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Posts from the ‘bob metcalfe’ Category

Cisco/Tribe, Ning, Reuters: Social Nets Everywhere!

March 5, 2007


It’s now official: social networks have surpassed online video and widgets as the latest craze (though video and widgets are still getting plenty of play, too).

From an investment point of view, I think I hit the timing on video pretty well (video started as an area of focus about 24 months ago, and now is waning since everyone and his brother is launching and/or funding a video startup), but truthfully it is less clear to me whether I am still early, or too late, for social networks and widgets…

Just in the last few days there’s been lots of social networking news.

Marc Andreesen’s startup Ning went live.  I think it is looking pretty slick.

In what can only be called a bizarre move, Cisco bought Tribe. Hunh?

Reuters is creating a social net for fund managers, traders and analysts.

The Sunday Times had a really good piece on social networks generally. Fred Wilson also has a good post up this morning on the same subject.

The most interesting nugget amongst all of the noise is the growing recognition that smaller social networks, formed around tighter communities of specific shared interests, are where the long term utility of social networks is likely to be found.

This is a thesis I’ve been noodling on, and discussing, alot lately, and figured large in the social networks discussion at the Polaris Digital Media Summit in January.

Getting theoretical for a minute, this is an interesting twist on Metcalfe’s Law.  (How often do you get to work with a partner who has a Law to his name??) Whereas Metcalfe originally postulated that the value of a communications network increased as the number of people connected to the network increased, it seems that in many instances the value of a social network actually decreases when it gets too big.  Or, at least, there needs to be some coefficient for the affinity between members added to the equation. Bob and I have  been riffing on this around the shop, and he had a fun post on the subject last summer.

To sum it up: social media, and social networking generally, is transitioning from bleeding edge/experimenation to cutting edge early adoption.  Though still in its early days, the opportunities are very real — and substantial.

Guest Blogger Bob Metcalfe on “Framing the First Massachusett Energy Summit”

December 15, 2006



For 8am-noon, Wednesday, December 13, 2006, MIT Faculty Club

Speaking BEFORE me were (1) Paul O’Brien, Special Assistant to the Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development, (2) Paul Parravano, Co-Director, MIT Office of Government Community Relations, (3) Susan Hockfield, President of MIT, and (4) Ernest Moniz, Director of the MIT Energy Initiative. Speaking AFTER me and panel breakouts were (1) Cary Bullock, CEO of GreenFuel, (2) Richard Lester, Director of MIT’s Industrial Performance Center, and (3) Rick Matilla, Director of Environmental Affairs, Genzyme. Speaking AFTER them were (1) Ranch Kimball, Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development, and (2) Duval Patrick, Massachusetts Governor Elect.


Good morning, thank you, and now for something completely different.

Welcome to today’s First Massachusetts Energy Summit.

Thanks to Governor Mitt Romney, Secretary Ranch Kimball, Paul O’Brien, President Susan Hockfield, and Professor Moniz for inviting me here today, and I’m sorry if they soon REGRET it.

I am enthusiastic and grateful to be here. I signed up to make five minutes of framing remarks, but in preparing my notes, I’ve written several thousand words, which I’ll happily send, if you ask nicely.

Please excuse any lack of collegiality on my part. Collegiality is not high on my priority list. After decades of fighting the status quo, I am wary of collegiality. Among the pathologies of collegiality are old boy networks — entrenched, resourceful, and nasty defenders of the status quo.

I wrote years back in MIT Technology Review Magazine that while INVENTION is a FLOWER, INNOVATION is a WEED. We innovators have to be willing to be viewed as weeds by old boy networks. Innovation, in my experience, is not done by old boy networks, but by sometime collaborating and mostly COMPETING, and annoying, teams of women and men — scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and of course, venture capitalists — call us “techies.” I could stop there.

So, excuse me any lack of collegiality today — we are INNOVATING here.

The hopeful theory behind risking these five minutes with me is that I may have some useful advice for the Massachusetts energy cluster after my decades of striving and eventual success in Silicon Valley. The Valley is a cluster of clusters, the envy of economic developers around the world. In particular, I am overflowing with advice from experience in the Internet cluster, whose exact location remains in doubt, as is its lasting impact since the Internet Bubble burst.

Rather than make comments about exactly which innovations are going to solve the world’s energy problems, in these five minutes I will try to stay META, and talk about how to help our energy cluster succeed.

