Right Place Right Time For Climatetech

Gandalf the White

Many lives ago I was CTO of a startup that built the largest DVD rental machine network in the world. We were acquired by RedBox, our largest competitor at the time, but before that happened it was amazing to participate on the front lines of a market in the throes of massive disruption. One day we pitched Blockbuster on licensing their brand so we could be their non-store network. They laughed us out of the building. Less than a year later they came back begging us to license their brand. A few months later they were gone.

That mid-2000s startup was probably the most I’ve ever been in the right-place-right-time. I’ve spent my career ever since in climatetech largely feeling like I was in the right place at the wrong time. Recently, though, the winds have been changing. It seems that there is a new massive corporate climate commitment every week now, public sentiment is strong behind climate, and there is an increasing recognition that we will need new technologies to build the sustainable, prosperous, equitable energy future we all hope for. The feeling is palpable – and it is energizing!

Climatetech now feels like movie rental disruption did 15 years ago: right-place-right-time. The question is, who will be the Blockbusters and who will be the RedBox/NetFlix/etc? Third Derivative is working with our partners to co-create the latter!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Chapters 16 – 19

Chapter 16:

Scrimgeour’s characterization never made much sense to me. I always figured that a battle-hardened ex-Auror wouldn’t be the type to care about fake appearances and goofy politics.

Rufus Scrimgeour by Edgar Torné
https://www.hp-lexicon.org/?attachment_id=21834

Looking at modern militaries, though, maybe Scrimgeour’s characterization is right on. As I understand it, the farther up you go in the US military, the less you advance by being good at militarying and the more you advance by being good at politics – which I guess is why you often see high ranking generals and admirals in Presidential Cabinet positions. So kudos to JKR for realism but I still don’t have to like it!

Chapter 17:

I have always liked “pensieve” as one of JKR’s cleverer plays on words. Depending on how you pronounce it, it sounds like “pensive,” which means “thoughtful” – a very appropriate descriptor for anyone using such a magical device to organize their thoughts. The word “pensieve” itself is a compound of the root of “thought” in multiple romance languages (pensée en français, pensiero in intaliano – and possibly others?) and “sieve,” a sifter or strainer. So “pensieve” literally means “thought sifter.” The verb I most closely associate with a sieve is “to sift.” As such, although it isn’t terribly original, I propose to use “to pensift” to describe the action of using a pensieve.

Regarding the wonkiness of Slughorn’s altered memory, I always read it as a physical manifestation of the damage that had been done to it by Slughorn. Previously, “healthy” memories have been described as silky and flowy / liquidy. It makes sense then that a damaged memory might exhibit a damaged “molecular” structure as well, inhibiting its flowiness. Becca in my book club has a different idea that the memory – like the person who gave it – doesn’t want to be shared so actively resists.

Chapters 18 & 19:

The bezoar isn’t the only payoff from Harry’s first potion lesson. In Philosopher’s Stone, Harry loses a house point for his cheek. In Half Blood Prince, he earns 10 points for sheer cheek. It’s like he made a cheek investment with a 10x return over five years – not bad!

Third Derivative Six Month Update

It has been six months since I began as Cofounder and CEO of Third Derivative. Below is a very long assessment of how things are going but the TLDR is that I am really thriving in this role, loving my team, and feeling really good about this decision!

Third Derivative

What is Third Derivative?
A joint venture of the Rocky Mountain Institute and New Energy Nexus, we describe ourselves as a fully integrated ROCKET SHIP of climatetech innovation, bringing together startups, investors, corporates, and policy makers to commercialize, deploy, and scale solutions to the most pressing climate problems. https://third-derivative.org/

Why Third Derivative?
It will take $2-3 TRILLION per year and bringing 2-3 new Gigaton-scale technologies to market per year to meet climate goals and we’re . . . not on track – not even close.
We’re falling behind because commercializing, deploying, and scaling climatetech is hard. Climatetech startups often have greater capital needs and longer paths to market, making it harder for them to compete with software ventures for funding.

