Welcome to Tampa Bay Tech Toys & Talent, a blog that highlights inventors, entrepreneurs, startups, and tech products in the region. I cover innovation & jobs, and will use this space to share my thoughts on the latest technologies. Constructive comments are always encouraged. You can also email me at marianne.galaris@gmail.com.

tree pic






A Critique of “The Good Life: The Movement that Changed Maine”

In 2014 the Bangor Daily News  published “The Good Life,” a multimedia story about the back-to-the-land movement in Maine that won the Online Journalism Award for best small feature that year. Four staff writers collaborated on the project along with members of BDN’s video, web, and graphics teams. The story’s formatting and multimedia elements are clean and simple, which is fitting for the down-to-earth topic of self-sufficient living off the land.


The project is organized into five chapters: Seed, Root, Bloom, Harvest, and Preserve.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Each of the first four chapters is written by a different journalist and features photos and a video. The final chapter contains only a video and photo gallery.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Although the story is best understood when read as a linear narrative, horizontal and vertical menus allow the reader to navigate freely between chapters and their subsections. The vertical menu also features icons to jump to the story credits and home page, plus a sound icon that plays or silences four original songs.


Upon first visiting the home page, the reader hears a looped track of crickets that launches by default. This natural sound accompanies a short written introduction to the project.

In the next four chapters, the original songs do not play automatically, but only after clicking on the sound icon. However, these chapters have header images that when clicked will play videos featuring the songs. Unfortunately there is nothing to indicate that the header images are videos. One could read the entire piece without realizing that content is there, or discover it accidentally through a random click.


The one video that readers cannot miss launches after a photo gallery in the last chapter. It features shots of a couple participating in a church contradance combined with interview footage. This scene resonates with the audience because it shows homesteaders connecting with the mainstream community and dancing to live music, which Mindy McAdams points out in a blog article helps to convey a sense of the experience at an event.


Still photos serve the piece throughout by enhancing the story being told in the text. In many instances people who are introduced in the narrative are simultaneously featured in the background photos.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These images help encapsulate off-the-grid living for the latter half of the twentieth century.

Infographics & Maps

Data visualization is used to present population growth percentages, changing property costs, and the total number of farms in Maine over the years. The population infographic includes a simple map highlighting certain counties in Maine.

Text Formatting

The writers do an excellent job of chunking the story’s text throughout the project. Chapters are broken up into subsections that have clear subheadings. Each of these sections of text appears on a light powder blue page that moves across a background of changing photos as you scroll through the story. The paragraphs are very short, about one to two sentences on average, which helps make the information digestible.

One of the reasons chunking is so essential to this story is that there were so many different sources interviewed. Rather than follow a few homesteaders throughout the piece and go into a lot of detail, the journalists were more ambitious in showing readers the bigger picture of different generations of people involved in the movement. As such the project provides snapshots of the lives of many families. If these individual stories had been strung together in larger bodies of text, readers would have likely become overwhelmed.


Opportunities for the audience to interact with this web project are minimal, and according to McAdams in “(Re)defining Multimedia Journalism,” that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Clicking links in the story, such as one that leads to the website for the Good Life Center at Forest Farm, navigating through chapters and photo galleries, and playing videos are about the extent of the interaction. But this choice seems like it was purposeful.

It’s hard to imagine a story describing people trying to farm and build houses without the use of electric and gas-powered tools being told in a format that includes interactive games and flashy graphics. It would seem unnatural.

Social Media

From the credits page at the end of the project, readers are offered a link to the comment section on BDN‘s website.


Here they can log in using their credentials for various social media accounts to join the conversation.


There are also buttons to share and like the project on Facebook, or to share it via Reddit, Twitter, and Google+. In addition, an icon to “Tweet” the story appears throughout the project.

Overall, “The Good Life” is an example of multimedia journalism that includes just the right amount of interactivity and graphic elements for its message. Rather than cluttering up the piece with unnecessary features, the editorial team allowed the narrative, photos, and videos of these pioneers to speak for themselves. Information graphics and links were used sparingly where they served the story. There was little redundancy in the different forms of media, and the visuals were attention-grabbing.

While the project was well thought out and executed, it was not without flaws. The user experience was poor in that there were no instructions on how to access the video content in the first four chapters. In addition, there were no captions provided next to photos to identify their subjects, because these individuals were introduced in the hidden videos.


“A Short History of the Highrise”: Digital Storytelling Elements

A Short History of the Highrise is an interactive web documentary comprised of four short films about the evolution of highrise buildings. It is one of five documentaries directed by Katerina Cizek within a multimedia project that spanned from 2009 to 2015.

For this portion of the project, The New York Times Op-Docs department partnered with the National Film Board of Canada to produce the documentary. Its first three mini films–Mud, Concrete, and Glass–used photos from the Times‘s archives and featured different narrators telling the story in the form of poetry that rhymes. The fourth film, Home, drew on user-submitted images set to the song “Lighthouse” by Patrick Watson.


