Guy also sent me a note about this wonderful article on bike saddles for real men from Sheldon Brown. Well worth a look. Of course, real cyclists really ride recumbents.
Sheldon Brown is the force behind Harris Cyclery in West Newton, which carries the Greenspeed recumbent trike.
Microfinance is the provision of financial services, usually in very small amounts, to poor people. The key idea is that these services are market-based and without subsidy. The first successful stories of microfinance I heard about centered on the work of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Success in microfinance is generally measured both in terms of helping the population served and by usual business metrics of revenue and profit. Microfinance has indeed been successful as measured by helping the very poor start businesses that lift them out of poverty, provide needed services to their locales, as well as paying back the financiers profitably so they are thus able to repeat the cycle.
Ideas of microfinance have migrated back to the developed world to help underserved populations, including in the USA. Not every example is a success on either dimension, and each circumstance needs the right approach in order to work.
I recently saw a couple of new derivatives of these ideas. One is The Acumen Fund which calls itself a global non-profit venture fund. Another is Kiva that allows philanthropic and microfinance minded people in the rich world to provide loans directly to entrepreneurs in the poor world. Kiva's website says that
Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on Kiva.org, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back.Both of these are microfinance 2.0 if ever such a label was warranted.
The article notes the presence of a pet llama on the trail (reported on this blog last year), and the problems of cyclists mixing with roller-bladers, pedestrians, kids and other pets. Apparently police are called regularly to deal with incidents of bikeway rage. What a shame.
A word to the wise: traffic on this bike path is very manageable during weekdays (apart from rush hour I guess), and, I believe, bright and early on weekend mornings.
Over the last couple of years we have held a "book club" as one of the discussion sessions, and this year we read Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software by Scott Rosenberg.
The title may be familiar to adult students of foreign languages. You know you are getting the hang of a new language when you have a dream in that language. One of the programmers in this book talks about dreaming in code...
This book is a great read, and opens up, even for the non-technical reader, a feeling for the reality of creating software. It is an ugly reality. We struggle between engineering and art. We like to think we can build software the way we build bridges, but there is no physics to constrain us or inform us. Our industry is full of stories of individual programmers who are 10 or 20 times more productive than the rest, who produce "beautiful" code ... surely they are artists.
And yet, getting artists to work together on projects is not generally an effort of science or engineering. In a section of a legendary speech given in 1968 on this very topic, we are invited to imagine a group attempting to write down the criteria for the design of the "Mona Lisa". Nearly 40 years ago this allegory highlights the same problems described in Dreaming in Code, for which we have no more insight today. If creating software is truly an art form, why do we not teach it as we teach other art, by analysis and critique of the great works that have gone before (not so many, in our case). How do we harness large teams of people to engage in such an artisitic endeavor? This always leads back to a very famous book, written in 1974 called The Mythical Man Month by Fred Brooks. He was the first to show, unequivocally, that adding more programmers to a late project makes it later, and who reminds us that no matter how many women are assigned to the task, bearing a child takes nine months.
Dreaming in Code reminds us that software is brittle (it breaks rather than bends when stressed). We are also reminded that any decision is better than no decision. Mostly we are reminded that any software created by more than one person is driven by force of will, by leadership, discipline and strong management. It is not something that can be done in a commune. The "obvious counter-examples" are the open source community of programmers around, say, Firefox or Linux. However our group yesterday was unanimous in believing that existing software, with clear and articulated design, architecture and style can be turned over to a communal effort for improvement. Starting from scratch needs the force of will that only a lone programmer or a small well-managed team can accomplish.
I follow three healthcare industry blogs:
- Health lawyer David Harlow's Health Blawg (a health law blog)
- Running a Hospital from Paul Levy, who runs Boston's venerable Beth Israel, and
- Let's talk healthcare from Charlie Baker, CEO of the well respected Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare company
I recommend all three of them.
David's blawg is the driest, as a law blog should be ... but it sure opens your eyes to the extent by which crazy regulation runs our healthcare system. Stark rules, anyone?
Paul is at turns amusing, saddening, maddening and uplifting, as health care in America can be. However the blog really gives me a flavor for the sharp end of the system. Chect out this discussion of an interesting clinical trial, and the surprise ending which he added later.
Charlie comes across as an economist. His micro-economic world is trying to run a company that makes money; his macro-economic world is trying to envisage a healthcare system that is effective and cost-effective. Check out how he deconstructs what I previously found a compelling idea called Medicare for All.
A very small sub-section of my readers will know Becca Rausch, a local Boston icon of Israeli folkdance. Having had the privilege of dancing in a couple of her troupes, I can report that during rehearsals she is often heard to shout out "That was great! Do it again!"
