Thursday, June 30, 2011

Charting the Business

How Large Tech Companies Organize Themselves

~ Regrettably, too many small companies emulate the larger ones.

Yes, these charts are a joke, but funny because there's no small amount of truth to them.

Interestingly, the leaders of each company appear to think their organizational style best. I was at Microsoft 12 years, and this "organization" was taking hold when I left in 1993. I've been at a startup in the Apple style (but with a leader who shared only Jobs' micromanaging arrogance, not his brilliance.) Both environments are toxic. The others surely are problematic too.

What would the best organization be for a startup? None of these, clearly, but a hybrid of the Amazon and Facebook styles would be about right—clear direction from the top, and accountability, but lots of sideways connections that promote communication, reward bright ideas, and keep the entire team tracked to the same mission. It wouldn't work for a larger company (and Facebook's engineering and user-interface dysfunction proves it) but for small teams too much hierarchy is fatal.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XXXVIII

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


The False, The Urgent and the Forgotten

Chart showing the cost of oil dependence on GDP
~ Powerful words:

Now, the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world's leading importer of oil, or we can become the world's leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors, or we can confront what countries in Europe and Asia have already recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity: The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.

America can be that nation. America must be that nation.

America is not yet that nation. Why? Ignoring reality? Rabid partisanship? Shoddy journalism? Actually, all of these. I admire the soaring rhetoric President Obama uses, and used above Earth Day, April 22, 2009 during a tour of a wind turbine tower manufacturing plant in Iowa. He could make the same speech again today.

But no one is listening.

Monday, June 27, 2011

When Biodegradable is Bad

Decay Too Rapid in Landfills

Combo knife and fork from the Revolutionary War
~ Most of us have grown up with the idea that it's good if waste products are biodegradable. It's true, except in landfills, where the decay process can release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Due to a quirk in the law, this methane isn't captured, but ends up in the atmosphere:

Federal regulations do not require landfills that collect methane to install gas collection systems for at least two years after the waste is buried. If materials break down and release methane too quickly, ...much of the methane will likely be emitted before the collection technology is installed. This means less potential fuel for energy use and more greenhouse gas emissions.

Food and yard wastes can be composted by individuals. It works well for me (if I can keep my dog from nosing around in it.) Some municipalities, including almost all in the Seattle area, now collect these wastes curbside in the "green bin" for large scale composting. Premature methane release is less a problem from these than from products such as biodegradable utensils, now increasingly found at events where organizers are sensitive to sustainability concerns.

In the Middle Ages people generally carried their own utensils about with them. Perhaps this is yet another idea where the future will borrow from the past.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What If Everything Ran on Gasoline?

Respiring Minds Want to Know

~ This commercial for the Nissan Leaf asks the provocative question, and answers it with both wit and an ample dose of absurdity:

Clever. But curses on YouTube (Google) for larding this commercial with—that's right!—more commercials! And for the Chevy Volt and Honda's vague hydrogen plans of all things. How long before YouTube fully becomes BoobTube?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

And An Island Never Cries

Rising Sea Level Swallows Land

Open ocean, with no land in sight
~ Some continue to deny, against a flood of evidence, that ocean levels are rising. Such denial is easy if you dismiss reason and ignore your lying eyes. And that's what it takes when an entire island is swallowed by the sea:
A tiny island claimed for years by India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal has disappeared beneath the rising seas, scientists in India say.

The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis.

Recent satellites images show the whole island under water...


"What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming," said Professor Sugata Hazra of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.
Professor Hazra added that sea level rise in the Bay of Bengal  has accelerated over the past decade and the overtopping of other islands in the region in the next decade is likely. No one lives on these islands. Others are not so lucky.

Reposted from my earlier blog of 4/2/10.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Wingnut Wurlitzer

Same Old Song Not Even Worth a Dance

Cartoon on feasibility of energy sources
~ Congressman Jay Inslee will announce a run for Governor in Washington, and, on cue, the usual suspects strike their tuneless and discordant notes.

One of the first with his kazoo is Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center with a vacuous bit of fluff astonishing for its intellectual laziness.

Myers starts by lifting one paragraph out of Inslee's book (Apollo's Fire, which he doesn't bother to cite):
Those ‘nattering nabobs of negativism’ will constantly point out irrelevant facts about how expensive alternatives are compared to fossil fuels, how inconvenient they are, and how undeveloped they are. Those unfortunate victims of the tyranny of the present cannot envision the inevitable growth in efficiency, declining costs, and ever increasing accessibility of clean and renewable energy.”
Myers then claims to "understand" the point, and proceeds to write in a way that shows he doesn't get it at all. Like all good wingnuts with an ideological axe to grind he starts out with a broad, unreferenced fiction that he labels as "fact", claiming that "solar panels, and other green energy technologies, are extremely expensive, unusable and undeveloped." The facts, for anyone with a few minutes to spend looking, are that renewable energy technologies are increasingly used and well-developed. Furthermore, the expense continues to decline. Land-based wind power is now very close to the cost of coal generation, and solar modules are on the verge of breaking the $1 per watt threshold. Compare to nuclear at $10-12 per watt.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How Many Politicians Does It Take...

