Automatic or the people?

Automatic or the people?

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. For me and many, his themes and observations on the human condition stand fresh and relevant as when he wrote them.

I mark today by revisiting his first book, Player Piano, published in 1952. In it, Vonnegut explores the theme of automation and its impact on people displaced by technology. For American workers caught up in “foreigners stole my jobs” fervor, automation represents a much more impactful threat to their work.

Currently, David Brancaccio (who interviewed Vonnegut a few years before his death) is airing a feature titled “Robot-Proof Jobs” on American Public Media’s Marketplace Morning Report. Great news for astronomers, veterinarians, historians, mathematicians, musicians, miners, and models, Robbie the Robot won’t be threatening your livelihood anytime soon. But for lumberjacks, projectionists, masons, and meat packers, Rosie the Robot may be coming for your job. This series expands on Brancaccio’s 2012 series of stories “Robots Ate My Job,” which documents a cross-country trip he took with no human contact. It’s great stuff and worth a listen.

Couched in all of this, I really wanted to explore two news stories late last year that created that buzz in the news cycle and quickly dissipated. They’re more than fluff presented at the end of your local broadcast. They can produce a devastating impact if—and when—industries implement them.


In late October 2016, Uber-owned startup Otto (get it?) in partnership with Budweiser outfitted a big rig and hauled 2,156 cases of the King of Beers 120 miles across I-25 from Fort Collins through Denver to Colorado Springs. The Belgian-based AB InBev said it could save upwards of $50 million each year with automated deliveries. (The news articles do not report whether all those cans were emblazoned with “America” in place of “Budweiser.”)

So let’s run some numbers. The American Trucking Association estimates that 3.5 million truck drivers haul freight in the United States. puts their average salary at $62,608 per year. So in aggregate, companies could save $219 trillion a year or more. That’s scary tempting, folks, and there’s not a damned thing a Teamster can do about it.

More: AP video of Otto


In December, we heard about that Amazon Go grocery store in downtown Seattle where you walk in, tap your app, grab your things, and go. The store keeps track of what you take off the shelf and what you put back. Now, I can’t seem to use those self-service check-out kiosks without them beeping for an attendant every five seconds, but automated checkout is definitely coming, and maybe faster than driverless Mack trucks.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 the United States employed 3.4 million cashiers at an average annual salary of $20,670. In aggregate, retailers could save $70 trillion per year.

More: Amazon Go promo video

Whither the writers?

Even writers and content creators like me are vulnerable. The Associated Press uses a platform called Wordsmith that reads box scores and spits out a sports story. Google’s AI is writing poetry.

With news organizations still dreaming of an economical way to churn out SEO-garnering hyperlocal content, automation presents a chilling solution. Picture a computer program taking the audio from a city council meeting, instantly transcribing it, and feeding a completed story online and then into the next day’s edition. No reporter needed.

Failing to prepare

After the election, I heard a report from Coal Country where an unemployed miner groused about training for a different job. “I’m sick of hearing about retraining,” he said. “I want my old job back.”

Well, I thought, I’m sure the folks making VCRs, pagers, and CB radios felt the same way. Sometimes you just have to adapt. But, to what? I followed. You know companies will just downsize all of these workers with no plan for repositioning them within the company or retraining them. And I then asked the really naïve questions: Who’s responsible for retraining and outplacing these people to new jobs? Can industry create new jobs for these workers? Without a plan, we face a future of Vonnegut’s dystopian vision where we exile those displaced by technology to a new Homestead.

Here’s where I dead-end in proposing a magical solution. I only know that we as a society need to prepare better for it. So let’s quit devaluing our educational institutions, arguing about unproductive ideas like standardized testing and competition, disregarding the trades, underpaying our teachers, and falling behind the rest of the world in providing quality education to everyone. Again, I don’t have the answers here, but I do know that we’re spending too much time, as Vonnegut puts it, “farting around.”

