The past seven or eight months have been quite a learning experience for me.
We hadn’t made it far into 2017 when I first heard of the plan to construct what amounts to a dump at the Celery Fields in Sarasota.
Now I am not what you would call an “activist.” Prior to 2017, you could count one hand the number of times you’d have spotted me holding a sign in a crowd. Some people enjoy it and would find a reason to do it every week if they could. I just don’t happen to be one of them.
Nor am I what you would call an “environmentalist.” This issue has become one of the growing number of issues for which I consider both sides of the argument to be less than honest and certainly not aboveboard.
Nor am I someone who believes in giving government even more control over our private lives. I regard the increasing incursion of the State into our individual liberties as a dangerous menace—one that was foreseen by the Founders and Framers, whose counsel on the issue we ignore to our own peril.
In other words, I’m not what you would call a “liberal,” at least not according to any modern definition of the word.
And yet, in 2017, I’ve signed petitions, gone to rallies, attended public hearings, and spoken out in a number of ways to ask Sarasota County to deny petitions to build on Celery Fields lands.
Knowing this, many casual observers might assume that they could accurately guess my political leanings.
And yet, over the last number of months, I’ve worked alongside card-carrying members of both of the major political parties, and many others who are harder to classify, politically speaking. Lifelong Republicans, tree-hugging environmentalist Democrats, frustrated independents, and members of other parties have aligned themselves to oppose these projects, most notably the one proposed by local developer turned public official, James Gabbert.
And this is how I have learned so much this year. Never before have I seen so many people willing to lay aside their cherished ideologies and work together with people who, in other circumstances, they’d probably vehemently oppose.
There’s an old saying about nothing being stronger than the heart of a volunteer, and that is what I’ve observed—and been humbled by—throughout this process.
I’ve watched people give up hundreds of hours of their time, sacrifice business opportunities, and risk embarrassment (or worse) to protect the Celery Fields. Business owners, former journalists, retirees, birders and wildlife enthusiasts of all ages, and—yes—people whose interest in activism has risen to levels deserving of the word, “professional,” have linked up with one another in a shocking display of heart.
It can only be because they care.
They care about beauty. They care about nature. They care about what sort of society we are creating. They care about what we do with Publicly-owned land. They care about our water supply and the health of estuaries and aquatic wildlife. They care about the birds and the beautiful habitat that’s been created over the last twenty-plus years, by accident or not. They care about preserving the peaceful serenity of the Palmer corridor, which only looks “industrial” on maps created during the Reagan Administration. They care about the two thousand homes—soon to exceed 2,600 with new developments going in—and the neighborhoods that have grown up around them. They care about Tatum Ridge Elementary School and the 700 students, not to mention the hardworking faculty and staff, just down the street.
And it’s been my honor to work alongside such caring people. Maybe in other circumstances and on other questions, the things we care about would find us disagreeing.
But after months of working alongside people of this quality, I must say I’m more inclined than ever to really listen and to try to understand where they’re coming from and to see if perhaps there aren’t better ways to solve our problems than the bitter public thrashings that seem to be the order of the day.
In other words, I care too—about the Celery Fields, sure—but more importantly, about the people I’ve come to know through this unique experience.
Tomorrow, we’ll hear from the County Commissioners. That means today we’re all busy making our final preparations. Regardless of the outcome, I want all of you to know how much I have grown to deeply respect and appreciate you. Thank you for the honor of working with you.
UPDATE (5/17/2017): FDOT has announced that the new traffic pattern will be implemented this Sunday, May 21, 2017. This does not mean the end of construction at the interchange, but we will begin using the “Diverging Diamond” pattern at that time.
UPDATE (4/5/2017): FDOT has made the slides from the public workshop available for anyone to review who couldn’t make it in person. (Did you go? How was it? Let us know in the comments below!)
Late spring or early summer. That’s when we’ll all start using the new “diverging diamond” interchange at University Parkway & I-75.
But since a lot of people are still wondering how to drive through a diverging diamond, the Florida Department of Transportation has scheduled a couple of workshops for Tuesday, April 4th to explain how it works.
When: Tuesday, April 4 at either 2pm or 5pm
What: 90-minute workshop: “Navigating the Diverging Diamond Interchange”
Where: Everglades University, 6001 Lake Osprey Drive (map)
Why: To show us all how to drive through a diverging diamond.
