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Can 1 miracle plant solve the world’s 3 greatest problems?


Can 1 miracle plant solve the world’s 3 greatest problems?

Kenaf, the carbon-sequestering monster plant, provides food, shelter and carbon credits.

kenaf-main

If someone were to tell you that they had a technology — a weed actually — that could sequester huge amounts of carbon permanently while lifting villagers out of poverty by providing both protein-rich food and super-insulated building materials, you might start to wonder if they were, well, smoking a different weed.

But it appears that one retired building contractor, Bill Loftus, has actually come upon a brilliant application of the fast-growing, carbon-sucking plant known as Kenaf. Kenaf is in the Hibiscus family and is thus related to both cotton and okra. Originally from Africa, this 4,000-year-old crop was used for its fiber. It has the astonishing ability to grow up to 14 feet in one growing season, yielding 6-10 tons of fiber per acre and making it a great source of pulp for paper.

But researchers have also discovered (PDF) a corresponding ability of Kenaf to inhale huge quantities of our most abundant global warming gas — CO2. We all now know we need to dramatically reduce our emissions, but even if we were to cut them by 50 percent in the next 10 years (an almost unachievable goal), we still have decades worth of CO2 that has yet to impact the climate. In other words, we need a technology that can actively pull CO2 out of the air and store it … permanently, now.

It turns out that Kenaf can absorb 3-8 times more CO2 than a tree. One acre of Kenaf can pull about 10 tons of CO2 out of the air per growing season, and in some parts of the world it can be cut back and regrown for a second season. With proper management, a single acre planted in Kenaf could absorb 20 tons of CO2.

But its not enough to simply absorb CO2. In order to create verifiable carbon credits, the CO2 must be sequestered permanently. This is where Bill Loftus comes in. Having worked for decades in the green building industry, he realized the abundant fiber of the Kenaf plant would be perfect as a filler to produce light-weight, super-insulating, fireproof concrete blocks that permanently sequester the carbon.

He patented the block, which weighs under 9 lbs, and is currently using it in two pilot projects in Haiti and South Africa, areas that have been hard hit by natural disasters and famine. The plant leaves are rich in protein (34 percent) and much-loved by chickens. So early in the season, it makes perfect feed in areas where feed is often not even available. The chickens in turn fertilize the soil and provide food for the villagers.

I still have a few questions — in particular about soil depletion and the invasiveness of the species — but I will be interviewing the CEO of Quantum-ionics, the distributor of the block, to get more answers. In the meantime you can check out Bill Loftus’ website and join his crusade to stop global warming, one kenaf plant at a time.

Can 1 miracle plant solve the world’s 3 greatest problems? – StumbleUpon.

via Can 1 miracle plant solve the world’s 3 greatest problems? – StumbleUpon.

Goldman Sachs -Rigging the I.P.O. Game


ONCE upon a time, in a very different age, an Internet start-up called eToys went public. The date was May 20, 1999. The offering price had been set at $20, but investors in that frenzied era were so eager for eToys shares that the stock immediately shot up to $78. It ended its first day of trading at $77 a share.

The eToys initial public offering raised $164 million, a nice chunk of change for a two-year-old company. But it wasn’t even close to the $600 million-plus the company could have raised if the offering price had more realistically reflected the intense demand for eToys shares. The firm that underwrote the I.P.O. — and effectively set the $20 price — was Goldman Sachs.

After the Internet bubble burst — and eToys, starved for cash, went out of business — lawyers representing eToys’ creditors’ committee sued Goldman Sachs over that I.P.O. That lawsuit, believe it or not, is still going on. Indeed, it has taken on an importance that transcends the rise and fall of one small company during the first Internet craze.

The plaintiffs charge that Goldman Sachs had a fiduciary duty to maximize eToys’ take from the I.P.O. Instead, Goldman purposely set an artificially low price, so that its real clients, the institutional investors clamoring for the stock, could pocket that first-day run-up. According to the suit, Goldman then demanded that some of those easy profits be kicked back to the firm. Part of their evidence for the calculated underpricing of eToys, according to the plaintiffs’ complaint, was that Lawton Fitt, the Goldman executive who headed the underwriting team and was thus best positioned to gauge the market demand, actually made a bet with several of her colleagues that the price would hit $80 at the opening. (Through a Goldman Sachs spokesman, Fitt declined to comment. Goldman denies that it did anything wrong, about which more shortly.)

On some level, this argument — between those who believe companies are routinely sold down the river by their underwriters and those who insist that underwriting requires a complex balancing of the interests of both company and investors — has been going on ever since. Just a couple of years ago when the social media company LinkedIn went public and the stock quickly doubled, I wrote that the company had been scammed by its underwriters, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit. Money that rightly belonged to the company had instead gone to investment clients, I argued. A number of market observers responded by saying that I lacked a nuanced understanding of the complicated dynamics between companies, investors and underwriters.

Recently, however, I came across a cache of documents related to the eToys litigation that seem to tilt the argument in favor of the skeptics. Although the documents were supposed to be under seal, they were sitting in a file at the New York County Clerk’s Office, available to anyone who asked for them. I asked.

