Category: alternative

This Is My Family

family 1

Not long ago, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me.

If you haven’t read it, I recommend that you do. Chances are, you won’t truly understand it. But, hopefully, it will leave a mark on your memory, that causes you to remember singular images and phrases, as I did.

I won’t say much about it, other than to say the narrative device is that of a father’s extended letter to his son.

What I will mention is the depiction of the Dream that Coates writes about, as a central construct of the book. There are people (the “Dreamers”) who live their lives in total unquestioned, unthinking immersion in the Dream.

coates bookThen there are people who live their lives outside the Dream, or perhaps better said: excluded from the Dream. Perhaps, even better, threats to the Dream.

Shortly after I read the book, I had a dream inspired by the book. I dreamed that I awoke one morning to find that every black person was white and every white person was black.

As a newly transformed black man, living in Austin, you can imagine the scene I encountered going to work that day. Overnight, downtown Austin was transformed into a city that much more resembled downtown Atlanta or Memphis.

More remarkable was how I was treated, in my dream. All of a sudden, I felt an attitude that was colder, less helpful, more suspicious towards me. People took a slightly wider berth walking by me on the street.

Servers seemed a little slower to ask me for my order or if I needed help at the store. Was I just imagining it, or was this overnight change in how I felt real?

And then, I began to think about who I was…nothing about me had changed — I was the same person in every way — except that my skin was now black. My skin pigment was darker >> that was it!

Yet, as my dream leaped ahead (as REM-sleep dreams are wont to do), I began to experience discrimination, from the petty (name calling) to the significant, like being denied job interviews, passed over for leadership roles, getting fewer financial and VIP privileges than my white peers.

family 2

And, as I looked ahead – and backwards – I saw the accumulation of this discrimination across generations of my family. From the non-violent injustice of exclusion from schools, communities, and social groups, to the violence of confrontation, struggle, and crime.

Often, the violence was wrought by the desperate and those lost of hope of the same color skin as their closest neighbors, because they were nearest and easiest to rob.

And, the whole picture seemed so ridiculous to me. It seemed such a preposterous thing — that the color of one’s skin was the thing that triggered this generations-long, no, this millennia-long dividing of the powerful and the powerless.

It made no sense; there was no justification. Logic yes, in a perverse way, as a contest to get and keep power. But justice — as represented by life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the promise that all people are created equal — no.

And, in my dream, I finally began to develop a new awareness of the profound, unholy, and completely immoral unfairness of it all. This new, internal knowledge of what others deemed my “place” in life, and that of my family’s, was totally, comprehensively unacceptable.

I awoke and shared my dream with Rebecca. And, I thought about the Dream. And, I thought about members of my family who live in the Dream — both the black and white members of my family.

family 3Because, you see, the photos in this post are members of my family — my real family. They are my nephews, nieces, brothers, and cousins through marriage.

They are Larry, Lindsey, Shani, Logan, Harper, Ryan, Lori, Maya, and more!

They are smart, talented, strong, beautiful, funny, hard-working, loyal, trustworthy, silly and fun!

I love them and am thankful to be in the same family together.

I know that no amount of dreaming on my part, nor clearing away the real life miasma of the Dream that Coates writes of, can ever help me fully comprehend a life of fundamental unfairness.

Of being born the wrong color…or the wrong caste, tribe, gender, nationality — or any other irrational, inequitable “wrong” that absolutely lacks any connection to the true, the holy, the righteous.

So, I’ll leave you with this one question. Ask yourself: “Who is my family?”

UT-Austin CAET Gives Us Some STEAM

UT Ctr for Art and Ent Tech (CAET)I attended the launch event for UT-Austin’s Center for Arts & Entertainment Technology this evening. The Center (or CAET) is a new program of the College of Fine Arts.

As Dean of Fine Arts, Doug Dempster explained, it’s been a few years in the making. But, now that it’s here, the CAET figures to quickly become a significant magnet for UT-Austin’s Fine Arts school.

Why? Because, the CAET’s new Bachelor of Science degree in Arts & Entertainment is the quintessential Gen Z major.

It is the true expression of STEAM – Science Technology Engineering & Math (or STEM) education, with the fundamental integration of Arts, be it performing, visual, digital, or more.

