The Untapped Opportunity in Environmental Education


(I wrote the following note in preparation for a roundtable I’m participating in at the Breakthrough Institute’s annual Dialogue meeting.)

The purpose of this note is to share an alternate perspective on the opportunity and role of environmental studies in undergraduate and graduate eduction. It is based on my work in industry, as well as various environmental science and policy activities.

I have focused my notes on general environmental studies programs, separate of environmental science programs. I believe that these are distinctly different types of programs, for reasons I’m happy to discuss, so am treating them separately.

About Me

My formal training was in electrical and computer engineering, and I spent the early part of my career in engineering roles. Later I moved to high-tech management, and in 2006 was named SVP and Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) of Sun Microsystems, a position that I held for 5 years. Sun was a Fortune 200 computer company that was bought by Oracle Systems in 2010.

During my time as CSO I co-wrote Citizen Engineer: A Handbook for Socially Responsible Engineering with Greg Papadopoulos, Sun’s Chief Technology Officer. The goal was to provide engineers and engineering students with basic understanding of areas that we felt were missing from the standard engineering curriculum, primarily in sustainability and intellectual property. Following the release of the book in 2010, Greg and I participated in presentations and discussions with universities across the country.

Today I work for a small innovation and engineering company, with an emphasis on sustainability problems. I have also maintained formal and informal ties to a number of environmental science and policy efforts.

My Experience at Sun

During my time as Sun’s CSO I interviewed over 100 interdisciplinary environmental studies graduates for several dozen different positions. I did not end up hiring any of these candidates. In general, they lost the position to someone who had a degree in a field related to the core responsibilities of the job, and who had some mix of formal and informal understanding of sustainability

For example, in looking for someone to lead our policy and implementation efforts related to hazardous substance regulations, such as RoHS in Europe, we interviewed a range of candidates, including a number environmental studies majors. In the end we hired a chemist who had also done some political science coursework. He had no formal sustainability training, but was able to get up to speed in relevant areas, and was very effective in working with both our policy teams and technical teams.

Despite this history, I came to appreciate the training that the environmental majors had received, and could relate to the potential value that their training could bring to our efforts. This was a major motivation to write Citizen Engineer, where
we tried to distill some of that training into a form that could be easily digested by our target audience.

The Need I Saw Then, and Still See Today

Ultimately, what I came to believe was that what we needed at Sun were professionals with degrees in traditional areas of study, but who had also had received some formal training in environmental studies:

  • MBA + sustainability
  • electrical engineer + sustainability
  • physicist + sustainability
  • policy expert + sustainability
  • marketing professional + sustainability
  • lawyer + sustainability
  • etc

In other words, I saw the primary need for environmental studies as a serious minor, as opposed to being a stand-alone major. Our business required that we have trained chemists, certified engineers, accredited accountants and lawyers in good standing, but our sustainability efforts were adding requirements for new skills and knowledge in each of these areas.

I believe that the situation in my company extends to innovation efforts everywhere. There is a growing movement, with the Breakthrough Institute as a leader, that recognizes innovation as a vital and hopeful path forward in our quest to create a sustainable society. In order to maximize our chances of success, it is critical that the core of our innovation engine, our scientists and engineers, are equipped with a basic understanding of environmental and human issues and systems.

My Perspective

By focusing on environmental studies as a stand-alone discipline, today’s Environmental Program Movement (EPM) is only serving a tiny fraction of students, and, as a result, is not fulfilling its potential value to society. There is certainly a need for dedicated professionals whose training is centered on environmental management, policy, etc. I would argue, however, that the need and opportunity is even greater to augment our existing fields of study.

I would like to see “EPM 2”, a movement that builds on the learnings of today’s EPM. The goal of EPM 2 would be to provide a solid foundation in environmental and human issues, and interdisciplinary tools to every student engaged in higher education. At UCLA, for example, the focus would be on the 42,000 students who are not in environmental studies programs, not just the 221 who are.

