Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Robo People

I want to write about robots but I'm not sure what I want to say.  It started when I heard a discussion of Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford.  First there was a story about a baseball game.  I assumed it was journalism.  No, it was a robot writing it up. Ford then began talking about how robots have already taken over mechanical jobs and will march forward moving into service jobs and eventually jobs that require judgement and experience.  The robots can do this because mass data and algorithms give them the power to do better predicting and problem solving. We're in for a jobless future.

I had already pulled my car over to the curb when I heard this alarming news.

This jobless prospect was rattling around in my brain until today when I read an article in the New York Times: Why Robots Will Always Need Us by Nicholas Carr.  (Does Carr run over Ford?)

Carr champions the obvious argument that humans create robots so the robots will always need humans to fix them when they break or get hacked;  and the other argument that if you think computers will overcome human error, computer error can be just as bad or worse.

One of the jobs that Ford said was immune from a robot takeover is nursing.  So here is what I'm left with.  Maybe the jobs that will remain are the ones not highly valued today.  The ones that require empathy, patience, flexibility.  Nursing for sure . . . therapist, day care worker, minister,
comedian . . .

As far as I know, neither author dwelled on the thought that people without jobs to take up their lives would have time to devote themselves to creativity, love, and further invention.

Carr says:  "We're in this together, our computers and ourselves."  So let's be kind to both of us.

Friday, May 15, 2015

My Writing Companion

When I was leading memoir writing workshops I called on William Zinsser's book Writing About Your Life to help me create and organize my presentation.  Zinsser's earlier work On Writing Well helped me so much when I was starting from nowhere and scared about becoming a copywriter.

The people who came to my workshops weren't studying to become professional writers.  They were a diverse group of young and older.  I got the sense that they just wanted to see if writing could help them with their experiences; if telling a story could help make some sense out of it all.

Their stories were factual:  a trip, a breakup, a family gathering.  I encouraged them to see how facts become universal themes, just as Zinsser explains.

William Zinsser's obituary is in today's Sun Times.  It said: ". . . he championed the craft of non-fiction and inspired professionals and amateurs to express themselves consisely and vividly."

He was 92.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Which Came First?

Did God create man, or did man create God?  Adding his voice to this question is Rabbi Herman Schaalman.  He's 99 years old and says he's in the process of "rethinking everything."  Since I'm a fan of the idea that you're never too old to re-think, I am cheering him on.

"God is simply an idea that humans have created because they are overwhelmed by something for which there is no answer," says the Rabbi.   I agree, which means I am in the process of making peace with the Rabbi's other belief:  "I think that death is the end."

Last week my friend Phyllis told me a great story about how her daughter lost the diamond out of her ring, only to find it days later lying in the dirt by the side of a road.  Impossible!  We called it a "miracle."

And that's enough of a miracle for me.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Insider

Bernie Kerik is out of jail.  Remember him?  He is the former New York City Police Commissioner who almost made it to Washington as the head of the Department of Homeland Security before he was convicted of federal corruption charges.  Now, he's writing and speaking out about his experiences ("No one with my background or my success . . . has been on the inside . . .").
Kerik, having witnessed injustices firsthand,  is calling for prison reform and he is aiming to influence the Republican candidates for president.

With all of the brutal police stuff going on these days, the disclosure of his love nest for his affair with the hot publisher Judith Regan seems almost laudable.  (Make love not war?)

I wish Bernie good luck.  And, maybe if the Justice Department had prosecuted a few of those banksters who brought down the housing market, they could be joining Bernie in his quest for reform.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

First Responders

I’m in the process of moving some savings from one fund to another.  One thought keeps popping up:  “I hope I can still take some money out if I need it.”  Maybe that’s why I kept my dial tuned this morning to Bob Edwards’ interview with a Credit Union employee who survived the Oklahoma City bombing.  And, why I was so touched by the interview with  another Credit Union employee who flew in afterwards to help with the mess.

You don’t think of Credit Union tellers or managers as first responders.  And, maybe their duty wasn’t as dangerous as those who worked on “the pile.” But they took their share of lumps.  Survivors and family were cut off from their accounts while left with no identification and no records.  Their grief contained a lot of rage.  

When I think of Oklahoma City, I usually think of the Oklahoma Thunder and how they just missed the NBA playoffs.

Today, a distant but terrible thunder fills my mind.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

When Birds are Prey

The Bulls play the Hawks tonight in the final game of their regular season.  It's been up and down for the Bulls this year.  Lots of injuries (among them you know who) and no one is predicting a title this year.

The Atlanta Hawks have had a great year.  A team without heavy star power, they didn't attract much attention until they kept winning and winning.  Now, they are the number one team in the Eastern Conference.  Their title run looked so bright  -- until now it looks very dark --  for a very ugly reason.

Thabo Sefolosha is one of the Hawks' best players.  He will miss the playoffs because he has a broken leg.  He didn't break it on the court like the Indiana Pacers' Paul George who returned to the active roster last week as a hero.  Yet, the Pacers and the Hawks are united in the ugliness.

New York Nightclub.  4 a.m.  Fight.  Stabbing.  Not words that lead to a good outcome. This time, Pacers and Hawks players were on the scene.  How about the word "Police"?  Have we come to the point where, when we see that word,  we shudder at what we suspect will come next in the news story?

Sefolosha claims that he was a bystander and that the police broke his leg.  Apparently, there is video showing him being hit.  The NBA and especially the NBA players' union are investigating.  We won't know anything more for awhile.

What we do know is that the Hawks are crippled.  I hope they overcome the loss and beat everyone in the East.

Ultimately, I want the Golden State Warriors to win the title.  After all, their great three point shooter, Steph Curry, is managed by the Bulls' great three pointer, Steve Kerr.  It's enough of a connection for me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Over and Outer

When you get to be an oldster you start thinking about stuff you may not be around to experience.  I joke that a  20 year warrantee is no inducement for me to buy that appliance.  So, I sighed when I read today that a chief NASA scientist predicts we will find alien life (or at least signs of it) within the next 20 to 30 years.  "We know where to look.  We know how to look," says Ellen Stofan.  Wow.

Before we get too excited, the NASA people also say they are talking about finding microbes, not creatures of our imagination.  Even so, we are on our way to somewhere.

Maybe when I return to the stardust from which I came, it will be ET waiting for me on the other side.