Sunday, April 26, 2009

Local Twitter Day May 1

A friend of mine (Steve Clift) is promoting an interesting project: Local Day. The basic idea is to use your postal code as a hash tag (e.g. #55406) and find other twiterers near you. More details at

From E-Democracy:

Take the #LocalDay Pledge Now to Spread the Word, by tweeting:

  • On May 1 join me on #LocalDay and find your neighbors using your Postal/Zip Codel

Stimulus Package, Broadband and Nonprofits. Some Resources

Tomorrow morning I'm hosting a session at the Nonprofit Technology Conference on the Stimulus Package, broadband and nonprofits. It is going to be a group sourcing session--I don't know much about it. No one seems to have all the answers--but if we share our knowledge, we may be able to figure it out.

So here are some resources:

American Library Association
Top ten things you can do now…To get broadband stimulus funding for your libray

7.2 Billion for Broadband

Baller Herbst Law Group
Basic links

Opportunities for Federal Grants, Loans and Other Support for Broadband

Additional Broadband Funding Opportunities

Knight Center of Digital Excellence
Center of Digital Excellence Stimulus Center

US Government Recovery Act Sites (added 4/28 -- suggested at NTC)
Central site

Agency Recovery Act Sites

NTIA (National Telecommunications and Informatino Administration--Department of Commerce)

Department of Agriculture (RUS-Rural Utilities Service)!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?navid=ARRA_PLANS&parentnav=USDA_ARRA&navtype=RT

National Public Lightpath
News on Broadband Stimulus (see right side bar)

Minnesota Broadband Coalition

Internet for Everyone

Fieldstone Alliance (General—non broadband—stimulus information)
Want Stimulus Money? Act Fast!

Blandin Foundation, Minnesota
Live at the speed of light: a broadband vision for Minnesota

Broadband Initiative

Blandin on Broadband Blog

Blandin calls for stimulus funding partners

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Minneapolis Wi-Fi Community Benefits Agreement--Quick Summary

While traditionally Community Benefits Agreements have been used for real estate developments where developers have promised specific benefits to a community in exchange for support of specific zoning changes, Minneapolis used a CBA to specify the specific community benefits a private contractor would provide in exchange for a contract that made the City of Minneapolis the anchor tenant for a privately build, owned and maintained city-wide wi-fi system.

Brief History
The community benefits agreement was first proposed by Minneapolis Digital Inclusion Coalition--a loose group formed by the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability (using funding from the Minneapolis Foundation. In response to this group, the City of Minneapolis formed a Digital Inclusion Task Force that recommended specific items for the Community Benefits Agreements. To many people's surprise, the Mayor and City Council agreed to a Community Beneifts Agreement and made it a part of the contract.

Major Provisions
From the City of Minneapolis website, the major provision of the CBA are:
  • USI Wireless will provide $500,000 to create a “digital inclusion fund” that will be used to promote affordable Internet access, low-cost hardware, local content and training. In addition, US Internet will direct a minimum of five percent of the network’s net profits to a digital inclusion fund for ongoing digital inclusion efforts. In total, it is expected that about $11 million will go into the digital inclusion fund over the 10-year term of the contract.
  • Free limited-time service will be available in some public locations, such as parks and plazas in Minneapolis.
  • A free “walled garden” level of wireless service – Minneapolis Civic Garden – is now available to people throughout the city for important neighborhood, government, and community services information.
  • Designated community technology centers will receive free wireless access.
By far the most important benefit is the provisoin of five precent of the network's net profits to a digital inclusion fund. That fund is aministered by the Minneapolis Foundation (an independent community foundation) with the help of a Digitial Inclusion Advisor Board. That board is primarily citizens from the community (one member is a City Council member and one member is a representative of the system owner). This money goes directly from the contractor/owner to the Minneapolis Foundation. It does not go through the city or city council. The almost $400,000 in grants the fund has made are listed here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Obama Stimulus Package, Broadband, Minnesota and Leadership

The Blandin Foundation just hosted a gathering of people interested in making sure Minnesota gets it share of the Obama Stimulus Package money devoted to getting people broadband Internet service.(More detail on the broadband portion of the package here)

Six major take-aways from the meeting:
  1. No one knows the exact process the federal governement will use to distribute the money but much of it (around $4 billion to $5 billion) will be by competitive grants.
  2. These grant applications will be complex and will likely reward collaborations and partnerships.
  3. To write an effective applications, organizations need to get started now--especially get started forming the colaborations and partnerships
  4. Collaborations and partnerships take up-front resources. Because of the economy and state of Minnesota cuts in funding to cities, schools and health care, no one has the up-front money to devote to creating the partnerships.
  5. Ideally, Minnesota state government should step up and be a leader in creating the partnerships.
  6. With the current Minnesota Governor, don't expect any leadership. Minnesota's current governor really believes government can not do anything well and should do nothing. He has been actively making this true for the last six years.
More detail about the meeting on Blandin's Blandin on Broadband blog.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Greenhouse gas reduction grant application causing more greenhouse gasses.

