Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CV

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, October 30, 2012

When the Wind Dies Down


Sandy flooded streets
 ~ In the breathless coverage of hurricane post-tropical storm storm Sandy, our warming climate gets the cold shoulder.
There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. We must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
-- Shakespeare

Wind turbine behind Sandy storm surge
What is the next tide?

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Invisibility of Knowledge

Ignorance Abounds

 ~ My first philosophy teacher insisted humankind was growing more ignorant. Quite apart from us dim-witted students in front of him, he had a simple explanation.

He would first draw a circle on the board. (He had a remarkable ability, much enjoyed by his students, to stand with his back to the board and whirl his arm about to create a perfect circle without once looking at what he was drawing.) The inside of the circle represents all that we know. Outside is all that we do not. The boundary represents our awareness of what we don't know. As the circle expands in the course of growing human knowledge, so does that boundary. The more we learn, the greater the realization of our own ignorance.

Perhaps we're not getting more ignorant, but just more aware of how little we know. Ignorance certainly abounds these days, and especially during our election season, but that's a subject for another post.

Instead, here is a great TED talk on what we don't know; it's a bit sprawling, but amusing and thought-provoking:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Protection Racket

The Allocation of Social and Financial Risk

Cartoon: difference between socialism and capitalism
 ~ What they don't tell you about capitalism (as currently practiced):
Gore Vidal, the recently demised American writer, once famously quipped that the US economic system is "free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich".

Since the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008, not only has the US lived up to Vidal's caricature but the whole of the rich capitalist world has become more "American". The poor are increasingly exposed to market forces, with tougher conditions on the diminishing state protection they get, while the rich have unprecedented levels of protection from the state, with virtually no strings attached.
Vidal had it right, but it is more pernicious, since the rich don't just get to socialize their losses, they are actively protected from the corrective market forces that make capitalism theoretically efficient. As one wag put it:
Free-market capitalism is for the poor. Job creators prefer market-free capitalism.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Liberté, Égalité, Gratuité

Free Public Transit Works

Enormous multi-lane traffic jam
 ~ Atlantic Cities reports on a mid-size French town that has had free public transit for more than a decade. Châteauroux has seen its ridership double. Meanwhile in only 3 years a metro area west of Paris has seen use go up 170% even as private vehicle traffic volumes fell 10%.

Like many transit systems, the fare box makes up only a small percentage of system revenue. Eliminating the infrastructure and logistics of fare collection, with minor adjustments to other funding sources, can allow transit systems to be profitable as well as more usable.
The motivations for making a transit system free are obvious. Increased ridership can relieve traffic, improve the environment, boost the system’s efficiency, give residents more spending money, help the poor, and rejuvenate central business districts.
Shared transportation is a public good and a desirable and necessary part of civic infrastructure. Like sidewalks, parks, trails and other similar public space amenities, it should be free, easy to use and widely available. Most cities in the US still have quite a ways to go.

Also posted to the Fare-Free Northwest blog.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Come to the Nightmare

Only 5 Nights Left

Chris Leyerle, zombie
 ~ The Puget Sound's premier haunted attraction, The Nightmare at Beaver Lake runs through Halloween night. Bring your fiends.

It's less scary than the elections, but much more fun.

More. Yet more.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Broader Tax Base

The Camel's Nose Under the Tent

Popular tax breaks and what they cost
 ~ Do we really want to broaden the tax base? Will it solve our fiscal problems?

The concept of a broader tax base is quite simple—it means getting more people to pay taxes who are not paying them today. In the case of income taxes (to which this term is almost exclusively applied) it means to change the tax code to make the 47% who currently pay nothing to start paying something.

Many, including Mitt Romney, are trying to have it both ways on this, suggesting that the broadening of the base would both solve the deficit and not result in any tax increases. This is not plausible arithmetic; the 47% will have their taxes raised—period. If you carve out some kinds of floors or exemptions to prevent that then you arrive back where you started—a byzantine tax code without any broader a base.

But there's more to this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CIV

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, October 23, 2012

Amazing Endeavour

The Last Mission

 ~ The retired space shuttle traveled across Los Angeles on its way to the California Science Center. The 12-mile journey took 3 days, and enchanted a community.

