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 BLOG >> November 2014

Music Tour Budgetting [Entrepreneurship
Posted on November 28, 2014 @ 07:43:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In my music industry explorations this week I came accross an interesting recent article called Pomplamoose 2014 Tour Profits (or Lack Thereof). In this article, they analyze their income and expenses for a month long tour. They created their income categories and expense categories and modelled the income and costs associated with each category. This modelling became the basis of their tour budget (and what they measured afterwards):

We built the tour budget ourselves and modeled projected revenue against expenses. Neither of us had experience with financial modeling, so we just did the best we could.

In the end, they reported a $12,000 loss on the tour. Part of this was because they paid the band well, stayed in decent hotels, and incurred many expenses that some bands would argue they would not have incurred. The Pamplamouse duo make revenues through other online channels that generates decent monthly revenue for the company so this may be a case of taking money out of one revenue producing stream to try to get another revenue stream launched better and to grow their existing ones. Whatever the case, I think they have provided some useful insight into what it takes to budget for a tour and the fact that they developed a financial model before jumping into it is noteworthy. It provides a useful template for entrepreneurs who might be unsure as to how to develop a financial model for a project or business cycle.

You can visit the Pamplamouse website to learn more about them and track the feedback and blowback they are getting for publicly reporting their tour financials.

You can listen to some Pamplamouse music at their Soundcloud page.

I liked their "The Internet is Awesome" track which is shared below.


Local Music & Golf [Video
Posted on November 27, 2014 @ 08:50:00 AM by Paul Meagher

For the last few days I spent more time than usual listing to music. I've been doing that a bit more since attending the Nova Scotia Music Week about a month ago. I've been exploring the music of some other Nova Scotia musicians that I've also seen in person and wanted to see what they have been up to on YouTube. I thought I would share a small sampling of some of the music I've been enjoying.

One established Nova Scotia musician whose work I enjoy is Matt Mays. He has a large body of excellent work that you can find on YouTube but the video I'll share with you is one of his more tender live performances at The Carlton in Halifax (Nova Scotia musical venue of the year). Matt is accompanied by fiddler Anna Ludlow who adds an extra depth of feeling to the song. I think of the song as Matt's song for the Xmas season. I hope you all chase your own light this holiday season.

When I realized the fiddle was adding extra texture to the song, I was reminded of fiddlers Ashley MacIssaac and Natalie MacMaster, two major Nova Scotia fiddlers who both apprenticed with renowned fiddler Buddy MacMaster. The video I thought I would share is of Natalie McMaster dressed in a rock outfit showing off some amazing fiddling technique and musicality in 2004 at the Philadelphia Folk Festival.

The final video I enjoyed quite a bit was by Town Heroes. At the Music Week event that I attended they took home alot of the awards as best new artists. In my case, the Town Heroes are literally that, they come from the same coastal Inverness community I grew up in, and where the farm is, and they are playing some good music. Their video includes footage of alot of Inverness scenery that I'm quite familiar with in this video. The video is called "Holding Up Grants" which I believe refers to a store in Inverness called Grants where teenagers often assembled in the evenings. You stood around, often with your back on the wall, holding up Grants store enjoying each other's company. Their Berlin Wall, Cambridge, Slag Heaps and New York City videos are also worth a listen/watch.

The Town of Inverness, Nova Scotia used to be a coal mining town but that industry eventually dried up and the town struggled to find a replacement. Fortunately, after a long downhill slide a potential replacement has come to town in the form of a golf course. Not just any old course, but a golf course with a vision of being a premiere golf destination for those who can afford it. Alot of people in Inverness didn't believe that "we could make it happen" as the Town Heroes refrain throughout their video but management of the Cabot Links, and the Town of Inverness, are starting to make more and more people a believer. An additional 18 hole golf course is currently being developed, called Cabot Cliffs, that is also along the ocean and might be starting up next golf season. The Cabot Links golf course is already ranked in the top 100 in the world (Golf Digest 2014/15), so the new 18 hole Cabot Cliffs golf course is going to be an interesting addition. Below is a day-old twitter photo of the Cabot Cliffs development. The sister Cabot Links course which is already opened is located further down the coastline closer to the town of Inverness (the Inverness beach front is where much of the above video was shot). The Cabot Cliffs course will feature shots over and near the cliffs, onsite accommodations, and more ability to control the complete experience of the course by being more remote from the town as you can see in the photo below.


