I’m not one for nostalgia, mostly because I find looking back is frequently done with sadness; at loves lost, abilities gone, desires unfulfilled, etc. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to encounter things that bring back old memories and feelings. Such was my experience with this wonderful video.
Although I was born in Southern California, of Eastern European Jews, I have developed a close affinity for Cuba over the years. There are two primary reasons this is so; two very deep and well-developed reasons. The first is from the two months I spent in Cuba in the Spring of 1973 with the Venceremos Brigade (La Brigada Venceremos). The second is from the Cuban woman who was my first wife and with whom I spent seven years.
The trip to Cuba was far more than just a two-month experience. It came at the culmination of around five years of intense political activity, beginning with my involvement in the Vietnam antiwar movement, and ending with my evolution into a Marxist. Shortly before traveling I worked at The Ash Grove, which had a long and tortured relationship with anti-Castro Cuban exiles. In fact, it was burned down three times by what Fidel labeled “Gusanos” (worms). It also involved several months of training, without which I would not have been allowed to make the trip. This training was provided by those who went before our contingent (we were the sixth) as well as members of the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets, and the Los Angeles Women’s Liberation Union. It was the organization’s way of doing their best to ensure we understood racism, sexism, and cultural chauvinism, such that we wouldn’t do something stupid while we were there to make the organization, or the Cubans, look bad.
The marriage was short; actually, we were only married for about three and a half years and lived together prior to taking our vows another three and half years. It ended not so much because we weren’t getting along or compatible, but because our life circumstances seemed to dictate we go in different direction. After we had separated, I bought a dance studio for her in Venice, CA, where she conducted classes and sold some merch. That was nearly forty years ago and I wasn’t involved in the day-to-day business; mostly I just provided money and some connections. I don’t remember what happened, other than that it just wasn’t sustainable and I lost some money. We remain friendly to this day. Not close, but we’re Facebook friends and we have quite a few mutual friendships, so we cross paths occasionally.
So this video brought back some wonderful and some deeply emotional feelings for me. I don’t think you have to share any of my experiences to enjoy it. It is fun and entertaining. Hope you like it.
After I checked in the other day on Facebook, while at the KP Pacemaker Clinic for an update on my device’s performance, I noticed a lot of my friends aren’t exactly familiar with what all this means. Please allow me to explain what is happening and how my device works.
I have known for decades I had an electrical problem with my heart. My doctor told me a long time ago I had a right bundle branch block, which I could live with indefinitely or which could kill me in short order. I never let it bother me and figured I would live my life as best I could and not worry about dropping dead.
At the beginning of this year I started noticing I was having problems with heartbeat irregularities and I contacted my doctor. To make a long story short, it became apparent I was experiencing bradycardia (slow heartbeat). One of the diagnostic tools used was what is called a Holter Monitor (it’s a heart monitor, which I wore pasted to my chest for seven days). One night my pulse rate dropped to 26 BPM; not dead, but awfully slow.
After a telephone consultation with a cardiologist—now MY cardiologist—to go over the results of the Holter Monitor and blood tests, we decided a pacemaker might be indicated. That was February 27. Between then and March 3 I had trouble walking from the bedroom to the kitchen, or from the family room to my car, without requiring a moment or three to recover from a feeling of utter exhaustion. I couldn’t fathom living like that for long, so I called my cardiologist to discuss what was going on. I wasn’t scheduled for a consultation on my test results until late March, but that wasn’t acceptable to me. He indicated he had a surgical opening the following Wednesday, March 8, and I agreed to the procedure.
On the morning of March 8, I checked in to the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Woodland Hills, CA and the procedure was performed later that afternoon. I had a Boston Scientific Accolade MRI pacemaker implanted in my chest, just below my left collarbone. The device is about 25% bigger in diameter than a silver dollar, and three times as thick. It’s a nice size chunk of metal I’m still getting used to. It consists of a dual-core processor with 512KB of RAM, a large battery, and two leads – one to my right Atrium and one to my right Ventricle. It is programmed to send an electrical signal to “pace” my heart when it drops below 60 beats per minute. I also have a communication device that sits next to my bed that receives data from the pacemaker and transmits it through a dedicated cell connection to the pacemaker clinic at Kaiser. The pacemaker is also programmed to recognize when my heart rate rises above 130 bpm, at which point the device by my bed (it’s called a “latitude” and is also from Boston Scientific) will notify the clinic.
