Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine . . ."

On Friday, April 16, 2010, BP engineer Brett Cocales wrote in an e-mail:

"Even if the hole is perfectly straight, a straight piece of pipe even in tension will not seek the perfect center of the hole unless it has something to centralize it.

But, who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine, and we'll get a good cement job.  I would rather have to squeeze that set stuck above the {wellhead}.  So Guide is right on the risk/reward equation."

As Joel Achenbach points out is his excellent book, A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea:The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher - - what a disaster this e-mail was.  The book looks at the BP disaster from the engineer's perspective.  Achenbach writes the following about e-mail and words:

"Words are like overpressurized reservoirs.  They can explode.  Words can go rogue, off the reservation, gamboling about the media landscape, pillaging and plundering - - a mess of mixed metaphors being any one possible nightmare.  All that anyone would remember of the April 16 Cocales' e-mail was that awful verbal shrug:"

Who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine . . .

I think words really make a difference - - what you say, how you say it.  A lot of energy needs to go into how you present the idea, the issue, the problem, the solution - - especially in the age of e-mail that lives forever.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Interface Reviews

Periodic project and program reviews are an important tool for reviewing the status and details of work progress at a particular point in time.  Typically it is a great time to review the details of project performance - - cost, schedule, quality, and the meeting of design requirements.  Most often viewed as a control function - - the process allows for change and adjustments.

As a separate step in the project and program reviews, consider having "Interface Reviews."  Think in terms of the systems that interface with the project or program.  Particular review and status updates are critical where one system interfaces with another system.  The term system should be broadly defined.  Physical systems are a given - - where a civil engineering system interfaces with a mechanical system is a source of risk that needs special attention and care.  Several issues are key at interface points - - who or whom is taking ownership and accountability; and have design requirements been fully communicated across the interface point?

Systems are not just physical systems.  Think in terms of the interface between or among subcontractors and partners.  Schedule, cost, and quality need special care at these points.  Regulatory interface points are also key - - have you secured the appropriate permits and approvals?  This type of interface point needs to be clearly visible on the critical path.

Remember the project interface points in your next review - - these can be a big concern and a source of risk.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

It's The Same Stuff

Water is important.  Water is critical.  Water is cheap - - to the point the pricing would indicate it has no or limited economic value.  A carrot farmer in the Imperial Valley can get about 30,000 pounds of carrots from one acre of land.  These carrots will need about $114 worth of water to grow.  When I go into my local Kroger's grocery store, the three-pound bag of carrots from California required 217 gallons of water to grow - - and it cost the farmer one penny. 

Our disconnect between water and economic value is not just limited to carrot farms.  Even though it has the same atomic structure, water is weirdly priced.  Consider the following:
  • The average home in the U.S. pays $3.24 for 1,000 gallons of water.
  • The average home in Las Vegas pays $2.71 for 1,000 gallons of water. 
  • A farmer in the Imperial Valley pays $0.06 for 1,000 gallons of water.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Conflict Rivers - - The River Nile

While we were all witnessing revolt and change in Egypt this spring, the Nile just kept on flowing.  The Nile is the world's longest river, starting in the Ethiopian highlands.  Geography has always put the rulers of Ethiopia in a position of power - - yet they have dared never to exploit this power.  Until recently.

While Egypt has been distracted, Ethiopia and the other upstream countries, Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, have banded together to rewrite the 1959 treaty that favors Egypt.  Consider the changing facts since 1959 - - Ethiopia has overtaken Egypt as Africa's second-most populated country.  The total population of the upstream countries in 240 million against 130 million for the downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan - - keep in mind that Sudan is splitting.  The southern portion of Sudan could conceivability end up with the upstream coalition). 

So what is Ethiopia up to?  The Grand Millennium Dam - - a planned hydro-power project in the 5.25 gigawatts range.  It is the centerpiece of a plan to increase the country's electricity supply fivefold by 2015.  The intersection of water and energy (one person's "water and energy" is another person's "water or energy") on a conflict river, in a conflict area, in a conflict region.  The Chinese appear to be playing banker.  Keep an eye on the CNN headlines - - "Egypt and Ethiopia quarrel over water."

Excellent article on the subject in the April 23rd The Economist - - The River Nile: A dam nuisance.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The flattening of the world, or not

The High Priest of Flatness, Tom Friedman, explained Globalization 1.0 to all of us in his book The World is Flat.  The book explains ". . . how the flattening of the world happened at the dawn of the twenty-first century, what it means to countries, companies, communities, and individuals, how governments and societies can, and must, adapt."  Clearly globalization has happened, it is happening, and will probably accelerate in the future. 

