Enjoy the taste of power

21 August 2000

In my opinion the word acronym is best restricted to those sets of initials that form pronounceable words constituting new, short-form names. Sadly, to my mind, acronym is commonly debased by use as a term for any set of initials.

By either the pure or the debased usage, acronym is I suppose the most convenient word for one class of contract categorization that has proliferated in the international power plant market. Examples of this categorization in its debased acronymic variety include DB (design and build, or develop and build), BMO (build, maintain and operate) and MII (make, install and integrate).

More interesting, if only because you can get your tongue round their acronyms, are such deals as OO (own and operate), OM (operate and maintain), OR (own and refurbish), BOT (build, operate and transfer), BOO (build, own and operate), BOOT (build, own, operate and transfer) and DACOP (develop, acquire, construct and operate).

So far, nobody seems to have tacked on any of the dreaded dees - decommission, demolish and decontaminate. Nor, apparently, has anyone proposed a universally acceptable wrap-up word for ‘restore to green field site’. However, I venture to report that R for ‘regreen’ was once uttered in my hearing. And DD (dust to dust) has also been proposed.

The formerly popular ‘turnkey’ contract seems to have lost favour, and to round off this note I thought I would look back through the archives for the last appearance of a specimen on MPS soil. But I gave up the idea after I chanced on a 1998 press release from Siemens. It announced that the state-owned Brazilian utility, Eletropaulo, had chosen two investors, British Gas International and Siemens Project Ventures, as jointly the best bidders for provision of the Piratininga combined-cycle power plant in São Paulo.

You will understand the anticipatory satisfaction I felt as I read the official text of the release: ‘It is planned that the Siemens Power Generation Group (KWU) will erect the combined-cycle plant on a turkey basis’.

I entertain absolutely no doubt that it will all be done to a turn.

Risk less when you read this

Typewriting machines used to be heavy chunks of ironware with keys requiring a fair number of manual watts to operate. Electrical and electronic typewriters turned ‘touch-typing’ into literal truth, and typists new to them were so discombobulated by the light fingering that they were error-prone for a while. Some of today’s IT systems respond to a caress.

Clangorous keyboard bashing may be no more but electrical and electronic modernizers have not been content with this reduction of industrial toil. They have been aghast at the effort expended in handling, shuffling, filing, shelving, retrieving and reading documents, and they have been endlessly inventive in their attempts to make operations paperless. Their (partial) successes are all around us.

But some Swedish researchers, working at an establishment devoted to occupational health and safety, have called for care in this movement. Carl Åborg and Anders Billig have spent four years studying work and workers in places that have switched to electronic document management, and they have found that long spells of duty in front of computer screens impair sight and inflict repetitive strain injury.

I learn this from a briefing paper that says the two investigators were not wholly surprised by their findings. In fact, they had expected something of the sort. But what they had not foreseen was how much injury results from protracted screen-side scampering with mice. According to the briefing paper, ‘program writers are not aware of the extent of the repetitive strain that constant work with a “mouse” can cause’ and ‘ Åborg is not particularly optimistic about the future’. In Åborg’s quoted words, “Today’s mouse-arm is only a pale shadow of what is to come”.

You will not be overly amazed to hear that the briefing paper came from the Swedish Forest Industries Association and that it is headlined: An office without paper is a health hazard. Take comfort from the thought that, with the aid of (quite possibly Swedish) forest products, you need not chance your arm when scanning your hard-copy MPS.

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