Solve Nation’s Problems with Citizen 20% Time

Google is the most innovative company in the world, in large part because they hire smart people who get things done, and they give their engineers 20% time to work on any project they want. Google has found a powerful way to unleash creativity to solve incredible technical problems.

I wonder what would happen if enough Americans did the same thing — devoted 20% of their work week — to finding solutions to our nations problems that might actually work.

In Utah there has been talk about the government’s experiment with a 4-day work week. What if a large number of citizens worked 10 hour days on Monday through Thursday and then took Fridays off to participate in government? We are, after all, ultimately in charge of what our government does. At least we are supposed to be. Or what if we devoted 2 hours a day, not to watching TV, but to reading the best books on major political topics and searching for the right solutions — based in historical fact and experience and true principles — and not on party politics? 

Most Americans believe that our government has been failing us and that we really need change. Last July, a Gallup poll showed that approval of Congress had hit an all-time low of 14%.  

So we voted for change in Washington, and in March our approval rating of Congress “soared” to 39%. And that is a four year high!

I’m amazed that a free people is willing to put up with a government for so long that we are so dissatisifed with.

My 20% Time Projects

I’d like to use my 20% time on a couple of projects. First, I’m trying to understand the root causes of the global financial meltdown. I’m documenting all my findings on a web site called Crashopedia. I’d like to learn for myself what we (meaning our government) should do to prevent future global financial crises. Not that I think I can solve the problem; but I feel a responsibility to try, to at least do my part to help. Especially after what I have learned so far.

Second, I have set up a new non-partisan Facebook group called Citizen 20% Time, where I hope to make contact with other citizens who are willing to take responsibility for what has gone wrong in our country (we elected the people who passed the laws that allowed these awful things to happen–George Will refers to our Congress as toxic assets). I’d like to interact with others who devote time and energy to creative problem solving, who don’t play the partisan blame game, but put forth ideas that could really help.

And third, I plan to study the issue of Congressional representation and stagnation. I want to understand why so many of us feel disenfranchised, even though we hold free elections every two years for the House and every six years for the Senate. 

I have learned already that the Apportionment Act of 1911 capped the number of House members at 435. While the Constitution said there would be a representative for every 30,000 people, today it is closer to one for every 700,000. (The proposed First Amendment to the Constitution, never ratified, would have changed this.) Just yesterday, I discovered an interesting non-partisan non-profit that is seeking to return the House of Representatives to the people. 

I found another non-profit in DC that says we should require our elected representatives to actually read the bills that they vote on. What a novel idea! I think most people would be outraged to know that their Senators and Representatives don’t actually read the bills that they vote for, including the massive spending bills.

We should also give citizens time to read bills before they are voted on. The Obama-Biden campaign web site promised, “As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.” The web site promises that this “Sunlight before Signing” promise will be implemented soon.

Inspired by Entrepreneurs

I have always been inspired by entrepreneurs. One favorite is Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone while trying to be a teacher of the deaf. (Later he built the first airplane in Canada, he held the world speed record for fastest boat, and he helped start the National Geographic Society, among many other accomplishments.) He was really into genetics. He believed every child should have a chart showing photographs of their ancestors so they could see who they inherited their physical characteristics from. He tried for 3 decades to breed sheep so they would always bear twins. That would have significantly moved that industry forward. He failed, but he tried.

Today I am inspired by internet entrepreneurs like Jimmy Wales, who created Wikipedia, which is becoming the greatest contribution to organizing and disseminating knowledge that the world has ever seen. (Now we need entrepreneurs who can help millions of students and teachers worldwide to take more full advantage of the wealth of knowledge that is found here.) As recently as a couple of years ago, Wikipedia was headquartered in a Florida mall and had like 5 full time employees. I’m sure it has since grown, but talk about a project where a few full time people (combined with the wisdom of the crowds) can benefit hundreds of millions of people worldwide with more access to knowledge.

I am a huge fan of Josh Kopelman, a very successful entrepreneur who is now one of the best and brightest investors in the country. Josh recently attended the TED conference and came up with a powerful idea — to harness the “bread crumbs” of the social internet to study disease causation on a massive scale (as opposed to medical research studies that involve just a small number of participants.)

I think citizen entrepreneurs will do much more than politicians can ever do to actually solve the massive problems that we are facing today.

The Sunlight Foundation, for example, has raised several million dollars from Pierre Omidyar (founder of eBay) to bring transparency to government, and to help us hold our elected representatives accountable. This is much needed, since the historical role of the free press to hold government accountable has been lost — today’s media is about entertainment and sensationalism.

