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Zero Tolerance Reaches The Workplace

Zero Tolerance Reaches The Workplace

In Turnings theory, one characteristic of the era we are currently experiencing is that the young adult generation benefits from a renewed focus on improving the workplace. This continues the pattern from their childhood of being protected and nurtured more intensively than the generation that came before them. The Millennial generation in childhood was the benefactor of “Zero Tolerance” policies to keep drugs and violence out of schools. The recent uproar over sexual harassment in the workplace can be thought of as this same spirit of zero tolerance following the Millennials, as they age, into a new sphere of life.

We could think of each generation’s experience with sexual harassment when they were young adults entering the workforce as tracking the changes in the social era. For the Silent generation, sexual harassment was out in the open and normalized (think Mad Men). For Boomers, there was a push back in a new age of feminism and women’s rights. When Generation X was young, sexual harassment went underground, but was tolerated for the sake of career advancement.

Now, in the Millennial young adult era, the harassment of the past twenty or thirty years is being exposed, to the ruination of the careers of many powerful older men. There will be no more tolerance of it during the rise of the new young generation, in which our society has invested so much.

Today’s Workout Album – Robot O Chan

Today’s Workout Album – Robot O Chan

An old-timey “mp3 player” from the pre-smartphone era.

My usual choice of music for a cardio workout is some EDM, or Electronic Dance Music – what we old-schoolers call Electronica. It’s kind of monotonous and repetitive, to match the very nature of cardio, but with gradual changes to keep you interested. The tempo changes from fast to slow and back so you can have bursts of intense activity followed by cooling down periods. I have my entire collection on a small device, which I can bring to the fitness center and keep tucked in a pocket while I work out.

Today’s choice for an album was Robot O Chan by Prometheus, which, if you follow the link, you will see is an alias for a solo artist. So, a general rule is that an EDM recording act is just a guy from England, or maybe two guys from England, or sometimes a guy from Finland. The music is all synthesized, so you don’t need a band or anything, though some EDM artists will record guest musicians playing a normal instrument and mix it in.

This is my favorite track from the album, one of my favorite EDM tracks of all time:

 

Music for All Ages

Music for All Ages

I have always loved music. It touches the soul. As the ancient Greeks theorized, the harmonic structure of music reflects the order and harmony of the Universe. And so the joy experienced when listening to or performing music is transcendent – you really are reaching out to heaven!

I wanted to be more engaged with music, to do more than just listen to endless Spotify playlists, so last year I joined a choir. I had been in a choir in junior high school, so I figured I could jump back in (“back after a 40 year hiatus,” as they say). Of course it has been a lot of work to get up to speed on how to sing again, but it has also been tremendous fun.

One thing I love about choir is that it brings all the generations together – this is a hobby that doesn’t appeal to one particular age group only. We have choir members from every generational archetype. Yes, that’s right, we have Millennials, Gen-Xers, Boomers and at least one Silent. He told me himself – he was born in 1940 and even identified himself as a member for the Silent generation.

We are called The Singers for Goodness Sake, and are non-profit, performing mainly in retirement communities. Tonight is the last performance of the season, and then I will take a break for the summer, when traveling will take priority. I’ve feel like I’ve come a long way in the eight months since I started singing, and like we’ve come a long way as an ensemble. I look forward to making more music with friends of all ages.

Making the Most of Valuable Time

Making the Most of Valuable Time

I listen to audio books in the car, on the premise that I spend so much time driving (either commuting or travelling) that I should at least be into a book simultaneously, especially since I will not live long enough to read all the books I’d like to, even if I live to be a hundred and twenty. My commute is 20-30 minutes each way; that is a lot of time frittered away if I am not also doing something else!

This latest one should fill in a good deal of that valuable time:

To save valuable money, which is also time, I borrow audio books from the library. The Wake County library system has an excellent collection of books of the types I like, which is mostly history. And that’s right, this one has 26 discs!

It’s The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik, and unsurprisingly there is much to be said about this particular time period (late 18th century). I’m sure I will learn a lot, although there is one slight disadvantage to audio books – sometimes I space out and miss bits. This is not a problem with the written word, since the words are still there where I left them after I return from a reverie.

Still, it will be nice to have something to look forward to while I am slogging through traffic. Why aren’t you people all telecommuting?

My Adventures in Information Technology

My Adventures in Information Technology

Nearly ten years ago, in late 2007, after about six months of unemployment, I started a job as a software tester on a data warehouse team in a corporate IT department. I had just enough database experience to bluff my way through the interview, though I had never worked with data warehousing before. So I started reading Data Warehousing For Dummies (I did not bring it to the office) and went to work. When I joined the team it was me and three Indians. I found it hard to understand their English, but despite difficulties communicating and my lack of subject matter expertise,I became productive.

