The ING Hartford Marathon and Community

I am not a runner but I can appreciate the ING Hartford Marathon for its positive impact on Hartford. I have a few friends running in it and have been surprised to see friends from farther away in my Facebook feed make their way to Hartford for the event. People that run have a kinship with each other that I have seen in cycling and other activities that foster a sense of community. With the absence of Whalers Hockey, I think that this event is the one that puts Hartford on the map.

The other day I was at a coffee for a candidate for Board of Education and the candidate managed to win over a Republican over their shared background in hockey. About a month ago I was cycling down a street in my town when my tire blew. To my luck the house I stopped in front of was home to a cyclist who helped me fix my flat, and then when the new tube blew up he lent me a wheel. For cyclists this a leap of faith because wheels are one of the most expesnive components of the bicycle. In Democratic politics I’ve regularly seen people open their homes to campaign workers and volunteers just because they are Democrats.

Of course the most important feature of all these communities is that they are welcoming. There are many kinds of cyclists and I do not really care if someone is riding a brand new carbon fiber Trek Madone or a steel fixed gear bicycle from the 1950s.1 Runners come in all shapes and sizes and finish the marathon. People enter politics or become entreprenuers to tackle a wide variety of problems. When more experienced people in the community are willing to help the newbies, everyone wins. It’s what turns it from a simple hobby into a community.

  1. This is not meant to confuse people who ride bicycles with cyclists. Plenty of people ride a bicycle for transportation without interest in it, much in the way people might vote without being into politics or use an iPhone without being a technology geek. 

Sometimes Barriers to Innovation are Cultural

When I was a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute we had to complete three projects in order to graduate. One project is called the IQP and is an interdisciplinary project designed to expose students to working with people in different fields. My project involved working with a start-up that wanted to create a social network that encouraged the installation of renewable energy systems.1 The entrepreneur had a website built and his intention was to have us spend time populating the site with information. This did not jive with the educational goals of IQP so our project advisor set it up so that we would research ways to improve the website. However retrospectively I think we were working on the wrong problem. The question wasn’t how to create a website to encourage adoption, it should have been how to encourage adoption of renewable energy generally.2

I thought of this when listening to NPR’s Planet Money podcast on the automated check clearinghouse. The podcast describes how our system of money transfer between banks is much slower than the system that Europe uses. The United States could choose to create a system that would transfer money instantly but the consortium of banks that uses ACH decided against it. The technology is here and would have many benefits, but for cultural reasons (and some perverse incentives) the banking system is declining to adopt it.

The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet. It’s not enough for science and engineering to solve problems if people do not adopt the solutions.

  1. I was not pleased when I was assigned the project at the time because other projects involved more tangible outcomes like improving water quality and sanitation in Namibia. Building a website was not interesting technically, I had made them before, and the engineers working with the company viewed it as working on a solved problem. 

  2. My general sense from interviews we conducted with installers and users during the project is that the costs in time and money are high up front for a slow payback. Government incentives do help, but if I were to do it over again besides looking at creative financing I would look at supply-chain issues and programs that target developers of new housing stock or new homebuyers that would roll the upgrade into the new house purchase. Elon Musk figured this out when creating his Tesla cars. They are not marketed to people looking to save money and invest, they are marketed as luxuy vehicles superior to the Mercedes or Jaguar the buyer is already considering. 

No More Geothermal System at Wethersfield High School

When I was an undergrad at WPI I worked on a project with a startup that was working to encourage the adoption of renewable energy sources. I was disappointed to learn that the system is being nixed. The cost of energy in Connecticut is high and will likely only increase. With incentives I would expect installing a Geothermal system to be a net win for the town.

On a related note I also find it disappointing that the state has stalled in lifting its ban on wind turbines. As a state that is trying to lead on energy issues I would expect us to be doing more to encourage this.

Some Plugs for my Friends

One of my favorite things to do is to hear about different people’s projects or hobbies. For the past year or so I have been posting on Fred Wilson’s blog and meeting interesting people there. Some people call this networking, but I think the term networking sounds too awkward. It conjures up forced interactions at career services events where you chat with people and then get disappointed when they don’t have jobs for you. Fred’s analogy for his blog is that it’s like a bar, and I have to agree. It’s one of the most welcoming online communities I’ve participated in.

In the past month I have had the chance to chat with Joe Wallin, a startup attorney in Seattle. He has a great blog you should check out and gave me good advice on some of my career options and some insights on working with startups. Yesterday I skyped with Jorge Torres. Jorge went to school in New Haven so we found some common ground, and as an IP attorney he too is interested in finding ways of reducing the risk of startups being crushed by patent litigation. Check out his legal defense crowdfunding startup.

I also caught up with Ryan McKeen about his new law firm and how he is using technology to save money. He told me that tools like Expensify save him from having to pay a professional bookkeeper. I too am a fan of Expensify and use it to keep track of expenses for my political consulting business. My friend Raymond, who I met when I took a trip to Washington D.C. in high school, is now working on a start-up in Hartford selling reusable coffee sleeves. Check out the tree sleeve. They are already available in local Hartford coffee shops.

If you’re working on something, share it in the comments.

How Bad the Legal Job Market is in One Job Posting

Uncompensated Special Assitant US Attorney Job Posting

It is no secret that I am currently hunting for a full-time job. I am currently lucky and unlucky at the same time. I am lucky because I worked during law school, while studying for the bar exam, and had a job after that as well. As a consequence of this I now have the money and time to try and land a full time position that fits well with my interests. I am unlucky because the legal job market is bad. However the reckless and irresponsible method of deficit control known as the sequester is now making it worse. The federal government, believing itself exempt from its own minimum wage laws, is asking lawyers to work for free.

Many attorneys have already suffered the indignity of working unpaid internships. They have accumulated massive student debt loads to attend law school and maybe even lived in an expensive city for experience.1 The reward that the federal government believes that recent graduates are entitled to for this hard work is an unpaid position that prohibits them from recieving outside income and does not provide them public service student loan relief. The new reality is that the federal government seems to expect the family members of attorneys to support them while they work for free.2 The message that the federal government is sending is clear: hard work does not pay off.

Of course attorneys are intelligent and many understood the risks going in to the profession. Maybe this would not be so sad except it has real consequences for the public at large. It is axiomatic that to get the best talent you need to pay good wages. At a wage of $0.00/hour these jobs are attracting an inferior applicant pool to do important work for the public. U.S. attorneys are responsible for prosecuting drug cartels, public corruption, and national security cases. Sophisitcated criminal enterprises are not above using bribes to achieve their objectives, and I do not think it is a stretch to suggest that an unpaid attorney struggling to pay his or her student loans is more vulnerable to being tempted by a payoff than one that is paid for their work.

I have talked to many practicing attorneys who agree that the legal job market is broken. Job postings like these make me feel more pessimisitic about legal careers, and I am sure I am not the only one. At a time when many people cannot afford attorneys the public loses out. I learned a lot in law school and have little reservation about taking a non-legal job if it fits my interests. Many of my law school classmates have already taken jobs in tax, insurance, or business. A few years from now, when people ask what happened to the legal talent pool, or where all the good lawyers have gone, show them that job posting and I think they will understand.

  1. Debt loads of over $100,000 are not uncommon for recent law graduates. 

  2. Though this is not as offensive as the Connecticut attorney that asked recent law grads to pay him to shadow him

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.