...To Change A Lightbulb?

Light bulb with question mark inside
~ According to former Governor Ed Rendell at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum (REFF), way too many:

During his keynote address, Rendell voiced his frustration about the current politics in Washington by depicting the GOP resistance about transitioning away from incandescent lightbulbs. “We're diddling around on BS while the rest of the world is kicking our butts.”
Here in Washington State the race is just beginning for our new Governor. Smart people are asking just what the candidates propose to do on energy policy, and especially on seizing the opportunity, relentlessly slipping away, for global leadership in cleantech.

It's difficult to have a reasoned exploration of policy differences when the spectacle more resembles professional wrestling than intelligent debate with a bias for problem-solving. It will be much harder still should one of the parties nominate a presidential candidate that thinks fluorescent lightbulbs are killing our pets.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XXXVII

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle, after the jump.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Unusual Machines

What Will They Think of Next?

~ I knew automobile makers build concept cars, but I didn't know airlines build conceptual models too. Airbus has a 2050 vision of a an airplane with some outlandish features, including automated baggage handling (don't we have that now?!) energy harvesting from passenger heat to run aircraft systems, swivel seats, and what is truly an unbelievable amount of passenger room around each seat. The best part, however, is moving beyond merely bigger windows to create a "transparent airplane":

I'd love that view, especially of the stars at night, but it would need to be SPF 200 during the day given the radiation exposure 7+ miles up.

From the same article, there are seven other strange, weird, or intriguing machines, some of which are much nearer to being built and ready to use. I'm particularly intrigued by a 3-D printer that weighs a mere 1.5kg, a lie-detecting ATM already in use in Russia, and a "brewsky robot" that might, to the unwitting tippler, so disturb as to cause one to give up drinking.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Death of Oceans

Extinction Happens

Shallow water corals are endangered from bleaching caused by ocean acidification due to atmospheric carbon
~ I've written before about ocean acidification, gyres of plastic and species loss. A new report raises alarms over the quickening in the destruction of the oceans' vitality: it's getting worse and faster than previously thought. Coral reefs, fish species and the life in many parts of the ocean could be lost within a generation, perhaps never to return, according to Dr. Alex Rogers, scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO):

"As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications became far worse than we had individually realised. This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime and, worse, our children's and generations beyond that."
Mass extinction events have happened before in earth's history, and there has long been some debate about their causes. There is a mass extinction event unfolding right now in our oceans and conditions are very similar to those of prior such events. This time, however, the causes are directly observable and crystal clear. On a physical level, the causes are rising atmospheric carbon dioxide being absorbed into the ocean, over-fishing, and using the ocean as a garbage dump. The cause is a continuing failure to make sustainability of our oceans a priority. On a different level, it is another manifestation of the tragedy of the commons, the despoiling by private interests of public resources. At a basic level, indeed a base level, it is sheer cupidity. When will we realize that the profits of a few do not (or must not) come at the cost of permanent destruction on a global scale?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

The Family Grows

~ While I miss my Dad very much, I had two great pieces of good news today. First, my wife's son and his fiancee told us they are expecting their first child (maybe two given her family's history of twins!) We are all very happy.

The ecstatic parents-to-be

And the family is already one larger, thanks to my granddaughter's inspired gift:

Kitten hiding under a dresser

She hasn't yet revealed her name, but if she's like most cats I've had she will have several. (My first cat was named Reckles but was always known as Lahti; Midnight was usually called Tubwald; Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus was known, to his close associates, as just Poob.)

My condolences to all Dads who got ties instead.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pander Bear

NJ Governor Christie Withdraws from RGGI

New Jersey Governor Christ Christie
~ New Jersey's corpulent chief has pulled out of RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The original 10 northeastern states, now minus New Jersey, will carry on without the participation of the Garden State.

At a morning news conference, the governor asserted that New Jersey was succeeding in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions not because of the multistate program, known as RGGI (pronounced Reggie), but because it is relying more on natural gas and less on coal to fill its energy needs.