Commercializing climate tech often necessitates navigating complex, slow-moving corporate customers, where it might take a year just to figure out whom to talk to. All of this is set against a regulatory and policy landscape that favors incumbents, not disruptors.

We often think of startups as facing a valley of death on their path to scale, but climatetech startups face FOUR valleys of death and, each time they successfully navigate one, they have to start all over educating an entirely new set of stakeholders. At best this slows the rate of climatetech innovation; at worst, promising climatetech dies on the vine (I have experienced both outcomes in my previous ventures!).

The Third Derivative Solution
We are attempting to fix this broken system at unprecedented scale and speed. Third Derivative brings together the key stakeholders – startups, investors, corporates, and policy makers – to get everyone rowing in the same direction. We scour the globe for the most impactful climatetech startups that match the technology needs of our corporates and the investment theses of our investors.

Each startup receives $100,000 funding from at least one of our investor partners and, as they go through our accelerator program, the investors are working right alongside them to help them succeed (while also gaining unprecedented diligence for potential follow-on investment). At the same time, our team is facilitating dealmaking between the startup and our corporate partners – helping the corporate “speak startup” and vice versa. Meanwhile RMI is providing its unparalleled market insights and policy access to give every participant in our ecosystem an advantage.

By filling these key gaps, we’re hoping to bridge the climatetech valleys of death, not only increasing the RATE of success, but – almost as importantly – also increasing the SPEED of success. In so doing, we aim to derisk the entire climatetech innovation category, unlocking trillions of dollars of investment that is currently sitting on the sidelines.
Some more on our r’aison d’etre:
https://rmi.org/innovating-to-solve-two-crises-at-once/
https://rmi.org/rmi-launches-new-climate-tech-accelerator/

What Have We Accomplished?
In these six months, we have:

  • Built a small team of former climatetech entrepreneurs, VCs, business execs, and policy wonks – most of whom have never met each other in real life #thankscovid!
  • Designed a global, virtual program
  • Secured corporate partners spanning the sectors that need to come together to meet climate goals: tech (Microsoft, AT&T, Google), finance (Wells Fargo), energy (Shell, Berkshire Hathaway Energy), and transportation (FedEx) – still working to bring some heavy industry and auto/battery OEMs on board (close on several)
  • Secured 10 VC Investor partners capable of follow-on investing $2 Billion across four continents
  • Raised a $3 Million sidecar fund for individuals to invest across our entire portfolio
  • Received 630 startup applications from 61 countries – with 2/3 of the founders identifying as women, people of color, or veterans! – during a brief, six-week window

We are now expanding our team and working with our corporate and investor partners to select the 50 best fit startups to join our inaugural cohort, which we will announce Dec. 1. I’m running the venture like a startup: we are moving with deliberate urgency and are learning quickly. There is a LOT still to be done but I am incredibly proud of what this smart, scrappy team has accomplished in such a short time – and under challenging circumstances! 

What’s Next For Third Derivative?
After our public launch Dec. 1, we will likely begin prototyping several complementary initiatives:

  • expand our partner network; we are having to say “No” to some really promising startups that don’t happen to align with our small current group of corporate and investor partners.
  • launch our own VC fund for follow-on investments in our startups.
  • build a search fund and/or venture studio that connects talented entrepreneurs with world-changing innovators and stakes the commercialization of their climatetech.
  • initiate prizes and other open innovation contests to create new markets – RMI has had great success with this model in the Global Cooling Prize so we might imagine similar initiatives, e.g. a Global Hydrogen Prize, where the economics, policies, and incumbents don’t currently support disruptive innovation.

How’s Your Personal Life?
What personal life?? Not really. 🙂 We moved in June to Boulder and, even though we’re still working from home, it feels good to have the move behind us. There is still a lot of work to do on our house (and office!) before we feel truly settled but we are loving Boulder so far. Katie is enjoying her new postdoc and our 2yo is thriving under the care of his grandparents, who are here helping us out. We mostly keep to ourselves due to COVID and haven’t met many neighbors yet – but Boulder has so much natural beauty to explore that, even keeping to ourselves, we’re quite happy.

