Monday, December 31, 2012

12 Predictions for 2013

Clarity Moving Beyond the Past

Tarot Deck | 6 of Swords
 ~ The best part of 2013 is that there won't be a federal election. Consequently, some useful things will get done. There will still be way too much partisan malarkey for my tastes, but the electorate expects action on a host of things and the political dynamic will allow more progress than last year's gridlocked, posturing debacle.

This year's predictions:

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 2012 Predictions Revisited

About 3/4 Accurate

Tarot Deck | 5 of Wands
 ~ So how good was my prognostication of the past year? Not bad, although I did make some creampuff predictions that boosted the grade. Using a scale of 1 (utterly wrong) to 10 (perfectly prescient):

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ice Follies


 ~ Enjoyed ice skating with my daughter today.

The seasonal ice skating in Bellevue's Downtown Park continues every day through January 13. Skate as long as you want with rental blades for $10. As you can see from the video, the rink is covered from the rain.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Labor Burden

Looking For Something to Reform?

 ~ I'd rather see us (temporarily) go over the so-called (and inaptly named) fiscal cliff than "reform" the core programs of the social safety net.

However, if we do end up reforming them, we should start by removing the arbitrary threshold above which earnings are not taxed. This is indefensible as sensible from either a fiscal or social standpoint:

NYT interactive charts of tax burdens 1980-2010

There's lots else that could be done too, especially more equal taxation of labor and capital, but removing special treatment that benefits only the wealthy is really a no-brainer.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CXIII

...special Thursday edition! Apparently, due to a surfeit of eggnog or other facile excuse, I totally failed to provide a solution and a new puzzle yesterday, Wednesday, posting a brief political diatribe instead. Oh well. Here is what I meant to post...

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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Like Night and Day

Not Alike

 ~ Do you think the two parties are the same shade of gray? That they're just about the same? Can you imagine the GOP responding like this:

Ted Rall cartoon

Actually, we don't need to imagine, because they don't. Instead, they act like this.

Monday, December 24, 2012

What I Want For Christmas

Peace, Hope, A Better Future and ...

 ~ stretch out with my back to the sand.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Money Talks

Protest against apartheid South Africa, Harvard 1978
 ~ Protest and divestment work.

Seattle is the first US city to announce formal divestiture of investments in the fossil fuel industry. Mayor Mike McGinn made the announcement yesterday, making good on a promise made November 7 during's Do The Math tour. Said McGinn:
Climate change is one of the most important challenges we currently face as a city and as a society. I believe that Seattle ought to discourage these companies from extracting that fossil fuel, and divesting the pension fund from these companies is one way we can do that.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Purpose of Art

To Provoke

Artstrike | What's mine is mine, what's yours is ours

 ~ The manufactured and fictitious crisis of the so-called fiscal cliff has provoked a lot of people. Time to provoke a broader audience about the real crisis, and to replace the bogus framing of the problem.

We're not broke—we're being looted.

More from Artstrike, including this evocative poem:
Artstrike | Prosperity not austerity

Proverbs 22:16
by Elizabeth Conall

what do they care
if we can’t pay
the bills run up
to keep us alive?
to save our kids?
why bother with
expensive care
we don’t deserve?
plenty more
where we came from

Plenty more serfs out there. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Frost Flowers

Bizarre, but Beautiful

Sea ice blossoms
 ~ A meadow of saltwater ice crystal flowers, three time saltier than the ocean itself.
The air was extremely cold and extremely dry, colder than the ocean surface. When the air gets that different from the sea, the dryness pulls moisture off little bumps in the ice, bits of ice vaporize, the air gets humid — but only for a while. The cold makes water vapor heavy. The air wants to release that excess weight, so crystal by crystal, air turns back into ice, creating delicate, feathery tendrils that reach sometimes two, three inches high, like giant snowflakes. The sea, literally, blossoms.
With the disappearance of Arctic sea ice, I suppose we'll be seeing more of these.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CXII