If you haven’t read Player Piano, I’d recommend picking it up at a public library or local independent bookstore. Or you could have an Amazon drone deliver it to your house.

Photo credit: Vinally2010 Robot via photopin (license)

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Posted by on April 11, 2017 in Cuture Shock, Uncategorized


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My mom, a sweatshirt, a new tradition

My mom, a sweatshirt, a new tradition

Four years later, my phone still reminds me of her birthday…twice. Though she was born in 1940 (which made the math easy), she was always evasive about when her birthday was when we were growing up.

My mom would have been 77 years old today. Four years ago, in honoring her, I inadvertently started a Wabash tradition.

On her birthday, we buried my mom’s ashes beside my dad in Greenlawn Cemetery in Franklin. (Well, half of her ashes, actually.) That same day, my fraternity chapter held its annual auction and Mothers & Brothers pitch-in. I contributed an item and attached a note.

A Red Sweatshirt

Both sides of my family were Greek, and most of the Vandivier men, including my grandfather and namesake, were proud brothers in Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Franklin College. Though I bucked tradition by becoming a Wabash Phi Delt, my SAE dad and Chi Omega mom were incredibly supportive as always.

From football weekends to the Parents Club Auction to Mothers & Brothers (which started my sophomore year), my parents loved Wabash and this house, especially in its power to supplement their steady guidance and help transform me into the man I am today.

At Homecoming 2012, I bought a red Wabash sweatshirt for my mom, and I gave it to her at Christmas.

She bravely fought cancer on the three occasions, starting after Finals my first semester. In 2012, a new tumor had developed, and though she didn’t feel it, I knew she was worried. For me, Linda Gates Vandivier embodied the spirit of Wabash Always Fights, and I wanted to convey that to her as she faced this new threat.

Though she had few symptoms, the tumor perforated her stomach wall, and she died quite suddenly on February 20, 2013. On her birthday on April 7, we buried her ashes alongside my father in Franklin, the same day as Mothers & Brothers that year.

She never had a chance to wear the sweatshirt, so I have offered it as part of this chapter auction.

I hope that one of you moms can wear it with great pride. Our mothers’ love for their sons is one of the greatest and most unsung traditions we Wabash Phi Delts have.

Wabash Always Fights,
Hugh Vandivier ’91
Bond #1436

Donna, the mother of Alex Hawkins ’15, won the sweatshirt. The next year, she brought it back to the auction along with a three-ring binder and my note on the first page. Each year since, a Phi Delt mom has bid on the sweatshirt, and each year her son writes something special about his mom to include in the binder and put into the auction the next year.

Naturally, I’m touched. So on my mom’s birthday, I’m grateful and inspired that her spirit and love reinforces the mother-son bond of others.

If you’re mom is still with you, give her a call. It’ll surprise her, I’m sure. Tell her you love her. Just as I’d love so much to do so today.

I love you, Mom.


Mothers & Brothers 2017: A great Wabash Phi Delt tradition continues.

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Posted by on April 7, 2017 in All in the Family


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How do you dress for a phone interview?

How do you dress for a phone interview?

You think I’m kidding.

Just last week, I participated in two phone interviews. One was a preliminary screen with a big and growing SaaS company and the other with a content marketing team at a state university.

Just like a regular interview, I prepped by thoroughly reviewing the job posting and description and researching that division and organization. Plus, I gained some insight from friends in my network who worked at each place. I had fully prepared myself, except for one detail.

“What should I wear?” I asked myself, half kidding.

I hadn’t done a phone interview for a long time, and that was when the NCAA interviewed me for a blogging position. For that, I dressed TV Anchor style: suit coat, crisp shirt, solid tie, boxer shorts, bare feet. At the time, I liked suiting up for the call, but I also enjoyed my personal inside joke that I felt took the edge off.

I didn’t get that job.

