Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Smile and an Ice Cream

Less than a month after I started blogging, I wrote about Blue Marble Ice Cream. I loved what they were doing, and I hoped that, as they grew, they wouldn't stop thinking big.

I hadn't heard from them in a while, but, day before yesterday, I got an email, and something's stirring. Something unexpected. Something strange. But something that's certainly big.

Blue Marble Ice Cream wants to bring frozen dessert to Rwanda.

The idea seemed a little ridiculous at first glance. Ice cream? Aren't there more pressing matters? Water? Soil? Education? Healthcare? But, as I read deeper into the email, I came to this, an explanation from Gakire Katese Odile, one of Blue Marble's Rwandan friends:

Because we struggle most of the time, we also find ourselves aggressive against happiness, love, joy, life. When we have children, we too teach them that happiness doesn't exist; that there is no pure love and as legacy, we give them our despair, our debts, our doubts, our tears, our failures... The Rwandan women who are part of this group want to reshape life in its simple and sweetest form. We want to share moments that are not embossed by despair and death... We want to create a space where poverty, disease, illiteracy... are not obstacles to happiness and barriers between human beings... We have to, for the sake of the health of our soul. The ice cream will have the power to reconcile people with life by providing privileged moments when life reminds them that it is also sweet. And for the 15th commemoration of the genocide in 2009, what better way for Rwandans to enjoy life than by traveling all over the country through the thousand hills to offer life when there was death, to offer a smile and an ice cream? Nice dream!

I like it. And it's not ridiculous. It's certainly not a traditional approach, not an idea I can imagine many people having. But it's an idea born of love and generosity; it's an ice cream idea backed by ice cream genius; and it's big. You never know. Stranger things have succeeded.

If you want to learn more about the project, click here to have a look at excerpts from Blue Marble's application for a grant from American Express, or let me know by comment or email (moreperfectmarket at gmail dot com), and I'll put you in touch with Jennie and Alexis.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Special Agent Cooper and Immortalizing the Nuggets

Senior year in high school, someone got ahold of a Twin Peaks box set. Every episode. From the pilot right down to the end of the second season, when everyone knew the axe was falling, and things took a turn for the unintelligible.

For a month, a handful of us watched every night we could, sometimes multiple episodes at a time.

I remember it being a brilliantly strange and addictively terrifying show, the cause of both uncontrollable laughter and recurring nightmares.

And I remember deciding that if Agent Cooper used a voice recorder to take notes, so should I.

Almost ten years later, last week, before I drove north to be best man for one of those high school classmates, Micaela the intern delivered the machinery I'd ordered. I admired it for a moment, loaded it with two AAA batteries, fiddled with the buttons to make sure I understood the controls, and decided I was about to have the most productive weekend of my life. I'd help one of my very favorite people keep his almost mother in law sane, and I'd pour into the recorder enough important work related thoughts to let me vault back into action as soon as I stepped back in the office.

Well, I am back in action, and, as far as I can tell, I'm still on my feet and scrambling steadily, but I can't say I owe many thanks to my voice recording skills.

Go ahead and judge for yourself, but I think I have quite a bit to learn about using the recorder professionally and not just as a toy.

Here's a sampling:

-If I get pulled over, and I'm suspected for having been talking on my cell phone, are the cops allowed to look at my cell phone records and be like: dude you were fucking talking on your phone the last two hours!? Or is that sort of illegal? Because I would be in trouble if it was legal. I am a problem when it comes to talking on the cell phone, which means I need to get that thing, that little earbud thing. And I wonder what happened to the one I got before. Anyway, I wonder. About the law.

-Why is it that dreams, even sometimes when they're super intense and you feel the intensity, why is it so difficult to bring back the memory? Maybe because the thought is something not actually experienced but only imagined?

-When a clock says it's 11:11, but it's wrong, is it still good luck to kiss that clock? My sense is yes, but maybe not as good as the 11:11 that is on time or at least approximately on time. I'm thinking about this car clock right now, which I think is about 18 minutes slow, which is a pretty silly clock situation if you ask me.

-Sitting here listening to extra innings in the Phillies' game, which is a total bonus on my car ride home. We're going into the bottom of the 11th, and I'm listening here to the ads, and I'm getting excited and feeling my muscles tense up in this ridiculous baseball situation and screaming, to no one, and pumping my fist, COME ON PHILS! Ridiculous. But. I love the Phils. What can I say.