I’d like to think that an outside entity like this could take all the data published online by the Federal Government, marry it with mobile applications, and social networking, and for the first time, give every citizen a very simple way to find out exactly what their own elected officials are doing.

The amount of effort that is required today to find online federal databases and publications or CSPAN broadcasts and to search them, and to actually find out what is going on in Washington, DC, is herculean. Few citizens have time to sift and sort through all the content in order to figure out what is really going on.

One of my favorite iPhone apps is Congress Plus. It tracks all the representatives in Washington, what committees they serve on, and what legislation is moving through the process. Imagine mobile phone apps or social networking apps that made it easy for each of us to follow issues and causes that interest us — and give immediate feedback to our representatives.

Our Facebook application, We’re Related, has more than 15 million monthly active users. We can ask our users any question and within a day get 10-20,000 responses. Why doesn’t every elected official have a tool like this?

Perhaps the Sunlight Foundation could set up an instance of Uservoice (a powerful customer feedback tool) for every Congressional district in the country, so that citizens could interact with each other and vote on each other’s ideas–thereby helping set the legislative agenda for their representative. Currently, few citizens feel they have any voice at all.

I applaud efforts that can better inform and engage the citizenry in solving local and national problems. I am working towards becoming involved — hopefully for 20% of my workweek — as a citizen entrepreneur.

Motivated by Frustration

What motivates me is the same thing that is motivating millions of Americans to pay attention and take action: the realization that our government has failed us, and the remedies they put forth show that they are scared and flying blind–risking the future prosperity of our country in a rushed effort to fix everything. They seem uninformed by common sense and a knowledge of history. At this point, there are few people in Washington that I can trust.

I was extremely upset when the $700 billion TARP program was pushed through Congress in early October.  I think giving a single person (a former banker at that) authority to spend up to $700 billion buying toxic assets from big banks may have been the worst single decision in American legislative history.  Secretary Paulson had made millions in salary and bonuses (I have heard $110 million) while CEO of Goldman Sachs, which made a large percentage of their profits creating these derivatives/toxic assets which TARP was designed to take off these bank’s books. I’ve never seen a more eggregious example of the fox guarding the hen house in my life.

The “sky is falling” scare tactics that Paulson and Bernanke used behind closed doors with Senators and Congressman worked, and the big check was written. And now Pandora’s box has been opened and there is no end to the calls for bailouts and government stimulus of the economy.

With almost no legislative restraint on spending, our debts and deficits are growing so big that China, our largest creditor, is sending powerful signals that the day of US dollar dominance may soon come to an end. Recent Fed decisions to basically print more money will devalue our currency. High inflation may result. (Warren Buffett and China are both warning of this.) The central bank of China is now calling for a new global reserve currency.

The Treasury Department have used the TARP funds to invest in the big banks, rather than to take their toxic assets off their balance sheets, effectively nationalizing much of the banking industry. The toxic assets still exist, and the latest proposal from the Treasury Secretary caused a blip yesterday in the stock market, but really does nothing more than stimulate bankers and investors to excitement by letting them create another generation of potentially toxic assets — another trillion of securitized debt instruments with the federal government assuming most of the risk. Of course financial stocks will go up 20% in one day on news like that! “Hey guys, you get to do more of the same thing you were doing for the last few years, and make huge commissions and potentially huge profits for doing it. And we’ll take most of the risk.”

The whole affair makes me completely sick. While the initial TARP legislation was being debated, I registered my opposition by phone to my Senators. I’ve since taken time to meet in person with Senator Bennett and also had the opportunity to share a cab in NYC with freshman Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz. I flew to DC recently to meet with a staffer in Senator Hatch’s office. And I also met with a senior legislative assistant for North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, whose proposed legislation on derivatives back in 1994 may have prevented this global financial collapse.

I have found some tremendous books and articles by scholars and former derivatives traders that shed light on how the global meltdown happened. Some event predicted it. They clearly explain the role of unregulated derivatives in creating 1) the boom years, where the financial sector went from producing about 8% of S&P 500 profits to nearly 40%, 2) the feeling that this could go on forever because traders would offload risk through risk management best practices and 3) the systemic risk that has now triggered a massive domino effect in the global financial system.

The best book I have read so far about how all of this came about is “Infectious Greed,” by Frank Partnoy, a San Diego State University law professor and former derivatives trader. 