I’m the President of the Association of Rice Alumni this year, which is a challenging time due to COVID and questions about race, equity, and justice at a university that was founded by a slaveholder. We have a talented, diverse alumni Board, though, and an incredibly capable staff, so we are working through it all – one Zoom at a time!

This is the longest stretch I have gone without setting foot on IMD’s campus since I interviewed there 13 years ago. Consequently I feel a bit isolated and disconnected from my network there. The lack of business travel due to COVID has been great but I really am missing travel for pleasure- hopefully that will be practical again in 2021.

If You Made It This Far . . . 
THANK YOU for supporting me during this new chapter! It hasn’t been easy per se but it is a grand adventure and I am loving it. How are YOU doing? Please shoot me a note and catch me up as I am missing connecting with you all in this time of distancing.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Chapters 13-14

Thes chapters really got me thinking about the difference between Harry and Voldemort vis a vis their childhoods. I had always had in my head that they were similar – both having grown up without their parents – but the key difference that determined their divergent paths was that Tom Riddle was abandoned whereas Harry had lost his parents through a demonstration of their love for him.

Harry and Voldemort
Ha

However, if we look at their circumstances, Harry actually had a “worse” upbringing during his formative years. Tom Riddle at least seemed to receive decent care through the orphanage whereas Harry was openly despised by his caregivers. Yet Tom was up to nefarious deeds already as a child while Harry seemed to be a mostly decent human being.

Tom may have held a grudge once he learned that he had been abandoned by his parents but he wouldn’t have been able to comprehend that during his most formative years. Harry, on the other hand, doesn’t even learn that his parents made the ultimate sacrifice to save him until much later in his life.

In the nature vs nurture debate, JKR seems to be presenting that Tom Riddle was just a bad seed and Harry just a good egg from the get go. She [probably unintentionally] is channeling Aunt Marge’s “bad blood will out!”

“Choices” is definitely the theme – and Dumbledore even states it explicitly in Chamber of Secrets – but what leads us to make the choices we do? Generally we attribute choices to the “nurture” part of childhood development with the belief that we can raise children who make better choices by loving them, teaching them, etc.

In this case, however, Harry has not been the beneficiary of better loving, teaching, etc. than Tom Riddle, so why does Tom make such bad – evil, even – choices, while Harry does not? Harry has not had better “nurture” than Tom Riddle and you could even make the argument that he has had it worse! So I’m forced to conclude that “nature” is the explanation for Tom’s evil choices and Harry’s good ones. Or, more pointedly, they both are the result of protagonist / antagonist exceptionalism rather than the result of development.

This is also relevant to my previous discussion about how Harry is “just good” at some stuff, like flying and defensive magic, rather than working hard to develop those skills. Tom Riddle, it seems, is the same.

Let’s not forget, however, that Voldemort actually made Harry who he is in many ways due to the prophecy! That actually gives us a better explanation of why Harry is the way he is than just . . . reasons; he is the way he is because . . . magic!

Voldemort is probably the way he is because . . . magic . . . too. Perhaps there was a curse on the house of Gaunt (or perhaps Marvolo put one on Marope), or perhaps there was another prophecy about the birth of the Dark Lord that we never knew. Regardless, explaining things away with magic is super acceptable in a book series about wizards!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Chapters 5-8

The more time Harry spends at The Burrow, the more it seems like this world’s Rivendell – the last stop for warmth and healing before diving into the full adventure. Rivendell was also known as The Last Homely House, a name which feels very “Burrow” to me.

The Burrow by Rafael Chies

I don’t really understand how Tonks is able to cast a patronus. Don’t you need a strong, happy memory to do so? She doesn’t really seem to be in a good place for that.

For that matter, it has always seemed a bit lazy to me to have written in the use of Patronuses (Patroni?) for communication. That seems to be very, very off-target for something that requires a happy memory and is used to ward off evil happiness suckers. I mean, in a world where there is specific magic to turn a fricking rat into a water goblet, it seems really inconsistent to use one form of magic for multiple dramatically different purposes.

