Against the proposed use of Richmond tech park funds

Cranes In The Sky.A year ago I blogged about the $5 million dollars that Richmond had available to promote high-tech business growth in our city.

An article in Sunday's Palladium-Item reports that the City of Richmond is proposing to use the funds to purchase 14 acres of land and buildings on the city's northwest side, which they will use to create a space for technology entrepreneurs.

For the record, as someone who created a technology business in Richmond, I'm against this use of the Certified Technology Park funds as it's currently described.

There are a lot of things that technology entrepreneurs in our community could benefit from, but a new physical space is generally not one of them. There are myriad available buildings already suitable for businesses of all kinds - retail, office, manufacturing, etc. With the advent of cloud computing, global distribution systems and other niche service providers, few tech start-ups have specialized space needs.

Not the least of the existing structures is the Uptown Innovation Center, originally designed and built to - you guessed it - house technology entrepreneurs looking for space to get their business up and running. I supported that effort and it's a great space with some great possibilities, but as far as I know, that building has not exactly operated at capacity in its lifetime, and when it has come close it's not been with high-tech businesses.

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In The Plex, a great history of Google

I just finished reading Steven Levy's In the Plex, a great history of Google, Inc.'s origins and growth, and a great insight into what the company could look like in the future, or at least how it might get there.

The story of Google that matters for most people is how it affects their daily lives (searching, web browsing, mobile phones, mapping/navigation, email, calendaring, YouTube, news, etc.) but I appreciate that Levy's book focuses on the personalities and processes driving the evolution of what is arguably one of the most transformative corporate and technological entities of our time.

It can be easy to forget that behind some of the game-changing products and services produced by the company, there were real people thinking through issues of privacy, dealing with cross-cultural considerations and navigating interpersonal dynamics all while trying to make a living and find a sustainable business model.  They had/have desks, meetings, slide shows to give, families to care for, water-cooler conversations to have, and Levy does a great job capturing and re-telling those stories from the days of "two guys in a garage" all the way through the present days of life as an international corporation.  This is not always done with the most critical eye - those with concerns about Google's operations or policies may be put off by the extent to which this book is an homage - but on the whole I think Levy is fair in calling out the moments when individual Google employees or the company as a whole screws up, and placing those in the context of Google's good intentions.

A few themes in what Levy's book revealed about "the Google way":

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Queries for good email management strategies

Inbox ZeroThe new calendar year is a great time to think about how you manage your personal and work/organizational email accounts.  I know that I benefit from the opportunity to purge or rotate out some old folders, delete large attachments just sitting around taking up space, and think about how well my setup is working for me in my daily workflow.

There are a lot of different strategies out there and each person has to find what works best for them.  Here are a few queries that might help you think about how well your strategy is working for you:

  1. Are you able to work through your e-mail inbox in a reasonable amount of time every day, respond to or delegate time-sensitive questions/comments, convert messages into to-do items, or otherwise file them away on the first pass through?
  2. Do you make good use of e-mail filters available in your mail reading program to highlight/tag/sort messages in ways that make you more productive? Continue reading "Queries for good email management strategies"

Summer reading mini book reviews

What We Leave BehindIt's been a decent summer of reading for me, and I thought I'd post some very brief reviews of some of what I've encountered along the way.  For each book I’ve linked to an online purchase option, but please consider buying from your locally-owned bookseller or visiting your local library first.  I've organized the reviews into three sections: Culture, Novels and Business & Politics:

Culture

Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick
Finally, Mitnick gets to tell his side of the story when it comes to his adventures in computer cracking and social engineering.  Though his writing style isn't particularly compelling and his personal meditations on the interpersonal aspects of his adventures are a bit awkward, the details of how he pulled off some pretty technologically impressive (albeit illegal and sometimes destructive) hacks - and how law enforcement responded - make for compelling reading on their own.  As someone who spent a fair number of hours in my childhood trying to deconstruct how the phone system and the emerging world of BBSes and Internet nodes worked, Mitnick's book is a great visit to the past and a reminder that humans continue to be the weakest link in all computer security.

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Richmond Center City Certified Tech Park Funding

On down Main Street(Sometimes I wake with a start in the night and think I can hear Palladium-Item Viewpoints Editor Dale McConnaughay's voice chanting in the distance, "you must take a stand, you must enter the fray!"   It's probably because almost every editorial the newspaper has published in the last two months about the income or expenses of City government have included a not-so-subtle encouragement for current candidates for office to make that particular issue a part of our political campaigns.  Today, I'll bite.)

