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01
Jan
11

Here we come, ready or not!

Compare the population pyramid of the USA whic...
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On this date 65 years ago the first kids of what would become the “Baby Boom Generation” started to build perhaps the most influential demographic in US history. Today the first ones turn a symbolic and practical corner by entering the traditional 65-year-olds bracket. It’s like the first play of the fourth quarter of a football game. There’s more game ahead, but the end is palpably approaching.

I got a three-week jump on the gang. I was born in December 1945, but I still count myself in that social bracket. It took awhile for a social perception of the big population bulge to emerge and longer to find out what the consequences would be. As the “pig in the python” moved through the decades the sheer size of the population affected everything from education to social norms to defense practices.

Now here we are at another key point. We’ve gotten better at understanding that such a large population pool has social, political, and economic consequences, but in the US we still don’t do much to actually prepare for things. Ken Dyctwald has been talking about the “Age Wave” since I was in public health grad-school 40 years ago. He’s made a career and an industry out of spelling out what’s coming…but knowing that the hurricane is swirling around and heading to shore hasn’t produced great preparation. The Age Wave may result in something Katrina-like because, in the US, we have ideological prejudice against planning. No, we prefer to wait until the calamity is upon us and then scramble to survive. After it’s over we proclaim: “We made some mistakes but we learned from this disaster and it’ll never happen again.” Famous last words, over and over.

I’ve gotta say, already having my Medicare card in my pocket and Social Security checks being deposited in the bank is comforting. It’s the people at the back of the Boomer cohort that have more reason to sweat it. The denouement of the Baby Boom generation is one of the huge dynamic factors that, along with others, suggest to me that the future will be like a vortex–hence the name of this blog–of swirling forces that’ll send us all spinning. For what it’s worth, here we come.

26
Dec
10

Auguring the future

I can’t help being fascinated by prognostications about the future. My last post was about online jobs for 2011, and the end of the year provokes a lot of crystal ball gazing. Even heavyweights like IBM indulge in exercising their forecasting skills. You’ve gotta pay at least  some attention to what an outfit with such a solid track record has to say. These are things to happen between now and 2015.

  1. Batteries for your gadgets will last up to ten times longer. The batteries will “breathe” or take in oxygen from the air and react with energy-dense metals to generate energy.
  2. In some devices batteries could be replaced entirely by scavenging energy from our surroundings. Watches that maintain a charge by taking energy from the motion of your wrist, as some do today, is an example. There’s a lot of unused energy around; the problem is transducing it.
  3. IBM plans to recycle much of the energy used in data centers to heat buildings and drive air conditioning. Up to half of the energy of data centers today is just to keep the servers cool, and it goes out to the air again through cooling towers. Hey, I might be able to heat my shower water with my home computers?
  4. They’re expecting 3D communication person to person by hologram like Princes Leia in the first Stars Wars movie.
  5. IBM’s looking at “adaptive traffic systems” that’ll personalize your commute,  predict traffic jams and adjust the flow. (It’s kinda discouraging to think that people will still be grinding away their lives on commutes to awful offices. Let’s go with the holograms and Google’s self-driving vehicles.)
  6. Finally, Big Blue predicts that we ordinary citizens will be “walking sensors” equipped with enough environmental sensors in our phones to keep a running data stream to analysts who can use it to do scientific ecological research.

I’m disappointed that IBM didn’t mention health applications of being walking sensors, so I’ll add another prediction of my own: By 2015 we’ll be wired with sensors alright, but many of them will be plastered on us so continuous data can be collected about how our body is doing 24/7. With that I think we’ll be able to get a lot closer to the idea of personalized medicine and personalized health behavior. There are a lot of companies already working on a range of data collection devices and another five years ought to bring much of it into common use.

26
Dec
10

Jobs for 2011 and beyond

I retired a year ago, but I feel f or the people who aren’t working because their job was shot out from under them one way or another. So I was interested in this data from oDesk about online jobs in 2011. They predict:

  • Online work will continue to double year-over-year, while local employment will not rebound to pre-recession levels.
  • In the next year, more than 500,000 employers will tap cloud-based workforces for the first time, including 25% of the Fortune 500.
  • The number of people looking to online work as the primary or sole source of their income will double over 2011.
  • Hiring of online workers by non-U.S. companies will explode in 2011. Proportionally, U.S. spending in this area will grow more slowly next year, and will represent 65% of the total spent on online work.

