Tag: government

Nov 5 2016

My Last Post About This Election – Don’t Waste Your Vote

Please vote. Just so you know my bias before reading further, I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.

This post is not aimed at you if you have already decided to vote for Clinton or for Trump. It is aimed at you if you haven’t voted, are considering not voting, or are voting for someone other than Clinton or Trump.

At this point, especially in states like Colorado where it appears the election will be close, action other than a vote for Clinton is essentially supporting Trump. Regardless of your perspective about the candidates, the election process, our current system, or anything that needs to be changed going forward, either Clinton or Trump is going to be elected president by Wednesday.

I’ve been deeply upset about many things during this election. However, at this point, I feel extremely strongly that Trump is not a suitable candidate for president. I’m appalled that things have gotten to this point and that he’s been able to get away with things he’s said and done, but I’ve struggled with how to articulate my feelings in a direct and factual way.

Fortunately, Mark Suster did it for me last week in a post titled And Then They Came for Me … I’ve read Mark’s post once a day as I pondered what I wanted to write. As Amy and I finished Episode 5 of Goliath last night, my thoughts around this finally came into focus.

You should go read Mark’s post, but the rest of this post builds off of things he wrote.

“You don’t get to pretend for 5 years that the first African American president in US history wasn’t born in the United States and then get a free pass on running for the presidency.” (Suster)

On top of this clear racism, Trump had the audacity to both claim that Clinton started this and then he finished it. This was absurd beyond comprehension. It’s a classic example of extreme misdirection, something that is woven through many of Trump’s mistakes and misdeeds. It’s the opposite of a leader who takes responsibility for his actions.

“You don’t get to launch your campaign saying illegal Mexicans are “rapists and murderers and some, I assume, are good people.” That is racist and fear mongering and stoking the flames of those who want to vilify “the other” which has been done throughout our country to the Irish, the Polish, the Jews, Italians and yes — the Germans — and every other immigrant population throughout history. Racism is disqualifying. Immigration and assimilation are two of the unique features that have made America so great over its centuries.” (Suster)

I’m Jewish. My grandparents came here from Russia and Germany in the early 1900’s. Deep in my bones, I worry the Cossacks are coming to take me away and kill me. This is a recurring theme in my discussions with my therapist and my wife who is not afraid of this, but at least empathic to my concerns.

“You don’t get to call for a religious test to enter our country, potentially denying access to more than 1 billion Muslim people in the world including very large populations in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.” (Suster)

In addition to being deeply offensive to me, it violates the basic tenets on which our country was founded. As a child growing up in Texas, I learned this in eighth grade American history.

“You don’t get to say out loud that you would kiss women against their will or grab them against their will. That isn’t “locker-room talk” it is sexual assault and you don’t get to normalize that talk and then be president of our country. ” (Suster)

I’ve been extraordinarily upset by this aspect of the election, an emotion I share with literally millions of women (and many men.) Sexual assault is a real thing, not locker-room talk.

“You don’t get to pretend that you “just don’t know anything about” David Duke especially when there is this pesky fact of public record that you do know about David Duke.”

Let’s go back to that Jewish and immigrant thing.

“But on issues of racism, race-baiting, religious intolerance, misogyny, sexual assault, white supremacy and demagoguery — there can be no gray area, …. These are disqualifying issues …  If we accept leaders who embrace demagoguery, intolerance and groups of citizens who would turn on each other and vilify “the other” then eventually they will turn on us, … I am the straight son of an immigrant father from South America whose parents on both sides are Jewish and who proudly thinks of myself as an American first and foremost and everything else second.” (Suster)

I am a son of immigrant grandparents from Germany and Russia. I probably would not exist if my grandparents hadn’t managed to get to America – there is a significant chance they would have been exterminated in World War I (Russia) or World War II (Germany). I love this country and while we have many issues, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

I encourage you to be deliberate about everything you do. You get to choose who you are and what your values are. On November 9th, either Clinton or Trump will have been elected president.

Please don’t waste your vote by not voting.

