Monday, November 24, 2008

Q: How many vehicles does it take to make a point?

A: Thirty

There’s been a lot of hubbub in the works lately about the plight of the Big 3 Automakers. Will they survive? Should we bail them out? What will it mean to the American economy? The questions seem endless.

So the other day I got this idea to practice some empiricism and get some data on the situation. I decided to take it to the streets, literally.

I enlisted the aid of my dog, Itchy. Itchy is shown below.

While we were out walking, using my trusty Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS, I photographed every car that we passed on the way to the corner of my street.

I live in a neighborhood that is, according to Experian and ZipWho, somewhat white, somewhat Hispanic, somewhat African-American, somewhat Asian and somewhat professional, with a median income of around $37K. In the scheme of Los Angeles, California we’re not Beverly Hills and we’re not South Central. We seem to be sorta in the middle.

I photographed thirty cars. The results of my investigation are consolidated into a single graphic shown below. (You can click on the image to see an enlargement.)

Here are my findings: Of the thirty vehicles photographed, eight were made by a Big 3 Manufacturer. Of the eight Big 3 vehicles, six were either an SUV or a van.

So what can be said? Try this out for size. An overwhelming number of people parked on my side of the street (75%) do NOT drive a Big 3 vehicle. And of those that do drive a Big 3, most drive a gas guzzler (75%).

And people wonder why the Big 3 can’t make any money? From my unscientific inference, it’s not a profit margin problem. It’s a sales problem. Most people are just not buying Big 3 cars. No sales, no business. It’s that simple; it really is.

Being American means buying Toyota.

So here is an idea that is somewhat painful to express. Let the Big 3 go the way of Pan Am, Commodore Computer, Orion Pictures and the IBM Selectric. Hopefully the vital auto manufacturers will buy up the factories, dealerships and customer lists. All will be as it was. The people on the line will keep on working, if not on making cars and trucks that people want to buy, then on a transcontinental light rail system that runs on solar/magnetic power and carries folks and freight from coast to coast at a cost that is a fraction of fossil fuel based transportation. Profits will flow and 401Ks will rise.

All will be well.

It’s that simple; it really is.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Q: What is the shelf life of my head?

A: Two years

I jumped ship back in July and went from coding in a hardcore .NET enterprise to tech writing in a hardcore J2EE shop. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the technical implications of this move, it’s sort of like a baseball player moving from the American League to the National League—the rules are fundamentally the same, but because there is no designated hitter, pitchers have to hit. Thus, the dynamic of the game is different. You’ve got to make adjustments and learn a new way to play the game.

(For those of you that are tech savvy, the reason for the switch is that the Redmondians embracing MVC in ASP.NET five years too late was the last straw!)

Needless to say I’ve been in heavy duty learning mode about all things OpenSource: Maven, Spring, FreeMarker, SiteMesh, Jetty, Derby, the whole unified theory of programming under POM.XML. The list goes on.

At the end of every week I have to press both hands to my ears to stop my head from spinning. This stuff is hard! You’ve really got to like leaning new things, which I do.

And then I get to thinking to myself, “I wonder, will this be another set of technologies that I’ll employ for a few years and then never have call or need to use again?”

The first time I ever wrote a line of code and gave it to a machine to execute was back in 1975. It was a line of PL/1 code written on a remote terminal and was transmitted directly by telephone wire to a mainframe located at a place unknown. There was no monitor of any sort. All display was handled by a typewriting printer hooked up to the terminal. The paper wasn’t ever perforated to separate neatly. You simply tore it off of the printer.

The purpose of the program was to have the computer solicit the operator to do lewd and lascivious acts. I guess that I was acting out my anger about Watergate.

Since that time I’ve learned a lot of applications and done a lot of programming. Most of what I have learned is useless today. The more I think about it, of all the technologies that I have mastered, the only one that I have used consistently throughout my lifetime has been English. All the others are a crapshoot.

Here is a partial list of all the applications and programming languages that I spent days, some times years of my life learning and which I have not used in the last two years.

Visual Basic/VBA 1.0-6.0
VisualAge for Java
Visual Cafe for Java
Visual C++
Delphi 1.0-4.0
Windows 3.1/95/98/NT 4.0/
MAC System 5-9
Novell NetWare
LAN Manager
O’Reilly’s WebSite
FrameMaker SDK
Adobe InCopy/InDesign SDK
Lotus 1-2-3 (with macros)
Lotus Symphony
Freelance Graphics
Quattro Pro
Ashton Tate DB3
Quark Xpress
Harvard Graphics
Storyboard Live!
DOS 3-6 (with memory configuration)

My father told me a joke once. It goes like this:

An automobile mechanic sends a bill to a customer for $500. The customer complains, “you had my car for 1 hour and you charge me this? I pay my doctor less for an office visit.”

The mechanic responds, “Well your doctor only needs to know how to work on two models, and they don’t change from year to year.”

I can relate. When it comes to coding, there are some days when Medical School looks really, really good.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Q: How do you know when you are old?

A: When all the of baseball players, most of the police officers and The President of the United States are younger than you.

I’ve been thinking about my age for a while. I am counting down my remaining years in the workforce from a number somewhere between fifteen and twenty-- fifteen if things look good, most likely twenty if the economy continues going the way of the dodo.

I lay in bed at night pondering a time when I won’t exist as I presently know existence. I, all the memories, anxieties and technologies gathered over a lifetime, will be gone. From what I can gather, there will be no "there" there, no more "me" as me.

Earlier on life was a Never Ending Story. Now I experience it as a collection of chapters with beginnings, middles and ends.

I saw the World Trade Center go up. I saw it come down. I’ve been to Woodstock. I remember the Cub Scout uniform that I was wearing the Friday that Kennedy was shot. I’ve lived through a lot of people being shot. Each is a story in itself.

I remember gas shooting up to 73 cents a gallon in 1973. Today it is a bargain at $2.45.

I can still imagine the sound of a room full of typewriters.

I remember Black Monday in 1987. It didn’t really matter then. I didn’t own any stock and didn’t have a 401K. I just put money in a savings account. That was then, this is now. I’ve grown up. I do own stock and I do have a 401K. If things keep going as is, both will provide me with a comfortable “retirement” for about two weeks.

I’ll probably keep coding into my seventies, if I can keep up and the carpal tunnel doesn’t incapacitate me. Otherwise I’ll become a greeter at Ralph’s, a fate worse than death according to a financial planner that wanted my money back in the nineties.

I've made it to the top of the hill. From here I can see the dock from which the ship departs for the Great Beyond. And yet I still worry about what is to become of me.

But, as we learned out in the terrain: We come in alone. We go out alone. We pack in a bunch of people, pets and things in the middle. The people and pets matter more. The Past is but a memory, the Future is but a dream. All that we really have is Today, with or without a bailout.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Q: What might the recent election signify?

A: The start of the Great Do Over

Electing Barack Obama President of the United States might indeed be the start of the Great Do Over.

The board, although not wiped clean, has had a number of houses and hotels removed. Maybe the deeds for Boardwalk and Park Place will go back into the box too, for later acquisition by the Public Trust for the betterment of us all. Maybe we'll be able to stash a few hundred dollars more under Free Parking for future generations. Maybe making our way back to GO won't be so risky.

However, the rules of the game are still the rules of the game. Some of the old players at the table still own a lot of properties of like color. And, there are a few Get Out of Jail Free cards outstanding.

Yet today I am as happy to wake up in America as I am to wake up in Los Angeles.

Now, once we get this marriage thing straightened out in terms of one's right to equal access, waking up in California won't be so bad either.