Congratulations to Dean Dempster, Bruce Pennycook (the CAET Director), long-time Austin colleague Paul Toprac (Assoc Dir of Game Design & Dev at UT-Austin), and all of the other faculty and staff for the program.

I, for one, look forward to vetting some of the first crop of BS in AET students, in 2017 and 2018, for internships with our new ventures…the CAET program is fine-tuned to produce future great product, tech strategy, and creative directors, ready to unleash some innovation on the world – can’t wait!

David Bowie – Bond Genius

Before I get to the “bond genius” part of the title, a personal moment, to share my 3 Bowie favorites:

Diamond_dogsAlbum: Diamond Dogs – nothing like it. On first listen, it’s nearly repelling, in its unconventional musicianship and song-writing. But, listen closely and play it again, and the whole thing starts to become absolutely mesmerizing – an other-worldly lyrical vision and sound.

Song: Rebel, Rebel – ironically, the “hit” from Diamond Dogs. The irony is from the fact that the song sounds nothing like the rest of the album. Being over 40 years old, the track is far lesser-known to the Gen X and Y kids. It gets lost because it’s sandwiched in between the original Ziggy tracks and the latter-day, far better known Let’s Dance tracks. But, for my money, Rebel, Rebel is one of the most hard-charging rock-and-roll riffs of all time.

Video: Heroes – just watch…

bowie - backyardLive: The Backyard, Austin TX, April 27, 2004 – An amazing night. The Austin Chronicle’s review is on target, but of course comes up short with being able to capture the magic of the night.

Bowie was “on” and the crowd ate it up, me included. He and the band delivered the perfect set list. A night and a concert performance I’ll never forget.

* * *

Ok, now for the “bond genius” part. For this, I have to give full credit to one of my new favorite, morning newsletters, Quartz. I recommend that you check it out. It’s become part of my morning routine, with multiple round-the-clock issues available to be sent to your email. I get the early morning edition that hits my inbox around 5am.

This past weekend, they editors did a marvelous intro to the daily edition, talking about Bowie’s forward-thinking, on multiple levels. I really can’t improve on what they wrote, so I’m citing it here, in full – all credit (copyright) goes to Quartz. (Keep up the good work, Team Quartz!)

“If you ever doubted that David Bowie was from the future, consider how Ziggy Stardust clairvoyantly shorted the music industry.bowie - new yorker

The late musician was always internet savvy—he started his own ISP way back in the AOL days, and was among the first artists to offer a downloadable album, just when Napster was starting to scare the bejesus out of the record labels.

His insight into digital music led him to predict the internet’s disruption of the music industry and cash out early. Back in 1997, he created an entirely new financial instrument: “Bowie bonds” were essentially a bet against the recorded-music business, providing the musician a $55 million payout, secured by future royalties from his enormous back catalog.

”Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,” he told the New York Times in 2002. “The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again.”

In 1999, global music industry revenues were $14.6 billion; by 2009, they were only $6.3 billion. The entire offering of Bowie bonds was sold to Prudential Securities, which didn’t turn out to be very prudent: The 10-year bonds were eventually downgraded to junk status as music sales, including Bowie’s back catalog, evaporated.

Not all of Bowie’s predictions came true: He also told the Times that copyright itself was doomed. Due to the lobbying prowess of major media companies, copyright protection is stronger than ever—not that it has helped musicians much.

Streaming music services like Spotify pay out tiny fractions of a penny for every song played, making most professional musicians dependent on touring and other revenue streams. (Bowie predicted that too.)

Incidentally, the banker who helped to create Bowie bonds is now securitizing the royalty streams of one-hit wonders like Right Said Fred, the luminaries behind “I’m Too Sexy.”

RIP, Starman.”

RIP, indeed. Carpe diem, my friends.

I Want An App That [Changes The World]

It’s New Year’s Day 2016. And, in the spirit of this symbolic fresh start, I’ll offer a perspective for a fresh start to problem selection for software. Stay with me here…it gets less geeky…

A few weeks ago, as I was browsing my twitter feed, my eyes fixed upon a rapid series of tweets by a tech writer/speaker named Scott Berkun.

I’ll confess, I’ve never read any of Berkun’s books, nor heard him speak. But, he was among the earlier people I followed on twitter and I’ve enjoyed many of his posts since.

