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 BLOG >> October 2015

Diversity Matters [Agriculture
Posted on October 30, 2015 @ 10:56:00 AM by Paul Meagher

The 10th principle of Permaculture is to Use & Value Diversity. According to the website "Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides".

Angelo Eliades is the main guy behind the excellent Deep Green Permaculture website. He has an equally excellent backyard garden that illustrates well the value of diversity. In this video on advanced companion planting Angelo illustrates the value of diversity in keeping pests away, producing a variety of foods and medicines, and create beneficial relationships among plants.

Companion planting is a tool we can use to increase diversity in our gardens and residential landscapes.

Gabe Brown is doing some amazing stuff on a larger scale in his 2000 acre farm where he maintains a diverse polyculture of plants without pesticides and fertilizers because the diversity above and below ground takes care of these functions for him. Harnessing diversity can also be very profitable as Gabe claims to be doing the most profitable farming in his part of the world.

Diversity is all around us but often we are unaware of it or why it matters. As another example, research on bacteria in your gut suggest that diversity of bacteria in your gut is important for good health. The main way you can achieve a diversity of gut flora is by eating a diversity of fruits and vegetables. Diversity of natural foods begets a diversity of gut flora.

If diversity is so important in the natural world, what about in the world of commerce? There are many arguments to be made for diversity in the workplace but we don't have to limit ourselves to thinking about diversity only from a human resources point of view. Diversity may also be important in terms of the number of technologies you have available to solve a problem, the number of ways you can reach your customers, the number of suppliers you rely upon and so on. Instead of picking the best and discarding the rest maybe the rest have their own unique strengths and contributions that makes it worthwhile to keep them around?

Diversity just for the sake of diversity is not as useful a diversity that incorporates some notion of companion planting into the selection process. The companion planting that Angelo is doing is guided not simply by the direct effects a particular plant might have on another plant, but on how a plant might attract beneficial insects and repel nasty insects. This will in turn affect how his plants perform. Each plant has some role to play in the garden and all the plants together playing out their roles can result in something that is abundant and productive. The ability to use diversity successfully is an acquired skill and begins when you start to take note of and appreciate the benefits of diversity.


Barneys River Fall Colors [Nature
Posted on October 26, 2015 @ 06:16:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Here is a photo of some colors that were on display in Barneys River a week and a half ago.

Barneys River is an idyllic river valley area that I always enjoy driving through. It is even better in fall time as the changing colors light up the surrounding hills. Here is some footage from the same area a couple of days ago.

Just thought I would share a little piece of paradise on earth.

Also noteworthy is that around the same time 15 minutes away actor Ethan Hawke was participating in a Micmac water ceremony. He has property in the area and was asked by Micmac elders to attend. You can see a short video of what he had to say as well as what a water ceremony consists of at this link:



Entrepreneur as Habitual Reader [Entrepreneurship
Posted on October 25, 2015 @ 11:20:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Andrew Ng is a researcher, teacher and entrepreneur to keep an eye on. He is still under 40 and has had some major accomplishments in academics and business.

Most people are probably familiar with Andrew as a teacher as his online Machine Learning course is one of the most heavily enrolled courses at Coursera, a company he co-founded thanks in part to the popularity of this course. The next session of his Standford Machine Learning course is coming up soon (Nov 2) so you can experience for yourself his dazzling ability to make the technically sophisticated ideas and algorithms of machine learning understandable to the masses.

Your can read about Andrew's life and accomplishments in the Huffington Post article Inside The Mind That Built Google Brain: On Life, Creativity, And Failure.

One of the main lessons I took away from this article was the importance of a regular reading habit. What do you do with all of your money when you achieve success? Well you might just keep doing what you've always done, satisfying a reading habit as much as you can so you can keep your brain working well and thinking up new ideas. It appears as though reading is one of Andrew's greatest pleasures in life and the time that he can set aside on a saturday afternoon for reading research articles is what he ascribes much of his success in and enjoyment of life to.

I should also point out another successful entrepreneur who has a serious reading habit. Check out Bill Gates' list of books and the reviews he has written on many of them at the Books section of his website. He has a nice selection of books to look over if you are looking for ideas on books you might want to read.

Sam Altman, CEO at Y-Combinator, did a recent question and answer session and at the end you can find a list of books he recommends reading.

I'll end this blog by suggesting that there is a big gaping hole in the research on entrepreneurship and its relationship to habitual reading. We are all aware of people who apparently don't read much and are successful, but how true is this in general? Conversely, if you do read alot perhaps there is a point at which you are reading too much or too randomly for it to lead to financial success. The importance of reading depends on what it is you are doing with your life and the role that reading plays in determining success. We have anecdotal evidence that some very successful entrepreneurs are habitual readers (see above). If I find some good empirical research on the relationship between reading and financial/life success that is worth discussing it will be the subject of a future blog.

