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Why we no longer walk down the hall

While thinking about my corporate and post-corporate career, I have realized that my experiences today are much different than they were in the 1980s.

Before explaining what these differences are, I should note that there are three reasons for this.

  • One is due to my personal experiences. When I initially graduated from college, I worked for small companies. As time went on, I began working for, and eventually working with, many large multinational companies. This of course influenced my experiences.
  • The second reason is the recent blip due to COVID-19.
  • The third reason is a number of business and technological changes that have impacted everyone, not just me, since the 1980s.

With those caveats, I’ll discuss my observations on changes from the 1980s to the 2020s.

In the 1980s and 1990s, if I had a question for someone in my company, I could usually just walk down the hall and ask my question. Just about everyone in the company that I would deal with was located in a single building.

1937 image of the Division of Classification and Cataloging, National Archives, United States. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15775797

It got a little more complex in the early 1990s, when I worked for a poster company and the affiliated novelty goods company was in a separate building down the street. Later in that same decade, my new employer Printrak started “the Irvine experiment” and moved a bunch of us to an office closer to Orange County’s technical hub; this meant that I was dealing with people in two different cities, about ten miles apart.

Things really accelerated when I became a product manager. Printrak had previously gone on an acquisition spree, so the product managers in the Irvine office were dealing with a parallel set of product managers in an office in Boulder, Colorado. Yet the entities remained separate – so much so that when Safran acquired the California operations of the former Printrak several years later, the Colorado operations were excluded from the acquisition.

By the time Motorola acquired Printrak in late 2000, things got even more complicated. At one point, I was located in Irvine, managing a product that was being developed in Irvine and Anaheim, designed to work with products being designed in Boulder, and all managed from faraway Schaumburg, Illinois. These impacts lessened somewhat when the Irvine office was closed, the Irvine workers moved back to Anaheim, and we interacted less and less with the Boulder people. But there was still the need to communicate with Motorola headquarters in Schaumburg, and with other Motorola offices throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Then in 2009, the Anaheim operations were acquired by a company in Tacoma, Washington, which was itself a subsidiary of a French firm. For me, this was when interactions with people outside of my physical office became more frequent. Up until this point, everyone in my department (proposals, product management, proposals again) was for the most part in the same physical location. Once MorphoTrak was created, however, single departments would span multiple offices, and I would be in Anaheim working on a project with coworkers in Tacoma, or perhaps traveling to Tacoma to work on a particular project.

This practice of having single departments span multiple locations continued throughout my time at MorphoTrak and IDEMIA. After leaving Proposals for the second time, my new department had coworkers in three separate locations. I then moved to a two-person department in which I was in Anaheim, California, and my supervisor was in Billerica, Massachusetts. (In the nearly three years that I worked for him, I probably physically met him about a dozen times. Contrast this to my prior supervisor, who was right down the hall for me.) In my final months at IDEMIA, I worked in a department with four people in four different locations. (Partially due to COVID, I don’t think that the four of us were ever in the same room.)

As an independent contractor, I work with both large and small clients. Three of my clients are large multinational firms, and there are issues dealing with them and their many locations.

This came home for me a little while ago, when I was working with a large multinational client on a particular project. This project required physical signatures (sorry, no DocuSign here), and therefore the project planning required several days to send a physical document from one of the client’s locations to another and back again.

If this had been 1985, I could have walked down the hall to get that signature.

So what happened to Thomas Brothers, anyway?

I just wrote a post that talked about job hunting circa 1994. Because it was 1994, job hunting involved the use of a Thomas Brothers guide.

For those who didn’t know who the Thomas brothers were, I helpfully provided a link to an LAist article from 2018 entitled “Thomas Guide Maps: The Rise And Fall of LA’s Directional Holy Grail.”