Anyhow, I’ve captured the series of tweets below, because they got me thinking about a topic that I would normally dismiss as bordering on nonsensical. (NOTE: the best way to read them is to scroll to the bottom and then read to the top.)

They first appeared as one of those rants that you sometimes see people fire off, due to anger, frustration, sadness, etc. So, when I read the first couple, my internal dismissive voice said “yeah, right.”

It was quickly followed by my internal logical voice which said “technology is just a tool; those kinds of changes only happen due to the actions of people.”

But then, a third, internal voice of challenge said “but, wait a second; why can’t we demand of our tools that they contribute in a substantial way to these kinds of desirable social changes?”

As the rant illustrates at the beginning (bottom): too often, our design & development efforts are focused on improving the speed or effectiveness of imperfect solutions to problems.

Or, they are focused on applying an “X of Y” adaptation (i.e., the “Airbnb of parking spaces”).

But, we tend to think that problems concerning social innovation and behavioral change are outside of the province of technology. When, perhaps instead, that’s the next frontier of app development.

So, as you plan out your 2016 today and in the coming days, think about how you can help bring to life an app that can change the world.

berkun rant

Mayor Adler’s 2015 Year-End Letter

atx winter 3I looked for an online version of this letter from Mayor Adler but couldn’t readily find it. So I decided to post it.

I don’t know about you, but I think we Austinites have a lot to be thankful for, as we close out 2015. Sure, there’s much more to do. And, we can begin that work tomorrow. But, today, we should reflect on the good things going on.

“Thank you” to the mayor, city council, and the city of Austin (and surrounding city jurisdictions) staff & management, for the leadership and public service provided. Let’s keep working to make the greater Austin area a shining city, welcoming to all.

Here’s Mayor Adler’s 2015 year-end letter – enjoy!

= = =

Dear Rebecca & Steve,

We did it. Thanks to all your help, we were able to find housing for 200 homeless veterans in Austin. Along the way, we created a new way to attack this problem and eliminated the waiting list for homeless veterans to get help. Great cities do big things, and this is a very, very big thing. Good job, Austin.

At the beginning of the year, there were 234 homeless veterans in Austin. When I took up this challenge in May, there were 200 remaining without homes. By Veterans Day, we still needed 118 homes for these heroes. Thanks to your overwhelming support –as well as the tireless work of homeless advocates and the Austin Apartment Association – we found the last of those 200 homes this week.

Before we tackled this problem, homeless advocates never imagined they could catch up to the sheer number of homeless veterans because they were working alone. I want to personally thank the Austin Apartment Association for making this fight their own and helping eliminate the waiting list and getting so many homeless veterans into permanent housing.

And, of course, the biggest thanks goes to the folks who had been trying to house the homeless for so long without much help, most notably Ann Howard, Executive Director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO. We’ve said all along that it takes heroes to house these heroes. The good people who make up ECHO are the secret heroes of this story.

Thank you so much for helping make this happen. I am grateful to be the Mayor of a city that can meet big challenges. We’ve got a lot on our table in 2016 to deal with our traffic and affordability issues, but if we can make real progress on an issue that people used to think was hopeless, then is there anything we can’t do?

I don’t think so, and I can’t wait to get going in 2016. Happy New Year.

Mayor Adler

PS – Housing homeless veterans is not all we accomplished this year. Great cities do big things, and we did a lot of big things this year. In addition, the following actions were taken in 2015:

