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jerryking : industrial_age   7

GE and Siemens: power pioneers flying too far from the sun
November 12, 2017 | FT | by Ed Crooks in New York and Patrick McGee in Frankfurt.

Rivals GE and Siemens both face difficult challenges ahead with the threats emanating in the 21st century from the renewable energy revolution that risks rendering obsolete their century-old strengths in supplying equipment for the electricity industry.....As the costs of solar and wind power have plunged, making them cheaper than fossil fuel generation in many parts of the world, the traditional model of the industry has changed. Capital spending on the new technologies has soared. Battery storage is also starting to be a cost-effective solution for supporting the grid, challenging the market for “peaker” gas turbines that are used when demand is at its highest. Yet both groups have taken positions in renewable energy but have stumbled along the way.

The result is that GE and Siemens are being forced to drive down costs dramatically in their core power businesses. Siemens is looking to cut thousands of jobs in its power and gas unit....while both groups face a turbulent environment, the immediate outlook is considerably brighter at Siemens, which appears to be better positioned to adjust to the disruption sweeping through the energy industry....GE’s 2017 has been a disaster.....GE's CEO, John Flannery, has already moved fast to signal his intentions: clearing out many top executives, grounding corporate jets, stopping the cars provided to senior managers, cutting back the network of global research centres and promising to sell peripheral and underperforming businesses worth up to $20bn....GE's sales of aeroderivative gas turbines, used to support grids at times of peak load, were half the planned numbers, while sales of packages for improving the performance of gas-fired plants were just a third of projections.....“All major vendors got the market [i.e. for gas turbines] wrong,” ...The next big worry is servicing for turbines — once a gold mine but one that is bound to decline as new orders fall. With turbines being sold at no margin or sometimes at a loss, competition for servicing contracts is heating up, further eroding margins.

For the foreseeable future, the gas turbine market is likely to remain difficult,...“The question is whether this is just a cyclical problem, or whether there is something structural in the industry that is really starting to cause problems.”

There is good reason to think that it is structural, given the plunge in solar and wind costs. ... “a combination of rooftop solar and battery storage could make economic sense in India, African countries and other places where they don’t have well-developed power grids”......According to the IEA, in 2016 $316bn was invested in renewable energy worldwide last year, almost three times as much as the $117bn in fossil fuel power generation.....If Mr Flannery founders, then breaking up GE might come to seem like the only option left to investors. It would not magically dispel the problems of the business, and would be difficult because of the group’s complex tax position and liabilities, including insurance claims dating from before GE pulled out of the industry in 2004-2006.

To avoid a break-up, GE might follow the template Siemens created in 2014 for a more decentralised structure. Mr Kaeser calls it a “fleet of ships” model, with divisions becoming semi-autonomous and separately listed. Siemens’ largest division, its medical equipment unit, is scheduled to list next year.

“The time of old-fashioned conglomerates is over,” he says. “They are definitely not going to survive.”
CEOs  Siemens  GE  industrial_age  founders  19th_century  decentralization  conglomerates  renewable  obsolescence  solar  batteries  cost-cutting  turnarounds  divestitures  wind_power  under-performing  power_grid  electric_power 
november 2017 by jerryking
For workers, challenge is all to easily ducked
July 2017 | Financial Times | Tim Harford

Cal Newport: Deep Work
Robert Twiggs : Micromastery

The modern knowledge worker — a programmer, a lawyer, a newspaper columnist — might appear inoculated from Adam Smith’s concern. We face not monotony but the temptations of endless variety, with the entire internet just a click away. All too easily, we can be pulled into the cycle of what slot-machine designers call a “ludic loop”, repeating the same actions again and again. Check email. Check Facebook. Check Instagram. Check Twitter. Check email. Repeat....what is a ludic loop but “performing a few simple operations, of which the effects, too, are perhaps always the same”?

Smith was concerned about jobs that provided no mental challenge: if problems or surprises never arose, then a worker “has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention, in . . . removing difficulties which never occur.”

For the modern knowledge worker, the problem is not that the work lacks challenge, but that the challenge is easily ducked. This point is powerfully made by computer scientist Cal Newport in his book Deep Work. Work that matters is often difficult. It can be absorbing in mid-flow and satisfying in retrospect, but it is intimidating and headache-inducing and full of false starts.

[Responding to ] Email is easier. And reading Newport’s book I realised that email posed a double temptation: not only is it an instant release from a hard task, but it even seems like work. Being an email ninja looks professional and seems professional — but all too often, it is displacement activity for the work that really matters.

A curious echo of Smith’s warning comes in Robert Twigger’s new book Micromastery. Mr Twigger sings the praises of mastering one small skill at a time: not how to cook, but how to make the perfect omelette; not how to build a log cabin, but how to chop a log. We go deep — as Newport demands — but these sharp spikes of skill are satisfying, not too hard to acquire and a path to true expertise.

They also provide variety. “Simply growing up in the premodern period guaranteed a polymathic background,” writes Twigger. To prosper in the premodern era required many different skills; a smart person would be able to see a problem from many angles. A craft-based, practical upbringing means creative thinking comes naturally. “It is only as we surge towards greater specialisation and mechanisation that we begin to talk about creativity and innovation.”

