Saturday, July 22, 2017

Own It

Great pinnacles of success and fame all too often have their co-dependent depths of failure and disgrace.

And, often, the faster the rise in prominence, the more dramatic the fall from grace.

A good man and a good coach (not a perfect man, nor a perfect coach) fell from grace last week.  There, but by the Grace of God, go all men.  And, as with all men in disgrace, this good man has no one to blame for his fall but himself.

But, then again, maybe that's not completely true.  Maybe some of the fault for a good man's tumble from a pedestal of prominence belongs to those of us who put him there.

We shine glory on public personas, in particular (but by no means exclusively) winning college football coaches.  We, not so much they themselves, build cults of personality around the men who lead our favorite teams.   The coach becomes a mythic being, bigger than the team he leads.  We follow his every utterance, yearn for a glimpse of him in public, seek his signature on a souvenir, cheer the announcement of his name.  

We Ole Miss Rebels made Hugh Freeze the celebrity he became.  

We own the broken man that he is today.

Oh, we can claim to have been misled, hoodwinked, sold a bill of goods.  But those claims are as empty as the Gatorade bucket after a big win.

Hugh Freeze was, is, just a man.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  But we made him more, encouraged his hubris, winked at his feigned humility, and, ultimately, abetted his transgressions.  And, now, Rebel Nation is angrily reducing a good man (not a perfect man) to something less.   

Own it Rebel Nation.  Don't wash the stink of it off of yourself until your contrition is complete.  Don't pretend to be shocked at behavior that should not surprise even the most morally-greased long-distance swimmer in the bitter cold cesspool of human nature.

Hugh Freeze didn't create by himself the bubble of personal perfection that surrounded him like a glowing aura.  He had lots of help.  

Rebel Nation help.  

Mississippi help.  

And, the good Lord knows we Mississippians have a near mortal headlock on the wearing of clean clothes over dirty bodies, presenting ourselves as upright in the daylight while crawling on our bellies in the dark.  

Hypocrisy is our birthright. 

So, let's not kick any harder at the prostrate form of a good (not perfect) man fallen from grace than we would want ourselves to be kicked.

Oh, and this sordid story is not through in its telling anytime soon.  Not by a long shot.  This is the gift that keeps on giving for sports writers and other journalistic moralizers.  This stick will be poked into our eyes for years to come.  We should be inured to that -- there are plenty of other sticks to the eyes we Mississippians have suffered, and will continue to.  

And just when we think the wound has healed enough to remove the bandage of public shame, the scab will be ripped off by the next good (not perfect) man, whose edifice of our adulation we have built on the shifting sands of unreasonable expectation, comes tumbling disgracefully down.  

Own it, Rebel Nation.   We are Ole Miss.                    

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bit By Bit

The Colonel is a bit of a futurist.

Emphasis on a bit.

When the Colonel was an active duty lieutenant colonel of Marines, a general officer added the following reviewing officer comment to a semiannual fitness report:  "... a bit of a visionary." 

While not exactly damnation by faint praise, the general's comment was just ambiguous enough to allow future promotion boards to read into the Colonel's record whatever they wished.  However, this post isn't about the vagaries of performance evaluations and their impact on advancement.  That's all muddy water downstream of a creek crossing, as far as the Colonel is concerned.

For the purpose of this post, he would like to think that the general's perception about the Colonel's foresight does have a bit of validity.
        
His love of history and the lessons of the past inevitably feed the Colonel's imagination for what lies ahead.  Depending on what he's been reading lately, his imagination wanders down one of two distinct paths influenced either by geo-political or technological advance factors.  He's wandering wordy down the latter path this morning.

One of the technological advances that fascinates the Colonel is the science of additive manufacturing (AM).  Or, more colloquially, 3D printing.  The Colonel is a bit of a believer that AM will be more of an economic disrupter than just about anything we've seen since Al Gore invented the internet.

The international standard for AM -- ISO/ASTM52900-15 -- defines seven categories of AM processes within its meaning: binder jetting, directed energy deposition, material extrusion, material jetting, powder bed fusion, sheet lamination and vat photopolymerization.

The Colonel ain't got the first clue what any of the above means. There ain't much math and science in his soul.  His liberal arts education, in and of itself, is hampered by the fact that the Colonel didn't go to college...; he went to Ole Miss.  

But, luckily for the Colonel, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the disruptive arc of this ICBM (innovative computing ballistic missile).  The impact of AM on many areas -- commerce, off-planet exploration, warfare, and healthcare, to name a few -- will be similar to the secondary explosiveness of the revolution in computing witnessed over the last half century.

AM has the potential to be the final nail in the coffin, currently being built by E-commerce, for brick and mortar commercial enterprises.