Instead of giving me an edge, did my attire contribute to lack of seriousness that carried through my interview? To ensure that companies interview a range of candidates not tied to a particular area, phone interviews make for a dull tool in a recruitment process. I couldn’t see their facial expressions or body language, just like they couldn’t see mine. I had no idea whether my responses missed the mark or whether I droned on too long.

I’ve sat on the other end of a hiring call as well. My team at the time interviewed three candidates for a position, and not seeing them distilled the process into their answers and their voice. Maybe that equalizes the process, but from the hiring end I actually found it distracting without the candidate present. For me, on either side of the hiring, body language means so much. Great career counselors always harp on the visuals: dress, eye contact, body language, gesturing.

So as I prepared for the two interviews, I chose to dress up. For the first, I threw on a slightly wrinkled dress shirt, tie, sport coat, kakis, and nice (but scuffed) Clarks shoes. For the second, I had attended a leadership breakfast that morning, so I stayed dressed in my business attire.

Just today, the first employer sent an email starting with “Thank you for your interest… .” Damn. Rejected. I thought I nailed that one.

I haven’t yet heard back from the second employer.

So, did my lack of completeness in dressing for these phone interviews somehow hinder my performance? Might my sharp dress in the last phone interview have contributed to a more serious approach? That employer asked me to campus for an in-person interview.

Meta Moment: At this point, or maybe a few paragraphs up, I would have peppered in some data or referred to other authoritative sources to back up my anecdotal observations. A search fetched a few dated blog posts with cursory explanations like “There’s lots of evidence showing that how we dress affects how we work.” (No link to that plethora of evidence, by the way.) Perhaps, I’ve hit on some uncharted territory here.

So how about you? How did you dress for your last phone interview? How did it go? Do you think how you dress in this setting matters, even when the employer can’t see you?

Photo credit: CJS*64 Saturday Morning ! via photopin (license)


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Posted by on March 27, 2017 in Hire me Already!


Taming the Savageness of Man

Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
—U2 “Pride (In the Name of Love)

Photo by Greg Perry

During my stint with the Arts Council of Indianapolis, I was prepared for anyone who might ask me about my favorite work of public art in the city.

“Easy,” I would have answered, “The Landmark for Peace Memorial.”

The bronze and steel monoliths align a meandering brick walkway on the southern end of a long park off 17th and Broadway Streets on the Near Northside. The figure of Robert F. Kennedy emerges from one curved sheet of steel; the figure of Martin Luther King, Jr. emerges from the opposite. Both reach out toward each other.

On this spot, on this day—April 4—44 years ago, Senator Kennedy broke the news to many of the gathered crowd that Rev. King had been murdered in Memphis.

For me, this pure circumstance of events—an impromptu speech in the wake of a racial tragedy—stands as one of the finest moments in Indianapolis history. It stands momentous not just for the brilliant piece of largely extemporaneous oratory, not just for a lily-white, blue-blooded Easterner quoting Aeschylus to a largely African-American crowd, but for the aftermath of this tense engagement.

That night and the days the followed, our city sat largely quiet while riots broke out in more than 60 other cities nationwide.

The memorial, unveiled in 1995, brilliantly captures the essence of that engagement: a silent tribute to two men representing two races attempting, quite literally, to reach out toward each other, though not actually touching.

When I entertain out-of-state guests to the city, I always try to take them to King Park. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend a visit. If you want to experience this unique moment, please visit the Indiana History Center, which recaptures this speech in its immersive “You Are There, 1968: Robert F. Kennedy Speaks” exhibit for a limited time. I can also recommend the authoritative documentary of the speech entitled A Ripple of Hope by Anderson University professor Donald Boggs.

Today’s anniversary of King’s death does not provide the only spark to my thoughts of this event and this memorial. The current fervor over the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., prompts musings over how far we’ve come in race relations in the span of my lifetime…and how far apart we still find ourselves.

So, on a somber anniversary like today, I pause to meditate on those words of Bobby Kennedy:

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

Reprinted from my inaugural article for IndySphere.

