Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Future of Green Jobs

There won't be one without coordinated effort from business, labor and government. And government needs to take the lead, especially in formulating a real and strong energy policy. Lack of regulatory and policy certainty is paralyzing investment in our future energy economy, costing both jobs and our increasingly tenuous status as a presumptive global leader in cleantech.

In a speech today to Gen44, Obama said:
We cannot let this country fall backwards... We've started investing again... in home-grown clean energy... I want [future clean energy technology] built all right here in the United States of America, because we're all about making it here in America.
Watch it:

But Obama said of energy policy recently that "we may have to end up having to do it in chunks, as opposed to some sort of comprehensive legislation." If he also truly believes that "energy is our great project, this generation's great project" then he should reject the piecemeal approach to which he is gravitating. Such baby steps will prolong the uncertainty so badly that it will do more harm than good; especially after our sclerotic Congress gets done with its inevitable, glacial, ritual evisceration of even these ultimately modest proposals.

Strong bold leadership is needed to unabashedly advocate for comprehensive, long-lasting policy, not faint gestures that destroy confidence, sending investment off-shore. We need only look at the example of other countries to see what can be done.

Said Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, "Germany is the world’s leader in solar. It’s not because Germany is sunny."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where's It Wednesday

I like puzzles. One that I enjoy on-line is What's It Wednesday at the excellent blog Scholars & Rogues. Every Wednesday they post a picture... of something. The challenge is to figure out what it is. It's fun; check it out.

In that spirit I offer Where's It Wednesday.

Every Wednesday I'll post a picture from somewhere in the Seattle area. Your challenge, if you want, is to guess (or deduce) where it is, and post in the comments. No prizes, at least for now. If I get enough interest maybe that will change!

Starting off with a pretty easy one:

Somewhere in Seattle

Answer next Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cleantech in the Northwest

Expert Panel Provides Insight

Perkins Coie cleantech panel at the Arctic Hotel 9/23/10
Moderator Kha Dang readies a question for (L-R) Brad
Zenger, Michael Butler, Jeff Canin and (not shown)
Rick Lefaivre and Byron McCann
Some of the best industry panels locally are put on by law firm Perkins Coie, who always manages to assemble speakers culled from the local industry A-list. Last Thursday was no exception, as Perkins attorneys Bruce Dick and Kha Dang hosted a stimulating and lively panel of cleantech experts in the fabulous Dome Room of the Arctic Hotel. On the dais were Brad Zenger of Pivotal Investments, Michael Butler of Cascadia Capital, startup CEO and angel investor Jeff Canin, OVP partner Dr. Rick Lefaivre, and Byron McCann of Ascent Partners, who also heads the Pacific Northwest region of the Cleantech Open.

Evan Scandling has a good post over at NW Cleantech that hit the highlights, so I'll just add a few other things from my notes that struck me as also finding broader concurrence from the panel.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hot Yoga

When Survival Itself is a Triumph

I've decided (at the urging of my utterly fit wife) to take up hot yoga.

No doubt you've heard the bon mot: "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

But there are a lot of things that don't kill one and I doubt they make one stronger in any but the most limited sense. Staring at the ocean. Eating breakfast. Calling your Mum.

What is meant I think is doing something hard, or painful. And surviving.

I wonder if one is made stronger correspondingly to how near to death one gets. If so, and judging by my first day at it, I can anticipate being some kind of superman should hot yoga actually not kill me.

Chart of Bikram Yoga poses

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Distant Mirror

Hazy Reflection

Osborne 1 Computer
The Osborne 1 "Luggable" Computer
It feels exactly this way to me too. But as was true then, there will be many cleantech startups analagous to Osborne, Kaypro, Wang, and even Digital. There were also Context MBA, Quattro Pro, Word Perfect, and DB3. Even the big names had their Xenix, PS/2 and Apple III failures. Many will be the first movers and pioneer markets only to see other fast followers prevail. There are already plenty of signs that investors await the shake-out, and are passing on the innovators in immature markets.