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, December 18, 2012


3 Steps

Material and waste flowchart

 ~ Zero-waste, the goal, the practice, of becoming landfill-free, is an objective of a growing number of organizations. Those that have either achieved zero-waste or are in the midst of a zero-waste initiative have had success with a three-pronged approach according to Ashley Halligan:
  1. Setting and defining a goal. Or a series of them. Zero-waste is a great goal, but initially getting to 80% of zero-waste can be a stretch effort, significant and laudable.
  2. Engage Employees. Empowering your employees produces some powerful results.
  3. Audit-and Tackle-Your Waste Stream. You can't manage (and mitigate) what you can't measure.
Quoting Kirk Varga:
When approaching a zero-waste goal, it’s important to consider that all materials are recyclable or reusable in one way or another.
For organizations, indeed, for businesses of any size, reducing waste means saving money. Consider: there are costs entailed in every component or constituent part of anything one buys. Discarding a portion of that is just trashing money. Best to buy only what one actually, and in an enduring way, uses. Otherwise, "rent" the materials—deploying them usefully, but acquiring and divesting them as part of an unending loop. Not to the land-fill, but to another use.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Neoliberalism and Plutocracy

They're the Same Thing

 ~ The always stimulating George Monbiot's recent blog post examines the need to fight plutocracy in order to address climate change.
George Monbiot
Humankind’s greatest crisis coincides with the rise of an ideology that makes it impossible to address. By the late 1980s, when it became clear that manmade climate change endangered the living planet and its people, the world was in the grip of an extreme political doctrine, whose tenets forbid the kind of intervention required to arrest it.

Neoliberalism, also known as market fundamentalism or laissez-faire economics, purports to liberate the market from political interference. The state, it asserts, should do little but defend the realm, protect private property and remove barriers to business. In practice it looks nothing like this. What neoliberal theorists call shrinking the state looks more like shrinking democracy: reducing the means by which citizens can restrain the power of the elite. What they call “the market” looks more like the interests of corporations and the ultra-rich. Neoliberalism appears to be little more than a justification for plutocracy.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Welfare Incentives—II

Money for Nothing

 ~ Why invest in new products, plant or equipment, and hire more workers (jobs!) to make it happen, when the rate of return is so much higher from lobbying?

Welfare payments to industry

Time to cut the subsidies. We can expect corporations to work harder, just as people must, if they have less handed to them for doing nothing.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Entrepreneur Fuel

How Much Coffee is Too Much Coffee?

 ~ The latest medical wisdom?
If you like coffee, go ahead and drink as much as you want and can... If you drink [mass quantities], it's not going to do you any harm, and it might actually help you. A lot."
Too much coffee man

I'm going to tune out any further studies, preferring instead to spend my time brewing another pot.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Welfare Incentives

Our Unmotivated Oil Industry

 ~ Big Oil is getting worried about their subsidies going away as part of the action to address the so-called fiscal cliff. Horrors! They might lose their taxpayer-funded welfare! Said a letter signed by a phalanx of 14 lobbies:
Any attempts to target the oil and gas industry for punitive treatment should be avoided as higher taxes could put the economic growth we’ve created at risk.
Public support by party affiliation for various fiscal solutions

Yes, I suppose it "could" in the same way buying a lottery ticket "could" make me rich. Fat chance. But whether it is merely possible or not isn't really how we should decide this. Let's focus instead on likely outcomes. If I buy a lottery ticket I will make myself poorer by the cost of that ticket. And the potential "treatment"—reducing or eliminating taxpayer handouts to an insanely wealthy industry—is hardly "punitive." It will simply help out (a tiny bit) on our fiscal problems.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CXI

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, December 11, 2012

Climate Change Taxes

New Policy Tools

Tom Toles cartoon | fixing climate change and the debt together
 ~ The world probably won't come to an end tomorrow, but it must certainly be close when conservatives start embracing new taxes:
More jobs and growth; reduced deficits without raising income taxes; lower taxes for middle-class families; a kick in the pants to Chinese polluters; and more happiness for American commuters -- one policy instrument can do it all. What's not to love about a carbon tax?
It's been working in British Columbia for a few years now. There's a lot to like about taxing behaviors and outcomes we want to reduce or eliminate.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Who Needs a Business Plan?