Rather than lead with my own energy SILVER BULLET, algae, here’s my meta silver bullet:

freedom of choice among competing alternatives.

FOCACA for short. If it’s progress you want, let FOCACA reign. Down with monopolies and old boy networks. Down with early political consensus picks among people, technologies, or companies. Our energy cluster will only prosper with FOCACA.

I am from what politicians and professors often call, a little too dismissively, the “private sector.” I think nobody else but the private sector will meet the world’s energy needs. Yes, the underlying reasons we are here today are the 100+ colleges and 10+ world-class research universities in Massachusetts. Every economic cluster that I know about is near a research university.

And then there are politicians — the public sector. The big danger in what they call “policy making” is that large companies have lobbyists and small companies don’t. Using an endless variety of rationales, the old boy network of large company lobbyists and policy makers make it difficult for young companies that might compete with them and thereby drive accelerating innovation. So, please be careful out there.


At the risk of not being collegial, again, and maybe even annoying Governor Romney and President Hockfield, I’d like to point out THREE problems with the very name of today’s First Massachusetts Energy Summit.

The FIRST problem with the name is the word FIRST. This cannot be the first energy summit ever held in Massachusetts, or even the first at MIT. We have a long history of trying to meet the world’s energy needs. Let’s be mindful that we have been here before.

The SECOND problem with the name of today’s SUMMIT is the word SUMMIT. Governors and Presidents often call their gatherings summits, but this word has the wrong connotations for solving problems. Again, the world’s energy needs will not be met top down near the summits of any old boy networks, but solved — here’s my main message — bottom up, by young women and men, sometimes collaborating but mostly in COMPETING teams of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and VCs. In Silicon Valley, this is called coopetition.

And the THIRD problem with the name of this Energy Summit is the word ENERGY. The cluster we are here today discussing is not an “energy” cluster per se, but an energy TECHNOLOGY cluster. It’s not as if we are planning to mine newly discovered coal deposits out past Interstate 495. It’s not that a spectacular supply of wind has been found in Nantucket Sound. It’s not that Massachusetts is likely to become a major energy exporter or even energy independent. Instead, we are gathered today to discuss the development of an economic cluster based on energy TECHNOLOGY.

For example, while Massachusetts will EVENTUALLY have thousands of windmills in somebody’s backyards, it’s more important that our energy technologies are used around the world for making, for example, windmill BLADES. Massachusetts technologies will be used worldwide in energy generation, distribution, storage, and consumption.

So, rather than energy, I’ll be saying energy technology — ENERTECH for short. I mean to say enertech as we already say infotech, biotech, and nanotech. Add “enertech” to the list.



The best way to frame the challenge before our Enertech Cluster is to say we aim to deploy technologies that will meet world needs for CHEAP AND CLEAN ENERGY. Note that meeting the world’s energy needs is not exactly the same as solving GLOBAL WARMING. There are other reasons, like prosperity and security, to want cheap and clean energy. And there are other causes of Global Warming, like plentiful unreflected sunlight.

Rest assured, Massachusetts enertech will help reduce Global Warming by cleaning up and eventually replacing fossil fuels. What the world needs is not just CHEAP energy, and not just CLEAN energy, but cheap AND clean energy. The market opportunities and other motivations are huge.

There is one thing about which Global Warming’s alarmists, deniers, and us techies agree. It is that not nearly enough is known about Earth and energy.

So, for starters, Global Warming alarmists, deniers, and us techies all AGREE that we need to support Earth and energy SCIENCE. At government labs? Not ideal. At the labs of corporate monopolies? Not ideal. At research universities? Yes! And why? Because the most effective vehicles for technology transfer are people. Research universities graduate people who carry new innovations forward into the world. That’s where governments should be investing in Earth and energy science.

Now I hesitate to say this at MIT, but we all should insist that our research universities continue COMPETING and thereby drive them toward more FOCUSED and, yes, better-MANAGED research. Massachusetts has 10+ world-class research universities, and it is our JOB to make the most of them in providing the world with cheap and clean energy.


The Internet was invented in the 1960s. Last year, a quarter billion new ports were shipped of my baby, Ethernet, plumbing for the Internet. Today the Internet has something like a billion users.