I just submitted a proposal in response to the Minneapolis Request-for-proposals for ideas to reduce greenhouse gases on the neighborhood level.

The proposal did not allow electronic submission and required:

Six copies of:
  • A cover Page
  • A six page application form (the maximum but I challenge anyone to answer all their questions in less than 6 pages)
  • Attachments (in our case, 4 letters of support from partners)
Plus, one copy each of:
  • An organization chart (1 page)
  • List of board members (1 page)
  • Audit (11 pages)
  • Annual report (we didn't have one but assume a minimum of 4 pages)

A total of 83 sheets of paper. I had to drive downtown to drop off by 4 PM (I don't know anyone who submits grant applications early-- and saw three other neighborhood groups dropping off grant applications).

Think of all the paper, all the electricity for copiers and all the gas for driving downtown that could have been saved if we all could have submitted the greenhouse gas reduction applications via email.

BTW, this was for a maximum of $10,000 for a six month program. I've submitted shorter applications for multi-year grants of over $100,000. I'm not going to start on how much time the City is forcing it's neighborhood groups to waste on applications like this.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Minneapolis 2nd Ward. Green and DFL

I just came back from the Minneapolis 2nd Ward DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor; what the Democratic party is called in Minnesota) endorsing convention.

For the first time since the 60's, there was no one running for the DFL endorsement for City Council in the 2nd ward. The only reason I can see for this is a little complex:
  • The current Council Member for the ward only Green Party member of the city council.
  • Neither the Minnesota Green Party or the Minnesota DFL party allows for the endorsement of a member of another party or the endorsement of the same candidate by two parties. He fits the ward well.
  • The 2nd ward is probably the most liberal part of a liberal city.
  • The current council member does a very good job with everything from consituent services to mirroring the values of the ward.
So, what does a political party do when a member of an oposition party is well liked by its members? In this case, it first passes a motion of no endorsement that prohibits the party central committee from endorsing anyone before the election. This also was done in a way that strictly followed party rules. It then passes a resolution that is a close as possible to an endoresement without being an endorsement:
WHEREAS, Council Member Cam Gordon has done an excellent job serving Minneapolis’s Second Ward, and

WHEREAS, Cam Gordon has represented us in a manner consistent with the progressive values of the Democrats of the Second Ward, and

WHEREAS, the rules of our party do not allow for an endorsement of anyone who is a member of another political party, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED that the Democrats of the Second Ward do not endorse anyone for 2nd Ward Council Member, but do support the re-election of Cam Gordon to the Minneapolis City Council in 2009.
Both the motion and the resolution passed by around 90%.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Trash, Litter

Last overall comment on Egypt trip (I'm finally done with getting my blog posts done--trip ended over two weeks ago!).

There have been a lot of stories about the problem with the very low cost plastic bags used in markets and small shops around the world. From our experience in Egypt, they really are a problem. Those plastic bags from shops are everywhere. Up against the pyramids, along fences, in parking lots, along the sidewalks in all the towns and cities, along the railroad to Alexandria, along the desert highway back from Alexandria, at Abu Simbel, in the Nile. Everywhere!

Friday, April 10, 2009

JFK's Terminal 4

What a rotten design for a new airport terminal.

First the good news. The customs and immigration area is very well designed. Lots of capacity. Easy to figure out where to go next. Great signs (but you really don't need the signs--it's obvious where to go).

When you leave customs, you need to find where to check in for your connecting flight. There are no visual clues. When you come out, all you see is the doors to the outside for ground transportation. A sign says "Connecting Flights" and points through a small door to the left. There are a series of airline desks with baggage check-in scales. We get in line for NWA/KLM. When we get to the desk, we're told, "No, this is not the right place. This is only for reporting lost or damaged luggage. You need to go upstairs to level 4."

We finally find the escalators (continuing through the "damaged baggage" room, out a door, we discover the back side of the escalators. We take them up one level (with our baggage in tow). Finally see a sign that says Level 2. Finally find the next flight of escalators (behind us). Repeat on level 3.

We get up to level 4. Rows and rows of airline check-in desks. There are 4 aisles and we are in the middle. No signs for which airline is which directiton. We get lucky and guess the right direction and find a set of NWA/KLM counters. We stand in line for 20 minutes. When we get to the desk we are told, "No, this these are the counters for the flight to Amsterdam. It says so on the electronic sign above me." We point out that there is NOTHING on the electronic sign. Response. "Oh, sorry. You need to go down to those counters."

