Transparency is Not Always Good

I have been impressed with delivery services that literally tell me where they are.  Door Dash is really fun to use.  You truly get a personalized experience.  You feel totally in control.

I have been impressed with Amazon as well … until just recently.  Here is the path a book I had just ordered has taken so far:

(Remember, the most recent step is at the top of this message stack from their website and I have no idea where it was originally shipped.  I just know it was a week ago!)

Wednesday, January 27, 10:24 AM
Package arrived at a carrier facility
Greensboro NC Network Distribution Center, US
2:25 AM Package arrived at a carrier facility
Atlanta, GA US

Tuesday, January 26 11:01 PM
Package arrived at a carrier facility
Atlanta GA Network Distribution Center, US
4:43 PM Package has left the carrier facility

Monday, January 25 6:59 AM
Package arrived at a carrier facility
Greensboro NC Network Distribution Center, US

5:44 AM Package arrived at a carrier facility
Columbia, SC US

Friday, January 22
Package has shipped

I don’t know how many times more the package is going to play ping pong between Atlanta, Georgia and Greensboro, North Carolina.

I live in a suburb of Atlanta!

El Chirper Tacos

We are evidently in for a rare treat in nature: the emergence of the 17 year cicada.  We see cicadas every year but these are the annual green ones.  They kind of look like a grasshopper.  But, the scientists say we are going to see a black red-eyed cicada and in such high numbers that we might want to harvest them and eat them.  See for yourself: USA Today

However, this event is likely to be deafening given the sheer number of cicadas.  There are so many aspects of nature that just make no intuitive sense.  I am continually amazed that birds migrate and don’t get lost.  It makes me crazy to think that all those Monarch butterflies migrate to one small area in Mexico.  Who teaches spiders to make those intricate webs?  The list goes on.

In any event, the big question we should think about is why we are so disgusted about these sources of protein.  Many cultures around the world use these protein sources.  Many cultures eat scorpions, rats, and whatever.  Don’t we remember the prison riot in Maine caused by inmates objecting to being fed “sea bugs” because they thought they were being poisoned!

Don’t be surprised as this comes up more and more this year.  We are seeing the concept of circularity emerge to center stage.  Bugs are on the menu!



Long Range Power Plans vs Public Opinion

I have to admit that I am now feeling a bit like Rip Van Winkle who woke up after being asleep for 20 years to find the world has completely changed.

As an engineer and a mathematician, I have long admired the process of long run integrated resource plans.  Following close behind that are the Independent System Operators (ISOs) who secure long term regional power resources based upon supply side economics and detailed reliability assessments.

So, when I see public opinion potentially trumping conservative logic and planning I become alarmed.  Read this for yourself and draw your own conclusions: Energy News Network 

Yes, we engineers tend to “over design” systems so that they can persist even when things go wrong all around them.  Yes, we all know the story of Murphy’s Law that promises we will all be surprised by how things go wrong.

But, have we now lost our sensibilities about near term realities by surrendering to the glimmer of hope that renewables will magically replace near term needs?

Perhaps so given we are now also banning natural gas in new construction … decades ahead of any regional grid being powered by 100% renewables.

Perhaps I need a 20 year nap!



I find it helpful at times to go back to the roots of our words to keep perspective.  All too many words today seem to be used as weapons or at least commentaries on who we are.

I am a conservative person: after all, I am an engineer and trained to make sure things actually work in life.  Conservatism is an integral part of that discipline.  It has earned me the title Dr. Doom because I am always looking out for what can go wrong and how to prevent that.  But, that perspective is essential to good engineering.  You should all be very afraid of an engineer who is not conservative!

My engineering discipline carries over into my other views about life … I can’t really help it.  So, when I am confronted with people who have liberal points of view I am naturally a bit fearful of the consequences.  However, I find when I talk to people who profess this point of view, I find they are actually not that different than I am about what I hold precious.  They simply have different points of view about some things that I don’t think about that much.

In that spirit, I find the word dogma has interesting roots.  In the broad sense, it describes any belief held unquestioningly and with undefended certainty. I would like you to consider that a world with 100% renewables might well be described as an environmental dogma.  It certainly is a lofty goal and a central tenet of what I do sense is the religious fervor of its believers.

However, the definition of the word dogma also has a less than noble implication inferring it is a cover for enforced decisions, such as those of aggressive political interests or authorities.  The term is applied to some strong beliefs that its adherents are not willing to discuss rationally. This attitude is named as a dogmatic one, meaning that dialogue or discussion is not welcomed.

“God said it and that settles it” is certainly a dogmatic statement.  Many would consider this correct as the basis for their theological convictions.  History indicates little good has come out of hard line positions like this.

Perhaps we should be a bit more concerned about environmental dogmas these days.

Adding Color to Colorless Gasses

I remember the stories about children going to withdraw money from their savings account and being surprised that the money they put in was physically not the same as what they withdrew.

I have lectured on the use of solar and other renewables and seen the confusion and dismay of people who bought this energy form but learned what they bought didn’t actually go to their homes.

Given how many people still believe the world is flat, “According to pollster YouGov, 33 percent of millennials don’t believe that the Earth is round,” it would be interesting to see what levels of confusion still exist on where renewable electricity actually flows.  I expect very few understand how this works.

Well then, perhaps we should be concerned that similar levels of confusion and therefore distrust will result from the definitions of renewable natural gas and now especially blue and green hydrogen.  What is worse, most hydrogen production today is called gray since it starts with natural gas.  Let’s just face it, this is not a trivial issue.   We are starting with gases that are colorless and odorless … and please don’t tell me you think natural gas has an odor itself … that odor is added to offer safety assurances because the gas has no odor but is deadly.

No, we have a fundamental challenge with hydrogen because it does not exist as a pure gas in nature.  We have to make it, either with electrical energy from water or by some chemical processes starting with ammonia or natural gas.

This draws immediate criticism from technical people who rightfully want to trace raw materials and process details back to the origins, and who in their right mind would want to start with electricity if the end product consumed by the market is electricity.  That seems awfully silly and wasteful.  And, yes you would be correct if the issues of when it is produced vs. needed and storage are ignored.  We are seeing very real challenges in the electric grid due to solar where periods of low electricity-use coupled with high availability of solar energy are becoming a challenge.  Batteries are the obvious choice where economic, but people are seeking other more sustainable choices for storage over time, and hydrogen has received a lot of attention.

So, we are going through a period I would call a “Truth in Labeling” transition.  Most of us now see a very detailed description of what is in the food we buy.  And, most of us ignore it.  So, the politicians argued the labels should be made bigger.  😊

We have a long way to go here and it will not be easy.  Think about the problems we have now getting Americans to accept the COVID vaccines.  Conspiracy theories abound.

So, perhaps the key question here is whether labeling an otherwise colorless gas with a name that is emblematic with an environmentally appealing color will make the discussion of the costs and benefits easier or more compelling.  One would hope that labels change behavior, or at least make it clear what was in something that might matter to you and affect your decisions.

However, I am concerned that we are trying to “teach pigs to sing” as our recently departed business partner, Dick Niess, would have said:  “They don’t learn, and they resent you’re trying!”  Rest in Peace dear friend.