The top 10 categories of job in demand include:

  1. Web programming
  2. Web design
  3. Blog and article writing
  4. Data entry
  5. Graphic design
  6. Search engine optimization
  7. Other web development
  8. Website content
  9. Mobile apps
  10. Web research

The top 10 skills needed include:

  1. PHP
  2. HTML
  3. English
  4. WordPress
  5. Photoshop
  6. CSS
  7. SEO
  8. MySQL
  9. Writing
  10. MS Excel

I’d make two points: 1) a lot of these are not strictly IT jobs and some of the skills are really generic (writing, English!), and, 2) the online access to jobs is really increasing. So no matter what your job these days, you need to develop and keep online skills. This will become more the case in the near future. I feel sorry for some of my former colleagues who dismissed web activity as “that stuff my kids know” and now are out of work in their 50s.

With the economy and politics forcing the workforce to put together longer and longer careers, it’s absolutely necessary to plan to keep your skills, cultural knowledge and attitudes sharp for 50 years, not just long enough to make middle-management.

13
Dec
10

Ya gotta take the long view to put today in perspective

A press release from Ohio State today drew attention to te findings by a couple of researchers (Julie Ditkof and Michael Barton) that led them to conclude that underneath the Hawaiian Island chain is one massive magma chamber that is only 1.9 to 2.5 miles down. That’s pretty thin skin!

It reminded my why I like geology: it puts today’s seemingly urgent events in perspective by showing that, in geologic time, today is less that a blink of an eye. There is a very, very long past and there will be and equally long future. As my mother used to say: “This too shall pass.”

Last year about this time my wife and I vacationed on our favorite island, Kauai. Since the island is at the northern end of the chain I googled the history of the islands and learned that Kauai is about 6.1 million years old. Actually, the whole chain has been burping up islands for over 65 million years as the Earth’s crust moves over a hot-spot at a few centimeters per year. Many of the earlier islands have subsided back under the Pacific and are just called seamounts.

At the southern end of the chain is the Big Island (a.k.a., Hawaii) that still has active volcanoes like Kiluea. Off the southern shore is yet another volcano, Loihi, that hasn’t even broken the surface yet. I hear that there is some sort of gimmick where somebody is already selling land on the island that will eventually reach the surface. Yeah, get your beach-front property now; it’ll be ready for condos in about a half-million years.

Be that as it may, I find it reassuring that no matter what I’m fretting about today (e.g., the economy, politics, climate change, etc., etc.) there will be another beautiful piece of paradise out there in the Pacific long, long after whatever we do today– or fail to do–fades into time.

07
Dec
10

When will people of world begin to communicate?

In a Reuters article about the severe cuts to the Irish people taking place a remark by some ordinary guy is spot-on: “I think this is more of a worldwide problem and Ireland is just being hit harder than others.”

Uh, yeah. Talk to folks in the US about what’s coming. Indeed, money and jobs, among a growing list of other problems, are global. So when are ordinary guys around the world going to begin to communicate with each other and learn that solutions are  going to be global instead of just their little backyard?

Seems to me we are on the cusp of another dimension in globalism: when ordinary people get it that their fortunes are interconnected and start to get active politically about it. We can’t continue to leave this up to nationalist governments and powerful interests.

26
Nov
10

Rub two sticks together? Nah, matter and anti-matter.

There’s nothing, I mean NOTHING, like matter/anti-matter annihilation for pure energy. So says “Starts With a Bang” blog.

23
Nov
10

Single molecule computer chip

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?

In the 1967 movie, The Graduate, a family friend, Mr. McGuire, offers Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) just one word of advice to set him on a path to future success: “plastics.” That was more than 40 years ago. If I were to adopt a one-word recommendation for the emerging generation it would be: “nanotech.” I’ve mentioned this before.

I was reminded again last week about how dramatic the development in the science and technology of billionth-of-a-meter devices is. Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) Institute of Materials Research and Engineering announced a partnership with 10 European Union organizations for the ATMOL project–an effort to build a single molecule computer processor.

A*STAR’s IMRE and 10 EU research organisations are working together to build what is essentially a single molecule processor chip. As a comparison, a thousand of such molecular chips could fit into one of today’s microchips, the core device that determines computational speed. The ambitious project, termed Atomic Scale and Single Molecule Logic Gate Technologies (ATMOL), will establish a new process for making a complete molecular chip. This means that computing power can be increased significantly but take up only a small fraction of the space that is required by today’s standards.

The R&D will work on some cutting-edge techniques for creating molecular components: “The fabrication process involves the use of three unique ultra high vacuum (UHV) atomic scale interconnection machines which build the chip atom-by-atom. These machines physically move atoms into place one at a time at cryogenic temperatures.”

But here’s the thing about this path to success: How do you sustain a career in a field where your current knowledge is as evanescent as the morning dew? Riches will be made in nanotechnology, but knowledge obsolescence has been a problem for mid-career technicians in IT for decades. I don’t see how it’ll get any better.




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