P1260640I’ve been to a handful of IBM SmartCamps and the vibe is always optimistic, always about possibility. Why wouldn’t it be with startup companies pitching ideas in front of mentors and VCs, and then to the public after a lunch break to assimilate the morning feedback they received? It’s all about forward thinking. Even an attempt at forward thinking, new ideas, and new ways to meet ever-evolving customer needs is contagious, in spite of the many stops, starts, and course corrections that one knows are always coming. If I get anything out of hearing the pitches and the mentors feedback, it’s that perseverance and adaptability are compatible, and together, indispensable qualities of any successful entrepreneur. (For a refreshing/inspiring take on possibility thinking, I recommend Benjamin and Roz Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)

The Dallas SmartCamp, held in September, presented four finalists, all coming at the challenge to make smarter use of data. Dominik Blattner and Cupenya deliver predictive analytics and real-time visibility in your business processes management. Serial entrepreneur Dr. Neil Iscoe and Digital Certainty offer automated website conversion optimization in a space that has traditionally been manual. They won the People’s Choice award in Dallas. Marvin Elder came out of retirement to bring his ideas and tech around natural language to customers as Cognal, offering solutions that enable natural language querying of databases and websites via mobile devices.

Mentor’s Choice winner, ImageVision, utilizes image recognition and machine learning technology for visual search, helping a variety of customers monetize their visual content in support of visual search, ad targeting, and site safety solutions. Co-founder Mitch Butler said IBM SmartCamp and Global Entrepreneur provides his company an invaluable and concentrated window into resources that would be hard to come by otherwise.

See this short video for a taste of the Dallas event and IBM SmartCamps/Global Entrepreneur in general, and check out the brief interviews with each finalist in the playlist that follows. And for more on IBM SmartCamp and IBM Global Entrepreneur, visit ibm.com/isv/startup.

IBM Insight, formerly known as the IOD (Information on Demand) conference, is as big as they get – IBM conferences, that is. This will be my sixth one in a row, and I’ll be seeking out key IBM Business Partners with engaging stories to tell about how the technologies and themes of the conference — business analytics, enterprise content management, and information management — are transforming how they serve customers and drive success. If you’re going to Insight, be sure to visit our IBM Ecosystem Development booth (#428) and follow us on Twitter at #ibmcircleoflife.  We’re hosting the IBM Big Data & Analytics App Throwdown at Insight, and you can learn about the finalists by watching the short videos in our playlist below. Afterwards, cast your vote by tweeting their Twitter handle and #IBMInsightApp. Finalists are Findability Sciences (@fsci), Qumu (@Qumu), Mer (@GroupMer), and Verint (@Verint).

The winner will be announced at IBM Insight, October 26-30, in Las Vegas. Please reach out and say hello if we cross paths at the event.

The peace of cooperation

October 8, 2014 — 1 Comment

photo by Scott Laningham

I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride. — William James

I love that quote from William James. I too want to be done with the old paradigm of politics and economy. I feel, as many must, that the last thirteen years have wrenched it from me. There’s so much tired rhetoric spewed on Facebook and other social and news platforms, and the official “news” organizations traffic in as much sensationalism, hyperbole, and status quo worship as they ever have. Across the debate spectrum, there are those screaming that the free market is the culprit, that we need more regulation, and there are those who say the free market is beyond reproach and is the only construct we need. None of that goes deep enough for me. I think there’s a higher view to take on all of this. Indulge me, if you have a few minutes.

Isn’t a market, really, just an atmosphere? The decisions, transactions, interactions made within it are really what define it. And what is the variable in those decisions, transactions, interactions? Their quality, or dare I say, their morality.

Please don’t bristle at my use of that word — a perfectly useful one that has been hijacked and trampled on by religion. Consider this definition of “moral” from an 1828 Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language — “In general, ‘moral’ denotes something which respects the conduct of men and their relations as social beings whose actions have a bearing on each others’ rights and happiness, and are therefore right or wrong, virtuous or vicious.” So as social beings our “actions have a bearing on each others’ rights and happiness?” Who would have known?

