Rebooting

After I got back from my trip to Las Vegas the other day I finally had a chance to try out the new cleats I bought for my cycling shoes. I use Speedplay X 5 pedals and have been pretty happy with them. Their best feature is that they’re fairly easy to clip in and out of. However in the past month or so I’d been popping out of them with my right foot. A scary thing if you’re going up a hill. When you use these pedals you are both pushing and pulling with your legs to get the bike to move. However after a twenty mile test ride the new cleats and regreasing the pedals seemed to fix the problem. So I put it through a real stress test yesterday: a 42 mile ride.

Up to now the fastest ride I went through was about 31 miles so this was a new personal best. I was quite tired at the end of the ride but the bicycle worked perfectly. My body maybe less so. It was probably a poor idea to not bring any granola bars or other food on the ride. By the end I was exhausted and out of fuel. Unlike the first three quarters I was mostly cruising through the last leg, but I made it. Besides feeling sore all over the impact of this ride was to reboot my sleep schedule. I easily fell asleep before midnight and then woke-up at 8 a.m. this morning. A big change from my recently typical wake-up between 9 and 10 a.m.

Also I have to give a shout out to Bicycles East in Glastonbury for replacing the cleats on my bicycle shoes. The old ones were fairly beat up and they took the time to extract them after I bought the new ones. I bought my road bicycle from them years ago and after a several year hiatus during law school they still remembered me. They seem to have the best selection of bicycles and accessories that I’ve seen at a shop. They also are rather knowledgable about all the products and bike problems. In an era where people could be getting creamed by online sites like Nashbar stores like Bicycles East win by competing on knowledge and customer service.

The ING Hartford Marathon and Community

I am not a runner but I can appreciate the ING Hartford Marathon for its positive impact on Hartford. I have a few friends running in it and have been surprised to see friends from farther away in my Facebook feed make their way to Hartford for the event. People that run have a kinship with each other that I have seen in cycling and other activities that foster a sense of community. With the absence of Whalers Hockey, I think that this event is the one that puts Hartford on the map.

The other day I was at a coffee for a candidate for Board of Education and the candidate managed to win over a Republican over their shared background in hockey. About a month ago I was cycling down a street in my town when my tire blew. To my luck the house I stopped in front of was home to a cyclist who helped me fix my flat, and then when the new tube blew up he lent me a wheel. For cyclists this a leap of faith because wheels are one of the most expesnive components of the bicycle. In Democratic politics I’ve regularly seen people open their homes to campaign workers and volunteers just because they are Democrats.

Of course the most important feature of all these communities is that they are welcoming. There are many kinds of cyclists and I do not really care if someone is riding a brand new carbon fiber Trek Madone or a steel fixed gear bicycle from the 1950s.1 Runners come in all shapes and sizes and finish the marathon. People enter politics or become entreprenuers to tackle a wide variety of problems. When more experienced people in the community are willing to help the newbies, everyone wins. It’s what turns it from a simple hobby into a community.

  1. This is not meant to confuse people who ride bicycles with cyclists. Plenty of people ride a bicycle for transportation without interest in it, much in the way people might vote without being into politics or use an iPhone without being a technology geek. 

Sometimes Barriers to Innovation are Cultural

When I was a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute we had to complete three projects in order to graduate. One project is called the IQP and is an interdisciplinary project designed to expose students to working with people in different fields. My project involved working with a start-up that wanted to create a social network that encouraged the installation of renewable energy systems.1 The entrepreneur had a website built and his intention was to have us spend time populating the site with information. This did not jive with the educational goals of IQP so our project advisor set it up so that we would research ways to improve the website. However retrospectively I think we were working on the wrong problem. The question wasn’t how to create a website to encourage adoption, it should have been how to encourage adoption of renewable energy generally.2

I thought of this when listening to NPR’s Planet Money podcast on the automated check clearinghouse. The podcast describes how our system of money transfer between banks is much slower than the system that Europe uses. The United States could choose to create a system that would transfer money instantly but the consortium of banks that uses ACH decided against it. The technology is here and would have many benefits, but for cultural reasons (and some perverse incentives) the banking system is declining to adopt it.

The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet. It’s not enough for science and engineering to solve problems if people do not adopt the solutions.

  1. I was not pleased when I was assigned the project at the time because other projects involved more tangible outcomes like improving water quality and sanitation in Namibia. Building a website was not interesting technically, I had made them before, and the engineers working with the company viewed it as working on a solved problem. 

  2. My general sense from interviews we conducted with installers and users during the project is that the costs in time and money are high up front for a slow payback. Government incentives do help, but if I were to do it over again besides looking at creative financing I would look at supply-chain issues and programs that target developers of new housing stock or new homebuyers that would roll the upgrade into the new house purchase. Elon Musk figured this out when creating his Tesla cars. They are not marketed to people looking to save money and invest, they are marketed as luxuy vehicles superior to the Mercedes or Jaguar the buyer is already considering. 

No More Geothermal System at Wethersfield High School

When I was an undergrad at WPI I worked on a project with a startup that was working to encourage the adoption of renewable energy sources. I was disappointed to learn that the system is being nixed. The cost of energy in Connecticut is high and will likely only increase. With incentives I would expect installing a Geothermal system to be a net win for the town.

On a related note I also find it disappointing that the state has stalled in lifting its ban on wind turbines. As a state that is trying to lead on energy issues I would expect us to be doing more to encourage this.

Some Plugs for my Friends

One of my favorite things to do is to hear about different people’s projects or hobbies. For the past year or so I have been posting on Fred Wilson’s blog and meeting interesting people there. Some people call this networking, but I think the term networking sounds too awkward. It conjures up forced interactions at career services events where you chat with people and then get disappointed when they don’t have jobs for you. Fred’s analogy for his blog is that it’s like a bar, and I have to agree. It’s one of the most welcoming online communities I’ve participated in.

In the past month I have had the chance to chat with Joe Wallin, a startup attorney in Seattle. He has a great blog you should check out and gave me good advice on some of my career options and some insights on working with startups. Yesterday I skyped with Jorge Torres. Jorge went to school in New Haven so we found some common ground, and as an IP attorney he too is interested in finding ways of reducing the risk of startups being crushed by patent litigation. Check out his legal defense crowdfunding startup.

I also caught up with Ryan McKeen about his new law firm and how he is using technology to save money. He told me that tools like Expensify save him from having to pay a professional bookkeeper. I too am a fan of Expensify and use it to keep track of expenses for my political consulting business. My friend Raymond, who I met when I took a trip to Washington D.C. in high school, is now working on a start-up in Hartford selling reusable coffee sleeves. Check out the tree sleeve. They are already available in local Hartford coffee shops.

If you’re working on something, share it in the comments.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.