Reality TV and zombies in the connected age

January 19, 2015

Douglas Rushkoff connects the Real Housewives of OC, Greek mythology, zombies, and Y2K to the collapse of narrative. Genius.

The other videos from this series (2014 conference on “Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth”) is really good, too.

Holistic Decision Making as a Habit

November 2, 2014

At a recent beginning farmers trainers conference, one presenter asked the audience of about 50 BF trainers how many had heard of Holistic Management and 80% raised their hands. 40% use it and 15% teach it. This surprised me as I haven’t heard many farmers mention HM. During the three day period, I spoke to many extension agents and consultants, many of whom still farm part-time. When asked about their holistic goals or how they manage for financial success, many responses didn’t include a long term vision nor a solid monitoring plan. How can we teach others this process if we’re not walking the walk? This made me think of different techniques of changing behavior and forming habit that I picked up on the job at WeSpire. Using BJ Fogg’s behavior model as a guide, we can make three simple tweaks to the ability and trigger variables to increase the chance of a certain behavior occur (ie. creating a habit out of HM’s decision making process).

  • Keep goals up to date: our goals may change over time, so it’s important to keep them current if we are to use them as a foundation for making decisions that move us toward our long-term goals. We can increase the frequency of triggers by scheduling time to revisit and update the goals with the whole management team at least once every season.
  • Have decision making guide handy when making decisions: increase ability to access and use the decision making filters when it counts by having the filter spreadsheet (I’ve adapted this for our company use) handy via print outs or easily accessible on your computer. Google Docs is one option, so you can easily share it with coworkers.
  • Keep goals handy when making decisions: increase ability to access and refer to goals when making decisions by having them in front of you either on a print out or online on a Google Doc.

In the end, forming a new habit can be challenging. Have a monitoring plan in place to track progress and check out these additional tips on committing to a new behavior for the long term.

Soil: Schools of Thought

September 1, 2014

Attending many soil workshops and talks recently, I’ve learned a lot. Here’s my paraphrase of the essence of each thought leaders’ message so far.

Elaine Ingham is a leader in soil microbiology and research of the soil food web. At a day-long workshop at NOFA Summer Conference, she emphasized getting the biology right (ratio of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, etc) by using aerobic compost and tea which will lead to healthier plants and profits. Major insight: better understanding of the relationships in the soil food web.

Cornell Soil Health team put together a four-day workshop on soil health assessment. We visited research and commercial farms, learned about their assessment and testing procedures, and talked through management scenarios. Major insight: most of the time, the chemical aspect of soil is fine. It’s the biological and physical properties that are in a degraded state. We need to assess soil health holistically. Use cover crops!

Christine Jones is an Australian soil ecologist and did a day-long workshop organized by NOFA. Her message was that what drives the soil carbon building process is microbes and more importantly photosynthesis. We briefly touched on the role of ruminants on grasslands. Major insight: We need to become light farmers to put carbon back into the ground.

August Reading List

August 4, 2014

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

Buy from Amazon

We the Eaters: If We Change Dinner, We Can Change the World

We the Eaters: If We Change Dinner, We Can Change the World

We the Eaters: If We Change Dinner, We Can Change the World

Buy from Amazon

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and L ead

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and L ead

Buy from Amazon

Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future

Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future

Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future

Buy from Amazon

Love Letter in Ten Bullet Points

July 25, 2014

In our fast-paced culture, we’re often busy rushing from activity to activity or trying to reach our next goal. Working hard is a great trait to have, but sometimes it makes us forget to appreciate the little things until they’re gone. Here’s a love letter in ten bullet points to the special people I live with everyday.

Dearest Wife,

  • I love the way you tell me about cool, new movies in the theatre and then go see them with me.
  • I love the way you crazy dance with the kids.
  • I love the way you get tense after watching a zombie show.
  • I love the way you read before falling asleep.
  • I love the way you walk up the front porch of the house.
  • I love the way you do good dream car wash with the kids.
  • I love the way you put cough drops on your nightstand.
  • I love the way you end your emails to me in xoxo.
  • I love the way you love Anna’s burritos.
  • I love the way you are.

Dearest Stepson,

  • I love the way you laugh at fireworks.
  • I love the way you deepen your voice when talking as stuffed animals.
  • I love the way you act like a dinosaur and eat whole trees (broccoli).
  • I love the way you show me how long a snake or worm (spaghetti) is.
  • I love the way you pretend your mouth is a scary cave when brushing.
  • I love the way you put on shoes.
  • I love the way you make trucks out of clay and then smash them.
  • I love the way you build block towers taller than yourself.
  • I love the way you say “goodbye train, see you next year!”
  • I love the way you run.

