Posts Tagged ‘Decision making’

Stuttgart’s white elephant

September 23, 2010

Hamada Marine "Bridge to Nowhere"

Japan is famous for its bridges to nowhere and highways without traffic but Germany is not immune from this extravagant form of supporting the construction industry and their powerful lobbies.

Der Spiegel runs a scathing attack on the white elephant that is “Stuttgart 21” and Deutsche Bahn‘s CEO Rüdiger Grube:

A multibillion railway development project is going ahead in Stuttgart, despite the fact that it offers hardly any benefits for the rail network and the money would be better spent elsewhere. Experts have been warning against the plans for years, but they were ignored.

Current estimates put the costs of building the subterranean railway station in Stuttgart, the capital of the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, at €4.1 billion ($5.38 billion). An associated high-speed rail line to Ulm, a city lying about 90 kilometers (56 miles) southeast of Stuttgart, is slated to cost another €3 billion.

But what, you might ask, is the payoff for Deutsche Bahn, the federal government or the EU of implementing Stuttgart 21 and building the new line to Ulm? Deutsche Bahn CEO Rüdiger Grube offers one answer: The building project, he explains, will “eliminate the biggest bottleneck on the high-speed route from Paris to Bratislava.”

It would seem that Grube still doesn’t have his facts straight. It might help if he actually took the train from Paris to Bratislava. The roughly 13-hour trip would probably be enough to convince him that this so-called express corridor actually isn’t so express and that boring tunnels through the karst formations of the Swabian Alps mountain range for the Stuttgart-Ulm line is not about to make the connection significantly more attractive.

See map Paris to Bratislava

As Düsseldorf-based engineer Sven Andersen puts it, “Stuttgart 21 does nothing for long-distance travel.” Unlike Grube, Andersen has spent his entire career working in the railway industry, most recently as an expert on operational issues, and is considered one of the top experts on Germany’s railway system.

New Stuttgart station

As Andersen sees it, Stuttgart 21 and the related plan to built the Stuttgart-Ulm high-speed railway line are “a transportation-policy disaster.” Likewise, he adds, the project seems to be based on a complete misunderstanding of Stuttgart’s role in the German and European railway network. “Stuttgart is a destination,” he says. “It’s not a place people travel through to get someplace else. Converting the station into a through station won’t be an improvement on any significant route.” Indeed, all you have to do is look at a map to realize that Stuttgart is not a central location. All fast connections between key economic zones pass through other cities. For example, the Frankfurt-Zurich route runs far west of Stuttgart through Karlsruhe and Basel, while the Frankfurt-Munich route makes a wide arch through Würzburg and Nuremberg, far north and east of Stuttgart.

Full article:,1518,717575,00.html

Defence lobbies enlist the sun

September 18, 2010

“Solar flares could paralyse Britain’s power and communications”.

The UK Defence Secretary will next week attend a summit of scientists and security advisers who believe the infrastructure that underpins modern life in Western economies is potentially vulnerable to electromagnetic disruption. Dr Liam Fox will tell the conference he believes there is a growing threat, and he wants to address the “vulnerabilities” in Britain’s high-tech infrastructure. “As the nature of our technology becomes more complex, so the threat becomes more widespread,” he will say.

Brahmos Missiles

The meeting will be addressed by Avi Schnurr, a former US government adviser who said that “super-flares” occur about once every hundred years, meaning the next is overdue. The electrical grid, computers, telephones, transportation, water supply, food production are all vulnerable to a major flare, said Mr Schnurr, who also works for the Israel Missile Defence Association, a lobby group.

David Williams, acting head of the UK Space Agency, told a Commons committee that any negative impacts on technology, particularly satellites, would have “severe problems both short-term and long-term” for Britain.

A few weeks ago the talk was of a Solar Tsunami which turned out to be little more than a pretty ripple.

The Telegraph contributed to the alarmism

That lobbyists will use whatever scare scenario they can find to increase budgets and sales of totally unnecessary equipment (Y2K for example) is understandable. But Ministers are expected to be a little more discerning. Applying the nonsensical precautionary principle for an event that may occur once in a hundred years and which will affect the “enemy” as much as anyone else seems a feeble argument to increase defence budgets.

Paywalls are a real turnoff

July 21, 2010

Over the last few weeks I find I am just not visiting The Times site any more. Clearly I am not the only one as Business Week reports. After 42 years of reading The Times regularly, I find I don’t miss it much either, which I thought I might. In fact there is not a single reporter or columnist at The Times who can any longerbe classified as a “must read” . Their speed of reporting has been insufficient to lead to any scoops and their biases are not insignificant. Lately they have shown little editorial courage either. Perhaps their time has now gone.

Visits to the website of The Times newspaper have fallen to a third since Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. started asking users to pay for online access. Traffic in the week ended July 10 declined to 33 percent of that before the company demanded users register, according to data compiled by Experian Hitwise. The Times’ share of traffic to news and media websites from the U.K. fell to 1.43 percent from 4.46 percent, Experian said in an e-mailed statement.

In fact blogs even with their blatant partisanship are getting more of my visits than the Mainstream media sites. The known political slant of the blogs can be easily discounted but the MSM which claims impartiality is becoming less reliable because they are all actually quite biased but their bias is not visible.

Unknown Unknowns and the World Cup

June 28, 2010

After yesterdays glaring blunders by the referees, linesmen and 4th referees, first when England were denied a goal which every TV viewer around the world could see had crossed the goal-line and second when Argentina were awarded a goal when every TV viewer could see that Tevez was off-side, it is now going to be difficult for FIFA to resist bringing in the use of technology to assist referees’ decisions. It occurred to me that even though the final results seemed justified by the rest of the play, we cannot know what the impact of the correct decisions would have been. If England had been awarded their goal they would have started the second half level and in a different frame of mind. If Argentina’s goal had been disallowed and Mexico had scored first the players’ attitudes and the play could have changed in a fundamental way.

FIFA’s attitude to the use of technology borders on faith in a bygone age which no longer exists.

Like the proverbial ostriches – they do not wish to know what they do not know.

Thinking about what might have been, I was reminded of Donald Rumsfeld’s press conference at NATO HQ, Brussels  on June 6th, 2002., when as U.S. Secretary of Defence he said:

“The message is that there are no “knowns.” There are thing we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that’s basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns”.

There is actually a compelling music to the words but this quotation is often mocked especially by opponents of the US invasion of Iraq. I have quoted it disparagingly myself in discussions and presentations about the dangers of forecasting.

But of course what he said is rather profound. (more…)

PowerPoint and Decision making don’t mix

May 1, 2010

An excellent example of the dangers of PowerPoint presentations.

If PPT presentations could be somehow restricted for information briefings or as illustrations for a lecture but avoided as the basis for decision making it would be a giant step forward.

PowerPoint slides discourage thought.

An excellent essay about the dangers by Thomas Hammes.

%d bloggers like this: