Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pigeons missing in action

It used to be that when traveling you had to bring to your hosts presents from your place of origin. This custom is known in many cultures and words like souvernir or おみやげ (omiyage) have been absorbed in many other languages.

Today this is no longer meaningful, because the concept of exotic has disappeared. This is due to the science of logistics, which has made the transportation of goods so efficient that now you can buy everything everywhere and at the same price.

Despite the miracles of modern logistics, it has a point of failure: the operators follow the instructions of computers, and even if goods are tracked at every step, they can disappear when an unanticipated event occurs.

For example, on September 17 I gave a presentation on color cognition and promised to send a printed copy of Nathan Moroney's color thesaurus and the presentation handout for the asking. When I returned home, I ordered the prints from MagCloud and mailed them to the interested parties.

Unfortunately, the envelopes never arrived. Because the recipients where in different countries, I can be certain that the snafu must have happened before the mail was sorted, i.e., between the mail stop near my cubicle and the United States Postal Service Processing and Distribution Center in San Francisco.

I did stamp the envelopes as air mail. Maybe a confused logistics operator strapped the envelopes on carrier pigeons… Were the carrier pigeon then hijacked in the San Francisco Bay and kidnapped to Eyl?

In fact, most of the time logistics operators do not know what they are doing. They are just trained to blindly and efficiently follow the procedures dictated by the logistics computer. This is one of the tenets of the anorexic company — there are no provisions for the unanticipated or even for incertitude. Immediate action must be taken, regardless of whether it makes sense.

Maybe two countries are a little better off: Japan and Switzerland, where workers are expected to always use their brains when they work (possibly with an exception here in Martigny, where many a brain has become yogurt from boozing Fendant). This is achieved through the concept of the apprenticeship, where future workers are employed as trainees in their future profession while also attending vocational school to develop a theoretical understanding of their chosen profession.

At the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) the DUAL-T project in the field of computer-supported collaborative learning has recently delivered to the Centre Professionel du Nord Vaudois (CPNV) this system to train logistics apprentices:

Some smart young people indeed! Should I have carried the envelopes to Martigny and mailed them from here? Not necessarily, because the logistics at SFO or LAX could have lost my suitcases there.

So, if you come across some lost carrier pigeons with a color thesaurus, please energize them and send them along their way…