And By Analogy


We seem to take a lot of things for granted these days, especially when we become comfortable and dependent upon technology to make our lives easier. For example, I will bet that you use Google Maps and real time traffic alerts in your daily commute. Why not? It is great and seems to magically update in very close to real time.

But, do you know how this works? Here is the explanation from Wikipedia:

Google Traffic works by analyzing the GPS-determined locations transmitted to them by a large number of cellphone users. By calculating the speed of users along a stretch of road, Google is able to generate a live traffic map.  Google processes the incoming raw data about cellphone device locations, and then excludes anomalies such as a postal vehicle which makes frequent stops. When a threshold of users in a particular area is noted, the overlay along roads and highways on the Google map changes color.

These GPS locations are a public source of information. Just think about the value created here if someone had thought through the value of this information and arranged to capture it ahead of anyone else in the market. Might there have been a competitive advantage? Might there have been a stream of others who would gladly pay to get this channel of information?

Some of you are aware that we have done precisely that for the energy industry with our precision temperature monitoring data channel. You will hear more about this over the next few months as this scales up to the same level that these GPS locations do.

I want you to think about this every time you now use your Google Traffic service … that right now you get free … or do you really? You are being watched friends … very closely.

Modern Shorthand

mom text

Some of my recent blogs offer thoughts about how easy it is to think we are communicating, but we are not. I am constantly reminded of the differences between the way engineers think and the way others think. We love to argue the fine points while we leave those around us wondering what on earth we are talking about.

The “Big Bang Theory” constantly points this out to me, and it is funny to most of us. Well, at least it is funny to me. However, it is probably not funny at all to people like Penny in this series. And, given that most Americans are closer to her point of view, we really should be paying closer attention to this.

This week’s blog looks at the word that comes to mind here: shorthand. When I was young, the ability to take shorthand was a key skill for secretaries. Back then, the skill itself was called stenography and it was extremely important when people wanted to dictate a letter or a note long before voice recording was practical and inexpensive. Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed and brevity of writing as compared to a normal method of writing a language.

Now, with word processors so widespread, there are very few clerical positions like this anymore. But, we do have a new style of shorthand. Texting has created a whole new dimension. Texts like LOL, etc. are so widely used they are in the dictionary. Shorthand expressions are now viewed as words even though they are not.

I hope you enjoy the conversation shown here as a texting sequence. The clear warning is to learn to speak the language of the customer. This is not easy for us technical types to do.

The Tyranny of the “Or”

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
~F. Scott Fitzgeraldquestion

The book “Built to Last,” by James Collins and Scott Porras explores trends of business approaches and strategies that have been historically undertaken by eighteen “highly visionary companies.”  It discusses the “Tyranny of the OR” and describes it as a restrictive approach to decision-making that dictates a solitary choice between one of two seemingly contradictory strategies or outcomes — facilitating the necessary exclusion of the other. While frequently embraced by even billion-dollar corporations, this confining, restrictive approach is a tyrannical method of decision-making that can be avoided by individuals and companies alike.

It seems that the energy industry is struggling with this on almost all fronts, especially when it comes to engaging today’s energy customers.
The next time someone offers you or your management team a choice with the word “or” in it, stop and substitute the word “and” and see if it doesn’t indeed improve the choice. After all, why bet on one horse in a race? Why have only one power plant design in your portfolio?

And, for those of you with statistical training on portfolio management, remember that the advantage of portfolios ONLY exists when the members are negatively correlated to each other. They have to be contrary to offer risk envelope benefits. If they are positively correlated, you get no protection at all!


Portfolio theory is not something easily explained in a blog, but those of you familiar with it are all nodding your heads here in agreement.

You also might enjoy Jim Collins’ latest book as well … Why the Mighty Fall.” Pretty chilling.

Pushing the Envelope


fighter planesIt would be fun to go out on the street and ask the average person what pushing the envelope means.

I expect many would say something like this: Because the average person thinks of an envelope as something a bill comes in, pushing the envelope would be kind of like pushing the check to the other person when you are at dinner and you want them to pay.  Wouldn’t it be fun to ask people this?

Well, you probably know that’s not the intended meaning, but you might not know this:  The idiom comes from aviation where the “envelope” defines the limits of a plane’s performance.  There are precise limits of speed, stress, pilot physical limits, etc. that all go into defining the limits that a plane can and should be flown.  Some of you probably know that without a flight suit keeping the blood flow to the brain, pilots would black out in some maneuvers.  Even so, most pilots “gray out” in these extreme events.

Top Gun pilots tend to fly routinely at this edge, in part because it is tactically superior during dogfights.  They literally have to forget about their own safety or that of the aircraft.  Unfortunately, this can lead to disaster.  These individuals are then often selected as test pilots for new aircraft designs because they are so skilled they can make up for flaws in the controls and performance of the new planes.

According to Wikipedia, a test pilot must be able to:

1. Understand a test plan; stick to a test plan, flying a plane in a highly specific way;
2. Carefully document the results of each test;
3. Have an excellent feel for the aircraft, and sense exactly how it is behaving oddly if it is doing so;
4. Solve problems quickly if anything goes wrong with the aircraft during a test;
5. Cope with many different things going wrong at once.
6. Effectively communicate flight test observations to engineers and relate engineering results to the pilot community, thus bridging the gap between those who design and build aircraft with those who employ the aircraft to accomplish a mission.

Seems like a very well thought out idea for energy companies to follow as they are confronted with the equivalent of a new plane operating in a new environment.








Somewhere Over the Rainbow


I still remember the first time I saw the movie, the “Wizard of Oz,” staring Judy Garland. About five minutes into the film, Dorothy sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” after failing to get her aunt and uncle to listen to her relate an unpleasant incident involving her dog, Toto, and the town spinster, Miss Gulch. Dorothy’s Aunt Em tells her to “find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble.” Doesn’t that sound and feel like the corporate agenda for the utility industry today?

This prompts Dorothy to walk off by herself, musing to Toto, “‘Some place where there isn’t any trouble.’ Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain…” at which point she begins singing the title song. Seems like the wish many in the utility industry seek these days.

Rainbows form a significant part of human culture. They occur frequently in mythology, and have been used in the arts. One of the earliest literary occurrences of a rainbow is in Genesis 9, as part of the Noah flood story, where it is a sign of God’s covenant to never again destroy life on earth with a global flood. The Irish leprechaun’s secret hiding place for his pot of gold is usually said to be at the end of the rainbow. It is interesting to read the litany of scientists and others who have tried since earliest times to explain the phenomenon.

This place is impossible to reach, because the rainbow is an optical effect which depends on the location of the viewer. When walking towards the end of a rainbow, it will appear to “move” farther away.
So, if your organization is still looking for the gold at the end of the rainbow, perhaps the ending of the movie sums it up best. It is right here, now and all around you. You just haven’t noticed.