tymshft

There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

Swiss rescue operations mix old and new

We’ve all heard about the Swiss dogs who venture forth in the Alps to rescue people.

Well, these days the dogs have a little bit of help.

Capo, a golden retriever wearing a bright orange rescue harness, runs with his handler in tow towards a body sprawled in the high grass as a giant drone whirrs overhead.

The scene was part of a simulated dog rescue operation this week aimed at highlighting the rapidly growing use of drones to help speed up and expand such searches in Switzerland.

The exercise took place on Wednesday, the same day as a massive landslide on the Piz Cengalo mountain in the Swiss Alps that left eight people missing and triggered a search-and-rescue mission where dogs and drones were deployed.

The article states that there are cooperation efforts between the dog people, represented by the Swiss Association for Search and Rescue Dogs (Redog), and the drone people, represented by the Swiss Federation of Civil Drones. (Almost sounds like ham radio there.)

In fact, one Redog person put it this way:

This allows us to have an eye in the air and a nose on the ground.

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In which I hazard a guess regarding the future of (American) football

I recently ran across an article with two very significant data points. Here’s the first:

High school football enrollment is down 4.5 percent over the past decade, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

This is leading some high schools to disband their football teams – something that is shocking to the average American. The article cites several causes, including worries about concussions, as well as an increasing number of immigrant families for whom football (in the American sense) is not relevant.

While these may be the underlying causes for the decline of high school football participation, there’s another surface cause that affects things.

Youth levels of football, leagues high schools lean on as feeder systems, saw a nearly 30 percent drop in participation between 2008 and 2013, according to data collected by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

That’s an even bigger drop, with ramifications for the future of high school football.

But that’s not what concerns me – and you. What should concern us is when we extrapolate these numbers.

After all, if a decline in youth football leads to a decline in high school football, what does that mean for the future of college football?

And the National Football League?

Will the ranks of football players be decimated, causing the NFL to reduce to four teams and for the television networks to only offer $4.99 to cover NFL games?

Perhaps not.

I don’t know about the youth football figures, but the high school football declines appear to be regional.

More schools are fielding football teams nationwide, albeit with fewer players, led by surges in such states as Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas, which together have added 150 teams in the past five years. But other regions – namely the Midwest and Northeast – are shedding high school football programs at a significant rate. Michigan has seen a net loss of 57 teams in the past five years. Missouri has lost 24. Pennsylvania has lost 12.

So it could be that future NFL players will come from certain regions of the country. This is not shocking – your average Major League Baseball player is more likely to come from California than from New York.

And perhaps the NFL may end up doing what baseball has been doing for years – importing talent from other countries to do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do. This may be a tall order – the NFL’s attempts to establish professional teams in Europe haven’t worked out – but for the right money, it’s likely that third world ballplayers may be induced to participate in a sport that protective American parents won’t let their kids play.

And you also have to remember that the talent at the top level is limited. Even if youth football declines by 90%, the NFL will still be able to field 32 teams. And perhaps even in that dramatic instance, the quality of the pro game will not diminish significantly, since only the elite of the elite make it to the pros anyway.

What I said about the communications revolution…in 1991

Many years ago, when I was taking MBA courses at Cal State Fullerton, I wrote a paper for one of my classes. Some of the content was derived from research that I performed at the time, while other content came from books that I had lying around my apartment, such as the autobiographies of Jimmy Carter and John Sculley.

I guess the paper must have been OK, because after I wrote it, the professor, Brian Kleiner, approached me and said that he could get it published.

Why not? I thought.

So in 1991, an English journal called Industrial Management & Data Systems published a paper by John E. Bredehoft and Brian Kleiner entitled “Communications Revolution and its Impact on Managing Organisations Effectively.”

I’ve referred to this paper at times. You can find it on my LinkedIn profile. I’ve referred to it on Google Plus – twice. And I just mentioned it in an Empoprise-BI post.

But I haven’t actually READ the paper in decades. Oh, I was curious about reading it, but not thirty-two dollar curious.