EPM 2 would be designed to complement the learning frameworks, methodologies, etc of the of the programs in which students are majoring. While this builds on the methodologies of today’s EPM, they would have to be blended with the appropriately on a case-by-case basis. For example, science, engineering, business and law all have their unique approaches to problem solving. The interdisciplinary approaches of EPM would need to be meshed with each of these in a complementary way.


The growth of EPM will increase the number of professionals who are equipped with the skills and knowledge to help lead us to a sustainable future. However, EPM majors will only constitute a tiny fraction of workforce, and cannot replace professionals whose role requires field-specific training and degrees.

Because of this, I am advocating for EPM (or an offshoot of EPM) to expand its efforts to the goal of providing every graduate of higher education with the tools and knowledge required to work on our most challenging environmental and human issues.

Solar Roads and Faith in Innovation


Whenever I see something a wildly create idea like the solar road idea, it renews my faith in the power of innovation and its potential to address our toughest sustainability problems. Given the number of people who sent me links to this project, the idea seems to have captured the imagination of a good number of folks.

I’ll be up front: in the case of solar roads, I actually don’t believe that it will make sense to widely deploy them today (more on this at the end of this post). But that doesn’t mean that the idea won’t have important value, either by sparking a related idea that has a better chance of making it big, or by catalyzing someone’s thought process, enabling them to have a totally different, off-the-wall idea. It’s also possible that I’m wrong, and this is a killer idea.

The beauty of the US innovation “system” is that a rich pool of new ideas gets broad visibility. Many will get an initial investment of some kind. The ones that best solve real problems in a cost-effective manner will get to live on, and the ones that don’t will eventually not get the investment they need, and will fade away. We don’t rely on my opinion, or that of some government agency, or anyone any specific company. The open market makes the ultimate decision.

Ideas flow through our “system” and build on each other. As mentioned above, the real value of an idea may be the other ideas that it helps foster. Or maybe the time just isn’t right for a specific idea, but at some point in the future someone will notice that the conditions that previously doomed an idea have changed, and its time to reconsider it. For example, some future solar technology may have just the right characteristics to radically change the viability of the solar road idea.

This is why eye-opening ideas get me charged up, even if the commercial viability isn’t obvious at a given moment in time. Solar roads may or may not make sense with current technology, but I’m confident that 1) our innovation system will come to an appropriate answer to that question, and 2) the idea will get broad visilibity, with the potential to ultimately create value that is much bigger than the obvious implementation we see today.

Initial Thoughts on the Viability of Solar Roads

Two thought experiments lead me to believe that solar roads don’t make sense right now.

The first revolves around the following question: if you had today’s state of the art solar panel, would you embed it in a road? The answer is clearly “no”. With today’s panels people do serious work to make sure that they are well sited, with clear view of the right parts of the sky, deployed at angles optimized for that geo-location, and organized in groups to optimize maintenance and common infrastructure. Even with all of this careful work, today’s panels only make financial sense with serious government subsidies.

Solar roads will be very suboptimal from the persective of all of these siting criteria. Compared to other options, solar roads won’t make economic sense until we’ve deployed panels on every available warehouse, megastore, mall and factory; a state which we are a long way from.

The second thought experiment revolves around the obvious follow-up question: would solar roads have unique features that would justify the very expensive electricity that they would produce? The two that have been suggested are heating roads for snow and ice removal, and dynamic road lighting for pedestrian and animal visibility at night.

A first observation is that these both add to our national electricity requirements so better have a high value or replace other, comparable energy usage. Based on having lived in a few northern climates, my sense is that road heating would work in such a narrow band of temperature and conditions that it would not be generally useful. I’d be interested if anyone has a study or examples that show that this is actually an effective strategy for clearing roards.

Lighting roads for pedestrians and animals seems cool, but it’s hard to imagine that it would justify the infrastructure and energy required.

If I’m wrong about something, its most likely that there’s a niche application where these features are valuable, and can justify the inefficient solar deployment. I’ll be interested to see if such a scenario emerges, and, if so, how large it is. In the meantime, I’m will remain skeptical of the viability of this solar roads given current technologies.

