Who the hell is Scott Yates?????

First, why this post?

I've been kind of off the radar of social media lately, and this blog has been quiet, even by the not-so-staggering standards of years past.

It's because I'm working on a new project. Can't talk about it just yet, but soon you won't be able to get me to shut up.

Once that project becomes public, my profile on the interwebs may grow a bit, and there may be some people who have the question I posed in the title of this post:

Who the hell is Scott Yates????

In the spirit of always making it easy for the reader, I offer this post as an answer to that question.

One warning: If you come here thinking that you will find proof that I'm a proto-communist, or a quasi-fascist, or whatever, you will likely be disappointed.

I approach politics and life with a single point of reference, and that is that I like to solve problems. That approach has meant I've spent time as policy wonk for a conservative Republican, and as volunteer for the homeless, public television, immigrants, and other traditionally liberal redoubts. 

If you are looking for a box to put me in, it will be a weird-ass box.

Early days

I grew up in Denver happy and basically well-adjusted, given that my mother was a licensed social worker, and read all the books about how to raise well-adjusted kids. She was a liberal dating back to the days when she and her father cried together when JFK died.

I attended CU-Boulder, but dropped out. No scandal there. I wish there was. I wish I could have a story like Steve Wozniak, who reportedly was asked to leave after he hacked into the Regents computer system. Mostly I just didn't know what I was doing, so I left, and spent some time as a live-in volunteer at a Catholic Worker house in community with the homeless, and my best friend, who was doing the same thing for much more intentional reasons.

Then I decamped for New York to attend NYU, and work in the publishing capitol of the world. I had a great time there where I was a columnist for the school paper, and I got internships at New York Newsday and SPY Magazine. I got to meet living heroes of mine in person, like the time I got to meet Nat Hentoff when spoke at the original Catholic Worker House. I loved every second I was in New York.

80s-esque

The author, pictured in the 1980s, at least 10 years after that style of mustache had gone out of style.

 

Then I travelled some, saw some of the world, and then returned to my home state of Colorado and took my first job as a cub reporter at the Durango Herald. That was followed by an ill-advised cup of coffee at the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American. I then returned to Colorado and worked at Loveland Reporter-Herald, my second "P.M." paper. (That's what old newspaper hands call an afternoon paper, printed after noon and delivered by high school kids on bikes. That's where I learned to write fast, and why I get approving nods from journalists who've been around.)

I then moved to a weekly paper in my hometown of Denver best known at the time for all the futon advertisements: Westword. It's now better known for marijuana advertising.

You can look at some of the stories I wrote on the Westword site, I think that was the first place to publish my stories on the web. If you want to look for a slant to what I wrote for the papers before that, well, good luck with that. Mostly it was school board stories, so...

After Westword I essentially got out of journalism. I did some work at a health food magazine, but much of that was helping them transition to the Web. Then one day I got a call from Governor Bill Owens. He was a conservative, and he wanted some help with writing, and a few other jobs, including running a conservative think tank for him. He never asked for my party affiliation, just asked if I'd work for him. I did, happily and productively, for years and he remains a friend to this day.

I'm not actually sure what my affiliation was. In those days you had to register with one party to vote in the primary, and because I lived in Denver I probably registered as a Democrat so I'd have some interesting primaries to vote in. Republican primaries in Denver are something like gatherings of non-alcoholic beer fans: Lonely and kind of pointless.

I was conservative, though. I remember my mother wondering where she'd gone wrong when I told her I wanted to vote for Bill Armstrong, and even put a bumper sticker for him on my Datsun.

These days I'm like George Will: a homeless Republican. The party left me while I was standing there, advocating for conservative values like the rule of law, and a stable and limited government.

Startup Life

It didn't take a lot of foresight to realize that there wasn't a great future in journalism, as much as I loved it.

I enjoyed the people in the newsrooms, and the culture, and the problem-solving that came with trying to figure out how to distill complex problems into understandable stories that would hold a readers' interest for 900 words. I really did love all that, but I also started getting frustrated writing about problems and not solving them.

It was one day, stuck in traffic, that I realized I could to some small degree actually solve traffic problems with information.