Space Shuttle Endeavour on its way
through the streets of L.A.

A stop-motion video (2:41) of its journey, well-worth watching, is here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Silence of the Lambs

(D)riven by Embarrassment

xkcd | Why I am silent about climate change

 ~ The hover text:
There are so many well-meaning conservatives around here who just assume global warming is only presented as a moral issue for political reasons.
In the unlikely case that climate change arises in tonight's presidential debate, expect embarrassment from every quarter. It will be even more embarrassing for us as a country, however, should it not arise at all.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

With Friends Like These...

A Messy Relationship

 ~ At the Alberta Tar Sands, how committed are they really?
A spokesman for government department Natural Resources Canada said: "The oil sands are an important strategic resource that we are committed to developing in a socially and environmentally friendly manner." [Emphasis added]
Alberta Tar Sands tailing pond

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Beyond Gizmos

Building a Broader Ecosystem

Printer drawer with eclectic contents
 ~ What would happen if entrepreneurs only built companies that satisfied idle desires of the rich?

Nathan Mhyrvold decried this tendency during his keynote at SIFP, urging more focus on inventions that really make a difference.
It’s great you can kill aliens with Xbox at a faster rate than ever before, but ... there are people that do need their lives changed.
There's ample irony in one of the nation's leading patent trolls preaching more democratized innovation. As he cheers less well-heeled strategies, his company makes considerable income from squeezing scrappy startups on often-ostensible infringement of one of their arsenal of patents.

But he's also right. There's an app for that, no matter how silly.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Renewable Saudi Arabia

Beyond Petroleum?

Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud
 ~ A key member of the Saudi royal family says that the kingdom aims to be powered 100% on renewable and "low-carbon forms" of energy. Maybe in his lifetime (but maybe not, because he is already 67.)

Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud said at a conference in Brazil:
Oil is more precious for us underground than as a fuel source. If we can get to the point where we can replace fossil fuels and use oil to produce other products that are useful, that would be very good for the world.
Some are skeptical, but the Saudis have said this before, and recognize, unlike here in the US, that oil production is not a very effective driver of economic prosperity.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Friends of Tax Reform...

...May Not Be Friends of Big Oil

Voided subsidy check for Big Oil
 ~ Both presidential candidates share a stated desire to lower tax rates and simplify the tax code by eliminating deductions and credits. (And also those hardy but elusive scapegoats, fraud, waste and abuse.) Not everyone is fond of this idea, especially Big Oil:
“Tax reform will be a complicated process,” said Comstock, API’s manager for tax policy. “I think our members are wary of how that process will take place.
Unfortunately, tax reform by simplification entails eliminating "loopholes"—but only yours, not mine. Big Oil doesn't receive much public esteem, and their essentially indefensible billions in annual subsidies are under growing scrutiny. Even powerful House Republican and pro-fossil pol Frank Upton is talking about eliminating all energy subsidies, including for oil and gas.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CIII

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, October 16, 2012

World Food Day

The Challenge of Feeding the World

Pear orchard in Wenatchee
 ~ October 16 is World Food Day, established to raise global awareness of wide-spread hunger all over the world. Many organizations are today calling attention to this most basic human right—to have enough to eat.

The Institute of Food Technologists, for example, is highlighting the importance of industrial innovation in providing solutions to global hunger:
Just as society has evolved over time, our food system has also evolved over centuries into a global system of immense size and complexity. The commitment of food science and technology professionals to advancing the science of food, ensuring a safe and abundant food supply, and contributing to healthier people everywhere is integral to that evolution. Food scientists and technologists are versatile, interdisciplinary, and collaborative practitioners in a profession at the crossroads of scientific and technological developments.
The innovative scientists and researchers at Phytelligence are part of that global solution that will provide more food, of better quality, faster, to more people.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Income Tax

Just in Time, Again

Pie chart of US income tax payers
 ~ As usual, I got an extension on my tax return and went to the post office in the last hour it was open of the last day to file timely.

