Reports Are Important – Just Don’t Get Overwhelmed Doing Them!

A well written report can be an important vehicle of communication in a company. As the term implies, a report is an expression of what happened. It is written to transfer the knowledge from the event.

Its purpose is to be read by others, but what makes a good report and what are the elements?

Unfortunately, many reports lack strength by being too wordy, written in a dull passive voice, disorganized, difficult to read and understand.

Most readers are looking for the essentials of the problem boiled down to its essence. Unless part of the problem and solution, the history and how the problem manifested itself is usually known by the reader. They are looking for a recommendation for a solution along with its pros and cons. If it is a group investigation and discussion of the issues, the report summarizes the group effort.

When the reader is primarily management, they desire answers to specific questions:

  • What is the report all about and does it contribute a resolution to the pressing problem?
  • What are the implications for the company?
  • What are the conclusions and recommendations? Do they make since?
  • How will the resolutions be structured and implemented?

To answer these questions an executive summary is often written. Typically, a simple introduction and background of the problem is written. It is a brief restatement of the problem and body of the report. It goes straight to the conclusion and recommendations.

Few read the body. If they do, it’s usually because they don’t understand the conclusions and recommendations or they are skeptical of them. Some may read because they are interested and have been following the problem wanting to know the thought processes. Some may read to extract information needed for a presentation.


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(c) 2014 J Mike Surratt

Good Communications Is Important

Many times we don’t communicat well. Here are some key areas to help you enhance your communication skills.

            Realize when you have tension and stress. Tension, resulting from stress at work, results in frequent loss of good communications. Find ways to reduce stress while communicating. If under stress, make a habit of pausing one to two seconds before speaking. A side benefit of the pause is people feel you are thinking about the response and appear smarter. Another way may be to make a conscious effort to speak slower when under stress. You will think you are taking forever to get the message across, but to the receivers it is coming across at just the right pace. This is particularly helpful when address a group of people.

            Notice if the insured or your associates tend to relax when talking to you? If so, you have mastered an important interpersonal skill. Encourage feedback.

            Do people in your office seem to misunderstand you often? Do coworkers ask questions you don’t recall talking about? If so, chances are that you are not organizing your thoughts before speaking. They are hearing unorganized thoughts, words, and phrases. They are working more at comprehension than engaging in dialog.

  • Always make a conscious effort to communicate. Make an effort to always have a meaningful conversation. Always look at the person. Encourage questions and feedback. Give yourself and the other person plenty of time to communicate.  
  • Be Patient. Each insured is different. Even if you have heard her problems many times over; let her know her problems are unique. Patient listening brings about positive responses.
  • Conversations are important. With talking, you quickly clarify misunderstandings. The approach you need for a resolution may be in the conversation. Email is good for facts but a poor tool for providing feelings. Email often results in misunderstandings and can come across as cold. Conversation provides more information than just words; tone of voice and body language provide much more natural, sometimes unconscious, human interactions.  
  • Are you getting feedback? If you are giving out new material and get many appropriate questions, the listeners understand exactly what you are saying and you have stimulated them with your dialog. You are communicating effectively.

Grounding Rod, Your True Safety Friend?

Grounding Rod, is it a safety element? What does the NEC say about it? The code simply says hook it up at the service entrance; if you have more than one, connect them all together. Oh, by the way, if you don’t have an electrode system you can use listed devices. One of those devices can be an 8’ rod. Here are some things you need to do: 8’ minimum length completely embedded below permanent moisture levels, 25 ohms minimum impedance to the earth, and drive another one greater than 6’ away if you can’t get the 25 ohms.

Where is the word safety? I’ll answer by saying it isn’t “the” safety device in an electrical system, tying everything together that isn’t electrically hot, offers protection to the electrical system and homeowner. This is done for over current protection to trip the feeding breaker and prevent fires. The rod is only an element.

Practical Example of a Grounding Rod.