Farm Products [Agriculture
Posted on November 25, 2014 @ 10:16:00 AM by Paul Meagher

When we purchased the farm 5 yrs ago I never thought that hay would be a main product. Over the first couple of years I got other people to make it and take it away. They had big equipment, made round bales, and could get the job done in fairly short order. I wasn't comfortable, however, in just giving the hay away often for deals that never fully materialized. I slowly began building up old second hand machinery so that I could make square bales and store them in the barn. The barn has a large hayloft but when we purchased the ashphalt shingles were starting to leak. I invested money and time into reshingling it and now it can hold around 2700 square bales.

Today, me and my hay making partner, sold another load of 130 bales to a guy who had 4 horses. They apparently like our hay based on his last purchase and he and his wife were leary of purchasing hay that the horses wouldn't like. Most people who own horses are very particular so it is somewhat rewarding to know that we are making horses happy and well fed on the hay we provide.

If you don't have major equipment breakdowns and don't have to pay too much for labor, then making and storing hay bales for later sale can be fairly profitable as judged by the rate of return. We invested around $1200 hundred dollars into making it this year (e.g., fuel, baler twine, labor, hoses, grease, bolts). The labor turned out to be fairly cheap because three families worked together to put the hay in. As long as you supply the beer, they will supply the labor although a 1/3 of the workforce were not of drinking age. For the most part, when there are lots of people helping out, putting hay involves jovial outdoor physical exercise using muscles that you don't often enough get a chance to exercise and test the limits off (how high/far can you throw a bale, how long can you do it for) combined with some sweating in the barn followed by cooldown/watering breaks before you go out into the field for another load of hay.

We still have around 1900 bales in the barn to sell which will help finance the purchase of fruit and nut trees in the spring, fuel, new tools, new equipment, equipment and building maintenance and so on. The farm is close to being financially sustainable with the help of the hay product. I also dabble in agritourism in a small way so far. Next year I may have some wine grape product to sell as 3/4 acre of planted vines produced it's first crop this year (resulted in around 18 gallons of juice). In the next two years I will have more vines coming online as I have planted around 750 each year for the last three years.

I wouldn't say the farm is financially self-sufficient at this point. Me and my wife have to put money made through other jobs into the farm to fund ongoing improvements. It is my hope that the farm will become profitable with the addition of a better agritourism package and with the production of grape juice and apples. I'm always on the lookout for other farm products that I might offer but right now these four products, hay, agritourism, wine grape juice and apples, are the main products I'm focused on producing/selling.

Trying to make a go of a farm property is similar in many respects to trying to make a go of any business. You have to figure out what products you are going to attempt to sell and then make the investments in time and money to get to the point of production. Products without production are just costing money so the sooner you can get into production the better. In alot of farm startups they start with planting annual vegetables because you can generate a return within a one year period. That was not a committment I had the time or desire to make. Instead I invested into perennials (grape vines and apple trees) which I mistakenly assumed would be less work then they are, especially the grape vines. Sometimes I wonder if wine grape juice was the right product to get into because of the amount of money and tending you have to put into growing them. So one caution when choosing a product to sell is to navigate the price/effort tradeoff to find a product at the right price with the right time/effort involved in selling it. If you have a high priced item to sell (e.g., wine), maybe that involves more time/effort to produce/sell than a lower priced item that involves less time/effort to produce/sell.

It is a nice warm day at the farm today and I'm going to take a break from the computer to head out to the woods at the edge of a field to cut some posts. I will use the posts to trellis the grapes I planted this spring. I'll be trellising them next spring but will cut some posts off my land now while the weather is nice. I'd also like to have an excuse to work/play in the woods today.


Take Your Clothes Off! [Creativity
Posted on November 24, 2014 @ 12:51:00 PM by Paul Meagher

The headline is not a cheap attempt to get you to read my blog ;-)

The headline also refers to a song by Ria Mae called "Clothes Off" that I can't stop listening to. I had the opportunity to see her perform live at the Nova Scotia Music Week hosted in Truro this year where some of the best new musical talent from Nova Scotia performed in 4 different venues and various music industry people from around the world attended to see if they want to book them or enter into other deals with them. Alot of networking, education and mentoring for developing artists also takes place during the event. The public gets to take it all the music sessions for 4 days. It allowed me to sample acts that I never knew existed (and which I might now go out an see when they are in town next) and gave me some insight into how music talent is fostered and promoted. Cultural export is an important industry for any state or province and our developing musicians are our ambassadors to the rest of the world helping to drive tourism, geographical awareness, and a willingness to do business from those who might share a bond of music. It also becomes a point of collective pride for states and provinces when one of their own transends the local stage.