What they clearly show is that Goldman knew exactly what it was doing when it underpriced the eToys I.P.O. — and many others as well. (According to the lawsuit, Fitt led around a dozen underwritings in 1999, several of which were also woefully underpriced.) Taken in their entirety, the e-mails and internal reports show Goldman took advantage of naïve Internet start-ups to fatten its own bottom line.

Goldman carefully calculated the first-day gains reaped by its investment clients. After compiling the numbers in something it called a trade-up report, the Goldman sales force would call on clients, show them how much they had made from Goldman’s I.P.O.’s and demand that they reward Goldman with increased business. It was not unusual for Goldman sales representatives to ask that 30 to 50 percent of the first-day profits be returned to Goldman via commissions, according to depositions given in the case.

“What specifically do you recall” your Goldman broker wanting, asked one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers in a deposition with an investor named Andrew Hale Siegal.

“You made $50,000, how about $25,000 back?” came the answer. “You know, you made a killing.”

“Did he ever explain to you how to pay it back?” asked the lawyer.

“No. But we both knew that I knew how,” Siegal replied. “I mean, commissions, however I could generate.”

In one e-mail, a Goldman Sachs executive named David Dechman described hot I.P.O. deals as “a currency.” He asked, “How should we allocate between the various Firm businesses to maximize value to GS?”

Robert Steel, who was then co-head of equity sales at Goldman Sachs and is now one of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s top deputies, sent an e-mail to one of the firm’s biggest clients, Putnam Investments in Boston, in which he wrote bluntly, “It is my view that we should be rewarded with additional secondary business for offering access to capital market product” — like hot I.P.O.’s.

Did the clients knuckle under?

Are you kidding?

According to data compiled by the plaintiffs, Capstar Holding, an investing client, made a series of pointless trades solely for Goldman’s benefit. The lawsuit quotes an investment manager at the firm, Christopher Rule, as saying that 70 percent of his trading activity in May 1999 was done to generate commissions for Goldman, “pursuant to an ‘understanding’ with his Goldman broker that he needed to generate money for Goldman in order to receive I.P.O.’s.”

On Thursday, Goldman Sachs issued a statement that read, in part, “We did not engage in quid pro quos for allocation of hot I.P.O.’s, and none of the decade-old documents distorted by the eToys litigants suggests otherwise.” I have posted a variety of the documents on The Times’s Web site, so that readers can decide for themselves what story they really tell.

Goldman supporters also point out that it was hardly the only underwriter to allocate shares of Internet public offerings based on what it would get in return. In the aftermath of the bubble, Goldman wound up paying fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission for I.P.O. excesses. But so did a lot of other firms. None of the government’s allegations, by the way, were related to the kind of practices alleged in the eToys lawsuit. As for the litigation itself, Goldman has argued that, contrary to popular belief, underwriters do not have a fiduciary duty to the companies they are underwriting. In recent years, this argument has held sway in the New York court system, although it has yet to be argued before the Court of Appeals.

GOLDMAN also pointed me to an e-mail Lawton Fitt wrote the day before the I.P.O., hoping to prevent firms that “are not long-term investors/aftermarket buyers” from getting too large an allocation. Even so, that e-mail made it clear that the “flippers” who didn’t care about eToys were still going to get around 20 percent of the allocation. The e-mail isn’t quite the ringing defense that Goldman makes it out to be.

What is undeniably true, of course, is that the documents are old. Some will dismiss them as relics of another era. But I continue to believe that the mind-set created by the I.P.O. madness of the late 1990s never really went away. To this day, an I.P.O. with a big first-day jump is considered a success, even though the company is being short-shrifted. To this day, investors know that they are expected to find ways to reward the firms that allocate them hot I.P.O. shares. The only thing that is truly different today is that few on Wall Street are so foolish as to put such sentiments in an e-mail.

Earlier this week, I tracked down Toby Lenk, the founder and former chief executive of eToys. Back when the S.E.C. was investigating I.P.O. excesses, the government deposed him. During the deposition, he mostly defended Goldman Sachs, even though he had the uneasy feeling that eToys had been taken advantage of.

After the deposition, he recalled, the S.E.C. lawyers began to show him some Goldman Sachs documents. He saw that one big firm after another had been allocated shares — and had immediately flipped them, even though Goldman had promised that its clients would support the stock. “That’s when I thought, ‘We really got screwed,’” Lenk told me.

Although the experience still angered him, he now has 14 years’ worth of perspective. “Look at what has happened since then,” he said. “If you think eToys got screwed, what do you think happened to the country?”

“What Wall Street did to us in 1999 pales in comparison to what they did to the country in 2008,” he said.

via Rigging the I.P.O. Game – NYTimes.com.

via Rigging the I.P.O. Game – NYTimes.com.

Dublin Web Summit: Jobs and investment on the way as bosses praise our policy –


At the summit were Mel Challis from DYN, an internet infrastructure service provider

THE head of Canadian social media company Hootsuite says his firm is very likely to open an office in Dublin as it expands into Europe.

