Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Merry Christmas to Teachers

For my oldest daughter, the teacher, and for dedicated Miss Bodkins everywhere.

The next few days groaned by. Now only three more school days remained before Christmas vacation, that greatest time of all year. As it drew closer, Miss Iona Pearl Bodkin, my homeroom teacher, became more and more manic, whipping the class into a veritable frenzy of Yuletide joy.  We belted out carol after carol. We built our own paper Christmas tree with cut-out ornaments. We strung together long strings of popcorn chains. Crayon Santas and silver-paper wreaths poured out of our assembly line.
Miss Bodkin, after recess, addressed us: “I want all of you to write a theme…”
A theme! A rotten theme before Christmas! There must be kids somewhere who love writing themes, but to a normal air-breathing human kid, writing themes is a torture that ranks only with the dreaded medieval chin-breaker of Inquisitional fame. A theme!
“…entitled, ‘What I want for Christmas,’ “ she concluded.
The clouds lifted. I saw a faint gleam of light at the other end of the black cave of gloom which had enveloped me since my visit to Santa. Rarely had the words poured from my penny pencil with such feverish fluidity. Here was a theme on a subject that needed talking about if ever one did.  I remember to this day its glorious wing phrases and concise imagery:
"What I want for Christmas is a red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. I think everybody should have a Red Ryder BB gun. They are very good for Christmas. I don’t think a football is a very good Christmas present."
I wrote it on blue-lined paper from my Indian Chief tablet, being very careful about the margins. Miss Bodkin was very snippy about uneven margins. The themes were handed in and I felt somehow what when Miss Bodkin read mine she would sympathize with my plight and make an appeal on my behalf to the powers that be, and that everything would work out, somehow. She was my last hope.
In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, Jean Shepherd, 1966.

Shepherd’s book of course became the basis for the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story set in industrial northwest Indiana where Ralphie struggles through boyhood and Shepherd himself serves as the movie’s off-screen narrator. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Show Your Stuff, Winter!

There had been no sign of snow when I put the house to bed, turning down the oil lamps one by one and blowing them out as the flames sank low. Looking forth a moment from the kitchen door, all that I could discover was an overclouded darkness – no wind, no sound, no star. Sometime in the night, however, a howl of wind or sudden and glassy rattle of sleet must have reached me in my dreams for I got up quietly to see how things stood now that a northeast storm had risen in the night.
The house was full of the sound of the gale. It was a winter northeaster, furious with wind and snow, and driving down against us from the dark and desolate North Atlantic and a thousand miles of whitecaps and slavering foam. Wailings and whistling cries, ghostly sightings under the latched doors, fierce pushings and buffetings of the exposed walls – thrusts one could feel as a vibration of the house itself – all these had something of their being in the shelter and humanly-beautiful room. United with these, tumultuous and incessant, rose the higher aerial cry of the gale in space above the earth.
A pair of windows over the sink face the east and the pond, and these were under the full attack of the storm. Volleys of sleet were striking against them, wild gust by wild gust, and great flakes were sliding down the panes. Every now and then I could hear, even through the wind, the sound which snow makes against glass – that curious, fleecy pat and delicate whisper of touch which language cannot convey or scare suggest.
Northern Farm, Henry Beston 1948

We do not live on a farm but I have winterized the koi pond, tucked the goldfish in for the duration, and put up our hand-painted snow stick. Bring it on, Winter.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Yankee Sensibilities

A friend and economist here in NH has blogged before about the intersections of economics and finance with "life" but today's blog is definitely worth following the link.  Brian looked at the debt delinquency rate of residents in our state by county and is pleasantly surprized that our most remote and less affluent county (Coos, prounced "Co-oss" - don't ask me why), also has the smallest per capita debt load.

Whether it is the Yankee values of “living within your means,” or doing whatever it takes to honor obligations, it surely wasn’t a robust economy and strong income growth that enabled Coos County to have the lowest aggregate severe delinquency rate.” Read the full post here.
I haven’t yet studied Brian’s data thoroughly but one visual did leap out at me – two of our most affluent counties (Hillsborough and Rockingham) seem to have higher credit card delinquency rates than the other counties. Maybe more affluent NH Yankees can’t lives as well within their means as our more rural cousins? (development density and high-paying jobs are highest in southern NH in proximity to the Massachusetts border) Or maybe I can just blame this trend on the influx of fiscally irresponsible Mass folks into our fair state?? Nevermind. But really, Brian’s blog is worth following. A nice guy too. How many of you can say that about an econ type?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tired New England Factories

Fortunately not all New England industrial sites are as tired looking as these two. We have many vibrant high tech firms in the computer, defense, medical device and other viable sectors. But there is something poignant about New England's industrial past as well.

