The Seven Deadly Sins of Project Management

Over-the-fence project management may well have been used at Heaps Engineering, in New Westminster, photographed here in 1946. During the height of the war, the plant employed more than 700 men and women, and turned out giant propeller shafts and underwater fittings for submarine chasers and frigates. Photo by Stride Studios.

This web-log post is about projects, but only those project where a commitment has been made by a board or senior management to start and complete it. It attempts to be general enough that insights can be applied to any industry.

Preliminary work on a project will have to be budgeted. Regardless of its outcome, this expenditure will be a sunk cost = a cost that has been incurred and cannot be recovered. With a go ahead, the entire project will not only have to be budgeted, but in some way financed either using owner equity or debt financing, or a combination of both. Liquidity (cash flow) is critical for any project.

The selection of a project manager is critical to project success. The project manager is responsible for the initiation, planning, execution, validation and evaluation of the project. At a minimum, each of these has to be part of the scope statement, and incorporated into the project plan.

After each of the sins listed below, there is a paragraph long comment on atonement = making amends.

Sin #1: No Budget

There is only one sin worse than having no budget, and that is regarding the budget as a project plan!

Atonement for this sin: Make sure there is an adequate budget that covers the entire project period, that is approved of by the board authorizing the project. Before, any project begins: 1) Make sure there is adequate financing. 2) Make sure there is sufficient liquidity (cash flow) for the project.

Sin #2: Managing a project as a process

In many hierarchical organizations, managers are promoted from lower ranks, so that they have an understanding of the roles required below them in the hierarchy. One of the unique characteristics of a project is that it requires the interaction of professionals possessing different qualities. In addition, tasks are non-repetitive, in contrast to process (or operations) management where repetitive, permanent functional activities are the norm.

Even if a project manager can appreciate a project’s temporary nature, with defined beginning and end points, s/he may fail to understand the implications of time, budget and staff constraints, especially in terms of project goals and objectives.

Atonement for this sin: Ensure that the project manager has the education/ training to manage a project. At a minimum s/he must understand the basics of the Critical Path Method.

Sin #3: No Scope Management

Scope requires the project manager to specify the quantity, quality and variety of tasks to be performed, along with the time and other resources available. A scope statement can then be compiled that specifies what the project is to deliver in detail, and to describe more generally the major objectives for the project. These objectives should include measurable success criteria.

At the most fundamental level, Scope is expressed in a statement that is SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed Upon
  • Realistic
  • Time Bound

Scope involves determining the work that needs to be done to meet stakeholder requirements. Many project managers like to distinguish two types of scope: project scope and product scope. Project scope specifies the the work that needs to be done to deliver a product or service, while product scope specifies the features and functions that characterize that product or service.

Another way of understanding scope, is to separate what has to be done (the functional requirements/ product scope) from how it is to be done (project scope). If requirements cannot be defined and described, then there can be no effective project control, allowing project/ requirement creep to emerge.

Scope creep involves large, unplanned and often irrelevant changes to a project that add costs and/ or development time. Very often these occur because there is no change control built into the project. Change control is a procedure to be included in the scope statement that outlines how changes will be implemented. It must distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable changes. The change control procedure should specify how any change will be implemented.

Atonement for this sin: Make sure there is a SMART scope statement, and make certain that all project participants understand this statement, and its consequences.

Sin #4: No Project Plan

The main purpose of writing a project plan, is for the project manager to define tasks, and to appreciate transitions between them. The fact that there may be disparities between perceived and actual implementation times is of secondary importance. Some projects benefit from the use of software tools, such as MS Project/ LibreProject, or equivalent. In other cases, a simple tempo-plan on paper suffices. Tasks have to have milestones/ way points associated with them, so that everyone knows when a task has been completed. These have to be measurable.

Most projects rely on a critical path, a sequence of tasks that have no leeway in terms of an early or late start. Project slack (also called project float) has to be determined to identify the critical path through the project. Slack can be calculated manually or automatically, using a formula that takes into consideration start and finish times/ dates, durations, predecessor times, task dependencies and constraints. Negative slack indicates that this amount of time must be saved earlier in the project to prevent delay. It is an indication of incorrect finish time for the project.

Tasks outside of the critical path can begin earlier or be delayed, by varying amounts of time. Tasks are placed on a project activity diagram, that shows total slack (the time available for a task to slip before it delays the whole project) and each task’s free slack (the time available before it delays successor tasks).

Atonement for this sin: Except for the smallest of projects, someone assigned to the project must construct a project plan based on the critical path method, make sure the plan is used. Significant deviation from the project plan must be reported to the authority commissioning the project, usually some sort of board. Project managers have a responsibility to communicate with stakeholders, and to ensure everyone understands the project plan, at least in outline, and how it will affect each stakeholder.

