Thinking Positively about Negatives

Francis Maseres

While the first set of rules for dealing with negative numbers was stated in the 7th century by the Indian mathematician Brahmagupta, it is surprising that in 1758 the British mathematician Francis Maseres claimed that negative numbers “… darken the very whole doctrines of the equations and make dark of the things which are in their nature excessively obvious and simple.”

Maseres and his contemporary, William Friend, took the view that negative numbers did not exist. However, other mathematicians around the same time had decided that negative numbers could be used as long as they had been eliminated during the calculations where they appeared.

It was not until the 19th century when British mathematicians like De Morgan, Peacock, and others, began investigating the ‘laws of arithmetic’ in terms of logical definitions that the problem of negative numbers was finally sorted out.

Against that backdrop, it should come as no surprise that negative interest rates showing up now in Europe are met with surprise. Yet, they simply reflect that invisible-hand governed by the laws of supply-and-demand. If there is too much money seeking a place, then you will have to pay people to take it!!

As I read about green hydrogen, I am tempted to recoil at anyone using solar this wastefully … but if I think about the negatives positively, it simply becomes an active agent in the energy portfolio when the use in this way becomes a least-cost or most expedient storage medium. Once again, that invisible hand is at work.

However, we humans have a tough time thinking about negatives positively. It is almost cultural to think of a negative number as some sort of failure. Negative numbers in any management reporting system seem like losses.

Maybe not.



A prior blog looked at insects for protein sources.  That idea is far from new in many parts of the world.  But, our 23 year old son found one for renewable energy.  Not sure how we will feed all these insects to keep them going, and it is far from clear to me how you would take the energy expended by these insects and harvest it as electricity.  Perhaps the idea is to simply use them for air movement in the home.

On a serious note, consider the point of view in this cartoon.  They are poking fun at people who are making claims about energy.  It is hard to tell, but could it be that they think all the claims of renewables dominating the energy sources within 20 years are a bit far-fetched?  Could it be that they are doubting the energy grandstanding you see almost everywhere along with the virtue signaling of major corporations.  It is hard to know.

I entered this business with the common belief that fuel cells were about five years off from being economic.  It is now 40 years later and they are still about five years off.  We thought oil was going to be more than $100 a barrel and we were going to run out of it by 1990 or the latest 2000.

Our “woke” society will not permit making fun of this as you know.  I am sure to get criticism for expressing the facts.  They simply do not align with what we are being told to expect.

I do hope we move to reduce our carbon footprints, recycle and reuse more of the things in our lives, and live gently on this planet.  I certainly do hope we don’t do what China did for decades … limit the number of children out of a fear of not being able to provide for them.

But, I wonder when people are going to wake up and realize that we are talking about decades of change and while we are enabling those changes we need all the sources we can rightfully and cost effectively use to move towards these lofty goals.  So, when is the obvious going to be made clear to those who want to ban natural gas in new construction now decades ahead of any carbon free electricity concepts in the regions where they are banning natural gas?  Where is all the electricity going to come from in the near term to power all these fleet electric vehicles being purchased by the large national accounts?  Yep, you’ve got that right … the incremental carbon emitter will be natural gas in most cases.

I remember giving a lecture on carbon accountability to the national accounts which started out by placing a water bottle on the podium.  I reminded them that bottled water would become the scarlet letter to environmental agendas and that landfills and our oceans could not withstand the continued waste in our societies.  That was and still is the big issue … yet I don’t hear any politicians talk against bottled water.  I remember when the speed limit was reduced to 55 because our energy crisis was the moral equivalent of war.  If we really care why wouldn’t we do that again?

Stay tuned … this has to catch up with reality eventually.

Anthropomorphism or True Empathy?

Photo: Tobias Baumgaertner

A photographer named Tobias Baumgaertner spent three nights with a little penguin colony in St. Kilda, Melbourne Australia and was able to snap this photograph. We see a slightly taller black penguin with his flipper on the back of a smaller silver penguin. Thanks to a volunteer on site, Baumgaertner was able to learn more about these penguins.

“A volunteer approached me and told me that the white one was an elderly lady who had lost her partner and apparently so did the younger male to the left,” Baumgaertner wrote. “Since then they meet regularly comforting each other and standing together for hours watching the dancing lights of the nearby city.”

He wasn’t allowed to use any lights and the penguins kept moving their flippers, but his tenacity finally paid off.  “The way that these two lovebirds were caring for one another stood out from the entire colony,” he shared. “While all the other penguins were sleeping or running around, those two seemed to just stand there and enjoy every second they had together, holding each other in their flippers and talking about penguin stuff.”

While it’s a romantic story it may not be entirely accurate. Earthcare St. Kilda, a non-profit that manages the colony, wrote that the penguins might actually be related. They identified the penguin on the right as a pre-molt adult and the penguin on the left as a juvenile that may be the offspring of the adult.