We go there and, WOW, very short line, we're told we are in the right line and get checked in. Go to another line to turn in our baggage (the TSA baggage scanning machines are out in the middle of the area--they didn't make it so the airline can just put them on the conveyor behind the counter.)

We go downstairs to the central area where all the food places are. Check our flight on the board--it's on time. Check the security line--it's long so we decide to get in it. ten minute line to check your boarding pass--another 10 minute line to go through the scanners. We get to the concorse. Only two food places on the boarding side of security. One a cart with oriental food that looks like it has been in the steam table for hours. One with pre-wrapped sandwiches.

Our flight is listed for departure at 5:30 from the same gate as the Egypt Air flight to Cairo is listed for departure at 6:10. The Egypt Air plane is at the gate. Checking the web with my cell phone, our plane shows a delay--until 7:20. Monitors in terminal still say 5:30.

In short, whoever designed this terminal should be forced to fly through it on every trip he or she takes.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Pyramides of Giza


Ok, a little more detail.

First some perspective: The pharaohs in the 26th Dynasty (around 600 BC) wanted to recreate the traditions of the early pharaohs so they did some archeology at the Step Pyramid (built a few miles away and before the Giza pyramids. The Step Pyramid was already 2000 years old. The Step Pyramid was built as a series of steps. Smooth sided pyramids came later.

The Great Pyramid at Giza statistics:
  • over 2 million blocks used to construct it
  • built around 25ooBC
  • when built, it was 485 feet high.
  • tallest building in the world until the 19th century (that make it the tallest building on earth for over 40 centuries.)
  • it and the second pyramid were faced with polished white limestone (you can still see some of it at the base) that reflected the sun. (The third pyramid at Giza was faced with red granite--from Aswan)
  • current theory is that it was built in about 20 years without using slaves.
  • the Giza plateau is an outcropping of bedrock.
  • the bedrock was leveled for construction (to within 1/2 inch over the 13 acre base
  • the four sides are 756 feet long, plus or minus 2 inches (note to my friend Dave the Surveyor--how does this compare with current surveying technology?)
Random thoughts:
The Sphinx was carved out of bedrock. Either about 2500BC or earlier than 5000 BC depending on the theory. The typical annual Nile flood came within a few yards of it.

The crowds going to the small area next the the sphinx are kind of intense.

The city of Cairo comes right up to the edge of the Giza plateau. (There is a building for lease about a block from the Sphinx.)

There is this odd building next to the Great Pyramid. The surprise is that it houses a "sun boat." The sun boat was for the pharaoh to use on his trip to heaven. It was found disassembled in a pit in the limestone next to the pyramid. They put it back together (it had marks on the boards identifying were they went (the equivalent of "insert tab a into slot b"). The only things new in the reconstruction are one oar and the ropes.

We did go to the "Sound and Light Show" at Giza--Coordinated colored lights on the pyramids and sphinx and some "cheese, historically inaccurate" narration. ("Cheese, historically inaccurate" is a quote from a 16 year old who was on our tour with her parents. She was a real ancient Egypt expert and this comment about the Sound and Light Show seems very appropriate.) I think they did update it once a few years ago. It now includes outline images drawn by a green laser. But it was fun to attend. (James Bond fans will remember the opening fight sequence in The Spy Who Loved Me--1977--Roger Moore as 007 appears to take place during the Sound and Light Show. The actually fight was shot in Karnak temple in Luxor.)

Valley of the Kings

The kings (Pharaohs) in Wast (Thebes/Luxor) around 1500 BC decided that publicizing their tombs and the riches in their tombs with large temples just made it easier for grave robbers. They decided to hide their tombs in undergound chambers in a desert valley on the west side of the Nile. (It didn't work).

The Valley of the Kings is breathtaking landscape. Totally barren desert--not one plant visible. Limestone outcropings and limestone gravel under foot (no, not sand). The valley was chosen because the ridge above it looks like a Pyramid.


Wast (Thebes to Greeks, Luxor now) was the center of the Middle and New kingdoms (2000 BC to about 600BC). Because it was the center of Egypt for so long, it has lots of history.

Karnak Temple is massive--built over a 1300 year period, over 100 acres. Lots of restoration has happened, lots is still going on.

Luxor temple: Contrary to the architecture of Las Vegas, the temple of Luxor has no pyramids. Had a chance to talk to an archialogist from Chicago House (Univeristy of Chicago) working on some restoration. He has been working on it for three years had has been able to see noticable deterioration of the temple over that short time. It is mainly caused by irrigation of sourounding farm land. This has raised the water table--the water is absorbed by the sandstone blocks that are the temple's main structure--the water causes deteriation to the carving. He said the good news is that a de-watering system has been installed at both Luxor and Karnak to lower the water table and this seems to be helping.