File this under “mildly alarming,” but I’ve got a nagging question:
Why the Heck Will it Take 90 Minutes to Teach Us How to Drive Through a Diverging Diamond?
OK OK… the flyer says that first the first half hour, everyone will have a chance to review some exhibits and speak with FDOT staff (you’ve been itching to do that, haven’t you?!). Then there will be an “informative presentation,” followed by a Q&A session, which in my imagination will be filled with elderly people who don’t know how to use roundabouts asking the same question over and over in different ways.
So… maybe it won’t take that long to actually explain it.
After all, this nifty video does it in just under 8 minutes:
Hopefully it won’t take 8 minutes to get through this darned interchange once the construction finally ends!
US News & World Report ranked Sarasota #21 on its list of the Best Places to Live in the United States. Citing our climate, beaches, and culture, the index placed Sarasota higher than the other Florida cities on the top 100 list, with Tampa coming in at 35 and Orlando at 40.
While it’s great to see publications recognize our “little big city” in this way, maybe it would be better to keep us a secret? Already, our “net migration” is at a 10. We’re feeling it in the traffic!
We planned to divide & conquer, but ended up both catching the session “How to Keep a Client Happy” by Christina Siegler on the Content & Design track.
After that session, I snuck over to the Development track to hear a couple of more technical sessions, and Jill stayed for more Content & Design goodness. She spoke very highly of the session with Michelle Schulp on “Becoming The Client Your Developer Loves”—so much so that I’m planning to catch the recording.
In “Writing Multilingual Plugins and Themes,” John Bloch didn’t shy away from tech issues, and he dug right into code samples while explaining the concepts around internationalization (“I18N” for short).
Then I caught Chris Wiegman, whom I’ve gotten somewhat acquainted with since he relocated to paradise Sarasota a little over a year ago. He’s known as an expert in WordPress security, and his “Application Security For WordPress Developers” was entertaining, informative, and thorough… not to mention somewhat over my head in spots.
On my way to the Development track, I bumped into Pam Blizzard, one of the organizers of the WordPress community in Sarasota.
I’ll try to come back and fill in more about our experience as time permits!
There was an authentic, vulnerable talk on getting the most out of the WordPress community from Marc Gratch. He shared some very personal experiences (that I’m sure many of us can identify with) about working alone & working remotely, and how the amazing WordPress community can be a great support system.
His “give more than you get” approach was fantastic, and true to form, he gave a great of resources he’s built over time:
Then a fast-paced session on building a 6-figure email list with Syed Balkhi, creator of Opt-In Monster, WPBeginner, and many other sites & tools.
Then I caught up with Jill and we got some great lessons from Dr. Anthony Miyazaki about what is an acceptable number of times to dip your chip into the guacamole. He showed how you have to plan ahead so that you have enough of your chip left to really maximize your dip.
One of the serious considerations of our time is the need to store and have reasonably usable access to all the digital media we are creating.
How often do we snap a photo and upload straight from our mobile devices to services like Instagram and Facebook?
How easy is it, using the apps on our phones, to bang out a tweet or a status update?
But have you ever given any thought to what might happen if those sites disappeared? How much of your personal life is recorded there?
Consider my own situation.
I joined Facebook in 2008, coming up on 8 years ago now, and have had countless meaningful interactions there with people I care about (let’s set aside all the less meaningful interactions for the moment).
In that time, I’ve been through maybe 6 or 7 smartphones. I’ve snapped thousands of photos, many of which I have no idea where to find at the moment*, but some of which I have uploaded to sites like Facebook, Twitter, and various iterations of what is now Google Photos.
Unlike in decades past, today we simply don’t “print” the photos we take (I can’t think of a good reason why I would, frankly), but this means that we also don’t give much consideration to what happens to those photos—not to mention our personal interactions and communications, and even stuff we upload to the web or social networks—after the fact.
I don’t purport to have all the answers. In fact, my purposes in writing this post today are more around sparking some thought rather than speaking to specific solutions, which almost certainly will vary from person to person.
But if you treat your social media profiles like a de facto backup of some of your most treasured photos (like I have), and you’ve had meaningful interactions with others on social networks (like I have), then an important question needs to be raised:
What would you lose if one or more of these sites were to shut down?