Two weeks after the surgery, I want for my first device checkup at the clinic. The Nurse Practitioner who manages the clinic advised me that my latitude was communicating properly and she had received data from it. She also told me that my right ventricle was being paced 100% of the time, but my right atrium was being paced far less. She reprogrammed the algorithm in my pacemaker right there (I didn’t feel a thing) and increased the timing between atrial contraction and ventricular contraction. Before I left she informed me my heart was beating on its own.
She also told me the battery indicated it would last for 12 years, but since she had changed the algorithm that would likely change and we would know more the next time I came in. That was last Wednesday, May 24. At that visit I was informed my heart is being “paced” about 40% of the time and that the battery now appears it will last for 15 years.
As of now I will only need to go in to the clinic once a year. I’m feeling good, at least as good as one can expect after almost 76 years of heavy use. So if I use up the remaining battery life—assuming it lasts as long as it predicts—I should make it to 91. Of course, that’s assuming nothing else gets me first, and there are quite a few other things that I have to be careful about. Regardless, I’m thankful I’m reasonably energetic and my brain seems to function as well as it ever has, despite the wear and tear of my party animal past. Life is good, and every moment is precious to me – more now than ever.
NB: I published this article sometime in 2010, around the time I accepted an early severance package from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and retired. It was published using WordPress’s old classic editor and didn’t render well any longer, so I’ve upgraded it to their current block editor format. This should explain why the date associated with it is May 16, 2023.
This article is a few years old, but there’s so much good stuff in here I’m thinking I should post it every other week for the rest of my life. Seriously, with all the talk lately about how you need to be careful of people who hold themselves out as Social Media Experts, Russ’s words are even more impactful.
This October Russ will have been gone for a year. I’m willing to bet I speak for a lot of people when I say he is sorely missed. He is surely not forgotten. Read the whole article; then get the book f-Laws.
Update (Thanksgiving, 2013) This post was originally published from www.telegraph.co.uk using Amplify, a curation service that no longer exists. Below is the excerpt as Amplify prepared it.
Anti-guru of joined-up management
Published: 12:01AM GMT 08 Feb 2007
If you were asked to picture what a management guru should look and sound like, you might come up with a description of someone very like Russ Ackoff. Grey-haired, distinguished, softly spoken, Ackoff fits the bill. And also, since he turns 88 on Monday, he can claim the benefit of wisdom earned over the course of six decades studying and working with businesses and organisations.
Except, of course, that “guru” is not a label that Ackoff is keen to accept.
“A guru produces disciples, and a discipline, and a doctrine,” he says. “If you are a follower of a guru, you don’t go beyond his thoughts, you accept his thoughts. He gives you the questions and the answers – it’s an end to thought. An educator is exactly the opposite,” he says. “You take off where he sets you up for the next set of questions. One is open-ended, the other is closed. Most consultants are gurus. They are ‘experts’, not educators.”
So please don’t refer to Ackoff’s body of work as gurudom and please don’t describe his work with clients as management consulting.
“We don’t call it consulting,” he states firmly. “We make a distinction between consulting and being an educator. A consultant goes in with a solution. He tries to impose it on a situation. An educator tries to train the people responsible for the work to work it out for themselves. We don’t pretend to know the way to get the answer.”
In his distaste for gurudom, Ackoff is of a mind with his old friend and colleague, the late Peter Drucker. Drucker famously once observed that the only reason people called him a guru was that they did not know how to spell the word “charlatan”.
“Peter Drucker made a great distinction between doing things right and doing the right thing,” Ackoff says. “All of our social problems arise out of doing the wrong thing righter. The more efficient you are at doing the wrong thing, the wronger you become. It is much better to do the right thing wronger than the wrong thing righter! If you do the right thing wrong and correct it, you get better.”
Read more at www.telegraph.co.uk (I don’t believe you can see the entire article without accepting a “free” monthly subscription, which you will have to cancel if you don’t want to be charged.)
I’ve got a job interview tomorrow, less than three weeks before my 76th birthday. I’m not old; I’m experienced, I’m seasoned, I’m tested. I know I’m at an age where, even if I don’t look as old as I am, I still look old and, in my experience, ageism is a very real thing. This position is in aerospace, which I’ve found to be more accepting, but the proof is in the pudding, as us old farts like to say.
