Valley Venture Mentors Fall 2013 Lineup Announced

“The most beautiful thing in the world is, of course, the world itself.”

Wallace Stevens, American poet, born October 2, 1879

Valley Venture Mentors Startups, Fall 2013

Congratulations to the companies who made the cut for VVM Fall 2013. It wasn’t easy for us to say no to any of the companies who applied. What a great group of entrepreneurs!

Here’s the line-up:

I’m very excited to be working with Voncierge. The idea is great (go check it out), founder Mee-Jung Jang is impressive, and the upside is large. This is going to be fun.

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Valley Venture Mentors = Amazing

“With the brush we merely tint, while the imagination alone produces colour.”

—Théodore Géricault, French artist, born September 26, 1791

Valley Venture Mentors Auditions

Valley Venture Mentors Logo

Amazing. Fourteen companies came to VVM last night. Each one got two minutes to pitch for a place in the Fall-Winter 2013–14 session. Then we had three fourteen-minute breakouts. Curious mentors got to spend a little time with companies that intrigued them. Then Rick Feldman led us in voting for the companies we think are the best fit, as input for the VVM board, who meet this morning to select the eight to ten companies that our volunteer mentors will work with for the next half year. Got all that? It reminds me a bit of how the Doge of Venice was selected in the great days of La Serenissima.

Those of us who are facilitators listed their three preferred companies, with whom they will be living with for at least the next few months (I do mean living with: I’ve worked with four startups in the last year. Being a VVM facilitator is non-trivial, if delightful, work) .

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Logical Insanity

“All currency is neurotic currency.”

—Norman O. Brown, American philosopher, born September 25, 1913

Logical Insanity

B29s Dropping Bombs on Japan

“Breaking Bad” episode 515, “Granite State,” is the next to last episode in the series. I can’t imagine how it’s going to end, but it will be completely logical, consistent with the development of the characters, and devastating. Both Walt and Jesse are in Hell now: what will they do?

Speaking of logic (and Hell), I was just listening to Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” podcast, show 42, which tells the story of strategic bombing in World War II, leading up to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The title of the show is “Logical Insanity.” Carlin says that the logic of the war led sane, often moral people to order and condone monstrous actions. The atomic bomb attacks seem uniquely awful to us in hindsight, but we were not present for the London Blitz in 1940, the Hamburg and Dresden firestorms, and the even more horrific bombing of Tokyo in 1945. Count your blessings, and pray for peace. And if you care about history at all, go discover Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History”.

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Books as a Technology

“Oh that I were seated as high as my ambition, I’d place my naked foot on the necks of monarchs.”

—Horace Walpole, English author, born September 24, 1717

The Paper Book Considered as a Technology

Haydenville LibraryI spent a couple of hours working in the Haydenville Library in Florence yesterday. It’s a charming little library. The people who lived in this area obviously valued literacy highly enough at one time to build branch libraries all over the place. Like our own Shelburne Public Library, for instance; not the rather grand Arms Library in Shelburne Falls, but the sweet little stone building erected in the 1890s in Shelburne Center, in a place that has never had a store as far as I know. It has two rooms and a couple of thousand books. It’s open from 3:00 to 7:00PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 10:00–12:00 on Saturday morning. That’s where I go to pick up and return the books that I order via the C/W MARS online library system, which gives me access to the holdings of every public library in the Commonwealth, and some academic ones as well.

I’ve loved books my whole life; I own a lot of them (most packed up in boxes, as I don’t have bookshelf space for them where I live now), and have haunted libraries and bookstores my whole life. Actually, I never shop for books in a bookstore anymore, and I don’t go to libraries to find books, just to pick up the ones that I order online.

But increasingly I prefer reading on tablets and smartphones. It’s just so convenient; and the paper ones aren’t connected to the Internet and can’t be shared like material that is. Nor can you highlight a word on the page for an instant definition, or Google a quick piece of research suggested by what you’re reading. Hardcover books are heavy to read in bed, too. One doesn’t really want to think about the environmental impace of all that paper and ink, either. Paper books are obsolete.

But I’m sure they’ll hang on, like fireplaces, horse-drawn vehicles, steam trains, and candles, which continue to charm us, move our emotions, and stimulate our imaginations. 

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The Most Inventive Decade in History

“Women have no government.”

—Victoria Woodhull, American activist, born September 23, 1838

The Most Inventive Decade in History

GE H series Gas TurbineReading the superb second volume of Vaclav Smil’s masterful account of the invention and development of the key technologies of the 20th century. Transforming the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations and Their Consequences. It’s an amazing story. All were invented before 1900 (most of them in the incredible decade of the 1880s): internal combustion, electric light and power, radio, telephony, cinema, sound recording, etc, .

