Confessions about
Life-Long Learning

This is a story about forgetting to be aware and remembering to learn.

I was lucky.  My early career made me appreciate the complexity of moving information and material from Point A to Point B.  My studies were in operations management.  A professor of mine in business school researched the impact of the government opening the Internet to greater university/public use.   I was his teaching assistant.  This led to industrial engineering at a computer manufacturing company, and later manager of retail computer sales.  Although I was a lousy coder (still am), I was not scared by information technology.  Could work things out and understand data manipulation.

Indeed, for several years in the late 90s, I taught courses in electronic commerce until the field began changing so rapidly, I could not keep up.  I had to stay up to date in other courses that I taught.  My interests at the same time were moving deeply into economic and community development.  Beginning in the early to mid 00s, I lost touch with the rapid changes associated with Web 2.0/3.0 and other innovations, most notably software that could analyze vast stores of data and either classify or predict in ways not thought to be possible a few years earlier.

We could thank Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and others.

But I was now working the Internet like someone drives a car – I stopped looking under the hood.

A few years ago, I observed what a long-time friend was doing within the database industry.  He had teamed with a pioneering computer scientist to start a new company (not the first time!), and I was fascinated.  I followed his work and began to dig into resources that helped me understand what he was doing.

“Oh my,” I said. “WOOPS!  What had I missed?”  In narrowing my interests, I had ignored changes in statistical analysis and the capabilities of the web.  I knew about blogs, twitter, wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn.  I advocated the importance of science and engineering for economic development.  However, I had not kept up with what managing Zetabytes of data could uncover.

Waking up, finally, I brought this new world to my classes, a few years too late, and disappointed with myself at what I had missed.

What are the lessons?

  • One cannot ignore state-of-the-art movements, especially in areas linked to your primary field. If you do, you will lose out to the talent in the next generation who happen to have the luxury of the right mentors.
  • No longer can one wrap themselves in one field. Data analysis enables multi-discipline study like never before.
  • Just knowing how to code or run statistical tools is worthless unless one also possesses the ability to interpret.
  • Liberal Art and Science Colleges, as well as Business Schools must include these new fields in their curriculum.
  • It is never too late to learn new tricks.

So, I am a novice.  I can run big data analysis packages.  I know six standard tools of data science analysis.  I can visualize the impacts across industries.  I can introduce students to this new knowledge.

Only so far.

And that is important to confess.

Because I am not the only one.

Data Science, Big Data or any of their variants most likely will change the world with both advantages and risks.

A challenge for those in the know is to figure out ways to expand awareness and maintain a moral compass that utilize the tools for good and not just for material wealth.

Sunshine Post Droplets

Sadly the road suffered deep ruts,
Requiring a shovel, rake, and some grunts.

Filling in the sand and loose gravel,
Making all smooth on which to travel.

The sun, though, now shines brightly,
Showing the work neat and sightly

Sweat on the brim; shirt soaking wet.
The job is done once more, all set.

Till the next pounding droplets rip new gullies,
And the tools come out to counter the bullies.

Dangling Conversations

With thanks to Simon and Garfunkle

Ever observe a room full of people?
Those who go out seeking a meal or two?

What goes on in their long conversation?
Dozens upon dozens of unique observations.

Or in contrast is the talk merely small?
Trying to decipher nothing at all.

The best evenings out  is still
With someone who is not run of the mill.

Immerses us into deep satisfying thought.
Discovering images not to be forgot.

Lean for such meaningful connection,
And feel the energy of grateful perfection

Since understanding each other brings each
The vital feeling of peace.

 

 

Droplets

Awoke to grayness and the threat of heavy rain.
The first after a string of glorious sunny days.

Later, the drizzle turns to wild torrents
Oh how to worry about road suffering currents.

Sitting and watching out the mealtime window.
Torrents have big droplets surely to now know.

That returning to road will see great ravines.
Oh how I wish I had a scraping machine.

I’ll report at another time did the road not survive?
Will the next few days mean raking a landslide.

