Conservance

Social, Economic, Enviromental Responsibility

Category: Uncategorized

21st Century Tyranny


In any setting, no matter how large or small; power corrupts. The right and just check against that corruption is accountability. Ideally to an informed party that has no vested interest beyond the best course of action for the parties involved. That is to say, they do not benefit directly from the decisions made, and so have a certain freedom to chose what is actually right. 

This is the model that all nations are founded on, that the government of a nation derives its power from the governed. The people hold their leaders accountable, through elections, referendums, protests and if necessary, rebellion.

The danger is that those in power will corrupt or subvert the check that accountability places on them. Through any number of means, all of them immoral, all of them sinister.

We see in businesses, and those institutions who model themselves on businesses, obfuscation, distraction, and cronyism. The “governed” (ie: students, employees, or customers) are distracted with non-essentials (data limits on cell phone plans for example) that imitate control. In the case of cell phones, choosing a data plan that “works for you” and then paying the supposed higher costs, ignores the fact that cell phone companies are charging that amount of money because they have not updated their infrastructure. Cellular and other communication networks still route to copper wires that were laid in the 50s and 60s. 

University and business boards are both especially guilty of cronyism. Often times, the board members all know each other very well, and instead of holding each other accountable, more often than not rub each others backs. E. Gordon Gee, president of the Ohio State University, was given a ludicrous pay raise, even after a major scandal occurred under his leadership, and the university was facing budget shortfalls. Why? Because the board members are all closely related, some of them are major contributors to the university, and they all benefit financially from the actions of President Gee. The students however, do not. 

Automated customer service lines are the perfect tool to shirk accountability. By running customers through endless levels of red-tape, prompts and low level employees, a business can effectively insulate themselves against the demands of its employees. In today’s modern, globally interconnected economy a company can do this, because ultimately there is no one else. When “The Last Airbender” movie was boycotted, it accomplished nothing, because the production companies Paramount, MTV and Nickelodeon went on with business as usual. Along with that, their parent company, Viacom, was not boycotted. Protestors refused to see “The Last Airbender” but continued to watch MTV, and buy products from other Viacom owned companies. Effectively negating their boycott.

This is a more insidious form of tyranny. It is no less evil, no less dehumanizing, yet because it has no real “violence” associated with it or the masses are given a short-term fix, we fail to see it as such. This is 21st century oppression, this is what dictators and regimes look like now. And we need to resist them as we always have, we must rise up and demand that accountability be restored to all levels of society and government.

 

In short, we must fight back. Non-violently if we can, violently if we must.

Solidworks and the Illusion of Work


Or

Why Contemporary Society Falls Flat

I have recently returned to the hallowed halls of academia in pursuit of second degree. A career change to mechanical engineering. It has been a less than smooth transition and being a 29 year old freshman makes for interesting meetings with my advisers, faculty and administrators at the Ohio State University.

Part of being a mechanical engineer is learning to use Computer Aided Design/Drafting programs. Through a corporate arrangement, Ohio State uses Solidworks. I was as excited as a kid at Christmas: a chance to take my ideas and not put them onto paper, but into a powerful design and analyzing software. No more guessing if something would work, a few clicks of the mouse and answers would be presented to me.

It was not to be.

Solidworks is difficult, overwhelming and counterintuitive to use. Just like all powerful software products seem to be, I was expecting this. What I was not expecting however, was the utter lack of customer support, training tutorials, and an equally “powerful” help feature. I was also not expecting the number of times I would be shouting at a computer screen when a simple command was ignored, or a click of the mouse ruined all my hard work thus far.

When I first began encountering problems, I moved my pointer to the “help” icon, confident that so powerful and expensive a piece of software would have a comprehensive and easy to use help section. When my first search turned up no answer, I could feel my temperature rising. When my second search returned several forum posts, I knew my face was turning read. To avoid putting my fist through my monitor, I opened Google Chrome and began searching the internet for answers. I was quickly pointed to the Solidworks website.

“Finally, answers were to be mine!” I could feel the stress leaving my body, and then return with an utter vengeance. The steps and solutions offered from Solidworks were completely and utterly useless. That was of course when I found them, hidden among forum post after forum post.