Flatness has always been a relative term, dependent on context.  Pankaj Ghemawate of the IESE Business School in Spain has a wonderful new book, Globalization 3.0, that makes a powerful argument that what we have really been experiencing is a kind of semi-globalization.  Flatness yes, but  with plenty of mountains.  He has the numbers to illustrate his point.  Consider for example:
  • Only 2% of students are at universities outside their home countries.
  • Only 3% of people live outside their country of birth.
  • Only 7% of rice is traded across borders.
  • Only 7% of directors of S&P companies are foreigners.
  • Less that 1% of all American companies have any foreign operations.
  • Exports are equivalent to only 20% of global GDP.
  • Air travel is restricted by bilateral treaties and ocean shipping is dominated by cartels.
  • 42% more trade if they share a common language than if they do not.
  • 47% more if both belong to a trading block.
  • 114% more if they have a common currency.
  • 118% more if they have a common colonial past.
  • Foreign direct investment accounts for only 9% of all fixed investment.
  • Less than 20% of venture capital is deployed outside the fund's home country.
  • The world spends $88 billion a year on processing travel documents and in a tenth of the world's countries a passport costs more than a tenth of the average annual income.
  • Nearly a quarter of North American and European companies shortened their supply chains in 2008.
  • The worldwide Internet has seen governments impose a patchwork of local restrictions on content.
  • 60 years ago, two car companies accounted for half of the world's car production - - compared with six companies today.  We are hardly being taken over by a handful of giant companies.
  • McDonald's serves vegetarian burgers in India and spicy ones in Mexico.
  • Coca-Cola uses both sugar cane and corn syrup, depending on the location.
  • MTV in Indonesia - - plenty of "A-lop-bop-a-doo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom" mixed in with five calls to prayer daily.
Globalization is a force and it will probably be a bigger force in the future. One important point - - globalization and long supply chains need a key variable.  Cheap energy.  Take away the "cheap" part, you probably take away some degree of "flatness" also.  Beware of globalization as an ideology - - ideologies never present the facts.  The facts have plenty of mountains within all the flatness.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Welcome to Fiji

Fiji Water is the No. 1 imported bottled water in the United States, besting Perrier and Evian.  President Obama and his family were photographed drinking Fiji Water on election night.  Fiji Water is the leading export of Fiji.

Consider the following report from the United Nations - -

"In the Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment in 2000, the coverage of the population in Fiji with access to an improved water supply was recorded as 43% for the rural areas (80% of the population) and 51% for the urban areas (20% of the population) indicating that water coverage throughout Fiji remains low.  This is particularly evident in the rural areas where the Fiji Public Works Department (PWD) considered 51% as an over-optimistic estimate."

The world is flat, but hardly fair.  A country that cannot supply its own citizens adequate water, yet water from an aquifer on the isolated north coast of Fiji's main island - -
  • Gets bottled in a state-of-the art factory,
  • gets packed up @ 1,000,000 bottles per day,
  • gets shipped via the Panama Canal,
  • gets consumed in hip clubs in Miami (7,480 miles from Fiji).
Save, pure, and refreshing - - except in Fiji.  We love our bottled water.  From Fiji to the Swiss Alps - - roughly $4.00 per gallon.  Nothing speaks more to the issue of "Energy or Water" than bottled water and shipping.  We're moving one billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United State alone.  Roughly 37,000 18-wheelers moving water around just in the U.S. (and because of the tremendous weight, you cannot pack the trucks full).  And don't forget we recycle only 27% of the plastic bottles in the U.S. - - roughly 36 billion end up in landfills (115 water bottles per person).

Fiji Water is a miniature miracle of the modern global economy and a sign of how unsustainable it has become.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

If you don't question the status quo, you're not doing your job

The link between dreaming and doing is discipline.  Doing things differently and doing different things requires planning, openness to input, tweaking , and persistence.  It also requires employees to think like a scientist.  Engineers and managers should understand the value of "test and learn" where a handful of business experiments can potentially yield big benefits.

Consider the seven rules of experimentation, developed by Eric Anderson, a professor of marketing at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management - -
  1. Focus on individuals and think short term. - - The most accurate experiments involve actions to individual customers, rather than segments or geographies.
  2. Keep it simple. - - Look for experiments that are easy to execute using existing resources and staff.
  3. Start with a proof-of-concept test. - - First establish proof-of-concept by changing variables in whatever combination you believe is most likely to get the result you want.
  4. When the results come in, slice the data. - - When the data comes in, look for subgroups because most actions affect some customers more than others.
  5. Try out-of-the-box thinking. - - If you never engage in "what-if" thinking, your experiments are unlikely to yield breakthrough improvements.
  6. Measure everything that matters. - - Feedback measures must capture all the relevant effects.
  7. Look for natural experiments. - - If firms can recognize when natural experiments occur, they can learn form them at little or no additional expense.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lessons from Deepwater Horizon and Fukshima

We marked the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon this week.  The Economist noted the event with a great editorial ("In place of safety nets") with a clear message for engineers - - don't assume disasters won't happen at the frontiers of technology.  Presume they will.  Consider the opening paragraph in the article:

Technology does not inflate like a balloon, expanding human power over nature evenly in all directions and at all scales.  It grows like a sea urchin: long spines of ability radiate out towards specific needs and desires.  Some of those spines now reach dizzying  distances, allowing what would once have been impossible tasks; coaxing kilowatt hours by the million from the inner workings of atoms, or driving tiny oil pipes miles through the crust of the Earth.  But spines are brittle, and they stand alone.  When one breaks - - as happened on board the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago or at the Fukshima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan last-month - - there is no ameliorative technology on par with which has failed.  Instead there is floundering; there is improvisation; and there is vast damage.