Books for Congress

For my 20% time I plan to organize an effort to get a copy of this book hand delivered to every member of Congress, by one of their respectable constituents. The author has just mailed me one or two boxes of hard copy versions. I met him through LinkedIn, and we had a great phone conversation recently. I know I can learn a lot more from him, after all the years of effort he has put into researching this incredibly complicated topic.

As I learn about the key players in the derivatives industry and in the decade-plus long fight over derivatives regulation, I have discovered that the world is smaller than ever before, and by using LinkedIn and other online tools like Google Alerts, I can either get introduced to people, or find out if they are speaking at some conference somewhere. 

A google alert on “Mark Brickell,” the former Chair of the International Swaps and Derivatives Assocation, told me that he was speaking at an American Enterprise Institute debate in February.

From Partnoy’s book I had learned that Brickell was the key lobbyist who defeated congressional attempts to regulate derivatives in the 90s. I had to meet him. I needed to know if he was a good guy who was just misguided in his enthusiasm for completely unregulated OTC derivatives markets or if he was an evil guy who used deceptiveness and pressure and lies to persuade congress to stay out of the way of all the bankers and traders who have been making billions by creating and selling toxic assets all these years.

I flew to DC (I had business to do there anyway) and attended the AEI debate between Brickell and Christopher Whalen.

I spoke with Brickell afterwards, asked him a few questions, and got a feel for what kind of a person he is. 

I even asked him to sign my copy of “Infectious Greed,” (which does paint him as a villain), and he did. I twittered afterwards that this was like asking Voldemort to sign your copy of Harry Potter. Partnoy laughed when I told him about this.

The second most important book I’ve read is “Trillion Dollar Meltdown,” by Charles R. Morris, published in early 2008. His foresight is startling. I gave a copy of this book to Senator Bennett, but would like to raise money and purchase more copies for more members of Congress.

Another fascinating book that I am studying, and hoping to get rights (from the family) to deliver electronically to members of Congress, is “Beckoning Frontiers,” the memoirs of former Federal Reserve Chairman Marriner S. Eccles. (The Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC is named after him.)

Eccles wrote the book in 1951. It is a very honest and open assessment of the New Deal, with its successes and failures, written by the millionaire Utah banker that many considered its key architect.

If our government is spending trillions of dollars to try to stimulate the economy, shouldn’t we first each take a few hours, or days, or weeks, to study the programs of the 30s, and to learn from their architects and administrators which programs helped and which actually made the Great Depression worse?

Citizen Entrepreneurs Make a Difference

I appreciate citizens who serve in local government, or devote time to public service at any level. Some give much more than 20%. One of my Facebook friends this week noted that unfortunately, more and more of our citizens will soon have 100% time to devote to citizen involvement, as hundreds of thousands of jobs are lost every month.

What excites me the most, however, are citizen-led efforts to solve problems independent of government.

I was teaching Internet Marketing at BYU in fall 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without homes or power. A local entrepreneur wondered what he could do to help out all these victims. His wife encourage him to put his web design skills to work, so he did. In just a couple of marathon days, he built, which within a week had attracted listings for something like 114,000 available rooms in homes all across the country.

Meanwhile, most people just watched the news on TV and complained about the terribly slow response time from all the government relief agencies. Some people rolled up their sleeves and helped out.

Some people step forward and make a difference, like Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross in 1881. In September 1881 a great fire in Michigan left 5,000 people homeless. Clara Barton and the Red Cross stepped in to provide relief. Imagine how much good the Red Cross has done in the past century and a quarter! It was started by an activist citizen — not by the government.

Some citizen efforts are needed to provide relief for human suffering from local disasters, while some are needed to uncover corruption and fraud which indirectly hurts all of us. As I said, my obsession right now is unbridled, unregulated, out of control OTC derivatives trading, which Warren Buffett said in 2002 were “financial weapons of mass destruction.”

Not only did the Federal Government (including the SEC and CTFC) do nothing to stop these weapons from exploding, but they actually de-regulated them in the 90s, and prevented states from regulating them under state bucket laws (the 106th Congress voted for this) which had been created after the financial panic of 1907 to regulate pure gambling on the outcome of Wall Street ups and downs.

Other citizen led investigative-journalism type efforts can solve other problems. Patrick Byrne’s obsession with naked short selling led him to fund, a blog “examining the growing threat to our financial system posed by illegal naked short selling, stock manipulation, and the destruction of public companies.” 

Some haven’t taken Byrne seriously, but Bloomberg last week reported that Lehman Brothers may have failed because of naked short selling.

Billionaire Mark Cuban backs, the best site I’ve seen for tracking the use of the $700 billion in authorized TARP funds.

