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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mechanical Loss.

“The law of energy conservation dictates that one can never get more energy in the output motion than provided by the energy source. Indeed, one always has some energy loss in a power transmission. Energy loss rates can vary from 5% for a flat belt drive to up to 80% for a multi-stage gear transmission.”
            by Nathan Delson, 2004

So, I was dead in the water for a month (you may have noticed.) Our internet, in a last puff, wheeze and plume of smoke, died. After battling with the provider for a month- and strenuously and repeatedly objecting to  their insistence that we  had “cancelled” two appointments during which we sat for the requisite six hours waiting for our overall-clad savior to arrive (he never did), someone, finally, came out. This guy really knew what he was talking about. The problem apparently started at the “hub” outside near our street- a junction established to serve two houses was serving four. Inside the house, a cable set up to service two internet connections served seven. Each time the internet signal was split, from two to four at the street, from two to four to seven inside the house, the signal strength decreased exponentially.  If a normal signal strength was +10, and everything “shuts down” at -11, ours was at a -14. Occasionally, based on usage, the signal strength would increase to a -10 or -9, but at no point was the signal strength where it should be.
Our internet was multitasking-  and therefore failing. It made me wonder at what “signal strength” do we “shut down”? How many times can our mental signal-strength split before we simply stop functioning?  An increasing amount of research is being done in the area of multitasking and perceived efficiency vice actual effect.  Eduardo Miranda, studying corporate organizations and project management for Ericsson Canada, calls the phenomenon within companies the “problem of resource overcommitment” and states that “the multi-project environment introduces challenges of their own: implicit dependencies created by shared resources, loss of productivity due to resource multi-tasking and subtle reinforcing loops that propagate delays from one project to another.”

David E. Meyer, the director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan, recently told the New York Times, “Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes. Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.” In a 2005 research study conducted by Hewlett-Packard and the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, it was found that workers who answered emails and phone calls were more impaired to a surprising degree. The BBC reported on the findings in 2005: “[Researchers] found excessive use of technology reduced workers’ intelligence. Those distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ – more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana.” Whaaaaat?

As The New Atlantis recent reported, “One study by researchers at the University of California at Irvine monitored interruptions among office workers; they found that workers took an average of twenty-five minutes to recover from interruptions such as phone calls or answering e-mail and return to their original task.”  Basex analyst Jonathan B. Spira indicated to the the New York Times, “estimates the cost of interruptions to the American economy at nearly $650 billion a year.”
If the cost and detriment to work productivity by work related interruptions is as severe as indicated in the above studies, in which the interruptions are at least within the same genre (work) as the primary task at hand, how much more severe must be the cost when the “interruption” is from a role entirely unrelated to the workplace. How many mothers have received the ‘Moooooooom, Brian won’t share the remote control” phone call while at work? How long does it take to re-center one’s thought process after a phone call that your child is sick? Or that your mother has had a bad day? Or your sister is getting a divorce? For me, the switch between roles is often like trying to throw the car into reverse while cruising on the freeway at 55 mph. It’s not pretty.
More interestingly, however, is the fall in IQ found by the BBC. If distracted individuals were found to have a drop in their IQ twice that of smoking marijuana- how much more severe is the impact on the IQ of the multi-hatted-working-mom-mentor-gymnast-triathlete-maid-therapist-friend? At what deficit do we begin our day, and what limitations are we placing on our performance?
Something to think about- while you’re ironing, watching the news and editing the next week’s brief.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blades of Grass

                Occasionally it is the juxtaposition of two wildly disparate- and perhaps not at all related- things that brings another (not at all related) thing into stark relief. This weekend, it was a picture of a beautiful starlet in a publication of Seventeen or similar, and a 758-page tome about World War II in Hungary. The picture was gorgeous- she had large green eyes and a bowler hat- the picture was taken with the background appropriately out of focus; the mood was whimsical and the composition was artistic. The book was amazingly rendered, intimately human and, of course, heart-wrenching.
                The photograph conjured for me memories of the age at which I last perused the pages of that periodical.  Late teens, early twenties, one is simply a steaming, sticky, bowlful of potential.  A canvas, freshly fallen snow- one can try on and test drive identities as readily as gloves or shoes.  Not knowing who you are is fully acceptable because you are not supposed to be anything yet- you are the endless untied beginnings of what might be-  you are a beautifully nebulous ellipsis.
                But at some point, one is supposed to have arrived at a character- spun the roulette wheel of life and settled into a slot: red or black; 13, 21, 7, attorney, artist, doctor, writer, mother, hippie, vegan, redneck, mechanic. At some point, the little whirling ball of possibility runs out of centrifugal force, runs out of time, and falls.  Whatever it is, the little spinning top of youth is supposed to fall into its slot and… fit.  Nothing in popular culture, or literature, or life prepared me for the “overflow”- the parts that don’t fit into my selected slot- the equally strident calls for both order and chaos, military precision and poetry, love and independence.
                At some point, I should know what I am, and I should stop wanting to be everything else.
                But I haven’t.  And neither, it seems, have so many of my similarly situated generational sisters. What is it about our generation? Are we just spoiled? Over stimulated? Used to many options? Or simply more connected than our forbears? Many of our ancestresses certainly pined for a lot different than the one their own. Per haps the difference is that we do not simply want a different lot, but all of them. And not only do we want these roles, but we are required to fill them.
                The second  aspect, good god, the World War II book.  The awesome aching chasm of human loss and tragedy. The  raw cruelty of one human to another.  The stripped tendons of pure survival.  The magnitude of horror certainly puts into perspective my quibbling little uncertainties about “who I am,” or why. Of what import my happiness?  In the midst of such suffering and sadness and loss- does the world really care which direction this particular blade of grass bends? Will it affect the world? Will it even affect my own?
                On the other hand, what else is there?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Thank you for asking where I have been... our internet has been non-operational for the last week and a half and I just have not had it in me to drag my sorry ass to the internet cafe. We will be back up and running next week, 14 March 2011.

See you then!