Hi-ho, Hi-ho, It’s Off to Where Did Our Jobs Go?

Forbidden Planet

In 1956,  Frankie Darro changed my life in ways I never could have imagined.  I never really met him, nor even knew who he was until years later.  Maybe you don’t know who he is either.  And maybe that, dear readers, is a metaphor for this post:  it’s what you don’t know that should make you wonder why.

Robbie the Robot was a 7 foot tall star in the movie “Forbidden Planet.”  He had a large head and in place of an open mouth was a blue light panel that flashed in sync with his mechanized speed.  Frankie Darro was a stunt man inside Robbie.  Robbie was the most memorable early example of artificial intelligence and seemed to have been programmed with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, first stated in 1950.  Check ’em out.

That movie, and in particular Robbie, had a lasting but barely detectable influence on my life.  I got a degree in physics, launched into a decades-long career in computers, and did some (commercial but otherwise not memorable) work with neural networks, the early foundation of today’s AI world.

It wasn’t just Robbie.  I remember many TV programs, articles and pundits declaring how automation was a threat to the working middle class.  It would obviate their jobs, and worse, obviate their lives.  That essentially didn’t happen then, but it has definitely been happening, and I argue in this post, will be an accelerating trend.

Robots Since Robbie

For decades after my childhood encounter with Robbie, robot ideas and concepts seemed modeled on him. But then came “2001:A Space Odyssey” and HAL 9000 and the computer on the Enterprise in “Star Trek” and changed the robot image entirely.  I don’t think fans, aside from a devoted few, thought of them as robots.  Instead, the idea of big, often yellow, fast acting but rather stationery workers on automobile assembly lines that moved, assembled and welded parts were our new Robbie incarnates.  Or those MIT/Stanford/etc. contestants in the DARPA-sponsored self driving competitions, with their multi-camera eyes, Erector Set quality bodies, and dangling wires harking to mad scientists instead of our social companions.

Along comes Deep Blue (chess) and Watson (“Jeopardy”) from IBM, Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), Alexa (Amazon), and Google Voice/Translator/et al. (Google).  We are seeing these robots in our everyday world (except for the IBM mainframe things as of yet) where we use them as sometimes frustrating but ever improving helpmates.  And along comes the Tesla and Google and a pack of other self-driving cars.  And on the entertainment front, HBO’s “Westworld” is a modern extrapolation of Robbie and his human companions, presented with a hint of moral and commercial conundrum (and violence and sex – hey, it’s HBO).

Robots we don’t likely see or even know about are in the hands of health care providers and scientists and engineers.  Just at the horizon are imaging devices that will detect abnormalities even better than trained radiologists, genetically driven test devices that can predict diabetes or heart problems and cancer and on and on, well before a doctor might.  Not too far away is the medical tricorder of Star Trek.  Engineers use lasers in smart devices for measurements and design, as do scientists.  Scientists get great robotics in large telescopes and particle accelerators, but don’t expect these to become pocket-sized anytime soon.

Old robots are getting significant upgrades, too.  Industrial, manufacturing ones.  Not only the giant assembly line ones but smaller, more dexterous, smarter ones that are also more mobile.  They not only make products but work in warehouses to pick parts and deliver them to a loading dock for shipping.

So What’s that Got to Do with Jobs?

Market conditions have always been drivers for and against jobs. At the start of the Industrial Revolution, most workers were in agriculture on small farms or in some form of cottage industry.  But as factories were built, there was a migration to cities where the work force was needed.  At the same time, agriculture got significant productivity multipliers, so that one farm worker could produce for many instead of for only himself and his family (excuse the gender-specific reference).  That trend grew significantly when manufacturing grew to embrace Henry Ford’s production lines, replaceable parts, and all we have come to expect in products today.  Post-war (think especially 1950s) manufacturing embraced a growing middle class economy and manufacturing workers became part of it, building products for others while consuming products with their increasing buying power.  All was good.

Transportation changes began shaping how manufacturing companies looked at their options.  Canals, then railroads, and then trucks were significant in how manufacturing was planned and carried out but was kept pretty much to national confines.  Airplanes and ships started to expand first just markets internationally, but then where items were made. It actually became feasible to make parts in one country and ship them to another for assembly into finished products, then entire products themselves were made in one country and shipped to another.  As transportation costs, as well as transit times, fell, manufactures saw their significant cost component was labor.  And it was far cheaper to find labor outside the US, and manufacturing went where the cheap labor was.

Certainly free trade deals made some overseas migration of US manufacturing jobs easier, but manufacturers would still have chosen cheap labor costs over tariffs; tariffs could be passed along as a price component to consumers, but high labor costs were harder to include in low product prices.  The flip side of this is also important: US products in agriculture, technology and other sectors where the US held dominance benefited from the free trade deals.  Hold onto these thoughts while we take a side trip in our story.

Changes in Policy Ahead?

Donald Trump’s campaign promises may be fulfilled if reading the tea leaves of his announced appointees is a prediction of the future.  These include fining companies who send jobs out of the US, a 35% tariff on (at least automobiles made in Mexico) goods made outside the US by US manufacturing companies, “tearing up” trade deals and re-negotiating them, significantly reduce the federal government’s role in many areas and reduce federal spending by whopping amounts, and repeal and replace the ACA aks Obamacare.  He promised that these measures would create <insert your enormous number here> of jobs, increase US GDP growth to 4% annually, bring down unemployment, bring back steel production, coal jobs, and open up US drilling and production of oil.

Let’s examine just a few of those.  Steel mills have shut down in so many areas displaced by newer, more efficient mills in China and Japan, for example.  Not only would it take significant capital investment to create competitive mills and time to build them, but investors are almost certainly going to look at more lucrative returns on their investment dollars in other ventures.  Coal has been dealt its setbacks not so much because of regulation but by cheaper renewable energy like solar and wind, and very cheap and clean natural gas.  Coal fired power plants, already an endangered species because of cheaper fuels to run them, may additionally face more pressure from a new generation of nuclear power plants that are safer but still costly and time consuming to build (an likely to need a higher level of government intervention, unless the presumptive DOE Secretary Perry decides nuclear energy should be a completely free market enterprise).  And somewhat unnoticed by the media and pundits is that coal (coke) usage also fell when steel mills were shuttered.

Maybe 40% of light trucks sold in the US are made in Mexico.  Slapping a tariff on them would probably raise the average price somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000 per vehicle if not more at 35% on a $17,000  cost.  Buyers will struggle to come up with the extra cost, sales will fall, and auto makers will respond by pulling back.  It’s not just the workers at their plants in Mexico; it’s also the replacement parts makers, the sales staffs, the body shop employees, and all the auto food chain that will pull back as well.

Substitute any other product made overseas and sold here and you get a similar scenario: smartphones, consumer electronics, clothing, furniture, toys, and even produce like fruits and vegetables, a seemingly endless list of what we have to have at the cheapest prices possible.  In other words, put tariffs and duties on imported goods, see prices go up, sales go down, and a whole backlash of things happen.  Not to mention the unhappiness of buyers who want all of that stuff.

So Why Did We Lose Jobs in the First Place?

Market forces certainly led to cheaper labor overseas, and it wasn’t only in manufacturing.  Call centers, software developers, human resources, tax and accounting, all sorts of services that could be outsourced.  Countries like India, China, and other developing countries not only had government policies that fostered their domestic workforce to develop the skills necessary, but they encouraged private investment – often from American companies and investors – to nurture that development as well.  So while manufacturing jobs went overseas, so did many white collar jobs.  You just didn’t see a lot of HR or tax accounting people holding protest signs during the 2016 campaign.