Three lessons:
(1) learning matters. Smith wanted schooling for all; Twigger urges us to keep schooling ourselves. Both are right.
(2) serious work requires real effort, and it can be tempting to duck that effort. Having the freedom to avoid strenuous thinking is a privilege I am glad to have — but I am happier when I don’t abuse that freedom. [Mavity says: “If you need to produce an idea, isolating yourself can be enormously beneficial.”......“How you do that in a big open-plan office with 100 other people trying to be creative at the same time?.......Solitude is in hopelessly short supply at a time when companies are captivated by the financial allure of the open-plan office and its evil twin, hot-desking. ]
(3) old-fashioned craft offered us something special. To Smith it was the challenge that came from solving unpredictable problems. To Twigger it is the variety of having to do many small things well. To Newport, it is the flow that comes from deep immersion in a skill that requires mastery. Perhaps all three mean the same thing.

Smith realised that the coming industrial age threatened these special joys of work. The post-industrial age threatens them too, in a rather different way. ....“The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments,” wrote Smith. So whether at work or at play, let us take care that we employ ourselves wisely.
Adam_Smith  books  busywork  Cal_Newport  distractions  expertise  GTD  hard_work  industrial_age  knowledge_workers  lessons_learned  productivity  polymaths  premodern  procrastination  skills  solitude  thinking_deliberatively  Tim_Harford  what_really_matters 
august 2017 by jerryking
Historian David Landes’s theories of ‘superior’ cultures are still polarizing
Sep. 11 2013 | - The Globe and Mail | DOUGLAS MARTIN

David Landes, a distinguished Harvard scholar of economic history, saw tidal movements in the rise of seemingly small things. He suggested that the development of eyeglasses made precision tools possible. Maybe, he said, using chopsticks helped Asian workers gain the manual dexterity needed to make microprocessors....In his 482-page Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World, published in 1983, Prof. Landes examined the growth of the Industrial Age through the history of timepieces, tracing their origin to medieval European monasteries; monks, he wrote, needed something to tell them when to gather for a regular round of group prayer.... His most influential work, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor (1998), answered the question posed in its title (a play on that of Adam Smith’s classic work) by pointing to the importance of the Protestant work ethic and European attitudes toward science and technology....His dissertation became his first book, Bankers and Pashas: International Finance and Economic Imperialism in Egypt....Reviewing his 2006 book, Dynasties: Fortunes and Misfortunes of the World’s Great Family Businesses, for The Times of London, Christopher Silvester described the writing as pithy, thoughtful and sprightly. The book offers 13 sketches of tycoons, including Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Armand Peugeot.
books  cultural_values  economic_history  family_business  Harvard  historians  industrial_age  manual_dexterity  medieval  moguls  obituaries  precision  scholars  work_ethic 
september 2013 by jerryking
The Most Powerful Idea in the World
In less than a century, in a single place, human welfare and
prosperity, which had barely changed in the preceding 10,000 years,
entered an era of sustained and explosive growth that continues to this
day. The moment did not occur in 2nd century Alexandria, or 12th century
China, or Renaissance Italy, but in 18th century Britain; and, as
William Rosen chronicles in his extraordinary new history, the reason
was the power of an idea: that inventors should have ownership of their
inventions.

The Most Powerful Idea in the World is the story of that idea as
expressed in the “biography” of a single invention: the steam engine.
How it came to be born; how it grew to power factories, drive other
inventions, and carry people and freight, by rail and by sea
18th_century  book_reviews  Industrial_Revolution  United_Kingdom  inventors  patent_law  patents  books  ideas  inventions  industrial_age  steam_engine  James_Watts 
december 2010 by jerryking
Gordon Crovitz: Government Drops the Ball on Patents - WSJ.com
JULY 19, 2010 | Wall Street Journal | By L. GORDON
CROVITZ. Without guidance from Congress or the Supreme Court, industry
turns to self-help. "Patent law is a few years behind copyright when it
comes to self-help. Patents are at the tectonic plate shift between the
Industrial Age and the Information Age. That's because so much new
technology, especially software, becomes valuable only when combined
with other innovations. This is very different from protecting a new
plowshare or cotton gin."....The pharmaceutical industry, which must
invest fortunes to clear regulatory hurdles for new drugs, needs a
different approach to patents than do software companies. (See also
Larry Downes, author of "The Laws of Disruption.")
patents  patent_law  intellectual_property  L._Gordon_Crovtiz  copyright  DIY  books  seismic_shifts  industrial_age 
july 2010 by jerryking
Thinkers And Tinkerers
June 22, 2010 | The New Republic | Edward Glaeser. Reviews
The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1850 by
Joel Mokyr Yale University Press, 564 pp., $45. The Industrial
Revolution is the inflection point of economic history. During all the
millennia before that revolution, incomes were static and humans were
poor—often hungry, inadequately clothed, ill-housed. But somehow, in the
2.5 centuries since humanity learned to mass produce, a large number of
ordinary people have acquired more material comfort than even the
wealthiest magnates of the pre-industrial era....Joel Mokyr (The Lever
of Riches) a distinguished economic historian, explores England’s early
industrial age. Mokyr's overarching thesis is about the power of ideas.
His grand idea is that the practical, avaricious inventors of the
industrial revolution owed much to the academic, but worldly,
philosophers of the Enlightenment.
Industrial_Revolution  history  book_reviews  financial_history  the_Enlightenment  Joel_Mokyr  economic_history  industrial_age  precision  ideas  inventors  books  mass_production  England  United_Kingdom  steam_engine  James_Watts  tinkerers  inflection_points 
july 2010 by jerryking

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