Yesterday I went out for a bike ride with Guy Sapirstein and we more or less repeated last week's 30 mile route. It was a great ride, and my average speed was 13.6 mph - a tad better than last week's 13.5 mph.
Given that the Hazon charity ride I am doing with Hannah later in the summer is a two day ride, I know I need to be able to say to myself after day 1 "that was great; do it again!" So, this morning, I took myself out onto the Comm Ave Carriage Lane. Ouch! I went slower, puffed harder and enjoyed myself less, and I only rode 11 miles. Certainly riding alone is not half as much fun as riding with someone else, and I was not completely flattened by the hills - my legs do seem to be getting stronger. Nonetheless, doing it again was no easy thing, even if it was less than half of yesterday's ride length. The reasons are obvious(ish): yesterday I was fresh from a couple of days without riding and my muscles weren't tired. Just the "stress" of the fluid and energy usage or throughput means my body is less responsive to my desire to use my muscles today than it was yesterday (my Garmin Training Center software tells me yesterday's ride used 2200 calories).
This, of course, is just like the venture capital startup world.
Venture capital start-ups, all share the same goal of growing fast (both investors and entrepreneurs would not be working together if this was not a primary goal). After one of our startup companies gets something right, we tell them "That was great; Do it again!" Of course, what we mean is "That was great; do it again bigger!" You sold $3m of software this year? Great, now sell $6m next year! You serviced 450,000 consumers this year? Great, now service 1.5m next year!
Another mini-digression: the law of large numbers in business talks about the problem of growth for very large companies. It is extremely difficult for a company that has grown revenue by 100% from $5 billion to $10 billion grow again by 100% to $20 billion. The first time round was hard enough: 100% = $5b ... now 100% = $10b ... eek!
A startup starts with a small baseline: sell $1m this year - easy to sell $2m next year. However, even startups have a problem with growth numbers as they try to scale capacity along with revenue. And so, after a really tough year of working hard, pushing every sales person to work with every possible prospect to squeeze as much as possible from each sales opportunity, the company achieves a great revenue number. People are exhausted, there are no sales prospects left because we have sold something to all the prospects we knew about, the software has stagnated because we used engineers' time to help new customers install the software we sold them, and the VCs tell the company "That was great! Do it again bigger!"
The successful ones do. It is not easy, but they do it.
Just like venture cyclists.
We work out how to extend ourselves on day one, and be prepared to do it again (bigger) on day two. We plan ahead; we train; we think of what shape we need to be in; we have the right food on hand; we pace ourselves; we raise money; we find mentors; we get out there and do it.
The Publick Theatre is a delightful, intimate, outdoor venue on the banks of the Charles River.
We started with a picnic on the riverbank in the sunshine. Both couples had spent a fair amount of our picnic money at Whole Foods of which the highlights were a great bottle of red wine, a manchego cheese, some fabulous olives, and three chocolate delivery vehicles (including a bar of Lindt 70%).
The theatre performance started at eight o'clock, as the evening light was dimming. The play was mostly on the stage in front of us, and on a projection into the audience, but also took advantage of the outdoor setting around us. We were amazed at the modern outlook of a play written a hundred years ago. The strong characters were the women, and the ideas they espoused were of independence, adventure, honor and directness. The men were various levels of buffoon, and even their insight lacked the strength to break out of societal constraints.
The Boston Globe has a good review of Misalliance to give you more flavor, and I recommend this production very much. If you live in, or are visiting, Boston, go to see it.
The Publick is also doing Romeo and Juliet this season. Click here for details of their performances (both playing through September).
Why are hills so hard? One word. And it's a bad word: Weight.
When you ride on the flats, you work to overcome wind resistance. There is also friction in your wheels, friction between the road and your tires, and friction in your gears. But most of your effort goes into fighting wind. And the wind pushes back on you in proportion to your height, off the ground. Recumbent bikes face less wind resistance, because they are lower. Taller people face more wind resistance. But most people find the wind manageable, and enjoy riding on the flats.
On a hill, you have all the same forces working against you, PLUS a percentage of your weight (you plus the bike) pulling you back down. Specifically, your weight (mass x gravity) times the sine of the hill's angle. The sine of the angle increases the steeper the hill gets. So the steeper the hill, the MORE force acting to pull you back.
Example. I'll use myself. I weigh 215 pounds (I carry it well, though). My bike weighs another 20 pounds. Together we weigh 235 pounds. Let's say I am climbing a hill that is 7 degrees.
Weight = 235 pounds
Hill = 7 degrees (a 7 foot rise for every 100 feet I go horizontally.)
