anyone who’s taking part in any of the activities of Tampa Bay Startup Week — or wishes they could take part — should read. It’s a story about a seemingly insignificant gathering of like-minded people, and how the ripples of what its attendees did can still be felt today, an ocean away…

It’s June of 1976 in Manchester, England, and a small group of people gather in a tiny venue called the Lesser Free Trade Hall to see a band play. There’s nothing really remarkable about this group of 42 people, and that evening’s featured musicians are unknown at the time.

The band calls themselves the Sex Pistols.

As I mentioned, there were no famous people in the crowd at this show, or at the follow-up show that happened about a month later. The Sex Pistols had not yet caused an uproar throughout Britain with songs like Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen, and it was well before they invaded the US in 1978.

Attendees ranged from the local mailman to a few rebellious school children. But a handful of others in that small audience became some of the most influential people in independent and now mainstream music.

A gig attended by a few dozen in a venue that could easily hold hundreds would normally be considered a flop, but turned out to be anything but an ordinary concert. The influence of the Sex Pistols and the punk rock movement they helped kickstart can still be heard today in every band that features a spikey-haired youngling beating rapid power chords on a guitar. Johnny Rotten would later found the more experimental Public Image Ltd, and manager Malcolm McLaren would cast his musical net even wider, branching out into disco, funk, hip, electronic music, world music, and even opera.

That “handful of others” in the audience were just as important. Among them were:

These output of the bands that arose from this one gig would help define alternative rock and its subgenres, from punk to goth to synthpop to grunge, for decades to come. All this came from a concert that almost nobody cared about at the time, attended by people nobody had heard of at the time.

“The gig that changed the world,” as alt-rock aficionados sometimes call it, did so because it brought together people with similar interests who were passionate about what they did. Its attendees saw that popular music was changing, and after being inspired by a group of troublemakers, decided that they could be part of that change. They went on to create music their way, and make their mark on the world.

tb startup week organizers

The people behind Tampa Bay Startup Week (pictured above) may not look punk rock, but they’ve most certainly got its DIY, “we have an idea and we’re going for it” spirit. Like the Sex Pistols, they’re a band of troublemakers putting on an event on a shoestring budget (yes, Chase is sponsoring, but without them, the budget would likely go from shoestring to none), and at the moment, it isn’t being noticed by most of the world outside “the other bay area”.

Like the music scene in Manchester the mid-1970s, the work-life dynamic in Tampa Bay in the mid 2010s is undergoing some big changes:

If you look carefully, you can see the initial rumblings of change here, from the One Million Cups gathering that takes place every Wednesday to all the local interest in The Iron Yard to places like The HiveTampa Hackerspace, and Eureka! Factory to the ex-Marine who’s doing good and helping your beard feel good at the same time. I see a lot of the necessary ingredients for change here that I saw in Toronto in the mid-2000s, and so does GeekWire…and with a subtropical climate to boot!

I hope that like those 42 people who attended that Sex Pistols concert in 1976, that some of the people at Tampa Bay Startup Week’s events will get inspired, start their own businesses, and shake the universe.

(I’ll be at tonight’s tech cocktail mixer with my accordion. If you ask, I’ll gladly play you my rendition of Anarchy in the UK.)

Upcoming Tampa Bay Startup Week events



This article also appears in my tech blog, Global Nerdy.


Scenes from Tampa Bay Startup Week’s kickoff party

tampa bay startup week

Photo by David Betz.

tampa bay startup week buttonMonday marked the beginning of Tampa Bay Startup Week, a five-day-long series of events meant to bring creatives, techies, entrepreneurs, and anyone who’s a combination of any of those together to meet, plot, and party. There’s a small but interesting tech scene here in the Tampa Bay area, and a number of factors including the subtropical climate, low cost of living, and the influx of people to the area — you might call it a brain gain — could help it grow dramatically over the next few years.

joey and anitra at startup week tampa bay kickoff

Me and Anitra, working the room. Photo by Laicos.

