Trying To Be A Plumber

It’s wonderful when we try to help others.

Isn’t that one of the reasons we’re here? 

But sometimes we are trying to help and it’s really something beyond our capabilities. 

My mother-in-law said something funny about this:

Sometimes you’re an electrician, but you’re trying to be a plumber. 

Isn’t that true, we are really one thing, but we are often trying to be something else that we’re really not. 

We can’t help someone that needs a plumber, if we’re an electrician. 

We have to know who we are and what we can do–as well as what we can’t. 

No one can do everything, no matter how smart, strong, or able they think they are.  

Each person has strengths and weaknesses.  

We need an electrician and a plumber. 

And you can’t be what you’re not. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Jack Of All Trades

I saw this quote hanging on the wall. 


It’s by science fiction writer, Robert Anson Heinlein.

“A human being should be able to:

  • Change a diaper
  • Plan an invasion
  • Butcher a hog
  • Conn [control] a ship
  • Design a building
  • Write a sonnet
  • Balance account
  • Build a wall
  • Set a bone
  • Comfort the dying
  • Take orders
  • Give orders
  • Cooperate
  • Act alone
  • Solve equations
  • Analyze a new problem
  • Pitch manure
  • Program a computer
  • Cook a tasty meal
  • Fight efficiently
  • Die Gallantly

Specialization is for insects.”

It’s sort of fascinating all the things that are expected of people to be able to do. 

And this is a short list–I’m sure you can think of many, many more things that people have to be able to do to survive, to live, to thrive. 

What complex and magnificent creations of G-d we are! 

Not only in terms of our physiology, but also in terms of our cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual capacities and desires. 

We are flesh and blood, but with a breath of life from the living G-d, and we are capable and can do so much. 

At the same time, we are imperfect, limited, fallible, and mortal. 

– Jack of all trades, and master of none. 

Expect the best, but plan for plenty of mistakes and disasters along the way. 

Live well, and return to the creator a better person. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Technology and Human Capital–They Go Hand-In-Hand

So there are some mighty impressive places to work that really shine in terms of the technology they use and the constant desire to upgrade and improve their capabilities. 


Usually, these are also the places that value and respect their human capital because they view them as not just human pawns, but rather as strategic drivers of change. 


Then there are the places that are “so operationally focused” or just plain poorly run that they can’t be bothered to think about technology much at all or the people that make up the organization and its fiber. 


In many cases, the wheel may be turning, but the hamster is dead: 


There is no real enterprise architecture to speak of. 


There are no IT strategic or operational plans. 


There are no enterprise or common solutions or platforms. 


There is no IT governance or project/portfolio management. 


Even where there are some IT projects, they go nowhere–they are notions or discussion pieces, but nothing ever rolls off the IT “assembly line.”


How about buying an $800 software package to improve specific operations–that gets the thumbs down too. 


Many of these executives can’t even spell t-e-c-h-n-o-l-o-g-y!


It’s scary when technology is such an incredible enabler that some can’t see it for what it is. 


Rather to them, technology is a distraction, a threat, a burdensome cost, or something we don’t have time for.


Are they scared of technology?


Do they just not understand its criticality or capability?


Are they just plain stupid? 


Anyway, organizations need to look at their leadership and ask what are they doing not only operationally, but also in terms of technology improvement to advance the organization and its mission. 


Look to the organizations that lead technologically, as well as that treat their people well, and those are ones to ogle at and model after.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Help Is Coming

Help

So I used to have a boss who said something really funny.


He used to go, “Everybody says they want to help us” and then bemoaningly he would seem to repeat that a few times. 


The next part which he didn’t need to explicitly say was that “But no one does!”


It was the words, but also much the tone–yes, the walls could be caving in, the ship could be sinking, everything going up in flames, and of course, everyone is there looking on, shaking their heads pitifully, and seemingly stretching out their hand in an offer of help. 


For this boss though, the help couldn’t come fast enough or with enough resources to help resolve all the issues going on at the time. 


I suppose first and foremost, we have to help ourselves. 


Secondly, there needs to be a core understanding from the beginning of what is really doable and what is simply fantasy fare. 


Third, if help is on the way–great, but it’s got to be timely enough and come with enough raw horsepower to make a genuine difference. 