But then I found a free copy of the article by searching. You can bet I downloaded it.

JBBKCommRev

And now I’m looking at the paper, curious about what I thought about the communications revolution in 1991 – and how my thoughts relate to the present-day 2017 communications climate.

Now bear in mind that I wrote my original class paper over a quarter century ago, and I don’t really remember the details of its creation. And Kleiner obviously had a hand in the final printed article.

Having said that, our emphasis on three variables – the speed of business communications, the distance over which timely information can be transmitted, and the volume of business communications – was certainly on target.

If anything, “distance” has been removed as a variable. After I got my MBA, I was tangentially involved in discussions regarding how electronic data interchange (EDI) could send data from Walmart’s headquarters in Arkansas to my then-employer in Monterey Park, California. Today, the data for those transactions could be stored in Colorado, or in Europe, or in India, making concerns about distance minimal.

And volume? Um, kids, back when I was an MBA student in 1991, I couldn’t whip out my mobile phone and watch a movie. Come to think of it, I didn’t even have a mobile phone in 1991.

Needless to say, the passage of time has resulted in some amusement while re-reading the article today. Back in 1991, the editors of Industrial Management & Data Systems saw fit to call out this profound statement:

A person with a modem can “dial up” and solve a problem

The quote itself comes from a paragraph in which we assert that the technologies could allow people in different locations to work together to solve a problem. We even quoted from an article in Rural Sociology in which Don Dillman discussed “geographically unbounded interactions” and wondered how they would affect rural life.

(Yet people still insist on living in Silicon Valley. Go figure.)

And, I’m sorry to say, there is one instance in which we got it plain wrong. I’ll take the blame for this one; I doubt Kleiner originated this idea.

Because of the technology advances, we can gather much more accurate information than we could previously.

Yes, I wrote that.

And I thought I had a compelling case. I talked about the use of grocery checkout scanners and how it allowed the Ontario Alpha Beta (I lived near the Ontario Alpha Beta in 1991; it’s now a 99 Cents Only Store) could give really, really precise information about purchases.

Boy, was I stupid.

I made the assumption that the scanners were providing correct information, and that there were no malfunctions in the scanners or in the systems tabulating the data from the scanners. More importantly, if you’ve been paying attention to the recent news, I also made the assumption that any reports of this data were completely accurate, and that no one had falsified any of the data. To be fair, this paper was published several years before Enron’s collapse, and a couple of decades before automobile companies were caught falsifying emission data.

On the whole, though, while some of the details ended up being skewed over time, our paper clearly emphasized the importance of communications in 1991, and the continuing importance of communications today.

Now I just have to find an online source for the other publication that I cited on LinkedIn – my undergraduate thesis on the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That’ll be a hoot, even if it is written in American rather than English.

How the home game Pong started in a bar

Retroist recently ran a photo showing two boys sitting on a living room floor, staring at a large screen in front of them. The black and white screen showed a dotted vertical line separating the screen into two halves. Numbers (in this case “3” and “2”) appeared on each side of the screen, and if you looked very closely, you could see a short vertical line on each edge of the screen.

The two boys are staring at this boring black and white screen, acting like it was showing something riveting.

Actually, the screen WAS riveting.

If you haven’t looked at the picture – or even if you have – you might not realize that the television screen in the picture is showing the game of Pong. All revolutions have to start somewhere, and the move from traditional pinball games to video games was accelerated by Pong.

But before Pong became a home game, it was an arcade game. And the whole idea of bringing an arcade game into the home was a terrifying thought in the early 1970s. This article (which I’ve cited before) describes the seedy reputation of arcades, pre-Pong.

The invention of the flipper by Gottlieb in 1947 helped to launch pinball more firmly into the “game of skill” category, and manufacturers began to aggressively pursue a family-friendly image. Of course, that didn’t matter to much of the country where pinball was illegal, forcing machines into even seedier locations like porn shops and dive bars. New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood became a haven for backroom pinball machines. Like so many things which are illicit, though, the attraction of pinball only increased in the prohibition years following World War II, and, by the 1950s, the quickest route to proving your rebel status in America was to be seen within a few feet of a pinball machine.

