Category Archives: Technology

Gimme Some Skin!

This post reflects two basic “discoveries” I’ve made within the past couple of years. The first is the magnification my iPhone is capable of providing through its camera. I have been able to take some fairly spectacular pics of various items seen extremely close up and in sharp focus. I find the pictures I can take with it are (or can be) interesting and, at times, beautiful and ornate.

The second thing I discovered is that, although I come from a family whose elderly members weren’t very wrinkly as they aged, I recently began noticing I was developing “chicken skin” on parts of my body, most notably my arms. At nearly 74, I expect I can accurately be described as elderly, so I was a bit taken aback at first. I don’t recall exactly how I took the first magnified photo of the inside of my elbow or my forearm closely adjacent to it, but I found the contours and texture of my aging skin to be quite fascinating, if not at times somewhat freaky.

Here are four pictures—extreme closeups—of either the inside of my elbow or of my forearm just below it. I find the patterns both pleasing to look at and a bit mind-blowing to think of how evolution has developed this envelope for us to live in and be protected by. Its construction and flexibility are truly a wonder, especially when viewed up real close. We humans will no doubt one day be able to replicate human skin (we’re already getting there) and it’s fascinating to me to contemplate how we, in a matter of decades (centuries at the most, depending on how you define progress and accumulated knowledge) we’re creating analogues to naturally occurring physical elements that took millions of years to evolve. Don’t know about all y’all, but I’m fairly gobsmacked by the whole thing.


Perseverance Arrives!

A Blue Martian Sunset

I was raised in the San Fernando Valley. Sputnik 1 was launched exactly four months after my 10th birthday. I remember lying outside on our front lawn, watching it go over. It was exciting and mysterious at the same time. I have a vague memory of seeing the United States’ first satellite, Exlorer, go over and I have a real vivid memory of seeing Echo as it orbited our planet. Echo was a giant aluminum balloon that, when inflated in orbit, was 100 feet in diameter and reflected the Sun, making it the brightest object in the sky except for the Moon.

I also have vivid memories of rocket engine tests in the Santa Susana mountains, just slight northwest of where I lived. Many of the tests were conducted at night, and I could see the sky light up over those mountains. As I grew up, I had friends whose parents worked at Rocketdyne, the company that built just about every liquid-fueled rocket engine used to power America’s space program, including Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, not to mention the Space Shuttle.

Little did I know that many years later I would, quite serendipitously, get sent on a temporary assignment to work at Rocketdyne. I had been working at a company that manufactured what were, at the time, high density hard drives. This was in 1986 – 1987, and high density meant something like 5 Gigabytes! It was, for some reason I still can’t quite fathom, a seasonal business and when demand dropped all the temporary employees got laid off. That was me. I lost my job on a Friday. Later that evening I got a call from Apple One, the organization I was temping through, telling me to show up at Rocketdyne’s Canoga Park facility the following Monday.

To make an exceedingly long story short, I started work on the FMEA-CIL (Failure Mode & Effects Analysis-Critical Items List) the document that would prove Rocketdyne’s RS-25, SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) was safe for the Shuttle’s return to flight almost a year to the day after Challenger exploded during the ascent of STS-51-L. (For clarity, I think it important to note those engines were not responsible for the loss of Challenger; they had worked just fine.) I had long been a space cadet (in far more ways than one) but I never imagined I could end up working there, as I wasn’t an engineer. Silly me. I just hadn’t realized it takes a lot more than engineers to run a business that large and complex.

I was hired in after a year as what they referred to as a “job shopper.” I was forty years old. I retired 23 years later and it was the best, most fulfilling job I ever had, though dealing with a huge corporation (and “the Rock,” as we called it, was part of Rockwell International, the Boeing Company, United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division, and Aerojet) was why I left early. The Shuttle program was winding down and P&W offered everyone over 60 a severance package I just couldn’t refuse, even though it wasn’t terribly generous.

Nevertheless, I’ve remained deeply interested in space exploration. I have long believed it’s important to the survival of humanity we get off the surface of this planet. I believe we need to establish not merely a scientific, but also a cultural presence off-planet in case of an extinction-level event. Frankly, it’s my opinion if we don’t do something about climate change and our contribution to it, we may be the ones causing such an event.

