JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 220 : 3 November 2006

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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11 mins.

ABB boasts a breadth of wireless products

As one of the industrial automation majors, ABB is clearly making strong commitments to wireless. Perhaps the lack of big ABB announcements over "wireless initiatives" is because the company is spread over many different industrial markets, not just process controls (like Emerson and Honeywell).

In a 2006 wireless briefing on "Wireless and Mobility" provided to selected industry analysts, ABB shows the significant breadth and scope of its wireless offerings. There are lots of wireless products for extreme locations, for quickly instrumenting temporary situations, global location and status tracking.

ABB serves much broader markets than other automation leaders. Their two main business segments are Automation and Power. Over the past couple of years many different wireless products have been introduced - for water and electricity meters, power equipment and switchgear monitoring, machine monitoring, wireless monitoring in the oil & gas industry, power and fuel meters, mobile power-line & cable inspection, power breakers.

For process control environments, ABB offers wireless process transmitters and fieldbus distributed I/O, plus wireless upgrades for 4-20mA HART installations and wireless HMI - all with interface to PCs and wireless PDAs (tools in the field-engineer's pocket).

While others are doing a big song-and-dance, ABB is busy expanding its industrial wireless offerings.

Click ARC Briefing: ABB's Trend with Wireless Automation Applications

Click ABB - Radical progress in wireless: Wireless Innovations from ABB

Click Review and comment on the ABB weblog

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Wireless mania at ISA Expo 2006 in Houston

I hear (I didn't go) that ISA Expo 2006 (couple of weeks ago) was buzzing with "wireless". Wireless products were everywhere.

In an industry that sorely needs a growth spurt, Honeywell and Emerson seem to be betting that Wireless will be the next major inflection point. Honeywell had a big meeting at MCAA during the ISA Expo, but only with promises and no immediate products to announce. Emerson was not at ISA, but they had already made big announcements the week before, promising immediate shipments of a "Starter Pack".

There was a lot of brouhaha over the SP-100 industrial wireless standard. Gary Mintchell, Editor of Automation World, one of the most knowledgeable people I know in this business, commented:

    "First, there's the radio layer, then the transport protocol layer (MAC), then the application layer. The radios are 802.15.4. The application layer is HART. The crux of the matter is the transport layer. Emerson bought the Dust Networks stack. If anyone else wants to play in the Emerson wireless game (put a device on the network), then they must pay for the stack.

    "The price of entry into this wireless network was subject of many rumors (and not a little fear) about whether Emerson would try to lock out competitors. On the contrary, said my sources at Emerson, 'We want lots of companies to build devices for the network. It only helps all of us out, especially users'.

    "It turns out all the wireless suppliers have their own proprietary protocol stacks. Partly that's a matter of definition, since the closest thing to a standard is ZigBee. Many suppliers offer a ZigBee stack but will often tell a prospect, 'Yes, I can give you the ZigBee stack, but if you really want it to work....'

    "The SP-100 committees are still debating architectures. One faction (8 companies, headed by Honeywell) wants one architecture for everything from monitoring to safety and control - the most robust, secure and deterministic network possible. The other faction (17 companies, sort of led by Emerson) wants to get the technology out in the plants so that customers can begin reaping benefits; quick does not necessarily mean fragile or unsecure. Mesh networks acquire robustness as more devices are added to it.

    "Thus the discussions in the committees continue."

This is Fieldbus committee déjà vu: SP-100 = SP-50 x 2 (smile).

My personal opinion is that committees are dominated by suppliers with their own agendas, and confused end-users. By the time ANY standard is announced, it is already outdated by new technology enhancements. Emerson cleverly side-stepped the standards process by guaranteeing an upgrade if that's ever needed.

Click Honeywell offers 'wireless cloud' at MCAA

Click Emerson Begins Shipping Wireless Products

Click Read Gary Mintchell's blog on this subject

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Electronic Voting anxiety

Yes, I know - the elections are next week - Tuesday, Nov. 7. So, why am I bringing this up again? Because it's never too late. When you vote next week, be watchful. The warning signs of an e-voting hurricane are everywhere.

What's more basic to democracy than trustworthy voting mechanisms? In this election, 4 out of 5 Americans will be voting electronically. And 15 states have no paper trail.

Consider this: In every national election, many ballots cast are simply dumped in the garbage. Most are called "spoiled" - supposedly unreadable, damaged, invalid. They just don't get counted. Vote "spoilage" has always occurred, but it reached unprecedented heights in the last two presidential elections. In the 2004 election, for example, more than three million ballots were never counted.

