Saturday, April 28, 2007

Answering the Water Question in the Middle East

I finally finished my senior project earlier today. I still have some work to do tomorrow, like add the appendix and table of contents, but as of right now, I am finished. I am going to read it through one more time and just make sure everything is a-ok, but I think this is it. Projects are Wednesday. I am going to print on Sunday night and bind on Monday. My board is a week from this Monday. The full title is below:

Answering the Water Question in the Middle East: An Equitable and Efficient Solution to the Water Allocation Crisis Between Israel and Palestine

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Friday, April 06, 2007

On the internets

On a typical day I'll read about 10 blogs. I have a list of approximately 4 or 5 that I cycle through every day based mostly on political affiliations and hobbies. One of these blogs is A VC. Generally, I think everyone should have at least one tech oriented blog that is updated every day. I used to read Feld Thoughts, but he is a bit too wonky for even my self admitted nerdness. I like to be kept up to date about the cutting edge. Can this new product or service help me? Can I think up some new idea to build on this? About a year or two ago, innovators were in the heyday of web 2.0 stuff. I am fairly certain that we are well into the diminishing returns of web 2.0

Of of the things that made web 2.0 stuff interesting was its simplicity and how robust these tools were. Take, blogger, dig, or feedburner for example. These tools have a lot functionality for very little time invested and are incredibly simply to use. This trend seems to either be slowing down or working in reverse.

One of Fred's newer posts is about this service called Twitter. I honestly don't get it. I like Fred's tenacity and how he will revisit something he originally didn't like... but I still don't understand Twitter. What is it supposed to that I can't do with 100 other services? Why is it important that I send a blog update in 150 characters or less what I am eating, who I am eating with, my daily schedule. I don't see why it is important to anyone other then the person updating and there is a ton of personal organizer type software / hardware stuff already out there. Based on his post he doesn't seem to fully understand it either, and he is just trying it out until he can find a use for it.

This is the point where I diverge and why a lot of these new services are useless. If you seek long enough and hard enough you can find a nitch and use for anything. But these nitches are just that, nitches. They are not all encompassing, easy to use, something that anyone can understand, and usable in nearly every application. Aggregating information doesn't matter if it is not efficient. I can come up with a million different ways of putting information together and if it is not efficient, who cares about my new collection? Take social networks. Since the Youtube and Myspace deals everyone and their brother wants to make a new company with a social network. They are coming every which way and it is annoying. Having a new network defeats the purpose of networking to begin with. The more fragmented these networks become the less purpose they have.

I haven't seen anything that is really interesting in a long time. Every time I see a new service, such as Twitter, I think to myself: Underwear gnomes

1.) Build a new webservice based on a widget
2.) ???????
3.) Profit.

I am certain there are new ideas floating out there. It's all about risk. Now that the risk of web 2.0 has been lessened, the really good, although risky, ideas are getting ignored. I personally don't think we will see an entire wave of new innovations for a while. Not until we have a market correction and the strongest and best ideas will survive.

Taking this idea to the next step in a Georgist direction, technological innovation comes in waves, just like real estate booms and busts come in waves. What we want is for capital to find its way to those who are the most efficient idea generators. It seems that capital finds its way towards the most efficient generators of ideas just after the trough. Markets can't efficiently allocate this funding efficiently at all times because of asymmetric information. VCs don't know who has the best idea. All innovators want capital. Innovators who have the best idea might not be able to make the best sale, or because of the inherent high risk are at a disadvantage; moreover, innovators will not reveal if they are a poor generator of ideas. VCs and investors try to mitigate this gap of information by performing "due dilligence", but this process can only take the venture capitalist so far.

How can VCs direct capital more efficiently? In land markets, taxing land will cause a more efficient use of the land. Land is the scarce, common resource. In venture capital, the VCs time is the scarce, common resource. Not all ideas / firms / businesses (just call them firms for short) require an equal amount of time. Furthermore, firm that only require a short time investment may require a large capital investment and vice versa.

What the VCs want is for the idea generators to reveal how valuable they feel their ideas really are. What the firms want is capital and consulting. I wonder if a different investing strategy could work like this, given thata a VC firm has a fixed number of hours to dedicate to portfolio companies every day and a fixed amount of capital to distribute. Call this fixed number of hours, time slots.

Firms bid on a time slot or many time slots. Because VC firms are made up of people, different timeslots assigned to VCs will have varying quality. The method of bidding is a multiplier on the amount of capital loaned now. So, one firm desires a 2x multiplier, the next 2.1 and so on, the bidding will continue depending on how valuable the firms feel their ideas are. Firms have an incentive to perform at their very best and most efficiently. VCs have an incentive to spend their time as effectively as possible.

