Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Home From Vacation

As someone who finds incredible nurturing from the ocean, I am truly blessed that Thaddeus' sister's family has a house on Martha's Vineyard.

My Perfect Place

Water, sun, activity and no crowds...it doesn't get much better than that.  I even got a bit of knitting done while on vacation.

My sister-in-law's family has a fantastic place on one of the largest ponds on Martha's Vineyard.  I have to look no further than the back yard of this place to take photos that will remind me of the serenity and beauty of my time there.

We were there with my sister and brother-in-law and our niece for this past week, had beautiful weather, ate like a school of bluefish in a feeding frenzy and had a wonderful time.  We also bicycled around the island almost every day we were there and I even got to go our kayaking a couple of times.

If you zoom in a bit, you might even see me and my sister-in-law, Michelle paddling around the pond.

On one of our bicycle trips around the pond, I took this photo of where we stayed from the other side of the pond.

Suffice it to say, it was a fantastic time and it's always great spending time with Michelle, Bill and Alexandra (as well as their furry friends, Teddy, Paisley Joon, Cassanova, Lilly and Stella...all delightful ways of helping us miss Finn less than we might have).

Current Knitting

While there, I even spent a bit of time knitting (which I don't usually do on my vacations).  I ended up finishing the Old Shale Wrap and also starting a new one using a different color of the Persimmon Tree yarn.

I have trouble capturing rich reds and oranges on my camera, but the first wrap is quite beautiful.  I didn't think I was going to like the green and gold yarn as well, but it's coming out very rich looking as well.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Welcome a New Member!

Thanks to a longtime friend, Nora...I now can add this beauty to my collection of spinning wheels!

Little Lies

Actually, even though, it has fully articulated wheel, treadle and distaff, this is just a beautiful little miniature pencil sharpener.

I have to admit, I see a lot of schlocky things made to look like spinning wheels (tabletop planters are the most common) and I usually think they're done really badly.  But this little item is awesome and done extremely well.  I don't often have the opportunity to sharpen pencils, but I'll love having this fine object adorn my work area.

It's nice being known as the guy who appreciates fiber-related items!

Current Knitting

The Old Shale Wrap is looking fantastic and moving along.

I’m almost 4/5ths finished and think it will be quite beautiful when it’s finished.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Progress - Part 3 - Who Benefitted Most

If you've been following, Parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part blog entry, you'll notice that we have had substantial gains in productivity from automation (I conservatively guesstimated at least 25% gains over the last few decades) and most people would guesstimate that they personally benefitted much less than that.

Where Did the Rest Go?

So who benefitted from all these gains in productivity, and how was it decided that the lion-share of gains should go there?

I posit that almost all of the gains (financially) from the more efficient workforce that automation created went to corporate executives and shareholders of corporations.

Did you ever watch the Jetsons?  George Jetson worked at pressing a button all day and would sometimes come home with a sore index finger from all the work he'd done.

Automation allowed him to have a flying car, a wife who could stay at home with a robot maid who helped care for their two kids and their dog and video-chat with her husband at work when she needed to.  The fictional Jetson family benefitted from automation... in many ways, it seemed like an almost utopian society.

Us...not so much.

Today's regular Joe here in America, mostly:
  • is saddled with amazing debt when graduating from college education
  • has a lot more difficulty finding a job after school
  • competes with other workers to keep their job (and associated benefits)
  • makes a wage that barely competes with inflation
  • is required to generate many times the output someone in their field did in the past
  • is often required to be available via e-mail, text and phone at all hours of the day and week
  • isn't guaranteed a wage to keep them out of poverty
  • isn't guaranteed healthcare (or insurance for healthcare without paying a lot)
  • needs to have both partners in a relationship work to maintain a family
  • has no paid maternity/paternity leave
I'm going to start to sound socialist here, but who decided that the worker gets stuck getting crumbs, while the corporate elite and shareholders garner most of benefits?

CBC Radio in Canada is doing a 3-part series of their own regarding the impact of artificial intelligence (and taking this conversation well into the future).  I highly recommend listening to the full first part (and I look forward to Parts 2 and 3), but here's a clip showing the history of automation (back to the 1800's) and the associated benefits/costs and how this is expected to change in the current environment in the future:

Can you imagine if we all don't have a much easier life with automation doing more and more work?  I would like to suggest that we have an entire mindset change about how we distribute gains from automation in the future...and this is where socialism comes in.

