Vol. 1 | #10 | 08.03.18

Last week my Daughter spent a week attending summer art camp hosted by the Dayton Art Institute. Among the many pieces she created over the course of her week, her pencil artwork of a lightning bug with a light bulb for an abdomen is my favorite. Her assignment was to mix something real with something imagined. She didn’t name it, so I have dubbed it “20-Watt Firefly.”

In honor of my 13-year-old’s artistic output, this week’s “5 things” have an arts and education focus.

Mostly.


1

Catching Epic Waves
With our mega-pixel cameras masquerading as smartphones, we are all photographers now. With the portrait wizardry of the iPhone X, it’s easy to get a bit full our photog selves and think we’re turning out stuff on par with Sam Jones.

Then you come across the artistry that’s possible when a lens and shutter are in the hands of an actual professional.  In this case, it’s Rachael Talibart, and her muse is the sea. As her photos illustrate, the artistry isn’t so much in the taking of the photo as in the seeing what is there worth capturing in the first place.


2Unveiling The Colour of Time
I’ve been following Brazilian artist Marina Amaral on Twitter for some time now. I forget how her work first came into my feed, but I’ll never forget the image that captured my attention and caused me to follow her. You see, her art is using digital tools like Photoshop to turn historical photos like this —

— into vividly life-like images like this:

Her attention to detail is utterly astounding, and her faithfulness to telling the stories about the people behind the images is noble. What started as a hobby combining her love of history with her talent for Photoshop has now turned into a new book. You can pre-order a copy and get yours when it comes out later this month.


3McKinsey on Storytelling
When I first came across this article about how to tell powerful innovation stories that emotionally move people by Professor Julian Birkinshaw of the London Business School, I confess that my reaction wasn’t kind. I mean, a B-School professor writing under the name of corporate consulting titan McKinsey&Company about emotive storytelling? LOL, right? In fact, I happened to catch myself on video when I first clicked on the link. In a moment of public confession, I share it with you now:

(I know. The John Krasinski look-alike thing. I’m always flattered when people think I’m him, and not offended when they realize I’m not. Moving on…)

Once I actually read the piece, though, I was pleasantly surprised. It is a good summation of several archetypal story narratives that serve as great vehicles to carry a company or product’s message about its place in the market. (Provided it’s true, of course.) I take issue with one thing and one thing only. This here is bad advice:

Claiming to be astute and clever like this is not something to be modeled after. Conversely, admitting the role of luck and the trail of mistakes made is not something to be avoided.


4“Hello, and Welcome to Moviepass!”
There are business ideas that prove to be dumb only after the fact. Then there are business ideas like Moviepass that are so absurd on their face that everybody can see its doomed future. Everyone, that is, except the folks behind Moviepass whose spreadsheet said it should work.

Billed as the “Netflix for theaters,” Moviepass’ premise is a simple one: for a set monthly fee, you can see any movie in any theater, once a day, every day. In short, the subscriber pays Moviepass a monthly fee, and Moviepass pays the full retail cost of each and every movie ticket for the subscriber. (Sensing a problem yet?) With monthly subscription rates originally ranging from $15-$50, Moviepass worked fine for 6 years. Then, in August, 2017, a “big data” company bought Moviepass and announced a grand new strategy: a single, nationwide subscription rate of $9.95.  Predictably, the subscriber count shot through the roof, going from 12,000 in August 2017, to 3 million by June 2018.

In the past week, Moviepass users have suffered a series of service outtages due to the company running out of money needed to buy tickets. The parent company — Helios & Matheson Analytics — has now taken to publicly complaining about the “exorbitant prices for theater tickets and goug[ing of] customers with overpriced concessions” by movie theaters. And now, in a sign that the last days of Moviepass are upon us, a share of Helios’ stock, which was as high as $2,285/share as recently as six months ago, could be had for one solitary dime at the close of trading yesterday. (Yes: $0.10/share.)


5King James Vision
I’m no fan of the NBA, and I think I can truthfully state that I haven’t watched LeBron James play for a total of 2 minutes in my entire combined tv sports viewing life. Of course, James is the kind of mega-star that even those who pay zero attention to his sport likely know who he is and of his generational athletic talent.