I did a lot last year, and worked very hard on a lot of companies and for a lot of clients and organizations. Still part of the 47% and I still paid plenty of other taxes.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Economic Alternative

Recovery in Iceland

Icelanders enjoying a geothermal experience
 ~ Under President Obama none of the banksters that nearly destroyed the world economy have been charged with breaking the law. None, even though examples of criminal activity are rife.

Iceland did it differently:
So Iceland decided not to follow the rest of the world by bailing out the bankers. Instead, they chose to arrest them. Now their economy is recovering faster than the EU and the United States...

At the start of the world wide 2008 economic collapse, Iceland was in worse shape than almost any other country in the world. Now they are one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Imagine what America would be like today if we bailed out the victims of poor banking practices, while punishing the bankers who were responsible?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Who Sets Energy Policy?

Probably Not Anyone You Trust

Khalil Bendib cartoon on oil industry subsidies
 ~ The Gallup poll of a few months back gauged the public's views on various institutions and industry sectors.

Those with the worst public image? The federal government was almost at the bottom, just above the oil and gas industry.

Those are precisely the two who are dictating our current energy policy. Little wonder we have permanent subsidies for fossil energy and such halting progress on transitioning to a clean and sustainable energy future.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Are Norwegians Nuts?

Norway To Double Their Carbon Tax

Norwegian flag
 ~ Big Oil and its apologists inveigh endlessly against a carbon tax and its twinned alternate, a cap-and-trade (or cap-and-dividend) system. Why? Because it will destroy the economy of course!

Burdening oil and other forms of carbon energy with fully pricing their currently externalized costs would dramatically boost the cost of energy, impoverishing consumers and stunting business investment! Economic growth with slow, stop, or even reverse! So we are told.

However, in our northern provincial neighbor, BC, the economy seems to be doing just fine despite several years of an innovative application of just such a measure.
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.
Now Norway is set to do something even more ambitious—more than doubling their existing carbon tax on their (thriving) oil industry. Can they really do that?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fostering Entrepreneurship—VI

The State of Angel Investing

Halo Report Infographic
 ~ Several interesting facts in the latest Halo Report on startup funding:

  1. The median size for startup valuation when funded is $2.7M. Fully 3/4 of all startups receive investor funding with a valuation of $1.7M or greater. For entrepreneurs (for now) these are robust numbers, and help explain the bit of a rush to raise money we're seeing in some quarters.
  2. The median size of the round shrunk to just over $500K. For a Series A round this seems a bit small, but the number is probably skewed downward because of an overweighting of those famously capital efficient Internet startups which can hit early milestones with less money, thanks to the cheap cost of electrons, energy drinks and ramen.
  3. Investors remain herd creatures with the bulk of the deals and dollars going to Internet, healthcare, and mobile/telecon. (As a country, do we want to reinvigorate our industrial base? If so, we might want to start with funding industrial innovation.)
  4. The Pacific Northwest doesn't have one of the top 5 most active angel groups in terms of number of deals...
  5. ...but Seattle does boast The Alliance of Angels as a top 5 angel group for dollars invested. Bravo!
  6. The Pacific Northwest's national share deals held steady, while dollars invested grew year-over-year.
In short, we're doing OK, not great. Deals are getting done, but there is a growing sense of froth reflected in the valuations and the narrowing sector focus. Greater diversity would be salutary to our broader economy, as well as softening the boom-bust angel cycle.

Many investors are waiting for the election to finish, hoping that the result will clarify the investment and taxation climate going forward. It won't. Still, there may be even more investing activity in the next 6 months than in the past, which will make a comparison of this to the next Halo Report interesting reading.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CII

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, October 9, 2012

Phytelligence Commercialization

From Lab to Field

 ~ Back in September WSU Professor Amit Dhingra, also CTO and Co-founder of Phytelligence, addressed a gathering of some of the state's larger growers and nursery owners. While the talk was primarily about some of the research in his lab, he also spoke about its commercialization for the benefit of our state's agricultural industry.

Here is a video of his 20-minute address:

The technology from the Dhingra Lab has been licensed to Phytelligence, and progress continues apace to make it available to our commercial partners. Genetic analysis services are available now, and the first tissue cultured fruit trees will be available in limited quantities in time for the 2013 planting season.