I remember posting on a now-forgotten social media site (yes, it was MySpace) how glad I was to have found work, and how I now had two tasks before me: to learn data warehousing, and to learn to understand English spoken by Indians. Fast forward to 2017, and I have become an expert at both skills. I am on my third data warehouse gig since then, and in all three companies there has been a preponderance of associates from India. Where I am now, I would say about 50% of the staff. I bring this up in consideration of the tenor of the times, with Indian engineers now feeling unwelcome, even endangered in this country.

Personally, I’m happy to work with anyone, as long as they’re not a complete jerk – I don’t care where they are from. Are companies in the U.S. abusing the visa system to depress labor costs? Honestly, I’m not involved enough in the hiring process to know. I will say that I have heard one person who was hiring for a position say that they wanted to hire American, but most applicants are from India. And an American I know has said that when he looks for work at contracting sites, he feels overwhelmed by the competition from Indian engineers. I think the truth is that India has a huge population and has focused on training an entire generation of workers in IT skills – and that’s reflected in the make-up of the IT labor pool.

Can the new administration’s “Hire American” order alter the IT labor force by fiat? I guess from where I sit I can let you know, in time. But what keeps people out of skilled labor is not having the skills or experience in the first place – not a problem which hiring restrictions will solve. Training is a better idea. I do have one piece of advice for any young person who wants to join me in IT adventuring – get your work experience as soon as you can, preferably while in school.

Meanwhile, I’m sure I can keep developing in my field and stay employable; companies will always need people to manage their data. Automation doesn’t worry me because software automation just expands the possibilities of what people + computers can do together. I expect there will be more corporate campuses in my future.

Pascha Celebration

Pascha Celebration

Last night I attended an Eastern Orthodox Pascha celebration, right here in central North Carolina where I live. I have always been fascinated by this branch of Christianity, so long in pedigree, but not what I usually encounter in the Southern United States. A friend of mine has been attending their services, and I asked if I could come along, and he verified with the priest that I was welcome.

So at about 10pm we drove to the church, which turned out to be a small, squat building along a woody roadside, as common a structure as you will find in the South. We were warmly greeted by a couple of gentlemen at the front and ushered in. So then came my first surprise – the church was dark! There were no lights on, and it was hard to see anything. People helpfully guided us to where we were to take a thin, tapered candle from a box, and then we found some seats in the back.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could just make out the depictions of Jesus Christ and of the Madonna and infant Jesus, in the classic Byzantine style. The altar was actually separated from the congregation by basically a gate, a significant difference from the Roman Catholic church. The scent of incense was heavy in the air.

From behind the gate the priest started chanting, and was joined by deacons in front. They read from ornamented liturgical books, but in plainchant. Sometimes the congregation would respond, also chanting. The whole ritual evoked the ancient past – here was a way of worship that went back over a thousand years, almost unchanged, except that the participants were modern Americans and spoke/chanted in English. In the dark, the only distraction was the fussing of small children.

At one point we all lit our candles, starting with the priest, who then passed the flame to two worshipers in the front, who then passed it along. Then we processed out of the building, and around a path lit by luminaries, which we circled three times, and when we got back to the building, there proceeded a theatrical ritual of the priest requesting admittance, and being rebuffed. When eventually we were admitted, the lights were on inside.

The liturgy continued. I noticed a boy started crawling under the chairs, and I thought, my, he is rambunctious. But then I saw that an elderly man was tucking him in with a blanket! I saw that other children were now lying under the chairs, snoozing, and concluded that it must be that they were allowed to because of the late hour. The ritual was very long. The worshipers stood or sat as they wished; I realized that there was no formal requirement, although at certain points everyone stood.

In the later part of the ritual, the priest would say “Christ is risen!” and the response would be “Indeed he is risen!” Then he would repeat the phrase in a few other languages, and get some responses. I assumed one of the languages was Greek, but I didn’t know. In the end there was communion, a familiar rite to me from my Roman Catholic background. The priest blessed us with holy water, and also blessed a basket of red-dyed eggs.

The liturgy finished after over two hours – it definitely takes dedication to properly participate in the Orthodox church! But it felt like we earned the feast which followed, in tables set up in a separate space. Everyone had brought baskets full of food and wine. They were very welcoming of me; I sat with my friend next to a Romanian couple (they moved to the U.S. in 1980) and partook of food and conversation.

As the night wore on and the crowd thinned, we ended up in conversation with the priest and some of the deacons, all of them bearded and sporting wedding bands (no celibacy requirements for priests in this church). I learned that the building was only recently purchased, and is the second Orthodox Christian church in the county. I learned that the other languages spoken were Romanian, Arabic and Spanish (how did I miss that!) to reflect the languages spoken by congregants. I learned that the normally the liturgy begins at midnight (April 16 is the date of Pascha this year) but that a special dispensation had been received to begin at 10 pm from the Metropolitan – the Archbishop who presides over all of America and Canada.

We were up talking and drinking wine until well after 3:00 am. Luckily, it was a short drive to my friend’s house to finally sleep. I met some very cool people and am grateful for being welcomed to the celebration.

