No, I'm not talking about the MTV series featuring a bunch of hyper-sexualized young adults thrown into an upscale house with cameras in every room that invited the world to watch what happened (big surprise, huh?). My focus is the 3D world, the one we walk around in, which still exists when we turn off our computers and smart phones, and the meaning of "reality" in the 21st century.
Modern neuroscience, through the use of very sophisticated imaging techniques, is now able to look into the brain in real time, while it is thinking, imagining and solving problems. Neuroscientists have constructed many experiments, confirmed hundreds of times, that reveal some interesting things about the brain, the nature of consciousness and the concept of self. You can find interesting reading about this on the Internet. An exhaustive account is well beyond the scope of this column.
Scientists have observed through this research that when faced with a specific task, areas of the brain register activity up to several seconds before the thought to initiate the activity appears in consciousness. When a subject was asked to tap any numbered square in a stream of numbered squares scrolling across a computer monitor, the brain registered the decision to select a particular square before the thought to select that square appeared in the subjects consciousness...before she was aware of making a decision to select that particular square. The simple take on this is that thoughts appear in our consciousness from an area of our brain that we have no direct access to. They simply appear, persist for a while, we either act on them or not, then they disappear. And while this research and these conclusions involve some very high tech tools, this knowledge has actually been around over 2,000 years. Understanding this concept is one of the primary points of meditation.
Don't worry, I'm not going all metaphysical here. Meditation, in what has become known in the West as Mindfulness Meditation, but is an outgrowth of Vipassana, or Insight Mediation, is used in business, in education, and by many individuals to increase the ability to focus on tasks. As we are barraged with an ever increasing stream of information, we are all looking for ways to manage our ability to pay attention to what needs to be done. Meditation practice has been a solution for many people.
The short explanation of Mindfulness Meditation is pretty simple. Sit in a quiet place, eyes open or closed, and concentrate on your breath. While that sounds simple, it is initially very difficult for most people, who quickly discover that their mind is very busy. It is constantly thinking. Thoughts pop into consciousness over which there seems to be no control. Many people can't get beyond one breath before they discover their mind is thinking about the grocery list, the angry words they said to someone five years ago, or thoughts that seem to make no sense to them at all. "Monkey Mind" the Buddhists call it.
The goal is that every time the mind strays from concentrating on the breath, and as soon as you notice it has strayed, you pull concentration back to the breath. Eventually, and for some people it takes a long time, you will be able to stay with the breath longer and longer, and the distracting thoughts will decrease. The side effect of this practice that most people are looking for is that their ability to focus on a specific task increases.
The other thing that happens is that, by watching your thoughts so intently, you come to the realization that thoughts appear in the mind, persist for a time, and disappear. If you have a thought, but do not grasp onto that thought, it will vanish as mysteriously as it appeared. Which is exactly what the high-tech tools of neuroscience appear to confirm.
This column, though, isn't an attempt to convince you to meditate. When you see directly that your days are made up of a constantly moving stream of thoughts, some of which you act on, and many which you wisely don't, you can begin to understand the real implications of the unlimited information that we are subjected to each day. We see thousands of images, and hear hundreds of messages in commercials, music, movies and TV each day.
Many of these images and messages are created by entities that are using the findings of the most cutting edge neuroscience to influence our thinking. They understand that we are a stream of thoughts constantly passing, almost unexamined, through our minds, and that if they can inject their own message into that stream, among the thousands of other messages that we have no time to process objectively, that we are likely to assume their thoughts are, in fact, our thoughts, our desires; and that we will act on them.
The result is familiar. We buy stuff we can't afford, we accept ideas that are inconsistent with our core values, we make life choices that decrease rather than increase happiness, we vote for people whose stated goals are inconsistent with our own beliefs or aspirations. This is not a new problem, of course. What is new is the overwhelming amount of information we are forced to process every day, and our resulting failure to make time to edit the good from the bad.
I believe this is one of the biggest existential threats of the 21st century: that we will get so caught up in the rhetoric that we fail to grasp reality.
Many of the good people of the City of Woodville, Texas may remember me, Cory Miller (aka 'Cory the Well Driller'), from the open letter I wrote to Obama in 2008 just before the election. The email went viral, resulting in a number of media interviews, and can still be found posted on blogs around the country 6 years later – you can google 'Cory the Well Driller' to find it. In the interest of good, honest, and open business practices, I have to bring a concern before the taxpayers of the City of Woodville.