Sin #5: No Resource Management

After scope management has been satisfactorily implemented as a project plan, the next phase involves resource management. Some projects, such as building construction, will have materials management as an important component. Other projects, including software projects, will find that materials management is minimal, or even non-existent. Regardless of the type of project, much managerial time will almost always have to be allocated to human resource management, if the project is to run smoothly.

In a building construction project, materials management is seldom a problem because everyone, even the project manager, knows that the building has to be made of something, and probably many different things. A bill of materials (BOM) is produced automatically by almost every Computer-Aided Design (CAD) system. These BOMs are first used for scope management, and after that in conjunction with resource management. Problems emerge with materials management, when they are not properly specified during the scope management phase.

Most of the problems associated with resource management come from a failure to appoint a reference group, or even a project group. These two problems will be treated as separate sins.

Atonement for this sin: Materials management – Ensure that a BOM is used, where it is appropriate. Understand how to use a BOM, and ensure that all members in the project group understand how to use a BOM. Provide training if necessary. Human resources management – see sin #7 – no project group.

Sin #6: No Reference Group

In every project there are a large number of stakeholders. In building construction there will be municipal/ county building authorities, neighbours who live on and/ or own surrounding properties, and potential occupiers/ renters/ owners, at a minimum. In software projects there will be assorted classes of purchasers, who may or may not be users. In projects involving local government there are civil servants, as well as politicians, who may view processes totally differently.

The purpose of a reference group is to ensue that a project meets the needs of different user groups, at the same time that it doesn’t encroach on the rights of non-users, who may be impacted by the project. Without a reference group, the project manager and others in the project will be living in a fantasy world. Thus, one of the first tasks of a project manager is to ensure that there is a process to find stakeholders, and to invite them to be part of a reference group.

Atonement for this sin: Ensure that a reference group is appointed, and that it mirrors the diversity of people affected by the project. Ensure that reference group meetings are scheduled and held. Stakeholders must ensure that someone representing their group is appointed to the reference group, that they are invited to reference group meetings, and report back to stakeholders.

Sin #7: No Project Group

Some project managers think they can run a project alone, without involving people possessing different qualities, who together (but not alone or separately) understand the non-repetitive tasks involved. Normally, they can’t.

This does not mean that members of the project group have to devote significant amounts of time to meetings, or other forms of interaction. Rather, members of the project group spend most of their time working on those parts of the project they are assigned, reporting on the state of milestones/ way points as they occur.

When disruptions occur, or when other events impact project progress, there can be a need for project meetings to discuss alternatives.

Atonement for this sin: Ensure that a project group is appointed, and that it mirrors the diversity of people working on the project. Ensure that project group meetings are scheduled and held. Members of a project group, must schedule and attend regular project group meetings. It is particularly important, that project managers ensure that feedback from the reference group is presented to the project group.

Project management has matured considerably, during the past eighty years, but not noticeably since the first projects I worked on in the 1970s. The only difference I have noted is the use of project management software to replace the calculations I had to perform by hand. This was undoubtedly the result of PERT (Project Evaluation and Review Technique) developed for the Polaris submarine project, and CPM (Critical Path Method) developed by DuPont, in the 1960s.

Before these developments there was (not so) managed chaos. “During the 1940s, line managers used the concept of over-the-fence management to manage projects. Each line manager, wearing the hat of a project manager, would perform the work necessitated by their line organization, and when completed, would throw the “ball” over the fence in hopes that someone would catch it. Once the ball was thrown over the fence, the line managers would wash their hands of any responsibility for the project because the ball was no longer in their yard. If a project failed, blame was placed on whichever line manager had the ball at that time.” Harold Kerzner 2017 Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, 12th edition, p. 39.

Despite the injustice of this system, it was the users/ customers who suffered the most. Kerzner continues, “The problem with over-the-fence management was that the customer had no single contact point for questions. The filtering of information wasted precious time for both the customer and the contractor. Customers who wanted firsthand information had to seek out the manager in possession of the ball. For small projects, this was easy. But as projects grew in size and complexity, this became more difficult.” (p. 40).

I was very fortunate to have John Reagan as a mentor in 1972 at Habitat Industries, a pre-fabricated housing manufacturer. He kindled in me an interest in project management that continues to this day, even if it was more frequently used in teaching computer science and technology subjects, than in the construction trades.

Humanity Minus

This post started off as a reflection on Douglas Rushkoff (1961-) media theorist professor and author of, Survival of the Richest – The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind:  https://medium.com/s/futurehuman/survival-of-the-richest-9ef6cddd0cc1

Survival of the Richest

Article summary. Rushkoff wants us to be so annoyed with the richest among us, that we will rush off (pun intended) and buy his new book!