One of the acts I particularly liked was Ria Mae. You can hear the polished version of the "Clothes Off" single on her website or watch a live version with a little less raunchy guitar work here. A nice upbeat and well-crafted song to kick off the week.

Update: Nov 25th.

Ria Mae's music is now a playlist with these original 3 music videos to share.


Imagination Into Being [Entrepreneurship
Posted on November 21, 2014 @ 12:35:00 PM by Paul Meagher

I took a trip down to the farm today ostensibly to do some work. That might happen. No rush, nothing is growing and most of the major winterizing is done.

Another reason to head down to the farm this weekend was so that I could change my mileau and perhaps stimulate my imagination a bit more. I find that spending time at the farm puts me into a different frame of mind and makes me think differently.

The farm is what exists outside my window right now. The farm is also something that exists in rich detail in my imagination. Imagination feels like an emotionally invested set of visualized goals that I want to maneuver the farm towards.

A business startup is what you exist in right now. A business startup is also what exists in your imagination.

A business startup is something that both exists and is imagined.

The goal is to "bring imagination into being" as Adrienne Clarkson so succintly put it in the 2014 Massey Lectures.

In Adrienne's 5th lecture (available online at the link) she discusses the power of "as if" thinking to turn imagination into being. She also suggests that "as if" thinking might be similiar to what is colloqually described as "taking it on faith".

I think it is therefore befitting to offer up a music video with the title "Take It on Faith" by Matt Mays. The video is comprised of old National Film Board footage from the 60's.


Limits of Biotech [Agriculture
Posted on November 18, 2014 @ 10:13:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I am halfway through a book by Ford Denison called Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture (2012).

So far the book does not offer much guidance on how to farm better using Darwin's ideas and theories which is sort of what I expected it to be about. Instead it has thus far focused on using ideas about natural selection to theorize about where biotechnology might be successful or not in improving crop yields - the limits of biotech vis-a-vis agriculture.

Denison's argument in a nutshell (so far) is that natural selection and artificial breeding have operated on our crop plants for a long time now and if there were any simple improvements we could make to the genetic material of plants (i.e., increasing or decreasing the expression of a gene) Mother Nature would have already tried it out by now. Many biotech companies have claimed that they are working to improve upon the basic ability of plants to utilize sun, water or nutrients. Denison suggests that we should be very skeptical of such claims because the few generic variations that a biotech company might try out are no match for the trillions of experiments that natural selection has already performed to find the genetic variants that are best able to utilize sun, water and nutrients.

This is not to say that biotech as applied to developing better crops has no role, but to date most of the increases in yields it has produced are due to the addition of genes to crops to make them herbicide resistant or insect resistant. In fields without weed or insect pressure, the yields from these "improved" crops are often no better that the yields from "non improved" crops. The biotech improvements are not to the basic machinery of crops such as their ability to utilize sun, water, and nutrients; it is to ward off threats such as weeds and insects.

Denison is not coming at this issue from an anti-GMO viewpoint and would probably welcome any biotech discovery that would improve drought resistance, result in more efficient conversion of sunlight to biomass, or reduced need for fertilizers to allow crops to thrive. He has been looking for refutations of his viewpoint since 2003 and has not seen much evidence to counter his viewpoint that genetic engineering has not improved the efficiency of basic plant processes. This is not to say that a breakthrough might come in the future, however, based on natural selection and the trillions of natural experiments to date, he speculates that the breakthrough will not come by simply tinkering with genetic material in ways that natural selection would have already tried. Instead it will require real genetic engineering where more complex variations are created that have no intermediate path that natural selection would have tried (because the intermediate path would have produced less fit offspring that would not have reproduced).

Another aspect of Denison's argument is that there are generally tradeoffs involved in any proposed improvement to basic plant processes. So if you created a more drought resistant strain of corn that corn might not grow as much biomass as normal corn or it might not perform as well in non-drought conditions as standard corn. Denison advises us to keep our eye on the tradeoffs that also attend any claimed biotech improvements to basic plant processes (i.e., sun, water, or nutrient assimilation).

