INFLUENCERS

June 6, 2020


Some of the most remarkably written articles are found in the publication “Building Design + Construction”.  This monthly magazine highlights architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) describes building projects and designs around the world.  Many projects underway are re-construction and/or refurbishment of existing structures; i.e. schools, churches, office buildings, etc.  The point I’m trying to make, the writing is superb, innovative and certainly relevant.  The April edition featured INFLUENCERS. 

If you investigate websites, you will find an ever-increasing number of articles related to Influencer Marketing.  Influencer marketing is becoming, or I should say, is a significant factor in a person choosing one product over another.   One of our granddaughters is an influencer and her job is fascinating.  Let’s look.

DEFINITION:

  • the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.
  • a following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche.

CLASSIFICATIONS:

There are various classifications depending upon circumstances.  Those are given below.

Mega-Influencers Mega influencers are the people with a vast number of followers on their social networks. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Utube, etc. are social instruments upon which influencers ply their trade.  Although there are no fixed rules on the boundaries between the different types of followers, a common view is that mega-influencers have more than 1 million followers on at least one social platform.  President Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton and of course several others may be classified as Mega-influencers. 

Macro-InfluencersMacro-influencers are one step down from the mega-influencers, and maybe more accessible as influencer marketers. You would consider people with followers in the range between 40,000 and one million followers on a social network to be macro-influencers.
This group tends to consist of two types of people. They are either B-grade celebrities, who haven’t yet made it to the big time. Or they are successful online experts, who have built up more significant followings than the typical micro-influencers. The latter type of macro-influencer is likely to be more useful for firms engaging in influencer marketing.

Micro-Influencers Micro-influencers are ordinary everyday people who have become known for their knowledge about some specialist niche. As such, they have usually gained a sizable social media following amongst devotees of that niche. Of course, it is not just the number of followers that indicates a level of influence; it is the relationship and interaction that a micro-influencer has with his or her followers.

Nano-InfluencersThe newest influencer-type to gain recognition is the nano-influencer. These people only have a small number of followers, but they tend to be experts in an obscure or highly specialized field. You can think of nano-influencers as being the proverbial big fish in a small pond. In many cases, they have fewer than one thousand (1,000) followers – but they will be keen and interested followers, willing to engage with the nano-influencer, and listen to his/her opinions.

If we look further, we can “drill down” to the various internet providers hosting the influencer packages.

Bloggers— Bloggers and influencers in social media have the most authentic and active relationships with their fans.  Brands are now recognizing and encouraging this.  Blogging has been connected to influencer marketing for some time now.  There are many highly influential blogs on the internet.  If a popular blogger positively mentions your product in a post, it can lead to the blogger’s supporters wanting to try out the specific product.

YouTubers—Rather than each video maker having their own site, most create a channel on YouTube.  Brands often align with popular YouTube content creators.

Podcasts— Podcasting is a relatively recent form of online content that is growing in great popularity.  It has made quite a few household names now, possibly best epitomized by John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneurs on Fire.  If you have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy podcasts, Digital Trends has put together a comprehensive list of the best podcasts of 2019.  Our youngest son has a podcast called CalmCash.  He does a great job and is remarkably creative. 

Social Posts Only— The vast majority of influencers now make their name on social media.  While you will find influencers on all leading social channels, the standout network in recent years has been Instagram, where many influencers craft their posts around various stunning images.   

Now, if we go back to “Building Design + Construction”, they interviewed five influencers that apply their skills to the AEC profession.  I will give you, through their comments, the thrust of their efforts:

CHRISTINE WILLIAMSON— “My goal is to help teach architects about building science and construction.  I want to show how the “AEC” parts fit together.”

BOB BORSON—He is the cohost of the Life of an Architect podcast which gets about two hundred and sixty (260) downloads per day.  He would be a nano-influencer.  “Influencer” is a ridiculous word.  If you have to tell people you’re an influencer, you’re not”.  His words only.

AMY BAKER—Launched her Instagram account in 2018 and is the host for SpecFunFacts.  She discusses specifications and contracts and has around one thousand (1,000) followers.

CATHERINE MENG– Ms. Meng is the host of the Design Voice podcast. 

MATT RISENGER—Mr. Risenger hosts “Buildshownetwork”.   He first published Matt Risinger’s Green Building blog in 2006.  This was the manner in which he publicized his new homebuilding company in Austin, Texas.   To date, he has seven hundred (700) plus videos on YouTube.  Right now, he has six hundred thousand (600,000) subscribers.

CONCLUSIONS:  From the above descriptions and the five individual influencers detailed in the AEC magazine, you can get some idea as to how influencers ply their trade and support design and building endeavors.  Hope you enjoyed this one.

