Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Ignite - Geeks as Toastmasters

December 2009

By Mike Gould

I just spent a fascinating Friday night at the Ross School of Business Blau Auditorium, listening to a very wide variety of people speak about the things that interest them. This was Ignite Ann Arbor, a sort of geekier Toastmasters Club.

I had heard of this from various members of the A2B3 group I belong to, and wanted to go because my publisher, Dale Dougherty of Make Magazine, was going to be there and I wanted to meet up with him again. Dale had just sent me on a trip to Maine to show off my lasers at a tech conference called Pop!Tech, and I wanted to thank him and see how we might work together on some other projects.

In a Nutshell
Here is how the event is described on the Ignite Ann Arbor website (URL below):

"If you had five minutes on stage what would you say? What if you only got 20 slides and they rotated automatically after 15 seconds? Around the world geeks have been putting together Ignite nights to show their answers. We consider geekery to equal passion, and that means food geeks, tech geeks, music geeks, art geeks, history geeks, and more talking about their passions."

O'Reilly Publishing is one of the sponsors of the event. They are a publisher of technical media, with the avowed mission of "Spreading the Knowledge of Technology Innovators". They publish Make Magazine, under the direction of Dale Dougherty, of whom I wrote two BizMos ago ( and are one of the premier publishers of technical materials, especially web reference and how-to books.

Other sponsors include the Michigan Entrepreneurship Club of the Ross School of Business, and A2Geeks, a local consortium of various tech groups.

Ignite was started in Seattle in 2006 by Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis, and has since spread around the world, with events in San Francisco, Paris, Madrid and New York City, to name a few. This was the second Ignite for Ann Arbor, and the next one is in March. I have signed up to talk coherently about lunchboxen (a long story, to be condensed into 5 minutes) at this event.

Not Just for Technorati
I had no idea what to expect; because the Ross Entrepreneurs were involved, I thought it might have been about people pitching business plans. Not. In fact, blatant shilling is discouraged and most of the talks weren't all that specific to particular businesses. Here is a brief listing of some of the speakers I found interesting:

Bilal Ghalib @: Hacker Spaces - American Re-education and the Importance of Making Things. I actually missed this talk because I arrived late, but I've met Bilal and appreciate his efforts to promote communal working spaces such as the Mech Shop where the Ann Arbor Makers meet.

Aaron Worsham spoke about the tradition of home woodworking workshops; where people "leave their cars out all winter because the garage is filled with wood projects". As a maker who works in his garage, I can appreciate this. He showed some beautiful shops that people have built for their workspaces. And he, like most of the speakers, was really funny. The humor gene seems to be cross-linked with the creative gene; most of the makers I know tend towards comedy.

Linda Diane Feldt spoke on finding and preparing wild foods, something I enjoy because of our foraging sessions while camping. (We found wild blueberries during our trip up North - see last month's poem - and enjoyed them in pancakes and roasted squash. But I digress...)

In what was the farthest topic possible from business matters, Carl Wright spoke on rodeo rope-twirling. At one point his demonstrator/teacher climbed up a ladder and twirled a 20-foot diameter circle of lariat. Probably the first time this has happened at Ross.

Jack Zaientz spoke on "The Silver Age of American Jewish Music is Happening Now! And Why We're Missing It." There is a resurgence of Klezmer and other Jewish music going on, just not around here. But the Web makes all this tunage available to all, and Jack showed some of the sources for this.

Bill Van Loo is a technology educator at Honey Creek Community School, and he spoke of the challenges and techniques he deals with in teaching tech subjects to K-8 schoolchildren.

Peggy Daub of the UM Special Collections Library spoke of the special display of a letter that Galileo wrote describing his first observations of the moons of Jupiter. I though her use of slides was especially well done.

Closing out the evening, my buddy David Bloom spoke on "Why Sex Is Great", which was all about the value of cross-breeding. He showed hilarious slides of chimeras and discussed his project with mutt peppers, a variety of hot peppers he created by crossing a Hungarian pepper with a jalapeno. He kindly shared some sproutlings of these with the A2B3 folks a while ago, and mine turned out great.

I should point out that Ignite is not really competing with the Toastmasters Club, who are still going strong after 85 years of speech making. Toastmasters is about learning to speak in public and leadership training; Ignite is about speaking your piece in a tightly constrained environment and learning about a variety of topics from people who are passionate about them.

Shameless self-promotional plug
Make Magazine #20 is now on the stands and it contains my story on building Lunchbox Lasers (page 110). This is my first sale to a national magazine and I am pretty excited about it. Adam Savage of the Myth Busters TV show is on the cover, and the theme is projects you can build for and with your children. Look for it in the computer or how-to magazines department of your favorite local bookseller.

Ignite Ann Arbor


Ann Arbor Toastmasters:

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of, and welcomes comments addressed to

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