The article highlights three recommendations regarding coping strategies with brittle technologies - -
  1. Firms involved in these types of complex systems have to accept that if things seem safe and sure in day-to-day operations, disasters still happen.  Things like blowout preventers and backup generators need to word as advertised - - they need to prevent and they need to backup.
  2. You need to develop at least some broadly applicable technologies for repair and remediation before they are needed.  Coping is a real-time event - - the things that you think you will need, have them available.
  3. Situational awareness is invaluable.  Steven Chu, energy secretary, was reportedly shocked to find that the only source of information from the Deepwater Horizon's blowout preventer was a single gauge.  Sensor systems for getting information out of containment vessels, off sea floors, and from all sorts of other out-of-the-way places should be deployed widely and in redundant ways.
Engineers also need a greater understanding of the complexity sciences.  One central lesson that has come through from systemic  failures is the need for a prognostic approach with which one can anticipate problems, rather than relying on the current "react-and-fix" methodology for managing systemic risks.  The engineering communities need concepts, methodologies, and automation tools to model, analyse, predict, explain, and model the behavior of such systems and components in various environments. 

Sometimes its just a matter of translating Engineering into English.  The lessons applied to any complex enterprise - - Take care of the little things.  Pay attention to the stuff that doesn't quite make sense.  Don't ignore those anomalies and hope they'll go away of their own volition.  Respect the rules.  Follow proper procedures.  Don't ignore low-probability, high-consequence scenarios.  Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Water and the Form 10-K

You typically don't find water discussed in a company's Form 10-K (annual report).  For the first time in their history, Coke has written the following under "Raw Materials" - -

Water is a main ingredient in substantially all of our products.  While historically we have not experienced significant water supply difficulties, water is a limited resource in many parts of the world and our Company recognizes water availability, quality and the sustainability of that natural resource for both our operations and also the communities where we operate as one of the key challenges facing our business.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Metrics for Water

Here is a different and new methodology for evaluating the utilization of water.  One gallon of water used by Intel in 2005 generated $5.74 in revenue and $1.29 in profit.  In 2009, a gallon of water generated only $4.37 in revenue and 55 cents in profit.  What is this telling us?  In terms of water, Intel's profitability fell 57% per gallon of water utilized.  This is important because Intel has a stated goal of reducing water per chip below 2007 levels by 2012.  You typically don't see water as a performance metric on CNBC or on a Bloomberg terminal.  Maybe you should.

The term "water neutral" is another interesting metric and much stated goal.  Coke is a good example.  Coke uses enough water in its global operations each day to provide all the water necessary for an American metro area of 1.5 million people.  What "water neutral" means for a company like Coke is rather interesting.  Almost all of Coke's products end up either in the toilet or urinal - - typically the average Coke customer closes the water cycle in a few hours.  The input side of the soft drink - - the corn syrup is another matter.  Very hard to think of Coke as "water neutral" when you start to think of the acres and acres of corn fields in Iowa - - and the water that the corn requires.

More on Intel is at - - Intel Water Footprint.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Oil or Water

I had the opportunity to attend a portion of the Hunt Institutes's Engineering and Humanity Week last Wednesday at SMU in Dallas, Texas.  The Hunter & Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity strives to change the standard of living for the world's poorest populations, including those in the United States.  The week long event was created to raise awareness of the conditions that half of the world's population lives in.

I was able to attend a panel discussion - - "Clean Water & Energy Consumption: On a Collision Course?"  The discussion was moderated by Jeff, Environmental Editor, The Wall Street Journal, who is a resident of Dallas.  The panel include the following:
  • Robert Freling, Executive Director, Solar Electric Light Fund
  • Jeff Fulgham, Chief Sustainability Officer, GE Power & Water
  • Malcom Morris, Chairman & Founder, Living Water International (SMU Alumni)
  • Hunter L. Hunt, CEO & President, Hunt Consolidated Energy (SMU Alumni)
  • Peter Thum, Founder, Ethos Water
Billed as water and energy (more like oil and water) - - the reality is more like water or energy.  You get themes and messages like - - "More energy is important" from half the panelists, while the other half is "But don't take my water to produce more energy."  People, especially those with silo-ed interests, view the world from either an energy perspective or a water perspective.  Rarely do you get holistic and integrative thinking that removes the "or" from the equation, while forcing a broader discussion of Energy+Water.  Engineering really needs to focus more on a systems perspective - - the world of Energy+Water.

