Generation X Ascendant

Today I discovered a Washington Post article which argues that Generation X, now firmly in their forties, are wielding the levers of power in politics, technology, and business.   I think this is true in part, but the problem that we, as a generation have, is that the Boomers are still hanging on to many of the top jobs, and as a small generation, we will may be squeezed out early by the Millennials coming in behind us.  Lavanya Ramanathan‘s article in the post argues that the Generation X tends toward the libertarian and conservative.  I have mad a similar point wondering “where are the Gen X Democrats“.  A semi-rebuttal in The Washingtonian argues that Generation X isn’t that conservative, that there are some Democrats.  But I thin the point here is about the shift in which President various parts of Generation X identify with – with the older Reagan-inspired Generation Xers being more libertarian/republican, and the Clinton -ear younger Xers being a bit more Democrat leaning.  However, as I have noted, I really don’t see a lot of up and coming Democrats that are 35 – 51 at this point.  Look at the Democrat response to Trump’s address to Congress the other night!

At best, I think this is the Gen X moment to at least seize the middle management! And then after the Boomers, the deluge of Millennials.

The Moon(shot) is a Harsh Mistress

Last week brought news that Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, had died. Cernan’s mission, Apollo 17, is the only actual moonshot that I have any memories of.  By the time of its launch, in December 1972, I was seven years old, and a big fan of the space program and astronauts. I spent a lot of time reading space program related back issues of Life magazine when we visited my grandmother.

One of the reasons I remember this launch, as opposed to any others, is that it was a night launch.  So, not only was it  more spectacular than the others, since it launched at 11:33 Central time, it meant I got to stay up past my bedtime – which my mom usually rigorously enforced at 8:00 PM.

The other reason I am thinking about moonshots this week is that I am invited to participate in a panel discussion on “moonshot” projects.  For decades now, hard problems that have technology solutions have faced calls for the government and industry to invest in either “a new Manhattan Project” or “a new Moonshot” program.  Energy and cancer research are the primary government examples that come to mind.  In the private sector, Google and Facebook are companies that are talking about moonshot projects.

You may have noticed that we have not solved our energy problems, or cured cancer.  You may also have read recently that Google is killing off its moonshots.  In preparation for my panel discussion, I have been thinking about what makes a moonshot project successful.

The two examples we have, the Manhattan project and Apollo have a number of things in common. First, they had specific well defined goals:  Build a deliverable atomic fission weapon;  Deliver a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth.  Second, they set (or had set for them) a finite time to accomplish this goal: Beat the Germans/end of the war; The end of the decade. Third, they had nearly unlimited access to resources: Both Manhattan and Apollo projects, during their peak funding years commanded 0.4% of the nation’s GDP!  Fourth, they had strong leadership teams in both project management and technical skills: Exemplified in the Manhattan project by General Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer; and in Apollo by General Sam Phillips and Werner von Braun.

So what are the chances for success of recent moonshots?   Lets take a look at the most recent example, the Cancer Moonshot and see if it has anything in common with Apollo or the Manhattan project.

Does the cancer moonshot have clear goals?  The goals as announced in the 2016 State of the Union address are to “mak(e) a decade of progress in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer in 5 years, ultimately striving to end cancer as we know it.”  Cancer is not one monolithic disease, so this goal lacks the requisite tight focus.  And I cannot find any roadmap that lists the ten year objectives were that are to be accomplished in five years. The goals that are listed are also fairly small bore and include using Uber and Lyft to bring patients to their treatments. It smacks of Werner von Braun’s quote about crash programs being based on the idea that if you get nine women pregnant you can have a baby in a month. I give this one a fail.

Is the cancer moonshot time bound?  Well, it does give a five year time horizon, so I will say it passes this test.

How about funding levels?  This article notes approved for $6.3B over ten years, or less than $1B per year.   0.4% of current US GDP would be ~$67B per year, so we are a far cry from Apollo/Manhattan levels. Fail.

And leadership?  As much as everyone loves Joe Biden, he is no Leslie Groves.  And I can’t find a technical lead for the cancer moonshot on any of the websites, so I give this one a fail too.

Bottom line, I don’t expect to see a cure for cancer in five years emerging from this initiative.

Next up – what about Google’s moonshots?

The Return of the Slacker

After a long hiatus I am returning to my blog!

