TechStars

200802041349.jpg Seeing as how I am in Denver/Boulder with increasing frequency these days, I decided to get involved with a local organization supporting entrepreneurship. TechStars is a fantastic Boulder-based organization that takes in 10 promising teams and provides seed funding and more importantly mentorship as they move through the early stages of development through fundraising.

There is still 56 days left to apply for this upcoming summer program, here’s how you do it.

Nabbr – Widget Promotion Network

Nabbr is one very cool company. Essentially they promote/advertise your message through social networks by utilizing a comprehensive analytics engine that knows who the most influential users are for your widget, and then driving call-to-action virally in order to boost downloads and sell things.

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“Interesting, but of no commercial value”

JP makes a number of very good arguments in his post. Principal takeaway for me was the reaffirmation that when you are creating something entirely new, it’s futile to look for something that is being displaced as a measure of ROI.

As it relates to social networks, I made a couple of comments over email recently to a small group of like minded people about my growing disillusion with metadata content in social network feeds. Simply put, what the enduring value of watching the churn of things my friend network is doing as opposed to filtering out the things I suspect would be valuable based on my behavior in addition to my stated preferences. In retrospect this is the wrong point of view to take.

I am still working to reconcile my many conflicting views on social networks, but suffice to say, I am still an enthusiast albeit a “constructively skeptical” one.

We haven’t figured out a way to solve the problem of low knowledge worker productivity. [Sometimes, I get the feeling we spend more time trying to figure out how to measure knowledge worker productivity, rather than concentrate on raising productivity levels. We spend more time mutating benchmarks to our purposes, throwing away the opportunity to make quantum improvements as a result. In fact that’s my First Law of Benchmarks: If gains are so low that you need benchmarks to prove the existence of the gains, they’re probably not worth having in the first place.

[From “Interesting, but of no commercial value”: The problem with emerging social media tools: A Saturday Evening Post | confused of calcutta]

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More Product Name Follies

There aren’t many people in the company, in the whole world, who know about the `Lolita’ book or films,” Lim said. “There might be a few people in the country who have a problem with it, but it’s just a name.”[From British Stores Halt `Lolita’ Beds]

Not a ringing endorsement of the organizational IQ of Woolworths in Britain, is it? A quick review of any dictionary will reveal that the noun “Lolita” is typically defined as “a sexually precocious young girl.” Not exactly what you want for your young daughter, I am quite sure.

After a while these product branding snafus aren’t even amusing. Seriously, how hard is it to actually do some research on a proposed product name thanks to the internet?

Super Tuesday Voter’s Guide

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, which is not only a big primary day in presidential politics but also is a day that voters go to the polls to vote on measure affecting them statewide and locally. As I have done in previous elections, here’s my take on the issues:

Proposition 91: Transportation Funds

In summary, this prop repeals an earlier measure that allowed for the short term borrowing of funds from tax funded “public transportation account” for general fund purposes. What that means is that in deficit years the state to tap into roughly 9 billion dollars of transportation funds to make up the gap in the general operating fund.

Prop 1A on the last ballot was supposed to deal with this issue by making these transfers illegal so I’m not sure why this is on the ballot. In fact the voter guide has a statement from the prop backers urging voters to vote “NO” on this measure. A little research indicated that I am not alone in my confusion.

When it comes to these propositions I try to vote according to a cascading collection of ideological principles and this measure makes for interesting consideration even if it is moot.

I strongly believe that if state and local agencies are going to tax under the pretense of a specific purpose then that purpose should be honored. The Guvernator and Legislature’s continued raiding of transportation funds as budget band-aids was shameful and deserved to be stopped.

But I also believe that California’s proposition system and the effect it has had in tying the legislatures hands when it comes to budget matters has created a bigger problem than it solved. We elect representatives and they should have the tools they need to do their jobs, and if they fail they should be elected out of office. Wishful thinking, I know but nonetheless still ideologically valid.

In this case, I will vote for this measure even if it is symbolic because taxes levied for specific purposes should not be diverted and to do so causes longer term damage by ratifying the excesses that lead to budget shortfalls as we are experiencing now.

HOW I WILL VOTE: YES

Prop 92: Community Colleges, Funding, Governance, Fees.

There are 107 community colleges in California, this measure would restructure the way this system is governed and funded.

To me this measure is simple to analyze, the community college system consumes about $8 billion a year in public general funds, the remainder made up in student fees. What the backers of this measure want to do is lock in student fees at $15 per unit and obligate the state general fund to pony up the rest, with fee hikes being tied to state wage inflation but no more than 10%… or put another way $1.50 per unit in the second year.

I am voting no on this because it’s exactly the kind of proposition that has created the structural budget problems we are facing as a state right now. It obligates state taxpayers to fund something irrespective of what other priorities have been established as a consequence of lower than anticipated budget revenues.

The state requires flexibility to reduce these budgets when revenue doesn’t come in as expected, to do otherwise is further insanity.