Next Steps

I’ve already spent most of my 20% time this week just working on this blog post, so forgive me if I leave it without a good conclusion or without the kind of organization I should give it.

I invite you to join me in the Facebook group Citizen 20% Time and I’d love for you to post a comment about what issue or problem you would personally like to tackle in your 20% time.

Perhaps if enough good ideas surface that can be effectively implemented with very small teams leveraging crowdsourcing of all kinds (like Wikipedia), we might be able to find financial sponsorship from someone like Pierre Omidyar or Mark Cuban or maybe the Google Foundation.

Cuban already announced his own stimulus package back in February — a private effort to fund the best open-source business ideas. Maybe he (or someone else) could apply that concept to non-profit non-partisan ideas from citizen entrepreneurs as well. We’ll never know unless we give it a try.

Notes from Nicholas Negroponte Keynote at CES (1-9-08)

Thanks to my brother Curt who taught me to be inspired by visionaries, I always make an effort to hear the great thinkers and movers and shakers in person. It is so much different and better than hearing about it later. Nothing, for example, was better than attending the Facebook Platform launch event in May 2007, and even meeting Mark Zuckerberg afterwards in person. I’ve heard Marc Andreesen in person (2001), Bill Gates (2003ish), Larry Page (2005), Jerry Yang, Guy Kawasaki multiple times, Mary Meeker (2000), Bill Joy (2001), and many other influential VCs and entrepreneurs.

One of my former college students actually took me seriously when I suggested that he take all his tuition money for four years and invest it instead in meeting all of the industry’s thought leaders in person and learning from them directly when they speak, and also buying all their books and tapes, and that it would be a better use of money than sitting in the classroom for 4 years learning from academics. I’ll have to see if he is actually following through with this. He’s probably too busy working. For future entrepreneurs, this advice may actually be good. If you’re going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a 4-year education, why not make the world your classroom and handpick all your instructors?

Anyway, the highlight of my CES trip was hearing Nicholas Negroponte discuss the purpose and progress of the One Laptop Per Child foundation, which he spun out of MIT Media labs about 3 years ago, I think, and which is now manufacturing laptops which are being sold by the millions into the developing world.

I have heard a lot of hearsay about the OLPC effort, mostly skepticism and disbelief in media reports, but Negroponte’s talk blew me away. I think this may be one of the most important initiatives in the modern era, with amazing consequences.

He gave credit to Seymour Papert for inspiring the idea. The overriding goal of the project is to leverage children to bring the world out of poverty. He has observed (as have nearly all parents that I know) how our current education system takes bright kindergarten and first-grade children whose faces are bright, and who are eager to learn, and by the fourth grade they are bored with school and not interesting in learning–they can’t wait for recess. I know there are magical schools and teachers that are good counter-examples, but as a whole, I think he is right.

I don’t believe just giving computers to kids will solve this problem, and neither does he. (He gives examples in the developing world where the only software on the computers is Word, Excel, and Powerpoint–which he thinks is ridiculous.) I think his approach is a holistic and open approach that will attract a lot of companies and individuals to the cause. Making OLPC a non-profit was the best move they ever made, he said, because heads of state know the real motive and it melts away resistance.

The most interesting thing I heard him say, and I’m going to be thinking about this for a very long time, is that the biggest failure of modern education in this country is not teaching kids computer programming at a young age, because that is a superb way to teach kids how to think and how to learn learning. Debugging a simple computer program that you wrote to draw a circle, will help a kid learn more about circleness than anything else.

I learned Basic programming when I was 12 or 13, when my Dad bought us an Apple II computer, with a cassette player as its memory. I remember my first “Hello, World” program that I learned from the Basic computer book he bought me. I remember all the Goto commands that I used to use. My magnum opus was a 2800 line Dungeons and Dragons program. I stopped programming a year or two later, but picked it up again in 1988 and wrote utilities for data preparation for about 6 more years.

Programming definitely changed my world.

Negroponte doesn’t understand why kids can’t all learn to write simple programs, so that they can learn learning. There was a programming language for kids called Logos developed in the 1960s. For some reason, we stopped teaching programming in this country and maybe around the world.

His lecture was very eye-opening and mind-expanding. There are a lot of disruptive technologies that were developed for the XO Laptop that the foundation is producing. The fact that a non-profit will be building tens of millions of laptops for the developing world is certainly disruptive. I bet one of the most popular web sites that these millions of kids will be accessing will be from another non-profit that created Wikipedia, in most languages. I like how these two projects will work together to provide knowledge for children worldwide.