The danger, for those that care about such things, is that those who win will not be based in the US. History rhymes, but the changed game has a new tune.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

There Ought To Be a Law

How Little Work Can They Do?

Mary Landrieu in clown costume
Q: What do you call the favor an official demands of you before they will do their job?

A: A bribe.

Except if, like Democrat Mary Landrieu, you're a member of the US Senate, where it is business as usual. If you're a member of what was once called, incredibly, The World's Greatest Deliberative Body, you spend most of your time finding supposedly principled ways of avoiding doing your job. You don't debate. You don't negotiate. You don't craft policy. You don't work to make legislation. Except for hitting up campaign donors you don't do anything until you get the bribe you demand.

Landrieu will not support renewable energy legislation until she gets a full return to unrestricted offshore drilling. Said Landrieu:
I can’t support anything related to energy unless this moratorium gets lifted and permits start being issued in the Gulf [of Mexico], or we are not going to have any energy to power the country with.
Is it soliciting a bribe? Or extortion?

In any other profession, she'd be fired or indicted.

Update: Bipartisanship isn't completely dead. It just shows up where it isn't welcome. Loiusianna's other Senator, Republican David Vitter, whose best known accomplishment involves diaper fetishes and prostitutes, agrees with Landrieu.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dow Jones Sustainability Index

The New Greenwashing

Painting a wall gray or green
Not really being green.
Instead, shades of gray
The value of being sustainable is increasingly recognized and there is a growing movement to be sustainable and to select sustainable businesses and practices. No surprise then that hype and confusion are also growing, especially where there is money at stake. The Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes "track the financial performance of the leading sustainability-driven companies worldwide."
The Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI World) covers the top 10% of the biggest 2,500 companies in the Dow Jones Global Total Stock Market Index in terms of economic, environmental and social criteria.
So no surprise after the Gulf of Mexico disaster they removed BP from the list.
As a component of the DJSI World Index, BP was subject to index rules that allow for elimination from the DJSI following extraordinary events... The extent of the oil-spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and its foreseeable long-term effects on the environment and the local population – in addition to the economic effects and the long term damage to the reputation of the company – were included in the analysis leading up to BP’s removal.
Monitoring of crisis events
assess how well the company informs the public, acknowledges responsibility, provides relief measures, involves relevant stakeholders and develops solutions.
But wait! Who's the new company they just added? Darth Cheney's Haliburton?! Really? This is, after all, a company also complicit in fouling the Gulf.

We are left to draw one of two wretched conclusions:
  • "Sustainability" means something a bit different to Dow Jones.
  • Haliburton really is in the 90th percentile in sustainability amongst the 2500 largest global corporations.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Startup Wisdom

These are all so true. While we can tell each other amusing stories when we sit down to chat, we could also provide examples in support of each of these insights from Paul Graham (and brief comments from me):
  1. Pick good cofounders. (And be clear about your criteria)
  2. Launch fast. (Always be urgent)
  3. Let your idea evolve. (Always be confident, but always question whether you have it right)
  4. Understand your users. (Talk to as many as you can, early and often)
  5. Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent. (Passion, not like, is contagious)
  6. Offer surprisingly good customer service. (Ask: What would you want if you were the customer?)
  7. You make what you measure. (You'll also make it better)
  8. Spend little. (But not too little; some things are worth top dollar)
  9. Get ramen profitable. (I'll stick with peanut butter)
  10. Avoid distractions. (Focus. I ask many times a day: What is the objective here?)
  11. Don't get demoralized. (Following the other 12 rules will create more energy than you can imagine!)
  12. Don't give up. (Until you must; don't flog a dead horse)
  13. Sign: entering startup
    Proceed at your own risk
  14. Deals fall through. (So do startups)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Audacity of Hope?

Or The Foolhardiness of Wishful Thinking?

Obama as superhero
President Obama's lack of conviction on climate and energy policy is now undeniable. His vacillating remarks on off shore oil drilling over the past few months illustrate his lack of leadership on this, the most critical issue of his presidency.