This "water or energy" dilemma is becoming more pronounced.  From groundwater concerns relating to hydro-fracking to agricultural water consumption for ethanol production - - the word "or" enters consistently into the debate.

Energy or water also shows up in the power business.  As the world is now painfully aware, keeping nuclear plants near the ocean is not without considerable risk.  Most power plants, regardless of fuel, need massive amounts of water for cooling the steam used to turn the turbine generator.  We have seen with the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant what "energy or water " looks like.

Fernado Fischmann, a Chilean real estate developer and biochemist has come up with an innovative "energy+water" idea.  Using advanced swimming pool filtration (remember that innovation and creative thinking starts with an ability to connect the dots) to cool plants efficiently and eliminate their need to be close to natural bodies of water.  This is a big market - - about 40% of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from plants that draw from nearby lakes, rivers, or oceans - - the heated water then going going back into the environment.

Check out his company - - Crystal Lagoons.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Apollo 11 and Indoor Plumbing

When your parents or grandparents were growing up in the 1940s, 45% of the United States population lived in homes without complete indoor plumbing.  In the 1950s - - approximately 30% still lacked indoor facilities.  We take this fact for granted daily.

President Kennedy provided the nation with a goal in the 60s - - get to the moon by the end of the decade.  This was a huge technological achievement for the country and humankind.  But remember one clear fact - - in 1960, 83% of the houses in the U.S. had indoor plumbing, and 87% and TVs.  In 1970, as we were landing men on the moon, 93% of the homes had indoor facilities and 95% had TVs. 

In 2011, we have come to take both the TV and toilet for granted.  This is especially true of the toilet (we are a flushing nation - - 5.7 billion gallons per day of water just for our residential flushes) and the supporting infrastructure of the toilet.  On just the input side of the toilet (the side where we can store and pump water from hundreds of miles away, treat it to drinking water standards, and then pee into it) - - it takes about $29 billion a year in the U.S. just to keep the supporting infrastructure from falling apart (pipes and water treatment plants).  The average American family spends about $34 a month on its water utility bill - - $408 a year (compare that to your bits and bytes bill - - phone, cable, and Internet service charges).  But the water system - - the pipes, pumps, and treatment plants - - needs $260 per family per year in capital spending just to prevent the things from corroding and aging into uselessness.

The ledger book from above doesn't even begin to cover the future - - improving the quality of water, the cost of increasing demand, the cost of grappling with water scarcity, and the cost of climate change.  The next time you pay your residential information technology bill (cable+land phone+cell phone+Internet access+mobile access+equipment+HP printer ink+a host of things I forgot), compare it to the water bill.  The cost of no water is hard to imagine or measure in advance, but crippling in real time.  Water has always been a part of the "Rule of Threes" - - three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food - - all make our collective limits.  Some how the smart phone has become a member of the threes club.

Keep an eye on the TV to toilet ratio in the rest of the world - - going to the Moon is great, but that ratio tells us more about civilization that most other indicators.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Code for America

Modeled after Teach for America, Code for America has the goal of bringing software coders and cash-strapped cities together to give government services a boost.  For example - - firefighters and programmers typically don't interact.  Yet in February, representatives of both gathered in Boston's City Hall, where fire department officials explained one of their wintertime worries - - snowbound fire hydrants.  The coders quickly responded with a website that mapped every hydrant in the city and encouraged residents to "adopt" each one and take responsibility for shoveling them out after snowstorms.

Founded by Jennifer Pahlka, her goal is to unite technologists and city employees.  In October, Code for America selected 20 fellows, who received a modest stipend ($35,000), moved to San Francisco, and committed to a year of public service.  The first class spent February talking to more than 400 city officials and residents in Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

All of the software is open-source - - free for anyone to adopt.  If Bostonians find a school-bus tracking software useful, Seattle can implement it also.  Pahlka's goal is to create a library of "civic software" that municipalities can draw on, helping them avoid spending money on projects that replicate others' work.  A secondary goal is about pulling technologists into public service - - the bytes and bits of public service.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Corner Office

Adam Bryant is the author of the weekly "Corner Office" column in The New York Times.  The column is structured as Q&A with executives from a broad range of industries covering subjects ranging from management to leadership to hiring.  Adam has published a new book The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed - - a look at the attributes and qualities from a sample of 70 leaders from the column.  The good news: these traits are not genetic.  It's not as if you have to be tall or left-handed.  These qualities are developed through attitude, habit and discipline - - factors that are within your control.  They will make you stand out.

