Just a few rants before I am out the door this morning. No, I am not attending the World Economic Forum at Davos.

I watched the State of the Union address last night, and was immediately taken with the generally lukewarm response from both sides.Recently, I listened to the 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles adaptation of the War of the Worlds. At a certain point in the story, man has exhausted all of his attempts to destroy the alien menace. And this moment of desperation is captured brilliantly by his performance. This is in many ways the sense I get from our elected officials, and it was visible, at least to me, while watching the Union Performance.

The President wants the American people to buckle down under new financial austerity measures, and yet almost everyone  understands that the government economic policies (do what the finance sector says) , banks and the financial services sector got us into this mess. We the American people bailed out B of A, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, you name it, and yet record bonuses were on tap for 2010. This statement on the part of the President is simply a renewal of the same financial plundering previously inflicted on us. How about we instead bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, and sever banking capabilities from sophisticated, rigged financial poker games? Just for a start.

He also wants us to move forward in building our renewable energy capabilities. This sounds great at first pass. But one million electric cars by 2015? This is simply not aggressive enough, for a variety of reasons.  Why not specifically tie electric vehicle production with things like massive, American made offshore wind farms and tidal power turbines? Scotland, yes Scotland, is taking the lead in the West, building up their wind and tidal capabilities so much that Europe is chomping at the bit, anxious to get on their grid? And why can’t we design and sell electric cars  that have home based solar panels as part of a bundled offer?

The point of getting us to a strong renewable energy state will have less to do with global warming. China and India will literally burn through huge reserves of oil and coal over the next twenty years. And nothing America can do will stop it. But we can achieve a much higher level of energy independence. And this should be one of the pillars of our new economic plan, but it simply won’t happen at the pace outlined by the Administration.

It also seems that our Administration is banking on new, as yet undiscovered technology game changers, as part of a larger research initiative. Why the wishful thinking when we have the technology we need?

Why the renewed commitment to education, when we need jobs? Sorry Mr. President, but the reality is that even if we had 300 million really well educated people here, we still need to get many of the jobs back from China, Mexico, and India. Besides, it is a big enough drag now having to deal with so many unemployed, well educated hipsters at the local coffee shop.

Many in my circle of friends feel that Democrats and Republicans are mere pawns to the financial oligarchy. I was not so shocked to see Immelt join the Obama team. Business as usual.

Why isn’t America working to reduce the energy footprint of the internet? By some estimates, internet usage accounts for 5-10 % of current energy consumption. Here is another area where technology and education could work hand in hand.

I just finished reading the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, and found it to be fascinating. However, and this is entirely subjective on my part, it seemed watered down by the socioeconomic make up of the participants. Is this based on the possibility that they are interviewing clients? If so, I think Edelman should think about expanding their study for 2012 to include different socioeconomic classes, and non clients. Just a thought.

 

There has been tremendous interest in alternative energy sources, and the general public, at least in the developed countries, are now beginning to question the global strategy for sustaining modern society. And while our technology improves, as solar and wind power become more efficient, we still must contend with the weak link. Storage.

We all seem to assume that our 21st century technology juggernaut will solve this problem, either with a single, profound discovery, or with a collection of smaller, additive solutions.

Well, just to add to the mix, I’d like to make a suggestion. The Earth is essentially an oblate spheroid, a sphere flattened along the axis from pole to pole. Spinning on this axis, the Sun rises in the East, and sets in the West. As darkness falls here in Indiana, somewhere on the planet dawn is stirring others to begin their day.

With a fundamentally simple, but challenging (from a geopolitical perspective) approach, we could be relying on solar power from our neighbors opposite us on the globe. In other words, day lit locations on the spinning planet would supply much of the energy required by those on the dark side. And this process would simply “roll” with planetary rotation. This simple approach could potentially ease some of the storage dilemma.

Solar generating facilities, infrastructure, and  maintenance would obviously be done at the local level. As a result, though we would be sharing the energy bounty, local economies would benefit.

This would also require a fundamental change in how we are designing and building our national power grid system. Not just “smart”, but highly distributed. Remind you of anything?

I also read that by 2050, the human population will swell to about 9 billion, up from around 6 billion. Since we as a species have not done a great job in controlling our numbers, outside of murder, how about we make smaller people? I’m sure Monsanto or Dow would be delighted to start work on this GMO initiative.

The Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe will have a huge impact on the living ocean, and America is just beginning to experience the most obvious effects. We will see a global impact, not just in the gulf, or the Eastern seaboard. The shear quantity of volatile hydrocarbons will kill a substantial number of the tiny critters that ultimately feed the entire food chain. In addition, oxygen producing algae and sea plants will take a hit. Where this leads to, nobody knows.

However, in the gulf region, we will be dealing with a double whammy.

