Saturday, March 23, 2013

Using entrepreneurship to give former prostitutes a fresh start

Pretty awesome (Businessweek via HN)


While the idea of "focus" may be oversimplified... ( via HN) and while there are tools and habits that can increase the number of things you can focus on, at least for me there's a limit before the number of things becomes overwhelming. Something that I'm trying to manage now.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fracking comes to China

Why fracking could be such a game changer (thediplomat via Instapundit):

China’s oil fields are drying up. The International Energy Agency’s (IAE) World Energy Outlook for 2010 predicts China will import 79% of its oil by 2030, a figure that demonstrates the pressing need for China to develop new energy sources. Enter shale gas and the “unconventionals.”

Estimates of China’s shale gas resources differ. China’s Ministry of Land and Resources estimates reserves of 886 trillion cubic feet (tcf), while the U.S. Energy Information Administration puts the country’s resources at 1,275 tcf. The upper estimates would mean China sits atop more shale gas than the U.S. and Canada combined. According to China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, by 2015 China should be extracting 6.5 billion cubic meters of shale gas per year, with a view of producing 100 billion cubic meters by 2020. China’s goal is to meet 10 percent of the country’s energy demands from shale gas the same year. To successfully meet the goal, China’s oil and gas industry needs to bridge its large knowledge deficit. Despite some progress, recent successes in domestic extraction technology have been modest.

This shouldn't need to be a trend in management...

But it's a good trend nonetheless for public firms - Boards are increasingly shaping management compensation around stock performance (WSJ):

More than half of the compensation awarded to 51 CEOs last year was tied to their companies' financial or stock-market performance, according to a preliminary review of proxy statements by consulting firm Hay Group and The Wall Street Journal. In most cases, the companies must hit specified targets for the CEO to receive the promised money or equity.

By comparison, three years earlier, in 2009, 35% of the compensation for CEOs at the same companies carried performance conditions, Hay says. The rest of their pay came from salaries and grants of stock and stock options with no performance hurdles.

Companies that are doing particularly cool things...


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Cheap, clean, desalinated water... courtesy of Lockheed Martin?

Promising development to watch (Reuters via Instapundit):

A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.

The process, officials and engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp say, would enable filter manufacturers to produce thin carbon membranes with regular holes about a nanometer in size that are large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough to block the molecules of salt in seawater. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

Because the sheets of pure carbon known as graphene are so thin - just one atom in thickness - it takes much less energy to push the seawater through the filter with the force required to separate the salt from the water, they said.

Milton Friedman: Economics is about production not money

Social Impact Bonds

An interesting approach to align incentives - a financial instrument that undoubtedly needs time to evolve to develop objective measures and structures that work (the Economist):

That puts her at the front line of a big financial experiment, too. Her work is being funded by an instrument called a “social-impact bond” (SIB), which promises returns to private investors if social objectives are met. The bond raised £5m ($8m) from investors, to be shared between St Mungo’s and another organisation called Thames Reach (responsible for another 400-or-so homeless people).

The cash will fund a three-year programme, the success of which is measured by everything from the number of nights that the rough sleepers spend on the streets to their visits to hospital. As targets are met, payments will flow to investors from the Greater London Authority (GLA), the SIB’s commissioning body.

The arrangement suits all parties. The rough sleepers are frequent users of government services, including accident-and-emergency wards. Cutting their number should save the GLA enough money to fund payments to investors if goals are met. At a time when public spending is under pressure, the taxpayer stumps up only if results are achieved. Investors have the prospect of a return to entice them, of up to 6.5% if targets are met.
More here (PBS)

What were they thinking?

The madness of the bailout in Cyprus ( "Don’t be surprised to see a bankrun in Greece, Spain, Italy or Portugal next week". More here (the Economist), here (, and here (

Update: The Economist's blog adds: "in addition to the unfairness of the deal it seems an unnecessarily risky move." Shockingly, "after Cyprus bank bailout, depositors race to withdraw their cash. Is the rest of Europe next?" (thedailybeast).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Changing the world one prize at a time

Contests for big breakthroughs are opportunities for interventions that don't result in as many unintended consequences or opportunities for graft - we need more of them (WSJ):

New York hotelier Raymond Orteig liked to drink at his bar with French pilots during World War I. In 1919, Orteig announced a $25,000 prize for the first nonstop New York-to-Paris flight. Pilots worked with gung-ho young airline companies to design planes for the task. The Bellanca was tipped to win, but a mail pilot named Charles Lindbergh worked with Ryan Airlines of San Diego on a single-pilot, single-engine plane named the Spirit of St. Louis. He got the job done in 33½ hours.

In more recent times? Well, in 1990, the unlikely duo of the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health launched a 15-year Human Genome Project to identify the 30,000 genes that make up the human DNA. Craig Venter launched his own unofficial competition with the project and succeeded in sequencing his own genes in 13 years. His prize: patents for his company, Celera Genomics, and a jump-start on business with drug makers.

The U.S. government runs some contests today, for example at, but the prize money is small potatoes—$20,000-$80,000 for things like "design a mobile application to help people 'Live Well. Learn How.' "

No, no. Real contests have to be about BHA—Big, Hairy, Audacious goals. Fortunately, the private sector has taken over. The X-Prize Foundation runs a series of contests, the most famous being the $10 million Ansari X-Prize, which saw 26 teams spend a total of more than $100 million attempting to fly three people 100 kilometers (62 miles) into space twice within two weeks. [...]

If they really want to have an impact on society—beyond the societal wealth already created by Google and Facebook—offer a billion-dollar BrinZuck prize to prevent or stop Alzheimer's, or to regenerate spinal cords and organs, or to cure obesity. Instead of small-ball academic researchers vying for grants from the National Institutes of Health, you'd get entrepreneurs coming out of the woodwork trying innovative approaches to win a $1 billion jackpot. Or maybe the challenge could be to create personal jet packs. Or neuron downloads. Whatever—but something BHA.

Thankfully, there already is a series of contests with $1 billion-plus prizes. Some great (and not so great) companies are funded with the prize of billion-dollar valuations in the public markets. It's called the IPO market and entrepreneurs pull all-nighters writing clever code while wearing dark sunglasses with the brightness on their monitors turned up.

Yet even in that realm, much of what we see is incremental. The Big Hairy Audacious stuff still needs and deserves a breakthrough contest.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Poverty doesn't cause terrorism

It's sad in a way that this is an idea that has to be continually debunked - ironically a claim that's often repeated by those who supposedly advocate on behalf of the poor (DailyCaller).

Monday, March 04, 2013