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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in My Town Indy Redux


Super Bowl XLVI: Indy’s Gonna Nail This

Months of solid planning, painting, paving, and knitting for perhaps the world’s première annual sporting event lead to a very palpable sense of excitement as Super Bowl XLVI looms.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve grown to feel very strongly that as the Crossroads of America transforms into the focal point of worldwide attention, Indy’s gonna nail this. Period.

Venturing downtown this morning, the City’s new confidence permeated the January chill.

This town is ready, baby.

For those of us who reside here, chances are we’re not seeing the big game in the Stadium. (But who knows, you might be a lucky bastard like my friends Ted and Kevin who will be on the field for the big game or my buddy Mike Jansen who just so happens to be the stadium announcer for the Colts.) Resist that locals’ urge to eschew a trip downtown among the throng.

I’m definitely going to check out some music, the Super Bowl Village, and that beach they’re setting up at Victory Field. I still have my fingers crossed for tix to Jimmy Fallon.

Do it. Go out. Mingle. Show the guests to our city that great Hoosier Hospitality.

And, no, you don’t have to force a “Have a Super day!” to visitors like the volunteers, concierges, and cabbies have been instructed. Just be helpful like I know you are.

I said it right here and now, “Indy’s Gonna Nail This.”

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Posted by on January 21, 2012 in My Town Indy Redux


Give Local this Holiday

With the season upon us, it’s time for a public service announcement to counter the lazy consumer reporting going on out there. You’ve heard them: consumer alerts and tips not to give to charities with too much of their budgets devoted to “overhead.”


As someone who has delved in the nonprofit world for the past few years, look at that organization’s mission, output, and people. Yes, do your research, but don’t sweat it if a nonprofit pays its executive director a decent salary or, God forbid, advertises. Any NPO worth its salt devotes 100% of its resources toward “the cause,” all the while reusing paperclips and running used paper through the printer.

Credit people like Dan Pallotta with leading the charge to get us all to think differently about nonprofits. He’s spoken in Indianapolis twice, most recently at 2010’s keynote Start with Art. If you work for a nonprofit or are interested, please pick up a copy of his book Uncharitable.

If you’re interested in a year-end contribution for the tax break or just to feel charitable, you can’t do better than local. Here are a few of my picks, and friends, who are doing great things. They don’t often get the big exposure that their counterparts do, but they do amazing work to make Indianapolis truly cool. (They’re in alphabetical order, to be fair.)

A little shorter on cash than time? Consider donating your time to any of these organizations as a volunteer. It’s a great and rewarding way to use your talent or muscle in contributing to your community.

Indy Reads

Travis DiNicola and his dedicated staff and band of volunteers tackle the problem of adult illiteracy. It’s a very straightforward mission and a problem that affects an estimated 100,000 adults in Marion County.

Reading coaches tutor adults with basic correspondence, bills, and other basic reading and writing tasks. They even help nonnative English speakers. Check out this tight, well-run operation that provides a much-needed service to the area’s functionally illiterate.

Click here to donate. Click here to volunteer.

Keep Indianapolis Beautiful

If ever an organization’s mission were best encapsulated in their name, I present Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. Dave Forsell & gang coordinate tree planting—with a goal of 2,012 by 2012community gardens, recycling, cleanup, October’s massive Lilly Day of Service, and its annual awards for excellence in architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, engineering and construction, public art and development.

Click here to donate. Click here to volunteer.

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

While working at Eli Lilly, Julia Whitehead had a vision to honor author and noted curmudgeon Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., with a library in his hometown. Last year, she realized that vision, with a soft opening of a memorial library on Vonnegut’s Armistice Day birthday and full opening in January. (I was invited to speak there, which was a great thrill.)

Sometimes clever fundraising initiatives fall into your lap, so when the school board in Republic, Missouri, voted to ban Slaughterhouse Five this summer, the Vonnegut Library offered to provide free copies to the high school students there. The move garnered great earned media and nationwide attention to the Library.

Click here to donate or volunteer.

