Fairy Lights

I’m lucky – not too much keeps me awake at night and I usually fall asleep within about five minutes of going to bed. While psychologists say that is a sign of sleep deprivation, I also wake up in the morning automatically and feel refreshed, so I don’t agree.
Nevertheless, there are times when I do wake in the middle of the night and walk through the darkened house as others sleep. Nowadays it’s pretty easy to do so without risk – besides having a large (18’ x18’) skylight over our central courtyard in New House, there are literally dozens of little lights on in the house.
Warning: This is one of those musings when I remember the past and compare it to the present.
I remember when there were only a few lights in a darkened house at night. Televisions and radios used to glow because there was always some current going through the vacuum tubes/valves to keep them warm; the glow came from the vents at the back. And some clocks had subtle lighting. Interestingly the shade of light was warm, and the devices hummed and were themselves warm. Even night lights, which had to be turned on manually and used a white Christmas light bulbs were warm-ish. Then there were gas appliances which had a permanent dancing pilot flame – almost invisible in the day but one of the few beacons in the dark
Fast forward to today: tiny points of coloured light and ghost writings in the air. Little green diodes announce whether we plan to have toast or bagel, and if we like our ice crushed or cubed. A red diode to say sound is set to surround – is there any other way? Innumerable things have power – I’m not sure where they got it from – me perhaps when I decided that we need more than more than two of every breed: phones, VCRs, DVDs, stereos, printers, computers, etc. And all over the house clocks in shades of green, white and amber argue about the exact time. Little red numbers tell you which window is open – if you can match number to window. Several computers and hubs flicker to announce they are talking on the Internet – probably about me – even though they are supposed to be off. Even the mice glow red from below – but they never scamper or dash to hide as I appear.
I must admit though, that for a gadget-rich house we are a little behind the times: we don’t seem to have anything in the latest blue and indigo shades. Perhaps I’m slipping? The first cheap commercial diodes were red, and then it became possible to make cheap green, now it is the turn of blue. A gadget shows its age by its night colour. But since you can make all colours from RGB soon we’ll have hybrids – pink, violet or yellow anyone?
Speaking of cost, diodes and electroluminescent displays use minute amounts of power, so most are permanently on. We did switch to night lights that turn themselves off in the day to save energy – the trouble is that they seem to have a half-life of two months so the set that I bought at Home Depot on sale are mostly shot. I think the net cost is probably an order of magnitude greater than if I’d bought ones that stay on all the time.
But what of the house of the future? It’ll probably turn on lights as I enter a room to my preferred level, provided no one is sleeping in that room and that the light will not enter the room where someone is sleeping, i.e. lights on only after I’ve closed a dividing door (i.e. IF THEN). Perhaps that’s the key to predicting the near term – things that could be done today, but with more logical controls than are currently cost-effective. The windows may be opaqued, but frankly I find those ugly, so I’ll wait for ones that display a scene or design. On the other hand maybe there will be fewer lights at night – already I’m bombarded with information I don’t need at a given time (like the toaster selection). Perhaps a kindler, gentler, darker house?


Decision Units (DUs) – Independent and Dependent

Karina and Marc (my two children) have their birthday on the same day in May, although they were born four years apart. My Father’s birthday is five days before. Family members wanted to know when we were having the 3-way birthday party this weekend, but it was hard to pick a day and time. Lindy (my wife) and I usually have no trouble agreeing so in the past we would make a single decision for the whole family – in essence we are a single decision unit (DU). But now that Karina and Marc have grown up, they make their own decisions – in essence they have become Independent Decision Units (IDU) – which means our former single family DU is now three DUs. And my parents-in-law live in an adjacent part of New House – so that was another IDU, for a total 4 IDUs. My Sister-in-law and her family planned to come, as did my Mother, and of course my Father – three more DUs. But in this case I would say that these three DUs were dependent DUs (DDU) for this decision – they had little ability to set a date, but could give input and after the primary decision was made could then decide whether they were going to come or not.
Finally a decision was made, but with 4 IDUs and 3 DDUs involved it took time; the party was on Sunday. But at the last minute one of my nephews became sick and my Sister-in-law’s family could not come – an example of an unplanned decision breaking event (DBE). Sometimes I don’t think business decisions are any harder than family decisions…


Who's Byline is it Anyway?

This Wednesday I received an e-mail with attached article just before noon from our PR firm, the gist of which was: “We’ve authored an article with your byline and could you review it quickly because it has to be submitted to the editor by 5:00pm today.” Talk about a different world!
When I was a practicing scientist, ‘it’ was all about authoring scientific papers and the rules were and are still very strict: only say what you have data to backup; if you speculate make it clear that you are doing so and restrict speculation to the Discussion section; and most importantly, make sure you fully reference and attribute any work of others.
When I used to manage public relations for Allelix Biopharmaceuticals, I learned to write news releases; the style is very different than scientific papers of course. Interestingly there are always included quotations from some senior executive: “We are extremely pleased about blah, blah, blah.” Now if you’ve ever thought that was what the executive said, think again. It is what the release author thinks the executive should say if anyone asked them. And many times in an early draft one person, such as the CEO is supposed to have said it, but in the final release a VP or someone else gets the attribution.
None of this really matters since most of the time the beautiful release becomes a two- or three-line filler in a magazine or newspaper, and the quotation goes unused. As an aside, that’s why the title of a news release has to make the key point, and the first paragraph has to say everything that is really important. Then subsequent paragraphs say it again in a bit more detail, and then finally there is a quotation or two. Sometimes reporters will actually use a quotation from a release. Apparently it is OK to write a column which makes it sound like you actually interviewed the person by using that quotation even if you never did.
A few weeks ago I heard a radio show discussing how the quality of journalism is declining because under deadline pressure journalists are more often using material from company releases almost verbatim. Well I guess over the years I’ve done my little bit to grease the skids…
Not to say that is true of all journalists – I’ve given interviews over the years where they actually used something I said in the interview in the final article; not always correctly mind you, but hey…
So what did I do with that story with a 5:00 deadline? I dropped what I was doing, rewrote a good chunk of it and sent it back to our PR firm. By the way, much of the article was taken from other articles that I had written, so it was mostly my stuff. But then we get into another issue, I was trained never to publish the same thing in two different journals. But apparently that doesn’t apply in the world I’m in now…

Bricklayer's Song

There a song based on the Bricklayer's Story that I talked about before! It's funny too in a very un-Hoffnung way. Many thanks to Karina, who found it for me. Here's the link: http://www.captainscience.com/code/bricklayer.mp3