Monthly Archives: December 2002

Life Can be (More) Beautiful

Who knew? I thought computer games were the province of teen age boys, and I ignored the gaming magazines, companies, products, and even hot stocks until I read the review of “The Sims Online.” For some reason, the idea of playing a game online appealed to me and I decided to try it. I ordered it for myself as a Christmas gift (on the theory that I should give myself something no one else would give me) and it arrived on Christmas Eve, having been officially released December 17.

Gleefully I inserted the first disk into my CD-ROM drive, only to find that the game wouldn’t install unless I ran Disk Cleanup and Defrag first. I can’t believe that teen age boys are so disciplined as to be able to defer gratification for the five hours it took me to defragment my hard drive.

When TSO (that’s what they call it) installs, it still isn’t finished working on itself. Because it’s an online game, it changes constantly, and every time you sign on to play, you have to get the updates. (The first thing that updates on a new install is the updater itself!)

Right now, I’ve launched the game again and it is running through its update cycle. I really haven’t started to play in earnest yet.

On the first day, I got hung up for hours creating my first Sim. For those of you who don’t play games, creating a Sim is creating a character, and you do it just as if you were going to write a novel. My Sim’s name is Chauncey Woofka, and he is a good looking guy with medium brown skin, orange hair, shorts and sandals. I was able to choose his skin color, his hair, his facial expression, and his outfit from a long list of possibilities, all of which can be tried out on the computer screen.

I read in the New York Times today that some religious group has announced the birth of the first cloned human being. The group, followers of some race driver named Rael, also believes that human beings were created by aliens from outer space. TSO is far more logical than this, and thus, far more dangerous.

For me, being part of TSO is much more exciting than just cloning a human being. With cloning, you merely get more of the same. Here in the wonderful world of Electronic Arts, I get the opportunity to make someone far better looking than myself, and walk a mile in his moccasins. I can finally see what it’s like to live as a man. I’ve had my suspicions…

After I gave birth to my Sim, I got to choose where he would live. There are many different cities, all of which have their characteristics: they’re like a frontier, or they are made up of lagoons, or they’re beaches. Chauncey, however, has chosen to live in the Test Center, a city where all the new technologies are tried and where your Sim and all his possessions could be wiped in a single moment.

Why has he been stupid enough to do that? Probably because his Creatrix isn’t creative enough to get outside herself and let him live in a place she wouldn’t enjoy. She condemned him to live in the same state of urban uncertainty she lives in. This taught her a huge karmic lesson: it’s not easy to imagine yourself as someone else.

Today the Creatrix will help Chauncey find a place to live in his chosen city. This is where she stopped on Christmas Eve, because she found out that empty lots cost 3000, and her Sim’s entire budget is 30,000. Although the Creatrix knows that it’s traditional to spend 25-30% of one’s income on housing, she doesn’t know enough about the game yet to see what else Chauncey will have to do with his money, and she was unwilling to commit to buying anything without research. Anyhow, a hint pop-up box told her that it was better to start out by being a roommate.

The Creatrix still doesn’t understand the object of the game, if there is an object beyond just surviving. Should Chauncey try to end up with all of his money? If he develops skills, he can get jobs and make more money. He can also be voted “best liked.” Right now, he’s trying to decide which direction to take with his life.

If Chauncey fails, the Creatrix has two more Sims she can play with. She’s going to wait a while before designing these characters.

The Creatrix has figured out that she might be as bad at this game as she was at PacMan, which required hand-eye coordination beyond her means, and convinced her it was safer for her to swear of games forever than to keep being disgraced by her ten-year-old daughter.

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The Greatest Gift of All

Last week-end, I took a drive to Tucson from Phoenix. Any doubt I had that the long-standing rivalry between Phoenix and Tucson should be history was erased by the almost continuous development along the Interstate between them. In our lifetimes, Phoenix and Tucson will be one continuous megalopolis, not unlike the Bay Area in California.

Why go to Tucson on the week-end? Because my former foster child, the one we used to call Little Jerry (he’s 6’4″ and 205 lbs. now, and twenty years old), is in the Arizona Correctional Treatment Facility in Marana, just north of Tucson.

When I met LJ, he was ten, and his family was falling apart — crumbling under the weight of his parents’ drug addictions. He and his three siblings, one older and two younger, were pretty much raising themselves. Earnest and afraid in the gunshot-ridden ghetto he grew up in, (now part of a glorious downtown redevelopment) he begged me to mentor him. And when Child Protective Services removed him from his mother, my late husband and I became foster parents and took him into our home.

Things were fine until my husband died, and Jerry was seventeen. Suddenly, his behavior changed, and after months of denial, I had to admit he was on drugs. A police sergeant in South Phoenix who arrested Jerry helped me to this realization: “lissen, lady, your kid’s a drug user and a drug dealer. I don’t care what you think.” I piled LJ into the back of my Mercedes and drove him home. That sergeant must have thought I was blind, deaf and dumb.

