Monday, August 30, 2010

Meanwhile in Washington

While we were in Phuket, Washington was in the midst of another power outage caused by thunderstorms. Need I say more?

By coincidence, one night when we were day, we lost power at the hotel, albeit for only about an hour. Apparently, a transformer down the road blew. According to M, when she was at the front desk asking about the power, a lady came by and said 'I heard an almighty bang and then the lights went out!'

As I wrote this I read that Washington has been beset by three more thunderstorms accompanied by widespread power outages. (See here for the storm the day after we left, here for the second storm, and here for the storm after. Or here for a roundup.)

It's great that I have been in 3rd world countries with no power interruptions! Looks like we left DC just in the nick of time. While this is may be an indicator of poor investment in the power grid, it is by no means the only infrastructure suffering from lack of maintenance – the Metro is having problems and water mains need to be fixed instead of the water authorities waiting for them to break before attending to them.

The usual things will happen – Pepco will be called to account for its handling of the power outages. After some apologies and how this summer has been 'unprecedented' and the county officials have had their outbursts and photo-ops things will go back to the way they were before. The problem lies in our willingness to accept things as they are before. This attitude can result in catastrophes such as poor responses to Katrina and the Gulf oil spill. We call these events unprecedented and excuse ourselves because we cannot perform any better. To say that we will try to perform better is not enough (nor is it enough to just learn from the past and hope the mistakes do not repeat.)

Deming calls this effort continuous quality improvement. (Note that Lexus calls it a relentless pursuit of perfection but did nothing much about it which accounts for the recalls this summer.) Yet, it is hard to get companies to continually invest in maintenance, repairs and upgrades. Economists will call this an incentive problem. One way to solve this would be to allow maintenance and repairs to be tax deductible, say 10 cents for every dollar and for upgrades say 50 cents for every dollar.

Deming would be against this however, if I read his philosophy correctly. Pick an area to improve on – for instance, for every storm the number of outages have to be lower and lower every year until it falls to zero. His philosophy would imply that the costs of fixing power lines from storms would in the long run more than pay for itself.

So is the problem short-termism (especially of the stock market) and long term? More on this in another post.


We were in Phuket July 26 – July 30 and stayed at the Pacific Club. I had expected Phuket to be fairly developed with high rise condos dotting the coast but was pleasantly surprised that it was not. Like M says, the atmosphere is very saabai saabai. Most of the time, we spent trying to overcome jet lag which was part of the plan. The hotel was not able to provide the 2-bedroom unit we wanted saying that the AC was broken but it turned out fine since we didn't really need all that space and it saved us some money. They also threw in one airport transfer for free which saved us an additional 1000 Thb.

We drove up to the Big Buddha and went to Nai Harn beach. The waves were bigger than I was accustomed to (perhaps because of the monsoon season) and it was great to see most of the farang tourists thrown themselves with abandon with each coming wave. The beaches were also extremely clean – apparently the Thais have learned something that Penangites have not.

We also managed to squeeze in a show – Fantasea which was part Vegas and part Circque du Soleil with animals (elephants, hens, pigeons, sheep, water buffalo) thrown in for good measure. K1 and K2 enjoyed this and the place was teeming with tourists – busloads (us included) were being disgorged prior to show time. Skip the buffet – to say that it was average would be generous. The best part were the baby elephants standing in the grand entryway ready to be stroked and touched as we file into the auditorium. After the show, they were also outside for photo-ops.

This being the monsoon season, it was no surprise to us that it rained daily and was incredibly humid even though it did clear up enough for us to venture out to the beach and the show. We also managed a walk into Karon town from the hotel. The town is small and caters mainly to tourists – laundry services, various food & drink establishments (which we did not try), and other smaller hotels. We mostly ate at the hotel – the breakfast was good (go for the Thai food) and also a restaurant up on one of Phuket's many hills as well as lunch by the beach

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Spontaneous order

This post on spontaneous order impressed MR:

Here's a video of a small town in Britain that turned its traffic lights off. Order ensued.

The major qualification here is small town. I'd like to see the lights turned off and order ensuing on Dupont Circle and Ward Circle before being impressed.

Why I'm (not) blogging

Left for three weeks to Thailand and Malaysia - with intermittent and slow Internet connections all throughout and then back with incredible jet lag. Thought I had devised a way by writing off line and then copying and pasting when I got a reliable connection but I just got lazy. The blogging was supposed to be a disciplining device to get me to write every day but it has not worked well and worked even worse while we were away.

I'll be posting the drafts that I half-wrote up while away but they need some clean up first.