The basic premise of Influx is that humanity's scientific and tech geniuses have created many more technological break-throughs than most of the world knows about, and that a secret department of the U.S. government has taken extreme steps to hide those break-throughs in the name of protecting everyday people from their practical implications. The plot thickens when there's resistance to that department's methods, and I won't say much more about it to avoid spoiling what unfolds, but you can imagine the story-telling fun that can be had when futuristic-and-very-advanced human tech and mindsets meets present day human tech and mindsets. And most of it is pretty dark stuff - no kibbitzing with humpback whale scenes here.
I'm continuing my series of posts about how I do or have done certain things in my business/tech career, and it has been helpful for me to write out my responses to these questions in a way I can point other people to. I'm honored to get requests from friends and colleagues now and then to talk with their students, children and co-workers who have an interest in developing tech skills, going into business and related topics.
One of the most common questions I've gotten is how I stay on top of current trends and tools in information and Internet technology.
Of course, the answer to that has changed a lot over the last 10-15 years. It used to be that one actually did have a hope of being on top of most of the major breakthroughs, news and trends happening with the Internet and related industries, if you were willing to spend the time on it.
Today there are legions of news sites, social media feeds, conferences and other cottage industries devoted to covering technology trends, news and breakthroughs that seem to barely scratch the surface, and trying to keep up with them would be more than a full time job. So whatever your area of focus or interest, you surely have to do some picking, choosing and compromising, and even then you'll probably miss out on some relevant or even important stuff. A lot of my own approach is focused on keeping up on trends related to website development and online publishing, software development for the web, network architecture and security, encryption and privacy issues, and "life hacks" that make me more productive.
Occasionally people ask me how I got started working in the world of computers and Internet technology. There were a lot of different factors - from my own curiosity to the learning and discovering my parents and teachers encouraged to the timing of what tools/tech became available as I grew up. I don't think I can hold one particular decision or moment up over another as key, but I thought I'd try to hit some of the highlights.
As a kid I was apparently very, very curious about how things worked, especially appliances and other mechanical things. I would take them apart to understand the innards, and then try to put them back together again more or less in the same working order. I was fortunate to have parents who let me do this exploring, and where they might have had good reason to be exasperated by having household fixtures disassembled and strewn about, they instead were supportive.
I just finished reading Randall Stross's The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, a great accounting of the origins, growth and successes of the seed accelerator company that helps "budding digital engineers." This blog post is a little bit book review, but mostly highlighting the wisdom that Y Combinator seems to capture and employ in its work helping startups succeed.
I could not help but take in that wisdom and Stross's stories through the lens of my own experiences creating a tech company, and while I felt affirmed in having learned a lot of the things that Y Combinator tries to teach its program participants, I also had plenty of forehead slapping moments about things I wish I'd understood better. I think some of those tidbits are very relevant to what I'll do next, and present day efforts to invigorate the local tech economy here in Richmond, so I'm including some comments on them here too.
If you don't already know about Y Combinator, I encourage you to check out their website, or watch this very recent interview with Paul Graham, who has headed the company's efforts most of this time. The bottom line is that they host a three-month program in Silicon Valley to help startup companies with the money, advice and industry connections they need to go from concept to initial implementation, ready for investors to take them to the next step. As Stross describes, they focus on admitting young groups of founders who are going to bring the hard work and innovation needed for success, even if their initial idea for a startup isn't sound. If you use Dropbox, you're benefitting from a startup incubated at Y Combinator.
As revelations continue about the US Government capturing and monitoring online activities and communications, I'm glad (and, ok, only a little bit smug) to see that more conversations are happening about just what privacy expectations we should give up by using modern Internet tools and services.
Most of the mainstream conversation has been focused on what information "big data" companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Apple do or don't hand over to the government and under what circumstances, and debating where those lines should be.
A certain amount of naiveté about the security and privacy implications of the tools we use is understandable here. When I've given presentations on email privacy and security issues, some attendees are legitimately gasping at the new understanding that their e-mail messages are traversing the open internet as plain text messages that can potentially be read by any number of parties involved in the management of those servers and networks. The average user probably assumes that the Internet was designed from the ground up to be a robust and secure way of conducting financial transactions and sending suggestive photos of themselves to amorous contacts.
Early voting is underway in Wayne County, Indiana. Voters showing up at the polling stations will find themselves directed to the Hart InterCivic voting machines. A 2007 study of these machines, initiated by the Ohio Secretary of State and conducted by Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pennsylvania, and WebWise Security, Inc. found that: the […]
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.
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":
The 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:
- 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?
- 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? - Read More -
It'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:
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.