Email Newsletter
Fairfax County police car (file photo)

The Fairfax County Police Department’s $2 billion pension fund plans to add cryptocurrency investment managers this month, furthering its years-long strategy in alternative finance.

The Fairfax County Police Officers Retirement System has invested in the emerging financial space since 2019, starting with blockchain technology, and it’s now slated to add two more fund managers who could get a share of the profits.

Katherine Molnar, the chief investment officer for the fund, discussed the expected move on a panel about alternative financial investments at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on May 3.

“Along with our sister plan, the Fairfax County Employees’ Retirement System, we believe that we’re the first two public pensions in the U.S. to have allocated to this space,” Molnar said.

The new investments involve yield farming, a cryptocurrency strategy that’s been likened to interest on savings for traditional bank customers. The return on the investments could be between 4% and 1,000%, Molnar said.

According to the county, the pension fund already has a revenue-sharing agreement with the firm Parataxis Capital, and the police retirement system’s Board of Trustees is considering two more such agreements with the yield-farming additions.

Fairfax County police officers contribute 8.65% of their regular pay to the department’s pension fund, which increased 23.3%, or nearly $409 million, during the previous fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021.

According to Molnar, third-party managers direct the crypto investment funds to blockchain technology and infrastructure for cryptocurrency markets, such as digital wallets. The county said its investments also support cryptocurrencies and digital assets.

“I’ve allocated about…5% to this space,” Molnar said, adding that target investments have seen considerable growth but also complicated rebalancing efforts.

According to an annual report for the pension fund, commission percentages range from 0.05% to o.24%, costing $136,249 in base commissions for fiscal year 2021. Management, custodial and consulting fees, and other expenses costed $19.7 million during that time.

0 Comments

Morning Notes

The Lake Accotink dam in Springfield (staff photo by David Taube)

Oath Keepers Member at Capitol Attack Pleads Guilty — “On Jan. 5, 2021…[William Todd Wilson] drove to a hotel in Tysons Corner in Virginia with an AR-15-style rifle, a 9mm pistol, about 200 rounds of ammunition, body armor, pepper spray and a large walking stick ‘intended for use as a weapon,’ according to court records filed Wednesday.” [The Washington Post]

FCPD Seeks Help Finding Eyeglass Thieves — Fairfax County police are investigating a “smash-and-grab” larceny that occurred at My Eye Dr (6307 Richmond Highway) in Belle Haven on April 19. The suspects allegedly stole over $20,000 of eyeglass frames. Similar thefts have been reported across the D.C. area in recent months, including at a store in McLean. [FCPD]

Reston Startup Raises $9M — “Hubble Technology Inc., an early-stage cybersecurity startup based in Reston, has raised a $9 million seed round to grow its business…Hubble said in an announcement the new funding will be used to grow its D.C.-area engineering team to scale the business and meet increasing demand.” [Washington Business Journal]

Track Work to Disrupt Metro’s Orange Line Service — “During the weekends of May 7-8 and 15-16, Orange Line service will end at Stadium-Armory. The free shuttle buses offered on the Orange Line will replicate the service customers can expect to see this summer during weekdays.” [WMATA]

Fairfax Man Found Guilty After Allegedly Driving 103 MPH — “A Loudoun County jury on Wednesday returned a finding of guilt against a Fairfax man for reckless driving, a class 1 misdemeanor, by speed and recommended the maximum fine allowed under law of $2,500, according to a May 4 release from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.” [Loudoun Times-Mirror]

Military Veteran and Spouse Job Fair Coming — “The Veteran and Military Spouse Career Fair will be held in person from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on May 11 at the National Museum of the United States Army…A virtual career fair will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on May 12 through online meeting portal Brazen. The event is free to attend.” [Patch]

Plan for Housing Voucher Program Released — The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority has released its draft fiscal year 2023 Moving to Work Plan, which outlines how the county will administer its housing choice vouchers and other affordable housing programs. The plan is now open for written comments, and there will be a public hearing on May 19. [Housing and Community Development]

It’s Friday — Rain throughout the day. High of 64 and low of 56. Sunrise at 6:06 am and sunset at 8:07 pm. [Weather.gov]

0 Comments
A closeup of an iPhone screen (via Adrien/Unsplash)

After roughly a decade of relative freedom, Fairfax County Public Schools is sending cellphones back into students’ backpacks.

