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Can You Tweet @JeffBezos?

Friday, September 1st, 2017

As most of you know, in June, Jeff Bezos turned to Twitter for philanthropy ideas and received nearly 47,000 responses.

The story got more interesting after Unanimous AI got interested.

Unanimous AI is an artificial intelligence platform that claims to make super-intelligent decisions based on the wisdom of the crowd, but not in small numbers.

Apparently, crunching big numbers can provide some amazing results.

When the company has held these swarms, the group has correctly predicted the winners of the 2015 Oscars, the first four horses of the 2016 Kentucky Derby in 2016, and the eight teams that would make it to the 2016 MLB playoffs, including the Chicago Cubs’ victory.

You have to admit those results are pretty impressive (especially the Cubs’ victory).
Long story short, after crunching the data access to clean water was the “winner.”

Two things have happened since then — one you couldn’t help noticing and the other more esoteric.

  • Hurricane Harvey brought the issue of clean water front and center in most people’s minds; Harvey changed the focus from “somewhere else” to “home.”
  • A product called the OffGridBox.

Pre Harvey, OffGridBox estimated 720,000 US families needed the box.

Post Harvey, the need is in the millions — and bottled water won’t cut it, even ignoring the environmental effects of all that plastic.

To date, only 28 OffGridBoxs have been installed.

But those 28 units have impacted 12,100 people!

The basic unit costs a reasonable $15,000.

Certainly Bezos and his network have the chops to help the business scale quickly, which should bring the cost down much further.

Now I need help from you, my readers.

As you all know I’m no social media maven, so I’m asking those of you who are to tweet @JeffBezos the link to OffGridBox.

I honestly don’t care if he sees my post; the important thing is for him to see OffGridBox.

Harvey left unbelievable devastation in its wake.

Irma and (possibly) another storm may not be far behind.

Ryan’s Journal: Fear As A Culture

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bullgator0892/11370960706/This week has been an interesting confluence of events across the world stage.

Uber continues to be in the news, this time they decided to fire the head engineer, Anthony Levandowski, who is at the heart of the lawsuit with Google.

The US is on the verge of leaving the Paris Accord, something that could quite possibly have a generational effect.

Suicide bombs continue to tear apart lives across the globe.

What is at the root of these three things?

I believe it is fear.

They say the coward dies a thousand tiny deaths, but a brave person dies one glorious death.

I can tell you right now these are cowardly acts.

To begin, Uber is in the fight for its life. They are losing money every day with their current model. They are betting big on automation and have come up against Google over perceived theft of proprietary documents.

If they lose this they could be done. When you step back and look at the ride sharing model, it’s needed but it’s not unique. The barriers to entry are low and there is no differentiation of product from one company to the next.

They need to lead the space in automation because it’s the future and is inevitable. Fear has led them to both hire and fire the engineer at the center of it all. Perhaps they believe this will help their case, time will tell.

The US leaving the Paris Accord is monumental. I am not a scientist, but I can say this: I inherently know that pumping carbon emissions into the air is bad. Add to that the science that supports it and you begin to see the need to somehow influence climate change for the better.

Why would a president risk the lives of future generations so that a few energy companies can prosper?

Fear. Fear has gripped the voters in the first place who chose not to better their lives through education, which would enable them to better their lives.

Fear is in the president’s heart as well to think that climate change is not real.

Finally it brings us to terror.

These plots are designed to disrupt and bring fear to the masses. It is sometimes effective and can have lasting implications.

How do we combat fear?

One way is by seizing the courage to move one step forward at a time. Embrace the fear and look st how destructive it can be and then make a move against it.

That could be helping someone that isn’t like yourself. Learning about a new culture. Perhaps even sitting down to talk with someone on a different political aisle then yourself to learn why they believe the way they do.

It starts with believing people have value regardless of position and then embracing them.

Perhaps that’s too simplistic, but I know in my own life it has worked and is scalable.

Image credit: Pati Morris

Innovation in the US vs. China

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Local Roots

Food has become a major focus of innovation around the world.

Researchers, private, academic and public, are looking for better ways to feed a hungry planet.

Not just feed them, but feed them healthy food — sustainable, healthy food.

Local Roots is a startup that grows 65,000 pounds of lettuce a year in three small shipping containers inside their LA warehouse. Energy is the only large suck and the company is exploring green energy options, such as solar.