What you may not know: he opened a brand new school for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and that classes started this week. When I say I “he opened,” I don’t mean he lent his image and donated his time by making a PR appearance at the opening of the school. I mean he and his foundation foot the bill to help fund the school, in partnership with the local public school district. Reading about the resources James’ foundation is providing to the teachers of the I Promise School makes the heart of this teacher’s husband swell.

Imagine being a 3rd grader in inner-city Akron suddenly getting to experience learning as if he were living in the swankest of Cleveland suburbs, and all due to the generosity of the world’s biggest sports superstar. All the feels.

And it wasn’t just the students who were wide awake unable to sleep from excitement on the night before school started.

Vol. 1 | #9 | 07.27.18

1The Science on Open Offices
This trend of knocking down all the walls — literally — in the office space and forcing workers into an open, common area really peaked with the unveiling of Facebook’s new 430,000 sqft HQ building back in 2015. If there’s a Platonic ideal of what the open office concept is supposed to be like, I imagine this was supposed to be it.

Nearly every article and corporate statement about companies moving to the open office model have cited the same proffered reasons for doing so. For example, from Harvard Business Review just this January: “Organizations are rushing to implement open office spaces in hopes of retaining talent, encouraging cross-functional collaboration, enhancing exposure to different kinds of expertise, and accelerating creativity and innovation.”

Now here we are, three years after Facebook’s MPK20, and science has had time to catch up with this corporate HR/Operations trend. The verdict?

(If you’re so inclined, you can read the study for yourself.)


2Imagining a Future Without Employees
Here’s an interesting crystal ball piece on what the world could look like in 2030 when two economic forces converge: the drive to cut corporate costs and the “Gig Economy.” Who needs to worry about whether to provide employees desks, walls, and offices when you don’t have employees?

How likely is this? Well, last month the New York Times sounded pessimistic, citing data from the Federal Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics that gig’ers (a term I may have just made up) make up only 10% of the American workforce. Hardly a revolution. But then two days ago we learned that the Feds really have no idea how big the freelance economy actually is, because it’s definition for what counts doesn’t match reality.

In the world of social media influencers (yes, that is evidently a real things now. Just ask Forbes.), not only do leading brands not need the models to be employees … they don’t even need them to be people. Say hello to Lil Miquela (1.3M followers on Instagram), Bermuda (83K), Blawko (135K) and Shudu, the self-proclaimed world’s first digital super model (129K)

Totally not weird, right?


3Predictive Policing
Of course, it’s not called that. Calling it that would be too weird and freaky, and make everyone think of floating psychics telling Tom Cruise who to preemptively arrest. Instead, it’s “data-driven policing,” and while the jury is still out on whether these new big data, algorithm-driven policing efforts actually have an effect on the rate of crime, they do offer this:

“But really, the benefit of big-data policing for police departments is political. New technology gives police chiefs an answer to the age-old question asked by every politician in every community forum: ‘Chief, what are you doing about crime?’ They now have a progressive-sounding, technologically inspired answer: ‘We are using a new black-box technology to predict and deter crime.”’

So, there’s that.


4It’s Elon’s Show, but Gwynne Directs It
After last week’s Apollo-rama, it should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I’m a big fan of Elon Musk’s sci-fi miracle factory known as SpaceX. But, to truly understand the leader making that rocket ship company go, it isn’t Elon you need to study. (Though that is certainly time well-spent, IMO. I’d start here or here.)

Last week I noted the sad fact that the contributions of women in the original Space Race were often in the background, overlooked or just poorly told. I don’t think this modern version will suffer the same problem, not with Gwynne Shotwell running SpaceX as it’s current President and COO. Get to know her through this Bloomberg Businessweek spotlight piece, or listen to her on the TED stage describe how SpaceX wants to use rockets to ferry business travelers from NYC to China in about a half hour.


5Robots In Space
Imagine if Alexa wasn’t stuck on your countertop, but she could float and follow you around the house … and instead of trying to entertain you with music and dumb jokes, her job was to watch how you interacted with your house guests and report her assessment back to headquarters.