WORDS OF WISDOM

January 28, 2019


If you are like me, you would hope that elected “public servants” at the federal level are as smart if not smarter than the average American.  Is that not too much to ask?  Coming home just now I listened to an XM Radio broadcast from the White House Media Room.  Questions and answerers, or the lack thereof, addressing difficulties with our immigration laws and what the Dems and Pubs will do in the next eighteen (18) days to fix it. If no fix results, we are shut down for another period of time—an expensive period of time.   Members of the media, Congress and the Oval Office always address the “broken immigration” problem and promise to fix it although they have not done so for decades.  The Oval Office tells us a border wall, a fence, a barrier, etc. will solve this problem.  I have no real idea. All I know is we have a back and forth that is very detrimental to our country and gets nothing accomplished.  In the southern part of our country we call this a pissing contest. Ego vs Ego.

I long for words of wisdom from our dumb-ass politicians realizing they are merely politicians and not statesmen. With this in mind, I sought out others noted for their wisdom.  Here is a small portion of what I found:

  • Accept challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory—George S. Patton.
  • If you must speak ill of another, do not speak it, write it in the sand near the water’s edge—Napoleon Hill.
  • The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up—Paul Valery.
  • Nothing is so frightening as ignorance in action—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
  • Two men working as a team will produce more than three men working as individuals—Charles P. McCormick.
  • Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you only have one idea—Emile-Auguste Chartier.
  • An ambitions man can never know peace—J. Krishnamurti.
  • Never leave well enough alone—Raymond Loewy.
  • You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try—Beverly Sills.
  • Where would the gardener be if there were no weeds? —Chuang Tsu.
  • Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts—Winston Churchill.
  • We see things not as they are but as we are—H. M. Tomlinson.
  • Getting along with others is the essence of getting ahead, success being linked with cooperation—William Feather
  • Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there—John Wooden.
  • I’m not one of those whom expressing opinion confine themselves to facts—Mark Twain.
  • In great matters, men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small matters, as they are—Gamaliel Bradford.
  • Work like you don’t need the money; love like you’ve never been hurt; dance like nobody’s watching—Satchel Paige.
  • The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing—Socrates.
  • If what you did yesterday seems big; you haven’t done anything today—Lou Holtz.
  • To conquer without risk is to triumph without glory—Pierre Corneille.
  • The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it—Terry Pratchett.
  • The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home—Confucius.

As you can see, we are a long way from wisdom relative to our three branches of government.

DECISION PARALYSIS

January 5, 2019


The idea for this post came from “Plant Engineering Magazine”, December 2018.

OK, now what do I do?  Have you ever heard yourself muttering those words?  Well, I’ve been there—done that—got the “Tee shirt”.  We all have at one time been placed or have placed ourselves in the decision-making process with a certain degree of paralysis.  If you have P and L responsibilities, own a house, contemplate the purchase of any item that will impact your checkbook or finances, you’ve been there. Let’s take a look at eight (8) factors that may cause decision paralysis.

  1. RAPID CHANGE: The manner in which we conduct our daily lives has changed dramatically over the past few years. Digitalization is sweeping across the domestic and commercial world changing the way we do just about everything. The way we shop, bank, and travel can be accomplished on-line with delivery systems reacting accordingly.  Everyone, including the
    “ baby-boomers” need to get on-board with the changes.
  2. COMPLEX PROCESSES: Old-school processes are inadequate for managing today’s very complex issues. Our three sons and all of our grandchildren have probably never purchased a stamp.  Everything is accomplished on line including paying the bills.  There will come a time when every acquisition will start online.  One of the most fascinating web sites if U-tube.com.  I have never been faced with a “fix-it” problem that is not described on U-tube. It is a valuable resource.  Get ready for digitization now—its coming.
  3. DEMANDING CUSTOMERS: Today’s consumers have high expectations for attentive service, high value, and timely communication. It is no longer enough to be content with trusting the process will deliver value for the customer.  My greatest complaint with COMCAST is customer service.  The product itself is adequate but their customer service is one of the most pitiful on the planet.
  4. PHYSICAL THREATS: I do NOT mean burglars and home invasion.  Aging infrastructure systems, including our power grid, air traffic control, bridges, railways, pose significant threats to reliable communication, transportation and safety in general.  In-house and in-store equipment may not be sophisticated enough to handle growing demands brought on by our “digital world”.  Upgrades to physical equipment and programs driving that equipment become more frequent as we try to make decisions and choices.
  5. TOO MANY CHOICES: While choices are really nice, too many options can present a real burden for the decision maker.  We should and must prioritize the growing list of choices and choose the most viable options.  This includes possible vendors and companies offering choices.
  6. CYBER THREATS: We MUST incorporate systems to protect digital infrastructure.   If you read the literature, you find we are losing that battle. It’s almost to the point that every household needs an IT guy.
  7. DATA OVERLOAD: “Big data” is swamping us with information at an ever-growing rate due to an endless list of features and functionality relative to digital devices. As you well know, CDs and DVDs can now be purchased with terabyte capabilities.  Necessity is the mother of invention and this need will only grow.
  8. TIGHT BUDGETS AND FINANCES: In most cases, making the proper and correct decision will require some cost. Once again, this can cause delays in trying to choose the best options with the maximum payback in time, money and effort.

