Grand Forks: Welcome to UAV Central

It seems that the city of Grand Forks has succeeded in placing itself at the center of the unmanned aircraft business. This is great news for the region’s economy. MPR:

Unmanned aircraft systems are becoming big business. It’s estimated the Department of Defense will spend as much as $80 billion on unmanned aircraft in the next 10 years.

Phyllis Johnson, vice president for research and development at the University of North Dakota, says Grand Forks is at the epicenter of a growth industry.

“I think this region is positioned as well as anybody, if not better than most,” said Johnson. “We have all the pieces right here to really grow this industry and take advantage of everything that’s out there.”

There was a lot of uncertainty in the area when the Department of Defense recommended realignment for the Grand Forks Air Force Base back in 2005. Thankfully, instead of seeing it close with the departure of the 319th Refueling Wing, a new mission developed around the emerging use of unmanned aerial vehicles. And while the RQ-4 Global Hawk isn’t scheduled to arrive until next year, it’s already having a positive impact on Grand Forks.

Global Hawk UAV

Just this afternoon, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held down the hallway from where I work in the Center For Innovation to celebrate the opening of Northrop Grumman’s new Grand Forks office. According to Minnesota Public Radio, they expect to have about 100 employees here within the next two years.

In addition, area educational institutions are getting involved, too. The University of North Dakota is now offering the world’s first degree in Bachelor degree in unmanned aircraft systems operations and Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls is preparing to train mechanics qualified to fix and maintain the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.

Having this new industry in the region also presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Locating a supporting manufacturing or software in Grand Forks provides easy access to the United States Air Force, Northrop Grumman, and a variety of UAV training and educational resources. It’s possible that our little city could play a key role in this industry for well into the future.

Grand Forks owes a big thanks to North Dakota’s Congressional delegation and city officials for their years of hard work in making this opportunity possible. Between this and the potential for clean and renewable energy in the state, we’re positioning ourselves well for the future.

Britney in Grand Forks

Britney Spears Montreal Concert - Smiling Britney uploaded on May 5, 2009 by Anirudh Koul
Last Saturday night Casey and I attended the Britney Spears Circus tour at its stop in Grand Forks. It was quite the experience, and easily one of the city’s biggest events of the year. I’m glad we were able to see Britney once, but I don’t think I’d go again if she came back to town in the future.

As the countdown hit zero and the giant video screens wrapping the center stage lit-up, it was clear what we were about to see: Not a concert, but a show. And looking at it from that perspective, it was pretty good. It was a spectacle in every way, with its dancers, circus performers, the audio/visual experience, and, of course Britney herself. In many ways, it reminded us of the Cirque du Soeil Delirium show we in Grand Forks three years ago, though not nearly as ambitious.

And though Britney’s music was always playing, it wasn’t the focus of the show – it was the backdrop that drove the her and the other performers. In contrast, we saw Green Day in concert just two months ago, where the band’s music was front and center for two straight hours.

So, I think that sums-up the Britney Spears Circus experience:  It’s not really a concert, but a good – not great – music show. I don’t think the performances would ever stand-up on their own, but then again, I don’t think anyone is expecting them to. The event is all about Britney, and everyone knows it.

Come in with those expectations, and when the lights come up at the end, I think you’ll walk away satisfied with the show.

Is North Dakota the Recession’s Big Winner?

Last night, Marketplace had a great story about the strength of North Dakota’s economy in this recession. In short, our state is thriving right now:

What is happening is a combination of planning and luck that’s left the state with something rare these days: a $700 million budget surplus and a big fat tax cut. Its banks mostly avoided the subprime mess, and North Dakota worked to bring in more businesses like Microsoft. Then, prices went up quickly for the state’s traditional strengths — energy and agriculture.

So now with thousands of jobs available, North Dakota officials have been traveling out of state to try to fill them. Jerry Chavez heads a development corporation for the small city of Minot. Since the beginning of the year, his group has been making monthly visits to job fairs in hard-hit Midwestern communities.