At a certain level of income , a discussion of technology changes from a discussion of its acquisition costs, to a discussion of the opportunities it offers for professional work. For affluent people, it becomes a discussion of investment opportunities. Beyond this, the opulent seldom need to understand technology, even as an investment. Hired minions understand it and deal with its practical application. Rushkoff is a minion, who sold his soul for an hour to a group of five hedge funders.

While the article is probably just the introduction of his new book, it hints that the author may have had some moral issues with his gig. Writing the book is probably some form of self-imposed quasi-penance. Real penance would have resulted in the book being published under a Creative Commons license.

The opulent already have retreats in areas of the world less impacted by crises, be they social or climatic. They have the financial means to buy them in New Zealand or Alaska or anywhere else that suits their fancy. There will always be a discussion about the level of fortification needed, where an underground bunker is the minimum. If such a retreat is too large and extensive, there will also be a need for another class of hired minion, the mercenary, to defend it. But mercenaries are fickle, and they are only loyal to money. What happens if money becomes worthless?

As we all know, the opulent have no interest in making the world a better place. Their major concern is their personal transcendence of the human condition. Preventing this are any number of potential challenges. Rushkoff lists them for us: climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. The opulent code this in one word, the event, which in turn precipitates just one response, the escape.

Transhumanism reduces reality to data, and humans to information-processing objects. Human evolution reduces to a video game, won by finding the escape hatch.

Rushkoff identifies a brief moment, in the early 1990s, when technology seemed open-ended,  an opportunity to create a more inclusive, distributed, and pro-human future. This faded quickly in the dotcom crash. The future was no longer created through creative decisions, but predetermined by passive venture capital investments.

Rushkoff questions the morality of unbridled technological development turning an exploitative and extractive marketplace (think Walmart) into an even more dehumanizing successor (think Amazon). Downsides include automated jobs, the gig economy, the demise of local retail, the destruction of the natural environment and the use of global slave labour to manufacture computers and smartphones.

Fairphone

As an aside Rushkoff mentions Fairphone, founded to make and market ethical phones. Except this was impossible. Bas Van Abel, Fairphone’s founder now sadly refers to their products as “fairer” phones. Interestingly, I had had discussions about these phones on several occasions during the days immediately before reading this article. The main question being, how much more would a person be willing to pay for a moral product? Note your guess before checking the answer at the bottom of the article.

At some point mining of rare earth metals by slave-labour ends, as reserves cease to be viable. Mines are replacing by toxic waste dump filled with disposed digital technology, “picked over by peasant children and their families, who sell usable materials back to the manufacturers.”

Yes, Rushkoff’s prose can be visible and moving. If people ignore technology’s social, economic, and environmental repercussions, the greater these problems become, resulting in more withdrawal, isolationism, apocalyptic fantasy and more “desperately concocted technologies and business plans. The cycle feeds itself.”

Rushkoff notes that this world view promotes seeing people as the problem and technology as its solution. Human traits are treated as system bugs. Technology is defined as neutral. “It’s as if some innate human savagery is to blame for our troubles. Just as the inefficiency of a local taxi market can be “solved” with an app that bankrupts human drivers, the vexing inconsistencies of the human psyche can be corrected with a digital or genetic upgrade.”

Repo! The Genetic Opera.

In 1996, Darren Smith (1962-) was inspired by a friend’s bankruptcy to write of a future where not only property, but also body parts, could be repossessed. In collaboration with Terrance Zdunich (1976-) this resulted in The Necromerchant’s Debt, a 2002 preliminary theatrical version of Repo! This was then expanded and transformed into assorted incarnations through 2005.  In 2008 it emerged as a science fiction musical horror comedy film, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (1979-).

As a media theorist Rushkoff is programmed to include film references in his works, especially those with post-apocalyptic zombies, where the future is a zero-sum game between humans. One tribe survives at the expense of another’s demise. Repo! is a transgressive film, a genre I appreciate more than most. I am awaiting a sequel, or perhaps, prequel where consciousness is uploaded to a computer. The only challenge is that the Matrix, seems to have had that as its plot.

Westworld is Rushkoff’s media product of choice, depicting a world where human beings are simpler and more predictable than general artificial intelligences. Humans are feeble. They deserve nothing. In contrast robots are far superior. I am looking forward to seeing it, if only to appreciate Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (1980-) as Armistice, a host. She is a brutal and ruthless bandit and a member of Hector Escaton’s gang. In real life, she was born in Inderøy, and attended the same rural elementary school as my children.

