Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The only thing necessasry

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I am a child of the 1950s. My most formative years were between the time I started school in 1951 and graduating high school in 1963. Those were the years when we learned about the horrors of the holocaust, that Communism as practiced in Russia had turned into a totalitarian dictatorship and was not living up to their own ideals.

It’s also where I learned that, while I might not agree with someone else they had an absolute right to their opinion. I learned that yelling FIRE in a crowd was not only illegal; it was an abuse of my freedoms. I learned that my right to swing my arm ended at someone else’s nose. I learned that in addition to rights I had obligations.

One of those was to register for the draft and if called, to serve in the military (I served 4 years in the US Army and am a Vietnam veteran) as part of my citizenship. I learned a larger concept of my country.

Not the “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” of Stephen Decatur but rather the concept of “My country right or wrong; if right, to keep her right; and if wrong, to be set right.” attributed to Carl Schurz

The current public brawl over professional athletes not standing in the “proper” pose during the pre-game playing of the national anthem is a diversion from the issue. The true issue is what those individuals are protesting.

The truth is race is still dividing America and Americans long after we put laws in place that should have cured us of this disease. Yes, I call it a disease because it’s the indefensible belief that one person is innately better than another by virtue of their birth.

It is exactly like the ridiculous idea that men are somehow innately better drivers than women. Right, I’m an excellent driver with over 56 years without an accident. Does anyone really think that being a man somehow makes me a better driver than Danica Patrick? It’s so demonstrably wrong that it should be obvious to any thinking person.

The website nationalpardon.org reports that the most common percentage of Canadians with a criminal record is reported as 10%. While there are a number of reasons to question that number, I’ll use it just to have some basis for discussion. If ten percent of any group of people are criminals, then 90% percent of that group ARE NOT!

Ninety percent – the vast majority of the people you meet in any group are just folks and should be treated as just folks. So the idea that police need to be wary of every black person is just a thinly disguised racism.

Going back to my childhood, my father taught me an important lesson. “If you are a doctor nearly everyone is sick, if you are a policeman nearly everyone is a criminal.” Why? Because that’s the part of the population they deal with on a daily basis. He told me “Be careful that you don’t judge anyone by the few negative examples, find out who this individual is before you make a decision about them.”

I suspect that most of us learned a similar lesson somewhere, somehow. Most of us tried to live that ideal and thought that’s all we could do to try and make the world a better place. Today’s events are showing us that is not enough.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke

It is long past time for me –if I chose to be a good man – to do something. I don’t know what I, as one small man, can do but; I must do something. Maybe all I can do is write things like this in the hope that you, reading this, will also “do something” to help. Maybe all I can do is pay more attention how I treat the people I meet on a daily basis. I just don’t know.

But this I do know I am being called to start today and I am asking you to help.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Most of us have no idea what the word curating means so I looked it up and found the following definition: to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content: “We curate our merchandise with a sharp eye for trending fashion,” the store manager explained.

It’s the kind of thing Amazon does with targeted advertising when they track your shopping history to send you ads related to the kinds of products you have either bought in the past or looked at on their site. I’ve noticed recently that my Google searches are starting to show ads for more things that I have shopped for as well.  For most people that’s a good thing. If I was searching for extra wide shoes (I wear a 4E width and those are very hard to find in my local stores) I will see ads for wide shoes when I make my next search on Google. Even if I’m now searching for hardware for my vintage trailer, those shoe ads will continue until I do enough searches for some other item.

There is a movement to do the same thing with your news feeds. The concept is that if you read articles about the latest presidential candidates then you'd like to read more articles about them. That actually sounds like a pretty good service, right? The scary part is that if you begin to focus on just one candidate that same system may focus its future recommendations on that one candidate as well. This naturally narrows your reading to what your “curation” software is spoon-feeding you. It's kind of like limiting your social interactions to just the people you know.

This kind of curation is different from a television news show. The new show has a large and varied audience that has equally varied tastes, so it presents a collection of unrelated news stories. Some of them are very interesting to you while others not so much, BUT if you watch the whole half hour report you get a range of information about a variety of subjects. In other words a well rounded view of what is happening. If on the other hand you only listen to a news station that reports on a narrow range of topics from a single view point you don’t’ get fresh ideas.  Most of us know that guy at the gym or office that only listens to the extreme political talk show; whose entire world is bounded by a single view. The one who is always talking conspiracy theories and never accepts that sometimes it’s not a conspiracy it’s just a coincidence?

I currently use a news aggregator that requires me to manually add new feeds and doesn’t look at what I am currently reading and make recommendations about similar sources. I like it that way because I prefer an eclectic collection of sources so I get a broad range of subjects and viewpoints.  I know people who look at a number of different sources: newspapers, radio, internet websites, and even al jazeera america. 

Dudley Field Malone was co-counsel for the defense of John T. Scopes in the famous "Monkey Trial". In response to William Jennings Bryan's argument against admitting scientific testimony, Malone gave arguably the best speech of the trial in defense of academic freedom. "I have never learned anything from any man who agreed with me," was one of his famous quotes.  In exactly the same way your world of ideas can be circumscribed and limited by software that tries to show you more information that supports or is like what you are already reading. Fresh and new ideas that challenge your existing concepts and accepted wisdom are the food of intellectual thought.
Yes, after you read an opposing viewpoint you may well decide that you were right the first time. Unless you continually challenge what you think you know how you can grow and learn.

Sitting in a classroom being presented with new facts or viewpoints, all of us have experienced the awakening that new information gives us. That moment when we think “Oh, if that’s true then this is true too! I never thought about it like that before.”

If you accept the software driven news aggregators you may well find your intellectual boundaries becoming smaller and more homogenous with little new or thought provoking ideas.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Link to Investors

Here is a link to my writing parter's reprint of an article we wrote a few years ago. Given the state of the stock market over the last couple of weeks, it still seems timely. investors by Allen and Bryan

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Priming the pump

The world economy grew, in per capita terms, at over 3 per cent during the 1960s and 70s but since the 1980s it has been growing at the rate of 1.4 per cent per year (1980–2009).

Despite rising inequality since the 1980s investment as a ratio of national output has fallen in all G7 economies (the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, Italy, France and Canada) and in most developing countries

According to the Economic Policy Institute the top 10 per cent of the US population appropriated 91 per cent of income growth between 1989 and 2006, while the top 1 per cent took 59 per cent.

In other words, we need the electric pump of the welfare state to make the water at the top trickle down in any significant quantity.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

This thing is broke!

At one point in my carrier I was managing a contract repair facility for an Army training system for the Viper light anti-tank weapon. When I first got to the field site there were lots of complaints that the Viper training system didn’t work.

After finding almost every trainer turned in tagged as not working passed all the functional tests and did in fact work properly, I discovered that the method of sighting the device to the laser transmitter was very crude and inaccurate. The real problem was that the system was not shooting where the sights were aimed.

I made a cradle that held the device on a precision fixture used for aligning the optics of a different training device and aimed it at a field test device that indicated how much higher or lower and left or right the laser was pointed.

Once the tester read “0 by 0” the sight decal could be applied and the system did indeed shoot where it was aimed and the complaints stopped. Well, sort of stopped. They stopped at my field site but since we were a training center, troops from many other Army posts came to us for training. When they returned home the questions of why that same trainer could get simulated kills at my site but not at their home station became an issue.

The real lesson was that the customer thought the training device was not working when in fact the laser was working fine, just not aiming where the operator intended. Listen to your customer for symptoms but not necessarily for causes and they become a valued part of your troubleshooting process.