You can listen to the whole story below.

North Dakota’s unemployment rate for June 2009 was 4.2 percent – the lowest in the country. As of July, there were about 9,000 job openings throughout the state. Granted, many are retail and food service positions that don’t great pay or benefits, but there are plenty of good ones in government, manufacturing, and especially, energy.

It’s now clear that North Dakota’s slow-and-steady growth rate during The Bubble was a blessing in disguise. Combine that sustainable growth with growing demand for alternative energy (wind, ethanol) and commodities (oil, coal, natural gas, grain, etc.)  and I think North Dakota has the opportunity to emerge from this recession stronger than ever.

As for that $1.2 billion state budget surplus – let’s just not ask too many questions about where that came from…

The iPhone on Verizon: Break My Heart Again, Apple

It has been over two years since Apple announced the original iPhone, and Apple fans everywhere are expecting the 3rd generation iPhone to be introduced at next month’s WWDC keynote, or shortly after. Having gone through the five stages of grief, I eventually accepted the fact that while Steve Jobs doesn’t actually hate North Dakota, there was no reason to believe we’d be able to buy and use one in our state anytime soon. Since then, I’ve been a happy user of Verizon’s premium smartphone platform, the Blackberry (the Pearl 8130 to be exact) and have been looking to the upcoming Blackberry Tour as my next phone upgrade.

Rumors of an iPhone on the Verizon network just won’t go away, however. The latest one comes via Scott Bourne on this week’s Macbreak Weekly podcast:

I had a conversation yesterday – on Memorial Day – with an extremely high-up Verizon employee who told me flat out, they are getting an iPhone. …He said as soon as June, it will be announced.

You can listen to Scott’s quote and the ensuing discussion in this trimmed-down audio clip.

[Read more...]


Two hours, four minutes, and 59 seconds – That’s my official finish time for the Fargo half marathon last Saturday. Here are the complete statistics:

  • time: 2:04:59
  • gun time: 2:10:15
  • 10 k: 56:57
  • pace: 9:33
  • overall place: 1948 out of 4371
  • division place: 179 out of 272
  • gender place: 1098 out of 1726

As you can see, I didn’t quite make my goal of finishing under two hours, but I’m still very happy with my time nevertheless.

Like I told Casey after I finished, I can see myself running another half marathon and attempt to make my two-hour goal, but I have absolutely no desire to try a full 26.2 mile marathon. I really admire the people who can do it, but my body just isn’t built for those kinds of distances!

Running the Fargo Half Marathon

Tomorrow morning at 8am I will start my first ever half marathon in Fargo. One year ago I ran in Fargo’s 5K fun run, and since then I’ve been able to keep training and improve my speed and distance. Witnessing the start of last year’s Fargo Marathon was a great experience, so I’m ready and feeling really good about running these 13.1 miles.

Although I’ll be happy to just finish the race, I need to have a goal, right? My slightly unrealistic one is to finish under the two hour mark. This would require me running a bit faster than my normal pace, so I’m hoping to be aided by a combination of race-day motivation and adrenaline. I’m sure I’ll throw some caffeine in there too for an additional boost.

Thanks for your well-wishes. I’ll let you know my official results when I get them.

Steve Jobs Still Hates North Dakota

The New iPhone 3G
Well, another Worldwide Developers Conference kicked-off and another Stevenote wrapped up. The announcements were pretty well covered in the previous week by the Apple rumor squad, the *big one being the release of the iPhone 3G next month (July 2008). Among other things, It has a faster connection, built-in GPS, and a price tag that is about half of what the previous generation sold for.

Still AT&T Only. North Dakota Still Out of Luck.

When I wrote about the first iPhone announcement 1 1/2 years ago, I mentioned how it was going to only be available for the AT&T (then Cingular) wireless network. This is still the case, and the wireless provider still has no presence in North Dakota, so us North Dakotans are out of luck yet again.

