Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Interesting BoP phone

Here's an interesting device. Costs $20 and allows people at the bottom of the pyramid to access the internet without use of a computer or keyboard, just via voice commands. Piece about it on WRI Next Billion: LINK.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Three cheers for lawyers?

Here's a shot taken in France at a shopping mall. Note the emergency exit door locked by thick chain and padlock.

This is not uncommon, according to my brother.

We noticed it also when leaving a friend's apartment building. We had to leave through two doors, both electrically operated via a button to exit. None of the push bars to exit that are standard in America.

Is this ease of exit in case of fire a good byproduct of our litigious society here in America?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Zipcar-like bikes: Velib

France has a wonderful shared bike system (American analog is Zipcar). All over Paris are bikes in the Velib system.

You get a Velib membership and then can pick up and drop off at any of the many Velib bike stands around the city.

This person however somehow has their very own Velib!

The post-it says "My Velib. Mine Only."

Update: a similar program is being launched for the first time State-side, in Washington DC: NYT article LINK and website for SmartBike DC LINK
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Nike in Paris

There were lots of Nikes in Paris, few that you can buy in this country, at least at Nike.com or at a normal store. I saw many fewer Pumas. In contrast, in New York City, I see lots of Pumas but few fashion-casual Nikes. If my perspection is right, for the fashion-casual shoes, Oregon-based Nike owns Paris and Germany-based (but France-started) Puma owns New York.
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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Suit as T-Shirt

Here's a picture of a guy I saw at a rest area in the south of France. He had on jeans and a gray, pin-striped suit jacket. Nothing strange there. But the jacket had a printed logo on it like a T-Shirt! Any idea what it means or says?

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Renault Scenic: Bring it to the United States!

We spent the last week in France, part of the time in Aix en Provence with my brother.

Here's a picture of the Renault Scenic my brother has for the year and the almost identical one I rented from Hertz for a few days.

It's brilliant. There isn't a car in the United States that's comparable.

If people in the US think of Renault at all, they might recall the last attempt to introduce the brand into the US market through an ill-fated alliance with the rapidly collapsing AMC company before it got consumed by Chrysler. AMC with Renault produced the Alliance and Encore models for a few years (LINK). This was preceded by the Renault Le Car, a mid 70's subcompact intended to compete with the like of the VW Rabbit. Those cars do not recommend the brand to Americans.

But in Europe, Renault is a highly competitive brand, known for striking, iconoclastic design. Our Scenic had a fit and finish entirely competitive with the best that Honda, Toyota or VW have to offer. And in fact Renault does have a significant foothold in the US through Nissan, in which it owns a 50+% controlling interest and with which it shares a dynamic CEO, Carlos Ghosn (LINK).

Please Carlos, bring the Scenic to the US!

The Scenic is a tall station wagon, a common car type in Europe not found in the United States. In the US the need for relatively small, tall, 5 passenger station wagon type vehicles is filled by the small SUV. But these cars are at least 10 inches longer than the Scenic, aren't as space efficient, and don't handle as well. Two cars that are perhaps more comparable are the two compact minivans in the US, the Mazda 5 and the Kia Rondo. But again, 10 inches longer. The Prius is probably the closest example, in terms of MPG and size, but it's more hatchback than wagon. In France the Scenic seems to occupy a position like the Accord or Camry in the US: ubiquitous. We drove both the 1.5 liter and 2.0 liter diesels, both with six speed manual transmissions. These cars can cruise all day on the highway at 90 mph, comfortably and quietly, and also zip in an out of tight European parking spaces. And with those diesels they'll return combined city/highway of at least 40 mpg.
Acceleration is great, even with the 1.5 liter, though that engine doesn't produce enough acceleration from a standing start to deal comfortably with some urban situations, like a quick entrance into a roundabout.

Renault's design shows how much opportunity there might be in the US for Nissan to create a new niche, or perhaps for VW to introduce its "Golf Plus". Or maybe Mercedes can start selling its directly comparable B-Class in the US like they do in Canada (LINK). But please, with a diesel.

More posts about Paris cars on my other blog (LINK).