Sigh, after the events of Book 5, you would think Harry would be a little more willing to question himself when he’s super sure of some crazy conspiracy. Groups make better decisions than individuals and Harry saw that first hand last year. Frankly Ron and Hermione should be intervening more strongly with him: friends don’t let friends go off on misguided adventures! Or Dumbledore, for that matter: “Harry, keep your invisibility cloak on you at all times and don’t go on any stupid quests without consensus from Ron and Hermione or me!”

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Chapters 3&4

Dumbledore at the Dursleys feels like really clumsy exposition – and out of character. It seems both contrived that he would work through the entire Kreacher issue in the presence of the Dursleys – there is no reason to do so – and inconsistent with his character that he would be so overtly condescending to them.

On the other hand, Dumbledore answering / not answering Harry’s questions on their way to meet Slughorn is pretty much peak Dumbledore in my mind – incredibly polite but also incredibly measured about exactly what he wants to reveal. It gives the reader the impression that Dumbledore has already anticipated all of Harry’s questions and is thinking several moves ahead. However, he lets Harry ask the questions instead of preempting them – which is probably good for Harry’s own development – even though the conversation arrives at the same answers.

Horace Slughorn fan art

This line that Dumbledore walks between being polite, charming, and so much smarter than anyone else in the room – almost but not QUITE to the point of smug arrogance – is one that I think Harris hit much more closely than Gambon in the movie adaptations.

My book club leader, Becca, pointed out that Slughorn seems to be seeking protection through all of his influential contacts. That’s not that different (although clearly lesser in degree) than his fellow Slytherin, Voldemort, seeking literal immortality through more sinister means. Those crazy Slytherins . . . always seeking longer lives!

Of course Nicolas Flamel did the same and was not a Slytherin . . . not even a Hogwarts student at all, in fact!

It is conspicuous that Slughorn and Harry both seemed to notice Dumbledore’s ring at the same time. I wonder if this is the result of something Dumbledore did intentionally to attract their attention to it, knowing that it would somehow help him achieve is goal of luring Slughorn back to Hogwarts.

Becca also called attention to a really cool Dumbledore quote:

“And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”

It reminds me tonally of one of my favorite Tolkien quotes from The Fellowship of the Ring:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

They both speak to the dangerous but alluring nature of adventure – and they both characterize adventure itself as having agency over you (Dumbledore says it is “tempting” you; Bilbo says it is “sweeping you off.”).

Add in . . .

“Don’t count your O.W.L.S. before they are delivered, which reminds me a lot of The Hobbit’s:

“Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves!” he said, and it became a proverb, though we now say ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire’ in the same sort of uncomfortable situations.”

. . . and this chapter seems to be the most Tolkienesque that JKR has ever written!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Chapters 1/2

I was struck in the Spinner’s End chapter by the parallels between the “good” and “bad” sides of the wizarding world. Our titular protagonist was saved by a mother risking everything to save him. Now the mother of one of his principal adversaries is . . . risking everything to try to save her son.

Spinner's End

Similarly, the “good” side spent the entire previous book beleaguered by infighting and politics: who has the right of it, who can be trusted, etc. And now here is the “bad” side . . . beleaguered by infighting and politics: who has the right of it, who can be trusted, etc. And of course Snape in the middle of it all! It makes me really want a scene with Voldemort cartoonishly saying to Harry, “Are we so different, you and I?” 😛

***SPOILERS BELOW***

In response to a theory from another member of my Harry Potter book club that Bellatrix is so angry at Snape here because she is in love Voldemort, I must . . . disagree. I find the Cursed Child’s plot point of her having a child with Voldy to be a preposterous mischaracterization. I think Voldy would have been effectively asexual, finding love/sex with mere mortals far beneath him. Possibly in his younger, Tom Riddle days he might have used sex as a way to beguile someone into giving him something he wanted (although even in the case of Hepzibah Smith his malicious “charm” is never indicated to go nearly that far for Hufflepuff’s cup). However, by the time he became horcruxed Lord Voldemort, I don’t think he would have even been capable of sex.