•    Created a homestead property tax exemption, saving homeowners a total of $3.5 million, with an intent to increase the exemption to 20 percent over the next few years
•    Cut the city property tax rate from 48.09 cents per $100 to 45.89 cents, saving the average homeowner roughly $14 a year
•    While reducing the tax burden on homeowners, added 50 new police officers, secured $3 million for body cameras for 500 officers, and increased spending for health and human services by $7 million and parks by more than $3 million
•    Increased senior and disabled property tax exemption from $70,000 to $80,000, a total tax cut of $1.6 million
•    Cut utility bills for Austin Energy residential customers by an average of $3.33 a month
•    Increased living wage for city employees from $11.39 an hour to $13.03 an hour
•    Worked with CM Garza to negotiate an agreement with the Pilot Knob Planned Unit Development developer that includes the addition of approximately 1,000 affordable housing units including 650 permanently affordable houses with no additional city spending, setting a new benchmark for the city’s SMART Housing program
•    Established a TIF for Homestead Preservation District A, and, with CM Renteria’s Committee, created three additional Homestead Preservation Districts (B, C & D) with Public Hearings, creating the first homestead preservation districts in Texas that leverage growth to pay for affordable housing in those neighborhoods where growth threatens to displace residents
•    Supported effort by MPT Tovo to strengthen the affordable housing requirements for planned unit development
•    Won a compromise that would make accessory dwellings (AKA granny flats) easier to build along transit corridors, increasing affordable housing opportunities while respecting neighborhood character
•    Initiated legal action to ensure an appraisal process that is fair to homeowners and aligned with the Texas Constitution
•    Initiated development of new rules to assist low-income tenants when developers plan to demolish apartment complexes where they live
•    With CM Casar, passed resolution directing fair housing as part of CodeNext, which will increase the number of affordable housing options for Austinites
•    Passed resolution calling on City Manager to implement permitting recommendations to expedite the review process and streamline approvals, which would make remodeling more affordable and feasible for homeowners and small business owners and decrease construction costs
•    As part of the Spirit of East Austin, ordered a survey of surplus properties to make better use of public resources
•    Recalibrated drainage fees so that utility bills did not unfairly burden renters

•    Leveraged private sector and philanthropy to assist nonprofits in housing homeless veterans



•    Passed CAMPO 2040, a regional, long-range transportation plan that includes investments in new roads, traffic management, several MetroRapid bus routes and commuter rail to get people out of cars on congested roadways and into mass transit
•    Won national competition for Rocky Mountain Institute mobility transformation and named lead implementation city for RMI’s global mobility transformation initiative to find innovative and holistic solutions to congestion
•    Collaborated with Google to establish Austin as first test city for autonomous vehicles outside of their headquarters
•    The City Manager implemented the Traffic Congestion Action Plan (T-CAP), resulting in the following achievements:
  • Among the intersections that were a part of the City’s Don’t Block the Box initiative, there were 5 intersections that experienced a blockage during at least 10% of the cycles with an average blockage of 32% of the time. While officers were station at these intersections, the blockage percentage was cut in half to 16% of the time. The two intersections for which we have after data shows that the blockages percentage increased to 22% after officers stopped enforcement.
  • Retimed a third of the signals, resulting in 15% reduction in travel times and 40% reduction in stops.
•    Voted to approve $20 million to improve the intersection of the 51st Street and IH-35 to increase safety and mobility and reduce congestion
•    Voted for $54.5 million in traffic improvements at IH-35 & Oltorf to increase mobility
•    City of Austin achieved ambitious milestone goal for employee peak-hour commute reduction and now working toward goal of 30% reduction underway.  Movability Austin worked with multiple downtown employers to reduce their employees’ commute trips, or shift them to transit/bike/walk trips; new Transportation Demand Management program launched at ATD; new Smart Trips Program to encourage people to sue active transportation options, being piloted with people in the Rundberg/N. Lamar area.
•    Led smooth transition from at-large seats to 10-1 system while increasing public engagement
•    Made appointments to boards and commissions and staff in the Mayor’s Office that reflect the city’s demographics
•    Created the position of Education Outreach Coordinator in the Mayor’s Office to enhance collaboration between local schools and the city
•    Created new City Council committees to allow for more meaningful public discussion
•    Created Council Transition Work group to recommend improvements to the Council committee system
•    Banned dark money in local campaigns to increase transparency in city elections
•    Reformed regulations of lobbyists to close loopholes to increase accountability and transparency in city government
•    Established Departmental Review Process modeled after the Texas Sunset Commission to identify improvements and efficiencies and to increase and deepen Council engagement on the budget
•    Reduced fee waivers to SXSW, saving Austin taxpayers $230,000 over last year, while increasing police presence throughout Austin during the three-week-long festival in 2016
•    Initiated regular meetings with regional mayors to discuss opportunities for collaboration
 •     To make city government more inclusive, printed Spirit of East Austin communications in Vietnamese in addition to Spanish and English.


