Oakland Unseen: Iron Chef films toughest show yet in West Oakland food desert

I’m not sure if I should be laughing or crying, I feel like both reading this. I’m really glad this is a satire piece, but then maybe I’m wrong and this is for reals. Either way the point is legit.

oaklandunseen:

Iron Chef West Oakland

Iron Chef America contestants are known for having to creatively overcome difficult cooking challenges, such as making a dessert with eel. But few episodes have been as difficult as having to make gourmet dishes using only ingredients found in the West Oakland food desert.

Next Iron…

Oakland Unseen: Iron Chef films toughest show yet in West Oakland food desert

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In ten words or less, sugar is both toxic and abused. Every substance that is both toxic and abused at the same time requires both personal intervention, which, for lack of a better word, we can call ‘rehab,’ or societal intervention [which], for lack of a better word, we call ‘a tax.’ Same thing we do with alcohol and tobacco.

According to Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UC San Francisco, it’s a dangerous trend. The mass consumption of sugar via soda affects the human body much like drugs and tobacco. Lustig also argued that education alone is not enough to fight sugar addiction.

From the EBX article on how Big Soda played the Race baiting game to defeat the soda tax.

Nikon’s Not So Great D600 Servicing

I upgraded to a full frame DSLR late last year, a very significant expense for my photography business but a good decision base don my needs- mostly for larger prints of fine art landscape work. At first it was a fantastic piece of gear, one small ergonomic balls-up on the tips of your right fingers- they get pinched ever so slightly by a non rounded curve, but otherwise it’s a wonderful camera.

Until it isn’t. Shooting at a 49ers game for fun I found my 20mm AF-D f2.8 lens wasn’t auto-focusing anymore, wiggled, jiggled and no luck. Went to manual mode. Weird. Later I put on a 80-200mm AF-D f2.8 Nikkor lens and it wouldn’t focus either. Messed with switches from M-A, no luck. Put on a 300mm AF-S f4 and it was all candy. Strange.

Tested it more at home the next day and realized that all my favorite AF-D lenses (between 7-10 years old) would no longer auto-focus on the body. But they did work fine on my D7000 still. Crap. They all work manually only. Not so great for shooting weddings or sports but fine for landscapes I guess?

So, send it off to Nikon less than 45 days old. Not a great feeling. This is a big investment for anyone and to have out of the box failure is bad, worse if you use that product to make money from.

Two weeks go by and Nikon sends it back into the third week, repaired. Major Repairs according to their ticket. Major part replacement. Comforting. But repaired by Nikon experts. So all good.

Except it wasn’t. First wedding after getting it back, slap on a 50mm for some portrait shots and bam, no focus. At a wedding. Luckily, oh so luckily I wasn’t the official photographer at this one – obviously I would have checked all my gear first if I was. But the “repair” was not so much a repair as I’d expected. Now thoroughly pissed and not ok with the thought of such an expensive bit of equipment spending another 2+ weeks with Nikon and not able to be used.

I asked Nikon to issue a shipping label as this was not just a warranty repair but a repair caused by their own negligence and failure to perform. After back and forthing it took them over a week to issue a shipping label. Process apparently. I should have eaten the shipping cost myself and not lost the extra week with no camera working. Lesson learned.

I told Nikon that a repair at this point was completely unacceptable, that I have no faith that they can and will do the job properly or that the camera can indeed be fixed as they supposedly did this job last time and resulted in a dead camera afterwards. In this situation you have to acknowledge your customers and they fact that they rely on your products to make a living or to work effectively.  If your products require more time in the factory than in your customers hands being used then you have a serious problem, one that affects your customers goodwill and income. One that drives them to Canon or Olympus.  But instead of acknowledging these basics of customer relationship, Nikon is refusing to replace or refund my purchase.

So obviously now I’ve gone from a big fan of Nikon gear for over 15 years to a seriously disappointed and angry customer desperate to get a working body for his $2,000.  If this had happened a tad sooner I could have simply returned it to Adorama, but that option of relying on good customer service is gone, and now I’m at the mercy of Nikon and their promise that they are able to fix what they failed to fix once before, and I’m left with a $2,000 hole in my business account and no working product to show for it again. Oh, and that bad taste in my mouth.

Thanks Nikon, way to not respect your customers.

