Seattle Week in Review: Heat, Haiku, Hard Choices

It was hot last night in Seattle. History hot.

Xconomy Seattle’s Week in Review starts with the weather and the changing climate, and a proposal from the Sightline Institute designed to shield low-income people from the economic impact of taxing carbon dioxide emissions. We also review news from Amazon’s $100 million Alexa Fund and an effort at the Internet giant to create entire teams of part-time employees. Also, Moz is paring back to its core competency of search engine optimization and cutting jobs; Haiku Deck is expanding in education; Ed Lazowska is the best; and weekend reading suggestions. Stay cool out there.

And it’s going to be hot today. And tomorrow.

National Weather Service forecast for Seattle this weekend.

National Weather Service forecast for Seattle this weekend.


July was the hottest month recorded in 136 years, according to NASA scientists at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. And that marked 10 consecutive months of new monthly high-temperature records.

Not a happy rainbow, from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Not a happy rainbow, from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

In Washington state parks and forests, campfires are banned, as has become the usual in our dry summer months. Trees are tumbling down, weakened by last year’s drought. I’m not complaining. Not when we look across the country and see devastating, deadly floods and fires ravaging Louisiana and Southern California, respectively.

The link between extreme weather events and climate change becomes more evident with each passing month.

While the individual events are evermore stark, the broader picture—depicted in reams of scientific reports and policy recommendations—can still sometimes be hard to digest. Haiku and watercolors? That’s a little easier.

Gregory Johnson created a beautiful summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, released back in 2013. Seattle-based Sightline Institute re-published the collection this week. Here’s a YouTube slideshow, reposted here with permission.

—While you’re at Sightline, check out their latest proposal on a way to address the socio-economic impacts of climate mitigation efforts, such as taxing carbon emissions. Even though low-income people typically have a lower carbon footprint, write Kristin Eberhard and Alan Durning, “they spend a larger share of their income on carbon-based fuels.” Increasing the price of those fuels with a tax would hit them harder.

Sightline proposes a program of “Green Stamps”—credits for low-income households to spend on a range of carbon-reducing goods and services, from public transportation to food from local farms to solar panels—funded by revenue from a carbon tax.

—Amazon’s Alexa Fund, the corporate venture capital vehicle it announced in June 2015 to support the growth of voice as a new way to interact with technology, announced its largest bet yet. Ecobee, a Toronto, Canada-based maker of smart thermostats, raised $35 million from the Alexa Fund, Thomvest Ventures, and Relay Ventures.

Amazon executives announced the news at a press lunch Thursday while also outlining their ambitions for the $100 million fund, which has now invested in 17 companies, largely in the areas of smartphones and wearables, said Amazon vice president Mike George.

“We’re going to be expanding our reach as we look forward by focusing on everything from seed to growth companies,” said George, who’s responsibilities include Alexa, the software powering voice interactions with devices including Amazon’s own Echo device. “I think we’re going to end up with a focus on robotics, connected cars, speech recognition, and natural language understanding. Those are the core areas.”

—In other Amazon news, the company is experimenting with creating entire technical teams comprised of part-time employees, including managers. “This initiative was created with Amazon’s diverse workforce in mind and the realization that the traditional full-time schedule may not be a ‘one size fits all’ model,” the company says in a listing for an event next Thursday titled “Reinventing the Work-Life Ratio for Tech Talent.” Amazon says these employees would still be eligible for full-time benefits.

—Tough news at Moz, the Seattle company that in 2012 raised an $18 million funding round and made a handful of acquisitions to broaden its offerings from search engine optimization to include other inbound marketing and social media tools. The expansion hasn’t generated the growth the company had hoped for, writes CEO Sarah Bird in a blog post this week, and the company is cutting some 60 jobs, or about 28 percent of the company’s staff.

Bird, who as CEO has continued the 12-year-old company’s tradition of sharing openly its experiences—good and bad—notes that the core business of Moz (formerly named SEOmoz), remains strong.

“We believe the search industry is as important as ever, and surprisingly doesn’t see near the investment it should, given the clear value of SEO as a channel. Organic results still get 80% of the clicks and a fraction of the marketing spend. Further, with a phone in every pocket, mobile and local searches continue to grow. Organizations ignore search at their peril,” she writes. “We’re passionate about search, we’re good at it, and it’s driving the growth in our business.”

Moz raised another $10 million earlier this year at a pre-money valuation of $120 million.

Haiku Deck, the Seattle maker of easy-to-use presentation tools, is extending its software to teachers and schools with new pricing and an integration with Google Classroom, the search giant’s platform for managing school assignments. Haiku Deck says it already has legions of students and teachers using its software for learning fractions, collecting pictures of hummingbirds, and making data visualizations. The company is offering a full suite of tools for education at $99 a year for a teacher and 150 students.

—Congratulations to Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in computer science at the University of Washington, for his selection as Seattle Business Magazine’s 2016 Tech Impact Champion.

—Weekend reading:

New students in the Ada Developers Academy, a program to teach coding to mid-career women, are the focus of a profile in The New York Times on the life and anxieties of the millennial generation.

Time’s cover story about online trolls posits that a culture of hate is destroying the Internet. Joel Stein paints a nuanced picture of trolling, including the archetypical swastika-sporting extremists, but also ordinary people whose social mores have been stripped away by “the online disinhibition effect.”

And here’s The Seattle Times on life in “The Jungle”—a miles-long stretch under Interstate 5 south of downtown Seattle that is the city’s largest homeless encampment.

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