Consider the following list of key points from the book - -
  • They are passionately curious people.
  • They want to know people's stories, and what they do.
  • Relentless questioning - - it helps spot opportunities.
  • "I am a student of human nature"
  • Not the smartest - - but the best students.  They learn from everybody.
  • ."Passionate Curiosity"
  • Their greatest contributions might be asking the right questions.
  • They want to hear about your failures.
  • Driven by a strong work ethic forged in adversity.
  • They like people that have overcome something.
  • Positive attitude mixed with a sense of purpose and determination.
  • They have team smarts - - learned lessons in team sports.
  • Are you reliable?  Are you a playmaker?  What does the team need?
  • Build a team, manage a team, recruit a team, work well with a team - - figure this out!!
  • Simple - - concise and get to the point.
  • Hate unfocused thinking.
  • PowerPoint - - you lose the "Power" if you don't get to the "Point."
  • Premium on the ability to synthesize.
  • Connect dots in new ways.
  • Are you fearless?
  • Do you have an appreciation for change?
  • Can you mentor people quickly up the learning curve?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

When China Becomes Turkey

There is a considerable amount of discussion and concern regarding the global impact as the Chinese produce an increasingly larger middle class.  What happens when China develops a middle class that has the consumption desires of the U.S. middle class?

Consider what consumption of energy resources will look like when China becomes not the United States, but Turkey:

  • Electricity Consumption - - 2,585 kWH per person
  • Oil Consumption - - 0.25 gallons per day per person
  • Natural Gas Consumption - - 61 cubic meters per person
  • Electricity Consumption - - 2,550 kWH per person
  • Oil Consumption - - 0.34 gallons per day per person
  • Natural Gas Consumption - - 413 cubic meters per person
As you can see, China is already Turkey regarding electricity consumption.  For China to become Turkey in terms of oil consumption, it will require approximately 2.85 million barrels of additional oil per day.

Strains in our energy systems will happen long before China becomes the U.S. - - becoming Turkey will have huge impacts.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Scott Adams - - Distance is your enemy

The creator of Dilbert on finding the action:

Find the Action.  In my senior year of college I asked my adviser how I should pursue my goal of being a banker.  He told me to figure out where the most innovation in banking was happening an to move there.  And so I did.  Banking didn't work for me, but the advice still holds:  Move to where the action is.  Distance is your enemy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Whoever tells the best story wins

Presentations, even technical ones, are basically exercises in story telling.  They all must have a beginning, middle, and end.  They will have a cast of characters and a noticeable theme.  Remember that people are there to hear a story - - your story.

Story telling requires story tellers.  To create an effective story at your next presentation, you need to understand the following aspects of verbal packaging:
  1. Word Choice - - Words help people form thoughts, feelings, and attitudes toward a person or subject.  When you master the use of words, you will become more credible and convincing.
  2. Rate of Speech - - Speeches delivered at a fast rate are rated more influential than those presented at slow or even moderate speeds, because people who speak faster appear more competent and knowledgeable.  Obviously, you need to vary your rate of speech, or people will become tense and tune out.
  3. Vocal Fillers - - Watch um, er, uh or my favorite - - you know.  These types of fillers can destroy your presentation, annoy people, hurt your credibility, and make listeners tense.
  4. Pitch and Inflection - - When you have a high pitch, you are judged as nervous, excited, or vulnerable.  A low pitch tends to show more strength, confidence, and assurance.  You will also notice that influential people use inflection in their voices to show confidence and authority.
  5. Volume - - You only have three options - too soft, too loud, or just right.  Remember that raising you volume for impact is not as effective as lowering your voice.  When you want the audience to really lean forward and listen, try speaking a bit lower.
  6. Articulation - - When you are talking to someone or delivering a presentation or speech, clearly articulate every phrase and word.  A clear and coherent presentation radiates congruence.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Bridge

The National Academy of Engineering produces a quarterly publication called The Bridge - - free.  Just call or e-mail and they will add you to the list.  This quarter has the theme - - Urban Sustainability.  All the articles are great - - fresh ideas to old and new problems.

What I found interesting are the new words and phrases in the articles - - the innovation of a new language to discuss the complex issues of sustainability.  Provided below are several of my favorites:

Urban Genome Project
Urban DNA
Global City Indicators
Connected Urban Development
Decision Theater
Owning the Urban Agenda
Multipurpose Systems
Hybrid Systems
Grey. Black, and Yellow Water
Service-Based Financing
Social Context
Infrastructural Ecologies
Multipurpose, Synergistic Systems
Mono-functional Facilities
Logistical Benefits
Leverage Natural Processes
Acupunctual Approach
Cross-Case Analysis
Urban Mining
Urban Ore
Urban Mining Stock
Abandoned/Comatose/Hibernating Stock

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is Free Free?

Axel Kleidon of the Max Plank Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany is working on a new theory of the thermodynamics of the Earth system.  The model looks at a fundamental question - - Can you deplete "green" energy sources?  Kleidon is concerned that efforts to satisfy a large proportion of our energy needs from the wind and waves will sap a significant proportion of the usable energy from the sun.