Primary Colours

After six years on the board and a one-time, part-time employee, I’ll always have a soft spot for the irrepressible gang that works to provide unique art events. Whether it’s showcasing installation art in shipping containers on an empty lot, to giving emerging artists a shot at their new gallery, to providing free professional development workshops with the Arts Council of Indianapolis, to the irreverent Art vs. Art, the 2011 Cultural Vision Award winners tirelessly develop both the professional visual artist and new audiences.

Mab Graves is but one great example of a local visual artist success story in a vid I produced last year:

Click here to donate. Click here to volunteer.

Second Helpings

Too long in the shadow, Second Helpings has emerged as one of the coolest organizations doing outstanding work to help the hungry in Indianapolis. Dubbed a “Food Rescue Agency” and modeled after the groundbreaking DC Central Kitchen, Second Helpings prepared 3,000 meals weekly by receiving donations of perishable food mainly from the food service industry—distributors, caterers, restaurants, grocers—and creating wholesome, delicious meals to distribute to local homeless shelters, churches, and schools. They also run a culinary training program that produces local chefs.

I enjoy volunteering my time each fall as part of my alma mater’s service day, and I’m always impressed by their well-coordinated legion of volunteer cooks, kitchen prep folks, and drivers.

Second Helpings also hosts the most fun and cool fundraiser of the year, Tonic Ball. Yes, word is getting out. They’re be rescuing food for the upcoming Super Bowl. And construction has started on expansion of their kitchen facilities.

Click here to donate. Click here to volunteer.

Service Center for Contemporary Culture and Community

Credit Jim Walker and the gang at Big Car with urban revitalization through art. Their gallery quickly became the last stop on the First Friday monthly art tour and greatly contributed to continuing the upward trajectory of Fountain Square.

Now they’ve set their sights on another neglected stretch, the long blighted Lafayette Square Area. They inhabited an old Firestone Service Center in May and bugged out of their lair of seven years in the Murphy Building this month. Big Car exudes grassroots, and in true fashion created a garden plot right on the blacktop. The pavement garden reminds me of David Byrne.

Big Car’s vision for its western outpost entails creating a “hub for art, culture, education, mass transit and diversity.” It has already hosted the International Film Festival’s Bigger Picture Festival featuring graphic artists’ re-imaginings of classic movie posters and No Exit theater group’s innovative interpretation of the Nutcracker.

Look for amazing things to sprout in Lafayette Square.

Click here to donate.


Credit the dearth of good radio in this town or the nationwide drought of news in favor of opinion for the great growth of WFYI radio. Then again, credit great programming—I rank This American Life, Radiolab, and The Story as some of the most creative, informative, and engaging programs out there, period—and an expansion of local shows and news that tackle issues facing the city.

When engaging most intelligent people on both sides of the fence in conversation, they’ll often reference listening to WFYI for some salient point they just make. It took cuts in federal and state funding to bring more of the listenership into ponying up, but our local NPR station has seen great fund drives this year.

I count myself as one of those people on Ira Glass’ list of listener-nondonors. And while my current state of affairs didn’t allow a donation worthy of a totebag, I did give…finally. If you listen and don’t contribute, don’t wait for the next fund drive, put some coin in the kitty.

Click here to donate. Click here to volunteer.

Quick Hits

Whew! Indy can brag about such a plethora of great organizations with which to involve yourself. I be remiss if I didn’t present a few more:

  • IndyFringe: Thank Aussie transplant Pauline Moffat for bringing the Fringe to prominence beyond just the annual late summer festival. With its Mass Ave theater building with its explosion of programs and events. Its dizzying and fruitful. Click here to donate. Click here to volunteer.
  • Very Special Arts Indiana: The good folks at VSAI help people with disabilities discover lifelong learning and how to express themselves creatively through the arts.They’re always doing great things, in schools, in hospitals, in the community, and they’re always worth a stop during First Friday at their home in the Harrison Center. Click here to donate. Click here to volunteer.
  • Young Audiences: For half a century, Young Audiences Indiana has catered arts education to schools. Led by JoEllen Florio Rossebo, YA’s provides professional development for art teachers, enlists more than 100 professional teaching artists to schools, and provides summer and afterschool programs. Click here to donate. Click here to volunteer.
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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Better Practices, My Town Indy Redux


Shop Local for Christmas

Yes, Virginia, I love Christmas, even though it’s been a very strange affair with my family this past decade. (But that’s a later post.)