But these smoky pinball machine havens were about to see a new type of video game. Video games themselves had been around in some form or another for a decade, but they weren’t the types of things that you’d bring into a bar.

Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California, wasn’t the kind of place where fights would break out every night. But the hole, named for the surly British comic-strip slacker, was shadowy and dark. Cigarette smoke swirled so thick that it rivaled the fog that rolled in over the Santa Cruz Mountains. You might bring your girlfriend to Andy Capp’s, but not on a first date.

But three former Ampex employees, Nolan Bushnell, Allan Alcorn, and Ted Dabney chose this Sunnyvale bar to test their company Atari’s new game Pong. While the initial success of the game at the bar may have been exaggerated (did the bar patrons fill the game with too many quarters, or did Bushnell?), the game did become successful at bars throughout the country and eventually around the world.

Pong
By Bumm13 [2] (Originally upload at en.wikipedia.org [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And why not? Compared to pinball machines of the day, Pong WAS revolutionary and mesmerizing. No moving parts on the play board, a deceptively simple – and addicting – game. As competitors improved on Atari’s game – and as Magnavox took Atari to court alleging the Pong infringed on an earlier Magnavox game – the entire industry worked at creating games better than Pong, ushering in a golden era for video games.

Much has happened since then – you can now play Pong on your iPhone, and Andy Capp’s Tavern is now a comedy club – but Pong has undeniably changed the entire gaming industry.

Poppy covers ancient history

One day not too long ago I was watching videos and encountered one in which kids react to Poppy reacting to kids reacting to Poppy.

I had never heard of Poppy before this time.

Yes, I am not trendy.

Well, while I’ve been listening to some of her music, I occasionally take a dive into her videos that treat The Human Condition or something like that. And here’s one that she created for her younger fans. It’s like history and stuff.

And since “floppy” rhymes with “Poppy,” I see a new marketing effort in her future.

What has happened to the sports broadcasting industry in 29 years

On Saturday, May 6, I was in a Goodwill store in Santa Clarita (Canyon Country), California, and found myself in the book section. I was eyeing a 1988 book entitled Sports for Sale: Television, Money, and the Fans by David A. Klatell and Norman Marcus. I was intrigued by the predictions on the back of the book jacket.

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So, in the interests of journalism, I spent the two bucks on the book, knowing that I would probably end up writing about these “provocative findings and conclusions,” some of which were spot-on, others of which were a little off. Plus, it appears that the authors were unable to anticipate one huge change in the future – hint: you’re using it to read these words right now, unless you’ve already quit reading this to search for NBA playoff highlight videos.

As is the case with post-mortems on failed predictions, my intent will not be to criticize those who made the flawed prediction, but to discern what circumstances led to the flawed prediction. (Not that Klatell would care what I think; he passed away last year.)

I’m not prepared to write about these predictions yet; as I write this, I’m only on page 10 of the book. But I can already see a number of the difficulties that the authors would encounter. Remember – this book was written in 1988. Back then, ABC Sports was still a very strong sports brand, and I don’t think that anyone could conceive of that brand disappearing entirely. Fox Sports did not even exist – heck, the Fox Broadcasting Company itself was only two years old.

But the most shocking indicator of the changes between 1988 and 2017 can be found in this passage, found on page 10.

On the other hand, we not only remember certain television images, we also recall where we were when we saw them, who was with us at the time, and how they made us feel. We remember Olga Korbut’s charm, O. J. Simpson’s grace, Muhammad Ali’s bag of tricks, Celtics’ pride, Mets’ arrogance, and Dodger Blue…

Those who remember O. J. Simpson today and, um, “remember certain television images” may not associate the word “grace” with him.

(And there have been plenty of other changes with the other personalities named. In 1998, Korbut’s country was Communist and the U.S. President had recently referred to it as an “evil empire.” And the Dodgers were fresh off winning a World Series – how many more World Series would the O’Malley-owned team win over the coming decades?)