 

Life: Obscured.

A trail.  Leading.  Enveloped in woods.
Markers guiding, all seems good.

To proceed. Must see next,
Looking back, where was that trek?

Both out of sight. Lonely and lost.
Maybe, though, surely that’s best.

Carve a new path.  Above the trees.
Sitting and feeling, new-found unease.

Long time coming.  Shed restrictions.
Give it time, no need for permission.

Claims, Evidence, Conclusions
The Republican Debate

I don’t have a TV here in New Hampshire so I followed the debate last evening via comments made on FB and other news channels.

Obviously, those were just tidbits, or responses by either those for or against the Republican Party.

Today, I read the transcript……….

Oh my.

Now, what was so fascinating was to see when applause occurred.  It would happen when I just recoiled at what was said, whether it was about religion, Iraq, women, budgets, economy, or anything else.  Clearly, that shows that I think differently than those who like the Republican candidates.  Ok.  I’ll accept that.

The problem is that the logic just seems so faulty and based on a premise that a collective “we” (whoever that is) are the greatest in the world with no problems.  Everyone else (even those not of the same race or ethnicity) is just dog shit.  The candidates played to people who would applause at hateful things, war-mongering things, selfish things.

Not one moment was spent on the overwhelming challenge of inequality and corporate power.  Platitudes about small or family businesses were offered, but no one challenged how elections are being bought.  Indeed, Mr. Trump even admitted the process.

When asked what a candidate might do to solve a problem, no specifics.  Just an effort to satisfy the crowd.

I want to be clear.  Neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Sanders have convinced me yet.  Some policies are unworkable or difficult to implement.  They can be just as guilty of trying to satisfy the faithful.

For me, what I do see is a nation that is split, a nation that often thinks too highly of itself and the process lets ego get in the way, a nation that is going through a wave of concentrated power set on concentrating even more power.

I hope that when Democratic Party debates occur and when the final debates are finished, we have talked about a nation that is fair and just and not about who believes in God or power or wants to fight a war or throw up a fence or destroy public education or support an oil economy.

I want a discussion about training and education and diplomacy and proper tax structure that does not favor a certain class and health care for all.  I want a discussion about the realities of poverty and climate change and resource depletion.

In other words, I would like a discussion that looks at a much broader view of the common good.

Give me that, and I will be happier with whoever the candidate is.

Still, it is likely the Republican side will not come close for my purposes.

I hope Clinton and Sanders (and possibly Biden) do not squander the opportunity.

Ethical Reasoning
and a City

Still watching the drama in Allentown from afar, and aghast at what seems to have occurred at last night’s council meeting.

It’s not that 60 people showed up to view the movie.  No, it’s the unwillingness for six of the council members to open their mouths to discuss what is happening in the city.

Something is rotten in Denmark.  A public official able to reason objectively and ethically should understand this.  Of course, there are multiple sides. The basis of ethical reasoning is that there are always multiple sides.  Of course, much needs to be played out.  However, when citizens come asking legitimate questions (and it does not matter who, especially those having raised the same questions over the years that now seem related to the FBI investigation), statesmanship must rise above personal interests.  I know that is idealistic, but if one reads any literature on policy, the Siren call of power must always be faced with the courage of moral leadership.

Only one person asking “what is going on” is a travesty.

Is there an investigation?  Ok, some things cannot be discussed.  But a true leader (even one who perhaps is embroiled in controversy) needs to step above the fray.  Admit mistakes and take the heat (even legal heat).  If one can’t, get out.  The city does not need you.

A public official is elected for public purpose, not personal purpose.  There are theories that assume that this will never be the case, but I believe the theories only outline a tendency to the abuse of power.  We know there are people who have plugged their ears to the Sirens and looked out for the common good.

I urge visitors to this blog to read this speech by Vaclav Havel accepting the Sonning Prize for his contribution to European civilization. The biennial prize has been awarded by the University of Copenhagen since 1950.