At any rate, all this is to say I am happy Perseverance landed safely on Mars this afternoon (PST) and appears to be functioning as designed. I’m looking forward to learning more about the Red Planet. I’m especially keen on learning how well the Moxie instrument (see graphic, below) accomplishes its mission of producing oxygen from Martian CO2. Congratulations to JPL and the Perseverance team. Job well done!

PS – I’ve also posted a graphic depicting one of Perseverance’s scientific missions, the Ingenuity helicopter which, if successful, should dramatically improve our ability to send rovers to the most fruitful (scientifically) locations, after they’ve been scouted out by Ingenuity and its successors.


Is There A Doctor In The House?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I suspect just about everyone is aware of the flap over an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal regarding our soon-to-be First Lady’s credentials. Written by Joseph Epstein, it’s entitled “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” and subtitled “Jill Biden should think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.”

My most recent job was as the Business Manager for a Machine Learning (AI) Software Development firm, the co-founder of which had a PhD in computer science. When last I spoke with her, which was at least a year ago, she was not using her title, which she feared was seen as somewhat presumptuous. I’m not sure how she feels about it now, and I’m inclined to agree with those who see this op/ed piece as misogynistic and hollow. Frankly, I have often wondered if I could use the honorific “Dr.” in front of my name because I have earned a Juris Doctorate (JD) when I graduated Law School in 1976. However, I’ve never done so because the amount of schooling, and the quality of work, required for the degree don’t match up to that of a PhD or EdD. Actually, I tend to agree with those who suggest calling oneself “Dr.” when in possession of a law degree is ridiculous and pedantic.

It’s been discussed at great length by now, torn apart and analyzed by people far better at it than I, but I’d like to bring up what I think is an ancillary issue to that of the rank sexism and hypocrisy that exists wrt men and their seeming inability to accept women as their equals. What I’m referring to, which affects both men and women, regardless of race, creed, or color (though there are differences in degree and approach) is the depth of anti-intellectualism that has come to seemingly dominate our public life.

Just look at how many people are not only comfortable with, but are absolutely adamant about, ignoring science, facts, and reality-based analysis/synthesis. The number of people who believe most scientists are only doing what they do for the money is astounding. It’s likely one of, if not the, main reasons we’re doing so poorly in handling the pandemic here in the States.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Hardly! I recall deciding in the third grade (that would have been around 1955) I didn’t want to be seen by everybody as an egghead, which changed the trajectory of my life . . . and probably not in the best way it could have. I remember feeling at the time that I wouldn’t have any friends if I continued on the path of academic excellence I had been on. Part of me wishes I hadn’t made that choice, though my life turned out pretty well regardless. It’s just that, in retrospect, the decision was made because of the negative view most people I knew seemed to have about being too intelligent; or, at least, being willing to use that intelligence in a positive way.

I believe this is one of the reasons the United States is in the bind it’s in right now. We’re just coming off of a four-year bender with the sleaziest and dumbest President in our nation’s history. He came to power as the result of years of anti-intellectual posturing and reality TV-informed ignorance. I am thankful I have never watched one reality TV show, especially not The Apprentice or Celebrity Apprentice. It’s clear Donald Chrump managed to suck a large portion of the nation into believing he was a highly successful businessman when, in fact, he’s a serial fuck-up who managed to burn through tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars given to him by his father.

These past four years of the worst “leadership” of my lifetime has been brought to us by our nation’s well-developed sense of anti-intellectualism. This does not bode well for maintaining our position as a preeminent nation of entrepreneurs and innovators. Our quality of life in the United States is what it is in large part because of our scientific accomplishments. It amazes me so many people don’t recognize the value that science has added to our lives, be it at work, home, or play. Virtually every aspect of our lives is enhanced by science and the products and enhancements it brings to us on a heretofore regular basis. I fear we’re going to lose that edge. Perhaps we already have. More the pity.


Compensation? Maybe

Every since I developed my essential tremors it’s become increasingly difficult to type, especially on my iPhone. The tremors don’t affect me all the time, but often enough to be uncomfortable and, occasionally, they’re strong enough to make it virtually impossible to touch type.

GBoard Helps a Lot!

