About pbilodeau01

Born in Berlin, N.H.; bachelor of arts, major in journalism, Northeastern University; master's degree in urban studies, Southern Connecticut State University; was an editor and reporter at New Haven Register, an editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a reporter at The Meriden Record-Journal. Now a freelance writer and editor.

ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE, OR THE PRESENT?

#future #present #PlanningForTheFuture #PlanForTheFuture
To paraphrase a Valero TV ad: Why do we focus so much on the future, and not enough on the present?
There are many ways to think about this. So, let’s start with the present, since there is no time like it.
There’s an adage that says, “Do today what others won’t, so you can do tomorrow what others can’t.”
In other words, use the present to plan for the future.
Another school of thought says, “I want it now.” Yet, sometimes forgoing immediate gratification bodes well for your future.
A third thought is, “Carpe Diem,” or “Seize the Day.” But if you seize today, will you have enough to seize tomorrow, or next week, next month, next year?
Certainly, what one does today can help, or hurt, him or her in the future. That one extra cookie, tasty as it is, may leave some extra weight tomorrow. It may be extra weight you will not want, but will have difficulty getting rid of.
At the same time, putting a penny in a piggy bank today, and every day, will get you started on saving for your future. Of course, you MUST have the discipline not to raid your piggy for an impulse buy. And, once you fill that piggy with a penny a day, you have to have the wherewithal eventually to take it to a bank and start to make your money work for your future.
Indeed, focusing on the present, with the right activities, will go a long way to ensuring a good future.
One difference between the present and the future is knowledge. We may not know what the future will look like, but we certainly know what the present looks like.
If your present, as you see it, is not looking good to you, it’s imperative to think about what YOU can do now to make your future better.
Yes, that thought process might involve enduring the present unpleasantness for a time, while you act on finding a good future.
Also, thinking about a good future can relieve some of the stress of a not-so-great present. But, thinking alone will not bring about that good future. You have to think it, certainly, but you also have to know what you have to do to get to it. Then, of course, you have to go about doing those things now.
In short, the present and the future are not necessarily discrete entities. But they can be if you want them to be.
The future, of course, means you will be older. There may be things that you can do now, that you won’t be able to do then. If those things you can do now will help you later on, do them while you are able.
There are also everyday habits in the present that can help, or hurt, your future. Keep the helpful habits and lose the hurtful ones if you can.
Though you may not know what the future will bring, prepare well for it. Be flexible enough to alter your plans as needed, while being steady enough to do the things you are certain will help you later.
Enjoying the present and leaving the future to chance is perilous. No, the future doesn’t take care of itself. But, there may be things, good and bad, that will come your way that you cannot anticipate. Then, it’s a matter of dealing with the future as the present when it comes.
So, enjoy your present, but have an idea what you will need to do to ensure a good future. You will thank yourself later.
Peter

