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Olson’s Observations

Technology. Innovation. Science. VC. Media. :: by Eric Olson

Archive for February, 2008

Rethinking Education: Sir Ken Robinson at TED 2006

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I remember when I first figured out that schools educated students to be workers rather than creative thinkers. It was a hard pill to swallow but it was the truth. In school, as in the workplace, we stigmatize mistakes. This causes fear amongst students and workers and this fear is the cause of their inability to take risks and strive for innovation. As Sir Ken says, “You can’t do anything new if you are afraid of being wrong.”

Another thing I began to realize at roughly the same time was that academic inflation has slowly been creeping up on us. Jobs that used to take a high school degree in the 50s took a undergraduate degree in the 70s and now take a masters or a PhD. The question is: do the jobs really require that much more education or have we simply let the education system get out of whack?

What always confused me in high school was the choice I was forced to make between music (the arts) and sports. I absolutely loved (and still love) playing the drums. It is one of my true passions and I will do it until the day I die. That said, I also like to stay in shape and I love baseball. So, naturally I played in the marching band (hahaha - get your laughs out now) and I also wanted to play baseball but the coach of the baseball team told me I couldn’t do both. I just remember wondering why that was the case.

Being a student of history the Greeks came to mind. The Greeks valued a healthy combination of the arts, athletics and academics and they were one of the greatest societies the world has ever seen. Why, then, do we only allow students to choose two of the three things that make education and learning complete?

On top of all that why do we also value math and science higher than the arts? Being a guy who loves both science and the arts I just don’t see the rational for making one better than the other or in forcing kids who are very good musically into the sciences or into business so “they can get a job.”

Just yesterday I was given some hope that things are changing though. Howard Tullman was nice enough to show me around Flashpoint Academy, his new digital arts and sciences school in downtown Chicago. This place was awesome and certainly a haven for the creative folks behind video games, movies, sound/music, etc. What stuck in my mind, though, was one of Howard’s comments to me which was basically:

These kids are not at all lazy. They just don’t fit the mold of the traditional education system. When they get here they work hard and excel and become the best at what they do.

It is good to know there are outlets for folks who don’t fit the traditional academic mold which, as Sir Ken describes it in his TED talk, is a system where we are all trained to be university professors and that profs should be held up as the highest form of intelligence. Sir Ken follows that by saying that profs should simply be looked at as another form a life not better or worse than anyone else.

Now that I have stood on my soapbox for a bit I will turn it over to Sir Ken Robinson. Please take twenty minutes to watch his talk. I think you’ll truly be inspired.

Written by Eric Olson

February 29th, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Posted in General Thoughts

Food & Drink Around Chicago: Spacca Napoli & Suzi’s Tea

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I grew up in central Massachusetts and with that came a traditional New England “meat and potatoes” diet. I was very content with that until I met my girlfriend. She grew up in Washington D.C. and thus had very diverse food interests due to the international flair of the city.

Over the past six years she has opened my eyes up to interesting new foods (while I kicked and screamed the whole way) and my palate is slowly building and refining (did I just say palate?). That said, nothing beats my Mom’s home cooking and apple pie/crisp. Hey, I am a born and raised New Englander. What can I say?

Anyhow, I thought it would be interesting to bring up some great places I find myself in around town on this blog. Therefore, this should be the first of many Chicago foods and drink posts. These reviews will be very accessible and not at all pretentious. It would be fair to say that I am anti-pretentious (which is why I love Gary’s mission so much - taking the pretentiousness out of wine).

The first two places I will highlight are Spacca Napoli and Suzi’s Tea.

Spacca Napoli:

Spacca NapoliSummary: Fantastic service and even better pizza.

Spacca Napoli is new in town and focuses on the art of the traditional Neopolitan Pizza. It is located at 1769 W. Sunnyside and is just steps from the Montrose stop on the Brown line.

Looking to try something new some friends and I went to Spacca Napoli last Saturday night. Unfortunately you can’t make reservations and the place is very popular so the wait was pretty long. While there is no bar area where you can pass the time we were allowed to have a drink while we waited.