The City of Woodville has employed an engineering firm to engineer a new water well for your city. Like all Municipal water well contracts, there is a list of requirements for contractors to be eligible to have their bids considered. This contract, however, contains unusual requirements that are far beyond the usual requirements for bidding projects of this nature. One of the engineers' requirements in this contract requires reads:
B. The contractor shall demonstrate the following: 1. At least ten (10) years' experience with water well construction of at least the same type, size and diameter, or larger, of this project and shall have constructed at least fifteen (15) such wells within the last five (5) years for public water supply within the Gulf Coast area in Texas;
The specifications for this well call for the construction of a 20" diameter cased well with 14" well screen installed in an under-reamed hole completed at a depth of about 820'. There is likely not a well drilling company in Texas who can meet the experience requirement of '15 such wells within the last 5 years' - as dictated above, but if there is, it would likely only be one company, a company known for often bidding 50% - or more - higher bid prices than the average of other bidders.
C. Miller Drilling, established in 1983, has constructed some 70 engineered Municipal and Community water wells across the State of Texas over the last 15 years, ranging all around Northeast Texas, over to almost El Paso for Fort Hancock, down to Palacios on the gulf coast, up to Tiki Island between Galveston and the mainland, just west and just north of Houston, and around the Waco and Dallas metroplexes. We have completed two projects in just the last year that were well over $1,000,000.00 each. We have completed a number of water well projects that deliver over 1,000 gallons per minute. While the City of Woodville project is estimated at 820' deep in soft drilling formations, we have completed wells in far more difficult and hard drilling conditions to depths up to 2,702', and we have completed a number of wells with 16", 185/8", 24", and 26" casings. Our licensed and supervised drillers have a cumulative of over 90 years' experience. I could go on for some time listing our qualifications, but I think most people can easily see that C. Miller Drilling is more than qualified to contract and construct a water well like the one that has been engineered for the City of Woodville. Although C. Miller Drilling has constructed a number of water wells with casings larger than that specified for this project over the last 5 years, and we have completed some 43 Municipal or Community wells over the last 5 years, we have not constructed 15 projects this size and larger over the last 5 years – so we are considered not qualified for the Woodville project by the terms of the engineers specifications. Given that C. Miller Drilling is clearly qualified to construct a well of this nature, one has to wonder why an engineer would write a list of qualifications that would exclude such a clearly qualified candidate from this project.
The only reasons I can imagine why an engineer would write specifications for this project that would exclude nearly every water well drilling company in Texas from bidding, would be: 1) The intention is innocent and the engineer simply does not know he has excluded nearly every potential bidder in Texas – leaving, perhaps, only one bidder that he would consider qualified, but since the qualifications clearly match only one specific contractor this is not imaginable, or 2) The intention is to assure that a specific contractor will get the project - at whatever price - because the decision makers in Woodville are convinced that contractor is the only contractor that they can count on to competently construct the well – an unrealistic outlook when you consider that all contractors for such jobs are screened by the requirement for performance bonds which assure competent job performance. This explanation would also demonstrate that instead of just openly and honestly trying to negotiate the contract with the contractor of their choice - the legal or political environment that exists in Woodville will not allow this - so a phony bid process for the project is set up where only their pet contractor can qualify so that it appears everything has been done in an open and competitive atmosphere, or 3) The intention is to assure that a specific contractor will get the project - at an exorbitant price -perhaps to justify an exorbitant engineering bill - and/or possibly providing for a 'kick-back' from the contractor to the engineer and/or city official - a practice commonly known as 'crony capitalism'.
The taxpayers of the City of Woodville might want to inquire with the City Council and Mayor as to why they are engaging in business practices that will likely drive up the cost of their municipal water well project by perhaps as much as 50%. This one contract may cost the taxpayers of Woodville as much as $300,000.00 more because of this contract requirement. Isn't it time for taxpayers to get responsible, open, and honest management of their interests and money? It's not that I want to bid on this project at this point – even if the way were cleared now for C. Miller Drilling to bid there is no way I would do so given the hostile environment that will exist after this letter becomes public knowledge. I am just trying to bring an end to any improper business dealings that may be at play for the future benefit of both taxpayers and businessmen.
