Category Archives: Life

Life and other mundane information.

May Day: Robots are coming for your job.

Yes, the title is sensational, but I really needed to get your attention.

Today is May 1st, known by many as “May Day”. With a long history, this day is known as a spring celebration, full of life and rebirth. Furthermore, it is also known as “International Workers’ Day” in recognition of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, where workers rioted for us to enjoy our now standard 8-hour workdays. Even though working conditions are not great for many around the world, collectively, most of us are better off than we would have been in the 1800s. And of course, it also evokes “mayday”, the international distress signal.

So I can think of no better day to discuss your job with you. Yes, you. Especially if you are a friend of mine, and especially if you work in manufacturing, service industry, transportation, clerical, middle management, or many other jobs I’m not thinking of right now, quite honestly. Right now, even the lowest of income groups in the US (and others, I’m sure) enjoy luxuries that their counterparts 100 years ago would have never dreamed of. And most of it is due to advances in technology.

Typing Robot
The age of this image should show you how long this research has been going on.

Make no mistake. There’s a good chance automation will replace your current job within the next 20 years. Even less for some of you. Think about that for a moment and plan it out. If you’re less than 20 years away from retirement, this is something you will have to deal with.

We are at both an exciting and terrifying time in history right now, from a technological perspective. We have so many pieces of the puzzle available to us. Right now, I have everything I would need to create a tabletop manufacturing-style robotic arm that could automate certain tasks. And I could do it with equipment that cost less than $500 (3d printer, soldering equipment, tools), and supplies costing less than $200 (plastic filament, hardware, motors, electronics). If I can do all of this for that cost, imagine what companies with much larger resources are planning right now. And they will. Not because they hate workers, but humans are messy and unreliable compared to software and automated systems. Sure, they’re motivated by money, and many even by greed, but it’s not malice. Nevertheless, make no mistake, it will happen anyway. Just think of all this talk of automated cars and the boons for human safety, but also the loss of many driving and transport-related jobs. Instead of being angry Luddites about it, let’s be productive.

Okay, now that I’ve convinced you (I hope), what can we do about it?

  1. Legislate. Bill Gates is proposing that we tax robots that replace human jobs, and I agree. Our economy is not prepared for this leap just yet. A tax would help pad the blow both in helping employ more people with new work, and it would slow the process of automating everything at once, so we have a chance to work things out.

  2. Prepare yourself and your families. If you think your job could be easily automated, this is imminent. You can no longer ignore this. Learn skills that are not easily automated now so you’ve got something to move to later on. Think about starting a business. Make options for yourself.

  3. Prepare your children. Make sure they’re developing skills that cannot be easily automated so they will have decent job prospects when they become adults.

  4. Talk to others. I don’t hear anyone talking about this except for a select few. However, this is something that will affect a lot of lives. Make sure those around you aren’t caught unaware.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post. I’m sure it seems incredulous or difficult to take, but I’m glad you’re thinking about it.

Additional reading:

Robots to replace 5 million jobs by 2020

AI and robots threaten to unleash mass unemployment, scientists warn

Elon Musk: “within 10 years it will be “unusual” for anything other than driverless cars to be manufactured”

Bill Gates and Elon Musk just warned us about the one thing politicians are too scared to talk about

Wishing the world were a better place (A parenting story)

It was just my youngest daughter (of ten years old) and me last night. CJ wanted to go to a family-friendly comedy show that we have enjoyed going to before. Afterwards, we walked around Westport to find a place for dinner. The Westport area in Kansas City is popular on the weekends. Because of that, it usually has a few folks on the street either playing music for money, selling things on a blanket, or simply begging for change. After walking a bit, CJ asked if we could leave and go somewhere else. I could tell something was wrong, so I asked her what was up. “The homeless people here don’t scare me or anything, but I just feel so sad that I can’t do anything to help them.”

CJ has a huge heart, so when we passed by an older man begging on the street corner, she didn’t hesitate to dig through her coin purse that she had brought for shopping, and hand him all the coins she could find. He was thankful. As we kept walking, I could see her tearing up. When I asked her what was wrong, she simply said “Sometimes I wish the world were a better place.” What does a parent say to that? Sheesh. But I had to say something, so I drew in a long breath.