This should be an interesting read, even if Kirkus Reviews panned the book when it was published. I predict that I’ll come back later with more thoughts as I read it.

Robots and the union label in Korea

So my last post in tymshft was about robots, I guess.

And I haven’t written about guaranteed income in a while.

And I don’t know that I’ve ever written about Korea.

Put those together, add trade unions, and you get this:

As far as job security is concerned, Hyundai Motor is touted as the best place for workers as the automaker’s militant trade union safeguards them against any attempts by management to cut payrolls.

However, they seem not to be content with the status quo as the union is asking the company to guarantee that their jobs will be safe even after the full-fledged introduction of robotic production, possibly controlled by artificial intelligence (AI).

In a sense, this is not about technology at all. Change “robots” to “Chinese immigrants” (or, in the case of my own country…Chinese immigrants) and the issues are the same. An established labor order is upset by the introduction of low-cost workers who require less salary and benefits. Of course, in the case of robots, “salary and benefits” becomes maintenance and upkeep.

There are two prevailing thoughts in all of these situations. One is that the high-salary jobs that are taken by these low-cost workers (carbon-based or otherwise) are not coming back, and that we’ll need some type of “guaranteed income” mechanism to keep society from falling apart. The other is that the old high-salary jobs will be replaced by high-salary jobs in new industries, and the economy will adjust like it always has when horse-and-buggy dealers, tobacco farmers, and coal miners saw job losses.

But what happens in a country like Korea? I plead ignorance about Korean society and customs, but what happens in such a country where people no longer work in traditional jobs – or perhaps no longer work at all?

Or am I kidding myself when I believe that the go-getter U.S. society can adjust to this more quickly than so-called traditional societies? After all, even though we haven’t been around for all that long, we have our own traditions…

No, the robots aren’t killing us…yet

Let’s go back to July 7, 2015, when this tragic event occurred in Michigan:

An employee of Ventra Ionia Main, an automotive stamping facility, died after being caught in a robotic machine, police said.

The accident happened about 2:20 p.m. Tuesday, July 7 at Ventra, 14 N. Beardsley St., Ionia Public Safety Department officers said.

More details were revealed this month, when the inevitable lawsuit was filed.

[Wanda] Holbrook, a journeyman technician, was performing routine maintenance on one of the robots on the trailer hitch assembly line when the unit unexpectedly activated and attempted to load a part into the unit being repaired, crushing Holbrook’s head.

By the time this filtered through several sources, the press was referring to a rogue robot, conjuring an image of a sentient being taking out its vengeance on an unfortunate carbon-based life form.

The lawyers don’t go that far, but they interpret this as a machine that was improperly programmed by a host of companies named in the lawsuit.

In this respect, it’s no different than any piece of machinery – or, frankly, any manufactured item. No one accuses a shovel of being a sentient rogue being, but it can kill also.

Studies published in the Lancet and the American Journal of Cardiology, among other outlets, show that the incidence of heart failure goes up in the week after a blizzard. The Lancet study, based on death certificates in eastern Massachusetts after six blizzards from 1974-78, demonstrated that ischemic heart disease deaths rose by 22 percent during the blizzard week and stayed elevated for the subsequent eight days, suggesting that the effect was related to storm-related activities, like shoveling, rather than the storm itself. Similarly, the AJC article, based on medical examiner records from three Michigan counties, found that there were more exertion-related sudden cardiac deaths in the weeks during and after blizzards, and that 36 of the 43 total exertion-related deaths occurred during or shortly after snow removal.

Perhaps some day we will have a true rogue robot, with independent decision-making capability, that performs an action that results in a death. But we’re not there yet.

Can the @AINowInitiative achieve its goals?

Confession – when I first saw Marshall Kirkpatrick’s tweet, I thought that it sounded too much like Newspeak. Most of you probably won’t react that way, but I did.