This week, I spent a fair amount of time getting better acquainted with some of the principles established by the #Indieweb community. This is a group of people committed to the creation and viability of the “open web.”
The terminology around the “open web” is used to draw a distinction between the web that can and should be created and used by individuals, as opposed to the “corporate web,” which is centered around commercially driven services.
One of the goals of the movement is to keep the web open and free. This doesn’t exclude the usage of paid services—on the contrary, it’s clear that even users of the open web will need to pay for services like domain registration and web hosting (although there are, as I discovered this week, more free options for those items than I would’ve guessed).
In fact, the distinction between the “free and open” web and the “corporate” web isn’t so much one of payment, but rather of ownership, access to, and control over one’s own data.
To illustrate this, IndieWebCamp, one of the groups central to the #IndieWeb movement, maintains a list of “site deaths,” which are often free (but not always) services for users to write blogs and upload/store/share photos, among other things, but which have famously shut down over the years. Often, this leaves users with little or no opportunity to download the data they’ve stored on these services.
Examples? When Geocities shut down in 2009, something like 23 million pages disappeared from the web. Previously, AOL killed off AOL Hometown, removing more than 14 million sites from the web. Google has killed off a number of products, including Google Buzz, Google Reader (which personally affected me), Google Wave, and countless others.
In many cases, users had even paid for the services, but due to a variety of factors, such as:
lack of profitability
changes in ownership
shifts in direction, and even
loss of interest on the part of the owner(s)
…the services get shut down anyway.
There are a couple of tragic ramifications of these site deaths.
One is that often the people most harmed are the ones least knowledgeable about setting up and maintaining their own web presence.
Often the appeal of a free or inexpensive blogging platform (for example) is that one doesn’t need to gain any real know-how in order to use it.
While that’s great in terms of getting people to get started publishing on the web or otherwise using the web (which I’m certainly in favor of), it has often ultimately sucker-punched them by never creating an incentive (until it’s too late, of course) to gain the minimal amount of knowledge and experience they would need to maintain something for themselves.
Even when the users are given the opportunity to download their data, which is not always the case, these are the very people least likely to know how to make use of what they’ve downloaded.
Another tragic loss is for the web community at large. When a service of any significant size shuts down, often this results in the loss of tremendous amounts of information. Vanishing URLs means broken links throughout the parts of the web that remain, which makes the web less useful and more costly to maintain for us all.
Some of what is lost is of more value to the individuals that originally uploaded or published it than to the rest of us, of course. But even personal diaries and blogs that are not widely read contribute to our large-scale understanding of the zeitgeist of the times in which they were created, and that is something that could be preserved, and for which there is value to us from a societal perspective.
Geocities, as an example, has accurately been described as a veritable time capsule of the web as it was in the mid-1990s.
Maintaining Our Freedoms
At the risk of being accused of philosophizing here, I’d like to step away from the pragmatic considerations around the risk of losing content we’ve uploaded, and look for a moment at a more fundamental risk of loss: our freedom of speech.
The more we concentrate our online speech in “silos” controlled by others, the more risk we face that our freedoms will be suppressed.
It’s a simple truth that centralization tends toward control.
Consider this: according to Time, as of mid-2015 that American Facebook users spend nearly 40 minutes per day on the site.
According to a study published in April, 2015, a team of researchers found that the majority of Facebook users were not aware that their news feed was being filtered and controlled by Facebook. (More on this here.)
As a marketer, I’ve understood for many years that as a practical consideration, Facebook must have an algorithm in order to provide users with a decent experience.
But the question is, would Facebook ever intentionally manipulate that experience in order to engineer a particular outcome?
So… we’re spending an enormous amount of our time in an environment where most of the participants are unaware that what they see has been engineered for them. Furthermore, the audience for the content they post to the site is also then being manipulated.
Let me emphasize that it’s clear (to me, at least) that Facebook has to use an algorithm in order to provide the experience to their users that keeps them coming back every day. Most users don’t realize that a real-time feed of all the content published by the other Facebook users they’ve friended and followed, combined with content published by Pages they’ve liked, would actually be unenjoyable, if not entirely unusable.
