What is the Value of Safety?

I remember the electric utility marketing meetings back in the early 1990s where they would show videos of homes blowing up that were heated with natural gas. Despite the brash nature to this type of a marketing ad, at least it was only being used to make a point in that meeting.  Thank goodness they didn’t actually use it.  Ironically, I remember the image of a billboard right over a burnt out home in El Paso that read “Gas cooks better than electricity!” Unfortunately, we do still hear of actual tragic situations where a natural gas leak did result in devastating losses.  Electric marketers walk softly if they mention safety concerns with natural gas as a result.  Plus, honestly, most Americans do not sense much risk using natural gas.

Car safety is quite another matter.  Will Tesla’s release that their cars are seven times safer than others make a difference?  Perhaps this is a big deal.  After all, Tecla’s cars are faster and fun to drive… something that normally flies in the face of statistics on safety.  Take a look at this yourself: Tesmanian Blog

As you may remember, I have a Model S with autopilot and have used it around town and of course on the highways.  I can attest that it does work well in MOST but not all situations, and I am sure within a few years they will perfect it.  You can now order a Tesla that is promised to be able to go and park itself and come back to you in shopping plaza parking lots.  I am just not sure how comfortable I would be letting it do that, but the technology certainly looks like it is imminent.

What I can tell you is that my Tesla screams at me with shrill beeps if it detects a stopped car in front of me and automatically applies the breaks in plenty of time.  I believe this feature is being implemented in all new cars.  Oh, then if all new cars have increased safety measures like this is there a real difference we can use to promote electric vehicles?

This my friends is the critical thinking we need.  It is not just about what we know now or think is going to happen in the markets.  It is framed up by that quote by the most famous hockey players of all time, Wayne Gretsky, when asked why he was so much better than any other player.  “The answer is simple.  Others skate to where the puck is.  I skate to where the puck is going!”

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.