There is still a moral hazard problem and there is still the wingnut problem. I don't see the above model as being as simple as laid out here. I actually see a system of screening similar to the one already used. This auction system would only be used as a last round of screening. There are other issues as well. But, as this blog post is getting wicked long (and I doubt anyone would actually try this anyway) I'm going to cut this short as simply food for thought.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Georgist Sentiments

I was looking around the internet today and found an interesting discussion found here. The author who replied to the anti-georgist did a good job, but I’ve seen that sort of stuff before. When it comes to land, for some reason, people simply abandon all of their economic principles or they will simply make up things about Georgism and usually the opposite of what George asserted (in this case both), such as the entire idea of private property. I hear this one more often then any other: that George wanted to confiscate all lands, make them public and it would be one giant common park. Of course, George asserted the exact opposite and talked about this at great length. Tideman talks about this, that George should have chosen some better words. He was a pioneer of the Tragedy of the Commons long before Hardin wrote his now famous article. The other is this entire notion of Free Trade. Of course, George was remembered for lots of things, after his main contribution of Georgism he is also well remembered for his ideas of free trade, whom libertarian authors still cite to this day. Keep in mind, he was writing during a period of time when free trade was extremely unpopular.

This entire idea notion of a community hiring out explorers to “find” new land is new to me though... probably because the argument is a little (ok a lot) silly. The replier was right not only historically, but even in the modern sense. Citizens do not leave the urban area because fellow urbanites are paying them go forth and suburbanize, the suburbanites are instead rent seeking. Indeed, as Gaffney pointed out these suburbs tend to be leaches on the urban community. The urban community pays for the majority cost of waste and sanitation, roads tunnels and bridges, but the suburban areas only need to pay for marginal roads, pipes and dump trucks.

Anyway, that site is a serious forum warrior site. Tread at your own peril.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Grass farming

So, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been wanting to do with my life and I thought to myself, hey, why not be a dairy farmer?

Now, most of you probably just thought to yourself – yes, sure, let’s just suddenly go out and milk cows. But, I am also a former tie stall dairy farmer from NY.

I’ve been thinking more and more about it and I’ve pretty much decided if I can get a loan, this is what I am going to do. I’ll lay out the very general idea here, though I am working on a more depth (and professional) business plan on my hard drive.

I do not want to do conventional dairy farming. I’ve done that. Honestly, it isn’t all that much fun. In many ways it reminds of the Navy, where 95% of my job wasn’t my job. I liked working with the animals. I liked milking. I liked calves. I liked watching the fields grow in the spring. I hated manure handling in below 0 weather. I hated silage in below 0 weather. I hated water pipes bursting on Christmas. I really disliked doing mechanical repairs on machinery. It seemed like I was spending way more time doing things that 100 years ago no one would have even considered. Who on earth would have climbed up a 50 foot harder silo to sledge out frozen corn silage?

A couple years ago I had to do some research about subsidies and I used New Zealand as an example of an area that eliminated subsidies. New Zealand today is one of the largest dairy exporters in the world. I didn’t really put much thought into it at the time.

I was doing some research about cheese, for my own enjoyment, and I happened to stumble across an article of this guy in New Jersey who runs his herd on grass only milk. He milks one time per day, outwinters, and does nothing but grass. This got the old grease machine that is my brain working.

I thought to myself, gee… if cows can produce milk on grass you wouldn’t need a big tractor to pull the plow. You wouldn’t need a bunker. You wouldn’t need a harrow. You wouldn’t need a corn chopper, corn planter, or corn seed. I thought about this and I thought about it some more and then I remembered back about milk fever and bloat and I thought all the cows would be dead in a matter of days fed on a high quality grass ration. Everyone knows that cows can’t eat grass (what they ate before the 50’s must have been magical essence).

So, I did some googling. I then found this guy by the Fred Owen who runs a grass only dairy in Ohio. Now Fred, it seems, did the whole 300+ dairy cow thing with freestalls and all that jazz. He says he now makes more money on 30 cows grazing. I figured he was an extreme case, or possibly a superb manager of grass and not representative of all dairies. The production hit you take from grass it seems is negligible and the total milk / acre it seems, actually goes up since you need fewer acres / cow to feed each when on grass only.

I thought about this some more. I’ve always wanted to have a cheese farm at some point in the future. I did some more research about cheese farmers and only some are on grass. Most are still doing conventional dairying and some buy their milk off the open market. It occurred to me then there was a serious opportunity for me.

At the same time, and by total coincidence, I was reading the book called “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollen. In that book he interviews Joe Salatin and I ended up in a conversation with some people in Brattleboro about this very subject. The more I read about it, the more intrigued I was. Not only is something I could do, but this was something I could do an enjoy doing at the same time.

