Archive for September, 2015

Review: Tales from The Pittsburgh Steeler Sidelines

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Dale Gronic’s Tales is misnamed.  There are some stories in here, but by and large they aren’t fascinating anecdotes.  Largely Tales is a fairly ad hoc study of the Steelers’ draft classes.  I will say that the Steelers’ draft history turns out to be pretty checkered – much more so than I realized – but this treatment doesn’t capture things very well.

From Gronic’s research, it does seem clear that a book about the Steelers’ drafts would be interesting.  The various coaches have had widely varying philosophies on the role of the draft in team building.  When coaches are changing every few years, this can lead to extremely unusual personnel. Furthermore, each coaching staff brought different skills to the draft. It was common to have a principled plan and a poor eye for talent, that added further noise to the signal.

The 1970’s dynasty was as much a product of the staff’s continuity as its philosophy, but both contributed to some incredible years.

Now, as interesting as that analysis is, it doesn’t fit well with the title.  That title promises me great stories from exciting characters or interesting games.  This is pretty much lacking.  Gronic primarily follows a few draftees who would grant him interviews and tells their history in Pittsburgh.  This is diverting (at best) but never compelling.

The Bomb

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

On the last Sunday of August I was standing next to the grave of Chief Sealth on Bainbridge Island in Washington.  I hadn’t intended to visit the place, but serendipity is like that. A storm had blown through the day before, and a the pines were still whispering about it. Brenda and I were getting ready to head to a pair of friends’ wedding. We were alone at this nexus of history and possibility, commemoration and commencement.  I stood for a while, looking out at the Sound, listening to the wind.  I finally pulled out my phone, dialed a number, and left a message.  “This is Ted Faber. I accept the offer…”

With those words I severed my longstanding employment at ISI.  USC/ISI has employed me for longer than I lived in the town I was born in, and longer than any other job I’ve held.  The decision was a difficult one, but a combination of my earlier decisions and changes to ISI and the research climate in general combined to convince me that is time to do something new.

I’m happy to discuss the details of that decision with people, but the issues were primarily of autonomy and funding.  ISI has always given the most support and autonomy to people who can fund their own research – you eat what you kill.  I have always been more comfortable turning research ideas into prototypes than in evangelizing new areas of work.  That led to me putting myself in a bad position to evangelize when necessary, and support for the roles I chose was on the wane. The specific set of forces that caused that are a bit arcane.

I continue to have great respect for ISI as an institution and especially for the people I was privileged to work with there.  They do top-notch work there from the researchers and students who are blazing new research trails to the project assistants who support that work. I still have many friends there and hope to for years to come.  It saddens me that I cannot continue there, even as I’m excited about my next adventure.

My last day will be 2 October 2015 almost exactly the last day of my 20th year at USC/ISI. The synchronicity of that also appeals to me.

I’ve  chosen to make a fresh start at The Aerospace Corporation. It sits at an interesting space in the national research infrastructure and employs many people I respect and enjoy working with.  The goals and projects of the place are familiar, but the focus different enough that it all looks new.  The place is familiar yet fresh and the work both new and comfortable.  I’m looking forward to setting out on a new journey with my old bones.

If you only have my ISI contact information I’m easy to find on social media, should you want to stay in touch.  Don’t hesitate to friend or follow me.  Come take a journey with me.

Review: Unspeakable Things

Saturday, September 5th, 2015

Laurie Penny is a feminist.  She’s not a feminist in the way that many dilettantes – and I include myself here – are.  She is a deep thinker on matters of sex, gender, and society.  She’s also a vivid, engaging writer.  She’s compassionate without excusing accidental sins.  Her writing is passionate and analytical at the same time.  Readers always know a person is speaking, but never hear someone excusing poor thought with emotional language.

Her book, Unspeakable Things, largely reflects these brilliant qualities. It’s a fine introduction to feminist thought in our modern, daily, technical world. If you’re interacting with people on the internet, it’s a great book to read.  If you’re thinking about why women’s issues and diversity issues are moving to the core of so many discussions, the book is a must. It has ramifications for hard core techies, too, but that’s not what I mean by “technical world.”

Unspeakable Things expanded my thinking about these issues from the personal to the political.  Other friends and Internet writers have made me understand how often and effectively individuals’ rights are trampled.  Penny showed me how these same attitudes and the mores and laws that they have spawned create our society.  Viewing that society in terms of how those mores and laws control and constrain populations in society was new to me.  It’s the difference between sympathizing with people who have been harassed and seeing that the same attitudes prevent women from taking part in the world. Things is very effective at opening the mind.

Particularly enlightening to me was the discussion of birth control.  That’s a technical innovation that could restructure society, except for the fact that society – people who make it up – are resisting that technical change.  As powerful as the personal stories one often hears are (both sides) – the political issues are at least as important.  Penny brought those to me.

Unspeakable Things is not a perfect book, of course.  There are times when I found the writing repetitious.  Some parts were more opaque than others. I can’t tell if it will make others think new thoughts as it made me do.

Overall, the ideas in here are powerful and the writing accessible.  Strongly recommended.