UPSTART “street party” helps local entrepreneurs connect to startup resources

What: UPSTART, an innovative, entrepreneurial networking event and showcase

Sponsored By: NKY Tri-ED, NKY Chamber of Commerce, ASWD Law, Republic Bank, BLDG, West Sixth Brewing

When: September 19, 2013  | 4:30 – 8:00pm

Where: Pike Street, Covington, KY 41011
Free parking available next to Artisan Enterprise Center located at 27 West Seventh St.

Cost: Free to attend

RSVP: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/7394991619

Description: (Covington, KY) – On September 19, beginning at 4:30pm, the City of Covington will close Pike Street to launch UPSTART, a street party designed to inspire the entrepreneur in all of us. The purpose of the UPSTART event is to connect entrepreneurs with local organizations who provide resources to startups.

October Training Smackdown

Beginning this week and continuing for the next month I’ll be heading off to various training, certifications, and seminars including CDBG, Affordable Housing, and KY APA. I’ll be doing my best to catalog things I learn, insights and anecdotes, as well as resources here.

Because of that oncoming train-pocalypse, I have not made time like I should to draft a proper post for this week.

Instead I’ll leave you with a short story about a city council meeting I attended last night:

After having just finished my presentation on tax rate calculations, several ordinances are given their first reading. Among them was an ordinance about nuisance and All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs and Dirt Bikes).

Upon the reading of said ordinance, a couple stands up at the back of the room and starts throwing accusations that this ordinance was crafted specifically to target them. They suggested that city council could perhaps control the train whistle and dust that trains kick up, likening the power to stop dust and noise to godly power.

A heated exchange followed where shouting, finger pointing, and emotions ran high. At one point the couple decided that it was a sad day when people could not do what what they wanted on their own property. Finally the couple stormed out of the chambers while the city council proceeded to pass the ordinance.

A few moments later, a car begins driving by city hall blaring its horn every few minutes. As I walked out of the building at the conclusion of the meeting I saw that it was that same couple.

Whether the ordinance was right or wrong, I found the meeting entertaining.

Quantifying (and Qualifying) Self

Another recent hobby of mine is looking at data about my life. I think we can all agree that sometimes we just don’t remember things the way they happened. More often than not, this is observable in disagreements I have with my fiancee over various sequences of events. Given that problem, we become unreliable narrators of our own lives. In order to get at and understand some of the minutia of daily living it becomes important to have instruments, sensors, and data collection methods that fulfill a few criteria:

  1. Accurate – that these measurements are taken in parallel to qualitative information inputed by the user (me).
  2. Automated – that data collection takes place with little need for my direct involvement.
  3. Analyzable – that data collected present some meaning or capture something worth understanding.

On a quest to understand, how do you get all that data?

Undertaking this quest, I’ve fallen into the rabbit hole and found a web of services, solutions, and self-guided practices that have allowed me to begin tracking more.

I started early on with google calendar, excel, and a notebook. This required too much effort from me at times and was often forgotten in light of more important or immediate issues. Slowly I moved to using smart phones apps. Many of them I’m still using, but in more complex ways than before:

Saga: Probably the first thing I needed to get myself off of google calendars. It tracks the where, when, and how long while integrating information from other connected applications. It is both an end point and an entry point for much of the data I’m now collecting.

Sleep-bot: Sleep bot was a newer find, and was something that replaced a similar app I was using on my iPhone earlier last year. When I got an android phone I went without any sort of smart alarm/sleep analysis. Now that sleepbot has about three months of data, I’m starting to see trends and am slowly improving both the quality and quantity of sleep I get.

MyFitnessPal (MFP): I’m a bit off and on with this service, it integrates well with other apps and programs, but it requires attention and manual entry of food. There isn’t yet a good solution for calorie and food tracking, so this is about as close as I can expect anyone to get. I had originally used Lose It! but lost interest after some changes to the application and discovering MFP.

RunKeeper: The first app I started using (and began using again recently), RunKeeper has come such a long way since I first used it. It logs more than just running and now has support for a heart rate monitor. Easy to use, nice customization options on the audio cues, and definitely a main stay on my phone.

Have data, want additional data.

Recently I’ve also done some research into getting a fitness tracking device like fitbit flex, jawbone up, or basis. I’m currently waiting on an invite to purchase basis due to the additional sensors offered there.

The major problem with “quantified self” is the difficulty in pooling and analyzing data across systems, programs, and devices. Currently no simple solution exists, but Saga, MFP, and RunKeeper are all integrated via API/integration features. Basis is still fairly closed, but offers what I feel is the most robust device. An API would do much and more to help me pool my data and for developers to connect the services.

Where are we going here?