Here are three (3) ways in which the Internet can help meet the world’s needs for cheap and clean energy and also solve Global Warming:

First, as it evolves to enhance its email, search, blogs, social networking, audio, and video capabilities, the Internet can increasingly be used to reduce energy consumption by massively substituting COMMUNICATION for TRANSPORTATION. Just think of all the automobile and airplane miles and attendant carbon emissions that will be saved by transmitting our BITS to meetings instead of lugging our ATOMS. Let’s try hard to attend these Massachusetts Enertech Cluster meetings in the future without actually going anywhere. Down with pressing the flesh!

Second, starting with today’s base of a billion users and Google, the Internet is becoming an unprecedented medium for COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE. More and more people are getting better and better information and communication tools that will be applied to the development of cheap and clean energy and to solve Global Warming. The Internet is helping accelerate intellectual progress exponentially, and as Ray Kurzweil ’70 writes, the singularity is near.

And third, the people, processes, and institutions that built the Internet will themselves help bring the world cheap and clean energy. I’m talking here about the Internet’s teams of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists. And I’m talking about actual Internet techies and FOCACA. Of course, like the Internet, solving the world’s energy problems will take about 30 years. By meeting here today, I hope we are aiming to help techies deliver cheap and clean energy faster than we delivered the Internet.

By the way, you might think I’d be sorry the Internet Bubble burst, but I’m not. Al Gore and I may not have invented the Internet, but we invented the Internet Bubble. What we need now, and seem to be getting, is an Enertech Bubble.

Sure technology bubbles eventually burst. So, to mix metaphors, it’s important to have a chair when the music stops. But, mixing metaphors again, trying too hard to avoid bubbles causes what control theorists call over-damping. Over-damping the growth of our Enertech Cluster would delay the arrival of the cheap and clean energy that the world so badly needs. Let our Enertech Bubble inflate!


Silicon Valley has a “hometown newspaper” which plays many roles in sustaining its various clusters. It’s the San Jose Mercury News. The Massachusetts Enertech Cluster needs newspapers too. Sadly, the Boston Globe edition of The New York Times will not do. The problem is that The Globe is hostile to business and incompetent to cover it. Instead, for essential help in nurturing community in our Enertech Cluster, we need to leverage the new online media, another thing the Internet can do for energy and Global Warming.

I hasten to add about The Globe that, like almost all other newspapers, its readership has been declining for two decades. And, if you read it, you should worry about all the trees they cut down and all carbon they emit printing and distributing that toxic stuff they call news.


There are a good many of us involved in enertech who have what might be called ulterior motives. I, for example, am investing to get venture capital returns for our limited partners. So it was with the Internet. The trick is not to spend a lot of time denying and decrying ulterior motives. The trick is to get ulterior motives disclosed and aligned. We need to harness everybody’s motivations, not pretend they don’t exist or wish them away.

It’s hard sometimes, but it’s important to keep in mind that clustering is not a zero-sum game. I am not enthusiastic about promoting the Massachusetts Enertech Cluster so as to beat California — I lived in California for 22 years and still sometimes think of it as home. Nor would I want Maine, where I have also lived and still summer, to think I have switched allegiance to Massachusetts. Nor would I want MIT to suspect that I am working to give Waltham or Boston a leg up on Cambridge. Or that I favor 02139 over 02138.

Again, clustering is not a zero-sum game. The world is waiting for us to provide cheap and clean energy. Let’s cluster!


Shortly, we will attend panels on energy conservation, on alternative technologies, and on growing our energy (or enertech) cluster. The panelists are first rate, and I look forward to hearing from them. Fostering communication like this is key to growing our enertech cluster.


The Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MTLC) sustains our software cluster. We have a telecommunications council. We have a biotech council. We have a nanotech council. We have a New England Venture Capital Association. We have a Massachusetts Information Technology Exchange.

The Massachusetts energy technology cluster needs councils too. And near the top of its priorities, this council should serve as a liaison for entrepreneurs.

Today could be the inaugural meeting of one of our new enertech cluster councils, which we have to call something like the “Massachusetts Energy Technology Council And Liaison For Entrepreneurs,” or for short, METCALFE. Just kidding.

OK, may we should call it the “Boston Energy Advanced Technology Council And Liaison,” for short, BEATCAL. Just kidding.

Or broadening the geographical focus a bit, there is the New England Energy Innovation Collaborative — NEEIC (pronounced “neek”) — which Polaris is planning to join. See

Thank you.



