Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Posts Tagged ‘austin

Waiting to Vote, Boiling the Agua

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Well, I did my civic duty by getting out early today to, as it turned out, wait in a very long line to vote.

I had to leave my iPhone at home because I hadn’t charged the thing overnight, so I was doubly handicapped as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot where the early polling was taking place.

The line was already out the door, and if I’d known how far it snaked through into the building, I might have turned around to come back another day. But, I thought, I’m here, let’s get to it.

So it was pretty slow going, and there was a Starbucks stand directly to my left, but nobody was standing in *that* line.  Nobody in a Starbucks line?  In the Westlake section of Austin?!!

Something was amiss.

That was when I discovered that Austin was in for a water boil order that had started overnight, this attributed to the flooding we’ve had out west in Llano.  

The Reader’s Digest version: The city water has to be kept a specific pressure in order to service fire trucks at fire scenes. However, the silt factor, which is normally at around 3, is up around 400. This is because the city has only been able to process around 100 million gallons of water the last couple of days (which is about how much water we use), instead of the normal 300 million. 

So, we’re getting down to the storage units, which need to be replenished, and essentially allow the city to catch up to all that silt.

In the meantime, the time it took me to vote in this election, versus even 2016, was a good 30 minutes longer — in total, about an hour. 

For a midterm.  American democracy is alive and well.

Though I did joke with my friends waiting in line, that if the Russians were really helping out, they could have cut that hour to at least 30 minutes or less.

Dos vydana.

Written by turbotodd

October 22, 2018 at 2:12 pm

Posted in 2018

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Austin’s SparkCognition Sparks $24M Series B

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Austin Inno is reporting that Austin-based AI firm SparkCognition announced today it has completed a Series B funding round of $24 million.

That round builds on an earlier round last June of $32.5 million. 

SparkCognition builds AI solutions for applications in energy, oil and gas, manufacturing, finance, aerospace, defense, and security. Its website currently lists four core product lines which the company claims provides “human intelligence at machine scale.”

Austin Inno observes that SparkCognition’s new funding is “part of a wave of recent investment in Austin-based AI and machine learning companies,” with large rounds going to CognitiveScale, Conversable, Tethr, and Cerebri AI last year, among others.

Written by turbotodd

February 20, 2018 at 10:57 am

Spaceships, Aliens, And Androids: The Scott & Todd SXSW 2013 Podcast Debrief

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Scott Laningham and I first met around six years ago at SXSW Interactive.  Scott was already well known for his developerWorks podcast series and blog, and he was walking around the conference talking to people, so we decided to sit down and do a podcast discussing all the cool things we’d seen and learned about during the conference.

It was the beginning of a wonderful and still ongoing collaboration, and since that time, Scott and I have shared the stage at numerous IBM conferences, interviewing industry luminaries, IBM executives and business partners, and other thought leaders.

But we always come back to SXSW Interactive. And so it was with 2013.

Scott and I sat down on Friday via Skype and chatted for nearly 30 minutes about all the interesting things we heard and learned about at this year’s event, the first time it reached over 30,000 attendees.

Some would say SouthBy has jumped the shark. I’m not so sure. I joked early on in the event last week that perhaps it had jumped a few dolphins.

Has it gotten a lot more crowded?  Absolutely.

Has it stretched the outer limits of Austin’s hotel and transportation capacity?  Without question.

Do you have to wait in long lines stretching halfway around the Austin Convention Center just to see a keynote?  Yes yes yes.

And to my mind, it’s still worth every minute.

P.S. Scott has also established a new blog, which you can find right here on WordPress.

Written by turbotodd

March 18, 2013 at 9:35 am

Dolphin Jumping @ SXSW

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They call it jumping the shark when a TV show reaches the end of its prime.

I’m not sure what they call a conference that does the same, but assuming I can co-opt the saying for events, methinks SXSW Interactive may be closer to the shark’s teeth than ever.

I first attended SXSW Interactive in 2000, while I was living in NYC. I had a speaking engagement on one of the panel discussions, and it was literally weeks before signs emerged that the dot com bubble was going to start to burst.

Headhunters were everywhere, jobs were abundant (particularly for developers), the parties were crazy. This, of course, was only weeks before the infamous Barron’s article appeared that announced all the dot com startups were running out of money.

It was a heady time, but little did we know the headwinds we were about to face.

Of course, this was at the dawn of what we were soon going to call “social media.” The authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto were in attendance, and explained to us all how the network was a conversation and that the world was about to change, but mostly nobody listened.

This was well before Friendster, or Myspace, or LinkedIn, or Facebook, or Twitter. We were still using Listservs and email distribution. Social was what we did on happy hour Friday night…and at all the SXSW parties.

Flash forward to 2013. Social media is an industry. And 27,000+ people invade Austin every March looking for….a job? Insights? A drunkfest?