There may be others factors depending upon the situation or the decision you must make on a personal basis.    Let us now consider steps that just might ease the pain of decision-making.

  • EARLY DETECTION OF A PROBLEM: There probably are early warning signs that a problem is coming necessitating a solution. It is a great help if you can stay attuned to warnings that present themselves.  It gives you time to consider a possible solution.
  • SCHEDULE AND CONSIDER YOUR “FIX” EARLY: If at all possible, solve the problem before it becomes a panic situation. Have a solution or solutions ready to incorporate by becoming pro-active.
  • MONITOR THE FIX: Make sure you are solving the problem and not a manifestation of the problem.  We call this “root-cause-analysis”.
  • TRACK YOUR COSTS: Know what it costs to resolve the problem.
  • MAINTAIN RECORDS AND CREATE A PAPER TRAIL: Some times the only way you know where you are is to look back to see where you have been!

SEVENTEEN INCHES

December 1, 2018


I received the following article from a good friend of mine detailing a speech given by Mr. John Scolinos.  I thought it was a very important speech and decided it was very worthy of posting and you might enjoy the read.  Take a look.

Twenty years ago, in Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA’s convention.

While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend.  One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh, man, worth every penny of my airfare. ” Who is John Scolinos, I wondered.  No matter, I was just happy to be there.

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948.  He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.  Seriously, I wondered, who is this guy?

After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches.  Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage.  Then, finally …

“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck,” he said, his voice growing irascible.  I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility.  “I may be old, but I’m not crazy.   I stand before you today to share with you what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”

Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room.  “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?”    After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches?”, more of a question than an answer. “That’s right,” he said.

“How about in Babe Ruth’s day?  Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?” Another long pause.  “Seventeen inches?” a guess from another reluctant coach.

“That’s right,” said Scolinos.

“Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?”  Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear.  “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”

“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.

“You’re right!” Scolinos barked.

“And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”

“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.

“Any Minor League coaches here?  How wide is home plate in pro ball?”………..

“Seventeen inches!” they responded.

“RIGHT!  And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?”

“Seventeen inches!” came the reply.

“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls.  “And what do they do with a Big-League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches” Pause.  “They send him to Pocatello!” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter. “What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy.  If you can’t hit a seventeen-inch target?  We’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches.   We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it.  If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.’”

“Coaches… what do we do when your best player shows up late to practice?  Or when our team rules forbid facial hair, and a guy shows up unshaven?  What if he gets caught drinking?  Do we hold him accountable?  Or do we change the rules to fit him?  Do we widen home plate? ”

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold.  He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something.  When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows.

“This is the problem in our homes today.  With our marriages, with the way, we parent our kids.  With our discipline.  We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards.  We just widen the plate!”

Then, to the point at the top of the house, he added a small American flag. “This is the problem in our schools today.  The quality of our education is going downhill fast, and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate, and discipline our young people.  We are allowing others to widen home plate!  Where is that getting us?”

Silence.  He replaced the flag with a Cross.  “And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years.  Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves!  And we allow it.”

“And the same is true with our government.  Our so-called representatives make rules for us that don’t apply to themselves. They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries.  They no longer serve us.  And we allow them to widen home plate! We see our country falling into a dark abyss while we just watch.”

I was amazed.  At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable.  From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader.  I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today.  It is this: If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools, & synagogues & churches & our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …”

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside, “…We have dark days ahead!”

Note: Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine.  Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches.  He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach.  His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players—no matter how good they are—your own children, your churches, your government, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.”

And this is what our country has become and what is wrong with it today, and now we should go out there and fix it!