The Fairfax County School Board is considering restricting the use of personal phones during class for all students as part of several proposed revisions to its Students Rights & Responsibilities handbook, which sets standards for student behavior and discipline.

As proposed during a work session on April 26, the extent of the ban would vary depending on the grade level. Elementary and middle school students would only be allowed to use cellphones before and after the school day, while high schoolers can take them out during lunch and periods between classes.

The revised regulation says teachers could still let students use phones for instructional activities “where they are the most appropriate tool,” but in most cases, the school-issued laptops that most students receive should be adequate.

FCPS has already started to limit phone use in Herndon schools, and Dranesville District School Board Representative Elaine Tholen said at the work session that the changes have had positive results, WTOP reported last week.

The proposed changes mark a shift away from FCPS’ current policy, which embraces technology as a way of “creating a 21st century learning environment” and permits students to use their personal devices to access the internet and work with classmates.

FCPS introduced its Bring Your Own Device policy about a decade ago, as the system started to phase in the school-issued laptops. The initiative, which notes that the use of phones for “personal or recreational purposes” should be minimized, won FCPS a Governor’s Technology Award in 2013.

Since then, some schools across the country have moved to ban phones in classrooms in response to concerns about distractions and excessive screentime, but with 95% of teenagers having access to a smartphone, others have argued that a more effective approach is to set clear guidelines and teach students how to use technology responsibly. Safety and health concerns are also sometimes cited as reasons to allow phones.

What do you think of the proposed changes to FCPS’ phone policy? Should schools accept cellphones as an integral part of many kids’ lives and even a potential teaching tool, or are they just a distraction?

Photo via Adrien/Unsplash

0 Comments
Peraton owns a class of robots that have appeared in several movies (via Peraton)

Robots that have graced the screens of Hollywood will appear at the Tephra Institute of Contemporary Art’s annual arts festival in Reston this year from May 20-22.

The technology, which is owned by event sponsor Peraton, is called Remotec robot systems and has appeared in “The Hurt Locker,” “CSI” and “Seinfield.” The robot also provided the sound for the title robot in Pixar’s “WALL-E.”

“With more than 6,000 of our employees in the DC metro area, it’s important for Peraton to support initiatives like the Festival across the communities in which we live and work,” said Matt McQueen, Peraton’s Chief Communications and Engagement Officer. “Tephra ICA promotes innovation, creativity, and the impact art can have on the way we think, act, and grow. In a world where boundaries are blurring between traditional and non-traditional security concerns, it is important to support those who encourage us to think creatively, and the arts is a wonderful vehicle for spurring the imagination.”

Peraton Remotec is a mobile robot system used especially for hazardous duty operations. It was acquired by the company through the purchase of Northrop Grumman’s integrated mission support and IT solutions business.

The company plans to display its robot system and provide opportunities for festival-goers to interact with the technology.

Jaynelle Hazard, Tephra’s executive director and curator, said Peraton’s support as title sponsor has been “invaluable.”

“Peraton’s commitment to and championship of veteran and servicemember artists aligns with our mission and the important ways we are expanding our reach within the field and into the community,” she wrote in a statement.

This year, more than 200 artists will travel from 30 states and two international locations to exhibit their work at the festival. It was formerly known as the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival.

Performances are planned throughout the weekend. This year, the Trisha Brown Dance Company, a contemporary dance company dedicated to the work of founding artistic director and choreographer Trisha Brown, is also scheduled to perform. The performance is presented by Reston Community Center.

“Our excitement is growing in anticipation of this event where we will fill the streets with artwork and people, celebrating the resilience of artistic practice and creating opportunities for visitors to bring artwork home,” said Tephra’s new Associate Curator and Festival Director, Hannah Barco.

Photo via Peraton

0 Comments
The autonomous Relay shuttle travels between the Mosaic District and the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The autonomous Relay shuttle in Merrifield has had lower-than-expected ridership, and it’s not entirely because of COVID-19 limitations.

Since its launch in October 2020 through February 2022, the vehicle has been out of service half the time, mostly due to technical glitches.

“Primary reasons for partial or no service days are due to hardware and software maintenance issues (57%), systems testing (24%), and inclement weather conditions (19%). Relay cannot operate in moderate to heavy precipitation,” Fairfax County staff said in a budget question-and-answer response released April 14.