REAL ESTATE CAN BE HARD TO BUY

#RealEstate #housing #BuyingHouses #SellingHouses #BuildingHouses
To paraphrase a Redfin TV ad: The prospective buyer says the kitchen is a little tight, but they can live with it.
The agent replies: You shouldn’t live with it. You should love it.
Buying real estate, especially a home you plan to live in, can be a frustrating experience.
No home, even one you build from scratch, is perfect.
Existing homes can be even more imperfect. Rarely does a buyer find an existing home that has EVERYTHING he or she wants.
It seems there is always something one has to “live with.”
Usually, there are some things in the home that aren’t perfect, but you can fix them eventually. Therefore, as a buyer, you should price that into your offer.
In the relatively tight real estate market we are in, you may have to pay full price, or bid up, a house that may have things in it you don’t like.
Many of today’s buyers are looking for perfection, and won’t stop until they find it. That’s a nice problem if you are in no hurry to move in.
But, as there are no perfect humans, there are no perfect houses – or, at least, they are very rare. That’s because perfection is only in the eyes of the buyer.
Because of the number of variables in the real estate buying process, the willingness to compromise may be a good trait for buyers.
And, it’s OK to have a bottom line of what you can accept, and what you can pay.
Perfection may lie outside one’s budget.
That’s why an abundance of choice is desirable. It’s good to look at as many homes as possible within the given radius of where you need to live.
In addition to price, another variable may be demand. You may like the first house you see. But if you wait to pull the trigger, so you can look at other houses, your top choice may be gone once you’ve decided.
If you are buying your first house, and are looking for “starter” homes, you may find them few and far between. If you do find a starter, it may be older. Older homes require more work, so don’t be afraid to put the work in over time. In the current market, if you do the “right” things to your house, you’ll get your money back, and, usually, more.
If you elect to build from scratch, find a reputable builder who won’t skip town once your house is done. The cost of building materials have risen to the degree that some builders, who also find it difficult to get the help they need, won’t quote you a firm price or a completion date.
And, watch your new house go up, if you are able. Make sure your builder doesn’t cut corners.
Again, buying real estate is an imperfect science. Buyers and sellers usually have to be flexible. If they are, the process will be less stressful.
In short, you don’t have to love everything about the house you buy. If it meets your needs, and is in a good location for you, you may not want to hesitate to make an offer.
If you hesitate, it could be gone. And, if you are lucky and get a good house, perhaps you can fix the things you don’t love.
Peter


CAN (DO) STUDENTS FEEL SAFE IN SCHOOLS

#SchooolSafety #teachers #students #parents #FeelingSafe #SchoolShootings
Safety in schools is more than just being able to avoid being shot.
Of course, any moment now, someone could walk into a school with a gun and shoot a bunch of students, teachers and staff.
What can we do about it? Not much, short of limiting the supply of firearms – particularly the most lethal and purely offensive weapons — for people who shouldn’t have them.
More security officers in schools will help, as long as they are willing to come face to face with the assaulter(s).
But now, it’s not just the threat of violence in the schools that can concern children. Children used to be able to confide in teachers, or other staff, about things they may have been afraid to tell parents.
Now, in many places, teachers and staff MUST tell parents if children talk to them about, say, their sexuality.
Maureen Downey, education columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, took on this topic in her March 14, 2023, column.
There was a time when school was a totally safe space for kids. Yes, they were supervised. Yes, they had many requirements they had to fulfill. Sometimes, discipline was necessary.
If Child X was bothering Child Y, Child Y could go to someone and report it confidentially – at least in theory. (There may have been some fear that Child X would retaliate if he or she were disciplined).
Of course, there should be cooperation between teachers, staff and parents when necessary. But there are some things kids don’t want to discuss with parents, particularly if they live in restrictive households.
Discussing such things with other students has its own peril. Besides, students usually do not have the adult wisdom to counsel properly.
We want students not only to be safe in school, but also to FEEL safe in school. If they do not feel safe, they won’t learn properly. Despite some schools that strictly use rigor and discipline as an education method, most students are not motivated to learn strictly out of fear. Certainly, fear can get kids to accomplish tasks. But, they are unlikely to truly learn what they need to know that way.
Feeling unsafe in school puts fear at top of mind for students.
So, what is an educator to do under these conditions?
If students are not allowed to be honest with educators about what they are feeling, how is an educator supposed to reach them?
As governments begin to impose unreasonable restrictions on how teachers teach, what they teach, what they can and cannot say to students etc., how and what do these entities expect students to learn in school?
It’s a question that will not be answered immediately. It’s difficult to measure what a deprived learning environment will do to any child.
The good news in all this – or the bad news, depending on one’s perspective – is that if a student doesn’t learn what he or she wants in school, there are other readily available outlets for them to get that information. Students often will fill that learning vacuum via other means.
We can only hope that depriving students of safety, and some education, in schools doesn’t lead to one or more of them, out of frustration, turning to weapons against that same school.
Peter


WORK UNTIL YOU DIE?