The startup uses vertical hydroponic farming, a method where plants grow year-round with LEDs rather than natural sunlight.  Instead of soil, the seeds lie on trays with nutrient-rich water, stacked from the floor to the ceilings inside the shipping containers. (…)  Each 320-square-foot shipping container produces the same amount of plants as four acres of traditional farmland — using 97% less water on average.

I’m a salad freak and that lettuce looks great.

In 1984 I spent 2 weeks traveling around China (yes, the Great Wall and Forbidden City are incredible, but the Terracotta Army was mind-boggling) and the food was out of this world — not at fancy restaurants, but at everyday places.

However, if I ever go back I think I’ll skip the salad.

Image credit: Local Roots
YouTube: Healthy Secret Worlds

Hydrate Yourself with Plant Nanny

Monday, March 16th, 2015

plant-nannyLast year I wrote two posts on the value of sleep and how to power nap, important to all, but especially to entrepreneurs.

Without good sleep your life will be ruined, but if you don’t drink enough water your life will end, period. (Note: it’s not a comfortable ending.)

People know this, it’s not rocket science.

But knowing isn’t doing.

So as a public service today I’m sharing an article about Plant Nanny; a whimsical way to make sure you stay hydrated.

When you download the app, you input some personal information (height, weight, physical activity level) and then pick out a plant. Plant Nanny tells you how many cups of water you have to drink per day.

For every cup of water you drink, you tap the little circle in the bottom right hand corner. The goal is to drink all the cups of water you’re supposed to every day. It keeps your plant happy, and presumably it keeps you hydrated. If you forget to water your plant, it will look sad. If you completely neglect it, it will die and you’ll have to start over.

I like the fact that the amount of water, as well as the size of your “cup,” is customizable based on you — not one-size-fits-all, which it doesn’t.

It works on iPhone and Android, so you don’t have that excuse.

Besides being a lot healthier, water is a whole lot cheaper — as in free.

If you have a thing against tap water, invest in a good, refillable, filtering water bottle.

Because a lot of bottled water is not special and plastic is definitely not green.

Happy hydrating.

Image credit: Plant Nanny

Entrepreneurs: Wind And Water

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Are you green? I love green, so today I thought I’d share two terrific super-green startups with you.

One targets energy and the other water.

One is from France and the other from Washington State.

Neither is one of the over-hyped hotbeds of innovation .

I adore the French approach to wind power, because it’s relatively small and draws its inspiration directly from the natural world.

Designer NewWind R&D has created a “silent” turbine called the Tree Vent that is supposed to blend into the landscapes which house it. It’s a 36ft-tall structure made of steel with 72 artificial leaves.

Pretty cool. In fact, I’d love to have one in my yard.

Next is Washington State startup Janicki Bioenergy; the company with the viral video of Bill Gates drinking water — water made from human poop. Its called an Omniprocessor.

The machine extracts water from sewage that’s piped in or delivered to the facility. The dry sewage is then incinerated to generate steam, which powers the entire machine.

And self-powering is what makes it perfect for entrepreneurs in emerging countries to start businesses.

Do you know of other radically super-green startups? Please share.

Image credit: Edip YALTIR and thegatesnotes

Entrepreneurs: David Fisher

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Architect David Fisher has a vision.

It’s an 80 story skyscraper to be built in Dubai.

Similar to the Suite Vollard completed in 2001 in Brazil, each floor will be able to rotate independently. This will result in a constantly changing shape of the tower. Each floor will rotate a maximum of 6 metres (20 ft) per minute, or one full rotation in 90 minutes.

It will be the world’s first prefabricated skyscraper with 40 factory-built modules for each floor. 90% of the tower will be built in a factory and shipped to the construction site. This will allow the entire building to be built in only 22 months. The core of the tower will be built at the construction site. Part of this prefabrication will be the decrease in cost and number of workers (90 at the work site and 600 in the factory instead of 2,000 needed). The total construction time will be over 30% less than a normal skyscraper of the same size. The majority of the workers will be in factories, where it will be much safer. The modules will be preinstalled including kitchen and bathroom fixtures. The core will serve each floor with a special, patented connection for clean water, based on technology used to refuel airplanes in mid-flight.

The entire tower will be powered from wind turbines and solar panels. Enough surplus electricity should be produced to power five other similar sized buildings in the vicinity. The turbines will be located between each of the rotating floors. They could generate up to 1,200,000 kilowatt-hours of energy. The solar panels will be located on the roof and the top of each floor. Wikipedia

It is beautiful; another home for the super-wealthy.

I don’t blame Fisher for focusing on that demographic, but look again at the stats.