-I should, I think, maybe, in my weird craziness, write down, in my Posterous blog or wherever, the fact that I recognize that everything I'm writing or everything I'm putting out there might be totally crazy. I recognize that there's a possibility that I am full of shit. But I'm doing it anyway, despite that recognition, out of the possibility, A, that I'm not full of shit, and, B, that, even if I'm full of shit, there are probably some nuggets in my full of shitness...and nuggets and shit become a very dangerous metaphor...anyway, maybe despite our craziness, or potentially because of our craziness, we are able to offer these other things to the world. And I want to say this. I want to throw it out there and say: Maybe I'm nuts. Maybe I am totally totally nuts. But. Maybe not, and, maybe, even if I am, it's still kind of good to get these thoughts out there, because there might be something in here that's good, thats useful, that's not crazy. And so I'm doing it. Because I want to. Or because I want to preserve that.

So. There you go. Figured it'd be appropriate to end with that last one. A window into a mind that had been driving all day with a tape recorder sitting in the passenger seat.

A little embarrassing. But that's cool. Radical transparency. And an illustration of the fact that I haven't come anywhere close to achieving Agent Cooper style tape recorder productivity.

Posted by email from Radical Transparency (posterous)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Search for the Trees

About a month ago, I read a Wired Science article, flashed back to thoughts I'd had about Australian "greenies" and their impact on tropical real estate value, and decided we could save the rainforests if we mobilized massive amounts of philanthropic capital and paid landowners not to deforest.

Today, my friends over at Dansko sent me this link, and it introduced me to Forestle.

Very simply, Forestle is Google Search adjusted to incorporate a few extra ads. The additional advertisers pay Forestle. Forestle passes 95% of that income over to The Nature Conservancy (the 5% covers administrative costs). And The Nature Conservancy adopts little pieces of rainforest, protects them, restores them, manages them, etc.

It's not exactly my vision from back in July. No massive donors are involved, and I'm pretty sure The Nature Conservancy doesn't hire mercenary armies to protect their adopted lands. But if Barack Obama and Kiva have taught us anything, it's that lots of tiny donations can go a long way.

If The Nature Conservancy adopts and manages well, and if Forestle can tell a good enough story to get people to spend 30 seconds downloading their little Firefox plugin, then maybe we won't need big donors or incorporation of forests into carbon markets.

Those are some big ifs, some serious challenges for both The Nature Conservancy and Forestle, but 18,644 meters squared into the project, I'm excited.

Note: One silly thing about Forestle, which you'll notice if you click through from here or download from this plugin link and start searching, is that the US version of Forestle measures in square yards instead of square meters. Feet I could understand. Pounds. Gallons. Ounces. Miles. But yards? I'm pretty sure we've started incorporating the meter into everyday American life. We don't have trouble with 100 meter races in the Olympics anymore, do we? I thought the days of the yard were over, that American football was the last swath of habitat supporting the endangered unit of measure. Forestle proved me wrong.

Update (Aug 28, 2008): Stories about mare's milk led to discussion of the term "mare's nest" and sent me running to the internets to settle a definition dispute. I typed "mare's nest" into my Forestle-powered Firefox search bar, and I got this. Apparently Google is not happy with Forestle, so Forestle can no longer search. Hmmm. Controversy.

Infrastructure Investments and the Anti-Ducksqueezers

All the traveling I've done over the past few weeks has me a little late to this party, but The Economist has been hosting a noteworthy debate on its website.

The proposition around which the debate centers is that "we can solve our energy problems with existing technologies today, without the need for breakthrough innovations."

Arguing in favor of the proposition is Joe Romm of the Center for American Progress and arguing against it is Peter Meisen of the Global Energy Network Institute.

I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with both sides, and there are heaps of comments I feel tempted to make, but it's late, and I want to keep this short, so I'll start with one observation and gauge my motivation to make more when I wake up tomorrow.

Central to Romm's argument is the notion that there exists a set of forces that are holding back the deployment of existing technologies that would, in combination, transform our economy to a point at which we would avert climate change catastrophe.

He does identify some forces, and he does offer some seemingly reasonable deployment strategies, and I appreciate that he does those things, but I don't think he addresses one hugely important piece of the solution.