As the article notes, Thomas Brothers books, with their grid representations of streets in southern California, were a necessity here in the late 20th century. Toward the end of the century, you could go to your local Costco and see stacks upon stacks of books for San Bernardino/Riverside Counties, Los Angeles/Orange Counties, and other combinations. If you wanted to go somewhere, such as a job interview in another city, out came the Thomas Brothers guide.

Or, in the 1990s, the Thomas Brothers CD. As technology advanced, Thomas Brothers advanced with it, and provided its maps on compact discs that you could insert into your desktop computer – or even into your laptop computer!

But despite its technology advances, Thomas Brothers couldn’t advance fast enough. Companies were coming up with in-dash car navigation systems that would show maps on a screen in the car, and services such as Mapquest were displaying maps on your computer even if you didn’t have the appropriate CD.

So in 1998, Thomas Brothers sold itself to Rand McNally. It sounded like a winning move, provided the small local company with the big resources of map giant Rand McNally.

But it didn’t work out that way. According to Wikipedia, Rand McNally followed the innovation curve of other companies and outsourced cartography duties to Bangalore, India. Map data itself is acquired from outside companies such as Here (formerly Navteq). By 2009, the Thomas Brother office in Irvine was closed completely.

But you can still get Thomas Maps – from a guy named Larry Thomas (no known relation to George Coupland Thomas or his brothers) who distributes maps from Rand McNally and other firms. For example, Larry offers the LOS ANGELES/ORANGE THOMAS GUIDE 55TH EDITION 2019. And he also offers (for almost $58) the SAN BERNARDINO CUSTOM MAP BOOK ONLY 2017, but with this important caveat:

This is not a Thomas Brothers product  they no longer make the Riverside  and San Bernardino Thomas guides.  This a new San Bernardino  and Victorville, Barstow, and all of San Bernardino county

This is a test.

IDEMIA tymshft

Will “America First” hasten “China First”?

I have written a number of things in this tymshft blog over the years, but if I were to look over them again, I suspect that every one of them was written with an exclusively Western mindset.

Which is surprising when you think about it, because the most significant trend that people have been talking about for decades is the coming end of American dominance.

Over the last several hundred years, various countries and empires have taken turns as major world powers. For the people of today, it is inconceivable that Portugal was once one of those world powers. Now it’s the holiday spot for people from England, who themselves once presided over an empire upon which the sun never set. After the United States pretty much bailed Britain out in the 1940s, there were two world powers – and by 1990, there was only one.

Meanwhile, futurists kept an eye on the billion-plus people in the so-called “uncivilized” part of the world. Here’s part of what the American Conservative wrote in 2012:

[China’s poverty] began to change very rapidly once Deng Xiaoping initiated his free-market reforms in 1978, first throughout the countryside and eventually in the smaller industrial enterprises of the coastal provinces. By 1985, The Economist ran a cover story praising China’s 700,000,000 peasants for having doubled their agricultural production in just seven years, an achievement almost unprecedented in world history. Meanwhile, China’s newly adopted one-child policy, despite its considerable unpopularity, had sharply reduced population growth rates in a country possessing relatively little arable land….

Even a century ago, near the nadir of China’s later weakness and decay, some of America’s foremost public intellectuals, such as Edward A. Ross and Lothrop Stoddard, boldly predicted the forthcoming restoration of the Chinese nation to global influence, the former with equanimity and the latter with serious concern.

While the American Conservative article goes on to argue that China’s ascendancy does not necessarily mean the United States’ decline, it argued that at the time (2012) we were clearly heading that way.

Our elites boast about the greatness of our constitutional democracy, the wondrous human rights we enjoy, the freedom and rule of law that have long made America a light unto the nations of the world and a spiritual draw for oppressed peoples everywhere, including China itself. But are these claims actually correct? They often stack up very strangely when they appear in the opinion pages of our major newspapers, coming just after the news reporting, whose facts tell a very different story.