Chicopee Falls, Mass - Former textile mills common to many communities with access to river resources.

This empty complex in East Longmeadow, Mass was a Pratt & Whitney aircraft engine factory during WWII and in more recent years housed Milton-Bradley/Hasbro toys awaiting distribution.




Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Beer - It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

With all the uses these researchers keep finding for beer, like cleaning your carpet, or curing your head cold, the milk and soft drink industries don't have a fighting chance.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I Have Seen the Future of Restaurant Pricing and It’s Not Pretty

This weekend my wife and I went out to lunch with our daughter and her husband and his parents. We had eaten at this restaurant, an old historic New England waterwheel mill, on several occasions and were always pleased. And we were this time as well. But here’s the insight I gleaned from our experience this time – a tiny inclination or a tip into where the restaurant business is heading. The well-kept secret? The industry is testing out the airline’s business model. Yep, piece-meal pricing! Must just now be in the pilot stage (no puns intended).

They tipped their hand though when we asked our waitperson about separate checks for the luncheon. She responded that she could do that willingly, but we needed to be aware that “they” might charge us an extra dollar per person for that request. I asked who “they” was?  She replied that “they” was the computer. Sometimes “it” charged patrons for splitting checks, sometimes not. So she couldn’t be sure. She also didn’t know if the computer’s name was Hal or not. But if we wanted one check and then split the bill up ourselves using three different credit cards, that was OK and wouldn’t trigger an additional charge. (“Yet!” I thought in my mind but kept my mouth shut).

But it’s quite clear where all this is headed over time, isn't it? Now it’s a base price for your meal and then just tax and tip additional. But soon I can see that the “unit pricing” concept will take hold fully in this competitive industry.

“Oh, you’d like a booth with a seat cushion or more leg room? Certainly; no problem. There’s an extra $2/person charge for that. We call it our ‘comfort’ charge here at the Cozy Mill Restaurant. Did I mention you can get seating with a waterwheel view for just an extra $3.00 per party?”

“And since you brought in bags with you (purses and camera cases count as ‘bags’ you know), I’ll need to add a $0.50 handling and storage charge for each to your bill.”

“Now, as you look over our scrumptious menu, be aware that we have some new ‘extras and upgrades’ that you may find will enhance your experiences today. You’ll see these listed under ‘sides.”

Cloth napkin instead of paper - $1.00 eco fee

Silverware instead of plastic utensils - $1.00/set

Glass of water - $0.50 water treatment fee
Salt and pepper shakers (only in pairs) - $1.50 rental fee
Itemized bill - $2.00 accounting fee
I know, you’re thinking you’ll just frequent the drive-thrus when all this gets fully implemented. Do you not realize that airports already have a business model that takes into account landing, taxiing and ramp fees? Oh yes, the restaurant industry consultants are looking at that component right now.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Every Time You Use Your Discover Rewards Card --- an Angel Gets Its Wings

Now, I may have gotten a couple of important holiday proverbs incorrectly mashed together. But I have a good excuse – I’m a confused guy these chilly December days.  First of all, I thought the national election was held back on November 6th. But every time I turn on the news channel or surf the web I see folks on the campaign trail. Making speeches, shaking hands, kissing babies, asking for donations – asking babies for donations. It seems similar to the likes of the sorry Japanese soldiers stranded on isolated South Pacific islands at the end of WWII who, long after VJ day, are carrying on their assumed duties, manning the battlements, searching the horizon for the enemy planes to shoot out of the sky. After 4 years of war they know nothing of peace, only the call to duty. The post-war years go by and the world moves on, as it must. But not so for His Emperor’s finest. 

I also get confused in December by the run up to Christmas. Why did our Christian faith leaders ever think it was a good idea to co-op Winter Solstice for such an important church celebration day?  There’s not much going on in late January – they should have carved out that block of time instead. I’m afraid they well underestimated the power of the wallet (or back then, the “purse”) to captivate human attention and year-after-year to gain new ground in the quest to swamp all else. Camping outside days on end to buy the latest toy or electronic game. Really?

