The Ground Beneath our Feet

Modern society has taught us a lot about the earth.  The ancients didn’t know what caused volcanoes to erupt or why the ground moved with earthquakes.  Tectonic plates moving progressively away or toward each other would have seemed incomprehensible.  It made more sense that these were the results of gods that needed to be appeased.

Yet, with all this science comes an arrogance that somehow when we do something to disturb the natural balance that we can get away with it.  Sure we can on a small scale, but eventually it catches up with us.

I remember when it was OK to take the oil from my car when I changed it and “reused” it to kill weeds on the fenceposts in my back yard.  Me doing that alone would hardly destroy the environment so it didn’t prick my conscience to do it at the time as it would now.

Well, at scale things like this matter and the consequences of horizontal drilling and fracking with water are coming home to roost just as underground coal mining in Pennsylvania has resulted in huge subsidence situations there.  Read it for yourself on the Wall Street Journal.  Or this pdf copy.

We should be learning that all ideas at scale disturb the environment.  We know now that large solar arrays kill birds.  We know the latest generations of wind turbines do the same and can wipe out species.  Yet, we persist in believing that solar and wind are the saviors of the planet.

I have warned my clients that it will only take one environmentally disastrous event to kill off horizontal drilling (fracking) and that will double or triple fuel prices.  Every time I said that in a public venue I could see the nodding heads.

Well, if you all believe me, you are culpable for failing to plan your energy resources when this happens.

Notice I did not say IF this happens … the handwriting is already on the wall and double spaced for easy reading.

The Newest Customer Engagement Paradigm: I’ll bet I can?!?!

The new year seems to always be a good time to vow to take better care of ourselves and others.  One of the most common “resolutions” is to lose weight, work out, etc.  But, something new emerged in the commercials recently … a place where you could actually make money losing weight.

My nature is always to look for the gimmick.  There are several of course, but as you take a closer look at this for yourself, consider the reason that the lottery and Las Vegas all thrive so well.  The odds are well known, but there is something exciting and invigorating about the process of betting.

Unbeknownst to me, a whole online industry has sprung up over the past year or so forming betting competitions about weight loss.  Yes, you bet you can lose more weight than anyone else in a period of time, and win some serious money if you do.

Check out and as just two examples.  Those of us who study online customer engagement approaches would call this gamification, and it certainly is in every way.  However, it does something more than just align with dopamine cycles in our brains.

We had a “casino night” for our annual company Christmas party and I watched in absolute wonder at the tables that drew the biggest groups:  craps and roulette.  Anyone who knows statistics like I do just shakes their head at these games since the “odds are stacked against you” … it is only a matter of time before you lose your money.

But, you watched people yell out “encouragement” to whomever threw the dice at the craps table as if somehow the dice were listening and could be influenced, or that the thrower was some form of a dice mechanic (and yes folks, there are people who learn to hold dice a certain way and throw them very precisely so they can increase their odds).

So, there is something to be learned here.  But, I am also a bit perplexed by the societal responsibility around allowing things like the lottery to exist.  We have it in Georgia and our son benefited from it because it is used to fund education in Georgia.  Boy did that lower the cost of college!

However, when you look at the demographic of people who play the lottery and the amount of money they throw away, you really can’t help but feel it is a tax on stupidity to pay for the education of others.

Does the lottery work to raise money?  Of course.  It is based upon the same ideas of Las Vegas.  Yes there are a few winners, but in general, the only winners are the house.

Does this concern change when people spend their own money to bet they can lose weight and feel good about it?  Personally, I get concerned that the people who can least afford to spend their money on these bets do so … in a form of addiction.

I know what I need to do!  I am going to put up an online therapy website and call it Weight Loss Gambling Anonymous.


Where are our Sentinels?

Perhaps you are old enough to know that miners kept canaries in the coal mines to detect carbon monoxide gases … which affect them much more than humans.  So, the miners seeing a dead bird could exit the mine before they passed out and died as well.

These are called sentinels: animals that can warn us of danger.  Some of you may have a dog who has warned you of a nearby snake or an intruder.  Many animals have much higher sensitivities to smells and sounds than we do.

Where are ours for life today?  Are they like the prophets of old … screaming at us from street corners holding placards about our impeding doom?  Are they the academics who have studied for decades and can point to things we would never have noticed?

Some call these individuals “seers” … people who can see beyond what we see.  I have been called this by my dearly departed partner, Dick Niess.  I became known in the energy industry because my stance on customer service was so refreshingly different than the “take it or leave it” mindset that prevailed.

However, my days of being a sentinel are over.  I am not getting back on that horse and certainly not going to tilt at windmills the way I did when I was younger.

For those of you who don’t remember, I was the one that pulled the plug on all that cogeneration nonsense in the 1980s.  I then pulled the plug on the ozone depletion game, developed the game to teach the industry what was going to really happen with deregulation, and then developed the parallel game for energy trading which helped the industry understand what Enron was really doing.

It has been quite a ride … but my days as a sentinel are just about over.  I have been blogging on industry issues for eight years … about 400 issues.  I appreciate the encouragement that some of you have offered, but I must admit that I think my voice is falling on deaf ears.

Please let me know if you are Ok with that.  I suspect I will only get one or two comments that I should continue at which point I guess I will rest my case.

Tuning into the Right Channels

One of my first science projects as a kid was to make a crystal radio that I would listen to using an earphone.  Perhaps you remember doing the same thing where when you were done you would touch different areas of the crystal to find a signal … and sometimes that signal was from a very distant source in another language.

Later on I learned more about how it worked, but it always fascinated me that “information” could move through thin air such great distances so freely.  At that time of course all of this information was being sent deliberately by someone in real time … there were no recordings yet that could be replayed.

So, what was the intent of these messages?  I never heard a distress call, and at the time if I had there was no way for me to tell anyone in real time.  Phones were not here yet.  The first black and white TVs were on the market and their broadcasts were in real time … and they all shut down at 11 or 12 at night.

There were only three or four channels back then to watch and doing so often involved holding the rabbit ears antenna at just the right position … and may have even required that someone continue to hold onto it to get the best signal … which at the time was at most about a 320 x 240 grayscale image.

You had to change the channels and adjust the volume by going up to the TV set … yes, and I did have to walk uphill to school both ways.  My point with all this was that it was a big deal to tune into a channel.  In a sense, it was a commitment to watch the program.

Some of the programming was absolutely ludicrous … especially the depictions of rocket ships which were crude models using sparklers spitting out sparks to simulate propulsion.  Some programming was pure adventure such as Lloyd Bridges as Tarzan or vaudeville acts like Howdy Doody.  But, it was so much better than just listening to the radio or a 78 rpm record in those days.

Everyone had to agree to watch the same thing … and back then I don’t remember that as a battle.  It became such a craze that it spawned a new type of food: TV dinners.  These were aluminum trayed full meals you could eat while watching.  I think you get the picture.  Choices were simpler.

Today’s viewers have vastly more choices … a bewildering array.  Yet, most of us do not spend a lot of time “channel surfing” to see all that is available.  We are creatures of habit tuning into the same small array.  We don’t seem to like choices … so why are so many offered?

Precisely because we are all seeking different things now.  I have occasionally viewed the shopping channels and have to wonder whether this is a form of addiction.  Things are on sale so I must need them?  They must be effective marketing methods for them to exist.  There are channels that replay some of my favorite TV from my youth … and yes, I occasionally watch those to relive my childhood.

But, the majority of the major channels now have done something almost evil in their programming.  They have decided to “take a side” on modern issues and not broadcast the news but to take an advocacy position interpreting the news.

Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite and others who simply reported what had happened that day.