“It’s up to all of us to try to do just that, sweetie. As humans, we should all be striving to make the world a better place. Otherwise, we’re just taking up space.” Being a lifelong tinkerer, I’m more comfortable with conversations of action rather than lament. Plus, I felt this was more productive. I resolved to continue our talk even after we reached our restaurant and got seated.

While waiting for dinner to arrive, I raised the topic again. Sure, we discussed why people don’t always give money to those who beg for it, and she already knew most of the reasons. But we also talked about the state of mental care in this country and how people who can’t afford that care far too often end up on the streets. I also brought the context to a larger scope, talking to her about how we as people should be trying to solve the underlying problems of things like homelessness at a systemic level, in addition to the quick fix of giving someone some change.

“Daddy.” she said, “When I’m an adult, I want to start a homeless shelter. Will you help me when I do?”

I smiled and said, “I will help you anyway I can, whether it’s for a homeless shelter or any other way you can help the world. But we don’t have to wait until you’re an adult. Let’s talk about how we can help people now, too.” So we discussed making care packages of socks and other essentials to keep in our cars to give to people in need, and reaching out to shelters and other places to volunteer more.

When our food arrived, CJ immediately cut her burger in half and set it aside with some fries. I made sure to set aside some of my food as well (which isn’t difficult anyway, with our huge restaurant portions in the US) After we left the restaurant, we went back to the same old man on the street, glad to find him still there. He gratefully accepted the food we shared with him, and the extra ten dollar bill I gave him. I patted him on the shoulder and looked in his eye as he said, “God bless.”

CJ and I walked back to our car, feeling a little better for what we’d done, but also knowing there’s still so much more to do.

Remembering My Father

My father, David Killingsworth passed away at 4:15pm Saturday, February 20th, 2016.

He had been battling several infections for the last year, and had been in hospital care since mid-November. I was visiting then, and when I assisted him to get to dialysis that day. Some part of me knew that would be the last day he would see his own home. 3 months later, after making the decision to cease dialysis and all medicines to start hospice care, we spent his last week with him. Later, on Saturday, he was unresponsive most of the day and finally passed in his sleep in the afternoon.

But this post isn’t about his death, so much as it is a post about his life and the things I have learned over the years from him.

My father was  a baker and bakery manager most of his career. He did some other things like driving a truck and being a mechanic in a shop, but mostly he was in a bakery. This meant that most of my life he got up very early in the morning, around 3-4am. I remember waking briefly to a light or the sound of his electric razor in the mornings, then drifting back to sleep. He cared a lot about providing for his family and was the sole source of income for us until my sister and I reached school age, when my mother went into nursing school and after she graduated.

Outside of work, he was usually working on the house, cars, or outside–and dragging me along with him. He always said I was a pretty good helper after I got off “top dead center”. From my earliest memories, I can recall searching for tools with their cryptic symbols on them trying to find the right one to hand him while he was under a car. Working on cars for us developed into something more than a task or chore, it was social time, too. Time for us to be guys and talk–or not talk. Most of the time we’d be joking around, but we had some really good talks while turning a few wrenches.

“You’re not going to learn any younger!” was frequently what I would hear, whenever I protested that I didn’t know how to do something. I’ve turned to using this phrase with my own kids sometimes, as well as the kids on the robotics team I coach. What this phrase lacks in correct grammar, it gains in gritty, no-nonsense truth.

By the time I reached high school, the two of us acted more like friends than a father and son, I felt. For the most part, I kept my stuff in order, but I knew if I didn’t he became “dad” again very quickly. Otherwise, we’d joke around, horse around, even after I got big enough to give it back to him! I remember flopping down opposite him on the couch, placing my legs lazily up on his knees. He’d say nothing, but start pinching and plucking the hairs on my calves until I had enough and pulled my legs back. We would tease and goad each other frequently, calling each other “weenie boy” or “pud”. This comfort level translated in to when we would work together. Others would be surprised at how we would talk to each other as we worked on, but the two of us never minded or took it negatively. Those words were signs of approval to each other more than any superfluous words could be.

