Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, the TSA has stepped up its screening practices with a choice between a high-powered scanner or a rather intrusive pat-down.  Just as a friend posted earlier this week, I take issue with the idea that we need to participate in this three-ring circus.

The deeper problem, though, is our prevailing attitude towards technology, as if it's this panacea that's going to save us from goofing up at work or getting blown up on a plane, even if we take out rational thought processes.  I see this at work when an analyst fires up a piece of software that he doesn't really understand and spends two hours on an analysis that he could have done with a five minute hand calculation.  Oftentimes, he doesn't even know that his results are unreliable based on his inputs because he doesn't understand the fundamentals of what the software is trying to mimic.  I see this in the parent-hysteria marketplace with GPS trackers for our kids, as if a kidnapper would never think to toss the kid's backpack from the outset.  And we seem especially susceptible to technology worship when someone mentions the word "terrorist" or the phrase "homeland security".  These words should be re-labeled as "fear of the unknown."  How did we get so distrustful of our own instincts?
Is it the marketing, the fear of not being objective enough and/or getting sued, or are we just purely in lust with the whiz-bang factor of complicated machinery and the like?  I wish I knew.  

Here are a few facts to inform you of the impact of your choices at the airport this season:

1.  It wasn't so long ago that world-renowned hospital Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles was found to have accidentally zapped over 200 CT scan patients with more radiation than they thought they were using . . . This mistake went undetected for 18 months.  The CTs were set up by medical professionals.  The airport scanners are set up by the TSA.

3. The fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guards against unlawful search and seizure.  I am pretty sure this extends to my private parts.  

4. This poor 3 year old girl.  I can't even imagine what I would do if they did this to my daughter.

5. Not one of the terror incidents on planes in the United States (including 9/11) would have been caught by this new scanning process or the pat-down and not by previous procedures.  Not one.  This process does not scan for liquids, so if you soak yourself in turpentine, you'd still get by (if you wore a ton of cologne I guess).

6. It is only a matter of time until a terrorist sidesteps this process somehow, builds a better bomb, etc.  We're treating this like an arms race when the terrorists treat it like more of a process to terrify us.  Looks like it's working very well.

7. People are getting rich off of this of course.  People you're at least vaguely familiar with.

8. Take a look at this book.  I read it while in college and it is still the best literature I have ever found on the topic.

9. If you are more inclined towards a business approach, I refer you to Lean and Theory of Constraints approaches - technology is almost never the answer.  As Edward Deming once said, "If you design it for any idiot to use, any idiot will."

In short, unless technology starts to approach the levels seen in The Matrix, all the scanners in the world are never going to be able to protect you as well as a human being with human instincts, intuition, and ability to read behavior, who has the backing of the authorities and/or their employer (as the case may be) to act on those instincts.  That applies to scanners as well as analysis software and stranger danger.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Re-evaluation and Rejuvenation

I have to apologize for my lack of content in the last few weeks.  I've been thinking about my decision to go to school while my daughter is so young.  It is natural to re-evaluate your decisions every once in awhile and certainly it never hurts to check yourself before you wreck yourself.  It all started like this . . .

I was doing some volunteer work for church and I met a fascinating woman in the process.  Since we had a lot of downtime between customers for festival tickets, we had an abundance of time to get to know each other.  She works in quite a different industry than me and also runs her own business.  As we chatted about the realities of full-time working and full-time parenthood (in my opinion, there really is no such thing as part-time parenthood unless you mentally check yourself out of your kid's life), I began to think about my schoolwork and the stressful weekend the family had.  We had run from place to place getting chores done and in my so-called "downtime" I was behind in my schoolwork, not to mention that work was feeling very non-rewarding at the moment.  Then a friend stopped by to ask if I'd be willing to sponsor someone through the process of joining our church, which involves a very serious time commitment and an even more serious mental commitment.  At this point I was standing in the rain and I just had it.  I said that no I couldn't sponsor someone as I was barely together myself.  After she walked away, I said "That's it I'm quitting school."  

The remark wasn't callous - I truly believed I was done at that moment.  I wanted a break!  I wanted to sit and veg in front of the TV every night and maybe knit some.  I wouldn't really gain much time with the munchkin as I don't ever try to do schoolwork when she's awake; at most I would gain three hours on school night.  But I was drained.

A few days later, I made an appointment with the faculty advisor to discuss a leave of absence.  I wanted to quit for awhile and then re-evaluate whether I was truly done.  The appointment was set for the day after I came back from visiting my in-laws.  

On the plane to the East Coast, I got all my homework done.  I was finally caught up!  I spent a few wonderful days with my fun family-in-law and rested my soul a bit.  While reading the homework, I had some great academic discussions with my husband and realized I understood what was happening with our economy for the first time, and why it really mattered - as in how the decisions by our leaders and the public have such a dramatic effect on our daily lives.  Maybe this b-school stuff wasn't so bad after all.  I even squeezed in a visit to one of my company's other locations to see how they were doing and say hi to a few long-distance friends.  

I discussed my thoughts with my mother-in-law.  While my husband had said he just wanted me to do what I really wanted, I needed another person's opinion.  Was this school stuff taking a toll on my daughter and husband that I didn't see?  We had a great conversation.  I will spare you all the details but I ended up knowing that it was worth slugging it out in school and I wasn't dragging the rest of the family down as a result (thank you Mom Mom!)  As she pointed out well, as a mom you have to nurture your own soul if you want to nurture those around you.  

I left the East thinking maybe I would stay after all.  I cancelled the advising appointment.  The next school day I went up to my professor's office to get the results of my midterm.  He said that I was excelling in the class and he was glad I seemed to be very engaged.  That really sealed it for me. 

I did make some changes as a result of all this contemplation.  At the beginning of every semester, I struggle with the right amount of studying and work to do.  It is always a panic.  Towards the middle of the semester, if I am doing well, I relax a little and don't freak out if I don't read the next chapter until an hour before class.  I'll be looking in the spring to relax more towards the start of classes so I don't throw everyone in the household into a tizzy with me.  Also I left a little of the guilt (there will always be guilt) and promised myself to enjoy learning again.  As the munchkin would say, "Learning's my favorite."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Do you know what QE2 is?  If not you better figure out quick.  This is going to affect all of our lives in the US, and even the lives of those around the world since the dollar is the benchmark currency.  I suggest you figure out what it is very soon, and thus how you feel about it.  It didn't work all that well in Japan by anyone's estimation, or even here in the US during the first quantitative easing.  But we are looking at essentially printing money in the amount of 1/4 GDP into the economy.  So all I'll say here is at least know what it is and where you stand.  

This is a recurring point of discussion in many news outlets and econ classes for a very good reason.  Printing money naturally leads to inflation, which has certain consequences . . .