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Austin Social Ventures Map

About 15 years ago, for the first time, I took time to get better acquainted with my community.

The catalyst for doing so was participation in the Leadership Austin program.

LABeing selected in the 1996-1997 class was transformative for me.  Previously, I had been 100% focused on my career and family.

Whatever community-oriented activities I’d joined were directly tied to those priorities, e.g., a professional association “volunteer day” as part of my work-related networking.  Or, a church youth activity, related to my kids’ participation in the youth group.

But, Leadership Austin led to a new chapter of my life, through deep introductions into multiple dimensions of the Austin community: healthcare, education, housing, transportation, faith communities, homeless services, and more.

Ever since that experience, I’ve maintained a nearly continuous parallel path of one foot each in corporate and community (or you might say for- and non-profit) ventures.

Since returning to Austin this summer, after a year and a half of living in and traveling to Shanghai China, I’ve had a greater appreciation than ever before of the broader responsibility and accountability to which our business ventures — our corporations — must be held.

austin svp mapSo, I’ve begun drafting the initial branches of a new Mindmap for social ventures in greater Austin.

It’s part of my personal journey to go even further than before bringing community and corporate interests together, manifested in social ventures or social enterprises.

If you see something that you think should be added to the Mindmap, let me know.

Or, if you would like, create a free Mindmeister account and make the change yourself!

Personal Visualizations

Due to no particular plan, I’ve come across a number of different personal visualization tools recently.

Most of these tools are internet-related; in particular, social media related.  However, some visualize data that they obtain from me directly and indirectly.

IMG_4873An example of a visualization where I provide the data directly is the personal survivorship assessment that is produced by the AYA mobile app.  (Learn more about AYA, which my company Appconomy developed, at the producer’s website.)

In addition to the likelihood of cancer survivorship, there are many other categories one could imagine, beyond an array of just the other possible health-related visualizations.  For example: continuing education, personal finance, household energy use, on and on.

Another visualization example, produced from data that I provide, is the Wordle.

The particular Wordle shown was produced by copying-and-pasting in all of the content from my two-page professional resume’.  The result is a word cloud, displaying the most commonly used words larger, and the less-used words, smaller.

my-worlde-july 2013Wordle is cool for a couple of reasons. First, the creator is always tinkering with it, providing new kinds of layout options, font types, etc.  Second, it can be applied in so many ways. A favorite of mine is to use it in a messaging audit with a team.

Step 1 of the audit is asking the team to write down and give me the messages that are most important to them.  Step 2 is to ask them for the current, definitive source for their key messages, for example, their website or some other promotional tool, like their main sales brochure.

Step 3 is to copy-and-paste the content from steps 1 and 2 into two different Wordles and compare them visually.  It is amazing what frequently pops out, highlighting the stark differences between desired and actual messaging.  From there, work with the team begins, forming a strategy and creating a plan to achieve the desired messaging.

For the remainder of this post, I’ll stick with a few of the social media/internet-related visualizations I’ve stumbled across.

But, I’d love to hear your favorites.  Especially, if you find them truly useful or just satisfying to your curiosity, without any specific actionable purpose.

my-social-network-july-2013The first one is from Vizify.  I mention it because I’ve found it to be the most useful, because it provides a kind of visual biography.

In addition to the visualization itself, the Vizify makers provide a handy excerpt of code that you can include as a signature block graphic in your email that piques the interest of recipients.

my-linkedin-network-july-2013The next one is from LinkedIn, called Inmaps.  Since this one traces the connections between your various links, it takes a bit of time to process.

But once complete, it’s worth it.  Not only is it an intriguing spiderweb of your connections, key implicit clusters, and their relations.

But, it is also a dense, rich, delicate arrangement of the human, professional network that you have created, in association with all of those first-connection contacts who have linked with you over the days, months, and years.

my-gmail-network-july-2013Next one is from MIT, called Immersion, based on Gmail.  It’s pretty fascinating, for a couple of reasons.  First, it draws connections between your various Gmail correspondence partners, which in itself is illuminating.

Second and I suspect more surprising to most, as it was for me, Immersion ranks the people with whom you collaborate the most.  When I saw my rank ordered list of top collaborators, it was definitely a wake-up call.