I walked away before bad things happened. I also started thinking about why this bothered me so much. The larger, philosophical question with ramifications for society and life was an easier question to answer than “how to skin a 3D wire mesh in SolidWorks” which says something about Solidworks.

To start, I am bothered by how much companies have outsourced their responsibilities onto their users. People have paid money expecting a product to work appropriately, when it doesn’t work those same customers expect answers. When answers cannot be found, the expectation is to be able to talk to someone at the company. The more expensive the item, the better the services should be.  This is part of the social contract that a company and a customer enter into. Forcing the users to answer their own questions, troubleshoot their own product, and develop their own resources breaks that contract. If I, as the purchaser, am required to do all the work to make the product usable, then why am I paying money in the first place? It is especially frustrating if the product doesn’t work as easily or simply as it has been advertised. Banks, airlines, car rental companies, and more have already put the majority of work onto the user and if McDonalds could figure out how to force customers to cook their own food, they would. We’re paying more money for a product that doesn’t work, and for each user to do more of the work involved, in order for some company to cut staff and increase profit.

Secondly, I have spent the last two weeks “making” things in Solidworks what do I have to show for it? Nothing. Nothing at all. No parts, no pieces, no widgets. NOTHING. It is the engineering and design equivalent of sitting in a rocking chair. It is nothing more than playing work, and a poor substitute at that. At the end of a long day of “working” with Solidworks, there is no accomplishment, no sense of pride, nothing to point to and say “I made this.” The very power of Solidworks, and computers in general, is incredibly seductive. It is easy to mistake designing and testing and “making.”

Along with that is a question: Would you rather have a doctor who went to med school dissected cadavers, performed surgeries on real people (under the guidance of doctors), and actually got their hands “dirty” or would you rather have a doctor who used computer simulations of all that? Engineers make items that are used everyday in life and death situations (cars or electrical switches). Would you rather have an engineer who has actually made and tested those items in real life or one who has trusted a computer simulation?

Beyond that, I’ve noticed a lack of understanding of materials and design principles among my classmates. One student suggested CNC’ing a frame out of a single block of aluminum. The frame was slated to be 3 feet tall, by 3 feet wide, by 2 feet deep. Ignoring the cost of materials, we did not have a CNC machine large enough! It was an easy enough thing to do in Solidworks, but almost impossible in the real world. Along with that, the piece in question would have been better made with a tubular frame or angle stock on a mill or band saw not a CNC machine. To make matters worse, the material chosen wasn’t the best material to use. All of this because of a fundamental lack of material properties and design. Something that can only be learned by reading books. Thick, boring, dusty, books.

We’ve reached a point where the tools available to use are the most powerful the world has ever seen, capable of refining designs to such a level of precision as to be perfect. That is only possible though with a fundamental, real world understanding and real world experience. However, because of the ease of clicking a mouse we have sacrificed real world knowledge, experience and results for simulations.

Leaders & Politicians


The Lincoln-Douglas Debates were tailor made for leaders, men of vision. The “debates” we see today are tailor made for politicians.

We stopped electing leaders years ago, and America has suffered for it.

Historical Perspective


Over the last decade, Christopher Columbus has become a villain. A racist tyrant, bringing with him death and enslavement to a peaceful, idyllic landscape.

Before that, he was a hero. An explorer of the highest caliber.

Both are false.

We need to stop judging historical figures solely by our current (and waivering) morality. Christopher Columbus was a man of his time, who knew no better than what he knew.

He’s vilified for what reason? He failed to rise above his social expectations and meet ours? And George W. should have known there weren’t WMDs 30 days before he knew there weren’t WMDs in Iraq.

I bring this up to illustrate our current mindset: We’re very a much an all or nothing society.

Columbus is a villain because he carried diseases and opened the Americas to colonization, Jefferson is a villain because he owned slaves. Clinton is a hero because of the economy (which we should now realize, no one has control of the economy).

In environmental terms, we need to understand that “green” technologies still have a negative side. Every decision we make is two-fold.