This speech affected me greatly, and when I taught in Ukraine in 2012, I had a group of high school students read it.  Who knows what impact it had on them as 2014 approached.

Maybe it can have some impact here.

What Should
a City Do?

As I contemplate the situation in Allentown from afar, and wonder how long we must wait to uncover actually what has happened and who is at fault, I take a look at the City Charter.

Allentown Home Rule Charter

If I were still on Council, what would be my responsibility?

SECTION 210 INVESTIGATIONS

A. Council shall have the power, by ordinance, to make or cause to be made, investigations, audits or studies of the City and the conduct of any City department, office or agency, and, for this purpose may retain professional and technical assistance, subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony, require the production of evidence, and provide funds for such investigation, audit, or study.

B. The subjects of such investigation, audit or study shall be specifically stated in the authorizing ordinance.

There were times that I (and non-members of Council) pointed out to my colleagues that we had this power and could wield it, but our comments fell on deaf ears.  What might a proper investigation involve now since it is allowed to do so?  Well, there is this:

SECTION 211 REMOVAL POWERS

C. Council shall have the power to remove any elected official or appointed department head from office, if Council finds such person guilty of malfeasance in office. Malfeasance in office means an unlawful act committed willfully by an elective public officer in his or her capacity as an elected official.

Now the above suggests that a law must be broken, and I understand that.  Since the Charter is law do prohibitions in it have jurisdiction?  I am not a lawyer.  Yet the following exists.

SECTION 305 FORFEITURE OF OFFICE

The Mayor shall forfeit office if the Mayor:

A. Lacks at any time during term of office for which elected any qualifications for the office prescribed by this Charter or by law;

B. Violates any expressed prohibition of the Charter; or

C. Is convicted of any crime classified as a misdemeanor of the second degree or higher, under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the United States, or be convicted of any comparable graded crime under the laws of any other state in the United States. In all cases of forfeiture, the Mayor shall be entitled to notice and a hearing in accordance with the administrative procedures to be established by Council.

There is similar language for Council Members. Ok, more suggestions that a law at the State or Federal level must have been broken first.  Understood.  But then there is this:

SECTION 306 PROHIBITIONS

D. A Mayor who has a financial interest, direct or indirect, or by reason of ownership of stock in any corporation, in any contract with the City or in the sale of land, shall immediately make known that interest to Council. A Mayor who willfully conceals any such interests shall be guilty of malfeasance in office. Violation of this section with the knowledge expressed or implied of the person or corporation contracting with or making a sale to the City shall render the contract or sale voidable by the City.

How does one know if a financial interest exist?  And what does financial interest mean?  And is this not a City Law to be broken, since it is contained in the Charter?

Sadly, there are members of Council who are closely tied to the Mayor in a variety of ways (PAC’s for example). Thus, it no longer appears that Council can be considered objective, which is sad.

The Charter clearly states that the legislative body and the executive have different roles and that they are held to a high standard of ethical behavior.  Unfortunately, while I served, and even now, too many in power do not see this distinction.

What would I do?  It is probably too late now, but if I were still on Council or had been elected Mayor and truly believed I was innocent of the potential charges associated with the current investigation, I would step aside until proven so and call for Council to undertake its own investigation.  My reputation would be tainted, and to take a salary while waiting for results would be inappropriate.

Too late now with the FBI’s investigation underway.  I understand if no one working for the city is allowed to say anything.

Some will say that is a sign of guilt to step aside, even if temporarily.  Maybe it is a way to look good while evidence is sought.  However, for the sake of the city, virtue seems to suggests that looking out for the city’s welfare is the right thing to do.  As long as the Mayor and any associated Council Members stay under this cloud, the city suffers.

After all, why is the Charter language even there if it is never to be used?

Again, I am not a lawyer, but I served on Council and thus it seems appopriate to have an opinion.  I loudly challenged the Mayor in his attempts to sell the city water, approve an incinerator, budget unwisely, and avoid community involvement with NIZ planning.

He and his council colleagues need to think about what is right.