There are two things that make it easier for me. The first is using GBoard, which is an app that allows me to emulate Swype, which allows me to touch the first letter of the word I want to “type” and then move methodically to each following letter in the word, stopping momentarily on that letter so the algorithm can identify the letter I wish to use.

The second is its ability to predict the word I’m spelling out, which can be quite useful when I’m carrying on a conversation or responding at length to a tweet or FB post. These two things are truly valuable for my ability to continue using my phone to effectively communicate.

However, I’m beginning to think my phone is really getting to know me. The other day I wanted to type the word “cuck” into a tweet and it wanted me to change it to “fuck.” Then I went to type “dude”in a FB comment and, after I had only typed “du,” it suggested “dumbfuck.”

It’s nice that it’s getting to know my personality, but I’m beginning to worry I might be swearing a little too frequently. I’ll have to give it some thought.

Naaah! Fuck it.


Thread Embed (Test)

WordPress just added some new functionality to their platform, which is where you’re reading this right now. Now I can insert one tweet from a thread and there’s a command to “unroll,” which imports the remainder of the thread. With this test I uploaded the first of five and all were imported easily with the “unroll” button. I’ll have to try one where I first upload a tweet from the middle (or the end; maybe and the end) and see how well it works from there.

===================

I joined Twitter in March of 2008. Back then I was studying social media as a method for my organization (the Space Shuttle Main Engine team at Rocketdyne) to communicate more effectively. NASA was already using it for the teams that were preparing the orbiter for its . . . /1

next flight, and it was def saving them money and time. I never tried to get followers; they just followed naturally, esp since there were so few users at the time. When I retired in May of 2010, my use of Twitter changed and for a while I didn’t use it at all. Cue . . . /2

the election of the dipshit-in-chief. Everything changed for me. I wouldn’t say all my posts were political, but surely a majority. I’d like to see for myself, but a week ago—after 12 years—my account was suspended. My ~2700 followers gone. Everything . . . gone. I . . . /3

wasn’t even told what I did or said to have received such a harsh punishment, with absolutely no recourse other than a chance to send a short note defending I don’t know what. Perfectly legal, yet anathema to our way of life in the U.S. So . . . this is my feeble return . . . /4

to #Resist here on Twitter. I could use some followers (God! It pains me to even ask) and I will follow back if you’re not a Trump supporter. TIA! /fin

Originally tweeted by Izzy Wladovsky (@retreado) on 23 June 2020.


Working Remotely? Here’s Some Help

The need to address the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic may have done more to accelerate the digital transformation many have been working towards for years, than all of the bitching, moaning, hand-wringing, and pearl clutching heretofore expended on cajoling knowledge workers to adopt and adapt these technologies.

Five years ago I served as the developmental editor on the 2nd edition of “The New Social Learning.” I had the pleasure of working with the co-author of the 1st edition, who was the principal author of the 2nd, Marcia Conner. Marcia is one of a handful of people who recognized the need for, and the power of, such a transition . . . and this book was an attempt to help leaders and organizations move forward to adopt these new ways of working, and working together.

I recommend this book highly for everyone who is now finding themselves either working at home or dealing with today’s need to be more “distanced” from our colleagues. There’s a wealth of good info here. I urge you to check it out. It’s about far more than just learning.

“The Workplace Has Changed. At this moment, your people are already learning through social media. They’re reaching out and connecting in powerful ways. The question is, can you recognize, appreciate, and take advantage of the power inherent in this new level of communication? Do you want to facilitate or debilitate? Do you want to play a part in what and how people learn? Or do you want to try to stop them? Will you restrict them? Or will you free them to do the work they were hired to do—and will you do it with them?”


Time Stamp!

The RS-25, aka Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME)

Just thought I should mention today (Thursday, 14 May 2020) is the 10th anniversary of my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’m still not entirely sure it was the right thing to do (accept the early severance package they offered everyone over 60) but her I yam!


Easing Up

While I know it means more lost jobs, ever since we started staying at home, I’ve enjoyed seeing TV pundits and their guests having discussions from their homes. The lost jobs I refer to are primarily the people that see to the hosts’ and guests’ hair and makeup prior to going on camera. That’s not feasible now and it’s sometimes quite obvious that people are putting on their own makeup (if any) and letting their beards grow (that would be the men, that is.)

