- Safety Corner | January 15, 2020
I Got an App for That ...
More and more these days the answer to my questions seem to always involve the statement, “I got an app for that.” Once we go down this road, we spend 20 minutes or so looking at each other’s phones so I can download a new cool app. Somewhere in there I get the answer to my question. The plus is that I have a cool new app. Somewhere in the back of my mind though I have to question how dependent we are on “apps” and whether or not that is a good thing. Have these digital tools replaced a basic level of knowledge that we need in our profession to get work done? I wonder how this impacts safety in either a positive or negative way.
A synonym for the word moxie is “know-how,” the knowledge of how to do something smoothly and efficiently. Merriam-Webster offers another synonym for know-how, “expertise,” the skill of an expert. I first heard the word moxie used by a professor of mine in college. It was one of those moments that caused me to reflect, and I think back at that moment every now and then. We were given a small industrial power system as homework to calculate available fault current values at various locations within the system. My professor drew a one-line diagram and all of the parameters on the fly. He didn’t know the answer to the question when he wrote the problem. That was our job to figure out. I came in with my calculations and put them up on the board. I drew the same one-line diagram that he drew, and I added my values of available short-circuit current at each bus in the system. My professor looked at my work and immediately pointed at one bus and told me that number isn’t right. He said it can’t be right, and he gave me a range of numbers saying the right answer should be in this ball park. After reviewing the details, I saw my error. I had the wrong impedance of a conductor. I could not for the life of me believe that not only did he spot it so quickly, but the number I came up with that was accurate was right in the middle of the range he told me I should be in. I asked him how in the world did you see that so fast and he answered me with one word. Moxie.
When I started in power systems analysis, I did my first set of short-circuit and coordination studies by hand and the rest with computer software. I had a few other of those "moxie" moments when working under some good professional engineers in the firm I was with. The studies I performed all had to be reviewed by my mentors. I would receive them back and have areas circled with a note that basically said, "You did something wrong here, not sure what but these numbers can't be right." I could just see my professor saying, " ...moxie." The best phrase to describe my errors is "garbage in, garbage out."
Using application software to perform calculations may appear to make your job easier but knowing what data to plug in to the fields takes knowledge. Using the data that is on the output reports takes knowledge. Knowing when the data is presented by the software is correct or wrong takes moxie.
The only way to get moxie is to roll up your sleeves and get back to basics and know your fundamentals. When we replace those fundamentals with an "app" and let something else do that thinking for us, are we bypassing the journey to moxie? Are we shortchanging our own professional knowledge of the basic tools that we need to do our job? Do we compromise safety because we don't know if that number staring back at us on our phones is even in the ballpark? These are questions that don't have an answer, but hopefully will generate some thought and discussion in your circles.
THE ACTIVE APP
I don't know about you, but some apps on my hone alert me with information that I really like to know. Some examples include information about weather and/or traffic. My phone even knows that