He prescribes what I will go ahead and oversimplify by calling investment in infrastructure, but he doesn't talk about mustering the political and/or cultural will necessary to actually lead governments, businesses, and individuals to make those investments.

He points to a set of solutions that I find reasonable, and he has me convinced that, yeah, if we're somehow able implement every solution in that set and implement to the level recommended, we will transform our world in a hugely positive way and, in the process, quite likely slow global warming to an extent that will keep it under control.

But I don't think it matters that I find the solutions reasonable or that I'm convinced.

What's important, I think, and what I think Romm (and everyone working on solving these huge problems) ought to start considering in a much more serious way, is how to convince the short-term-focused, ducksqueezer-skeptical* general public (a group that includes most legislators, corporate leaders, Wall St. investors, Fox News addicts, and minivan suburbanites, among others) that huge climate-focused infrastructure investment is in everyone's best interests.

We need people to agree that we ought to listen to Joe Romm and the people to whom Joe Romm is listening, and I don't think we're there yet. I think it's possible, but I think we need to start communicating more effectively. Simply. Elegantly. Inclusively.

Maybe this echoes back to previous thoughts about enlightenment, strategic persuasion, and the need to battle short term greed's manipulative creativity with equally compelling stories.

Hmmm.

Any ideas?

Fire Al Gore as the climate change spokesman and hire Arnold Schwarzenegger?

*Note: In case anyone's confused, a ducksqueezer is a righteously energetic environmentalist. I read it first in a Neal Stephenson novel called Zodiac, and, while I admit that I've cooked this up on my own and not derived it from any reliable source, I think it refers to people that pick up oil-coated waterfowl and wring them out before releasing them to fly away clean and happy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Logo Evolution

Carrots are good looking vegetables.*

The one at the top is the first one we everybody liked. The one at the bottom is where I think we're about to go.


We're close. Shouldn't be too long before we finalize, build it into a draft UI template, and integrate front and back end work on the in process site.

*Note: I wrote that and wondered what it means to be a vegetable. Wikipedia vegetable is a culinary term, not a botanical term. As long as a lot people acknowledge that something is the edible part of a plant, it's cool to call it a vegetable. It's not nearly as easy to achieve recognition as a fruit, however.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More on Split Personalities

When I wrote about DjangoCon the other day, I mentioned PyCon, so I linked to a post I made a few months ago about an email conversation Wiley and I had while he was in Chicago at PyCon this past spring.

In those emails were questions about confidence, doubt, and our ability, as rookies, to build real live production quality websites.

I wrote about the emails, in part, because they reminded me of my theory that we all have both a level of genius capable of creating The Office and a level of ineptitude that could serve as the inspiration for one of its characters. We are all simultaneously Ricky Gervais and David Brent.

A couple of days ago, I watched this video, an animation set to an interview with John Lennon. In 1969, a 14 year old named Jerry Levitan snuck a tape recorder into John's hotel room and convinced John to talk on the record about peace. Apparently John saw a fascinating duality in people too.

We're all Hitler inside. We're all Christ inside.

Makes me want to read Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Thank you Garry, founder of Posterous, for the introduction to the video. And thank you Jerry Levitan for getting John on tape.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Django, Lightning, and a Trip to the Bay

My plane tickets are booked, and it looks like the stage is set for the geekiest weekend of my life.

Wiley's trip to PyCon a few months back led us to Carl and Eric, and, when Wiley reserved himself a spot at DjangoCon, he figured he'd get me one too. Just in case.

Sure enough, stars aligned, and we'll be rolling up to the Googleplex in Mountain View for two days of peace and Python on September 6th.

Wiley showed me the program today, and, if the presentation titles are any indication, I'll be one of very few truly non-technical people at the conference.

Nevertheless, he thinks I should give a lightning talk. He reckons a rookie entrepreneur managing a Django-fired web development project is as potentially compelling a speaker as anyone. I am, in a sense, a Django customer, and I have a story that might be useful to the Django creators and developer community.

And he's right. I do have a story. I always have stories. But DjangoCon is going to be quite a different audience from any I've ever addressed, and I'm not sure in which direction I ought to go.

I could give the quick rundown on The Carrot Project and what I hope it'll accomplish. I could talk about using small communities of users to power information engines capable of elegantly feeding the masses. I could talk about our request for proposal process and why we chose Django. I could talk about my experience with the framework so far, how it suits my needs as a founder, project manager, and grand administrator.