I’ll explain by demonstration and example. Once or twice a year usually in the spring you hear of an electrocution of a child from a metal light pole. The pole is located on the street, parking lot, or park.






On investigation it is found that the hot wire, through some means, has come into contact with the metal pole. The poles are usually bolted on to concrete pedestals; most are grounded with a properly installed ground rod. All are fed by two functioning wires: hot (black wire) and grounded conductor (white) often called the neutral. If there was a grounding conductor (green) it became faulty.

Give these results of the investigation, the pole became hot at 120 vac and didn’t trip the breaker, the child touched it and died.

Properly installed rods are for example 25 ohms, let’s assume a rod at a very good installation of  an unusual 10 ohms during a wet spring.  See figure XX. Ohm’s equation Current=Voltage/Resistance or 120vac/(10+10) ohms gives 6 amps fed by a 20amp breaker. The pole is 5 ohms and adds another 8ams of current. The total is 14 amps. The breaker will not trip. The pole stays at full 120 vac., a child’s impedance standing on damp concrete or soil can be as low as 2,000 ohms. The child becomes another or parallel path with 120vac / 2000 ohms giving .06 amps or 60 milliamps additional current. Now the breaker sees 14.06 amps and still doesn’t trip.




The child touching the pole gets a shock and may pull back and cry if lucky. If she grabs something, her hand muscles contract at 60 milliamps and she can’t let go of her own will.

The green wire is the safety element, not the ground rod. A properly installed and functioning green wire will offer very low impedance to the “short” and will trip the breaker. Sure the light won’t work, but the child lives. The take home here is to not rely on the earth resistance to trip the breaker and protect you.

Inductance In Your Grounding Wire Is Your Enemy

                        Interesting title, but why and exactly what is inductance? Simply inductance is the impeding characteristic a wire has to changing current, called Lenz’s law. It is the variable “L” you often may have seen.

I wish to explain by example: a lightning strike surge lasting for 8 microseconds comes with 400 volt potential on the power supply to a TV with a surge suppressor. The surge suppressor fires to force the surge on the green wire going to earth for dissipation. This 400 volt potential will follow the easiest path, and that path is going to be a low impedance path. We just hope the green wire is it and not through our TV.

Starting back to basics, let’s assume the green wire is 6’ sized at 14ga or .018ohms. You would think the current would be calculated as I = 400/.018 = 22KA. No, the wire holds the current back due to Lenz’s Law of L inductance. If it was a straight wire, inductive impedance, called XL, is .061 ohms, now you would think using the .061 ohms and get 6KA.

This isn’t true either due to the rest of Lenz’s Law; I’m leading you to think in an instantaneous manner. The current builds up gradually according to the solution of a differential equation. The word differential isn’t difficult to understand, the root is the word difference. It looks like this V = L* d(i)/dt (d=difference or change). It says as the change in current increases during a change time, the voltage increases with the constant L-inductance. Differential equations have solutions giving you precise answers to instantaneous values along a time line. It is not a straight line but logarithmic with e-t/L in the solution.

Given this technical background I have explained, we want this surge to proceed through the green wire, but not the TV.

Our objective is to get rid of current initiated from the 400 volt potential. Our green wire needs to have a minimum amount of opposing voltage generated from this discharge current as it dissipates.

With the best of circumstances we have a straight green wire with minimum inductance. Back to the differential equation with L= 0.002 microHenrys typical of this short piece of wire. Calculate the voltage that will oppose the 400 volt surge. Our current will approach 6000amps during this 8 microsecond time period. Vback = .002-6 * 6000A/8-6 = 1.5 volts. Great the voltage surge moves off from attacking the TV.

Now let’s put one turn in the green wire. This increases L to a large 0.3 microHenrys typical in this wire trying to push the current. Vback is now a whopping 225volts. If this surge can find a better place to go, then it will, probably the TV.