Which brings up another important issue.  Over the decades and centuries, many jobs have been lost.  Job categories, that is.  Buggy whip makes is a moniker for this but suggests it  is a very old and ancient issue.  It is not.  How about elevator operators, telephone operators, workers who made mimeograph and fax machines, TVs that were not flat screen.

Some, many that is, jobs are lost because the market for what those jobs produced dry up.  The jobs are replaced by innovation, new inventions and discovers, economies of scale.  You can’t bring those jobs back.  And most people would say, why bother?

I started this story talking about robots.  Ponder for a few words with me how robots (as a broad class of automation) will affect jobs in the near and even very near future.

Self-driving cars and trucks and drones.  They are so close we can touch them.  Their impact on jobs will be enormous.  It is not just that trucks and cars as we know them will zip along carrying goods without anyone driving them.  They will certainly enable very different paradigms of what cars and trucks do, how they are built, and how they function.  To illustrate this, consider that Amazon bought a robotics company and has deployed tens of thousands of robot pickers in their vast warehouses.  They get order information from computer systems that no doubt have sophisticated algorithms to get items ready first that have the earliest delivery/departure requirements grouped by how they aggregate for shipping.  But more to the point, Amazon can now completely change the way it organizes items in its warehouses from what works best for humans (like items grouped together so humans more easily remember where they are) to. say, items often ordered together because computers remember where things are for the robots.  Likewise, cars and trucks that don’t have to accommodate human drivers will certainly be different from what we know.

Health care providers may not lose their jobs as fast as truck drivers, but they will require brand new skills and a refocus on how various practices actually work.  Teachers will continue to find value in automated teaching aids.  Houses now built by crews on their foundations will see the trend for factory-built components installed on site but eventually even those will be done by robot cranes and framers.  This is a minute fraction of what can, or more than likely, will be done.

And it’s not just in the US.  Foxconn, manufacturers of the iPhone in China, recently completed a phase of robotic automation and reduced their workforce from over 100,000 people to about half of that.  And expect to do more of the same.  Not only does automation reduce the labor head count and cut out spending on salaries and benefits, it allows new tasks to be done by machines that simply cannot be done by humans.  Coal miners have long known this and don’t dig out coal with a shovel and wheelbarrow.  Beyond brute force, speed and precision are domains of expertise machines claim that humans cannot.

Let’s Put Some Pieces Together

Yes, some jobs have moved from here in the US to other countries, and not just manufacturing jobs.  Yet more jobs just disappeared because automation made them, as the English would say, redundant.  More will yet fall to automation, and the numbers will likely astound and shock us.  So will coal and steel and other manufacturing jobs stay here, or as promised, come back?  Not something you should wager heavily on. Will there be token boomerang jobs that come back, like the Carrier plant last month? Oh for sure, politicians and especially Donald Trump need the theatrics.  Those few hundred jobs cost Ohio tax payers $7 million over a decade to come, but will the jobs last that long?  Did United Technologies, the parent of Carrier, figure keeping the jobs was a small cost against the loss of its billions in defense contracts?  I would wager on that.  During much of the Obama administration, and for about the past 75 straight months, private sector growth was about 180,000 to over 200,000 new jobs PER MONTH. Do the math when comparing.

But what about job loss?  If government spending on social programs, research, and health care is drastically cut, how will job growth match those numbers, much less exceed them?  How will curtailing trade agreements grow jobs instead of eliminating enormous markets for our goods and services that rely on open trade?

It is easy for me to believe that there are very wealthy individuals who will profit handsomely in their business endeavors if deregulation opens up natural resources and gives them a competitive advantage.  They may even create a few thousand jobs by doing so.  But higher prices will hurt a consumer base whose spending is precariously close to its earnings and their social nets fray and disintegrate with conservative, you’re-on-your-on policies.  Go back to oil for a moment.  Deregulation might mean more fracking state production and even open up offshore and – heaven help us – Alaska permafrost drilling and production.  In a world market with a glut of oil and lower prices than many of us have ever known, crude prices should stay the same or resume their decline.  That makes coal even more relatively expensive and makes exploration, drilling and production investments more risky and eventually unlikely.

Will some manufacturing jobs return here?  I believe so.  They will follow models, like Foxconn and others, and come back in highly automated factories that employ mostly highly skilled and trained information workers to plan and control operations.  After all, if you don’t have to pay salaries, it doesn’t matter that wages might be high.

I avoid any mention of climate change/global warming with its well recognized consequences of rising sea levels, heavy rains and storms, and increasing drought in already arid regions.  It would fall on deaf ears to many I would like to seriously consider job growth and protection in the next few years, so let’s just say it’s important, in all of these contexts, to some of us.

Said in just a few words, so many of Trump’s potential policies will conflict with each other in terms of his campaign promises to the many people who have lost their jobs, and feel as though the country is slipping away from them.  I fear they will be left holding the bag just as empty as the campaign promises made to them.



We Need a Black Hole in Our Neighborhood, or Black Holes Matter

If you have wondered where I have been, then you have no reasonable activities in your life.  But let’s put that aside.  I am writing here again.

What do you know about black holes?

I assume that anyone with an Internet connection has heard of black holes.  That doesn’t mean those same folks really know anything other than junk science from movies and TV and fantasy stories.  Kinda like political news, only worse.  A bit of not too technical pieces of information to start us off.

Black holes are a whole lot of stuff crunched down to a size that is so tiny we can’t really imagine it.  As physicists would say, it’s a whole lot of matter.  Really they would say it is a region of spacetime that has is so warped that electromagnetic radiation attracted into it cannot escape; since light is electromagnetic radiation, the term black hole is used to say that no light can be seen from outside the black hole.

I doubt if this helps you understand even a bit about black holes.  Let’s try some lame analogies that should help.  Take a heavy (to us) object like a bowling ball and place it in the center of s bed sheet tied at its four corners.  The weight of the bowling will cause the sheet to sag in the middle.  If you were to drop a ping pong ball onto the sheet, you realize it would roll to the center and land next to the bowling ball.

Roughly, that is spacetime curvature.  A massive object with its gravitational field curves spacetime.  If you vaguely remember science, you may recall being told that light will curve as it passes near a massive object.  It isn’t really curving, like a car on a road or a curve ball, but rather following the curve in spacetime the large body has caused.  When Einstein proposed the Special Theory of Relativity, one of the predictions is that during a total eclipse of the stars that were actually behind the sun at that time would be seen on the side, displaced from their real location.  In 1919, these predictions were found to be true.

Curvature of spacetime has implications for time as well as space; what a surprise.  If space is curved near a massive body, it means that light or anything else traveling near it follows that curvature, and the path it travels is longer.  Relativity predicts, then, that to a stationery observer farther away, time slows down.  What?  I got you to understand the bowling ball thing but not that your watch is affected?  Relatively says it depends on your point of view, and it does.

Suppose you are wearing a special watch that flashes a beam of light once every second.  And suppose you are on a space ship traveling near a massive body which curves spacetime.  To you, your watch keeps flashing once every second.  To an observer quite a distance away, not in the significant curvature of spacetime, your watch is slow because, even though it flashes once every second to you, the curvature of spacetime gives light a longer path to travel to reach the observer. hence your watch needs adjusting.

Apply this to black holes

So much matter is in a black hole that spacetime is curved so much that light can’t travel out of it.  In other words, spacetime has curved so much that the path light must travel is far longer than the 186,000 miles per second speed that light is limited to zooming around.  It is not, then, some form of cosmic Velcro that grabs hold of light and won’t let it go.  It is that space has gotten so big that there is nothing fast enough to travel across it.