If we can understand that Columbus made both brilliant and terrible decisions, then we can begin to understand that solar power has negative impacts.

What we need to do is lessen our negative impact. Certain clean technologies will allow that, just like certain lifestyle changes.

There will still be impacts on the planet, but not so severe or irreversible.

Intentionality


It’s what we need to start focusing on when we make choices. Every choice.

We can no longer make cavalier decisions with no understanding of their implications.

And we can no longer afford to think that “someone else will do it.”


Things have been incredibly busy as of late. Hence the lack of posts.

Quick summation of where my time has been going:

The econo-bike buildoff:

I highly recommend checking it out. If you’ll be in the Columbus area, stop by!

My personal project bike:

This has been taking up a big portion of my time in the evenings and my days off. The big one being all the cleaning the frame needed. It was rusted. RUSTED.

Spring At The Paddy:

Riding season is beginning. What little energy I had at the end of the day, is now gone. Gone to customers needing everything for their ride.

 

Disconnect


People dislike government.

It’s not hard to understand why. While politicians talk about grand plans and high ideals, the day to day interaction with “Government” is terrible.

No matter how great a program might be, the awful service at the BMV, the perceived laziness of road crews, potholes, and the IRS; influence a persons overall opinion of government.

There’s a disconnect. Whether it’s a Democrat or Republican controlled government, the lines at the BMV stay long and slow.

The same thing has been occurring in the environmental movement. Well intentioned teachers taught about the destruction of the rain forest and its endangered species to young students (myself included). Those students developed a disconnect between environmental issues and their own backyards.

Deforestation only happens in the rain forest, endangered species only live in exotic locales.

What’s worse; the debate has moved into the ethereal realm of global climate change or into the visceral realm of whaling.

Like politicians failing to improve the daily interactions with government, the environmental movement has failed to connect people to the environment outside their doors.

There are endangered or threatened species in every state and every country in the world. In some areas, the extinction is so great that native species are considered foreign invaders and vice versa.

“Saving the Planet” starts in the backyard.

Reaganomics


Something caught my ear on television today. There’s a special on Reagan’s presidency.

What caught my ear was one of Reagan’s cabinet members mentioned that he often disagreed and argued with Reagan in regards to the USSR’s economics.

What this means is that groupthink was avoided.

That is important. In one of the most heavy-handed presidencies, what Reagan wanted; Reagan got, there was actual discussion and debate.

Contrast this with the current rhetoric in the environmental “movements.” There is no discussion, there is no debate, and there certainly is no dynamic course of action.

It’s all rhetoric. The few people making inroads are the producers of “The Cove” who are slowly stopping the Japanese whaling and dolphin killing. And some automotive makers, who are making great strides in environmentally friendly automobiles.

Meanwhile, various groups with various agendas are still “protesting” and demanding “change.” What ends up occurring is discordant noise.

Intentionality


There are two grocery stores in the area around my parents house. Dad chooses to go to the poorer neighborhood and purchase his groceries.

The selection isn’t as good, the workers aren’t as friendly, the store isn’t as trendy as others. Why go there?

Because it’s the last grocery store in that neighborhood; if it closes, healthy food is no longer an option for hundreds of people.

It’s less convenient at times, but the importance of that small decision can not be measured.

(Yes, this is a metaphor.)

Egypt And The Environmental Movement


If you live under a rock, you can be excused for not realizing that Egypt has deposed their President, and are in the process of building a new country.

Yesterday I received an email from an “environmental” group, the Energy Action Coalition. In no uncertain terms, this was the worst example of what the environmental movement has become.

There’s a spontaneous revolution in Egypt, that was born out of years of anger and frustration. And has resulted in action and change. Serious, historic change.

And then there’s the Power Shift, 2011… A highly planned “protest” that will be big on hype, and movement, but no change.  Like screaming at people, while sitting in a rocking chair. There’s motion, but no movement.

One resulted in real, legitimate change. The other will result in college kids getting drunk, and feeling good about themselves.

Which is going to be remembered in 50 years? I suppose I should give the Energy Action Coalition some respect for having the audacity to try and compare their “protest” with that of Egypt.

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