Wire rope transmission in 1896. Source: Stadtarchiv Schaffhausen.

Kris De Decker at  Low-tech Magazine has published a fascinating article discussing rope drives, a 19th-century technology that was used, especially in Europe, to transmit power over shorter distances. This method of transmission was actually “more efficient than electricity for distances up to 5 kilometres” and even today “would be more efficient than electricity over relatively short distances.”

De Decker makes an interesting connection to the spread of small-scale renewable energy production and suggests a possible role for a technology such as the endless rope drive:

“In spite of [some drawbacks discussed in the article], power transmission by ropes might have a place in our energy systems. Today, there is a trend towards small-scale, decentralized power production, based on renewable energy sources. These solar panels, water turbines or wind turbines generate electricity, but whenever we need to produce mechanical energy, eliminating the step of generating electricity could result in a somewhat less practical, but more efficient use of energy.”

De Decker thinks that “If we used modern materials for making ropes and pulleys, we could further improve this forgotten method.” He illustrates his article with many photos of 19th-century installations.

ARB — 4 April 2013

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin

I love the proverb, “What gets measure gets managed.”

This principle often gets applied to business situations. It can mean that simply examining an activity changes the activity by forcing you to pay attention to it. It can also mean that producing measurements about the activity gives you a handle on it, a way to improve it. If you start adding up your sales volume every month, it gives you a basis for saying, I’m not generating enough revenue, I need to do more selling.

But I’m interested in knowing the source of that quotation. It often gets attributed to management expert Peter Drucker, but I’ve never seen an actual reference that proves he said it.

This blog post will serve as an ongoing investigation of this quotation and might be updated from time to time as new information comes to light.

Here are some popular forms of the quotation:

“What gets measured gets managed.”

“What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed.”

“What gets measured gets done.”

“To measure is to know.”

However, I haven’t been able to find any reliable reference that traces any of these forms to Peter Drucker or any other original source. It’s possible that these are nothing more than memes that have caught on and keep getting passed around.

So far, the most likely source of this idea, if not in any of these popular forms, is William Thomson, the Scottish physicist also known as Lord Kelvin. According to the Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, by Jeanne Mager Stellman (page 1992), Kelvin said in his May 3, 1883, lecture on “Electrical Units of Measurement” (Popular Lectures, Vol. 1, page 73):

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.

That might be the best we can do in tracking down the source of this bit of management wisdom.

Some people probably think it doesn’t matter whether we get these kinds of things right or not. But in his story about researching this same Lord Kelvin quote, James Heywood of patientslikeme makes some good points about the value of checking primary sources.

ARB — 2 Dec. 2012

I thought this was an interesting and useful infographic highlighting the growing U.S. solar manufacturing business. Right now, it shows a $5.6 billion industry that imports $3.75 billion, for a $1.9 billion trade surplus.

I wrote something about the growth of the solar industry recently for ThomasNet Green & Clean — see “How Will U.S. Army Energy Initiatives Affect Expansion of Solar Energy?

Infographic shows US solar industry trade surplus

AB — 15 September 2011


Recently an acquaintance smugly told me that the “Close Door” buttons on elevators don’t work — they are just there as a psychological sop to make passengers think they actually have some control.

I didn’t contest this assertion — I had heard it before and wasn’t certain one way or the other. I was deeply suspicious, however — it smacked of the bogus rumors and conspiracy theories you hear all the time, or at least sounded like one of those things that everybody knows that just aren’t true.

So I was happy to learn today that Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope has already (in 1986) dealt with this critical question in his thorough and inimitable manner — he even interviewed representatives of the Otis elevator company and various elevator repairmen. See “Do ‘close door’ buttons on elevators ever actually work?

The upshot is that the “Close Door” button is not an evil conspiracy to manipulate people into pushing a fake button hoping for a reward like Pavlov’s dogs. That’s not to say that they always work — they could be broken or disconnected at the request of the building’s owner. Here’s another reason Cecil gives as to why these buttons don’t always seem to work:

The button really does work, it’s just set on time delay. Suppose the elevator is set so that the doors close automatically after five seconds. The close-door button can be set to close the doors after two or three seconds. The button may be operating properly when you push it, but because there’s still a delay, you don’t realize it.

AB — 9 September 2011

Recently I wrote about confirmation bias in connection with the climate change controversy — see my article at ThomasNet, “All This Wrangling Over Climate Change – What’s Up With That?” The Skeptic’s Dictionary refers to confirmation bias as “a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.”

Today I ran across an interesting TED Talk (TED hosts and posts video talks on innovative topics) by political activist Eli Pariser who has some interesting things to say about how the algorithms used on web sites such as Facebook and Google tend to reinforce our current thinking and filter out new ideas — see his talk, “Beware Online ‘Filter Bubbles‘” — well worth watching, only nine minutes.

Pariser explains what he means by a filter bubble:

Your filter bubble is kind of your own personal, unique universe of information that you live in online … the thing is, you don’t decide what gets in, and more importantly, you don’t actually see what gets edited out.

If you and I both search for the same thing at the same time on Google, for example, we get different results. The danger of the filter bubble, says Pariser, is that

this moves us very quickly toward a world in which the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.

He suggests that a personalization algorithm deciding what to show us needs to look not just at what it thinks is “relevant,” but at other factors too, such as those in this slide from his presentation:

This seems like a great insight. Anyway, I highly recommend this short video to get you thinking outside the box:

AB — 24 August 2011

Fascinating cartoon from xkcd. Think he really did this? Would it work? He doesn’t say whether the effect works with objects farther away, such as the moon. Probably not. (The full image doesn’t fit here — click through to see the original.)

Instructions for setting up a 3D sky viewer

AB — 22 August 2011