March 26, 2009

Harvey Perlman and the Innovation Campus

At the Heartland Conference for Free Enterprise, I heard Chancellor Perlman speak about research expansions to UNL. The new expansion - formerly the Nebraska State Fair Park - is being dubbed the Innovation Campus. The campus would link the City and East Campuses of UNL.

The talk was very interesting. People have said that Harvey is a boring public speaker, but I must have caught him on payday. He was enthusiastic about the Campus expansion, and even poked fun about having Ben Nelson carve out a share of Obama money.

The research corridor (ripped off from the research triangle in North Carolina) includes renovations to the Whittier School, a new physics building, the Ken Morrison Life Sciences Center on east campus and another Agriculture related project - the latter two renovations receiving some form of Obama money.

The Whittier School
, which has been a vine street eyesore for 30 years, will host a number of new programs, like:
  • A Federally funded transportation research center - So if anyone from the coasts ever ends up in Nebraska they will be able to find their way out.
  • An Alternative Energy research center
  • A startup incubator -Turbine Flats type operation
Harvey went into details about how these large projects are developed, which was interesting, but I'll save that for a future, more detailed post. The main point that he made about the progress on this expansion is that it takes many years to get these projects off the ground - a similar project in North Carolina took 20 years. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to coordinate UNL, State and Federal money - all the while making sure that everyone's back is getting scratched.

Harvey, like all other UNL leaders (except for Study Abroad), want to keep the young people in Nebraska. This project would attract more companies and goverenment agencies to UNL for research, because they cannot afford it anymore. With more research, more jobs are created, which will retain more native Nebraskans.

After the talk, Harvey left time for questions. Of course, someone out of the 150 or so people in attendance had to burst out the idea:

"Why don't we build a monorail to connect city campus and east campus." This of course made me think of the Simpsons (Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!)

Lets be serious - Las Vegas built a monorail in 2004. It cost them around $100 million per mile. They built it because there would be rougly 250,000 visitors in the city at any given time. This is the Rolls Royce of Monorails (and believe me, I know my Monorails). A more realistic Monorail would cost roughly $35 million per mile. We have to move a few hundred students 20 blocks. Please - no more monorails. We don't want Lincoln to turn out like North Haverbrook.

This project would benefit UNL greatly, and solidify it as a premeir research university. The project also carries loads of risk; expanding UNL's city campus is a cruel game of tetris. Heavy use rail lines to the north and west, downtown to the south and the sheer amount of ghetto to the west make the State Fair park the most logical area of expansion. 

It should be interesting to see how the Innovation Campus pans out. But please remember, no Monorails.

March 25, 2009

Not another bar...

I recently (I'm very late with this post) attended the Mentoring by the Masters round table/web cast presented by the Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship. The main reason that I attended was for a class requirement - but I think I would have gone anyway (of course I would have). The master Entrepreneurs in attendance were Joey Knecht of i2rd/Vipa Solutions, Carol Farnham of Signa Solutions, and Eric Dinger of Thought District.

The talk was web cast to several other Nebraska college campuses through an awesome room in the teachers college. The place was full of flat screens and microphones - easily 20 thousand dollars worth of equipment. Of course it was not working correctly, so the talk got started 20 minutes late.

The content covered basic Entrepreneurship questions: What was the hardest part of starting your business? What is the one thing that I can do to make me successful? Questions along those lines. The content was not mind blowing, but Dinger and Knecht would crack jokes whenever they spoke to keep things interesting. Dinger's answers were effective and concise - which I greatly admire.

Other sites had their masters on hand as well, but I did not find them nearly as interesting.

Carol Farnham mentioned lighting darkfiber for distributed computing between universities - which I thought was the coolest topic mentioned during the web cast. Dark fiber is also an awesome name, and the phrase "light the dark fiber" sounds straight out of a fantasy novel.

Before the talk started, Knecht was talking to the group of students in attendance - nearly all of which were in a new venture management course. He asked the group, "So what are you going to start? And don't tell me it's another stupid bar."

This made me chuckle, because about half of the students in the management class are writing business plans for some form of bar or restaurant. However I quickly straightened up, because M7 is developing software to make losing sobriety that much easier.

Don't discount HappierHour. It took creativity, engineering knowledge and discipline to get the app up and running (and we are far from done - Follow Us!). The end goal is like any other venture, to add value to a large group of users.

HappierHour 1.0 Released

The M7 Group released version 1.0 of the HappierHour Facebook application at 12:01, Wednesday morning.

If I were you, I would rush to my nearest Facebook applications page and add it to my profile. Come on, all the cool kids are doing it.

The goal of HappierHour is to create a collaborative resource where Facebook users can find the best bar deals and share them with their friends. Users can add new bars, drinks, and specials - all of which are rated by the HappierHour community.

Nate has more release related information at NonGenre.

M7 is planning another release sometime next month - so check back for more HappierHour updates.

Please go out and give it a try - and if you are so inclined, report a bug or request an awesome new feature.

March 19, 2009

Spring Break Ride Summary

After talking to my friend Bob late Sunday night, I agreed to join him, along with Tony and Ricky, on a two-day ride to Memphis, Nebraska.