Show, Don't Tell

Scribe writing
 ~ Brad Feld, startup luminary, writes that the business plan has become an historical artifact.

He's right. Mostly.

It's certainly true that there's much less demand by investors for full-fledged business plans now than when I was starting my life as an entrepreneur 15 years ago. I'm just finishing up raising a seed capital round now, and of the roughly one dozen investors already in, not a single one has asked for the business plan. Why? None have told me, and I didn't ask, but it's not hard to guess—the only thing possibly more tedious than writing a business plan is reading one.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Illusory Problems

The Politics of Distraction

 ~ Misdirection, a key technique for those creating illusions.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The End

Rewarded by the Journey?

cartoon cliff
 ~ Perhaps you've been looking for this? Or perhaps this? Or this? Or this? Or maybe this?

Whatever you do, don't press the button and ruin it for the rest of us.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Climate Change Clown

"Lord" Monckton

 ~ Fitting, and long overdue:
Climate nincompoop 'Lord' Monckton
The hereditary peer, who is not a member of the House of Lords, took the chair of Myanmar and spoke into the microphone against U.N. climate change protocols.

After a short speech, in which he was booed, he was escorted out of the meeting by UN guards.

He is understood to have claimed there is no global warming in the last sixteen years, and therefore the science needs to be reviewed.

Claiming to represent Asian coastal nations, he is understood to have said: “In the 16 years we have been coming to these events there has been no global warming at all.”
Such buffoonery by Monckton is not new.

Monckton had his credentials to the conference permanently revoked, and his visa cancelled. He was to leave the country in 24 hours.

(h/t Grist)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Corporate Forgiveness

Well, Excuuuuuuuuuuse Me

Dimon and Blankenfein
 ~ The CEOs of America's largest business are ready to "forgive" the Obama Administration, provided they get more of what they want.

Yes, they're willing to offer forgiveness for the fact that their record profits aren't even better than ever. Mighty magnanimous of them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CX

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, December 4, 2012

Phytelligence at the Hort Show


 ~ I've missed blogging the past several days, because I was way too busy to spend any time on social media things. Instead, I've been getting ready and doing the Washington State Horticultural Association's big annual show.

Phytelligence booth at the Hort Show in Yakima

We had a great time and it was a great success for us. Will post more on the Phytelligence blog soon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CIX

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, November 27, 2012

Phytelligence Lab Space

Lease Signed Today

Phytelligence lab and office | WSURF Research Park
~ Phytelligence and the Washington State University Research Foundation (WSURF) today executed a lease for office and laboratory space in the Research Park operated by WSURF.

The space and the location are very well-suited to the company's needs, and move-in is expected to be substantially complete in less than 3 weeks.

Phytelligence lab
Want an invite to our "office-warming" party? Just contact me at the company and I'll get you on the list!

Disclosure: I am a founder and the CEO of Phytelligence. A similar post was cross-posted to the Phytelligence blog.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Demand More Demand

What's Wrong With the Economy?

 ~ The short answer:

Tom Toles | Corporate cash reserves and lack of consumer demand

A slightly longer answer, but more informative and at least as entertaining:

Economically, the solution is both simple and obvious. Politically, the solution is absurdly complicated and the target of endless obfuscation.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Climate Change Peer Consensus

Thorough Review of the Literature

 ~ It's not unanimous, but it's more of a consensus than one typically sees on anything.

Pie chart of peer-reviewed science regarding climate change

When was science ever unanimous anyway? It is the nature of scientific inquiry for there always to be skeptics.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Superstorm Semantics Are Superbad

'Bad News' Brown
 ~ What media maven came up with the hyperventilating term "Superstorm" Sandy? Despite its destructive power, media types remain seemingly disappointed that they can't technically call Sandy a hurricane. So to heighten the seriousness of the story and of themselves, they award the generic and over-used prefix "super" to the storm.