Negroponte talks about how for-profit computer manufacturers are driven every year to bloat their machines with the latest of everything, so that they can keep the prices relatively high, rather than letting Moore’s law driving prices down by 50% per year. It took a non-profit with a goal to manufacture a $100 laptop to start causing some disruption. The prices still need to come down, but I see no reason to think that they won’t do it.

He highlighted a similar problem with auto manufacturers. Instead of a simple vehicle that focuses on transporting people from one place to another, now cars expend most of their fuel in transporting the vehicle itself. Reminds me of a contest I read about a few months ago where a (100hp souped up) 1921 Model T driven by a 70 year old man beat a Hummer H2 in an uphill race with its low horsepower, because the weight to power ratio was so much in favor of the Model T.

Makes you wonder if anyone will ever create a non-profit One Car Per Family foundation to manufacture a low-cost self-reparable vehicle that uses very little fuel to provide transportation for families in the developing world. I remember reading something about an Indian auto manufacturer that was aiming to build cars for a few thousand dollars.

There are so many industries ripe for the kind of disruption that will come when the developing world is the target of the innovation. I refer you to the excellent book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. If I recall, it describes the business opportunity for for-profit companies, not non-profits.

Here are my complete notes. Sorry they are so rough. (About half of Negroponte’s slides were just a few words in a list on a white background. Interesting way to do a powerpoint. I’ve tried to capture the content of those slides when I just list a few words/topics in a row.)

Nicholas Negroponte, author of “Being Digital”, board of Motorola, partner in VC firm, founder of MIT Labs, angel for more than 40 startups

Purpose of One Laptop Per Child:

The world doesn’t look great right now, not just wars, terrorism, etc–but the promise is a bit gloomy if you look at children as being the greatest resource. Pakistan and Nigeria–50% of the children don’t go to school. Education outlook is pretty bleak. If you look at any big problem: poverty, war, environment–part of the solution includes education. Sometimes it can be done with just education. I can’t think of anything that can be done without an element of education. After years of the MIT Lab and seeing how children learn, we decided to spin it out of the labs and focus on a particular kind of learning.

Goal: eliminating poverty

Means: Education
Learning learning

This gets misinterpreted as meaning that our PCs are anti-school….that is not right. In the world, first grade classes, eyes are wide open. There is in the room a kind of eagerness in their eyes; by the 4th or 5th grade, the kids will be excited because you come in, but in general the heads are down and kids are waiting for recess. A little bit of the passion is taken out. When we think kids in the developing world are dropping out of school to help the family financially, care for younger children, that’s part of the story, but school is actually boring and quite irrelevant.

Time machine
Hard fun vs drill and practice
Leveraging children
Immunization against ignorance

If you take a time machine that can go back in time and look at something like medicine, 150 years back and look at operating theory, whatever doctor was performing that operation and bring them forward to today–that person wouldn’t recognize a single thing except the human body. If you play that same game and bring a teacher forward 150 years, in any country, that teacher could be a substitute teacher, they would recognize everything. Nothing has changed. What is changing is what kids are doing outside of school, not in. Maine state program was quite good 7 years ago, but kids there now say they have another real computer at home. The school supplied laptops are left in the dust.

Computers should be fun but hard work, like kids learning to program VCRs.

To me the biggest tragedy that has happened in education worldwide is that kids aren’t introduced to computer programming anymore. In 1968, logo computer language was developed for children. It wasn’t just simple, but it used basic elements that led kids to think about thinking. It’s not so you can be a computer programmer. The act of programming is the act of learning learning. Example: if you write a computer program to draw a circle, it turns out that child will understand circleness in a much deeper way than you and I did. We learned about circles in an abstract way. When you write a program that draws a circle, it will have bugs, so what does the child do. You debug the program.

What happened? In the 1970s, we found the children who engaged in that kind of programming transferred some of the concepts to their own learning. We saw this in spelling bees. If I got 8 of 10 words right I was happy. That was a B. The debuggers were fascinated by the two that they got wrong–they didn’t sweep them under the rug like I did. Their passion was for the two they got wrong.

In most developing countries school is two shifts, 7-12 (with few recesses). Average child spends 12-13 hours per week in the classroom. That is not many hours.

1982: first year that Seymore Pappart and I tried to bring computers to developing country schools. Steve Jobs gave us several hundred Apples. These kids from Dakar (Senegal?) had more computing power than the government.