We need to stop thinking that gains in automation are for others to determine.  Why should CEO's, corporate executives and shareholders determine this?  We really need to demand more of these benefits as well.  Living wages, shorter work weeks, single-income families, vacation time that is encouraged, required disconnection from work communication in off-hours.

If  having automation is going to make our lives better, it needs to make ALL our lives better.

I know this requires a huge mindset change...taking the Bernie Sanders message and expanding that.

The right-wing has been incredibly successful in focusing on making sure that wealth goes mostly to (and remains with) the already wealthy.  Their tax strategies, social systems and ideas on education all funnel money to the rich...who fund elections and continue the cycle.  They don't realize what a short-term benefit this will be...the buying class (you and I) will soon be unable to purchase the shit they manufacture, so it benefits all when we have a more balanced economy that benefits everyone.

The rising tide of automation gains needs to raise all boats...not just the yachts.

Readers' Comments/Questions
Regarding the ease of editing documents in an automated world, Julie Writes:
"Joe, if only people were "editing documents with ease." Why am I constantly needing to pick up my little red pen to correct spelling, usage, and grammar in the e-mails, texts, articles, and headlines that I see all around me in print and on the internet? Since we have done away with human proof-readers and gone entirely to assuming that spell-check and other programs of that ilk will catch mistakes, we have been inundated with such egregious errors that it makes me cringe - and I am not just referring to That Man in DC."
Editing documents to make them correct is still easier in today's world...even if folks are still lazy and refuse to do so.  I shouldn't talk...I'm sure if I were to go back through the years of blogging I could red-pencil many an error.

Julie also asks:
"Looking forward to seeing this project as it grows. How goes the diagonal stripe blanket?" 
As I need to start some serious production knitting to prepare for craft show inventory, the Knitted Sheet has been put on a back-burner.  But it will emerge again sometime.

Current Knitting

Having done a quick poll on Facebook, I've decided to use two hanks of the Persimmon Tree yarn to make a wrap instead of two wide scarves.

It's about 10.5" wide right now and about 65" long...it will eventually be about 20" wide and gloriously orangey!

I also got a partial shipment from Webs the other day of two hanks of Koigu KPPPM.

I pre-ordered the latest design for Dolores and had to increase my order a little to get a discount on the entire order.  They yarn was practically free.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Progress - Part 2 - Productivity Gains

Having worked in computer consulting for the majority of my career, I would say that automation and technology significantly increased and continues to increase worker productivity.  I was kind of paid to say that in my business, but I also believe it to be true.  But how much has it increased the value we get from our lives?

Bypassing the Blessing/Curse Debate

For our purposes here, let's go with the assumption that automation has increased productivity in the past 30 - 40 years.  I know there are some who say the personal computer made word processors of us all, or that e-mail and cell phones have created an electronic leash for 24-hour employees...in many ways, I don't disagree, but overall, I think it is safe to say that it takes a lot fewer employees to produce the same output that was produced in 1983 (as described in my last blog entry).

For argument sake, lets use the department I worked in at the bank in 1983.  We had 11 employees (3 officers and 8 staff) performing the work to administer expatriate benefits to our employees stationed on international assignments.

The same work could easily be done today with one or two officers and two staff members.  When you add in the technical support required from the systems folks supporting the newly automated office, let's just say this department increased it's productivity enough to reduce staffing to a half of what it was in the early eighties.

This was a highly administrative function, and so it benefitted more from automation-based productivity gains than other types of work, so let's just say that automation reduced staffing in this country by 25% over the course of the last 35 years.  I'd say that's a conservative estimate, but for our discussion, let's just use that.

Here are some of the areas where I see that automation has made most folks more efficient:
  • Generate, store, navigate and edit documents with ease
    • Memos
    • Proposals
    • Promotional Materials
    • Instruction Manuals
    • Signage
    • Web pages
  • Communicate more quickly, clearly, cost-effectively and efficiently
    • E-mail
    • Electronic Messaging
    • Voice and Video
      • Voice Over IP
      • Video Meetings
      • International voice/video apps
      • Cell phone
    • Remote working capabilities
  • Document sharing
    • E-mail attachments
    • Electronic signatures
    • Internet publishing of documents
    • Document downloads
    • File sharing/editing
It's clear that not only has it become significantly easier to conduct business, but the ability to create significantly higher quality documents has also increased.  Imagine what it would have taken to produce a stockholder meeting presentation like they do today in multi-media format with graphics and video that can be designed and generated in a fraction of what a similar presentation in the mid-eighties (if it even could be produced).