Here’s a video of Angel playing soccer (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) with herself. Between this and her scattering toys all over the house—even outside in the backyard—we’re getting worried about her. We think she may have ADOG. Hopefully, the Vet has meds available to help her out.
I need to tell you something. Although I’m a Boomer, I have a great deal of love and respect for your generation. One reason for this is because my wife and I became first-time, adoptive parents late in life and both our daughters are in your generation. They’re currently 19 and 21. But also because you embody the ideals and aspirations I had as a young man back in the sixties and seventies, when I was an anti-war and social justice activist.
In 1966, shortly after I graduated High School and when the war in Vietnam was heating up, with US troops heading toward an eventual commitment of half a million troops, I joined the US Navy, following in the footsteps of my father and thinking it was the right thing to do. I was medically discharged after only a month and 23 days, but that’s another story that has nothing to do with the point I’m making herein.
When the police rioted in Century City in the summer of 1967, and I was running a small snack shop in downtown L.A., I remember thinking that the police were probably right and dealt with the demonstrators appropriately. I was soon to discover just how mistaken I was. So began my transformation into an anti-war activist.
Without going into too much detail, I’ll just note that I spent about five years organizing, demonstrating/marching, and doing security for others who were protesting the war in Vietnam and racism and sexism in our society. It was pretty much full-time and I only worked to make enough money to allow me to survive while being an activist. My work culminated in a two-month trip in the Spring of 1973 to Cuba, as a guest of the Cuban Government, with the Venceremos Brigade. Shortly after my return I began law school. I was burned out and wanted to get on with my life, which I had neglected in favor of my activism.
I remained politically active to some degree, but not like I had been, especially since U.S. involvement in Vietnam had effectively ended in January of 1973. It was with great dismay that I realized my generation was not merely withdrawing from the activism the war had ignited, but was actively moving to political and economic conservatism. In 1976, the year I graduated with my J.D., Jackson Browne released his album “The Pretender”. The title song contained the following lyrics, which resonated deeply with me. The still do.
I want to know what became of the changes We waited for love to bring Were they only the fitful dreams Of some greater awakening?
The Pretender – Jackson Browne
Just recently, as I was refreshing my memory about the lyrics and what he was saying, I came across a video where he explains a bit about the genesis and meaning of the song. In describing who the pretender is, he says, ” … it’s anybody that’s sort of lost sight of some of their dreams…and is going through the motions and trying to make a stab at a certain way of life that he sees other people succeeding at. So maybe it’s a lot of people of a certain generation who sort of embraced a very material lifestyle in place of dreams that they had that sort of disintegrated at some point.”
I don’t mean to imply, by the title I’ve chosen for this post, that it’s your generation’s responsibility to achieve what my generation so spectacularly (at least apparently) failed at, but rather my hope as I approach the end of my life to see a truly better society, a better world, and a rise in decency and mutual respect among the people of this planet. I’m hoping you will prove to be the generation that achieves that “greater awakening”.
This month will be 13 years since I retired from Rocketdyne. At the time it was owned by United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney division. When I first joined the organization in 1987 the mother ship was Rockwell International. Later it was sold to The Boeing Co. It is currently owned by Aerojet, but negotiations are continuing to complete its sale to L3Harris.
Throughout all these changes, which I have either experienced or watched somewhat closely from not too far, one thing has remained relatively constant. The quality of the people who work there. I believe I was privileged to work with some of the smartest, most competent people on the planet. After all, it WAS rocket science. To be more precise, Rocket Engine science.
Now, I’m neither an engineer, nor a scientist. I am not a machinist, technician, or mechanic. I had nothing to do with the actual design, manufacture, assembly, test, or flight of the rocket engines we manufactured and provided to NASA. Not directly, that is. An organization such as Rocketdyne cannot operate without ancillary functions to ensure lines of communication are robust and effective between and amongst each of the dozens of functions such an org needs and I am happy I was able to provide some of the skills and knowledge necessary to facilitate those connections.
When I left the company in May of 2010, I took home with me numerous mementos of my time there. These include printed editions of studies I played a major role in conducting, training materials for a tool I was the project manager for, internal awards I received, and other items that had some meaning for me. Today I once again came across this simple ticket. I’ve kept it all these years because it reminds me of one of my favorite people ever. Myrna Beth Thompson or, as we knew her, Beth.
