Reading Suggestions  &  UFTO Extras
For a list of newsletters and publications regularly scanned by UFTO, click here.

Reading Suggestions
26 Aug 02 "Barriers to Thinking New About Energy"    The Industrial Physicist, Aug-Sept2002
                       (and Physics Today, Feb 1981)
9 Aug 02 "Homeland Insecurity"   Atlantic Monthly September 2002

"The Tipping Point" and New Yorker articles by Malcolm Gladwell
        The Talent Myth, Job interviews -- Insights and lessons for management

23 July 02 "GM's Billion-Dollar Bet",  Wired Magazine,  Aug 02   (The bet is on fuel cells!)
"The Next Society"  Peter Drucker, Economist, Sept 01.
"The End of Cheap Oil, Scientific American, Mar 98
"Excess Heat: Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed"
"Is the Information Revolution Dead?"  Business 2.0   Apr02   (History repeats itself)

"Barriers to Thinking New About Energy"    The Industrial Physicist, Aug-Sept2002,
Responding to a reader's suggestion, this magazine republished a 1981 article from Physics Today, in which a Berkeley anthropologist looked at the taboos in the science and engineering 'culture' that prevented meaningful examination of new approaches to solving the energy problem.  "The energy problem is not a technological problem. It is a social problem."  The author looks back, and offers perspectives on how little has changed in 20 years, at least in official circles.  She points out that in the unofficial real world, all kinds of things are being tried, and accomplished.  (Download pdf)

"Homeland Insecurity"   Atlantic Monthly Sept 2002
Bruce Schneier is one the nation's top security experts--he made computer cryptography into a science--and he warns that the reliance on technology is making things more vulnerable, not less.  The key is idea is not how well systems protect, but how well they fail.  The country is going in the wrong direction.  Especially relevant to utilities as they try to protect the power infrastructure.

"The Tipping Point. How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference"  Little Brown 2000
From Paul Revere's ride, to Guliani's New York, this book explains that social phenomena aren't linear, but instead happen all of a sudden when the right factors are present.   See  author Malcolm Gladwell's own comments at:

On the same website Gladwell has an Archive all the articles he's written for the New Yorker, back to 1996.  A couple of these have huge implications and lessons for any business.  (The site has both html and pdf versions.)

The Talent Myth, Are Smart People Over-rated?   22 July 02
Excerpt  from the article:  "The broader failing of McKinsey and its acolytes at Enron is their assumption that an organization's intelligence is simply a function of the intelligence of its employees. They believe in stars, because they don't believe in systems. In a way, that's understandable, because our lives are so obviously enriched by individual brilliance. Groups don't write great novels, and a committee didn't come up with the theory of relativity. But companies work by different rules. They don't just create; they execute and compete and coördinate the efforts of many different people, and the organizations that are most successful at that task are the ones where the system is the star."  Failure to realize this almost lost the U-boat war in the Atlantic in WW2.

The New-Boy Network,  What do job interviews really tell us?  29 May 00
First impressions absolutely rule, but they can be terribly inaccurate.  For one thing, people are different in different situations, and you never "get" the whole person in any one setting.  Managers believe in their own intuition, but they really shouldn't.  There is an answer, called "structured interviewing", but people resist it strenuously.

"GM's Billion-Dollar Bet"
Wired Magazine, v10.8  (August 2002)

This Wired article tells more about the highly secretive and massive GM fuel cell program than I've seen in print before.  It's generally known that GM has made a huge commitment (gamble?) to fuel cells automobiles, and is thought to be ahead of the pack with technology they're not telling us about. The remarkable news to me in this article is the way in which the GM has bet the store, or at least a large part of one.  Instead of the usual strategy of simple substitution for the IC engine in an otherwise familiar car design, GM has taken a radically different approach to the entire idea of the automobile.  The result is a total package--car plus powerplant--that is cheaper, based on a single chassis that will the basis of countless different vehicles.  And they're also quite serious about cars as suppliers of electric power.

"The Next Society"  Peter Drucker, Economist,  15 Sept 01.

Fans of Peter Drucker will enjoy this broad sweeping global perspective that says it's not the so-called "new economy" that matters, if and when it [ever] arrives, it's the "Next Society".

One of the major drivers will be the shifting age distribution of populations everywhere.  The lengthy analysis explores the massive implications of the decline in the numbers of young people relative to the numbers of old people.  Other factors: the "knowledge society", borderless, competitive, and merit-based, the changing significance of multinational corporations, and the decline of manufacturing (much like farming in the early 20th century).