#retirement #WorkUntilYouDie #labor #jobs #employment
There’s talk in the public sphere about abolishing retirement.
That means, of course, working until you die, unless you have a disability.
The conversation is coupled with talk of cuts in Social Security and Medicare, even if such cuts come from only “waste” in those funds.
First, if you have a great job, and your employer will let you work until you die, congratulations.
But, that’s hardly the case in most places. Despite the need for labor and many unfilled positions, employers definitely look at older workers, many of whom are making the most money in their categories, for places to cut. Ultimately, they may replace those workers with younger, cheaper ones.
The generous employers will offer these older workers separation incentives, commonly called buyouts, to leave by a specified date.
The less generous employers will just lay off older workers, despite laws that may put them in a protected class.
These protected class laws put the burden on the employees to sue to keep their jobs. They have to show, in most cases, that their employers fired them simply because of their ages. That’s hard to prove, since employers can come up with other – legitimate or illegitimate – reasons to let a person go. Many employees are also so-called “at-will” workers, meaning they can be fired for any reason. Also, most employees won’t bother suing, and the employers know that.
But, even if your employer WANTS you to work until you die, do YOU want to work until you die – particularly at a job you hate?
Retirement is designed not just to protect older people from workplace abuse, but also for the workers to live their golden years with some degree of well-earned pleasure. It’s designed for people to enjoy, and have control of, some part of their lives before they die. Also, it is designed to make jobs available for younger workers.
When Social Security was created as part of the New Deal after World War II, most people didn’t live but a few years after their retirement at, say, age 65.
Now, with advances in medical care, people are living decades after retirement, placing a burden not just on Social Security, but also on public and private pension funds. Some actuarial studies show these funds might not be sustainable for the near term, never mind perpetuity.
Making people work well into their so-called retirement years conjures up many awful scenarios. Would you want your parent or grandparent in a factory line, working his or her tail off in their 70s or 80s?
Would they even survive it?
In addition to medical advances, people are living longer likely because they are not working.
No one should discriminate against a worker because of his or her age.
But, no one should make someone work past a certain age, if he or she chooses not to.
And, yes, we need to take care of older people who are not working.
It’s not an easy problem to solve. But imaginative people in all sectors of society can, and, hopefully, will find ways to make retirement more achievable, enjoyable and sustainable.
Peter


ELECTRIC POWER GENERATORS AT A CROSSROADS

#ElectricalPower #PowerGenerators #PowerSupplies #widlfires #CleanEnergy
If you are wondering what a transition in business looks like, check out electric power suppliers.
Transition, in this case, does not mean they will go out of business soon. Instead, the power suppliers are at a crossroads. They know that clean power – wind, solar etc. – is trending. The nation, and the world, wants to wean itself from electric power driven by fossil fuels.
On the other hand, power suppliers have an immediate need to generate more power, particularly in growing areas.
Therefore, since fossil fuels are here and available, they may have to bring more such plants online to accommodate near-term growth. Coincidentally, U.S. oil production is at record levels.
Electric vehicle use is increasing as well.
They require electric power, which has to be generated by power suppliers, to run.
Also, there is increasing need for data centers and other big power users.
Complicating matters further is climate change. Hot, dry areas are having more wildfires that can be sparked by power lines. And, there are areas in which big storms are more frequent, knocking out power more often.
And, of course, many communities are addressing housing shortages. Solutions here require more power to those residences.
This all begs the question: what are those whose business is generating electrical power to do to accommodate immediate and long-term needs while also trying to be good corporate citizens?
As residents, we usually only think about our power companies and utilities when bills rise, or the power goes out.
When things are running smoothly, which is every power generator’s goal, users merely plug in and don’t think about it.
Many of these power generators are overseen by agencies looking to make sure their profits are not excessive and customer bills are as reasonable as they can be etc.
As the power generators and overseers think about the future, they have to find that elusive sweet spot among not being overly dependent on fossil fuels, looking to the clean energy future, protecting a fragile environment from accidental sparks and providing safe, abundant power at a reasonable price.
While it may be tough for citizens to have sympathy for power companies, those companies are indeed in a tough spot.
Some have resorted to adding nuclear power. But that has its own potential dangers, not to mention the problem of disposing the radioactive waste.
Nuclear power is indeed clean, until a reactor melts down.
What should a consumer do? First, if a person is thinking about purchasing an electric car, he or she should first determine how he or she will use it. Rapid charging stations are not readily available everywhere, so you may need a hybrid or gasoline-fueled vehicle for longer trips.
If you live in an area susceptible to drought and wildfires, know where your power lines are and try to live away from them.
Also, the next time you read about the rock and hard place some power generators are in today, know that very likely, they are agonizing over this. You don’t necessarily have to have sympathy for them – power executives get paid generously for their agony.
But, know that they are facing very complicated circumstances. Innovators are working hard trying to find the sweet spot(s) in power generation.
Still, feel free to plug in and hope everything works out.
Peter

