Archive for August, 2011

A touching interview with David Murdock

August 30th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

Last December I wrote about Lanai and how its future depended on the way people treated its owner and visionary David Murdock, now 88.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, including protest by some people on Lanai against Murdock and his Big Wind project and, more recently, protest by others in favor of Murdock and his Big Wind project.

Murdock’s story was told most recently by an article in the August edition of Lanai Today, written by its publisher Alberta de Jetley. She wrote about an interview she had had with Murdock, and her article is a touching statement of who he is and how most people on Lanai feel about him.

Beyond that, it’s a poignant insight into what Murdock may do in the future. That, of course, affects everyone on the island.

He told de Jetley that he “may be leaving Lanai,” that he had three choices: to stay and “sustain the animosity,” to “sell off parts of the island,” or “close it all down and leave.”

These unhappy prospects don’t bode well for the people of Lanai. And don’t forget that Murdock’s successors are likely to be far less enthusiastic than Murdock about saving Lanai, as I wrote in December.

De Jetley asked him what it would take to get him to stay, “to rejuvenate the passion he once had for Lanai,” “to reassure him that the anti-wind farm faction is a small minority,” and to show him that the people of Lanai appreciate all that he’s done for them.

His answer was only a smile, and with that de Jetley concluded that “the animosity he perceives from our community are like wounds, too deep to heal easily with spoken words.”

Big Wind has a long way to go, and at this rate it’s not likely that Murdock will be able to see it to fruition. However appreciative the people of Lanai may be, at this point they may no longer be able to repay him for the kindness he has shown them over the years.

And for his part he may no longer be able to save them from the economic realities facing Lanai.

Fate will take its course. It’s all very ironic, and in the end probably also tragic. These lessons could be difficult for Lanai, and also the state.

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Ignite - a new phenomenon springs up on Kamani Street

August 23rd, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

I wasn't sure it was going to be interesting, but I thought I'd go down there because I told them I'd be there tape it. I was prepared to leave, but five minutes after it started I knew it was going to be electric.

I'm talking about the “Ignite” event organized by Christine Koroki. Ignite presents speakers under a really provocative protocol where each speaker has 20 slides transitioned for 15 seconds, which allows them a rapid fire five minutes to talk about their subjects.

They aspire to be Ted quality speakers, and from what went on last Thursday night, they succeeded. If you want to see the speakers speaking, expletives deleted, stay tuned to thinktechhawaii.com. We’ll be posting them shortly.

The eight speakers were well-chosen. Their talent was tangible and their vitality was infectious. The protocol made things move at breakneck. The slides were funny, raucous and/or profound. The group loved it. There was a feeling in the air, of joining, of discovery, of joyfulness. You wished there were more than eight.

Here's the list: Daniel Leuck "The Software Developer of 2020: Exploring the Evolution of Software Design", CEO, Ikazyo; Danielle Scherman "Startup Weekend", Social Wahines; Austen Ito, "Geekology 101", A Maker at HI Capacity; Rechung Fujihira, "Tsune", CEO, Enzyme, The Box Jelly; Angelica Rabang, "Good Design", AIGA Honolulu President; John Garcia, “Going Viral: The Social Tsunami”, Co-Owner/CTO, Nonstop Honolulu; Peter Justeson, "How & Why to Make Games", IGDA Honolulu Co-founder; Yancey Unequivocally, "Most Presentations Stink", CEO, Empowered Presentations.

The venue was the Box Jelly on Kamani Street, a co-working space created by start up entrepreneurs Rechung Fujihira, Hasan Scott and Tony Stanford. There was food and what looked like about a hundred people there that night, networking up a storm and drawn headlong into the presentations.

Plus ca change, plus la meme. It had the feeling of Village beat from the 1960’s, reminiscent of the artsy basements and lofts on MacDougal Street, intense crowds packed shoulder to shoulder speaking their minds and pushing the envelope in the flower revolution that preceded the cynicism of Vietnam.