Continuing, what type of markets should responsible adults aspire to? I would think just, moral, and free. But does “free” automatically translate to “moral?” Clearly not. The moral part is a daily, hourly decision. Seems to me, it is a decision to live fearlessly, with honesty, creativity, cooperation, gratitude, and charity. Those are the things that define a healthy relationship, family, community, business. They also should define a healthy market. In such an atmosphere, extremes are foreign and rare, while harmony is the norm as equilibrium is maintained through constant, natural adjustment. That’s the message that gets lost in all of the academic and political debates about markets and economics and the inevitable government fixes, layer after ineffective layer, that flow from them.

I love the idea of a free and moral market. It’s not something a government or a lack of government can foster. It’s a cultural commitment. A daily decision. But it seems illusive, as power aggregates when we allow greed and selfishness to displace the respect for “each others’ rights and happiness” that I mentioned above — the moral part. And then we turn to the quick fix of centralized authority — which is simply another version of the problem, when you think about it. And as a result, we gradually lose our freedom. It’s not that some invisible hand acts upon us. We just collectively, out of fear, drink the poison, thinking it will ease the pain resulting from of our neglected individual responsibilities. We put some subset of the community in charge. And of course, not one of us can exercise that kind of power with lasting virtue, because we can’t transfer the responsibility of the many to the one, or the few. Would any of us ask our neighbor to breath for us? That would be stupid. So why do we ask governing bodies to regulate our respect for each other? When you think about it, abdicating our most personal individual responsibility as a social people is insane. It won’t work, and it doesn’t work with our economy either.

What is the real currency of our lives, that which gives us real power and happiness? In my experience, it is honesty, creativity, cooperation, gratitude, consideration, charity. That’s also the stuff that drives a healthy community of whatever kind, shape, and size. And those things can only be debased by ourselves. No Federal Reserve has control over that. No junk bond trader, no casino-like Wall Street, no off-shoring corporation, no government has control over it. A moral free market is not simply one of many options for how an economy can run. It is the very definition of economy — an atmosphere of honesty, creativity, cooperation, gratitude, and charity that all people deserve to live in. It’s the natural way to live. And those qualities that define it are the true substance of it. The market is just the framework. We get out what we put in. When we focus on the many theories of framework over the qualities we bring to it as participants, we lose the morality.

So why don’t we demand what is natural to us? Why must we always start from a standpoint of accepting less? It’s all making me consider my motives, anyway. Do I care about my neighbor’s rights and happiness? Am I living in and helping to create a moral, free market. If so, then it is in me and I’m really just carrying it around. And the currency of this moral market — gratitude — will flow to me and through me. That’s an ideal, I think, we can all aspire to, and the only economic philosophy that makes any sense to me anymore. Do I think it will happen tomorrow? No. When? Maybe never. But I aspire to it. I think down deep, we all do. And maybe we could take our aspiration a little more seriously since not doing so has really messed up the place.

Our largest-scale food production systems are frighteningly Orwellian, if you peek under the hood. That term works , even more so if we add health to George Orwell’s list of things – freedom and openness – that are undermined by societal and governmental policies of draconian control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past. That is the message of a number of documentaries that have appeared around the subject of food in recent years. Food, Inc. is probably the one most widely seen. It received a smidgen of the Oprah Boost after appearing on her show two years ago and received an Academy Award nomination. Watching it felt like an exercise in unpacking some deep instinctive feelings to view in a logical, connected form. We all know, deep down, that food does not appear by magic on a grocery store shelf. We also suspect that those impossible lists of strangely-named ingredients on the back of processed food packages signal we may not be eating real food at all. But who has the time to care, right? And what’s the alternative? Shopping at Whole Paycheck (a common pseudonym used to criticize the more-expensive-than-industrial-food Whole Foods Market)?

The thing is, if you take the time to patiently sit through Food, Inc. and ponder the way it connects the dots of a truly-screwed up industrial food/agriculture/chemical/medical complex lying there in plain sight, you won’t be able to be so easily dismissive of higher-priced organic foods and the campaigns for labeling accountability. Maybe you’re like me and my family. You were already trying to buy organic when you could, but still sitting the fence with a number of remaining compromises. I’m not sure we can ever eliminate all of those compromises, but our determination to buy more honest food grew out of an embrace of this quote from a farmer in the film.