Here is how Kleidon views the issue of "free" energy.  Humans currently use energy at the rate of 47 terawatts or trillions of watts.  This comes from burning fossil fuels and harvesting farmed plants.  This corresponds to roughly 5 to 10% of the free energy generated by the global system.  So far, so good.

Of the 47 terawatts - - 17 comes from burning fossil fuels.  So to replace this, we would need to build enough sustainable energy installations to generate at least 17 terawatts.  We would need to built wind farms totaling more than 17 - - because no technology is perfectly efficient.  But by setting up enormous wind farms, we convert part of the sun's useful energy into unusable heat.  You end up sucking energy out of our global circulation system.  The winds will not die - - but count on changes in precipitation and turbulence.

Keep an eye on this - - solar energy from the sun is converted to useful ("free") energy by photosynthesis and the formation of atmospheric and ocean currents.  By harnessing wind and wave power we could waste some of the useful energy.

As Kleidon has stated - - "We have a hard time convincing engineers working on wind power that the ultimate limitation isn't how efficient  an engine or wind farm is, but how much useful energy nature can generate."

Additional information is available in the April 2-8, 2011 issue of the New Scientist - - "The fantasy of renewable energy" by Mark Buchanan

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Scott Adams - - That's how value is created

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, writes a periodic article on management for the Saturday edition of The Wall Street Journal.  This past weekend's column, How to Get a Real Education attempted to answer the vexing question of - - "Why do we make B students sit through the same classes as their brainy peers?  That's like trying to train your cat to do your taxes -- a waste of time and money.  Wouldn't it make sense to teach them something useful instead?" 

Adams answers his question with a wonderful list of recommendations - - framed as his lessons learned in his world of entrepreneurship.  I will highlight these this month - - the first one is below.  Enjoy!

Combine Skills.  The first thing you should learn in a course on entrepreneurship is how to make yourself valuable.  It's unlikely that an average student can develop a world-class skill in one particular area.  But its' easy to learn how to so several different things fairly well.  I succeed as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world.  The "Dilbert" comic is a combination of all four skills.  The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people.  The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person.  That's how value is created.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Smart Infrastructure

The March/April 2011 issue of The American Interest has an interesting article, Re-Imagining Infrastructure, by Mark Gerencser - - who leads Booz Allen Hamilton's Infrastructure Center of Excellence.

Becoming More Creative

Here are six steps you can follow to become more creative right now:
  1. Always try to find at least five solutions to each challenge.  This effort forces you to be creative and to understand that there is not always one solution to every challenge.
  2. Use group synergy and energy to find solutions.  Other people's experience, education, and thinking processes are different and should be used.
  3. Never downplay any suggestions or ideas.  Sure, some suggestions might be less than ideal, but as a group you can build, change, adjust, or fine-tune any idea to solve your challenge.
  4. Have confidence in your subconscious mind.  Many of the answers are there.  Take time to be alone with your thoughts and trust in yourself that the answers will come to the surface.
  5. Practice telling stories, metaphors or analogies.  This exercises your creative muscle.
  6. Be patient with the solutions you are seeking.  It might take longer than expected, bu the perfect solution is always worth the wait.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Water Footprinting

The phrase of the week - - "Water Footprinting" - - a relatively new concept called "water footprinting" has emerged as a key water-related metric.  Mathematically, water footprints can be calculated for countries, companies, products and even individuals.  Simply defined in the context of business, a water footprint is the total volume of fresh water used to produce the goods and services produced by a business or organization. 

Check out the Water Footprint Network - - a Netherlands-based nonprofit whose mission is to promote the transition towards sustainable, fair, and efficient use of fresh water resources.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Engineering Charisma

Charisma is the ability to empower and persuade others to believe in you, trust in you, and want to be influenced by you.  Passion, confidence, optimism, positive power, energy, balance, humor, and happiness are all important characteristics.

Consider the following from Kurt Mortenson and his book The Laws of Charisma (2011):
  • Always take feedback or criticism with an open heart.
  • Spend more time listening than talking.
  • Be able to admit that you were wrong.
  • Don't always attempt to prove you are right.
  • Ask questions to demonstrate concern.
  • Have someone else explain why you are credible.
  • Don't have an overload of seriousness.  We all need to lighten up.
  • The way you dress for the occasion can detract from your authority.
  • Work on your presentation skills - - rambling or using vocal fillers is not effective.
  • Watch power going to your head - - even if you don't do so intentionally, you can come across as if you are master of the the universe. 
  • Watch the ego - - serving yourself instead of others.
  • Not showing respect to others - - this include the competition.
Killing charisma - - talking too much leads the list.  The gift of listening trumps the gift of gab.  Trying to show people that you're the smartest person in the room indicates insecurity not charisma.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Energy From Waste

Energy efficiency is not new - - but nowhere is it done in a systematic and comprehensive way.  We need a national awakening by policy makers that energy we get from waste is as clean as wind and solar or geothermal.  Efficiency is "invisible" - - it is hard to do a photo op for an old building in which you cut electricity consumption by 20%.  This is unfortunate because efficiency gains are the cheapest source of energy, far cheaper than building new power plants.