It’s prefab, which means hundreds of decently paying factory jobs.

Prefab cuts building time by 30%.

The building will be self-sustaining both energy and water-wise.

Think what smaller versions, filled with non-luxury units, would mean to people who are homeless or living in primitive conditions.

Not fancy, but clean, light, safe and sustainable.

Now think about the amount of government and NGO money wasted across the globe sticking band-aids on the housing, clean water and energy problems that beset most of the world’s populations.

There is nothing wrong with innovation meant for the wealthy, but we need to remember that it can be re-imagined for the rest of us.

It just takes the interest and guts to do it.

YouTube credit: Design Magazine

Entrepreneurs: Get Involved

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014


Entrepreneurs who make a difference are my favorite people, whether they do it in for-profit or non-profit mode.

The two I’m highlighting today are both non-profits and both are doing the kind of innovation you’ll want to support.

What do you consider the most basic need for the poor, isolated, rural villages in African nations? If your response is sanitation, clean water, access to healthcare or education you would be one level too high.

All of those mentioned are like apps, but apps that need a common platform to work. So the most basic need; the one that makes the others possible is energy.

And energy is what Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari’s non-profit supplies.

Innovation: Africa, a non-profit that brings Israeli innovation to African villages. In five years, Innovation: Africa has provided electricity, clean water, food and medical care to more than 450,000 people in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda.

While solar panels solved the energy-generation problem, the system wasn’t sustainable, because there was no money to replace the needed light bulbs and batteries.

Innovation: Africa solved that by helping create a micro business that generated enough revenue to pay the replacement costs.

People come from the villages surrounding the clinic to charge their cell phones, paying 10 to 15 cents. That money is collected, deposited in a bank and used for two things. One, to buy light bulbs. Second, to replace the batteries. So, we are providing the villagers the solar energy and also a way to generate income so that they can sustain it.

Sound interesting? Why not put a group together and adopt a project?

The best practice would be to adopt a project; we have at least 38 villages now that are waiting for energy. We know that it’s quite urgent. We would like to do it by 2014. …adopt a specific school or an orphanage, a medical clinic and speak to those children directly and figure out their needs.

D-Rev is a non-profit product development group whose solutions sit atop that energy platform.

Its original focus was to redesign medical devices for poor areas (the first is a phototherapy system that addresses the widespread problem of infant jaundice) and then work with third-party, for-profit distribution companies.

But that didn’t work.

“We thought if you design a good product, it will scale on its own,” Krista Donaldson said. “That works in efficient markets, but most developing communities don’t have efficient markets.” (…) D-Rev has had to become far more involved than it expected in financial models, licensing deals, consulting services and manufacturing arrangements. In essence, it is redesigning not only high-tech products but also supply chains and procurement systems.

I hope you will take a few minutes to read the articles and choose to get involved; if not with one of these then find something that ignites your passion and, as Nike would say, just do it.

Image credit: Innovation: Africa

Entrepreneurs: are Elegant Solutions Best?

Thursday, November 21st, 2013


Globally, 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet.

1 in 6 people don’t have running water.

Problems like these cry out for innovative solutions, but innovative doesn’t necessarily mean technically sophisticated.

A few years ago Cynthia Koenig saw the water problem first hand in South Africa.

Koenig launched a nonprofit organization to help distribute a locally available water transportation tool. In order to address the issues of poor quality control, corruption, and limited geographic distribution, she soon found herself at the helm of Wello. The social venture manufactures and distributes the WaterWheel, a 20-gallon drum that moves four to five times the amount of water possible using traditional methods of collection and carrying.

Simple, inexpensive and can even become a micro-business for an owner.

In contrast, five years ago the Gates Foundation issued a toilet challenge, with daunting parameters.

Make sure it takes in the bodily waste of an entire family and outputs drinkable water and condiments, like salt. And while you’re at it, make sure that the toilet is microprocessor-supervised and converts feces into energy. And all this has to cost just pennies per person per day.

That description is akin to a silver bullet, not a toilet.

The results, to date, are sophisticated, costly and unsustainable ideas, with prices north of $1000 per toilet.

How different from an available solution that, while it doesn’t do everything, does solves the basic problem and is amazingly cheap.

The Peepoo bag, which inexpensively (less than 2 cents per bag) sanitizes waste before turning it into fertilizer, are huge improvements. They can also be critical in saving lives after natural disasters.

Just think what a few thousand cases of these would mean right now in the Philippines—or in Illinois, for that matter.