Just last year, the Obama administration initiated a massive months-long bombing campaign against the duly recognized government of Libya on “humanitarian” grounds, then argued with a straight face that a military effort comprising hundreds of bombing sorties and over a billion dollars in combat costs did not actually constitute “warfare,” and hence was completely exempt from the established provisions of the Congressional War Powers Act.

But as the 2012 author well knew, the Obama administration would not be in power forever. At worst, Obama would be re-elected in 2012, but would leave office by 2017.

What if a very different leader were to take his place? What if a new President were to appeal to those who were NOT elite? What if he were to (intentionally or unintentionally) heed the George Washington warning against entangling alliances, and were to reverse the traditional isolationism that dominated the United States for most of the years between 1789 and 1940 – when the “America First” movement fell due to Communist disapproval (after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union), followed by American disapproval the next year after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor?

What if, on Inauguration Day in 2017, a new President were to stand on the Capitol steps and, despite their loaded meaning, actually utter the words “America First”?


Well, that could lead to unexpected consequences:

This year’s Davos forum taking place from January 17, is supposed to be dominated by a haunting specter of hostility to globalization and the rise of protectionism around the world. It comes at a time, when the new U.S. president-elect is talking tough on trade, promising tariffs and increased government interference in the market. The forum will end on the day the new president is sworn in. It also, for the first time, features the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi’s pitch was fundamentally a focus on free trade rather than geopolitical confrontation, and a pitch for inclusive globalization. Protectionism, nativism and populism were identified as three threats that must be contended with by a more cooperative approach to global trade.

The speech itself comprised of a robust defense of the current world order.

The above was written by Sumantra Maitra at china.org.cn. And why not use china.org.cn as a reference? The Davos crowd, hit by the double whammy of Brexit and Trump, is all too willing to welcome anyone who champions the global interconnectedness of nations. And while there are some who argue that China remains a totalitarian state, with its population controls and its notorious “Great Firewall,” China can simply tell its critics to look in the mirror.

As Maitra poses the argument, two new coalitions of nations are forming. One consists of the nationalists – the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, and possibly other European nations in the coming months – nations who value nationalism and protectionism. According to Maitra, the other coalition consists of nations such as China who remain committed to globalism. Maitra concludes:

One needs to understand, that as long as there are laws of demand and supply, trade will be paramount and the forces of economics will favor countries which are pro-trade. Countries, which will try to be protectionist, will ultimately suffer as the market will inevitably punish them due to the lack of competitive advantage. Smaller countries will automatically coalesce around the powers which are more open to trade, and that should be a point well-articulated in Davos.

And as those small countries coalesce around the larger countries, obviously the larger countries will take the lead.

And which country is the largest country of all? Hint – it isn’t Switzerland.

When I shared this hypothesis with Tad Donaghe, a futurist whom I respect, I shared it in much shorter form. I was responding to this statement:

We will not accept Trump as the Leader of the free world.

I replied (while sharing the Maitra article):

Many have thought that the US would pass from world leadership regardless, and that China would ascend as the world leader. Perhaps this is happening, and both “America First” conservatives and “human rights” liberals are now on the sidelines.

His response:

We cannot allow that. There is no real freedom at all in China.

But csn “the West” truly prevent that from happening? And if so, how? None of the past Presidents – Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, or Obama – were able to free China’s masses, and Trump doesn’t look like he can do it either.

Continue the discussion here, or at Tad’s Facebook post.

But WHY were the iPhone naysayers incorrect?

When I look at predictions that were incorrect – more often than not, my own predictions – my intent is not to make fun of the stupid people (generally me) who got it so wrong, but to ask the question – WHY was the original prediction incorrect?

When Apple came up with its iPod that was also a phone – with the wildly unoriginal name “iPhone” – it was not an overnight success. In fact, some very influential people thought that it would be a spectacular failure.

Ben Sin revisited those incorrect predictions, but again he was not laughing at the bad predictions:

Now, this piece isn’t in any way meant to poke fun at people who predicted failure for the iPhone. Nobody, not even Jobs, could have known the iPhone would be the single most important invention of the past decade.