Bob Metcalfe is a general partner of Polaris Venture Partners in Waltham. He serves on the boards of Polaris-backed Boston-area start-ups Ember, GreenFuel, Mintera, Narad, Paratek, and SiCortex, all of which, if pressed, he can relate to enertech. In 1979, Bob founded 3Com Corporation, the Silicon Valley networking company that IPOed in 1984, hit $5B during the Internet Bubble, and is now HQed in Marlborough. Bob received the National Medal of Technology in 2005 for leadership in the invention, standardization, and commercialization of Ethernet, plumbing for the Internet. Bob is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Life Trustee of MIT. After 22 years in Silicon Valley, the Metcalves live in Boston and Maine. Email:

Things that were on my mind but that I did not say at the Summit:


When you look at groups who call themselves GREEN, you find a good many ulterior motives and a veritable toxic waste dump of bad ideas. As pointed out by NYT Columnist Tom Friedman at Pop!Tech in October, Greens tend to be various combinations of environmentalist (a good thing), but also anti-urban, anti-technology, anti-nuke, anti-corporate, anti-globalization, and anti-American. Our Enertech Cluster needs to be careful about how we align with Greens, welcome when they can help bring the world cheap and clean energy.


Venture capitalists often brag about their portfolio companies, and I’m no different, but I’ll try to keep it relevant to enertech, and short.

Calling Ember in South Boston an enertech start-up is a REACH, but well worth it. Ember is a networking company that delivers tiny radio semiconductors and protocol software. Ember’s aim is to network all the world’s embedded micro-controllers, of which, according to IDC (another Massachusetts company) there will be 10 billion new ones shipped next year. Ember’s go-to-market focus is home and building control. And what do you think the principal benefits of home and building control are? By wirelessly controlling lights, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, many of Ember’s early customers are conserving energy. By wirelessly reading meters, many of Ember’s early customers better measure the energy they are saving.

Calling SiCortex in Maynard an enertech start-up is also a REACH, but worth it. SiCortex is a computer systems company, so why is it an example of Massachusetts enertech? First, SiCortex has just launched open-source software Linux superclusters that improve by factors of 10 delivered computational performance per dollar, per foot, and, yes, per watt. Because they each consume two factors of 10 fewer watts than the PC microprocessors on our desks, SiCortex fits six 64-bit microprocessors on a chip and therefore 5,832 in a single cabinet, cooled by air, saving energy on running the computers and even more on cooling them. That’s enertech. And second, SiCortex is enertech because its superclusters are designed for high-performance computing applications, prominent among which are seismic data analysis for oil exploration, climate modeling, fluid dynamics, reactor simulations, quantum chromo dynamics — enertech. No wonder the lead in SiCortex’s recent $21M venture financing was Chevron.

Calling GreenFuel in Cambridge an enertech start-up is NOT a reach. GreenFuel is now working with huge electric power plants in the Arizona desert to scale up its enertech. GreenFuel pipes CO2-laden flue gases through algae slurries circulating in solar bioreactors. GreenFuel algae use photosynthesis in enertech greenhouses to remove greenhouse gases (CO2 and NOx) from the flue gases before release into the atmosphere. And then, get this, the rapidly thickening algal slurry is harvested several times per day to produce lipids, starches, and proteins for extraction into substantial quantities of, respectively, biodiesel, ethanol, and feed. GreenFuel algae-solar bioreactors do require acreage, water, and electricity, but junk land, dirty water, and single-digit percentages of parasitic power. GreenFuel treats CO2 as a valuable plant food and, rather than try to sequester it expensively, GreenFuel recycles CO2, cleaning the atmosphere while producing cheap and clean energy. That’s enertech.


Energy is an emerging CLUSTER in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Energy is emerging, we hope, like other world-class clusters in the Massachusetts economy. These include finance, defense, hospitals, infotech, biotech, nanotech, Internet, robotics, and RFID, to name a few, old and new.

No small factor in the emergence of Massachusetts clusters is the nourishment provided by our state’s 100+ colleges and 10+ world-class research universities, including especially my alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has taken up ENERGY as a major new university-wide initiative.


In today’s discussions of energy you will hear about various SILVER BULLETS, including various forms of taxation, mitigation, sequestration, gasification, biofuels, nuclear, photosynthesis, photovoltaics, and hydrogen. And you will hear somebody wisely say there really are no silver bullets. I disagree.

My silver bullet is FOCACA, an acronym short for Freedom Of Choice Among Competing Alternatives. If it’s progress you want, rely on FOCACA — in politics, where it’s called democracy, in economics, where it’s called free markets, in culture, in religion, and in the technological innovation of clusters. I learned this watching the Internet evolve and proliferate.