What is the implication for time, then?  Think about your watch with the flashing light.  If you and it fall into a black hole (we’ll mention the effects on you and it later) what would you see from the outside?  As the watch got close to the edge of the black hole, curvature would be so great that light would take a very long time to travel to you.  Hence, you as an outside observer, would think the watch had slowed way down.  Then it falls into the black hole, no light comes out, so you would think it has stopped completely;  you would never see a subsequent flash of light.  That doesn’t mean that inside the black hole, wearing the watch, you would see it still running at one flash per second.  (It wouldn’t actually work that way but let’s ignore that for now).

Orbiting a black hole

Suffice it to say that at the right distance from a black hole inside your space ship traveling at the right speed, you could orbit a black hole.  This ignores angular momentum, relativity and some other stuff that we can briefly – and permanently for this blog posting – ignore.  So you go round and round.  Just close enough to the black hole but not too close.  You want to stay away from the event horizon.  The what?

Imagine you are in a canoe on a river upstream from a big water fall.  As the river nears the waterfall, the current increases and your canoe goes along with it.  If you aren’t too close, you can paddle hard and turn around back upstream.  But get too close to the waterfall and you can’t paddle fast enough to keep from falling over it.  There is some point where you could just stay in place if you paddled hard enough, but past that you are going over the edge.  Near a black hole, that is the event horizon.  Just past it, light can’t travel fast enough to cover spacetime curvature to get away from the black hole.  In other words, we can’t “see” over the event horizon; things that happen  past it are out of our line of sight.

But to that orbit. Your space ship would probably have to be going very fast to stay in orbit, and that would call relativity into all sorts of considerations.  But the one I want you to think about is time.  Let’s suppose your spaceship has a big watch with a flashing light attached to its outside hull.  Every second its light flashes.  You see it keeping perfect time, and another traveler in orbit near you would agree that the time is correct.  But back here on earth, the time between flashes would be way slower than once a second.  Not because we are a long way off – it’s not how long the first flash takes to get here but how long BETWEEN flashes – but because the curvature of spacetime near the black hole means a much longer path for the light to travel.

Said another way, your twin brother here on earth observing your orbit will experience time a lot faster than you will in orbit.  For grins, every time your one second flash appears to him on earth, his own watch may have flashed several times or more, depending on fast you are traveling in orbit and how close you are to the BH.  So when he is a year older, having no life at all other than watching you out there, you may be only a few months or so older, if that.

How about a BH in our neighborhood?

It might be like the immigrant family who moved in from the Middle East or Asia or Eastern Europe a few months back.  Yes, they look a bit different, have different customs and practices, maybe a different religion, but they seem nice enough.  Their English may not be perfect but if we got to know them better we could definitely learn something from each others’ backgrounds and experiences.

A black hole might be a little more disruptive than that, however.  You would have to hang onto your stuff, not that your new neighbor might take it, but things will definitely curve in its direction.  But that’s not why a BH as a close neighbor would not be a great thing.

In late October of this year, we could have sent a whole bunch of people who did not vote in the election along with the “protest voters” who voted neither for Clinton nor Trump.  Now, we could get them to come back and it will still be November 7th.  They all could vote.  Better or at all.

You might be thinking this country has fallen into a black hole.  Unlikely.  It takes a bit of science and thought experiments – which require thought, right? – to “get” black holes. There is certainly no sign of either past 11/8/16.

Happy science.

Textalyzer – Good, Bad, Stupid?

First, I am happy to be posting again after a prolonged absence.  No real excuse.  I would like to say I didn’t have time, but I could have always made time.  I would like to say I didn’t have anything interesting to write about, but that is ridiculous.  I would like to say I just didn’t feel motivated, and that would be closer to the truth.  But here I am again.

In yesterday’s New York Times, the following story appeared, and it resurfaced today in an email from the paper with the subject Personal Tech:  http://p.nytimes.com/email/re?location=4z5Q7LhI+KVBjmEgFdYACPLKh239P3pgjLgQE8v0H/BvOS1wY/cUjO19PWzxHyUEkIRZWAg+ppB7O/1sva1CQk9dx3ga6lR3H6OBN6E4UXpa8Rtl0mltcLJ6iXquO107QnOFMTCq2g94pH1c2KOfwtNLsqLJmm+z&campaign_id=17095&instance_id=75448&segment_id=88718&user_id=84e41ccecd81e6755a0988aad5cbaa10&regi_id=26286525.

I urge you to read it.

There were over 600 reader comments about this article, and from what I can tell all were supportive if not downright endorsements.  My own comment earned yet another NYT pick.  Here’s what I had to say:

I drive and text all the time – legally although touching one’s phone while driving is illegal in Washing State. I accomplish this with my Windows Phone (I am the 3%) and my car’s audio system. Should a text message arrive, my phone plays it through the audio system and allows me to reply by speaking the message, A lot of interaction with the messaging is possible, but you get the idea.

So if I were pulled over and asked to hand over my phone for a police office to see if I had been texting, there is a possibility that my phone would show I had. It would not, however, show I had done so with a Bluetooth connection and voice only interaction. Completely analogous to a hands free phone conversation, which also would show up as happening while driving.

So much for apps and assumptions.

I vaguely recall a police investigation about 15 or so years ago looking into some illegal downloads from the Internet; it may have been porn or music or who knows what.  The point is the police traced it to a smallish business location and then went in to bust the owner because they assumed he was doing the illegal downloading.  They were absolutely baffled to learn that there was only ONE public IP address for the business – the one everyone there used to browse, etc. – but LOTS of internal IP addresses.  Their golden case quickly turned to lead.

I happen to agree with not only so many of those who commented on the article that texting or other phone-related distractions are annoying at best and in most cases dangerous with far too many deadly endings.  But this technology, given to police, is guaranteed to produce unintended consequences. My own scenario from my comment is one, and another reader wondered how, during the time an officer responded to an accident, texts could and probably would be sent that couldn’t be determined to have been sent before or after what is then an inexact time of the accident itself.

There is another issue.  Veracity of any officer.  He or she could say a driver was stopped and then determined to have been texting.  But where is the check on the officer’s word to guarantee that harassment isn’t taking place?  Unlike a breath test, where the results are unambiguously preserved and can be supported by blood tests, not so much for texts.

Despite the ban on in any way physically interacting with your phone except by voice (at least in WA), on any given day of normal driving I probably see five or more people holding one to their ear or to their mouth, obviously speakerphone enabled.  I also see cars not moving when stopped for traffic and the cars ahead do.  I see people standing in the aisles at stores, texting or more insidiously gabbing, oblivious to the fact they are blocking others and intruding into everyone else’s personal space.  I see people walking downtown doing the same thing.

It would be nice to believe that legislation or technology would solve any of these problems, but neither will.  Good manners and common sense are several orders of magnitude less distributed than smartphones are.

But a good effort, like Textalayzer, is not good enough.

What is needed instead is a black box-like recorder in our automobiles that captures this information as it does on trains, airplanes, and other commercial vehicles.  We need every car equipped with Bluetooth interactivity to eliminate the need to hold one’s phone. We put seat belts in every car to prevent injury so why wouldn’t we do the same to prevent death or injury by text?

Is this a remake of an old movie?

And of course I mean….