Our ground rod outside typically has a solid #6 copper wire attached to a 15ohm rod. We don’t want any curves or loops anywhere here. Even a half turn increases inductance. Large currents need to flow here with minimum impedance. As you can see the differential equation shows how the back voltage increases quickly during a surge event.

Protecting Your Home Electronics From Lightning Damage

           Often I am asked, what about my home? What can I do at my home to protect myself as much as I can for lightning when storms come up?

            First, I ask have they recently looked at their ground rod. Some people don’t even know where it is. The code requires the top of the rod to be at or below ground level to keep from being damaged from lawn mowers and traffic. They are hidden and out of mind.

            Some may be covered up with concrete, like mine, or built over with a deck. Whatever, find the rod or at least measure it. If covered up with a concrete pad, perform a fall of potential test to make sure all the connections are at least there. Unfortunately, you don’t know the condition of the #6 wire attached to the rod. A small current could pass fine, but a large current would quickly burn through a small surface area. I had to chip away about an inch of concrete to reveal my rod, it was all corroded, and the acorn connector was indeed loose. It was installed in 1976 and its condition was expected.

            Second, go to your panelboard and make sure all the grounding and neutral bar connections are tight. Over the years these connections mysteriously become loose. Neutral bar problems usually are noticed by flickering lights, but the grounding bar won’t have an indication since current doesn’t flow them. Get an electrician do this since he has the proper protective clothing and experience with live equipment.

            Lastly, protect electronic equipment; put protection locally at the equipment so surge currents have a discharge path and, while discharging, there are no differential voltages.

What does the phrase “differential voltages” mean?

The word differential comes from the root word difference. In your radio or computer there are multiple wires attached. Some wiring may go a rather long distance like a LAN cable or to a radio antenna on the roof. If lightning strikes a tree or earth beside the home, everything in the home will quickly rise in potential. Sometimes voltages can be as high as 2000 volts, but not instantaneously. Your computer may have risen to 700volts but the attached LAN cable may be at 1200 volts. The computer cannot take the 500volt difference.

What the surge protection does is to short all the wires together during the event for a short time. In this way there is no difference in potentials to burn the electronics. Is this practical? In the past it wasn’t, but today’s cheaper surge protector strips for computers have a LAN connector. Unfortunately most of these have MOV components as I discuss in a later article. MOV’s still work, you just need to replace it periodically. Plug in your LAN cable and back out to your computer. The surge protector will keep everything at same potential.   

Sometimes protection cannot be purchased.

There is a poor mans way to offer some protection. The surge is coming, or going, through the attached wiring, a small coiling of the attached wiring may offer just enough inductance giving some impedance to the surge current. If the surge is coming from the wiring to the radio, the coil will tend to slow up the quick rise in voltage, hopefully long enough for the rest of the equipment to equalize. Likewise, if the surge comes to the radio from the antenna and wants to head out the power wire, the coil in the power wire will offer some impedance to hold back the surge keeping the radio again at equal potential.

A Ground Rod Installed at a Light Pole is Not a Safety Feature

            This may sound blasphemous, but the ground rod isn’t a safety object anywhere including your home or a light pole. However, with an exception as a lightning discharge path, it could be viewed for lightning safety. Many misunderstand the ground rod, by calling it a safety rod.

            The safety feature is the green wire, the one that carries no current normally. When the green wire carries current, a breaker will trip saving the homeowner from a shock or death.

            There are many people, especially children, being electrocuted from light poles in parking lots and parks. Happens every year, many, oddly, seem to occur in Florida. Let’s consider a light pole in a park beside a park bench with no green wire. The pole has a well installed ground rod measuring 15 ohms driven deep in the earth and the pole is metal. The code requires the rod to be at least 25 ohms impedance in the earth. Many pole in the past were fed by two wires a black wire at 120v and white wire returning the current. We have a 4 year old walking around and she touches the pole.