Trevor Noah and His Books

It’s interesting to see the different levels of technology available to the hosts and guests as well. Some will be using wired earbuds, some will have airbuds, and some are using their computer or phone’s speakers and mic. The hosts, I’m assuming here, have access to more sophisticated equipment, though that wasn’t the case at first. It’s also been interesting to see the evolution of some of these shows, as I’m sure some of the tech they normally use in production has been moved to the homes of the hosts.

I’m speaking here of many of the afternoon and evening shows on MSNBC, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and Late Night with Seth Meyers. All of these shows have a plethora of guests, and each one is communicating from somewhere in their home.

Another aspect of this new reality I find fascinating is where these people choose to set up their “studio.” On MSNBC, many of the guests (especially now, when so much of the news centers on this pandemic and many of the guests are medical and epidemiology professionals, as well as public health and service professionals, there are lots of bookshelves in the background.

Some of the guests are situated so it’s possible to get a glimpse of the titles of a few of their books and it’s possible to gain a sliver of insight into who these people are or, at least, what they’re interested in. My entire adult life, whenever I am at the house of someone I know, if I have the opportunity I will always check out their bookshelves. It’s not different when I have the opportunity to do so via the Tube.

Just one example. If I remember correctly, at least until recently, Trevor Noah had two books laying down on a shelf over his right shoulder. I don’t recall if I could make out the titles, but the authors’ names were quite visible and, frankly, that’s enough to get a sense of what he’s giving credence to or what he’s enjoying learning about. The two authors in this case were. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Eddie Glaude, two men I admire.

There are two other shows I normally watch, and each of them has chosen a wildly different approach for how to go about having a show with no guests and no crew (at least not at their homes.) They are Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Real Time with Bill Maher. John Oliver, whose show generally consists of him sitting behind a desk, with an audience, now sits in front of a white wall; that’s it. Bill Maher, on the other hand, has chosen to record his show in his backyard and he uses laugh tracks from old (and I do mean old – black and white) TV shows.

I can’t imagine how they’re thinking of doing original dramas, rom-coms, and the like, but I hope they never go back to doing reality shows. The last nearly three and a half years should have cured the majority of the nation from the need to ever see a reality show again.

Regardless, it’s interesting to watch the development of “workarounds” as their crews get more and more creative in dealing with working remotely. I’m hopeful it will result in a lasting change to how we view things like the need for men to wear a suit and tie almost any time a camera is on them. Or the need for women to have perfectly coiffed hair and painstakingly applied makeup. I’d like to see the world lighten up and relax a bit. We could use it.


Leading a Horse to Water

During my last eight years at Rocketdyne (which traversed ownership by The Boeing Company and United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division) I was the Project Manager for an internal tool called AskMe. It’s original intent was to provide a method whereby people could find both experts and expertise, i.e. people with knowledge they needed or papers and other publications that expressed useful knowledge. I later came to realize what we were doing was using a social media tool.

During the entire eight years I worked on that system, it was a constant struggle to get people to use it. People clearly believed that sharing was not in their best interests. Either that, or they were too intimidated by the thought of putting their knowledge to the test of time, as the whole idea was to foster conversations that would be saved and could later be searched when that kind of knowledge was needed again.

At any rate, I tried lots of different ways of promoting the tool. This one, below, came about after I received an email (at home) for a penis enlargement product. I thought to borrow the concept and see if it flew. I have taken the liberty of blurring out my colleague’s face, as I’m not sure where he is and, frankly, I don’t even remember who he is!

BTW – Within a couple of years of my departure, much to the chagrin of many who had worked on it, the tool was gone. I’ll share later why I think this was so.


My Twitter Suspension

Uh oh! Ricky’s been a baaaaad boy. This is what happens when you suggest a man surrounded by secret service protection and the best medical care in the world experience something everyone’s speculating he’s experienced already. The man responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of needless deaths and who knows how much misery. The man who vilifies those he represents and spews a constant stream of vile, hateful lies and deceptions. The person who violates Twitters rules on a daily basis and suffers nothing for his transgressions. And, of course, there’s precious little I can do about it. I will appeal and suggest context matters, but I can’t even be sure what I was responding to. I think I know what it was, though, so I’ll go that route.

Golly gee whiz! I sure hope I didn’t hurt his feefees or anything.


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