Eric Pooley over at Grist has an excerpt from his forthcoming book which lucidly surveys the Obama Administration's timeline of timidity. He concludes:
It is a cruel irony that the epic disaster in the Gulf -- a wakeup call to the need to reduce our dependence on oil -- makes it harder to pass a bill that would help us do so. Expanded offshore drilling (and the revenue it would bring) was the chip Obama hoped to use to draw oil-state senators into a grand bargain that would also include subsidies for nuclear power and carbon capture and storage, with a modest carbon cap in return. The oil spill blew up that idea by taking expanded offshore drilling off the table, at least for now. With few chips left, Obama appears to be hoping that public anger over the spill can help drive a new version of the climate bill. Soon, we’ll know whether he really means it. Democratic leaders in the Senate have been floating the idea of an energy bill without a carbon cap -- which would be yet another failure of nerve by a group of legislators badly in need of adult supervision. Passing a real climate bill will be excruciatingly difficult. Waiting will only make it harder. It’s time for Obama to intervene on the Hill, silence the naysayers inside his own administration, harness the public mood, and make good on his promise to fight.
So this is what the audacity of hope looks like--wishing for the First Nerd to remove his figurative glasses and punch back at the bullies. But he won't. Ever cerebral, Obama doggedly appeals to the non-existent good intentions of his opponents, believing that reason and patience will yield agreement. In time, onlookers feel contempt, not sympathy. The notion that Obama will risk any political capital to lead a fight is not a bold hope, but a limp wish.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Do Your Work and Then Step Back

Fill your bowl to the brim
    and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
    and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
    and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
    and you will be their prisoner.

Burano, Italy

Do your work and then step back.
The only path to serenity.

--The Tao Te Ching, 9
   Stephen Mitchell

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Clear Advance in Power Generation

Transparent Solar Windows

Last week New Energy Technologies debuted of the world’s first see-thru, spray-on technology windows that generate electricity:
[The] proprietary SolarWindow™ technology [is] capable of transforming everyday surfaces, such as glass, into electricity-generating windows... the application of SolarWindow™ to exterior glass surfaces of commercial towers could generate energy savings several-fold greater than today’s rooftop solar systems...

In commercial applications, such as the building facades of office towers, engineers conservatively estimate that installation of New Energy’s SolarWindow™ can generate more than 300% energy savings over conventional rooftop solar systems. Key to maximizing energy production, SolarWindow™ can be applied to the extensive glass surfaces on commercial skyscrapers, an important advantage over conventional solar systems confined to installation on space-prohibitive rooftops.
Solar cell prototype
The windows remain transparent even while generating electricity. The spray-on coating can be applied at room temperature and enable the windows to make power from either natural or artifical light. The demonstration at the University of Southern Florida powered LEDs, but the technology can also create enough amperage to power equipment.

Work remains on scaling the technology, production manufacturing and deploying building-scale prototypes. Also no word yet on cost. A cool technology for sure, but not yet commercially compelling.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

This Future is Totally Forseeable

Charles Maxwell, the "Dean of Oil Analysts" forecasts peak oil by 2017. In the relentlessly cornucopian rag Forbes. And that's not all:
Higher prices will result in a very difficult transition period in which we are forced to use less because we simply don’t have the money to use the oil that we have historically used. This will be a period of great economic difficulty, lasting for years. At the same time that the economy is in great difficulty, oil companies will continue to reap big profits, causing an enormous amount of resentment and calls for higher taxation and greater regulation of the oil industry.
What are we waiting for? Let's do it now, while we make a real commitment to a renewable future.

Tom Tomorrow: A Peak Oil Parable

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Outernet and Search Inversion

The Lobster Trap of Internet Privacy

Internet anonymity is disappearing. I've written earlier about why I've given up on maintaining a distinction between my professional and personal selves. Not only is it impractically difficult to maintain, but attempting to do so increasingly marks one as an information age fuddy-duddy, or as someone trying to hide something indelicate. Everyone is connected all the time and everywhere by ever-more ubiquitous mobile computational power and fat-pipe bandwidth. What we do, when and why are now continuously memorialized. The GPS features of phones, along with applications such as Foursquare and Gowalla provide such a rich timeline that the future job security of forensic investigators is likely imperilled.

