Better Trumps Regulation

USA Today had an opinion piece on the fears that rescinding the ban on incandescent lamps was going to send us back into the dark ages of energy waste. This type of accusation once again points to our inconsistent point of view of what is good, better and best in any choice.

Anyone who has tried LED lamps is generally happy.  They produce beautiful light at markedly lower costs and virtually eliminate the replacement hassles since they last so long. That is not always true with more efficient methods… and this is where the hypocrisy between lights and speed limits comes into clear focus.

Read this opinion piece and reconcile this with what the press seems to suggest about speed limits.

Pick the right battles please.  There are situations where incandescent lamps are still better alternatives at this time anyway.  Let it rest.

Critical Thinking about AI


Since I have spent almost my entire career on artificial intelligence (AI) and was even once criticized for talking about it twenty years ago because it was “so far out of favor,” I am amused about how excited people have become of this concept in recent years.  For the record, the reason I accepted my wife Susan’s name for Apogee Interactive was not because I liked the reference to the furthest out there in an orbit, but rather because the initials were AI.  Our bill analysis uses AI … better than anyone else in the world for that matter, and that same AI powers our personalized video messaging.  So, we do know quite a bit about AI.

But, let me give you a critical thinking nugget that always seems to be glossed over when you read claims about AI.  It is called the “training set” which is the data set you use to train the AI to know something.  All AI uses this concept to set the conditions for a data element to be true or false.  When enough data elements align as true or false, you can set the consequential action or output to occur.  You are always dealing with false positives or false negatives, but good AI can alert the user of the confidence you have in the prediction.

Today’s news media claimed we can now “read your mind” with modern pattern recognition AI.  Obviously that caught my attention.  The article was intended to do that.  Here is one of them, read what Science Alert has to say.

As you read it, remember my admonition and you will stop at some point and declare this nonsense because it simply shows you can differentiate what a person has seen by their brain waves.

Never once did it try to replicate what another person saw or thought using this training set.  This article is basically nonsense since it only clearly points out the false positives and false negatives within a person.

AI is only useful when we can move beyond the training set.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do think experiments like this are noteworthy. I just wish the editorial process was more reflective of the realities.

Otherwise, we deal with stupid money chasing stupid dreams.  This one is truly way off compared to others.

The Nocebo Effect

We are all so busy today that we now “filter out” things that we consider distractions, intrusions to our privacy, meaningless or irrelevant.  I think this is the reason so many people do not return phone calls, emails, or even care about relationships.  Couple this with a texting generation who doesn’t call people but rather resorts to cryptic codes and short snippets and you can see the impacts in many dimensions of life today.  This propensity to disengage from the communities in which we live makes us prone to depression of course.  We increasingly dislike the world we live in and decide Star Trek’s Captain Kirk was right in asking Scotty to beam him up … there were no signs of intelligent life.

I try to resist the temptation because I find that I learn something new about myself and the world around me when I take a few minutes to consider the views of those I generally do not agree with.  I search for the nuggets of truth that hold their argument or point of view together and, hopefully, see a higher or deeper meaning to how our modern world can be made better if we could get beyond talking past each other.  So, I listen to atheists defend their beliefs about God and criminals about how they justify breaking our laws.

This may sound warped to you, but let me give you an example from an article I just read about how the wind industry dismisses claims from many about the ill effects of nearby wind turbines.

Read the Wind Watch article here. 

I paraphrase a key section here about a paper published in November 2014 in Frontiers in Public Health of what is called the “nocebo expectations hypothesis.” The nocebo effect is related to its better- known sibling, the placebo effect.  Or, if you expect to get sick, you just might.

Here’s how the paper explained the nocebo effect: “Research consistently indicates that the expectation of adverse health effects can itself produce negative health outcomes,” it said. “Negative expectations generating nocebo responses have been shown to have a powerful influence on health outcomes in clinical populations, and reported symptom experiences in community samples.”

The paper lists symptoms frequently associated with living near wind farms: sleep disturbance, headache, earache, tinnitus, nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, vibrations within the body, aching joints, blurred vision, upset stomach, and short-term memory problems.

Becoming familiar with the list can have an effect. “Simply reading about symptoms of an illness can prompt self-detection of disease-specific symptoms, a phenomenon seen in medical student disease,” the paper noted. It has been noted that medical students learning about an illness start to experience symptoms of the disease.

Perhaps this explains why we can’t seem to move forward on any key issues in our country’s well-being.  Nocebo effects are everywhere and fueled by our media.

Hopefully I have not added to that in your lives.  Thanks for keeping me in your reading list.


When you are rich they think you really know.

Steven Chu, former U.S. Secretary of Energy, 1997 Nobel Prize winner in physics, and the new president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

I have always loved the play/movie Fiddler on the Roof.  Tevya laments his hard working life and asks God whether it would spoil some vast eternal plan that he should be a rich man.  The song is a lovely contemplation of how he would live out his life honoring such good fortune … spending time in the synagogue with others, the Rabbi and of course God.

At one point in the song, he makes the statement that when you are rich people think you are smart.  After all, as the common adage goes, if you are so smart, why aren’t you rich?  So, the implication is that only smart people are rich.  But, should you trust the advice of smart people in one area in other areas where they not trained?

Read this article in Forbes Magazine and wonder for yourself. 

Store hydrogen underground?  Are you kidding?  Anyone who has coped with the key questions around a hydrogen economy knows that storage IS THE PROBLEM in any and all of this concept and no one in their right mind would think about storing it underground.  Yet, when the press interviews a nationally renowned leader in one area they should check with experts in the area before proclaiming the view newsworthy.

Oh, wait a minute, I forgot.  This is the same news media that thinks the opinions of movie stars and professional athletes about the world energy issues are worth printing.

Oh, that’s right … all the news that’s fit to print … where fitness is now defined as possibly selling media.



Nobody Taught Me!

Click to view the clip.

I have often praised Waffle House for their execution and culture which frankly amazes me in this modern world.  They have relatively low turnover and people working there generally seem very happy.  I have jokingly suggested that it must be all the greasy food they serve that creates the happiness.  Recently I asked an employee why he had stayed with Waffle House and he told me about their employee stock program.  For the past year I have been stunned at how this culture works so well.

That is until this morning, which started out the same way as usual.  However, I noticed my waitress Gail was not happy this morning when I got there at my usual 6:40 arrival time.  As she placed my usual ham and cheese omelet order, nothing seemed to be wrong.  That is, until I watched as the grill operator seemed to be struggling to fulfill it.  I thought he had been the same one to make my omelet last week, but apparently not.

After about 20 minutes of failed attempts to make it he finally gives up and tells Gail he can’t … “nobody taught me how to make a ham and cheese omelet!”  What?  Waffle House didn’t train him how to make whatever they had on the menu?  Apparently not.  And, worse yet, his performance making everything else seemed to go to pot.

This reminded me of a scene in the movie The Replacements which I have also blogged about in the past.  The team has suffered a humiliating defeat even though everyone was trying hard, but they didn’t really know how to perform as a team yet.  After all, the strike had thrown everything into chaos and they were all learning how to play as a team.

The coach has an after game review of what happened and stresses that fear of failure was at the root of all this.  After several silly comments about what made each player fearful, Keanu Reeves uses the phrase quicksand to summarize the basis.  Here is a link to the scene.

It is a profound thought and in some ways captures the challenge today in many companies.  Perhaps most damning this morning is that no one took the opportunity to respond to that employee’s cry for help.  They let him wallow in it.  Someone else made the omelet … they missed the opportunity to pull that employee up … and they all suffered for it.