Dearest Daughter,

  • I love the way you hold my hand when walking down the stairs.
  • I love the way you hug me in the morning before I go to work.
  • I love the way you put up two fingers like \m/
  • I love the way you run through the yard barefoot.
  • I love the way you pick and eat veggies from the garden as you walk.
  • I love the way you play hide by putting a blanket over your head.
  • I love the way you ask me if I’m going to the farm whenever I’m wearing plaid.
  • I love the way you eat blueberries.
  • I love the way you say you want two of everything.
  • I love the way you smile.

Dearest Mother-in-law,

  • I love the way you open the door in the morning with a smile on your face.
  • I love the way you send me images and videos of the kids during the day.
  • I love the way you put a glass water bottle on the table.
  • I love the way you phone your brothers and sisters.
  • I love the way you bring us fresh greens.
  • I love the way you laugh when the kids say funny things.
  • I love the way you nourish us with home-cooked meals.
  • I love the way you yawn before retiring for the night.
  • I love the way you tend the garden.
  • I love the way you talk.

Dearest Father-in-law,

  • I love the way you remind me on Mondays that it’s trash day.
  • I love the way you remind me every other Monday that it’s recycle day.
  • I love the way you change the furnace air filter in our house.
  • I love the way you watch classic rock music videos on your phone.
  • I love the way you get the mail everyday.
  • I love the way you mow the lawn with your hat on.
  • I love the way you share interesting magazine articles.
  • I love the way you eat cereal.
  • I love the way you joke about everything.
  • I love the way you drive.

To the little things, I love you for making life worth living.

Thoughts on startups

July 21, 2014

I talk about startups with Jonathan Lau, co-founder of Switch, who helps make research, admissions, and the switch into a technology career quick and easy. Here’s the repost of that interview.

The Director of Web Services at Apitronics reflects on his entrepreneurial journey into agriculture and offers invaluable startup advice.

18th Jul, 2014

We’ve interviewed both students and founders of immersive programs, and will continue to do so. Today, however, our focus lies in life after school with the debut of our new feature, Ask An Entrepreneur, where we interview technologists willing to take a chance on new ideas. Unfortunately, many of today’s new ideas are unsustainable, fizzling out before they ever take flight. Sustainability — in an ecological, social, as well as economic sense — is a frontier that increasingly demands our attention.

Hao Chen, director of web services at Apitronics, is particularly interested in this particular mission of sustainability: With his company’s open platform, he hopes to capture the world’s environmental data, making it accessible and useful so that we may live in harmony with natural systems. We caught up with Hao to learn about his journey and to hear his advice for future startup leaders.

Hao, tell us how Apitronics came to be.

Wondering where our food comes from, Louis worked on a farm over a summer. One day on the farm, he noticed the temperature in the greenhouse was really hot and wondered why there wasn’t an alert system set up to monitor critical environmental conditions to mitigate risk of crop loss. This led to his investigation of remote monitoring systems for agriculture and eventually building the Apitronics platform to solve problems in agriculture like overheating greenhouses, frost alerts, and irrigation efficiency.

I’m passionate about sustainability, and at the time, was working on sustainability-focused employee engagement software. Increasingly, I was interested in agriculture after learning 70% of global fresh water is used in farming and our food system contributes to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. After connecting to Louis through a mutual friend, I immediately saw the potential for Apitronics to be an innovative leader in a movement to drive global impact through agriculture technology. I call myself a fast follower.

What challenges have you faced with your startup?

Opportunity cost. We only have two people in our startup, so choosing how we spend our time wisely is important. With limited resources, every hour we spend productively (ie. talking to customers, building product) gives us a better chance to learn faster and survive longer to find a repeatable, scalable business model.

How have you tackled these challenges?

Still working on it. We’ve gone down paths that ultimately haven’t been fruitful, but we learn from each experience. By building quicker feedback loops into our process, we create the space and time to reflect on what’s been working well, so we can do more of that, and what hasn’t worked so well, so we can adjust the strategy appropriately. Recently, we’ve been setting holistic goals. Starting with questions like what quality of life we want to have as founders, who are our stakeholders (not just financial), what is our company vision/mission, we identify the outcomes we want to achieve. From there, right now, we’re setting measurable objectives and milestones that we can use to help track our success as well as prioritize day to day tasks. We believe this will help laser focus our limited resources and ultimately lead us to a better outcome.

Knowing what you know now, do you wish you’d done anything differently?

Jumping into an industry we knew very little about has been eye opening. We have lots of work to do to build up our network in the industry and plenty of knowledge/skills to acquire. When speaking to farmers or agronomists, it’s helpful to learn and speak their language. If I knew I’d be going into a new industry beforehand, I would have spent more time preparing myself for it. Immersing yourself in a new environment is always great for learning, though.

What have you got planned for the future?

We want to build tools to empower farmers to provide nutrient-dense food and fiber in a regenerative ecological and financially sustainable way. Today, we’re building hardware to collect environmental data and software to display the data in interesting ways. In the future, we’ll have customers using our platform to help optimize and automate their production operations, manage traceability from seed to fork, and provide real-time “ground truth” verification for environmental projects related to air, water, and soil.