SEVEN TRIBES

October 21, 2018


I read a fascinating article written by Mr. David Brooks regarding the “typology” of the American electorate.  In the study were several very interesting comments, one being: “American politics is no longer about what health care plan you support its’ about identity, psychology, moral foundations and the dynamics of tribal resentment”.  The report he references is entitled “HIDDEN TRIBES”.  This report breaks down the American electorate into seven (7) distinct groups from left to right.  Let’s take a look at these groups:

  • PROGRESSIVE ACTIVISTS: 8%–Younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, and very angry.
  • TRADITIONAL LIBERALS: 11%–Older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • PASSIVE LIBERALS: 15%– Unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • POLITICALLY DISENGAGED: 26%–Young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial.
  • MODERATES: 15%– Engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the road, pessimistic, Protestant
  • TRADITIONAL CONSERVATIVES: 19%–Religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • DEVOTED CONSERVATIVES: 6%–White, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising, patriotic.

Progressive Activists and Devoted Conservatives are the two groups that are the most-wealthy and the most-white.  Their members have among the highest education levels, and report the highest levels of personal security.  (I find this fascinating.)   If we consider “civil war” we would probably find that civil war between privileged progressives and privileged conservatives.   The study has indicated that tribalism is the fruit of privilege and that people with more stress in their lives generally pay less or much less attention to politics. Another takeaway from the study is “ideas really do drive history”.  Several very interesting conclusions are stated in that report as follows:

  • Ninety (90%) percent of Devoted Conservatives think immigration is bad.
  • Ninety-nine (99%) percent of Progressive Activists think immigration is good.
  • Seventy-six (76%) percent of Devoted Conservatives think Islam is more violent than any other religion whereas only three (3%) percent of Progressive Activists agree.
  • Eighty-six (86%) percent of Devoted Conservatives think It is more important for children to be well behaved than creative where as thirteen (13%) percent of Progressive Activists agree.
  • Ninety-one (91%) percent of Progressive Activists say sexual harassment in common, whereas only twelve (12%) percent of Devoted Conservatives agree.
  • Ninety-two (92%) percent of Progressive Activists say people do not take racism seriously enough compared to six (6%) of Devoted Conservatives.
  • Eighty-six (86%) of Progressive Activists say life’s outcomes are outside people’s control whereas two (2%) of Devoted Conservatives believe this is the case.
  • Progressive Activists are nearly three times as likely to say they are ashamed to be an American as compared to the average voter.

Now the good news, once you get outside those two somewhat elite groups you find much more independent thinking and flexibility.  This is definitely NOT a 50-50 nation.  It only appears that way when disenchanted voters are forced to choose between the two extreme “cults”.

Roughly two-thirds of Americans across four political types fall into what the authors of this study call “the exhausted majority”.  Sixty-one (61%) percent say people they tend to agree with need to listen and compromise more.  Eighty (80%) percent say political correctness is a real problem and eighty-two (82%) percent say the very same about hate speech. Unfortunately, people in the exhausted majority have no narrative.  They have no coherent philosophic worldview to organize their thinking thus compelling action.

CONCLUSIONS:  We do not know what the next political paradigm will look like, but one would possibly assume it will be based upon abundance, not deficits: gifts, not fear; and hope not hatred.

 


Several of the following comments were taken from the Washington Free Beacon.

If you have been reading my posts you know that just about all involve the STEM professions, travel, salary levels for engineers, book reviews, restaurant reviews, etc etc.  In other words—I usually do NOT do political.  Politicians are fascinating people because ALL people are fascinating.  We all have a story to tell.  OK, with that being the case, I could not resist this time. Take a look.

Senate increases budget by forty-eight ($48) million, salaries by twelve ($12) million. That was the sub-title to the Washington Free Beacon article relative to the Omnibus Spending Bill just signed by President Trump. How much is $1.3 trillion dollars?  ANSWER:  It’s a million million. It’s a thousand billion. It’s a one followed by 12 zeros. 1,000,000,000,000.  The following digital photograph represents one billion dollars.

The next digital represents a trillion dollars.

Please notice the little guy, at the left of the stack.

You ready for this?

The Senate increased its total salaries of officers and employees by $12.6 million in the 2,232-page bill that lawmakers had fewer than forty-eight (48) hours to read and vote on. The bill avoids a government shutdown that would take place at midnight on Friday.

Aside from giving their own institutions a bonus, the omnibus bill also gives away millions to prevent “elderly falls,” promote breastfeeding, and fight “excessive alcohol use.”

The legislation increases the Senate budget to $919.9 million, up $48.8 million from fiscal year 2017, according to the congressional summary of the bill.