Another temple (on the west side of the river--Luxor is on the east bank) is Harshepsut. This temple (built around 14oo BC is very different than the others--a series of raising plazas with colonades. It looks more Greek than Egyptian but it was built around 1500 years before Alexander came to Egypt. It is actually patterned on a temple built around 2000 BC in the same area.

Archiological work on this temple is being done by the Polish-Egyptian Acrchaeological Mission-- The Egyptian government and Warsaw University. It seams that at every site, there is archaeology work being done. Always with the Egyption Department of Antiquities and a foreign partner.


River Traffic

There is virtually no industrial river traffic. Every once in a while we pass a small motorized barge. One hauling sugar cane plants, two carrying petroleum. No significant movement of agricultural goods. Ghada (our guide) says that the Nile isn't used for industrial shipping (she says because it is too slow). I'm guessing there are two more important reasons.
  • There isn't that much bulk to ship. The arable land in the upper Nile is limited to a very narrow strip along the Nile (you can see the desert beyond while cruising down the Nile.
  • Egypt had the first railroad in Africa and it runs along the Nile.
We go through a small lock going downstream--smaller than the smallest locks on the Mississippi.

Cruising the Nile

Don't expect to be the only ship cruising the Nile. This is a big part of the tourist business in Egypt. At Edfu, tour ships were docked three to five deep along the whole length of the wharf. (You disembark by going through the central lobby of the ship(s) between you and the warf. Each ship has between 50 and 200 passengers.

Our Guide/Tour

We decided to use the package tour method of seeing Egypt:
  • We don't know the langage
  • We were lazy--we didn't want to spend a few months learning Egypt history before going (we did read a couple books--but that was just skimming the surface)
  • We've found that going to museums in places where English is not the primary language, you miss a lot unless you have a guide.
  • We got a good deal on the tour
  • We've gone on four other tours with this company (Lindblad) are have been very pleased.
For the 28 tourists on this trip, there are two guides--so each group is only 14 people. They do have really good guides. Ghada, the guide we've spent most of our time with, has studied Egyptology all her life. In fact, in the few minutes she had off one day on the cruise, she was reading a just published study on some recent research.

This type of tour must have been really hard to manage before cell phones. I think Ghada spends half her life on her cell phone make last minute changes, and checking on arraingments, changing meal times because we're running early or late.....

Saturday, April 04, 2009


Another day, another Temple. Edfu Temple is said to be the "best-preserved monument of the ancient world. It is another temple to Horus--the Falcon god. It was built in the New Kingdom (around 250 BC but covered with Nile silt and Sahara sand for almost 2000 years. It still has the stone roof on the temple so you get a great feeling for how it felt when it was built.

Like at all the tourist attractions, they site is set up so you exit through the tourist market (just like museums do it with gift shops). In Egypt it is a bunch of independent merchants, all selling tourist stuff. They each rent a stall.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Aswan, Granite, Temples

Aswan is the source of the granite used in all the ancient Egyptian temples. (It's about a two hour flight between Aswan and Cairo--which gives you an idea of the distance the large blocks were transported). We visited a quarry for pink granite--really beautiful stone. Ancient Egyptians started quarrying an obelisk and quit when they found flaws in the rock.

Quarrying was done by knocking small pieces of granite off to get a larger (or very large) block free. They also made holes and packed it with dry wood, then used water to make the wood expand.

Visited the Temple of Philae in Aswan--it was on an island that was partially flooded by the first (British) Aswan dam. It was moved to a higher Island.
Cruising down the Nile you notice a haze on the horizon. This seems to be a combination of blowing sand and pollution.On our way down the Nile (to the north), we stopped at Kom Obou--a temple dedicated to two gods--Haroeris and Sobek.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Stopped at security

When you are carrying six power supplies (for three cameras, two cell phones, an Ipod), an extension cord to plug them all in, a security cable and a network cable in the same bag you have all your sunscreen in, I guess you have to expect to have the baggage searched. Ours was the only bag that had a special had search in our group of 29 tourists at Luxor Airport. (I've noticed that the suitcase with all that stuff in tends to be searched by TSA about 50 % of the time.)

Facebook in Cairo

Picked up a copy of the Herald Tribune (NYT's global edition) at the hotel before leaving for Alexandria. In the second section (the local section for Egypt) two interesting articles:
  • A new ancient tomb was found that is from the Old Kindom (thousands of years old)
  • Dateline Cairo: A group of Arab bloggers is using Facebook to compose an open letter to Obama. Letter will go public on March 25. (Same article in Middle East Times)