Sarah Sheard's Thoughts and Theories

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eric Holder says we are cowards

According to an Associated Press report on Attorney General Eric Holder's speech during a ceremony at the Department of Justice,

Holder said...the United States was "a nation of cowards" on matters of race, with most Americans avoiding candid discussions of racial issues.
'Race, Holder said, "is an issue we have never been at ease with and, given our nation's history, this is in some ways understandable... If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us." '

Now my response:
I am white. I was brought up in an integrated neighborhood outside of Cleveland Ohio. Back then race and racism were a valued and valuable topic of discussion. In the last 20 years such topics have become politically incorrect. Holder is correct in saying we don't discuss it, although the "cowardice" imho means we don't dare say things that are politically incorrect, not that we're cowards about the other race.

I think in refusing to talk about it for 2 decades, we have driven racists underground in most areas. As a result I think some people, especially young people, do not experience racism and see no problem with interracial dating, etc. But there is a core of people who still have not discussed race and their ideas toward it and why those ideas don't meet their own purported value systems.

I think it is time to admit
-Racism is alive and well
-By all's not just white v. African Americans
-We need to make a decision that we are going to understand and fix our own attitudes.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Economy Is Changing

Nicolae Ceausescu was the head of the Romanian government from 1965 to 1989. Near the end, his reign "was characterized by an increasingly erratic personality cult, extreme nationalism and a deterioration of the foreign relations with Western powers and also with the Soviet Union. Ultimately his downfall came with the Romanian Revolution of 1989 during which he was deposed, tried and executed." (to quote Wikipedia)

I was speaking with a man from Romania a few weeks ago. This man was born in the Ceausescu era and lived through the transition. Apparently, when the regime changed, the Romanian economy tanked. Wikipedia has a chart that looks about the same as our recent economy. This man explained that the old ways of making money didn't make sense any more, and it took a few years to figure out new ways of making money.

I think the same thing is happening to us now, but not of course due to execution of a dictator. In our case it's transition from a manufacturing and essentially national economy to, rather rapidly, a global, information-based economy with all manufacturing outsourced.

In fact what matters most now is acces to information. Some bills I now pay that I didn't pay ten years ago include $250 a month of cable internet and blackberry cell phone. My regular land line phone gets comparatively little use, and I pay no long-distance charges.

Things I don't pay as much as for now include:
Postage. I hardly send anything by mail any more, except bill payments (yes I know I should join the internet economy) and an occasional parcel to my kids or friends.
Library. No more overdue fees: I don't use the library as much, and they remind me of due dates by email.
Books. I now get them used because the internet economy allows me to find sellers of the books I want, easily. And they're bidding for my money.
Travel. It's easy to chat with people long distance, and for that matter sit at my desk and take a virtual tour of, say, Victoria Falls. I go fewer places as a resultp)
Tax preparation. Turbotax is cheaper than professionals.
Magazines. Who has time to read them? On-line you can get something targeted for your momentary whim. (I still have a newspaper subscription, but feel like one of the last holdouts.)
Advice. You can Google any kind of advice you want. I still go occasionally, but since I'm more informed, the sessons are faster.

What do all of these things have in common? The global internet-based information economy has made information easily accessible, once you pay for access to the Internet.

Here's what's harder.
1) Authorship is no longer very valued. There are still the trendy fiction books that people pay for, but so many people blog and write on line that payment for news and opinion articles has fizzled to a trickle and depends on other means like advertising rather than on payment from readers. Time magazine lamented that this means news organizations are starting to see advertisers as their customers more than readers.

2) Advice must be very personalized to be valuable.

3) The jobs that are still needed are often minimum-wage, or nearly minimum-wage, or are managing minimum-wage earners. The exceptions, those requiring much education and skill, are under increased threat from global outsourcing. (I read even Jack in the Box, a burger place, has outsourced its ordering from the drive-in ordering microphone to the stores! Can you believe that?)

4) It seems harder to be middle class, or to actually earn a significant amount of money. Those who are rich are no longer the doctors and lawyers and engineers, but the football players, movie stars and corporate executives. These jobs are not and never have been accessible to many people, by their very nature. And at least the first two are temporary careers.
There is an opinion piece on Yahoo that comes to the same conclusion.

I don't know what forms of work will evolve, but I know we are in transition now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Systems Engineering Struggles to Distinguish Itself

A colleague emailed me that SE struggles to distinguish itself from other engineering disciplines.

That is true, but SE also struggles to distinguish itself:

-from "just good engineering" (aka "why do we need systems engineers? they don't have a product. We'll just tell the real engineers to do it better")

-from project management ("Why would we have a systems engineer pull together a proposal package? the technical editor is much cheaper")

-from software "engineering", since much of any system we build today is software, why don't software engineers just do it all (well for one thing, they consider anything physical to be outside their scope, and for another thing, they aren't engineers. Not to mention that SWE preaches creating a single design, not trading off among alternatives based on which best meets requirements)

-from "a process discipline" ...this grates me the worst, I think. Back in the 80s SEs were the core of making things work together, the real generalists. Then in the 90s people tried to define "processes", which isn't bad in and of itself, but now some groups think processes is ALL systems engineering is, that systems engineers are cheap ignoramuses who just follow checklists.In response they try to come up with a new name for the kind of SE that we used to do, the kind with no specific process since it deals with unprecedented tasks and systems.

I would appreciate hearing your stories about how SE got confused with something.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Attention, the Rare Commodity

It used to be, in the 60s through the 80s, that Knowledge is Power.

Things have changed. Now, knowledge, or at least data and information, are everywhere.
It's even easy to find, thanks to Google (and other search engines).
It's easy to write: everyone is an author, a blogger, a commenter.

What is rare now is attention. You cannot pay attention to all the knowledge in front of you. You need to focus.

Ads steal your attention. Furthermore, it seems they have pretty much given up on giving you knowledge in return.

But: to make money, you have to have people's attention. How to get it?

Over time, become someone they trust. Someone who collects knowledge that is right for them. Someone who respects their busy lives and doesn't need a lot of hand-holding. Someone they come to to simplify their lives.

Then you have them.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Good or bad joke?

If they laugh, sputter, or exhale quickly, they think it's a good joke.
If they tell it to all their friends, they think it's a great joke.
If they groan, they think it's a bad joke.
If they groan AND tell it to all their friends, they may be messing with you (Ha, you can't make me laugh, I won't let you neener neener.)
If they don't laugh, they think it's a bad joke.
If they don't laugh, but have the "deer in the headlights" look, they didn't get it. It might still be a good joke, particularly if the audience do not speak English as a native language.