Six weeks before his high school graduation, LH dropped out and went back to live with his birth mother, who “lived” in the Deck Park in Phoenix and worked part time as a crack whore. For three years, he was homeless, on crack himself, and in and out of jail for petty crimes — DUI, probation violations, failure to appear. I saw him once or twice during that time, and it made *me* feel like the failure; he weighed about 125 and looked ghastly. Why had I not been able to help him?

Finally, he was sentenced to two years in prison for various small crimes and one big one: breaking and entering. He called me and asked me to appear at his sentencing hearing, as a character witness, and I did. After all, he had broken my heart, but that’s not a crime.

I stood in the courtroom and told the judge about his interrupted school experiences, his disrupted childhood, and his bi-polar disorder. I said, “if you let this kid languish in prison for two years without helping him, he will be our responsibility for the rest of his life, just as his birth mother is. You had better get him treatment and help, or you’ll never see the end of him in this system.”

The judge turned to LJ and said, “you are lucky to have this woman in your life,” and sentenced him to the treatment facility instead of the prison.

But it took nine months for a space to open at Marana, during which LJ marked time at Safford. On October 15, he finally got transferred to Marana. On November 21, he wrote me to tell me he had finally gotten his GED.

So I, who had always been an advocate for education in his life, “rewarded” him by driving down to the facility to visit him before Christmas.

There aren’t any words to describe our joyful reunion. There he was, clean, sober, good looking, articulate and intelligent — asking me questions about everyone we knew in common including his dog, which I still have. He’s taking classes in business management, and he has read every Sidney Sheldon and John Grisham novel in the facility.

He is making plans for when he gets out — plans that include never going back. Of course I know there is recidivism. Of course I know there may be relapses. But as a mother, just seeing him healthy, strong, and using his mind was enough to make me weep for joy. One day at a time.

Everyone always asks me what I want for Christmas. This is all I want: the health and happiness of everyone I love.

And that includes all of you.

Namaste (which is Sanskrit for “the light that is within me salutes the light that is within you”)and happy holidays.

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Safety in Numbers?

We are inclined to think that genuine innovators are loners, that they do not need the social reinforcement the rest of us crave. But that’s not how it works… In his book ‘The Sociology of Philosophies,’ Randall Collins finds in all of known history only three major thinkers who appeared on the scene by themselves: the first-century Taoist metaphysician Wang Ch’ung, the fourteenth-century Zen mystic Bassui Tokusho, and the fourteenth-century Arabic philosopher Ibn Khaldun. Everyone else who mattered was part of a movement, a school, a band of followers and disciples and mentors and rivals and friends who saw each other all the time and had long arguments over coffee and slept with one another’s spouses. ” — Malcolm Gladwell

In the same article by Malcolm Gladwell that I quoted from above (a book review from last week’s “New Yorker”), Gladwell points out that “one of the peculiar features of group dynamics is that clusters of people will come to decisions that are far more extreme than any individual member would have come to on his own. People compete with each other and egg each other on, showboat and grandstand; and along the way they often lose sight of what they truly believed when the meeting began. Typically, this is considered a bad thing, because it means that groups formed explicitly to find middle ground often end up someplace far away. But at times this quality turns out to be tremendously productive, because, after all, losing sight of what you truly believed when the meeting began is one way of defining innovation.”

I love this point. Pushed to its extremes, it’s not unrelated to crowd psychology, which convinced on some perfectly nice Columbus Ohioans to rip up their city last month just because they got into the Fiesta Bowl. But anywhere along the path to that kind of behavior, a support system, salon, cult, cirle — whatever–can be tremendously effective in making something happen.

There’s always strength, as well as safety, in numbers.

The numbers hypothesis comes up again and again in discussions of innovation. Many innovation theorists believe that only when there are several things happening at once, creating a context, will true innovation occur. The example given of this is always Silicon Valley, where the Stanford professors, the venture capitalists, and the young people willing to work long hours have produced one of the outstanding innovation economies of world history. To get something to happen, the innovation theorists say, a context has to be created. That context could be the monastery that preserved literacy during the Middle Ages, the universities that flourished during the Renaissance, the Romantic poets, the Bloomsbury Group, the Haight-Ashbury, or even the Soprano family.

Corporations trying to encourage innovation go to great lengths to create that context: brainstorming sessions, Outward Bound excursions, team-building exercises, intrapreneurship programs. But true innovation, it seems to me, is iterative, and takes place over a longer period of time than just a couple of hours, weeks, or even years. The innovation that comes out of great universities is built upon decades of shared experience between students, faculty, friends, and colleagues.

So then the question becomes whether we can continue to innovate now that we live in cyberspace. Are online communities any better (or worse) at fostering innovation than actual communities have been? Can they bring together the multiple factors necessary for true innovation?

To experiment with this, I have already ordered my copy of The Simms Online, which launches December 17. While The Simms Online is already slated to be the most popular online game in history, for me it will have another function. I’ll be playing it to see whether online collaboration can produce true social innovation. Will we fashion a better society sitting at the computer than we have now?

