Getting Something for Nothing … or very little

Have you ever gone out in a big group for a meal and, rather than asking for separate checks, all agreed to split the check.  Or maybe you simply threw $10 in a pile in the center of the table for everyone’s on-average $8 lunch.  Some at the table only had a bowl or soup or a salad.  Some had a crab salad that was priced like a dinner entrée.  Some even had an alcoholic beverage, while you had water.

You all see where this is going when applied to our utility business.  We should all pay our fair share, but expedience and time seem to make sharing an equally reasonable option.  You probably seethed a bit watching someone at the table take advantage, but … after all, you only paid $10, so you probably got over it.

We are seeing this happen today on electric rates and solar.  For some reason, after years of using a similar pricing method called net metering, the true cost for solar freeloaders is getting pretty high.  Then, as those in charge try to correct this, charging everyone at the table their fair share, they are running into brick walls. Because after all, the people getting a free ride are “doing the right thing” for the planet.

Really?  Didn’t I do the right thing by buying an electric vehicle?  The cost for my license plate went from $20 to $220 a year because I wasn’t paying my fair share of the costs to maintain the roads. And nobody protested that 10x price increase.

Why was it so easy for the State of Georgia to correct this pricing error, but when the utility tries to correct pricing, it is viewed as evil and unfair?

The Gun Control Distraction

I have to admit, I have always been fascinated by magicians.  I know it is sleight of hand, but even knowing that seems to keep me from seeing what I should be seeing.  Yes, I get that some tricks have technical underpinnings like technology-laced apparatus parts and pieces.  Obviously, the old sawing the lady in half trick had some of that.

But, the one that seems so simple is the use of distraction, most often with one hand, while the other hand is doing something essential and important to the trick, but you just don’t notice it.

By analogy, our national argument over gun control, ostensibly driven by mass shootings, may be a similar distraction.

At the same time, we are arguing over that, drone technology coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) is making huge strides … so much that the idea of using a person to pull the trigger of a conventional gun may seem archaic in a matter of another year or two.

Google the idea yourself and you will see that there is a raging debate about what to do with drone warfare.  You will also see that technology is already able to deliver the chilling outcomes of this video.

By analogy, you will see that the world leaders are trying to ban the use of these weapons.  Right. It seems we have had decades of bans on chemical weapons and yet bad guys have been and are still using them.   Check out what Wikipedia has to say.

Distractions they are.  Maybe we should be thinking more about countermeasures given bad guys don’t give up.

There is something to be learned here for our industry in cyber attacks.  Maybe the IoT is intrinsically too vulnerable without countermeasures.  For example, maybe we should be figuring out who is attacking and then launching counterattacks to wipe out their systems?

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

Courtesy Austin Beerworks

I remember singing this silly song on long road trips with friends just to make the trip pass more quickly. Of course, you may also remember the “I can see” types of games we played to keep the kids from asking “are we there yet?”

Well, now you can go to the market and buy 99 cans of beer in one box!  Seems a bit silly to me, but the obvious connection has made it a bit of a party sensation.

Witness the following article:

Austin Beerworks releasing 99-packs of Peacemaker Anytime Ale.   Would you spend $99.99 for a 99-pack of Austin Beerworks Peacemaker Anytime Ale? You’ll also probably need a couple of buddies to help you lug the thing through the store. And some room in your kitchen for all that beer. But you can do all that, right?

That’s what the brewery is counting on as they re-launch the name of their pale ale, the very first beer Austin Beerworks ever made. It’s now Peacemaker Anytime Ale — and 20 99-packs of it are releasing in stores tomorrow. Lest you try to make plans ahead of time to get your hands on one (and boy, you’ll need both hands) the brewers at Austin Beerworks are mum about which stores; they’ll reveal them via social media. All will be in Austin.

