Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Rain brings out the worst behavior in automobile drivers

I decided to "risk it" and ride to work today, knowing that we were expecting some severe thunderstorms in the afternoon. I have started to look forward to my rides, such that I am easily convinced to ride no matter the forecast. I tuned in good ol' www.intellicast.com to keep tabs on the front's progress. Sure enough, at around 3:00 the rain started with the slow steady heavy drops, quickly turning into driven sheets pounding the ground like miniature hammers at a 45 degree angle. The rain eased as my time to leave approached. With the hot and humid temperatures, the rain would provide natural cooling.

I was nearly right hooked. Riding along route 129 toward Reading, I was attentive to the drainage grates and the white line. The road has a fair volume of traffic, but I have never felt endangered. As I glanced up from the road after avoiding a small obstacle, the minivan that was in the process of passing me proceeded to signal the right turn and started it just ahead of me. I was able to brake in time, I am sure the Kool-Stop Salmon pads helped. I followed the van until she turned around in a driveway and saw me gesturing to her like "what were you doing?". She pulled up and lowered her window. I was surprisingly calm as I asked if she saw me as she nearly ran me off the road. Of course her reply was "no". I did not reply angrily, just dropped my head and asked her to be careful.

I could have acted angry and abrasive, but what would that accomplish? The truly scary part is that people are ignorant and inattentive.

It reminds me that ww all need to be careful, wary, and attentive while out there enjoying the roads.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Alternative Energy Agenda

I attended a Massinsight breakfast/networking meeting this morning at Tiax (formerly Arthur D. Little's Technology & Innovation group). It was interesting, yet frustrating. Interesting beacuse I knew I would meet some interesting people, dreamers (the ones we need to create the ideas that someone else will commercialize), the activists, the analysts, the consultants, and the in-betweens (which I am one). Frustrating because I would hear the same things I have heard too many times, and wonder again "Who's buying?". For the most part, I was more concerned about the logistics; getting there by car in the AM rush hour.

While I am an advocate for protecting our natural world, I am not blind to the fact that the markets we function in can not be ignored or overturned (under the current political system). They are part of the solution; they have to be, else the battle to create a sustainable future will be that much more difficult, if not impossible.

Of most interest were the comments of a member of the VC fraternity. He walked through some of the increased attention and capital pouring into renewable energy companies. The poor chap was not aided by the PowerPoint visuals that so enthrall and soothe us, yet the lack of the slides perhaps contributed to why I listened more intently to what he had to say. There is a renewed interest in the clean technology sector. I am sure the reasons are many; volatile energy prices (oil & nat'l gas), political instability, the rise of China and India, corporate demand for alternatives, national security, you name it. The warning was that there may be too much money put into companies that do not have a good plan, a good exit strategy, the opportunity for the 5x return the VCs are looking for.

As I said before, "Who's buying?"

Biking Home

I decided to take a different route home yesterday evening after work. We have entered one of the hot and humid stretches of weather that Mother Nature provides as an antidote to our February complaints about winter's depressing grip. I cut over by the Wakefield High School planning to go through the Breakheart Reservation for some shade and relief from the heat. It was indeed cooler among the shadows of the trees. I pedaled along the steeper side of the path, marked as a miniature road with arrows indicating the direction of travel with dashed white lines in the middle. I worked hard over the short and steep hills, reminding my legs of the burning that they'll need to endure come the fall. It is interesting that people walking will stroll smack in the middle of the path. I wonder if they do not see the lines.

In any case, as I coasted rapidly down one of the small rolling hills, I passed the swimming hole. There were families there, with children and adults happily splashing or wading, enjoying the cool water away from the day's heat. I thought about what one of my fellow cyclists had said about riding out to Walden in the hot weather and taking a swim. It seemed like an awfully good idea, and here I was, right next to a swimming hole! I circled back, but hesitated to park my bike and jump in. I felt my resistance from a place the prefers order and planning. It was hard for me to just "be" and follow my impulse to run into the pond. In a way that scared me. I resolved to get in, so I parked, removed shoes, helmet, socks, etc. and walked into the water. It was warmer than I expected; it is small and shallow. I dove in quickly, and walked back out to suit up and continue home.

While it may not have been spontaneous since I paused to assess the situation, I felt better for having done it. I have been pushing myself, always seeking, searching, wondering, and thinking, constantly pondering what my work means. A simple dip in a pond offered a respite from these thoughts.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Is CO2 a Pollutant?

I read in Investor's Business Daily opinion piece entitled "The Gashouse Gang" this morning. According to this, the increase in CO2 concentration is good for the planet. They quote studies from The University of Missouri that the Antarctic ice sheet gained mass between 1992 and 2003. Of course, if you read a bit more about the study, they are noncommital on the issue of climate change and global warming (one in the same, depending on what media source you believe). There is an opinion voiced in the press release that the gain in mass may be attributable to an increase in precipitation brought on by the aforementioned climate warming, I mean global change, I don't know what I mean.

The article does go on to say that the increase in CO2, according to research scientist Sherwood Isdo, enables plants to develop more extensive root masses to absorb nutrients more efficiently. Sure, taking the CO2 from a power plant and pumping it into greenhouses will yield lots of tomatoes, but what happens long term?

From a business perspective, I am a proponent of the increase in efficiency the regulation of CO2 emissions will cause. Industrial processes are woefully inefficient. Figures I read in Natural Capitalism indicate an overall production efficiency, counting energy production, transportation, manufacturing, etc. on the order of 1-2%. What! How is that acceptable? The fact is that resources will become more scarce, why not use them more effectively and intelligently? "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".

