Alarmism vs. Information?

Haven’t you noticed that the level of alarming rhetoric has now replaced news reporting?  I used to joke that the advertisements for the evening news might ask: “Does homework cause cancer?  News at 7!”  The intent was clearly to make you watch the news, and sure enough, when you waited till the last story the answer was “no.”  Innocent fun just to get you to watch?  I think we all know the reason the alarmism has amped up. and it is summed up in the journalism adage: “if it bleeds, it leads”.

We now have crossed a line in my opinion.  If you read the attached article, you will see the headline from USA Today is: ‘Calm before the storm’: Health insurance costs set to spike after they stayed mostly flat in 2022, survey finds.  Focus on health insurance costs set to spike.  Doesn’t that worry you?  It worried me.

Then, read the story itself and you will find absolutely no supporting proof that anything of the sort is about to happen.  Sure, there are concerns about future price increases, but anyone who knows anything about health care understands that general inflation does not necessarily result in proportional price increases.  The article actually has a lot of very interesting information, but the title is alarmist.

If the article said: “Health insurance costs MAY increase due to inflation” it would have been a big yawn.  Inflation hits most things.  Spike?  That is much bigger than 8-10% increases.  Natural gas prices are set to spike for the multitude of reasons we all know.  We noticed this same misleading and offensive trend in creating headlines just days after hurricane Ian hit Fort Meyers putting more than 2 million customers out of service.  Headline:  500,000 Customers in West Florida Remain Out of Power. What about the incredible fact that 1.2 million customers had been restored?  Right, that would be too uplifting and honest. Nothing sufficiently alarming in that headline.

Watch the same pattern as you read anything about climate change being the cause of just about everything negative happening anywhere in the world….fires, floods, earthquakes, depletion of the ocean’s fish, which is more about overfishing than anything else.  In fact, I was a little surprised the media didn’t blame increases in health care on climate change … but they probably will in the future because they will want to shift the focus from a fact that defeats their predictions about climate change.  Do you remember when NOAH predicted this was going to be a much more severe storm season?  In fact, we are about to finish the hurricane season with much fewer storms than in the past.

Is Cheating Ethical?

Of course not!  Well, let’s step back from the abyss just a bit and look at how widespread this has become.  We could start with transgender sports issues where men “identify” as women, but that one is too volatile right now.

Let’s start with cheating on tests.  The recent article in the Wall Street Journal  indicates modern competitive pressures coupled with easy technology choices has proven just too alluring, so cheating is rampant.  My progressive friends will quickly support these poor individuals and want to lower test score expectations or eliminate testing entirely.

Something funny happened to me in high school.  A student sitting slightly behind me to one side copied my answers to a multiple-choice test.  I guess she thought I was a good student, but it turns out that this was in my worst subject: history.  So, when she too got a lousy grade, she had the nerve to get in my face and complain!  I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “I am not good at this subject.”

But let’s consider how many employees companies believe they have working for them today are also working full-time for someone else, or perhaps just “consulting on the side” in some way.  If we are being honest, the employee agreements we sign specifically disallow this, without some accepted exceptions.

Our remote work environments make this almost too easy.  But something else is at work here:  There is a noticeable shift in expectation among some younger employees that work must be meaningful and fulfilling to them … that they have to feel connected to a greater good or cause, or they simply go into hiding and start looking for somewhere else to work.

The result is you see many applicants for your jobs who have had 10 jobs in as many years.  When you ask them about that, they give you vague answer like, “I am just trying to find myself …”

Somewhere along the way, the definition of work has shifted from things that need to get done to opportunities to enrich your personal lives.  A high-level executive at SDG&E once told me she told employees, “It’s called work for a reason.  It’s not called play.”  Work performing essential tasks and as you get better at that, it is part of the reason people get promoted, which by the way, tends to be much slower than today’s newbies expect.

For some reason, they seem to think that simply showing up reliably for a few months deems them so good they deserve a promotion.  They believe work/life balance means work must fit into their lives.  They do not answer emails outside of working hours … if they even answer them there.

We shouldn’t be surprised given they have been coddled in life playing T Ball and other sports where everyone gets a trophy.  They have been told they are smarter than we are and shouldn’t put up with our traditional points of view.  Ask them.  If they feel safe, they will tell you these things.



How do you Define Real?