This makes storms like Sandy seem dangerously larger in importance, and in potency, perhaps not a bad thing. But the cartoonish connotation of super as overwhelming implies these storms as a force beyond our control. We cower in helplessness upon the Supervillain's wanton destruction of the fair metropolis; should we bow down to the Superstorm? No, Superman will save us! No need for us to do anything!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Unlikely Opposition to Energy Independence

Tied to the Grid

Perils of Pauline | Tied to the tracks
 ~ Ironically, aspirations of being (partly) off-grid are thwarted by the grid itself.

Even if the progress to national energy independence is halting, and frustrated by barely-concealed Big Oil interests at every turn, still we can each act locally, right? Each of us as individuals can buy plug-in electric vehicles, retrofit homes with energy efficiency measures, and install solar panels on roofs. Can't we?

Sure. But it turns out that these don't confer the independence one might imagine.

Take solar panels, for example. When Superstorm* Sandy savaged the US Northeast, there were doubtless many who thought their preparation installing rooftop solar panels would prove prudent, and reward them with continued electricity and the breadth of common Western comforts it affords.

They were wrong.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Counting Blessings

Counting blessings...
 ~ Even though the last several years have been very hard on very many people, and tough for my family and me as well, I remain grateful for a great many things. I'm thankful first and foremost for my wife, who has put up with me for more than 15 years now. I'm thankful for my kids, both sired and acquired, who have certainly taught me plenty all the while I was thinking I was the teacher. I'm thankful for my colleagues, my readers and my friends, some of whom have joined us in celebration today. I'm thankful for my friends in Rotary and the powerfully positive good we do in the community together. I'm thankful for my venture consulting clients of Fingo for sharing their passion and excitement for their businesses and letting me be a small part of their vision and their success. I'm thankful for my co-founders at Phytelligence and especially their brilliance and enthusiasm for how we are changing the fruit tree industry. I'm thankful for our investors and partners without whom we would not be able to make the progress we have.

I'm thankful that I can still take joy in life with inspiring people and do work that lifts me up and maybe, some day, will have the lasting impact that lifts up others as well.

Thanks for reading; contact me any time I can help you move your vision forward to a more blessed, prosperous, and meaningful place.

Chris Leyerle

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CVIII

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.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Investor Returns

Angels Do Better Than VCs

Chasing money
 ~ John Frankel has an intriguing and detailed post up on TechCrunch that shows angel investing has provided superior returns over venture capital.

Great to have hard numbers, but I doubt many are surprised at this result, or the primary reasons—"misalignment of incentives and overcapitalization." In short, VCs have an incentive to raise ever-larger funds from their limited partners since the bulk of their compensation is management fees calculated as a fixed percentage of the size of the fund. The carried interest incentive, a percentage of the portfolio gains, is a shrinking fraction of the management fee compensation. A VC has a greater incentive to raise more money than to manage it well. "The incentive becomes raising larger funds rather than generating stronger returns."

There's also an interesting corollary.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Things I Learned From My Dad—VI

Grow Things

John Leyerle in his first garden in Hope Township
 ~ My Dad loved everything about a garden.

He loved to create (or as he preferred to say, "install") them. He loved to eat the food he grew. He loved to give it to others. He loved the hard physical labor of digging, of planting, of erecting cold frames, trellises, fences and walls. He loved the pleasure of accomplishment that benefited himself and others. He loved to sit in late afternoon with a cold beer and gaze at the product of his vision and labor and reflect on what he would do next to improve it.

I learned from my Dad the deep satisfaction that comes from envisioning, creating and growing a garden. The garden of course was but one undertaking among many that provides the same teaching. More broadly I learned the power and joy of creating things of lasting value primarily by one's own hard work, and bringing benefit to many beyond myself.