There are also relationships to explore between reading and investing success. Investors obviously need to read alot of different types of documents and evaluate them. What types of cognitive processes take place in the mind of successful investors versus a new investor when reading the same set of documents? What types of reading exploration does the successful investor do compared to the novice investor? How much time does an investor spend reading different types of documents in any given week? Maybe there is research on these topics and if I find some that too might be the subject of a future blog. I have come accross research suggesting investors spend very little time screening out proposals but I have not explored this any deeper than the infographic stage.


Alien Presence [Creativity
Posted on October 22, 2015 @ 10:01:00 PM by Paul Meagher

An object that I like to photograph is an abandoned incinerator nestled into in a nice piece of nature. Here is a photo taken a week ago.

The incinerator was part of an old lumber mill and they probably used it to burn the wood waste they generated. Nowadays this wood waste is considered valuable and used downstream somewhere but in those days it was incinerated. Hence the incinerator.

The incinerator is logically positioned next to a sizeable pond in case some embers set off a fire.

The incinerator no longer bears a logical or functional relationship to the landscape and we are left to wonder whether the incinerator might at least bear an aesthetic relationship to the landscape. For me it does. It has a steampunk vibe going on. It has an appealing form, symmetries, and a contrasting color which I think adds to, rather than detracts from, the overall vista.

The incinerator is an object without purpose. Thoughts of what I might do with the incinerator start to insinuate themselves into my consciousness if I stare at it too long.

As I stare it starts to look like a retro rocket ship. When the ship lands, the platform and rails at the top extend out to allow for habitat observation from a high vantage point. The heat shield at the top is electronically controlled making it easy to use both during flight and to exit the rocket ship for habitat observation. The rust is a projection to make the ships advanced technology look inconspicuous.

Then I start to see the incinerator is a cool living space. A welder and some carpenters could build a unique tiny house from this frame.

Or maybe the incinerator can be given new life as a production facility of some sort. Maybe it can be used to create compost (it does have side doors allowing you to drive a vehicle into it), biochar, or bioenergy of some sort. Perhaps in its next life it will atone for all the carbon sins it committed.

Or maybe it will be an Outfitter office and lounge area. A unique service and entertainment area that will help draw people to this remote location to enjoy nature and the company of others.

What makes this an interesting photographic subject is the purposelessness of the incinerator and freedom this gives to re-imagine what its purpose might be.

Or you can accept that the incinerator is bereft of functional purpose having only an aesthetic role to play. The camera is used to convey an aesthetic appreciation. A brown platonic form pleasingly set against a backdrop of contrasting hues and shapes. Suggestive of an alien presence in the landscape.


Modular Design Case Study [Design
Posted on October 22, 2015 @ 10:06:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In my backroad travels I came across this device in a field of beef cattle. It was recently purchased by a young entrepreneurial farmer that I've chatted with before.

I did a bit of research on how the device works and you can watch the video below to see for yourself how it can be used to safely and efficiently immobilize an animal so you can deliver medications, tag it, transport it, inspect it and so on.

The young farmer also has over 100 sheep which the device can probably also be used for. If it can handle a small beef calf it should be able to handle sheep? The more types of animals the corral system can handle the more worthwhile it will be to buy. Sheep can graze after beef cattle so eventually he can move the cattle out of this pasture and move the sheep in and use the corral to tag them, deworm them, inspect them and so on. Must be a pain in the ass to do these jobs on a large number of animals if you don't have a good corral system.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, what is interesting about the Lakeland Group's product line is how they have logically separated out various functions of their corral system into different modules that you can buy separately. The head immobilizer is probably an option you can add if you want more or less ability to immobilize the animal. In the picture above (to the left), you can see several beef cattle huddled into what is called a "crowding tub". The crowding tub is probably optional but something you might want to add if you wanted to make the job of corralling the cattle into the immobilizer easier. Likewise there are gates, feeding tubs, watering tubs and transport cages that are additional modular components that you might want to add to your corral system over time.

Apple Computer isn't the only company that figured out how to own the whole customer experience. Corral product companies and fencing companies have similar strategies.

One key to making this modular design strategy work is probably to have at least one component of your modular design that is critical and which you might claim to do a better job of than other companies. Other companies sell similar quality gates, crowding tubs, and feeding tubs but perhaps they don't have an immobilizer that is as well designed as the Lakeland fellows have. Because the immobilizer is one of the main features of your whole corral system then if you buy this particular piece of equipment you are likely to want to buy their add on products because they all go together better than if you try to mix and match components using different corral product suppliers.