Convivial Technology

Surviving the event seemed to be the primary goal of the hedge funders. Rushkoff’s advice was to treat everyone well. The more the world develops sustainability and the wider wealth is distributed, the less chance there will be of an “event”. The challenge was that the hedge funders didn’t seem interested in avoiding a calamity, convinced the world had deteriorated too far. Wealth and power couldn’t affect the future, it could only buy insulation.

As one retreats from the opulent to the affluent, to the middle class, and the working poor, there are better options available for using technology. Convivial technology, where people can have fun, learn and develop, but simultaneously treat each other with respect. Being human is not about individual survival or escape. All individuals die. It is survival of the species that counts in the biological world. Humans thrive through co-operation.

[Answer: A Fairphone costs about 100% more than equivalent phones, about NOK 5 000 for a NOK 2 500 phone. ]

To Have or Have-Not in the 21st Century

Until Sunday, 2018-06-10, I had never heard of an American crime drama/ soap opera television series, currently stretching over six seasons, titled, The Haves and the Have Nots.  Perhaps that says something about my priorities in life. I don’t own a television. The reason for this discovery was that I googled the phrase, to find out how people use the term. How do we distinguish between these two sets of people? Is there a middle ground that is neither have, nor have-not?

Can wealth (or its lack) be used as a criteria? It is an easy matter to calculate the income or net value of assets, and to argue that a specific percentage of people should be in one or the other group. Are haves only those included in the top 1% or 10% or 80%? Conversely, are have nots found only in the bottom 25% or 50% or 99%?  Using wealth is tempting, because in this toxic world, wealth is an important power vector. The haves are those with economic power. It is more difficult to specify a limit, because even lowly consumers can brag about their purchasing power. Those without liquidity can use credit cards, or payday loans.

There are other criteria to distinguish haves and have nots. Many are related to possession of consumer durables: cars (early 20th century), televisions (1950s), second or third cars (1960s), colour televisions (1970s) and computers (1980s). The haves are engaged in conspicuous consumption.

Much of our understanding of this comes from the thoughts of Thorstein Veblen’s (1857 – 1929) sociology. He developed the terms invidious consumption, to refer to an ostentatious consumption of goods, designed to provoke envy, and  conspicuous compassion, the use of charitable donations to enhance social prestige. His book, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899), puts consumption into a nineteenth-century social and historical context, that makes an interesting reflection on twenty-first-century values. Today, we simply mash the two terms together.

One of our friends tells the story of life in Northern Norway anno 1972. His father (we will call him Dad) was a fisher, who had used the same fishing boat throughout a fifty year career. When he retired, the boat was sold. With some of the money from this sale, Dad purchased a car (a new Talbot), and a driving license. Yes, purchased is probably the correct word, because the driving license definitely wasn’t earned. Dad never really got the hang of driving a car, because he wanted to steer the rear end of the vehicle, rather than the front end, just like a boat. Fortunately, he seldom ventured further than the local coop.

Yet, this new vehicle, upset the balance of power in the community. No sooned had Dad purchased his car, than his neighbour wanted one too. Neighb also lacked a driving license, but that didn’t matter because the car he purchased also lacked an engine. It was placed at the entrance to Neighb’s property as a symbol of arrival. Neighb  was also among the haves.

Undoubtedly, humorous stories could be told about numerous possessions, but many stories are far darker. Seventeen year-old  Xiao Zheng, in Hunan Province, sold one of his kidneys in April 2011, to buy an iPhone 4 and an original version of the iPad. This undoubtedly earned him status as one of the haves, at least until the iPhone 4s arrived in October 2011.

Possessions are gradually losing their significance as markers of havness.  Why buy a limosine, when it is cheaper to use Echelon Lyft? (See: echelonlyft.com ) As the age of autonomous cars approaches, there seems little utility to a garage stuffed full of unused vehicles.

Another approach to being one of the haves, is possession of assorted certificates, printed on paper complete with logos, seals and signatures, suitable for framing and to hang on walls, or their digital equivalents, to hang on personal websites. Certificates may serve a dual, some would say triple, function. First, they state class membership. Second, they serve as a rite of passage. Third (and optionally), they may indicate that a person has obtained a certain level of competence: theoretical knowledge, or practical skills.

In education, the mark of a have has been subject to inflation, so that a master’s degree is needed for what a bachelor’s degree could buy earlier, replacing the infamous high school diploma. Naturally, it is not so much the certificate in itself that is important, but the prestige of the school issuing it. The haves can afford to send their little darlings to private schools, followed by Ivy League universities like Princeton or Yale or Harvard or even Leland Stanford Junior University. The have nots learn on the street. In-betweens make do with institutions that are close by, public schools and public universities.

Other certificates can also indicate haveness. South Dakota was the last American state to require drivers to have a driving license, in 1954. Originally, driving licenses were simply a source of revenue, since there was no test or competence required to obtain one. Today, there is no prestige in having a driving license, and many millennials can’t even be bothered earning one.