Whether a garden, a curriculum, a family or a business, the principles are very similar.

Thank you Dad.

John Frank Leyerle
11/18/26 - 8/2/06

Saturday, November 17, 2012

You Are What You Eat


Most of the world labels GMOs, but not the US or Canada
 ~ Are genetically modified organism (GMO) foods safe? Monsanto and others say it is, but how much and how far can we trust behemoth corporations to be forthright and truthful when doing so reduces their profits? Their unwillingness belies their assurances:
What’s the issue? If they are so great, why not advertise them? Why does the industry that profits from them fight labeling so vehemently and put so many of their resources into keeping their presence in our foods a secret? Why are corporate rights continually given precedence over consumer rights?
Opponents of California's Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of GMO content on foods, used a flood of mostly out-of-state corporate money to overwhelm the relatively meager resources of advocates 5-to-1. Which companies would fight so hard to keep consumers ignorant? They include Monsanto, DuPont, PepsiCo, Dow Agro, Bayer, BASF, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestle, ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Smithfield Foods, Del Monte, Campbells, and Heinz, each of which contributed at least $500,000 and as much as $8M to defeat the measure. Other well-known brands fighting for the consumer's right not to know include Hershey's, J.M. Smucker, Ocean Spray, Mars, Hormel, Bumblebee, Sara Lee, Unilever, Wrigley, Cargill and Dole. Their political involvement suggests the likelihood that all of these companies have GMO in their products or expect to do so in future.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Election's True Colors—II

Not A Center-Right Country

 ~ Another revealing electoral map:

Electoral map by county and voting intensity

The country has rejected GOP economic ideas; time to focus on the middle class, not further coddling of moneyed special interests.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CVII

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, November 13, 2012

Fixing the Debt

Fixing the Game

Richie Rich
 ~ A band of CEOs from some of America's largest corporations have united under the banner of Fix the Debt. They argue that the right path to fiscal sanity (and away from the so-called fiscal cliff) entails broadening the tax base and reducing tax rates.

Their argument is disingenuous. A broader tax base with lower rates all around means a tax hike on the middle class and lower taxes for rich CEOs and their companies who have already looted the system for the past decade. Not content with that subterfuge, they're shamelessly lobbying for brand new tax breaks that would benefit only themselves at the expense of everyone else:
The Fix the Debt campaign has raised $60 million and recruited more than 80 CEOs of America’s most powerful corporations to lobby for a debt deal that would reduce corporate taxes and shift costs onto the poor and elderly.


The 63 Fix the Debt companies that are publicly held stand to gain as much as $134 billion in windfalls if Congress approves one of their main proposals — a “territorial tax system.” Under this system, companies would not have to pay U.S. federal income taxes on foreign earnings when they bring the profits back to the United States.
The corporate tax burden is lower than it has been in 40 years. They don't want to fix the debt, they want to fix the system.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Startup Valuations


 ~ Valuations for startups remain quite strong. Maybe too strong.

Iconic Silicon Gulch law firm Wilson Sonsini (WSGR) has released the latest version of their regular survey showing valuations remain quite robust compared to the past several years.

VC investment pre-money valuations by round 2010-2012

It's astonishing that the median pre-money valuation for a VC-funded Series A round is $8M.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Debt Fears

How Big is Too Big?

 ~ US debt was 76.8% of GDP in 2010, while Singapore's was 107%. Which country will collapse first?
Ranking of country debt as a percentage of GDP
I'm betting neither one.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Coal Trains

We Don't Want All That Jazz

US freight traffic by tonnage and type
 ~ I plucked this map from an unrelated story, but my eye was caught by the fattest red swath.

It shows the largest rail traffic in tons moved per year. So what are all those trains doing in eastern Wyoming? What are all those tons?

Friday, November 9, 2012


Time to Move (Forward)

2012 Election cartoon

 ~ The problem is only partly the candidate.

2012 Election cartoon

This isn't the right response:

2012 Election cartoon

This is.

2012 Election cartoon