What have you seen as the result of all this increased productivity?  Is work easier in today's world than it was in the 1980's?  Do employees work less and enjoy more leisure time because of efficiencies gained via automation?  Do workers get to spend more time with family, friends and loved ones?  Has automation allowed us to be more in touch with our friends and social network?

Here are some of the benefits I've seen:
  • Less effort required to generate the same output
  • Access to a virtual and sometimes real-life social network I could have never created in the past
  • Multi-functioned pocket devices that replace watches, cameras, phones, GPS, rolodexes, credit cards, computers and tv screens
  • Immediate access to unimaginable amounts of data 

But many of those benefits are offset by some of the losses resulting from advances:
  • More work output required which possibly completely overrides any worker-related gains
  • Workday extended outside standard/core work hours via expectations of availability through electronic means
  • Reduced real-life interactions socially
  • Reduced employment opportunities and opportunities for advancement (fewer jobs
  • Misuse of data and privacy and security issues
  • Confusion and difficulty discerning valid information from false
I'm realizing I couldn't possibly inventory all of the positive and negative aspects technology has on our lives.  But if you were to do a quick estimate of the value-added or value-diminished in your life in the past decades, what would you estimate the net effect to be?  I know it's impossible without a baseline of life without it, and so I've tried and described my experience in Part 1 and 2 of this blog entry.

Overall, I'd say my life is about as good as it would have been with technology as without it...and that includes that fact that I leveraged technological advances as part of my career decisions to make a living. What would you guesstimate?  10% increase in life-satisfaction?  5% decrease?  Could you say that you have gotten any portion of the benefits of increased productivity gains over the decades when you balance it against the additional demands?

In Part 3 next week, I'll talk a little bit about who benefitted most from the productivity gains of automation.  Spoiler alert...it probably wasn't you and me.

Current Knitting

I was able to finish the Knitted Cross Stitch Scarf in emeralds and fuchsias.

And I have to say, I'm quite pleased with the result.  Colors are rich and satisfying and the softness, warmth and drape are just perfect.

I also started, restarted and restarted a third time what I think will be an old shale wrap using Persimmon Tree yarn.

If it comes out how I'm hoping, it will be thick, soft, silky, warm and have a halo of mohair.  The colorway isn't what I typically do, but I'm liking it so far anyway.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Progress - Part One - The Great Hope

Over the course of my working life, we have made expansive progress in technology and the associated productivity growth that came along with it.  Today, we go back in history a bit and next blog entry (or maybe two) I'll discuss the what benefit we've gleaned from the advances that have been made.

Consider This

I entered the workforce before e-mail...before spreadsheets...before word processing...before cell phones or smartphones with apps and before the widespread use of the internet.

My first corporate job was in 1983 working for a large international bank (now defunct) and I was responsible for administering the tax reimbursement policy we had for expatriate employees stationed in other countries.

So, envision this...I'd sit at a desk in New York City, needing to correspond regularly with about 70 employees in far-reaching areas like Bahrain, Dubai, Tokyo, London...today, that job would be easy...e-mails, international phone apps and texting would all make communications simple and fast.

In 1983, I had three choices:

  • A typed memo that went in the overnight parcel 
  • A very expensive phone conversation if we could coordinate a time to speak
  • The teletype system, which allowed us to send e-mail-like text which went to a terminal printer in the international office and was hopefully delivered to the intended recipient (obviously we couldn't send any confidential information in this way)

I don't recall if we used fax machines or if not, why.  We did have a pool of word processors...four or five people that would use a word processing machine to type and electronically save our memos and documents into a centralized word processing system.  So we'd hand-write a document and put it in the pool's in-box.  We'd get back drafts of the document, which we'd edit and re-submit and usually get the final document on the second or third attempt  Word processing saved us TONS of time over typing pools, carbon paper copies and WhiteOut.  That photo above was me smoking at my desk with at least two of the word processors I worked with.