A better indication of belonging to the haves can be found with a pilot’s license. The beauty of this approach, is that there are so many opportunities for one-up-man-ship. If a private pilot’s licence isn’t impressive enough, then one can always add twin engines, floats, jet engines. Somewhere near the top is a multi-rotor helicopter license.

In my own more nautical world, I have fonder memories of obtaining a Pleasurecraft Operator’s Certificate (1965), from the New Westminster Power Squadron, than I do of obtaining my car driving license the same year. Yes, I found it absolutely thrilling to power a fairly large (motor) cruiser up and down the Fraser River, avoiding tugs, barges, fishing vessels and snags. With this experience, I definitely felt that I was among the haves.

This positive experience, contrasts with my experiences obtaining a Scuba diving certificate some years later (1973), where I met a large number of people obsessed with  diving depths, and who had motorcycle driving as their primary hobby. Here, I felt out of my class, especially when it came to discussions about financing expensive motorcycles, with crime an acceptable means of obtaining money or parts. Interestingly, participating in this diving course and becoming certified was part of a college physical education requirement, that had been outsourced to a local dive school.

In the twenty-first century, haves can ostentate (yes, I just made up the word) by taking a series of Royal Yachting Association courses, provided by wannabe haves, on their highly mortgaged sailing cruiser.

As we progress further into the twenty-first century, with a service economy increasingly overtaking a possessing economy, the distinction between the haves and the have-nots, will be less detectable, but increasingly more important. The minority haves will have indirect control over artificial intelligence agents. The majority have nots will lack any form of control,  simply be required to obey the whims of these agents, and their overlord handlers. Of course people will not feel their oppression, the haves will use post-modern equivalents of bread and circus to pacify. With neural networks living a life of their own, it may not be possible for even the “haves” to exercise direct control over their agents.

The Money Value of Time

At some points in my life as a weblogger, I can push out a post once a day (or more frequently). Then there are periods where equally much is written, but they are only kept as drafts. Gradually so many drafts become stored, that the whole writing process breaks down. Sometimes notes are kept in assorted files, or made on paper, then only in the brain, as real writing stops and imagined writing begins.

For a couple of weeks now, I have been trying to write something meaningful about the time value of money. It has not been easy. At one time, about 1980, I wrote several articles on ROI (return on investment) calculations that were published in several business and trade magazines. I am even the co-author of a book that looks at the subject: Essentials of Management Science, by Morton Helbaek and Brock McLellan, Prentice-Hall, 2010. Don’t even think about buying it, not only is it overpriced for what it offers, it is in many ways outdated. Unfortunately, I don’t have any copies that I can give away.

At some fundamental level, the concept of interest rests on an assumption that money has a time component. If one needs money to buy a house now, a bank will eagerly lend it, provided there is security, but one will have to pay interest on that borrowed money. Conversely, if one saves money, interest will be paid on that saved money.

Declining interest rates, along with governments actively using inflation goals to enforce consumer spending and prevent economic stagnation, have made a mockery of this concept for the past decade. Being a surviver of paying 14% interest on a mortgage gives perspective.

At this stage in my life, with an adequate pension, I do not need to postpone pleasure now, for pleasure later. Interest rates don’t offer any encouragement. In fact, if I don’t indulge in pleasure now, there won’t be a future time to enjoy it.

When I started to write this post I titled it, The Money Value of Time. Then, I reduced it to The Value of Time. Money, when one has enough of it, becomes worthless. Most of this post was written using this title, until I had a change of heart, and re-introduced the original title.

Why? It has to do with an organization of which I am a member, that does not seem to be able to focus on the value of time. It relies on voluntary labour, which it values at the hourly rate of CAD/ EUR/ NOK/ USD 0. This reliance on volunteer labour means that this organization is unable to calculate, let alone appreciate, the value of labour inputs.  It can then ask its members to engage in even the most meaningless of activities, because there is no cost associated with them.

At the moment, I am going through a process of determining my internal hourly rate. When this organization next asks me to do a task, I intend to challenge them by asking what this particular task is worth, and how much they have budgeted for it. I hope that this approach will impact them to see that there are limited resources available, that these resources have a cost, and they will have to prioritize.

Time is a valuable resource. Please, treat it as such.