Or, maybe, if I'm lucky, the magic of the internets will lead the DjangoCon organizers to this blog post; they'll get in touch; and they'll tell me how I can add the most value. Maybe? Guys?

Anyway, regardless, I'm excited. There'll be heaps to learn, and, when necessary, Wiley'll be there to translate.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Back, for a Moment Anyway

I am thoroughly exhausted. Weekends are much better sleep catchup tools for me than trips deep into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But I'm fired up to get back to work. Back to The Carrot Project. Back to Acorn. Back to this blog.

I spent a lot of time over the past six days in lakes and on mountains, but my mind has been everywhere. And racing.

About collaborative online media and the possibility for a small, dedicated community to gather and analyze information and, through a simple dissemination tool, to provide huge enlightenment and discovery value to the masses.

About pennies saved, pennies earned, negawatts, and motivation: creating a retail market for the energy people choose to save.

About evolution, religion, and the difference between spiritual quests and reliance on the supernatural.

About Bo Jackson, internet comedy, sporting goods, and a way to support The Carrot Project as we try balance fiscal responsibility, financial sustainability, and the commitment to pure, unbiased, third party evaluation.

And, more than anything, about writing. My friend Tom, with whom I stayed up on Lake Superior, is a writer. A serious writer. An artist. Books not blogs. And there was nothing more fun over the past few days than the conversations we had about his work, his characters, and his process.

Made me want to write. And write I did. A little. Before falling asleep, after meals, between hikes. On the Posterous blog, something I'm enjoying more and more.

Anyway, I'm back in the office for a few days before I go on the road again, and 15 or 16 posts for August isn't out of reach yet. I'll see what I can do.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Peace of Mind

Online for the first time in a few days, and I can't resist.

Back to the woods in a minute, but first...

I just checked in at our in-process Carrot Project site, and I am so excited to have something live and online.

There's not much there yet. And what is there isn't pretty. But there is something. And that something has been huge for mypeace of mind over the past few weeks.

Little things every day. Subtle additions and improvements. Bugs found and bugs killed, big and little.

I bet having live in-process sites to visit 100 million times a dayis the only way a lot of founders and project managers maintain theirsanity, but this is a new experience for me, and I hope I never have togo back.

As I said, there's nothing beautiful about what's up, and thefunctionality that's there is only partially implemented. But Ican play around on it every day, and that inspires sanity about as wellas anything I can imagine.

If any of you want to come play a bit too, email moreperfectmarket at gmail dot com, and I'll send you a link.

Posted by email from Radical Transparency (posterous)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Consistency and the Woods

Before I started blogging in January, I did some thinking about how much writing I could handle.

I thought about listening to the experts and show up every day. I thought about starting slow, write once a week for a while, and then think about getting ambitious. I thought about posting all day every day, whenever I wanted to set anything aside to revisit: questions, quotes, excerpts from emails, unfinished but high potential thoughts, stories, rants. And I settled three times a week minimum.

I told myself I needed to write every other day. Approximately. On average.

And I've done it for seven months. Consistently. I've posted 15 or 16 times in all six of the full months during which I've been blogging.

And I feel good about that. I look at my little blog archive box, see those 15s and 16s, and smile.

August might break my streak, however. Starting tomorrow, this month gets crazy. Time on the road. Time in the woods. Best man duties. Meetings in faraway places. Not a lot of days in the office. And, maybe, not a lot of time for blogging.

I might need to feed my ridiculous obsession with those aforementioned 15s and 16s and keep posting, but I'm going to cut myself a little slack for this coming week at least.

Maybe.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

08.08.08

Still the 7th here in the USA, but it's the 8th where it matters.

And as excited as I am for everyone over in Beijing, I'm scared too.

The air is a worry.

President Bush is a worry.

AM talk radio is a worry.

But the internets tell me the party has started, and I think that's great.

I want so badly for the Olympics to go smoothly. There are plenty of reasons to complain about China, but there's so much about that place and its people that I love, I can't help but root for three weeks of constant smiles.

I want things to be real. I hope and trust that international visitors will see the dirt behind the facades, but I also hope that they experience the beautifully human pieces of that place too.