This is not a pitch for Lakeland Group products. It is meant to be a brief case study on what modular design looks like and how you might approach marketing and selling a modular product line. You can judge for yourself whether selling a modular product is easier and more profitable than selling only a packaged corral system. So a moral might be to consider whether you should be selling your product as a fully packaged standalone product or whether you would be better off breaking things down into a modular design that might allow people to buy components of the overall system over time? What are the critical components that you need to do better at than the competition and what are the commodity components that you just have to match the competition on? Perhaps this case study will inspire some thinking about how a modular design strategy might work for your startup or business.


The Circular Economy [Economics
Posted on October 20, 2015 @ 11:54:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I signed up for an online edX course on The Circular Economy.

There are a variety of reasons why this topic interests me:

  1. I think the opportunities for recycling livelihoods is much greater than is currently the case. I wrote a recent blog about Recycling Livelihoods.
  2. I'm interested in looking at economic activity using a more systems-based approach which the term "circular" suggests.
  3. As someone with an ongoing interest in Permaculture this seems like a topic that is well aligned with its teachings and can help deepen understanding of the 12 Permaculture Principles.
  4. How does the concept of a circular economy relate to concepts such as growth, GDP, steady state economy, entropy, sustainability, energy production/consumption, etc.? The course might provide a venue to think about these relationships in more detail.
  5. Can the concept of a circular economy be used to suggest some trends and innovations to look for in the current economy? Re-manufacturing and leasing home goods from manufacturers rather than owning them might be examples of such trends and innovations
  6. I haven't heard much about circular economics but it appears the Ellen McArthur Foundation has been sponsoring circular economics research for awhile now and this course is a chance for them to disseminate that research more widely. I'm sure I'll learn some new and interesting ideas from this research program.

So these are some reasons I'll be taking this course. Maybe I'll see you there. Course is free or $50 if you want a verified certificate.

If you want to learn more, Wikipedia has a useful page on the circular economy.

Here is a Formidable Vegetable song about Permaculture Design Principle # 6 which is to "Produce No Waste". The song provides a personal and entertaining perspective on the issue of waste.


Fall Colors 2015 [Nature
Posted on October 16, 2015 @ 07:21:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I hope to get a chance to explore the fall colors today. Yesterday evening I went to the field below and took some pictures.

I also took some video footage from the field to see if I could better capture some of the colors I was seeing.

I took some photos last year of the fall colors around the same time of year.


Recycling Livelihoods [Entrepreneurship
Posted on October 15, 2015 @ 09:07:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Imagine getting ready for garbage day by sorting your garbage into one of 15 possible garbage categories.

There would be the usual categories of organics, glass, and paper, but within paper, we might have a separate category for books. We might also have a category for wood waste, a category for broken kitchen appliances, a category for broken or unused furniture items, and so on. If you get creative I'm sure you can come up with your own list of 15 categories of garbage.

So each family puts out their garbage presorted into 15 garbage types and then what?

If the garbage is presorted at the household at this level of specificity, then you are creating a (free?) resource for local entrepreneurs who might want to come by and pick it up as part of local recycling-based enterprises.

This idea for waste management was espoused by Bill Mollison, co-founder of Permaculture, in his 1983 lectures. He suggested that waste streams from cities was one of their most valuable outputs and elaborated upon the details of better garbage presorting and the local enterprises that could flow from it. Styrofoam, for example, is a waste stream that many municipalities don't know what to do with but could be a wastestream that a local entrepreneur could find a use for if they have enough quantity.

Many appliances can be fixed easily, polished, and put back into the market. Old doors and furniture might be scraped down and repainted and become servicable again. Organics have lots of uses for local growers and bioenergy production. Books can be used for a bookstore enterprise or compressed into biomass bricks. The categories of waste we set aside would help to dictate the types of recycling-based enterprises we could support through our waste.

In my own experience, one of the most successful local enterprises is the Community Workshop where people drop off their unwanted household items and the mentally challenged sort them and put them out on shelfs and hangers for locals to purchase again. The workshop employs many people and is one of the busiest places in town as many people are addicted to checking it out regularly and some are professionally scouting out treasures they can resell for more. We all have some form of recycling system in our communities but I think there is a next level of innovation that is possible in the recycling industry and the number of livelihoods it could support.

Many "zero waste" cities have innovative ideas for waste management that might already align with this permaculture approach.