There is controversy about when exactly the Internet was invented, but I trace it back to a Federal Communications Commission decision in 1968, the Carterphone Decision, which began the breaking of AT&T’s stranglehold on telecommunications. Carterphone established FOCACA among devices attached to AT&T’s telephone network. Then, only five years later, in 1973, there came three important inventions: the cellphone, the Internet’s modern protocols (TCP/IP), and the Internet’s plumbing, Ethernet.

All that FOCACA worked so well that, in 1984, the AT&T monopoly itself was broken up and, not so coincidentally, the modern Internet started moving up its inexorable exponential. We should worry these days that AT&T is reconsolidating, but that’s another story.

In 1964, IBM introduced its 360 mainframes to secure its position as the dominant computer monopoly — it was IBM and the BUNCH: Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data, and Honeywell. We would probably still be stuck with IBM mainframes batch processing punched cards had it not been for federal government antitrust oversight through the 1970s. Thanks to the resulting FOCACA, instead of just IBM and the BUNCH, we got DEC, Data General, Wang, HP, Intel, Apple, Apollo, Sun, Thinking Machines, Compaq, Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, Dell, and now SiCortex out in Maynard, to name a few, and all of them connected, NOT through IBM’s System Network Architecture, but through the Internet. SNA RIP.


Today’s story is about letting FOCACA reign in energy. Let’s not make our energy cluster be about government policies that anoint people, technologies, companies, or regions of the country, but about sustaining environments in which competition can run free. Down with monopolies; up with FOCACA.

Two good examples from Internet history are ISDN plumbing and ISO protocols. Both were infotech technologies promoted by an old boy network, by the old Bell System. Bell monopolists sent armies of lobbyists to visit government officials explaining how it was in everyone’s best interest if their monopolies were protected, and if not their monopolies per se, then public safety, and if not safety, then universal service, and if not that, then the jobs of telephone workers in their geographies. Even I was fooled for a while. Had ISDN and ISO been forced on us by those unsuspecting government officials and me, the Internet might still be among those perennial technologies of the future.

Fortunately, FOCACA prevailed, and we got, not ISDN and ISO, but after a series of long and fierce competitions, we got the Internet’s Ethernet plumbing and TCP/IP protocols. I was tempted to say just then that we “ended up” with the Internet’s plumbing and protocols, but of course FOCACA still prevails, and the Internet’s proliferation and evolution continues. So should it be with energy in Massachusetts.

The danger in policy making is that large companies have lobbyists and small companies don’t. Using an almost endless variety of rationales, the old boy network of large company lobbyists and policy makers can make it difficult for the young companies that might compete with them and thereby drive accelerating innovation.

Even policies aimed at large companies can backfire on small innovation companies. For example, policies that confiscate profits from “greedy” energy monopolies are a bad idea. Such profits are typically grossly exaggerated, but more importantly, investors will shy away from situations where, if they succeed, their returns will be confiscated. Profit confiscation will bite your nose to spite your face, if it’s cheap and clean energy you want.

Policy makers beware!


We are off to a good start today by deciding to talk about energy technology instead of Global Warming. The latter is amply covered in other forums, and I must say that it attracts its alarmists and deniers. The trick is to be neither.

The trick, if you want actually to solve Global Warming, is to keep clear the paths of people I’ll call “techies” — scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists (including me). Techies are the people who just took 30 years to build the Internet and who will take about the same time to solve Global Warming. They will solve Global Warming mostly by developing technologies that deliver cheap and clean energy. And they will do it SOONER if we can keep alarmists and deniers out of their way, and let FOCACA ring.

There is one thing about which Global Warming’s alarmists and deniers agree. It is that not nearly enough is known about Earth and energy.

Alarmists say we don’t know enough, and since things could get much worse than we now guess, let’s force the cutting of carbon dioxide emissions as quickly as possible.

Deniers also say we don’t know enough about Earth and energy, but conclude that we should be careful not to damage our energy-dependent economies until we know more about the Global Warming problem and how to solve it.

Global Warming alarmists, deniers, and techies all AGREE that we need to support Earth and energy SCIENCE.

The science we need is best done, not by corporate monopolies, not by government laboratories, but by research universities, of which Massachusetts has plenty.