Is cheapness everything that there is? I mean who wants to buy the cheapest car? We’re willing to subsidize the food system to create the mystique of cheap food, when actually it’s very expensive food. When you add up the environmental costs, societal costs, health costs, the industrial food is not honest food. It’s not priced honestly. It’s not produced honestly. It’s not processed honestly. There’s nothing honest about that food.

The testimony of the industrial contract chicken farmer in the following clip from Food, Inc. is heartbreaking. I think it also serves as a broader metaphor for the lives many of us are settling for – caught in a dependent cycle we don’t know how to get out of. For the vast majority, the only practical way to start eroding that cycle is to take what small steps we can, each day. And one of those steps available to us is voting with our food dollars. The stakes are rising higher every month, every year. Unlike the chickens in the clip, that have no say in how their lives unfold, we get to decide every day whether we’ll submit to the well-worn rut or push off that path to see what lies on one of the many trails being broken for us by friends. For those trail-breakers – organic farmers, farmer’s market participants, naturopath’s, midwives, apostles of sustainable living – are the definition of friend. And those on the fringe, just waiting to join a trending movement, are in need of them.


Weird metrics

Eye of the Beholder: The story of SXSWi 2014 presented some fun metrics and results in a game show format. According to an aggregation of the social buzz at SXSWi 2014 –

Most popular speaker: Edward Snowden, who says he was willing to do it because he thought those in the room would be the ones who would fix the problem. Julian Assange and Neil deGrasse Tyson were a distant 2nd and third, respectively. Sentiment was very positive for deGrasse.

Most negative experience with a speaker session: Julian Assange, largely due to video stream inconsistency.

Most retweeted Tweet: RT @wikileaks: #Assange It became clear to me that one of the best ways to achieve justice is to expose injustice.

Which ridiculous buzz word was made up: I voted for Chicapreneurs. I was wrong. It was platformification.

Highest Fitbit mileage total (from tagged contestants): 26,000 steps! Wow. The most I’ve ever hit is 16,000 while attending #ibmpulse.

Chefjet demoed 3D food printing cranking out some weird multi-colored gummi cubes using sugar, alcohol, and water. No thanks. I take my food in natural 3D with ingredients that don’t lend themselves to, well, the printing process.

Who was the most famous SXSWi feline: Grumpy Cat. ‘Lil bub was a distant second. Colonel Meow passed, so was not in the running this year. There was a moment of silence for the Colonel.

Most popular eats: Milk & Cookie Shot, beating out between 3D printed Oreos and the Watson Food Truck. I didn’t get to try any of them. Again, the only food innovation that really appeals to me right now is new recipes with unprintable ingredients. So my vote would have been for the Watson food truck, which was all about innovating in the food space by creating true fusion fare with Watson’s help.

Party with the most mentions: Mashbash by Mashable, with PayPal, Tumblr, and Yahoo distant trailing. I didn’t attend any of those, but I did go to the IBM BlueMix party which was really well-attended and featured Church on Monday, a band I’m partial to since I’m in it.

Wrap-up thoughts

It was another cool SXSW Interactive, with an amazing array of creativity  and humanity descending on Austin, which is already pretty creative and diverse from a humanity standpoint. There is something about SXSWi that always leaves me optimistic about the future. The world is undoubtedly in turmoil over many things. But the youthful enthusiasm (coming from all ages present), innovative thinking, great ideas, anti-box thinking, and melting pot atmosphere sweeps one up in a powerful feeling that humanity has, not only a hell-of-a-lot of fight left in it, but may be maturing in new directions that will deliver a new and better tomorrow, defined both by technological advance and a simultaneous return to a better awareness of our surroundings, of the place right where we are. It’s the intersection of those two trending forces that makes SXSWi my favorite event of the year, every year. I can’t wait to see how that story develops a little more by this time next year.

I’ve involved in some exciting music during SXSW, starting tonight. Here’s an update.

