The Latest Pet Rock?

Some ideas seem to attract people. Sometimes you wonder why and at other times it can be a blinding flash of the obvious. This can all seem whacky to straight-laced, conservative people like me.

When the pet rock came out decades ago I was stunned by the almost immediate commercial success. It was obviously not a serious product, but it certainly caught on.

Perhaps these ideas gain popularity just because they are so wacky they can be used as a “gag gift” for birthdays and Christmas. Some ideas seem to gain traction because they push an idea into a new direction or enable people to experience something different. One that we tried for team building is a vertical wind tunnel that lets you experience flight. Needless to say, I didn’t join in that event.

China embarked on one that seemed interesting given the huge natural wonders within its boundaries: glass bridges. Frankly, I hate driving across large conventional bridges in the US. I choose the center lane and grip the wheel like my life depended on it. So, you can probably guess that I am not going to seek out glass bridges.

The following article appearing on, therefore, struck me as especially interesting:

Well then… perhaps this has some pet rock learnings. Or, is it more like the vertical wind tunnel paradigm: you are just not going to do this twice?
I guess that is why I have always wondered how businesses like can persist. I went once when our son wanted to go. I haven’t been back… won’t be back. It was great to see the re-enactments and it was fun once…

We in the energy space need to avoid business ideas like this…

Finding the Needle in the Haystack

The two instances on the news recently where they have caught kids with arsenals ready to do harm BEFORE they did anything are applauded for very good reason.  Astute people observed their actions and what they were posting on social media.

However, the challenge no one seems to want to talk about is the more general question of how you find these individuals and help them before they go off the deep end or intercede before they actually commit such horrible acts.  Yes, we have way too many of these events, but how willing are we to truly address them.

My premise is that one measure, such as better checks on the sanity and wellness of the gun buyer or owner will do little to stop mentally unstable people from doing things like this.  They will get what they want and need somehow.  They will learn to not post their evil ideas online.  Bad people are not stupid.  Speed limits and police do not stop speeders and the horrible consequence of their actions.

My wife Susan and I were going to work and were harassed by someone wanting to speed, slaloming around all the cars.  Just as we were shaking our heads in disbelief a police car pulled them over.  Oh, that was a sweet moment and I will cherish it… but it is way too rare.

Things like this should cause us to think deeply about the realities of avoiding rare and high consequence events.  Yes, they are rare as percentages go, but they are way too common in aggregate.  The problem is that they are rare so detection and avoidance pose a very real opposite problem: the invasion of privacy and intrusion plus false accusations of those who MIGHT do something this bad.  There are thousands of these for everyone that does them.  So, are we willing to embrace a police state?

Now, let me take you into my world of artificial intelligence, which is precisely the software they would use to cull out these prospects.  The errors in this process are called alpha and beta errors: false detection and false nondetection.  That is even with the best of these computer algorithms you run the risk of thinking something is true when it is not, and then even worse is thinking something is not true when it is.

As you tighten down the criteria for either one of these, you make the other one worse.  That is what we face as a society.  But, the best we can all do is be on the alert for signs of trouble: if we see something, say something.  That at least can help in the short run.

We May Not be Alone

That was the sobering thought I heard as a kid about our solar system.  On a statistical basis alone, it is almost impossible to believe we are the only planet with life.  Admittedly, life on those other planets probably did not evolve the way life did here, but it is something to think about.

Of course, my engineering mind says stop trying to broadcast to others in the universe that we are here!  They may not have the best of intentions for us if they found out just how nice it is here.

An article in the USA Today struck me along with the artist rendering of what that planet might look like.  The article said that scientists have found one “nearby planet” that is ONLY 100 light-years away.

Read the USA Today Story 

So, given we traveled there at the speed of light we would all die in transit since it is 100 years away. And, if they were looking at earth they would see it as it was 100 years ago.

Also, do we really think we can travel at those speeds?  It is nice to talk about 100 years of time for light to be seen from a distant object because that is how old the image is we are viewing.  But, to put this in travel terms, the Mars landing expedition took the better part of a year to get there.  Light would take just over 3 minutes to get to Mars.

It would be really interesting to see what the average person in the world thinks about this.

Do they understand how truly silly it is to think about things like this?

How about we spend more time cleaning up our act here?