The week’s kickoff party took place at the Chase Basecamp, a rented venue on 7th Avenue, the main street of Ybor City (pronounced “EE-bor”), Tampa’s nightlife and party neighborhood. The Basecamp (located at the corner of 7th Avenue and 20th Street), serves as the central meeting place for Startup Week participants, as well as a venue for many of the scheduled events.

tbstartupweek kickoff 1

Photo by Laicos.

While chatting up the people from local mobile development shop Sourcetoad, I was introduced to the friendly-looking gentleman below, who went up to me and said “I just have to tell you, I love that accordion!”

bob buckhorn 1

Photo by Laicos.

As he walked away, Anitra told me that I just shook hands with Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa. I’m a relatively recent transplant from Toronto, so I’ve never seen a photo of him, and I’m too used to picturing the mayor as either a sweaty, drug- and booze-addled, embarrassing mess, or too attached to highfalutin’ extravaganzas that are full of sound and fury but ultimately signifying nothing to care about a small grassroots effort like this one. I’m also not used to a mayor with his approval rating.

bob buckhorn 3

Photo by Yours Truly.

He gave a short speech to the crowd, in which he encouraged everyone to meet other people of like minds and ambitions, do what we do, “be a little crazy”, disrupt things, and start businesses. He talked about the brain drain that existed until recently, when people would leave Tampa in search of their fortunes. The situation has been turned around, what with Florida being one of the most moved-to states in the U.S. (as of this writing, it’s the third most populous state, after California and Texas), the population growth in the Tampa Bay/Jacksonville corridor and “Orlampa”, and Penske rental truck data that suggests that the Tampa Bay/Sarasota area is in the top 10 most moved-to locales. He asked the group to keep working to make Tampa a better place to be, if only to make sure that his daughters don’t move away to Atlanta, Austin, or anyplace else.

The money quote that got the audience to really put their hands together:

“I want Tampa Bay to be the economic engine of the southeast.”

It’s bold. It’s ambitious. I like it.

After all the speechifying, he then did what any good mayor would do: take control of the decks and drop a fat beat.

bob buckhorn 2

Photo by Laicos.

Anitra and I spent the rest of the evening either catching up with or getting to know the people in attendance, including:

tampa bay startup week banner

Here’s what’s happening with Tampa Bay Startup Week today and tomorrow. These events are free — just visit the Tampa Bay Startup Week site and sign up!

Today (Tuesday, February 3):

Tomorrow (Wednesday, February 4):

This article also appears in my tech blog, Global Nerdy.


Florida of the day: “Zombie cat” digs out of his own grave

zombie cat

definitely floridaI fear neither Florida Man nor Florida Woman, but Florida Zombie Cat scares the crap out of me.

Bart, a Tampa cat, was hit by a car and presumed dead by his owner, Ellis Hutson. “I cried, I was devastated,” he said. “I couldn’t even bury him. I had to have a friend do it.”

You’d think the story would end there, but this being Florida, it didn’t. Five days later, Bart dug his way out of the grave and was first seen walking around by Hutson’s neighbor Dusty Albritton. “There he is, just purring and looking up at me,” she said, “All dirty. This cat is dead. I know he was dead.”

Although alive, Bart was in bad shape, with deep wounds, a broken jaw and a cracked palate. Bart went into surgery at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, the costs for which were covered by the Save-A-Pet fund which is meant for emergencies like this one.

Here’s local news coverage of Bart the Zombie Cat:

Video courtesy of WFLA News Channel 8.

Here’s how far Bart is from me:

distance between me and zombie cat

Welcome back to the land of the living, Bart! Please don’t eat my brains.

Bart the Zombie Cat is alive thanks to the Humane Society of Tampa’s Save-A-Pet medical fund, which covers the cost of veterinary care for pets whose people are experiencing financial hardship. By giving to this fund, you’re not helping pets in need, but the people who love them. I’m sending a little money their way, and if you got some to spare, could you please do the same?


What’s on my camera roll #1: Wedding stuff

Here are a couple of shots from my phone’s camera roll related to our upcoming wedding:

wedding shadow box

This is an early wedding present from Diane, a long-time friend of Anitra’s family. She took our invitation, used its beach-turquoise-tangerine theme and made a gorgeous shadow box out of them. It’ll go up on our staircase wall.

an invite for the prez

The odds of the President and First Lady coming to our wedding are pretty much nil, but it’s been a long-standing tradition for them to send you an official White House reply card, so why not invite them?