            Consider a black wire over the years has now, for any of many reasons, had its insulation worn off; it is now touching the pole. With a voltmeter the pole voltage reads 120v with respect to the earth but not the rod, the rod reads 120vac also. Note the rod is driven in the earth. How can this happen? Why doesn’t the circuit breaker trip? The breaker is a normal 20 amp breaker feeding many poles. What is the current the breaker is handling? Very simple with our 15 ohm rod the current is 120v/15ohms = 8 amps. The breaker will not trip until the rod impedance is 6 ohms: 120v/6 ohms = 20amps!

The toddler, who typically has low resistance, becomes a parallel path of return current while touching the pole along with the white wire if the light is on. An 8 amp current is passing through the soil all the time. Most likely a 50 milliamp (0.050 amp) current is also passing through the body of the toddler. The 8.050 Amp current will still not trip the breaker and the toddler can die if she can’t get her hand off the pole. If the feeding breaker was a GFCI of course it would trip current imbalance between wires. Proper attention to the problem isn’t putting in a GFCI though.

Attaching the green safety wire to the pole gives the current a low resistance path back to the panelboard. The resistance of the green wire could very well be .5 ohms and will trip the breaker.

A properly designed light pole would have these features: a hot black wire, white wire for the return current, and a safety green wire properly sized per NEC 250.122.  

Beware many old metal poles may not be wired with the green safety conductor.

Purpose of the ground rod

            Back a few years when power was just being produced in the 1920’s, the power hot wire sent out in a rural area was mounted on top of a power pole. A ground or neutral wire was not mounted. Early on engineers found the earth was a marvelous conductor of electricity. Resistances of less than an ohm were actually better than the wire. Therefore the return current from a load was presented back to the generator or transformer from the station grounding grid.

As the load increased on the wires sent out, there was an increasing problem, the resistance increased. To resolve, they had to increase the grounding grid or pour salt in the grounding electrodes or both. They found the resistance increased closer to the grounding grid. The resistance increased also at the site usually a home depending on the load. As the load increase so did the increasing size of the grounding grid. High currents were introduced in the earth and voltages were appearing on metal parts, cows responded to shocks, and the new phone systems became noisy. It wasn’t long till you started seeing an additional wire being strung along with the hot conductor. The government passed the rural electric co-op laws standardizing electric design reducing costs.

One thing missing was something to take care of lightning coming into homes and causing things like fires. Going back toFranklin’s concepts, he said give lightning strikes a place to go. The utilities responded by grounding all the power poles. They couldn’t very well put the ground wire on top which would be the logical place because that requires the hot wire be put lower to the ground therefore more dangerous. The second action taken was requiring a grounding rod or system of rods to be installed at the service entrance. Any high voltage surges that were usually entering the home would be stopped at the entrance. Usually the panelboard was either outside, under a porch, and very near the drop from the pole. Lightning would arc and resolve itself in the panelboard or metering box. Of course lightning tore up the meter box and panelboard but usually saved the home. The other feature of the rod was if the home was struck in a way that got into the electrical system, the rod gave the surge there a place to go. Power companies eventually found they could put a simple arc gap of roughly ¾” or so that saved their meter box and the homeowner’s panelboard. Most of the high energy voltage surge was resolved in the arc gap which gave a path for the surge. The surge came in over and above the typically 6KV line and started the arc. The arc would continue taking the surge current and the power companies current to earth along with it. When the lightning surge voltage dropped off to normal levels and the power company’s next crossing of zero voltage occurred, the arc extinguished. Of course there were disturbances on the utility line for other customers, but the lightning currents were resolved.

As a further safety feature having the entire electrical system have one common place to tie all grounds has functional value. Different grounds can very well have currents circulating and being noisy. Also if anything metal like plumbing pipes or gas lines which are normally bonded to the ground is a safety feature in case they ever become energized like our refrigerator.

How Confident Are You With Your Outlet Strip Surge Protector?

Surge protectors in outlet strips have been around for at least 35 years. Yet equipment still fails. At my church, the Panasonic video camera control unit (CU)was dead one Sunday morning.