We were already dealing with a “dead zone” from effluent that flows from the Mississippi. Last year it was about the size of Massachusetts. Primarily nitrates and phosphates from fertilizer (to feed the vast genetically modified monoculture fields of corn cotton, and soy) and those green, green lawns (which provide our illusion of civility). And oh, btw, guess where some of the main ingredients for these fertilizers come from…natural gas.

http://coastalscience.noaa.gov/news/feature/01112008.html

Here is some solid information on the state of the Deepwater Horizon effort,and it is harrowing.

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6593#comment-648967

The Clean Caribbean and Americas site also has links to the Material Data Safety Sheets for three of the most widely used dispersants, and they are quite interesting.

In my next post, I will outline my vision for a strategic shift in how we produce and consume resources used to power our civilization. The topics will run the gamut, from energy sourcing, to changes our American way of life will need to embrace.

We should also be thinking about how the promise of computer technology has eluded many of its intended goals. Should we begin to think about a technology revolution in this country from a different perspective? What ever happened to telecommuting? How can we make the next phase of technology one that brings us closer together, yet allows us to work from afar? How much energy would that save for, say, 20 % of our workforce? No daily drive, no commute.

How much further can we regain the sense of community, through the intelligent use of social networking technology?

How can we integrate this into a more localized, community based self sufficiency?

The great author and pioneer in the self sufficiency movement, John Seymour, taught us remarkable things. Why doesn’t the software industry use this type of mind, this incredible movement (that of the return to the land, to sustainability, to self sufficiency) to help guide the design of our computer technology?

Ravens Nest Farm Chinese Tea Eggs

12 eggs
2 cups soy sauce plus 1 cup water
4 whole star anise
4 tablespoons black tea (or 3 black tea bags)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Sichuan or black peppercorns (optional)
4 strips dried tangerine, clementine, or mandarin orange peel (optional but recommended)

Place the eggs in a large saucepan and fill with water to cover the eggs by 1 inch. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the eggs, drain, and then place the eggs in cool water for 5 minutes, then remove eggs to dry.  Using the back of a teaspoon, gently tap the eggshells to crack the shell all over. The trick is to make as many small cracks on the egg surface as you like. The more cracks, the more mottled the underlying egg will appear. You can even try experimenting with cracked “bands” around the egg midsection, etc. Now mix the other ingredients in a saucepan that will hold the eggs, and add the eggs. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then simmer on the lowest heat setting for 20 minutes turn off heat, cover with the lid and let eggs steep for a few hours to overnight. The length of steeping will determine the depth of color (and flavor) in the marbling on the eggs. Anywhere from 4 hours to overnight is good.

Once done, we recommend serving them slightly warm. These are great to share over a good cup of green tea

Ravens Nest Farm Pickled Beets and Eggs

Ingredients

12 eggs

2 (15 ounce) cans whole pickled beets, juice reserved

1 onion, chopped into ¼ inch wide slices. A large Vidalia onion is wonderful

1 cup white sugar

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

12 cracked black peppercorns (crack with the side of your knife just before adding to the saucepan)

2 bay leaves (optional)

12 whole cloves

2 pieces of 2 inch long cinnamon stick

Directions

Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water. Add 1 tablespoon salt, and slowly bring to a boil. The salt will make the shells come off very easily. Cover the eggs, remove from heat, and let eggs sit in hot water for 10 minutes. Remove from hot water, cool, and peel.

Place the beets, onion, and peeled eggs in a glass, glazed pottery, or plastic container.

In a stainless steel, porcelain, or Pyrex glass saucepan, combine the sugar, the reserved beet juice, vinegar, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer 3 minutes.

Pour hot liquid slowly over beets and eggs. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes, add the lid, and refrigerate 48 hours before eating.

Try experimenting with some of your favorite spices next time. Allspice, mace, lemon peel, and others are some possibilities.  We have also used star anise, and it adds a very exotic flavor.

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a fellow marketer regarding the state of marketing today, especially in the CRM software arena. And it was all about the current rage for “content marketing”, linked with “inbound marketing” notions. Most any marketeer will tell you that they spend a good deal of time with content, whether it be web schlock, whitepapers (though increasingly, these are being outsourced), leave behinds (such as one or two page summaries of your goods superior powers), and the like.

Everyone is in a constant struggle to create what they think is more compelling information to pull them ahead of the pack. In fact, many companies use this as the “seed” information that they then use to build out everything else when it comes to information for external consumption. You can find evidence of this if you take the time to review many companies content. For example. Start with the 50 words or less tag they are using to describe what they provide, and why it is so much better than the competition.  Voila, you now have your “elevator pitch”. Drill down one level, and you usually find the same theme, made more verbose, in the form of much of the other content provided.

But here is where we began to disagree. In a simple exercise, I created a table of key words and small phrases, all arranged in a way that allows one to pick and choose to create a sentence or paragraph that describes a company and their wares.  To protect the guilty, I won’t mention names. A small snippet looks something like this.