So why did people such as Steve Ballmer, TechCrunch, and others think that the iPhone would fail? For a lot of reasons, but I’d like to focus on two of them.

First, several people didn’t like the idea of a touchscreen at all. TechCrunch:

That virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone. Don’t be surprised if a sizable contingent of iPhone buyers express some remorse at ditching their BlackBerry when they spend an extra hour each day pumping out emails on the road.

David Platt:

…users will detest the touch screen interface due to its lack of tactile feedback. Using a thumb keyboard, as on the very popular Treo phone, allows the user to feel the keys and know subconsciously that he’s about to press this one and not the one next to it. A touch screen doesn’t allow that, so the user will have to be looking at the keyboard at all times while using it.

And I’ll include myself in that number. For years after 2007, I resisted getting a phone that didn’t have a “real” keyboard. Even though I hsve relatively thin fingers, I knew that there was no way that I could accurately type on a virtual keyboard that was so small.

So what did I learn, and what did others learn, when we finally got an iPhone or an Android phone that had a virtual keyboard?


Granted that auto-correct is constantly vilified, but on balance it does more good than harm. Contrary to the 2007 belief that people would take forever to type anything on a virtual keyboard, I type at a pretty fast rate – and my phone corrects my errant keystrokes more often than not.

And by freeing up the space formerly occupied by a physical keyboard, modern phones can now either have a bigger screen, or can do away with the complexities of a “chiclet” model phone in which the keyboard slid in and out. This resulted in a better user experience.

Add to that another thing that Jobs wasn’t banking on in 2007 – voice dictation. I personally am not a big user of voice dictation, but as we get more comfortable with the technology and as Siri, Alexa, and their friends continue to evolve, input will be even easier.

(One caveat: voice dictation has its own drawbacks. If you get irritated when you see a crowd of people all staring at their phones, you will get REALLY irritated when that same crowd of people all starts TALKING to their phones.)

So what’s the second reason that people thought the iPhone would fail? The cost was too damn high. Even back in 2007, when most people were not exposed to the full cost of buying a phone because it was buried in their data plan, people worried that the iPhone would be a failure because other phones could do the same thing much more cheaply.


It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

So, what happened? The iPhone came out, it was really expensive, and in the U.S. it was only available on a single cellular network. Sounds like a recipe for failure, right?

No. Because people really, really wanted the iPhone, and they loudly demanded that Apple release the iPhone for Verizon and other networks. And in economic terms, it became a scarce good with pent-up demand.

Not every Apple product has been a runaway success, but they have clearly had several successes over their decades-long history, and the iPhone was clearly one of them. While it could have gone the other way, and while certain aspects of the iPhone marketing have been ridiculed (“It’s white! OMG OMG OMG!”), the iPhone delivered enough functionality and included enough revisions that people continued to have interest in it.

And the iPhone influenced other products, and even other markets. Today you have Android phones that receive calls, play music, and access the Internet. And they’re really expensive and don’t have keyboards.

On a personal note, one of those iPhone revisions affected my industry, biometrics. In the years before 2007, if someone had told you to put your finger on a phone to unlock it, you would have resisted the idea because that’s what police do to criminals. But when Apple put a fingerprint reader on an iPhone, use of the technology in consumer markets became acceptable.

In 2007, it was difficult to predict that this new device would change things as much as it did. And we never really know when a new product will succeed, and when it will fail. So frankly, when the next revolutionary product comes out, we probably won’t be any better at knowing whether it will change everything, or be a spectacular failure.

Anyone got an iPod for sale?

The funding gamble at the Arizona Republic

Here’s another newspaper story to follow the last one that I posted. We’re dealing with the same issue – newspapers aren’t getting the revenue that they got in the past, and therefore have to change the way they do things. But while the New York Times chose to decrease its coverage of a particular area, the Arizona Republic chose to increase its coverage. How? By doing things differently:

I’m thrilled to announce the Arizona Community Foundation has given The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com a three-year grant to support in-depth investigative reporting about child welfare in Arizona….