Ryan Holmes, who founded the company in 2008, said there was a “very good chance” he would open up here as the company moves beyond its North American base.

“We have 230 employees at the moment and recently opened a small company in London.

“As I am learning about the European, Middle East and African markets, and I’m learning a lot about Dublin in particular and Ireland overall, I think there is a very good chance we will open an office here.

“That is a product of being here and seeing people and hearing new stories,” he added.

Mr Holmes was speaking to reporters at the launch of the ‘Founders’ summit, which is following on from the Dublin Web Summit (DWS) that concluded yesterday.

Hootsuite is a website and application that allows users to “curate” their Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts from one site. It has around five million users, including a host of Fortune 100 companies.

Mr Holmes went on to praise the IDA in particular for the work they have done in pitching Ireland to technology companies.

“It is impressive. I can absolutely see the effort that is being put in, and I can see there is a certain intent to it; it’s not just about getting bodies in and then leaving them to it.”

The news that Hootsuite is likely to set up here will be a huge boon to the state agency, which has made no secret of its desire to attract smaller companies growing quickly beyond the likes of Google and Microsoft.

Mr Holmes’s comments were echoed by Flipboard founder Mike McCue, who has previously set up a number of different firms.

“I’ve been hearing about Ireland since the 1990s and the talent pool here is certainly something we want to tap into. It’s definitely something we want to look at more closely in the next year-and-a-half,” he claimed.

via Dublin Web Summit: Jobs and investment on the way as bosses praise our policy – Technology, Business – Independent.ie.

via Dublin Web Summit: Jobs and investment on the way as bosses praise our policy – Technology, Business – Independent.ie.

Web Summit must adhere to standards in privacy protection


NET RESULTS: IN JUST two years, the Dublin Web Summit has become one of the top conferences on the technology calendar. For good reason. Founder Paddy Cosgrave has deftly built the event up from its starting point as a small but high quality speaker event two years ago into a big summit last year, and a major conference this week.

This is an important event for many in the industry, especially social media and internet focused companies. It has also given a tech friendly profile to Ireland, and provides an economic boost, with visitors spending in hotels and restaurants during an otherwise slack period. Those achievements make it all the more alarming that organisers have shown a consistently cavalier – and at times lawbreaking – attitude towards participants’ personal data and privacy.

And it isn’t as if they are not aware of it. The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has received complaints. As a result, it says, it has spoken in an advisory capacity several times to the organisers. I’ve also written to them personally but got no satisfaction.

Some of what they are doing violates the State’s and wider European data protection and privacy regulations.

The longest standing issue is that the Data Protection Commissioner’s office says the organisation has, in response to complaints, been unable to show that it has used a legally compliant method to gain permission to send emails advertising their events, personal start-up ventures, and other topics to people on its database.

Under the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Privacy and Electronic Communications) Regulations 2011, event organisers must obtain direct permission from attendees to continue to use their data beyond its original purpose for any reason and must be clear on the ways in which it might be used. They cannot rely on information buried inside terms and conditions that few read.

Once organisers have gained that permission, which many people would no doubt give – they are obliged to provide a clear opt-out option on every email. This is sometimes there on the high volume of emails the Web Summit organisers sends, and sometimes not.

Web Summit has each year also distributed the lists of names of those attending the event, which also requires explicit permission. In the case of the media list (sent out to attending companies without the necessary permission from individual journalists), my name was included even though I had never registered for the event nor said I would be covering it.

This year, while the organisers did not list all attendees on the website, visitors were advised to sign up to a Web Summit Facebook app to get the complete list of attendees, again without those individuals’ permission. Being listed like this really riles some attendees who otherwise love this event.

For me, and some others, the most irritating data misuse came from a networking app called Presdo. Web Summit dumped its mailing list database into Presdo which then pulled LinkedIn information to create public profiles for every person involved in the event.

Such an app could be very handy for networking if you want to use it; something which should be a personal choice, like creating a profile on LinkedIn or Facebook. The big Le Web conference in Europe has used Presdo in a far more appropriate and compliant way, issuing a code that participants could use to go to Presdo if they wished, create a profile, and enable it for that specific conference.

Web and social media companies are all under increasing scrutiny because of user and regulator concerns about how they use or abuse data, and protect or violate privacy.

Ireland, because it is home to the European offices of many of these companies, will have an increasingly important oversight role and the industry, a responsibility to show it cares about these issues and operates within legal frameworks.

As an event organiser for that industry and a young start-up itself, the Web Summit really must stand up and be an example of best practice for data privacy.

Failure to do so is one thing that makes so many in the wider public, in business, and in regulatory roles, suspicious of the web and social media sector and it will damage the sector’s future unless addressed responsibly.

via Web Summit must adhere to standards in privacy protection – The Irish Times – Thu, Oct 18, 2012.

via Web Summit must adhere to standards in privacy protection – The Irish Times – Thu, Oct 18, 2012.

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