The Donald.  Many of us would characterize him as a demigod, referring to the derogatory definition that elevates an individual to an impressive or important status for self aggrandizement.  In the political sense, a demigod is someone who challenges the system of government but in a way that puts them at the helm of a gathering citizenry.  While possibly a good way to keep government in check – think Bernie Sanders – when taken to an extreme and the citizenry becomes a violent enforcer not so good – think Adolf Hitler.

No matter where on the political spectrum they fall, none of my friends disagree about Trump.  We find him outrageous, uncultured, ill tempered and self promoting.  And those are just the good things.  So I got to thinking, how unique or unusual is he in American politics, or world politics?

I don’t really know but hope someone does

There are a few politicians who have appeared during my lifetime, or a bit before it so their legends are well known to me, that want to make me believe Trump is just another one of them.  Think of Huey Long, Sen. Joe McCarthy, George Wallace.  They all played to populist fears and gained more than just a following, like demigods do.

I leap to the conclusion that these guys, along with Trump, are admired by groups of people who are not that distinguished from one another over across the decades.  They are people who feel threatened that their way of life is being taken away and want to blame the government run by “others” for “others.”  If contemporary polls, and my ad hoc experiences, are correct, they are also predominately male with little or no higher education.  They feel, or at least exhibit, that they have little or no control over their lives, and they naturally look for an outspoken, muscular-sounding, I-ll-fix-the-problem leader. Never mind that these leaders don’t articulate what the REAL problems are nor offer any viable solutions to them.  All they have to do is rant.

Does history bear me out on this?

I hope so.  While Long ran Louisiana like it was his own fiefdom, as did Wallace in Alabama, neither man was a successful presidential candidate.  It was sad that both were targets of assignation though; no one deserves that fate.  McCarthy died in office after a vitriolic career of not just looking under every rock for a Communist but for homosexuals as well.  All of these, including Trump, were vilified while running and/or in power by a great many.

What does not make me qualified to rely on history is my lack of really understanding it.  What are the real messages, if any, and how would we learn about them?  If history is repeating itself, why and how can we recognize it and avoid the wrong outcomes again?

May politicians learn from history: what works and why.  Maybe they recognize as well that most people don’t learn from it at all, and they are doomed to repeat it.  They rest of us are doomed to watch them do it.

OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Libraries Stop Syncing after Office 2016 and/or Windows 10 Upgrades

OneDrive for Business and/or SharePoint Libraries Synced

If you had your OneDrive for Business library and/or other SharePoint libraries synced and then you upgraded from Office 2010/2013 to Office 2016, there is an excellent chance that syncing will stop.  It may be coincidence that this showed up along with an upgrade to Windows 10, but the primary issues seem to be with Office 2013.

Try This First

Open task manager and see if OneDrive for Business is running, or look in systray for the blue clooud icon indicating it is trying to sync.  If it is not running, go to the start menu (Windows 7 or 10) or look in Applications (Windows 8/8.1) and open OneDrive for Business.  You won’t see anything unless you look in systray again.

If it is running, either because you started it or it was already running, right-click on the systray icon and see if it brings up the context menu.  Hopefully it will, and you should choose repair. Let it run to see if that fixes your problem by then seeing if things start to sync.

I was not so lucky.  I got no context menu when I right-clicked.  More than that, I should 13,000+ files syncing (size of all my synced libraries) and it never changed.

What Worked for Me

I tried several things, none of which actually did any good towards fixing the sync problem, but for your information, and in hopes maybe they would work for you, here they are:\

  • Started OneDrive for Business, restarted the computer and tried again.  Nope.
  • Ran quick repair on Office (installed from Office 365 BTW).  Nope
  • Ran full repair on Office.  Nope.
  • Opened Office 365 and went to each library and tried sync icon.  Nope.

If you too got none of those to work what you should do next is uninstall Office 2016.  Don’t panic about settings like Outlook profiles, signatures, etc.  They won’t disappear on you.

For the next step, rename the synced folders on my local drive.  In my case, the local copies were all on Drive C:, so navigated toC:\Users\<myprofile>.  If you synced ShareSharePoint  libraries you will see a folder Named SharePoint.  DO NOT DELETE THESE FOLDERS OR FILES!!  Rename it to have an extension of .old (you can do anything you want to get rid of the original name, but I would just add some sort of extension and will explain why later).  Doing this AFTER removing Office 2016 doesn’t give you an error that the files are in use.

Now rename the OneDrive for Business folder.  It, too, in in your user profile, with a file name of One Drive – <domain> where domain is your Office 365 user domain.  Add .old to it as well, for example.

Now re-install Office 2016.  If your source is Office 365, open the portal, click on the gear wheel, and choose Office 365 Settings, then either Software (if your site has not been recently upgraded) or Installs (if it has).  Click to download and install Office 2016.  If you didn’t change your computer name, then it already knows you are authenticated on that computer.

When the install is finished, start OneDrive for Business.  You may get error messages that it can’t find the libraries to sync.  If you do, then right click on the systray icon and choose Stop Syncing a Folder, then select the folder(s) and stop synching all of them.

Now, start with the SharePoint libraries you want to sync.  Open the Office 365 portal, navigate to the sites, then to each library and choose sync.  When all have finished, you can now turn your attention to OneDrive.

Here is what I had to do to avoid getting an error on sync that the file could not be opened.

  1. Stop OneDrive for Business.  You can do this in task manager, or right-click on the icon in systray and choose Exit.
  2. Open the Office 365 portal and navigate to your OneDrive for Business.
  3. Click on the sync icon, then allow it to sync.

It took a bit for my files to come across as I had a large amount in OneDrive for Business, but it finally caught up.

But Then…

I started seeing that horrible red circle with the white X appear on the folder and file names in the local folder.  I thought that very strange since all the files were synced before and there should have been no errors.  So I looked at sync errors – right-click on the icon in systray and choose that option – and saw that file after file was asking for credentials.

This is what Microsoft support describes as a known issue.  There is an update to fix it, and if you open an Office 2016 product, click on File then select Account, you will see an update button.  Click to apply the update, then reboot your computer.

While you are there, however, make sure that your Office 2016 is connected to

  • Office 365 SharePoint
  • Office 365 OneDrive for Business
  • OneDrive if you have a personal account that you also use.

I also had to do a bit of tweaking to finally get sync going again for OneDrive for Business.  I stopped the sync, did a repair, then started it again.  It did not seem to get things moving.  So I removed OneDrive for Business from the sync sites, went back to Office 365 and synced it again.  Finally, when it started reporting “need credentials,” I went off to do something else.  When I came back several hours later everything had synced and no errors were reported.

Go figure.

Files Updated Locally but Never Synced to Office 365

You may have a  situation similar to mine in that I had opened and updated files locally as well as created new ones, but they never got synced to the cloud.  So the final step is to “sync locally” with those changes.  That is why it was important to keep the old local copies because those copies hold the updated files and folders.

To “sync” them, I used xcopy.exe from a command prompt.  Add the parameters “/e /s /i /d” to copy only newer files (/d with no additional parameters) and add any missing files and folders.  Assuming that your files are synced on Drive C:, the default location, try these steps:

  1.   Open cmd prompt window.
  2.   Navigate to C:\users\<profilename>.
  3.   Look for the folder SharePoint and the one you renamed to SharePoint.old.
  4.   Enter the command xcopy sharepoint sharepoint.old /e /s /d /i
  5.   This should copy the files that are newer to the local syced folders and then in turn up to Office 365.
  6.   Repeat the command for OneDrive for Business new folder and the old, renamed one.  Be sure and use ” around the directory name, as in xcopy “onedrive for business.old” “onedrive for business” /e /s /d /i.  Replace the directory names in this example with the actual directory names on your drive.