In general, in the private sector, only monopolies can afford basic research. AT&T’s telephone monopoly supported Bell Labs. IBM’s computer monopoly supported Watson Labs. Xerox’s copier monopoly supported Parc. However, all the damage monopolies do, by overcharging their customers and sitting on innovations, is NOT worth what little research they do.

And government laboratories have become mostly earmarked pork barrel jobs programs steeped in mediocrity. Sorry, that wasn’t very nice.

Research universities are the best place to do the Earth and energy science we need because why? Because they graduate people. People are the most effective vehicles for technology transfer. It is no accident that economic clusters tend to form around excellent research universities.

Of course we should insist that our research universities continue COMPETING and thereby drive them toward more FOCUSED and better-MANAGED research. Massachusetts has 10+ world-class research universities, and it is our JOB to make the most of them by growing clusters, like of course the Massachusetts Enertech Cluster.


Beliefs that Greens really ought reconsider are anti-nuke, anti-urban, and anti-technology.

Nuclear power plants, about 100 of which are already providing 20% of our electricity, do so cheaply and cleanly. However, because of anti-nuke Greens, there has not been a new nuclear plant built in the USA in 25 years. If you want to make policies to promote cheap and clean energy, get rid of Green policies that keep nuclear permitting an uncertain and expensive process lasting decades.

Greens also have for decades promoted their belief in rural living. Now it’s emerging that your “environmental footprint” is actually lower when you live in a city. Fortunately, humans, despite all those Greens getting back to the Earth, are now moving to cities by the hundreds of millions.

Greens also promote small-scale organic farming, which they contrast with high-tech farming by corporations. It’s turning out that low-productivity farming takes more cleared land and is bad for our environment.

If our Enertech Cluster needs a color, I suggest not green but white, or albedo, as climate scientists sometimes call it, from the Latin for white. Cheap and clean energy will not alone solve Global Warming. The problem is that light from the Sun carries a lot of energy to Earth, and there is evidence that too little of it is being reflected back out into space. Earth’s albedo is the ratio of reflected to incident light. Green has a low albedo; white the highest.


There are amazing satellite images floating around various conferences that show Earth at night. What’s funny is how these images are used for such different purposes.

Sometimes the speaker showing an Earth-at-night image will complain about how much energy we waste lighting the night sky. During a speech last month in Washington, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld showed North and South Korea from space at night, noting how the Communist ideology of the North has left them starving in the dark. And there was the image at Pop!Tech ( in October showing Africa, the Dark Continent, with hardly any lights at all. The Pop!Tech speaker was not bragging about how “green” Africans are, but about how poor and dying they are.

Energy is a factor of production. It’s NOT so much that the USA wastes energy because it can afford to. Fact is, it’s easier to grow economies and proliferate prosperity when you have abundant energy. You often hear how America’s energy use per capita is high. You hear less often is that America’s energy consumption is about proportional to our economic output. It is a dead-end to ask nations to give up their prosperity, or hopes of prosperity, in order to use less energy to solve Global Warming.

Al Gore says that George Bush is thwarting adoption of the Kyoto Treaty. Gore does not mention that when the Kyoto Treaty was brought to the Senate of the USA, where treaties are supposed to be ratified, Kyoto was voted down, and not just by Republicans. It was voted down 95-0. That was 1997, during the Clinton-Gore administration, when Gore was himself President of the Senate.

The Global Warming problem is not that the prosperous United States wastes too much energy. The problem is that the developing world wants to be prosperous too. That’s why developing nations have to be exempted from Kyoto, as if their ramping carbon dioxide emissions won’t count. Telling them to conserve energy won’t work either. Cheap and clean energy is needed to grow the world’s economies (and solve Global Warming).


One of my private investigations is finding ways to enhance the so-called Parasol Effect. The odd thing is that sulfur pollution in the upper atmosphere, which we are carefully working to reduce, now enhances the Parasol Effect to offset about a third of the Greenhouse Effect. Large volcanoes cause Earth’s temperature to plunge when they enhance the Parasol Effect by belching reflective particles into the atmosphere. We should be looking harder at how to send benign reflecting particles into the stratosphere in order to enhance the Parasol Effect on purpose, to keep the temperature of Earth wherever we want it, which seems to be the same as it is now (or maybe a little bit cooler).

What I have noticed is that we are no longer content to endure the weather. We have learned enough about Earth that we are beginning to be able to predict the weather. Now that we are noticing that we are able to change the weather, albeit inadvertently, we will soon demand to CONTROL the weather. We will need Parasol Effect nanomaterial and its antidote to control the weather — to keep the weather exactly where we want it even against climate changes caused by non-human activities, like the orbit of Earth, volcanoes, Sun spots, etc.