I hope they hear the old men talking to their pigeons. I hope they visit the college campuses after dark and spot the couples making out in every imaginable partially private outdoor space. I hope they eat the real food. I hope they see the grannies dancing in the morning. I hope they go sing karaoke with people whose thing it is to go sing karaoke. I hope they step into cluttered alleyways and get in on late night Yanjing beer, watermelons, and hot and tingly soup (麻辣烫 - hilariously unsanitary looking submerged street kabobs). I hope they go to the knock off name brand goods markets and haggle for fun. I hope they notice the dogs in the bike baskets.

And I hope they see that everybody over there is just as idiosyncratically weird and complicated as we know ourselves to be.

I recommend that anyone looking to experience Beijing these next few weeks without being there reads both the James Fallows blog and another, lesser known publication called John Gordon's English Weblog. Fallows is a seriously insightful journalist that's just getting used to Beijing. And John Gordon is a good friend of mine, one of those rare China foreigners that has truly started becoming a part of his adopted culture.

*Note: I'm rooting against all USA and China athletes because I say down with the powerhouse athletic countries and go Trinidad and Tobago. Except for the USA basketball team. I am rooting for them. Which is clearly a ridiculous thing to do, but, apparently, I can't help it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Cognitive Surplus

Sometimes I scare myself. I step back and look at what The Carrot Project wants to accomplish, and I wonder if it's possible.

It's a big project, and, in my opinion, it's a project that requires a whole heap of very human work.

Identifying the companies that are doing the best things for the world is something that corporate social responsibility data and socially responsible investment data can't do alone. The data can give us a place from which to start, but I think real live people have to take the data and run with it.

We need to question the numbers. We need to dispute them. We need to understand inconsistencies. We need to prioritize, reprioritize, and admit that prioritization is an impure and unpredictable science. We need to measure, collectively, through conversation and argument and the sharing of patchwork knowledge, what mathematics can't measure.

And we need to be humble enough about what we create to question it just as rigorously as we question the data.

I can't do it alone. Brent and I can't do alone. Brent and Carl and Eric and Wiley and I can't do alone.

This project is big. And sometimes it starts to feel impossible.

But then I see things like this:



And I remember that of course it's possible.

100 million hours of human creative energy built Wikipedia.

In the US alone, every year, we spend 200 billion hours watching TV.

That's 2000 Wikipedia projects' worth of human potential spent consuming others' media creations.

And, as much as we like consuming, we like producing and sharing as well. And we do. We blog. We podcast. We make videos about microblogging and throw them up on YouTube. We imagine what it would be like if cats could type. We ask people what they think of our faces.

And, maybe someday, we'll carve another little tiny slice of that TV time, that "cognitive surplus." We'll identify the businesses that are doing the best things for the world. We'll help each other choose to support them rather than their competitors. We'll create incentives for businesses to do more and more good. A we'll lay the groundwork for a race to the top.

*Note: It's August 6. Happy birthday Mom!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Independence

I had a long conversation last night with a smart, pragmatic, and politically unattached friend of mine.

We hadn't talked in quite a while, and as soon as he found out about the Acorn Energy gig, he asked me what I thought about oil, domestic production, and opening federal bans on drilling offshore and in Alaska.

Amory Lovins is fresh in my mind, so I talked about the questionable business case for new drilling and the security and oil spill risks.

My friend wasn't convinced.

He reckons whether or not we think there's a business case is irrelevant. Leave that up to the oil companies to navigate. If they make a bad investment, they make a bad investment. Their choice. Their loss.

And he thinks it's absurd to think about risk. Of course there's risk, but there's risk in a lot of things. And we're pretty good at mitigating oil spill risk and pipeline attack risk. We're not perfect; it's true. But the probability of disaster, especially if we protect against it, is tiny.

He thinks we should explore. His foremost worry is the US economy's dependence on lunatic countries, and, for him, any step toward independence, however small, is a step we should take.

And he wants efficiency too. He wants investment in energy productivity. He wants plug in cars. He wants carbon free electricity, and he thinks electrons are the transportation fuel of the future.

But he has no patience for either/or arguments. He wants to do it all, drilling included.

And he's passionate, convincing, and, as I said, politically unattached. He got my attention. I listened. I went back through the Lovins interview. And I'm open.

If the conversation about offshore exploration and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge exploration is focused on energy independence as a matter of economic stability and not on gasoline prices as a matter of political pandering, then I think it's a conversation we should have.