During the investigation, I uncovered an indication of what happened. Inside the CU nothing was found burned or otherwise damaged. The unit wouldn’t turn on. I check the power transformer and found the 120 volt input coil was open. The primary wiring in a low wattage 120v/24v transformer is very small, usually 28ga enamel wire. It doesn’t take much current to burn it into.

I found the CU plugged into an older surge protecting outlet strip. It was an expensive one but dated 2005, roughly 8 years old. It had a small red light that would indicate a surge protector failure, but it wasn’t on. Inside it, I found some red ¾” disks that had exploded. I checked with the church maintenance man, there were lightning storms that week, but no close strikes that week he knew of.

I had found the surge protector in the on position and the control unit switch was left on.

The outlet strip protection failed but who knows when? It is usually difficult for a surge to pass through a transformer due to its inductive characteristics at that frequency. The transformer, no doubt, had been subjected to many surges, the last one finally weakened the primary turn’s wire, and it opened.

Any outlet strip less than $30, like most, uses a component called a MOV or Metal Oxide Varistor. They are rated with their heat dissipation characteristics measured in joules. A MOV is built by compressing a recipe of zinc oxide fragments and binders into ½” – ¾” disks. The result is a variable resistor—as the voltage increases across its terminals, its resistance in this case, decreases. When a voltage is applied higher than its design voltage, the MOV starts to conduct drawing away damaging surge currents.

Some MOV’s are made in a way that if it fails with the material shorted, a bypass circuit lights a small red light shines indicating a failure. If the MOV blows out everything, unfortunately the light doesn’t work. MOV’s usually short with many small discharges, but explode with large currents.

There are two advantages and three problems with MOV’s.

Their advantages are low cost and large surge currents. Their disadvantages are they are slower to respond to typical lightning wave forms, they degrade over time as they are used, they do not clamp voltage as you would expect, and are misapplied with misleading labeling by manufacturers.

First, lightning wave forms are fast. A pulse can be 1.2 microseconds in duration. A typical MOV responds is 8 microseconds. The equipment components are stressed during the 7 microseconds the MOV starts to work. Better surge protectors use surge diodes.

Second, MOV’s degrade with use. As a MOV conducts surge currents, the zinc particles tend to fuse loosing their resistive characteristics. Alss currents increase their life decreases even faster. The range is significant; a MOV may last for years conducting small 50 amp surges or last one day with a 3000 amp surge. The user has no protection or knows it unless it shorts and turns on the little red light.

Third, as the MOV conducts increasing currents, the voltage across its terminals increases. There is no voltage clamping like a surge diode offers. The equipment you are protecting experiences higher than normal voltages. True, the MOV is conducting most of the problem currents, but some damaging voltages and currents are getting through.

Lastly, manufacturers install MOV’s in a parallel manner, basically stacking them up with the hope that the combination will have one MOV acting on a surge for protection. But, they advertise their equipment offers joule ratings to unbelievable values; they claim this with their stacking MOV’s. By installing six MOV’s each at 300 joules and 1000 amps, the outlet protector now advertises as an 1800 joule, 6000 amp protector. Being in parallel you would think this is true except for one problem. All MOV’s are not manufactured with precision values. At the time of a surge, and you have six MOV’s. Each will not conduct evenly. One will conduct more; probably will fail; now you have five. Another high surge, another fails, you have four, then eventually one, and then none.

Do you now trust an outlet strip? Probably not; do like the manufacturers recommend: replace your outlet strip yearly or after a hot lightning season.


Secrets Of A Well Written Report

A well written report can be an extremely important vehicle of communication. Reports are an expression of what took place and is written to be read by others to transfer that knowledge.

The purpose is to be read by others. The writer is charged with writing a clear and concise account so readers understand the issues stated without brings up additional questions.

Unfortunately many reports lack strength, they are wordy, written in passive dull voice, disorganized, and difficult to understand.