Sin(7 degrees) = 0.12235 x 235 = 28.6 pounds!
I have almost 30 pounds pulling me right back down the hill! As a result, I slow down. A lot. You may not weigh 235 pounds. But you might have less muscle than I do. Even if you weigh 150 pounds, you still have 18.3 pounds pulling you back down the hill. As a rider who struggles with hills, what can I do?
1. I can spend money to get a lighter bike. If I ride a mountain bike, a road bike will probably knock off 5 or so pounds. If I have a road bike and feel like spending $5000, I can probably knock off another 5 pounds for a tricked out composite bike.
2. I can weigh less. Me, personally, I could lose a few pounds. Which means that how I eat when I'm not riding (i.e. during the week) has a bigger impact on my hill climbing than anything else I do. Riding helps with cardio health, circulation, muscle strength and over-all fitness. But weight loss comes through diet control, off the bike. Sorry, but it does.
3. I can get a granny gear. If my bike doesn't have a super-light gear, I will struggle to maintain my balance as my bike slows down. Lighter gears let me spin up the hill easier, because when I'm on a hill, I can't do anything about my weight at that
4. I can accept that hills are slower, and enjoy the ride. This is probably the smartest thing to do. Riding is fun. And when I'm on a hill, I should congratulate myself for being on my bike in the first place.
I can promise myself that I'll use skim milk in my cereal next week, but in the meantime I should enjoy the scenery.
See you on the hills!
One of Hazon's great projects is a blog called The Jew and the Carrot (found at jcarrot.org). This blog has been on my blogroll (in the right column) ever since it debuted.
Here is how the blog describes itself:
The Jew and the Carrot features the intersection between Jews, food and contemporary life.
The Jewish community has an amazingly complex relationship to food. As the rest of the world is waking up to the notion of sustainable agriculture, local foods, and healthy eating, so is the Jewish community in the States and in Israel.
We want to:
*/ Raise the quality of discussion about contemporary food issues in the Jewish community.
*/ Convey a sense of importance and joy around food.
*/ Challenge and inspire participants to think deeply and broadly about their own food choices.
He has been tinkering with bikes for a million years (not bad for someone in their 30s), and over the last few years has developed an amazing thing: an electric-assisted recumbent trike. Joshua prefers to call it a human-electric hybrid.
You can read all about it at their company website.
The motor pulls on the chain which means you can have the motor helping you while you pedal (or the motor can do all the work if you want. The idea is that you can go out cycling and not be concerned about hills, or the length of the ride, or keeping up with your buddies. Obviously the weight of the batteries (~60lbs) already makes this a harder workout. The bike has a range of 40-50 miles on a single charge, and more if you are not relying on the motor for the entire journey.
The team believes this will be attractive to people who would like to bike and are looking for a healthier lifestyle, but who feel they are out of shape and may get stuck or left behind in a group due to illness (or previous lifestyle). The obvious demographic are baby boomer retirees.
They are looking for angel funding - feel free to contact them directly or contact me (through Sigma).
Hazon, as I have written before, is the Hebrew word for "vision". Hazon's vision is for a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community as a step towards a healthier and more sustainable world for all. I am chair of the Board of Directors of Hazon, and it is an organization dear to my heart.
At the end of the summer I will be cycling, with my daughter Hannah, in the 2007 Hazon New York Jewish Environmental ride. This is a 120 mile ride over two days and as my postings about training this year have shown, even though I ride a recumbent bike, I am not taking this challenge lying down (sorry).
The bike ride is important for two reasons. It provides a mechanism for Jews to be physically challenged in an inspiring way. Jews are not often the most athletic of groups, and Jewish frameworks for such challenges are few and far between. Secondly, the bike ride brings a whole community of supporters behind environmental projects which impact the entire Jewish community as their ripple effects are felt.
This is all pre-amble to ask you to sponsor me for this year's ride. Please be as generous as you can. You can click here read about the groups supported by the ride proceeds.
For all of these reasons, I have signed up for a really big fundraising goal - to raise $18,000 - so I really need all the help I can get.
Please sponsor me at http://hazon.kintera.org/2007nyride/rmd.
If you prefer to sponsor my daughter Hannah, please visit: http://hazon.kintera.org/2007nyride/hannahadale.
The underlying ideas here are based on trading financial instruments called "Futures Contracts", which you can read all about on Wikipedia. If you are not familiar with these, the closest you have come is hearing about commodity futures, probably a news story about the price of oil futures or wheat futures. Using these you can, on a given day, buy (or sell) a future version of something (oil, wheat, credit risk, and many more). Farmers (and oil companies) use futures contracts to fix the future price of their products and eliminate the risk that the price will go down (although losing the upside if the price moves up). The other side of the deal is someone eliminating the risk the price will move up (but losing the opportunity of the price going down).
