This is why you’re not going to create the next SXSW

[I originally published this on Medium here.]

For years I’ve joined in the pushback against the empty and cliche pledge that some city wants to become the next Silicon Valley. Over the last few years, I’ve watched a similar boast begin to pop up into unnervingly unexpected places:

We’re going to launch the next SXSW.

No. No you are not. Let me tell you why.

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Don’t mix up censorship with civility

A version of this essay was published as part of my twice-monthly newsletter several weeks ago. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Censorship is about content (you can’t say this or that). Civility is about tone (you can’t say this like that).

Attribution bias virtually guarantees that we are sure our tone is appropriate for all circumstances. If we use vulgar language or overly fatalistic language, it’s because we are on the right and just side of a cause. If someone with whom we disagree does this, they are proving just why they something short of civil.

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Here are some things I’ve learned about being a better writer

For its age and influence and subjectivity, writing is one of those crafts that require great study and practice, though they don’t guarantee success alone.

The ordering of words has always been a great love of mine. I’ve been writing at length for as long as I can remember in whatever medium I could find. I’ve spent the last 10 years developing my news writing form, a tradition I have great pride in. However I’ve tried to keep developing my creative storytelling instincts too — fiction being a complimentary but wholly distinct offering from the non-fiction I know best.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned.

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The speed of government (and other institutions) is a feature not a bug

Recently a few ideas came together for me that made me want to acknowledge something that might be obvious to others. It isn’t directly related to the Election but it offers a timeliness.

At their best, institutions, and governments specifically, move slowly by design. Like the plan for charter schools influencing school districts, the very hope for startups and other young organizations is to be a place for risk and experimentation.

By merger or sheer influence, the best of these ideas should survive their way through bureaucracy and other obstacles. Others won’t survive. Though that has worked for so long in much of American political life, we were just reminded of how vulnerable that still is. But that isn’t the real goal.

Continue reading The speed of government (and other institutions) is a feature not a bug

Here’s the data to put our country’s startup frenzy into context

Policymakers and economic development strategists are startup crazy — in pursuit of a silly goal. I know. I’ve spent most of the last decade reporting on young tech companies, exactly the slice of firm creation that has led much of the attention in this post-recession fixation.

Though I’ve taken various approaches at understanding what, if anything, is really different about this era’s of business creation, I recently found myself pulling together some data that I wanted to share.

Hype around startups — newly created businesses, particularly ones that are approaching new business models — has merit. But the concept isn’t as new and their impact isn’t yet as bold as you might hope — Millennials are on pace to be one of the least entrepreneurial generations on record.

Continue reading Here’s the data to put our country’s startup frenzy into context

One professor’s attempt at a $25 programmable robot: my profile of Locorobos and Pramod Abichandani

The research on low-cost, educational robotics led by Drexel University professor Pramod Abichandani was the focus of a profile I wrote for the college’s academic journal. It ran this summer.

We’ve written about him on Technical.ly here. My piece was a bit more focused on his research process. Find the full story online here.

As I do with my freelance writing, I have some extras that I cut from the story below.

Continue reading One professor’s attempt at a $25 programmable robot: my profile of Locorobos and Pramod Abichandani

Innovation is taking a risk on a new approach for an old challenge

Sometimes when a word is really powerful, it gets over-used enough that its power dwindles. This happens in cycles, like how “collaboration” was sorely stretched in recent years as institutions got hip to open source culture, and now as “innovation” is being slid into the name of any new effort from any organization aiming to look forward-thinking.

That over-use doesn’t mean the word isn’t effective. It is. But it should mean it requires defense. So when I was asked to submit to business marketing magazine SmartCEO my own definition of the word and my process for employing it, I tried to do just that.

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Choose a time, not a place to live: my piece for our live Technical.ly podcast

I helped organize our first ever live Technical.ly podcast and, in addition to helping to produce the event, I put together one of the main pieces.

My point? We don’t really choose a Place to live. We choose a Time in a Place to live.

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Snowpocalypse: here’s a flowchart on whether you can park your car

Parking in the snow in dense urban neighborhoods is always a testy issue. People have strong opinions about whether you can use a chair to reserve a spot or swipe another’s — legal or not. Thankfully I sold my car last year, but I’m still a sucker for life hacks for city living.

Considering it’s something that happens in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia and likely anywhere else where great urbanism means parking is limitless, we need better agreement of what’s proper etiquette. Here’s my take, built on some thoughts I shared back in 2010.

Continue reading Snowpocalypse: here’s a flowchart on whether you can park your car