When everything has synced to Office 365 and you are comfortable with the files that are local and in the cloud, you can safely delete the old, renamed folders from your drive.

Disruptive Technologies – Just About Everything Is Going to Change

Why Disruptive Technologies? What Is That About?

Disruptive technologies is a term  coined by Clayton M. Christensen and introduced in his 1995 article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave,  co-written with Joseph Bower. There has been a lot discussed and written since then, but the term has come to primarily mean that new technologies can disrupt existing support networks for goods and services by creating new and better goods and services that displace a primary one.  E-mail disrupted faxing, and mobile phones disrupted land line phones.  Together, they disrupted pricing models for long distance charges.  Mobile phones have created an app market, case and cover market, and much more.

Why Should Any of Us Care About All That

Because one, or more than likely man,y disruptive technologies are going to affect you in countless ways, what you buy, how you interact with family and friends, your job, the environment, and in  ways that no one as yet may know.

Anticipating some nascent disrupting technologies might help you now, long before their full impact is known.  It may delay a major life purchase because something new and better is just ahead.  It may may you look to possible investments, whether on Kickstarter, in IPOs, angel funding, or mutual funds.  A word of caution, though: coming up with a cool technology idea is one thing; making it disruptive is quite another.

I offer my thoughts to you on possible disruptive technologies.

3D Printing

I put this first for two reasons. One, it is not new, having been around for a few decades.  Two it may be the biggest disruptor of all in the near future.

The fact that it has been around for a while but is only now poised to be disruptive is something to pay attention to.  Disruptive technologies don’t just describe a brilliant idea or concept in a product, application or service.  They are things that change everything.  Edison was far from the first to create a light bulb.  He did produce a long lasting one, but his disruption was in creating the power companies that distributed electricity.

What will make 3D printing truly disruptive is what we can print and at what cost.  The first 3D printers were very expensive.  They either deposited very thin layers of plastic resin to build up a 3D model or used metal with lasers to do an equivalent task.  But today, the cost has fallen to a few thousand dollars or less for simple 3D printers.  Look for  pricing trends to mimic those of inkjet and laser paper printers, falling to very cheap with lots of features and choices.  At the same time, look for commercial printers to do amazing things.

The real disruptive piece of the 3D printer puzzle will come from inks, what can be used as the base material for 3D objects these printers can create.  Already, tissue and organ printing is being used to create replacement heart valves and other replaceable body parts that are now created from titanium and plastics, but the real breakthroughs will come when lungs, kidneys, hearts, livers, and pancreases can be printed with your own tissue, grown in a culture from a few cells.

Let your imagination run wild with this.  Imagine an ink that prints wood made from sawdust or other wood waste.  Or completely synthetic wood that can mimic at the cellular level real woods, including exotic and rare species.  Whip out a beautiful mahogany desk and chair, complete with intricate carvings, in a few hours.  Or how about a replacement part for your car, lawn mower, refrigerator, you name it.  Need a special container or a new piece of luggage to a custom size?  Just whip one out.

It is not hard to imagine composite ink cartridges that can print a variety of substances intermixed.  Like electronic circuits inside a case.  Print your own device.  A new thermostat, perhaps, or a custom remote control.  Or a new smartphone.

Consider all the ways this is disruptive.  Some factories will close as will their associated warehouses.  Shipping and distribution companies and retail stores will diminish if not disappear.  New businesses will emerge like 3D ink makers and image creators whose products will tell the printers exactly how to make things.  Printing centers will emerge where you go to pick up things you cannot realistically print at home on your own 3D printer. Not unlike the copy centers of today.

Imagine a new kind of Home Depot where most of the space is taken up by large, high speed 3D printers.  Your shopping cart is a large touch screen where you can order things to be printed from off the shelf (so to speak) items from name brand creators (who now design the image files and provide the custom inks to Home Depot), or you can do so online and then arrange for local delivery or pickup.

Will all items be printed by 3D printers?  Probably not.  The cost and time to print a nail or a screw won’t be competitive with making them in a factory for a while if ever, and food items are still going to be food items.  We have far too much processed food and I hope 3D printing doesn’t mean more of it.  Those items will still require central growing or creating, distribution and retail outlets, but don’t be surprised if it all dramatically changes one day because an Edison sees something the rest of us don’t.


Maybe we have had enough Predator style drones as weapons, but I am not optimistic on that prospect.  Rather, drones can develop into serious disruptive technology because of all the other great things they can do for us.

The definition of a drone is a male bee that stings, makes no honey, but devotes itself to mate with the queen.  That should sound very familiar to many of us, but this is not about social dysfunction, so I will move on.

In the technology realm, drones can be aircraft, sea-craft or land-craft that are autonomous or remotely controlled, or both.  They can go places we humans cannot; they can, with sensory equipment, see, hear and touch things beyond what we can do; they can exert way more or way less force than we can; they can perform mechanical tasks with precision and skill beyond our abilities.

While a Predator drone costs millions, hobby drones are as inexpensive as a hundred dollars or so.  GoPro, the helmet camera maker, is launching a series of aerial camera drones.  DJI has a prosumer $3000 model that uses one remote control for flight and another for the camera aimed at videographers who would rely on aircraft to take their cameras on high.  There are countless others entering the market, and not just aircraft drones, but submersibles and crawlers, too.

How can drones be disruptive?  Aren’t they just new things and don’t disrupt existing networks?  You might answer differently if you are Boeing or Sikorsky or other manufacturers.  Or UPS and FedEx if Amazon is successful with their drone delivery plans.  Shifts from their products and services to drones clobbers big support networks: parts manufacturers, maintenance systems, insurance, financing, and all sorts of jobs associated with them.

Drones create brand new opportunities though.  They do have to be manufactured and sold and maintained and serviced. (maybe parts made with 3D printers.) There will be drone flight training and traffic controllers and more.  But what is really exciting is all the things we as humans will benefit from uses we put drones to.

An example of that is drones being used by archeologists in Peru.  Drones with high resolution cameras take aerial photos of ancient sites, the video images are loaded onto computers with special software that converts them into 3D images which can be viewed from different angles by rotating them in 3D computer space.  Drones also monitor activity at the sites, to mark progress on excavations, for example, and to monitor for disruptive activity like trespassers.

Drones don’t have to be large or even model airplane sized.  Considerable work is going on to make insect-sized drones that inconspicuously keep tabs inside and outside our homes and work places. Ant technology, lots of small things working together to do big things.

If that makes you paranoid that someone might be spying on everything you do, you just may soon be right.


Humans have long loved images.  Cave paintings, oil and water color works through the centuries, film for photographs and video, and more recently digital images. We are now inundated with digital images of all kinds, on our phones, cameras, on the Internet.  We don’t just look at them anymore; they have become valuable forms of metadata – information about the image that is added to the image itself in a meaningful form.

Not that long ago digital cameras started doing this metadata tagging.  They added the date and time the image was taken, and with GPS cameras, the location as well.  Now we know it is common for people in images to be recognized and tagged too.  Facebook does it well – it has a head start because you have told it about who your friends are!  But surveillance camera have good facial recognition as well.  Biometric scanners can tag and image of our eyes with who we are and associate a wealth of information behind that recognition.  Gait technology is making advances, too.  The camera might not see your face but can recognize you by how it sees you walking.

Now Google has demonstrated that image software it is developing can “look” at an image and describe, in English words, what the image contains.  Like someone riding a bicycle or eating an apple (no, not an industry joke).  As this matures, likely the image can be described as “Bob Smith eating a hamburger sitting on a stool.”  You see where this is going.

