After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

Power Unimpeded, When the Sun Shines

Posted on May 23, 2013
Filed Under Business, Technology | Leave a Comment

A massive shift is underway in how Germany generates its electricity – from conventional power plants, including nuclear, to largely renewable energies. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s goal is to have Germany nuclear-free by 2022, an aim she established after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in 2011. She envisions renewables producing 80 percent of  Germany’s electric power by 2050.

anemployechecksProgress toward those goals, though, is making for some tense moments in the control rooms of the German generation system, as when, Mathilde Richter reports on, clouds obscure the sun for a few minutes.  (The photo shows an array of solar panels at the airport in Finowfurt city in eastern Germany. Richter notes that Merkel is a physicist by training.)

“The situation changes fast, it’s very volatile,” says Christoph Schneiders, planning head at a monitoring center for the German power company Amprion. One would think so. Screens at the station update every three seconds as they monitor 11,000 kilometres (7,000 miles) of high-voltage power lines criss-crossing much of western Germany and extending into other European countries.

Emergency planning needs to be a primary discipline in such a bold (and at the same time seemingly tenuous) approach to generation, and we suspect it is. “It’s quite an experiment,” observes Encore’s Dennis Owen. “There’s a big upside if it succeeds and big problems if it fails.  It will probably fall somewhere in between.  It’s impressive that the Germans have been able to meet all their energy needs under optimal solar and wind conditions.” explains that “When clouds cover the sun over the solar plants that have mushroomed across Germany in recent years, the engineers see an instant drop in output. The sharp falls reverse just as quickly when the sky clears again. ‘It goes up, it goes down, it is very difficult to predict’ said Schneiders. And unlike a gas plant, he said, solar power can’t just be switched off when there is an overload.”

Moreover, while her clean energy goal is admirable, there’s irony in Chancellor Merkel’s plans. To accomplish them, Germany is planning “several new north-south ‘power highways’ which, ironically, often face opposition from environmentalists who don’t want unsightly power lines cutting through forests.'”

Apparently, there never will be a way to get completely compatible produced anywhere. If not in the actual generation, moving it hither and yon will be objectionable to someone along the way. Lets hope, though, that the sun shines in Germany more often than not.

(A column in The Wall Street Journal, incidentally, takes an opposite view of the role of nuclear power in generating electricity and reducing greenhouse gasses. Sure, nuclear plants cost a lot to build. But they’ll have far longer lifetimes than solar plants, which operate with diminishing efficiency. Solar may become more efficient, but don’t rule out nuclear power in Germany or anywhere else is the warning.) – Doug Bedell  

Doolittle’s Mission Avenged ‘A Day to Remember’

Posted on May 13, 2013
Filed Under Government | Leave a Comment

Encore’s Dennis Owen has been circulating “one of those Internet missives I received from a friend” on the Doolittle bombing raid over Tokyo, Japan, in 1942. And for good reason – the Doolittle mission was one of the most heroic, defiant episodes in American history. It was meant as a response to the sneak Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the year before, and the takeoff from the aircraft carrier Hornet had to be moved much further out to sea, virtually at the last minute.

engagingindexWith that, Lt. Col. James Doolittle’s 16 B-25 bomber crews were told they wouldn’t have enough fuel to land safely in China. But they took off anyway.

“They bombed Tokyo,” the Internet account recalls, “and then flew as far as they could. Four planes crash-landed; 11 more crews bailed out, and three of the Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed. Another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew made it to Russia.

“The Doolittle Raid sent a message from the United States to its enemies, and to the rest of the world:

“We will fight. And, no matter what it takes, we will win.”

There are still forces in the world that, should they lose touch with reality, make such national resolve necessary.  The Doolittle crews showed what it would take, and what they were heartily willing to expend,  to bring such a message home to Japan in 1942. The 71st and last planned public reunion of the remaining four of the 80 Doolittle mission members (62 survived the war) was held last month in Walton Beach, Fla.

The four (all in their ’90s) plan to get together again later this year, “informally and in absolute privacy,” to open a bottle of brandy and pour it into their four remaining upturned goblets, from a set of 80. They might not have to listen too closely to hear the roar of the engines that were to bring them and their fellow aviators immortality. America will be forever grateful to all of them. – Doug Bedell


When Twirling a Yo-Yo Becomes an Art

Posted on May 7, 2013
Filed Under Communication, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

Here’s a young man we know nothing about except that his name is Black, just that, and can he handle a yo-yo! First one yo-yo, then two of them together. He’s thrilled a TED audience and, now us, watching that performance. So what’s there about a yo-yo that’s so awesome? It’s not the yo-yo itself, two half spheres with a string tied around their axis peg. (At least that’s how my yo-yo was set up when I was a kid.) It’s the skill that brings it the level demonstrated by Black, who’s  twice become a world yo-yo champion.

imagesSkill honed by dedication. That’s at the heart of any craft mastery. At 14, Black got a yo-yo, discovered he enjoyed twirling it and, 10,000 hours of practice later, became a world yo-yo champion. Now he brings the TED audience to its feet demonstrating his skill in handling two yo-yos at once.

Trivial? Maybe twirling a yo-yo, sending it “round the world” or putting it to “sleep” like I did as a kid, is pretty trivial. (Dennis Owen recalls “walking the dog” and “rocking the cradle” as well.) But whatever you’re doing, sufficient practice at perfecting technique can bring it all the way to the level of art. You’ve got the interest, or you wouldn’t be doing that much practicing. So toning up the brain and muscles to be a champion at whatever enthralls you  becomes the challenge.

Watch Black whisk a cloth from beneath a vase of flowers with his yo-yo. Admire his total setting, which is stagecraft along with yo-yo twirling. Note how he keeps the Ted audience intent on what he’s doing. Altogether, it’s spell-binding. That’s what 10,000 hours of practice did for one young man with a couple of yo-yos and the will to wield them well, very well indeed.  – Doug Bedell

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