Energy efficiency does not mean restraining the growth of energy services.  It means using less energy for the same amount of service.  It is equally relevant to growth in developed and emerging economics.  Spending less on energy is a source of savings for consumers and a boost to the economy.  Discretionary spending on goods and services has a job-creation impact 50 times greater than money otherwise spent on fossil-based energy.

Some organization and companies are beginning to understand the importance of waste energy reduction.  One firm, Recycled Energy Development, wants more businesses to turn their waste energy into zero-emission electricity.  The firm frames an interesting question - - "What can we do that's clean and saves money?"  When the debate is framed that way, all roads lead to more efficient generation of electricity.  That's the one area that has not not gained efficiency in 50 years.  They have $2 billion invested in 275 projects.  For example, through cogeneration and capturing waste heat a factory already emits, Recycled Energy Development was able to cut carbon dioxide emissions by about 20% and save about $100 billion a year.

Technology is not the limiting factor in achieving efficiency - - indeed, many solutions already exist.  Rather, the main impediment is an all-too-human reluctance to change.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yoda and Accountability

Creating accountability is one of the most common challenges for leaders.  What is accountability?  At the heart of the definition is specificity - - managers and leaders creating specific language, specific expectations, and specific consequences.  The power of your actions is preceded by the power of your words.  Accountability killers are:

We'll see
I'll try
If I have the time
I will get back to you on that
I'll do my best

Building accountability starts with the following words:

Yes, no, or I am not sure but I will give you an answer by noon tomorrow
I will own this
I will make time to get this done
I promise to close the loop by noon tomorrow
I will make it happen

Remember the words of Yoda in Star Wars:

"Do or do not.  There is no try."

Monday, April 4, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

We need to have a new engineering class  for non-engineering students.  Something like ENG 50 - - Engineering and Technology for Presidents.  The class would be geared toward the intersection among engineering, technology, economics, and public policy for those 19-year olds that have a burning desire to become President of the United States someday (think about how good the class would look on a resume - - probably no future presidents, but maybe several mayors, school board presidents, and state senators - - a technocracy needs to start somewhere).

One section of the class needs to cover very basic engineering and technological issues associated with the developed on a national energy policy.  Start with the attached diagram - - the inputs and outputs of the current energy system in the United States.  Focus on moving the discussion and context from barrels to BTUs - - what you need to get to work is a certain number of BTUs.  What you need in the winter to heat your house are BTUs - - in the age of cheap energy you really didn't care where they came from.

In the case of the United States, it is not just BTUs - - it is BTUs with 12 zeros (the annual values in the graphic are quadrillion -- for 2009 the estimated U.S, energy use in 2009 was 94.6 Quads).  Looking at the big picture - - of the 94.6 Quads in 2009, 39.97 Quads was actually utilized; the remaining 54.64 Quads are lost - - inefficiencies and losses.  Most of the loss is heat - - basic thermodynamics and when energy was cheap, no one really cared that much about thermo.

Look at transportation - - when we talk about cutting foreign oil imports by one-third, this is the part of the graphic that is impacted the most by this policy direction.  When the average driver completes their journey to work or the mall - - they need to remember that for every BTU that went into the tank, 0.75 BTU is wasted via mechanical inefficiencies and heat loss.  Many investors are beginning to get this point - - rising oil prices provide an opportunity for reinventing the internal combustion engine.  Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures are just two such investors - - companies like EcoMotors, Achates Power, and Pinnacle Engines are working on our next generation engines.  All three companies are developing variations on an opposed piston engine, a technology used in airplanes and ships in the mid-20th century, but long considered expensive and unworkable for automobiles.  Opposed piston engines eliminate the cylinder head, which serves as the combustion chamber for a conventional engine.  Instead, two pistons face each other and the space between them forms the combustion chamber where fuel is ignited.  Discarding the heavy cylinder head allows opposed engines to be lighter and cheaper to make.  Typically, two-thirds of the energy generated by a conventional engine is wasted as heat; an opposed piston design is able to tap more energy to propel a vehicle.

Next have the class turn to electricity generation.  For every BTU that pulls into the loading lock of the local power plant that powere your new big screen television, on average approximately 0.68 BTU are rejected, namely with mechanical inefficiencies and heat loss.  Combined-cycle generation, where some of the waste heat is capture and utilized, would help the situation, especially as we attempt to utilized more electric vehicles.  I would point out to the future presidents that electric motors are 90% efficient - - but we are only 30% efficient at getting the electricity to the car.