I understand how some foods started to use Real in their name … in part because of the competition from look-alike “FAKE” substitutes.  You may not realize the subtle changes in processed cheese where the whey left over from making REAL cheese is now manufactured into CHEESE FOOD as it is called.

In this case, it is a very clever way of extending the food chain since whey is so difficult to dispose of.  And, most of us quickly learn that cheese food is a far cry from the flavor and texture of real cheese.  Perhaps the FDA should be doing more to educate us on this, but that is not my point.  Now we have an entirely new category of food that is “simulating” the process by which it normally occurs, but is no longer a natural biologic product.

Here is the announcement from Food Weekly, a publication of

“Real milk, but without the cow, is what companies want. Food businesses from across the globe invested in and partnered with startups using precision fermentation technology to manufacture dairy from microflora. Rapidly reproducing microscopic fungi with incorporated whey or casein genes produce a protein genetically identical to that milked from cows.

The deals included ADM’s partnership with California-based New Culture, a startup developing animal-free mozzarella cheese. The two companies aim to partner on product development and commercialization services to approach a commercial mozzarella launch in 2023.

Perfect Day is another big player in this field. After bringing an animal-free chocolate bar to market with Mars in June, Nestlé jumped on the bandwagon. The Consumer Packaged Goods giant works toward launching chocolate and plain milk alternatives in the coming months that draw on Perfect Day’s dairy from precision fermentation. With this move, Nestlé works toward meeting growing consumer demand for alternative dairy products.

Lastly, New Zealand’s Fonterra, the world’s sixth-largest dairy company supplying 30 percent of global dairy, has decided to heat up the playing field. It launched its own precision fermentation dairy startup in collaboration with the Dutch bioscience company DSM, aiming to get its share of the market and stay on top of leading innovation and science.”

Really?  Real milk without the cow?  Do we really think this is an identical twin?  I am alarmed that we rush to solutions like this without due diligence.  Haven’t we learned anything from cigarette substitutes at all?  Don’t we remember Olestra?  How many times have we seen artificial sweeteners come and go with almost no coverage of their damaging effects?  Are we not aware of the dangers of corn based sweeteners that are ravaging our health?

We really need to be a bit more careful, don’t you think?

Fake it till you make it?

Entrepreneurs need to be optimistic of course, but there is a fine line between that and fraud.  Then again, maybe optimism and fraud are simply perspectives on the same thought.  After all, fraud is the point of view that someone has violated some truth formula … but that determination is potentially flawed for countless reasons.

One only has to look at history to see how some of the greatest ideas were so heretical at the time that the proponents were deemed fraudulent.  Plus, we all admire aspirational goals, especially if presented by charismatic individuals like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.  Think about it … did you think Elon was aspirational or fraudulent in his goal to create reusable rockets to conquer space.

Individuals like Musk prove you can attract capital for a multitude of reasons that go far beyond greed or even financial reward.  Many investors will back an idea simply on the grounds of it being a noble one.

But, none of us wants to be duped or even mislead, so the recent indictment of Nikola Founder Trevor Milton is just one more reminder.  Elizabeth Homes with Theranos also comes to mind.

So, we should be concerned with many startups today following the dream of a low carbon future.  We want these ideas to work, but all too many of them are just as bogus as Nikola and Theranos.

How can you smoke out the good from the bad?  There is no sure formula, but my decades of product development experience can offer some proven guidelines:

  1. Nothing happens quickly: Oh sure, you can point out that electronic improvement s do, but in fundamental markets like energy, they just don’t.  I worked for the company that developed the Plug Power fuel cells and that idea was five years away from commercialization 40 years ago.  The idea is still five years away from true commercial viabilitiy.
  2. Nothing replaces existing fleets or installed bases of technology: The idea that we are going to ban internal combustion cars is a noble goal and to some extent believable for new vehicles, but the existing fleet of vehicles will persist long into the future.
  3. Revolutionary ideas like hydrogen and fusion are illusions: Sure, you can imagine a world with hydrogen replacing natural gas in some ways, but you first have to figure out how to make hydrogen cheaply, store it and transport it, and then replace the existing technology that uses some form of internal combustion.  You can’t change diesel engines to run on pure hydrogen.  You can imagine gas turbine redesigns … but see point 2 above.