Are We Witnessing the Roots of US Data Isolationism?

If you’re an American you probably don’t spend much time thinking about where all of your data is stored. In reality it is probably spread across Gmail or some other email provider, Facebook,, your cell company, the Department of Motor Vehicles, etc, etc, etc. If someone you do business with got hacked or went out of business, you probably thought some about the impact of that situation. But US attitudes and behaviors towards data privacy suggest that it didn’t stop you from using other services that keep copies of your data wherever they choose to.

If you’re outside of the US, you likely have a different view. In many countries an authoritarian government controls the in-country network. Unfortunate citizens of these countries believe that all of their information ultimately gets to the government, and privacy only comes with extreme effort and risk, if at all.

By contrast, in much of the developed world outside of America, especially Europe, there is a much deeper support for data privacy rights of individuals as compared to the US. These rights are strongly supported by the populace and are also, in the EU and elsewhere, instantiated as policy in law. In the EU this combines is a lingering sense of nationality; Europe still has thousands of local and national-level service providers, at the same time US service providers have been massively consolidated, largely doing away with the smaller providers. As a result, in Europe and developed countries through the world there is heightened awareness and a stronger legal framework related to where individual data is stored.

If you’re a company that deals with people’s data, you’re likely to be tuned into this heightened privacy awareness, even if you don’t operate out a country with strict laws. You know that your customer base represents a spectrum of opinions from “unconcerned” to “paranoid”, and that in some cases those concerns are supported by laws that you can be held responsible for. If you are one of the online giants (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc), you are likely in direct discussions with a variety of governments around the world about privacy and the legal implications to your business.

As a result, companies are taking a more serious approach to where they keep their customers’ data. For on-line giants this is a decision of where to put your own data centers. But for most organizations this is a question of whose existing data centers you use. In either case, some of the placement decision factors are practical: available bandwidth, proximity to a tech-savvy workforce, sources of reliable energy, etc. But now data privacy and protection are additional, critical factors in deciding where to store customer data.

Daniel Castro, at ITIF, argues in “The False Promise of Data Nationalism” that the reliability and security of your datacenter provider should be paramount, and that the geo-political location is less important. He closes with a suggestion that the US should lead an effort to create an international agreement on the free flow of data.

While this view emphasizes the nationalism that I’ve witnessed in Europe and elsewhere, my direct experience supports the news reports that suggest that the lack of strong data privacy laws in the US are the main reasons keeping many companies from allowing their data to be stored in America. For example, I’ve had IT executives in many countries, including Canada, tell me that their local laws prohibit storage of specific kinds of data in US facilities. And a recent Bloomberg report suggests that some companies are now requiring their service providers and suppliers to keep corporate data be kept outside the US.

Without debating the national security and privacy implications of US policy, the Patriot Act and related laws that provide US government agencies access to stored and transmitted information are in direct conflict with other countries’ attitudes and laws regarding data privacy. This is in direct conflict with many individuals’ views of data privacy around the world, as well as the laws of many economically important countries. So if you are a data service provider, it is impossible for you to store certain kinds of data from many countries in the US in a way that is compliant with the laws of those countries. Period. Nothing you can do about it.

From a US perspective we can cast other countries as pursuing nationalistic data policies, but the underlying truth is that we, the US, has adopted an isolationist policy that threatens to make us a island in the world of global data.

iPhone Power Revisited: Still Less Than a Fridge


In August Mark Mill’s paper “The Cloud Begins with Coal” claimed that that the annual energy use of an iPhone exceeded that of a standard refrigerator. In my response I showed where his calculations were flawed, and that his claim didn’t hold up (a number of others also offered critiques). However, I also said that he made some important points about the energy cost of mobile data.

About 10 days ago Mark published a rebuttal defending his original computation, and adding a new calculation that he claims supports his case. This effort was disappointing – while his original paper raised some interesting values, this one offered nothing new.