Readers are looking for the essentials of the problem boiled down less unrelated history of the problem. How the problem began or manifested itself is usually known. Readers look for recommendations for solutions with pros and cons. If it is a department investigation and its output reporting the issue, the report summarizes the departmental effort.

When the reader is primarily management, they desire answers to specific questions:

  • What is the report all about? Who was involved?
  • Does it contribute a resolution to a pressing problem?
  • What are the implications for the company?
  • What are the conclusions and recommendations and who is responsible for them?
  • Do they make since?
  • How will the resolutions be structured and implemented?

To answer these primary questions of: who, what, when, where, and how an executive summary is written. It is a brief restatement of the body of the report. Typically there is a simple introduction and background of the problem. It goes straight to the conclusion and recommendations.

Few read the body. If they do, it is: possibly the conclusions and recommendations. If the conclusions or recommendations do not clearly resolve the issues in either the body or summary, the reader is skeptical of the whole report.

If the author of a report wants to avoid the pitfalls of a poorly written report, they need to know what the majority of readers are looking for.

Next, I’ll write how to prepare a very logical engineering investigation report.

In conclusion, with detailed information and facts being last in this survey doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be there. What the survey does say is to be sure you clearly emphasize the important informational areas for the bulk of the readers of the report.


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© - 2013 J Mike Surratt, All Rights Reserved.

Poor Customer Service — Is It Just Me, or Am I a Wart on a Toad?

I went to Dunkin Donut Saturday and was waiting in line for my weekly nasty coffee roll and coffee. Two customers in front of me are waiting in queue. The take out window is fully busy. This guy is ordering four dozen donuts and is picking them out; let’s ease into the scenario, we are now working on the third dozen: “how about two raspberry filled, one cruller, no make that two crullers, two white powdered cakes, let me see…”

Advance about three agonizing minutes; he puts up a payment card but it has a problem, he pulls out another—seems to take, but the register hiccups and freezes. The employee pulls in someone to help her; then another employee stops by to look. Now we have three at the register, two more standing behind me–four deep cash carrying customers in queue with two counter registers.

My question is this, where did the other two employees come from? I suspect they were servicing the take out line. Everyone knows the take out has the highest priority for all retail short order places. The last person in line now leaves.

Let me make this comment first; if your business is going to have a drive up take out window and can’t service the in house counter, then a priority somewhere is out of order. I fully realize the most impatient customers you have are in a car and can drive away in a huff. However, at the counter you have people with cash in hand waiting in queue but are second priority. There is a tremendous difference in customer service implication; these customers are looking you in the eye, it is personal. The person in the car is only a voice except for a brief 30 seconds.  

I offer this solution. Those impatient customers in a car are asking for a premium service:  speed and convenience. This premium service requires additional personnel to meet the premium. Since counter service most of the time can actually be quicker, it is not perceived as a premium. I say add a premium to the take out service. I know D. Donuts is a franchise and wouldn’t allow it, but I would be happy to pay 20 cents more for a cup of coffee for the low effort I expended.

I’m not ignorant; I know the business had to hire the additional person or two because of the drive window. I know they are standing around during the off hours. But customers keep you in business; let the impatient ones drive off or pay 20% more. You will end up with more affluent customers not always shopping for the lowest cost. Affluent people look for good service, consistent good service, and quietly will accept higher prices for it.

Thanks for letting me vent. I wonder if I have it all wrong; could be we, as customers, simply have become use to poor service especially from low paid employees. In a bad economy the logical thinking is competing through price. This never works for the small business competing with the big stores. Compete through good customer service and beat large store this way, pay employees more, monitor their customer service and let them go if they wander. This is not easy and takes time and resources, but worth it.

Want to compete with D. Donuts as a local independent? Put more glaze on them, eliminate the odd looking donuts from inventory selection, and keep the darn things warm somehow on cold days before serving. Cater to the cash carrying adults instead of small children.

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© - 2013 J Mike Surratt, All Rights Reserved.