Monday, April 28, 2014

Seriously, your spit can be used to make electricity.

Graphic by Luci GutiĆ©rrez, Wall Street Journal
I promise I am not making this up. In the near future your saliva may be used to power a medical device implanted in your mouth.

The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Akst reports in the April 19th edition that scientists at Penn State and King Abdullah University have been able to power a very small fuel cell using human saliva as the fuel. It would be smaller than a dime, and probably even smaller when put into use as an implant in your mouth, like maybe glued onto your tooth. 

This microbial fuel cell would use bacteria - again, from your mouth - and break it down into organic material. This releases enough usable electrons to create current from an anode to a cathode. There's not much of a current, a mere 1/1,000,000th of a watt, but it is enough for ultra low-power devices to operate.

I know at this time you are probably salivating over the opportunities to make electricity from your mouth. So what can we use this new energy technology for? Seriously, the first application is likely to be medical monitoring. For example, a low-power electoencephalograph on a chip could warn of an approaching epileptic seizure. Another option is to determine female ovulation, for which we know of several chemical changes that can be detected 5 days prior. 

What do you think will be the next application? 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Grass Isn't Greener

The greenest pasture is not somewhere else. It’s the place where you plant yourself and create a great environment for growth. - The following is from Jon Gordon (

We often think that the grass will be greener somewhere else.

We believe we'll be happier and more successful anywhere but where we are.

And so we pursue happiness and chase success thinking one day we will magically find them. But rarely will we find happiness and success by seeking them.

I've learned if you want success you can't chase it. Instead you must decide to make a difference where you are... and success will find you.

I've learned if you want to find happiness don't seek it. Instead decide to work with passion and purpose... and happiness will find you.

Too many people want instant success and gratification right now. Too many athletes want to be traded because they think they'll be more successful on another team. Too many employees complain that their co-workers aren’t working hard enough and this affects their own performance. Too many sales people compare themselves to others and become frustrated and disengaged. Too many people worry about what everyone else is doing instead of focusing on what they are doing. Too many people run from challenges instead of developing stronger roots.

If you are like me, you’ve been one of these people. Most of us have at one time or another. It’s human nature after all.

That’s why I want to encourage you not to worry about things you can’t control. Don’t run away from where you are in the hope of finding greener pastures.

Instead plant yourself like a Seed each day and invest your time and energy growing yourself and others. When you plant yourself where you are with a passionate desire to make a difference you’ll grow into the influencer you were born to be.

The greenest pasture is not somewhere else. It’s the place where you plant yourself and create a great environment for growth. When you do this, you'll produce an abundant harvest filled with real success and true happiness. 

From Jon Gordon (

Friday, April 18, 2014

Marketing global warming to convince more people it's actually happening

I guess I shouldn't be shocked that environmental groups are using well-researched messages to convince the public climate change is happening and something must be done about it immediately. As someone who works in the energy field, you could say it's just the pot calling the kettle black. We frequently test messages on a variety of topics and carefully choose our words to get our message out. And I see it across the board in other industries. You will be amazed about this one. 

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger wrote in The New York Times about the environmental groups' strategy. 

The big problem these days is whenever there is a weather disaster, many immediately turn to the cause as "climate change from carbon pollution." The problem, they have found, is that when it's cold and snowy in winter - wait, that's not climate change - that's just winter! Or when we don't get a lot of hurricanes, or they're not too severe, then you can't blame a not-too-violent storm on climate change. Even Superstorm Sandy, which resulted in tremendous financial loss and was a human tragedy as well, was just a tropical storm hitting one of the most heavily populated areas on the planet. That's just bad luck you can't blame on climate change. 

So here are the marketing lessons from the environmental experts on how to market climate change:
  1. Claims that current disasters are connected to climate change motivate liberals to support action, but alienate conservative in equal measure. Not a good strategy if you want to move people to your side. 
  2. What works, say environmental pollsters - Focusing on popular solutions. Note, I didn't say real solutions. Popular ones only. Solar, wind and energy efficiency reduce emissions while "strengthening the economy." But environmentalists ignore the fact these options are not the least cost, nor are they uniformly paid for by all citizens. What I mean by that is in a utility's energy efficiency program, if you get a rebate and I don't, is not fair to me. You get the benefit. Yes, it's available to me, but I only get a $250 rebate if I invest $1,500 in a new refrigerator, money I may not have available. So limited renewable solutions that ignore other, less sexy low carbon options, also polarize people on either side. 
  3. A conclusion from the journal Nature Climate Change, sponsored by - guess who - Environmental Defense Fund - says "Communication should focus on how mitigation efforts can promote a better society" instead of "the reality of climate change and averting its risks." That's because the reality of climate change doesn't fit the narrative that we're going to hell in a handbasket. Or better said, that we have time to address the potential impacts of climate change in a way that the economy can absorb without creating severe economic disruption. 

Interestingly, nearly every major environmental organization rejects nuclear energy, and many even oppose the move from coal to natural gas, which produces almost half the carbon emissions. Together with the rhetoric about catastrophes around every corner seen internationally on The Weather Channel, the result is that many believe climate change is being exaggerated. They then conclude no action should be taken. After all, ask Nordhaus and  Shellenberger, if climate change is a planetary emergency, why take nuclear and natural gas off the table?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Why is excellence rare?

When you look at the service we experience around us, do you have the feeling people are striving for excellence? I see it occasionally, but sadly, not often enough.

My strongest impression, though, was experiencing something you see too little of these days on land: “Excellence.” You’re riding in a pressurized steel tube undersea. If anyone turns one knob the wrong way on the reactor or leaves a vent open, it can be death for everyone. This produces a unique culture among these mostly 20-something submariners. As one officer put it: “You become addicted to integrity.” There is zero tolerance for hiding any mistake. The sense of ownership and mutual accountability is palpable. And that is why, said Adm. Joseph Tofalo, the Navy’s director of undersea warfare, who was also on the trip, “There is no multiple-choice exam for running the sub’s nuclear reactor.” If you want to be certified to run any major system on this ship, he added, “everything is an oral and written exam to demonstrate competency.”

Excellence, integrity and accountability. All vital characteristics of a submariner. If only those were characteristics of everyone we encountered. Is excellence on land more rare because we accept mistakes and inefficiency as par for the course? Which should come first, the attitude of excellence or the acceptance of inefficiency? Let's set high expectations for excellence, first in ourselves, and then in others.