In Ohio, during the 2004 Presidential election, 153,237 ballots were simply thrown away - more than the Bush "victory" margin. In New Mexico the uncounted vote was 5 times the Bush alleged victory margin. In Iowa, Bush's triumph of 13,498 was overwhelmed by 36,811 rejected votes. In addition, several cities and entire states did not report the votes that were not counted, because it was embarrassing.

Does the government report this? Yes - a US Census Bureau announcement released seven months AFTER the election had a footnote. The Census tabulation of voters voting in the 2004 presidential race differs from ballots tallied by the Clerk of the House of Representatives by 3.4 million votes. With the exception of this footnote, this error has not been reported. And the media ignores it.

Our discussion brought an interesting response from Gary Smith, an election official from Georgia - published as eFeedback (see below). He thinks that e-voting is safer than portrayed, but still predicts disaster:

    "We election officials work very hard to provide the environment of safe, secure and honest elections - doing this with minimal support, less than exciting budgets and under the continual scrutiny of legal ramifications. I have worked for the past 5 years since I retired from ABB as the Elections Director in my county of Georgia and have found solace that the election officials in Georgia and across the country are some of the most honest individuals working under the harshest conditions for pathetic salaries. We have our most experienced election officials leaving the field and they will not be replaced by anyone approaching the same level of dedication.

    "As you many times predict the future, I will do so as well: There will be a meltdown in the elections in the future and it will not be because of the technology problems alone, but because of the inordinate number of unfunded and misdirected mandates that have come from the Federal and State level."

Does all this ring a bell? All the warnings about Katrina that went unheeded. After it was over, it turned out that many, many experts had warned, many times, about the serious danger of a category 5 storm. The similarity is frightening - will "Votrina" hit the US in this election? Or the next?

Click Support the Verified Voting organization

Click Concerns mount over possible breakdowns, voter confusion, and fraud

Click Recipe for a Cooked Election

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America's population growth is healthy

This month, the US population officially topped 300 million. By 2050 there will be 400 million Americans. This surge brings unprecedented challenges and remarkable opportunities.

Today, the US stands out as the only leading industrial power with a surging population. (India may be the only other) Because of immigration and higher birth rates, the US population is now growing 2 or 3 times faster than any other major country, far faster than China's (which is strongly controlled). Other major countries like Russia, Japan and Germany, are already starting to lose population.

This shift in population trends will directly impact economies, from the growth of the work force to consumption patterns. And it will put unprecedented stress on pension and health systems. The US will also be aging, but less faster than most of Europe.

Some think that America's changing racial mix will cause problems. They worry that the emergence of a "majority minority" population will see the end traditional Anglo-Saxon values, replaced by pockets of ethnic communities. But the opposite is true - most immigrants want experience "the American dream", not duplicate the conditions they left behind. Studies indicate that most immigrants integrate into the American mainstream, both linguistically and culturally. Indeed, the "eclectic" mix is America's strength.

We need to deal with the future by doing the things that Americans have always done - building new infrastructure, giving people the opportunity to work and take care of themselves and their families. Most major surges of economic growth and population have been stimulated by such investments - canals in the early 19th century; railroads during the industrial age; roads, bridges and electrification 50 years ago. We need to commit ourselves to building new infrastructure: more universal high-capacity broadband, better drainage systems, new electric transmission lines and renewable energy sources, better roads and innovative forms of public transit.

Building toll roads or super-fast trains between burgeoning Texan or Californian cities offers far better prospects than doing the same in Japan or Germany, whose populations are gradually diminishing.

My old friend Joel Kotkin writes regularly for the Wall Street Journal and many other major newspapers and journals. He wrote an excellent and thought-provoking article (WSJ - October 2006) summarized here.

Click WSJ - Joel Kotkin - 400,000

Click America's Population Reaches 300 Million

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Humans using Earth's resources too fast

The World Wildlife Fund's biennial report on the state of the natural world said that unless the amount of resources used and the waste produced is significantly reduced, humanity will be using double the available resources by 2050. Eventually, ecological assets, such as forests and fisheries will be harvested to such a degree that they might disappear altogether.

Humanity's ecological footprint - measuring the area of biologically productive land and sea required to provide all the resources used and absorb waste - has more than tripled between 1961 and 2003.

Countries with the largest ecological footprint per person are the United Arab Emirates, the U.S., Finland, Canada, Kuwait, Australia, Estonia, Sweden, New Zealand and Norway. China is ranked No. 69, but its size and rapid economic growth make it a key player for the sustainable use of the world's resources.