She was one of the first people I met and became friends with when I joined the Program Office of the Space Shuttle Main Engine team. In an organization composed of very conservative people, she was another progressive I could relate to and she wasn’t shy about her beliefs. She was also kind, caring, empathetic, and always available to help anyone who needed it. Tragically, she died of a massive heart attack nine years ago this month.
The ticket is a prop from a class Beth championed and taught as part of our efforts to instill the concept of Systems Thinking into the heart of the organization for which we labored. It was based on Barry Oshry’s book, Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life. If I recall correctly, one of the concepts taught was that of the Abilene Paradox or, as many people refer to it, The Road to Abilene. You can read about it here. It’s understanding, however, is ancillary to my reason for posting this.
Beth has been gone nearly a decade. I don’t think of her often, much as I don’t think of my father, mother, and others who have passed on. But I’ve kept this simple little ticket all these years because it reminds me of her and our friendship. I can’t bring myself to part with it. I’m pretty sure it will be one of those things my children will unceremoniously dump when I am gone. It has absolutely no intrinsic value any longer. Its value is entirely dependent on my memories and my life. I consider that extremely valuable.
PS – In case you’re wondering, SSME stands for Space Shuttle Main Engine (the program we both worked on for many years) and O.E. stands for Organizational Excellence, one of the numerous efforts we indulged in over the years to improve how we did business. They were often spectacularly unsuccessful, but that’s another story.
In early 2009 I was privileged to spend a weekend with Dr. Russell Ackoff thanks to a friend and former colleague. I recall one incident where, while we were at Russ’s home, I mentioned my belief there was a similarity between the philosophy of dialectical materialism and the concept of systems thinking. As I recall, he was pretty upset with me for saying this. It’s stuck with me over the years.
Thanks to another friend on Facebook, I now have access to a set of AI tools, one of which is Google’s Bard. The other day, in an effort to test drive it, I proposed the following task and received the following reply:
Compare the philosophy of dialectical materialism as expressed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to the concept of systems thinking as expressed by Russell Ackoff and others.
• Dialectical materialism is a materialist philosophy that emphasizes the role of conflict and change in history.
• It is based on the idea that the world is constantly changing and evolving, and that this change is driven by the conflict between opposing forces.
• These opposing forces can be social, economic, or political, and they can be found at all levels of society, from the individual to the global.
• Dialectical materialism is a dynamic and evolving philosophy that has been used to explain a wide range of historical events, from the French Revolution to the fall of the Soviet Union.
• Systems thinking is a holistic approach to understanding the world that views it as a complex system of interacting parts.
• It is based on the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that it is impossible to understand any part of a system without understanding the system as a whole.
• Systems thinking has been used to understand a wide range of problems, from environmental degradation to economic inequality.
• Both dialectical materialism and systems thinking are complex and sophisticated philosophies that have been used to understand the world in different ways.
• Dialectical materialism is more focused on the role of conflict and change in history, while systems thinking is more focused on the holistic nature of the world.
• Both philosophies have their strengths and weaknesses, and they can be used to complement each other.
• Dialectical materialism can be used to explain how conflict between social classes leads to social change, while systems thinking can be used to understand how the different parts of a society interact with each other.
• By combining these two approaches, we can gain a more complete understanding of the world and how it works.
Not quite as in-depth as I would have liked, but it does kind of jive with my understanding of the overlap of the two outlooks.
In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. However, like the proverbial frog in the pot I didn’t realize the water was boiling until it required a drastic intervention. In the past nearly seven weeks, I’ve had the time to reflect on what was happening to me and realize the peak of the problem came up somewhat suddenly, but the signs and symptoms were there for quite some time. The farthest I can consciously go back as of now is to July of 2022.
I believe some of my symptoms were masked by the fact I’d been lifting weights for several years and I was working at a job that was physically demanding, which kept my heart rate up and lulled me into thinking what was happening was normal for someone my age. Every morning when I got ready for work I would pull on my zip-up boots. They were snug and it was a bit of a struggle to slip into them. I usually had to pause for a couple seconds to catch my breath before finishing my preparations for work. I also had to walk between two warehouses at times and was always a bit winded and tired when I got to my destination, which was only about 1,000 yards. Same with climbing one flight of stairs. Some of my problem I also attributed to the fact I was born with club feet, which required major surgery to correct and made walking more difficult than it ought to be.