I also never read Bellatrix as sexually attracted to Voldy. Her behavior seems very in keeping with any sycophantic underling who is jockeying for the position of “favorite” of someone who is very powerful. I see her antipathy toward Snape as jealousy – he didn’t even have to go to Azkaban and yet he is still so “inner circle” to Voldemort that he gets access to privileged information . . . IT’S NOT FAIR!!!!

But there is certainly nothing wrong with us each having our different head canons! 🙂

Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix Movie

We finally finished reading Harry Potter 5 with our toddler so here are some thoughts about the film adaptation before we move on to Half Blood Prince. Below I’m going to post my thoughts chronologically, but let me start with a few high level points to add some context for the specifics to follow:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie poster
  1. This was the last movie I saw without having read the books. I always intended to read the books but, after seeing this movie, I felt I had to because I was left so confused about so many things.
  2. Although I am going to be very critical of this film in my subsequent comments, I did actually like it. It’s a one on the binary scale for me and has some really, really good things to recommend it.
  3. That said, I kind of “resent” this film because it was the beginning of the David Yatesification of the franchise, which I don’t think was a good thing. Yates, if I recall, came from directing TV, not film, and I think it really shows in this and the following movies. They are all serviceable films that hit the major plot points but they just seem less . . . well . . . less. They seem to be more formulaic Hollywood-style movies that focus more on big setpieces and gasp shocking moments rather than deep character development. They are also just less . . . magical (whimsical, charming) that their predecessors, for which again I fault the director.
  4. One of the great faults I find in this film in particular is how much was cut. It is the shortest film in the series and is based on the longest book! WHY??? “I’m a fan of the HP series but I sure wish the movies were shorter,” said no one ever. “We have serious budget constraints so have to shorten the movie even though it is guaranteed to make $1B+,” said no sane person ever. And, per some of my comments below, some of the choices of things to cut just make no sense. The plot suffers a little but the characters suffer even more.

OK, I think those are my big thoughts out of the way. Now let’s delve into the minutiae!