The last activity for the class should be a field trip to see corn being grown.  When you think of an acre of corn, don't think in terms of barrels of ethanol.  Always think in terms of BTUs per acre - - do the same with wind and solar farms.  In the case of corn and ethanol, remind the class that there are 116,000 BTUs in a gallon of gasoline versus 76,000 BTUs in a gallon of ethanol.  This has significant policy ramifications - - along with the fact the average grocery store is 25% corn and you might be looking at 1,000 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol.  Utilizing high BTU energy resources to grow, process, and distribute lower BTU fuels has long-term policy ramifications.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Pepsi Generation - - Doing More With Less and Making Money

PepsiCo has pushed a strategy called "Performance with Purpose" - -the idea is to link green efforts in all businesses to the bottom line.  Consider the examples that were discussed in the April 4, 2011 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek:

In Leicester, England, employees at Walkers - - the Lay's chips of Europe --  have worked with academic and outside engineers during the past year to build a contraption that will attach to rooftop exhaust stacks.  Cooling tubes being tested inside the stacks or other gear will condense the steam and return 80% or more of it as water to the plant.  A second device in development would strip cooking oil, previously trapped in the steam during frying, from the condensed water for reuse or sale.

PepsiCo hopes to create technologies that can be replicated in its other facilities, multiplying the savings.  The goal is to pull one U.K. chip plant off the public water grid by 2013 and four more by 2018.  The environmental impact would be large: The Leicester plant alone uses 185 million gallons of water a year, enough to fill all the tanks at the London Sea Aquarium 350 times over.

The beverage giant's Frito-Lay unit, which operates the world's seventh-largest private delivery fleet, is putting 176 all-electric box trucks on the road in places such as California, Texas, and the Pacific Northwest.  The tucks are expected to cut PepsiCo's diesel consumption by 500,000 gallons a year while curbing greenhouse emissions by 75% over combustion engines.  At a conservative $3 a gallon, PepsiCo would save $1.5 million a year on fuel, says Mike O'Connell, the snack division's fleet director.  "It's an insurance policy against volatility."

The trucks will also cut annual maintenance costs by as much as $700,000.  An additional 150 trucks a year could be converted to electric as PepsiCo, which wants to cut its corporate fuel costs in half by 2020, works to replace half its 4,000 medium-duty vehicles.  Thanks to government grants, the electric trucks are only slightly more expensive than their diesel counterparts.  O'Connell says.  Since diesel trucks are rising in price while the cost of electric technology is falling, he says electric vehicles may reach parity in a year or two, even without government subsidies.

PepsiCo's calculations also show the electric trucks will cost less to own than its diesel vehicles over the same 10-year life span.  "We are able to do the right thing for the organization from a financial return and significantly reduce our greenhouse gases," he says.  "We find the sweet spot in both."

PepsiCo's Chief Executive Officer, Indra K. Nooyl, discusses Performance with Purpose - -

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Engineering Insight and Bear Shaving

At a very basic level, engineering is fundamentally about the discovery of opportunities.  As I have discussed before - - opportunities are totally context dependent.  Consider the following mental checklist involving engineering insight and opportunity recognition:
  • Workaround - - Does the insight suggest an opportunity to remedy the underlying problem itself, not just the symptom?  Global warming a problem?  Just shave the bears.  Let's define "Bear Shaving" as the efforts we make to deal with the symptoms of a problem instead of addressing the cause of the problem.
  • Values - - Does the insight suggest an opportunity to address a change in what consumers' value?
  • Inertia - - Does the insight suggest an opportunity to leverage a habit or break a habit?
  • Shoulds versus Wants - - Does the insight suggest an opportunity to turn wants into shoulds?  Or shoulds into wants?
Sometimes insight and opportunity comes from unlikely places - - observation quality as a function of the miles on a pair of shoes.  Toyota is infamous for the fact that their employees study junkyards all over the world.  A common problem, broken side-view mirrors that actually led to the invention of the folding mirror, started with a walk through a junkyard.

Friday, April 1, 2011

So what's a no-fly zone cost?

Provided below is an accounting of the estimated cost - -
  • Northrup Grumman B-2 Bomber - - $88,000 per hour
  • Raytheon Tomahawk Cruise Missile - - $1,500,000 per missile
  • Boeing KC-135 Fueling Tanker - - $11,673 per hour
  • Boeing JDAM Guided Missile - - $61,000 per missile
  • Lockheed Martin & Boeing AC-130 Gunship - - $12,899 per hour
  • Fairchild Republic A-10 Gunship - - $8,946 per hour
  • Boeing F-15E Fighter Jet - - One downed plane, $79,000,000
  • Lockheed Martin F-16CJ Jet - - $9,366 per hour
  • Boeing EA-18G - - $10,622 per hour