  • “The increase provides funding necessary for critical modernization and upgrades of the Senate financial management system and investments in IT security,” the summary states.
  • Salaries of staffers in the Senate are also set for an increase. Division Iof the legislation breaks down the total salaries of officers and employees, which are being raised from $182 million in 2017 to $194.8 million in the final bill, an increase of $12.58 million.
  • The Senate also increased its expense account, as expense allowances are going from $177,000 to $192,000, an increase of $15,000.
  • Committee offices got an increase of $22.9 million in salaries, from $181.5 million in 2017 to $204.4 million in the final bill.
  • Another $15 million goes to study “high obesity counties” and an increase of $5 million for the CDC program that seeks to “address obesity in counties” by leveraging “the community extension services provided by land grant universities who are mandated to translate science into practical action and promote healthy lifestyles.”
  • The bill also spends $2.05 million to prevent “elderly falls” and $8 million in the form of “breastfeeding grants.”
  • The legislation also mandatesthe Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to improve “wine label accuracy.”

I’m sure the bill does some very good things one being added money for our armed forces.  We have experienced in 2017 a terrible statistic—the number of casualties resulting from training our men and women in uniform exceeded the number of casualties in combat.  This is largely due to lack of funding for equipment maintenance and training.

I know or at least suspect, there is a great deal of behind-the-scenes activity on the part of each congressman and senator required for preparation prior to each legislative session.  Let’s take a look at the number of scheduled sessions over the past few years. Here are the number of legislative days for the House and Senate each year in recent history:

  • 2016: 131 in the House, 165 in the Senate.
  • 2015: 157 in the House, 168 in the Senate.
  • 2014: 135 in the House, 136 in the Senate.
  • 2013: 159 in the House, 156 in the Senate.
  • 2012: 153 in the House, 153 in the Senate.
  • 2011: 175 in the House, 170 in the Senate.
  • 2010: 127 in the House, 158 in the Senate.
  • 2009: 159 in the House, 191 in the Senate.
  • 2008: 119 in the House, 184 in the Senate.
  • 2007: 164 in the House, 190 in the Senate.
  • 2006: 101 in the House, 138 in the Senate.
  • 2005: 120 in the House, 159 in the Senate.
  • 2004: 110 in the House, 133 in the Senate.
  • 2003: 133 in the House, 167 in the Senate.
  • 2002: 123 in the House, 149 in the Senate.
  • 2001: 143 in the House, 173 in the Senate.

An “unhappy” President Donald Trump signed the $1.3 trillion spending bill into law Friday, his second about-face in twenty-four (24) hours on the measure to keep the government open.

The president said he approved the legislation to fund the government through September for national security reasons, as it authorizes a major increase in military spending that he supports. But he stressed that he did so reluctantly.

Trump slammed the rushed process to pass the more than 2,200-page bill released only Wednesday. Standing near the pile of documents, the president said he was “disappointed” in the legislation and would “never sign another bill like this again.”

So much for draining the swamp. We are good through September of this year and then we start all over again.  ALL OVER AGAIN!


Portions of this post are taken from the January 2018 article written by John Lewis of “Vision Systems”.

I feel there is considerable confusion between Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and Deep Learning.  Seemingly, we use these terms and phrases interchangeably and they certainly have different meanings.  Natural Learning is the intelligence displayed by humans and certain animals. Why don’t we do the numbers:

AI:

Artificial Intelligence refers to machines mimicking human cognitive functions such as problem solving or learning.  When a machine understands human speech or can compete with humans in a game of chess, AI applies.  There are several surprising opinions about AI as follows:

  • Sixty-one percent (61%) of people see artificial intelligence making the world a better place
  • Fifty-seven percent (57%) would prefer an AI doctor perform an eye exam
  • Fifty-five percent (55%) would trust an autonomous car. (I’m really not there as yet.)

The term artificial intelligence was coined in 1956, but AI has become more popular today thanks to increased data volumes, advanced algorithms, and improvements in computing power and storage.

Early AI research in the 1950s explored topics like problem solving and symbolic methods. In the 1960s, the US Department of Defense took interest in this type of work and began training computers to mimic basic human reasoning. For example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) completed street mapping projects in the 1970s. And DARPA produced intelligent personal assistants in 2003, long before Siri, Alexa or Cortana were household names. This early work paved the way for the automation and formal reasoning that we see in computers today, including decision support systems and smart search systems that can be designed to complement and augment human abilities.

While Hollywood movies and science fiction novels depict AI as human-like robots that take over the world, the current evolution of AI technologies isn’t that scary – or quite that smart. Instead, AI has evolved to provide many specific benefits in every industry.

MACHINE LEARNING:

Machine Learning is the current state-of-the-art application of AI and largely responsible for its recent rapid growth. Based upon the idea of giving machines access to data so that they can learn for themselves, machine learning has been enabled by the internet, and the associated rise in digital information being generated, stored and made available for analysis.

Machine learning is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. In the past decade, machine learning has given us self-driving cars, practical speech recognition, effective web search, and a vastly improved understanding of the human genome. Machine learning is so pervasive today that you probably use it dozens of times a day without knowing it. Many researchers also think it is the best way to make progress towards human-level understanding. Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning focuses on the development of computer programs that can access data and use it learn for themselves.