  • My HP book club leader, Becca, made a good point about Dudley being a very heavy-handed, mustache-twirly villain in this film. That’s odd, given that Umbridge is such a compelling villain. Of course, she’s pretty mustache-twirly too, I suppose; she’s just much better at it.
  • Why, you ask, are Dudley and Harry (and not the other boys because . . . reasons) running through fields and into a tunnel? For the same reason that shortly afterward Harry and Tonks fly low along the Thames in the heart of London (which Moody would never allow): because Yates is more preoccupied with cool visuals and set pieces than he is with intra-story consistency.
  • That said, I do like the London flight sequence as it showcases something this movie does very well: the music! Nicholas Hooper does a really good job introducing some new, memorable themes in this film and that is no small task when you’re following in the footsteps of John Williams!
  • The introduction to #12 Grimmauld Place falls really flat for me. Rather than build the world and the lore with its interesting backstory and the Fidelius charm, they just show up, it expands, and we’re done. It’s emblematic of this movie’s whole “go go go, no time to stop and tarry” thing, which is a shame.
  • I think Sirius is woefully underdeveloped in the movies. Most of his development happens in PoA (but most of that is a red herring with a twist near the end), he is all but forgotten in GoF, and he still gets minimal screen time in this film. The end result is that his death isn’t nearly as emotionally meaningful as it should be.
  • That said, Gary Oldman kills it in the little screen time he has. I love the subtle wink he gives Harry at the dinner table at #12 and I have always wondered if he had to practice that in front of a mirror for hours on end to get it just right or if he just nailed it the first time. Either way, most of what is positive about Sirius in the films is due to his acting adeptitude (not a real word but I think you know what I mean).
  • Helena Bonham Carter gets the same kudos: she does a lot with very little screen time and her portrayal of polyjuiced Hermione in the final film is just exquisite!
  • I don’t love Gambon’s Dumbledore during the “hearing.” I don’t find it nearly as offensive as his infamous moment in GoF but he just doesn’t seem to capture Dumbledore’s Dumbledoreness at all. Book Dumbledore establishes an overt superiority to everyone in the room but then tempers it with over the top politeness. It’s charming in its way and very in keeping with his characterization.
  • Gambon instead seems harried, impatient, and frustrated by the proceedings. Some of the fault lies with the director, of course, but I can’t help but miss Richard Harris at moments like this.
  • There is no Quidditch. None. And its absence is conspicuous. Not only was it a significant bargaining chip used by Umbridge in the book that leads to a very convincing abuse of power, but its absence contributes to a bigger thematic issue as well:
  • The minimization of Quidditch, OWLs, and Prefects remove a lot of the “kids at school” feeling in this adaptation. As you know, I subscribe to the classification that Harry Potter stories are British Boarding School Mysteries disguised as Fantasy. The former gives the series so much of its charm while the latter gives it its gravitas. Without as much of the “kids at school with things that matter to kids at school” feeling (and with what little there is – like the Cho love subplot – being poorly done), it loses much of its relatability.
  • On a related note, I would have loved it if the career counseling scene between McGonagall and Harry with Umbridge interjecting had been included.
  • This movie proceeds so quicly. Again, I think that’s the hallmark of a movie that strings together vignettes and fills things in with exposition instead of taking time to develop characters and arcs. As we have been reading the books to our kiddo, we have been blown away by how many pages and chapters go by before we get to any real action. The action isn’t what makes these stories work; it is the characters.
  • And again, I don’t get why these sacrifices were made; the movie-going public would have accepted much more runtime than what we got. It’s not consistent, either: Imelda Staunton does a BANG-UP job as Umbridge and she is the most compelling villain we see throughout the entire film series! I just wish as much care had been taken with the other characters as well.
  • I find Filch’s portrayal in the Yates films to be grotesque and wholly unnecessary. He is portrayed as a bumbling fool in this film and, if memory serves, is addressed directly as an “idiot” by a protagonist in the last one. For a series that tries to advocate for treating everyone well, this is a big misstep.
  • I love the look of resolve in Neville’s eyes as he puts down the Prophet, having just read about Bellatrix’s escape. We can see a spark that will become an ember and eventually a raging inferno of Gryffindor by the last film. Well done!
  • On the topic of Neville, though, the omission of the hospital scene is just such a missed opportunity. SO much character development and back story could have been accomplished instead of cheap exposition.
  • I love the patronus montage – again a great use of music.
  • Poor Dobby. He is basically written out of multiple movies so that, when he reappears and SPOILERS dies, it’s hard to care that much. In the books, he has been much more consistently involved so readers are much more invested. Obviously many people watching the movies have read the books so there is some carryover, but I try to evaluate movies on their own.
  • Add another check to the missed opportunity column: the Dumbledore escape is really underwhelming. They could have done so much more with this scene to earn Shacklebolt’s comment that Dumbledore’s got style rather than just poof-he’s-gone.
  • Grawp is . . . I don’t know, he just doesn’t work for me. On top of it all, his CGI was really bad at the time and it hasn’t aged well. I come back to this again and again but a movie that should have a practically infinite budget has no excuse for bad effects.
  • The Snape memory sequence is really ineffective for me. In the book there is just so much more dimension to it. As someone who lost his father when I was young, I know what it’s like to hunger for more time with him, even if it’s just through the memories of those who knew him when he was younger. Maybe I’m just projecting but in the book I really get that same feeling from Harry during this sequence.
  • That makes it all the more heart-breaking when this cherished time “together” with his father turns out to be far less idyllic than hoped for. It forces Harry to confront much more complex emotions. Instead we just get a one-dimensional, overacted bullying scene that is over quickly and then NEXT!
  • I’m more sympathetic to this omission than the others because I’m sure it would have been a huge effort, but still, I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the Department of Mysteries in this film. The extra rooms in the book did a great deal to expand the world, stimulate imagination, and instigate fan theories.
  • The Veil is totally misused in the movie to the point that I’m not even sure why it’s there. Bellatrix hits Sirius with the killing curse so he’s already dead; his floating back into the Veil is inconsequential. This eliminates all of the omgmaybetheressomewaytobringhimback response from Harry, which is such a natural and relatable feeling. Instead, all we get is the cliche “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”
  • The prophecy is totally bungled. Here again, Yates trades any nuance at all for a straight forward plot point: “You have to kill Voldy.” Gone is any of the ambiguity around Harry and Neville or the realization that Voldy may have created his own nemesis, which I thought was very interesting in the book.
  • I know they had to choose a visual language for the fight scene in the Death Room but I think they could have done better. All the smoke-flying around and random bangs seemed pretty meh and it also doesn’t make sense how all the adults got there. If you can just apparate in, willy nilly, what’s the point of any of the Minestry’s security? When I watch really good action films that use action to tell a story through battle, I’m reminded of how meh this one is.
  • The Dumbles vs Voldy battle is a little better because at least it has some visually interesting spells, but it’s kind of the same in the end: all sizzle and no steak.
  • Final gripe: the movement away from robes to modern attire rubs me the wrong way. One way we know this is a funny, whimsical, magical world is that the characters wear funny, whimsical, magical stuff. Take it away and it becomes less . . . magical.