I’m not looking for a job. I’m definitely looking for insights. The drunkfest we’ll have to wait and see…but logistics matter.

I’ve talked to two people this morning already, one a close colleague, another a complete stranger from Philly, who complained they had travelled to an offsite location from the Austin Convention Center to attend a session, but the sessions were already filled, and the line to get back via the shuttle was 30-40 people long and it was raining.
UPS explains it all when they talk about “logistics.” All this virtual convening in a physical space is fantastic, but only if the physical space can facilitate the virtual conversation.

Despite having distributed and automated the registration and badge pickup process this year — that alone is a huge step forward — the fact that the venues can’t accommodate the interested attendees suggests that SXSW Interactive 2013 could be the beginning of its end.
I’ll reserve my complete judgment until we get a little further into the conference.

But if SXSW Interactive hasn’t completely jumped the shark, I think I definitely saw at least a few dolphins swimming around down there in Town Lake…and they looked hungry.

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Written by turbotodd

March 8, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Austin’s F1 Debut Gets A Checkered Flag

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Britain’s Lewis Hamilton celebrates his Formula 1 victory in Austin yesterday Texas style, after overcoming two-time world champion Sebastian Vittel in a sneaky pass that Vittel never could recover from. Austin’s F1 race was the first held in the United States since 2007, and the first at Austin’s new “Circuit of the Americas” track. Over 200,000 fans from around the globe attended this first-of-its-kind event in Austin, many of them giving our fair city glowing reviews. To which I say, this was only our first, and it will only get better from here. (Photo: Getty Images)

Myself, along with a lot of other Austinites, learned quite a bit about Formula 1 racing over the weekend.

Though I didn’t get out to the track myself, I watched the entire race on TV.

Of course, I also did a bit of research leading into the race, and also interacted with some experts via social media during the race, which made the experience all the more helpful.

My general impressions are wow, those are some bad *** cars! What really struck me about F1 was the “Formula,” where the tinkering with the cars is limited mainly to that, so the focus is instead on strategy and tactics by the “constructor” crews and the drivers themselves.

One tank of gas, two sets of tires, the track (in this case, the “Circuit of the Americas”), and your pit strategy.

That seems to me to equalize the competition in a way you don’t see in every sport, making the viewing experience that much more compelling.

Lewis Hamilton from the U.K. took the top of the podium, forcing Sebastian Vettel to wait until the 20th and final race of the season to determine whether or not he’ll go “back to back to back” and win three straight F1 championships.

As for Austin’s ability to host an event of this size, so far, the reviews are pretty flattering. We were expecting over 200,000 people over the long weekend, and despite the expected traffic challenges, the event went off quite smoothly.

The virgin track certainly had some gripping challenges, but that actually made for a more scintillating race, and certainly didn’t keep the drivers from doing some aggressive passing. And the weather was simply perfect.

To my mind, it really starts to cement Austin’s reputation as an “international” city, and I’m looking forward to our hosting future races.

As for me personally, it’s official: I’m a converted F1 fan, and will be making it even more official by adding a new section to MyESPN home page!

Written by turbotodd

November 19, 2012 at 4:48 pm

CNBC: Texas’ Is the 2012 “Top State For Business”

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I turned on CNBC this afternoon to catch up on business news just in time to see Texas governor Rick Perry doing a standup interview over at the University of Texas to celebrate Texas’ being chosen for the third time in the past several years as the “America’s Top State for Business.”

According to CNBC’s Scott Cohn, Texas “racked up an impressive 1,604 points out of a possible 2,500,” and had top-10 finishes in “six of our 10 categories of competitiveness.”

Texas has never finished below second place since CNBC started the study in 2007.

This year’s categories, developed in concert with the National Association of Manufacturers and the Council on Competitiveness, included the following: “Cost of Doing Business,” “Workforce,” “Quality of Life,” “Infrastructure and Transportation,” “Economy,” “Education,” “Technology and Innovation,” “Business Friendliness,” “Access to Capital,” and “Cost of Living.”

Diving deeper into the results, Texas has the nation’s best “Infrastructure” and improved to second place for “Technology and Innovation,” and boasts the third lowest “Cost of Living.”

On the downside, Texas came in 26th in “Education” and 35th of “Quality of Life,” apparently getting dinged for less available health care and higher property and sales taxes.

Obviously, this is very exciting news here in Austin and across the state of Texas, especially considering the vast diversification we’ve seen of the Texas economy over the past decade.  When I was growing up in Texas, energy and oil dominated the economy, but we’ve seen massive investments and innovations in more diverse fields these past 20 years, including high tech, telecommunications, biotechnology and life sciences, health care, and many more, all in a business-friendly (read: less regulation and taxes) climate.

But we’ve still got some work to do, I would submit.

