PR and publicity can go only so far.  At some point recipients of messages accept or ignore them.  One can persuade but not compel. Consider this example.  Railroad authorities have repeated ad nauseum a warning to respect gates at crossings and to never, never go around them when they are down.  Yet, a driver did.  Three people died in the car, a train derailed and passengers suffered minor injuries.  We may never know what the driver was thinking but surely there must have been some cognition of the risk that was about to be taken.  As a reporter decades ago, I covered a number of vehicle-train accidents.  The railroad wasn’t at fault in any of them. Some people don’t listen.  They don’t believe warnings apply to them. They will do what they want until tragedy overtakes them. Three people died needlessly and once again a railroad’s best efforts in PR and publicity were wasted. 

Empty Words?

Survivors of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy are angry at the pope. They were expecting a specific plan of action to come from a conference of bishops at the Vatican.  They didn’t get it.  Rather, the pope delivered a speech that did not convince those who have been hurt so deeply.  They are railing at the pontiff.  “He’s the boss.  Why won’t he do something?”  Church commentators with an understanding of how the Vatican bureaucracy works say specific rules and regulations will come.  It takes time. Survivors want to see cardinals and bishops sacked right now.  Today.  Immediately.  One American cardinal has been cashiered and several bishops have resigned worldwide, but that is not nearly enough to quiet the protest.  The hierarchy will remain under fire, and it may take decades for the Church to win back its reputation.  Words alone are never enough: It takes doing.

Perils Of Hype

Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, is widely acknowledged to have the most advanced self-driving technologies for vehicles. So, if Waymo is having troubles keeping journeys autonomous and safe, what can be said for the rest of the industry? That is the question that has arisen since Waymo put safety drivers back into its vans. Hype would have it that we are on the cusp of an automotive revolution in which we settle back and let the car find its way safely from point A to point B or beyond. It turns out technology is not ready for every eventuality a driver is likely to encounter. There are bizarre occurrences that an experienced person can negotiate but a system cannot. It gets confused or it misses critical events completely. Yet, the public is waiting impatiently for these wonder vehicles that will allow one to text safely or remain on the phone or become otherwise engaged with hands off the steering wheel. It seems they will wait longer, and skeptics think they might wait forever. It would have been better for Waymo and its competitors if they had been underestimated. No one would be surprised by occasional failure. But the hype got ahead of itself as it often does.

Another Loss

First it was Comdex. Now it is CeBIT. Places for computer and software vendors to show their wares continue to disappear. They are victims of declining attendance. The huge crowds that used to show up have thinned. One wonders why, and one answer is that they choked on their success. They were overwhelming and one never had a chance to see everything nor to spend much time when there was an interesting technology that surfaced. The cost of the exhibits and their yield wasn’t there. It took months for companies to prepare and the result was more tire-kicking than sales. So they started to withdraw and that was it for the two shows. Venues remain but they are not as large as CeBIT. Maybe that is a good outcome.

Is It Enough?

The CEO of Delta airlines works hard to inspire and motivate employees. He meets with them frequently. He stays after meetings for dozens of selfies with starstruck personnel. He is an unabashed rah-rah executive who believes in his people. All that, however, might not be enough to keep the carrier successful. Inexorable costs are dragging profits down. There is only one way to offset them at the moment — flying planes full.  That, however, might not be enough if another recession hits and business class pulls back. The CEO is compensating partially by entering international routes where fares are more stable and returns better, but even that might not be sufficient. He is faced with two challenges — keeping employees focused and finding new sources of profitable revenue. Both are difficult in a business where profits are rare and employee unrest frequent. That he has succeeded for the moment is not enough for worried investors. He might need to spend more time communicating with Wall Street. It is tough to be pulled three ways at once.

Possible But Not Probable

The conflagrations of California with tens of thousands of structures burned has opened the question again of building for wildfires. It is possible to design and construct a structure that won’t go up in flames, but there is little chance of that happening. There are too many vested interests in traditional construction. So, if houses are erected on the scorched earth again, they are likely to be stick-built wood and sheetrock with flammable roofing material. It would take a major publicity campaign, a change in zoning laws and contractor requirements to prevent future destruction. At this juncture, while citizens are digging through remains of their homes and searching for whatever was not destroyed, it might be too early to act. People are grieving for loss of loved ones and possessions. But there isn’t much time before citizens will seek permits to rebuild. It is then local authorities must be ready with new requirements.

A Thousand Words

The cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words proves true once again. The photo of a barefoot, diapered toddler wailing as she flees from tear gas at the Mexican border has gone viral. It has provoked condemnation of the Trump administration and its hard-edged policies toward migrants. It has given a hot issue to Democrats as they get ready to take over the House. It has sparked revulsion. For all that, Trump seems unconcerned and blames the refugees for their troubles. There have been many words spoken and written already about this photo, but the difference will come if legislators decide to act. They would have to take on the White House, which would be difficult, but it can become a campaign issue for 2020. The message is clear. This is not who we are. American is a nation of immigrants.

Step By Step

NASA has scheduled the first SpaceX flight with a Dragon crew capsule on board. It is a test. There will be no astronauts aboard. The space agency is taking progress step by step, leaving little to chance. When there are humans involved, there is little room for experiment. NASA learned that lesson the hard way after losing crews in its early days and during its time with the shuttle. It is a matter of credibility. SpaceX has to prove that its capsule can do the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the international space station. If it does, NASA need no longer to rely on Russia for transport. Russia for its part lost a bit of credibility when its most recent rocket failed with a space crew on board. They landed safely, but it was scary.

Happy Thanksgiving

It is frigid on the East Coast and the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade participants are shivering. When I awoke at 8 this morning, the temperature was 16. That might not seem so bad for those who dwell in the upper Midwest, but it is more than enough for the Tri-state area.

May you and your families have a happy Thanksgiving and enjoy your time together.

Tragedy Of The Commons

One might think with the immensity of space there would be no tragedy of the commons where everyone uses orbital elevations and thereby wrecks them. But, that is how experts are seeing an upcoming SpaceX launch with 64+ Cubesat satellites. The charge is that SpaceX is cluttering the space commons. It turns out there is only so much room circling the earth and already with hundreds of satellites and associated launch debris up there, tracking new objects is difficult and dangerous. What is to prevent future satellites from being obliterated by fast moving objects? This could prove to be a PR problem for SpaceX sooner or later. There isn’t enough room for everyone. One would need to clear dead satellites and junk before sending more in their place. That, or wait until they fall and burn up in the atmosphere, which could take years.