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Jul 28 2016

The Fight Between The Future And The Past

At dinner last night with Amy and friends we ended up in a long conversation about what’s going on in the world right now. We went down a few different paths, including a set of provocative questions like “Should the US have gotten involved in World War II earlier?” (me: Yes) and “Should the US have have gotten involved in World War I earlier?” (me: I don’t know – I never have really understood World War I .)

The subtext kept cycling around what, if anything, is different today. Sure – many specific things are different – but is the essence of anything human fundamentally different?

I kept coming back to the idea that we have instantaneous information about everything everywhere all the time. That has been enabled by technology, especially over the past twenty years, and is accelerating. Technology doesn’t address everything – for example, air travel still sucks.

And, more importantly, the instantaneous information we have isn’t necessarily the truth. In fact, much of it isn’t the truth, but rather a point of view that a subset of people would like to enforce on another subset of people. This is a fundamental tenet of human behavior that has been going since, well, before, well, forever. If you are struggling with what I’m suggesting, just ponder religion (and the history of religion) for a little while.

As I mulled over our conversation this morning, I feel like we are in the middle of a profound struggle between the future and the past. Many people, companies, and organizations are trying to protect the past at any cost. We see this regularly in business as the incumbent vs. innovator fight, but I think it’s more profound than that. It’s literally a difference in point of view.

For those trying to protect the past, it is a way of retaining power, status, money, a way a life, predictability, comfort, control, and a bunch of other things like that. It is a struggle against the inevitability of change. The approach, as change becomes more certain, or accelerates, is to become more extreme in one’s behavior, in an effort to defend the past. The defenders of the past get uglier, nastier, more hostile, louder, and more irrational. Ultimately time passes, people die as mortality is still a foundational characteristic of humans, and the future becomes the present on its way to the past.

Our dinner discussion reminded all of us that this cycle plays out over and over again in the history of humanity.

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Nov 14 2013

Time to Flip Power In America Upside Down

I’m totally sick and exhausted with our federal government. Boehner’s statement yesterday on immigration, where he said “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill” was the last straw for me. Idiotic and totally broken.

I could rant for a while, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll encourage you to watch this amazing video that Jennifer Bradley just showed at the Startup Phenomenon conference. She totally nails it – people at the top, then metros, then states, and then federal government following their leads.

I just bought Jennifer’s book The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy and plan to read it this weekend.

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Oct 21 2013

How To Fix Obamacare

Now that our federal government is back at work and the short term debt ceiling thing is resolved, it should be no surprise that the news cycle is now obsessed with Obamacare and its flawed implementation. Over the weekend I must have seen a dozen articles about this online and in the NY Times, and then I woke up this morning to a bunch of new things about the Healthcare.gov site underlying tech, how screwed up it is, and what / how the Health and Human Services agency is going to do to fix it.

The punch line – a tech surge.

To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering.

Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov.  We’re also putting in place tools and processes to aggressively monitor and identify parts of HealthCare.gov where individuals are encountering errors or having difficulty using the site, so we can prioritize and fix them.  We are also defining new test processes to prevent new issues from cropping up as we improve the overall service and deploying fixes to the site during off-peak hours on a regular basis.

From my perspective, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. Many years ago I read Fredrick Brooks iconic book on software engineering – The Mythical Man-Month. One of his key messages is that adding additional software engineers to an already late project will just delay things more. I like to take a different approach – if a project is late, take people off the project, shrink the scope, and ship it faster.

I think rather than a tech surge, we should have a “tech retreat and reset.” There are four easy steps.

  • 1. Shut down everything including taking all the existing sites offline.
  • 2. Set a new launch date of July 14, 2014.
  • 3. Fire all of the contractors.
  • 4. Hire Harper Reed as CTO of Healthcare.gov, give him the ball and 100% of the budget, and let him run with it.

If Harper isn’t available, ask him for three names of people he’d put in charge of this. But put one person – a CTO – in charge. And let them hire a team – using all the budget for individual hires, not government contractors or consulting firms.

Hopefully the government owns all the software even though Healthcare.gov apparently violates open source licenses. Given that, the new CTO and his team can quickly triage what is useful and what isn’t. By taking the whole thing offline for nine months, you aren’t in the hell of trying to fix something while it’s completely broken. It’s still a fire drill, but you are no longer inside the building that is burning to the ground.