The shuttle operates from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station to the Barnes & Noble from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

According to county staff, project engineers have enhanced vehicle and software systems, such as tweaking traffic signals to give the vehicle more time to travel through busy intersections, including Route 29.

Workers also have trimmed vegetation outgrowth along the travel route that can impede the vehicle’s sensor system, slowing it down or requiring a safety operator to manually drive.

“We expect the technology to continue to evolve and that further engineering and functionality improvements will be applied to Relay,” county staff wrote.

The technical issues have been coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, where Metro ridership at the station there was 10% of its pre-pandemic levels when the shuttle launched.

The county has also addressed problems with drivers trying to pass it illegally. It increased police patrols and added signage to urge motorists to be patient. The shuttle operates at 10 mph maximum.

The shuttle can transport up to 12 people, but because of the pandemic, the county has limited that to two passengers per trip, along with a safety operator. Masks are required, and the vehicle is cleaned extensively between trips.

Multiple researchers have been examining the shuttle’s effectiveness and impact on riders. Joining an effort that also includes Virginia Transportation Research Council and Virginia Tech, the George Mason University School of Business conducted an online “pre-deployment” survey that found:

  • 63% of respondents saw Relay as innovative
  • 52% thought shuttles like Relay are extremely or somewhat likely to replace current modes of transport
  • 49% felt it was environmentally friendly
  • 33% indicated that they would use it 1-2 times per month

“Public feedback has been positive, in general, with no major concerns expressed,” county staff wrote. “The public likes the smaller size of the vehicle, compared to standard-sized buses. They also like the accessibility features, which are designed to easily accommodate persons with disabilities as well as senior communities.”

According to county staff, GMU is currently working on an on-board survey and will conduct another online questionnaire at the end of the pilot, which has funding to last through December.

0 Comments
Mather Director of Culinary Operations Thad Parton with a food-running robot that the senior living facility operator is testing in Arizona (courtesy Mather)

When The Mather Tysons opens in 2024, the senior living facility might employ some workers of the artificial intelligence variety.

Rest assured, these robots won’t be capable of planning a HAL 9000-style takeover. Instead, they will perform simple, repetitive tasks, such as delivering food to tables and apartments and cleaning hallways.

“Our hope is that it helps us retain team members, that they’ll recognize that we’ve gone kind of the extra step to provide them a level of assistance they may not get elsewhere in similar roles,” Mather Director of Culinary Operations Thad Parton told FFXnow.

Inspired by its founder’s work as an inventor, Mather’s plans to introduce robots to its senior living residences precede the pandemic.

According to Parton, Mather CEO and President Mary Leary asked him to explore robotics a couple of years ago as a potential way to boost service levels. After some research and conversations with vendors, he had identified a unit that would deliver food to residents’ apartments autonomously when COVID-19 arrived.

Once the worst of the pandemic’s initial surge dissipated, the nonprofit launched a pilot of the delivery robot at its life plan community in Evanston, Illinois, but as more people started eating in the dining room instead of taking food out, Parton realized his team’s needs had changed.

“The delivery robot was not as important to us as providing additional support to our dining services team, so we pivoted to testing a food-running robot,” he said, noting that the machines have become increasingly popular throughout the food service industry as restaurants adjust to an exodus of workers.

Earlier this spring, Mather deployed a food-running bot from Bear Robotics at its Splendido community in Tucson, Arizona, for a four-week pilot.

Capable of carrying 66 pounds with three trays and a built-in bussing pan, the robot transports plates of food from the facility’s kitchen to the dining room and then brings the empty dishes back to the kitchen.

“Human servers unload and serve the meals delivered by the robot, and load it up for return to kitchen,” Mather said. “This saves time for servers, who can now spend more time in the restaurant with residents.”