Parallel Universes Won’t Get You Out Of Reality

Parallel Universes Won’t Get You Out Of Reality

The idea of parallel worlds or alternate timelines is a compelling source of endless entertaining science fiction stories. It is also taken seriously in theoretical physics as a possible interpretation of quantum mechanics, that bizarre empirical phenomenon in which matter loses its substantiality at sub-atomic scales, particles become waves, and reality becomes probabilistic – until the moment when an observation is made. An observation precipitates the so-called “wavefunction collapse” and restores the familiar objective world of classical physics. In the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, it is assumed that the wavefunction simply describes all the possible versions of the Universe, and when we make an observation, we don’t collapse the wavefunction, we just determine which version of reality we are currently in. It’s an appealingly simple interpretation, which saves us from having to resolve the paradoxes of wavefunction collapse; it is a theory that has been jokingly described as “short on assumptions, long on Universes.” And now it has been updated with the many interacting worlds version, with its tantalizing possibility of being verifiable experimentally.

I remember reading a short story by Larry Niven, All The Myriad Ways, in which a corporation had figured out a way to travel among the many worlds, discovering all the possible timelines, and demonstrating to all that, indeed, the Universe does split into different versions every time a choice is made. This ends up prompting a wave of casual crimes – including suicides, murders, and rapes – as people process this knowledge to the extreme logical conclusion that there is no reason to consider the consequences of actions. After all, if I kill someone, what does it matter, since there is some other Universe in existence in which I didn’t kill them?

I wouldn’t hold out for a dimension-hopping corporation to come along and sell us souvenirs from alternate historical timelines, though. The best interpretation of quantum mechanics is the Von Neumann–Wigner interpretation – consciousness causes collapse. This interpretation neatly resolves the paradox of wavefunction collapse by accepting its salient property – it occurs at the moment of observation. Through the vehicle of consciousness, the Universe comes into being, one timeline unfolding according to our choices. This is why our actions are rife with moral significance: each choice fatefully fixes the storyline, and dispenses with the alternatives.

So Niven’s story can be seen as a parable about the nature of moral choice – it is meaningful because there is one world, limiting us with its physical laws, shaping our destiny as we travel through time. Parallel realities make for compelling television entertainment, but they are not actually going to let us escape this one. This world is your one chance. The stakes are high.

Where did Steve Barrera get his worldview?

Where did Steve Barrera get his worldview?

When I write about the Zeitgeist, or spirit of the age, it is frequently in the context of my favorite theory of social cycles, the generational or turnings theory of William Strauss and Neil Howe. In this theory there are recurring social eras, each characterized by a particular mood, depending on whether the individual or group is elevated, institutions are strengthening or weakening, and more. There’s a bit to it, and the best way to learn about it is just to read the books by the authors.

Their web site is here: The Fourth Turning.

Here is a summary that I wrote for an old blog: Background on Generational Theory.

You may have come across this theory recently, because it is now associated with the current U.S. administration, thanks to a particular advisor’s interest in it. Here author Neil Howe discusses this matter: Where did Steve Bannon get his worldview? From my book.

Here’s a brief interview as well: The book that shaped Steve Bannon’s worldview.

I post this in case it helps with understanding my language, since I tend to look at life through this particular, uh, Weltanschauung.

Exoplanets are cool but Earth is where we keep our stuff

Exoplanets are cool but Earth is where we keep our stuff

I was as excited as anyone about the news of seven planets orbiting a dwarf star, all of which are in the ‘Goldilocks zone’ (neither too close to their star nor too far) wherein they could conceivably harbor life. The memes came fast and thick for a couple of days, including this imaginary travel poster:

But as fun as it is to conceive of interstellar travel and space vacations, the truth is that the challenges that must be overcome for humans to leave the solar system are all but insurmountable. Even spreading out to nearby worlds such as our moon and Mars would require Herculean effort. The real challenge for the human species is learning to coexist on planet Earth without destroying ourselves through war and environmental degradation.

That we keep looking for “life out there” speaks to mankind’s boundless curiosity and sense of adventure, and perhaps to a desire to find an alternative to living with the lifeforms that we’re stuck with here. Like all those idiots who voted the opposite of you a few months ago. But the physics of the Universe, with its limiting speed of light and its dimensions in the tens of billions of light years, confines us to our local star system pretty well. I recall a sci-fi short story by Stanislaw Lem, in which he speculated that this is actually the design of the Universe, which is a vast experimental laboratory for the generation of intelligent life.

The calling of the human race is not to planet hop throughout the galaxy – it is to take care of the planet we inherited, and of each other. It is to evolve our capacity for love right here on Earth.

In The Zeitgeist

In The Zeitgeist

Welcome to In The Zeitgeist, my personal blog. This is a space for me to write down my thoughts about what is going on in the world, and to keep a diary of my life.

Why the name? The term “zeitgeist” comes from the German language and basically means “Spirit of the Age.” This could be referring to profound undercurrents in the social mood, or to trivial fads and social obsessions. These are both of interest to me, and now deep in mid-life I would like to share my part in these times. And so this blog.

-Steve Barrera