What I consider disruptive about image technology is how much (more) it will change and alter our lives.  Personal privacy is disappearing into the ether by leaps and bounds.  Governments, police forces, and commercial enterprises all want to know everything about us to keep us in line, find the bad guys, sell us more and more things they know we want but we ourselves may not.  If you are paranoid about this happening, go back and read what I said earlier.

Human Communication

Or more precisely human to machine to human communication.  We already see some amazing things in this area that have come into everyday use.  We can use voice commands to create emails and text messages, dial phone numbers, set our navigation systems to guide our cars, tune to a radio station or find music.  More and more we can do this with ordinary speech and no individual voice training.

If you grew up on 2001 A Space Odyssey, talking to a machine and having it talk back to you is not so magical.  I have yet to have my phone or car say “Sorry Dave I can’t do that.” though.  Your phone may come close to passing the Turning Test (side note, go see The Imitation Game).

Disruptive human machine communication is a distinct possibility though.  Consider Skype Translator, a recent Microsoft proof of concept demo last month.  A Skype caller speaking English to a another Skype user speaking Spanish has almost instant translation from either language to the other.   Imagine the ways in which that, available in many language combinations, would change the world.  Entertainment, medical help, tourism and travel are a few things that come to mind.

But imagine the ability of machines to add human-like, continuous speech to their interactions with us.  They already have the ability to gather, analyze and categorize data in ways we might appreciate with a bit of wonder but when they start telling us what they “know”, they may never shut up. Or maybe they will stop wasting their time talking to us, since we can’t keep up.

I guess I look forward to casually saying things in any room of my house and computers respond and obey my commands.  But I prefer a Downton Abby approach.  They will know what I want without having to ask, and will be at the ready for every need.  I am going to name mine Carson.

Predicting the Future

In 1955 or 1956 a television special with Dave Garroway predicted the world of 1976 with great inaccuracy.  Our lives were not filled with flying cars, nuclear powered appliances nor with robots.  Why, you may wonder, do future predictors so often get it wrong?

Disruptive technology is a likely cause.  Predictions are based on a linear extrapolation of what we know and don’t anticipate unexpected shifts on that straight line.  Think of the telephone, television, transistors, computers, and integrated circuits that 20 years or so before they existed as mainstream forces may not even have been imagined.  Certainly their impact was not.

But we have had so much disruptive technology in the past half century we have gotten better at imagining how it might occur next.  If I am still around in twenty years, I want to re-read this and see how close I came or how wrong I was.  Hope you do the same.

New Year’s Day – What Is It?

January 1st?

Most of us, I assume, celebrate January 1st as New Year’s Day.  Unless of course you are Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Chinese, or one of a number of other religions, cultures, or countries.  For some of these, the new year begins on dates that seem random on the Gregorian calendar, but are tied to the lunar cycle, something easily observed and recorded by ancient civilizations. A great many of these other new year dates are in the late winter to early spring.  Notable exceptions are the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, a fall celebration commemorating the seven days of creation in the fall and those celebrated on or near Diwali, the Hindu ancient festival of lights, also in the fall.

Nearly all cultures and religions have some sort of New Year celebration or significance.  What is common, then, among these widely diverse groups?

January 1st Through April New Year’s

The longest day for darkness (in the Northern Hemisphere) of the year is the winter solstice, and it occurs between December 20th and 23rd in the Gregorian calendar.  In 2014, it was on December 21st, apparantly the longest in the history of the earth: the rotation of the earth is gradually slowing down, so it would take longer this year to make a revolution than in any previous recorded year.  In the era before humans had lights, the cold and the long darkness of those days must have been not just scary, but life threatening.  Gathering edible food from plants and animals was limited and warding off cold could prove fatal.

It is no wonder, then, that getting through that precarious season was a time to celebrate.  The daylight hours slowly began to lengthen, temperatures warmed, and as spring approached, plants returned to life and animals got ready to have their young, and the earth provided what must have seemed like unbounded abundance.  But this is a Northern Hemisphere centric view, as just the opposite was happening south of the equator.

Autumnal New Year’s

The thankfulness for surviving and flourishing is equally apparent in the fall celebrations. The summer months meant a time to cultivate crops, raise livestock, gather wild berries and hunt game.  Before the winter set in, the harvest and the storehouse it provided for the upcoming months of lean was indeed a time to give thanks, feel blessed, and celebrate with festivals, food, and gather family and friends to share in the bounty.  Other reasons are just thankfulness for life and happiness, perhaps surviving to live another year.

Hope for the New Year

In addition to the timing of celebrations of New Year’s is the hope and often deep belief that the next year will bring new health, wealth and happiness in ways the year ending did not.  Chinese New Year celebrations feature red as a predominate color.   Legend has it that red paper frightened away an evil spirit who came yearly to eat villagers and especially children, and that firecrackers were an added deterrent.  Red envelopes are now passed to family and friends as New Year’s presents.  Dragon dances and firecrackers scare away other evil spirits, and red has become the color of good luck.

Spirits dominate western culture New Year’s celebration as well.  Noticeably, champagne.  This relatively expensive, effervescent bubbly drink has become the poster child for Midnight January 1st, along with the New Year’s kiss.  Lucky indeed is the person who gets both a glass of good champagne and a good kiss to savor with it.  Other spirits can help with the great kiss, like bourbon, Scotch, gin, vodka, and rye.  The next morning, almost no one wants to hear firecrackers to make these spirits go away; maybe tomato juice and strong coffee would be better.

What I Have Pondered this Holiday Season

We take so much for granted, particularly when it comes to our holidays.  What our childhood memories of them are is likely to be the view we assume is, was and will always be.  That traditions, meanings, and celebrations will change over time, as well as place, is not something many of us give much thought to.  Christmas, for example, has become an almost world wide celebration.  Not, as I believe, because more people wish to celebrate the birth of Christ, but because Christmas has become a universal business opportunity.  Yes,there is all that warm and fuzzy spirit of the season, and that helps – people like to get in on the fun and trapping of the day – but overall it is mostly a secular celebration now instead of a predominately religious one.  No doubt some readers will find this offensive, but I mean it only to be objective.

Shift away from North America and Western Europe and the view of the holiday season is going to go through a shift in the spectrum of celebrations and attitudes as well, from closely aligned to non-existent.  In the same way, New Year’s celebrations change (by date and more) moving outside our Northern Hemisphere and dominant cultures and religions to the rest of the world.

Shift in time is equally startling. Go back a little more than a century to a wold of candles and fires as our only sources of light and heat, where there were no Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Macy’s parades, Black Friday or bowl games.  Our holiday season is a fairly modern invention.  But who doesn’t associate it with sleigh rides, Coke’s jolly St. Nick face, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and I’ll Have a Blue Christmas?

What I have learned is that there are many ways to celebrate life, family, creation, and happiness.  Our traditions are just one group of many more.

So may this New Year, from a Gregorian pointy of view, bring you the health, happiness and prosperity that you wish for.

Happy New Year!

Things I Remember at this Time of Year

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Nostalgia

Most of us have a vast storehouse of holiday memories, if not about Christmas or the start of a new Gregorian calendar year, then of your own special holidays.  We recall all the things that made, and make, the days leading up to whatever Big Day you celebrate, but the traditions, rituals and trappings of the Big Day itself.  If you don’t mind, I will use Christmas not only as a placeholder for whatever your special day is, but for what it has meant to me.  Feel free to substitute as you see fit.