Mather explained exactly how the robot works: Read More

0 Comments

Morning Notes

Tulips across from Vienna Presbyterian Church (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

It’s Earth Day — The Fairfax County Park Authority launched a new Earth Day website this week to provide information on upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, and ways to promote environmental stewardship. The annual occasion started in 1970 “to generate awareness and support for environmental protection.” [FCPA]

Community Raises $20K for Young Reston Soccer Player — “Aaron, a player in the Great Falls-Reston Soccer Club, recently told his coach that he couldn’t come to practice because he didn’t have any cleats. The elite soccer player explained that he was one of the 15 people who’d been displaced by a fire at the Stonegate Village Apartment complex in Reston on April 10.” [Patch]

No Development Planned for Seven Corners Shopping Center — “The Seven Corners Shopping Center is not going to be replaced with a mixed-use development, confirms Janet McCarthy, vice president of leasing at Saul Centers Inc., at least for the foreseeable future…Saul Centers expects to announce a new tenant for the Dogfish Head Alehouse spot by June 1.” [Annandale Today]

Firefighters Reunite with Rescued Vienna Resident — “Engine 402, Vienna, and Engine 430, Merrifield, A-Shift teamed up to assist an occupant out of a house fire last week. Engine 402 was thrilled to meet occupant recently, along w/Vienna Mayor Colbert, and saw he was well. #FCFRD is happy he is doing well after horrific event.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Kingstowne Shopping Centers Change Hands — Federal Realty will acquire Kingstowne Towne Center and Kingstowne Shopping Center for roughly $200 million, the company announced yesterday (Thursday). The real estate firm says it will “amenitize” the towne center but has no immediate plans for redevelopment. The purchase doesn’t include the Regal cinema. [Washington Business Journal]

Herndon Satellite Company Prepares for Launch — “The long-delayed first launch of a Rocket Lab Electron rocket from Virginia is now scheduled for late this year, carrying satellites for HawkEye 360. Rocket Lab announced April 19 it signed a contract with HawkEye 360 to deliver 15 satellites over three launches.” [Space News]

Spring Fest Returns to Mosaic District — Caboose Commons is bringing back its celebratory spring festival tomorrow (Saturday), promising food, live music, and games as well as beer, wine, and cocktail tastings. The festivities begin at noon and continue until 7 p.m. [Caboose Brewing Company]

Reston’s Water Mine Hiring Tomorrow — “Looking for a fun summer job? This Saturday (4/23/22) the Water Mine in Reston is hosting an open hire. Stop by anytime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to apply, interview, and if offered a position, complete hire paperwork on-the-spot.” [FCPA/Twitter]

Marshall HS to Open Musical Next Week — “After a successful fall play, the Statesmen Theatre Department at Marshall High School is preparing to perform its spring musical on two upcoming weekends. The spring musical at Marshall High School will be the Tony Award-nominated ‘A Year with Frog and Toad.’ Performances are scheduled for April 28 and 29 and May 6 and 7.” [Patch]

It’s Friday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 72 and low of 51. Sunrise at 6:23 am and sunset at 7:54 pm. [Weather.gov]

0 Comments
James Madison High School students built a robot that will compete in the 2022 FIRST World Championship (via JMHS/Twitter)

Houston is the place to be this week for the robotics community, and several Fairfax County students scored exclusive invitations.

Fairfax County Public Schools has three teams in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Championships, which kicked off today (Wednesday) at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.

The annual event caps off months of work and competitions for high school students around the world who have designed, programmed and built industrial-sized robots that face off in sports-like games.

Representing Fairfax County among the 454 teams that qualified for the championships — most of them from the U.S. — are James Madison High School’s Warbots, the CAVEBOTICS from Woodson High School, and Oakton Cougar Robotics.

Madison and Oakton have both participated in FIRST Robotics Competitions since 2001, but for the Vienna school, this year marks its first trip to the championships after the Warbots won the school’s first-ever district title on April 9, according to FCPS.

FCPS is part of the Chesapeake District, which includes teams from Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and West Virginia.

Oakton Cougar Robotics previously made the championships in 2016.

Woodson’s CAVEBOTICS are relatively new to the scene. The Fairfax-based school added the team to its cybersecurity and robotics club last year, and it has already grown to over 50 students, according to a Gofundme fundraiser that the team started to support its activities.

With robots costing $6,000 to $12,000 a year to build, fundraising is among the many skills that students learn from the FIRST competitions, along with welding, coding, engineering, and project management, Madison High School said in its post on the Warbots.

A nonprofit founded in 1989, FIRST aims to support science, technology, engineering, and math education through school-based robotics programs for students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The championship will culminate with awards on Saturday (April 23). All of the contests and challenges, along with the closing ceremony, are being livestreamed on Twitch.