DEEP LEARNING:

Deep Learning concentrates on a subset of machine-learning techniques, with the term “deep” generally referring to the number of hidden layers in the deep neural network.  While conventional neural network may contain a few hidden layers, a deep network may have tens or hundreds of layers.  In deep learning, a computer model learns to perform classification tasks directly from text, sound or image data. In the case of images, deep learning requires substantial computing power and involves feeding large amounts of labeled data through a multi-layer neural network architecture to create a model that can classify the objects contained within the image.

CONCLUSIONS:

Brave new world we are living in.  Someone said that AI is definitely the future of computing power and eventually robotic systems that could possibly replace humans.  I just hope the programmers adhere to Dr. Isaac Asimov’s three laws:

 

  • The First Law of Robotics: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

 

  • The Second Law of Robotics: A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

 

  • The Third Law of Robotics: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

With those words, science-fiction author Isaac Asimov changed how the world saw robots. Where they had largely been Frankenstein-esque, metal monsters in the pulp magazines, Asimov saw the potential for robotics as more domestic: as a labor-saving device; the ultimate worker. In doing so, he continued a literary tradition of speculative tales: What happens when humanity remakes itself in its image?

As always, I welcome your comments.

THE NEXT COLD WAR

February 3, 2018


I’m old enough to remember the Cold War waged by the United States and Russia.  The term “Cold War” first appeared in a 1945 essay by the English writer George Orwell called “You and the Atomic Bomb”.

HOW DID THIS START:

During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union fought together as allies against the Axis powers, Germany, Japan and Italy. However, the relationship between the two nations was a tense one. Americans had long been wary of Soviet communism and concerned about Russian leader Joseph Stalin’s tyrannical, blood-thirsty rule of his own country. For their part, the Soviets resented the Americans’ decades-long refusal to treat the USSR as a legitimate part of the international community as well as their delayed entry into World War II, which resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Russians. After the war ended, these grievances ripened into an overwhelming sense of mutual distrust and enmity. Postwar Soviet expansionism in Eastern Europe fueled many Americans’ fears of a Russian plan to control the world. Meanwhile, the USSR came to resent what they perceived as American officials’ bellicose rhetoric, arms buildup and interventionist approach to international relations. In such a hostile atmosphere, no single party was entirely to blame for the Cold War; in fact, some historians believe it was inevitable.

American officials encouraged the development of atomic weapons like the ones that had ended World War II. Thus, began a deadly “arms race.” In 1949, the Soviets tested an atom bomb of their own. In response, President Truman announced that the United States would build an even more destructive atomic weapon: the hydrogen bomb, or “superbomb.” Stalin followed suit.

The ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation had a great impact on American domestic life as well. People built bomb shelters in their backyards. They practiced attack drills in schools and other public places. The 1950s and 1960s saw an epidemic of popular films that horrified moviegoers with depictions of nuclear devastation and mutant creatures. In these and other ways, the Cold War was a constant presence in Americans’ everyday lives.

SPACE AND THE COLD WAR:

Space exploration served as another dramatic arena for Cold War competition. On October 4, 1957, a Soviet R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile launched Sputnik (Russian for “traveler”), the world’s first artificial satellite and the first man-made object to be placed into the Earth’s orbit. Sputnik’s launch came as a surprise, and not a pleasant one, to most Americans. In the United States, space was seen as the next frontier, a logical extension of the grand American tradition of exploration, and it was crucial not to lose too much ground to the Soviets. In addition, this demonstration of the overwhelming power of the R-7 missile–seemingly capable of delivering a nuclear warhead into U.S. air space–made gathering intelligence about Soviet military activities particularly urgent.

In 1958, the U.S. launched its own satellite, Explorer I, designed by the U.S. Army under the direction of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, and what came to be known as the Space Race was underway. That same year, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a public order creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a federal agency dedicated to space exploration, as well as several programs seeking to exploit the military potential of space. Still, the Soviets were one step ahead, launching the first man into space in April 1961.

