Archive for January, 2008

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Birmingham, AL’s OLPC Project: The good, the bad, the ugly…

January 29, 2008

I have been reading with great interest about Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford’s project to bring 15,000 laptops to city school kids. The Terminal’s article finally got me going. If I push aside the “moral questions” that arise when kids in urban Alabama receive the XO laptops meant for children in third-world countries, I actually think the program is a great idea. I was lucky enough to catch a lengthy interview with Nicholas Negroponte, who founded the program. Mr. Negroponte is a very intelligent man and his OLPC foundation has an admirable mission. These laptops are a marvel of new technology that address the unique needs of a third world child (durability, connectivity, ease of use, etc). …..(And yes, he is related to THAT NEGROPONTE)

THE GOOD: For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard inner-city activists speak about “the cycle” that many underprivileged children fall into. Because they have no money, tools, or role models, they are destined to fall into the same life of crime and poverty that their parents did. If you want a child to have a chance, give them the tools. In that regard, this is a marvelous program that could have countless residual positive effects on the area for decades to come. Educated kids are less likely to commit crimes and be on welfare. All things Bham drastically needs.

THE BAD: It seems the people in charge of executing this program do not thoroughly understand what they are doing. In a blog on AL.com recently:

Birmingham Board of Education members learned today that they will have to provide wireless Internet service in every school in order to use the XO Laptop, which every student in grades one through eight will receive in March.

“What?!?! You have to pump the int-er-uh-net into these thangs so they can werk?”

That’s more than an oversight. That’s blatant ignorance. I believe they must have confused the XO’s awesome mesh network for the, uh, actual Internet, instead of a great way to network and stretch Internet connections to where they weren’t before. Yes, you can get on the net through the mesh network, but somebody has to be connected to the web. This shouldn’t be a problem, there have already been stated plans to bring wireless to more of the city. So they seem to get it… great then… I…. uh oh…..

“Depending on what type of router you buy, it’s about $39 plus a monthly fee.” from same article

Maybe I am wrong, but if I was going to set up a single router for an entire school’s worth of kids to run on, I may spring for something better than the Walmart $39 dollar variety. Just a thought. And that monthly fee could be pretty wild, given the bandwidth that could be needed. But I am sure they have their head wrapped around it now. They seem to underst….. oh no…

Board member Virginia Volker said she was worried about students accessing inappropriate Web content.

And there it is. The obligatory, porn-panic rears it’s head. You mean we are about to launch a major program for 15,000 laptops to begin accessing the web in public places, through public funds, and the only major concern raised has been “they could look up porn”???

Yes, if this is city funded, then there should be mild filters on the computers and networks so that inappropriate content cannot be accessible. No one wants their city taxes paying for eighth grade Johnny’s addiction to girlie pics. But, worrying about porn rather than worrying about whether or not you can ACTUALLY MAKE THIS WORK is backwards thinking, and again shows a lack of understanding of the technology.

Does anyone in the city staff fully understand the technology at play here?

THE UGLY: The good news is that the Ugly hasn’t happened yet. The ugly will be if a ton of taxpayer money is spent on something with great intentions, and a lack of planning/understanding makes the idea a flop. OR if, once deployed, the laptops create a major bandwidth problem for the newly created networks and people demand that we upgrade the connections. Imagine that headline: “Laptop Program Needs $xxx More Funding Than Previously Thought”.

All in all, this is a good program with great potential. But I think what is at play here is your classic knowledge gap. The people in power all know that technology can give kids a way out of the cycle of violence. But they know so little about the technology that they can’t effectively execute a plan. There are a multitude of very smart, educated people in Birmingham Metro. Maybe the new mayor should reach out to some techies and make sure this great idea doesn’t turn into a great failure.

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Lets Keep it Real Folks: The domain industry is a dirty business.

January 11, 2008

I was emailed an article today that alerted me to something I had long suspected was true. Plenty of people are watching me when I search for a domain name. Currently, Slamwire owns several domains. We have projects that come our way from time to time, and one of the first things to do (even before we fully hash the plan out) is to grab the domain we would want to use. This is because the domain industry is as cut throat as anything on the web. The article explains that Network Solutions, one of the original industry leaders in the Web 1.0 generation and still a place many people go to purchase domain names, is engaging in a practice they are supposed to be preventing. If you were to go to their website and search for a domain name then fail to purchase it, they may hold grab it and hold it in escrow for 4 days. Why? They claim it is to deter scammers and squatters from snatching it before a rightful owner could come get it.