Childhood Memories

My Christmas Day seemed to have begun around midnight Christmas Eve.  Mom and I would go to Midnight Mass at the cathedral in my home town.  After Mass, we would come home and Dad would have an early breakfast ready: scrambled eggs, sausage, and some years, biscuits.  Without fail, the same menu, and that is why I can remember it.

After this first feast on Christmas Day, we would open presents.  I remember being about seven or eight years old, and after unwrapping everything in sight, Dad sent me into the kitchen to get a trash can.  The lights were off, but i knew exactly where it was and navigated back to the living room, can in hand.  Dad said no, I had to go back and see if there were a bigger one; he somehow believed there was.  It was the first time I thought he was crazy.  When I went back, turned on the light, I saw a shiny new Schwinn bicycle.  My heart lept or joy.

Were the rest of Christmas Day as joyous.  Remember, this is a six to maybe ten year old speaking.

We went to bed, woke up mid-morning, got dressed and began a pilgrimage as reliable, tried and true as breakfast.  First stop my aunt (Mom’s older sister) and my grandmother.  I grew to love visiting my grandmother and listen to stories of her youth (she grew up dirt poor in South Louisiana, spoke a Cajun patois and broken English, but had a heart of gold).  When you are six, and your grandmother is feeble, she is much more of an old woman than a treasure.  I played with my cousin, counting the minutes until we packed ourselves into our car for the next stops.

Stop two was my aunt, my dad’s sister-in-law.  His brother was killed in France in WWII, and she remarried but our families stayed close.  The two older cousins from that family were a son and daughter from my uncle before he died, and the two younger step cousins, I guess.  We played a bit.  Never in my dreams did I guess Jerrianne, the older girl, and I would bond in life long friendship.  How I miss her; she died of cancer not long ago.  Ironically, she did research in how foods could help prevent cancer.  Isn’t that a cruel blow to memories?

Stops three, four and  five were the homes of people my dad worked with.  The first two were childless couples whose homes attracted gobs of couples for eggnog, divinity and fudge, and salted nuts, washed down with bourbon drinks if I remember correctly.  They did not attract couples with kids, so I staggered about, sipping bourbon-spiked eggnog and fruit cake, wondering what else I could do.  Until we went to stop five, a family with twin boys my age.  I don’t think we got on too well, but didn’t squabble, so time passed amicably.  What i do recall so vividly is the lights on their tree.  They were miniature candle-like things, varied in color, filled with a colored liquid that bubbled while they glowed.  I thought them mystical, exotic and wondeorus. We never owned any of them as far as I can recall. But every year I asked for them.

As the afternoon drew to a close, we trekked back home.  It seemed that Christmas evaporated and dried up like the needles on the tree.  Until Dad decided to get a silver artificial tree one year.  Including a light with a wheel of four colored gels that rotated to provide a  perpetual spectrum of artificial hues.  Bah, humbug.

Then Came My Kids

And things got different.  There was shopping to do.  Sometimes fun, sometimes a competition like bumper cars running on nitro fuel.  Sometimes really crappy toys and things to put together from 10PM until 2AM (when I was the only one still up and wishing I could read Japanese to decipher the instructions).  But always fun and exciting.  Before that appointed assembly hour, though, there were the rituals:  write a note to Santa, put out some milk and cookies and a reindeer treat, read (with exuberance) ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas; I can still almost get through the whole thing from memory, just like The Cat in the Hat. I will probably breathe my last recalling lines from both.

Then Christmas morning.  Squeals, laughter, and sometimes tears of joy.  Oh yes, the kids loved it too.

But food definitely became a big part of the entire season.  Thanksgiving ushered in the cooking frenzy, and it exited sometime in the first week of January.  Always seemed like the Thanksgiving table drew a big crowd, an open house with the same table laden with the fruits of days worth of cooking, and then a true Christmas feast. We had ham, we had turkey, we had a goose, a standing rib roast, and we had turducken.  I got into chocolate making and turned out hundreds of candies and shared them with neighbors and friends.  Nothing went to waste, but a lot went to my waist.

Each year, I wrote a letter to my kids and wife, trying to fit on one page how much they meant to me, how proud I was at all they had done in the year ending and the years preceding.  It was the first thing they went for in their stockings.  Actually hung by the chimney with care.  I would burst with joy seeing smiles and tears come to their faces.

A Lot Has Changed

My older kids have all grown up, and my daughter has her own son now, just over six months old.  It will be wonderous indeed to see the traditions he will grow up with.  While my youngest is still at home and a great teen, the dynamics are not the same.  He doesn’t mind, and neither do I, really, except that I really do.  I miss all of that.  I am a sentimentalist and an old softie, I guess.

But all of this brings me to another point entirely.


I have a dear friend who is a pastor at an evangelical church nearby.  I have done things for the him and the church over the years because they are all wonderful people and as my small way of thanking them for their love and friendship.  He has wanted me to join them as an effective member of the congregation, but it is not for me.  I tried to explain it to him in the following way.  It starts with memories of Midnight Mass in that childhood cathedral.

I remember it being so grand, large and majestic.  I guess, like my elementary school that seemed so large when I attended, it would be greatly diminished if I were to revisit it today.  Especially compared to the truly grand cathedrals I have seen in France and Italy and elsewhere.  But my minds eye sees acreage of white marble, Gothic arched ceilings and my ears hear the grand organ and world class choir singing the Mass in Latin and carols for the exiting processional.  I attended Mass there every Sunday when I was growing up.  I could recite most of the Mass in Latin, and I was the first to stand, kneel or sit as was proper during various parts of the Mass.  I carried my Daily Missal much like Moses carried the tablets down from the mount.

When I had to explain my views on faith to my friend, though, I realized what I remembered and cared about was all of that lovely ritual.  The Gregorian chants, the smell of incense burning, the ringing of the bells as the celebrant changed bread and wine into spiritual body and blood.  It wasn’t faith, nor belief, it was nostalgia.

Is that a good or a bad thing?  Truthfully, I don’t know.  Faith is not a cornerstone of my life, and I know of friends and acquaintances who will not be just mortified and aghast at my proclamation but fearful for my mortal soul and likely to keep small children locked safely away lest I demonize them.  But my personal lack of religious faith comes with great respect for those who have it, short, let’s say, of their condemnation of me.  Hey, I get that my religious upbringing brought marvelous feelings and emotional warmth and satisfaction, and for many, that not only doesn’t diminish but grows and becomes essential as the years go by.

Maybe it is nostalgia in another form.  Or maybe the spirit of Christmas.  We may never know.

But thanks for the memories.

“Oh, Your Baby Looks Just Like….”

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I was around some young people, and by that I mean those born in in the very late spring of this year.  Developmentally, their eyes focused on my face when I spoke (okay, goo-gooed) to them, they unexpectedly but often broke into a smile and then a laugh, and laying on the floor (nice blanket on the floor, really), they rolled over from side to side and pushed up on their arms.  A hands and knees crawl will bloom suddenly, I assumed, like waking up to crocus emerging from the snow in early spring: expected but still a delightful surprise.

Looking at these darlings intently and comparing them to their parents, I still was a bit wanting in coming up with the exclamation we all have heard so often when first seeing a baby either newborn, crawling or advanced to walking: “Oh, {insert name here} looks just like {insert mother’s, father’s, relative’s or perhaps neighbor’s name here}.”  What struck me is that I don’t recall ever saying that, no matter how many babies I have been around, nor can I recall any men I know having said that either.  Yes, there is an occasional father or two muttering something of the sort, but I assume it did not spring to their lips but something they heard elsewhere first.