THE COLD WAR AND AI (ARTIFICIAL INTELLEGENCE):

Our country NEEDS to consider AI as an extension of the cold war.  Make no mistake about it, AI will definitely play into the hands of a few desperate dictators or individuals in future years.  A country that thinks its adversaries have or will get AI weapons will need them also to retaliate or deter foreign use against the US. Wide use of AI-powered cyberattacks may still be some time away. Countries might agree to a proposed Digital Geneva Convention to limit AI conflict. But that won’t stop AI attacks by independent nationalist groups, militias, criminal organizations, terrorists and others – and countries can back out of treaties. It’s almost certain, therefore, that someone will turn AI into a weapon – and that everyone else will do so too, even if only out of a desire to be prepared to defend themselves. With Russia embracing AI, other nations that don’t or those that restrict AI development risk becoming unable to compete – economically or militarily – with countries wielding developed AIs. Advanced AIs can create advantage for a nation’s businesses, not just its military, and those without AI may be severely disadvantaged. Perhaps most importantly, though, having sophisticated AIs in many countries could provide a deterrent against attacks, as happened with nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

The Congress of the United States and the Executive Branch need to “lose” the high school mentality and get back in the game.  They need to address the future instead of living in the past OR we the people need to vote them all out and start over.

 

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES

November 29, 2017


The graphics for this post are from Feris Alsulmi and the Entrepreneur Magazine.

The title of this post is not really a challenge but merely a question.  Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?  Most individuals at some time in their lives feel they can do it better.  I’ll let you define “IT” but everyone working for a living has dreamed of going it alone—even if that thought is fleeting and momentary.  Someone once said that if your dreams don’t scare you, you are not dreaming big enough.   I would hazard a guess we see the light at the end of that long tunnel as being riches untold and not really considering the journey that got us there.  I have started two or three businesses and can relate from personal experience there are those dark days.  Waking up at 2:00 A.M. Wednesday morning wondering how you will make payroll on Friday.  If you are challenged by the prospects, you may appreciate the following graphics and comments.  Let’s take a quick look.

WHAT ARE THE OBVIOUS OBSTACLES

No one wants to fail. No one wants to spend time and money working from dawn to dusk with the result being deep in debt and possible bankruptcy.    Even with this being the case, fully 98% of the replies from polls taken indicate the greatest obstacle is the willingness or the ability to take the necessary risks.  Age may be a factor.  Family circumstances may be a factor. Possible lack of knowledge may be a factor. Fear may be a factor.  Clearly, the ability to attract necessary capital IS a factor.  Ted Turner once said “never use your own money when starting a venture”.  Easy for Turner to say.  In today’s world, finding an “angel” or investment capital is a huge problem.   Thanks to a do-nothing Congress and Executive Branch, we have tax codes that work against an individual launching a business.  This will not change with the next administration or the 114th Congress.  It won’t change.

In looking at the graphic above, you can see 2009 numbers and they are not pretty.  Sixty-one thousand bankruptcies and six hundred and sixty-one thousand company closures.  Most of these are retail establishments relative to manufacturing companies but even so—that hurts.  Now, 2009 was the year after the housing bubble popped.  Did you see that coming? I did not. Not on my radar at all and yet, the bubble affected all of us. Everyone.  You will not be taking your family for Sunday dinner or a movie on Saturday if you have a sudden drop in sales.  People with their homes in foreclosure don’t spend for items somewhat frivolous in nature.

IS AGE A FACTOR

It’s a given fact, the older you are the more experience you have.  There are few successful business owners under the age of thirty and most of them are whiz-kids involved in computer science and programming.  Good for them, but most of us are not.

Again, from the graphic, you see that seventy percent of new business owners are married and sixty percent have at least one child.  These facts weigh very heavily on one’s mind with contemplating ownership of a company.

Now the big question:

There are mavericks that launch their businesses without benefit of those items given above but probably few, if any, who do not at least consider the questions posed above.  It takes:

Consider the questions and problems above.  Are you willing to jump?  Is now the time? Are the conditions proper for the company I contemplate starting?  Is my family situation right for a new professional direction?  Am I really dedicated to a fifty, sixty or even seventy hour work week?  If you cannot give answers in a positive fashion to these questions you may really need to continue working for “the man”.  Just a thought.

 


Portions of this post are taken from the publication “Industry Week”, Bloomberg View, 30 October 2017.

The Bloomberg report begins by stating: “The industrial conglomerate has lost $100 billion in market value this year as investors came to terms with the dawning reality that GE’s businesses don’t generate enough cash to support its rich dividend.”

Do you in your wildest dreams think that Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, would have produced results such as this?  I do NOT think so.  Welch “lived” with the guys on Wall Street.  These pitiful results come to us from Mr. Jeffery Immelt.  It’s also now clear that years of streamlining didn’t go far enough as challenges of dumpster-fire proportions at its power and energy divisions overshadowed what were actually pretty good third-quarter health-care and aviation numbers.  Let me mention right now that I can sound off at the results.  I retired from a GE facility—The Roper Corporation, in 2005.

The new CEO John Flannery’s pledged to divest twenty billion ($20 billion) in assets perhaps is risking another piecemeal breakup but as details leak on the divestitures and other changes Flannery’s contemplating, there’s at least a shot he could be positioning the company for something more drastic.  Now back to Immelt.

