Menlo Green

Last Wednesday I went to the first meeting of the Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizen’s committee, a group convened by mayor Kelly Ferguson to help Menlo fight global warming. The group will present recommendations to city council later in the year. One role model is Palo Alto, which organized a similar task force which issued a Report last December with propsoals for Palo Alto.
Attendees at the Menlo meeting included people involved in green businesses, environmental organizations, developers, chamber of commerce folk, neighborhood group reps, and others. At the first meeting, the group brainstormed dozens of ideas, ranging from the practical and locally focused — accelerated permitting for solar, efficient street lights, improve bike paths, solar thermal for the town pool to the, er, ambitious, “ban the internet”, and “ban lawns”. I’m curious about how the group will take the brainstorming start and turn it into practical proposals. And to see how bringing together folks with common interests might catalyze civic organizing outside of the structure of this groups.

The Bay Area with climate change: drowning and thirsty

At the first meeting of the Menlo Park Green Ribbon Commission, city council member Heyward Robinson showed slices from a presentation on the impact of global warming on the Bay Area. I’d already seen the picture where SFO is under water, and the neighborhoods east of 101 swim with the fishes. Another dramatic slide showed the impact of global warming on the snowpack that feeds the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. With a 3-5 degree increase in average temperature, we could lose 30-60% of the snowpack. And that’s the optimistic scenario.

Slide sharing courtesy of Slideshare. Thanks Rashmi and Jon!

Plugin hybrid financing

Excellent article on plugin hybrids in Scientific American. A small solar power unit on the carport would power the car, and take gas expense to tiny. The energy math is compelling. The cars would charge overnight, when there is enough excess capacity to power 50% of the fleet with no extra power plants built. The biggest barrier isn’t technology, it’s financing.
So, what if a carport charger could be rolled into the cost of a car loan? Electric company and government rebates would cover the down payment premium. And an extra $100/month on the car loan would be paid for by $50 montly reduction in gas pump payments, and $50 reduction in the electric bill.
The same benefits could be had by rolling solar financing into a home mortgage. The lender gets a new product, the power company avoids the capital costs of new plants and gets better use of existing ones. The buyer puts up only a fraction of the cost, and nets out on their monthly expenses.
Now seems like an excellent time to be putting together these deals. The cost of solar has been kept high for the last few years because of a silicon shortage. In 2008, the silicon shortage is expected to lift, at the same time as increasingly efficient thin film solar products come on the market.
So, the trends between 2008-2010 are cheaper solar power on the market at the same time that PHEVs get commercialized. Financing is the missing lego piece to make the system snap together. There’s an entrepreneurial opportunity to put the deals, marketing programs, and distribution channel together now.

Freedom from Cingular

So, it sounds like Cingular and other phone companies have been blocking calls to>
I am very eager to try the Nokia E61i with wifi, and to see what the OpenMoko project comes up with. How long til someone sells voip phones for $49 in cities with good public net? Tony Bowden, a Socialtext colleague who lives in Estonia which has great wifi, was tryign the skype phone approach. Wonder how that was going.


I typically spend SXSW assiduously avoiding most of the programming, hanging out with friends in the hallway and the streets, enjoying the austin/california social network infill. This time for inexplicable reason I sought out more programming than usual.
The geo panel was interesting because I haven’t been following the field super-closely. There were intriguing visualizations of taxi trips across london and stress levels of pedestrians. The data showed pretty pictures, but more context and real investigative research would be needed to determine what the information teaches.
Jerry Paffendorf from Electric Sheep talked about simulacra of 3d places in “second life”. The point doesn’t grab me. I love ideas about annotating the 3d world (and Liz’ mention about annotating virtual worlds). But making a second life simulation of Palo Alto and moving in? Why?
There were some interesting bits in the hallway: a demo of a prototype university tour guide app running on a Nokia mobile, where you can find information and annotations about the various buildings and programs. A friend’s grad school credit project to build an annotated map of a new infill neighborhood, for the interests of neighbors, local businesses, and potential residents.
Kathy Sierra was good on the need for contextual help, and kind of off-base (if she was serious), about computerized help systems that recognize human emotion. It’s really hard to imagine an IA that would make a pissed off customer be less irate, rather than more irate.
Danah Boyd had a fabulous interview with her mentor, Henry Jenkins about the growth and increasing recognition of fan culture, and fearmongering about the threats of myspace and cousins. Re: combatting bad laws. The people in the room have more power than they know. Just a bit of organizing would go a long way.
From a panel on building a great in-house design team, how to hire designers. a) poach. b) hire them out of school and teach them how to have a job. Alternatively, c) build a community around agile design, and get to know good people.
Technology at SXSW was in much better shape in years past. The network was occasionally flaky but mostly on. The sessions were being podcast, greatly reducing the anxiety about missing any given thing.

Bike rental at SXSW

At SXSW there are lots of events that are a 10-20 minute walk apart. It takes longer to stand in line for a cab than to walk. Parking is a pain in the neck. Solution? Rent a bike. The Bicycle Sport Shop people were out of city bikes. All they had was a purple ultra-mountain bike with fancy shock absorbers. Working great so far. Hopefully someone with a camera can snap a picture of the bike for a blog. I’m a little sore today from the narrow seat.