Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Face-off: Prius vs GoLoco

And the winner is, GoLoco!*

When you drive a hybrid, sure you get more miles to the gallon, but it turns out most people drive more miles since it costs them less. The net reduction in CO2 emissions is about 3% for every 10% better mileage the vehicle gets.

In contrast, when you GoLoco, you:

• dramatically reduce CO2 emissions
• dramatically improve passenger miles per the gallon
• reduce congestion
• reduce road wear and tear
• reduce demand for parking
• reduce the number of car accidents (fewer cars means fewer accidents)
• reduce sprawl


*Individual results may vary depending on percent of trips taken solo versus loco.

Source: Todd Littman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute
"Efficient Transportation Versus Efficient Vehicles" ( )

Thursday, August 9, 2007

GoLoco on Facebook

By now you may have heard that we're running GoLoco on Facebook Platform (for some weird reason the PR people at Facebook insist on the absence of the word "the"). We're excited about the opportunities this provides, and, as engineers, we are having a lot of fun working on the GoLoco on Facebook Platform.

Why Facebook? We've been watching them for a while, and we've been impressed with how well they manage the whole online social network thing. Rather than build a whole parallel social network just for GoLoco, it just made sense to build on theirs.

From the developer's point of view, Facebook Platform is well designed with an intuitive API that provides just what we need. And from all we can tell, they've only just begun. Since they introduced the platform barely two months ago they've had regular weekly updates and the features just keep coming. A recent update enabling javascript support will mean that we can make some performance and usability improvements, so stay tuned.

And we're looking forward to scaling more easily now -- with their investment in robust systems for handling millions of users we can concentrate on making GoLoco easy to use and adding features.

But what about all those people who aren't using Facebook yet? Yes, there are quite a lot of them, but not for long by my calculations.

Facebook Singularity?

According to Ray Kurzweil, the computing power of the human brain will be matched by PCs by the year 2020. However, long before then, if current rates of growth continue, we will reach the Facebook Singularity by January 2011. "What's that?," you ask. And how did you calculate it?

According to the CIA (isn't this where everyone gets their facts?), the world population is growing at 1.167% per year. If growth continues at this rate then the world population will be 7 billion by January 2011.

Facebook reports adoption is growing at the rate of 3% per week. If adoption continues at this rate then the number of Facebook users will be 7 billion by January 2011.

You can calculate the point of singularity yourself if you like. When does World Population = Facebook Population? Facebook's weekly growth rate of 3% is an annualized 1.03 to the power of 52 (don't you love the magic of compound growth? Ben Franklin would be all over this), 1.03^52 = 4.65.

If you plug in the current populations and growth rates we get:

6,600,000,000 * 1.0167^N = 33,000,000 * 4.65^N

where N is the number of years.

Take the log of both sides and solve for N and you get:

N = (log(6,600,000,000) - log(33,000,000))/(log(4.65) - log(1.0167))

Put the right hand side of that equation into google
and you get N = 3.48 years, or around January 1, 2011.

What does this mean? Well, you'd be able to "Facebook poke" every man, woman and child in the world by January 2011.

I know what you're thinking, "no way will that happen because I know my mother's never going on Facebook." Guess again, Poindexter, if your mother isn't on yet, she will be soon.

-- Roy [Russell]

NOTE from Roy's wife and children: (yawn) ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Al Gore is a Hero

And it's not because he looks good in blue spandex wearing his underwear outside his pants. That would actually be disturbing. He is a hero because Google’s trend line for US searches on the term “global warming” shows a doubling in 2006. It proved to be a watershed year for American’s awareness of the issue. Suddenly, it appeared on the covers of Wired, Vanity Fair, Business Week, and Time Magazine. I think Al’s movie (can I call him Al? Super Al perhaps?) “An Inconvenient Truth”, which was released in May, had a lot to do with it. And it looks like this trend will double again in 2007.

Last September, John Holdren, Director of the Woods Hole Research Center and Chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told me that we had about five years to start on the downward path of CO2 emissions worldwide if we wanted to prevent the current “severe” effects of climate change from becoming “catastrophic” ones. James Hansen, NASA's Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies was in the news giving a “less than ten years” time frame. Here is an excerpt from his talk to the National Press Club in February, 2007:

If we do follow the “business as usual” path, even for another ten years, it guarantees that we will have dramatic climate changes that produce what I would call a different planet… It's likely that a large fraction of the species could go extinct.”