Maybe I am deluding myself that the implied gender-based slant of these comments is not sexist.  What I can say is that there is no discriminatory driver that I can sense.  What I can sense instead is my theory of where this gender divide may have come from.  And it is definitely gender-based, but hardly because of an unrecognized or subliminal prejudice or bias.

Come on a journey with me, back to the earliest days of humans on our little third rock from the sun.  Our distant ancestors are definitely hunters and gatherers but have gathered in groups loosely resembling extended families.  Rather than facing their environment alone, these groups provided early distribution of labor and shared resources.   Imagine them huddled around a fire in a cave, if you inclined to Hollywood visions, or more realistically, on the plains of Africa, sharing berries or the remnants of a hunt.

A family unit is not just a familiar concept to us, it is one that seems to stretch as far back as recorded history.  In truth, it is something that has evolved over centuries.  Even today, there are cultural – and legal – differences on what a family unit is.  No Norman Rockwell portraits of patriarchal families with many wives exist that I know of.  The lines between our concept of a family unit and the communal units of our early ancestors are not sharp and bright.

Sexual coupling among males and females in these communal units would not follow monogamous, swan-like matings for life, maybe even for a few days or less.  Off-spring was an inevitable result.  In this atmosphere of loose hook-ups, the biological father might be hard to accurately know.

Evolution is bent in the direction of the survival of our DNA to perpetuate our traits and characteristics.   If we survive and produce offspring, those traits are passed along (over time and repetition).  If not, those traits will be diminished.  Consider how this might have worked in our distant ancestors.

When a female was pregnant, she was less able to participate in hunting and even gathering as birth neared.  After birth, she also had to take care of her new child.  Any mother and most fathers understand the amazing urge to but their child’s well being above all else.  We – at least I – don’t know if child care was communal, although it is not hard to imagine that it often was as maybe more recent moms cared for toddlers along with their infants so other moms could gather communal resources.

If a child were to survive to pass his traits to the next generation, a key factor in those young years would be to have the attention and care of his or her mother.  Even if separated, mothers would need to recognize their own child from others when they came back together.  A mother of a very young child might also depend on the care and protection a father could provide while she focused on the needs of the child.

What if the dad though the child were not his but his cave- or hut-mate?  Would he provide that care and protection or abdicate it to the supposed father?  We don’t know but can only guess it would not, in general, be the same.

So there you have my theory.  Mothers who could easily recognize their own children had them survive and perpetuate that trait to subsequent generations of mothers.  Fathers who could not make those fine distinctions passed that trait to their sons.  Is it correct and proven?  So far, the only proof is my own albeit very limited observations since I was a child. And in the literature, a phrase academia often uses, I could readily find only this blog post.

Maybe you can comment and add additional information and thoughts.  In the meantime, show your baby to others or observe those who do and listen to their comments.  See what I mean?


Training, Really, Not Cho-Chos

When we go to a doctor, what do we expect as a minimum?

  • The doctor has graduated from medical school
  • The doctor has been licensed and certified
  • The doctor has had rigorous training as an intern and as a resident and beyond

We would expect that the doctor consults with his or her peers, stays current on the literature, and probably belongs to one or more professional associations that provide continuing education and training.  If the doctor is a specialist or a surgeon, the expectations on training probably broaden to learning new procedures and use of equipment.

If you hire an architect, or a lawyer, or a professional of any sort who is accredited, your expectations for their education, experience and training are similar.

Other Professionals Get Training, Too

It will come as no surprise that actors,  professional athletes and others get lots of training, too.  For athletes, it’s not just the pros.  From a tender age, kids (and parents I might add) who are sports minded enroll in camps, leagues, clinics and engage consultants and trainers to get a competitive edge not only for their young players but to get on varsity teams in high school, get noticed by the recruiters, and eventually move to top tier, and top earners, with professional teams.  Granted, a certain amount of natural talent and body build for both actors and athletes is essential, but those who excel rely on constant and high intensity training.

Has Some Train(-ing) Derailed?

If you carefully examine how many professionals are trained, you will probably observe that what they are taught, and how they are taught, is not casual but follows well established and even rigorous principles.  It’s not just the doctors.  In the past few decades, training for professional athletes has advanced well past ad hoc respected coaches to include sophisticated technology.  From biomedical devices to video recording and analysis to monitoring, these systems have advanced training from an art to a full blown science.  Not that for any training there is no art, it simply enhances what is generally available.

Sadly, this level of training sophistication has not yet arrived in our educational institutions.  Yes, teachers get college degrees and certifications and continuing education, but their training is far from the methodologies and rigor other professionals expect and get.  What contributes to this woeful lack of advanced training?

K-12 school systems are not homogenous bodies. Each state has its own educational structure, and those are further broken down (broken down often in more ways than deconstructed) into local school districts run by locally elected school boards.  Politics? Certainly.  Economics?  Definitely, as most are substantially funded by local taxes and augmented by state and federal funds.  But isn’t this a good thing, to have local control in order to reduce costs and have more direct administration?

It seems to work for hospitals.  So why do school systems, teachers, and ultimately students not always get the best results?  Perhaps their goals and the assumptions about how they  serve us differ greatly.  And perhaps it is because hospitals look at their health care providers to meet standards of how they provide care by looking to training developed across many hospitals, and across many countries.

Great and Less So Teachers, Administrators

All of us can fondly remember one or more really great teachers who inspired us or were pivotal in our lives.  But we can also recall those who were disasters in the classroom who perhaps wrecked our interest and subsequent mastery of particular subjects (“I was never good at math”).  Has this contributed to the truism that good teachers are born, not made?  What makes a teacher good, anyway?  That we fondly remember them, that look at where their students are as adults?  That we look at test scores and grades?  Can we make great teachers, and can we get rid of bad ones?

The truth is so many things go into education and learning, not just these and a few other metrics that have been proposed and tried.  The bigger truth is that knowing, really knowing, what we should do to educate our kids is complicated and may often run counter to some individual family values (creation theory e.g.), or to real costs to foster education.  So we take easier routes.  Reduce class sizes, use standard curriculums, allocate billions from the federal budget for initiatives of one sort or another.  But we see mixed results from all of these, that they work in some locales but not in others, that we are still shooting in the dark.

Do you think doctors would take this approach to how they are trained to practice medicine, to take a fractured approach to providing medical care?  Certainly there are alternative approaches, attempts to improve or expand care that do not work, and unfortunately unethical actors, but these self correct more often than not and often more quickly than not.  But we have been whacking away at education like a Whakamoley game for as long as I can remember.

The vast majority of teachers I have known, or known of, are a dedicated lot who deeply care about what they do as a profession and deeply care about how their students learn and perform.  They have a variety of gripes and complaints regarding what they feel are impediments to successful teaching ranging from burdensome procedural tasks that support school administration but not to teaching itself to not enough resources to not enough time to too much time with parents.  Some of these are legitimate but the questions, like the larger issues, are which ones are pertinent, which ones are missing, and what to do about them.

Teaching is not just about kids and schools, but about being trained, learning and developing expertise.  Returning military veterans can benefit from learning how to leverage their military skills like leadership and logistics into viable career skills. Many in our work force who can’t find good jobs need to master new skills, and this is true for just about everyone even if they don’t work.

We go to a doctor or a hospital expecting at the very minimum a skill set and bevy of equipment that is the result of incredible training, yet we send our kids off to school with only vague expectations of what they will receive there. Don’t they deserve better?  Don’t we?  Don’t blame the teachers, as they deserve better, too.