Company A  / is the world leader in  /fully integrated CRM /  that lowers costs

ABC  / is a leading provider of  / a complete CRM solution /  that improves operational efficiencies

Super CRM  / is a state of the art /  enterprise CRM solution/ that improves customer loyalty

Anyway, I hope you can visualize how one can use this exercise to build out a marketing “calculator” that many folks are already using, though perhaps not intentionally. Pouring over such snippets, gleaned from competitors, industry pundits, analysts, and others, and spending an amazing amount of time to convert it into ever more complex content really does amount to gambling.

And here is where I lament over the sad state of content marketing. Most organizations don’t really provide information that potential customers really want. They usually have to piece together information gathered during the sales process, often from sales consultants/engineers, product marketing, and others. Even then, it is a gamble.

Providing useful information that potential customers can use is very painful, and takes a great deal of effort. It also demands a rather rare thing these days, and that is openness. But the process of getting to this corporate mindset can literally transform a mediocre organization into a powerhouse. Is your organization asking the right types of questions, you know, the ones you already ask yourselves? What is our integration story? Do we really do what we say we do? When we say “fully integrated” what does it look like, and do we describe specific examples of what is looks like? How do we actually turn a hum drum process, such as service and support, into an incremental sales opportunity? Tell them how you do it, flat out. How is your company using your own product?

If your company goes down the same road, using the great big old marketing table full of snippets, you are spinning your wheels. The companies that go through this transformational process of honesty are literally redefining a category, and putting themselves squarely in the center. And that is the most comfortable of places.

Most people, if they know anything about the local food movement, have some gut instinct that it is good for their community, and can provide tremendous advantages by enhancing their overall economic and environmental well being.

As a former worker in the dot com boom and bust world that was Silicon Valley in the 90′s, I saw an incredible move to outsource and offshore manufacturing capabilities, resulting in slow but drastic changes to the Bay area economy. This trend also brought about other changes to the workforce, such as the mass exodus of customer service and support centers, software development and engineering capabilities.

One would have expected to see radically lower prices for American consumers, but this was not the case. Any major Silicon Valley company would like to say that any potential savings that could have been passed on to the consumer were instead “eaten up” by the fact that their competitors were also on the same quest for cheaper labor, and more business friendly geopolitical locales.

It is the nature of any business in a capitalist system to continually seek lowers prices for raw materials, labor, and such. In our time, we are witness to the effects of this effort. The so called global economy is in reality just a hymnbook for corporate America to go fluttering about, taking advantage of places like China, India, and others. And it will never end. Perhaps someday, they may even swing back around to America, once we are making less than folks in China. Hey, that’s just the way the game is played.

But perhaps somewhere out there, in that vast basin of  greed we call Silicon Valley, one company might begin to buck this trend. They might decide to manufacture locally, for local consumption. Sure, they would have the same capabilities in China, but they would be used to supply Chinese consumers. Suddenly, people could actually afford to live and thrive in their own communities.

And I think the best single company to take the lead is Apple. So, Mr. Jobs, if you ever read this, do something really great. Stop thinking like a guy who sells iPhones and Macs for the highest possible profit, and start thinking about communities.

Our mornings are becoming cooler, and the season is offering us some great sleeping weather. Already, some of our trees are dropping leaves, while still more are beginning their color transformation. Our shagbark hickory trees surprise you with the random sound of nuts falling in the background. You get to the point where you miss the sound.

The tomatoes we planted were slow to provide mature fruits, but now they are coming into their own.

DSC05041

Our flock of laying hens continue to provide us, and a few lucky folks, with great eggs. We are anticipating an increase in eggs, as all have finished molting their old feathers, and the three juveniles we brought home are getting big!

DSC05042

Yesterday I was lucky to find a small, one horse plow for $20. We don’t have a horse yet, but the plow was a good deal. We are looking into creating a small, not for profit teaching and history farm, that will also use significant solar panel technology. Unfortunately, we will miss out on the recent announcement from the Indiana Office of Energy Development. They just raised the maximum award amount to $100,000, with can be used by businesses, not-for-profit organizations, municipalities and schools. From the IOED website:

“Technologies included in the program are Solar Water Heating for domestic hot water or radiant heating, Solar Electricity, Wind Power, Micro-hydro electricity and Biomass electricity and heating. Alternative energy systems make use of non-fossil fuel resources to produce clean, home-grown electricity and thermal energy.

 

The program is administered by the Indiana Office of Energy Development (OED). The grants are funded through the U.S. Department of Energy and the State Energy Program, but are not part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funding.

 

Each grant now has a maximum of $100,000 and will be awarded through a competitive system. Applicants are required to match the grant amount with private funding.  Applications must be received by September 25, 2009.  Grant awards will be announced October 2, 2009.”

 

Here is the site that contains application information.  This is a step in the right direction for Indiana, and we would like to see this program expanded to include Indiana residential installation, and have it linked to a parallel initiative that funds solar panel R&D and production in Indiana.

 

Wishing all of you a peaceful, mindful Autumn.

 

ambro2

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