Here is where things get good in terms of service.

After waiting for about an hour the owner came over to our group, asked us what we were drinking and got us a round on the house. Not only that, the owner also brought around a truffle pizza for us, and the rest of folks waiting, to try.

As if that wasn’t enough when we finally did get to sit down the owner had three different apps sent to our table on the house due to the long wait.

Now, that’s service and you guys all know how much of a customer service advocate I am. Needless to say I loved the place already and would wait an hour again in a heartbeat.

What about the pizza you ask? It was awesome. I had the Prosciutto e Rucola pizza which consisted of pizza bianca with provola, prosciutto di parma, arugula, parmesan and olive oil. I have high prosciutto standards having lived in the North End of Boston for a couple years and this was good stuff. Everyone else enjoyed their pizzas as well.

Check this place out if you get a chance and support the owners who truly know what customer service is all about and how to cook a mean pizza.

Suzi’s Tea:

Summary: A comfy, cozy place for tea lovers.

Suzis TeaSuzi’s Tea, which opened just recently around the corner from my apartment, is my new favorite spot. I have wanted to get into tea for a while now and I think Suzi’s is a place that will help.

Suzi’s is located at 2965 N Lincoln and has a very rural “homey” feel which I appreciate. It is truly a little rural oasis that feels like home to me.

Suzi (yes, there is a real Suzi and she’s awesome) has 135 teas on the menu including some rare ones so there is room to try something new but there are also some tea staples like Earl Gray around for the folks who want to stick with what they know.

Each tea is served up with its own timer so your tea is steeped perfectly down to the second. The vast majority (if not all) of teas are loose leaf and the one I chose, the Darjeeling White (which was killer!), was a whole leaf loose leaf.

While you are sipping the tasty tea you’ll also be drawn to the homemade goodies like the oatmeal cookies which are fantastic and are truly homemade.

Suzi’s also offers breakfast and lunch which I have yet to try but everything on the menu looked great and Suzi mentioned that her husband is the cook and that he is really good at what he does.

Didn’t get to try a tea you wanted to? Want more of the tea you had? No worries at all. You can buy any of the teas on the menu on the way out for home use. You can also order tea pots and other various tea accessories on Suzi’s website.

Check out Suzi’s Tea next time you are thinking of going to Starbucks. I think you’ll be much happier there and you’ll be supporting a local entrepreneur.

Written by Eric Olson

February 27th, 2008 at 10:51 am

Posted in Chicago, Food

Quick Wrap-up: TECH cocktail Chicago 7

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TECH cocktail Chicago 7TECH cocktail Chicago 7 went well last night. We ended up having over 500 of Chicago tech’s finest at the event (despite the cold temps outside) and, for me, it was great connect with everyone that I hadn’t seen for the past five months.

It’s great to be back.

Unfortunately Frank and I were so consumed with some last minute event details and with our two big announcements (new site & new conference) we didn’t get to the venue early enough to spend enough time with our demoers and sponsors.

However, from what I heard today all of the demoers and sponsors really got a lot out of the event as did the attendees which is all I could ask for.

I just want to take a quick second to thank all of the TECH cocktail Chicago 7 sponsors because without them TECH cocktail wouldn’t happen. A big thanks to Google, Imprint Enterprises, Mullen Law, Chicago Micro, Fiodan, Saper Law, Fitzgerald and Hewes, Hubbard One, Interactive Mediums, Forbes Technical Consulting, LiquidTalk and Sun Trading.

Also, make sure to check out the awesome new companies that demoed at TECH cocktail Chicago 7.

hoodFind: Find stuff in your neighborhood.

ContextMedia: Content solutions for the health care field.

TransFS: Comparison shopping for small business financial services.

MetroProper: Localized citizen media.

TextAdapt: Ad optimization for publishers.

Thanks again for a great night Chicago. Looking forward to the conference and TECH cocktail Chicago 8 on May 29th!