Big Brother is Watching You poster
Ceding one's anonymity also entails abandoning quaint notions of privacy. When I Google myself some of the results include comments I have made to blog posts in the past, some of them years old. (Yes, I do periodically search on my own name. Doesn't everyone? Brand experts advise one do so. You know potential employers and business partners are searching on your name; don't you want to know what they're finding about you?)

The signs of our complete Internet outing are everywhere. Remember anonymous comments to articles and blog posts? A thing of the past--"Login to comment" is utterly standard and unremarkable to nearly everyone. The imprecations to surrender to the 'net are relentless. It doesn't matter how many times I tell Google or Twitter "No thanks" to "enabling" my location disclosure, both services continue to badger me with the question. I suppose at some point, as with a tireless toddler whining for some treat, I may, through irritation or inattention, agree to do so. And having been given their figurative ice cream I suspect they will not check back frequently to ask me if I'd like to rescind my newly granted cyber-exhibitionism.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Government Funding for Cleantech:
Why Do It?

The Best Bang for the Taxpayer Buck

Why fund cleantech?

Cleantech crystal ball
There will always be disagreement over what things government should fund. Some argue for utterly minimal spending, with no support for commercial development, corporate research and development, business tax breaks, or anything that benefits the private sector. Many, however, believe government should have a role, and differ only on its size and emphasis. So questions on funding cleantech aren't ones to consider in isolation, especially in a time of handwringing over deficits. Rather, they should be viewed as a zero-sum decision: why fund cleantech in preference to all the other (putatively worthy) alternatives? The government is going to allocate the dollars somewhere; does cleantech have more merit? Should cleantech get more funding than other areas, or less? Or should it and everything else be treated equally?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Good Day

On the Back Nine of Life, But So What?

Chris Leyerle and his granddaughter
The birthday boy last month
with #1 granddaughter
Today was my birthday. I slept late (but not as late as I would have liked!) I had two great meetings with savvy financial pros as part of my search for a new position. I got some recognition for my first cleantech opinion article published on a leading local blog. Family and friends called, emailed, tweeted, wrote and posted to Facebook. I got a few modest, but thoughtful and useful gifts. My granddaughter gave me many hugs. I had a gourmet Thai dinner (and cupcakes!) at home with my wife and most of the kids and their girlfriends/boyfriends.

I'm looking forward to another good day tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Closing of the Blue Frontier

Hauling up fish in a commercial net
Fishing, a parable for oil production
Our oceans are dying.

Or more accurately, we are killing them. We poison them with oil, smother them with plastic and make them acid with climate change.

Apart from savaging the ocean by habitat destruction, we are also busily decimating species directly for specious, pretend "research" (glad we don't research people this way), commerce (that destroys the commons), and tradition (even if it is cruel and unhealthy as well.)

Not only are we over-fishing with 90% of big fish stocks gone since 1950, but our tax dollars are helping accelerate the process:
Another cause of over-exploitation, [Marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia] Earle said, was billions of dollars governments spent subsidizing their fishing industries, trying to protect jobs and a way of life of communities. "But what is not realized is that when the fish have gone, the way of life will come to an end anyway. What's happening is not sustainable," she said.
In this time of persistently high unemployment it borders on heresy to question almost any government program that "saves jobs." But the unsustainable cannot be sustained, and such efforts only postpone the inevitable changes of restructuring, retraining and building new foundations that provide enduring jobs and community vitality. Those in the fishing industry don't want to hear it, but ignorance will be no more blissful in the end to them than it was to telephone operators, buffalo skinners, railroad workers or copy-making typists.

Economies change. Industries grow and die. Jobs, and workers, move and retrain. Communities adapt.

There's another industry that depends entirely on a diminishing resource that is getting progressively harder and more expensive to bring to market, and where we're hearing an awful lot lately about needing subsidies to save jobs.

Better to start now on building a lasting foundation for the future.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Does a Bear Sh*t in the Woods?