It’s 2013. We know a lot more about building complex software than we did in 1980. So we should stop using approaches from the 1980s, admit failure when it happens, and hit reset. Doing a “tech surge” will only end in more tears.

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Sep 1 2013

The Toxicity of Arrogance

Last night Amy and I saw Closed Circuit. We both walked out of there completely bummed out. It was a good movie, but the arrogance of some government agencies (in this case British MI-5) was overwhelmingly real and upsetting. We went to bed when we got home and I tossed and turned for awhile, thinking about nasty government shit. I had a crazy dream that seemed to go on forever about being tangled up in some kind of spy related thing with old college buddies and woke up with it completely unresolved.

It was very early when I got up so I sat down at my computer to start cranking on the last bit of Startup Boards since I’m submitting the final draft on Monday night. But I made a mistake – in an effort to procrastinate a little I read the newspaper headlines, my feeds, Techmeme River, and HackerNews headlines.

And then I was completely bummed out. There were the predictable articles that reinforced the incredible arrogance of government. But there were also a bunch of articles, including some that were first person posts, making strong statements about specific things, defending positions, and arguing points that were one sided and didn’t make much sense to me. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, there was a common thread. The first person accounts were almost all incredibly arrogant.

I felt myself getting angry. Several of the articles directly undermined broad initiatives that I care about. Ironically, several of the writers actually appear to support the same position I do. But their delivery was horrible. And arrogant.

I spent a little time on my book and then Amy woke up. I took her out to Snooze for breakfast and as we were walking over I described a few of the things that were bothering me to her. I had a two hour advantage on her since she had just woken up and her first response was “What? What’s got you so riled up?” We kept going and just talking to her calmed me down. And she helped me think through what I was reacting to.

It is arrogance. And bias. Which just makes me crazy – it’s 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have A Dream speech, and bias – both conscious and unconscious – is alive and well. Everywhere. I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past two years exploring, understanding, and explaining unconscious bias. It’s at the heart of one of the key issues that we are trying to address at NCWIT. But conscious bias is maybe more offensive and grotesque. And it’s even worse when coated with arrogance.

I don’t expect to solve anything with this post – I’m just venting. And I don’t feel like calling anyone out – I’m not really interested in provoking a fight and giving arrogance more of a voice. Arrogance and hubris is an ancient problem – our Greek friends knew it well. The power, and value, of humility was reinforced to me again this morning. I respect humility so much more than I like arrogance.

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Aug 12 2013

Lavabit Commits Corporate Suicide

I was shocked for a few minutes last week after I heard that Lavabit committed corporate suicide. I pondered it for a while and then forgot, but two things this weekend caused me to remember it.

The first was the suicide of Cylon Number One (John) near the end of Battlestar Galactica. I didn’t expect it at all (there were a bunch of things in the last three episodes that I didn’t expect.) The other was Barry Eisler’s tweet about Obama’s statement about the NSA (NSFW) from the weekend (Eisler is one of my favorite Mental Floss writers.)

I didn’t see Eisler’s tweet until Sunday morning because of my digital sabbath and it made me think of Lavabit shutting down. And then I had a moment of fear that I was reading it and considering retweeting it. The thought that crossed my mind was “if I retweet this, will the NSA record it somewhere.” Then I decided this was a fear-based reaction that was absurd, but not irrational.

Then I read Homes for Hackers gets a visit from the FBI. My friend Ben, who inspired me to buy a house in the Google Fiberhood in Kansas City, talks about the FBI poking around in his house because he has gigabit Internet. Now, Ben’s a trusting dude so he let the FBI in and was polite, but he speculates that he’s now got a surveillance device in his bathroom.

We are just beginning to understand – and struggle with – the crossover of humans and technology. When you ponder the NSA, it’s starting to feel like a giant computer run by humans, where the computer dominates and the humans are just the mechanics. Sure – the humans want to feel like the ones who are actually running things, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see this evolving along the same lines as Battlestar Galactica.

I accepted a long time ago that I had no actual privacy – that all of my data was being captured somewhere. I gave a talk at my 20th business school reunion in 2008 where I stated directly that “we no longer had any privacy.” But it’s getting worse – fast. Even if we work hard to have privacy, as in using Lavabit to send email, the government can still break through this privacy, or force the service to shut down.