Click Here for the Official Wrap-up Post at TECHcocktail.com

Written by Eric Olson

February 23rd, 2008 at 1:03 am

Posted in TECH cocktail

Big TECH cocktail News: New Site and a Conference

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TECH cocktail CONFERENCEWith our seventh Chicago event happening tonight Frank and I felt that announcing a couple of big things we have been working on made sense.

The first of our announcements relates to our new website. The new site has taken about a month to get together and it is a significant step forward for TECH cocktail’s web presence and the user experience on our site.

The new site most notably looks like a website, as opposed to a blog, but it is still powered by WordPress. The media around TECH cocktail’s past and present is now broken into separate pages (i.e. video, photos, etc.) and we also have separate pages for jobs, past demos and much more. Check it out and let us know what you think.

This new site will allow us to scale further and it provides a better place for our other announcement…

Frank and I will be putting on a one day conference on Thursday May 29 at Loyola University’s Water Tower Campus (Kasbeer Hall to be exact). We felt that a conference was the next logical step we needed to take to continue with our mission of getting Chicago noticed on a national stage and bringing the community here together.

There are only room for about 200 folks at this first conference so you should register as soon as you can. We already have a ton of great speakers lined up including Mike Domek (CEO TicketsNow/Aquired by Ticketmaster), Dick Costolo (CEO FeedBurner/Acquired by Google), Jason Fried (Founder 37signals), Gary Vaynerchuk (Wine Library/Wine Library TV) and Adrian Holovaty (Founder EveryBlock/Creator Django).

It should be a great day and we’ll be closing it out with TECH cocktail Chicago 8 (same time, same place as always).

Big things are happening at TECH cocktail and Frank and I are very excited for the rest fo 2008 and beyond. Thanks again to all of you for all of your support. We couldn’t do it without you. Onward!

Written by Eric Olson

February 21st, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Posted in TECH cocktail

2008 Tour of California: Check out the Adobe Tour Tracker

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Amgen Tour of CaliforniaI am not sure how many of you out there are cycling fans but I am one. A big one in fact. Yeah, I know there have been a lot of doping issues lately but the sport, in my eyes, is still beautiful and also a display of pure suffering and perseverance. The sport is also cleaning itself up aggressively but that’s the focus of a whole other post.

Anyhow, the Amgen Tour of California is going on right now and it is a great race. Yesterday Tom Boonen, a sprinter with team QuickStep, took the win and today there was a hard fought battle between Gesink (Rabobank) and Leipheimer (Astana) for the stage win. Gesink prevailed but Leipheimer got the 7 seconds he needed to snag the gold leaders jersey for the first time in this tour (Nice work Levi! Note: Leipheimer won last years Tour of California.).

If there is any race that newbies should watch to get a feel for the sport it would probably be the Tour of California because it is so accessible. You can catch it on cable via Versus (formerly the Outdoor Life Network) but what makes this Tour truly accessible is the fact that they broadcast each stage live on the web.

The Tour of California’s Adobe Tour Tracker is freakin’ awesome in terms of live streaming sports coverage. Not only do you get the live video/commentary you also get a ton of metrics (speed, distance to go, GPS based overlays of the riders on a Google map, etc.).

They launched the Tour Tracker last year but they had a lot of problems with it. This year everything seems to be ironed out though and I am loving it.

If you are new to cycling and want to check out a race check out the Tour of California on their live Tour Tracker. It is easy to access and free so you have no excuse. I bet you’ll be hooked once you start picking up on all of the strategy and witness the drama that is bike racing (don’t say I didn’t warn you). And, hey, if you’re not hooked after watching for a while at least you can say you checked out a nice application of a handful of technologies.

(If you’re not new to cycling you should still check out Tour Tracker. It’s the best way to watch a race in my opinion. When will the Tour de France (or any of the grand tours) get something like this?)

Written by Eric Olson

February 20th, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Posted in Sports, Technology

Moving to or within NYC? Check out Flexible Moving

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As you all know I recently moved to NYC and back out of NYC. What most of you may not know is that I moved into a 4th floor walk up apartment. I’ll tell you, lugging boxes up four flights of stairs while people are yelling at you on the street for partially blocking the road with your truck is not fun. That was the scene when Laura and I moved into and out of Boston and we weren’t up for it again.

