In/Flux: Environmentalists' trigger word? Start-up battle: Seattle vs. SF. Get paid to track yourself.

Plus: Seattle's most bizarre protest ever?
Plus: Seattle's most bizarre protest ever?

Environmentalists' trigger word?

Environmental group (which staged a Columbia River blockade to protest fossil fuel exports this past weekend) gets its name from the research of NASA scientist James Hansen, who determined that the maximum level of atmospheric CO2 should be 350 parts per million. Hansen is a hero in the environmental movement. In a taped interview released last week though, he strayed far from the reservation, calling the belief that renewables can phase the world off fossil fuels “almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.” He went on to endorse nuclear power, which he called “the best candidate” for reducing fossil fuel use.

Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with protest participants, or organizers like Rising Tide Seattle's Chris Eaton. “The renewable energy economy is here, and it’s ready,” said Eaton. “In countries like China or India, they don’t have access to enough coal or oil imports, they’ll move toward more renewables… Nuclear power is a false solution.”

Start-up battle: Seattle vs. Silicon Valley

Does Seattle have a better start-up scene than the Silicon Valley? A new report by Entrepreneur magazine says yes, citing low costs and no state income tax here. Locals in the entrepreneur community though aren't so sure. Chris DeVore, co-founder of Seattle venture capitol fund Founders Co-Op, a veteran of the 90s Silicon Valley scene and an advocate for Seattle’s start-up community points out that monetary issues like income tax rates formed the basis of the study in question. “No tech start-up in their right mind goes somewhere for tax reasons.”

“Seattle has a deep pool on the talent side, but it’s weak in early-stage funding,” said Devore. “People have to go elsewhere for it, like the Valley… All that said, this area has an energy for innovation. Windows came from here. Titans in cloud computing are here. I can’t think of another locale that could compete with San Francisco than Seattle.”

Seattle's strangest protest ever?

Last week marked the 5th anniversary of what was arguably Seattle’s strangest protest ever, and it’s never seemed timelier. On July 26, 2008, local artist Paul Strong Jr. and 10 others arrived in Cal Anderson Park wearing suits, ties and huge fake cameras for heads. The group spent a few hours silently strolling around and creeping people out, attracting a fair amount of attention in the process. Crosscut archive image.

The theatric protest, which Strong coordinated with the state ACLU, was aimed at calling attention to mass surveillance by law enforcement. At the time, Strong spoke out against movement toward a society where the “government is recording and keeping records on our activities, even when they are legal and law abiding.” Given how ahead of the curve this statement seems now, Crosscut caught up with Strong for the anniversary of the protest.

“It’s clear these are issues we’re going to keep facing,” Strong said, citing the cameras along Seattle’s waterfront as an example.  “There are now some powerful tools out there for tracking people, and we don’t always know how that info is used… When they track the license plates of cars crossing a bridge, for example, who has access to that data? Where is it being sent? It’s important to keep asking tough questions.”

Tracking by choice

Crosscut archive image.Of course, not everyone is against being tracked. For those cool with it, Seattle-based Placed Insights stands ready to reward your openness. A relatively young research firm, Placed has already carved out a unique spot in the retail world. Through an app available on iPhone and Android phones, users give the company permission to track their movements, and are asked details about what they were doing at any given time, their shopping preferences and more.

In exchange, the app rewards you with points, which can be used toward Amazon gift certificates and other prizes. Insights from this data are sold to companies and stores to help them tailor their retail strategies.

Crosscut archive image.“The idea is to give companies a better understanding of what customers do outside of their store, which is a black hole of data currently,” said Sarah Radwanick, senior manager at Placed. “As just one example, a Starbucks customer has a high likelihood of visiting Target, and aren’t likely to go to McDonald’s. We can use data to help stores understand how customers work.”

Tech Bytes from Elsewhere

It beats Instagram-ing your dinner: Seattle start-up Planetary Resources will let you take a selfie from their new space telescope.

Bad Robot: Bots are starting to steal our dinner reservations.

Google Maps Goes 8-Bit – Seattle gets the old-school Nintendo treatment.

The Block is Hot: MIT’s Media Lab has developed a program to crowdsource urban planning, allowing users to make snap judgments on locales using criteria such as boringness and liveliness. Seattle’s currently in 40th place worldwide.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Drew Atkins

Drew Atkins

Drew Atkins is a journalist and writer in Seattle, and the recipient of numerous national and regional awards. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Seattle Times, The Oregonian, InvestigateWest, Geekwire, Seattle Magazine, and others. He also previously served as the managing editor of Crosscut. He can be contacted at