We should, of course, consider very seriously the natural capital costs associated with the exploration. We should be honest about just how much or how little foreign oil we could displace if we expanded potential drilling sites. We should be very wary of subsidizing anything. And we should make sure we don't celebrate increased independence from foreign oil to the point at which anyone forgets that the long term goal is independence from oil altogether.

And then we should make some decisions.

I think.

Neglected Tabs, Storyteller Microbloggers, and the Neverending Cycle

I woke up today wanting to write but not knowing what to write. I thought about diving into the creative capitalism conversation and seeing what I could find in there. I thought about responding to an email a friend sent me about meat and responsible consumption. I thought about digging into some Clay Shirky. But I figured I'd do some reading first and then make some decisions.

A couple of tabs that have been sitting neglected in Firefox the past few days beckoned. Seemed like as good a place to start as any.

I reread a great article about simplicity and ubiquity. I read another article about web services that solve only problems that the web itself creates. And, since both mentioned Twitter, I stopped there and wandered off to see what the people I follow have been tweeting the past couple of days.

As I clicked back through some history, I started thinking about why I post what I post on Twitter.

And I remembered what a friend wrote me when she first read my Twitter feed:

it sounds like you're a crazy person! wtf are you updating people on your minutia? eating stale chips? what???

I told her it was an experiment, that I wasn't sure if Twitter would ever amount to anything for me, but I was trying to figure it out. And I dug it, dug the weirdness, dug people's willingness to tweet just about anything.

But that doesn't explain why I experiment the way I experiment: why I post about stale chips, Art Garfunkel, narrowly averted cupcake disaster, or Mr. Empty Promises.

I remembered some thoughts I'd had about posts of the week.

I had a moment a few weeks ago when I decided I wanted more storyteller microbloggers in my life, and I figured I could make that happen if I could locate a Twitter-fiend blogger that posts his or her favorite tweets of the week. Not his or her own tweets. Not a self-published greatest hits. Lots of people do that. I wanted to find a blogger that posts the choicest tweets from the set of microbloggers that he or she follows.

Ten minutes of searching for such a blogger proved fruitless, so I went back to work.

Later that day, however, I started dreaming about becoming that blogger. Every time I'd check in on Twitter, I'd favorite the tweets I enjoyed most, and, once I'd accumulated five or ten favorites, I'd throw them up on the blog and thank my Twitter friends for posting them.

I took the situation's pulse. I made a point to use the favoriting function for a couple of weeks. I looked for stuff that I thought was top quality. I favorited and unfavorited. And I had a good time. But I realized as I did it that I just simply couldn't count on myself to devote enough time to tweet reading to consistently come up with favorite tweets posts and make them good.

So I shelved the idea.

But I left a little archive of favorites on my Twitter account, and, now that I'm thinking about why I post what I post, I figure maybe those favorites can explain. Maybe they'll illustrate what I love about Twitter and what kind of microblogger I aspire to be.

@loiclemeur Kids look great on Segways while adult men look like sexual deviant people because of their posture

@mriggen OH: (To toilet-mastering preschooler, who's been having, ah, "issues")Remember, you control the poop. The poop does not control you.

@robinbloor Charlie Chaplin once won third prize in a Charlie Chaplinlook-alike contest

@joeyheadset Fistbook is a social networking utility that connects my fist with YOUR face.

@christinelu WTF. some old man from Turkey on FB just edited details of how we kneweach other saying we dated in '92. that would put me at 16 you perve.

What do you think? Is it the storytelling I love? The vivid images they all conjure? The fact that they remind us that funny is everywhere, that life's more enjoyable if we're on constant lookout for silliness and share it whenever we can?

Hmmm.

Well. I don't know. I'll keep tweeting. Someday it'll all make sense. And, when it does, I'll explain in detail on the internets somewhere. In the meantime, I'll leave you with what is still perhaps my favorite tweet of all time.

Thank you Marc Andreessen for posting select dirty tweets for a few days last fall. This one I've thought about, both seriously and for laughs, quite a bit since then:

@PandaFace Girls like her f*** up the good guys and good guys f***ed up by girls like her f*** up good girls.. Never ending cycle.