The Center City Development Corporation has asked that $300,000 of the $5 million in funds available through Richmond's Certified Technology Park account be used to support renewed operations of the organization and its Uptown Innovation Center facility.  The Palladium-Item covered the request today in a news article and related editorial, the latter of which painted the request as just another ask for taxpayer funded handouts to support private business efforts and essentially encourages a "no" vote by the Redevelopment Commission, the entity that approves the funding request.

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The Social Network

I saw the movie The Social Network tonight, here are my spoiler-free comments.

The movie was incredibly well made.  Aaron Sorkin's writing was as good as the best days of The West Wing, each member of the cast seemed to just nail their role, the editing was some of the best I've seen, and so on.

Perhaps most enjoyably, this is a mainstream movie that is at least in part about the culture and goings-on in the modern world of Internet entrepreneurship, I believe the first of its kind. It fully embraces the geekiness that was and is a part of building a web application like Facebook: in the first 30 minutes, the Apache webserver software project is mentioned at least twice, there are dramatic lines about needing more Linux webservers running MySQL, there are punchlines that involve the emacs text editor, and scenes of glorious code writing marathons - wow.

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Unhelpful responses to cyberwarfare

State of the art blender powerA number of mainstream magazines and newspapers have recently published reports on the increasing threat of "cyberwarfare," the significant resources being devoted to fighting that "war" and what we're doing to protect the critical national asset that is our digital infrastructure.

Unfortunately, most of the responses (and the ones favored by the Obama administration) are focused on paying insanely large amounts of money to private contractors to create and deploy complex technological solutions in hopes of addressing the threat.

What advocates of this approach fail to appreciate is that (A) most of the actual threat comes from uneducated human operators of the technology in question, and (B) deploying homogeneous, technologically complex solutions often makes us more vulnerable, not less.

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Mindo Update

This WAS a fairly detailed post about the amazing experiences Kelly and I have had the last few days in the cloud forests of Mindo, but the internet connection and computer in this Internet cafe were flaky enough that this update is now gone, and this very short update will have to suffice. We´re about to get on a bus back to Quito (two and a half hours on winding dirt roads in the mountains - wish us luck!) and then tomorrow we´re off to the Galapagos. I´ll try to recreate the longer post later tonight if time allows.

We´re having a great time. More soon.

Upcoming speaking events

I have a few upcoming speaking events that you might be interested in:

  1. Capitalism vs. The Environment: A small business perspective on doing well AND doing good. This coming Thursday September 24th at 4 PM at Indiana University East in Whitewater Hall Room 132 the Community Room, free and open to the public, no registration required.  I'll be talking about our experiences at Summersault as we've tried to do the "right thing" when it comes to the environment and nurturing sustainable lifestyles, and examine whether it's even possible to pursue a for-profit technology venture and not be in a harmful relationship with the land and life around us.
  2. Get Techie, Get Social! A workshop to help non-technical people learn more about technical topics, especially social media like Facebook and Twitter.  Monday September 28th from 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM at Morrisson-Reeves Library, free and open to the public, no registration required.  If you're at all intimidated by some of those "newfangled Internet trends" or the Internet in general, I hope you'll bring your questions and frustrations so we can work them out together.  There's a PDF flyer for the event.
  3. TCP/IP topics in Introduction to Computers and Computing.  I'll be speaking at this IU East class on Monday October 12th about things like DNS/Bind, network topologies and routing, e-mail technologies, and web technologies.  This particular class isn't open to the public, but if you have folks interested in discussing these topics in technical detail, let me know and I'd love to speak with your group.
  4. Communicating Through Technology. Friday October 23rd at 9 AM at a conference for women hosted by the Wayne County Foundation.  I'll be speaking along with co-worker Jane Holman about social media and general technology topics.  You can view the conference brochure in PDF, and registration is required.

I hope you can join me for one of these events!

Growing a Geek Culture in Richmond

Surveying the courseA few weeks ago I was asked to talk with some folks at the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce about Summersault's past, present and future, and I enjoyed the conversation and questions very much.  One really good question that came out of the meeting was "how can Richmond better encourage, nurture, cater to technology professionals like the ones working at Summersault?"  I'll simplify that question to be "How can we grow a better geek culture in Richmond?"

It's something that I think about a lot (especially when we're trying to hire someone), but I didn't have a ready answer - partly because there is no simple answer, but partly because I hadn't really ever taken the time to write one down.  Below is a list of ideas and comments, in no particular order, that came out when I put the question to the wider Summersault staff.  I hope that you'll contribute your own thoughts and suggestions, and I'll pass the list back to the Chamber and anyone else I can find who might be in a position to work on some of these things.

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