If I needed to credit an expatriate's bank account with a tax reimbursement, it required that I complete a three-part form with the employee's account number, the amount of the credit, a description of what it was for and get an officer's signature (which required a memo and back-up documentation for what was being reimbursed and why). Once completed this would be sent to the office that processed bank credits who would make the computer entries necessary.

During the two years I worked at that job, we actually got an IBM PC for that office.  It had two floppy drives and no hard drive.  So we'd have to boot the computer with the DOS disk in Drive A: and then load whatever program we'd want into memory via another floppy disk.  Primarily, we used Lotus 1-2-3 to maintain spreadsheets of data for our expatriate employees, but it was hardly any progress at all compared to the advances we'd see in just a few years.

My department (which handled all expatriate policy administration) consisted of a Senior Vice President, Vice President, Assistant Vice President, four Analysts and four word processors.  I can't imagine that it would have required a department of about 11 employees to do this type of administration in an automated world.  With audit requirements and security, it might require three or four people to do the same work.

More about progress in Part Two.

Current Knitting

With the completion of the Interlocking Scarf, I started a new scarf.

This is a new Knitted Cross Stitch Scarf using the beautiful fuchsia/purple/pink yarn from The Perfect Blend Online and a deep, emerald green single-ply merino.  I'm loving how rich and vibrant this is looking.

I also finished the second pair of Slipper Socks for the NEMKR KAL.

I may do a third pair if it doesn't interfere with Craft Show knitting too much.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Big Yarn Projects

Back in 2010, Kyle suggested that the Men's Spring Knitting Retreat organize a group project to knit squares for a blanket that would become a blanket we'd donate to Easton Mountain.  I will never forgive him for that (fortunately, he's done tons more things for which I love him).

Oh The Work

The Easton Blanket project was organized in the second year of the retreat...before I learned to say "No!" to great ideas.  We had to choose a yarn that was machine washable and that was readily available to anyone that wanted to participate.  We decide on Vanna's Choice.  We had to decide which colors you could choose and limited it to five colors.  We came up with a specific size for each of the blocked squares (8 inches, I think), and finally the guys went to work and brought their finished squares to the retreat in May.

The sewing up of that blanket, and the subsequent edging crocheted by Tom Bloom took months, at which point we finally had a beautiful blanket to donate to Easton.

Suffice it to say, I will never organize another project like this...way more work than I cared to take on in addition to the regular tasks of organizing the retreat.

One of the talented crafters that I know through the craft show circuit sent me an article about an even more ambitious project...millions of times as ambitious, in fact.

The Immigrant Yarn Project is collecting knitted pieces from a very diverse population to celebrate the diversity of our world.

I would NOT want to be the person organizing this behemoth, but I'm thrilled it's being done.

Current Knitting

Over the weekend, I was able to finish the Interlocking Crochet Scarf.

I love how it came out...deep, rich, confetti-like links interlocking in a beautiful drapey scarf.

I couldn't be more pleased with how this one turned out...exactly how I had imagined it...perhaps even a bit nicer than I'd imagined.

I also made some progress on the second Slipper Sock of the pair and I am still LOVING the colorway of the yarn dyed by Michael.

I will be walking around Easton Mountain's main lodge building in the bright green pair and someone else will be able to wear the second pair.  The yarn is cushy and soft and has been a joy to work with.

Friday, July 27, 2018

2018 Craft Show Schedule

Like last year, I plan on doing two craft shows this year where I will sell my hand-knits.

Fine Arts & Crafts

You'll have noticed I've started to make scarves again.  This is in preparation for my first show (if I get accepted as part of the juried competition).  For local readers, here is the schedule of craft shows for me this year:

Flemington Fine Artisan Show
Sunday, October 28th
Hours: Sunday, 10am-4pm.
Location: Stangl Factory, corner of Mine St. and Stangl Rd., Flemington, NJ 08822

2018 Prallsville Mill Fine Arts & Crafts Show
Saturday and Sunday, December 8th and 9th
Hours 9:00 am to 5:00 PM
Location:  Prallsville Mill, Stockton, NJ

I'm realizing that I really need to pull out all of my inventory and booth set up (which has been neatly stored under my crafting area) and check to make sure I have everything I need and check to see how many of each type of hat, scarf, wrap, etc. I need to knit before the end of October.