Becca likened this film to a trifle – with some delicious layers and some . . . filler – which I think is spot on. There are some flashes of brilliance in this film: Umbridge, the score, the confrontation scene between McGonagall and Umbridge on the stairs, for example. But so much of the rest of it just seems to be paint-by-numbers pasting together different plot points as if we’re in a hurry to be done and on to the next thing. And that’s . . . just not what I’m looking for in a Harry Potter film.

Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix Chapter 38

Quick side note: does anyone else feel like our relationship with Moody in books 5, 6, and 7 is sort of fake? He’s this member of the Order and he’s looking out for Harry so we’re supposed to feel something for him – but the “Moody” we actually got to know in book 4 wasn’t actually Moody at all! It’s a small point but I feel like JKR kind of glosses over this and expects us to care for Moody as if he were actually the character we spent so much time with in book 4.

Now more meaty discussion (with minor spoilers): I think the two-way mirror is a really interesting authorial choice by JKR. Yes, she needed Harry to get it as it will play a role later but there are a million different ways Harry could have come by the mirror. The specific way she chose resulted in Harry being guilt-stricken about having forgotten it and, hence, being manipulated and, hence, going down a path that ultimately lead to Sirius’s death. That’s dark stuff! She deliberately chose to inject crushing guilt and remorse that is not necessary to advance the plot into our hero’s characterization.

I think this is where JKR really succeeded. She had a runaway hit with the first book. She could have kept the tone of the first book, rattled off several more volumes, and no one would have complained. Instead she chose to ratchet up the maturity and darkness and it just adds so much more depth to the characters.

Not only that; it also makes our hero’s journey over the course of the series that much more resonant. Most humans have been through an arc in their own lives in which things started out happy, innocent, and whimsical but then became more serious and heavy as they got older. That’s what JKR has captured so deftly in her progression of the HP series and I think her choice to make the mirror more than just a convenient deus ex machina is emblematic of it.

Harry and the mirror, Copyright 2008 Hilly Minne

The Poorest of the Poor Revisited

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the day I spent in Nairobi’s Korogocho Slums with some of the world’s “poorest of the poor.” I was profoundly affected then and still am – but I have some new thoughts.

Korogocho slums in Nairobi, Kenya

In hindsight, this experience, which I found to be so special and impactful at the time, feels a little problematic. I realize now that bringing affluent, [mostly] white visitors into contact with poor, Black locals is a cliche, and it smacks of both volunteer tourism and white saviorism. I wonder how my Black and African classmates felt about it. Did the feel the same? Or did they feel it was exploitative? Or . . . other? Rather than getting so caught up in my own emotional journey, I should have spent more time on that trip seeking out their perspectives.