I’m fascinated by all of this. Not scared – fascinated. It’s easy to be cynical, or scared, or angry. But our civilization is going to evolve in very strange and radical ways over the next twenty years. Hang on – it’s going to be a crazy ride.

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Jun 9 2013

Does The Government Already Have All Of Our Data?

Near the end of the week last week, the lastest “the US government is spying on US citizens” scandal broke. For 24 hours I tried to ignore it but once big tech companies, specifically Facebook, Google, and Yahoo, started coming out with their denials about being involved in PRISM, I got sucked into all the chatter. I was able to ignore it yesterday because I took a digital sabbath but ended up reading a bunch of stuff about it this morning.

While I’m a strong believer in civil liberties and am opposed to the Patriot Act, I long ago gave up the notion that we have any real data privacy. I’ve regularly fought against attempts at outrageous new laws like SOPA/PIPA but I’m not naive and realize that I’m vastly outgunned by the people who want this kind of stuff. Whenever I get asked if I’ll write huge checks to play big money politics against this stuff, I say no. And recently, I’ve started quoting Elon Musk’s great line at the All Things Digital Conference, “If we give in to that, we’ll get the political system we deserve.”

I read around 50 articles on things this morning. I’m no more clear on what is actually going on as the amount of vagueness, statements covered with legal gunk, illogical statements, and misdirection is extraordinary, even for an issue like this one.

Following are some of the more interesting things I read today.

And I always thought PRISM was about teleportation.

And finally, the Wikipedia article, like all Wikipedia articles, is the definitive source of all PRISM information at this point, at least to the extent that anything around PRISM is accurate.

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May 29 2013

The National Day of Civic Hacking

national day of civic hacking

The open data movement is great for business, but is also great for us as citizens.  To accelerate that program, President Obama and US CTO Todd Park have created a national event to leverage technology and open data to strengthen our democracy in the United States.

On June 1st and 2nd the largest hackathon in the world is forming. Over 5000 people in 87 locations will be joining up to use their talents to make their communities a better place. The National Day of Civic Hacking is the first of a yearly event created by the White House to gather Citizen Engineers and have them use newly accessible government data to improve their communities and our entire society. The multitude of data that is being released as part of the Open Data Initiatives.

A company I’ve been involved for a long time with – Rally Software – is taking a leadership role in this. Rally’s product development team is devoting their talent and energy to participate and host the Boulder, Denver, Seattle, and Raleigh event (join up at these locations.) Through their corporate social responsibility initiative, Rally for Impact they are offering an exclusive and complimentary one-year subscription to AgileZen and Flowdock to all participants of the National Day of Civic Hacking.

Specifically for Coloradans, there are sites in Denver and Boulder.  In Denver, the site is focused on open data from the State of Colorado and called Hack4Colorado.  In Boulder, the Boulder Civic Hackfest, is focused on local data, the Census Bureau and the National Renewable Energy Lab’s Open Energy Info project. On Saturday, NREL engineers will join the local civic hackers too.  Hacking isn’t just about writing code, it’s about exploring the boundaries of what’s doable and what’s desirable.

Rally is also donating three seats to their  Enterprise Lean Startup training course to this effort.  This highly interactive workshop, on June 5 & 6 in Boulder, teaches you how to systematically discover what’s desirable for users and customers. To claim the training seats be the first three people to send email to rallyforimpact@rallydev.com if you are attending the event in Boulder or Denver.  Awards will be given at the closing of each event in Boulder and Denver by Rally staff.

I’m proud of my long time friends at Rally for providing leadership here!

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Apr 15 2013

Government Shouldn’t Be In The Accelerator Business

This article originally appeared online at Inc.com in an article titled Government Shouldn’t Be In The Accelerator Business. I talk more about this and lots of other topics in my recent book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City

As a co-founder of TechStars, I’m a huge believer in the mentor-driven accelerator model. But I don’t think government should be funding these accelerators, nor do I think they need to.