That said Laura’s brother took to the internet while we were driving out to NYC back in October and found us the number of a moving company. We called the guys and booked them to come help move all of the stuff from the truck up to the apartment.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but these three guys were great. They had the whole 10′ truck done in about an hour and charged me a flat rate of $225 (not including gratuity) which I thought was dirt cheap considering other moving companies we called quotes me about that per guy and this was a group of three guys.

When it was time to move back to Chicago this past weekend I called the guys again. They had the truck packed in about 90 minutes and everything arrived in Chicago safe and sound including Laura’s grandmas table and my bikes which if I had packed the truck would have probably been damaged.

So, the moral of the story is if you are moving into or out of NYC you should call Flexible Moving and talk to Percy Sellers (347.206.8796). He’s a hard working entrepreneur and he deserves your business.

Disclaimer: By reading this article you agree not to hold me responsible for any damage done to any of your stuff or any other form of loss or suffering you incur by using/working with/hiring Flexible Moving/Percy Sellers. Man, the fact that I even feel the need to write that disclaimer tells you a lot about our overly litigious society.

Written by Eric Olson

February 20th, 2008 at 7:22 pm

Posted in General Thoughts

Sustainability: Services - not Products - Are the Key to Aligning Interests

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Updated on 2/15/08

As can be seen throughout the posts on this blog I have begun to look deeper into environmental issues, sustainable businesses and business practices over the past year. While I am admittedly new to the topic and still have a lot to learn I have picked up a lot fairly quickly and have had a lot of interesting ideas pop up.

In fact, I picked up another interesting idea while hanging out with a friend of mine last weekend. The topic of sustainability came up during our conversation and we started talking about business models around sustainability.

My friend brought up a great point and that was that current product based companies interests are not aligned with those of the environment.

As seen in the Story of Stuff, product companies want to design products that won’t last forever so consumers will buy more. In fact, product companies try to figure out how short of a life span products can have where the companies brand remains in tact and consumers will go out and purchase another one of their products (disclaimer: not all product companies work this way of course).

So how do we get the interests of product companies and the environment aligned? The answer is simple:

Selling services not products.

Update: Selling services instead of products is called “servicing” in green business circles.

For example Carrier - the A/C manufacturers - could do deals where they charge monthly/yearly for air conditioning services. They install and maintain the equipment and agree to keep your air at x temperature for $x per month/year.

This creates a situation in which Carrier wants to build better products that have a very long usable life and products that are super efficient since Carrier assumes the capital costs and costs to run the machines. Pretty interesting, right?

Update: The A/C idea was originally brought up in the book Green to Gold:

By offering “a service instead of a product, a company profits by reducing its use of materials and energy, and providing that service at the lowest cost possible. Lovins argues, for instance, that air conditioner manufacturers should offer cooling as a service - not AC units as a product - so they’d have an incentive to make the systems highly energy efficient. In some green business circles, the idea of recasting a product as a service, often called “servicing,” is the holy grail of environmental innovation.”

I have heard of a company employing a similar type of service model for carpet as well. This company has a carpet system that consists of a number of squares that link together. When a high traffic area is worn out, they simply come into the building, pull up the affected squares, replace them and recycle the old squares. In this situation the company does not charge for the carpet itself, they charge for the service (floor covering services) which causes them to want to create very durable and reusable products.

Update: The company is called InterfaceFLOR and more info can be found on their site.

There are many other product businesses that could employ a similar service model rather easily (in the scheme of things) by figuring out the costs and creating a pricing situation that makes sense for them and for the consumer.

What other industries do you think could employ a “service” makeover?

Update: I have a lot to learn and a lot more to read on this subject. If you are interested in reading and learning more as well please check out the comment on this post left by Peter Christensen as he outlines the best reads for the topic of green business.

Written by Eric Olson

February 14th, 2008 at 6:23 pm