If you’re an astronaut on the International Space Station, this is your new reality. Earlier this month, SpaceX’s most recent resupply mission to the ISS included CIMON, a volleyball-sided floating AI-powered computer assistant. While technically CIMON’s mission is to simply help the astronauts with operational tasks no less than Alexa and Siri and Google’s nameless assistant do down here on Earth. But in the future? Who knows?

Vol. 1 | #8 | 07.20.18

Today marks the 49th anniversary of Apollo 11’s touchdown onto the dusty surface of Mare Tranquillitatis. Each year at this time I experience a mix of two emotions:

  • slack-jawed awe at the engineering marvel and operational choreography that went into landing men on the moon;
  • mournful sadness at how this pinnacle of human achievement sits in relative obscurity in the cultural mind of our modern American moment.

And each year, I use whatever platforms I have at my disposal to remind anyone listening that this event not only happened, but is worth every bit of celebration we can (but don’t) muster. Frankly, I believe July 20th should be a federal holiday: Apollo 11 Day.

Until that happens, I’ll just have to be content with efforts like this themed edition of “5 for Friday,” and watching our set of From the Earth to the Moon DVD’s. There’s a LOT more content here than normal, because … well, frankly, I just enjoyed digging into it and sharing it all. Fortunately, this is “5 for Friday” and not “5 for Wednesday” or something. You’ve got the whole weekend to read and learn at your leisure!

COMPOSITE PIC: 5 frame shot of the gantry retracting while the Saturn V boosters lift off to carry the Apollo 11 astronauts to the Moon. SOURCE: Time | LIFE



A Moment for All Time
Long before the age of Google, Flickr, and Instagram feeds, LIFE magazine was the definitive source for the photographs and stories that defined a generation. When it came to the pinnacle technological achievement of the entirety of human history, LIFE delivered as it always did — in stunning pictures and two weeks after the fact.

Imagine waiting that long in today’s 24/7/365 media world.

Thankfully, Time, Inc. (the owners of the long-defunct magazine) have put the modern internet to great use by sharing with us the original magazine as a 49-page digital slideshow of every double-page spread. (One drawback: most of the text itself is too small to read. But the photos and readable captions are enough!) The alternative is to buy an original copy off of someone on eBay. This tattered copy is currently listed at $39.99. (A bargain, TBQH, that I may have to avail myself of…)

The story of how LIFE photographer Ralph Morse captured the iconic sequence of Apollo 11 liftoff photos seen above is pretty spectacular in its own right.



Apollo 11 – the Cliffs Notes Version
Whereas my parents’ generation had LIFE magazine, my kids’ generation has infographics. Personally, I love a good infographic. When well done, the combination of words, numbers, and images stimulate multiple areas of the brain, which aids in the persuasive power and memorability of the information presented. (It’s science.)

With that in mind, SPACE.com produced a great infographic highlighting the key facts about the Apollo 11 landing. My favorite fact that I had never heard before: how the timing of the landing was strategically chosen to coincide with a particular phase of the moon. (Hint: it’s about the utility of long shadows.)



The Lore of LOR
In the early days of NASA — when JFK was still a Senator, NASA was actually still NACA and Project Mercury was still in the planning stages — the Soviets started racking up an impressive list of spaceflight achievements beyond just Sputnik I in 1957 (watch the newsreel from 10/7/57). A mere two years later in 1959, Russia began launching a series of successful lunar missions, including Luna 2, the first vehicle to impact the moon’s surface, and Luna 3, the first to take pictures of the dark side of the moon.

It soon became clear that landing a man on the moon was America’s best chance to leapfrog the Russians. Crashing a satellite into the moon was one thing; arriving there with a live astronaut in a vehicle capable of returning home was orders of magnitude more complex. But, long before the contractors could commence building the spacecraft that would take an American astronaut to the moon, NASA had to figure out its strategy for just *how* to go about getting there. That meant choosing one of three potential technological paths:

Lunar-Orbit Rendezvous, or LOR (*), was considered a too-risky non-starter by most in the NASA braintrust even though it promised to be the most advantageous in terms of development time, cost and — most importantly — weight requirements. (In both the Direct and EOR approaches, the craft landing on the moon would have to do so while carrying the fuel and systems (propulsion, guidance, etc) needed to leave the moon surface, break free of it’s gravity, and fly home. It would also have to carry to the moon’s surface the heavy heat shield that would be needed for reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. With LOR, on the other hand, all that material and weight would be left parked in a lunar orbit, leaving the LEM lander free to be light on its feet and custom designed for its singular mission.)