I’m totally in the camp with Rob Atkinson, believing that we should be far more interested in multiplying the ample societal value of smart phones and related technology, as opposed to angsting about whether it uses more or less power than a fridge. However, I’m a computer guy, so information and facts matter to me and here’s my response.

iPhone v. Fridge, Again

As far as I can tell, Mark made no fundamental changes to his core calculation from the first time. When he got to the part that I critiqued, his use of approximately 12GB per mobile user per month or over 7x the real industry average, he makes the following statement: “Note that this is, perforce, higher than the average in the above survey, but today’s heavy user becomes tomorrow’s average user.”

I’m sorry Mark, but when we’re trying to compare two things that are close, you can’t just knowlingly use a variable that’s many multiples off of reality. Using the real number brings your iPhone energy down to half of the fridge, even with the other factors thrown in.

And worse, those aren’t tomorrow’s numbers either. Using the chart on page 27 of your original paper we see estimates in the 6-8 Exabytes/month range for mobile data in 2015, while page 7 shows 2.5B – 3B mobile devices. That suggests gains in bandwidth per month, but still multiple times less than you suggest will happen tomorrow. Other papers you cite show similar growth.

Ruling on the field: handwaving about timeframes doesn’t change the result. Energy advantage still goes to the iPhone.

I’m Special And So Is My Weather

Every so often over the last decade or so I’ve sensed a trend that I call “temporal exceptionalism”, or the view that right now is special, particularly related to weather events. This recurring idea that our storms are “historic” continues, even when data suggests the opposite, such as the recent state of hurricanes, floods, drought and tornadoes in the US. While we have had bad weather events in the US over the last decade, we’ve been fortunate to not have historically bad ones, or historically many at once.

When I wonder about what makes us we feel like today’s storms are special, a few potential sources come to mind: the ubiquitous TV weatherman standing in the storm, the proclamations of the doomsday faction of the climate change crowd (who sometimes seem to take satisfaction in the most tragic conditions), and our 21st century media, history’s greatest system for collecting bad news, making sure we know about bad weather no matter where it happens.

Last week a new event reminded me of our temporal exceptionalism, while an article made me add another potential source to my list.

The floods in Colorado are tragic, both in the loss of life and economic impact on that area. My thoughts have been with my friends and colleagues in that area, and so far the news has been pretty good all things considered.
And as expected, the historical significance of the floods started at “1,000-year event” levels, but further analysis has since suggested that these were probably on the scale that could recur every 25 or 50 years.

At the same time as the flood was being sorted out, a drawing-filled post titled “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” hit my inbox and raised new questions: Is there something going on culturally that makes us fundamentally need our storms to be historic? Are they somehow providing needed justification to our lives? Or is it something else?

Beyond that I wonder if there’s a parallel between the GYPSY’s happiness and our sense of safety. Is our elevated sense of meteorological uniqueness dooming us to not take our storms seriously? Are we saying “how could we have seen that coming?”, when any casual study of the historical data would have shown it to be a real possibility?

About the only thing I can say for sure is that I’ll get another opportunity to see temporal exceptionalism in action again soon.

Energy, Clouds, iPhones and Refrigerators

In the last few weeks an idea has been making the rounds that, when you count all of the required networks and cloud services, your iPhone uses more electricity than your refrigerator. This idea was first presented in a publication called “The Cloud Begins with Coal” by Mark Mills, and was quickly followed up in with further analysis (and a different version of the calculation) by the Breakthrough Institute, “Bracing for the Cloud”. [Disclosure: I am proud to be a Sr. Fellow at the Breakthrough Institute.]

Since these articles make some very interesting points, I decided to dive into the data. I’ll share some observations here. At the end I’ll take a closer look at the iPhone-fridge comparison. Teaser: I wouldn’t crank up the iPhone guilt just yet.

Rise of the Wireless Cloud

When I started focusing on the sustainability of computing around 2005, the main area of concern were large, traditional datacenters. Through the next half dozen years the focus shifted to large clouds, including general compute clouds (e.g. Amazon Web Services) and the cloud datacenters behind popular web services (e.g. Facebook, Google, etc). Multiple football fields in size, these facilities can use the energy of small or medium towns.