It then occurred to me that if I wanted to make cheese all the animals should be in a similar state of lactation so the cheese components are all the same. This way I could make a higher quality cheese from specific seasonal milk. Cows milk for 305 days and are dry for 60. Usually. Why can’t they all freshen in the same time period and dry them off in the winter months? This would avoid the costly electric and fuel bills of the winter months. I looked up seasonal dairying and lots of graziers are doing it to synchronize their herd with the spring grass, an added bonus as far as I’m concerned.

I decided everything on the farm should maximize profits. What if I outwintered? I want to dairy in the far North East, in Vermont. This is a question I haven’t had answered yet. I think it is possible. I wouldn’t want to experiment on my own animals though. Calves. It occurred to me that seasonal calving would mean a serious amount of time feeding calves, maybe too much to make it worth while. I found an article HERE that explains how to do it. Boy, do I wish I knew about that back in the day.

I have been trying to find people who have negative things to say about grazing and I can’t find any, other then the nutritionalists. I would really like to hear about failed enterprises to see what happened there.

One of the first problems I’ve thought up is milk times. I did some research about that and it seems some graziers go for the swing over parlor due to it’s low cost and fast throughput. If I had to build a new parlor, this is what I would build: The Waikato swing over system. For a grazier, cows don’t eat big meals, lay down, and loaf. They are always doing one of three things, when not being milked. Ruminating, grazing, resting. Cows don’t rest that often. You want your cows off the cement and in the field in as little a time as possible. I thought this might ruin my idea, since I know how expensive a nice double herringbone Delaval will cost. In order to milk 50 cows in an hour or so, you would need a much larger parlor then one for a standard 50 cow. The swing over solves this problem. I could build a swing 7 at a very reasonable price and milk with one person in about an hour and 15 minutes on the high end.

I don’t think this is plug and play. Conventional dairying is mostly plug and play. You just mix the TMR milk and away you go.

For right now, I want to start a dairy running about 50 cows. I want to build a cheese house and storage facility to store the cheese to market. I’ve been trying to read more about direct marketing cheese and how much I focus on fluid / cheese in the beginning and how to shift away from fluid.

Another thing I've been thinking about is what sort of breed? I've been leaning towards Ayrshire, but I really like the Normende, they are just hard to get in my neck of the woods.

Even if nothing ever comes from it, it is an interesting exercise none the less. Not to mention the Georgist implications of more milk / acre. There is still a ton more to think about and research before I can even think about it.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Zork Corks

I'm not much of a traditionalist in the way of corking bottles of wine. Frankly, I've never really understand the apprehension around screw off corks. It's more wine snobbery then an actual desire to see perfection in wine. Anyway, I was in my local wine shop today trying to decide what to buy and I was asking the owner what was new. Nothing in particular interested me and I realized I hadn't tried anything from Australia/NZ in some time. He pointed me towards three or four different Shiraz that I might like and he asked if I had tried Woop Woop. I hadn't. This is a 2005 vintage. What sold me was the cork. It is a new cork called a "zork".

My only real concerns with the Zork are 1.) Long term storage. 2.) Plastic breakdown due to the the chemical composition of the wine. Mostly, I would worry about the plastic becoming more brittle with time.

I own a rabbit so decorking for me is a simple process consisting of at most 20 seconds, including removing the 1/4" foil ring. I don't have any problems with the cork normally, but occasionally I'll get a corky wine. For those who don't own a rabbit, a cork is simply a nuisance and yet another obstruction between the consumer and good wine.

I've never taken a side on the cork debate and I'm not going to now, simply because the cork is age tested and the screwcaps and now Zorks aren't. Call me back in 25 years and tell me how the 2007 vintages faired with those corks.

Update from the comments:

Dave Pahl, VP Sales & Marketing of ZORK answers both of my concerns above.

1. Australian Wine Research Institute tests confirm ZORK is as good a wine closure for storage as any readily available wine bottle closure.
Results are posted on our website.

2. Polyethelyne is one of the most common food grade materials avialble world wide. It will last in perfect condition certainly for the life of the wine!
Thanks for the feedback Dave.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Had they only asked me

Exurbs hit hardest in housing slump

"I think it was easy for builders to think that there were real users in these fringe areas far from jobs and entertainment," he said. "In fact, we found that purchases in those areas over the last three years or so ... were speculators and not users."
Fascinating. But, do you think they will learn any lessons from this? Probably not.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Upton Sinclair

Interesting post at the Southern California Real Estate Bubble Blog. Catchy title.

Most of his rhetorical points can be found in the archives of this blog, if you were looking for answers.

The author hits on a number of points that I agree with. Namely, how this (and other laws like it) are mere instruments used by the landowning class to consolidate their power. That the landowning classes convince, with relative ease, the poorer classes that it is in their best interests to go along with such a scheme. That any tax on land will cause land to be used more efficiently and cause land to be distributed more equitably.

There are a few minor points that I disagree with Sinclare on, but the major premise of his witting I agree with.

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