Category Archives: houston

HBJ on the $100M Texas Technology Venture Fund 2011

From the APRIL HBJ article on the Texas Technology Venture Fund 2011:

“(the) newly created Houston Technology Future Fund plans to raise $100 million in venture capital

The fund would provide equity to technology companies within a 30-county area in the aerospace, energy, information technology, life sciences and nanotechnology sectors. John White, a partner at Houston based venture capital firm Murphree Venture Partners , will serve as CEO of the fund.

White (Nashville Reference) will serve on the investment committee with Scott Crist of Houston-based Texas Ventures, Benton Mayberry of Houston-based Winston Sage Partners Inc., David McWilliams of BioHouston Inc. and Dennis Murphree, general managing partner of Murphree Venture Partners.

The advisory board includes J. Downey Bridgwater, HTC board chair and Sterling Bancshares Inc. (NASDAQ: SBIB) president and CEO and Walter Ulrich, president and CEO of HTC, as well as two unnamed representatives.”

 

going past the cop

In the right hand lane. Going 50 in a 50. Wearing my seatbelt. Hands at 12 and on the stick. Insurance is current. Registration is current. Inspected a few months back. No beer in the car. No dead bodies in the trunk. Nope. Legit before I even saw the police car.

I realize two things; I have nothing to fear going past the cop. And that I am kinda boring. #likethat

Conflict of Interest on Red Light Cameras

This is a cross post of Conflict of Interest on Houston Red Light Cameras that I posted on The Chron site. Please comment on the Chron site directly.


The Houston Red Light Cameras, as currently implemented, are a bad idea for only one reason and that reason is MONEY.

Beginning with the end in mind, if red light traffic enforcement removed all financial incentives to private or public entities to raise money and instead created incentives to get to zero-red-lights-run, zero-tickets-issued-to-citizens and zero-accidents then we might have a good safety program.

First the flaws. Anyone who has ever worked commission sales knows that commissions are in place to create a financial incentive for the salesperson to make a sale. No sale – you make nothing. The moment City Council agreed to have the traffic light cameras installed with an expected revenue level (call it a “cut” or “commission” or “kick-back”, whatever) for the company, we as citizens of Houston were put in a compromised position. Agreeing to “financial performance” for the private company to ticket citizens, not to reduce crime or to increase safety, is tantamount to selling their fellow citizens out for financial gain. Only someone unfamiliar with sociology or on a company’s payroll would consider such a thing.

As one commenter on this post noted “…if you really care about reducing accidents and violations you can get BETTER results than cameras through sound proven engineering methods like lengthening the yellow lights.” That is tough to argue with. But don’t take their word for it, let’s look at the mission of American Traffic Solutions, Inc.

“Our mission is to deliver the most effective technology and services that reduce operating costs or generate revenue to pay for its use.”

Yes it is true that the description of services right before that says they provide “road safety camera and automated toll collection programs focused on our clients’ safety, mobility and enforcement needs.” But their “client” isn’t the citizen of Houston going through the 0.5 second yellow light and getting a ticket/civil citation. Rather the client is the city that is facing a budget shortfall. And while ATS may say they are “focused on safety”, it is a company’s MISSION that drives it. And the ATS mission is to “generate revenue” not to increase safety.  The home page for ATS makes no mention of reducing the incidence of red light running or achieving the goal of zero red lights run and zero tickets issued. And why should it? They are a company and like all companies the goal is, out of necessity, profit. (Disclaimer: so are we.)

And hey, the Houston red-light-gotcha money is good!

Houston pays a flat monthly fee of $3,000 per camera, plus bonuses if a camera catches a high number of violations.

What is the financial incentive to ATS? The incentive is to catch a HIGHEST NUMBER OF VIOLATORS. The incentive is NOT to reduce people running the light which would reduce violations which would reduce accidents and increase safety.

Do red light cameras increase safety? No clear answer beyond anecdotal. In the article Spy-and-Snap Red-Light Cameras Will Enrich Private Company At Palm Coast’s Expense about Palm Coast Florida, apparently a change in state law eliminated the commission based system for ticketing citizens. This led to ATS offering up three options, all of which siphoned money out of Palm Coast and into ATS with questionable improvements in safety. But for what safety improvements? The bill from the Florida Legislature included this description:

The results do not support the conventional wisdom expressed in recent literature and popular press that red light cameras reduce accidents…. Our findings are more pessimistic, finding no change in angle accidents and large increases in rear-end crashes and many other types of crashes relative to other intersections. We did find a decrease in accidents involving a vehicle turning left and a vehicle on the same roadway, which may have been included as an angle accident in some other studies. However, given that these left turn accidents occur only one third as often as angle accidents, and the fact that we find no benefit from decreasing severity of accidents suggests that there has been no demonstrable benefit from the RLC [red light camera] program in terms of safety. In many ways, the evidence points toward the installation of RLCs as a detriment to safety.

A quick google search shows I won’t settle the issue of if red light cameras increase or decrease accidents in Houston. I have read enough to know that there are two sides to the debate and it isn’t a slam dunk either way.

So how do we solve red light running? How do we increase safety? Again going to the Florida bill they state there are four concrete things that can be done to INCREASE SAFETY:

  1. Improving signal head visibility.
  2. All-red interval. An all-red clearance interval, where the traffic signals on all sides are red for a period of time, provides additional time for motorists
  3. Appropriate yellow times.
  4. Traffic signal coordination.