*Note: The original plan was to post this to moreperfectmarket.com and chalk it up as a dinosaur post. But then I figured why post total ridiculousness on the serious blog now that I have a catch-all crazythought barrel up and running. But THEN I remembered that Posterous, the excellent little simpleblogging platform on which I'm writing unconstrained, has a new feature I want to try. So, now, I'm going to send this email to post@posterous.com, and, automagically, I'll post to both A More Perfect Market and to Radical Transparency (the aforementioned Posterous blog).

Posted by email from Radical Transparency (posterous)

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Counterindicators

Amory Lovins doesn't think there's a business case for nuclear power. In his conversation with Charlie Rose two weeks ago, he laid down some numbers and explained why he thought markets were taking us in other directions. One piece of evidence he offered was a reminder about the flow of private capital:

Take last year, 2007. Renewables other than big hydro got 71 billion dollars of private capital invested. Nuclear, as usual, got zero. It's only bought by central planners with a draw on the public purse.

It surprised me to hear that, but it does makes sense. Investing in nuclear generation would be terrifying. If, at any moment during the 15-25 year investment horizon, something even marginally significant went wrong at any nuke plant anywhere in the world, people would freak out, hate nuclear power, and elected lawmakers' political survival would depend on their ability to quickly and decisively eliminate the possibility of any future hiccup, ever, even if that would mean outlawing nuclear power generation outright.

That's a little over the top, but you know what I mean: pervasive fear about meltdowns, terrorism, and the management of nuclear waste makes it difficult for me to imagine a rational capitalist investing in nuclear generation.

Anyway, I brought the Lovins quote up with John Moore, CEO of Acorn Energy, and John wondered if private capital invested might be a "counterindicator."

A venture investor himself, he worries that private capital has a tendency to chase sexy science projects and neglect essential, foundational infrastructure. And, given an energy infrastructure that, at this point in history, needs a whole lot of work, he doesn't think many of those science projects are going to come to meaningful fruition until we stabilize the infrastructure. Creating that stability, in John's opinion, very well might involve building more nuclear capacity.

Even if "private" players aren't investing in nuclear, John noted, institutional players like Constellation Energy are, and the capital they have thrown and will continue to throw at nuclear generation is far from insignificant.

That's certainly worth considering. Constellation is a very big fish, and the fact that much of their money is moving in a direction quite different from the private capital Dr. Lovins cites does mean that someone's behavior is counterindicative of the shape of the future.

And that makes me wonder. What choices does Constellation* have when they decide in which directions to deploy their money? What motivates them to invest in nuclear instead of other things? How are those choices and motivations different from the choices and motivations shaping "private" investors'? And are the market forces that influence Constellation's investment decisions the kinds of market forces that we should embrace?

An unattached individual seeking to maximize return on investment has a choice of many different bets on our energy future. He can weigh lots of options, some competing, some complementary. He can look at history. He can listen to people predicting the future. He can think long term. He can make his decisions based on today's market realities.

Constellation, on the other hand, might not have so much choice (or, at least, they might not think they do). They're already deeply invested in coal and nuclear. And, because of that, if the coal-fired market stays healthy, and the nuclear market starts growing again, they'll be thrilled, for their old investments will continue to perform. If, however, coal-fired demand sags as renewables come on line and a nuclear renaissance doesn't materialize, then those old investments will fizzle.

So, if faced with a market reality that encourages investment in electricity sources other than nuclear and coal, what will Constellation and its peers do? Might they try to change (subvert, manipulate, distort) that market reality? Might they forgo big opportunities because pursuing new strategies would mean abandoning old strategies that once made lots of capitalist sense? Might they choose to pursue suboptimally profitable investments now in order to keep those past investments alive? Might they invest in nuclear power generation even though, as Dr. Lovins says, there exists no pure business case to do so?

And, if they do, will they succeed? Can they control the market forever, or will the invisible hand eventually win the day?

John makes an important point about shiny object science projects and the need to invest first in infrastructure and only then in the sexy stuff.

Dr. Lovins, however, makes an important point (also in the Charlie Rose interview) about corporate socialists in free marketeers' clothing and the fact that we have to be careful with big institutions and their motivations.

Much love to you, John, but I'm leaning toward Lovins on this one. Better, in my opinion, to trust capital markets, protect the world from institutional distortion artists with vested interests in maintaining the status quo, and rely on smart investors like you to herd more private dollars into fundamental infrastructure.

*Note: I don't mean to single Constellation Energy out. They just happened to be the company John and I discussed.