Perhaps you want to order one so we can find out together:-)

P.S. My Entrepreneurship class is over, and I have learned a great deal from it. (Yes, I was the teacher, but so what…) Among other things, it allowed me to collate my thoughts around the various topics every entrepreneur needs to know: market research, business plans, finance, marketing, building a team, and so on. Next year, I’ll re-purpose some of that thinking into “The Outside World,” our monthly subscription e-zine. If you wish to sign up to receive it, go to http://www.acteva.com/go/outsideworld. It’s $99 a year: a bargain. In the mean time, I will continue this general philosophical weekly meander that I’ve been doing for four years, but it will be even less useful than it has been in the past 🙂

Want to get “good” information?: http://www.acteva.com/go/outsideworld

Stealthmode Partners

7240 N. Dreamy Draw Drive Suite 118 Phoenix, AZ 85020
Web Site: http://www.stealthmode.com
Email: francine@stealthmode.com
Phone: (602) 910-5622
Fax: (602) 331-0689

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What is Biotech?

When I see a good economic development strategy, I’m like a fifty-year-old man staring at a twenty-year-old girl in a bikini; I get excited all over again and I think I’m young.

Tuesday morning I cut the dogs’ walk short and went to the breakfast meeting at which the Flinn Foundation presented the Biosciences Roadmap for Arizona, as conceptualized by the Battelle Institute. As soon as I saw the presentation, I knew it was right. It was, insofar as anything composed of PowerPoint slides can be, exciting. These Battelle guys have done more than tell us what we already knew and collect their fees: they have actually given us some steps they think we need to take to be successful as a biosciences center.

You can download the PowerPoints, the executive summary, and even the whole report at http://www.flinn.org, so I won’t try to detail what was said. However, several themes (most of which have more to do with politics than with life sciences) stood out.

First, this is a long term vision. We will not have a cure for cancer out of TGen next year. We will not have a new economy in Arizona tomorrow. We will be rolling the stone up the hill for the forseeable future, until it starts the avalanche. But that doesn’t mean everyone should not put his or her shoulder to the stone and help out.

Fortunately, I was around twenty years ago to watch downtown Phoenix start to rebuild. That has taught me about how easy it is to make far-fetched plans become real. Downtown redevelopment is still not finished, but every project that I thought was a ridiculous dream — the Arena, the Ballpark, The Collier Building, the Phelps Dodge Building, downtown housing — has happened over the past twenty years.

I once thought that the stuff I was writing in “The Heart of the City Report” for Ron Bookbinder in the 80s was fiction, but the Phoenix Community Alliance has taught me that big visions can have legs.

Second, it will take collaboration. We are not good at this as a state. Our Wild West heritage is strong on rugged individualism (I’m doing my thing, and I don’t care what anyone else is doing) and territoriality (this land is my land). The state government is more often a hindrance to our cities and counties than a help (it takes three years and three hundred lobbyists to get a bill through the legislature). And the Tech Council practically required a human sacrifice to get it going.

We’re going to have to lose that Wild West ethos in order to succeed. The universities and Tech Councils have already begun.

Third, and related to this, is the need for more and better *networking.* In the thirty-odd years I’ve been in Arizona, I’ve been on the founding boards of the Enterprise Network, the Arizona Software Association, the Arizona Learning Technology Partnership, the Arizona Telecommunications Infrastructure Council, Globalized E-Learning (GAZEL), the Phoenix Community Alliance, Tech Oasis, and the Arizona Futures Institute. (Ted and Alan, can you think of any others?) I’ve participated in ASPED, GSPED, and APNE and I’ve been through Valley Leadership.

No wonder I’m not rich; look how I’ve spent my time 🙂

Everything in my career has been pointed in one direction: bring people together, put them on the same page conceptually, and allow them to leverage each other’s strengths. In fact, the name of my first company was “Hardaway Connections.”

And then, just as I began to think I was crazy, Bob Metcalf came out with his Law about the value of a network being in the number of connections…and universities began doing research into the role of informal networks in innovation.

These informal networks are all over Arizona, just as they are in every state. But in Arizona we’re lucky, because Tech Oasis has begun to provide opportunities for members of these innovation networks to come together informally, at no cost, to “meet and greet.” Tech Oasis has recently expanded to Yuma and Sierra Vista, is already going in Tucson, Phoenix, Tempe, and Scottsdale, and is soon to come to Flagstaff. (www.techoasis.org). We’re going to make Tech Oasis more useful by publishing a list of the attendees’ needs on the AZIPA list the morning after a Tech Oasis meeting. That will give a broader network the chance to respond.

Another good networking experience (and good way to learn about Biosciences and their impact) is the City of Tempe and the Tempe Chamber’s upcoming conference (Dec. 11) at the Buttes, called “From Research to Results).” You can register at http://www.tempechamber.org.

In the future, my Arizona-centric comments will be confined to my paid newsletter, and I’ll go back to talking about the broader issues of technology and human life in this one. So if you don’t care about Arizona, you’re officially off the hook. If you don’t want to hear anymore about Arizona and its entrepreneurial challenges, just don’t go to http://www.acteva.com/go/outsideworld.

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