AINowMarshall

“Preventing fascism through AI?” After the recent Wikileaks revelations about purported CIA listening technology, you kinda wonder if the AI would be used to IMPLEMENT “fascism” – whatever “fascism” is.

But when I went to the AI Now Initiative website (which, as far as I can tell, does NOT use the f-word), it looks like they have a valid point. But can they get where they want to go? And where DO they want to go?

First, let me introduce the AI Now Initiative itself.

Led by Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker, AI Now is a New York-based research initiative working across disciplines to understand AI’s social impacts….

The AI Now Report provides recommendations that can help ensure AI is more fair and equitable. It represents the thinking and research of the experts who attended our first symposium, hosted in collaboration with President Obama’s White House and held at New York University in 2016.

The thing that struck me in the details was their discussion of bias.

Bias and inclusion

Data reflects the social and political conditions in which it is collected. AI is only able to “see” what is in the data it’s given. This, along with many other factors, can lead to biased and unfair outcomes. AI Now researches and measures the nature of such bias, how bias is defined and by whom, and the impact of such bias on diverse populations.

I wanted to read the report (PDF) of the first symposium – since the second symposium hasn’t yet been held, its report has (I hope) not yet been written – but the definition of bias is a key step here. If you’re wearing a MAGA hat or have one of North Korea’s approved hairstyles, then anything involving Barack Obama and the city of New York is already hopelessly biased, infused with New York values – one of those values being the Constitution and laws of the United States.

While reading the report, it appears that “bias” is defined as “lack of fairness.”

As AI systems take on a more important role in high-stakes decision-making – from offers of credit and insurance, to hiring decisions and parole – they will begin to affect who gets offered crucial opportunities, and who is left behind. This brings questions of rights, liberties, and basic fairness to the forefront.

While some hope that AI systems will help to overcome the biases that plague human decision-making, others fear that AI systems will amplify such biases, denying opportunities to the deserving and subjecting the deprived to further disadvantage.

An example will illustrate the issues involved.

Person A and Person B are applying for health insurance. What data is required to evaluate the risks from insuring each person? Do we need to know their ages? Their genders? Their races? What they ate for dinner last night? Their genetic test results? Some will argue that all of this data is not only desirable, but necessary for decision-making. Others will argue that collection of such data is an affront to the aforementioned “New York values” enshrined in the Constitution.

So should an AI system have access to all data, or some data? And should it be neutral, or “fair”?

One sentence in the report, however, justifies the common scientific plea that more research (and funding for research) is needed.

It is important to note that while there are communities doing wonderful work on these issues, there is no consensus on how to “detect” bias of either kind.

 

Forward Into the Past, Musically

Longevity has its place. And sometimes in the musical world, that place is one of utter confusion.

I was recently listening to the title track from Stan Ridgway’s first solo album, The Big Heat. As is the wont with Ridgway’s lyrics, there was a little twist in the song – in this case, toward the end.

A block away he wondered if he’d left behind a clue
The front page of a paper dated 1992
He remembered when he used to be the chairman of the board
But that was when the world was young and long before the war

Back when the solo album was released, the lyric had a futuristic feel, predicting a devastating war that would occur a few years after the song was written.

Now, of course, 1992 was a quarter century ago, and people listening to the song may not get the meaning.

Of course, Ridgway wasn’t the first to use futuristic references in his lyrics. Wings released a song called “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.” As Wings fans know, by the time we actually got to 1985, Wings had gone up in a cloud of smoke.

But that still gave Paul (and Linda and Denny; this was during one of the periods that Wings only had three members) to rock out.

On no one left alive in 1985, will ever do
She may be right
She may be fine
She may get love but she won’t get mine
‘Cause I got you
Oh, oh I, oh oh I
Well I just can’t enough of that sweet stuff
My little lady gets behind

But that isn’t the only futuristic reference in the song. Toward the end of the song, just before the reprise to “Band On The Run” (Paul loves those reprises), he and the other two (with a little help from their friends) were rocking on to the 19th century piece “Also sprach Zarathustra.”

You may know it as the theme to the formerly futuristic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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