Most noticeably, it served as a reminder of the people who have been important to me over time, even if they aren’t necessarily people with whom I’m corresponding heavily now.

my-interwebs-network-august-2009Finally, I’ll highlight a tool called Personas, from the MIT Media lab.  It’s about five years old and, in fact, wasn’t operating when I tried to run it recently.  But, I mention it because of my admiration for the elegant output it sought to produce, given the complexity of the algorithm at its core.

To my mind, if you have ever taken a Myers-Briggs type assessment or a DISC profile, then you can think of Personas achieving a similar assessment, but based principally on the content discoverable about you on the worldwide web.  Pretty neat idea.

Again, if you have a personal visualization that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about it!

Recommended China Blogroll

US and ChinaHere are some of the blogs, journals, and other online publications I follow, all in English, to keep a modest finger on the pulse of the China tech community:

Technode – a full-on legit tech publication, founded by a terrific guy, Dr. Gang Lu, that recently partnered with Techcrunch — multiple posts per day, breaking news, etc.

Techrice – managing edited by a part-time blogger, Kai Lukoff, that is a “labor of love” by him and his fellow bloggers — less frequent coverage, but still insightful

TechInAsia – great online publication; started out as a communications company Penn-Olson and quickly found a hungry readership and great niche — Steven Millward is terrific editor and very plugged in

TheNextWeb AsiaI’m a big TNW fan, reading a lot of their writers around the world; China coverage is great, led by the ever-professional, even-keeled Jon Russell

Mobisights – the tech blog of the GreatWallClub, which I view as something of the “GigaOM of China” — they run massively popular events, provide consulting services, and are uber-connectors.  The English version gets less attention than the Chinese version, compared to say Technode, but it’s still good

Appconomistthis is Appconomy’s mobile blog.  We write about the start-up scene, our competitors, interesting developments in the mobile space…and us (occasionally)! Articles tend to come in bursts, but we average a new post every 1-2 weeks — we try to keep it real, but read it and let us know…

China Internet Watch – all about the interwebs of China; geeky, but good

China Law Blog – fantastically good G2 for a tech business; in China, there are laws and there are “laws” and there are *laws* — this blog helps you understand a little bit better what you are facing

Forbes’ Silicon Asia – written by Rebecca Fannin, a long-time player in the US/China, media/tech scene; a little less in touch with the daily “on the ground” activity, but nails the important issues & trends with precision due to her great access to Asian tech titans

Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Reportwhile intended to be ear-to-the-ground reporting on all business-related activity, they cover a lot of culture and tech trends that are extremely useful

Seeing Red in Chinathis is the “real deal;” originally penned by Tom the lone-wolf foreigner (i.e., anyone who isn’t native Chinese), there are multiple regular contributors now; as gritty and true as it gets, with great observations and analysis on Chinese culture, politics, society, and more

All Roads Lead to Chinaanother good blog; penned by an academic, but definitely on-target – no ivory towers here

China Daily – I’m a big fan of propaganda and, my friends, it doesn’t get any better than the state-run, official English news daily.  As ubiquitous in China as USA Today is in America – I browse it because, well, it never hurts to know what President Xi and Premier Li are thinking about related to tech

Enjoy!

Poetry Hatred and Love

I hated poetry in middle school.

poetry-hateJust couldn’t understand the attraction. Whereas the plotline of short stories like Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game was immediately suspenseful, the meandering prose of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65 befuddled me.

What’s worse: I had to memorize the sonnet!

But, as with so many things when one ages from boy/girl to man/woman, my tastes in literature evolved.

Today, I seek out poetry in my weekly visits to the library. Not necessarily over other categories of literature, but on equal footing with a good memoir or classics novel.

poetry-bradburyI don’t remember the precise turning point. It could have been in my early 20s, when I stumbled across a book of poetry by one of my childhood author-heroes, Ray Bradbury.

I think I was stunned that the same man who could write The Illustrated Man and Dandelion Wine would also take pains (in my view) to write poetry.

After the initial shock, I bought the book. Not the greatest of poets, I thought. But, the impact had been felt. So, I went back and picked up my old college textbook of poetry and flipped through it, selectively reading where the pages landed.

I was intrigued. Still, reading poetry wasn’t part of my regular literature diet.

Until one memorable SXSW Interactive closing rant by Bruce Sterling. I think it was shortly after he had published Tomorrow Now.

