technological advancement

Progress Beyond Our Dreams

© Can Stock Photo / smuay

In the spring of 1902, Brooklyn printers by the name of Sackett & Wilhelms had a problem. It is doubtful whether anyone realized the vast ramifications the solution would bring.

When the humidity changed, the printers found that the paper expanded and contracted, causing their four color printing process to come out misaligned. Wasted days, wasted paper–it was a pretty big problem. Fortunately, a young engineer at the Buffalo Forge had an idea.

The engineer drew plans for a device to control the humidity of the print shop, and the crew from Buffalo Forge installed it. It was the first of its kind. By the end of the summer, the device had been a success.

It took four years for someone else to come up with the name “air conditioning.” Systems spread to other commercial enterprises, and eventually to other businesses, homes, and even to automobiles. As we approach the summer months here in the 21st century, it is hard to imagine life without air conditioning!

The engineer, who was just a year out of college when he drew the plans, later founded and ran his own company. You might have heard of Willis Carrier’s air conditioning company.

Every day, somewhere people are working on solutions to problems the cost us money, time, health, or some other resource. Others are working on things that may improve our lives, or entertain us, or provide some other advantage. Our everyday lives contain scores of things that did not even exist twenty or forty years ago.

For most of history, this is not how things worked. Life was nasty, brutish, and short. Generations came and went, but little changed. Then modernity unleashed human creativity and potential like never before.

This may be the key factor behind the seemingly perpetual upward tendency of the equity markets, all the way back to their origins.

We have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: stock markets are volatile. They go up and down. There are no guarantees. But they may represent a way to invest in human potential. Clients, please call or write if you would like to talk about this.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

This Will Change the World

© Can Stock Photo / martin33

The human tendency is to believe that present circumstances will continue. The gap between expectations and unfolding reality is where profit potential lives. Therefore understanding unanticipated change is one of the key tasks in our quest for investment gains.

Two related trends are about to unleash massive change and opportunity. If we can puzzle out some of the ramifications, it may serve us very well.

Solar power, being a technology, is declining in cost about ten percent per year. In some applications, it is already competitive with more conventional sources. As the cost continues to decline, we may surmise that solar power will represent an increasing fraction of world energy production—and the overall cost of electricity may begin to fall.

The second trend is the declining cost of energy storage. Bloomberg recently reported on the ribbon-cutting of a power-plant size array of batteries, in California, for meeting peaks in demand. The cost of the facility is twice that of a conventional natural gas peaking plant.

Although paying double does not seem to be an economic threat to the old way of doing things, Bloomberg reports that the cost of storage on that scale has dropped 90% in a decade. Again, energy storage is a technology, and the cost of technology tends to drop over time. We know how this works, right?

Connect the dots: we soon may have ever-cheaper energy available when we need it, courtesy of what we might call the Next Energy Revolution.

Economic history is largely a story of new sources of energy. Water power and steam power launched the modern era more than two centuries ago, with the Industrial Revolution. Petroleum in all its forms was central to the astonishing change and growth in the 20th century. What changes will the next revolution bring?

• Given lower costs for energy, will households consume more of it, or spend more money on other things?

• Will less developed areas of the world modernize more rapidly, powered by the sun?

• Does this hasten the rise of electric vehicles?

• Which companies or industries will be helped by cheaper energy? Which will suffer?

• How much wealthier will the world be, as a consequence?

Change brings opportunities and threats. We have begun to identify winners and losers in the next energy revolution. Much more study and thought will be required. Please call or email us if you would like to discuss how this affects your situation.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

What’s Next?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / chungking

Fifty years ago, comic strip hero Dick Tracy’s famous 2-way wrist radio got upgraded to a 2-way wrist TV. Forty years ago, visionaries were talking about telephones that would fit in a shirt pocket. Instead of each home having a phone number, each person would have one. In between those dates, the country’s only telephone company introduced push-button “dialing” as an alternative to the rotary dial.

You all know the rest of the story. In many respects, what seemed like science fiction or fantasy in decades past has become a routine part of everyday modern life. The same is true in many aspects of our lives.

There are constants in life, of course. We each seek to make a difference, to be happy, to provide for ourselves and others, to smile and be smiled at, to connect with our fellow human beings. Many of our most fundamental impulses remain unchanged since the dawn of time.

So the conditions of our world are a mix of unchanging things like human nature and the sun rising in the East, and rapid change in other things. All the way back in 1970, futurist Alvin Toffler wrote about “Future Shock,” a perception of too much change in too short a period of time. If anything, the pace of change has accelerated since then.

In life, we suspect that being grounded in the enduring truths help equip us to adapt to change.

In the field of investing, we believe that understanding the unchanging aspects of human nature help us understand and deal with change. The ever-evolving landscapes of the economy, markets, companies, and technology produce constant and unpredictable changes. But no matter how different the world may seem, new changes will still produce reactions and over-reactions, fads and manias, and varying amounts of fear and greed.

We will admit it. We are entranced with the conflict between simple eternal principles and the endless complexity of the world. Making sense of it to help people in their real lives—that’s why we wake up and get to work every day. If you would like to talk to us about your situation, write or email us.