Foundation funding for journalism feels new, but it’s not without precedent, and we believe it holds great promise. The Arizona Community Foundation grant will enable a deeper look than we’ve ever been able to take before, by supporting extra reporting time and resources and multimedia storytelling to explore the problems in new ways.

Our journalism remains independent, as you’ve always expected from The Republic.

But is this truly different?

Think about it. Most newspapers are NOT funded 100% via reader subscriptions. Since day one, newspapers have sold advertisements. I’m sure that the Arizona Republic sold its share of ads to Goldwater’s Department Store. And I’m sure that the politically active members of that family took out political ads that espoused a particular point of view.

However, the revenue from a Barry Goldwater political ad did not mean that the Republic would use that money for Goldwater-related purposes. In this case, the Foundation funds are apparently being allocated to cover child welfare. And although it appears that the Foundation will not be able to name staff to cover the issue, the fact that the Republic has to name somebody to cover the issue does demonstrate a particular allocation of resources.

One could claim that the Republic would cover child welfare anyway, since it’s been doing so for years. And three years isn’t a long time, so presumably they’ll be covering child welfare three years from now.

It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the three year term. For a variety of reasons, the Foundation could choose to offer or not offer another grant, and the Republic could choose to accept or not accept a grant if offered. But if there is no grant, will activists conclude that the Arizona Republic hates children?

The data was ALWAYS there


It was the height of the disco era, and the goings-on at Studio 54 had penetrated the great middle of the United States. That’s how Joe the Bouncer got his job. His town had opened up its very own disco, and Joe stood by the door on Friday and Saturday nights, deciding who was in and who was out.

Joe had the absolute perfect background for this job. Not because of his education, but because of his talents. Joe could always remember a face. If someone caused trouble at the club one week and tried to get into the club three weeks later, Joe would remember him and would bar him from the club. The club owner joked that Joe had the brains of an IBM mainframe computer.

Things in Joe’s town got quiet after midnight, even on a weekend, and that’s when the less pleasant part of Joe’s job began. Some kid would be in the back corner of the club, drunk or otherwise unable to function. Since the town was relatively small, it wouldn’t do to just throw the guy out on the street in front of the club. The city council wouldn’t like that. So someone – usually Joe – got stuck taking the kid home. And because the kid was likely to get sick on the way home, Joe had an interest in getting him home as quickly as possible.

That’s where the other part of Joe’s mainframe computer brain kicked in. The town wasn’t that big a town, but there were some things about the town that your average person wouldn’t know. When the Second Street traffic light would stay red for a couple of minutes at one in the morning, Joe knew to take the back alley to get home quicker. And if some road was under construction, Joe usually knew at least three ways to get around the problem.

Joe’s retired now, but he still reads the papers now and then to keep up with what’s going on. (And yes, he actually has printed newspapers delivered to his home.) And Joe just has to laugh to himself when he reads an article about how terrible it is to use facial recognition in retail establishments. Heck, Joe did that all the time in his disco days, and no one batted an eye.

And he really gets laughing when he hears residents complaining about how navigation apps are revealing previously secret shortcuts. Joe wasn’t the only one who figured these shortcuts out long before Waze came into existence.

O Marlboroman

One of my first blog posts was a Laurie Anderson parody. An excerpt:

(telephone dialing)
VOICE (spoken) Bloody hell, who is this?
ANDERSON (spoken) Hello. This is Laurie.
VOICE (spoken) It’s three a m.
ANDERSON (spoken) It is earlier here. We have a different time.

This is obviously a parody of Anderson’s spoken word efforts, such as “O Superman.” But while listening to that song one day, I was struck by the dated nature of portions of the lyrics:

Here come the planes.
They’re American planes. Made in America.
Smoking or non-smoking?