My family helped set up a school in Cambodia in 1999. In 2001 my son was living in Italy and had girlfriend and startup problems, his name is Dmitri, I said if you can suffer the indignity of working for your father, why don’t you go to Cambodia and wire this school and I’ll send laptops. I bought laptops on eBay. The kids started taking these computers home. First english word was “google.” When they took the laptops home, the parents asked the kids not to open the laptop because they looked expensive and fragile–every one. Dmitri had notes for them to take home the next night–so the kids were able to open their laptops at home. The parents loved them because they were the brightest lights in the house (no electricity.) Parents started getting the kids to do things for them. The second year of this school–100% more children showed up for first grade. The kids told other kids how cool school was. Every child who started 7 years ago is continuing.

I think connectivity is coming in the developing world; but what bothered me is the laptop issues. Prices of electronics keep dropping, but if you keep handing savings to the consumer, then there won’t be a high price or margins. So manufacturers keep adding features, so the price can stay the same. Laptops, cell phones, etc. So an obesity occurs and turns most things into SUVs. Most of the gasoline is used to move the car, not the person. So we said, can we revisit this? 1) not be an SUV any more. 2) make something that is child-centric. What do kids do? They are not office workers.

If you see 6 and 7 year-olds in villages, they are learning Word, Excel and Powerpoint. They shouldn’t be learning particular programs, but learning to learn.

One Laptop Per Child
XO computer
A non-profit was our best decision we made. We were advised from day one not to be. We were told to make a lot of money and give it away. Or to follow the Paul Newman model. We said we needed to be a non-profit to keep the moral purpose absolutely clear. When I visit a head of state or minister of education, there is no question in that person’s mind what the project is about. We have no shareholders. It makes no difference if a country launches 1 or 2 million. We need numbers to get the price down; but when the volume is there, there is no reporting to shareholders. Kofi Annan announced this 26 months ago. We presented a strategy to get the bigger countries to launch it and the smalle rones to follow.

Everyone who saw the original model remembered only the pencil yellow crank. Today’s model has a crank, pedal, solar. 50% of the children in this world have no electricity at home or at school. If you are really serious about laptops and learning, you can’t use the power regimes.

4 things we really had to do:

1) <2 W
2) Dual mode, sunlight display
3) WiFi mesh network
4) Rugged

Why less than 2 watts? Your laptop is somewhere between 30 and 40 watts. How much power can a child’s upper body generate? At peak with major movements, you can generate 10 watts, but if you have a 10-1 ratio , 1 minute of cranking, 10 minutes of usage, it’s pretty good.

When I’m outdoors my laptop is impossible to use. Many of the kids we’re talking about go to school under a tree. Mary Lou, our CTO, invented some display technology that reads very well outdoors. I prefer to use it outdoors and in bright light, the resolution is higher.

People are fascinated by Facebook. Kids have to be able to have their own network, independent of the internet. If you open the laptop, they all make a network. Yes, the technologies are all somewhat disruptive, but the main thing is thinking about the kids and learning.

Rugged goes without saying.

Design matters. Two ways to make something inexpensive. Most common is to take 3 components: cheap labor, cheap components, cheap design and make a cheap laptop. Second approach is to take very advanced manufacturing, very large scale numbers, very cool design, and poor chemicals in one end and spew out ipods on the other end. We’ve gone in that direction.

You can’t have holes in this. USB and PCMCIA. Think of dust, sand, mud. There is one hole in it, to plug in the crank, or solar panel or AC adapter. When it converts into a games machine or electronic book, you are using it in a very different way. Games, ebooks is at the foothills. It is going to have an impact in several years that is quite large and quite unexplored. If folds up and become a laptop. Everyone smiles when the little ears go up. They are the wifi, network. By being steerable you get very good reception. I have been in meetings where 20 laptops come up, and no one gets a signal, but I do, because of the steerable ears.

Quanta is the manufacturer of the laptop–they make 40% of the world’s laptops. Having a partner like them is very important. 18 months ago people said they can’t do it, or it couldn’t be done. When Quanta raised hands and said we’ll build it, the questions went away completely.

3000 people; minus open source is 500; minus partners help is about 60.

Brightstar (mobile phone company) is doing the distribution/logistics from HQ in Florida.

Maintenance: how do you do this?
Design for it.
Laptop hospitals.
Teacher preparation

The display is 50% of the parts cost of almost any laptop. In the case of the XO, you take out 4 screws and take out a bar of LED lights, that cost less than $1, and you have a new display.

The XO has to be a little bit more like an auto was designed 20 years ago. You could see things and make repairs. Today you have to hook it up to the computer to diagnose.