NAFTA’s effect on diet

Has NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, contributed to Canadian obesity? Barlow et al, in a 2017 paper, suggest it has. Before NAFTA, which was adopted in 1994, Canada had a tariff of 5 percent on high-fructose corn syrup. Under NAFTA, Canada agreed to phase out that tariff, while maintaining tariffs on sugar- and beet-based syrups such as fructose, maltose, glucose and molasses. After the agreement was put in place a years-long decline in total sugar consumption ended, with a shift from liquid sweeteners such as maltose and molasses to corn syrup, a high-fructose sweetener linked to obesity. When high-fructose tariffs dropped, consumption grew: from 21.2 calories of corn syrup per day in 1994 to 62.9 calories per day by 1998. Because tariff reductions make food ingredients cheaper, irrespective of their nutritional qualities, lower prices encourage manufacturers to use more of those ingredients.

The researchers found that consumption stayed flat on those protected sweeteners, but spiked for high-fructose corn syrup. Countries that are economically similar to Canada but not in NAFTA such as Australia and the U.K. did not see a similar effect.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Barlow stated that the connection between free-trade agreements and health has not been well-studied. To date, most research on globalization and nutrition has examined the effects of foreign direct investment: how consumption patterns change when multinational food companies begin producing and advertising in new markets. In trade negotiations NAFTA has often been used as a blueprint. The research leading to the article is an opportunity to think about who benefits from them and who loses, and to construct them to promote health and wellness.

Those interested in this topic are encouraged to read the original research article:

Pepita Barlow, Martin McKee, Sanjay Basu and David Stuckler Impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on high-fructose corn syrup supply in Canada: a natural experiment using synthetic control methods July 04, 2017 189 (26) E881-E887; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.161152 See: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/189/26/E881.full.pdf

The Washington Post article, includes references to other research studies. Caitlin Dewey, How free trade can make you fat, July 11, 2017: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/07/11/how-free-trade-can-make-you-fat/?

Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich, 2 March 2018 at her home in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo: Stephen Voss, for the Guardian)

Barbara Ehrenreich is one of my favourite authors. She has written (at least) three important works: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America (2001);Welcome to Cancerland (2001) ; and, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer (2018).

Cancerland can be found here: https://web.archive.org/web/20131108181820/http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/cancerland.htm .

To research Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich engaged in a three-month experiment surviving on minimum wage as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart clerk.  Her book reports on the difficulties low wage workers face, including hidden costs for shelter and food. The work requires a wide variety of attributes, including stamina, focus, memory, quick thinking, and fast learning. Workers risk repetitive stress injury, have degrading and uninteresting tasks, and have to deal with managers who demeaned and interfered with productivity.

In Cancerland, she described a breast cancer cult, which “serves as an accomplice in global poisoning — normalizing cancer, prettying it up, even presenting it, perversely, as a positive and enviable experience.”

In 2014, at an age of 72, Ehrenreich realized that she was old enough to die. She did not want to waste the time on preventive medical tests or restricting her diet in pursuit of a longer life. She would seek help for a health issue, but would not look for problems. A wellness industry, a cult of mindfulness and food fads elude people into believing that we are in control of our bodies. But with her Ph.D. in cellular immunology Ehrenreich argues that this is not so. The immune systems can promote rather than prevent the spread of cancer cells.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/apr/07/barbara-ehrenreich-natural-causes-book-old-enough-to-die

 

Social Media

English version. Norsk tekst under.
Adapted from a Facebook posting
I am still actively avoiding Facebook, and making other adjustments to my life to minimize its influence. Today’s suggestion is to ask you to avoid “liking” Facebook posts! For Facebook, your “like” is a tool that can be used to manipulate you.
 
It is now several months since I made a comment in Facebook, in fact. Previously, I have stated that Facebook is restricting interaction by directing people only to other users who mirror their own values, be they right/ left, up/ down or vanilla/ chocolate. This gives a very false picture of the world.
 
Now I’d like to go one step further and discourage everyone from liking posts. Every time you like a post, Facebook learns a little more about you, and is in a better position to manipulate you.
 
At the moment, I am engaged in one-way communication through my blogs:
 
brockmclellan.wordpress.com (yup, that’s what you are reading now!)
designeeds.wordpress.com
unitwon.wordpress.com
 
I am hoping that two-way communication can be effected through Diaspora. For more information about it, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora_(social_network)
 
Norwegian version
Jeg fortsatt prøver å unngå Facebook, og gjøre andre tilpasninger i livet mitt for å minimere sin innflytelse. Dagens forslag er å unngå å “like” innlegg på Facebook! For Facebook er “like” et verktøy som kan brukes til å manipulere deg.
 
Det er nå flere måneder siden jeg kommenterte her, faktisk. Tidligere har jeg uttalt at Facebook begrenser samhandling ved å lede folk bare til andre brukere som speiler sine egne verdier, enten de er høyre/ venstre, opp/ ned eller vanilje/ sjokolade. Dette gir et veldig falskt bilde av verden.
 