Remember that the record was released in 1981. While the reference the “the planes” may have been inspired by the hostage rescue mission, the “smoking or non-smoking” line was inspired by something entirely different – a 1973 decision by the Civil Aeronautics Board to designate separate portions of airplanes as smoking or non-smoking. Contemporary fliers were not impressed:

As one critic of the policy put it: “A smoking section on an airplane is like having a peeing section in a swimming pool.”

By November 21, 1989, President George Bush (as we knew him then) officially banned smoking on domestic flights less than six hours in length. (Going to Honolulu? Light up.) By 2000, his successor President Clinton (as we knew him then) officially banned smoking on any flight entering or leaving the United States.

Then 9/11 happened, and performance artist Laurie Anderson was performing in Chicago that evening. Anderson lived in New York – I know this shocks you – and as she heard reports from home (and some dude named Lou Reed), she said nothing to the people attending her show that evening.

No, I take that back. Anderson is a spoken word artist; she’s always speaking.

The crowd was dead silent throughout [the concert], but when Anderson began “O Superman” you could hear the room shift as the already menacing song took on new layers of eerily contemporary meaning. “Hello? Is anybody home? Well, you don’t know me, but I know you. And I’ve got a message to give to you. Here come the planes. So you better get ready.” The lyrics chimed out like an answering machine message sent to the future, picked up several decades too late.

Smoking or non-smoking?

P.S. If you want to see a completely different perspective on the evolution of airplanes over the last forty years, read Jim Ulvog’s post.

Chris Hoeller isn’t doing anything. Welcome to the future.

I just read an interesting Google+ post from Chris Hoeller entitled “Automatic Technology.” Here’s an excerpt:

The next benchmark innovation is “automatic technology,” a coin I’ve phrased that encompasses wearable tech, embedded systems, and self-driving cars.

They all go hand in hand to create a seamless experience for the user. Imagine that your entire house, your wearable device, and your car are all apart of the same system. The technology knows where you are and what [you’re] doing.

And, more importantly, you don’t have to DO anything. Hoeller goes through a scenario that includes the following:

You are about to leave your house and you pop on your Google glasses or watch and they automatically power on. The system shifts to this mobile mode without you having to do anything….

You get in your self-driving car and the system automatically knows to switch to that. You input where you want to go, and it does the grunt work for you….

You can watch a movie, make a phone call, or surf the web without thinking about it….

Now there have been labor-saving devices for millennia. The calculator allows you to perform math with minimal thought. The washing machine lets you throw clothes and soap into a tub, and the clothes just wash. The wheel lets you move stuff around without breaking your back.

But notice Hoeller’s use of the word “automatic.” With calculators, washing machines, and wheels, you still have to do SOMETHING. We’re now moving toward a time when things just happen. You grab your wearable device, and it automatically powers on and activates. You say “I want to eat with psychos!” and the car drives to Amy’s Baking Company.

There’s still a little bit of interaction, since you still have to put the wearable device and you still have to speak your destination. But it is becoming more and more automatic.

But what happens when the automatic technology becomes PREDICTIVE technology?

Some companies are acquired, while others cease altogether

Sometimes when we play the game “remember when,” we think of specific products or companies that used to exist but are no longer around in their former form.

Sometimes an existing company simply changes its name. Although I won’t talk about this topic in this particular post, we’ll encounter one of these name-changing companies later in the post – Altria Group, formerly known as Philip Morris.

There are two other things that can happen to a company – it can be acquired by another company, or it can cease operations altogether. MSNBC published a list of 15 companies that no longer exist in their present form.

Some of these companies were acquired by others – Compaq was acquired by Hewlett Packard; E.F. Hutton was merged into what became Citigroup; and General Foods was acquired by Philip Morris (now Altria), merged with Kraft, and later spun off again (as Kraft).

Other companies simply ceased operations and/or were liquidated; Enron, Merry-Go-Round, Eastern Airlines.

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