These two men are among America’s leading climate scientists. When they talk, I listen. Unlike batman who responded to the bat projected into the sky, these heroes are projecting a call to arms for us, the people. Unlike batman who could stop runaway trains, these men realize that the problem is not one an individual can solve.

Since then, every single talk I give has referred to this important 5 to 10 year window of opportunity. All of us need to transform the public’s awareness of global warming as one problem among many into one of highest urgency. Senate's energy legislation that all but ignored the number one issue – that all energy plans must be evaluated in the context of their CO2 output --illustrates the horrifying disconnect between scientists, the public, and therefore our public servants. It is a fantasy to imagine that tiny tweaks and innuendo can accomplish what is needed.

This last Sunday, Al Gore wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times. It was beautifully done. Here are some excerpts:

"Our home — Earth — is in danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings...If we don't stop doing this [producing CO2 emissions] pretty quickly, the average temperature will increase to levels humans have never known and put an end to the favorable climate balance on which our civilization depends...To this end, we should demand that the United States join an international treaty within the next two years that cuts global warming pollution by 90 percent in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy Earth."

I so admire the subtlety of his language with phrases like "hospitable to human beings" and "in time for the next generation" that let him give the hard truth in a not-quite terrifying, and not-quite time specific way. Perfect for the mainstream media and mainstream America. I'm inclined to directness: if we don't stop, and fast, the human species will be reduced to a shell of its current population, and what is needed here in the developed world is a 90 percent reduction in CO2 emissions within 15 to 20 years.

Attend a Live Earth local event, watch the 7 concerts on 7 continents broadcast live on Saturday to be energized, feel the local and global embrace. Then start telling your friends and leaders that you are ready to do what is needed. It’s time for us all to become heroes. Hybrid batmobiles won't cut it; it's time to go loco in all the ways that matter.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Wimpy Calculus for Reducing CO2 emissions

“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

The Conservation Fund has a Go Zero program, I just stumbled across. They describe themselves as a fund that “pioneers a balanced, non-advocacy, non-membership approach to conservation, one that blends environmental and economic goals and objectives.”

The gist: I’ll gladly pay you in 50 years for CO2 emitted today.”

You use their calculator to figure out how many tons of CO2 you generate in a year, and then divide that number by 1.33 to figure out how many trees you should buy to offset that amount. They way they figure it, plant a tree today and over the course of its 70 year life it will absorb 1.33 tons of CO2. I can just see the graph of CO2 uptake: very close to zero for many years, with the significant payoffs once the tree starts to be an interesting size, say about 25 years from now. I wonder what fraction of trees planted actually make it to their 25th birthday.

I like trees. Planting trees is good. Sending the Conversation Fund $4 a tree to plant a bunch to rid yourself of your CO2 guilt has just one negative side effect. It gives the impression that you are actually doing something about your CO2 emissions.

The sad part is, the consume-now pay-later system is what we have been doing for the last 100 years and is what got us into this mess. When we do nothing, it takes about 100 years for the CO2 to be reabsorbed and if we plant that tree, it'll be reabsorbed in about 70. Right now we are reaping the effects of fossil fuel burned in the 1960s. Just imagine what it is going to be like when we start feeling the warming effects that result from today’s consumption levels.

We need to change our behavior, we can't buy our way out. Sharing just one car trip a week (or eliminating one a week), can reduce our consumption of fossil fuel by 5% starting now. Just like Wimpy's endless burger-bargaining, planting a tree for tomorrow won't produce the results we want in the timeframe required.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The thrill of success

Since I live in the city, and work a few blocks from home, I don't get many chances to go loco. So right after I had booked my plane trip to attend a conference last weekend and then a rental car, I posted the trip on GoLoco: National Airport to Loyola College, Columbia Maryland. The likelihood of actually sharing the ride and rental costs was incredibly low, but at least I was trying to share.