I know this whole Buy Local, Eat Local movement has ironically been a national one. But I truly think part of exhibiting the Christmas spirit best lies in supporting those mom and pops who bravely soldier on in this dour economy. So, I’d like to impart my recommendations on some Indianapolis business that provide great products and great service.

Big Hat Books

This year has seen a reversal in the Shop Around the Corner/Fox Books scenario depicted in the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romcom You’ve Got Mail. The bigbox Borders imploded, shuttering its stores nationwide.

What made Borders good back in the day when it had just one store, a standalone building in Castleton, was that it’s employees knew their stuff. To work there back then, you had to take a knowledge test on all sorts of topics. In the past couple of years, you could really tell that the employees didn’t have a clue what they were trying to upsell you. And, no, I don’t have nor do I want a Borders card.

You can still find that personal touch and expert knowledge at Broad Ripple’s Big Hat Books. Elizabeth Barden’s boutique bookshop is cozy and charming. If they don’t have it, they’ll order it. But it’s just the right size to explore for that special gift.


Need a gift for the hard-to-buy-for uncle or sister? Take a quick trip over to Irvington. At Homespun, Amanda Mauer Taflinger and her husband, Neal, sell homemade jewelry, soaps, food, clothing, and art from more than 130 craftspeople from around the country and into the Great White North. You can seriously fill your entire Christmas list here. While you’re there, stop by Jockamo Pizza next door, maker of a serious pie.

My favorites? The Don Draper, Bob Ross, and Ira Glass felt finger puppets.

Indy Swank

Head on over to Fountain Square, where you can now park in front of the Murphy Building with the just completed end spur of the Cultural Trail. At IndySwank, you’ll find the home of some vintage clothing, art, and artisan crafts. Jennifer Rice Von Deylen sets Indy’s style beyond the consignment items in this hip shop.

I love the screenprinted items by Bloomington-based Mythdemeanor!.

Luna Music

Woe be to those naysayers who decry the demise of vinyl and CDs to the digification of recorded music. For the best in musical media that you can hold in your hand and slap on a turntable, check out the latest and greatest from Todd Robinson’s Luna Music in Midtown.

More than just music and excellent employee recs, you’ll find cool tees, collectible toys, books, and DVDs. Great record shops like Luna soldier on boldly, and that’s why I love ’em.

I found the DVD to the documentary William S. Burroughs: A Man Within flipping through the stacks.

People for Urban Progress

More than just a shop, or workshop in this case, People for Urban Progress is a movement that “advances public transit, environmental awareness, and urban design.”

Michael Bricker created a think tank in action, answering questions before they’re asked. “What should we do with that material covering the Hoosier Dome rather than just putting it in a landfill?” Answer: Use that material to produce wallets, clutches, business card cases, notebooks, messenger bags, and iPad covers, even a snowflake ornament. This effort led to the bestowing of the inaugural Indiana Innovation Award to the nonprofit for repurposing 13 of 15 acres of this material. Look for the material on shade structures around the city.

In addition to finding these items and local-themed t-shirts, posters, and postcards at their HQ on the second floor of the Murphy Building in Fountain Square, shop for PUP merch at Homespun and IndySwank or online.

Right now, they’ve started salvaging the seats from the old Bush Stadium and produced a poster depicting the layout of Indianapolis city-county government.

I love my freakin’ Dome Wallet and my “I Have an Idea” t-shirt.

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Posted by on December 10, 2011 in My Town Indy Redux