In Nigeria we developed idea of laptop hospitals run by kids. 95% of the maintenance and repair can be done by the kids themselves.

Most products have labels or messages–if you open this up, warranty no longer valid. I’d like to label ours: warranty not valid until such time as you open this up!

Most companies ask visitors to sign a non-disclosure agreement. We ask you to sign a disclosure agreement! We want to get the word out!

Wiki’s are people supporting each other. We released it in this country a few weeks ago; that was daring. It wasn’t designed for kids in this country. There is a growing community of wikis with kids supporting each other.

Our Chief Education office is in Argentina.

Teacher preparation not training. When someone says, who is going to train the teachers to train the children, I wonder what planet they are from, because there’s no a person in the room who doesn’t ask their child about their computer, cell phone, etc.

1,000 kids can share a satellite dish

Laptops are always connected

If a kid bicycles home or walks 3-4 miles, they will lose contact; so there are devices you can nail to a tree and boost the signal that cost $10.

Software on the laptop is designed with social networks in mind, it looks as children as friends, buddies.

12 keyboards in hand: english, arabic, thai, west african (nigeria), portugues, spanish, amharic (ethiopia), urdu, cyrillic, mongolian, devanagari, kazakh

6 more keyboards coming. Two weeks from design to being deployed.

Current launch countries: Uruguay was first, Peru, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Cambodia

Peru understands constructionism, is a student of it as well.

We launched Give One Get One as a financing mechanism. It ended Dec 31st. 162,000 laptops were sold.

The Intel fracas gets a lot of attention, but we have other great partners and the foundation will continue on.

AMD, Marvell, Google, eBay, Nortel, Red Hat, Brightstar, News Corp, Citicorp, SES/Astra, two others

One of the fastest growing websites, the wikis in particular. The community growing around it is in multiple languages!!! The mishaps of last week have caused a lot of press to come out. If you look at the laptop or more importantly at education, more widely than just the classroom. It doesn’t mean you’re anti-classroom. If you ask how you leverage children, you can’t do it just in the class hours.

Alan Hall at UVEF on Thursday, September 14th

I received this email from the UVEF mailing list. I love the Utah Valley Entrepreneurial Forum. I’ve been attending its lunches for 8 or 10 years. I’ve also heard Alan Hall speak, and he is the most active and inspiring promoter of the entrepreneur->philanthropist cycle that I have ever met. Please don’t miss the chance to hear him in person.

We’re sorry for the short notice on RSVP’s for the luncheon this month, but if you are planning on coming, please let us know by tomorrow, Sept 13th by 1:00 at the latest to ensure that we can make a place for you. Thank you for all you do to support UVEF and entrepreneurship in general!

Growing Utah’s Businesses
presented by
Alan Hall,
Founder & Chairman of Grow Utah Ventures

11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Novell campus, cafeteria. Follow the UVEF signs

Alan E. Hall is the Founder and Chairman of Grow Utah Ventures. Hall also founded MarketStar, a company specializing in getting the innovative products of emerging technology companies into national markets. Although Grow Utah Ventures primarily assists early stage Utah business ventures in obtaining equity financing and in meeting revenue milestones, the company also facilitates all forms of financing, provides meaningful mentoring, and is creating an ever-expanding circle of resources. Close partners in the Grow Utah Ventures include Junto Partners, Top of Utah Angels, and the Olympus Angels.

Alan Hall received a degree in psychology from Weber State University and a Masters of Business Administration from BYU. He is the past President of Netline Inc., a current board member of UTA (Utah Technology Association), and a member of the Wells Fargo Bank Northern Utah Advisory Board. Hall was honored in 1997 by Ernst & Young as Utah’s Entrepreneur of the Year.

Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to learn how to grow your business from one of Utah’s top ‘movers and shakers’ in entrepreneurship!

Call today to reserve your place.
RSVP by Tuesday, September 12 to: danpurdon AT
or call 801-226-1521.

Inspiring Conference for Social Entrepreneurs Planned in Utah

I just heard about a great full-day conference on October 6th that will be well worth attending. (I think it will be in Layton, Utah.) I know several of the speakers and they are outstanding, world-changing individuals. I can’t imagine not coming away very motivated and inspired by these entrepreneurs.

Please check it out.

I dare you to read every bio and then tell me you aren’t super interested in hearing what these speakers will be talking about. Greg Warnock is a star. Hearing Hal Wing (his company sells the Little Giant Ladder systems all over the world) alone would be a great treat. But the rest will be exciting as well. Tim Hunt’s Lingotek is very cool. And my family spends a ton of money on Shade Clothing (thanks a lot, Chelsea!)