The palm trees above mark the start of what will be our wedding “aisle”. It’s just under two months to go!


Just a quick announcement this morning…

t minus 2 months


Florida pastor exchanges gunfire with disgruntled fired employee

jesus - ill be back

When you’ve been fired, you can take it the right way, the wrong way, or the Florida way.

Benjamin Parangan Jr., upon arriving at his maintenance job at the Living Water Fellowship in Kissimmee, FL (just outside Orlando), was told by Pastor Terry L. Howard Sr. that his services would no longer be needed. Parangan’s alleged response was to open fire on the Pastor, which when last I checked was the opposite of what the Good Book tells you to do. Parangan’s shots missed, affording the Pastor to pull out his own piece and return fire, critically injuring Parangan, who at last report was upgraded to stable condition. Both men had conceal-carry licenses and the case is being pursued as a self-defense incident.

I’m reminded of this scene from The Wire:

even more florida


Florida starts off 2015 by being as Florida as it possibly can be

greetings from florida

Thanks to a series of events that led me to meet my fiancée, I now live in America’s weirdest state. California may have held this title once, but now it’s the Sunshine State that sets the bar for weird stories. Perhaps it’s because it functions as America’s Drainpipe, a place where people go to escape a bad past, only to exercise the same bad life-decision-making. It might be its history of frontier thinking; historian Gary Mormino, author of Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams says “fierce individualism, gun violence, a weak state government, and rapacious attitudes toward the environment—defined and continue to define Florida.” The subtropical climate and low cost of living make it attractive to a lot of people, but especially those living on the edge of society or sanity (I imagine it’s much easier to live in a van down by the river here as opposed to Toronto). As a result, whenever a weird headline comes up, many of us — myself included — do this check: Did it happen in Florida?, and more often than not, it did.

Florida’s starting off 2015 a little too Florida for its own good. Let’s hope that it’s taking a page from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ traditional playbook: starting out with a bang, and then petering out pretty quickly.

christian gomez

The best-known Florida Man story of 2015 so far is that of Christian Gomez (pictured above in an undated photo), a 23 year-old who was allegedly so incensed that his mother made him do some chores that he cut off her head. The only thing more distressing than this news was a discussion on Facebook by some local friends who, when first seeing his picture, thought it looked a lot like someone they knew, and that the decapitation sounded like something he’d do.

supervised spanking

Gomez was diagnosed with schizophrenia three years ago, so discipline alone may not have helped him. If you’re of that school of parenting that thinks the occasional spanking is warranted and want to ensure that you don’t get out of control, you can always call for police supervision. That’s what one Okeechobee County dad did when dealing with a mouthy 12 year-old girl, and a deputy came over, observed the paddlin’, and left. That’s not all that surprising: Disney culture is pervasive here, and many little girls here have been programmed by Disney Princesses into become little entitlement monsters.

We’ll have to see if the spanking — and especially being observed by a cop while it happens — got through to the kid, or if she becomes a “Florida Woman” story a few years down the line.

closet couple

The most famous Florida couple of the moment are Amber Campbell and John Arwood, who were apparently trespassing and got chased into a closet where they spent two days believing they were trapped inside, only to later be told that the closet locks from the inside and that they could’ve left any time they wanted. Arwood called 911 on his mobile phone. When the cops came to free them, they also found poop (presumably the couple’s) and copper scouring pads, which are sometimes used as crack-smoking paraphernalia.

same sex marriage florida

And finally, on a sad note, there this story: As gay marriage approaches, several counties’ clerks opt out of wedding ceremonies. Because they’re not allowed to discriminate anymore, a number of court clerks are simply refusing outright to hold courthouse marriage ceremonies for anyone, straight or gay.

By the bye, if you don’t know my stance on same-sex marriage, you might want to read this post of mine from 2007: A Craigslist Wedding.

joey in florida

In spite of all the local wackiness, I’m staying. I’m marrying a lovely lady with a nice family, I’ve got a good job, the climate’s pretty nice, and the locals seem all right with a guy who often walks about with an accordion with a fair bit of the time.