I suppose industrial behavior mirrors personal behavior and vice versa. We could eat healthy food to help maintain our bodies, but instead we'll indulge and then wonder why our teeth are stained and our pants don't fit. Fortunately, savvy marketers have created products to address these personal issues.

Which marketers will create demand for products and services to increase resource efficiency?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Cold morning air

The beautiful chill in the air this morning at 6:00 was the kind that precedes a warm and clear day. The air found the opening between my vest and my arm warmers, tickling the skin on my shoulders. My fingers were cold, but I knew they would warm as my entire body did, probably by the time I reached the Greenwood commuter rail stop in Wakefield. I passed the small breakfast nook as I have so many times near the station. I've wanted to stop there and get some food, but have not made it a priority.

By the time I reached Lake Quannapowitt http://www.wakefieldma.org/wakefield_history.html I was warm and sweating. I stopped at my regular bench for a quick stretch/isometric exercise intended to help my pelvis find its correct alignment. I remounted and was off, careful to respect the pedestrians enjoying the quiet of the morning.

The sun felt good on the black material of the warmers. They did their color's job, absorbing the solar energy into the material and through to my skin. Perhaps this is the warming sensation so many renewable energy activists revel in; the feeling that so many of us just do not seem to "get". It's so natural, yet in an increasingly technologically enhanced society, do we forget the importance of our star's energy?

I am basking in the afterglow of the Good Ride and looking forward to the ride home along warmer streets.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Culture of Conformity

I started reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. It is dystopia; written in the first person as a journal by one of the future's utopian and completely rational "numbers". People do not have names there, they are numbers.  I like these dark books about the downtrodden masses that are unaware of their captivity, but slowly awaken to the fact that they are living a lie perpetuated by the state.

I can see the main character starting to unravel already. The truths he accepts are beginning to waver under investigation.

My former roommate Seth lent it to me. I am grateful.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Why Do We Buy Things?

With most of our basic needs fulfilled in the developed world, what do we "need"? What benefit will the iPod or the high tech cookware or the light weight sporting equipment bring us? More importantly, how do companies convince us that we need to purchase their product or service?

Commercials and advertisements of all shapes and forms are selling us something. Whether or not I think a commercial is amusing or disturbing or from a for profit or non-profit entity; they are all selling something. It may be a car, a line of cosmetics, or a charity.

How do they work?

From sundry marketing texts I learned that the consumer products and services directed to the middle and upper class fulfill a want that overlays an underlying need. As Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; with a base of food, shelter, and a nurturing relationship is for the most part fulfilled in these demographic groups, what "needs" are addressed. The psychological needs.

This {product} will make you attractive.

This {service} will save you time.

This {item} will make you rich.

You get the point.

Why is this important to sustainability? In a culture dominated by consumer marketing driving consumer spending, it is imperative that companies selling green, clean, organic, alternative, or sustainable products or services to use whatever marketing and advertising tools they can find.

I ride my bike to work...sometimes

I lasted into December last year, and managed a few days of commuting in January, February, and March. February is the most depressing month. It is cold and dark. Winter's grip seems interminable. I look forward to the first day of March. It does not magically become warmer, but I know that spring lingers in the future like a tantalizing treat just out of reach, but getting closer.

When the weather turns warmer, which seems to be later than the previous year here in New England, it is much easier to get up and get on the bike. It's refreshing and invigorating, providing a physical outlet for the pent up energy that sometimes overwhelms me. It's a small rolling protest against our automobile addicted society. It is an investment in my health, though there are those I am acquainted with that think I am potentially shortening my life "dancing with cars".

I feel better when I arrive home in the warm summer evening having burned off whatever concerns of the day lingered as I left the office.

Now, if only I would think about cooking dinner...

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Title Bears Some Explanation

(This is from my previous blog "A Priori Pessimism")

It is a portion of a powerful phrase that a sustainable compatriot named Bob Murray, Program Manager for Green Homes Northeast said to me at the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association meeting, Building Green 2005 earlier this year.

"I can not intellectually justify a priori pessimism"

At first, I did not think much of it. But, as the words floated around my brain, and we coninued the conversation, I got it. It is succinct and powerful, just what we need. It now adorns my wall and my blog to remind me to look for the positive in all situations.

I am happy to have run into Bob on a number of occasions at various renewable energy and sustainable events in the Boston area. I am most grateful that he agreed to let me use the quotation as part of my blog.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

I Am Not an Early Adopter...


...though in some cases I am in the early majority. My M505 Palm is 5 years old and I do not have a camera phone.

When BusinessWeek ran a feature on the power of blogs May 2nd, I started paying attention. Is starting a blog at this stage considered a "Pragmatist" or a "Conservative"? Maybe even a "Visionary"?

I've kept a journal of rants, raves, comments, and manifestos (yes, "manifestos"), since 1997. I have often felt that I would like others to occasionally see them. The words I type may be of little consequence, but then again, perhaps not. Who is to say that my tidbits of knowledge and analysis will not one day be held up along with the works of Freud, Lao Tsu, Friedrich Nietzche, J.R.R. Tolkien, or Ayn Rand?

We all want to say something and be heard; isn't that what this is all about?

I have eight years of scribbling to apply to current events; from the corporate sales days at Festo Corporation, to the deep post 9/11 cynicism that led me to leave that job and question my life's path, reading Adbusters along the way, to where I am now, married, still pondering my path, and working in the renewable energy industry.

I am looking forward to it.