A good accelerator can be run in any city in the world for $500,000. Entrepreneurs with a compelling track record and approach should be able to easily raise, or even provide this capital. As evidence of this, there are already hundreds of accelerators in the U.S., without government funding, being run as entrepreneurial ventures for profit by entrepreneurs.

When we started TechStars in 2006, the idea of an accelerator was brand new. We funded the first TechStars program in Boulder in 2007 with $230,000. There were four investors – me, TechStars CEO David Cohen, David Brown, and Jared Polis. All four of us had been successful entrepreneurs and we decided to try TechStars as an experiment to help create more early stage start-ups in Boulder. We figured out the downside case was that we’d spend $230,000 and end up attracting 20 or so new, smart entrepreneurs to Boulder.

That first program went great and has already returned over two times our invested capital with several of the companies still having future value. We ran the second program in 2008, expanded to Boston in 2009, and adopted a funding strategy for each local program which we continue to use to this day. TechStars surpassed our wildest expectations and now runs over 10 programs a year for over 100 start-ups around the United States. We’ve begun expanding internationally with our first program running this summer in London. And there are many other accelerators around the world using the TechStars mentor-driven model that are members of the Global Accelerator Network.

All of this is privately funded. We’ve never taken a dollar of government funding, nor do we plan to.

While the amount of money required to run a program has increased from the original $230,000, it’s still well under $1,000,000 per program cycle. As a result, the amount of capital we need to raise to run a TechStars program is modest, and since we run it to make a financial return, it is actually an investment, rather than an expense. And, by being focused first on the financial return as well as playing a long-term game (we expect to be running TechStars accelerators for a long time), we are very thoughtful about how we allocate capital.

If entrepreneurs can’t figure out how to fund it, why should the government do it? That just seems like a situation where capital is going to be allocated poorly and the incentives won’t be tightly aligned.

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Aug 30 2012

Government and Universities Should Use the Word “Convener” More

I heard the word “connector” several times yesterday at the Colorado Innovation Network summit. I gave the final speech of the day after being in Chicago in the morning to give the keynote speech at the Excelerate Labs Demo Day which was an awesome group where I discovered one company I’m very interested in potentially investing in.

In both cities (Chicago and Denver) I gave a talk about Startup Communities using the Boulder Thesis as a framework. The Chicago talk was  short and tight (about 15 minutes) to warm up the event. The Denver talk ended up going almost an hour and having a lot of Q&A. Both were simulating (at least to me – hopefully to the crowd) and the entrepreneurial energy in both rooms was significant.

While I missed most of the COIN summit because I was traveling back from Chicago, I caught a few of the last talks before mine. I also talked to a bunch of people and kept hearing the word “connector” come up – it must have been one of the words of the day. This was used to define a role for many of the constituents in the COIN summit which included entrepreneurs, government, university, and big company folks.

My good friend Phil Weiser, Dean of the CU Law School, introduced me to the word “convener” several years ago. CU Law, and specifically the Silicon Flatirons program that Phil created a decade ago, plays a huge convening role for the Boulder startup community. As a result, it sits in the center of a lot of activity. It’s not a connector – it’s a convener.

Government and universities, in my view around startup communities, are feeders, not leaders. Feeders are important, but they are different – and play a different role than leaders. For a startup community to be vibrant and sustainable the leaders have to be entrepreneurs. This is the  first tenet of the Boulder Thesis.

A convener has much more leverage than a connector. A connector implies a lot of work and a lot of control. There’s also a hierarchical dynamic – connectors are choosing who to connect; as a result they become gatekeepers which is not the right role for a feeder. I believe most gatekeepers inhibit the growth and development of a startup community so any role that looks gatekeeper-ish is often an inhibitor to progress.

Conveners quickly develop a reputation for being inclusive and accessible. This is another tenet of the Boulder Thesis – everyone in the startup community must be inclusive to anyone who wants to engage.

I was going back and forth with a founder of a startup in Chicago this morning by email who is now eight years old (not really a startup anymore) and just rented a 60,000 foot office and is looking to help the startup community more now that it’s gotten to a meaningful size. I suggested that, among other things, they play a convener role.

Basically, all feeders to a startup community can play a convener role. It’s more powerful than simply being a connector.

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