Maybe it’s time for a return to that energy, maybe even here. Ignite has come to town, and organizers like Christine Koroki should keep it going, draw lessons and support from it, and expand on it. ThinkTech is happy to tape these presentations because they’re better when taped; somehow, it enhances the phenomenon.

Ignite has legs. It lights up something in our youth, maybe older folks too, and makes us want to know more, engage more, reach out for ideas we haven’t heard before. It’s new to Honolulu, an awakening perhaps, and maybe we can make it ours.

I'm hoping it’ll happen at the Box Jelly again, and we'll all find out early enough to get seats. In the meantime, I plan to talk to Christine and suggest other speakers because, when you think about it, there are a lot of Ted quality speakers here who could jump in. It’s only five minutes, right?

If you see a notice or get a tweet about another Ignite night, act soon because the next time will make the crowd last week look small.

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It's time to expand interisland video conferencing

August 15th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

If you hadn't heard, round trip fare to the neighbor islands costs nearly $200. If you go first class, it’s just about double that. That’s the price of having too few interisland airlines.

The government has lots of boards, commissions and committees that involve people from more than one island. The number of people who have to travel to get to the venue where the meeting is taking place is formidable, and the cost of paying their round trip air fares is formidable.

To a lesser degree, the same thing is happening in the private sector. It’s lesser, I think, because the private sector has more fully discovered the benefits of conference calling, both audio and video, which makes these trips largely unnecessary. You spend a little money to save a lot.

I was on the NELHA board a few years ago and once a month half a dozen of us, plus the deputy attorney general assigned to the board, would travel from Oahu to Kona to attend the meetings. When we traveled we said hi to people we knew from other agencies, it was like old home week.

We asked about video conferencing as a way to save the time and expense of air travel, but the answer was that the Sunshine Law made it hard to avoid physical attendance at these meetings, plus the state didn’t have a working video conferencing system. This was an expensive answer.

That was years ago, and hopefully things are better. If he hasn't already done so, perhaps our new Chief Information Officer can take a look at the costs and benefits of setting up video conferencing facilities on each island to allow conferencing in lieu of travel, and spend a little to save a lot.

Like all technology, the technology of video conference calls has come a long way. It’s not rocket science anymore to have dozens of people on line, to have and record crystal clear picture and sound, and to have a composite monitor showing everyone on line, just as if they were all in the same room.

It might even be done with an array of laptops, most of which come outfitted with microphones and cameras these days anyway. Some also come outfitted with conferencing software, and that makes it easier and cheaper than buying dedicated equipment for the high end solutions.

The public must have access to these meetings, but that should be no problem. If you run the conference through a website open to the public, anyone and everyone who wants to attend can log into that website and follow or participate in the action. Or they can just attend in person.

Even with all that, there’s the possibility that video conferencing won’t satisfy the Sunshine law. If that’s so, we should move to change the law to make sure that video conferencing will qualify. If it’s done in the private sector, there’s no good reason it can’t be done in government.

As the cost of air fare escalates with the price of oil, it will be more and more expensive to do multi-island meetings in person. And as we struggle and strain to balance the budget in the context of a steadily declining tax base, cutting these travel expenses would be a godsend.

It’s happening all over the country, all over the world. Hawaii, an island state, is the perfect place to use and perfect inter island conferencing techniques in both the private and public sectors. It’s time for us to adopt and expand video conferencing as a way to bring our islands together.

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Media metamorphosis has become NewMorphosis Redux

August 9th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

About a year ago, the Hawaii Venture Capital Association and ThinkTech presented an ambitious half-day panel program called NewsMorphosis. It was dedicated to an examination of the transformation of the news media in Hawaii.

Things got more complicated a few days before the program, when the Honolulu Advertiser suddenly announced it would be closing. Curiosities peaked, and nearly 200 people showed up to find out what was going on.

