what the world looks like at 6 a.m. to a bum

You get off the train and there are people already on the street who have never gotten off of it.

You see bright lights ahead of you, a path. You are going to work.

The people who live on the street...the ones you call "bums" when nobody else is around. The ones who scare you with their filth and smell and desperation...the homeless ones...

You don't know what they see. 

You care, but then again not really. 

You're on your way to work, and it's 6 a.m. 

You're busy.

All opinions my own. Photos by me.

Bring Back The American Dream

This country was built on three dreams, all of them related to freedom:
* I can worship G-d as I please, or not worship at all
* I can become rich beyond my wildest dreams
* I can be myself regardless of what other people think
Unfortunately our history is full of the bad things we did to struggle for those dreams. Also unfortunately our history is full of people who want to take these freedoms away and install some form of dictatorship in its place (using nice words of course).
The task we have before us in 2016 is to stop thinking and talking about all the unfortunate things and move forward.
We need to be positive. We need to unite around these freedoms once again and formulate a plan for getting there. Stop complaining and start working to solve the problems.
But - let's use the analogy of the human body here. You have to realize that America is bleeding. Most people are actually poor. They do not have adequate shelter, food, healthcare, or education. They do not have good job prospects. And our country is bleeding as well. Foreign countries are attacking us every single day, attacking our ability to compete economically, attacking our computer systems, attacking our military, attacking our reputation as a world leader.
What should America do in the face of all this bleeding? How can we begin to think about freedom again when we are laying down on the ground getting weaker by the minute?
In the hospital when someone comes into the emergency room and they're bleeding like crazy the doctors and nurses do triage. They stop the bleeding!
This is where we need to begin. When you have a nation of people bleeding in the ER, you don't take more people from foreign countries in for triage.
When you have a nation of people who are drowning in debt and living on food stamps, you don't approach the world from a "one world" point of view. You approach the world from a "take care of our people" point of view.
When you have a government that is so complicated and bureaucratic that the people's money is unaccounted for, you inspect the government brick by brick, eliminate the waste ruthlessly and put it instead towards food, shelter, medical care, education, and so on.
When you have a powerful military complex, including government, contractors, etc. spending infinite sums without accountability to the people, it is time to open the books, focus on what matters and rein the rest in.
When you have a business community that is wealthy beyond belief but not spending their money over here, and not paying their fair share of taxes, it is time to send the feds in and break up whatever games are being played.
But unfortunately the government has not been effective enough at this.
Nor has the government done enough to create a climate where ordinary people can make money as entrepreneurs. Every single thing a business does is regulated to the hilt. The amount of paperwork is absolutely dizzying.
It is time to take a gigantic axe and chop out all the rules we do not need anymore. While we are at it let's rewrite the remaining ones in plain English.
Finally when you have a citizenry that is becoming less and less able to read, write, and do basic math, it's a little bit of a head scratcher to figure out how they are going to compete in a world of scientists and engineers who are doing far, far more than that.
We really have our work cut out for us this year. It's going to take a massive national mobilization effort to bring this country back to where it should be on the world stage.
What people are angry about is that the elite class, including Washington, doesn't seem to recognize or care about THEIR REAL PROBLEMS. All the intellectuals do is talk, and talk, and talk and put their fingers up their noses and talk some more.
Real people need real help so maybe we should elevate the tone of the national political debate and start acting like the grownups our children need us to be.

Comparing The Effectiveness Of 3 Metro Ads

The D.C. Metro is running this ad campaign designed to boost recruitment. The tagline is: "Admiration. It's part of the job."

I completely hate these ads.

In this example from the series, we see a "Metro employee" displaying a crayon drawing of himself that a little girl has apparently done and given to him.

I think it's fairly safe to say that this ad strains credulity. There are no little girls drawing pictures of Metro employees.

If you want to hold up a mirror to what these hardworking people actually do, show them calling out repetitive train station names without missing a beat; apologizing for delays courteously; dealing with rude customers and overpacked trains; and handling safety situations and other crises.

The reality of the job is not only more interesting and engaging than the silly fantasy portrayed in the ad, but also has the advantage of being true.

This second ad from Metro deals with sexual harassment on the train and in contrast to the first it is highly effective. 

The letters themselves show a woman literally pushing back against gropers who take advantage of limited physical space to cop a free feel.

And we get the phone and text number right away too.

The only problem of course is that when a situation occurs, you want to document and report it right away, but under thr ground there may not be cellphone coverage.

For the ad to really work, the customer has to be able to act on it.

But overall this is good work.

The third ad, which hangs right next to the other two, is the most memorable and of course this is because it draws on a pre-established powerful brand for the target market.

The ad simply shows us the "CNN" logo on a white backdrop.

It's almost as if the maker is saying, "What more need be said?"

The CNN brand, like every great brand of course, was not built over the short-term but rather represents a significant long-term investment, history and story.

And it shows.

Of course there is one little glitch: What exactly is happening on Sunday at 9 pm, if CNN built its reputation on 24/7/365 availability?

But nevertheless, what we see is that simple, bold and bankable is best. One imagines the conversation provoked by the ad maker:

"What is the authoritative news station around here?" 

"Well of course, CNN."

Three advertisements. 

Three messages.

Three undoubtedly well-researched concepts.

Only one of them truly works. 

