Cate and I rode a fire truck on Sunday…

Cate and I rode a fire truck on Sunday…

Once Considered Won, Battle Against Invasive Beetles Is Renewed

Family bowling night

Family bowling night

Robb Myer was excited when, as an MBA student at Carnegie Mellon in 2005, he heard that Google (GOOG) was opening an office on campus. Nine years later, Google has almost 400 employees working in Pittsburgh’s rapidly gentrifying East Liberty neighborhood and plans to take two floors in a tower under construction. Myer went on to found app maker NoWait and is no longer thrilled to have a tech titan for a neighbor. “I remember getting introduced to a great engineer through our investor, Birchmere Ventures, but I didn’t get too far with him,” he says. “He received an offer from Google’s expanding office in Pittsburgh before we had a crack at him.” Myer, whose app allows people to get onto restaurant wait lists without having to set foot in the door, says he’s lost at least one other job candidate to the search giant.

When big tech companies set up shop in an emerging tech hub, they’re typically welcomed by universities, politicians, and business leaders thankful for the jobs and validation that marquee names bring to local efforts to foster engineering talent. In Pittsburgh, Walt Disney (DIS)Apple (AAPL)Microsoft (MSFT)Oracle(ORCL), and Yahoo! (YHOO) have also opened small research centers or offices in recent years, while Intel (INTC) has been in the city since 2001.

But those heavyweights’ demand for talent, entrepreneurs say, has made it much tougher to recruit. Audrey Russo, president and chief executive officer of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, says there are “a ton of examples” of big tech companies poaching from local startups. “My heart goes out to these companies,” she says…

What happens when Mike Judge turns his sardonic comedic vision—that same one that brought us Office SpaceKing of The Hill, andIdiocracy—toward the tech industry of Northern California?

We end up with an HBO show called Silicon Valley that you could describe, in one way, as the late HBO show Entourage (about a band of 20-something wannabe actor dudes in Los Angeles) meets Sex in the City (about a band of single, middle-aged, man-hunting women in New York), The Social Network (a film about Facebook by Aaron Sorkin) and Girls (an HBO series about 20-something millennial-generation women set, largely, in Brooklyn).

Except Silicon Valley is about a tribe of nerds: math-minded, socially awkward, mild-mannered computer guys. In other words, these guys have the discipline, talent, and particular skill set to become exceedingly wealthy in our modern times and successful beyond their wildest imaginations…

Leaving China and heading to Japan today. No better way to celebrate that than by listening to The Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” Looking forward to using Twitter and Facebook again in the Land of The Rising Sun (and land of the no censorship). Wonderful experience of learning in the middle kingdom. My outlook on China is very mixed, though, after spending two weeks here. I’m too big a believer in Liberty as a fundamental, best practice… and a keystone to any success in technology, media and other creative fields. 

Dear Friends, 

I was thrilled to report this piece for the Elements (science and technology) web channel at The New Yorker. The editing process at this magazine (and it’s web site) is extremely thorough and the staff-wide attention to language is second to none.


Blue hill farms

Blue hill farms

How A Social Entrepreneur Created A Sustainable Business In Keeping Politicians Accountable

By Paul Glader

BONN, Germany – With the federal election season in full swing in Germany, social entrepreneur and Ashoka Fellow Gregor Hackmack is busy preparing his online portal, ParliamentWatch, to host a variety of special online forums with German media partners and to connect citizen’s questions to candidates.

“It’s all about bridging the gap between citizens and politicians,” Hackmack said at the recent Ashoka Globalizer event in Bonn, which the Ashoka Germany office organized to piggy-back on the larger Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum. “We need to build that bridge.”

Hackmack and his team. who are based in Hamburg, have built a sustainable model for their ParliamentWatch (“abgeordnetenwatch” in German). The site has grown into a fixture of the German political and media scene. It’s a forum where citizens can ask direct questions of political candidates and elected officials in Germany and for Germany’s delegation to the European Union.

Roughly 95% of federal parliament members participate with the site, answering 80% of the 150,000 questions that have poured in from voters. The questions are stored in archives as a public record, which voters can use to later hold politicians accountable. The site can also sort and slice data and responses. For example, it shows, graphically, how responsive each of the major parties in Germany is to questions.