Too often, sexy and elegant ends up being complex and expensive, whereas plebian and boring equates to simple and affordable.

Flickr image credit: bjornmeansbear

Entrepreneurs: Necessity and Compassion

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosengrant/4358801736/“Necessity is the mother of invention” is a well-worn truth, but compassion runs it a close second.

And, of course, a good dose of moxie.

Not only is necessity the mother of invention, but mothers are inventors by necessity.

As  Laurie Cronenbold, who just received a patent for a snap-on protective cup that a player can easily remove the moment he leaves the field, said, “Moms solve problems.”

Pam Ryan designed and patented a softball helmet incorporating an enlarged panel for long hair or a ponytail; she licensed it in 1998 and has sold more than a million units.

Barb Chaisson designed a cushioned bandage for girls (and some boys) who wear earrings and play soccer and other sports.

Then there are the entrepreneurs whose compassion drives them to follow their hearts and solve problems.

Two of my favorites are the ball that never dies and a totally new take on the water wheel.

Tim Jahnigen developed a ball that would never wear out, go flat or need a pump out of PopFoam, a hard foam made of ethylene-vinyl acetate similar to the stuff used to make Crocs, that brings undiluted joy to children around the world.

Cynthia Koenig dreamed up the Wello WaterWheel that moves 25 gallons of water at one time eliminating the 25% of their time women in developing countries spend carrying five gallon jugs (42 lbs.) on their heads along with the resulting injuries.

So look around; there’s a lot that needs fixing and some of those fixes could be simmering in your brain.

Be the Thursday feature – Entrepreneurs: [your company name]
Share the story of your startup today.
Send it along with your contact information and I’ll be in touch.
Questions? Email or call me at 360.335.8054 Pacific time.

Flickr image credit:

Blog Action Day: Leading Ways with Water

Friday, October 15th, 2010

no-grassToday is Blog Action Day where each year bloggers unite globally to write about a single problem. The theme is chosen from a list of possibilities by blogger vote—this year it is water.

I’ve been waiting for water to become a topic of concern for everyday Americans and it finally seems that its profile is rising quickly.

As critical as water is—in 2008 Business Week’s cover story was T. Boon Pickens thinks water is the new oil—and he’s betting $100 million that he’s right” (Pickens is no slouch when it comes to assessing opportunities); the drought in the southwest is 11 years old, with no end in sight—I’m constantly surprised when the acts of everyday people indicate that water isn’t a major concern.

I live in the Washington State, right by the Columbia River, where, in spite of what seem like long, rainy winters, we have drought warnings and tinder dry forests every summer, as does the rest of the Pacific Northwest. (Click to learn about your home area)

Nobody will argue that serious water problems require intelligent leadership across a broad swath of organizations, but to some extent that’s a cop out, because it makes it someone else’s problem—not yours.

If you want to live a meaningful life, let alone aspire to be a leader, you must start by leading yourself. That means having initiative, taking responsibility for your actions, holding yourself accountable, and recognizing the consequences, both good and bad, of your actions.

Unfortunately, the NIMBY mindset comes in many flavors and the greater the personal inconvenience the less people are willing to personally act.

So I thought I would share some simple, no-to-low-cost things I do that make a substantial water difference.

  • Grass is a giant water-waster; the first thing I do with any home I’ve owned is get rid of the grass; currently I have English turfing daisy, which is perennial, doesn’t need watering, blooms much of the year and I can step on it (see picture). If you insist on having a lawn then plant one that is drought resistant. But if you live in an area where a lawn is an offence against nature (think LA, San Diego, Texas, Arizona, etc.) don’t even think about it—think xeriscaping instead.
  • Turn the water off while brushing your teeth. (Duh!)
  • Low flow fixtures are a given.
  • My shower is around 10 minutes or less; after all, they are meant to wash our bodies and hair; they are not the place to shave or other lengthy procedures. Believe it or not, 20-30 minute showers do not make you cleaner, but they can damage your skin.
  • If you are a bit more radical, like me, take the time to catch the water you run while waiting for it to warm up and use it to water houseplants, flush toilets, etc.
  • I adore my latest find. It’s an $18 gadget called HydroRight that anyone can install (no tools). It turns your normal toilet into a two-level flush toilet that lowers your water bill by saving around 15,000 gallons of water a year. And it really works! It’s great even if you rent, because you can take it with you when you move.

Those are my main water savers; I’m always looking for new ones, so please share yours below.

Image credit: Miki Saxon

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