In last month's takedown of the Boomer Apocalypse, I pointed out that attempts to assign blame for current social and economic problems are not only misguided, but a dangerous diversion from dealing with the very real issue of the unconsidered expansion of technology. This month I want to talk about noodles.
Now, most of us in the U.S. don't think of noodles when we think of fast food. Hamburgers, fries, and most any other unhealthy, over processed food comes to mind before noodles. But, noodles are big in China. And noodles are a favorite part of the China fast food experience. And in a country of almost 1.5 billion people, noodles are big business. If you own a restaurant that serves noodle dishes, someone has to make a lot of noodles each day to satisfy all of those hungry diners.
The actual work of cooking those noodles is pretty simple. The problem is that "someone" must peel noodle strips from a firm piece of dough, throw them into boiling water, and remove them after a specific time. That's what a noodle cook does all day, every day. And for that effort, noodle cooks in China make around $6,400 U.S. per year.
You would think that, with 1.5 billion people, it would not be a problem to hire enough noodle cooks. You would be right. There is no shortage of people in China who want to earn the equivalent of $6,400 a year to make noodles. Sounds like the perfect combination, a commercial need for noodle cooks, and plenty of folks who want to do it. If you own a restaurant, though, there is a downside to noodle cooks. They get tired, they get bored, they get sick; and, they get $6,400 a year. Technology has found a solution to the problem. Robot noodle cooks.
It seems that over the last couple of years, thousands of robot noodle cooks have appeared in Chinese restaurants, to the delight of many diners. They are entertaining to watch as they peel the noodles from the dough and toss them into the boiling water. They are very fast. They will work tirelessly 24/7. They don't get sick. They don't get bored. And they cost only $1,600 (which is down from $3,000 only a couple of years ago). Even when maintenance costs are considered, they are much less expensive than people. Eventually, because commercial interests are driving the development of these robots, these intelligent machines, the cost will come down even more, and they will dominate the fast food industry. Many people will lose their jobs.
What does this have to do with Generation Z (those who are now under age 17)? The rise of intelligent machines is pervasive in the U.S. It is not just our fast food restaurants that are rapidly becoming more automated. Intelligent machines (robots, if you like) are rapidly taking over jobs from people in every industry. This has been going on for years, of course. But, as the speed of technology increases, the pervasiveness increases. Intelligent machines are now spreading from replacing blue-collar workers, into replacing white-collar workers.
While this escalation in the spread of technology threatens all of us in some way, Gen Z faces the biggest threat. Technology, it is estimated, will eliminate 70 percent of the jobs that exist now within 25 years. Those folks born within the last few years will be looking, in 15 or 20 years, for that summer job, or entry level position as they enter the workforce. Where will they find those jobs? If the unconsidered expansion of technology continues to accelerate (as it surely will, because it is being driven by economic interests), most entry-level jobs and many other jobs, will be done by intelligent machines.
Next month we'll look at another troubling technology trend, the rise of sociable robots.
Jim Powers is Editor of the Tyler County Booster. All opinions expressed are those of the author and do no necessarily reflect those of this Newspaper or its management.
Just as you thought the Zombie Apocalypse was finally fading into well-deserved obscurity, and that it might be safe to put the shotgun back on the rack and leave the bunker, Internet pundits are sounding a new warning. The Boomer Apocalypse is here. Hidden among the millions of folks born between 1946 and 1964 is a little known secret. Immortality! Boomers, it seems, are immortal. Don't believe it? Why not? It's all over the Internet.
An important note: This monthly column will be an extended rant about technology. Specifically, it is about the future consequences of the unconsidered growth of technology.
"So, Jim, what's up with 'The Boomer Apocalypse' title?"
I was born in 1950, firmly securing my Boomer bona fides among those born between 1946 and 1964. I've lived the typical Boomer life. Started working at a little corner grocery store after school when I was 13 and have worked every day since then. Got an education. Married. Been a photographer, newspaper reporter and editor. Published a couple of newspapers. Owned my own software development company. Bought and sold a few homes along the way. I've learned on the Internet over the last few years, though, that I, and the rest of the Boomers, are the cause of all the now and future economic pain in the United States! It's got to be true, right? It's on the Internet.
It seems a large number of Gen X and Y folks believe that if the Boomers hadn't been so greedy, hadn't expected so much, hadn't organized unions and demanded living wages, that the country would be better off economically now. Boomers have been accused of "using up" the resources of the country, leaving nothing but economic bones to be picked over by those coming of age in the 21st century. Worse, those same Boomers are now getting old, retiring from jobs, and becoming a huge drain on the economy as they begin drawing from Social Security and Medicare. I've read hundreds of projections about the future consequences to the economy, to job creation and availability, and even to housing, as the country has to somehow support all of these old people.