Additionally the Facebook video on red light cameras produced by Texas Pictures has a Houston Police Officer stating “if we collected no money and no one ran the red light we would be totally satisfied with that. Because we know if you haven’t run the red light you haven’t endangered yourself or others.” (minute 7:15). I believe 100% that is the officers goal. I do not however believe zero citations would be acceptable to ATS or City Council, and that is the problem.

It’s not all bad. Not without hope. This financial data from Garland Texas in the fiscal notes of chapter 707 of the TX Transportation Code (via Chron) suggests some municipalities may be focused on safety over profit.

The city (Garland) generated over $1 million in the first year of operation (2004), followed by $1.4 million in 2005, the first full year of operation. Since then, revenues have dropped substantially, with receipts of $0.8 million in 2006 and $0.09 million for 2007 year-to-date.

That is a GOOD thing from the citizen’s perspective. It means people are driving safer and the city is looking out for their best interest. On the other hand, the current DARLEP system in Houston can be compared to OCP’s incentive to reduce crime in Detroit; a mere fiction. And apparently a very expensive fiction to produce.

Am I against red light cameras? NO. I agree with the HPD officers in the FB video that I’d like to see zero citations and zero accidents. That solution requires civil engineers, police officers, traffic safety specialists. And that solution requires the removal of all financial incentives to count ticket revenue on the part of a private corporation or a city facing a budget shortfall. That solution requires incentives that focus on one thing and one thing only; SAFETY. The current system does not.

When you vote on November 2, 2010, Proposition 3 will look like this.

City of Houston, PROPOSITION NO. 3 CHARTER AMENDMENT PROPOSITION

An Amendment to the City Charter Relating to the Use of Photographic Traffic Signal Enforcement Systems (Red Light Cameras).

Shall the City of Houston continue to use red light cameras to enforce state or local laws relating to traffic safety?

– FOR
AGAINST

3 Rules to be a Billionaire

There are three rules to becoming a billionaire in business. First the business rules, then the story: Hugh MacLeod gets even with Shel Israel

  1. Sell at a profit.
    1. You have to sell at a profit. You can’t sell at a loss and make it up in volume. Any fool can reach 10M in sales by simply selling $10 for $1. Granted he will have lost at least 9M, but he will have achieved 10M in revenue! The point is you have to sell at a profit.
  2. Love what you do.
    1. You can’t sustain unless you love what you do. At least in your initial business. Sure you can tough it out for a year. Two years. Three or four. But you can’t sustain 10 to 20 years if you don’t love it. You have to love what you do (at least in your initial business!)
  3. Have a recurring revenue model.
    1. You MUST have a recurring revenue model. It takes too much energy to make a sale no matter what your profit margin is. Your customer must come back to you, and refer business to you, or you won’t make it.

The story of the three rules of becoming a billionaire:

Years ago I heard Ken Jones` speak. Now Ken has never been accused of having a shortage of ego (#heh, forgive me Ken). And I heard him speak at an IABC, or maybe a PRSA function in Houston when he told the story. I remember it as “so I talked to a man who was in the room with these three billionaires and he asked them “what is the secret” and their reply was the three rules.” I probably got that wrong, or paraphrased it poorly, but what I do know is as follows.

I have had 5 dba’s counting my current 13 year old company. 2 were play dbas for home businesses that I can barely remember. 1 dba (1994/95 ish) was real for web design but failed. The next was a corporation with a partner that never made real money and basically failed. (I never said I was a fast learner!) Then this corporation started in 1997 *almost* failed in the recession of 2001 and 2002 because we did not have a recurring revenue model. I learned my lesson. Follow the three rules.

More? Take a class from Ken at U of H for more. But know what you love before you show up because they can’t teach you that. Business is tough; stack the deck in your favor. And don’t believe that crap from wall street. Go sell something. No seriously, go SELL SOMETHING!

Google “God in Houston” and you won’t find a church

In the process of explaining SEO (search engine optimization) over the years I frequently demonstrate that if you Google “God in Houston” the top results are not churches. Now I’m not talking about the local results that show the churches, but the actual search results below that that lists KSBJ as the top result for “God in Houston” when searched on Google. And the only paid search result is for “Houston Gold” – like the shiny stuff you make jewelry out of. Here is a screen shot:

From a technical perspective, this makes perfect sense. Because the largest churches in Houston do not mention the word “God” on their web sites. Yes really. Using a search engine keyword analyzer, a test of second.org shows the following.

Note the title is “Second Baptist Church, Houston, TX.” Thus they will likely rank for “Churches in Houston” but not for “God in Houston.” A simple fix would be to update the title to “Second Baptist Church, Serving God in Houston TX”.

I mention this because exactness of speech matters. It means that some of our largest churches have zero (0) possibility of being returned if a downtrodden person googles for them in the middle of the night. It means missed connections when a bible study group at a particular church might be the perfect connection for a fellow Houstonian. But we will never know because of a failure of exactness of speech.

On the flip side, a tip of the hat to Braeswood Assembly of God church which comes up for both the physical location and second natural ranking after KSBJ in the search results. And all because they mention the word “God” in their title.

So be specific. Be exact. And I’ll leave it to you to search for the ministers’ names – they rank a bit higher than God.