Denison's book would be useful to an investor who might be looking into investing into biotech companies involved in improving agricultural yields. It would give that investor another perspective by which to evaluate whether a particular investment might be worth making. This perspective would be informed by some evolutionary theory, genetics, and ecology that would allow an investor to see beyond the marketing material that biotech company might use to justify an investment. If the claim is made that the biotech improvement will improve yields then by what mechanism will it do this (e.g., basic plant process, herbicide resistance, insect resistance, late shattering, etc...), what tradeoffs might attend those yield improvements, what risks might we be opening up, and how long will these yield improvements last before some countervailing adaptation kicks in. Darwinian Agriculture was probably not aimed at investors in biotech companies but I would suggest that it is a very useful resource for anyone interested in such investing to read as it provides useful guidance for evaluating the technical difficulty of what a company might be trying to accomplish and consequently their likelihood of accomplishing it. Biotech companies are always pushing the limits on what a plant might do but some of those limits are not so easy to improve upon, and if improved upon, may involve tradeoffs that mother nature has already tried and discarded.

I'm still reading the book so this is not the final review. I will likely write another blog on this book but so far what has interested me is the idea that there might be limits to what biotechnology might accomplish in terms of improving basic plant processes. An investor should always be aware of the current limitations in any technology they are investing in so this book offers useful guidance with respect to biotech investing for improved crop performance. Improved crop performance will be essential to deal with the need to produce 30% more food by 2050 and to anticipate the effects climate change.


Firm Size and Profitability [Economics
Posted on November 13, 2014 @ 01:10:00 PM by Paul Meagher

What is the relationship between the size of a firm and the amount of profit, on average, it generates? The question is fairly important because if smaller firms are more profitable than larger firms, it might tell you something about where you should invest your money.

In order to compare profitability of smaller firms to larger firms you need to come up with a ratio that allows you to compare them. A commonly used ratio is the Return on Assets which can be defined as:

ROA = Net Income/Total Assets

Where the Total Assets are comprised of both debt and equity financing. So if a company has total assets of 1 million and generates a net income of 100,000 then the ROA is a 10% return. If a larger company has total assets of 10 million and generates a net income of 1 million, then again the ROA is a 10% return. So the ROA ratio allows us to compare larger and smaller firms in terms of their relative profitability.

A 2012 bulletin by Statistic Canada called Are Small Firms More Profitable than Large Firms? reported the following result:

What this graph shows is that firms with between 5 and 20 employees had the highest return on assets and that the largest firms are quite a bit less profitable. Similar results can be found for US companies but you have to wade through more literature to find a graph that expresses the relationship this simply.

So why might the curves look like this? There are many possible reasons cited in the article Employees, firm size, and profitability in US manufacturing. Some of them include:

  • Some notion of optimal firm size
  • Dis-economies of scale may be more the rule than the exception in many industries
  • Organization overhead drains profit as as you get bigger
  • Loss of unique competencies/secrets as you get bigger and cannot contain them
  • More competition as you get bigger
  • Market saturation
  • Etc...

The Fortune 500 worldview would have us believe that we should be investing our money in the large companies of the world. They certainly generate huge amounts of revenue, and therefore media buzz, but we might ask how profitable they are from an ROA perspective (the organization drain on these companies due to high executive salaries can make them considerably less profitable). We might not hear as much buzz around the companies with between 5 and 20 employees because they don't generate amounts of revenue that generate media buzz, but if measured by ROA they might be more profitable than many of the large companies touted as "leaders" in the business world.

The purpose of this blog is simply to question the notion that larger firms are more profitable and point out some data that suggests otherwise. The data is not as simple or as clear in some cases as the data I report here so do you own research if you want a more nuanced understanding of this relationship. I've also not addressed issues of relative risk in investing in small and large firms and that always has to be taken into account when investing. The Statistic Canada report also has a chart showing the volatility of ROA as a function of firm size.

The author of the report summarizes the volatility data in this way:

These results provide evidence that, as small firms grow, their financial performance becomes more homogeneous—though this trend reverses itself for very large firms.


Systems Thinking For Profit [Permaculture
Posted on November 10, 2014 @ 09:17:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Geoff Lawton is one of the major figures in the Permaculture movement. Every month or so he films an exemplary farm from different locations around the world to share some of the permaculturally relevant things they are doing on the farm. The most recent video features Mark Shepard's farm and the video is called Permaculture For Profit. Mark Shepard wrote about some of his ideas in a book called Restoration Agriculture: Perennial Permaculture For The Farm (2013). I purchased the book but have not had time to read it so I was happy to see a new video from Geoff that features his farming operation.