•    In Paris, signed the Under MOU 2 agreement with local governments to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, providing leadership on climate change
•    Authorized with the City Council the purchase of 400 to 450 megawatts of solar power and to solicit bids to purchase or build another 150 MW of solar by the end of 2019. Austin Energy signed purchase power agreements for an initial 288 MW of solar as part of the Council authorization to negotiate for 400 to 450 MW. The agreements position Austin Energy to be among the biggest users of solar power in Texas
•    Passed an ordinance to increase reuse and recycling of materials from construction and demolition projects. Beginning Oct. 1, 2016, the Construction and Demolition Recycling Ordinance will require 50 percent diversion of materials from construction projects larger than 5,000 square feet. In 2019, the ordinance will expand to include commercial demolition projects. Construction and demolition projects generate at least 20 percent of all materials that go to Austin-area landfills. This ordinance takes a huge step toward achieving Austin’s Zero Waste goal by requiring more recycling and reuse of valuable materials
•    Austin Energy surpassed 1,000 MW of wind power with two new wind farms coming online in 2015. Austin Energy’s 1,340 MW of wind power is about 10 percent of the wind power fleet in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, increasing the use of renewable energy in Austin Energy’s portfolio
•    Launched partnership with national retailers such as The Home Depot and Lowe’s to offer point of sale discounts to customers to purchase energy efficient products. The initiative leverages the combined size of the utilities to reduce administration costs and pass savings on to customers
•    Achieved slightly over 64 MW demand reductions, driven by strong performance in GB ratings and energy codes, small business lighting and residential demand response
•    Installed 7.7 MW of residential and commercial solar, providing long-term savings and cutting greenhouse gas emissions
•    Surpassed 1,000 MW of wind power with two new wind farms coming online in 2015, making Austin Energy’s 1,340 MW of wind power is about 10 percent of the wind power fleet in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas
•    Joined the Downtown Austin Alliance, downtown businesses, and Austin Resource Recovery to unveil an expansion of public recycling in the downtown area, an initiative called Recycle on the Go. Starting with nearly 50 new recycling cans this year, recycling containers will be installed throughout the downtown area over the next three years
•    Council approved one of the first energy storage systems tied to a community solar project in Texas. Part of the $3 million cost for the 1.5 MW battery storage system is offset with a $1 million grant received by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
•    Austin Water repaired almost 7,800 water leaks, the third-highest recorded count for the department. Of those, almost 4,300 leaks were Priority 1 leaks and responded to within 3 hours almost 89% of the time
•    Weatherized 520 low income homes; our multi-family program reached over 8,400 apartment units

Unlocking Your Creativity

Have you ever gotten a great idea while working out, or mowing the lawn, or in the midst of some other activity requiring some kind of physical concentration, when your mind was “wandering?”

Or, if you are one who prays as a meaningful ritual of religious faith or meditates as a regular practice, have you ever had an answer to a difficult question emerge from it, with great clarity or certainty for what you should do?

bbv-wilberKen Wilber’s book The Spectrum of Consciousness is the classic book in the field of study integrating psychology and spirituality.

In it, Wilber begins with an oft-quoted remark by William James:

Our normal, waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, while all about it – parted from it by the filmiest of screens – there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.

We may go through life without suspecting their existence, but apply the requisite stimulus and at a touch they are there in all their completeness…

As creatures of habit, which we human beings tend to be, it is a constant challenge for us to integrate a range of stimuli, as well as introduce new ones, into our lives.

When we do, the result can be rich connections to new and different ways of processing our internal thoughts, the world around us, and the connections that exist between everyone and everything.

bbv-prismAt a pragmatic level, the result can be figuring out a new method to solve a problem that you’d previously been unable to solve at work.

Or, it could be a new design approach or creative technique that just wasn’t working in your prior attempts.

There are dozens of ways you can expose yourself to new stimuli, including simple things, like:

  • Cross your arms differently, when at rest
  • Part your hair on the opposite side of your usual part, or vary your morning prep routine in some other little ways, like brushing your teeth first rather than last
  • Take a different driving or walking route to your office or listen to a different radio station, along the way
  • At the office or your co-working space, talk to someone you don’t normally talk with
  • And on and on in your daily routines…

Our bodies are like prisms, with our minds containing a spectrum of knowledge, thoughts, and ideas.

To gain full access to this spectrum, you must find the many ways to experience the world differently. When you do, who knows what creative, new insights await?