Immelt took over the top position at GE in 2001. Early attempts at changing the culture to meet Immelt’s ideas about what the corporate culture should look like were not very successful. It was during the financial crisis that he began to think differently. It seems as if his thinking followed three paths. First, get rid of the financial areas of the company because they were just a diversion to what needed to be done. Second, make GE into a company focused upon industrial goods. And, third, create a company that would tie the industrial goods to information technology so that the physical and the informational would all be of one package. The results of Immelt’s thinking are not impressive and did not position GE for company growth in the twenty-first century.

Any potential downsizing by Flannery will please investors who have viewed the digital foray as an expensive pet project of Immelt’s, but it’s sort of a weird thing to do if you still want to turn GE into a top-ten software company — as is the divestiture of the digital-facing Centricity health-care IT operations that GE is reportedly contemplating.  Perhaps a wholesale breakup of General Electric Co. isn’t such an improbable idea after all.

GE has lost one hundred billion ($100 billion) in market value this year as investors came to terms with the dawning reality that GE’s businesses don’t generate enough cash to support its rich dividend. It’s also now clear that years of streamlining didn’t go far enough as challenges of dumpster fire proportions at its power and energy divisions overshadowed what were actually pretty good third-quarter health-care and aviation numbers.

One argument against a breakup of GE was that it would detract from the breadth of expertise and resources that set the company apart in the push to make industrial machinery of all kinds run more efficiently. But now, GE’s approach to digital appears to be changing. Rather than trying to be everything for everyone, the company is refocusing digital marketing efforts on customers in its core businesses and deepening partnerships with tech giants including Microsoft Corp and Apple Inc. It hasn’t announced any financial backers yet, but that’s a possibility former CEO Jeff Immelt intimated before he departed. GE’s digital spending is a likely target of its cost-cutting push.

This downsizing will please investors who have viewed digital as an expensive pet project of Immelt’s, but it’s sort of a weird thing to do if you still want to turn GE into a top-10 software company — as is the divestiture of the digital-facing Centricity health-care IT operations that GE is reportedly contemplating.

The company is unlikely to abandon digital altogether. Industrial customers have been trained to expect data-enhanced efficiency, and GE has to offer that to be competitive. As Flannery said at GE’s Minds and Machines conference last week, “A company that just builds machines will not survive.” But if all we’re ultimately talking about here is smarter equipment, as opposed to a whole new software ecosystem, GE doesn’t necessarily need a health-care, aviation and power business.

Creating four or five mini-GEs would likely mean tax penalties.  That’s not in and of itself a reason to maintain a portfolio that’s not working. If it was, GE wouldn’t also be contemplating a sale of its transportation division. But one of GE’s flaws in the minds of investors right now is its financial complexity, and there’s something to be said for a complete rethinking of the way it’s put together. For what it’s worth, the average of JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst Steve Tusa’s sum-of-the-parts analyses points to a twenty-dollar ($20) valuation — almost in line with GE’s closing price of $20.79 on Friday. Whatever premium the whole company once commanded over the value of its parts has been significantly weakened.

Wall Street is torn on General Electric, the one-time favorite blue chip for long-term investors, which is now facing an identity crisis and possible dividend cut. Major research shops downgraded and upgraded the industrial company following its third-quarter earnings miss this past Friday. The firm’s September quarter profits were hit by restructuring costs and weak performance from its power and oil and gas businesses. It was the company’s first earnings report under CEO John Flannery, who replaced Jeff Immelt in August. Two firms reduced their ratings for General Electric shares due to concerns about dividend cuts at its Nov. 13 analyst meeting. The company has a 4.2 percent dividend yield. General Electric shares declined 6.3 percent Monday to close at $22.32 a share after the reports. The percentage drop is the largest for the stock in six years. Its shares are down twenty-five (25%) percent year to date through Friday versus the S&P 500’s fifteen (15%) percent return.

At the end of the day, it comes down to what kind of company GE wants to be. The financial realities of a breakup might be painful, but so would years’ worth of pain in its power business as weak demand and pricing pressures drive a decline to a new normal of lower profitability. Does it really matter, then, what the growth opportunities are in aviation and health care? As head of M&A at GE, Flannery was at least partly responsible for the Alstom SA acquisition that swelled the size of the now-troubled power unit inside GE. If there really are “no sacred cows,” he has a chance to rewrite that legacy.

CONCLUSIONS:

Times are changing and GE had better change with those times or the company faces significant additional difficulties.  Direction must be left to the board of directors but it’s very obvious that accommodations to suite the present business climate are definitely in order.

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