I’m really hoping that in the next few years I’ll be able to pool my data, and run regressions like crazy on it (the one really useful mathematical skill I learned in the PhD Program I recently left). In addition, I’d love to be able to take this information and show it to my doctor. As you’ll likely come to know, I’ve got a bit of a problem with weight (really its not that bad), and being able to show my physician whats going on, what working, and what is not would be nice.

I currently don’t have anything in place to help me understand how stress relates to my psoriasis, but that’s something I’m exploring for the future. I know stress and certain diets are affecting it, but I don’t know how. We don’t know as much as we could about psoriasis, and this might be one way of starting toward the big-data approach to understanding commonalities among people with psoriasis instead of the voodoo-like-advice I see on internet forums about it.

And another thing..

Two things I think are worth mentioning: the spatial dimension and the lack of qualitative data.

Spatiality is something I’ve talked about quite often in my (former) PhD program. Space, whether we like it or not, has interesting and unique impacts on the way we live. Even something as simple as bid rent theory suggests a complex relationship with economic thinking, sociological concepts that operate and motivate breaking or imposing social barriers, and psychological patterns of how we understand the world. Tracking some things without understanding the where will prove fruitless.

Qualitative data is also something I feel is worth logging alongside quantitative data. Some of my most insightful exploratory questions have come from looking at personal, group, and internet-consensus qualitative trends. Even something as simple as looking at a thread on Reddit can prove useful in finding new avenues of exploration and preliminary insight into how the question might be answered.

Every app and service I mentioned above has rudimentary elements of spatial and qualitative data collection, but it is not as robust nor as integrated as I would like. Hopefully that’s also in the future.

Homebrewing

Another thing I’ll likely be writing about consistently is our home-brewing.

By our, I refer to the list of people I collaborate with to brew beer:

  1. Rebecca (my fiancee) and I brew small all-grain batches (1 gallon) in our kitchen.
  2. Matt, Nikki, Mike, and Emily brew as a “guild” doing all grain batches.
  3. Rebecca, her father, and I brew extract kits together in his driveway.

Overall we’ve completed:

  • A failed Russian Imperial Stout that became the Midwest Godfather Hoppy Stout.
  • A going away gift to our friend Seth, the Going Away (Mosaic) IPA.
  • A Dunkelweiss we call the imBiber/imBieber,
  • A Maple Chocolate Porter, I call the MCP (Maple Chocolate Porter) Contingency Plan.
  • A Vanilla Porter we call Mad Maddie’s Porter.
  • An American Amber I called Papa Nezzy’s NumerUno.

We’re currently planning:

  • A pecan or almond brown ale (1 gallon all grain)
  • A pepper chocolate stout (5 gallon all grain)
  • A clone of the White House Honey Ale (5 gallon extract)

Most recently we finished the Dunkelweiss listed above. We opened the first bottles last Friday and overall we were a bit disappointed. Everything leading up to then had been promising, even Matt (the major skeptic), was waiting with bated breath for this beer. What we drank that night was good, if not promising, but not what we had anticipated.

We’ve resolved to let the beer condition for a month now and see if that mellows out the fruity/spicy/banana flavors and reveals some of the maltier flavor.

The Dunkelweiss definitely had our best brewing process to date, we resolves issues with mash efficiency and even created a yeast starter. There is, however, something we missed. Matt blames abnormally high fermentation temperatures due to summer heat. I think that may be part of it, but I wonder what else might have gone awry?

The Going Away IPA is still my favorite beer we brewed, it was so enjoyable and complex that we ended up drinking all of it the day we were able to being drinking it. We found a rogue bottle a month later and it still tasted great.

Anyway, more updates (with pictures!) to come as we improve and plan more beer.

Tax Rate Calculations

Recently, I’ve been working on tax rate calculations for cities in Northern Kentucky. This is a yearly service the ADD provides for free. Kentucky cities and special districts utilize these tax rate calculations to ensure they receive at least the same amount of revenue each year from real property and tangible property taxes. This helps provide a stable amount of cash flow to the city or special district each year. One danger in this calculation is dropping values, or if a property falls off the tax rolls for various reasons, this can spike the rate that is calculated in a given area.

The city does not necessarily have to take the tax rate that these calculations provide. They are free to choose their rate, with some limitations provided by the Kentucky Revised Statutes. Therefore the calculation sets the rates used to benchmark some legal requirements in the tax rate adoption process.

Beyond the compensating rate, the rate that would provide similar revenue, I also calculate a “substitute rate” and a “Rate +4”, which provides for 4% more revenue. There are some procedures engendered by taking a rate above the compensating rate, including public hearings and, if the city goes beyond the Rate+4, the opportunity for a recall vote on the rate. (Note: the recall can only be for the portion above 104%)

Being an Ohio native, this process has been a bit foreign to me. Luckily I’ve been able to pickup and understand the process and the purpose of the calculations fairly quickly. Though they are not perfect, I think there is some merit to what Kentucky is doing via this process. Ensuring cities remain viable would do much and more in Ohio where the 2008 economic crisis doomed many cities to debt or bankruptcy. I should be clear, however, this process does pose a possible strain on the citizens of Kentucky cities in that rates fluctuate to accommodate revenue year to year. Because of this the loss of businesses or, as I mentioned above, the falling off of property from the tax roll can adversely affect local tax rates.