This web documentary has its own navigation system built in to guide the viewer through the piece. Loading it for the first time will result in this pop-up opening, giving directions (in the form of poetry) on how clicking down opens extra content and clicking up resumes the film.


Written (and spoken) directions on how to navigate the project

The title page for the first short film directs the viewer to “Click and drag between parts.”


Title page for Mud shows that the viewer can move back and forth between the films

At the beginning of Mud, the viewer is shown where to click down to “explore interactive features.”


An arrow points to a button that opens extra content

The “Explore Park” button appears above as the film is playing the “Park” chapter, visible on the horizontal timeline. Clicking any of the chapter sections along the horizontal timeline lets you jump directly to the next chapter and its interactive content.

Selecting “Explore Park” reveals vertical panels underneath the film, where you can flip through photo slideshows while listening to audio or interact with animated graphics and micro-games.


A closer look at chapters on the horizontal timeline

The timeline is especially helpful if you want to watch the entire documentary first and then easily get back to each chapter to delve into its extra content.


Interactive content within “Explore Park.” Buttons take the viewer back to the film

Throughout the documentary, breaks are incorporated to guide the viewer chronologically through the history. This works nicely to organize the content, since the film examines 2,500 years of vertical living.


The documentary features an internal timeline

At the end of the last short film, Home, viewers are invited to explore all of its user-generated content and submit their own images.


Screen leading viewers to a fifth part of the project with user-generated content

The “Your Stories of Life in High-Rises” section utilizes side menus to allow users to view photos from a certain region or with a specific theme.


Front page of “Your Stories of Life in High-Rises,” a collection of photo galleries comprised of user-submitted images

Media Elements

After watching all four of the short films in this documentary, I felt like I had been watching actual film footage. A closer look revealed that much of what I perceived as footage was really a still photo with animated graphics added to it.


Each of these lanterns sways back and forth within the still photo


The addition of moving smoke or fog brought many stills like this one to life

Another technique the director used to make a photo look like video involved zooming out on the photo to resemble the panning of a video camera.

In addition to these more subtle methods of illusion, the project made frequent use of animated graphics, interactive content, and micro-games.



This interactive image of Babel tower crumbles to the ground with just a few clicks.


Babel tower rises and falls as you drag the white hand icon


Dragging the hand to pull the elevator down causes an animated horse to gallop across the screen.


Pull it down even further to learn more


A micro-game challenges you to build 15 condos in Vancouver by clicking on glowing flashes of light as they appear.


Notice the flash of light along the top of the mountain range


In this interactive you drag pieces of furniture into the micro apartment unit to see how difficult it can be to work with limited living space.


Here you drag the “East” and “West” tabs to see more of Moscow or London. This split view is often used in maps that let you compare changes in topography side by side.


As if you were rewinding and fast-forwarding through footage, this interactive lets you tear  down the building and then watch the demolition in reverse. Just drag the hand icon along the left slider.

Photos in the “explore more” sections can be flipped over to reveal additional information. Some are postcards with stamped dates and descriptions on the back. Other images feature the name of the photographer or artist, descriptions of the subjects, and the names of museums the works appear in.


Many of the photo slideshows are accompanied by audio interviews. Recordings start automatically and play continuously as you flip through the photos.


Photo in the “Explore Demolition” slideshow, accompanied by an audio interview with Miles Glendinning.

Here are some user-submitted photos from the “Pets” and “Storms” categories:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.









Maker Faire Orlando 2016 [live blog]


Update: 11:31 a.m.

Leaving now to drive to the Central Florida Fairgrounds for day one of the maker faire! The weather is gorgeous! I should be on the scene around 3:30 p.m. ET.

Check out the map and schedule of events.


Update: 3:47 p.m

And I’m finally here, after Orlando traffic delays! Heading over to the final large robot battle of the day at 4.


Update: 4:15 p.m.

Scooter Spirograph from Glazer Children’s Museum

Update: 4:16 p.m.

Hamster wheel powered snow cone maker!

Update: 4:55 p.m.

Pit stations at the First Robotics area:

Robots being worked on at a pit station

Replica of a flux capacitor

Update: 5:40 p.m.

Hey all,

This tech blogger has encountered some technical difficulties! Stay tuned for videos of the large and beetle robot battles that I will post after the event. For  the rest of  today I’ll have to stick to pictures.

Update: 6:16 p.m.

Making a set of steampunk coasters with Erin Hayward at Proton Paperie & Press

Rolling on the ink


Update: 6:30 p.m

Perler bead coasters, magnets, and accessories by Silly Rabbit Crafts

Update: 7:42 p.m. on Sunday

As promised, here are the videos of the bots in action yesterday, and more!