The 20th century perfected and vastly extended the scope and scale of the technical revolution, leaving little in material culture and everyday life untouched. The key comparison is between how alien 1900 would seem to a person from 1800 versus how recognizable much of the world of the year 2000 would be to someone from 1900. We continue to depend on 19th century inventions, and are likely to do so for many years to come.

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I’ll Have Some Cocoa and Social Security, Please

“But if each man could have his own house, a large garden to cultivate and healthy surroundings – then, I thought, there will be for them a better opportunity of a happy family life.”

—George Cadbury, English businessman, born September 19, 1839

Chocolate Makers, Wolves, Shepherds, Philosopher-Kings

The Good Shepherd
Shepherd vs Wolf
The quote is from the founder of Cadbury’s, the famous cocoa and chocolate company. He cared for his employees and believed in the social rights of workers. He opposed imperialism, war, and sweatshop labor, and supported old age pensions and affordable housing.

Must have been nice having business leaders whose philosophy of workers and customers wasn’t that of the wolf regarding sheep. I’m not naïve, and have long recognized that a shepherd is actually a smart wolf who takes the long view, but it’s a step in the right direction. (Interesting that the Shepherd is used as a metaphor for the divinity in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Oh yeah: that’s the “Good Shepherd.” I guess they recognized that there are ethical distinctions to be made among shepherds.)

Perhaps non-human artificial intelligences will function as the Philosopher-Kings we urgently require if we are to move on to more rational and equitable arrangements. See the late, lamented Iain M. Banks’s explication of the political economy and society of The Culture, the far-future civilization he explored in a wonderful series of science fiction novels for an interesting take on what it might look like.

7:45AM Holyoke WBOA Breakfast Meeting
9:00AM-12:00PM Springfield Email Marketing with Constant Contact
9:00-10:00AM Northampton Northampton Chamber Solar Power Workshop
12:00-1:30PM Northampton Click Workspace Brown Bag Luncheon
12:00-1:00PM Northampton Pioneer Valley Wellness Alliance
6:00-9:00PM Springfield Business Planning and Cash Flow

The Decline of “Stuff” and The Bond Market

Steel CentVery interesting post from a blogger who works as an investor in Hong Kong. Premise is that the quantity of steel, aluminum, and so on he consumes has declined radically in his lifetime and that the trend continues. What does this mean for extraction industries, utilities, and especially for emerging markets, which are all about making “stuff.” Add population decline in the next few decades, and the rise of nanotechnology with its promise of cheap, scalable hardware manufacture, and the future looks decidedly bleak for credit investors. There will be less need for bank lending and more opportunities for venture capital and the funding of research. Being reincarnated as the Bond Market might not as great an idea as it was 1994 (“I used to think if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the President or the Pope or a .400 baseball hitter. But now I want to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everyone.”—James Carville, Clinton campaign strategist)

Aluminum Ingot“…If I did an inventory of how much steel, aluminium and the like I consume it has likely gone down a great deal and is comically less than what my parents consumed. Sure I spend a fair bit on services – publication subscriptions, Evernote, gym membership, Fitbit, going out to eat, etc – but the central fact of my existence is that the material content has gone down markedly all the while my quality of life has improved markedly. It has also become increasingly similar to that of everyone else as Rick Bookstaber has observed.

“This is by and large what productivity is all about. The green revolution was about increases in output per unit of land, the industrial about increasing output per worker. It may not be much fun for incumbent industries getting displaced – and there are many – but this story is as old as the hills and the central narrative of human progress and creative destruction….”

Asia, Credit and the End of Stuff

The Last Word

Not sure I agree, but one knows what he means.

“Language fits over experience like a straight-jacket.” —William Golding, English novelist, born September 19, 1911

Lean Launchpad at Click Workspace

Garbo in "Queen Christina"“Life would be so wonderful if we only knew what to do with it.”

—Greta Garbo, Swedish actress, born September 18, 1905


Lean Launchpad

The Lean Launchpad course at Click Workspace started up yesterday afternoon. It served as a fine example of the “minimum viable product” ethos of Lean Launchpad (translation: there were a few techical glitches). Great job by Aimen Khan, Paul Silva, Jim Mumm, Thom Fox, and Rick Feldman. The people taking the class are an impressive group of entrepreneurs, too.

I had lunch with videographer Kris Badertscher yesterday. Take a look at her new website Art & Videos: Making Art/Capturing Artists. If you don’t know her work, you’re in for a treat.