Also, in my view, entrepreneurs who start out philanthropically minded before they make their money are far more likely to make it. I heard that Jon Huntsman, Sr, one of Utah’s billionaires, used to give away $50 of his $250 per week (or month?) Navy salary when he lived in California decades ago. He did it quietly and anonymously–even back when he didn’t make any money, per se.

I think it is a law of the universe that those who have giving hearts are more likely to get into a position to give. Selfish, greedy people won’t have the same good fortune as those who are kind and generous, even when they have little means.

People didn’t believe Bill Gates when he said years ago that he was going to do great good with his money. Now look at what his foundation is going to do for the world. And of course, there’s Warren Buffett and Pierre Omidyar too.

So come to this conference and figure out what you can do to bless the world, whether or not the world rewards you later. It’s the right way to live, whether or not it leads to prosperity.

The conference web site is pretty poor, though. I hate sites where all the information is hiding in PDF files. To the conference organizers: please make the web site more friendly and information rich. Give us dates, name of speakers, make it easy to navigate. Start a blog to tell us more about the speakers and the conference as the date approaches. Generate some excitement here! This conference will be incredible!

For convenience, I grabbed the bios of some of the speakers (they are apparently adding more later), and here they are:

Greg Warnock (Keynote Speaker)

Greg Warnock is one of the most active private equity investors in Utah, having invested in 18 companies during the 12 years preceding the formation of vSpring Capital. He was previously the founder of Precision Data Link, which he sold to Profit Recovery Group (PRGX) in 1998. He was an angel investor in Knowlix, a successful software company that was acquired by Peregrine Systems. He syndicated and participated in the seed financing of Advion BioSciences, a successful company later funded by Skyline Ventures, Perseus-Soros BioPharmaceutical Fund and Polaris Venture Partners. He was principle in more than 20 M&A transactions prior to vSpring. These experiences have given Greg a deep understanding of the ingredients of successful private equity investing. Greg is a judge of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year contest and a repeat VC selection committee member for the Investors’ Choice West conference. Greg received a BS in Computer Science and a MBA from the University of Utah. Greg is on the board of directors of AVinti, BioMicro Systems, Cymphonix and MediConnect. Greg is also actively involved in the Junto program, a program that targets fresh, young minds and gives them the training and resources necessary to be successful entrepreneurs, which he started in 2004. In addition to Junto, Greg acts as Managing Director to the Utah Student Investment Program Development Committee, a committee formed through encouragement from the State of Utah to form student run venture capital firms, similar to Salt Lake

Buffett and Gates Team Up To Solve World Problems

I noticed two interesting articles in the NY Times today. The juxtaposition made me think.

One article says up to $2 billion in taxpayers money has been wasted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It gives several examples of how money has been misspent.

When the government steps in to manage any program, especially when it tries to do it quickly (in response to the public demand for relief!), I think it is inevitable that fraud and corruption and mismanagement will result in squandered funds. The government is simply not as efficient as the private sector. And when waste and fraud happen, everyone blames everyone else. (Except no one will blame the public for demanding the Katrina funding in the first place.)

Contrast this with the personal responsibility that Bill Gates will be taking for the $31 billion donated by Warren Buffett to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. One of the goals of the Foundation is to find cures for the 20 leading diseases in the world. Gates will be leaving Microsoft in 2008. Imagine the good he and Melinda can do with $61 billion. Imagine how carefully they will invest these funds and measure the impact that their investments are making.

The Times reported how seriously Bill Gates is taking this donation from Buffett.

Later in the exchange, which was in front of 200 philanthropy executives, scientists, students and a few reporters, Mr. Gates got in his own reflection on the partnership. “It’s scary,” he said. “If I make a mistake with my own money, it isn’t as big as making a mistake with Warren’s money.”

If had an editorial page (we don’t yet) and could highlight the most important news stories, the ones that will make it into tomorrow’s history books, I would wager that the Bill Gates retirement story and the Warren Buffett $31 billion donation will be key factors in some future textbook’s chapter on how the world’s major diseases were eradicated. This is an incredibly exciting story! I can’t wait to watch it unfold.

I applaud Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates for these bold moves and I wish them well in their new focus on philanthropy. I’m especially excited that Melinda Gates mentioned microcredit in her discussion of the Foundation’s goals, since it is such a promising approach to alleviating poverty in the developing world.