I lived with these issues for about six months before I experienced what felt like a sudden, drastic change. I was sitting in the lounge of our local Planet Fitness, waiting for my youngest daughter to finish working out. I hadn’t worked out myself and was just biding my time while she was getting in her exercise. When she finished, she came in to let me know and I stood up to leave. I was hit with an overwhelming wave of exhaustion and my knees nearly gave out on me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was likely experiencing syncope (fainting). I was able to make it to the car, but it wasn’t a walk in the park.
We made it home (I have lots of experience driving under, shall we say, impaired conditions, during my well-spent youth) and, checking my heart rate with my Fitbit Charge 5, I noticed it was wildly erratic. The next day I contacted my doctor at Kaiser here in Simi and, although he was not available, I was able to get an appointment with another physician. As a result of that exam, I began a series of tests, including wearing a Holter monitor for seven days. I was also scheduled for a cardio stress test a couple of weeks later.
When I finally (it took longer than I thought it should, but that’s another story) got the results from the monitor I’d worn, they were published for me to read on the Kaiser website and their mobile app, which I have on my phone. Reading the results was sobering and alarming. My heart rate had, at one point, dropped down to 27 beats per minute and I had experienced numerous instances of tachycardia. I also had experienced numerous incidents of AV (atrial ventricular) Block. There was enough jargon in the results that I was able to look up and get enough of an understanding to be quite concerned about my heart. This was exacerbated by the overwhelming exhaustion I was beginning to experience when walking from the bedroom to the kitchen or from the house to my vehicle.
The results were published on February 8, but I wasn’t scheduled to consult with a cardiologist until the end of the third week of March. As I read more about my results and experienced longer and more difficult periods of exhaustion, I became increasingly concerned that I might not make it to the consult. I started agitating for things to speed up. After an phone conversation with a cardiologist, I decided to purchase a KardiaMobile personal EKG device. It turned out to be difficult to get good readings because I have essential tremors in my hands and the shaking is accompanied by electrical activity in the muscles of my forearm, which confused the EKG device. When I could get a good reading, it wavered from normal sinus rhythm to bradycardia to possible atrial fibrillation. This somewhat paralleled my experience, as there were times when I felt quite normal and did not tire easily from a short walk.
I sent some of the results to who was now my cardiologist and, after several phone conversations, we determined there was a good chance I needed a pacemaker. My condition continued to deteriorate and we finally decided an implant procedure was indicated. On Friday, March 3 my cardiologist informed me he had a time slot open the following Wednesday, March 8 in which to perform the procedure. I agreed immediately.
On the 8th my wife drove me to the Kaiser hospital in Woodland Hills, CA and I was admitted for surgery that afternoon. All went well, I stayed overnight for observation, and was discharged in the afternoon of the 9th. My wife and youngest daughter picked me up and we stopped for some Chinese food on the way home. I felt great and continue to heal and recover. I was told not to raise my left arm above shoulder height for six weeks and did not do so. My next goal comes on June 8, when I will be able to swing a golf club again. A week and a half after the surgery I attended an air show at Pt. Mugu NAS and walked over two miles without experiencing any shortness of breath. A week later, I want to Arizona to attend to spring training games and walked over two miles on each of the two days I was there, again with no discomfort or deleterious effects.
It’s difficult to say how long I’ll live with this device and, of course, my aging heart. I’ve already outlived my father—who I was told I was “exactly like”—by 16 years. I have numerous comorbidities as well. The battery in my pacemaker, according to the Nurse Practitioner who runs the pacemaker clinic at Kaiser, has over 12 years of life remaining and it can be replaced if necessary. A review of the available information on the remaining lifespan for men like me range from 5 to 15 years or more, depending on numerous factors, including lifestyle. I have to balance my desire to enjoy the life I have left in a fashion that suits me, or live longer by changing my habits and desires. I’m working on that now. My outlook and philosophy are undergoing a transition and I’m not quite sure where I’ll end up, but I’m still here for now and I intend on living each day to the fullest.
I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining.
Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence.
I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.