Elias Haslanger and Church on Monday is a soul jazz quintet playing classic jazz A and B sides along with originals. Saxophonist/composer Elias Haslanger envisioned and launched the band two years around the soulful core of Dr. James Polk, a Texas music legend whose remarkable life includes stints as a Texas school band director during the racially charged 1960s, the first African-American buyer for production purchasing at IBM, bassist for Lionel Hampton, and a decade as a two-time Grammy nominated arranger/musical director for Ray Charles. Elias also tapped Canadian (by way of NYC) transplant Jake Langley on guitar, who has worked with Bobby Blue Bland, KD Lang, and Joey DeFrancesco. Rising Austin star Daniel Durham is the bassist. Your’s truly is on drums.


SXSW dates and CD news

Every Monday (including tomorrow night) at the Continental Gallery1313 A South Congress, 8:30-10, no cover. Our Monday residency at the Gallery is closing in on two years and the band has jelled into a wonderful intuitive brotherhood exploring the deep groove and vibe potential of quintet soul jazz. Elias (alum from Maynard Ferguson’s band) is cementing his place as one of the great saxophonists in Texas history. Jake Langley’s brilliant guitar work flows from his strength as both soloist and accompaniest. Daniel Durham is flowering into one of the best bassists I’ve ever worked with and his solos are a study in thoughtful improvisation. And there is the living legend, Dr. James Polk on B3 organ, bringing the church to Church on Monday. Dr. Polk draws on an amazing life of music, lifting us all far above the temptation to lean on what we did the week before. He is our musical mentor, historian (through the wonderful stories he often shares each week), and catalyst for the great heights the band is reaching. We owe so much to this wonderful man who, in his mid 70s, hasn’t missed a Monday in two years.
March 12th, The Austin Music Awards, Austin Ballroom at the Austin Convention Center, 7:55pm, $15 general admission. We are thrilled to be a headliner at this year’s AMAs along with Youngblood’s Choir (featuring talented young artists form some famous Texas musical families), Lucinda Williams, the Texas Tornados, and more. During our 30-minute set, we’ll be joined by the great Ray Benson from Asleep at the Wheel and the fabulous Ephraim Owens, recently off the road after a lengthy stint with Mumford and Sons.
March 13th, SXSW Showcase at the Elephant Room, 11pm.
March 16th, Alejandro Escoveda Austin Music Showcase, Continental Gallery. (our set is at 9:30pm)
March 31st, CD Release Party at the Continental Gallery, 8:30pm.

Watch for our new CD, Elias Haslanger: Live at the Gallery, releasing this month. Eli is running a Kickstarter campaign (check out the video with a song sample) to help offset costs of recording and production.
In addition to all of that Church on Monday love, I’ll be in an additional SXSW showcase at the Elephant Room on the 13th with the Peggy Stern Quartet, featuring Seth Carper, Daniel Durham, and moi. Downbeat, 10pm.
I first met Peggy Stern less than a year ago and was spellbound by her amazing music. She is a haunting composer and her music is at the same time delicate and deep, her moving melodies and harmonies drawing from her Philadelphia and New York roots and her work with Lee Konitz, Vic Juris, and Richie Cole, among others. She is a new, yet unknown treasure to many Austinites but that will change. The quartet with saxophonist Seth Carper and my fellow COM bandmate Daniel Durham has only worked one gig together and we instantly knew it was the beginning of something very cool. If you like music from the Cool era of the late 1960s (Gil Evans, Lee Konitz, Miles Davis, etc), then you’ll dig this band.
If any of you make it out to the show, please say hello. If I’ve learned anything over the years about music, the invaluable nature of a supportive audience is at the top of the list. Without your enthusiasm, love, and encouragement, none of it would ever get beyond a dream. And when you’re with us in person, the music can go places impossible without you. And that’s a fact!

I spoke with the founders of EvoSure, competitors in the SXSW Accelerator, about their solution for connecting commercial insurance providers and those searching for the right underwriter. Just one more startup example of how cloud, mobile, and analytics are a three-legged stool on which new ideas are climbing above the competition.

The excitement at the 2014 SXSWi Accelerator is building with the winners being announced this evening. Social Media startups presented this afternoon, and here’s a taste.

photo (2)Connect, from San Francisco, aggregates and maps all your friends from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Instagram, and more and allows you to keep in touch with them without “the creepiness of GPS.” They do that by aggregating “check-in” data from the above mentioned social platforms. I guess this is targeted at a demographic Im not a part of since I almost never check in anywhere. I must be missing all of the fun, so I’m gonna check it out. Geolocation based offers and events is the market they are eventually after for monetizing their service.