Cartoon: Does a Bear Shit in the Woods?
If you let him into your house, he'd also do it on the carpet. It's in the bear's nature. So why are we surprised when oil companies befoul the environment with the devil's excrement?
When an institutional arrangement that results in a predictable, almost inevitable event becomes transformed into a freak phenomenon, the result of a single bad apple so to speak, you pretty much guarantee you’ll be spitting out a lot more rotten apple. Or, to invent an old saying, when you invite a bear into your house and he messes on the floor, don’t blame the bear. When you don’t have anyone watching over corporate accounting, or regulations on collateralized debt obligations, or you allow drilling in areas where plugging a leak strains the bounds of known engineering, you’re bound to end up with Enron, AIG and now BP.  So in BP and the oil lobby’s defense, they are merely the misunderstood bear. “Isn’t this what you wanted,” they ask? Cheap, plentiful oil for everything big and shiny and wonderful?” It must seem particularly ungrateful to turn on them after one, little accident. Was BP reckless and ill-prepared? Yes, but that’s what corporate bears do.  Expecting otherwise will be a ritual of disappointment.
Every part of our economy is dependent on oil and each of us adds to the demand every day. Personally, I hate it, but can't completely get away from adding to the problem directly myself. It will take time and effort to change our energy future to something sustainable and renewable and critically, get away from oil. But in the meantime we must live, however unhappily, with the reality of the crapping bear, both in the energy industry and amongst our so-called lawmakers:
Now we must gnash our teeth and pull our hair as energy policy is shelved yet again due to the pathetic exigencies of contemporary American politics, where nothing, nothing, nothing is ever as important as making your opponent look bad. That this will be considered a ‘victory’ in certain circles is all any impartial observer needs to know to condemn this sham “democracy,” where a supermajority is needed to accomplish anything more substantial than passing a resolution in favor of girl scouts. But who are we to complain – you vote a political bear into Congress, what do you expect?

Monday, September 13, 2010

When Coal is Gone

Crystal ball forune telling
In the future people will still want fresh food, light and heat in their homes, and the ability to travel. These things, and virtually all else that we now take for granted requires energy--lots of it. Our energy composition is changing, and will change much more in our lifetimes. But put that aside a moment:
What’s the best way to address a politically charged topic such as the future of energy? Remove the politics. “We’re going to skip over the politics,” Robert P. Laughlin, who won a Nobel Prize for physics in 1998, told a rapt audience of young scientists and others here at the 60th annual Nobel Laureate Lectures at Lindau. “I’m not interested in now but in the time of your children’s children’s children, six generations into the future and 200 years from now,” when all carbon burning has stopped because it’s been banned or none is left, he said. “Thinking about a problem this way is so simple. Instead of arguing about what to do now, I want to talk about what will happen when there’s no coal."
It's a superficially appealing idea: focus on the eventual endpoint without arguing over exactly when we get there. Solutions are easier to discuss, and to contemplate, when the impacts and the sacrifices happen long after we're gone. However, it removes any urgency about beginning needed change, and allows deniers to pretend the outcome is too far in the future for us to have confidence in the accuracy of our crystal ball. No need to worry! Let's go shopping!

Oh, and coal might not last anything close to 200 years.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


New York City on 9/11/01
Courage is not absence of fear. Rather it is the strength coolly to act, to choose the sometimes much harder path, knowing the peril.

Courage doesn't come with a rush of blood to the head. Rather it is the lucid extension of principle, the consequence of of core values.

Courage is moral. Courage does not retaliate in frightened violence. It doesn't surrender liberty for safety. Courage does not live in a mob. It is not fomented by angry preachers or outraged talk show hosts. It neither embraces xenophobic jingoism nor demonizes others by stereotype. Such things are cowardice shabbily dressed merely in the costume of courage.

Today, on this Day of Remembrance, let us recall and honor those who have shown the courage that exemplifies our highest values. Tomorrow, let us honor them by placing those values at the fore, shunning the blandishments of pinched political views that appeal to petty and provincial passions.