Nå vil jeg gjerne gå et skritt videre og motvirke alle fra å “like” innlegg. Hver gang du liker et innlegg, lærer Facebook litt mer om deg, og er i en bedre stilling til å manipulere deg.
 
For øyeblikket er jeg engasjert i enveiskommunikasjon gjennom bloggene mine:
 
brockmclellan.wordpress.com
designeeds.wordpress.com
unitwon.wordpress.com
 
Jeg håper at toveiskommunikasjon kan skje gjennom Diaspora. For flere opplysninger om det, se: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora_(social_network)

Immoral consumption

 

“Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.” World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, penned by Henry Kendall, former chair of the Union of Concerned Scientist’s board of directors, November 1992.

An attempt has been made to measure “human demand on nature” resource usage in terms of an ecological footprint, expressed in global hectares per capita. This concept was developed by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees.

Bluntly stated, when the ecological footprint of a human population exceeds the carrying capacity, the result is overpopulation.

According to Rees, in his 29 minute long video, Warning To the People of Earth, a sustainable per capital ecological footprint is about 2 gha, which is where we find countries like Cuba.

Immoral consumption occurs in countries of the world that have an ecological footprint that significantly exceeds 2 gha.

Obscene consumption occurs in countries of the world that have an ecological footprint that significantly exceeds 2 gha, and have a significant biocapacity deficit.

Here are a five countries with data about them:

Eco footprint Biocapacity Deficit (-) / reserve (+)
USA 8.22 3.76 – 4.46
Canada 8.17 16.01 + 7.83
Ireland 5.57 3.73 – 1.83
Norway 4.98 8.18 + 3.19
Cuba 1.95 0.76 – 1.19

USA, Canada, Ireland and Norway all have immoral levels of consumption. In addition, USA and Ireland’s consumption levels are obscene. Cuba has an acceptable level of consumption, but even this low level exceeds the country’s biocapacity. It will either have to export a surplus population, or import goods from countries with reserve capacity.

Note: It is not that easy for individuals living in these countries to do something alone. Over consumption is a systemic problem, not an individual one.

Some reference materials

Rees, W. E. (October 1992). “Ecological footprints and appropriated carrying capacity: what urban economics leaves out”. Environment and Urbanisation. 4 (2): 121–130. doi:10.1177/095624789200400212.

Rees, W. E. and M. Wackernagel (1994) Ecological footprints and appropriated carrying capacity: Measuring the natural capital requirements of the human economy, in Jansson, A. et al.. Investing in Natural Capital: The Ecological Economics Approach to Sustainability. Washington D.C.:Island Press. ISBN1-55963-316-6

Wackernagel, M. (1994). Ecological Footprint and Appropriated Carrying Capacity: A Tool for Planning Toward Sustainability (PDF) (PhD thesis). Vancouver, Canada: School of Community and Regional Planning. The University of British Columbia. OCLC 41839429.

Wackernagel, M. and W. Rees. 1996. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers. ISBN 0-86571-312-X.

World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity (November 1992): https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2017/11/World%20Scientists%27%20Warning%20to%20Humanity%201992.pdf

To mark the 25th anniversary of this original notice, a second notice has been recently issued 13 November 2017, which intensifies the urgency of the first: https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/12/1026/4605229

 

Deeds: Lighting

1280px-Underhill,_Kells_Lane
The first house in the world to use electric lighting and the first to use hydroelectric power. The residence of Joseph Swan, Underhill, Kells Lane, Low Fell, Gateshead, England. (photo: C. Baldwin, 2012)

Incandescent lighting

Historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Swan (1828-1914) and Thomas Edison (1847-1931). Friedel, Robert, and Paul Israel. 1986. Edison’s electric light: biography of an invention. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. pages 115–117.

While Swam may have placed the first incandescent lamp into a house, Edison’s invention was better. It used an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum, and a higher resistance that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.

Historian Thomas Hughes is less concerned about the lamp, than Edison’s integrated electric lighting system. The lamp was only one component, that combined with the Edison Jumbo generator, and the Edison main and feeder distribution system. See: Hughes, Thomas P. (1977). “Edison’s method”. In Pickett, W. B. Technology at the Turning Point. San Francisco: San Francisco Press. pp. 5–22

Regardless of who is credited with its invention, the implementation of an incandescent electrical lighting system made a major contribution to improving society ever since 1880. Alas, after almost 140 years, LED technology is quickly displacing any remaining incandescent bulbs.

LED lighting

In the early 1960s, early LEDs were low-powered, producing red frequency light. Bright blue LEDs were first demonstrated in 1994. This led to the first white LEDs, which used a phosphor coating to convert some of the emitted blue light to red and green frequencies. Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura were awarded the 2014 Nobel prize in physics for the invention of the blue LED.