I don’t know what it was going on in his personal or professional life, what he had just been witness to in recent days, or simply what particular moment of empathy had triggered a well of emotion. But, as he closed with a reading from Carl Sandburg’s monumental work The People, Yes he his voice began choking as he read.

Yet, rather than pause, take a deep breath, and carry on with his normal, ironic, acerbic sing-song, he plowed forward for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only 4-5 minutes.

Nearly at tears, nearly unable to speak, his near-wail of Sandburg’s powerful words was beyond moving. I was near the front of the room that was absolutely standing-room-only, packed to the gills.

And, as he finished the final words, the room rose up nearly simultaneously on-cue with a wave of riotous, appreciative applause – one of the most incredible standing ovations I’ve ever seen or been a part of.  I’ll never forget it.

The final turning point was during my travels to China.

poetry-dodgeWhile seeking some connection back to familiar roots one afternoon while on one of my early weeks-long extended solo trips to Shanghai, I was browsing through the available videos in iTunesU.

While browsing, I stumbled across a selection of videos from NPR’s Poetry Everywhere series, recorded at the Geraldine R. Dodge bi-annual poetry festival. What a treasure!

I watched then (and have watched dozens of time since), many of the readings by the various featured poets, with their short intros by Garrison Keillor.

But, if I could only watch one, it would be For What Binds Us, by Jane Hirshfield.

Here is the full text, if you want to linger over the words, as I have.

For What Binds Us

There are names for what binds us
Strong forces
Weak forces
Look around, you can see them

The skin that forms in a half-empty cup
Nails, rusting into the places they join
Joints, dovetailed on their own weight

The way things stay so solidly
Wherever they’ve been set down

And gravity, scientists say, is weak

And see
How the flesh grows back
Across a wound
With a great vehemence
More strong than the simple, untested surface before

There’s a name for it on horses
When it comes back
Darker and raised

Proud flesh

As all flesh is proud of its wounds
Wears them as honors, given out after battle
Small triumphs, pinned to the chest

And when two people
Have loved each other
See, how it
Is like a scar
Between their bodies’

Stronger, darker, and proud

How the black cord
Makes of them
A single fabric
That nothing can tear, or mend.

poetry-appAs a great poem should, it speaks to me on multiple levels – physically, emotionally, intellectually.

So, whether or not you hated poetry as a kid like I did, if it has been awhile since you found a good poem, I urge you to insert it on your to-do list.

Like the milk commercial says, “it does a body good.”

Shoot… it’s even a little fun, with the nifty Poetry Foundation mobile app!

Goodbye China – Final Musings

IMG_42941 – I’ve picked up a parasite since traveling to China.

I told my wife that we would solve the world’s future energy problems if we could just decode the biological process of this bug. Because it basically turns everything I eat into gas and liquid.

Just think if you could do this with coal. Rather than burning it and unleashing noxious clouds of CO2, you could just burn the gas and use the liquid for hydro or cooling the gas burners or, heck, for watering your lawn.

2 – I was up before 4am this morning and on a plane by 6am.

It’s now midnight my body time, but I’m hanging in there with my overseas system. That system consists of staying awake as absolutely long as I possibly can.

That way, when I finally get to my Chinese destination, I can collapse in an exhausted stupor, have a good night’s sleep, and hit the ground running for a full day the next day.

The system has worked pretty well the past 2 trips; we’ll see about this one. We left about 8 hours ago which means that we still have nearly 6 hours to go. And I’ve come close to completely nodding off in mid-sentence reading, or in mid-swipe flipping through photos.

I’m listening to A Perfect Circle’s Judith hoping that some industrial metal will kick the brain awake for a bit. Maybe head back for a 3rd cup of coffee shortly, to stretch my legs as well.

SH farewell - 53 – I caught a break on my seat assignment this trip.

I managed to snag emergency row, aisle seats on both legs – from Austin to LA, then LA to Shanghai. And, to top it off, no one in the middle seat beside me, giving me lots of elbow and stretching room.

Of course, what this means on the Shanghai leg is that I get a ‘front row seat’ for watching the parade of travelers – almost all Chinese, although no one is immune - try to figure out the bathroom doors for the lavatories.

Nearly all doors have some form of handle on them in the rest of the world, right? So, naturally, people fumble with the various features of the door that suggest some form of handle, clever and unworkable as it may be.