Furthermore, this measure would establish an entirely separate governance system with little accountability to the state or anyone else for that matter. So we, as taxpayers, would fund community colleges for more than the $8 billion annually that we already spend and the community college system would basically just say “trust us” in response. No thanks.

Education is a form of long term savings, students should not have an expectation of free but rather an expectation of having to invest in their own future as a means of enjoying the rewards that investment brings.

HOW I WILL VOTE: NO

Prop 93: Term Limits Modification

Prop. 140 passed in 1990 and restricted state legislators to two terms in both the Assembly and the Senate. What that means is that a legislator can serve three two year terms in the Assembly, be term limited out and then go and run a new campaign for up to two four year terms in the Senate (why the state of California has a bicameral legislature is still a mystery to me).

Senate Pro Tem leader Perata (D) and leader of the Assembly Nunez (D) want to change that to allow for a single rep to serve up to six two year terms in the Asembly or three four year terms in the Senate.

My thinking on this is straightforward, voters overwhelmingly supported prop 140 almost two decades ago and politicians overwhelming opposed that measure. Prop 93 is an effort by some career politicians to end run prop 140 with the argument that legislators need more time on the job to be effective, despite overwhelming evidence rejecting the notion that politicians don’t age like wine, as in get better with time. What happens instead is that these politicians get more entrenched with time and their influence becomes more corrupting and corrupted.

HOW I WILL VOTE: NO

Prop 94/95/96/97 : Expansion of Indian Gaming in State

I bunched all these together because the are all the same package and it just seems easier to look at them that way. Basically these measures would allow 4 California indian tribes to add 17,000 slot machines and in return would cut the state into the action.

My libertarian principles generally reject the notion that government should wade into the “societal good” questions about gambling, but as I have written before, I find the PR campaign these tribes have waged attempting to paint casinos as good for the community to be massively offensive. Casinos are by their very nature parasitic on society, they simply don’t contribute or create any long term value to a community and to spin them as good for the community should be offensive to us all.

Let’s cut right to the chase on these measures, there are 4 tribes out of about 100 (need specific number but that’s ballpark) who are attempting to expand their lucrative gaming business. Despite being a “nation” they need the federal and state government to approve, the feds have largely left these issues to the states. Gov. Schwarzenegger cut a deal with these tribes that would allow them to expand their slot machines in exchange for a cut of the revenue, which kinda makes it sound like protection money at its worst or at best going into business together.

$143 million has been spent on advertising for or against these measures, which indicates what this is really all about – money. On one side we have $109 million being spend by tribes to promote it and the rest by tribes, casinos and racetracks opposed to it.

HOW I WILL VOTE: NO

San Mateo County Measure J : Sequoia High School District Technology Fund

This measure is for my local county only, but may affect you as well. The district would sell bonds – debt – to fund a $165 million, 10 year technology fund.

I get pretty animated about these school debt measures because district officials typically resort to suburban guilt in order to get them passed. This school district, like the state, doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. In 1996 they sold $45 million in debt to fund modernization, in 2001 they sold $88 million in debt to fund modernization, in 2004 they sold $70 million to modernize, and now they are asking voters to authorize them to sell another $165 million in debt to modernize. How much modernization does $368 million in debt over 12 years buy the residents of this county?

More appropriately, how much does $736 MILLION pay for when you consider that municipal bonds typically end up costing 2x the face value over the life of the bond when interest is factored in. This bond alone will cost every household in San Mateo County $4,200 and deliver $1.1 million per district classroom… this is outrageous.

HOW I WILL VOTE: NO

As for the presidential primary, I am a registered Republican which means that in California I can only vote in the Republican primary. While I am tempted to vote for McCain on the electability issue alone, the fact is that I simply don’t like him as a politician. He strikes me as a little too cranky when it comes to opponents questioning his support for big issues like campaign finance reform and immigration. Simply put, I don’t share policy values with him and that leads to an interesting question.

Presidential politics should be about issues and ideologies and when you as a voter start collaring your vote by who is most electable you are essentially abandoning your ideological principles as not worth defending. Votes matter and while it’s perfectly fine to vote based on who you like as a person, it’s more heroic to vote for candidates who don’t enjoy the polling advantage but represent your views on the issues. It’s not hard to have a political ideology, what is hard is defending it with your vote when the popular sentiment is against you.

I liked Fred Thompson alot, in fact pretty much agreed with him on every issue but his campaign simply never got off the launchpad. If retrospect, Thompson was more effective as the non-candidate and now that he is out I am favoring Romney. That he has changed his position on major issues is a fair criticism to level at Romney but I have also changed my position on major issues over the years.

The question remains as to whether he changed those positions out of political convenience or out of conviction, and that’s a question only the man himself can answer. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

In terms of his ability to get things done, his track record is impressive and an activist president is what we need for the next 4-8 years. Probably more than any other candidate he has accomplished much in the private sector and across a range of public roles. He is not from the Senate and that alone is a good thing in my book.

HOW I WILL VOTE: ROMNEY (do you think he’s put the “Venture Chronicles Endorsement” on his website!)

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