“RGGI does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernible or measurable impact upon our environment,” Mr. Christie said.
A transition away from coal to (relatively) cleaner natural gas helps for now, but there is no guarantee that natural gas will remain at its current bargain basement prices. If the economy ever returns to a brisker growth pattern there will be pressure to provide more electricity by whatever means, including coal. The Governor is very unlikely to complain about emissions if he thinks economic growth depends on the power production that causes them.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gulf Filtering

Eco-Tec Adsorb-it Filtration Fabric

~ Lost in the many depressing stories about the devastation of the Gulf of Mexico is one bright highlight: the use of a unique fabric product that had singular success in mopping up slicks before they could foul shorelines and wetlands.

Eco-Tec's Jerry Brownstein presents Herb Pearse an award recognizing his work on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill clean-up
Jerry Brownstein and Herb Pearse of Eco-Tec
The product line from local company Eco-Tec filters water, removing oil, oil sheen, oil-brorne contaminants and suspended solids.

The filtration fabric is made entirely from waste products, is at least somewhat resuable and can ultimately be burned as fuel after it is done cleaning the environment of noxious messes like that from the BP Deepwater Horizon fiasco.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Political Irrelevance of Science

Advocacy Prefers Belief to Reason

~ Scientists and their painstakingly supported conclusions are now routinely ignored on matters of public debate. Why? Don't they pursue truth with rigor and impartiality? Can't such evidence-driven inquiry provide objective guidance on best available science, best practice and thus best policy?

It can, but the assumption that politics seeks the best policy is manifestly wrong. Politicians need a rigorous and objective technique for formulating best policy like a fish needs a bicycle. It's a tool they neither need nor are able to use.

Arlo and Janice cartoon on science and politics

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XXXVI

OK, the picture last time (2 weeks ago) was way too easy for Chad, so this week is especially for you awesome battery dude! Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer next week.

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to the last puzzle, two weeks ago, after the jump.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Growing Cleantech Businesses


Cleantech cartoon: what if we created a better world for nothing?
~ Ever been to the PSE Auditorium in downtown Bellevue? While not the same as the space of the same name that is a frequent site of weddings, perhaps it is fitting nonetheless as the Washington Clean Technology Alliance (WCTA) and the Cleantech Open (CTO) pair up there on Friday for what will be one of the year's outstanding events. Our friends at Business Leaders for Climate Solutions are sponsoring as well.

Hear speakers on the Sustainable Aviation Fuels NW initiative, a panel on the future of nuclear power and several local entrepreneurial leaders and the announcement of this year's Pacific Northwest CTO semi-finalists. And of course good food, great networking, fun and probably a few surprises along the way.

Get your tickets here (while they last!)

Full agenda:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Electric Cars

Back to the Future?

1909 Bailey electric car
~ The first practical electric cars were built more than 100 years ago, back before gasoline and other fossil fuels came to dominate transportation starting in the 1910's.

What's surprising is not that such electric cars were built, but that they used standard battery technology then available and boasted some of the same features of modern electric cars, including 50-mile or longer driving ranges between charges.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Climate Change and Food

Growing Food Insecurity

~ A detailed study highlights how small changes in climate will have huge impacts on the food supply to billions of people, especially in the still-developing world.

CGIAR map of climate-induced food insecurity

The CGIAR Research Program study, "Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics," is the product of a team of scientists focused on "especially disastrous" impacts with the potential to affect billions.
The researchers pinpointed areas of intense vulnerability by examining a variety of climate models and indicators of food problems to create a series of detailed maps. One shows regions around the world at risk of crossing certain "climate thresholds" -- such as temperatures too hot for maize or beans -- that over the next 40 years could diminish food production. Another shows regions that may be sensitive to such climate shifts because in general they have large areas of land devoted to crop and livestock production. And finally, scientists produced maps of regions with a long history of food insecurity.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


It's the Season

~ Last month it was my daughter's big day; yesterday it was my son's turn. Congratulations to my family's newest graduate! Since he's been doing Running Start most of the past 2 years, he'll get his AA after only another quarter. Awesome.

Father and son at graduation

It's the third time I've seen a graduation production from Skyline at Safeco Field; it's almost hard to imagine that I won't see a fourth.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Even More Mileage—IV

With Higher Gas Taxes!

US gas taxes compared to those of other OECD countries
~ GM's CEO, Dan Akerson, says Congress should raise gax taxes $1 per gallon. Seriously. The catch? Do it in lieu of more stringent mileage standards for cars. His reasoning: the challenge of dealing with externally imposed fuel efficiency standards (and the timelines to implement them) is too hard. Better, he says, to let consumers, presumably driven by higher gas prices, to select more efficient vehicles.