Finally, sometimes miracles do happen and everything works out great–the day is saved–but even then so much underlying damage has been done that you need to rebuild from the core foundations again. 


And for the next time, you’ll need to ensure capabilities beyond what was ever imagined before. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Under The Beautiful Sea

Under_the_sea

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is looking for a place to stash some new military capabilities.

In a DARPA news release (11 January 2013) it states they are looking to support the navy by placing hibernated deep-sea capsules with payloads at under water locations and at the seafloor strategically around the globe–“almost half of the world’s oceans are more than four kilometers deep” providing “cheap stealth”.

The capsules with carry non-lethal payloads for “operational support and situational awareness”–such as command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR). 

Examples of pre-deployed payloads could be unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and probably, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). The release specifically states that this is “not a weapons program,” but you could imagine future evolutions of this.

The initial capabilities sought are for “situational awareness, disruption, deception, networking, rescue, or any mission that benefits from being pre-distributed and hidden.” 

The deep-sea capsules will need to survive under extreme pressure and be able to communicate at vast ocean depths to be remotely awoken and recalled when needed. 

Having capabilities available when and where needed–from the bottom of the sea to forward deployment–potentially mitigating some use of costly and non-stealth land bases.

I think this is an exciting idea especially since China was able to demonstrate its anti-satellite missiles in January 2007 in shooting down its own satellite, and I would think that these new underwater pods being sought may be able to provide some alternatives for sensing and communicating in conflicts where satellites are destroyed or disabled and/or other military muscle in not readily available. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Rakel SdPC)

Taking On The Predator

My colleague at work has an incredible mask of the Predator. 

 

Quite a frightening looking creature–that in Hollywood only Arnold Schwarzenegger could take on and defeat. 

 

When Predator, an extraterrestrial, comes to Earth with all sorts of high-tech weaponry to challenge humankind, Schwarzenegger, who leads an elite special forces team, manages to defeat the alien by using his wits to improvise weapons, traps, and tactics. 

 

In the real world, this mask is a great reminder that while technology is a tool that provides amazing capabilities, in the end, it is really our people’s ability to adapt and innovate that makes the ultimate difference as to who succeeds and fails. 

 

The Predator mask is not only a great conversation piece, but Predator’s looks and technology is not so scary when we realize that good, talented people can wield control over it. 😉

 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Robert Williams)

Robots: More Than A Technical Challenge


This is the DARPA Pet-Proto Robot (a predecessor to the Atlas model) showing some pretty cool initial operating capabilities for navigating around obstacles.

– Climbing over a wall
– Straddling a pit
– Going up a staircase
– Walking a plank

These things may seem simple to you and I, but for these robots, we are talking about their autonomously sensing what’s around them, identifying and evaluating alternatives to overcome them, deciding on what to actually do, and then successfully executing on it.

Not bad for a machine (even if we are spoiled by the the great science fiction writers and special effects of Hollywood)!

We will be seeing a lot more progress in this area in the 27 months in response to the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), where robots are being looked to “execute complex tasks” for “humanitarian, disaster relief, and related activities” in potentially “dangerous and degraded, and human-engineered” environments.

I’d say only another 15-20 more years and the robots will walking among us–but are we prepared for the significant shift about to occur.

Think about it–these robots will be able to do a lot more of the physical work (construction, manufacturing, service, care-taking, even warfighting, and more), and while we will benefit from the help, jobs are going to continue to get a lot tougher to find if you are not in fields such as engineering, science, technology, design, and so on.

This is going to lead to continued, significant social, educational, and economic disruptions.

What is now a robotics challenge to meet certain performance benchmarks, may in the future become a human challenge to shift from a human-dominated world to one which is instead shared or commingled with machines.

This means that we need to define the boundaries between man and machine–will we be working and playing side-by-side, how about loving or fighting each other, and is there the possibility that the machine will some day transcend the inventor altogether.

I believe that we need significant more study and research into how robotics are going to transform the way we live, work, and interact, and how humanity will adapt and survive this new monumental opportunity, but also looming threat.

What is just an obstacle to overcome in a simulation chamber may one day become an urban battlefield where humans are not necessarily the clear winners.

While I love robotics and where it can take us, this cannot be a field limited to the study of hardware and software alone.