Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

On being Westinghoused

Posted in People / organisations by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on February 5, 2008

I must say I succumbed to the stereotype about scientists and inventors and always had a mental image of Edison as a self-less innovator that just wanted to invent things for mankind to use. Check out this quote from the book “The Big Switch“:

The new alternating-current systems met with considerable resistance at first. Because they operated at much higher voltages than existing systems, they stirred fears about safety among many in the public. Edison, still convinced of the superiority of his own direct-current system, tried to magnify those fears by launching a grisly public relations campaign aimed at having high-power AC systems banned. Teaming up with an electrician named Harold Brown, he helped stage a series of public execuitions of animals, including dogs, cows, and horses, using the current from AC dynamos. He even convinced the New York legislature to purchase an AC generator – from Westinghouse, which had bought Tesla’s patents and become the biggest promoter of AC system – for use in the electrocution of death-row prisoners. On August 6, 1890, an as murderer named William Kemmler became the first man to die in New York’s new electric chair. Although the next day’s newspaper headline – “Kemmler Westinghoused” – must hav epleased Edison, his fearmongering failed to halt the spread of the technologically superior AC systems.”

I must say I am impressed at this – it is much nastier than Steve Ballmer’s “Linux is cancer” quote.

What does Simon’s Travel Theorem Mean for your next trip?

Posted in Books, People / organisations by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on February 3, 2008

Several threads are pointing me towards Herbert Simon’s book on decision theory, “Models of My Life“. A friend of mine who has created a documentary about Charles Moore has also made freely available his interview with Herbert Simon. What is driving me towards his book is its discussion of his Travel Theorem:

Anything that can be learned by a normal American adult on a trip to a foreign country (of less than one year’s duration) can be learned more quickly, cheaply, and easily by visiting the San Diego Public Library.

Of course, Simon wrote this before the web, let alone the Wikipedia. This is making me reconsider all site visits for my management consultancy research.

People react almost violently to my Travel Theorem. I try to explain that it has nothing to do with the pleasure of travel, but only with the efficiency of travel for learning. They don’t seem to hear my explanation; they remain outraged. They point out that I seem to be traveling all the time. Why shouldn’t other people travel too? After they simmer down enough to understand the theorem, they still attack it. It takes a long time to calm their passion with reason — and it usually isn’t extinguished, but temporarily subdued. Why, they think, argue with a madman?

So why bother making the trips? Of course, there are always the pleasures of travel, and Simon makes no attempt to deprive people of these. But I am now changing the focus of my trips to things I could never have found out from library, or the web. For example, I like to talk to the people who are hidden away, the ones who are so busy working that they do not respond to phone calls requests from management consultants. Those people will tell you truths that no library visit will get you.