These whitepapers highlight the emergence of cellular data (data delivered over the mobile phone network) as a major new area of energy growth in the computing world. Although mobile data is still a small fraction of overall ITC energy use (less than 10%, and way less by some calculations), it is growing at a rate of multiple hundred percent per year, driven by a combination of increasing subscribers and increasing data usage.

Calculations of energy use for accessing web services, such as Facebook, over a wired or WiFi network have not been very dramatic, as the energy usage was small and spread across the device, the network and the datacenter (WiFi networks, like the one in your home or office, use a tiny fraction of the energy per bit of mobile data networks). These whitepapers show how dramatically the total energy changes when you include a mobile data network, whose energy cost starts to dominate the result and make the total energy larger by comparison.

In the US and other ‘wired’ countries (here I literally mean wired) it sometimes feels like mobile data is just a convenience. Do I really need to upload my pictures this instant, or could I wait until I’m on WiFi? But in most of the world the mobile Internet is the Internet. There aren’t ubiquitous wires that can carry high speed data, and its unlikely there will ever be any. For hundreds of millions of people the mobile Internet is the foundation for new ways of life, creating links to other people, information and commerce in ways that were previously unthinkable.

In this way Mills, et al have made an important connection between expanding global Internet access and the resulting increases in energy that the mobile network will require.

Finally, Mills and BTI have touched on four other interesting points, which I cover next.

ICT Share of WW Energy Use

In the 2007 timeframe there was general agreement that ICT used roughly 2% of the world’s energy. Part of why “…Begins with Coal” got attention is because 10% sounded dramatic, but that was a fraction of WW electricity, not all energy. With electricity around 40% of WW energy use (see EIA Monthly Report, Table 2.1, that puts ICT at 4% of WW energy, or double what we thought it was 6 years ago. I have long believed that ICT energy use was doubling every 5 years, so we’re more or less on track.

Lack of Precision in ICT Energy Calculations

Reading the “…Begins with Coal” you see estimates with very large ranges. One of the key amounts, KWh per GB of mobile data, is described as having a full 10X range of estimated values, from 2 to 20 (more on this in the refrigerator discussion).

A challenge is that the underlying equipment and usage are both changing rapidly. For example, the CEET whitepaper shows demand growing roughly 400% in 3 years, while the AT Kearney report (the least reliable of the bunch, IMHO), shows the energy per GB of wireless data dropping over 40% in 2 years. Unfortunately, Mills doesn’t help the situation, as he mixes data from multiple years without any attempt to normalize it. I was most impressed with the rigor of the CEET whitepaper from this perspective.

Is Cloud Computing Energy Efficient?

Awareness of the energy involved in the mobile Internet have asked many to wonder whether cloud computing is still efficient. I’ll admit that this is a legitimate question in the wired world (US, Europe, etc), though I strongly believe that any honest accounting will show it is far more efficient than everyone trying to run their own servers.

However, in the majority of the world without wired communications and reliable electricity, where mobile Internet is the Internet, there really isn’t a discussion to have: in these areas there is no computing without cloud computing.

________Begins with Coal

Since there seems to be acceptance that Cloud Begins with Coal, we need to also accept that EVs Begin with Coal. I still don’t see how EVs are a game changer without a huge breakthrough in renewable electricity, which would be a huge deal all by itself.

Examining the Calculations

So what uses more energy: a fridge, or an iPhone?

With everyone agreeing that the Energy Star fridge uses around 350 KWh/year, Mills and BTI take very different approaches to the iPhone calculation. Mills includes embodied energy, BTI doesn’t. This accounts for over 300KWh/year difference. But if we just focus in on the wireless data, we see two major differences. First, Mills uses 2 KWh/GB (presumably from CEET), while BTI uses 19 KWh/GB (presumably from AT Kearney). Second, Mills assumes usage of 2.8 GB/week, or 145.6 GB/year, while BTI uses 1.58GB/month, or 19.1GB/year. So we have a 9.5x difference in one key value, and a 7.6x difference in the other.

