Management and Leadership are booming cargo-cult businesses. Certifications in both can be had for a fee regardless of aptitude or ability. Universities have created valuable profit-centers in this ‘market’ around their charitable cocoons, touting their programs in airports, magazines, billboards, and online advertising. Just about everyone in the modern workplace will either have to take a course in some aspect of this or be talked at by someone who has. The material, to be charitable, is dumbed down to irrelevance. The examples are always shiftless or cantankerous employees not fully committed to the bottom line. Orwell had it right
When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.
— George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
The old General Electric company recognized that developing managers means more than a handbook of HR-approved cliches. This Capraesque short film does not solve but at least acknowledges the crushing bidirectional pressure aspiring and reluctant managers have faced and continue to face. The protagonist is literally beside himself with stress and gets some medical help. The ending is refreshingly ambiguous. Sports fans of a certain age will recognize a young Heywood Hale Broun, long before his coat-of-many-colors phase.
LIGO took a lot of heat for twenty years. Too speculative, too expensive, real soon now, when already? Once it got over the hump… Damn! Two LIGOs and VIRGO pointed the way. Perhaps they should be rechristened Bonnie, Anita, and Ruth.
I saw this film in 1992 or 1993 at a screening for employees while finishing my postdoc at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. I spent a little over two years there, living in lovely Chatham Township and spending Saturdays enjoying Manhattan. The lab I sat in held the original carbon dioxide laser, nearly thirty years old at the time, and still working. The transistor was invented a couple of doors away, the people who invented Unix were at the other end of a long corridor, and a few future Nobellaureates had their labs in-between. I am still amazed that I got that position and wistful that I didn’t do more with the opportunity.
There was a Q&A session with the speaker who introduced the film and who was participating in the work that underpinned this eerily accurate vision of an always-on, always-connected world. I asked if there was enough (data) bandwidth to support even a small fraction of this. It was the era of low-speed dialup modems and the Internet was limited to universities and academically-oriented labs. His answer, “I guess there will have to be.” A few forward-thinkers had the smarts to set about building that infrastructure, bit by bit. I lacked the foresight to invest even a small amount in any of them.
There’s a category of Youtube channel dedicated to fixing up old mostly public-domain videos from Prelinger and similar archives and making them available to broad audiences. Jeff Quitney is one of the best at this along with Bel99TV and PeriscopeFilm.
Here’s a little bit of 1965 techno-cool courtesy of Xerox Corporation.
Consider technical computing. Matlab is expensive but simple: One function per .m file – send a function inputs, get outputs. Python’s adherents claim that it can supplant Matlab for most scientific purposes. Reality, as usual, is more nuanced. Since Python supports objects, classes, namespaces, and a lot of other funky features, Python tools are chock full of them. Pick a package – numpy, scipy, matplotlib, or any of the ‘batteries included’ standard library. It is difficult to figure out how to pass inputs to something and get outputs, assuming that thing is a function and not an object with methods, a class, a module, or something else. Documentation is often lacking so there will be multiple visits to StackOverflow, Usenet and Google Groups, and mailing lists.
I wrote some experimental Python spaghetti code to take a Python package, figure out which of its modules connect to which other modules, and then to recursively list each module’s builtins, classes, functions, submodules, and a bunch of stuff falling into ‘none of the above.’ I also sent the results into graphviz to visualize the results and perhaps gain some insight. It was one compromise after another, figuring out ‘good enough’ when ‘ideal’ wasn’t convenient or possible. The firework-like graphviz output was fun to look at although not practically useful due to the large amount of zooming and panning needed to see details – what you see is all you’ve got. I may use the plain text output from the pyCustoms algorithm in the future to figure out the lay of the land before studying a package in any detail.
The pyCustoms code is on Github in a Jupyter Notebook. Here are the graphviz outputs for numpy and matplotlib. Each image links to a PDF. Zooming and panning works better in a standalone PDF reader than in a typical browser PDF plugin. Right-clicking should permit downloading the files. I normally use the Skim PDF reader for Macs but was surprised to find that Acrobat DC did a better job for these graphics intensive files.
A young filmmaker dives deeply in five parts into the technical and artistic innards of his (and one of my) favorite movies. One wishes that he spoke a little slower and left some breathing room in his edits but it is an earnest, meticulous, and illuminating effort. The engineering alone that went into 2001 is awe-inspiring. Did Kubrick sleep during the two years it took to make?
The ‘R’ behind the Thompson-Ramo-Woolridge (later TRW) corporation passed away a few months ago at age 103. Simon Ramo saw the future and made a lot of it happen in a bygone era when technical people ran corporations. Here, he explains what we currently call Cloud Computing over a lovely guitar score by Nell Hultgren of whom little, unfortunately, can be found.
To this day, the questionable Wernher von Braun gets credit for most American space accomplishments of the 1950s and 1960s. He tirelessly aimed at the stars (with the occasional drops on London) but engineering realities were at odds with his grandiose plans and even grandioser rockets. John Houbolt’s Lunar Orbit Rendezvous approach eventually won out and his role in Apollo’s success is insufficiently known. Here’s a comparison.