Links in the right column will take you to the entire series of articles in the Survey:
The Next Society, The New Demographics, The New Workforce, The Manufacturing Paradox
Will The Corporation Survive?, The Way Ahead

"The End of Cheap Oil"
Scientific American, March '98

Back in the 70's I dabbled with "Hubbert Curves".  They're for real, but it's hard to predict an exact shape within several decades.  It's been interesting to see the resurgence of attention to the fact that these curves do go down, it's just a matter of when.  Scientific American published a Special Report with these five parts.  If you can't find a copy, this is all available from the magazine's archive, (search on the date, March 1998, and the word "oil")

- Preventing the Next Oil Crunch - Enough oil remains in the earth to fill the reservoir behind Hoover Dam four times over-and that's just counting the fraction of buried crude that is relatively easy to recover and refine.
- The End of Cheap Oil - Global production of conventional oil will begin to decline sooner than most people think, probably within 10 years
- Mining for Oil - More oil is trapped in Canadian sands than Saudi Arabia holds in its reserves. The technology now exists to exploit this vast resource profitably
- Oil Production in the 21st Century - Recent innovations in underground imaging, steerable drilling and deepwater oil production could recover more of what lies below
- Liquid Fuels from Natural Gas - Natural gas is cleaner and more plentiful than oil. New ways to convert it to liquid form may soon make it just as cheap and convenient to use in vehicles

For another more recent commentary, see:
   Oil depletion -Sunset for the oil business?
   The Economist   Nov 1st 2001

It says basically that yes oil will run out at some point, and yes, that technology has a way of continuing to move the date further out. But the technology will cost an immense amount of money if the days of reckoning are to be delayed by much. Just to replace aging oil field production will cost over a $trillion.

Addendum:  Bob Suggs of TXU wrote and suggested another more recent source on this topic:
    "Hubbert's Peak, The Impending World Oil Shortage"  by  Kenneth S. Deffeyes,  Princeton University Press 2001

"Excess Heat: Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed"
by Charles G. Beaudette (Paperback - May 2002) (2nd Edition)

"Excess Heat is an investigative report prepared for the general reader to explain how the most extraordinary claim made in the basic sciences during the 20th century was mistakenly dismissed through errors of scientific protocol. The Second Edition offers a greatly expanded presentation of the evidence for (1) low level nuclear reactions as the source of excess heat, and (2) the discharge of excess heat without the presence of an input excitation energy."

I read the 1st edition, published in 2000.  The above summary (taken from amazon) understates how very badly the scientific establishment behaved itself.  Neither the inability of experimenters to accurately explain the phenomena they observe, nor difficulties in reproducing measurements, are reasons to assert that the phenomena aren't real.  The book does a calm and thorough job of explaining what happened and who did what to whom.  It's a fascinating glimpse of the too-human foibles of science.  The truth is out there!

"Is the Information Revolution Dead?"
 W. Brian Arthur, Andy Grove, and Lawrence Lessig
  Business 2.0   April 2002  transcript of a panel discussion,1640,39186,FF.html

A fascinating exchange of views, especially Brian Arthur, who argues that numerous examples from economic history suggest that information technology has yet to see its best innings. The future, Brian argues, is still ahead of us and not behind us.  Here is how he starts the conversation:
" Well, there have been about four major revolutions -- technological revolutions -- before this one in information technology: The early Industrial Revolution, where factory and mill system was brought in; this one was in England. A so-called British revolution in railways in the early and mid-1800s. Another one that historians have identified -- steel and the coming of electrification of factories, a huge revolution in the late 1800s; this was in Germany and the U.S. And still another one the beginning of the 20th century until about 1950, '60, 1970 -- mass production and the coming of cars. If you look at those previous revolutions -- now, by the way, we're in what you might loosely call an information revolution -- if you look at those previous revolutions, you see that they go in recognizable phases. I wouldn't say we want to clock them with a stopwatch, but typically they work -- they start from a fairly primitive set of technologies."

The jist--we're just in the first awkward stage of the information revolution.
              (I've assembled the text into a web text document, if you have trouble with the on-line version.)

UFTO Extras

* Environmentally Impaired Real Estate - Liabilities or Assets??

* Innovation and "Six Degrees of Separation" (or "Kevin Bacon")
Research at Cornell,  described in Business Week (8/17/98), modelled what it takes to turn a large world into a smaller more efficient one.  The answer is shortcuts-- well-connected individuals that can cut across traditional boundaries and dramatically speed up the flow of information.  This is precisely the role played by UFTO. (full article)

Business Models for New Technology in Utilities  UFTO White Paper
  This was last revised in 1997 and may be a bit out of date with all the changes in the industry, but it may have still some useful ideas.