AI INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY

#productivity #ArtificialIntelligence #AI #work #jobs
Artificial intelligence (AI) is raising productivity.
Increasing productivity per worker is the way to get the economy to expand, and keep going strong for years.
Jeanna Smialek discussed this development in an article for The New York Times. It was also published March 2, 2024, in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The last time productivity went up like this was 30 years ago, the article says.
At that time, Federal Reserve officials were debating whether the economy could keep moving vigorously without causing inflation, Smialek reports.
Also, during the 1990s, computerized work was just catching on. Now, AI is just starting to catch on. As the article says, it was the computer age vs. the Zoom age. Inflation is also beginning to cool down, and wages are rising more quickly than inflation.
As discussed here before, AI is a double-edged sword. It will cause workplace changes. Some will benefit greatly. Others could be hurt badly.
Since there is nothing any one person, or group, can do to stop this progress, we, as individuals, have to figure out how to live with it – or, better yet, be better off for it.
AI may be able to fill some jobs that go unfilled. It may send people who never thought a machine would ever replace them looking for new ways to make a living.
New hiring and layoffs could be happening at once in the same company or workplace.
When the internet was in its infancy, employers thought workers would waste a lot of time at their desks surfing, the article says. While that sometimes happened, it did not cause widespread decreases in productivity.
The users of AI can probably find nefarious ways to use it. But, the article makes clear that it will increase productivity overall.
Another factor the article sites in the productivity gains is the rise in entrepreneurship. Business applications are surging again, as people decide to strike out on their own after losing or leaving jobs, the article says.
Indeed, AI could bring about a golden age of entrepreneurship. That means it will be up to individuals to figure out how best they can fit into this brave new world.
If certain skills become obsolete quickly, one will have to figure out the next chapter in their lives. These moments don’t have to be bleak, or not end well. They can be an opportunity for one to find his or her real passion, and capitalize on it.
We may all have passions we did not know we had. Or, we may have imaginations nimble enough to find a new way to work.
AI is not superior to human intelligence. While human intelligence can create from scratch, AI, at least for now, can collect what has already been done and morph it into something that a human does not have to do.
Therefore, we must all buckle up for what is to come. There may be some bumps and bruises along the way, but it will be up to all of us to find a way to make life even better than it is now.
Peter

MAKE IT SING

#MakeItSing #singing #songs #CompletingAProject #GoodJob
When someone encourages another to complete a project or otherwise do a good job, that person might say, “make it sing!”
Be careful what you wish for. Some people who sing should not be singing.
In the case of projects or other tasks, one assumes that if it sings, it has a great voice.
But not all singers have great voices.
Singing a song the way it is supposed to be sung is not always an easy task, even for accomplished singers.
“The Star Spangled Banner,” the U.S. National Anthem, is not an easy song to sing, although it is so often sung by amateurs as well as professionals. The three-octave range of the song is difficult to master, even for the trained singer.
Burt Bacharach often wrote songs that have frequent time-signature changes, making them difficult to sing. Still, singers like Dionne Warwick were able to master them.
Also, singing is not just carrying a tune, even though that in itself is difficult for some. Yes, one must carry a tune when singing, but the best singers embellish the actual tune with vocal runs and expressive voice.
Vocal range is vitally important for a singer. If you can’t hit the three octaves in “The Star Spangled Banner,” you might be better off, particularly if you are part of a group or audience trying to sing it, to mouth the words.
In TV’s singing competition “The Voice,” the coaches initially can’t see the person who is singing. They have to judge him or her based on his or her voice alone.
That’s so the coaches don’t judge a person based on how he or she performs a song, or based on how a singer looks. It’s all about vocal technique, range and whether the singer stays on pitch.
We often admire a person who gets up to sing, and does so loudly and proudly. In that admiration, we may disregard whether the person can actually sing. We admire that the person had the courage to do it with gusto.
And so it goes with a job or a project. We admire a person for doing a great job, and, therefore, the result of his or her work sings.
We don’t nitpick notes or pitch, we admire the effort and the result.
Sometimes, achieving those results requires courage. Often, it requires great effort and ability.
So, if you are told to “make it sing,” you do what you must to achieve the best results.
It may not require artistic perfection, but it likely will require courage, effort and attention to detail.
Sometimes, like the contestants on “The Voice,” mustering the courage to compete may require risk, and bring nerves into play.
The coaches understand that and can forgive minor flaws. But, overall, they are looking for somewhat polished talent.
To make your job or project “sing,” some polish may be required. But, effort is essential.
So, as you go about your work, make it sing.
Peter

