Monday, April 30, 2012

Getting to Zero Waste

Throw Nothing Away

Waste = Resource in disguise = money
 ~ It's said one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Houston-based startup RecycleMatch seeks to not only prove that adage, but to profit from it. The company is building a cloud-based marketplace where companies with unwanted stuff can find companies with an unfilled need for that same stuff. The result? Less into landfills.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Does Gas Cost Too Much?

It Depends...

 ~ Politicians have emerged from their usual torpor and seen a shadow on the economy from the price of gas.

Expect six more months of winter, i.e. the winter of discontent and the hibernation of truth and perspective.

High energy costs are a drag on the economy to be sure, but what we pay isn't so bad, even at $4 per gallon, compared to much of the world:

Click for larger image

Gas is also cheap compared to other liquids. Good thing cars don't run on coffee. Or mouthwash.

It turns out, furthermore, that higher gas prices don't really change our behavior:

Saturday, April 28, 2012


It's the Inequality, Stupid

Chart of growing income inequality since 1979

 ~ After more than 30 years of growing and glaring inequality, it has become impossible to pretend that the gap can be entirely explained by hard work. In fact, it is the middle class that has worked hard and tripled their productivity even as their real wages have declined. The result of that increased productivity has been a reduction in the number of workers needed to produce the same goods and services, and relentless pressure on employment, while the financial rewards have gone to the top tier.

The system that allocates vast riches to the very top as the rest struggle is not meritorious so much as meretricious.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What Word Goes with Farms and Bags?

Donald the Ridiculous

Donald Trump's hair encounters a latex balloon
Annoying static cling:
the balloon struggles to escape
Donald Trump's hair
 ~ How well does Donald Trump represent the 1%? How do they say it in the UK? Rather:
Trump flew into Edinburgh to expand on his feelings about wind farms to MSPs, telling them that the turbines - which he bitterly opposes - would be the 'destruction of your tourist industry'.

The protesters didn't agree, with balloons like the one rubbing up against Trump's famous comb-over covered with the slogan: 'Wind power, not wind bags'.
Just so.

Trump's shorts are in a twist because offshore turbines will, in his opinion, mar the view from the eponymous golf course he's erecting on the coast. Because, you know, these days things like affordable energy, manufacturing jobs and the destruction of the planet just aren't very important compared to wealthy tourists jetting around the world to play golf. Never mind that it is an activity with perhaps the largest negative environmental footprint of any leisure activity since Darth Vader toyed with vaporizing planets.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Start Up Really Fast

Seattle's Newest Startup Incubator

 ~ I stopped by the open house at SURF Incubator last night. Whether SURF stands for Start Up Really Fast, or Start Up Really Frugal or Start Up Really Fun, it is a fantastic concept in a fantastic space.

Entrance to SURF Incubator

The lobby area is a work in progress, but full-time reception staff starts Monday, the "official" opening day.

Open house at SURF Incubator

A couple of dozen folks were engaged in lively conversation at the open house, including quite a few of the nearly 40 people already moved into the space.

Entrepreneurs and teams of 1-5 are the best fit, and the space will reach capacity at about 100.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—LXXX

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, April 24, 2012


Trends in Cleantech Funding

2011 clean energy spending by country

 ~ According to the latest Pew Charitable Trusts report "Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race?, the US regained the lead in spending in 2011. China had invested the most in each of the prior two years, and will probably retake the top spot in 2012. Why? Much of the US investment was accelerated in advance of the expiration of critical incentives, particularly the Section 1603 program.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Micro Power Loans

Empowering Communities

Installation of Solar Home System in Bangladesh
 ~ Hundreds of thousands of people have electricity because of distributed generation from small renewable energy systems financed by micro lending:
The Solar Home System (SHS) dissemination programme in Bangladesh is considered to be one of the most successful of its kind in the world, bringing power to rural areas where grid electricity supply is neither available nor expected in the medium term.
The program started in January 2005 and nearly 350,000 SHSs were installed by the summer 0f 2009, most of which had a rated power output of 50W. Systems came with 3-4 compact flourescent light bulbs. Owners benefit from lighting, especially in their kitchens and courtyards, and also use the systems to charge batteries, power radios, and even run 12V televisions. While statistics are lacking, it appears that some owners are using the power in their small stores and restaurants, boosting their income.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day...