When we know enough about Earth to control the temperature, then we will have a new political problem. We will need to ask somebody, perhaps the United Nations, if we want Earth to be warmer, cooler, or just the same. That will be interesting.

After that, from a future generation of techies, we will expect to control temperatures differently at different places and times across Earth’s surface. And why not? We already have zoned thermostats in many buildings.

Thank you.


Required Reading: Jarvis on Metcalfe & Web 2.0

August 19, 2006


Jeff Jarvis has a great response to the discussion of Metcalfe’s Law & Web 2.0.

You absolutely should read it if you have any interest in all this stuff.

Guest Blogger Bob Metcalfe: Metcalfe’s Law Recurses Down the Long Tail of Social Networks

August 18, 2006


The blogosphere has started bubbling some interesting discussion of how Metcalfe’s Law applies to current Web 2.0 dynamics like social networking. Some IEEE types, Brad Feld, Niel Robertson, a PhD. student named Fred Stutzman, my partner Sim Simeonov, myself and a few others have posted on this in the last few weeks.

Bob Metcalfe, who invented the law in the first place and is my partner at Polaris (and who, along with Al Gore, invented the Internet…), offers his own view in a guest blog post below.

Read more

Guest Blogger Bob Metcalfe on Polaris and Enertech Investing

May 15, 2006


Polaris recently invested in a cool MIT spin out called Green Fuel.

My partner Bob Metcalfe led the investment and wrote the following post:


By Bob Metcalfe '68, Polaris Venture Partners

May 15, 2006


GreenFuel Technologies Corporation [] announced last month that it had received a $6.8 million investment from Polaris Venture Partners []. GreenFuel went on to brag that I, a has-been Internet engineer-entrepreneur and apprentice general partner, joined GreenFuel's board.Handling the surprising number of inquiries sparked by GreenFuel's announcement, I admitted to reporters that GreenFuel was Polaris' FIRST energy investment. I realize now that admitting this was a mistake, in fact several mistakes rolled into one.

First off, several reporters turned hostile after not listening carefully and thinking I said Polaris is a pioneer in energy investing. No. Ahead of us are many investors who have been specializing in energy for decades. And there are even my Silicon Valley friends, for example venture capitalists Vinod Khosla [] and Tim Draper [], who are ahead of Polaris and me in energy investing. Draper Fisher Jurvetson in fact led the GreenFuel financing round that Polaris joined in April. So, please, I did not say that Polaris is the first venture capitalist to invest in energy. What I said was that GreenFuel is Polaris' first energy investment.GreenFuel, by the way, is cool. The MIT spin-off is deploying solar bioreactors that remove global-warming carbon dioxide from power plant flue gases by bubbling them through sun-drenched algae slurries that are harvested daily to produce biodiesel and ethanol, thereby helping save the world with cheap and clean energy. OK?

Well, not OK. Clarifying my first mistake led to a second. A couple of reporters followed up by asking whether Polaris and I are turning to cool energy start-ups because, now that the Internet Bubble has burst, there are no more good investment opportunities in infotech. No. Polaris is a diversified venture investing partnership. We just raised $1 billion into our 5th venture fund and plan to continue investing in infotech, biotech, nanotech, … and now also, starting with GreenFuel, in what I call ENERTECH. OK?

Well, not OK. It turns out, as I learned at our first partners meeting after the GreenFuel coverage, Polaris made enertech investments before GreenFuel. The best example is another cool company called Athenix [], which provides genes and enzymes for the bioconversion of biomass, like corn stover, straw, and dried grains, into biofuels.And then I looked at the ENERGY relevance of the five other Polaris-backed start-ups on whose boards I serve: Ember, SiCortex, Paratek, Narad, and Mintera.

Ember [] provides milliwatt semiconductor radios and networking software for embedded microcontrollers, many of which are used in residential, commercial, and industrial energy (HVAC and lighting) management systems.SiCortex [] is developing Linux superclusters that will improve the energy efficiency of scientific computing by a factor of 100 — two orders of magnitude.Paratek [] is developing tunable ceramic radio frequency components for cellphones that will increase their range and energy efficiency, and might as much as double their battery life.The last two of my "energy" investments, Narad and Mintera, are helping build the future broadband Internet, enabling substitutions of cheap and clean COMMUNICATION for expensive and environmentally damaging TRANSPORTATION.