Let’s look at energy per GB first. I looked through a lot of the references, and found no other value over 5 KWh/GB, with most around 2 KWh/GB. I also independently calculated the value from other data in Mills and CEET, and had one value of 7 KWh/GB using worst case numbers, and other values as low as 1 KWh/GB. Since the AT Kearney report has no references and doesn’t show where the data came from, I’m inclined to go with Mills (and CEET’s) value of 2 KWh/GB.

Looking at data usage, BTI’s number (1.58GB/mo) looks far more reasonable, having been sourced from Verizon as the average for iPhone subscribers. Using Mills’ data of 20 Exabytes of total bandwidth and 1.2B subscribers, you can independently come up with an average of 1.39GB/mo. While I’m sure there are people using more than 10GB/mo as Mills suggests, this is clearly not a good representative value.

Using these selections to redo the calculations, we get:

Mills: 600 of the 700 KWh are from the wireless network, which should now be divided by 7.6, or 78KWh. Adding back in the remaining 100KWh leaves us with 178KWh. Note that this includes all embodied energy.

BTI: Substituting 2 KWh/GB for 19 yields 38 KWh/year. Adding the remaining 27 KWh/year yields 65 KWh/year.

Summary: Unless you’re personally over 5GB/mo of mobile data, feel free to hold off on your iPhone guilt trip for now.

Full Circle: Patriots Day 2013

In Concord, Mass, where we live, Patriots Day dawns with Samuel Prescott crossing the Old North Bridge on horseback to announce that the British are coming. Since early in the morning minutemen from neighboring towns, Acton, Bedford, Carlisle, Lincoln, and so on, have been walking towards Concord to join the Concord minutemen and British soldiers in a parade and ceremony. Even today the well-equipped and well-dressed British are in stark contrast to the small bands of minutemen in their 1770’s farm clothes.

It’s still amazing to think about. Groups of early Americans, minutemen, from different communities, individually choosing to leave home and family, standing together to fight against a professional army of unknown strength, battling tyranny and protecting their freedom. How must the Concord minutemen have felt as the saw the minutemen from the other communities, walking down the road to join them in the battle?

For many of us in Concord, the parade wraps up at a great time to make it to the Boston Marathon, especially when we have close friends or family running (my brother-in-law John had a fantastic run yesterday – congrats!). To be a part of the Marathon as a fan or participant, you understand that it is not about winning. It is a community event about human accomplishment, about a great city, and about coming together for a day to share and remember these things.

Of course, yesterday suddenly became bigger than Boston. We were all shocked by the unthinkable evil and the human devastation. We were despairing over the threat to our way of life by a foe of unknown capabilities.

But quickly, the America we’d celebrated earlier in the day began to show itself through the fog. People running towards the blast to help the wounded without thought for themselves. Emergency response and hospital personnel doing the amazing things that they do, tirelessly and without complaint. Bostonians helping out runners they’d never met, who hadn’t finished, and were separated from their belongings and families. Emails, tweets and calls from across the country: “Are you guys alright?” “We’re thinking of you” “We’re praying for Boston”.

Just as in 1775, the minutemen arrived, some from near by, and others from far away. And once again it started to feel possible to move forward, to take up the battle for what we, as Americans, stand for.

Personal Note

Our family had a fortunate day yesterday. My wife and I and two of our kids, along with a good number of my in-laws were down around the finish line for the early part of the afternoon. As I said, John had a great race, and we all headed our separate ways a little more than an hour before the explosions. My daughter was the closest, in Kenmore Square, and we were lucky to be able to quickly establish that she was all right.

May God bless everyone impacted here in Boston and beyond.