However, there are no handles – you simply push the door from the outside, or pull it towards you if you are inside. But, person after person ambles up and studies, probes, pokes, pulls and finally (occasionally with help) pushes the door to get it open.

The other thing they do (or actually don’t do) is shut the lavatory door, often when they exit and occasionally after they enter. For example, a little boy age 5 or 6, has left the door open and peed at least three times in front of me and anyone else who cared to be walking by then.

I’ve learned it’s a relic of history and (somewhat) rural tradition that comes from a very communal style of life, where there is a lack of any kind of privacy.

4 – Clearly, China is working a form of evil selective amnesia over me.

Last trip, I hopped on the plane forgetting every electronics adapter that I have. Thus, I ended up borrowing a multi-prong extension cord from the office for a week that allows mixed voltage devices.

This trip, no sooner did I land than I realized that I forgot my China Mobile cell phone. The sad part was that I made sure to grab the specially pronged China adapter for it, on my way out of the house.

AppJamm - closing ceremony5 – I experienced 2 earthquake aftershocks this trip.

One was in the middle of a speech I was delivering, as the closing speaker of a weekend hack-a-thon that my company sponsored with Neusoft University, called the AppJamm.

The campus was in a suburb (a village, really) north of Chengdu. Chengdu is in Western, central China, not too far from Tibet in the province called Sichuan – the root of the cooking style of the same name.

The earthquake that struck the area on April 20 that killed over 100 people had happened the day before, causing numerous cancellations and delays to flights to the area (including mine).

Everything was running smoothly through the day and we had just presented the final awards. As I was talking, all of a sudden I noticed that the PowerPoint screen behind me was rocking wildly and I heard a collective gasp from the auditorium of students.

IMG_4679Whereas they felt the movement because they were all sitting, I didn’t feel anything since I was standing. Nonetheless, it was a disturbing event and I asked the professors if we should evacuate the auditorium, just in case. ‘No,’ they said: ‘Just keep going!’

Afterwards, one of my colleagues remarked that it was the most earthshaking speech he’d ever attended.

Then, the next day, I was in Shenyang, which is in far north east China, more northern than Pyongyang, North Korea. We had just completed our day’s meetings and were waiting for a driver to take us to the airport.

As we were hanging out in this Mediterranean-style coffee shop, all of a sudden the big umbrella over our table started to sway and the heavy wooden door to the coffee shop went ajar.

This time, I was sitting, and my colleague and I both felt the earth’s movement, for the solid 2 seconds or so that things were mildly rocking. We immediately checked Weibo and Wechat, both of which indicated that indeed a mild aftershock had struck.

6 – This is my last blog about China.

It’s an amazing country, with people who have an incredible drive to improve their lives and that of their children. It must be remembered that less than a generation ago, this economic leviathan was literally North Korean style, slave labor state during the Cultural Revolution.


So, when people (like me) marvel at the crazy, weird, opulent, goofy, inexplicable aspects of the country, one can’t forget how far and fast the country and its people have bounced back in such a short amount of time.

The country has many natural wonders and generous, friendly people. Just listen to the traffic-free morning of bird activity one morning in Chengdu. In addition to being the home of one of Neusoft’s three campuses, it has nearby Panda preserves and is near the ancient home of the Taoist religion.

Goodbye to all of my Chinese friends and work colleagues, both natives and ex-pats like myself, whom I met. I will always remember you.

Peter Thiel and Bruce Sterling: Separated at Birth?

Sterling ThielI saw Peter Thiel and Bruce Sterling, back-to-back, on the closing day of Southby this year.

While on the surface, if you didn’t know much about either one, you might be convinced that it would be hard to find two people more different.

Yet, while the style and composition of their remarks was very different, I found the underlying convictions that they championed to be remarkably similar.

But, first the differences:

Thiel is a billionaire, Silicon Valley investor, best known for founding Paypal and later investing on Facebook, as was so notably highlighted in The Social Network.

Sterling is a non-billionaire writer and speaker, best known for co-founding the cyberpunk movement with novels like Islands in the Net and Heavy Weather.

Thiel is a halting, deliberate, monotone speaker, who has perfected the VC speaking style of stingily, slowly revealing information as he continuously repeats phrases like, phrases like, phrases like, phrases like… you get the idea.

