Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When Time Predicts the Future

One of the most reliable predictors of the future is the changing way in which we relate to time.

We know, for example, that before the Industrial Revolution, the consensus in agrarian America was that time belonged to God.  The good Lord had created light and dark and that was about all the time-keeping most people required.  Clocks could be helpful on cloudy days when noontime was obscured--Boston had a town clock in 1638, for example—but few Americans owned clocks (perhaps one in 50 in 1700).  And, everyone knew that clocks were not time per se, but crude mechanical proxies for what was really going on in the Heavens.

By 1820 things began to change, however, and it’s no surprise it reflected the rise of the steam engine, factories and the steady move from farm to city.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Haverhill's Cool Mural

Living near Boston means living side-by-side with the new information economy and the old industrial revolution.  The first is situated in places like Cambridge, Boston, Waltham and Burlington, churning away at pharma and Big Data and start-ups of all shapes and sizes.  The second, or at least its ghost, is found in the old industrial centers of Lowell, Lawrence, and Fall River--places that were booming in the years before the Great Depression with textiles, shoes and tool-making, but struggling now with varied success in attracting the new economy.

(Cities like Waltham, in fact, have bunches of both, home to companies like Zoom, Lycos, and Liquid Machines not so far from the very start of the American Industrial Revolution.  See Steampunk in Pictures at the old Waltham Watch factory.  For other historical junkets, see Gettysburg Redux and Edison in Winter.)

So it was we found ourselves the other day in one of those old booming industrial centers, Haverhill, once home to ship-building, tanneries, millinery and enough shoe-making (especially women's) to earn for it the title "Queen Slipper City."   We don't have reason to visit often, so it was a pleasant surprise to find this stunning mural, a visual history of Haverhill, beautifully rendered on the side of an old brick building.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Robots Tame the Frontier, Edison Invades Mars - Sci Fi of the 19th Century

Fans of science fiction recognize that many futuristic stories say far more about our current aspirations, limits and phobias than they do about the future.

Two of the biggest movies of 1998, Armageddon and Deep Impact (which together grossed almost a billion dollars worldwide), had Bruce Willis and Robert Duvall facing-off against giant asteroids headed directly for earth.  These movies about “extinction level events” sent people running for NASA, which was bombarded with panicked questions.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Spotting the Big Dog

Every organization has a Big Dog.  Every division.  Every department. 

How do you spot a Big Dog?  He's the one whose assistant breaks into a meeting to deliver an important, whispered message--a message that just can’t wait.  He's usually late to that same meeting, and the first to get bored, stand up during the discussion and wander around.  If it's a technology Big Dog, he's often the worst dressed, or at least without socks.  He's inevitably the one to send the first text while you're talking, the one to flip noisily through the slide deck when you're focused on slide 2.  Big Dogs have a LinkedIn account but no contacts, and they don't carry business cards. Big Dogs park near the front door in an inviolate spot and fly First Class, even when nobody else is allowed.  

At home, the Big Dog is the one who falls asleep after Thanksgiving dinner, snoring on the couch while everyone else helps the hosts clean up.  

I can’t wait.