If you’re a person of little means, whatever else you do, don’t get sick here.  Texas is not expected to expand Medicaid or establish a health insurance exchange, according to another recent announcement by Governor Perry, and only 31 percent of physicians in Texas accepted Medicaid patients in 2011, according to the Texas Medical Association and as reported in the Texas Tribune.

So, congrats to the great state of Texas…I’m really glad to hear we’re doing a great job of taking care of business…but clearly there’s some work yet to be done in taking better care of our people!

SXSW Interactive 2012: The Turbo Debrief

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A picture from the SXSW show floor coverage from TechCrunch at SXSW Interactive 2012. Be sure to keep an eye here on Turbotodd.com for more interviews conducted by Turbo and Scott Laningham through the course of this year's event.

Well, SXSW 2012 is finally over… And over 25,000 computer geeks from around the world were probably about ready for it be over, fun as it was.

There was lots to be said about this year’s SXSW, both good and bad, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was the best SXSW interactive ever, and I’ve been to quite a few.

I was there for the Mark Zuckerberg and Sarah Lacy interview debacle several years back… I was there for the yawner Twitter interview with Evan Williams a couple of years back… I was even there when Christopher Locke introduced The Cluetrain Manifesto in 2000, just before the bubble burst, and burst hard.

And despite the insane and torrential rains that we had in Austin, which we had been waiting on for well over a year, in the midst of our atrocious drought, it didn’t surprise me at all that the rain clouds followed the digerati to Austin before the heavens would completely open up.  Geeks bring rain!

There really wasn’t any huge new new thing at this year’s SXSW… It was really a lot of the same old thing with a few new ingredients mixed in. But lingering in the air, there was an optimism and sense of opportunity that transcended the often selfish inclinations of SXSW past, one that was more worldly and altruistic in nature.

A spirit that attempted to bring people closer together in small networks to be able to meet and to get to know one another and to get things done. I ran into Robert Scoble, the renowned tech blogger whom I’ve never before met, and he explained to me on the expo floor that the big deal of the event was “Highlights,” an iOS-based application that helps do just that, bring people together in the most serendipitous of ways based on their location and data from their Facebook graph.

Assuming one can get past the privacy implications of such a tool, it’s actually very cool. And I certainly wish I had had it once upon a time in my virtual dating life.

There was also a lot of almost Beckett-like absurdity, including the registration badge pickup line that seemed to linger all the way into South Austin this year. I spent over an hour waiting in that line for my badge, when it seems to me, it would have been just as easy for SXSW to have mailed it to me well in advance. Ever heard of RFID tags??

I did use that waiting time productively, and met someone from a startup whom I spoke with about the mobile boom for most of our time in line. But I’m sure somebody from IBM’s smarter cities initiative would be more than happy to sit down and discuss with SXSW the opportunity that a smarter queuing solution might present.

There were more companies at SXSW this year than ever before, and by companies I mean enterprise companies, not just startups. I saw attendees from the likes of Oracle and Microsoft and IBM in more numbers than ever, just to mention a few, and so the former digital divide between startups and developers and the enterprise seems to have started to close at this year’s SXSW, which I think is a good thing: We need them, and they need us.

The keynotes from the likes of Ray Kurzweil and Stephen Wolfram seemed to suggest we’re on the brink of breaking through in AI and speech recognition — the former invented core speech recognition technologies being used today in product’s like “Dragon Dictation” (which I used to assist me in writing this blog post), and both mentioned Watson as demonstrating this new direction. I’ll be looking forward to the day soon when I can run most of my computing devices, smartphone and otherwise, through voice and facial recognition.

But we also saw some nods to the past, including on the SXSW expo floor. There was a machine that presses vinyl records (I’m sure most of the attendees had never seen a long-play record!), along with a killer jet black keyboard from “Daskeyboard” that mimics the clickety-clack spring action of the old IBM Model M keyboard.

What’s old is new, even in technology.

Be sure to come back and visit turbotodd.com in the days and weeks ahead, as I’ll continue to post the fascinating interviews that Scott Laningham and I recorded with a garden variety of digital thought leaders in the IBM “Future of Social” lounge.

In the meantime, I’ll be preparing for SXSW Interactive 2013.

Wouldn’t miss it for all the Austin rain in the world!

Texas Fires

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Thanks to my fellow IBMers and other friends who have been asking about the Texas wildfires.

Due to extremely little rain this year, Texas has been in a major drought for the past several months. That, combined with a string of 60+ 100+ degree Fahrenheit days, have made Texas one big tinderbox.

Vast forests are basically fire wood waiting to be consumed.  Our state forest service has responded to 181 fires that have burned over 118,000 acres in the last week alone (millions more acres through the course of the past 6 months).

