Surviving In The Jungle
Your feedback loop model of high-tech economics sounds right \["Economics For Engineers Is A Branch Of Psychology," Oct. 2, 2000, p. 160\], but I suspect the higher speed of the computerized feedback, while improving short-term stability, may also come with a serious long-term bias that makes the "bubble" look more like a kite in a thunderstorm.
Through the eyes of an engineer, the empty-pipeline (JIT, zero-inventory, or whatever) makes the profit picture look artificially positive until the last drop of blood is out of the turnip. What will happen to the "old economy" that actually supports the "new economy" when the last cost savings is extracted, and the chronic material shortages take over?
For small companies in the electronic instrumentation segment, the lead times for many critical components now exceed the design cycle time demanded by the management. What will happen to time-to-market and actual delivery of a product if the empty-pipeline problem continues to get worse?
If demand information reaches suppliers sooner and more accurately, would this not expedite supply? This may be simplistic in your case, though. If a vendor is saturated by big buyers, he or she may be motivated to neglect small buyers, especially if they need specials. The economists' ideal marketplace is a jungle.—Lawrence J. Kamm
Hydrogen Explosive Capability
You state in "Energy Independence—Without Pollution—Lies At Our Fingertips" \[Nov. 6, 2000, p. 165\] that hydrogen cannot explode in air. You're wrong to say that. Hydrogen does indeed have an explosive mixture range. I can give you references if you need more than a chemical engineering handbook.
Or if you prefer, take a hydrogen torch (as used by glass blowers). Make a neutral flame and extinguish it without shutting the gas off. Make a spark and observe the explosion. You also could fill an inverted bag with hydrogen, apply a flame to the bottom, and observe the explosion. I assume that you meant that the gas would generally disperse before forming an explosive mixture. However, if trapped under a pocket or if released at a rate exceeding the diffusion rate, you can have an explosion.
Anthony Stanley Pruszenski Jr.
I hope I didn't imply that! Hydrogen alone isn't explosive as dynamite is explosive. But if you mix hydrogen and air, the combustion rate is certainly explosive.—Lawrence J. Kamm
Environmentally Friendly Approach
Thank you for a much-needed, common-sense "Energy Independence—Without Pollution—Lies At Our Fingertips." Years ago in Mechanical Engineering, the journal of the ASME, I read a related article of similar merit. The author proposed that, instead of making the North American continent one massive landfill in a misguided attempt to dispose of household rubbish in an "environmentally friendly" way, we should utilize deep underground caverns and our massive but obsolete nuclear arsenal.
The concept was to fill a cavern with rubbish, then detonate a nuclear bomb to reduce the waste to negligible volume. With suitable mechanisms, a single cavern could be filled repeatedly, and bombs introduced as required. This would, of course, simultaneously solve the problem of disarming and disposing of obsolete nuclear weapons. It appears that the U.S. nuclear stockpile is so large as to allow such a disposal process to continue for many years into the future, without the necessity of resuming weapons production.
Russell L. Harris
Conserving Outdoor Lighting
The engineering community could make a big contribution to energy conservation if we would design really "smart" controllers for outdoor lighting \["Energy Conservation: Do We Have The Resolve To Do It?" Nov. 6, 2000, p. 58\]. Countless power-hungry outdoor lights are just switched on by a photocell and allowed to run all night when they aren't needed during most of the night.
Shopping center parking lots are a good example. After the close of business, it would be reasonable to switch off most of these lights, leaving only a few lower-wattage units running to address the concerns of security. We also see many instances where controllers aren't functioning properly and lights are running during full daylight periods. The enormous waste of electrical energy contributes to ground-level ozone.
Many other lights are used purely for advertising. There seems to be competition between various companies, especially the "fast food" joints and gasoline stations, to have the brightest, most obnoxious lights possible. We should require by law that these be turned off at the close of business, and we need reliable controllers to enforce this policy. I hope that as a nation, we can reduce the sinful waste of our resources and improve our air quality.
Robert K. MacDowell
Children Tell The Future
You've hit a nerve with me \["Energy Conservation: Do We Have The Resolve To Do It?"\]. I believe the only sensible answer involves teaching our elementary kids the elements of decision making, risk analysis, and system-wide thinking. Then, the horse will voluntarily walk and drink the water. It takes years, but it brings a better result. Also, you talked about the negative aspects of guzzling gas, but you never mentioned the most important point—the dependence on oil. Our national security is predicated with what the oil nations decide. This seems an awfully precarious position to me.
Chief Information Officer