Why the name “The France Hopper Network”?
Back in 2004, when I was still in Middle School, I watched a lot of cartoons on the TV network Cartoon Network. In April, Cartoon Network began airing a show called Code Lyoko as part of a new programming block. There was a lot of technology in it and having a love for technology, I found it very interesting. In its second season, the character France Hopper was introduced as the creator of Lyoko. I adopted the alias France Hopper shortly after.
On Travel and Living:
You seem to compare Portland to Philadelphia a lot…
I guess that’s what happens when you spend five years in a city for university. Yes, Philly had plenty of problems (Drexel was sometimes unsettlingly close to some moderately sketchy areas), but it was a city undergoing a lot of change at the time. A certain wonderful museum was within walking/biking distance from Drexel, and Drexel’s proximity to all modes of public transit in Philly made it a sort of unofficial transit hub. Philly was a pretty decent city in the downtown area.
So why move to Portland then?
A handful of reasons. I had lived on the East Coast since 1998 and was ready for another change of scenery. Several years ago I worked remotely with an amazing team of people who were now living on the West Coast: two in Portland, and one in Seattle. When I graduated from Drexel, I was looking for a job almost anywhere. Having spent six months in Australia for one of my internships, moving long-distance was nothing new to me. So, in August of 2015, I moved to Portland to start my first job out of college. Things fell through a bit, but I’m still in Portland for now.
Would you consider moving back to Philly? Or elsewhere?
Philly? Absolutely. While it’s probably not the hottest tech market in the US, it’s a city that I have plenty of fond memories of, and the changes to the city haven’t stopped. As for elsewhere, it depends. I made the jump to Portland on very little research of the city, but enough that it seemed like an OK fit. That said, if I feel like a different city would be a good fit, I’d consider it. At the moment, I’m not considering suburbia again.
You travel a lot then, huh?
Well, I wouldn’t consider it a lot. I’m open to traveling more, but not quite to the point that I’m always living out of a suitcase.
Why did you pick Drexel for university?
When I started at Drexel, my college was likely the smallest on campus. That changed in my fourth year when it merged with the computer science program to form the new College of Computing and Informatics. I very much liked the fact that the college was small; it meant that I legitimately got to know some of my classmates – by which I mean not just their names, but hobbies and interests we had in common. I’m sure living in the Learning Community in the dorms helped.
Yet, we were a small community that was part of a larger university and a much larger city. Drexel was large and diverse enough that I had the opportunity to meet and become very good friends with people from other colleges. Philly was large enough there was always something to see or do. Drexel was the only university I visited that could offer that.
And yes, the co-op program was pretty nice too. It was a very expensive five years. Still though, I’d do it again.
What’s With You and…
I started watching anime in High School, after seeing videos that were parodies of some anime openings, notably Lucky Star. As luck would have it, Lucky Star was a series that made a ton of references to other series, notably Sgt. Frog and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Luck would be on my side again, and I would find a couple of volumes of the Sgt. Frog manga at my local library’s annual book sale for 25 cents a piece. Anime and manga would go on to become my fastest growing hobbies in my history – so far. They also sparked an interest in Japan as well, first in the pop culture, and the general/traditional culture not long after. While at Drexel, I took a couple of Japanese courses and regularly volunteered at the city’s annual cherry blossom festival. While I haven’t had the chance to visit Japan yet, my flight to Australia was the closest I got.
I don’t know why I loved elevators growing up, but I did, and it’s a hobby that’s stuck with me. When I found out that elevator videos were a thing on YouTube, it became a hobby that grew in a new way (and yes, that includes filming some.) I think it’s the fact that there’s an impressive amount of technology that mostly goes unappreciated in them that I found them interesting.
Public transit would be the newest of my hobbies. Until I spent six months in Melbourne, Australia – light rail capital of the world – public transit was just something I took for granted in Philly. Where I lived in New Jersey, the hourly train to New York was all we really had besides a couple of busses that came at odd times in the day.
In Melbourne, I lived in St. Kilda Beach within walking distance to several tram lines. One of them was route 96, which originated at the end of one of the main streets in town and dropped me off a block away from work. As it served the beach, several tourist attractions, and ran west to east through downtown Melbourne, it was one of the more busy routes. As a result, it had the largest trams in the fleet, including the new E-Class.
When I arrived in Melbourne, the E-Class was still under test, but there was plenty of advertising for it already. One night, I got my first look at one on a test run and I was blown away. The public transit I knew was boxy, loud, and dated. The E-Class was sleek, nearly silent, and futuristic. It was beautiful, and I wanted to ride it. When I finally got that first ride, it really became apparent that modern public transit was a very different experience than what I was used to. The technology on the tram was incredible, especially the two touch screens that controlled nearly everything on it.
It became a tram that I would gladly wait an extra half-hour for at the station. I had quickly built a pretty crappy application that would let me see almost exactly where the tram was on the line.
And then, for around a week, it wasn’t. I wasn’t the only one that noticed and had questions on Twitter. One of the local newspapers did too, and I ended up being interviewed for it.
One night, as I was getting off the train at the end of the line, I noticed one of the fare card readers wasn’t working, so I pointed it out to the operator as he was preparing to change ends. His response was, “Are you Stephen Weber by any chance?” I guess having an American accent really made me stand out. I said yes, and he introduced himself to me, having read the article in the paper I was interviewed for. A couple of days later, I would become friends with another operator and two other passengers that had the same level of interest in the tram that I did. Well, to be fair, they were more interested than I was, as they already had an established interest in public transport.
So, six months later, because of the friendships I made with four people, I gained an interest and appreciation for public transit I never would have guessed I’d leave Melbourne with.
Today, I am still an advocate for public transport and am a member of the Portland Streetcar Advisory Committee. I was also an early beta tester for Hop Fastpass, Portland’s electronic fare card.