Critics dismissed the promise of all this weight savings from LOR — as much as 2.5x less — as simply optimistic math. They also viewed LOR as too risky because it required the then (1959-62) untested rendezvous maneuver to be done in lunar orbit. If something went wrong, the Apollo astronauts would be stranded nearly a quarter of a million miles from home.

Then, on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy uttered his immortal words before a joint session of Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Suddenly, NASA had a hard and very ambitious deadline to meet and a decision had to be made; it could only afford the time and expense of developing a lunar landing program along one of the three paths.

In July, 1962, NASA Administrator Jim Webb announced LOR as the approved route the Apollo program would be taking to the moon. This shift away from the Direct ascent mode (favored by the legendary Dr. Wernher Von Braun, designer of the Nazi V-2 rocket and Apollo’s Saturn V launch system) to the least likely candidate in LOR was due to the zealous belief and dogged determination of one man: Dr. John Houboldt. For the better part of two years, Houboldt make it his singular mission to convince the rest of NASA that not only was LOR the best approach to landing on the moon, it was the only one that could be done before the end of 1969. As recorded in a NASA organizational history series:

“In the summer of 1960, while making back-of-the-envelope calculations to confirm the savings in rocket-boosting power gained by the LOR approach, Houbolt experienced a powerful technological epiphany. Three years later, in a 1963 article, he described what happened: ‘Almost simultaneously, it became clear that lunar-orbit rendezvous offered a chain reaction simplification on all ‘back effects’: development, testing, manufacturing, erection, count-down, flight operations, etc.’ In this moment of revelation, Houbolt made an ardent resolve: ‘I vowed to dedicate myself to the task.’ From that instant until NASA’s selection of the mission mode for Project Apollo in July 1962, he tirelessly crusaded for the LOR concept.”

Without Houbolt’s determination, it’s possible that one of the other two lunar transport modes would’ve ended up successfully delivering American astronauts to the moon and back. It just wouldn’t have occurred at a time when the Beatles were still a functioning foursome. He is truly a hero of the Apollo 11 landing deserving to be remembered as the astronauts themselves.

(*Not to be confused with Lore, the demented Soong-type android and evil older “brother” to Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yep, I’m one of those fans as well. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )



The Tech Fruit of Apollo
When it comes to the payoff of winning the race to the Moon, there was more to it than just moon rocks and beating the Russians. The eight year sprint to go from Alan Shepard’s 15-minute, 28-second “popgun shot” (May 5, 1961) to Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” (July 20, 1969) generated a burst of technological development. Besides the obvious — rockets, landers, computers, and spacesuits — the space race produced a plethora of technologies that found their ways into the commercial and consumer markets. This NASA fact sheet from 2004 identifies some of the most commonly used, including cordless drills and the Nike Air!

Contrary to myth, velcro wasn’t invented for the space program. Neither were Tang and Teflon.



She Is Worth Highlighting

When it comes to the act of Apollo 11 actually executing its landing on the moon’s surface, one team’s work was flawless and pivotal at the most crucial moment of the landing itself. That team was led by a woman, and her name was Margaret Hamilton.

Margaret led the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which was the recipient of NASA’s very first Apollo program contract. (It was issued a mere three months after JFK’s shocking moonshot declaration.) Margaret and her team wrote the guidance program source code for the LEM’s on-board computer, which stood as a stack taller than her when printed out.

Margaret Hamilton: Apollo Guidance and Navigation Programming Queen

Now ponder this from the article: “the Apollo guidance software was so robust that no software bugs were found on any crewed Apollo missions, and it was adapted for use in Skylab, the Space Shuttle, and the first digital fly-by-wire systems in aircraft.” A stack of computer code standing over five feet tall, and not a single bug! But plenty of easter eggs, naturally.