Bob said that we would be leaving at about noon, and we ended up leaving a little before 2pm. We left Omaha and rode to through Gretna along Highway 31. We then turned to the Southwest and rode along Highway 6. Right before Ashland we turned north and made our way to Memphis, where we were camping for the night. Since we were camping, we did not have any room for food, so we rode back down to Ashland for supplies and dinner before riding back up for the night. Day one total - 40.5 miles.

After a long night (more below) we took off heading north to Highway 275 (or Center Street for the Omahans). We took Highway 275 past Two Rivers Campground and rode into Omaha on Q street. Day two total - 29.2 miles.

2 Day mileage total - 69.7 miles
Top Speed - 32.3 miles per hour (Highway 275)
Saddle Time - 5 hours and 12 minutes

Now for some more interesting highlights of the trip:
  • Riding South and riding West killed us. The wind made its presence known. It was very difficult to maintain even a 13 mile per hour pace. The first leg (through Gretna and before we turned for Memphis) was very difficult. I definitely felt out of shape during that first leg.
  • Don's in Memphis is a very nice small town bar - filling water bottles before we left. We also grabbed some off sale beers before we went back to the campsite to make camping that much easier.
  • We were unprepared. We had to ride 15 more miles the first day to get food.
  • We were very unprepared. We used summer sleeping bags in a tent with no footprint and no weather topper. Bob, Tony, and I were using very thin sleeping bags. Tony gave up on sleep at about 4 am and built a massive fire that lasted until 9 am.
  • The ride back was much more enjoyable. The stretch between two rivers campground and Omaha is a great ride, with hills to push the bike up to 35 miles per hour (Remember, you have to go up these hills before you can go down them).
Things to take away:
  • Make the night count. I didn't get very much rest camping because of the conditions. I made it through day 2's ride fine, but I crashed when I got home. To be able to ride for hundreds of miles, we need better rest at night.
  • Better bike = better ride. I was riding Bob's dad's bike. It is a very nice ride, but did not fit me at all. I could have carried more weight with less strain on my back if I had been riding a larger bike.
Overall, this was a great little ride. It was much cheaper than Spring break last year, but I would take Lake Havasu over Memphis (Nebraska) any day.

I'll put up a few pictures if Bob uploads them to Facebook.

March 6, 2009

Tired Legs Make for Efficient Work

To cap off the culmination of my first (and definitely not last) 4 years in college, Nate and I are going to complete a bicycle tour across Nebraska. We thought up the idea for the trip last summer coming home from Kansas City. Our ideas started off much grander. We wanted to ride across the country. We quickly realized that we did not have a clue what we were talking about and we shortened the trip to span Nebraska, from Sidney to Lincoln. Here is a rough map of the route:

The blue markers are rough pit stops along our journey. Some highlights will be Ole's Big Game Lounge in Paxton, The Dairy Queen in Lexington, and Nate's parents' place in Cario.

According to GoogleMaps, this will be a 363 mile long trip. We will be riding on Nebraska Highway 34 for the majority of our journey. If we ride around 50 miles a day, the trip will take around 8 days.

When we originally thought of the bike trip, we wanted to volunteer along the way. Nate and I wanted to teach computer science workshops (In Python of course) in the towns we stopped in on our ride. We even branded the potential trip - The Road of Code. For the 09 trip (meaning that if all goes according to plan, there will be more trips) we decided against trying to volunteer with something every stop along the way. I still think it would be a great idea to do volunteer work along the way, but we need to make sure that we can actually complete the trip before we worry about coordinating volunteer efforts.

Nate and I (and anyone else who is brave enough) will be riding road bikes and will have a support car waiting at the next stop. We are planning on camping all but one of the nights, so we need the support car to carry camping gear. Erik has graciously volunteered to drive the support car for a portion of the trip, but we are still looking for volunteers. We plan on riding early in the morning, so we can make it into the next town right around lunch time. This will give us a great chance to interact with the locals over some coffee.

Afternoons will most likely be spent in a library or anywhere else that has WiFi access. We want to blog actively during the trip and take as many pictures as possible. One of our original (more effort required) was to throw together a short documentary of our trip and the people we meet along the way. I have always wanted to make a documentary, but it would be better if we focused on completing the trip - saving bigger ideas for later years.

At night, we will have to hit up the local nightlife and get to know the town bar. We will need calories and beer has plenty of them.

That brings me to a mathematical side note. Riding around 50 miles per day at 20 miles per hour puts us in the saddle two and a half hours per day. Based on our performance so far, we each burn around 45 calories per mile. So 50 x 45 = 2,250. We will need to consume roughly 2,250 additional calories per day to maintain our weight. We could eat 30 eggs a day to make up the 2,250 calories. Or, we could drink 22 beers a day to make up the 2,250 calories. Now we won't be able to keep riding if we eat 30 eggs or drink 22 beers everyday - but hopefully a mix of the two will keep us in the saddle.

We have quite a bit of planning left on this trip, but Nate and I are both 95% sure that it will happen. Here's a rough list of things that need to happen:
  • Get in shape.
  • Get in better shape.
  • Buy new road bikes.
  • Find a few more support drivers.
  • Find support gear.
  • Detailed plan of the trip.
  • Learn an anti-rain dance so we can ride everyday.
This is shaping up to be one exhausting summer vacation.