Do you have any lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Pay it forward. Everyone has a virtual bank account. Every time you do something nice for someone, it’s like making a deposit into your account. Start early because you do earn compounding interest over time. When you need to make a withdrawal, you’ll have plenty of karma credit and people willing to help you, which brings us to the next lesson…

Ask. Many times, people are willing to help you, but you need to have an ask. Having an ask ready to go when we’re talking to customers, mentors, or partners have led us to new opportunities and relationships.

People. Relationships matter a lot. Most of the time, a startup fails not because of product failure, but because of people problems. Make sure you’re managing relationships (ie. co-founders, employees, customers, advisors, family) to avoid unexpected surprises.

What motivates you?

There is no planet B (yet), so I believe it is our responsibility and within our intrinsic motivation to care for our beautiful planet, care for the people living on it (past, present, and future), and make sure we have systems in place that are fair and just. Everything we know is changing at an accelerating rate and life as we know it will be very different in a few decades. I want to give my children and humanity as many options as possible to achieve the outcomes we want for the world.

Hao is a technologist and entrepreneur passionate about sustainability. He’s interested in creating the feedback loops and learnings necessary to nourish the world and regenerate our planet. Hao has worn many hats on tech teams of both startups and corporations including Practically Green, Smarterer, SharedSchool, and Dassault Systemes. Hao has been hacking software for over twenty years and holds a B.S. in Computer Science from University of Massachusetts Amherst. You can often find him engaging with the Boston startup ecosystem or just observing nature in his backyard.

Original post from

Summer Reading List

July 9, 2014

Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country

Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country

Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country

Buy from Amazon

Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth

Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth

Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth

Buy from Amazon

Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing

Farmacology: Total Health from the Ground Up

Farmacology: Total Health from the Ground Up

Buy from Amazon

The Web of Life: Weaving the Values That Sustain Us

The Web of Life: Weaving the Values That Sustain Us

The Web of Life: Weaving the Values That Sustain Us

Buy from Amazon

Becoming Butterfly

June 27, 2014


If humans are nature, and nature is life, and life is conducive to life, then climate change isn’t happening to us, it’s happening for us. Just as fever is a response to disease, climate change is feedback to systemic imbalance. Is it possible to have a good Anthropocene? Just as (I would imagine) giving birth sucks, what comes out the other end could be a more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

“How does one become a butterfly? They have to want to learn to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” ― Trina Paulus

Human, technologist or technology?

June 21, 2014

Image credit Ransom & Mitchell –

Ever since Homo came into being 2.3 million years ago, we have been fascinated by tools. Evolution increased human brain size, and we quickly learned to use fire and complex tools. A subset of technology, agriculture has only been around the last 10,000 years. Based on Taleb’s anti-fragility principle, technology is much more anti-fragile than agriculture, since it has been around for a much longer time. Now, this only applies to human technology vs human agriculture. In nature, other species have been using technology for much longer. Take leafcutter ants, for example, who have been farming fungi in an ant-fungus mutualism, which evolved over 50 million years ago. Now, we could say ants are more anti-fragile than humans.

We could consider things in nature as technology. Could bees be technology? Technology is defined as “the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems.” We use bees in agriculture (the science of farming) to provide honey and pollination as well as beeswax for consumer products. If bees serve a purpose and are a species of nature, would it go too far to say humans might serve a purpose, too? What would that purpose be? What would it mean if instead of being the technologist, we’re the technology?

At some point in time, we decided to enact a story that says, “no, we’re separate from nature. We’re smarter. Humans were evolution’s last stop.” Ever since we were little, this is the myth drilled into us. Newsflash: it isn’t true. Out of the millions of species that live on this planet, does it make sense that one would be an outlier that exists to destroy the others, thus destroying itself? Life is conducive to life. Life is resilient. Resiliency is created thru biodiversity. We are not separate from nature. As hard as we try, we can never run away from our own shadow nor can we physically pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. It is because we are nature, and we’re coming back to get ourselves.

The Journey

April 17, 2014

My sustainability journey started by watching Story of Stuff. It helped me ask, “how is stuff made?” Understanding “why is stuff made?” led me to research “what is money?” More educated about money, I looked into our fossil fuel addicted economy. Scared out of my mind after researching peak oil and climate change, I started looking for solutions, yet only found more problems with our industrial food system. Then, I discovered permaculture. One of the principles of permaculture is “the problem is the solution.” Regional foodsheds built on real relationships supplied by regenerative farming is one piece of the puzzle. There are over 40+ regenerative agricultural practices that can build topsoil, sequester carbon, provide nutrient-dense food, reduce fossil fuel reliance, increase biodiversity, increase yields, cleanse water, and many more benefits. Can agriculture be the problem as well as the solution? I think so. To find out, my current journey has led me to the hidden world under out feet, soil. Stay tuned!


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