Reading through my blogs for the entire Kenya trip, I’m more than a little ashamed of the hubris with which I described “challenging” and “advising” Kenyan business leaders. Did we really believe that our privileged education in one of the richest countries in the world gave us any clue how to solve problems in such a different context? We – many of us, at any rate – were so colonial!

That said, I did learn a lot, which was the purpose of the trip – and I definitely returned more motivated than ever to be the change I wanted to see in the world, resolving to “give it all I’ve got.” So, 12 years later, how am I doing? Am I driving positive change or were those just hollow words?

GIVEWATTS

Shortly after this trip, one of my dear friends and IMD classmates moved to Kenya to launch GIVEWATTS, a nonprofit deploying solar energy to off-grid schools and clinics throughout East Africa. I joined the GIVEWATTS Board of Directors and created/led the USA organization. In 10 years, we have:

● 40,000 solar lamps and 10,000 solar stoves deployed
● 142,000 tons CO2 avoided
● Improved health outcomes by eliminating fumes from kerosene
● Improved education outcomes by enabling homework outside of daylight hours

To be clear, I am just a very small part of the entire GIVEWATTS team but I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished. GIVEWATTS is now run by a crack team of Kenyans based in Nairobi and is self sustaining / growing with minimal foreign help.

Third Derivative

Reading through my blogs from the Kenya trip, I’m reminded how unsustainable growth in the region was (is?), how disproportionately affected by the climate crisis they were (are!), and how important entrepreneurship was (is!) to solving it.

The region was being exploited for its resources – minerals, arable land, and fish and wildlife. It was growing economically but making the same mistakes that we already made in the west: dirty energy, dirty infrastructure, inefficiency, etc.

Our meeting with the Executive Director of Climate Network Africa demonstrated that they were already feeling the effects of the climate crisis and were seeking help in combating it. At the time, I was defensive about the blame she was throwing at the developed world for our outsized role in creating the climate crisis but . . . she wasn’t wrong!

That discussion inspired me to think through climate solutions in the East African context. Multiple technology breakthroughs would be necessary but my project on Kenyan entrepreneurship revealed that there were significant barriers in the way of entrepreneurs and innovators there: business education, access to capital, gender inequities, and many more.

So, we need to solve climate, we can only do it together through global collaboration, and supporting entrepreneurship is critical to getting it right. That leads me squarely to Third Derivative, a fully integrated, global engine of climate innovation. We are working not just to deliver climate solutions everywhere in the world, but to source them around the world too so that everyone can participate in the unprecedented, multi-trillion-dollar opportunity of climatetech.

Climate Justice Is Social Justice

From one of my blog entries: “The dichotomy of Kenya is strong. We have met with wildly successful entrepreneurs and we have played with those rejected and forgotten by even the poorest of society. Perhaps I am naïve in thinking Kenya is exceptional; perhaps such disparity exists everywhere.”

Just how naïve I was has become abundantly clear in the ensuing 12 years and especially recently in the US. I don’t have to travel halfway around the world to see systemic inequality; it is right here in my back yard.

I also marveled at the tribalism in East Africa: “Whenever one tribe is in power, it commits atrocities against the others. When the others are in power, they want revenge. The tit-for-tat cycle continues indefinitely and I have no idea how it could be broken.” Is our current state of US political polarization so different?

At Third Derivative, we are still figuring out how to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion deeply into everything we do but, in the meantime, I take solace in the idea that climate justice is social justice and in being part of a larger team working to that end.

When I returned to Switzerland from Kenya, I wrote that, “I feel so safe and comfortable.” When I returned to the US from Switzerland, I did it for patriotism and to fight on the front lines of the climate fight. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it has put me right into the fray of the social justice fight as well.

When I moved across the country to launch and lead a major new weapon in the climate / social fight, I wrote of living a life not of comfort and complacency but of service and adventure. I may not have solved climate yet, but I do think I am living up to my commitment of 12 years ago to “give it everything I’ve got.”