Now, a year after the Honolulu Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin were closed, it’s time to revisit the subject. The follow up will be NewsMorphosis Redux on August 25th and will examine how the news media have done in the past year. There will be two panels this time representing all forms of news media.

The first panel, moderated by Steve Petranik of Hawaii Business (he was there last year), will compare notes on whether the reporting and commentary by Hawaii's news media is properly reaching and informing the public. The panelists are Chris Conybeare of the Hawaii Media Council, Jim Dooley of Hawaii Reporter, Barbara Tanabe of Hoakea Communications, Kyle Tanouye of Talisman LBS (he was also there last year) and Lucy Young-Oda of the Star-Advertiser.

The second panel, moderated by David Tumilowicz of Hawaii Business, will take a look at how changes in consumer preferences, technology and costs are likely to further transform the news media in the coming years. The panelists are Kevin Bumgarner of Pacific Business News, Rick Blangiardi of Hawaii News Now, Jeff Coelho of Salem Communications, John Temple of Civil Beat (he was also there last year, to roll out Civil Beat) and Leslie Wilcox of PBS.

Last year we had a keynote from Avi Soifer, dean of the UH Law School, on the Role of the Press in a Free Society, and the issues he raised are still pressing. An informed public is central to our democracy, and the news media is the way most people get informed. Are our citizens becoming more informed, or less?

Are our news media doing better than before? What are the trajectories among the print press, internet, radio and TV? Have they done a good job and how are their business models changing? To what extent and at what speed are they converging? Beyond that, what can we expect going forward? It’s all mission critical – those who are not well-informed are not likely to vote well.

Come down and find out how our news media are doing. The program will be in the Plaza Club on Thursday August 25th from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. You can register on hvca.org or thinktechhawaii.com. Space is limited and the press will certainly be there.

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Government should not spend public money lobbying

August 3rd, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

Everyone knows we live in difficult fiscal times. Government doesn’t have enough money to do what it was doing before.

And in that regard there was a troubling article in the Star Advertiser on Sunday. It reported that the Board of Water Supply spent $469,000 lobbying the City Council and the Legislature to raise water rates. A follow up editorial on Monday addressed and questioned whether public money should be spent on lobbying.

For the Board of Water Supply to hire lobbyists to increase its water rates doesn’t sound right at all. It’s like hiring professional PR firms to convince the public they need billions of dollars of rail. It’s government perpetuating itself, getting bigger than it needs to be.

Indeed, the reported that the manager of the Board of Water Supply said he would recommend that this not be done again. The Honolulu Ethics Commission said the practice was not necessarily unethical, but we need more discussion about whether this is the way things are supposed to work in our state.

Government should not spend public money to lobby other branches of government. If a given agency wants to save money in these difficult times, its officials can argue the case to the City Council, the Legislature and for that matter to the public without spending money to hire a lobbyist.

As the cynics sometimes say, this is the best country money can buy. Even foreign countries, including China, hire lobbyists to lobby Congress. Somehow, that’s worse than government lobbying government. Do we want our foreign policy lobbied by foreign governments? It seems like anyone can lobby anything, and they do.

Can we be comfortable that legislators will recognize there’s something amiss about lobbyists lobbying for government? No. We can’t be sure they will resist. Indeed, lobbyists would not be hired unless they could provide some benefit those who hire them.

If government is going to spend money dealing with government and public opinion, it should spend that money on impartial surveys by which it can accurately determine what the silent majority is really thinking. That would be helpful, assuming the surveys aren't manipulated.

I attended a talk at UH by Jeremy Firestone of the University of Delaware. He conducts surveys about the views of local residents on energy projects on the mainland. It’d be well worth it, for example, to find out how the residents of Molokai and Lanai really feel about Big Wind. It’s better to spend public money to understand public opinion than to create it.

Government hiring lobbyists is more than just a questionable expenditure - it seems inconsistent with the nature and operation of representative government in the first place. Maybe next year there should be a bill to clear this up. I wonder who’ll support it. I wonder who’ll lobby for it.

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