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Olson’s Observations

Technology. Innovation. Science. VC. Media. :: by Eric Olson

Archive for December, 2007

Food For Thought: Clean Energy

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As an addition to this blog I thought I would start adding “Food For Thought” posts. These posts will usually contain a couple of links and some quick commentary. Unfortunately I don’t have enough time to write full posts on everything I want to but this should help me get some quick thoughts out there. First off (well, second off, as I did do one of these for Thanksgiving) here are a couple interesting stories relating to clean energy - another passion of mine.

IBM Study Shows Consumers are Willing to Pay a Premium for Green Energy (via EcoGeek.org)

It turns out that consumers would be willing to pay more for green energy if they could receive more information about it and see the link of their use of green energy to real change (lowering emissions of greenhouse gases, etc.). As we all know, information is crucial. However, this kind of information is difficult to pull together and then disseminate to each individual consumer. Perhaps there is room for a web app to help in this effort. The more information we can get out there about energy and general sustainability efforts the more good choices people will make.

Supercomputer Powered by Bicycles: MIT Cycling Team Sets New Record (via Gizmag)

Admit it. You guys all thought I was a little crazy after I wrote that post about gyms powering themselves with energy created by exercising and perhaps even producing power that gets pushed out onto the grid (hell, even I thought I was going a little nuts). Then you (and I) continued to think I was crazy when I posted a follow up about how to make your own bike powered generator. Well, sometimes you have to be a little crazy. Looks like the MIT Cycling Team went ahead and powered a supercomputer for 20 minutes using just five bicycles. Pretty cool stuff. It was also record breaking - this was the largest Human Powered Computation in history. Hello Guinness Book of World Records. Check out the full article by clicking the bold headline above (here are even a few pictures). Maybe this gym idea could work in some form or another.

Written by Eric Olson

December 17th, 2007 at 11:53 am

Posted in Environment

Book Review: Simple Prosperity by David Wann

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Simple ProsperityI recently finished up a book entitled Simple Prosperity that was written by David Wann, one of the co-authors of Affluenza (in fact, it was so interesting I blew through it in two sittings). In Affluenza, David and his co-authors diagnosed the debilitating disease of over-consumption that is effecting America and other parts of the world. Simple Prosperity picks up where Affluenza left off and shows us how we can make a change for the better and increase our quality of life.

In fact, as another reviewer put it, Simple Prosperity will take you through a lot of what researchers have learned about stress, happiness, community, etc. The one thing it won’t do is show you how to make more money. It’ll show you that the money you have may already enough.

In the book Wann relates a lot of personal stories that tie into his message of consuming less and being happy with what you have. There are a lot of interesting points in the book relating to happiness which is one of the main themes. Specifically Wann tells us, and backs it up with studies and other anecdotes, that the things that make us happy are the things we always knew made us happy. Those things being friends, family, a sense of community, healthy food to eat, civic work and purpose.

One piece of information that I found interesting was a study referenced by Wann in the book that mentioned that any incremental money we earn over $50,000 per year doesn’t necessarily make us any more happy. In fact, it most likely lowers our happiness level since we need to spend more time working to make each additional dollar rather than spending that time with friends, family, doing civic work and doing the things we love, our hobbies.

Of course I am sure you need to adjust that dollar amount for certain cities (NYC is super expensive for example) but you get the idea.

Another main theme of the book was our throw away culture. Wann wonders why we spend so much time and money buying cheaply made goods that end up owning us through continued maintenance, etc. Then, at the end of a short life span we just throw them away. He suggests we would be better off to spend a bit more and purchase quality goods that last. This hearkens back to my previous post on Etsy and handmade goods. If Etsy’s success is a barometer for the rest of the nation then it would seem a lot of other people feel the same as Wann. This idea also extends to produce and other foods.

Wann argues that spending a bit more for organic produce is worth it since it tastes better, provides more nutrients and isn’t covered in poisonous pesticides. I agree with him on that one. It hurts the wallet sometimes but I always feel better after a good piece of fruit or an outstanding veggie. What always stunns me when I think about it is that 100 years ago - and further back from there - we always ate organic. It has only been in the last 100 years that things have changed so drastically.

Even though there is a lot more to this book I want finish this post up by touching on Wann’s thoughts on the internet (figured I would try to tie this into the blog’s subject matter!).

Good news, he loves the internet and sees it (rightly I would say) as an unprecedented platform for spreading ideas and connecting the world.

However, one thing I found interesting was the fact that Wann mentions multiple times in the book that he really dislikes advertising. In fact, he tends to blame advertising for a lot of the over-consumption in America (not sure I can disagree 100% with him there although I would suggest we all have free will).