Can we exhibit the courage of our highest ideals? We can and we must, as our future depends on it.

This is still the home of the brave.

Update: Corrected link, typo

Friday, September 10, 2010

Whom Do You Trust?

Pinocchio is startled by the growth of his own nose
Who's surprised by this anyway?
Whom do you trust more: the federal government or oil companies like BP? Neither has exactly covered themselves in glory the last many years, and both have given us many reasons to doubt their commitment to the public's interest in a stable and sensible energy policy.

The question of trust is at the heart of deciding what to do about the federal government's current moratorium on deepwater drilling, which has sparked predictable polarization. Environmental watchdogs insist that the consequences of further disasters are unacceptable to an ecosystem already severely stressed. Gulf coast residents in the fishing and tourism industries largely, but not completely, share that view. There is considerable scepticism about when or whether to resume, and under what conditions.

Oil executives and their allies argue that the moratorium should be lifted immediately so full-on oil and gas exploration can resume. They give three broad reasons: (1) we need the oil; (2) we need the economic benefits; and (3) we've learned the lessons and will be good environmental stewards. Are these compelling reasons, and to what extent can we test them, or must they be taken on faith?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Euthanasia of Reason

Goya etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
This is a repost from the Hydrovolts blog, originally posted on 3/6/10.

Goya created the famous etching with the even more famous caption "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters." While he may perhaps have sought to convey sleep as unleashing creativity, the caption as well as the imagery of foolish owls and ignorant bats is now used mostly as metaphor for the disasters that result from a lack of critical thinking.

It is a sleeping sickness for it renders its victims at length incapable of exercising their faculties' full function. The sickness is virulent, as it is readily contagious to those with a mental immune system weakened by atrophy. Even the somewhat more hale of mind are also susceptible to those evangelizing the joys of dimwittery who are as vectors for the pathology of embraced ignorance.

Perhaps, gentle reader, you think I wax over-much and with an excess of alarm? Sadly, no. These monsters of unreason have been so widely loosed that the resulting grotesqueries are everywhere visible. For example, behold the rich vein of raw unreason displayed in this recent piece: "Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets." (The reporter, Leslie Kaufman, does not much heap irrationality on the idiocies of those quoted, but is, alas, guilty of journalistic stenography: can not the most absurd and ridiculous of statements be tagged for the utter nonsense that it is?)

How deep is our sleep? Let's bestir ourselves and see...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Drill Baby Drill--Somewhere Else

Map of oil and gas fields in Saudi Arabia
Lost in the din of the drill shills here in the United States and those carping about the deepwater drilling moratorium is the news that Saudi Arabia is choosing not to drill what it could. The kingdom's King Abdullah announced that he wants to save the hydrocarbon wealth in the world's top crude exporting nation for future generations. The halt to oil exploration operations is a bit squishy and will not apparently interfere with the Saudi's role as a "balancing" force in world petroleum supply and demand, but still represents the desire to keep more oil in the ground to pump in later years.

Of course, Saudi doesn't have the internal demand--the vast majority of what they produce is for export--the option is relatively easy to produce less. Still, we could take a page from the playbook. While it is still relatively affordable, why we would not want to import more and husband our relatively paltry domestic supply against the future day of much higher oil prices or much less reliable foreign supply?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Snake Robot

Amazing Carnegie Mellon snake-shaped robot undulates along the ground, climbs a tree, and uses its monocular vision to survey the territory:

Self-contained high-density power remains an obvious weakness.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Crashing the Grid

Map of US electrical grid
The US Electrical Grid. Click for interactive version
We know the electrical grid is an ad hoc assemblage figuratively bound together with bubblegum and baling wire. According to Ontario Hydro, the massive utility in Canada's most populous province, it is destined to break in the face of new technology:
The energy chief of demand-response power utility Toronto Hydro Anthony Haines has warned if ten per cent of households in its service territory within Canada adopted electric vehicles it would crash the electricity grid, according to reports.