And I’m confused that Christians, having largely lost the battle for Christmas songs and pageants in schools and nativity displays on town greens, find themselves grasping for any symbolic straws we can hold on to against the onslaught of Grinches. The Christmas Tree and Santa Clause as protected religious icons?  Backed into a secular culture corner, is that really all we’re left to defend?

But mostly I’m confused by Christmas lights and the suburban elves who drape their houses and evergreen shrubs each year with holiday cheer. I see a trend toward shortcuts and taking the easy way out. Fewer hand-strung lights with their characteristic unevenness (aka individuality) to be replaced with those pre-formed light nets that can be practically tossed out the second floor bedroom window down onto the waiting yews below. Once plugged in they radiate mathematically perfectly-spaced little nodes of light into the suburban darkness. Awful.

December is not supposed to be about perfection, and certainly not about rampant spending of funds that most of us don’t have, or of wars-that-won’t-end. It’s supposed to be Advent, the preparations for the one who is perfect to come down to Earth for those of us who are far from perfect.

Monday, December 3, 2012

50 Years Ago We had a Glimpse into Washington DC circa 2012.

In 1961 TV producer Leonard Stern (Get Smart, Sgt. Bilko, Honeymooners) was having his house remodeled. As he observed the construction workers building a hood over his fireplace, he noticed they had sealed their steel ladder inside. It took hours for the workers to deconstruct the fireplace to retrieve the ladder. With this incident in mind, Stern approached the ABC television network. I'm Dickens He's Fenster, starring John Astin (in his warm up to The Addams Family) and Marty Ingels (The Dick Van Dyke Show) was ultimately given the green light for the 1962-63 TV season. Unfortunately the show was cancelled after just 32 episodes.

This clip reminds me of the current state of affairs in Washington DC.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Too Dumb to Drive

I hope this doesn't put NH into the running for the most clueless resident population but a gentleman on the other side of our state was arrested for crashing and rolling his car during a snowstorm this past week. Lest you think this is just a case of the local constabulary picking on a poor, unfortunate citizen of our fair state, the man had taken the seats out of his car and was driving while sitting on the car battery. The charge of reckless driving doesn’t quite seem adequate. I’d vote for that coupled with “reckless endangerment of the State’s reputation” and maybe “felony boneheadness.”  Seems like 5 to 10 breaking igneous rocks in the Granite State’s finest public house would be just about right. By public house I mean jail. I just hope we don’t find out the guy is a State Rep and involved in THAT public house.    

Thursday, November 22, 2012

If Turkeys Thought

One of my favorite Jack Prelutsky poems from his It's Thanksgiving book (1982).  It has some pointed implications for human exceptionalism - tough luck PETA.

If turkeys thought, they'd run away
a week before Thanksgiving Day,
but turkeys can't anticipate,
and so there's turkey on my plate.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Long Live the Twinkie

Just don't kill the Philadelphia Tastykakes. Then it WILL be the end of civilization as we know it.


This from my November issue of Quality Progress magazine. It could apply to an awful lot of circumstances in life... 

"I can explain it to you, but I cannot understand it for you.”  - old Proverb

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Guilty as Charged

Leave it to your spouse to put you in your right place. I came home this evening driving back from a business meeting several hours distance and the first thing I said to my wife as I entered our home: "Do you realize how many nutty drivers there are out on the roads??" (pointing dramatically in the direction of our street with a frustrated look on my face) My dear wife replied, "Well, I know there's one less now that you're home."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dateline Washington DC, March 2030

Dateline Washington DC, March 15, 2030.  President Justin Bieber proclaimed today national Lookin’ Good Day in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the brand new marble monument built next to the Jefferson Memorial. National Park Service Director Dakota Fanning and Vice President Selena Gomez both delivered teary-eyed messages expressing their gratitude for the corporate taxes that were raised to help pay for the towering monument. Secretary of State Miley Cyrus and Department of Justice head Lil Twist were originally scheduled to speak at the opening event as well, but were called upon instead to represent President Bieber at an important red carpet event at the western Capitol in Hollywood.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What I Say Is Not What You Think I Mean...