Opening Government: Oakland’s First CityCamp

I recently co-founded an organization called OpenOakland with former Code for America fellow Eddie Tejeda.  One of our passions was that we both believe that government can and should be much more than a vending machine. Those of us in OpenOakland (all 20+ volunteers) dig the idea of government as a platform: a platform that supports safe communities, job growth, excellent schools, strategic business development, and innovation. When our government operates more collaboratively and genuinely engages with our communities (as opposed to acting as a barrier), it facilitates so much more that can benefit our communities.  Too many, this is a new concept, but we believe that it matters how we perceive our governments.  It’s no secret that current local governments have a ton of changing to do, but it’s unlikely that these changes will come about swiftly without all of us being involved and engaged and supporting our government staff and leaders to make these changes.

Instead of lamenting from the sidelines, how can we support this change?  Several years ago some brilliant people created an opensource brand called CityCamp– the idea was that concerned citizens, technologists and government never really get the chance to get together, share successes, be exposed to new, innovative technology, share struggles and openly converse and build relationships with no hidden agendas and with no vendor pitches.  For OpenOakland, running a CityCamp was a clear way for us to move our mission forward-  we exist to support open, agile and engaged government.  So on December 1st we held the first ever CityCamp Oakland, inside city hall and actually based in council chambers.  We welcomed 121 local technology professionals, government staff from almost every city department and community members to a full day’s unconference.

As an unconference, a CityCamp gives those attending the opportunity to set the agenda themselves, we asked registered guests to suggest ideas on a new platform the City has adopted recently called EngageOakland.com.  This approach not only gives people a sense of empowerment that they can create the sessions they want to lead or participate in, it also gives us and our attendees a great way to continue conversations beyond the day using the same web platform for discussion and sharing.  We helped seed the ideas with a few topics of interest to OpenOakland members and started the day with over 30 ideas to consider.  The topics were refined through attendees voting on each idea- in the end we held 16 different sessions throughout city hall.

The session topics covered issues from open data, a GIS/spatial roundtable discussion, pubic safety data, freedom of information (FOIA) requests, civics 101, diversity and the digital divide and Oaklandwiki.org (a local wiki built by OpenOakland to allow Oaklanders to tell their own stories about their community).  While there is a level of initial discomfort for many people, this open format of event does lend itself to unpredictable conversations that could never happen in other settings and also supports a level of openness and candidness that is both rare and valuable.  Can you think of another setting where city staff would spend an hour discussing the limitations and issues of publicly available crime data or the problems in the current FOIA process?  With no unspoken agenda, no forced engagement requirement that town hall meetings carry and no threat of repercussion, we all participated in some rich conversations and came away inspired and encouraged.

Some take-aways were significant and some were minor, but all were things that are only possible in a safe, respectful environment that this event helped to create. Take for example the city staffer who learned that saving data as a PDF is actually a barrier to others being able to easily access and make use of the data, that the habit they considered as helpful was not, and by saving as raw data formats they could enable others to also use these data.  This is no earth changing lesson, but it illustrates the value in communication and of sharing frustrations without adopting a blaming or accusatory approach.

This event demonstrated how powerful communication and open engagement really are, and the attendees illustrated to those of us in the Open Government movement just how important it is that we can provide more environments like this to allow for better collaboration in future.  The real test of any social or civic change is that of time, and so it remains to be seen how lasting the impacts of this CityCamp will be.  I’m optimistic that we are on the right track here, that positive, supportive approaches can help to transform our city governments into the 21st century institutions we need them to be.  One city staffer wrote that “We can look forward to a whole new push in communications, data, transparency, ease of access because of these people’s (OpenOakland) efforts to work, partner with us and join in to the larger civic conversation”.  We even have excited city staff wanting to take part in OpenOakland now- some initial proof that the concept of a Code for America Brigade really does meet a local need!

Some of the guests were dubious about this format and carried some serious distrust of city staff into the day.  As someone who has tussled with the city publicly I could sympathize with them, however we were stunned to see the impact of open conversations with city staff as peers on some of these hard edged residents.  I truly believe that these type of events can go a long way to healing some of our past wounds and to opening up doors to not only better collaboration, but to informed engagement on our part.  The typical closed door, gatekeeper approach maintained by many departments does nothing to encourage goodwill or trust. It does in fact encourage distrust and doubt about the intentions and capabilities of that office which cannot have any positive results for either the agency or the public it serves.  From an outside perspective we hear about all the dumb, corrupt things that city officials do, but when we talk in person about things we have a common interest in I find my respect for city staff increases as I learn about more of the great things they are doing or are trying to do.