The company said electric cars consume around triple the amount of energy that is usually used in the average home, with the extra charging load at peak after-work hours, news service the reported.
As the story suggest, this Chicken Little act may only be intended to grease a rate increase. While politics has a role, government is sceptical. Nonetheless, upward pressure on rates is rampant.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Carbon-Negative Cement

Cement mixing truck
Novacem is one of several companies making a cement that decreases, rather than increases carbon emissions as part of its manufacture. It absorbs atmospheric carbon. Buildings and building materials are responsible for a signifiant part of the carbon emissions annually:
The carbon dioxide (CO2) released in producing building materials is also substantial and has been targeted as a leading contributor to global climate change. Each ton of cement emits about 800kg (1,763 lb.) of CO2 during manufacture. This is because cement is made from limestone, which releases a huge amount of carbon when it's dug up and then releases even more when it's heated to 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,552 degrees Fahrenheit) [as part of its manufacture.]


Novacem's cement, by contrast, is based on magnesium silicates that contain no stored carbon. [Novacem CEO Stuart] Evans says there are world reserves of more than 10,000 billion tons of such silicates, which are the basis for materials such as asbestos and talc. Making cement from these silicates also consumes less energy, because it's only heated to 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 degrees Fahrenheit), and in the process, carbon is absorbed and fixed into the material. The net result: For every ton of Portland cement replaced by Novacem, the atmosphere would be spared up to 850kg (1,873 lb.) of CO2.
Sounds good, but as always in looking at greener materials and processes, what does it cost? It is still the case that virtually no business decision is made on the basis of being greener unless it can also be justified by its concomitant cost savings.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wookie the Chew

No Bear of Very Little Brain would have mashed this up:

A.A. Milne-style illustrations of Winnie-the-Pooh and Chewbacca hybrid

Will the wisdom of Pooh tranlsate into Wookie?
"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.

"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."

"And he has Brain."

"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."

There was a long silence.

"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything."

h/t Chad Maglaque

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cougars on the Prowl

WSU cougar icon
I spent the day at the Washington State Univeristy Research Foundation (WSURF, which everyone in the program calls "Double-U Surf".) I was extremely impressed with the passion and inventiveness of the researchers. Their talent was amply matched by the savvy and professionalism of the technology transfer staff. Did you know that WSU has increased its grant funding success 40% over the past two years? Or that WSU is now rated in the top 10 of US universities for the caliber of its renewable energy research? They're doing some very cutting-edge and significant stuff.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Where Does the Time Go?

Clock watching
There are 168 hours in the week. There's a surprising amount one might say about that. I was struck in particular by a referenced analysis at Brigham Young University that suggests employers get more productivity out of their staff if they are allowed to telecommute and to have flextime to manage their work hours effectively. In other words, send your staff home:
It turns out that not all work hours are the same. The BYU researchers calculated a “break point,” that is, the point where 25 percent of workers reported that work was interfering with family life. Among people who have to log all their hours in an office during certain times, this break point happened at 38 hours. Since many full-time workers log 40-45 hours per week, this means a lot of people are feeling conflict.

If you give employees some flexibility about their schedules, though, and give them the option to work some of the time from home, the break point doesn’t hit until 57 hours. That’s 19 more hours per week — 50 percent more than the office-only workers, and the equivalent of 2.5 full days.

Now that is a lot of time. And the crazy thing is, you probably won’t have to pay people more either for these additional 2.5 days that are on the table. That’s because we are so conditioned to think of flex schedules/telecommuting as “perks.” We consider these favors bestowed by management, always carrying with them a tinge of worry that you won’t really be productive.
I suspect that the break point for us entrepreneurs is higher still. Mine's probably closer to 70. As Laura Vanderkam points out, there are 168 hours in a week. If you sleep 8 hours a night that's 56 of them. So even at 70 hours a week you still have 6 hours a day to do other things. Since I sleep a couple of hours less than 8 on average, I have even more time!

When I had small children I also had the deep misfortune to have a boss who placed a huge premium on face time. It made my work-family balance impossible. I thought he was unreasonably wedded to a counter-productive position. At last I have proof.