A knowledge market provides for buying and selling futures around knowledge or events. It is very similar to making a bet on an event happening in the future. However you are not dealing with a bookie or betting shop, you are dealing with a counter-party who is taking the opposite view.
I was introduced to knowledge markets, as have many people, when I first heard about the University of Iowa political futures exchange. The Iowa Electronic Markets allow people to buy and sell futures relating to the next Presidential election (and other political questions). It has been more accurate than most opinion polls in the last few elections. By providing a simple mechanism for people to speculate (sounds so much nicer than "bet") with each other, the price adjusts to level around which the participant pool "thinks" represents the expected outcome. I put "think" in quotes, because each participant is acting purely out of profit motive based on their belief about the likelihood of the event. As the event gets closer and closer, the price tends to push towards the actual outcome.
Similarly, the Hollywood Futures Exchange is accurate to within 16% for forecasting first weekend box-office revenue for new movies. 16% sounds like a high margin of error, but it is far better than any other forecast.
I have been playing recently with Inkling Markets which allows you to make these "bets" with play money. Inkling has a bunch of general interest contracts (sports, weather, politics) and gives you a feeling for how things work. I am also playing with play money on the Popular Science Futures Exchange which trades contracts on science and technology events (e.g., will the iPhone face a recall?). My friend Paul Bleicher sent me a note on another such play-money site called NewsFutures: today's highlighted contract is about whether and when the US will begin leaving Iraq.
There was one academic study from a few years ago that showed that sales executives in an internal corporate knowledge market generated a more accurate forecast of the company sales than did their own direct reporting to management. When sales executives report directly, they are concerned with how their reports make them look, and often inflate expectations. When acting anonymously in a knowledge market, driven only by profit-motive (and not the desire to look good to their manager), their true beliefs are expressed and produce a more accurate result. The profit-motive in these cases generally relate to very small incentives (gift certificates and the like). The idea is not for people to get rich by betting on (and, perhaps, "game fixing") corporate results, but just giving them enough incentive to participate in a fun game and expose the truth from the aggregate opinions of the group.
Inkling Markets and NewsFutures both allow organizations to generate their own knowledge markets. Google noted recently that they have been very successful with the internal use of knowledge markets.
At about this moment you may remember that there was a big public-relations disaster relating to knowledge markets in the US Defence Department after 9/11. Knowledge markets about particular threats were being used to aggregate knowledge from across the intelligence community. This is actually a very smart way to share knowledge without having to share intelligence (something which is tightly constrained by law and inter-agency rivalry). Unfortunately the scandal surrounding the idea that people were "betting on whether or not there will be another attack on America" killed the idea (unless it has re-emerged, as a secret program which the press does not know about).
If you are interested I recommend playing around with these sites (Hollywood Futures Exchange, Inkling or NewsFutures are great places to start, or PopSci for techies). I expect knowledge markets to become much more prevalent over time in our society. In fact, I am a buyer of a futures contract to that effect at 80% or better.
Hue, who has given me permission to re-use his tips on my blog, recently sent out the following tip on cycling in hills.
The number one technique you can use to make hills easier is to attack them. What does that mean? Very often hills come in multiples. There will be a climb, then a short descent, then another climb. Even "flat" roads often have rises and falls. If you are like most people, you ride to the top of the hill, breathe a sigh of relief, and coast down-hill, trying to rest before the next hill. This is a formula for disaster. Every hill will feel like lifting weights, and every rise will be demoralizing. Instead, do the following:
1. At the top of the hill, keep pedaling as you go crest. Don't stop.
2. Put your bike in a heavier gear and pedal all the way down, gaining speed.
3. Keep that speed going as you ride into the next hill.
4. In the middle of the next hill, as you feel yourself slowing down, shift to a lighter gear and spin up to the top.
This is called attacking hills. You pedal on the down-hill to gain momentum. You keep pedaling on the up-hill. As your legs slow down, you shift to a lighter gear to keep your momentum going.
Hue, you're asking, if I wanted to screw this up, what would I do? You would not pedal on the downhill. You would coast. Coasting on the downhill lets your legs get stiff, it kills rotational momentum, and it forces your body to start a physical action (pedaling) at the same time you are losing momentum (going up-hill.) Coasting downhill is so sweet, I know. It feels like a reward for all your hard effort. But believe me - you pay for it on the next up-hill.
This was a variant on rides I did with Jason Glasgow last year, and was hard work (mostly) but good fun (mostly). My moving average was around 13.5mph (slower than Guy and Tom who kindly stopped for me when I got too far behind).