Felt, from Telluride, seeks to bring back the expressive and personal experience of handwritten cards by enabling the writing, card choice, and snail mailing them, all from an iPad. The founder talked about appealing to the many who want to deliver the personal experience without the hassle of driving to a brick and mortar and browsing through a wall of product. I love this idea since I never listened to my mom, who told me over and over again how important thank you notes are. Clearly, targeted at a demographic that I am smack in the center of.

photo (4)samba, from Tel Aviv, is sort of a two-way video messaging service that captures the recipients reaction to a short video received through the service, and sends it back to the original sender. I wonder how people will react to being video recorded without their permission, although I guess that really won’t happen since you’ve given your permission by joining the service in the first place. Might be a cool app for a generation that is much less inhibited than we 40s + crowd. But it does look like a lot of potential fun. Hmm, maybe they could add group messaging and aggregation of multiple reaction shots into a derivative video of all of those reactions appended to the original video either in sequence or as a wall of reactions.

That’s one of the cool things about sitting in on these SXSW Accelerators. It’s impossible to not be swept up in the enthusiasm of creating and innovating – the very thing, along with a desire to work for one’s self, that brought these cool startups into being in the first place. My SXSW 2014 resolution? Start thinking more like a entrepreneur. When you think about it, every family is a startup, so each of us has some experience already.

PS – Don’t forget our IBM BlueMix party tomorrow (Monday) night at 6pm, Hilton, room #406. Register on Eventbrite for free with this code (SMAC_at_SXSW). Check out some demos, network, and hear Church on Monday. Then follow us over to our regular Monday set at the Continental Gallery, from 8:30-10. No cover. We’ll also be on the Austin Music Awards, Mar 12th, with special guests Ephraim Owens from Mumford and Sons’ horn section and Ray Benson from Asleep at the Wheel.

20140308-123621.jpgSXSW Accelerator recommenced after a short break. Fieldwire, from San Francisco, kicked off the second half of the pitches from enterprise and big data finalists. They offer a mobile productivity platform for construction and maintenance workers. Users can record, track and share tasks, in the field, in real-time, with geotagging directly from their blueprints.

In between pitches judges talked about the confluence of startups trending toward massive, legacy markets like insurance and construction, and the maturing of technologies in the cloud that are making it possible for them to compete in an arena that might have been unreachable for them in the past. That also drives VC return expectations higher. As one judge said, “it’s ok to go after the next noble cause but if it won’t make big bucks, better to move on the next idea if you’re truly seeking venture capital investment.”

Continuing, map-D, from Cambridge MA, shared the buzz about their GPU database that drives interactive big data analytics and visualization in real-time. Amazing real-world application of the analytics vision and power that we’re talking about at IBM day-in, day-out. map-D’s heavy-weights client include NASA, Facebook, and those in the political arena.

photo (1)Shelfbucks, from Austin, enables on-site product info, deals, promotions for brick and mortar retailers with beacons located throughout the stores, tied to Shelfbucks data cloud. They help retailers slice and dice customer demographics to help them serve up the most targeted offers to customers.

Trustev, from Cork City, Ireland, shared for 5 minutes on their simple-to-integrate, low-cost online identify verification platform. They spoke about focusing away from antiquated rule-based approaches toward an approach that utilizes behavioral analytics and digital fingerprinting to help businesses open up commerce opportunities instead of restricting them while trying to root out fraud.

Great, succint presentations. Thought-provoking Q&A with judges. A great way to spend a few hours at SXSW and witness the meat and potatoes of innovative commerce happening all around us, thanks to inexhaustible hunger of talented individuals looking to create the next great business.


The SXSW accelerator, in its sixth year, always draws a great crowd as entrepreneurs give lightning pitches before a talented panel of industry-savvy judges. I listened in on some of the pitches Saturday coming from finalists with solutions in the enterprise and big data space. AddSearch, from Helsinki, pitched their solution for single-line-of-code site search in a space that could be considered stagnant but still competitive. It takes some serious chutzpah to make the case you can improve search, but AddSearch claims their easy installation, mobile support, stats, and lightning results will open some eyes.

addy, from San Francisco, pitched a web app that lets anyone, anywhere share locations using simple, custom URLs. Their B2B products include a rich API and real-time location tracking functionality for delivery and other end-to-end services.

