Best of Portland 2012: Best Bytes

Best Off-The-Rails Office

So your tech company works out of a refurbished factory with sky-high ceilings, polished concrete and an XBOX 360? Urban Airship and Emma ain't got nothing on Cascade Web Development (2301 SE Water Ave.,

Ben McKinley, who founded Cascade in 2001, had joked with his wife about building a "kickass tree house" in the backyard to use as an office. The tree house never happened, but three years ago he moved his business into an old 1930s railcar, still on tracks in a gravel field on Portland's inner east side near OMSI. If it were a character on Thomas and Friends, they say its name would be "Skookum." The railcar was purchased and renovated 10 years ago by Ted Anderson, owner of a few Hertz Rent-a-Cars in Oregon. It has a beige and forest-green exterior, with a strip of wood paneling inside. It's simple but elegant, and retains most of the original look. Cacade's decision to move its shop into an old railcar came with some risk. "We could either re-up at the Ford Building, or put ourselves in a space unique enough to be a differentiator," says McKinley. But the risk paid off, as his company is now known as the "railcar guys." The railcar keeps the workplace interesting, not to mention serving as a great icebreaker for new clients. And, as McKinley points out, "there isn't a lot of commercial tree house space in downtown Portland." CODY NEWTON.

Best Library Service You've Never Heard Of

It's buried about three pages deep within the Multnomah County Library website (, but it's worth digging out: Any library member can download one MP3 a week—for keeps—from Freegal, an online music depository of Sony Music Entertainment's catalog. From Lil Wayne to Sigur Rós, the choices are surprisingly extensive. For the least fortunate in our society, pirating music often isn't even an option. Freegal affords every Portlander their God-given right to own a personal copy of One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful." RUTH BROWN.

Best Way to Go For a Spin

Panoramic photos are nothing new. But SpinCam (, a free iPhone app by local augmented-reality shop Spot Metrix, is not like any panoramic image you've ever seen. The user turns in a circle, capturing a seamless 360-degree image, which other viewers can explore by "spinning" the image with their finger. It's surprisingly addictive, racking up a quarter of a million downloads in its first week. Fire up the app to spin around a political rally in Mexico, a coastline in Italy or a train station in Germany. Why is it different from just spinning in a circle and recording a video? It just is. Or, as Spot Metrix co-founder Josh Aller explains: "There is a 'visceral threshold' for the subconscious to accept an experience as natural. By scrubbing video, you don't get a sufficiently tight connection to physical orientation.... [We] fool the brain into seeing the spin as directly controlled." Yeah, what he said. RUTH BROWN.

Best Mobile Letterman

Hosting an online talk show on a bicycle may be the most normal thing Boaz Frankel has ever done. He holds the Guinness World Record for the “most high-fives in an hour” (408), curates a kazoo museum in South Carolina and recently made a documentary-musical about a near-extinct beetle in Lincoln, Neb. He got his start on the small screen in college television, hosting late-night talk shows On the Cusp and Clips & Quips, then, in 2009, he did a series for Halogen TV called The Un-Road Trip, where he traveled across the country using every mode of transportation except gas-powered cars: motorbikes, paragliders, crop dusters, camels, Segways, paddle boats. Now he just rides around Portland—well, his Pedal Powered Talk Show ( co-creator, Phillip Ross, rides; Frankel sits in front inside a carrier-turned-desk mounted onto the front of a cargo bike.

The idea for the show came about a year ago when Frankel, who looks like a young Ira Glass, decided that all the satellites and equipment on the top of news vans weren't necessary these days. "You can do so much more with so much less," Frankel says, which was his inspiration when he took Ross aside and said, "we should do a talk show on a bike."

Ross co-owns Metrofiets Cargo Bikes, and teamed up with Bamboo Craftsman to build the 100-pound bike. Keen footwear paid the bill. Keen had helped Frankel sponsor The Un-Road Trip, so he went back to them, and when they asked what he was working on, he simply said, "Oh, I have this bike talk show." Out came $3,000, and the rest is history. Well, not quite yet. 

The show is only in its first season, and although it's had decent success in securing guests like Daniel Baldwin, Blitzen Trapper and graphic novelist Craig Thompson for its seven-minute clips, Frankel says it's still building a reputation. The platform also seems to confuse people. "Agents are like, 'So it's a radio show?'" Frankel says, "No. 'Then where do you shoot?'" To which Frankel explains they can shoot anywhere. "They want to do it in their hotel bathroom? Done. The acoustics would be great." CODY NEWTON.

Most Likely to Succeed Steve Jobs

On an abnormally sunny April weekend, 17 teams of fledgling tech startup founders spent 54 hours inside Portland State University brainstorming, coding and hustling to launch their next great tech idea as part of Portland Startup Weekend.

When the teams stood up to pitch their products to a panel of judges on Sunday evening, it was a Pinterest shopping plugin that won the top prize. But on Twitter, the buzz was all about another name: Jackson Gariety, a 15-year-old Web developer and the co-founder of startup HashTraffic, who won the crowd over and took home awards for audience favorite, best execution and best developer.

"People just went wild; we got a standing ovation," says Gariety, a skinny, bespectacled kid in an oversized hoodie who barely seems 15—until he starts talking—and strikes me as a cross between Max Fischer in Rushmore and John Connor in Terminator 2. "I think my age played a part—people were totally impressed by that."

A sophomore at Grant High School, Gariety is already a seasoned hand in the industry. He began learning to code five years ago, and has been earning money as a freelance Web developer for two years.

"Conflicts come up," Gariety says of his dual life. "Clients expect to be able to call me and say 'Hey, this isn't working,' but I'm in class."

Earlier this year, Gariety co-founded HashTraffic—a tool that adds Twitter-style hashtags to weblogs—with tennis buddy, developer (and adult) Brian Hendrickson. Now his focus has shifted more toward the business side of the tech industry. He says he would rather spend this summer in a startup accelerator than doing an internship.

"I'm totally into startups," he says. "Six months ago, I would have said, 'I want to go work for Twitter or Facebook.' Now, no, I want to run my own company." RUTH BROWN.

Best Tweeting Animals

How difficult it is to resist the imploring face of @GeorgeBaileyDog, the Twitter presence of George Bailey, the puggle owned by mayoral candidate Rep. Jefferson Smith. (Sample tweet: “Was getting neutered supposed to stop my humping all my stuffed animals habit? Because it hasn’t.”) But Smith’s puppy is merely Portland’s second-most-followed political animal. The top prize goes to @LunatheLamprey, an avatar for all Pacific lamprey struggling through the Columbia River dams to reach their spawning grounds. Luna is the brainchild of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee Sean Connolly, who is trying to raise awareness of declining populations of jawless eels. (Sample tweet: “I’m sad. Louie is dead! He was swept away after repeated tries to naviagate [sic] through John Day Dam’s fish ladder.”) Luna would probably terrify George Bailey, but their tweets express the same fundamental yearning. They just wanna breed. AARON MESH.

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