Kids, ask your parents about the days before iPhones and Google Maps when you couldn't pull a super computer out of your pocket and find out what traffic was like. In those days, we'd all just finish work, go get in a car, and get stuck in traffic without knowing how bad it was really going to be. Ten minutes after we were into the drive and already stuck in traffic, you could hear a guy in a helicopter tell you how screwed you were, which was... not awesome.

So I started a company that let people know about traffic before they got stuck in it: MyTrafficNews.com. In those days, companies like mine weren't called "startups." It was called a "dot-com." I got a patent on that, and eventually sold the company to traffic.com, which later got bought by NavTeq, which was bought by Nokia, which was bought by Microsoft. Food chain in action.

I then started another company that eventually became BillTrack50, and is delighting clients to this day, helping them keep track of legislation. The original company, however, ended up in a lawsuit against some of its investors. I signed a thing saying that I can't say what happened with that suit, which is an obtuse way of saying that I won, but not in court. The original court filings are public, and you can go and get those and read them (I hired a lawyer who was a pretty good writer). But I signed an agreement saying that I would not continue to publish them on the internet as I had been, so sorry for the hassle there.

I then wrote a book called The Future of Water, and then started another company, BlogMutt. You can read lots about that all over this blog, and the BlogMutt blog.

Then in 2016 I decided to hire someone to replace myself. The new CEO and I were together at a trade show in Boston when the election happened.

I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do after that, but I wrote a post about what I wanted to do, and at the top of the list was to be an Entrepreneur in Residence. It's good to announce to the world what you want to do, because that's exactly what happened, with the most amazing research facility you've never heard of: CableLabs.

I love the concept of an Entrepreneur in Residence because it allows a person to really think broadly about problems and solutions. That's where I came up with this idea that I'll be announcing very soon, I hope.

 

So, that's it. That's my story. Feel free to dig in and see if you can find something more embarrassing than a picture of me with a cheesy Village People-esque mustache, though it's hard to imagine anything more horrifying than that.


All Signs Point to the Fact that I am a Traffic Nerd

The first step to, I'm told, is to admit that you have a problem.

My name is Scott -- ("Hi, Scott!") -- and I'm a traffic sign nerd.

Last night the incomparable Tim Jackson tipped me to this amazing story of a guy who took it upon himself to fix an Interstate Highway sign in Southern California, specifically in Pasadena. The sign lacked what one guy saw as an obvious bit of information, so he decided to do a bit of performance art and fix the sign himself.

Sign-new
 

I actually knew that sign. My wife's family is in Pasadena, and I've driven under that sign many times, and I remember thinking that it didn't seem like it followed Federal Interstate Highway sign standards. I never said anything, thinking California maybe had its own rules. I also didn't want her family to think I was a total traffic nerd. 

Now the truth is out: The sign was non-conforming!!!!

Ahem.

Anyway, even though CalTrans knew about the citizen's modification, they didn't do anything about it because they knew that his fix made the sign better. When they finally fixed the sign themselves, they essentially incorporated his modification.

That guy had guts.

I was able to get one sign changed on the Interstate Highway system back in 2004, but I did it the old-fashioned way: lobbying Colorado's DOT to do the work for me.

At the time, I was operating MyTrafficNews, and a bunch of readers wrote in to tell me that a new and nearly constant traffic jam we were reporting about was not the fault of traffic, it was the fault of a sign. The story was that at the end of one highway a new sign gave people a choice of going north or south, but the sign telling people to exit on the right was to the left of the sign telling people to exit to the left. The result was drivers trying to merge suddenly at the last second when the realized they were in the wrong lane.

We took pictures and made a big stink. We submitted the pictures to "This is broken," then a great service of user-experience expert Mark Hurst.

CDOT, to their credit, had a crew fix the sign within a week or so of our campaign.

We had lots of fun with signs at MyTrafficNews. When a truck hit one of those Variable Message Signs, leaving it dangling and threatening -- as we wrote at the time -- to turn a Pontiac into a pancake, we jumped to action. First, we did our best to alert people, as the sign that was designed to help traffic instead made traffic horrible for half the city for an entire day. ("Don't these signs take a Hippocratic oath?" we wrote at the time.)

Then, we wondered what the sign would say if it could make its own message on that day. In haiku.

All signs looking down
Gridlock is all around me
I must blame myself

You see, I really am a traffic sign nerd. 

So my question is, what's the second step?