Bend the Curve?

Do you remember when COVID first hit and health professionals insisted we all work together to “bend the curve” or slow the growth so we would not overwhelm the health system?  We distanced, wore masks, and avoided large groups and to some extent we did slow the growth and total devastating impacts.  The curves tracking our progress did indicate we succeeded, but the notable exceptions were largely due to a belief that the government had no place telling us what to do in this, “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Even recently, I hear constant evidence that people are getting COVID again even after full vaccination and boosters after attending weddings, funerals, and large parties.  Even people who “isolate” themselves from general society fall prey to the occasional interaction with someone who is carrying the virus from a prior encounter with a carrier.  We know what to do, and even our vaccines are being invalidated by a disease that keeps mutating … it is what viruses do to survive.

It is interesting to see how other cultures approach this.  Totalitarian societies that track individual citizen movements shut down and purge the virus chemically to the extent they can.  Others simply suggest what people should do, and the citizens naturally do what they are told … without protest or fanfare.

But where is the anger over the origins for these maladies?  Why hasn’t the world come down on China like a ton of bricks for either weaponizing the virus in the lab and/or allowing unsafe “wet market” environments that breed them in the first place?

Are we that afraid of China?  Why are we left to “bend a curve” that is not a natural occurrence?  We know things like this are avoidable and, in this country, we act swiftly when we see an outbreak of anything in our food, water, or air systems.

If we are afraid of something as obvious as this, what hope do we have on a world stage of tackling long term existential questions that depend upon all of us working together toward a solution?  Today’s grandstanding, greenwashing, and ESG claims are a modern version of the great Shakespearian play Macbeth soliloquy:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Act 5, Scene 5


Alarmism vs. Information?

Haven’t you noticed that the level of alarming rhetoric has now replaced news reporting?  I used to joke that the advertisements for the evening news might ask: “Does homework cause cancer?  News at 7!”  The intent was clearly to make you watch the news, and sure enough, when you waited till the last story the answer was “no.”  Innocent fun just to get you to watch?  I think we all know the reason the alarmism has amped up. and it is summed up in the journalism adage: “if it bleeds, it leads”.

We now have crossed a line in my opinion.  If you read the attached article, you will see the headline from USA Today is: ‘Calm before the storm’: Health insurance costs set to spike after they stayed mostly flat in 2022, survey finds.  Focus on health insurance costs set to spike.  Doesn’t that worry you?  It worried me.

Then, read the story itself and you will find absolutely no supporting proof that anything of the sort is about to happen.  Sure, there are concerns about future price increases, but anyone who knows anything about health care understands that general inflation does not necessarily result in proportional price increases.  The article actually has a lot of very interesting information, but the title is alarmist.

If the article said: “Health insurance costs MAY increase due to inflation” it would have been a big yawn.  Inflation hits most things.  Spike?  That is much bigger than 8-10% increases.  Natural gas prices are set to spike for the multitude of reasons we all know.  We noticed this same misleading and offensive trend in creating headlines just days after hurricane Ian hit Fort Meyers putting more than 2 million customers out of service.  Headline:  500,000 Customers in West Florida Remain Out of Power. What about the incredible fact that 1.2 million customers had been restored?  Right, that would be too uplifting and honest. Nothing sufficiently alarming in that headline.

Watch the same pattern as you read anything about climate change being the cause of just about everything negative happening anywhere in the world….fires, floods, earthquakes, depletion of the ocean’s fish, which is more about overfishing than anything else.  In fact, I was a little surprised the media didn’t blame increases in health care on climate change … but they probably will in the future because they will want to shift the focus from a fact that defeats their predictions about climate change.  Do you remember when NOAH predicted this was going to be a much more severe storm season?  In fact, we are about to finish the hurricane season with much fewer storms than in the past.

Is Cheating Ethical?

Of course not!  Well, let’s step back from the abyss just a bit and look at how widespread this has become.  We could start with transgender sports issues where men “identify” as women, but that one is too volatile right now.

Let’s start with cheating on tests.  The recent article in the Wall Street Journal  indicates modern competitive pressures coupled with easy technology choices has proven just too alluring, so cheating is rampant.  My progressive friends will quickly support these poor individuals and want to lower test score expectations or eliminate testing entirely.

Something funny happened to me in high school.  A student sitting slightly behind me to one side copied my answers to a multiple-choice test.  I guess she thought I was a good student, but it turns out that this was in my worst subject: history.  So, when she too got a lousy grade, she had the nerve to get in my face and complain!  I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “I am not good at this subject.”

But let’s consider how many employees companies believe they have working for them today are also working full-time for someone else, or perhaps just “consulting on the side” in some way.  If we are being honest, the employee agreements we sign specifically disallow this, without some accepted exceptions.

Our remote work environments make this almost too easy.  But something else is at work here:  There is a noticeable shift in expectation among some younger employees that work must be meaningful and fulfilling to them … that they have to feel connected to a greater good or cause, or they simply go into hiding and start looking for somewhere else to work.

The result is you see many applicants for your jobs who have had 10 jobs in as many years.  When you ask them about that, they give you vague answer like, “I am just trying to find myself …”

Somewhere along the way, the definition of work has shifted from things that need to get done to opportunities to enrich your personal lives.  A high-level executive at SDG&E once told me she told employees, “It’s called work for a reason.  It’s not called play.”  Work performing essential tasks and as you get better at that, it is part of the reason people get promoted, which by the way, tends to be much slower than today’s newbies expect.

