Tuesday, 11 February 2020

What Satellites Can Do for You

Satellite applications and services make up the essence of my work life. As I regularly talk about satellites and their applications in daily life for interested groups of people, I thought it would be a good idea to summarise all this in a short article. It is useful for laymen to understand how important and diverse the applications are. And it is useful for people in the satellite world to have a concise summary that helps them to overthink the multiple possibilities. Some of the topics have already appeared in this blog, usually under the label work. As this article is however close to my work life and my CV, I decided to publish it as an article on LinkedIn.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Why we like Calendars

Celebrating the end of an old year and the beginning of a new year is completely preposterous if you think of it. The transition from 31 December 2019 to 1 January 2020 has little geophysical meaning for the earth, yet it seems to keep us human beings extremely busy.

The Romans indicated old-to-new transitions with the double –faced deity of Janus. One side looks at the old things behind us, the other side looks at the new things in front of us. Janus was not entirely trusted though, exactly because of this ambiguous identity. It cast some doubt over him, because of his apparent schizophrenic character.

Yet we people are all a bit like Janus. We use the calendar to position ourselves in time, to look back on what is behind us, and to look forward to what may be coming. The calendar allows us to get rid of the old, and embrace the new. It makes us forget the tears and sorrows of the past and encourages us to make new resolutions. Calendars make us dive courageously into the uncertainty of the future.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Beethoven 250 Year

Next year, we celebrate Ludwig van Beethoven's 250th birthday. I believe Beethoven's music is the best music to introduce young people into the world of classical music. I also believe Beethoven somehow reaches  a summit in the world of music. After him, nobody reached the same level again, perhaps with the exception of Peter Tchaikovsky.

My favourite Beethoven classic is the "Pastorale", the sixth symphony. At my parents'home, we used to have a vinyl Long Play record directed by Otto Klemperer. My sister and I used to call this record: "the Rain" because the fourth movement allegro clearly sounds like a thunderstorm.

I refer to my Dutch blog: "Thank you for the Music".

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

The Optimisation Compulsion

The need for optimisation or continuous improvement originates from production management. There is even a production management method called OPT, which stands for optimisation. We have a general belief in society that optimisation is the foundation for success. Is that really true? Could our exaggerated optimisation rage also be the foundation of failure? Our optimisation tendency has turned into an optimisation compulsion. We tend to optimise just about anything, continuously, from the location where we produce our goods to the partner we share our life with. As a result, nothing is stable and we lose ourselves in endless transformation efforts.

Optimisation works well in a stable environment, where the parameters remain the same for a longer period of time. This is rarely the case, especially if everyone is already optimising everything. All optimisation efforts will prove to be pointless because the environment changes too rapidly, and you will need to change direction before you can complete your optimisation process, which is by definition also a transformation process. Our self-inflicted optimisation compulsion is based on  intellectual blackmailing: “If you don’t optimise, you will not reach the top; you will not make it. It is all or nothing. Therefore, if you don’t make it, it will be your own fault.” This is the typical reasoning in a society based on meritocracy.

I refer to my blogs: “Beschleunigung”, and in Dutch: “Hyperactiviteit” and “Vloeibare Waarden”.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Guy Fawkes Night

There has never been a better time to celebrate Guy Fawkes night. Here in the Low Countries, Guy Fawkes is not so well known, but fortunately we have Blackadder on television to learn all about English national history. Guy Fawkes was a specialist in explosives and was caught on 5 November 1605 while putting in place gunpowder under the seat of the king in the House of Lords. In this way, he gained eternal glory as the first religious terrorist and as an enemy of British parliament. In the more recent past, his mask had already become a widespread symbol of protest and subversivity, but at the peak of today’s Brexit-madness, his attack on parliament is getting a new meaning. The mask and the traditional bonfires also fit very well to the Halloween atmosphere in this time of the year.