It is probably a good thing that I missed most of the U.S. Presidential election season, but I will note that others did finally pick up on the fact that the Democrats have a  serious succession issues, and, given their losses in the legislatures and state houses, it is not clear where the replacements for the Boomer politicians will come from.  While the Republicans have a substantial crop of Gen X office-holders, I think the Democrats will need to jump from the Boomers (and older, Bernie Sanders!) in 2020, right to fielding a Millennial candidate for President in 2024.  The oldest Millennials will be 41 by then, and the youngest Boomers 60, so the power struggle will be interesting between our two largest demographics.

Gen Xers continue to enter their fifth decade, of course, and 2017 finds quite a crop of celebrity Gen-Xers turning 50.  These include the founder of the greatest Gen-X movie franchise, Vin Diesel, who turns 50 in July.  Also turning 50 in 2017 include Will Ferrell, Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx, Jason Statham, Nicole Kidman, Pamela Anderson and Vanilla Ice.  Kurt Cobain and Anna Nicole Smith would have also turned 50 this year. So 1967 was quite a year in notable Gen X births.


Generation X – The Presbyopia Years

For a few years now I have had to resort to reading glasses.  As is typical, when I hit my mid-forties I found that I could no longer read fine print. The dreaded onset of presbyopia – which literally translates from the Greek to seeing like an old person.  Ugh.  Generation X is fast becoming the prime demographic for eye care sales of glasses, contact lenses, and surgery….

Old people eyes.
Old people eyes.

Medicine bottles were the worst!  Between the low light in the bathroom and the microscopic print on the packaging, figuring out the dosage information was impossible!  At least I can still read fine print outside in the noonday light.  But that is about it.

So, I bought a pair of drugstore readers.  Then, I found I really needed a pair at work, so I got another.  Then I wanted a pair that was very portable with a hard case, so I bought a third pair.  And each pair I bought, I felt I had to increase the strength.  Its like using the glasses makes my eyes even weaker!  Then, I was tired of going up and downstairs when I needed glasses, so I bought another pair so I essentially had one on each floor of the house and one at work.

Too weak for me now.
Too weak for me now.

This was working out pretty well, until I started misplacing them.  At one point I could only find one pair in the house.  I have since relocated one other pair, but one is still missing.  So today I bought yet another pair.  And moved up 0.25 diopter to +1.75.   I think I need one more pair — this one for the car.   The cellphone print is now impossible to read, and texting and driving is even more dangerous when you have to stare and squint.

Gen X 50th Birthday of the Day – Ingrid Hoffman

April 10th is the 50th birthday of Gen X celebrity Ingrid Hoffman – best known to me as the host of the Food Network‘s and Cooking Channel’s Simply Delicioso.  I don’t watch that much TV, but, as an avid cook, Food Network is one of the channels that get a workout on my TV.  I see from her web page that Ingrid also has a Spanish Language version of Top Chef on Telemundo!

Ingrid Hoffman

A native of Colombia, Ingrid Hoffman started cooking as a young girl with her mother, who was a Cordon Bleu trained chef.  I see on her twitter feed she actively is celebrating her 50th birthday, so go and wish her a Happy Birthday!

Gen X 50th Birthday of the Day – Black Francis

Generation X continues to turn 50, April 6 with the 50th birthday of singer-songwriter Black Francis – aka Frank Black, aka Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV.  Best known as the frontman for the Pixies, and also for his solo work with Frank Black and the Catholics.  Frank Black is another Gen Xer who I would have pegged as being a little older.  I think that is because he has been in the game so long, with the first Pixies albums coming out in 1987-1988.

Does the Germanwings crash make the case for pilotless airliners?

In my previous post I briefly mentioned how the Germanwings crash made me think again about how and which jobs might soon be automated.  The information coming out about the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz has me more convinced that we might get to automating flight controls sooner than we might have imagined.   Certainly having no pilot, and even no cockpit might make more sense than locking cockpit doors against potential hijackers but having to keep two people on the flight deck to guard against an insane pilot.  The question is, will people accept it?  I think that as we get used to self-driving cars, and unmanned drone cargo delivery – both of which I think will be ubiquitous within 15 years – we will be more accepting self-piloting passenger aircraft.  In which case, Lubitz’s quote – “One day I will do something that will change the whole system…” – will have come true.  But probably not in the way he expected.