Helping redefine “what is a car” on Chevy tours at SXSWi

I’m at SWSW as a guest of Chevy and enjoying the benefits of behind the scenes tours and access.  On Friday, the Volt team toured me and a collection of bloggers and journalists through the Pecan Street project and GM’s customer interaction center.

At one point, Colin Rowan compared the relatively long cell phone adoption (they first appeared  in 1973) to the likely ramp of electric cars and green homes.  Doug Moran from GearDiary pointed out the weakness of this comparison.  Cell phones are inexpensive with short life-cycles while cars are expensive durables.

However, Cell phones stopped being phones around 2007 when iPhone adoption exploded.  Smart phones are not phones – they are mobile platforms.  In fact, they are lousy phones when compared to cell phones.

Comparing electric cars to gas cars is more like comparing smart phones to dumb phones!

While both electric and gas cars can be used for transportation, electric cars have the potential to become energy transportation platforms.

You cannot use the energy stored in your car’s gas tank for anything but moving the car around.  Further, you can only get more gas from a very small set of vendors.

Electric cars are fundamentally different – the energy stored in the car’s batteries can be apply to nearly any application you want from transportation to lighting to computing to heating and refrigeration.  Further, you can get more energy for your car from nearly any source (local solar and wind or grid power).  For a hybrid like the Volt, the options are even broader because it includes gas to electricity generation.

From this perspective, electric cars are an energy mobility platform.

We need to accept that we are living in a world with unreliable power distribution due to weather, peak demand and/or carbon tax.   In this type of situation, cars with batteries are as fundamentally different from gas cars as smart phones are to rotary POTS phone.

PS: For more extra credit reading, check out the Vehicle to Grid concept

Join in Blog Action Day on 10/15

You’ll have to wait for the reveal on 10/15 but I wanted to throw out the link for blog action day and encourage fellow bloggers to participate in the event.

I participated in this event while I blogging about electric cars (I converted 96 RAV4 to EV) and energy issues.  It’s an interesting perspective to have a large focus on a single topic.  The breadth of discussion is impressive.

This year, I’m going to be topical to my latest interests and offering insights from the floor of the OpenStack summit.

My EV, RAVolt, rides again. Brakes no longer broken.

My EV blog ( is basically inactive so I’m cross posting the positive news that I’ve got the RAVolt road worthy again!  I was able to repair the brake line and learned how to bleed the brake lines (surprisingly easy).  Next step is to order some new batteries.

The RAVolt has been idle for over 18 months.  With $4 gas around the corner, my timing is looking very good.

Clouds & Water (Blog Action Day)

Today is coordinating Blog Action Day 2010 to raise awareness about Water.  It is widely reported (and worth repeating) that scarcity of clean water is more likely to impact your daily life than scarcity of energy, food, shelter or other basic human rights.

Water scarcity has little impact in my daily life.  <shameless plug>While The new cloud servers my employer, Dell, sells consume less power and thereby less cooling water; these efficiencies do relatively little to impact people’s access to fresh water.</shameless plug>

However, waste is a huge impact.  Since Americans are water, food and energy hogs, we are also in the position of wasting disproportionate amount of these limited resources.  I believe that we commit this waste unconsciously without any real gauge on its volume or impact.  Imagine the impact to your driving behavior if you had to fill your gas tank up a cup of gas at a time (64), water your lawn from a 5 gallon bucket (30+) or refill your toilet with a table-spoon (409!).

The key to addressing waste in the land of plenty is to measure and show impacts.  I believe that people abhor waste when they see it.  Our challenge is not to change people, but to show them in real terms the consequences of their choices.

For example, just having an MPG calculator on our cars has changed the way that we drive them.  I am personally disappointed with how little useful feedback these gauges provide, but it’s a start.

One of the things I like about Cloud Computing is that we want to measure and reduce waste.  We get mad about waste: wasted computer time, wasted equipment, wasted power, and especially wasted time.

As we make strides to make computing and information more personal and mobile, I believe we need to include ways to show people data about the choices that they are making.  So next time you water your lawn or flush your toilet, this about what it would mean if you had the haul that water in a bucket up from a well.  Sound crazy?  That’s status quo for more people than those of us that enjoy indoor plumbing.

Blog Action Day: 10/15

In a few days, I’ll participate in Blog Action Day 2010.  I did this before from my EV blog.
This year’s topic, Water, is not directly relevant to the types of Clouds that I’m working with; however, it would make me very sad to think that we can create hyper-scale social media game platforms for lonely laptop wielding suburbanites while not putting a drop of effort into fundamental issues.  I’m sure I can conjure a tirade about it in the next few days…stay tuned.

Buy virtual goods at Seven-11! Zyanga offers MafiaWars burrito.

Even in the cloud provider business, we sometimes scratch our heads about how much people are willing to pay for virtual products.  A colleague was ranting enviously about a $20 virtual horse offered in World of Warcraft that sold thousands of units in the day hour it was offered.  That’s over two million dollars of revenue for a vanity accessory made of brightly colored pixels! 

In some ways, this is a generational challenge because I want to see real commodities in return for my cash.  Last week, my elementary age daughter did a grueling hour of yard work so that she could purchase some brightly colored phoenix shaped pixels Webkinz.  Normally, she’d have to buy a stuffed animal to get the unlock code but now she can bypass the plush closet dweller.  When I asked if she wanted the toy that normally accompanies the virtual goods she looked at me with the “Daddy, you are stupid but I love you anyway” look.  To her, the virtual item WAS the commodity and the toy was disposable packaging.  Upon reflection, I realized that this is a much better economic model than requiring her to purchase landfill fodder transported from sweatshops on the other side of the planet.

But I digress….

I was pumping gas today and noticed that Seven-11 is pimping concessions that are co-marketed with Zyanga.  This is not just a Zyanga advertising campaign – it is a fully integrated physical-for-virtual-goods marketing genius.  Here’s the deal: if you buy physical food from Seven-11 then I suspect that you get codes to things like unlock virtual food in FarmVille, yoyos in YoVille, and Seven-11’s to rob in MafiaWars.  They even appear to target specific foods to individual games – the MafiaWars burrito was simultaneously spooky and inspiring.

I suspect that ultimately these items will only by available by purchasing goods at Seven-11.  We’re already seeing applications like Gowalla that hope to bundle physical experiences (visiting specific stores) with coupons (free Starbucks).  It’s a logic step to assume that we’ll soon be directed to physical activities (buying a slurpee) to shape virtual experiences (bumping off a crime boss).   Since it seems like a marketer dream come true, I’m absolutely certain that you’ll see it coming to a social network near you.

So now I’m watching for the day when having physical lunch with my virtual Facebook friends may earn us some useful currency.  I wonder what that currency will be.