With Verizon’s purchase of Alltel last week, North Dakota will effectively have one statewide wireless provider, creating a monopoly for Verizon in the state. And while I’ve had terrific luck with their service and coverage, more competition is always better. So, maybe we’ll see AT&T move in to challenge them, but I’m not holding my breathe.

I think the best chance of us seeing an iPhone in the upper midwest would be for Apple to make a CDMA compatible version. But, this could be years out, if ever, due to their exclusivity contract with AT&T. Or, maybe our dreams will finally be realized when all the wireless carriers migrate over to Long Term Evolution (3GPP LTE) in a few years.

Or, maybe not.

My Results From the Fargo Marathon 5K Fun Run

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to participate in the 5K fun run/walk portion of the Fargo Marathon. I had never witnessed the start of a marathon before, so it was very inspiring to see thousands of people begin their 26.2 mile trek across the city of Fargo, including my friend (and former supervisor), John Gieser. Someday, I hope to be one of them.

But for now, I’m taking my time to increase my endurance and speed. I’ve been running every other day on our treadmill since the beginning of January, so I’m able to do 4.5 – 5 miles on it without much of a problem. Running outside, on pavement, is a completely different story, of course. I only had a single chance to go running on the highway that goes by our house before yesterday’s race, and it was a reality check.

Thankfully, the weather (especially the wind) cooperated yesterday morning, helping the 3.2 miles feel like it took only about 10 minutes. According to data recorded on my Nike + iPod setup, I lost about over a minute in my mileage pacing from beginning to end, but I’m extremely happy with my results.

Here are my official results:

  • 608th overall (out of 3,722 finishers)
  • 53th out of 120 in my division (males age 25-29)
  • 403th out of 1,139 males
  • Time: 27 minutes, 49 seconds
  • Pace: 8 minutes, 57 seconds per mile

So what’s my next goal? Training for a half marathon. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how that goes!

Barack and Hillary Coming to Grand Forks

Barack Obama

Things are pretty exciting here in Grand Forks right now. Several weeks ago we found out that Senator Barack Obama will be speaking at the North Dakota Democratic Convention on April 4th. Then we found out yesterday that Hillary Clinton was feeling left out, and decided to make an appearance later that night.

I can’t remember the last time we had a presidential candidate here in town, so having two show up the same day is a pretty big deal. We’re planning on attending the Obama event, though logistics with the kids will likely prevent us from hearing Senator Clinton. I’ve never been to a political event like this, so I’m excited for the in-person experience. I’m sure I’ll have something to say or show here afterwards!

On a side note, should Senator Obama lock-up the nomination and compete against McCain this fall, I think he has a really good shot at winning North Dakota. McCain had a weak performance in February’s caucus here, getting just one point more than Ron Paul. There’s a lot more excitement for Obama now, and there’s a good chance that’ll stick around until November.

Grand Forks Finally has High Speed Mobile Internet (EV-DO)!

I received a very nice surprise when I opened my Razr phone this morning and saw the little “EV” symbol instead of the usual “1x” one. At some point in the last 12 hours or so, Verizon Wireless silently enabled their BroadbandAccess (EV-DO) network for the Grand Forks area. Word has it that it’s also turned on in Fargo and Bismarck as well.

Verizon Wireless Logo

As a quick, informal test, I did testing this afternoon using a laptop and a Rev 0 BroadbandAccess card that we have here at the office. Download speeds appear to be in the 512 Kbps range, while upload speeds are in the 125 Kbps range. That’s a huge improvement over what we were getting on the 1x network – at least a 10x jump in speed.

This is great news for North Dakotans. The new Rev A EV-DO equipment Verizon has installed here means that Grand Forks now has a faster mobile Internet connection than the Twin Cities. As many other people have noted, having fast, reliable mobile Internet access can be a game-changer for many, especially freelancers and small businesses. No more reliance on spotty Wi-Fi networks or being tied to an office. I call that a productivity booster!