Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Give us your best guess

The recent news concerning the oil mess in the gulf gives me another burst of ammunition concerning scale. Their issue is how much oil is spewing from the broken pipe in the sea floor? The problem is, no one actually knows. It's a matter of scale that, either no one can wrap their brain around, or, the equipment tasked to measure the flow is not capable of doing so accurately. That is assuming the equipment is working, or that it actually exists in the first place.

We see this problem in nearly all areas in our daily lives. Consider this. How often do you hear about a publicly funded project, a building repair let's say that actually comes in on time and at budget? It is a feat rarely accomplished. Often the time frame proves unwieldy or the price has skyrocketed beyond belief. If the companies that actually do this for a living can't get the estimates correct, how can we trust the measurements for anything that gets done? Aren't they the 'experts' after all?

How can a company such as Boeing/General Dynamics et al, that is in the defense contracting business for decades not be able to project the costs of producing a 'next generation fighter'? Every ten years it seems the next plane is offered and when it is finally produced it is billions and billions (say that like Carl Sagan) over cost. What have they learned about building these planes in the past? Apparently nothing at least respectful of accounting.

Perhaps no one actually keeps track of how much it cost to 'do it the last time'. Is it possible that there is no way to accurately track costs on such a scale? It is one thing to be off three to five percent on cost projections but to have a project fifty or more percent above a bid is absurd. If you submit a bid at a particular cost shouldn't you have to come in at that cost? If you can't, it shouldn't cost the taxpayers the balance, it should come from the coffers of the company that is doing the work. If the bid was wrong, that's a 'your problem'. How much would we save by doing business that way? Well, RT, the contractor would just cut corners to come under price, you say. I would rather pay for inspectors that dog their heels daily than pay for the billions and billions of cost overruns on all these projects. I'm fairly certain it would be cost effective in the long run. If you can't project the accurate costs of a project that costs billions of dollars how can you even be certain the monetary value of the company that is producing the work? Why would I trust that number?

It's likely the way it is done currently is a group sits in a large room with a big conference table and just guesses at what the number is. The bigger the table the more potent they feel. Either that or they throw darts. Quite frankly, billions and billions doesn't make sense to the brain and therefore the number becomes meaningless which is something the brain can easily grasp. There are numbers and sizes that are just too large for the brain to comprehend.

That leads to the next question, where is all the missing matter in the universe? I'm sure we have a great answer to that one. (Dark matter and dark energy, it's dark so you can't see it. That's a safe out isn't it?)


  1. One possible answer to your last question can be found in the book "Before the Big Bang: A Prehistory of Our Universe" which I recently finished.

    Since it involves science, and I am north of 50 and never very good at science, I cannot tell you the answer, partly because no one is really certain about dark matter, plus I probably forgot after putting the book down.

    It is a worthwhile read, though. Perhaps Miracle Baby and BigFoot would be able to understand it better than I.

  2. I'll put them on it - Miracle Baby needs something new to conquer, as online classes conquered her. BigFoot is still at BSA Youth Leadership for another few days before an overnight stay to pack before leaving for BSA Camp Counseling all summer.

  3. As I work for a company that bids on and provides service to other companies, I can provide some insite. We often have difficulty in quoting projects because the customer hasn't even defined the work yet. There is often litte information to base a quote on and the customer is unconcerned about this detail. One a project is won and the work begins, the project definition changes, more work is added, more iterations, more features, etc. And the customer expects the cost to stay the same. Since the project was vaguely defined in the beginning, it's difficult to go back to the customer and say that the project didn't included item 8,9,10,etc. This is the frustration I face daily!

    BTW - I expected to see a blog on the burning of Touchdown Jesus. Any thoughts?

  4. Perhaps the Creator of the Universe is an art critic.

  5. Been there, done that with Notre Dame - no copycats need apply?