InCommN has access to the Community Room at 10 Hampton Avenue in Northampton on Tuesdays between 6–8PM from now until December. Got an idea for a workshop that will set the world on fire? Contact Daniel Lieberman.


7:15-9:00AM Holyoke Chicopee Chamber September Salute Breakfast
8:30AM–12:00PM Holyoke Affiliated Chambers of Springfield Western Mass Business Forum
8:45–11:45AM Holyoke River Valley Investors
11:30AM–1:00PM Springfield Professional Women’s Chamber Meeting
5:00–7:30PM Holyoke Holyoke Chamber Annual Clambake


Aeros DirigibleOccurs to me that in a world where we are always connected that the only good thing about our current, execrable air travel system, that it gets you there fast, will be less important in the future. The top speed of the alumimum airships being developed by the Aeros Corporation is about 140mph, which would get you from New York to Los Angeles in about 20 hours. If you could travel in comfort and be connected the whole time, why wouldn’t you want to? Compare to the cramped, inhuman conditions endured by jet passengers. Oh, wait, things are better in First Class, aren’t they?

The Aluminum Airship of the Future

Foucault PendulumThe Last Word

Léon Foucault, French inventor, born September 18, 1819, speaking of his pendulum, a simple device that demonstrates the rotation of the Earth:

“Any person, brought into the presence of this fact, stops for a few moments and remains pensive and silent; and then generally leaves, carrying with him forever a sharper, keener sense of our incessant motion through space.”

Gone Fishin’

“In short, not only are things not what they seem, they are not even what they are called!”

—Francisco de Quevedo, Spanish writer, born September 17, 1580

Instead of Just a-Wishin’

I was pleased to see that shopping online is more carbon-efficient by far than going to the store. I am, of course, extremely lazy, and the ability to “subscribe” to staple items as various as San Marzano Plum Tomatoes and Seventh Generation Paper Towels and have them show up at my door schlepped by someone other than myself gives me great pleasure.

My father, a very lazy man who got a lot done, believed that the lazy person’s way is the right way to work. The lazy person, according to my dad, will find better, more efficient solutions to problems than normals: people who like to bustle around and don’t try to save steps and cut corners. In my experience, he was right: certainly when you look at solving workflow problems, you save amazing amounts of time and effort by focusing on processes and critically examining each step for wasted work and mere busyness.

The old man would have loved Amazon’s Subscribe and Save service. RIP.


9:00-10:00AM Easthampton G.R.I.S.T. Get Real Individual Support Today
12:00-2:00PM Northampton DELA Northampton
4:00-6:00PM Northampton Lean Launchpad


Shopping Online Has a Better Carbon Footprint than Shopping in Stores
“…Why are brick-and-mortar stores so inefficient? It turns out that transporting people to the store to select something and then getting them back home again requires a lot of energy. You also have to consider that items sold in stores were distributed from a central warehouse. When you place an order online, that trip transforms from one to the store to one directly to your home. Plus, delivery services optimize their routes to waste the least amount of fuel.⁴ Everyday shoppers don’t think in that level of detail. Even if you combine trips, which many of us are terrible at doing, you’d have to buy a lot of stuff per trip to equal the efficiency of a delivery.”
What’s More Energy Efficient, Shopping Online or in Stores?

The Last Word

Samuel Johnson said:
“I had rather see the portrait of a dog that I know, than all the allegorical paintings they can show me in the world.”
—Samuel Johnson, English author

A Sense of Place

A Sense of Place

TEDx Shelburne Falls, October 12, 2013

The second annual TEDx Shelburne Falls is coming up on October 12, 2013. Great lineup of speakers this year, including Sienna Wildfield of Hilltown Families and Buckland Selectboard Chair Cheryl L. Dukes. I’ll be hosting the event at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls.

I’ve just come back from a rehearsal for some of the speakers. I’m really looking forward to hearing every one of the talks, and meeting and hearing from all the folks Stacy Kontrabecki has lined up for this year. The theme for 2013 is “A Sense of Place.” Visit the website to get your tickets now. Free admission to the live simulcast is available as an alternative as well.

A number of Adventures have been put together to get people out of the theater and into the outdoors. There are events both pre-conference on Saturday and on Sunday. 

TEDx Shelburne Falls


There’s a lot going on this week in Western Massachusetts for entrepreneurs and other business people. Visit the InCommN Business Calendar for listings of events around the area September 16–20.