Narad [] provides equipment to cable television operators so they can offer gigabit switched Ethernet services for broadband Internet access.Mintera [] provides equipment to telephone, television, and Internet carriers for 40-gigabit-per-second (40Gbps) ultra-long-haul DWDM optical transport.What better way to ease the world's looming energy crisis than reducing demand for fossil guzzling and carbon emitting commuting and other unpleasant forms of travel?

So, no, GreenFuel is not the first energy investment made by Polaris and me.

Which leads to fixing yet another mistake. After the GreenFuel announcement, I was buried in business plans from companies developing new energy reserves or power generating plants of various kinds around the world. While many of these are promising energy investments, they are mostly not right for Polaris and especially me. Saying we invest in "energy" is a problem.

So, after consultation with experts, I say I am not looking for "energy" investments or "renewables" investments or "cleantech" investments, but for Boston-based early-stage ENERTECH investments, like GreenFuel. Short for energy technology, "enertech" also poetically extends the familiar family of investment categories: infotech, biotech, nanotech, and now … enertech.

My recent interest in enertech was provoked by Susan Hockfield, MIT's new president. She announced last year that energy would be a major focus of MIT's formidable innovation machine. The MIT Energy Research Council that President Hockfield established last year just issued its first report:

Last week was Energy Week at MIT:

I'm signed up to play my role in President Hockfield's initiative, as an enertech venture capitalist.

Fresh back from MIT's Energy Week, I'd like to say that MIT will soon save the world with cheap and clean energy. But, success is not assured.

Oil and gas seem to be running out, but if not running out, they sure are expensive these days. They mostly come from ungrateful regions of the world. Their burning releases pollutants including especially carbon dioxide (CO2), which is widely reported to cause global warming, more dangerous hurricanes, and rising oceans that will eventually turn Boston into Atlantis.

Coal is cheap and plentiful, but also dirtier, including much more CO2, and not ideal for cars and jets. Some folks think that coal needs urgently to be gasified.

Since all fossil fuels — oil, gas, coal — dump global-warming CO2 into our atmosphere, there is a lot of talk about "carbon sequestration," including pumping CO2 back into the ground to help get the oil out. This sounds to me a lot like burying nuclear wastes. Excuse me for mentioning that GreenFuel promises not to expensively sequester CO2, but to recycle it productively into biofuels.

Biofuels can be cheap and clean, but they also release CO2 when burned. On the other hand, they capture CO2 when grown. Ethanol is a coming thing.

Water and wind power are free of CO2, but among their other problems are despicable Democrats protecting family compound views across Nantucket Sound. OK, MIT is proposing to move wind farms into deeper water offshore over the horizon.

The United States has 104 nuclear reactors safely, cheaply, and cleanly (no CO2) producing 20% of our electricity. But, NO-NUKES Luddites have made it impossible to build new US reactors since 1975. This is an outrage. China and France, of all places, are moving ahead with nuclear. So should we. It's fascinating that so many global warming alarmists are also anti-nuke. It will be interesting to see how they work this out.

Which leaves solar power. Our Sun's nuclear fusion reactor — which daily taunts fusion researchers by flying across the sky — currently transmits to Earth enough energy in an hour to power the human race for a year. Solar power converters are now about 1% efficient, and there aren't very many, but promised breakthroughs abound. This explains why there is something of an investment bubble in solar, including GreenFuel, which uses photosynthesis to convert transmitted solar energy and recycled CO2 into biofuels.

Speaking of investment bubbles, a young woman at last Saturday's energy conference at MIT worried about investment bubbles in energy. She looked old enough to remember the bursting of the Internet Bubble, but not old enough to remember the sad state of computing-communications in 1976. Remembering those days, I have to say that energy today feels just like pre-Internet computing-communications in 1976.

So, I estimate it will take about three decades to get to THE energy bubble, which will make the last Internet Bubble look like a speed bump. We should look forward to it.

A lot of the people speaking at today's energy conferences are in for some big surprises, just like the people who worked at AT&T, IBM, and the FCC in 1976. If the world is to be saved by cheap and clean energy, many of these people, their rapacious monopolies, their politicians, their co-dependent activists, their captured regulators, their professors, and their conventional wisdoms will have to be cruelly swept aside by today's young scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and yes, enertech venture capitalists.