“We try to provide as much transparency as possible,” Hackmack said. “It’s one thing what people say they will do and another thing to see how they vote.”

The forum has proved popular, generating 350,000 unique visitors per month. It has partnerships running with several media including Süddeutsche Zeitung, broadcaster NDR, Spiegel Online (see Spiegel’s profile of Hackmack here) and more than 40 other local newspapers, which help draw questions from voters to the site and use some of the answers and data in news reports.

Because of the site’s popularity, lawmakers are essentially forced to answer the questions and maintain a basic profile on the site. Those who want a premium profile with a picture and integrating the platform into Twitter or Facebook FB -2.2% must pay €179 (€149 for signing up early).

“That’s how we get politicians to contribute to the project,” Hackmack shared. “If there is competition before the election, there is a clear incentive to buy the premium profile.” The rest of the finances come from donors and partnerships. And of the 50,000 people who subscribe to ParliamentWatch’s newsletter, 1,500 donate on a monthly basis.

Hackmack and his team have made the platform open source on Drupal and work with entrepreneurs and organizations in other countries who want to replicate ParliamentWatch, inviting them to pay a minimal membership fee to Hackmack’s team to help with technical support, site upgrades and consulting.

So far, partner sites have started in Luxembourg, Ireland, Austria, Tunisia and, most recently, France. Hackmack is in touch with people who want to start versions of the platform in Greece and in Pakistan as well.

Antonis Schwarz is busy at work to launch the site in Greece. “The severe economic crisis in Greece has compounded the distrust that many Greek citizens hold opposite the current political class,’’ he says in a statement on hiswebsite. He believes a breakdown in communication, a lack of transparency and one-dimensional media coverage (focusing on political decisions rather than the process) is causing a growing divide between politicians and citizens in the financially-troubled country. “In Greece, the birthplace of democracy, the involvement in party politics is decreasing, severing the limited tradition/culture of civic participation in politics and creating a detached democracy.”

Another Ashoka Fellow, Klaas Glenewinkel, helped Hackmack find funding and media training to open the site in Tunisia, which Hackmack and his team help support more fully. Otherwise, Hackmack says he doesn’t strive to find donors, partners and expansion countries. Rather, he lets the motivation bubble up in the right places and helps people once they are ready.

“If we don’t care who is running or who is representing us, why should we be surprised if they fail?” he said. “These are the world’s most important jobs! We should be investigating who is taking them.”


This post was written by Paul Glader, a journalist, professor and entrepreneur. Paul is currently a European Journalism Fellow at Free University in Berlin, Germany, and co-founder of @WiredAcademic. He spent a decade as a staff writer at The Wall Street Journal and has written for dozens of publications including The Washington Post, BusinessWeek,, USA Today and The Associated Press. 

USA Today founder Al Neuharth has passed away at age 89.

I read his auto bio, “Confessions of an SOB” at age 16 and wrote him a letter after I discovered he was from Eureka, South Dakota, same as my mom and was a 2nd cousin of my grandfather, the late Edwin Hoff. I asked for advice in newspaper work. The self-described SOB never wrote me back. But a few years later, I received a scholarship in his name from The University of South Dakota (his alma mater) and was driving him around campus when he was in town for DakotaDays (homecoming).

I respect what he did in American journalism, seeing the future before many others did, growing the Gannett company and creating another national newspaper. And I greatly appreciate his commitment to the 1st Amendment (by setting up the Freedom Forum). I’m personally grateful for the scholarship he set up that helped dozens of us midwest journalists attend the University of South Dakota tuition free. I’m sad I wasn’t able to make it back to Vermillion for one last Steak Dinner with Al during DakotaDays. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family (which, in some ways, is my family too).

The video here is 30 minutes worth watching. Neuharth made many prescient statements, warning against media companies being taken over by purely financial owners. He also suggests that the American public is too smart to allow media companies to become too one-sided in their political agenda. The later prediction seems to have been a bit wrong, unfortunately.