Are we living the end of representative democracy? It seems like all countries are going through political crises. We see the upcoming of poujadist-type of politicians and parties and the corresponding polarisation, in all western democracies. We see an increasing number of farce-sessions in parliaments, from the UK to Flanders and Ukraine. We see the rise of rebellion movements, from the gilets jaunes to the Chilean people. Representative democracy has undermined itself by turning into particracy. The problem is that parties have become so powerful that they can block parliament by demanding obedience from their elected party members. Another problem is that the people no longer believe that the political class is smarter or better informed. Moreover the states have become unable to execute their good intentions.

Political structures seem to melt more easily because of the heatwaves of change. Some people plead for direct democracy through computer and internet. I doubt however, if people will be willing to collect sufficient information to make good choices and if they will decide in the general interest of the country. You may argue that this is exactly the problem with representative democracy today. I agree, but at least the elected politicians can spend some time during the day to discuss and think about the topics? Suppose you had to make well-founded decisions in your evenings and weekends? What we need is more stability, less change-for-change, and well-defined priorities. We could ask the people to vote about the priorities though.

I refer to my earlier blog “Mainstream versus Democracy”.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

The Pursuit of Attention

In 2019, the pursuit of happiness has become a pursuit of attention. You may have food and clothes, a good health, a house with a garden and some security. If you feel like you don’t receive or ‘deserve’ attention, you will be unhappy. In this time of Beschleunigung and Social Web Addiction, when everybody chases his self-defined goals at 120 km/h and 10Mbit/s, attention has become the most pursued good, the holy grail of happiness.

In the world of politics and media, attention makes and breaks careers. In the world of work, companies no longer need hard-working people or smart people, they need people who spend all their attention to work and it has become a challenge to identify the ones who do. In education, the children have not become lazier or more rebellious, it just has become increasingly difficult to attract their attention, due to the thousands of stimuli and opportunities they need to process each day. We see a lot of kids that are of good will, but they are dropping out because of a lack of attention from their parents and their teachers.

Relationships between friends, partners, parents and children can only be nurtured through mutual attention. Attention is love and love is attention. But attention requires time and energy, so we have to get our priorities right! With this blog, I once again show I’m good in theory. Practice in family life however proves that “we” usually fail towards the ones we love most. It is rare that one regrets not having answered a remark from a remote Facebook friend. After answering a thousand remarks from remote Facebook friends however, we may regret not having paid attention to our partner, our children or our parents. And finally, it can even happen that we don’t pay enough attention to ourselves.

A special kind of paying attention is attentiveness, a very useful virtue in social life. I also refer to my blog: You are your Time

Picture: zijkant Beursgebouw Brussel ©Wim Lahaye

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

European Young Engineers

European Young Engineers is an association of young engineers associations of different European countries. It is based on a rotation system: every six month one member organisation or member state organises a meeting for European Young Engineers in its home country. The meetings usually consist of professional workshops, company visits, cultural excursions and social happenings. In this way, European Young Engineers get to know each other, and they learn about other countries' companies, technical innovation areas and cultural cities. EYE meetings can be lots of fun but they are also rather demanding on the organisers. Last weekend, I had the honour and the pleasure to speak at the EYE conference in Eindhoven (a great place to be for engineers!).

I was happy to be among the founding members when the Dutch Young Engineers took the initiative to meet the Flemish Young Engineers in Antwerp 25 years ago. Looking back in time, one can identify a number of things that changed since then. EYE was founded only five years after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. We can’t say this European scar has completely disappeared, but a long way has been gone already. We have an integrated market now, and a common European currency for a number of members states. On the technical level, the world has changed as well. The fax has been replaced by the Internet. We have now mobile phones that can do more than one call on a charged battery, and the mobile phone has become a smartphone. We have also seen the emergence of social media since then.

EYE is really a demonstration of positive forces (dunameis) in Europe. On the one hand, the engineering profession is perhaps the profession where international collaboration is most fertile, especially for young engineers. On the other hand, this collaboration is pleasant and it creates lasting relationships. Europe needs courageous vanguard movements like EYE. I’m so glad this initiative continues and flourishes. We had to do this because it was possible. What you can do, you also have to do. I refer to earlier blogs related to Europe.