To be clear, the gimmick is as much a light-hearted joke as it is not a hoax (yes, it’s real, a press release kept emphasizing). Austin Beerworks co-founder Michael Graham said in the release that when they were brainstorming with brand design studio Helms Workshop about how best to launch the brewery’s first official advertising campaign, the idea of a 99-pack was just a funny joke — until it wasn’t. The Helms team had been listing all the situations during which people want to be drinking Peacemaker (“in line for the best BBQ in the country,” “as a pre-workout,” “when the fish just aren’t biting” and the like) and realized that since there were so many, wouldn’t it be beneficial for people to have that many of the beers, too?

“This inspired us to create the world’s first and only 99-pack,” Graham said. “What started out as a joke became very real when we realized how much people love the idea of 99 beers for $99.99.”

What a unique idea: listening to customers and then packaging that in a way that makes them smile … and buy from you.  Maybe something to learn here.  At a minimum, it should be fun to watch how this goes.


An Inconvenient Truth

You would think the world had finally gotten the message about environmental sustainability with all the press releases you read, especially about electric vehicles.  Every auto manufacturer seems to be announcing a dizzying array of cars that run at least in part on electricity.

The press fuels this fervor of course since car manufacturers buy a lot of ad space and that is part of the fuel for the press.  And, the cars themselves drive fervor since they are peppy and fun to drive.  Yes, they don’t make that growl that I have loved for most of my adult life … but they go like a bat out of hell!  Tesla’s soaring stock price seems to be another good sign of progress here, even though the company has yet to turn a profit.

But, there is a darker side to all this that I think we need to address.  The situation is NOT good at all.  The tax incentives that drove Tesla’s success are disappearing, the local state governments are charging more for car tag licenses to be sure they have money to pave the roads, and the price of gasoline is on a steady decline due to lowering demand.  The economics are deteriorating that are part of the formula.

The deal-killer here, in my opinion, is none of that.  It is the FACT that today’s auto industry is not really interested in selling electric vehicles.  Why?  Because they make their money on servicing combustion engine driven cars.  Take a good look at this survey done by the Sierra Club.

Then, with all these same car companies spending billions of dollars chasing a shrinking market the obvious “bust” out of the current apparent “boom” market seems obvious.

The short takeaway to me is: the future of electric vehicles is not as glorious as we have thought it to be.

I am still delighted with my Tesla S and am hoping they introduce a 600-mile range version in another year or two.

AI as the Digital Boogeyman

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights something terribly important in our world system.  China is experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI) to see how it can improve education.  My take on it is that they have created the digital boogeyman without realizing it.

According to Wikipedia, the boogeyman is a mythical creature used by adults to frighten children into good behavior. The Boogeyman has no specific appearance, and conceptions vary drastically by household and culture but is commonly depicted as a masculine or androgynous monster that punishes children for misbehavior.  Boogeymen may target a specific act or general misbehavior, depending on what purpose needs serving, often based on a warning from the child’s authority figure.

Yep, that is how I used it when my daughters would sneak out of their room to play with each other when they should have been staying in bed.  I told them that the boogeyman hid under the bed and would grab their ankles.  I know, I am now going to be blocked for something I did over 45 years ago thinking it was a silly way to get better behavior.  I also remember being told some things would make me go blind as a kid… so there!

Well, China has upped the game with just that.  Read the WSJ article.

Their plan is to use AI to increase the performance of the 200 million students in school and it appears to be working… at least in part.  Can they and will they truly understand how much of this is the boogeyman effect vs. studying brain waves?  Or, could it just be that they are using something parents want for their kids? aka a better education and a hope for a brighter future… to get them to permit this intrusive Orwellian approach?

After all, it may not be the AI at all that is behind the improvements.  It could just be the myth itself.  But, in the process of saying they were just studying children’s learning, they have unleashed the full power of AI to track human behavior!  Watch the link carefully.  Think about it.

Are we moving in the same direction with our data analysis?  Might Amazon suggest you stop buying certain things because they were harmful to your health?