...And Every Other Day

Matson cartoon | Earth Day (and every other day)

 ~ Things that matter should not be relegated to an event.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Crowd-Sourced Investment—II

The Attorneys' View of the JOBS Act

The Shamwow guy hawking his product
 ~ "We don't want the Shamwow guy on TV hawking securities"
     — Steven Bochner, WSGR attorney

Yesterday I posted on the WSGR seminar about the JOBS Act, which was characterized (correctly I think) as primarily about creating an easier on-ramp for "emerging growth companies" to get to a public offering (IPO).

Today I'm posting about the "bolted-on" parts of the Act pertaining to public solicitation and crowd-funded investment. While the idea of these things might sound good, the reality, as enshrined in the Act, is unlikely to match anyone's hopeful expectations.

Friday, April 20, 2012

E-Z Public Offerings

That Ain't Working

 ~ The recently passed Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act might more aptly have been named The IPO Easy On-Ramp Act. This sentiment, offered without a whit of irony, was a key take-away in an excellent overview this morning by attorneys from Silicon Valley's Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati (WSGR). Over the last 20 years Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) have fallen dramatically:

Chart: Decline in IPOs 1991-2011

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Intangible Plowing Costs

Something Old, Something New

Horse Shit Cigarettes
 ~ Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu observed recently that the choice between cleaner technology and older, dirtier technology has been made before:
...a century ago, automobiles replaced horses and horse-drawn carriages within the space of about 25 years. “It was accelerated by the fact that there was an environmental imperative,” he said.

What kind of imperative? Well, New York City alone had about 160,000 horses hauling people and goods around at that time. “There was a very visible environmental impact that was piling up on corners all over the place,” Dr. Chu said. “So it hastened the shift remarkably.”
But it can take a while for things to become sufficiently noxious, and times are different now in two key respects.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—LXXIX

An easy one for any long-time Seattleite. Where in Seattle is this?

Somewhere in Seattle... but where?

Apologies for the crummy resolution—yes, it's drops falling into a wine glass.

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, April 17, 2012

Worthy Website—II

Ocean Currents

 ~ Following on my recent post of an entrancing wind map of the US, here's one animating global ocean currents:

Ocean currents in Atlantic

Unlike the other, alas, it is not current, but historical. More here.

Other worthy websites:
Animated Wind Map of the US
Want to Get Away?
Periodic Tables
The Earth
Political Horse Race
Be Funky

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wind Spill

Batten the Hatches

 ~ Something to ponder as we approach the 2-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Cartoon | Wind turbine spill

When was the last big wind disaster anyway?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ride Free Seattle

No More Free Rides on Metro

Metro KC Transit Ride Free Area (RFA)
 ~ The Seattle area bus system, Metro Transit, plans to eliminate the downtown Ride Free Area (RFA) effective September 29, 2012.

The rationale, tucked away in a PDF says simply:
Phasing out the RFA will increase revenue and have a net positive impact on Metro’s bottom line. It would make it simpler for riders to pay fares throughout the system. A more consistent fare collection system is expected to reduce fare disputes and fare evasion. In a 2010 survey of Metro’s bus operators, eliminating the RFA was listed as the leading strategy to reduce fare evasion.
This is perhaps true, and the solution may well work, but Metro is solving the wrong problem, and the real problem is only going to be made worse.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Paper or Plastic?

More Choices

Morton's Fork logo
 ~ For decades we've been asked at the grocery checkout which bag we want—"paper or plastic?" It's a Morton's Fork.

The problems with plastic bags are well-known, including petroleum and energy inputs, production emissions and how unsustainable they are, especially their waste stream impacts. Plastic is angst-ridden.

Paper bags are little better. They are made of a renewable resource, sure, but use much more energy and water in their manufacture have a higher carbon footprint, and produce more pollution. That they are nominally biodegradable is mostly irrelevant; most end up taking space in landfills where decomposition is inhibited to prevent methane production.

The dilemma is really a false one, or should be.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Climate Change Relationships

Connect the Dots

 ~ There are more useful things to do on May 5 than to drink tequila:

We need to connect the dots on climate change and how it produces extreme weather, displacement, destruction and death. Many people in the US already know or suspect this, and the evidence is throughout the country, but the media does an awful job of reporting it. Time for another kind of change, one of attitude toward the truth.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Question for Authority

"Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?"