AI IS COMING; IS YOUR JOB GOING?

#ArtificialIntelligence #AI #jobs #technology #thinking
Artificial intelligence is, well, artificial.
Machines don’t think for themselves, but they can piece together information recorded from different sources to make sentences, and do other things, that make sense.
Many of us decided to do what we do for a career thinking that no machine would ever replace us.
But technology and media companies are cutting some of the human brain power that made their products what they are. The suspicion is that artificial intelligence (AI) will replace those tasks in the not-too-distant future.
In the old days when search engines were created, they could categorize data from similar entities and show users who, or what, they were looking for. But, search engines could not describe what a company does. It led to differences of opinion on “search engine optimization,” in which many people, and companies, specialized.
Did you want your company to stand out from your competition, or did you want your company to be lumped in with your, perhaps, inferior competitors? If you wanted the former, your Web content had to explain why your company is better, or, at least, different from the rest.
If you used key words in your content to satisfy the search engines, did those words just make you like everyone else that touches your space?
Because AI gathers, would you rather have a thinking human rather than a gathering and assembling machine?
Make no mistake: the gathering and assembling machine, undoubtedly, will be very useful for some tasks, and save companies lots of money.
But if you are in the business of creativity, there will be no substitute for human thinking in many areas.
Like humans, machines will make mistakes. Like humans, machines can put their talents to use in nefarious ways.
Therefore, it takes humans to know when a machine is most useful, and when a human is most useful.
We have to be on guard for unintended consequences of AI. Presuming we all want AI to do only good things that benefit mankind, we have to guard against the evil it could do – unless our intentions are indeed evil.
Of course, AI does not need R&R, as humans do from time to time. AI can be employed 24/7, as most humans cannot.
In short, it will take human innovation to not only create the AI that will replace some humans, but it also will require human supervision to guard against its pitfalls.
Most humans can adapt to a changing workplace. The jobs we were hired for years ago turn into completely different jobs as companies evolve and change.
It will take humans to help AI adapt to changing workplaces. Some of us humans will learn that AI perhaps can adjust to changing workplaces and conditions more quickly than some humans can.
Humans will create AI. They will maintain AI. They will manage AI. Still, when AI really takes off, there will be fewer humans needed. With jobs going unfilled in today’s marketplace, that could turn out to be a good thing.
Peter