We saw three Hazon Israel Ride cyclists ride by with their ride jerseys. All I could manage to yell once I realized the connection was "Go, Hazon!" I have no idea who they were... anyone have any ideas?
After reading my Memo to Self posting, Jon Levisohn asks
So what's the catch with Jott? Is it advertising driven? Or is it just one of the altruistic businesses, created to serve us without any thought of making a profit? ;)
This is a good question (because I have the answer). Jott's website states: As of this beta, there is no fee to sign up and use Jott. Charges associated with phone minute usage, text messages, internet access, etc. may apply, and Jott does not cover those. Please refer to our Terms of Service for more information.
The next question in unpacking this web 2.0 offering is asking what does "beta" mean in this case? Wikipedia has a whole page of possible uses, and in this case it means: the first version [of the software or service] released outside the [company] that develops the software, for the purpose of evaluation or real-world testing. So this is one reason why it is free ... it is still test software. Google is well known for keeping features in a beta state for years while they work out what to do with it. Once they think they have a revenue model, they take it out of beta and make it "general release" or "full production version" or the like.
Like all web-based services, I am sure Jott has some ideas about revenue for the future, but first they want us to get hooked (I am). My guess is they will end up creating a freemium (free to premium) model. You will get, say, 10 messages a month for free, but for more than that you have to pay, say, $5 per month. Skype has a freemium model - basic PC-to-PC calling is free, but additional services (voicemail, calls to/from regular phones etc) cost real money.
Also, they may add advertising to the emails with the note transcription. In any event, you can be sure this is not just an altruistic business. Sorry.
Memo to self: wouldn't it be great if I could send a short note serving as a reminder to myself really easily, whenever and from wherever ... well, it turns out that I can. Sign up with jott.com, and then call a special number, dictate a message and find it transcribed into an email in your inbox within a couple of hours. You can send memos to yourself or to others using their system. They recognise your phone numbers (using caller-id) so you don't have to authenticate yourself when you call.
Memo to self: spend less money ... this is a useful short note about which we should all be reminded on a regular basis. However, for startups who have outside investment (and therefore are spending other people's money), this is a particularly important memo. Check out Seth Levine's brief and interesting post on the topic.
... the first anniversary of my first bike ride on my still unnamed, and fabulously recumbent, bike.
In the last year I have ridden over 700 miles (of which 180 so far this year). Wow.
In thinking back on the benefits of all this activity, I can certainly include lots of feelings of well-being, probably better heart-health, enjoying involvement in Hazon, getting to have fun with a blog, and good times with my family.
For example, yesterday Hannah and I rode six miles each way along the Charles River from Watertown to Cambridge and back. What a joy it is to be spending time at the insistence (she thinks) of my teenage daughter. Even the non-cycling members of my family have fun at the Hazon NY ride retreat.
In the spirit of an annual review, I give this entire experience a grade of "exceeds expectations".
Oh yes, and for my US readers: "Happy 4th!"
A high-end bicycle maker based in Santa Cruz, CA started experimenting with bicycle frames made from bamboo several years ago. Recently he made a grant-funded trip to Ghana to look for local sources of other key materials (they have lots of bamboo), and for local entrepreneurs interested in using these ideas.
Read the full story in the Seattle Times.
I was sitting with a friend earlier in the week, in the lobby of the Parker Meridien Hotel in Manhattan. I had a Starbucks drink (my favorite), and was noshing on some coffee cake. A very nice gentleman came over and said although I was welcome to drink while sitting in the lobby I was not allowed to eat while sitting in the lobby.
NOT ALLOWED TO EAT WHILE SITTING IN THE LOBBY!?#@
For Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans, I am reminded of the moment when Ford Prefect asked the Vogon guard whether he gets job satisfaction from throwing people out of airlocks.
Think about whether you can stand the discipline before you decide to stay at the Parker Meridien.
Technorati: Parker Meridien
I have embedded both videos on this posting, but in case it is being delivered to you in a way that you cannot see one or the other (or either), links to the hosting pages are here and here.
Thanks to Ilan Segev for Jew Phone and Brad Feld for Jesus Phone.
I looked back at my heartrate data (from my fabulous Garmin Edge 305) over these rides with Guy since our first on May 27.
I see on that date my average heart rate was 149 and my max was 172 (beats per minute). Each subsequent ride has seen my heartrate drop slightly, indicating better fitness. Today, even though we had the longer ride (at faster speed), my average heartrate was 143 bpm, with the max at 168.
I ascribe the little blip up on the max rate from today's ride to be related to the higher speed, and the longer trip.