Monday, October 8, 2012

On Your Way in 15 Minutes

Public Transit Frequency

Seattle Transit Blog: 15 Minute Map
 ~ Here is the latest version of the excellent Seattle Transit Blog's 15-minute map.

It shows graphically all the public transit routes that run with a frequency of 15 minutes or less. These routes are critical because riders don't really need to consult a schedule or arrange their travel.

They can just show up, knowing they needn't wait long. This makes public transit both readily accessible and easily usable. It promotes greater use of pubic transit, leading to all the benefits of higher ridership—reduced traffic congestion, lessened need for road maintenance, cleaner air, etc.

The map has changed a bit from the last one. There's the new Rapid Ride lines of course. There's also better service in some areas (West Seattle, Ballard, Crown Hill) but regrettably some of the same old glaring gaps (Magnolia, Sand Point, Madison Park.)

And we're still waiting for adequate service on the Eastside, especially
  • Cross-lake connection frequency
  • Service later into the night (i.e. past 11:30). Or even all night.
  • Early morning service to the airport to catch those 6 a.m. flights.
  • More routes that connect Eastside cities to each other, rather hub and spoke to Seattle or, to a lesser extent, Bellevue.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fostering Entrepreneurship—V

Feast or Ramen

Baby rejects regular work and debt
preferring to be an entrepreneur
 ~ Being an entrepreneur is hard. Much harder than than it initially appears to the first-timer, and widely misunderstood by those who have never tried it.

It's hard because it requires both you be quite good at many very different things, have broad skills, and also that you recognize what you're not good at it, and get help, or coaching, or an able co-founder to complement your strengths.

But all that is doable by those with commitment. What's not so easy is to find a way to the pay the bills until your venture starts paying for itself.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Magical Thinking

No Tough Choices Needed

Mitt Romney looking confused
 ~ Rather than Jim Lehrer, I'd rather see the next debate moderated by Socrates. He might would ask better questions.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Numbers Don't Lie, But Don't Elucidate Either

Silver Linings

 ~ Premier polling analyst Nate Silver highlights the unimportance of economists' assessments of the unemployment picture:

Divergence of economist predictions and actual jobs report numbers

The stock market may whipsaw on the divergence of expectation and realty on economics numbers like the jobs report, although it is baffling why it would do so given how wrong the expectations always are, as well as the inevitability of revisions to the initial numbers. The data is "noisy."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Supplemental Energy

Natural Products Northwest 2012 Show

Oxylent logo
 ~ Do your vitamins taste good and fill you with energy?

No? Mine do. But then I take Oxylent, an award-winning, super high-quality supplement that provides a rich, deep spectrum of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and amino acids in one tasty, highly absorbent package.

Tomorrow and Saturday I'll be at the Natural Products NW show at the Seattle Convention Center, working with Oxylent's dynamic company founder Lisa Lent to make a splash with the region's top buyers, suppliers and industry partners. I've done more than 2 dozen trade shows over the years, and done right they can be a lot of fun, as well as provide a hugely positive ROI and publicity exposure for exhibiting companies. Lisa has amazing vision and drive; the show promises to be a hit. Oxylent is in stores nationwide and going international. It's really popular in Dubai, for example! Locally, you can find it in Super Supplements, Pharmaca, Whole Foods and PCC.

If you're at the show, stop by and see us at Booth 311.

And take your vitamins!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Where's It Wednesday—CI

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, October 2, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Making Public Transit Harder to Take

The End of the Ride Free Area

Crowds pack the Seattle Transit Tunnel
 ~ "Back door!"

So shouted the tired office worker in the direction of the Metro Transit bus driver down the Westlake Station platform of the Seattle Transit Tunnel.

The driver didn't respond. The commuter, wearily, headed toward the front door of the bus, annoyance clearly visible on her face. Boarding through all doors was already a dim memory.

It was just past 5:30 on the first weekday following the elimination of Seattle's downtown ride free area and clearly not everyone was with the new program. Metro did away with the downtown Ride Free Area in an attempt to save the $2.2M of evaded fares in their operating budget of $549M. Those relatively meager (and theoretical) savings are changing the ease, appeal and convenience of taking public transit.