Child in Time, You'll See the Line

This page written circa 21 November, 2005.

Mary Poppins told her charges that she would stay "until there is a change in the wind". The weather vane reflected the attitude of their father, and she left when both coincidentally changed.

The opinion columns in EE Times have lately contained a variety of laments. It appears that the USA is exporting engineers rather than importing them. American engineers report difficulty in finding good jobs after layoffs; the IEEE publishes graphs showing the "massive decline" in EE jobs in the USA. Engineers report obfuscation and paranoia on the part of their companies; it is said that HP instructed people who were laid off to leave voicemail messages that said only that they were "away from their desks" without giving a time of return. The majority of graduate students, coming from overseas and having gained entry with "essentially perfect" scores on the graduate record exams, now mainly voice the intention of returning overseas either at or a few years after graduation; in years past most sought to stay indefinitely. From Germany to China, Agilent's competitors report expansion. The skyline of Shanghai is dotted with construction cranes, while Californian real estate agents predict a glut in the coming Spring. These are ill winds indeed, and they blow in quite the opposite direction from that prevailing when we moved here.

The winds of change blow at Agilent too. When I arrived here I came to one of HP's three busy campuses in Sonoma County, with a subsidised, restaurant-quality cafeteria, as one of 50,000 employees, and there were 4 levels of management between me and the CEO. Now we have one site in the county, I have no problem parking, I hardly eat at the cafeteria any more because it is cheaper and better downtown, the company has spun off, laid off or sold off parts so that 25,000 is probably an overestimate of the staff, it peaked out at 7 levels of management between me and the CEO, and appears to have settled at 6, amid inadequate efforts to reduce the span of control. Problems I noted long ago are coming home to roost.

Many years ago when I worked in Air Navigation, if one wanted to discuss a sensitive matter away from the ears of others the phrase that initiated a confidential exchange was "can we use the cone of silence"; if you wanted the discussion outside on the move, it was "the portable cone of silence", referring to the magnificant gadgets favoured by the recently-deceased Agent 86. Such conversations mostly occur when times are tight and politics take precedence over constructive thought. Here in Agilent the phrase is more akin to "can we go for a walk outside?". I wonder that the grass does not look more trodden.

New Scientist notes the major rise in fundamentalist, unscientific policies widely touted in the USA. They say that fighting and eradicating "Intelligent Design" will be a long, hard, important job for educated Americans. (ID has been summarily thrown out in places such as England and Australia.) So long as getting on with making money was the national preoccupation, it was easy for me to regard America with good humour and some amusement. Ronald Reagan was a magnificant tool for making the rich richer through economic slight of hand, but George W is being equally used for a more insidious purpose, the Southern Baptist equivalent of right-wing Israelis settling Palestine or nihilist Islamic suicide bombers targeting foreign hotspots. Even ex-president Carter has resigned from the Baptist church in response to the totalitarian updates to its constitution. The church leaders have apparently done the job very well, Stalin himself would be impressed. Given the recent statistical peak in global calamities such as tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes, you could forgive the weak-minded believers their prayers, but to some of the more aggressively self-righteous it is an opportunity. Moderate church-goers are having a hard time being heard.

I am quite enjoying Merinda growing up. I found myself explaining the change in the wind in Mary Poppins, as well as Peter Pan, puberty and why the same actor traditionally plays both Hook and Wendy's father. That little girl catches on fast. Of course, seeing a change in the wind is not much use unless you choose a sensible new course and manage to sail your boat along it.

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