I think all of this is a diversion, and a dangerous diversion. The reality is that Boomers are not immortal. In 25 years, the youngest of us will be 74 years old. Which means most of us will be dead. And while we may be retiring at a faster rate and making more individual demands on the system, we will also be dying at an ever accelerating rate. If we are a burden on the economy, it is a very temporary burden. If we caused all the economic woe of the last few years, an extremely odd concept to my mind, what value is there in condemnation? It is the future, not the past, with which current generations must be concerned.
The "Boomer Apocalypse" is self-limiting. And while so much angst is expended on a self-limiting concern, little is being directed to a more direct threat to future economic security, the unconsidered expansion of technology into every corner of our lives. We are not going to stop the growth of technology. Commercial interests are driving the speed at which technology grows. It is important, though, that we consider the consequences of that growth and make conscious decisions about its direction.
Industry estimates suggest that in 25 years, up to 70 percent of the jobs that exist today will not exist because they will have been replaced with intelligent robots. And the rise of so-called "sociable" robots suggests even more fundamental concerns about our future. We will take a deeper look at these issues in the August column.
Jim Powers is Editor of the Tyler County Booster. All opinions expressed are those of the author and do no necessarily reflect those of this Newspaper or its management.
(Editors Note: After being contacted about this situation, the Colmesneil I.S.D. Superintendent thanked us for the heads up on the situation and said he would take care of it immediately.)
We were reading about Paul Dean in "People Magazine" and were floored that she would be crucified for using the "n" word. Well, can anyone tell us that the person who was asking her the question did not have that "word" in their mind? Of course Not. So crucify that person, too.
If that is so bad, listen to this.
We had a big day planned with our children and grandchildren at Lake Tejas. The sun was warm and the water was great and all the little children were enjoying playing with parents and friends, when out of the spakers came the dirtiest words possible. "F" bombs; "mf" bombs; "B" words; and dirty descriptions of filth in the form of "rap."
There are no smoking signs and they check your cooler for alcohol and the all sorts of parking rules. But they have filthy rap blasting from the loud speakers.
Is this the best picture to have for Colmesneil school system? Who is responsible4 for Lake Tejas? Really!?
Let me just start by saying what a beautiful weekend it was in Tyler County. So many visitors and citizens of the communities came together for an event that seemed to draw East Texas and a nation together.
Iwant to take this time to personally thank so many people that helped the KREE WEEKEND to be safe and, from a security standpoint, uneventful. To my staff, deputies, communication department and jailers, you made me proud. Each and every one of you stepped up to the task at hand, keeping our citizens, visitors and Kree safe.
Woodville Police Chief Scott Yosko and I spoke on numerous occasions, and I know his feelings toward his officers are the same.
Thank you to Michael Greaff and the Sheriff's Office Inmate Work Program for all your hard work preparing the Rodeo Grounds. Terry Riley, you did a fantastic job as usual, getting the rodeo up and going on such short notice, and Courthouse security has never been safer than it is today.
Thank you to the Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers, local and visiting, Tyler County Constables, the Alabama-Coushatta Police Department and The Tyler County Search and Rescue Team. Dr. Sandra Wright, Sondra Wilson and the entire staff of Tyler County Hospital, and Dogwood EMS, thank you so much for always being prepared and meeting the medical needs of everyone. Woodville Fire Chief Tommy Shane, you and your men always rise to the occasion. So many times you and your men and all the volunteer firemen and women throughout the county come to our aid, even when flames can't be seen.
I have only heard a few negative comments throughout the county concerning the officer presence around our American Idol, Kree Harrison. Law Enforcement in our area has never had this type of "Star Power" in our county in such a wide-open spectrum. We honestly did not know what to expect. We prepared for the worst, but hoped for the best. Officers commonly use the phrase, "Not on My Watch". This young 22 year-old rising star was not going to be harmed, nor any citizen or visitor that was gathered at this nationally publicized event. Thank You, Jesus, that CNN, FOX, ABC and CBS had no tragic headlines to come from this great event.
"Not on My Watch", just another ordinary beautiful weekend in Tyler County.