KurTrox Electronics Engineering & Design



Nerdy Derby racing track


If you want to make something with moving parts, chances are you’ll need bearings and things. This company found a creative mascot to advertise their wares.


StrandMauss robotic walking contraption based on Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest.. It’s made out of MDF and features a turret-mounted GoPro camera.


Dave Redding’s lasercut toys


More robots! This one isn’t trained to fight, rather to look and act human.


A variety of homages to Geek culture. Most of us will recognize the millennium Falcon, but do you recognize the bow?


Cereamics & pottery created by 3D Potterbot


Old arcades with new wooden skins. This one is set up to play Sunset Riders.


Some of the toys at Maker Faire


Vintage Macintosh computer case containing more modern hardware


Vintage Nintendo case containing more modern hardware


A mega-sized delta style 3D printer printing a tire. You can see some other finished prints as well.


3 Tampa Bay startup centers to follow on social media

Looking for support to get your new business up and running? Start by tapping into the ideas and expertise of these three entrepreneurial hubs, right in your Facebook and Twitter feeds:

1.) Tec Garage St. Petersburg

This startup accelerator and coworking space is the brainchild of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center. Follow its Twitter account for pitch tips, marketing strategies, funding advice, and networking opportunities.

2.) USF Connect

Focused on “the business of science,” USF Connect offers several incubator programs for tech and bioscience startups, with one geared toward students. On their Facebook page you’ll find links to global, national, and local news on cutting-edge tech and business innovations, mixed in with posts about university events and research.

3.) The Greenhouse

For updates on small business workshops throughout the area, look no further than the St. Pete Greenhouse Twitter page. The Greenhouse offers its own classes and hosts weekly 1 Million Cups meetings on-site; then they take it a step further by informing their followers of other community resources.

3 events for Tampa techies & entrepreneurs

1. Startup with the breakfast of champions at Homegrown Hillsborough

This monthly, morning networking meetup invites techies and entrepreneurs to mingle over coffee at Tampa’s newest business incubator, the 5508 Coworking and Collaboration Exchange. Wake up your brain with a tech talk; then wake your muscles on a tour of the facility, built on five acres.

  • When: Friday, September 30, 2016 at 8:30 a.m.
  • Where: 5508 Coworking & Collaboration Exchange: 5508 N 50th St, Tampa, FL 33610
  • Cost: Free

2. Go your own way at BarCamp Tampa Bay

Like the Tropical Heatwave of tech, this event at the USF Muma College of Business features presenters in different rooms at various times throughout the day. Only in this case, the audience can also be the talent!

Either get there early to sign up as a presenter, or go as a listener, moving from room to room to learn about the topics that interest you most. Once the speakers claim all of the available time slots, everyone else can see the whole schedule on a board and make up their agendas for the day.

Among those in attendance will be “web designers, software & hardware developers, digital marketers, hackers & makers,  IT & security admins or anyone who has a passion for tech either personally or in their profession.”

The event will include breakfast, lunch, raffles, and an after party. Check out the full schedule here.

  • When: Saturday October 1, 2016 from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Where: USF Muma College of Business: 4202 E Fowler Ave, Tampa, FL 33620
  • Cost: $0-$500. Tickets are free for general admission. BarCamp supporter & VIP tickets are also available.

3. Put on your suit & tie for TiECon Florida

TiE Tampa Bay is hosting its annual conference for entrepreneurs, with a full lineup of keynote speakers and business experts.

Panel discussion topics include healthcare software, food technology, IoT applications, and strategies for building sales teams. Jaya Rao, the COO of Molekule, who I interviewed for a feature on a new type of indoor air purification, will be part of a panel discussing seed investments and funding. A panel of a broader scope will address trends in the digital world of the future, such as IoT, augmented reality, big data, and privacy.

The conference will also feature 10 startup finalists pitching their ideas to judges.

Breakfast, lunch, coffee and networking breaks, a cocktail hour, and a banquet dinner are all included in the price of a ticket, plus an evening of entertainment to conclude the event.

  • When: Saturday, October 15, 2016 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
  • Where: Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa USF: 3705 Spectrum Blvd, Tampa, FL 33612
  • Cost: Tickets for nonmember attendees are $149 before October 1st, and $199 thereafter. An expo table for nonmembers is $650 before Oct. 1, or $750 after. Register for TiECon here.

Tampa gaining new residents

Tampa’s population has been steadily on the rise since 2010.  The growth of residents includes not only retirees moving to Tampa for the warm weather and low cost of living, but also many millennials who are drawn to its abundant job market. A study by Realtor.com ranked Tampa as number three in the top destinations for millennials.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater state metro area added 42,800 new private-sector jobs in March of 2016, compared to the previous year. There is an especially high demand for workers in the STEM fields, with 14,950 openings in the region as of March.