Databox, from Boston, wants to change the way you access your company’s business data from your mobile device. Their pitch was about about connecting to data and surfacing key metrics on the spot, so you can fully execute conversations with prospects in realtime.

Evosure, from Austin, pitched a speed-dating service for commercial insurance space connecting providers with those seeking underwriters. It benefits both the buyer by speeding up and expanding their awareness of targeted options and the providers by expanding their prospect pool and keeping them more aware of competition.

More to come …

The IBM BlueMix party in the IBM Social Lounge at SXSWi will be a great place to connect with fellow entrepreneurs and IBMers who can tell you about BlueMix, a next gen cloud platform based on IBM’s Open Cloud Architecture and Cloud Foundry. BlueMix enables developers to rapidly build, deploy, and manage their cloud applications, while tapping a growing ecosystem of available services and runtime frameworks. I’ll be there Monday as well, providing 90 minutes of entertainment with my fellow jazz/blues axemen from Austin-based Church on Monday. Register HERE, click on Enter promotional code, and use this code (SMAC_at_SXSW) to register for free.

I chatted with Andy Fletcher of LocalPlantSource.com on Day one at South by Southwest Interactive. They were one of ten great Austin startups highlighted at Capital Factory Demo Day. We spoke about the supply chain resource LocalPlantSource offers growers and users in the landscaping industry.

PS – I’m going as mobile as possible at SXSWi this year with my iPhone camera, Manfrotto tripod, Sennheiser wireless transmitter & receiver, and the workhorse EV RE50B handheld mic. I’m also trying out a new Steadicam Smoothee for shake-free hand-held b-roll shooting with the iPhone. Capturing with FiLMic Pro app, editing with iMovie, and uploading with the YouTube Capture app, all within the iPhone 5s connected to LTE. I’ll post a little video soon demonstrating my setup.

One down, more to come.

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 4.40.20 PMAfter a considerable hiatus from blogging, I’m returning. The coming weeks will show how much of a return it truly is, but for the moment, I want to tell you about IBM dev@Pulse, a two-day developer event happening at IBM Pulse 2014 in Las Vegas. It’s a free add-on to the larger four-day Pulse event and is all about Design, Development, and Deployment, all centered around a playground experience.

Jenova Chen of thatgamecompany will focus on game design and UIs, breaking down winning techniques and strategies to drive adoption. Mike Miller of Cloudant adds to the game design and UIs discussion with a session on audio, programming, visual arts, production, AI, and the narrative. Kevin Whinnery from Twilio focuses on mobile-first design, looking at opportunities and innovations in cross-platform development.

Other sessions include:

Charles Addler (Kickstarter) / Impact of Design and Technology in the World.

Jonathan Bryce (OpenStack) / Develop in the Open World

Reshma Saujani (Girls Who Code) / Reinventing Development and Design

Don Boulia (IBM) / Design in a MobileFirst Economy

Angel Diaz (IBM) / Develop in the Open World

Andrew Spyker (IBM) / Rapid App Development and Open Source

The playground area sounds like a lot of fun. There’ll be an Oculus Rift Salon to view demos and hear industry leading virtual reality game designers share their creations and techniques. You’ll be able to check out the Raspberry Pi credit card-sized, single board computer in action and explore how IBM Watson is transforming organizations and opening up a whole new ecosystem of development opportunities. The Drone Zone will demonstrate a wide spectrum of Parot AR Drone use cases – ranging from fun/simple to real-time analytics – all built with node.js, IBM MessageSight and NodeRed.

On Monday evening, bring your laptop and compete in the Code Jam open source racing game. And you’ll also be able to join Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics (MDA) creators Robin Hunicke, Marc Leblanc, and Robert Zubek for a hands-on workshop where you’ll learn best practices for analyzing and solving game design problems. And then on Tuesday night, you can check out Elvis Costello and the Fallout Boys as part of the larger Pulse evening party in the MGM Grand Arena.

Sounds to me like a full couple of days. Hope to see many of you THERE.