Thank goodness I'm retired!

Current Knitting

There has been some progress on the Interlocking Crochet Scarf (which will go into the shows):

There will be a total of 12 rows of crocheted links...you'll note I'm currently on my 8th row, so only a few more to go.

I also decided to start knitting the second Slipper Sock of the pair I started a little while ago.

I've only completed the toe, but this project moves quickly.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

An Apology and a Whine

Actually, an apology and two whines.  First of all, I wanted to apologize to blog readers for insulting my postal carrier by calling her a lazy bitch in a blog entry a couple of weeks ago.  Sad to say, it never occurred to me how misogynistic that term is, and it was lazy and ignorant of me to use it.

Fine Whines

So first of all, I continue to be annoyed with my postal carriers.

This past Monday, whilst awaiting delivery of yarn (see below), I concurrently saw the postal truck at my mailbox and got the USPS text saying it was delivered to my mailbox.  I finished shaving and ran down to get it.

Not there.

Not on my doorstep.


Had it been left in someone else's mailbox?  Had it been delivered to one of the neighbors townhouse doorsteps?  Had the carrier scanned it in and then forgot to leave it?

I went to my next door neighbor's doorstep...not there...neighbor on the other side...not there...next stoop, I noticed a package...looked to find it was MY package on her doorstep (addressed completely correctly, btw).

I might actually have to complain to my postmaster...incorrectly delivered mail has come into my box at least once a week, which hasn't been the case for years up until recently.

Second whine...in comments on the blog entry a couple of weeks ago, Kate left a comment about my use of the word bitch to describe a woman:
I like your blog and have followed it for years and I enjoy the knitting content and your queer perspective. But I was disappointed to hear you refer to a woman as a bitch. Perhaps you have the kind of relationship with her where you talk to each other this way, but putting it on your blog without context makes you look like a misogynist. And mail carriers work very hard. In all kinds of weather. So, yeah, not a fan of that remark. Really disappointed.
I'm hopeful she's as open to feedback as I am.  I have a couple of options she might want to consider when giving feedback like this:

  1. If you've been following a blog for years and enjoy it, you may want to reconsider having your first-ever comment be criticism.
  2. If you still decide that your criticism is valid and you want to leave it after reconsidering, you may want to send a personal e-mail so it doesn't look like public chiding.
  3. If you still opt to leave public criticism as your first-ever comment, you may want to frame it in a way that makes it more of an opportunity for educating someone...for example, stating, "You may not be aware that using that word to describe a woman is seen as misogynistic..." might have been a kinder way of phrasing it.
I hope you all know that I am open to criticism and opportunities for learning about myself.  Those who have read this blog a long time know that I have made mistakes and have sometimes been called to account for them. And I'm grateful that Kate pointed out my insulting characterization of women...and I am sorry for having been so ignorant.  My unconscious misogyny was not meant to offend.

New Yarn Source!

Doug, one of the Ramkins (newbie at the Men's Knitting Retreats) at this past May's knitting retreat donated a beautiful cedar sachet to each of the guys at the retreat and also donated a pattern design to each of the workshop leaders.  I'm always amazed at the generosity and support for the retreat.

But little did I realize, he also runs an on-line knitting web site!


And I don't mean to be genderist, misogynistic, or anything else, but the site has a very masculine feel to it, which appeals to me very much.

I also fell in love with the colors of some of the yarns he carries.

I ended up ordering some on Friday and was thrilled when it arrived this past Monday (thrilled when I finally found it on my neighbor's porch!).

My photos suck...those two silvery colored hanks are really silvery...they look more white in my photo, but they're lustrous and I can't wait to see how they knit up.

You know me...when I find a source for yarn about which I'm excited, I always want to share it with y'all.

Current Knitting

The Teddy Bear Baby Blanket is finished!

Even though the Teddy Bear squares are a different size than the hearts on the earlier blanket, the total finished size of the blanket is the same.  I love how these two blankets turned out and hope the babies and parents will get enjoyment from them.

I started a new Interlocking Crochet Scarf in VERY deep, broody colors (including one of the yarns from The Perfect Blend Online shipment that came in on Monday).

It's not quite halfway finished but I'm loving the pop of jewel colors...I can't tell you how happy it makes me to be handling such visually and tactilely enjoyable fibers in my hand.  I am blessed.