Because only one of them is a brand.

All opinions my own. Photos by me.

Some Parting Thoughts About The NNMI

In the midst of what can best be described as a difficult campaign season, there is a shining light of a government program that few people know about, much less understand. But I was privileged enough to be a part of it, serving as its chief communicator, from November of 2014 until March 2016. (I now work for another federal agency.) 
As a communicator within the program, it was not my place to write a posting such as this for public consumption. But now that I have moved on, I do have some suggestions that I would like to share, and to hear others' opinions on. 
But first, a little background. The program is the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, or NNMI for short. Its purpose is, essentially, to restore American manufacturing to its "We Can Do It" days of glory and leadership. It is inspired by similar programs in other countries, most notably Germany's Fraunhofer institutes.  
The NNMI works by establishing public-private partnerships aimed at conducting research in specific technology focus areas important to commercializing new inventions. How many millions, billions, even trillions of dollars have been lost to other countries that adapt our innovations to their machines, and sell the resulting products back to us?
Intentionally, the NNMI is geographically distributed. Each technology research institute is located in regional "hubs" that bring together industry, academia, and the government. As a result, the government is spurring economic development far outside the insular world of the Beltway.
Even if you know nothing about manufacturing, there are numerous indicators of the NNMI's momentous significance, both for the manufacturing sector and for the future of government as a whole.
  • First, it ensures that we are able to make what we need domestically, instead of relying on overseas manufacturing facilities. (Imagine what might happen if other countries controlled all the stuff we needed to buy...not just TVs and clothes and cars, but how about bullets?)
  • Second, it creates a space where young people can partake of critical workforce development programs aimed at training them for the important, in-demand and well-compensated jobs of the future. (Consider that the job prospects for new graduates are not great unless they are somehow involved in a scientific or technological field of study.) All the institutes are involved in workforce development, and manufacturing is one of those fields where you do not have to be a rocket scientist to be gainfully employed using the technology.
  • Third, it creates a model for national innovation that is fundamentally dependent on broad and deep collaboration - or perhaps more accurately, a nonstop conversation about how to make things, all types of things, smarter, faster and better.
  • Fourth, it models an impartial, reasoned way to create a new kind of government program - in which the President himself commissions industry and academic experts to find solutions, with no pre-determined decision about what recommendations should emerge.
  • Fifth, it embodies the idea of a whole-of-government, functional approach to a national problem, rather than one driven by a particular agency and its historic mission.
This isn't the place to talk about why American manufacturing has declined, or about all the specifics of the program. What I do want to emphasize is, first, the groundbreaking nature of the work that is being done: For all the things that the President achieved during his time in office, the NNMI will surely be its undervalued gem.
All well and good. But as any engineer will tell you, there is always room to make an excellent product or service even more excellent. To that end, here are some very broad suggestions:
  • Information Security: Since the explicit purpose of the NNMI is to give the U.S. an economic and national security advantage, there should be a study commissioned of potential information leaks and remediation methods, and a set of baseline protective actions agreed upon. One of these should be an immediate end to any foreign visits or tours at an Institute facility.
  • Focus: Any activity not essential to research or financial sustainability should be either eliminated or outsourced to other parties. The program has always placed a strong emphasis on reducing this burden, but if there are functions that can be merged (for example, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership at NIST already has contacts with small/medium size manufacturers in every state) then there should be an openness to doing that.
  • Outside Studies: No organization can objectively review its own activities. There should be greater involvement by third parties - paid for by the government - in reviewing institute operations and making recommendations for their ongoing improvement. This is keeping in mind that they have a very short window of time, in a very competitive arena, to become profitable - that is, 5-7 years to make money or fold.
  • Community: There needs to be a technology platform, almost like a Facebook, that brings together all parties involved in an Institute both locally and at the national level, with appropriately secure levels of permission. There could be an open space for the public to access; a level open across institutes; a level open to prospective members; a level open to members; and so on. The point is, conversations today happen online and more specifically on social media, in real time, on mobile devices. This part cannot wait.
  • Communication: This is an extremely important national program, because it is vital to our economic future as well as to our national security. There needs to be far more noise happening on social media, outreach to students, and a clear and consistent national message about what its priorities and accomplishments are, and why they matter. 
  • Consolidation of authority: It is important and an accomplishment that the program has thus far involved so many stakeholders so successfully. But with so many hands in the pot, there are too many hands in the pot. The President should appoint a Chief Manufacturing Officer of the United States, and that person should be the head of the NNMI.
All in all it was a tremendous privilege to be a part of the NNMI. It left a lasting impression on me as a citizen - and not only because I learned about the transformative capacity of government. The people involved in this program are dedicated public servants, as well as incredibly educated, experienced, impressive experts.
I hope that in a small way these sentiments help. Let's hope they spark continuous improvement, that they become part of the larger stream of conversation.
All opinions my own.
Photo by NASA via Flickr (Creative Commons). Caption, provided by NASA: "Test Firing of 3-D Printed Part (NASA, Space Launch System, 07/24/13) Marshall engineers installed the injector in a subscale RS-25 engine model, and the engine was hot-fired exposing the part to temperatures of nearly 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit while burning liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen. A series of tests was completed in Test Stand 115 in the East Test Area at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala."


Image credit: NASA/MSFC

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