One of the city staff in attendance provided this perspective on the civic hacker community:
“they are our new age city advocates – just like our tried and true volunteers who wear vests and bring shovels, these new style digital folks, use an iPad, the cloud and zeros & ones to engage the citizenry, help govt get the word out, make things easier- faster-better! They are committed to Oakland, and are generous with their skills and amazing abilities and know how”.

If you think that this kind of event would benefit your city I’d encourage you to consider hosting one- opensource is not just a concept that promotes “free” software, it applies to ideas too- as an opensource idea, anyone is free to hold a CityCamp and to reuse this brand and this idea- after all, cities are one of the earliest examples of us sharing communally- we share our libraries and roads, why not share great ideas too!  This is one of the most powerful concepts in urban society- if an idea or a project works in one place, why not reuse it elsewhere? This is the core of opensource technology and it’s the core of OpenOakland also. But that’s another story.

Original story posted here: sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2013/01/11/opening-government-oaklands-first-citycamp/

Leadership- as a platform?

Over the past few years, two things have been prominent in my thinking and the subject of much of my internal monologue; government as a platform, and leadership.

I’ve forced more time into my schedule during the day and after work to think, to abstract the work we’re doing, what is means, why it matters and what is important that we’re not aware of. Government as a platform is an idea from a wonderful guy- Tim O’Reilly, who suggested that government truly should be a platform to enable society to function, grow, create.  Similar to software platforms that allow developers to create on top of them and produce amazing new things incredibly easily and cheaply, government is a base for our society that allows us all to live and create and prosper. As opposed to the common perception of government as a vending machine- taxes in, services out. The problem here is that vending machines are dumb and do not adapt.

I’ve had excellent opportunities these past few years to grow into a leadership role in my work place, in our community and in some networks I value greatly. I’ve not yet had any formal leadership training but I do read, quite a bit.

I grew up with strong, blunt bosses in most jobs. Aggressive, forceful and dominating men in most part. And the boomer generation seems to contain a lot of these people, people who have a style of management or “leadership” that is dominating, aggressive and controlling. The exceptions were two wonderful people in the WA Health Dept, Dr Jim Codde and Sally Brinkman. Reflecting on what I’ve started to understand about my own style of leadership with my team and my side projects has given me pause to reflect on what I’ve witnessed as leadership styles and characteristics that I value.

Funnily as I write this Alain De Botton is on in the background mentioning that the best way to get work our of people is by frightening them. Weird.

These two ideas have merged in my head now- the platform, and leadership to be exact.  I feel that to enable my team to do the best work possible, to grow professionally and to move our work to the next level I need to support them, to encourage them and to set examples I want them to follow of how to think, create and innovate and to maintain quality standards in all they do.  It feels like doing that type of support, being their cheerleader and inspiring is a much more effective way to do our work and create a space that people want to be attached to and to stay at. Rather than a eagle eyed micro manager drilling out work, it seems that being a leader is more like providing a platform for others to excel, to succeed and to learn and grow.  There is some conflict here, obviously a leader must be out cheer leading, promoting, fundraising and trumpeting the amazing work of their team, but that also must fit into the concept of a platform- to enable more great work, more exciting opportunities, one must support their team and marketing and bringing in new work is part of that support platform. 

It’s quite likely that these thoughts pertain more to the creative industries I’ve been privileged to be part of for some time. A factory setting or a construction boss perhaps is not a great place to suggest these approaches?  That caveat aside, this whole idea of leadership is something that has huge implications for our organizations, our longevity and our retention and achievements.  The longer I spend in the start-up and tech worlds the more I realize that the open, unstructured environments where software is created have a lot to teach us about better ways to run creative, thought heavy organizations and teams.

What I don’t know yet is how to translate the vision and goals we develop into formal action across the board. We need to be able to convert these into tangible plans and to make the case to people who may not think or function the same way. Just like making the case for the ROI for a new technology, we need to find ways to make the case for new leadership approaches, for pivots in organizations that do not pivot, to capture opportunities for funds and for new abilities, to take risks.

These are the same things that we are pushing for in the open government movement. It is imperative that we to consider everything we advocate for (from others) and apply those asks, values and challenges to ourselves. If we cannot adapt, cannot be open, cannot create a supporting platform in our own work, then we will have a hard time making that case for government. In this we need to lead by example. Take risks. Experiment. Be open. Innovate.