But the logical consequence of this is that a single point of control has been created. Whether for good or for ill—or for completely benign purposes—control over who sees what we post exists. Furthermore, anyone is at risk of having their account shut down for violating (knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or otherwise) a constantly-changing, complex terms of service.
So… even if you aren’t concerned about a service like Facebook shutting down, there remains the distinct possibility that you risk losing the content you’ve shared there anyway.
In other words, someone else controls—and may, in fact, own—what you’ve posted online.
What Can We Do?
All of this has strengthened my resolve to be committed to the practice of owning and maintaining my own data. It isn’t that I won’t use any commercial services or even the “silos” (like Facebook and Twitter) that are used by larger numbers of people, it’s just that I’m going to make an intentional effort to—where possible—use the principles adopted by the IndieWeb community and others in order to make sure that I create and maintain my own copies of the content I create and upload.
There are 2 principal means of carrying out this effort. One is POSSE: Publish on your Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere (or Elsewhere). This means that I’ll use platforms like Known in order to create content like Tweets and Facebook statuses, as often as practical, and then allow the content to be syndicated from there to Twitter and Facebook. I began tinkering with Known more than a year ago on the site social.thedavidjohnson.com.
As an example, here is a tweet I published recently about this very topic:
Spending some time this week getting better acquainted with the #indiewebcamp community. Lots to learn!
While it looks like any other tweet, the content actually originated here, where my personal archive of the content and the interactions is being permanently maintained. This works for Facebook, as well.
I’m making the decision now to gradually shift the bulk of my publishing on social networks to that site, which will mean sacrificing some convenience, as I’ll have to phase out some tools that I currently use to help me maintain a steady stream of tweets.
The payoff is that I’ll have my own permanent archive of my content.
In the event that I’m not able to find suitable ways to POSSE, I will begin to utilize the PESOS model: Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate to your Own Site.
Since some of the silos that I use don’t permit federation or syndication from other platforms, I’ll be pulling that content from the silo(s) in question back to my own site. An example is Instagram, for which inbound federation is currently difficult, but for which outbound syndication (back to my own site) isachievable.
Not as Hard as it Sounds
I am, admittedly, a geek. This makes me a bit more technically savvy than some people.
But… the truth of the matter is that this really isn’t hard to set up. The IndieWebCamp website provides an enormous wealth of information to help you get started using the principles of the IndieWeb community.
And it can begin with something as simple as grabbing a personal domain name and setting up a simple WordPress site, where if you use the self-hosted version I’ve linked to, you’ll have the ability to publish and syndicate your content using some simple plugins. Alternatively, you could use Known, which has POSSE capabilities (and many others) baked right in.
There are loads of resources on the web to help you take steps toward owning and controlling your own data.
Note: For those who live in or around Sarasota, if there’s enough interest, I’d be open to starting a local group (perhaps something of a Homebrew Website Club), to help facilitate getting people started on this journey. Respond in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter if you’re interested.
Personal Note of Gratitude
I’m indebted to a long series of leaders who have worked to create the open web and have personally influenced me over a number of years to get to where I am today in my thinking. There are many, but I’d like to personally thank a few who have had a greater direct impact on me personally. They are:
Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress. Matt helped me understand the important role of open source software, and although he didn’t invent the phrase, he personally (through his writings) introduced me to the idea of “free as in speech, not free as in beer.”
Kevin Marks, advocate for the open web whose tech career includes many of the giants (e.g. Google, Apple, Salesforce, and more). Kevin understands the technology, the ethical and societal implications of factors effecting the open web, and has taken on the responsibility of serving as a leader in many ways, including in the IndieWeb community.
Ben Werdmuller, co-founder of Known. Ben and his co-founder, Erin Jo Richey, have also stepped up as leaders, not only creating technology, but endeavoring to live out the principles of the open web.
Leo Laporte, founder of TWiT. As a broadcaster, podcaster, and tech journalist, Leo was instrumental in introducing me to people like Kevin Marks and Ben Werdmuller by creating and providing a platform for concepts like these to be discussed.
As I said, there are plenty more I could mention. In today’s world of the internet, we all owe an incredible debt of gratitude to many who have worked tirelessly and often selflessly to create one of the greatest platforms for free speech in all of history. Their legacy is invaluable, but is now entrusted to us.
Let’s not screw it up.