Live From Mabou [Events
Posted on October 13, 2015 @ 06:02:00 PM by Paul Meagher

I'm currently in Mabou at the farm. I'm here to observe some of the spectacular fall colors and take in some cultural events happening this week. Tonight there will be a livestream from Mabou featuring local talent. I think it is cool that these small town local events can now be livestreamed to the world using YouTube's livestreaming service.


A Documentary Startup [Permaculture
Posted on October 13, 2015 @ 09:05:00 AM by Paul Meagher

For the last few days I've been exploring the collection of YouTube videos that 20 yr old Jordan Osmond has published on his Happen Films channel. As an example, on Oct 7th he published this time lapse of the construction of an earthbag super adobe tiny house.

These YouTube videos are part of the documentary research he is doing as he works towards the goal of editing them all together into a documentary film. The documentary research to date is quite impressive and, like I said, I have spent some enjoyable time exploring his work over the last few days.

Three other aspects of this documentary startup project are noteworthy. First, the project has raised the goal amount of documentary funding ($10k AUS) in their Indigogo campaign. Second, the film maker has partnered with Samual Alexander who has the connections to help Jordan gain access to the documentary places and people that will potentially make this a top notch documentary. The decision to partner with Samual was critical to this project happening and Jordan showed good judgement in knowing that he had to partner to make a documentary film and picking a good partner. Third the process of making the documentary is quite transparent to the public with source material being published on a regular basis. This is an interesting strategy and we'll see how it pans out in the long run.

The numbers involved in the financing of this project are very small at this point. It is possible that this is the first round of financing and what gets produced might lead to another round of financing with a much bigger funding goal. Whatever transpires I look forward to more content from Happen Films.

I'll leave you with this feel-good YouTube video featuring the Limestone Permaculture Farm in Australia.


Living Design [Design
Posted on October 9, 2015 @ 06:44:00 AM by Paul Meagher

My interest in the fungi kingdom was recently revived by a Mushroom Foray Workshop I attended.

I did a google search on 3D Printed Mushrooms to see what I might find. In the process of searching I came accross some fascintating work by Eric Klarenbeek on new structural materials made by growing mycelium in 3D printed bio-materials and/or plastic waste (produced locally). Eric calls his work Living Design and has a short Ted talk in which he discusses what this means:

Lots of interesting design and eco-possibilities in this line of research. Also interesting is his innovation in 3D printing technology and materials and the idea of a community of Makers that could be enlisted to deploy the innovation locally.

If you want to follow what Eric is up to lately you can visit his website at www.ericklarenbeek.com.


Future of Banking [Finance
Posted on October 7, 2015 @ 08:37:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In the begining of the last recession in 2008 when taxpayers bailed out the too-big-to-fail banks, there were some banks that did not suffer similar mortgage default rates as these big banks. These were the community-owned banks, state-owned banks, credit unions and some other financial institutions with a cooperative, mutual, local, or mission-driven focus.

In her book, Owning Our Future (2013), Margorie Kelly points out that one common feature of these alternative banks was that they were not profit maximizing entities and had an ownership design that precluded them from simply wanting to generate more mortgage loans so they could maximize profits by selling them off to bigger banks who were creating mortgage-derived securities from them. If the loan went bad for these alternative banks it often meant they weren't serving their community or their mandate. The care and consideration these banks put into their loans was apparently greater than the first and second tier banks that were geared towards generating mortgage loans to maximize profits.

Profit maximization, it turns out, may be a good strategy for banks in the short run but it can lead to its own demise when it becomes predatory, impersonal, and purely financially driven. In the long run banks with an ownership design that represents the community it operates in and which has a mission beyond profit maximization tend to do better. Consider that many of the larger banks probably wouldn't be around today if they were not bailed out and that many of these alternative banks were not experiencing anywhere near the same level of defaults during the 2008 meltdown.

Ironically, the government fix was to increase the federal deposit insurance requirements, reporting requirements, and auditing requirements for all banks which tended to differentially affect the financial viability of these smaller alternative banks. The regulators apparently did not see, or allow that, the ownership design and community-based mandate of these alternative banks were the controls that prevented them from experiencing the crisis to the same degree as the profit maximizing banks.

The story behind the crisis is obviously more complex than this but the point of this short blog is to draw attention to the issue of whether banks that are profit maximizing are systemically problematic and whether we can correct this simply through regulatory improvement. Or, does it require an ownership design change coupled with a mandate change to create real systemic changes in banking? Regardless of whether you agree with Margorie's analysis and assessment of the banking crisis, I think Margorie's book (which I also referred to in a previous blog) is useful in helping us to see that there is room for innovation on the issues of who owns a bank and what their mandate is. The design of future banks will hinge fundamentally on these two issues.




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