Running @ 50

In December I hit two milestones: turning 50, and running 1,000 miles in a year for the first time in a decade. These weren’t totally unrelated – a few years earlier I’d seen 50 coming and decided I better pick up the exercise again. I’d been running regularly since I was in junior high, I knew I could do it even with a hard travel schedule, and I like the thinking time that runs provided, so it was a natural sport to re-engage with.

I wasn’t in bad shape, but somehow I felt like I was slowly losing altitude. A little heavier, a little creakier, a little slower. The problem was that every time I started to run more regularly, leg problems, mostly sore knees, would bring me to a halt within a couple of weeks.

Fortunately a series of partially related things got me over the hump.

Winter, “Born to Run”, and Flat Shoes

A couple of years ago I found I was running relatively pain-free, despite the usual snow, slush and ice of a New England winter. I figured I was probably just running more gingerly or slowly in the elements, but I happened to read Christopher McDougall’s awesome book “Born to Run” at the same time. In addition to convincing me that it wasn’t absurd to try to keep running, it raised the question of whether the lack of pain was due to running differently in the muck than I would in the summer.

It seemed to me that I was landing more in the middle of foot in order to get a good grip, so when spring came I tried to keep with that foot strike. Like many runners I decided to try more “minimal” or “natural” running shoes, and was fortunate to be traveling to Boulder, CO regularly for the NEON board of directors, so could visit the Boulder Running Company. In addition to good advice, they will film your foot strike as you run on a treadmill, which is surprisingly revealing. Through a series of shoes I’m now running in Saucony Kinvara 3’s(in neon yellow!) and Saucony Xodus 3’s, both with a 4mm drop from heel to toe, and a moderate amount of support (I haven’t ever gone totally minimal yet).

The result is that over a couple of years, I’ve been able to dial-in a combination of stride and shoes that work for consistent running on the road and trails.

Trails and Nights

For track workouts on the junior high track team, Coach Pedersen would pile us in a van and drive us out to the woods. We’d do loops on single-track trails, wind sprints up hills, and just have a blast. High school cross-country was fun, but mostly on golf courses in southern Wisconsin, and it wasn’t the same.

As an adult, I’ve run on trails every once in a while, but when I started running regularly again, I decided to make an effort to get out on the trails frequently. It’s as good as I remember, and I suspect that the irregularity of the trails has helped me get stronger, and also avoid the repetitive strides and pounding that come on pavement. There’s also no traffic, and its far more peaceful if you’re trying to work on a problem in your head while you run.

This year I added a new twist by getting a new headlamp and running on trails at night. I stick to trails that I know, and find those runs much different, but as rewarding as the trail runs during the day. I think my favorite these days is trail runs, at night and on the snow.

Time to Fly

The last piece of the puzzle has been totally random. Even though I could run 5 or 6 days a week pain-free, I was having trouble mixing in longer runs over 5 miles or so. My legs would just feel pounded as the run went on, and I’d pay for it for the next 2 or 3 days.

I’d seen a picture of Hoka One One sneakers in Trial Runner magazine, and they looked crazy. But back in Boulder on a trip, the guys urged me to give them a try, and I was intrigued. I decided to give myself 4 more months to get comfortable in my longer runs, but I couldn’t break through. So after doing my homework on the web, I picked up a pair of Stinson B Evo’s on my next trip to Boulder.

The bottom line is that these shoes are a blast. You can bomb through the woods, cruise on double track and pavement, and the huge landing pad and all of the foam do the trick with regards to wear and tear on the legs. Remarkably, I feel like my natural stride in the Hokas and the Saucony’s are almost identical, despite their huge number of physical differences.

Hoka’s motto is “time to fly”, which I thought was hilarious when I first saw the shoes. But at least once per run it feels like you’re flying, especially in the woods.


I’ve started the New Year strong, and the miles keep on flowing by. I haven’t set any particular goals, and I’m not feeling real compelled to — I’m just happy to be getting out.

More on the Failure of Airports

Seth Godin had a great post today, “Eleven Things Companies Can Learn from Airports”, on some of the ways and reasons that airports are a horrible customer experience.