0 Comments

Gov. Glenn Youngkin visited Google’s Reston Station office today (Tuesday) to help the company share its plans to continue building up Virginia’s technology industry.

Flanked by public officials at a media event, Google executive Vint Cerf announced it will invest over $300 million in Virginia this year.

“Virginia is a shining example of the work we’re doing across the United States with a growing office right here in Reston Station and continued investments that we’re making in our data centers in northern Virginia,” Cerf said.

According to a news release, the tech giant plans to invest approximately $9.5 billion in offices and data centers and create at least 12,000 new full-time Google jobs across the U.S. this year.

Google didn’t discuss details about specific local investments, but a public relations firm said the company “plans to continue investing in its data center portfolio in Northern Virginia.”

A law passed earlier this year and effective July 1 reconfigured how data centers are taxed.

“We have now a framework to incentivize data center investments across all industry, and we have a great working relationship with Google,” Youngkin said.

Cerf also said the company will provide a $250,000 grant to CodeVA, a Richmond-based nonprofit focused on teaching coding skills to kids. The money will support programming for students across the state.

Mark Isakowitz, Google’s government affairs lead in the U.S. and Canada, said the company worked with the governor’s team to make the investment announcement a reality. While the state didn’t provide any “specific” funding to the company, the partners have a shared vision, according to Youngkin.

The Republican governor said Google’s investment will have ripple effects for the Commonwealth’s economy. He also announced that Virginia is joining a National Governors Association initiative to prioritize computer science curricula in schools.

Google partners with Virginia on education

Google will also work with the Virginia Community College system and Department of Education to help people of all ages get professional certificates. The effort involves the state’s 23 community colleges and five higher education centers in the Commonwealth.

Per a news release:

This partnership will provide more entry-level opportunities for Virginians seeking careers in tech fields via the certificates, which are taught and developed by Google employees with decades of experience. Google Career Certificates are available in the fields of data analytics, IT support, project management, and user experience (UX) design, and do not require prior experience or a degree.

While Google has invested in Northern Virginia with two data center campuses in Loudoun County and the recent expansion of its Reston office, the region has over 90,000 open technology positions, according to the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

“This is an exciting day,” Youngkin said, thanking Google and saying he was excited to see workplaces come alive.

Daniel Golding, a Google infrastructure director who leads the capital region’s tech site, suggested that the company is probably about 20 or 30% more effective when employees work in the office instead of from home.

“It’s really important to collaborate and work together,” he said.

Youngkin chatted with workers and toured amenities in the four-level office. Looking down on Reston and the Dulles Toll Road from the building’s 15th floor, he joked that it must be “a terrible place to have to work.”

“Look at that view,” Youngkin said.

0 Comments
Herndon High School sign (via FCPS)

In an effort to curb cell phone use, Herndon High School is implementing a school-wide ban on cell phone and headphone use in all classes.

The policy went into effect yesterday (Monday) after what Principal Liz Noto called an “all time high” of student phone use.

Noto offered an update to the school community about the policy change over spring break.

Students will still be able to use their phone during lunch time and passing times, according to the letter. Once class begins, phones must be turned off and put away.

The school outlined a number of exceptions to the rule, including using phones to monitor medical conditions and specific documented learning needs.

Teachers can also provide students with a five-minute phone break during class and use cell phones for specific learning activities.

Here’s more from Noto’s update:

We want you to know that we value your communication with your child. If you need to urgently get in touch with your child and waiting for the end of the class period or for a five-minute cell phone break during class will not suffice, please call the main office at 703-810-2200 and we will help you reach your student.

Teachers will be following through on this new policy very diligently. It is our priority to engage you student in learning and this is a major step toward that goal. Please help reiterate the importance of this new policy with your student. Thank you for your continued support.

FCPS was not immediately available for comment on the policy, but the school system does let students use their personal devices to access the Internet and collaborate with other students during the day, according to its technology policy.

Phones can be pulled out if teachers allow it.

The policy changed in 2011 when cell phones had to be out of sight at all times.

The change comes as counties across the state embrace the potential advantages of cell phone use in academic settings. Suffolk County, for example, encourages students to use cell phones to access information online and play subject-related games.

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list