I do not feel like I know enough yet to make a firm conclusion about whether the tax rate calculation process is more beneficial than harmful, but it is certainly a unique idea.

Quitting a PhD

I’ve been contemplating for a while now what the first post should be after the “unfortunate change of hosting providers.” At the time, I was considered leaving my PhD program and trying to find a job as a planner. I ended up following through on that consideration and leaving the PhD program at UC shortly after the conclusion of the Spring 2013 semester.

The point of this post is to provide some insight for others thinking about whether they might leave or stay in their PhD program. I’m by no means an expert, but I know I googled “should I quit my PhD?” several times. I suppose you might say I’m attempting to contribute to the literature on that topic.

Why did I leave?

There are a multitude of reasons I cite in my head whenever I begin explaining my reasons for leaving. While there were many things I wanted to blame externally to myself, I soon realized that I was really unhappy internally. So I left because I wasn’t having an emotionally or academically fulfilling experience for myself. That by no means says anything bad about my program or my advisor, as fulfillment is a benchmark that one creates internally when dealing with the question of leaving. So, I now succinctly answer when asked: “I wasn’t happy, and I knew I needed a change.”

That doesn’t discount some of the external factors I cited above. But the most important factor was my internal dialogue. Things that contributed to that were definitely caught in the web of friendships, mentoring relationships, and expectations I had. But tracing any web should ultimately lead back to the spider.

When did I first suspect I needed to leave?

I first suspected I needed to leave following a meeting with my advisor during my second year of classwork. Nothing particular was a miss, but for a nagging sensation that perhaps this wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. It was that seed of doubt that grew into a consideration of leaving that ultimately lead to my decision.

My advisor was great. I was not. I wasn’t as committed, interested, or confidant as I should have been to carry on. To the programs credit, they do everything they can to drag us kicking and screaming through academic discovery and preparation. I was really good at it, when I was committed, but I often felt as if I was going through the motions.

That’s an odd feeling when your primary mode of operation in a program is to think up new ideas spit them out and then argue about them with people constantly. It feels so productive, so right, and yet I still didn’t feel like it was something I was actively participating in. This is, perhaps the most difficult aspect of the whole thing to explain.

What did I do to prepare to leave?

Preparing to leave was and still is the most emotionally draining aspect of the whole ordeal. I had to practice some levels of subterfuge to ensure I could finish classes, maintain my RA assignment, but still find something else to do. I got lucky in that I had stayed in touch with my classmates and one of them was leaving her job to take another. But more on that in a second.

The actual decision to leave came in early to mid April after my grandfather passed away. I made a choice to not immediately tell my advisors, in retrospect I should have included them as well. But I did begin to let others know who could help me network to find a job. The process involved first updating my resume and then talking to the people I had graduated. I was fortunate to have remained at UC instead of moving schools where this preparation process would have been much more difficult.

While the job search was going on I had to sit through classes and meetings that felt like they had little to do with me anymore. I completed assignments (save for one major project) and generally went about living what felt like a dual life while dealing with the loss of a family member.

I had been applying for jobs off and on all throughout that year as my PhD funding source was about to run out. By the end of April I had landed a job as a public administration/community development specialist (which would actually let me use what I’d learned in undergrad and in my masters degree).

Do I regret leaving?

Its been almost five months since I left. I show up to work everyday, do something that feels productive (and not like I’m just going through the motions), and I go home happy. I have the occasional bad day, sometimes I let other people affect me too much. But I can generally say that I am happy, day in and day out, and that is something I hadn’t been able to say about my PhD in a long time.

More importantly, I don’t get angry as easily–I feel much more calm–and I’ve noticed an improvement with my psoriasis. In addition, I now have more free time to explore hobbies, volunteer, and generally give back in ways I wasn’t able to before. Its also gone a long way to improving my engagement and will likely make for a better marriage. According to my fiancee, she hasn’t notice a difference, but I feel like I have more time to appreciate her, support her, and notice the positive impact she has in my life–she doesn’t spend all her time on damage control because I’m upset or angry.

Will I ever go back?

I can’t say I would never go back, I’m not sure I would have the opportunity to return to UC, by the time I would want to go back I will likely not be in Cincinnati or be busy with kids and a career in work I enjoy. That being said, the stars could always align and I could find the passion I’d lost. Its hard to leave something unfinished, but its only unfinished if we view it as something to be completed–and if that’s how you view doing a PhD it may not be right for you either.