PAPER CEILINGS MEANT TO BE SHREDDED

#PaperCeiling #WorkQualifications #technology #CollegeDegrees
The TV ads call it the “Paper Ceiling.”
In a nutshell, it’s the elimination of some people for certain jobs because they don’t have the proper “paper” qualifications. These people may be perfectly capable of doing the jobs because of experience or other training. They just may not have the degree that the specifications require.
Now Georgia, and other states, are tackling this problem by trying to ease some of the paper qualifications for certain state jobs.
Maureen Downey, education columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, discussed the Georgia situation in her February 14, 2023, column.
As she writes, Microsoft founder Bill Gates never finished his degree at Harvard because his ideas were so time-sensitive that he had to act on them immediately.
With technology, timing is everything. If you wait too long to develop it, it could become obsolete before it’s even created. Or, a competitor will beat you to it.
But, as Downey writes, Gates is a big believer, and funder, of higher education.
The so-called paper ceiling has prompted a generation of leaders and influencers to place a high value on getting a college degree. In fact, statistics show generally that people with college degrees do better economically than those who don’t have one. We also hear stories of people who spent a lot on an education, only to get a job that didn’t require it.
Of course, education of any sort is never a waste.
Where the rub comes is ruling people out for certain jobs they are capable of doing, just because they lack the college degree.
The paper ceiling is a convenience for hiring managers. It allows them to sift and sort through piles of applications more easily by ruling out people quickly.
But college is not for everyone, particularly those who cannot immediately afford it. People have gone into extreme debt to get a degree. But, once they have it, they may, or may not, get the job they want. And, even if they do, they’ll likely spend a valuable chunk of adult life paying off that debt.
There are also many trades and other good-paying jobs that may require technical training, but not necessarily college. These jobs often are in high demand, and workers with those skills can be hard to find.
Some believe too many trade schools have been turned into computer schools, and there are too few venues to train electricians, plumbers and other skilled workers.
Though computers have infiltrated most modern machinery and appliances, there is still a great need for raw, old-school skills.
In short, if you are a hiring manager, don’t underestimate the skills of someone who may not be as well papered as you might like.
If you are a prospective employee, don’t hesitate to apply for a job you believe you can do even if you don’t have the paper credentials. You may have to sell yourself better in your application to overcome the lack of credentials.
Closed minds on either side may blur good potential.
Just as glass ceilings are meant to be shattered, paper ceilings are meant to be shredded.
Peter





FACTS, SCIENCE CAN BE PESKY; WE IGNORE THEM AT OUR PERIL

#facts #truth #science #InconvenientTruth
Who would have thought that facts – truth – and science would get such a bad name.
Most people like facts when they suit one’s preferred narrative. But, like the weather, facts can be inconvenient.
At one time, everyone celebrated scientists. They were considered the great minds of our society.
Now, some people not only don’t celebrate scientists when their research produces facts that they don’t like, but they criticize, even condemn them.
One can see a concerning pattern developing here. If facts are not facts, and real science is not considered truthful or acceptable, what’s the point of education?
Well, some of those who do not like some facts or science are trying to redo education so that students don’t learn those facts or science.
If students don’t learn what’s true, or are unable to properly discern truth or science, how productive will they be to society? How will their natural curiosity be changed? Will they be discouraged from being creative?
Creativity and curiosity are essential in all humans. To try to tamp that down in young students is doing them – and the world – a disservice.
Facts and science can be inconvenient, to which former U.S. Vice President Al Gore can attest. But the problems that knowledge, creativity and curiosity can solve will not go away.
If you live in a place in which people in power are trying to tamper with facts, science, creativity, curiosity and education, tell them you want all of those things emphasized in your schools.
Beliefs, faith and truth do not always match. Having faith is certainly laudable, but, if the truth contradicts what one believes via faith, reconcile those differences. Other generations have done that quite well.
If you have children, encourage them to be curious. Encourage them to be creative. Encourage them to want to change the world, if they don’t like it. Most of all, encourage them to do all they can to make the world a better place.
Certainly, one could argue that some people’s worlds don’t need changing. But, the world as a whole could use more kindness, more tolerance and more empathy.
Encourage children to embrace those characteristics in their own persona.
The world around you will not always be what you want it to be. But, embracing the people in the world for who they are would be a great start toward improvement.
The lesson here is that facts and science – truth – are usually not a matter of opinion.
Sure, what was once true can no longer be so. Some science can be, perhaps even needs to be, challenged.
But challenging facts and good science can produce knowledge vacuums, which can be filled by wild conspiracies, even fiction.
Beware of the person who tells you that 2+2 can’t be 4. That person usually finds facts inconvenient, so he or she just makes up stuff.
The person who can discern honest truth is one who will help change the world.
Peter