If you are in the second half of your life expectancy, think back to the 1970's (if you are a life rookie, still in the first half of your life expectancy, just follow along and nod in wonder as the Colonel increases your knowledge).  Computers -- specifically: electronic digital programmable computing devices developed in the middle of the 20th Century -- were the province and property solely of government agencies and very large businesses.  Within a generation, computers (transformed by advancing from vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits) had become infinitely more powerful, fractionally less in size, and exponentially more affordable.  By the middle of the 1990's nearly every home had a ''personal computer" (PC).  A generation later, a billion of us on this big blue marble carry a "smart phone," each with exponentially more computing power than all of the computers with which NASA sent rockets carrying men to the moon. 

Connected via the internet, personal computers and smart phones have revolutionized consumer commerce.  The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' economic research publication, FRED, shows in the graph below that as of the latest fiscal quarter (Q1, 2017) E-Commerce retail sales as a percentage of total sales has risen from less than one percent at the turn of the century to 8.5% today.  The growth curve displayed below looks pretty darned consistent to the Colonel's untrained eye.  The extrapolated expectation is that the percentage of retail sales conducted via E-Commerce will continue to grow steadily for the foreseeable future.         

"Disruptive" technological advances create new markets, challenge existing industries, and transform the means by which consumers access information, products, and services.  Seen as a "disruption," E-Commerce has undeniably changed the way consumers purchase retail goods, and this change will likely only accelerate going forward.  Disruption, ordinarily denoting a negative action, should not be viewed through that restrictive lens.  Disruptive technologies and innovations have regularly appeared on the scene throughout history.  Disruptive innovation has negative consequences for those that fail to adapt and positive consequences for those that early adopt.  The Colonel believes, with just a bit of vision, that AM (certainly capitalizing on, and leveraging, the revolution in connected computing) will be even more disruptive than the revolution in connected computing.

Using the personal computer analog, AM should follow a roughly similar line of advance.  Today, 3D printers are primarily the province and property of large commercial concerns and educational research, such as digital computers were in the middle of the last century.  Just as advances in digital computing inexorably moved computing power from large to smaller institutions, from libraries to homes, from desktops to hands, advances in AM will likewise, the Colonel believes without a shadow of doubt in his military mind, be marked by the same waypoints.

At some point in this innovation timeline, retail outlets will adapt to AM (if they haven't already begun to -- the Colonel is far from omniscient on the subject).  Imagine a store front with a very shallow back end. At kiosks up front, customers access products via computer (if they haven't already done so via their own web interface device) and place an order for an item to be "3D printed."  The retail outlet's automated system inputs the item's program to the relatively expensive (too expensive for home use at this point) AM machine which "prints" the item while the customer waits (as AM "matures" the wait will not be long).  The retail outlet has no inventory, except for the raw material used by the 3D printer. 

If you buy the premise posited in the last paragraph, now imagine the disruption to the current manufacturing and shipping industries. Significant portions of manufacturing will shift from relatively centralized to radically decentralized.  A significant portion of the shipping industry will shift from delivery of raw materials to factories, movement of intermediate forms of the final product from factories to assembly facilities, and movement of finished products through supply chains from distribution centers to retail outlets.  Instead, an increasing segment of the shipping industry will shift to delivery of raw materials to radically decentralized locations.  The overall template of shipping does not change radically, but the potential simplification of the supply chain offers economies of scale and time.  Not even considering, at this point, the impact of drone delivery mechanisms... 

Now, again using the personal computer analog, imagine AM machines, two generations hence, in every home.  The Colonel wants a new hammer.  He purchases the digital program via his internet interface and sends it to his personal 3D printer, which converts, via AM, raw material (from a variety of raw materials self-contained in his personal 3D printer -- think different colored inks in current 2D printers) into a hammer.  Or a dish.  Or a coffee mug.  Or a vehicle repair part.  Or components for a new smart phone.  The possibilities are as endless as they are exciting.

And, because the technology of AM is scalable and potentially self-replicating, the future is..., well, pretty darn exciting.

Couple AM with neural-machine interface (now becoming reality) and autonomous AI, and you have the potential for some serious disruption. 

We ain't there yet, but it's fun (or frightening, depending on your perspective) to think about.  And while he thinks about it, the Colonel will go mow the lawn.

The Colonel is looking forward to additive manufacturing his own autonomous, grass-height sensing, intelligent lawn mower.  That's when he'll know the future as really arrived!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Professional Reading, Volume I, Edition 1

The season of heat has begun here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere.

Doesn't do any good but to accept it and adapt to it.

The Colonel's adaptation amounts to avoidance.  He still has plenty of chores and projects to knock out across his vast holdings.  He just has had to prioritize and temporize while the temps and attendant Mississippi humidity push the heat index well into the triple digits.