I’ve just finished one of the best books I’ve read in a long time: Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty. It’s a semi-fictional account of an era in the history of the Soviet Union between the death of Stalin and the aftermath of the fall of Khruschev, when for a brief period it looked like the promise of Communism was going to be fulfilled. Serious attempts were made to turn the system from the murderous fraud it had become under Stalin into an economic powerhouse that would overtake the capitalist economies and provide a truly utopian life to the long-suffering people of the Soviet Union. Red Plenty mixes historical characters with invented ones to tell the story. The cast of characters includes Khruschev himself, economists, cyberneticians, geneticists, party functionaries, and bureaucrats. The result is engrossing, funny at times, and terribly sad in the end, as hope fades and the Soviet Union slips into the repressive decadence of the Brezhnev era.

I’m in the middle of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. I’m a sucker for a well-written history of civilization and technics, and Dirt certainly fits the bill. The early chapters tell the global story, region by region, of the rise of agriculture, and of the (so far) inevitable destruction of the soil by civilization after civilization, from the ancient Near East to Mayan Mexico. A particularly interesting example is that of Egypt, which was exempt from the common fate of civilizations because of the unique annual rhythm of the Nile, which preserved the soil for thousands of years, until the introduction of European irrigation and tillage techniques in the 19th century. The building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s was the nail in the coffin of the long-lasting water-soil balance in Egypt: they import food now.

What, Me Worry?

“There’s people making babies to my music. That’s nice.”

—Barry White, American musician, born September 12, 1944

More Things To Worry About That Are Completely Out of Your Control

Worry beadsAs a general rule, we shouldn’t worry about what’s out of our control. We certainly should not worry about what’s none of our damned business, with “business” generously construed.

But what do we do with the stuff that is our business, again generously construed (like generation change and the imminent takeover of the oceans by giant, poisonous jellyfish, is way out of our control?

Dunno. Your move. Why don’t you come to DELA, have lunch with some interesting people, and stop worrying?

Events Today

Happy Party with a PunchbowlEasthampton—12:00–2:00PM Don’t Eat Lunch Alone
Holyoke—4:30PM Expand Your Network Western Mass
Northampton—5:00–7:00PM Click Workspace Entrepreneurship Fall Bash
Easthampton—5:00–7:00PM Greater Easthampton Chamber Networking by Night
Northampton—5:00–8:00PM Northampton Area Young Professionals September Networking Social
Springfield—6:00–9:00PM SCORE Business Planning and Cash Flow


Dem Bones

Vanavana Island“…Social systems around the world have become highly interconnected. Good innovations can now spread around the world in the blink of an eye, on the scale of history. Island biogeography suggests that such rapid inflows and outflows among the many social systems have moved and will move us closer to monoculture; at this limit this makes us a single global point of failure….”
Catastrophic Social Change

These Kids Today

Millenials72 million Millenials pose challenges to the culture of workplaces and other social and economic institutions. They’re widely considered to be lazy, entitled, narcissistic, and restless by business superiors from the two previous generations (Baby Boom and Gen X). Sounds familiar, right? “Greatest Generation” bosses and parents had very similar reactions to the Boomers (I know: I was there), and Boomers looked down on the hapless Gen-Xers (ditto). The literary evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that the poor younger generation has never done anything right in the eyes of its predecessors since time immemorial.

Nevertheless, at 72 million strong, this is the largest cohort to join the workforce and society at large since the Baby Boom. So get used to it. The world will change in their image, just as the Baby Boom upended everything in the 1960s and 1970s.

“…Boomers and Gen-Xers need to be ready, Schewe said. ‘The point is, as an older cohort with a different set of values, you can’t just say, “they’ve got to bend to us; we’re not going to bend to them.” There are just too many of them, and their values are too pervasive and too deeply embedded to be ignored.’
Generation Next

Never Mind the Millenials. Have You Heard About the Jellyfish?

Jellyfish“….To understand why jellyfish are taking over, we need to understand where they live and how they breed, feed, and die. Jellyfish are almost ubiquitous in the oceans. As survivors of an earlier, less hospitable world, they can flourish where few other species can venture. Their low metabolic rate, and thus low oxygen requirement, allows them to thrive in waters that would suffocate other marine creatures. Some jellyfish can even absorb oxygen into their bells, allowing them to “dive” into oxygen-less waters like a diver with scuba gear and forage there for up to two hours…‘We are creating a world more like the late Precambrian than the late 1800s—a world where jellyfish ruled the seas and organisms with shells didn’t exist. We are creating a world where we humans may soon be unable to survive, or want to.’”
They’re Taking Over

The Last Word

Maurice Chevalier

“The older one gets the more one comes to resemble oneself.”

—Maurice Chevalier, French actor, born September 12, 1888