Why is that interesting to me you ask? Mainly because he loves the internet - and even specifically mentions that he loves Google - but most of the internet, including Google, is paid for via advertising. It seems like there is a little misalignment there. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Update: In thinking about it more and speaking with the publisher it seems that what Wann was really getting at with advertising is that he didn’t like the execution of most ads (i.e. he’s not against advertising in general). He is upset that many ads share fear-driven, consumptive messages urging you to buy things to fill holes in your life rather than being informative and creative. I would agree with that which is why I joined BuzzFeed. We’re looking to change ads to be more about other people talking about the products they love rather than the companies touting themselves (plug!).

That said, I really enjoyed the book and Wann’s vision on what we could do for the environment and our society if we all just put in a little more thought and effort. Wann has done a lot to further the cause of sustainability over his career and his efforts should be commended.

Now is a crucial time for our society and for the planet. It’s time to start thinking about sustainability and about what makes us truly happy. We can make a change for the better. I have no doubt in that.

Side Note: This book is being released in January but you can pre-order - and even get an earlier release date of December 26th - on Amazon. Check it out and get some ideas on how you can make a difference for yourself and for the world.

Written by Eric Olson

December 16th, 2007 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Books, Environment

Olson’s 2007 Holiday Gift Guide: Buy Handmade at Etsy

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Buy HandmadeBetter late than never, right? I can’t believe I almost forgot to post a gift guide this year. However, I am glad I waited to write this post. Typically my mind would head straight to cool gadgets and things of a technological nature when putting together a gift guide but this year I have become enamored with handmade goods and, specifically, Etsy.com.

One of the major themes in my musings on business, as long time readers will know, is that I really believe business should be more about people. Sure, everyone always says that their company is about people and that people are what make the difference and are what truly matter but, unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of companies actually implementing anything that would make those statements true (to be fair a lot of businesses are doing good things in this area).

Of course the tough part of people is that they don’t necessarily scale. That’s a whole other post though. Back to handmade goods and Etsy.

I have known about Etsy for a long time but I had never really spent a good amount of time on the site. I always knew I loved the concept though. This year things changed. I decided to join folks like Fred Wilson and take the handmade pledge and I was glad I did.

I spent a lot of time on Etsy’s site over the past few weeks and was astounded at what I found. There was something for everyone on my list and the items were top quality. Not only that, most of them were one-of-a-kind adding to the cache and they had a great story behind them (another thing I like to see). There is no question that the people that place items on Etsy are very passionate about their various crafts and their passion permeates the shopping experience.

In the end of the day I walked away with some of the best and most thoughtful gifts I have ever purchased. I’d write about them here but I don’t want to spoil the surprise for my family.

So this years gift guide is simply to tell you all to buy handmade and to do so via Etsy. Sure, you won’t find the latest gadget there or an LCD TV but what you will find are great items made with love and passion and, after the purchase, you can interact with the artisan bringing back the human feel of business which I find is lacking in today’s world (most of the folks I purchased from pinged me to let me know the items were on the way and made themselves available for any questions I had).

That said, there are a lot of neat visualizations and technologies behind Etsy so the techie in you won’t be disappointed. For example, you can check out the Showcase for the 36 top items of the day, Pounce to check out what just sold and find things like it from the same artist and the Time Machine which is a great visualization of the most recently listed items. Still having trouble finding the right gift? Try the Gift Guides or the search feature.

I hope you are able to find your last minute gifts on Etsy or at least are able to buy handmade elsewhere. I know I loved the experience and I am sure you and your family and friends will as well.

Written by Eric Olson

December 14th, 2007 at 10:45 pm

Posted in General Thoughts

The American Diner

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I don’t know about you but I have, and will always be, a big fan of the classic American diner. I just can’t help myself. The food is always so good and the service is quick and usually fantastic (although sometimes they are a bit mean but it is usually part of the shtick which keeps things interesting).

Each diner also has its own personality which is what makes it so fun to continually check out new places. This is also why your “home” diner always feels like, well, home.

Needless to say I got pretty excited today when I was checking out my friends latest Flickr pictures. C.C. Chapman had recently been to one of my old Bentley haunts, Wilson’s Diner on Main Street in Waltham, MA (C.C. is a fellow alum too making Wilson’s his old stomping grounds as well).

Seeing this picture lead me to one of C.C.’s new projects. C.C., along with Scott Monty, have started a new site that will chronicle diners and other assorted eateries. This should prove to be a lot of fun to watch. You should go check out the site and subscribe if you’re interested in diners.

Diners are true slices of Americana and they remind us of a simpler time. They are truly a great escape from the hustle of bustle of modern life. Now, time to start exploring the diners of NYC. I have my work cut out for me!

Google Update: Trying to fix this Google stuff has taken a lot of time lately - hence the lack of posts - but I am making some headway. Let’s hope I can get this figured out soon.

Written by Eric Olson

December 14th, 2007 at 12:33 pm

Posted in General Thoughts