Well, there I was on a rainy Sunday afternoon, thinking about what to write about this week, when I came across the Gazette’s Letters to the Editor. To start, I would like to thank Patrick Comey for his comments. He is absolutely correct. The street I referenced in my column about a “Drive Around the City” being renamed Railroad Avenue was formally San Fernando Road, not lower Bouquet Canyon. Yet, while Patrick’s perception is that “my dislike of the decision makers was showing,” I feel what was showing is less related to a dislike for the decision makers, and more about my distain for some of the decisions they make – which brings me to the subject of this week’s column.
During the week, I read in both The Signal and the Gazette about the Saugus Union School District initiating a “Dual Language Immersion” instructional program, starting in kindergarten. Now this is a decision I can whole heartedly support. While learning a second language will help the students communicate more effectively with individuals from other parts of the globe, you may be surprised to find that improved personal communication is not the primary reason I support this new program.
So, let me start with a little background. In the last few years, we have been bombarded with so-called experts telling us technology, more specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics, is going to put an end to the working class and hi-paying labor-intensive jobs. But factually, this is nothing new, as technology has been changing the way we work and live ever since the caveman invented the wheel. Jobs which are in high demand today may be replaced by automation or a technological change in the future. What is different today is how quickly technology is advancing compared to 100 years ago, making it difficult to envision where we may be 20 years from now.
I am a senior, and my 46-year work career is in the past. Yet, I spent my entire career in the Hi-Tech world of Aerospace alongside “state of the art” electronic systems. To show part of the contrast with today’s workplace, when I first got my start in 1961, our facility had rooms filled with drafting tables and a very large machine shop with all manual equipment. Plus, every department had several secretaries to answer phones, type and file memos, and a department artist to make presentation charts on large white paper tablets. I’m sure you realize most of those jobs no longer exist, as they have been replaced by technological advances.
Our products and how they were supported changed drastically, as well. The company where I worked designed and built “Inertial Navigation” systems. These are devices, primarily used on aircraft, to determine the aircraft’s current location. The functionality is similar to today’s GPS, but our equipment did not rely on any outside information or emit any radiation. Conceptually, it was very simple. If you know the location of where you are starting from, and if you measure your distance traveled and flight direction, you can compute where you are throughout the flight. Simple in concept, but implementing the device was far from an easy task.
When I was first introduced to Inertial Navigation Systems, implementation was mostly mechanical. The early systems used Spinning Wheel Gyros, and Mechanical (torque to balance) Accelerometers, all mounted on a four-gimbal platform. Computations were accomplished by analog electronics and mechanical Synchros, Servos, Encoders, and Gear Trains. The aircraft’s current location was shown on a mechanical display, similar to a 1980 automotive odometer, in latitude and longitude. Critical components were delicate and assembled by watch makers.
As it turns out, I was fortunate. When digital computers and software started being incorporated in our test equipment designs, I was assigned the task of interfacing with the design engineering team, and a whole new world opened up right in front of my eyes. It wasn’t long before I had completed several computer language courses and was cranking out application software on my own. In those days, I used punch cards to input my work to an IBM Mainframe and received the results on punched paper tape. Talk about ancient technology.
Inertial Systems technologically advanced, as well. Spinning Wheel Gyros were replaced by “Ring Laser Gyros,” mechanical accelerometers replaced by solid state devices; gimbals were eliminated with movement mathematically modeled, and computations being accomplished using software and digital processors. Today, you can buy an inertial measurement unit on a chip.
When I ended my career, almost everything I touched did not exist when I started. My job did not disappear; it evolved and changed over time. It became my responsibility to keep up with the technological advances in order to stay relevant and in demand. As a result, I became proficient in many different computer languages, operating systems, and hardware platforms. There were times I used Assembly and Machine Languages, which vary dependent on the processor being employed; High Order Languages including Basic, Pascal, Ada, C, C ++; And lastly, Scripting and Application Specific Languages. It became evident that the design of a problem’s solution, very often, was dependent on the implementation language chosen. Being fluent and having the ability to think in several computer languages aids a developer to come up with a solution which best meets the customer’s needs. Because language structure, in many cases, molds the implementation.
I hope by now, you see a parallel, of using computer languages, to the study of spoken languages. As constructs differ between spoken languages, being fluent in more than one provides a person with more flexibility in their thought and evaluation process. Having our children learn to speak more than one language will not only help them communicate with others, it will give them the ability to think using more than one logical path. Those mental abilities are precisely what is needed to obtain and grow with jobs of the future.
As the Gazette reported, a RAND study showed, “DLI students outperformed their non-immersion students on state accountability tests,” which seems to affirm my perception that students will benefit in multiple ways, should they become fluent in more than one spoken language.
All of which is why I support, implementing the Dual Language Immersion program. It is a good decision, it will be a good program, and it will help provide today’s students with a bright future in our ever-changing world and work environment.