Nobel physics 2014

Nanophotonic lighting

MIT-Efficient-Incandescents_0
A nanophotonic incandescent light bulb, such as this one made at MIT, could someday replace LED lights. (photo: MIT)

Incandescent light is created by heating a thin tungsten wire to about 2 700 °C Celsius, that emits black body radiation, a broad spectrum light with warmth and a faithful rendering of colors. By surrounding an incandescent filament with a special crystal structure in the glass, energy can be recycled to the filament to create more light. This photonic crystal had to be designed for a very wide range of wavelengths and angles. It is made as a stack of thin layers, deposited on a substrate.

Luminous efficacy is a measure of how well a light source produces visible light, taking into account human eye response. The luminous efficiency of conventional incandescent lights is between 2 and 3 percent, that of fluorescents is between 7 and 15 percent, and that of most commercial LEDs between 5 and 20 percent, the new two-stage incandescents could reach efficiencies as high as 40 percent.

Research into this process is being done by Marin Soljačić, John Joannopoulos, Gang Chen, Ivan Celanovic, Ognjen Ilic and Peter Bermel at MIT.

This means that there could be a new round of lighting technology introduced at some time in the future, which results in another halving of the cost of lighting. This, however, is not a viable product for the moment, and will not be considered further.

The cost of electricity

I began researching this post by looking for rates in Vancouver (Canada), San Francisco (California) and North-Trøndelag (Norway). This research confirmed what I already new. There is no simple formula. However, I did find that the average consumer in San Francisco pays about USD 0.1534 per kWh. In North-Trøndelag it is about NOK 1.07, which is converts to USD 0.1301 per kWh. So, there is not much difference between the two locations.

The cost of light bulbs

It is becoming increasingly difficult to compare the purchase price of incandescent and LED bulbs. Incandescent bulbs just aren’t being sold in Norway. Online stores in the US assure me that 60 W incandescent bulbs can be purchased for about USD 1 each. In North-Trøndelag, a 9 W LED bulb costs about NOK 45, which converts to USD 5.45 (let’s be generous, and raise it to USD 5.50).

Assumptions & Calculations:

It is not unreasonable for a light in a residence to be used 1 000 to 3 000 hours a year, which is 2.25 to 6.75 hours a day. This would give a LED bulb a lifespan of  between 30 and 10 years.

An incandescent bulb burning for 30 000 hours will use $270 worth of electricity. (30 000 h x 60 W x $0.15/ kWh).

Tablulated data

800 lm comparison Incandescent LED
Watts

60

9

Bulb costs (USD)

1

6

Lifespan (hours)

1 200

30 000

Bulbs for 30k hours

25

1

Capital costs (USD)

25

5.50

Electricity costs (30k hours in USD)

270

40.50

Total costs (USD)

295

46

Conclusions

LED lamps reduce the cost of lighting by over 84% in comparison to the use of incandescent bulbs.

Weeds: An End to Duty Free Imports

When I purchase products from abroad, it is usually because these products are unavailable from any Norwegian sources. In a few isolated cases, it is to save money. This situation is about to change, and I may have to purchase larger quantities from abroad.

At the moment it is possible to purchase goods outside of Norway and to import them duty and value tax free, if their value (including postage) is less than NOK 350 (USD 43). If the value is over NOK 350, but under NOK 3000, then 25% Value Added Tax is added, in addition to the NOK 146  (USD 18) customs fee.

Proposed changes would eliminate duty and value tax free import of goods. Everything imported would be subject to customs fees and value added tax.

An example. I have recently been looking at purchasing an “In Wall AC/DC PCB (with Relay) for MySensors”. On eBay, the price is about NOK 40 (USD 5) each. I would probably purchase just one, for experimental and testing purposes. My total cost would be about NOK 40 for this first product. If the testing shows positive results, then I would probably import ten more. If I imported them in groups of five and five, then ten of them would cost NOK 400 or USD 80.

With the proposed changes, I would have to investigate the utility of any purchase. The price of a single PCB would increase from NOK 40 to NOK 196 (USD 24). That is almost a five fold increase. While one can tolerate such an increase for a single purchase, this may make any form of experimentation much more difficult.

The price of 11 PCBs would increase from NOK 440 in two purchases, to NOK 696 in a single purchase, for an average price of over NOK 63. (USD 8).

The reason for this proposed change is to accommodate a Norwegian political party, who wants to use this change in fees to create Norwegian jobs. The result may be the opposite. If informal co-operatives are formed, that are capable of purchasing larger quantities of goods, then the results may be increased imports.

It should be noted here, that Norway is in a special situation. It is not a member of the European Customs Union. Membership here would have eliminated customs fees, but increased prices on most goods by 25%. This is a solution that could be accepted by many.