Bridging Time

Do you know what happened in 1872? Here are a few things. The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in New York City; Susan B. Anthony in defiance of the law, voted in a US election; Popular Science was first published; Yellowstone became the world’s first national park; trade unions were legalized in Canada; Ulysses S. Grant, the general who won the Civil War just a few years before, won the US presidential election; and the Great Boston Fire destroyed 776 buildings in the financial district. Born that year were Zane Grey (famous American writer), Bertrand Russell (Nobel prize in Literature), Bill Johnson (jazz great said to have influenced Louis Armstrong), Roald Amundsen (Norwegian explorer of the South Pole), and Elias Armaly, my grandfather. 141 years ago!!

My father was self-employed and his business necessitated a considerable amount of travel around the Province of Ontario and when we were of an age where muscles developed and could be put to good use, he brought my brother and I along to be laborers.Trips were usually around 4 hours one way. One trip took us to Sault Ste. Marie, a distance of 12 hours one way! So there was a lot of time to listen to my dad’s version of entertainment, classical music, opera, and talk shows on CBC Radio. Mostly we just listened and kept to ourselves but sometimes we talked. Really, what can a guy approaching 60 talk to young teenagers about? Yet, he tried and did find things.  I remember he asked me once, out of the blue, why I liked the music of Stevie Wonder.  Not sure why he knew that. Maybe he was just guessing.

One time I recall he spoke about his father, the guy I never knew, the guy born in 1872.  Maybe he brought it up because I called into question the 10 year age gap between he and our mother. Nothing negative was implied by me and he didn’t take it as such. I remember he suggested it was normal, given his parents had an 11 year gap. He said men took time to grow up. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time. I do now.

I like knowing I have a tenuous link to those names I mentioned above. I like knowing I have a close blood link to someone born only 5 years after Canada. I like knowing I have a close blood link to someone born only 7 years after the US Civil War ended. Much as I admire his body of work, I doubt Daniel Day Lewis can claim the same.



Automation leads to relaxation, or something else?

Is this your future?

Or is this what you see in your mind when you wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat?

Unemployment : Desperate Businessman Showing Negative Graph

I’ve touched on this a few times in this blog (my most recent post, in fact) about how computing and machines are converging and are impacting our lives in profoundly positive and profoundly negative ways. Now this article from MIT asks whether robots create new jobs after they destroy the old ones. The long-term historical answer is definitely yes (not robots, but rather, automation) but that is no comfort to the armies of people who’ve been displaced by not just cheaper labor, but by machines, methods, and software. Just today I was in a 4 hour long presentation and demo from a software vendor who wants to sell me a product that promises to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes my team to compile information.  We’re talking a reduction from hours to seconds. I told them my goal is to get it to a point where the team members will not even have to think about it. The data will simply arrive in their view and they can perform activities against it. Does this reduce employment? I believe it will eventually mean we slow our hiring because we become more efficient. But what I’m also expecting is that it will offer a hope for better work with more personal satisfaction.  Also, in this specific case, it promises to deliver to our clients better and faster guidance for how to use our firm’s software products, which, in theory, should make them, in turn, more efficient organizations and able to sell more of whatever it is they sell.  Maybe that leads to employment.

I don’t buy the argument that all employment deserves protection. If we followed that logic, we’d all still be toiling in the fields of our ancestors in the glare of a withering sun.

Give your head a shake

When I booked a rental car recently for an upcoming trip to Austin, I intentionally declined the option of a GPS. While I’d been to the city a few times before, I am by no stretch of the imagination familiar with the city. And while I have a GPS in my phone, I decided to navigate the old-fashioned way. I looked at a map of the city in advance and plotted the route from airport to hotel, a distance of about 20 miles. Why do that, you ask? For the same reason five years ago that I moved my mouse and mouse-pad from my natural right-side over to the left. I wanted to challenge my brain.  I did that too as a kid playing baseball when I intentionally taught myself to turn my world around and bat from the left-hand side of the plate. Switching things up puts the brain in even more charge of the way one moves.


I was reminded of this when I read in Wired Magazine about algorithms running the show. The article is short and it’ll make you think. We’re automating almost everything in life. I’ve spent the last 30 years working in an industry that focuses on speed and the introduction of iterative efficiency. Computing has delivered to us convenience, choice, and knowledge. It’s spread wealth around the globe. Ironically, it’s also made our brains lazy. My favorite line from the piece, “Tech lets us do things more easily. But this can mean doing them less reflectively too.”