Over the weekend, we had four major fires, including the Bastrop fire (25 miles east of Austin) which spread across 30,000 acres and which destroyed over 600 homes at last count.  It also forced the evacuations of at least 5,000 people.

Fortunately, the strong 30+ MPH winds that blew in over the weekend have died down significantly, hopefully making life easier for the extensive army of volunteer and professional firefighters (which we still don’t have enough of).

The Austin American Statesman Blotter blog has the latest information on the various fires.  And you can see some of the newspapers’ reader photos of the fires here.

Me, I will continue to pray for less winds and any rain.

Written by turbotodd

September 6, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Posted in natural disasters

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When It Rains, It Pours

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Considering that the city of Austin and much of Texas have not gotten very much rain this year, it’s somewhat ironic that IBM and the University of Texas at Austin are announcing today applied advanced analytics solutions for river systems that can help with flood prevention and preparedness.

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, but traditionally flood prediction methods are focused only on the main stems of the largest rivers — overlooking extensive tributary networks where flooding actually starts, and where flash floods threaten lives and property.

IBM researchers and researchers from UT Austin are using these analytics to predict the Guadalupe River’s behavior more than 100 times the normal speed.

IBM’s new flood prediction technology can simulate tens of thousands of river branches at a time, and could scale further to predict the behavior of millions of branches simultaneously.

By coupling analytics software with advanced weather simulation models, such as IBM’s Deep Thunder, municipalities and disaster response teams could make emergency plans and pinpoint potential flood areas on a river.

As a testing ground, the team is presently applying the model to predict the entire 230 mile-long Guadalupe River and over 9,000 miles of tributaries in Texas.  In a single hour the system can currently generate up to 100 hours of river behavior!

“Combining IBM’s complex system modeling with our research into river physics, we’ve developed new ways to look at an old problem,” said Ben Hodges, Associate Professor at UT Austin Center for Research in Water Resources. “Unlike previous methods, the IBM approach scales-up for massive networks and has the potential to simulate millions of river miles at once. With the use of river sensors integrated into web-based information systems, we can take this model even further.”

Speed on this scale is a significant advantage for smaller scale river problems, such as urban and suburban flash flooding caused by severe thunderstorms.

Within the emergency response network in Austin, Texas, professors from University of Texas at Austin are linking the river model directly to NEXRAD radar precipitation to better predict flood risk on a creek-by-creek basis.

In addition to flood prediction, a similar system could be used for irrigation management, helping to create equitable irrigation plans and ensure compliance with habitat conservation efforts.

The models could allow managers to evaluate multiple “what if” scenarios to create better plans for handling both droughts and water surplus.

The project is currently being run on IBM’s Power 7 systems, which accelerate the simulation and prediction significantly, allowing for additional disaster prevention and emergency response preparation.

SXSW Day 1: Setting the Scene

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I knew I was in trouble at SXSW this year when I showed up this morning, earlier than I’ve ever shown up on the first Friday, and I couldn’t find a parking spot ANYWHERE near the Austin Convention Center.

Then I knew I was in more trouble when entire parking areas, which used to house the parking that I had available to me for SXSW, were being taken over by the likes of X-Box 360, PepsiCo, and CNN.

So, I put on my backpack and made my way over to the convention center on foot. I saw a lot of people doing the same thing.

I think SXSW Interactive has officially jumped the shark. But as my amigo Spinuzzi said, it still affords great networking opportunities.

Sure, if you can FIND anyone. Being that I’m one of the “old” people and don’t much use geo-location services (if I want someone to know where I’m at, I’ll send them a Tweet or post it here on the Turbo blog), I guess I’m at even more of a disadvantage.

Yesterday, I got the lowdown on Blippy, a site on which individuals post all their credit card transactions. Now THAT’s transparency.

That’s one of the key themes I’m going to be most interested in at this year’s event. Transparency, privacy, security, particularly as they relate to increased use of mobile devices and social capabilities and the nexus between the two.

I’m also going to be interested in data, aggregation, and who gets to use what information. I think we’re into some seriously uncharted waters on that front.

It remains to be seen how much mobile access we’ll have on site. I’m typing this post on an Apple wireless keyboard using my iPad (the original). But, I’m in a bar (yes, at 12:15 in the afternoon…but I’m drinking a Diet Coke…I SWEAR), and they have good wi-fi access. We’ll see how AT&T fares with their 3G and how SXSW fares with the ACC wifi. Heaven help them if they don’t fare well.

In the meantime, I’m having lunch. I’m sitting at BD Riley’s on 6th Street (my local watering hole). It’s 12:15 PM. I don’t know the lat/long, but I’m sure you can look it up on Google maps.

But if you want to see me, you’d better hurry. This is SXSW — it’s dangerous to stay in one place for too long.

Written by turbotodd

March 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Posted in conference, sxsw

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