UPDATE: I should have known this: the Nissan Versa in the US is based in some way on the Renault Megane/Scenic, though I haven't analyzed exactly how they differ in dimensions. Unfortunately, no diesel.
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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Food price crisis

"Famine traditionally means mass starvation. The measures of today's crisis are misery and malnutrition. The middle classes in poor countries are giving up health care and cutting out meat so they can eat three meals a day. The middling poor, those on $2 a day, are pulling children from school and cutting back on vegetables so they can still afford rice. Those on $1 a day are cutting back on meat, vegetables and one or two meals, so they can afford one bowl. The desperate—those on 50 cents a day—face disaster." The Economist on the current food price crisis. LINK

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Another sign of decline?

Another sign of the US in decline?

The chart (LINK) shows the United States at almost the bottom (above Cyprus, below Turkey) in belief that human beings did evolve from animals.

If you don't understand science and scientific principles, you're doomed to be an also-ran, at some point.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I just don't get it

I just don't get it . . .

How can the Pope say:
WASHINGTON — Pope Benedict XVI visited the White House on Wednesday — his 81st birthday — and praised America as a nation where strong religious belief can coexist with secular society. But he later warned that this secular tradition often prevents Americans from living their beliefs fully, accepting divorce, abortion and cohabitation outside of marriage." LINK
OK . . . but he also recognizes and is ashamed of the terrors wrought by pedophiles within his church.

So, WHAT correlation is there between faith and moral values??!!

I just don't get how someone can't understand that absence or presence of religion in someone's life does not necessarily say anything about one's moral compass. I'm an atheist. And yet anyone who knows me knows what high moral standards I have, what high moral standards my wife and I have inculcated in our kids, what high moral standards my parents had (who are also atheists), what high moral standards my GRANDPARENTS had who were ALSO atheists, or close to it. Our "faith" if you want to call it that is in the laws and values of secular society. That's what I believe gives us as a country our strength. What an utterly different universe it is in which some people live . . .

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nice coverage of start-ups

Some very nice coverage in FORTUNE Small Business of Rice bplan competition, with great photos, of some amazing start-up ventures.

May they all be giants! LINK

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A New Thing I Want: Raleigh One Way

Single speed. Brooks saddle. 520 steel. Fenders. Classic and modern together.

Biofuels roundup

Fun and fascinating overview of the various research initiatives underway to create biofuels: LINK

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Secret Chinese "thugs"

There's a lengthly article in the Daily Mail describing the challenges faced by the bearers of the Olympic torch as they tried to wind their way through ceremonial routes in London and Paris. The article talks about mysterious and sinister Chinese men in blue tracksuits who came out of nowhere and scuffled aggressively with both police and protesters in their attempts to keep the torch aloft and lit. The article quotes Lord Coe, the head of London's 2012 Olympic games, referring to these men as "thugs", and suggests that they are Chinese special forces, sent without notification to official security to combat the protesters. Scary portent of things to come. LINK

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Rice Business Plan competition

I just returned from Houston and the Rice Business Plan Competition (LINK) at Rice University.

I was a judge (along with 174 others!) of the teams, winnowing the field of 36 down to 7 finalists and one winner over two days.

I was struck by how many of the presentations were really stellar. The rules are that the team can't have revenues or investment by the end of the previous academic year (August 1, 2007). Only students can present. While those defined as students run the gamut from undergrads to 55 year-old MBAs, with lots of doctors and neuroscientists in between, few of these folks are accomplished entrepreneurs. Few have raised money before. Few have created businesses. And yet, somehow the majority of the teams pulled off presentations that by their excellence would embarrass many seasoned entrepreneurs. Certainly we were seeing some of the top nascent business teams in the country (though I saw no teams from California, so perhaps not absolutely cream of the crop). But what I think is also at work is the general collective unconscious. It's now generally understood what makes up both the elements of a good business plan and the elements of a good pitch. It's with the young people steeped in this culture that America's economic future will rise or fall.

Update: additional information at Fortune magazine: LINK

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Green Collar Jobs

Also via Earth2Tech

other relevant items:


Do we have the technology and the technology policy (no and no)

Beginnings of a discussion on the NYT "Dot Earth" blog about whether we have the technology and the technology policy to combat climate change. LINK via Earth2Tech