 ~ Although Roman poet Juvenal wrote this in a different context, the idiomatic translation, "who will watch the watchers?" is now commonly applied to those in authority, especially the state.

It's an apt question for our times.

How did we go from this...

St. Loius parade for veterans of Iraq

... to this?

Toronto police watch OWS protesters

Our civil rights, indeed our very democracy, are under threat.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—LXXVIII

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, April 10, 2012

Are You a Monkey?

A Parable on Innovation

 ~ Being innovative requires boldness, bucking consensus, and taking risk, sometimes at direct personal cost.

Monkey innovation

We're not always aware of what blinds us. Others around us don't know either. They will shriek. They will attack. But it we want the reward we must climb above ignorance and fear.

We will need thick skins.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Startups on Steroids*

* Check Back in 5 Years

Juicing an orange
 ~ The JOBS Act will juice startups, but it will come from squeezing investors, many of whom will be little more than pulp by the time it is over. Matt Taibbi:
There's just no benefit that the JOBS Act brings to an honest startup company. In fact, it puts an honest company at a severe disadvantage, because now it has to compete against other, less scrupulous companies that can simply make their projections up on the backs of envelopes.

This is like formally eliminating steroid testing for the first five years of a baseball player's career. Yes, you can pretty much bet that you'll see a lot of home runs in the first few years after you institute a rule like that. But you'd better be ready to stick a lot of asterisks in the record books ten or fifteen years down the line.

In the same way, get ready for an avalanche of shareholder suits ten years from now, since post-factum civil litigation will be the only real regulation of the startup market.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Existential Angst of the Plastic Bag

Wind, Wave and Whimsy

Plastic bag on a beach
 ~ Our oceans swirl with tiny bits of plastic. The infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, its North Atlantic cousin, and the rest of the 5 gyres contain vast uncalculated quantities of plastic debris that cannot be recovered, cannot be turned into islands, and cannot conceivably serve any good purpose.

Instead, that plastic enters the food chain and in time, we end up eating it. It's a simple thought exercise in sustainability. We don't poison our environment in isolation—we poison ourselves too.

On a related but more bittersweet note, enjoy this 10-minute short on the conflicted life of a plastic bag.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


More Nuanced Than Many Think

 ~ Daniel H. Pink:

I find this speaks also to several contemporary issues under debate such as executive compensation, industry subsidies, and tax cuts. We need more purpose-driven capitalism, and less corporate sociopathy.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Situational Ethics

Hawking Expediency

Cartoon | Deficit Hawks
 ~ How many politicians even have principles anymore, much less stand on them?

We see the same malleability of values throughout our public policy process: in regulation, in energy and even in the essence of citizenship.

Benefits are crafted for those in power and for their cronies while their adversaries are punished and obstructed.

The abandonment of any consistently applied principles is yet another sign of the brazen corruption of our government and the political monkeyshines that entrenches it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—LXXVII

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, April 3, 2012

A Question About Oil Company Profits

Connecting a Few Dots

Cartoon | Obama chides oil speculators
 ~ Is Big Oil guilty of war profiteering?

Consider a few facts:
So, in summary, we are at war, the war threatens our very survival, our economy and our military are critically dependent on oil, prices are rising not from domestic fundamentals, but from speculation, and profits are huge and growing, despite the damage they cause throughout the economy.

If this is not war profiteering, how should that term be defined?

Monday, April 2, 2012

World Autism Awareness Day

An Epidemic

Autism puzzle piece heart
 ~ Because I have a daughter with autism, I am aware of this every day. Over the years, too, I have also met many others, their families and the many professionals working to solve the puzzle which is autism.

Autism is widespread:
One in 88 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disability that more children will be diagnosed with this year than with childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes or pediatric AIDS combined, according to the United Nations.
What is nonetheless amazing to me, however, is how many other people I have learned about who also have autism, well beyond those that have shared with my daughter classrooms, therapists, sports teams or other groups. The sister of a high school classmate. The daughter of a tennis partner of my wife's. The uncle of a financial planner. That autism has touched the lives of others I know is frequently something learned only by accident, in passing.

Blue light bulb
How many others in my day-to-day circles have family members or close friends with autism? Doubtless many more than I know.

The same is probably true of you too.

Autism has become all-too-common, despite being only poorly understood by too many people. It is time we all became more aware, and did more about it.

Learn more.