“The difference between the apprentice and the master is that the master knows how to fix his mistakes.”

This is probably the best advice I had ever gotten from my father. He kept hammering this into me many times throughout my life and I needed that. This is what fancy educational studies nowadays call a “growth mindset” instead of a “fixed mindset”. But my dad had it all along. He always told me there’s no problem ever with making a mistake, as long as you don’t keep making the same mistake again. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

Even after I had grown and moved out, my father and I were still close and he was always there whenever I needed him. After my first marriage, when I found myself being a single father, he came and stayed with me many days to take care of my daughter. We spent a lot of time together then, and had lots of talks. Sometimes we’d play a video game together (okay, I would play and he would watch, lending advice occasionally.) And with my second marriage, he even taught his favorite recipes to my wife and would frequently sit with us in the kitchen as one of us cooked, just to visit.

For a while, he and my mother had a place on Pomme de Terre Lake. It was small, no-frills accommodations, but the scenery was wonderful and it had a dock on the lake as well. We would take the family out and he would pull us on tubes with their boat. He took great joy in skipping us across the water, while we clung to the tube with white knuckles. Lots of great memories there.

My dad and I have been through a lot over the years, from lying in the back of his old truck, watching fireworks, to his lectures at me for not turning in my homework, helping him on work on cars, houses, trimming trees, mowing lawns, going fishing and just driving around and talking. And I think that’s what I’ll miss the most. Nothing will ever replace those talks and his advice–whether I wanted it at the time or not. But I’m glad I got it now.

Sunsets

More often then not, we need to take time to stop doing everything and just be.

Picture of a Sunset
Picture of a Sunset taken from Peculiar, MO on 10/18/2015

This is a picture of today’s sunset I took today, when I stepped outside for just 15 minutes or so. I waited for just the right moment, walked outside, sat up against a large tree and just watched. Cars went by, dogs barked, life went on while the sun crept over the horizon.

Admittedly, this isn’t something I do all that often, but I should. I think we all should take some time out of our days to stop rushing through life to the next destination or task. We all have work, families, life, side projects, hobbies, chores, and other obligations. But 10-15 minutes isn’t too long to go somewhere and just be.

I’m writing this to remind myself at a future date when I feel I don’t have time to do this. Hopefully, I see it and remember why it’s important. But I hope you can get something from it as well. Have a great day!

–Kevin

FIRST Robotics 2015

Yesterday was the 2015 kickoff of the FIRST Robotics Competition. What’s that, you say? Well, watch this video and listen to the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman while he explains it to you:

Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you to finish before I continue…

…done? Okay.

FIRST Robotics is a way for me to give back to the community, and a way for me to help further Science and Engineering in the U.S. You see, for a long time I’ve read the articles and seen the statistics of the state of decline of Science and Engineering within the U.S. and how all these jobs and proficiencies are going off-shore. It’s disconcerting, to say the least. Then I came to the realization: What am I doing about it? I’ll save you the platitudes about how even one person can make a difference, blah, blah, but the fact remains that if I’m not doing my part, I can’t get all preachy about other people not doing theirs. That would make me a hypocrite, which is something I vowed I would never be.  It’s a worthy goal, and lots of people in the public eye agree, for once.

Who would have thought you’d see Snoop Dogg and the like bestowing the virtues of Science?  Did I mention that Will.I.Am performs at the FIRST Robotics Championship basically every year?

He’s doing his part.  I guess I should do mine.  That’s why for the last 2 years I’ve been involved in FIRST Robotics as a Judge and a Mentor.  That’s also why this year I accepted the primary coach position for the Raymore-Peculiar High School Robotics team, at which I’ll be spending at least 3 days a week coaching and mentoring 30-40 students every week, getting ready for the Kansas City Regional on March 13-14.

More on the actual kickoff and design later!

–Kevin