There was a time...,  back in the day...,  when the Colonel was a bit younger, and a lot less wise, that he relished the heat and humidity.  He waited until the sun, and its warmth, was at its zenith to go for his daily run.  The heat energized him.

Not so much, anymore.

Heat exhaustion is now the Colonel's shadow.  And, so, because the Colonel is shooting to live to be 120, he adapts and temporizes.

Early mornings are for outside chores and projects.  The rest of the day is for indoor activities.  And, as there are only so many inside chores and projects on the CRIPPLE (Colonel's Really Important Planned Projects List, Enumerated), the Colonel has decided to reinvigorate his professional reading program.  

Until a decade ago, when there was still the possibility of the Colonel participating in the Third World War, and the participatory requirement to draw on history's lessons learned, he maintained a rather robust reading program.  Over the past decade, his normal 20 to 25 books per year has dwindled to, shamefully, 2 to 3.

So, beginning this season of heat, the Colonel will draw on his albeit dwindled reservoir of self-discipline and push the page count.

He will, as the two dozen of you who regularly waste precious rod and cone time perusing posts hereon may have frighteningly  concluded, post hereon a review of each book, to include applicable lessons learned for the future of our Republic (or, in case the American Republic decides to belly up, the future Tallahatchie Republic -- to be initially headquartered here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere).

The Colonel recently concluded Peter Cozzens' relatively even-handed and noteworthily nuanced "THE EARTH IS WEEPING, The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West."  The author's treatment, in a captivating and descriptive narrative, of the thirty-year war of concentration and attrition against the Native American tribes west of the Mississippi, is replete with examples of governmental inter- (and intra-) agency disconnect, strategic policy -- military operations mismatch, civilian and military leadership ineptitude, and failure to understand and appreciate enemy desires, will, and capability.  

Throughout the period in question, both sides continued to fail to grasp the enormity of the task presented them as the inexorable tide of treasure-seekers and homesteaders flooded westward.  In particular, the Plains tribes failed to cease their fierce internecine warfare (nearly until they were extirpated in all but a fraction of their former territory by the US Army, the Lakota Sioux considered the Crow and Pawnee far greater enemies than the whites) and unite to strike concentrated blows against the Americans until it was too late.  And, even when they did concentrate -- to the everlasting infamy of George Armstrong Custer -- they did so only temporarily and without a united follow-up campaign that may well have resulted in a negotiated peace that could have given the Indians a multi-generational peace on terms favorable to them.  

While there were many on both sides of the conflict who sought, and attained, deep understanding of the opposing side, they were far too often in the minority and rarely significant enough in the decision-making process.  Without understanding of the enemy, insufficient military resources (most of the small post-Civil War US Army was detailed to occupation and Reconstruction of the South), and with completely ineffective control of the American civilian population along the borders with and through (railroad and California-bound wagon trains) Indian territory, the Federal government was perpetually playing catch-up with regard to the situation in the West.   

In the end, however, this clash of cultures was won by the culture with the preponderance of four things -- manpower, technology, economic resiliency, and political unity.   The Plains tribes demonstrated, on more than one occasion, the ability to concentrate appropriate force coupled with technological adaptation (many tribes often fought with modern repeating rifles against US Army formations whose soldiers were equipped with older single-shot, albeit breech loading, weapons), but their loosely confederated and semi-nomadic culture was solely dependent on what turned out to be, considering their numbering in the tens of millions, a surprisingly fragile resource -- the buffalo.  Interestingly, the Plains Indian "horse culture" (which existed for little more than a century and not millennia, as is the popular misconception) and warrior reliance on their mounts for tactical advantage was actually an operational weakness  --  experienced Army officers learned to time their campaigns against hostile tribes for late winter when Indian pony herds were weak from lack of forage.   

The only true strategic set-back inflicted by the Plains tribes on the Americans was done so serendipitously.  Incessant attacks on the Northern Pacific rail line (and defeat of an Army detail sent to defend its construction) caused shareholder panic.  The company bankrolling the construction went bankrupt and the ensuing panic resulted in the economic depression of 1873.  The rail line construction stopped and the Lakota wrongly assumed their tactical victory had accomplished their campaign aim to stop white encroachment via the "iron horse" once and for all.  They failed to follow up and once the depression ended, track laying recommenced.    

Perhaps the greatest lesson to be drawn from the Indian wars for the West is the warfighting necessity for political unity and unity of effort.  Rare is the national leadership that goes to war without at least calculating that the initial force ratios (manpower and technology) are in their favor.  Not so rare are those that fail to ensure political unity, and fail to protect, as well as marshal for war support the preponderance of, their economies in order to ensure the most rapid victory and thereby preserve the will of the people.