Stories like this seem to always offer us two alternatives: to see God’s handiwork or to see life as nothing more than science and random events. If you do check this out you will of course see many rightful cautions about “anthropomorphic” bias we may have. After all, our perspective is that of a human. It would be wonderful if we could somehow truly understand what these two penguins were actually thinking and saying to each other.

To me, the beauty of this is that we can’t know for sure. And, just like all other areas of faith and hope we are left with the free will of making that choice. I hope you choose to see this as heartwarming as I do.

Packaging Environmental Truth

It is encouraging to see the seeming consensus these days on environmental sustainability.  Everyone seems onboard with cleaning up the rivers, lakes and oceans, especially when it comes to recycling and reclaiming plastics.  We also seem to be on a path that might lead to a lower carbon future with the increases in solar and wind sources.  Nuclear still may have a play as well.  Things are looking up to most.

Scientific reporting tends to follow funding so what gets funded gets reported … except when it is not welcomed by the public.  All you have to do is read any of Dr. Frans de Waal’s books on primates to see clear evidence of the way the scientific community blocked his research and publications because he found human-like qualities in primates.  The idea that we could have any genetic relationship parallels to primates flew in the face of creationist points of view.  Ironically his book called Chimpanzee Politics is required reading for freshmen congress participants!  You may be wondering why I bring this into the conversation, but it will be patently obvious once I give you a few more background thoughts.

I have been trying to alert everyone to the new concept called circularity which is now in common use that tries to capture bigger ideas than energy use alone.  That seems like a logical extension of thought… no worries there.  But, what I want you to consider is what the scientific community believes is at the root of all our problems today: consumption.  They want us to use less.  They want us to live simply.  The want us to want less.  Will that sell?  I am not so sure.

Here is an article that should be a wakeup call.  It is titled: Affluence is Killing the Planet.  In this article is a summary of the research on the underlying factors. 

As you scan these writings you are forced to consider whether we are not headed into a good one at all until and unless we change attitudes about wanting.

Consider this: Isaac Singer (1902-1991) was a Jewish-American story teller who wrote “The Son from America” which tells the story of Samuel who was born in a Polish village moves to America, works hard, and does well.  Each month he sends money back to his parents in Poland and several times a year his parents would exchange them for gold coins.  Samuel grows up and after 40 years returns to visit his parents only to find they are living exactly the same way as when he left forty years earlier.  Samuel asks his father what he had done with the money and his father drags out an old boot filled with gold coins.  Samuel asks “Why hadn’t he spent it?”  His father replied, “On what?  Thank God, we have everything!”  Samuel spent the next day observing the people of the town he thought was so poverty-stricken.  He had brought a suitcase full of gifts, along with donations from others.  He father insisted they had enough and that “no one sleeps in the street.”

Do you think any politician in this country would try to peddle this kind of thinking?  Nope.

Do you remember anyone in history who said this same thing?

Tesla Redefines Emissions

We are all well aware that Tesla has redefined the automotive paradigms.  So much so in fact that an electric vehicle is no longer considered just a geeky idea.  It is fun to drive and even stylish. It comes with a placeholder license plate you exchange for the valid one in your state which says zero emissions.

Perhaps you were not aware that there is a software update that allows you to explicitly include an audible emission we all know about.  Yes, it is called Fart Mode … no, I am not making this up!  You can surprise your passengers if you set it up in advance so that it converts their seat into a whoopie cushion.  But, just like everything else in the car, it can be user specified to create a personalized audible.

Why would anyone offer such a silly and potentially offensive option?  Is this just one more illustration of the immaturity of Elon Musk?  Or is it one more stroke of his brilliance?

Time will tell, but good marketers know things like this spread virally and create awareness.  Also, just ask any Tesla owner or even those in their families how they feel about their cars.  You had better allow some time because you are going to hear a lot.  These cars create an emotional connection.  And, just like all of us, that requires some kind of “connection” we establish.  It could be because of feeling good about what the car stands for, how it performs, how safe it is, etc.

Pay close attention to this man.  He is painfully aware of the long term implications of his ideas.  Perhaps you haven’t been watching but he has built out a network of fast chargers that permit his cars to travel anywhere with very short recharge times.  I have personally driven from Atlanta to Miami several times and took my Model S to Boston once.  It was a lovely trip.  You have to plan your stops and be prepared for a lower average speed from point to point due to charging, but it is really not a problem.  Where do you think all these look alike cars being offered are going to charge?  Do you think they will build out their own networks?

Perhaps you should also study how he plans to source the batteries over time, moving away from rare earth elements.  Yes, he has a wild side … and that bothers traditional white collar execs.  But, I think he is one of the few execs with any kind of personality left in the United States and perhaps in the world.  He is not afraid of pushing the edge, even when it might not be politically correct.  Kind of fun to watch …