For some reason, they seem to think that simply showing up reliably for a few months deems them so good they deserve a promotion.  They believe work/life balance means work must fit into their lives.  They do not answer emails outside of working hours … if they even answer them there.

We shouldn’t be surprised given they have been coddled in life playing T Ball and other sports where everyone gets a trophy.  They have been told they are smarter than we are and shouldn’t put up with our traditional points of view.  Ask them.  If they feel safe, they will tell you these things.



How do you Define Real?

I understand how some foods started to use Real in their name … in part because of the competition from look-alike “FAKE” substitutes.  You may not realize the subtle changes in processed cheese where the whey left over from making REAL cheese is now manufactured into CHEESE FOOD as it is called.

In this case, it is a very clever way of extending the food chain since whey is so difficult to dispose of.  And, most of us quickly learn that cheese food is a far cry from the flavor and texture of real cheese.  Perhaps the FDA should be doing more to educate us on this, but that is not my point.  Now we have an entirely new category of food that is “simulating” the process by which it normally occurs, but is no longer a natural biologic product.

Here is the announcement from Food Weekly, a publication of

“Real milk, but without the cow, is what companies want. Food businesses from across the globe invested in and partnered with startups using precision fermentation technology to manufacture dairy from microflora. Rapidly reproducing microscopic fungi with incorporated whey or casein genes produce a protein genetically identical to that milked from cows.

The deals included ADM’s partnership with California-based New Culture, a startup developing animal-free mozzarella cheese. The two companies aim to partner on product development and commercialization services to approach a commercial mozzarella launch in 2023.

Perfect Day is another big player in this field. After bringing an animal-free chocolate bar to market with Mars in June, Nestlé jumped on the bandwagon. The Consumer Packaged Goods giant works toward launching chocolate and plain milk alternatives in the coming months that draw on Perfect Day’s dairy from precision fermentation. With this move, Nestlé works toward meeting growing consumer demand for alternative dairy products.

Lastly, New Zealand’s Fonterra, the world’s sixth-largest dairy company supplying 30 percent of global dairy, has decided to heat up the playing field. It launched its own precision fermentation dairy startup in collaboration with the Dutch bioscience company DSM, aiming to get its share of the market and stay on top of leading innovation and science.”

Really?  Real milk without the cow?  Do we really think this is an identical twin?  I am alarmed that we rush to solutions like this without due diligence.  Haven’t we learned anything from cigarette substitutes at all?  Don’t we remember Olestra?  How many times have we seen artificial sweeteners come and go with almost no coverage of their damaging effects?  Are we not aware of the dangers of corn based sweeteners that are ravaging our health?

We really need to be a bit more careful, don’t you think?

Fake it till you make it?

Entrepreneurs need to be optimistic of course, but there is a fine line between that and fraud.  Then again, maybe optimism and fraud are simply perspectives on the same thought.  After all, fraud is the point of view that someone has violated some truth formula … but that determination is potentially flawed for countless reasons.

One only has to look at history to see how some of the greatest ideas were so heretical at the time that the proponents were deemed fraudulent.  Plus, we all admire aspirational goals, especially if presented by charismatic individuals like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.  Think about it … did you think Elon was aspirational or fraudulent in his goal to create reusable rockets to conquer space.

Individuals like Musk prove you can attract capital for a multitude of reasons that go far beyond greed or even financial reward.  Many investors will back an idea simply on the grounds of it being a noble one.

But, none of us wants to be duped or even mislead, so the recent indictment of Nikola Founder Trevor Milton is just one more reminder.  Elizabeth Homes with Theranos also comes to mind.

So, we should be concerned with many startups today following the dream of a low carbon future.  We want these ideas to work, but all too many of them are just as bogus as Nikola and Theranos.

How can you smoke out the good from the bad?  There is no sure formula, but my decades of product development experience can offer some proven guidelines:

  1. Nothing happens quickly: Oh sure, you can point out that electronic improvement s do, but in fundamental markets like energy, they just don’t.  I worked for the company that developed the Plug Power fuel cells and that idea was five years away from commercialization 40 years ago.  The idea is still five years away from true commercial viabilitiy.
  2. Nothing replaces existing fleets or installed bases of technology: The idea that we are going to ban internal combustion cars is a noble goal and to some extent believable for new vehicles, but the existing fleet of vehicles will persist long into the future.
  3. Revolutionary ideas like hydrogen and fusion are illusions: Sure, you can imagine a world with hydrogen replacing natural gas in some ways, but you first have to figure out how to make hydrogen cheaply, store it and transport it, and then replace the existing technology that uses some form of internal combustion.  You can’t change diesel engines to run on pure hydrogen.  You can imagine gas turbine redesigns … but see point 2 above.

I am sure to get some criticism for being such a negative person.  I am not.  I am simply a realist.  I know how to design any power system you can mention.  We can incrementally improve what we are doing of course, but the idea these rules simply dominate the world.

Politicians of course can promise the world … and then tax us to pay for the attempt.  Once again, watch Planet of the Humans for proof that the billions spent on solar, and wind have really changed anything.