One shortcoming of the popular re-tellings of the Apollo story is their monocular view of the women involved. Take, for example, the really well done HBO miniseries executive-produced and narrated by Tom Hanks, From the Earth to the Moon (1998). It is a favorite of my wife and I, and is our bedtime viewing each year during #Apollo11Week. (That’s not a real thing … but it should be.)

Over the course of its 12 episodes, the series gives viewers access to a variety of viewpoints even as it marches through the chronology of the achievement of Kennedy’s audacious goal and beyond. Episode 5, “Spider,” tells the story of the development of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) from the perspective of the civilian engineers at Grumman Aircraft Engineering contracted to built it. Viewers see the Apollo 13 drama through the lens of the television journalists that covered it in Episode 8, “We Interrupt This Program.” But, when it comes to the women associated with the Apollo program, it’s the same one-note song: the astronauts’ wives are the focal characters of Episode 11, “The Original Wives Club.” (Not that theirs wasn’t a good story to tell, as evidenced by a New York Times bestseller and TV show inspired by it.)

Thankfully, with 2016’s Academy Award-nominated movie and NYT bestselling book, Hidden Figures, that has started to change. Through the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA … and those of women like Susan Finely and Barbara Paulson working as “computers” for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA … we learned about the substantive but overlooked role that so many women played in math and science behind America’s moonshot. It’s a story so powerful and in need of telling that the broader pop culture has started to find its own ways to retell it. Witness this advertisement produced by German marketing firm DDB for the well known highlighter, the Stabilo Boss:

Vol. 1 | #7 | 07.13.18

1When Creativity Wants to Drive
There is a stream of thought out there (I don’t think it’s coalesced enough yet to call it a “school of thought”) that extols the virtues of studying improv comedy as a means of growing one’s business management skill. The reason, of course, is creativity, which conventional wisdom in business recognizes is vital to business success.

And yet, most in business still don’t really get creativity or how it works. Here is but one example from some of the smartest business strategists at McKinsey & Co.: a 4-point plan for management practices “associated with creativity and innovation.” Well intentioned it may be, but this is like trying to measure artistic creativity by surveying the size of famous paintings and the amount of oil and strokes used.

The secret to being creative can’t be gleaned from data analysis done on surveys of business executives. Creativity is done by creative people thinking creatively. If you want know how it’s done, listen to comedians, song writers, and artists. That’s just what author and artist Austin Kleon is providing to the rest of us with his post featuring the thoughts of, among others, comedic legends Jerry Seinfeld and Dave Chappelle.


2“Within two days, the baby had a normal heart…”
This story about a new advancement in medical science is simply breathtaking. In short: surgeons remove a scrap of healthy tissue from the patient, spin it through a blender and then a centrifuge to separate the mitochondria from the cells of the tissue, load up about a billion of said mitochondria into a syringe, inject it into the dead or dying heart tissue of an infant suffering from heart defects … and watch as the heart returns to normal.

My favorite aspect of this story was in reading how the idea came about.

Of course it did. So many of the great ideas do.


3The Design Genius of Railway Maps
I found this article about the graphic design work behind railway maps and their use in advertising to be doubly timely and interesting.

First: earlier this week, my family spent an afternoon experiencing travel aboard an old railroad car whose seats were nearly 100 years old. We weren’t traveling anywhere, though. It was simply a 90 minute there-and-back ride on the historic railroad of local significance: the Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad.

Second: it reminds once again about how thoughtful, purposeful design thinking is critical to visually displaying information. Graphical information is always a representation of an abstraction, and it is there that the power of design work is needed the most.

Communicating abstraction for ease of understanding is an intentional act. The effective communicator/designer understands when to aim for more realism and less abstraction, and when to do the opposite. This is as true for London Underground maps (1933 version | current version) as it is charts, graphs and the Excel spreadsheets that feed them. For a great resource on the latter, check out the work of Ann K. Emery.


4Fire Explained
Here is everything you could possibly need or want to know about the science and technique behind a successful campfire. Getting a good fire going is for me what golf is to others. Most of the time, it is a frustrating, emasculating exhibition of failure. But, every once in awhile, I stumble my way into a roaring pyre. In those rare instances, I turn into Tom Hanks on a deserted beach with utterly no shame whatsoever.