I would add number 12: the organizations involved in the airport all have a fundamentally different measure of performance than you do as a customer. They care solely about bandwidth, and you care about latency. Their goal is to get as many people through the airport at lowest cost as possible. If you can add another stage to the process but get more people through, that’s fine.

Your goal is to get through the airport in as little time as possible. This is made worse by the huge variability. Will the main garage be full, and I’ll get sent to a remote lot to wait for a bus? Will there be a line to check-in? At TSA? How far away will my gate be? How long will it take my baggage to come out?

The difference of attitude was right out in the open at SFO a number of years ago. There was a message for a few months on the rental car shuttles: “Due to airport construction, please return your car at least 2 hours prior to your flight.” Translated this means: “We do not recognize your time as having any value, and this message serves to absolve us of any excessive delays you may encounter.”

Creating the Manufacturing University: More Thoughts

I was glad to see Rob Atkinson at ITIF highlight the relationship between our declining role in worldwide manufacturing and our education system in his post Creating the Manufacturing University.

While lethargic jobs growth and loss of manufacturing overseas will always attract attention, they belie a seemingly great paradox: there are, today, over a half million open, US manufacturing jobs that companies can’t find qualified workers to fill. But when you read stories with quotes from hiring managers, its not such a mystery: there’s a big gap between the potential workers our education system is producing and the requirements of today’s US manufacturers.

Part of this gap is coming from the changing nature of US manufacturing. We should hope that our economy never gets to the point where we are a leader in cheap labor. Instead, the stories of companies who have chosen to manufacture here tell the tale of smart machines coupled with smart, agile workers. You manufacture here when you want a tight coupling of designers to people building the product, high quality, agility to adapt to customer demand, and a cost that’s reasonable.

Filling these jobs doesn’t require just any motivated individual, but one with some STEM training, and ability to work in a team and thrive in a highly dynamic environment. This segues back into our education system, and Rob’s proposal for a series of US Manufacturing Universities, based on federal grants, and with a focus on innovation and churning out US manufacturing PhD’s.

This proposal was a total surprise to me, as I was expecting him to go in a different direction. The open jobs aren’t for half a million PhD candidates. They’re looking for folks like I described above: some might have a 4-year college degree, others an associate degree, and others might have augmented their high school education with some job-specific training. And when I think of the programs we need to replicate and support through policy and funding, I think of Dan Swinney’s amazing work at Austin Polytech (High School) in Chicago, the job-ready training provided by on-line universities and community colleges across the country, and the upgrades to our K-12 system that are required to fill these programs and many more like them.

But I’ve learned over time not to discount Rob’s perspective too easily, and I think I’m seeing where he’s trying to go. At some point a good fraction of our population in this country (I’ll call them the “professional class”) disconnected from our manufacturing system. I suspect that it first started with a product disconnect a few decades ago (“These Detroit cars are crap”), and once we emotionally got over that, it wasn’t so traumatic to see the work go elsewhere as well. We got comfortable buying cars, appliances, TVs and stereos with unusual names, and don’t blink an eye today when our most iconic, American-design products have zero percent of content made in the US.

But to regain momentum in manufacturing, we need a full ecosystem, from shop workers up to world-class research and design, and that requires getting our professional class to re-engage. We need our entire education system, from K-12 through university presidents and high profile STEM professors, making manufacturing a priority, and working with the private sector to push forward on a common path.

Having understood this I’d go a step farther, and suggest that not only are we missing a generation of manufacturing researchers, but we’re also missing a generation (or two) of manufacturing-savvy business executives. We need to reintroduce operations management into our MBA programs and stop treating manufacturing like a cost center. If we have to spend a little time on Black-Scholes, I think that will be OK.

Relaunching a whole bottom-to-top manufacturing ecosystem sounds like a pretty audacious goal, but we have key elements in place already: motivated job-seekers, market pull from industry (including a new wave of US product startups) and market pressure in education. Hopefully these can combine with some well-placed, thoughtful nudges from government and grow the flicker of renewed US manufacturing.