Such magic-of-the-marketplace solutions would be great if there really were some magic there. Most likely under this scenario, alas, is that consumers would choose form over function, and pick stylish rides over sensible transportation. Even those who opt for fuel efficiency would necessarily choose from what the automakers present; the car most parsimonious with gas might be less so than one that responded to higher fuel standards.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gasoline Prices

Misplaced Anger

~ People are outraged! Outraged! About high gas prices. Harumph. Gas in the US costs half of what most of the world pays. You want outrage? Try coffee:

Costs of commonly consumed process liquids, compared

Well, I suppose it is true that I don't drink the stuff by the gallon. Most days. But still.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Things I Learned from my Mum—II

Family Matters

Three sisters in the 30's:
Joan, Mary Ellen and Barb
~ We make life's journey together. No one shares so much of that exhilirating, terrifying and sacred path.

Thank you Mum.

Mary Ellen Leyerle
1/8/29 - 6/8/09

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Live Successfully

ArchSkills logo
~ ArchSkills is a new company in the behavioral health field I've started with two partners. In stealth currently; more details in a few weeks or so.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cleantech Needs Recycling

Resource Extraction Has Limits

Rare earth elements
~ Our modern gadgets need many different kinds of resource inputs, including dozens of rare and unusual elements:
Try as we might, it's impossible to fashion wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles out of thin air. These technologies are complex, and many different materials go into their production. The problem is, a lot of the necessary metals aren't recycled at the end of their lives--and that could lead to shortages in the future, putting the entire clean technology sector at risk.

The news comes from a new UN report, which explains that under one-third of 60 recyclable metals have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50%. And 34 elements--many of which are crucial for clean technology--have recycling rates of less than 1%. This may not seem like a big deal now, but mined metals are a limited resource. As these materials become more scarce, we will see increases in land disruption, water impacts, energy use, and of course, cost.
The article makes a common mistake of referring to industrial metals (here: selenium and tellurium) as rare earths, which they are not. Rare earth elements are the lanthanides, although many other elements are, or will be, experiencing similar supply chain pressures. Nonetheless, the core point remains valid: in a world of ramping demand for products that consume finite resources, recycling is neceesary for sustained production.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Reduce & Reuse

Eschewing the Disposable Coffee Cup

Chris Leyerle's coffee travel mug
My trusty travel mug
~ One woman is trying to end the dominance of the disposable coffee cup in our very own coffee-besotted Seattle area.
Along with whalebone corsets and mimeograph machines, another anachronism will be displayed in museums of the future if Karin de Weille has her way: the disposable cups that fuel today's culture of coffee and convenience.

Against odds that would discourage a less optimistic soul, de Weille on Saturday [May 21] launched a campaign in the heart of caffeine country to get people to kick the paper habit.

"I think Seattle can push the frontier," she said at Green Festival, the two-day celebration of eco-friendliness where the effort got its official start.
Truly, this is not a difficult frontier to cross or a forbidding challenge to meet. I would no sooner consider leaving my house without my reusable travel mug than I would without my wallet or my keys. Once used to having it as part of one's travel accoutrements, it becomes hard to forget.

More difficult is to stop barristas from reaching for a disposable cup on which to write one's order. I have to be quick to proffer my cup, or the disposable cup gets wasted anyway.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Coming Home

Why I Like Travel by Train

~ Apart from all the reasons I've said before, there are things like this:

What a pleasant way to end a good trip to Bellingham and Vancouver. When else do you travel (and on what) where you can listen to live music?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Carbon Pricing in BC

Lessons That Need Learning

BC Climate Action Plan logo
~ I've been in Vancouver BC all day, and people here confirm what I heard at the Carbon Pricing Conference a few weeks ago: BC put a price on carbon a few years ago and it's working—for everyone.

Not only that, but none of the dire predictions of economic catastrophe have come to pass, and there is no longer political opposition to having such a tax. There is a simple and straightforward object lesson here about the hysterical voices in the US Congress shrilling shrieking shibboleths of doom and devastation: they're wrong.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Vehicle Research Institute

WWU a National Leader

~ While I was in Bellingham on business today I had the pleasure of meeting Director Eric Leonhardt and getting a tour of Western Washington University's Vehicle Research Institute.

Too cool.

One of the WWU VRI alternative designs in search of a better car
The cars that nearly won the 100 MPGe X-Prize Competition

Automobile magazine has written of VRI that it is "very possibly the best school in the country for total car design." They are certaibly among a very select group in creating designs for high-efficiency cars of the future using lightweight materials, elctricity, hybridization, biofuels, solar power and other techniques.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Where's It Wednesday—XXXV

Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle...

Answer in two weeks (different post next Wednesday.)

Details on the weekly Where's It Wednesday puzzle here.
Other weeks' puzzles here.
Answer to last week's puzzle after the jump.