I just totally disagree with this practice. The idea is, if someone who supposedly should have rightful use of a domain doesn’t get to the domain name first, someone else will buy it. They say that they should protect people. I say that a domain name is such an integral part of anything that you do, that you should consider spending the money to buy it before anyone else knows about it. Maybe this doesn’t make sense to you, but it does to me.

Example:

If John opens up “John’s Beer Emporium” in downtown NY but fails to register johnsbeeremporium.com, why should I be prevented from buying it? The real estate industry was BUILT on moves like this, and no one is crying for it to be regulated. No one would penalize me if John openly said he wanted to expand to the vacant lot next door, and I purchased it first, then offered to sell it to him a t a premium. If you are in business and don’t own the pertinent domain to your brand, you only have yourself to blame. The Internet isn’t a new thing, and you should know that you need a website with a good domain name. If you don’t, your not a good business person. Period.

This whole thing is why I use GoDaddy.com and not Network Solutions. Not only are they cheaper ($9.99 for a domain and not $30), but they act ethically, and Bob Parsons (godaddy’s founder) is at the forefront of the industry, demanding change and protecting his users. Network Solutions can kiss it.

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Geared up for 2008

January 8, 2008

Hopefully everyone had a nice holiday break, as I did. It was good to get away for a while and not think about work. I have a great network of friends and family back home in Pensacola that take my mind off of all the craziness. I even got to go to a few of my favorite restaurants (McGuire’s and Jerry’s Cajun Cafe). It was the first real break I enjoyed in a LONG time and it’s always nice to spend that with loved ones.

As some of you may know, I love to read non-fiction “self improvement” books. I feel like, as people, we shape who we are from the moment we are born to the moment we die and we should always strive to become better people. That being said, I have read some books that did not help at all (*cough* David Allen *cough*) and some great ones that have changed my outlook on things. I thought I would share one today.

I love self help books from people who are actually successful. Sometimes you read the bio on a “success guru” and realize that the only success they have had is in selling books. While sometimes they have good insight on what works in life, I find that I get more from reading people that have done something other than just write books. Maybe I believe those people more. I don’t know.

Every new year for the past three I have revisited this book and it’s principles to set myself on the right foot. It’s called “Make It Big!” By Frank McKinney. Frank is a MEGA successful real estate mogul who builds some of the most luxurious mansions in the country. I won’t go into his personal bio, but you can read more about him at http://www.frank-mckinney.com. The point is, Make It Big is truly inspiring. It gives 49 ways that a person can improve their life and get in control. One thing I loved about this book was that it wasn’t just about success in business, but about success in EVERY area of your life. I love that concept. Success on every front.

The principle that I revisit every year is his yearly mission statement retreat. Once a year, as his book talks about, I go by myself and do some reflecting. Not for a few minutes, but for several hours. I look at where I was a year ago by looking at what I wrote down on my last retreat. Then I think of all that happened since then. Am I where I wanted to be? If not, why not? And where do I want to go? What do I want to be like when I read this in one year? I try and look at each level of my life. My professional life. My personal life. My spiritual life. And my charitable life. It’s truly eye opening when you have to answer to a tough critic: yourself. The goal is, as it is every year, to make strides in each area. I write down what I want to accomplish in the coming year in each facet and pray over it. I always come out of my personal retreat happy, focused, and at peace.

If any of you would like to check out Frank’s book, visit http://www.frank-mckinney.com/books_make_it_big.aspx

I found this book at a very low point in my life when I was wandering around a books-a-million looking for direction. It was Frank’s book that jumped off the shelf with the picture of his long hair standing in front of a mansion. Something was so outlandish about it that I had to pick it up. I thought I was going to make fun of it. It ended up changing my life. That book, among other things, inspired me to start Slamwire.

So, as we embark on 2008, find some inspiration, and set out to accomplish something. Even if you don’t quite get there, you are ALWAYS a better person when you mind the business of what it is to be you. Setting goals and committing to them may just help you have the best year yet.