I was shocked to see the GoLoco email 12 hours before my flight to DC: "Someone wants to join your trip." Incredibly low now modified to incredible.

I click through. His note says he is going to the International Community Wireless Summit which is the same one I'm attending. So now I know he is one of about two hundred people. And note the "he." Just like most women out there, I'm not about to jump in a car with a man I don't know. I click through to his profile.

Doesn't look like an axe murderer - whatever that might look like. And then I see that he belongs to the community. That's the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based non-profit. Then I see his blog. Hey! I know a number of people at Embarq and have had meetings there discussing wireless applications in the transportation sector. We obviously know people in common. I suppose I could have emailed them to double check. Instead, I choose "accept" and write him a note about the best place to meet up.

Success #1: Hey, hey, hey! This works! Context, content, and social networks do what we had hoped they would do.

But wait, there's more. Getting out of DC and onto the right highway to Columbia was nontrivial. I handed Rhys (my GoLoco co-pilot) the directions, kept my eyes on the road, and listened to him guide me through the quick series of lefts, rights, merges, on those blasted high speed parkways that DC loves so well. I absolutely positively would not have gotten to Loyola College without mistake without Rhys. The stress reduction probably added a couple of minutes to my life. Thanks Rhys. That was unexpected Success #2.

Expected success #3 was that he paid for a quarter of my car rental (one half of half the travel I was doing with the car) and expected success #4 was that we had a great conversation in the car about transportation, developing countries, travel, and spouses.

Now I have even more connections at WRI.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Photos, and lack thereof

As we were building the website and talking to experienced experts (instead of the inexperienced ones), we heard some amusing strategies about what it takes to get people to upload a photo:

Strategy 1: Offer up lame substitutes so that people would do anything to avoid having their name associated with that cartoon.

Strategy 2: Tell them that other people are statistically way less likely to engage with them without a photo –true.

Strategy 3: Remind incessantly. We could to do that.

Strategy 4: Embarrassment. If you don’t have a photo, your profile gives your sex and age. We are actually doing that, really.

Put in a photo! GoLoco looks so much friendlier when populated by diverse real faces rather than green and white oLos.

I’ve been trying to see if there is a pattern to those who upload photos. More photos from university communities than geographical ones? More from men than women? Age specific? Hard to tell without a real analysis which is certainly not worth the time.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

What's in a Name?

Why GoLoco?

It took longer to name this company than it took to name all three of my children put together. With them, I didn’t have to worry about whether I could register the domain name, or whether people could repeat and spell the name after hearing it said once. So,

Go loco with freedom and independence, enjoying your friends and your life on your own terms
Go loco from location to location, using local locomotion (yes, there’s a Latin root there)
Go loco -- low cost and low CO2 – a way of life.

After so many months of work (which we’re already forgetting about), it is a thrill to actually see people use the service the way we intended. I imagine this is what a museum architect must feel like on opening day: “look! That person stopped right there, just as we had planned!” and “huh, they missed that cool thing entirely, what happened?”

So we are seeing missed cues, and making the necessary changes as fast as we can, and relishing the perfect moves, like this one:

David Slater posted his daily commute, every Mon-Fri, leaving around 6am, returning around 3pm with the informative note: “This is my daily commute. My hours are flexible and I would consider adjusting my hours for a daily ride share."

Yes! David, you got it exactly right. We’ve only just started and we can’t passively await a connection. Like David, I’ve posted all my routine car trips, and I’m waiting for the pleasant moment when I see the email from GoLoco telling me that someone else actually wants to join my fascinating trip between Cambridge and Hammond Pond.

And I’ve also stumbled happily across destination ideas. The Peabody Essex Museum? I haven’t been there in a year. The Crown Colony? Where in heck is that? And of course, who is going?

And relevant to nothing but a great trip comment:
“The toddler *will* be in the car, price has been adjusted accordingly.”

Monday, April 30, 2007

Welcome to GoLoco

We're as eager as a new litter of puppies to get going! Yes, we're not quite properly trained yet and we're kind of falling all over ourselves, but we're hoping that we're so cute and cuddly that you'll put up with all of that for a little while. Pretty soon we'll be obedient and faithful and much better behaved.