*I’ve got most of them. They’re stored on a series of hard drives and are largely uncatalogued and cumbersome to access. Obviously, I need to do something about that.
This “big little city” that we call home and affectionately refer to as “Paradise” has been recognized by Google for having the, “strongest online business community,” in the State of Florida.
The award represents Google’s belief that businesses in Sarasota are embracing new technology to find and connect with customers.
Google uses its own data, including Search, ad revenue (both fees paid to Google by advertisers and fees paid by Google to publishers), and Ad Grants (provided by Google to non-profits) to estimate the economic impact of Google on each area. This forms the basis of its determination that local businesses are embracing technology.
The Herald-Tribune apparently also reported on the award, but their absurd paywall prevents us from accessing the article, so we won’t bother to link to it.
Congratulations to all of our local businesses who have endeavored to build out a presence online, use social media and other tools, and effectively generate a return on investment with digital advertising tools.
We’ve all known since that fateful Tuesday in 2001 that Sarasota had a connection to the events of the day we call 9/11. I’ve written previously about being held up by the Presidential motorcade as “W” made his way to Emma E. Booker Elementary school to read to the kids. Then there was the flight school in Venice where some of the “I don’t need to know how to land” hijackers trained.
Much later, we learned some bits and pieces about the Sarasota Saudis, and—perhaps the most concerning detail—that the FBI was playing cat and mouse about what it did and didn’t know.
On Monday of this week, though, a new set of documents emerged—documents that the FBI had previously failed to acknowledge even existed—that reveal even more bizarre details about the 9/11 Sarasota connection and what appears to be an FBI coverup.
Thanks to some extremely diligent efforts on the part of the Broward Bulldog and their ongoing investigative and legal actions, the FBI released the documents which, although heavily redacted, reveal information uncovered as far back as 2002.
An article published by the Broward Bulldog and picked up by the Miami Herald reveals the new details. They include a man dumping information into a dumpster behind a Bradenton storage facility, and a man who arrived in Sarasota, FL in November, 2001 harboring apparent intentions to purchase land and establish a Muslim compound in Florida that was (is?) feared to include carrying out or facilitating terrorist activities.
Those of you who know me well already know this: I’m a huge fan of entrepreneurs.
Especially the “chase your dream, innovate and adapt as necessary, and work really hard ’til you see it come about” variety.
And this is precisely why I was intrigued when I first met Steve Rinehart. It was about two and a half years ago now, and a good friend of mine was providing some entertainment in a local night club venue. He suggested that I meet up with the owner, because he had real vision but had run into some difficulties in the business.
The venue was “The Loft Ristobar,” and it was located in the building that had previously housed Sarasota’s highly popular Tex-Mex chain restaurant, Don Pablo’s.
The Loft was a concept that was either ahead of its time, or perhaps just better suited to a bigger market. But the idea, I thought, was brilliant. Restaurant by day, live entertainment venue in the evenings, and then… after hours on weekends, it transformed into a full-on night club.
But, as you might imagine, those are at least two (and possibly three) different businesses all rolled up into one. This meant that the business was surprisingly complex, with lots of areas that needed specific attention.
Creating a clear marketing message out of the three of them was what I was immediately tasked with doing. Let’s just say it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever been asked to do.
And to top it all off, Rinehart Homes, Steve Rinehart’s day job, was busy and complicated enough that it demanded lots of his time and most of his attention. The management Steve had in place at The Loft did a bang-up job, but it just wasn’t enough to get the concept to really take off.
Why Not Franchise?
As Steve related to me, many times during the course of his time operating The Loft Ristobar, people would come in and ask about Don Pablo’s. Where did it go? What happened to it?
The reality was that the Sarasota store had long been one of the chain’s top-performing restaurants. But when the parent corporation ran into financial troubles, it closed all but 38 stores—the ones that were geographically easier for them to manage. A new company bought the brand and those 38 stores out of bankruptcy and they were doing OK.
The idea of coming back to Sarasota was a good one, but the company wasn’t ready to take the plunge yet as they were taking a measured approach to growth.
So Steve did what any enterprising entrepreneur would do: he seized the opportunity and negotiated the chain’s first-ever franchise deal. In May of 2012, five years or so after it had closed, Sarasota’s Don Pablo’s reopened as a franchise operation.
