Friday, July 31, 2009

Dear Cat:

Apparently blogging's a good idea....

The fact that I can make a five sentence post about the bummer of the 24 hour limit and get a huge, stream of wisdom email from my sis about the beauty of the 24 hour limit is reason enough for me. But good to listen to Seth too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beware the Opt

I'm reading On Writing by Stephen King.

As the title suggests, it's about words, stories, books, and how a very serious pop horror novelist makes them happen. Parenthetically, however, anything goes.

I don't want to speak too disparagingly of my generation (actually I do, we had a chance to change the world and opted for the Home Shopping Network), but there was a view among the student writers I knew at that time that good writing came spontaneously, in an uprush of feeling that had to be caught at once; when you were building that all-important stairway to heaven, you couldn't just stand around with your hammer in your hand.

Probably smart to keep that opting history in mind. It happens for good reason. Not fearlessly virtuous reason, of course. But understandable reason. Real reason. Reason the roots of which are in everyone probably.

Hopefully knowing that will help us choose the different path.

And, stepping back outside the parentheses, I'd be curious to hear a conversation between King and Elizabeth Gilbert on the subject of spontaneity. Just sayin.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Receiving Like We Give

Another thing about being a rookie...

Or maybe about trying to make a business out of a cause...

Or maybe just about something I don't do well...

I've had a hard time accepting help on The Carrot Project.

People tell me they'd be happy to take on a little piece of work. I feel guilty that I might ask for too much. And, instead of explaining my concerns for overburdening a volunteer or taking advantage of generosity, describing exactly what I'd love to have someone do, and seeing if the offerer feels ready to commit, I choose something based on its smallness.

I remember (but can't seem to dig up) a passage from The Art of Loving about giving and receiving love. Fromm's point was that to receive gracefully is much more difficult than to give.

Maybe the same goes for help.

Does for me, anyway.

And I'm writing this blog post to tell myself to get better at it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shoes, Money, Research, and Mystery

I've been doing some work for a shoe company.

They're getting serious about the materials aspect of sustainability, and they've hired me to help them launch a new brand.

Carl has decided that the hourly wage they've been paying me counts as The Carrot Project's first revenue. He reckons they hired me because they can tell from The Carrot Project and everything I've written in connection with The Carrot Project that I'm committed and maybe even a little knowledgeable about consumer education and sustainable business. I reckon they hired me because my mom went to high school with one of the founders, and I've known her since I was little.

We're probably both right.

Anyway, I've left the company's name out of this post because I'd much appreciate it if you'd take a few minutes to fill out a little market research survey that connects to the shoe project.

It's anonymous for suspense, and we'll open the curtain and show you the wizard as soon as you finish filling it out.

And, then, if you want to know more (about the company, the project, the materials, whether I'm worried about being both a consultant to the creators of consumer products and a provider of unbiased brand comparison information), get in touch. I'm happy to discuss.

Posted via email from Radical Transparency

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Extroverted Consumption and White Plastic Balls

Tough to keep up with the blogging during Wiffle season.

And tough to play with plastic bats and balls that show no signs of recyclability.

There's no clear Contact Us channel on the Wiffle site, but I just sent this to Hank at The Connecticut Store, the Wiffle distributor through which I order cases of balls when summers begin...

Hey Hank,

I'm sending this to you because Wiffle itself doesn't seem to want to be in email contact with anyone. And because I've corresponded with you in the past about cases of balls that I've ordered. And because you've been exceptionally nice and helpful...

I play Wiffle whenever I can. My cousins and I play hard. We think we play well. We love it. We learned from our uncles. And we'll teach another generation someday for sure.

We're hard on our gear, however. We dent, bend, and crack bats often, and it's rare that a ball lasts more than a week before we've disfigured it and dropped it in the retired balls bucket.

Looking at that bucket today, I thought about plastic and petrochemicals and pollution, and I decided I'd figure out how to keep those old balls (and their bat cousins) from evre being sent to a landfill.

Step one in that process is finding out if there's a regular old recycling option available.

I've looked on all the Wiffle packaging I can find (minimal, mostly cardboard packaging, which I like), and I haven't been able to find any info on recyclability there. But I'm not giving up that easy. So I'm asking you what you know.

Might Wiffle balls and bats be recyclable after all? Do you know what kind of plastic are they made of? Possible that they're made of recycled plastic already? Possible to make them of recycled plastic? Or compostable bio-plastics? But I'm digressing.

First things first. Any suggestions on recycling Wiffle gear?

Let me know.



Maybe one way to consume responsibly is to initiate with the producers.

Maybe they'll talk back. Maybe we'll listen to each other. And maybe we'll all learn.

We'll see.

I'm definitely swinging with my eyes closed a little bit here. But you never know. And I say better to swing and hope than let a fastball down the middle fly by. Or at least that's what I say when I really badly want to end a blog post with a baseball metaphor...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What the People Want

Crazy that a big, fancy newspaper would let Sarah Palin write an op-ed about greenhouse gas legislation.