Those who do not understand fire are less apt to enjoy it properly.

via GIPHY


5Taking a Picture of Your IQ
There are many people in positions of leadership and power who think IQ holds great value in predicting performance and competence. Per scientists at Caltech, that information can now be uncovered through the use of an fMRI and an interpretive algorithm that turns bloodflow patterns into an approximation of intellectual horsepower.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of IQ obsession and love Stephen Hawking’s take on it: “People who boast about their IQ are losers.” There are others who think otherwise. If this technology proves true (it’s very early), here’s hoping that the ease of obtaining a measurement doesn’t further mechanize our way of assessing people. The last thing we need to do is turn intelligence and IQ assessments into the mental version of the NFL’s obsession with 40-yard-dash times.

If you’ve ever wanted to better understand what IQ scores actually measure — and what “intelligence” means (or doesn’t) — this Q&A in Scientific American is for you.

Vol. 1 | #6 | 07.06.18

1Quarterly Earnings Guidance Needs to Die
Every three months, the leaders of public companies lock eyes with the investment analysts of Wall St. and dance the tango of the “quarterly earnings guidance.” In theory, this practice is corporate transparency in action, as companies bare their books to investors — reporting both how they performed over the previous three months, and forecasting what investors can expect in the near future. In practice, this theory ignores the distorting effect on corporate governance that such a short-term focus inevitably creates.

Fortunately, the days of this practice being the norm are already over {less than a third of public companies do it). A growing chorus of corporate leaders are making their voices heard on behalf of the obligation to create long-term value and include the interests of both employees and the general public beyond just “shareholder value” in making business decisions.

Here’s an excellent read on the topic by the recently departed Lynn Stout, Professor of Business and Corporate Law at Cornell University:


2R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to Me
If you’re interested in cultivating a powerful culture of engaged people, you cannot ignore the role of respect and how it is communicated by leaders and felt by employees. This article digs into respect, breaking it into two types that offer an interesting way to think about it:

Owed respect is accorded equally to all members of a work group or an organization; it meets the universal need to feel included. … Earned respect recognizes individual employees who display valued qualities or behaviors. It distinguishes employees who have exceeded expectations and, particularly in knowledge work settings, affirms that each employee has unique strengths and talents. Earned respect meets the need to be valued for doing good work.”

Get this stuff wrong, and you’ll likely find the Queen of Soul‘s words come to life:

you might walk in (respect, just a little bit)
And find out I’m gone (just a little bit)
I got to have (just a little bit)
A little respect (just a little bit)


3Origami and Soft Robotics
Researchers with the Air Force Research Lab up the road at Wright-Patterson AFB are working on developing a way for a “soft robot” to move, store and transmit information without using electricity at all. Instead of power coursing through electrical circuits, this research uses controlled humidity and the ancient Japanese principles of origami to manipulate sheets of polypropelene.


4Blue Light, Red Light
Stop and think of the future for a moment. Do you see an image in your head of what it looks like? Now, here’s the question: is it bathed in the hues of blue light, or the amber tones of red/orange light? Chances are, the answer is blue, and that’s largely due to the fact that blue light is what characterizes technology in the here and now. This article not only examines the detrimental effects of constantly subjecting our rods and cones to the blue light of tech, but how pop culture has influenced the shift in our imaginations to blue (from the red/orange reality).

Also, for your listening pleasure and as an exhibition of how my brain’s idea-association engine works, here’s what came to my mind as I read this piece. And yes, I switched my Amazon Music player to “more like this” while I worked thereafter.


5Why Google Has Won the Map Race
For sheer serendipitous reading enjoyment this week, I’ve saved the best for last. That is, if you enjoy a geeky investigation behind the scenes of a product you likely use quite regularly: Google Maps. The level of effort and attention to detail Google has put into its free-to-use mapping app is staggering. On a meta-level, the author put that same level of effort and attention to detail into the research and illustration of this piece. His work is a glorious example of the kind of excellence and generosity I wrote about last week in Forbes.