Sterling is a free-flowing, highly descriptive, non-repetitive speaker who exhorts and yearns, chastises and cheerleads, complains and cozies up to the audience… all the while, making it clear that, if he thinks it needs to be said (‘sickness industry,’ ‘gangster bankers,’ et al), he won’t hesitate to say it.

Thiel is a white button-down shirt, rolled-up sleeves, khaki-slacks wearing guy.

Sterling is a long-haired, laser-cut hoodie, jeans and bolo-wearing guy.

Thiel uses slides.

Sterling doesn’t.

Here’s the thing, though. In the language of Thiel’s remarks, they are both advocates of “Determinate Optimism.”

2x2_peter_thielFor anyone that saw Thiel’s talk, do you remember the 2×2 matrix he used, with the industries/professions that fell into each of the quadrants?

“Engineering and Art” were in the Determinate Optimism quadrant (upper left).

To somewhat unfairly label for a moment, Thiel is an engineer, while Sterling, an artist.

Here are things that (I believe) they both believe:

  • Have a plan; plans matter.
  • The pursuit of truth matters.
  • Those who make their living on process and uncertainty do so for one reason: control. With control, they gain (or fight to retain) power. Their goal is for their orthodoxy to become ‘the religion.’
  • ‘The religion,’ by its very nature, fears and resists disruption – often violently.

At least, these are some of the shared patterns that struck me, when I reflected on what they each said.

What does this mean?

My opinion: while you can make a good living being an indeterminate pessimist, you’ll rarely change the world and you’ll never make history.

If you disagree or heard it differently, I’d love to know.

An Odd, Rewarding Southby

sxswi 2013I just finished SXSW Interactive 2013.

I’m a major fan of SXSW, or “Southby,” as it’s now known by most of the digerati.

I’ve been to many, many tech and business conferences all over the U.S. and the world.

But, never have I been to one that achieves the year-over-year improvements in logistics, programming, audience, and experience, as well as Southby. It’s the total package – one, in my opinion, that everyone needs to attend, at least once.

Yet, this Southby was a bit odd for me, from a participant standpoint, because for the first time since the very first interactive, I did it as an entirely solo experience.

I didn’t have another friend, member of my family, or work colleague that I buddied up with. I wasn’t a speaker, member of a company cohort attending/ exhibiting, or festival volunteer.

I don’t exactly remember the first Interactive I attended. I think it was 1996 or maybe 1995. All I remember is that it was the days when Bruce Sterling still invited the interactive crowd over to his house for an after party.

At Sterling’s talk this year, one of the questions Hugh Forrest, festival director (“that’s spelled with 2 r’s, as in: some are for work, I am ‘For Rest’” – nice one Hugh!) asked the audience for a show of hands for who among us recalled going to Bruce’s house for that party.

I wanted to raise my hand, but the honest-to-goodness truth was I never went, even though I could have, during a couple of those earlier years.

Back then, as it still is today, I’ve found that the after-hours scene of Southby just isn’t my thing.  I figure “why go to a Southby party when I can go to a party anywhere, anytime, and yell at (excuse me, visit with) people in Austin over loud music, over-priced drinks, and no seating?”

sxswi 2013 crowdSo, for me, the reason for Southby has always been the day programming.

That’s why it’s been such a great thrill to be both a multi-time speaker and advisory board member of Interactive.

Hugh says Southby is all about the community. I’d agree. But within that community, what I care most about is the ideas, the discourse, the unscripted Q-and-A that the community has with one its own who - for his or her moment - gets to be on stage as the center of attention.

Because of lots of professional and personal duties this year, I was only able to bookend the festival this year, going to the first and last days, Thursday and Tuesday.

IMG_4172During those days, though, I attended talks by Bre Pettis of Makerbot, Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas (my birth state; that’s me with the Sentor), a session on manufacturing pirates in China (lessons of the Shanzhai), Inman of The Oatmeal, Peter Thiel, and Sterling.

No parties, receptions, breakfasts, food tents, happy hours, courtesy lounges, or free lunches.

Instead of nachos and Shiner, my feasting was on ideas. And, once again, for SXSW 2013, the ‘feast’ was abundant, flavorful, and deeply satisfying.

Did I miss the experience of being part of a team or even a dynamic duo at Southby? Maybe just a little.

But as odd as returning to a fully solo participant experience was, the rewards were still there. See you in 2014!


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