That business has been through its fair share of ups and downs, but today it is humming along with a great management team in place. Steve has high hopes for its future.
In the meantime… Sarasota’s real estate market had begun to pick up.
Building Custom Homes in Sarasota
Since 1994, when Steve Rinehart first obtained his Florida General Contractor’s license, he had attacked the home-building business with gusto. Not one to get stuck depending upon others, Steve went out and got his roofing license and a pool contractor’s license as well. This enabled him to be highly flexible and churn out homes at a surprising rate.
The business model is pretty simple in this world: you find a big tract of land and make a deal. Then you carve it up, stick up a model home or two, and build a community.
Steve’s reputation—and that of his boutique team—in that business is very good. Over the years, he and his team have built more than 300 homes that way, and provided many affordably-priced, but very nice homes for a lot of people.
But as he tells it, when the real estate market starts to heat up—especially in an intrinsically attractive market like Sarasota/Bradenton—bigger and bigger national players are willing to come in and pay far more for land than it’s worth.
That makes this business less and less attractive to a boutique team like Steve’s.
And so… the handful of higher-end projects that Steve had taken on in the last few years had started to become more and more interesting.
With a few completely custom projects on Sarasota’s Siesta Key (along with a high-end renovation or two) under his belt, Steve decided it was time to launch another new entrepreneurial venture.
With the help of 20-year veteran real estate investor Joel Match, Steve recently launched Rinehart Elite Homes. Their first project under this new name? A gorgeous home in Lakewood Ranch’s exclusive golf course community, The Concession.
As you might imagine, Steve’s life is never boring. But given his passion for excellence, his hands-on attention to detail, and the track record of satisfied home owners, I think it’s safe to say that Rinehart Elite Homes is going to be a luxury home builder to contend with.
For the second year in a row, Sarasota made the “Top 10” list for moving destinations in the United States.
In its annual report published January 22nd, Penske Truck Rentals shows Sarasota climbing from the #10 slot last year (based upon 2012 data) to the #2 position this year (based upon 2013 data) in a new combined entry with Tampa. The company analyzes its one-way truck rentals in order to determine where people are moving within the United States.
Atlanta remains the top destination in the US for this year, and the Orlando—the only other Florida city in the Top 10—holds on to its number 4 slot.
Not surprisingly, Penske cites “the Northeast” and “the Midwest” as big originating points for many of these migrations.
Given this year’s harsh winter conditions, it’s easy to picture this trend continuing in 2014.
Why Combine Tampa and Sarasota?
The report acknowledges Sarasota’s previous #10 ranking, but fails to mention the rationale behind combing Tampa and Sarasota into a single, new entry for this year’s report. I guess we can speculate that Tampa, which didn’t make the Top 10 last year, must have seen an increase throughout 2013. CNN Money apparently believes that Tampa is the only city worth mentioning, as they dropped Sarasota completely from their story about the report. HuffPo managed to get it right, including Sarasota in the #2 slot.
As any resident of the region knows, the Tampa market and the Sarasota market are significantly different. In an infographic published with the report (see below), Penske compares a couple of key market dynamics which they compiled from other sources.
It paints a somewhat amusing picture of the region, showing Sarasota’s median income at $40,813 (6% less than Tampa’s $43,514 figure). Seeing that number compared side-by-side with the average listing price, which is $613,779 for Sarasota (compared to Tampa’s $258,675 average listing).
So… on average, we make 94% of what Tampa’s residents make, but our real estate costs 2.37 times as much as theirs!
Well… that’s the conclusion someone might draw who looks casually at Penske’s data, anyway.
The true story, as we know, is much more complicated than that. Thanks to the perfect storm of 2008, which combined the collapse of the residential housing market and a local Sarasota economy overly dependent upon new construction, our real estate is still a jumbled mess of foreclosures, an unusually high percentage of rental properties, and vacant or abandoned houses. That mess, alongside so many high-end properties on Casey Key, Longboat Key, Bird Key, and Siesta Key (let’s hear it for the #1 beach in the US, right?), makes for a statistician’s nightmare.
In any event, it’s nice to see Sarasota make the list again, even if we were combined with Tampa to get to #2. Perhaps the real estate market will really finish its rebound! Well… one can hope, right?