I am sure to get some criticism for being such a negative person.  I am not.  I am simply a realist.  I know how to design any power system you can mention.  We can incrementally improve what we are doing of course, but the idea these rules simply dominate the world.

Politicians of course can promise the world … and then tax us to pay for the attempt.  Once again, watch Planet of the Humans for proof that the billions spent on solar, and wind have really changed anything.


Surviving the Energy Journey

Written by: Susan Gilbert, CEO and Co-Founder Apogee Interactive, Inc.

Joel keynoted the annual J.D. Power meeting for energy and water utilities in Austin, Texas.  He had been asked by the executive director of that organization to “kick the butts” of the industry, but Joel chose to offer humorous relevant stories and illustrations from his own life that pointed out the same needs and would hopefully stick with them.

The overarching theme was that we all need to sharpen our listening skills and to dig deeper into the underlying reasons why people feel the way they do about issues and challenges.  Joel suggested that we eliminate the words “or” or “vs” when we encounter differences of opinion.  To illustrate this, Joel pointed out that beneficial electrification is trendy, it needs to be expanded to beneficial gasification.  Therefore, while EVs are popular, the future will include both electric and natural gas vehicles, as it does now.  So, it is not gas vs electric … it is gas and electric.  Joel pointed out that the blend of these will shift over the next few decades as the grid becomes less carbon intensive, but that right now, we must have natural gas in the mix.

Some of Joel’s stories shared how we “heard what he wanted to hear” as he and I heard a pitch for a timeshare vacation rental.  We attended the sales pitch but were impressed that the asking price to stay at that vacation spot was only $4,500 for 28 years use.  Given we had $1,000 to stay there, and the maintenance fee was only $150 a year, it seemed interesting.  The salesperson realized some hesitation so she offered it at $3,500 if we wouldn’t tell anyone else (yeah … right).

Joel’s final question was “how often do hurricanes hit a place like this?” and of course she had the answer on her top of mind with “we haven’t had a hurricane hit here in 37 years!”  At the time, Joel took that to mean that the odds were good, but he should have considered the statistically more likely answer: they were due!! So, he learned a lesson when the next year Hurricane Gilbert swept across Cancun Mexico and wiped out much of the property.  Maintenance costs went to $600 and of course who wanted to go back to that property until it was fully restored … so there was another $100 to exchange it.  Joel’s lesson here is that we hear what we want to hear.  By the way, Hurricane Gilbert came ashore as a Cat 5 storm with 200 mph winds.

Joel also pointed out that there are many things today that polarize conversations, and he pointed to the Rand Corporation called Truth Decay illustrates the challenges with how diverse points of view colors what they consider truth.  This requires us to be adept at bridging gaps rather than merely sticking to our talking points.  Perhaps one of the funniest segments of his talk was when he read from some the 1952, Armon Sweat, Jr. testimony in the Texas House of Representatives about his position on whiskey. What follows is his exact answer (from the Political Archives of Texas):

“If when you say whiskey, you mean the devil’s brew, the poisonous scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, and takes bread from the mouths of little children.  If you mean that evil drink that topples Christian men and women from the pinnacles of righteous and gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, shame, despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fiber of my being.”

However, if when you say whiskey you mean that oil of conversation, that philosophic wine consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean the stimulating sip that puts a spring in the step of an elderly man on a frosty morning; if you mean that drink that enables man, to forget if for a moment life’s great tragedies, heartbreaks and sorrow; if you mean that nectar of the gods through the sale of which pours untold millions of dollars each year into our treasuries, that provides tender care for our crippled children, and infirmed, and builds the finest highways, hospitals, universities, and community colleges in this nation, then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favor of it.

This is my position, and as always, I refuse to compromise on matters of principle.”

Attendees were riveted by some of Joel’s one-liners like:  “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.” Or his quote from the late Jim Rogers, the President of Duke Power who warned his audiences that “If you’re not at the table, you’re likely to be on the menu!”

As Joel said, when you have a road trip with children these days, they don’t ask you the same questions they did decades ago “are we there yet?”  Now the big challenge is whether they are “with you on the journey at all or in their own worlds?”

We are all on this journey and it is going to be challenging, but we must learn to listen and learn from each other along the way.  Once again, Joel suggested several resources for further reading along with watching the free movie on Amazon Prime called Planet of the Humans.