I'm calling this blog Systems Thinking For Profit because what impresses me most about the farm is the level of systems thinking Mark has done on his farm and how that appears to be translating into a good amount of profit. I've blogged many times about systems thinking on this blog (see my Systems Thinking and Sustainability blog among others) so will not go any deeper into it here other than to note that while system thinking may not be a necessary aspect of successful farm operations, those who practice it well are likely, on average, to exhibit more success as farmers than those who do not. It is hard to make the case for why systems thinking matters to business by citing books or ideas by systems thinkers, but when you see an operation like Mark's you can better appreciate the value of systems thinking for creating profitable business operations.

I cannot show you the complete 15 minute video on Mark's operation because you have to register at Geoff Lawton's website ( to login and view the complete video. What I'm showing here is just the teaser for the full video. I enjoy getting Geoff's updates regarding new videos so I don't mind recommending that you consider registering on his site as well to tour around the world with Geoff visiting exemplary farms and sites.

There are a few different definitions of what Permaculture is. The one I like is the one by one of its co-founders David Holmgren who called Permaculture "systems thinking for farmers". So when I look for good examples of Permaculture I'm generally looking for good examples of systems thinking in agricultural design and management (but also increasingly in social contexts as well, i.e., social permaculture).


Precision in Crop Farming [Agriculture
Posted on November 7, 2014 @ 09:28:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I recently borrowed a book from the local agricultural campus called Precision in Crop Farming. I took the book out after scanning through it and feeling impressed that the area of precision farming is maturing and there is starting to emerge a curriculum of studies on what concepts and technological principles a precision farmer needs to be aware of to get a certificate or degree in precision farming.

Precision crop farming is about being more precise in measuring the variability in conditions within crop fields and correspondingly more precise in how you respond to that variability. It is an area at the forefront of integrating sensor technologies, GIS technologies, geo-positioning technologies, wireless technologies, and robotic technologies. The end game is something like a robot or automated vehicle traveling the fields seeding, fertilizing, watering, and weeding according to the variable conditions of the field. The robot would also be involved in the harvesting and post harvesting operations as well. Researchers justify precision farming on the grounds that it can be economically, ecologically, and agronomically beneficial for larger farming operations. I leave it up to you to judge.

In someways this is a dismal vision of the future of agriculture where we become another level removed from physical contact with soil and sunlight, another exodus of the workforce from the countryside to tend to computers programs monitoring distant crop fields.

You don't have to buy into the vision however to be interested in what precision farming is up to or how the field is evolving. I also think that parents of high school kids should start to rethink some prejudices they might have about farming as consisting of low paying jobs with alot of drudgery. It certainly can have this aspect too, but by the time your kids graduate from an agricultural program that has a good set precision farming courses, I think you might be surprised at the number of opportunities available to them not just in farm contexts, but also in golf course management, residential and commercial landscape design and management, public works, monitoring soil conditions around oil fields and pipelines, and other areas. Some of the transferable skills you learn would be the ability to setup and interpret sensor readings, to geo-locate those sensor readings on maps of the landscape, to fuse those maps with other sensor readings and GIS databases, to setup sensor networks throughout landscapes using wireless technologies, to know how to setup and monitor machinery and equipment to address conditions identified in field maps (or by on-the-go sensors), to know how to automate vehicle operations, etc.... These are just some of the skills you would explore in a precision farming curriculum as outlined in the book Precision in Crop Farming.

The video below illustrates what is potentially good and bad about precision agriculture. The technology is certainly interesting to observe and study, but as one commentator noted, it appears to be wrong farming done better (the "wrong" part being spraying of herbicides to control weeds). I fully expect that precision farming will deliver correct farming done better as well.

Learn more about this video and possible futures for farming by visiting Robots Podcast with Peter Corke.


Open Source Humanoid Robots [Robots
Posted on November 5, 2014 @ 06:01:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Came accross a neat project called The Poppy Project that aims to provide a robotic platform "so anyone can easily program and use both real and simulated robots". One of the major enabling features of this project is the more widespread availability of 3D printing which is used to create many of the structural components of the robot seen in this video demonstrating how to assemble the robot.

The project aims to offer a relatively cheap humanoid robot for research, education and art projects. I expect we will be hearing more about this project as it brings together many interesting technologies and ideas for the rest of us, the large pool of open source makers and hackers, to play with, improve upon, and perhaps build businesses around.




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