I bet the article was really good for business. For one day.

And I wonder what that'll mean for tomorrow. I wonder what the paper will have learned. I mean they've got to be tempted, right?

I request a follow-up op-ed about the ethical implications of giving a celebrity politician a soapbox for which she's clearly not qualified.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Comedy, Education, and Corn

Steven Soderbergh, Matt Damon - welcome to the the industrial ag discussion...


And, as usual, I can't resist...

If we can't do it with a smile on our face, if we can't do it with love in our heart, then, children, we ain't got no right to do it at all.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two Years Later

In June 2007, Wiley and I started reading Marc Andreessen's blog.

I don't remember how we found it (though my guess is that Wiley did the initial finding and I instigated the daily ranting and raving about it at the dirty little Beijing noodle shop where we ate most of our lunches that summer).

I do remember that it felt overwhelming relevant. Instantly. We were a year deep in what we already fully acknowledged (most of the time, anyway) to be a tragic comedy of a dot com startup experience.

The founders were clearly in over their heads. We had way too much money, way too many employees, and were making way too little progress toward the kickass language tutoring service we thought we were building. And we were not only surrounded by idiots, but we were at least as incompetent as everyone with whom we were working.

And we fell in love with Pmarca. He made us feel like everything was ok, like, yeah, this shit's hard, but, if you like it, you might as well keep giving it all the effort you have. Eventually, you'll figure something out, and you'll do something useful, do it well, and feel great about it.

Or at least that's how my fallible memory tells me he made me feel. I'll let Wiley amend or dispute that with a comment if he wants to.

Anyway, we dug the blog. And I like to imagine that we learned from it. And we we gave it to the founders for whom we were working, hoping they'd learn from it too (which they probably did). And we left the company.

And now we're doing other things, all improbable and entrepreneurial and involving the internets.

And I post this because Pmarca blinked online for a moment last week, announcing that he was starting a new venture capital fund, and raising hopes that he'll start blogging again.

So I went back and read some of my old favorites. And they're still scary and inspiring and honest and totally entertaining. The Pmarca Guide to Startups, part 1: Why not to do a startup is a great jumping in point.

The Guide tells me that I probably should not be doing a startup. At the same time, I think Pmarca would agree that I should.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Teach Me To Recycle, Please

Been thinking a lot about shoes lately. Shoes and materials and compostability and what to do with things when we're finished using them.

And I've been curious for a long time about customer service and sustainability. To what extent will a business engage with a customer that's concerned about energy use or pollution or human rights? And what might come of that?

So, feeling outgoing yesterday, I sent this to Merrell:

I've worn Jungle Mocs almost every day for the past 10 years.

I love the shoes. I think they're versatile and comfortable and extremely easy to put on and take off.

I've worn through many pairs, and I now have something of a Jungle Moc graveyard.

I don't want to just throw them away. I hate throwing things away, especially things that have been good to me (less uncomfortable for me to get annoyed at the company that wrapped my dental floss in an extra layer of unrecyclable packaging than you guys, who have given so much love to my feet in the past).

Will you help me recycle them? Maybe you take them back? Maybe can point me in the direction of a recycler nearby that takes shoes?

I know I could send the shoes to Nike. Or talk to professional recyclers. Or see if Brent would help me with a little fungal decomposition project.

But I want to give Merrell a chance to impress me. I want them to talk, like real people.

I know they can. I know every company can. And I'm convinced that a little discussion would do a lot of good.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Energy Technology Olympics

One thing that consistently made me uncomfortable when I lived in China was everyday nationalism. And one thing that consistently makes me uncomfortable now that I live in the USA again is everyday nationalism.

Community-level cultural solidarity I feel. Planet-scale compassion I feel. Drawing boundaries between Americans and Chinese and Italians and Tanzanians, however, doesn't make as much sense to me. I get that it's useful in lots of ways, but I don't like that it closes minds to exchange and evolution.

That said, I think Thomas Friedman made a compelling argument for nationalism over the weekend.

He thinks everyone in the world should be competing to create the energy technologies that'll lead us to a sustainable future.

He thinks Chinese nationalism has led to aggressive lawmaking, which has already become a positive force in creating that competition.

And he hopes American nationalism follows suit.

Makes me squirm a little. But you gotta love competition when the race is to the top.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Simple Accumulation

A few days after Giuls and I last went to prison, she told me to watch Chris Abani's second TED Talk. She watches it all the time. More, she says, than I watch his first.

We had talked to the prisoners about big dreams and little actions, but I'm not sure she even meant to make the connection. As I remember, she and I were thinking about stories when she recommended that I go back and listen again. Stories connect to everything, though, I guess. Big dreams and little actions included...

The world is never saved in grand, messanaic gestures but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion...everyday acts of compassion.

I dig the mispronunciation.

And I think Chris would agree that there's nothing wrong with a big dream if it motivates everyday acts or helps organize their accumulation.