Another indicator of the strain on natural ecosystems is the decline of about one-third observed in more than 1,300 vertebrate species around the world between 1970 and 2003. The loss of natural habitat to cropland and pasture has been particularly acute in the tropics.

Each year, the day that the global economy starts to operate with an ecological deficit is designated as "ecological debt day", or "overshoot day". This marks the date that Earth's environmental resource flow begins operating on an "environmental overdraft".

This year "overshoot day" was 9 October; this means that for the last quarter of 2006, humanity will be in ecological overshoot, living beyond our environmental means, causing a net depletion of resources, consuming resources beyond the level that the Earth's ecosystems can replace.

Our capitalistic business models do NOT take into account any long-term effects. Those things are assumed to be "infinite". The "cost" of fancy packaging for all kinds of consumber products is accounted for in the price. No one think about the cost of waste and depletion of resources. That's supposed to be government's responsibility.

The payment will finally come due. And who will pay? Thinkaboutit.

Click Humanity Using Resources Too Fast

Click The day humanity starts eating the planet

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Gary J. Smith [GJSmith@forsythco.com] is Director of Elections & Registrations in Forsyth County Georgia. Here are his remarks on electronic voting:
    "Jim, your recent articles on electronic voting are very biased and present a view that is not fact. You mention that in the coming election, 80% will be voting on electronic voting machines - the truth is that the number is less than 30%. You fail to mention that the confidence level of voters is very high for this type of equipment - it is only the academics and other so called 'computer experts' that are taking issue.

    "The security of voting machines and a workable method of voter verifiable auditing cannot be a paper audit trail. This is because electro-mechanical printers will fail; ask any engineer or IT person what equipment fails most!

    "I think that there has to be a level of responsibility on both sides of the issue with regard to electronic voting. Those of us charged with maintaining and holding elections must have a clear plan to maintain the security of the election and the integrity of the ballot and we must rigorously follow our plan. In addition, those who believe that elections have been, can be and will be corrupted should look for a better solution than tacking on a printer to a voting machine.

    "My suggestion, and one gaining interest and steam in Europe and Latin America, is the use of parallel monitoring with an electronic 'black box'. This would provide feedback to a voter, add security and provide a mechanism that can be applied without the fear of paper printers failing, not printing, or paper being inserted backwards. We must strike a balance between the security required and the ability to function. Folks need to remember that poll workers are not engineers, technicians nor anything but honest, dedicated volunteers.

    "The old straw-that-broke-the-camel's-ack story is very close to becoming true in America - we need some sensible people making decisions rather than politicians or those who benefit from the naysayers."

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Dave Cutter [dave@villageebike.com] addresses the question of whether global warming is natural or Man-made:

    "World scientists say humans are causing Global Warming, and this demands action now. Scientists are forecasting a warming of between 2 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. During the last Ice Age the world averaged only 9 degrees cooler than it is today. We thus face the very real possibility of a swing in global temperatures of Ice-Age magnitude within the lifetimes of our children. It is no exaggeration to say that, unchecked, global warming will cause more human suffering and destroy more natural ecosystems than has any other industrial pollutant in our history.

    "Global warming threatens extinctions - U.N. studies publish scientific evidence that global warming will result in catastrophic species loss across the planet. Global warming will become a top cause of extinction from the tropical Andes to South Africa with thousands of species of plants and animals likely to be wiped out in coming decades. The U.N. says that humans are responsible for the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs and urged unprecedented extra efforts to reach a U.N. target of slowing the rate of losses by 2010. America is not participating.

    "Our collective addiction to oil is at the root of at least six fundamental issues that are adversely affecting our nation and indeed, the entire planet:

    1. Corporate-driven globalization
    2. Global warming
    3. Poverty
    4. War
    5. Terrorism
    6. The undue influence of money on the political process."

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Leon Michaud [Leon_Michaud@steris.com] commented on female rights:

    "We, in the US, have a long way to go regarding many rights of many groups. I very much appreciated your niece's response in the recent eNews (19 Oct. 06). She wrote, 'Real power is not about fighting for an undefinable, unattainable equality in an unequal world, but in recognizing your strength and using it to your advantage.'

    "This is also great advice for men. Rather than dwelling upon situations that make me feel powerless, I believe that I could benefit by identifying my strengths and using them to excel with my own expectations, not some irrationally-run companies' expectations of me."

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