What the typical Massachusetts voter said before the election: "Oh, we need to send more moderates to Washington. You know, rational, thinking people who understand the value of compromise and reaching across the aisle to get things done for the benefit of the people they serve."

What the typical Massachusetts voter did in the election booth: "We're going to send our independent-minded, balanced Republican senator packing and replace him with a strident partisan who will vote 110% of the time with the Democrats and grind those (remaining) barbarian Republicans into the ground."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Finger-Wagging School Marms

A company I used to work for years ago fired its HR Director just one week after hiring him because of discovered experience falsifications on his resume. My neighboring state just rewarded a $400k/yr Harvard professor who did the same thing with a 6 year term to the U.S. Senate. And my state just elected its own finger-wagging school marms to the governorship, and both Congressional seats to add to the finger-wagging Senator we already have. It's going to be a fun 2, 4, and 6 years.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Oh the Zoomanity!

There's just something wrong over there in Hackettstown, New Jersey. Pets for bait? What, the ones that don't sell in 30 days??

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Isn’t It Iconic? Don’t You Think?

The last ever returnable glass Coca Cola bottle in the US has rolled off the production line in a Minnesota bottling facility. End of the line and end of an era.

The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Winona filled the last bottle last week after deciding that it would be too costly to replace the product’s aging bottling line.
The 1915 Mae West Prototype
The iconic 6.5 ounce bottles were the last returnable Coke bottles in the United States. Customers paid a 20 cent deposit on each bottle that was refunded on the return of the bottle, but only in four counties, two in Minnesota and two in Wisconsin. New bottles have not been made since around 1990.

Even though I stick up for Moxie, you have to give a tip of the hat (or tip of the bottle) to Coca-Cola.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

World-Class Crabby

Sure, anyone can have a crabby attitude once in a while, but try sustaining that posture day in-day out. Really tough to do. My wife, kids and friends think I'm just naturally crabby, but the little secret to my repeat victories at the Tour de Crabby?  Hey, pills man, what else. Got to take those crabby pills if you want to be a World-Class Crab. It's not cheating - I'm just enhancing my natural traits.

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Can Do Math - Part2

While in Maine on business this week I was twirling the radio dial on the car as I'm prone to do when traveling solo and listened to a local station's weather woman tell me: "There's going to be a 50:50 chance of rain tonight. That means that there's a 50% chance of no rain."

No doubt.

Drucker Quote

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
Peter F. Drucker

Enough said.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Panderer in Chief

Obama Dedicates Cesar Chavez National Monument

The dedication of the Cesar Chavez National Monument came not through legislative action but executive authority under the Antiquities Act. Though White House officials said it was a process long in the making, the formal dedication came as Obama’s campaign shifts toward a more intensive get-out-the-vote phase of its operation, one that includes a major focus on the Latino vote and will be augmented by labor muscle.

In my school years VW Beetles were the transportation of choice for lowly, under-resourced college students. Not known for their horse power, a favorite rear bumper sticker of the time was something to the effect: "Don't blame me, I'm pedaling as fast as I can!" 

I think I'd like to attach a variation of that classic bumper sticker to the tail of Air Force One: "Don't blame me, I'm pandering as fast as I can!"

Fishing at Midnight

For my friend Gerry:  Who needs those bait stores? They're so 1990. Now you can go fishing at midnight. Sleep is over-rated.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Apple, Obama and Likeyness

So the iPhone 5 is out and people are once again standing in line to get one. Apple received two million pre-orders in 24 hours and expects to sell 6.5 million units this weekend alone. Sales that are the envy of many product manufacturers/retailers to be sure and designs/appearances that outpace the competition.

Who are these clamoring masses of Apple groupies and why do they gleefully pay a premium for their beloved devices when other brands of Smart phones provide as many, or more features for better prices?  Why Apple?  Well I’m sure there are detailed consumer profile reports out on the internet dissecting the psyche of the Apple buyer. But my shortcut answer: Apple is Cool and if cool is high on your priority list, if you can’t live without being thought of by others as cool, if you must be one of the beautiful people, there’s apparently only one choice. Money be damned. Competing features be damned. Full speed ahead, Admiral, and damn the Jones; we’ll leave those suckers in our wake.

From a 2008 Metafacts brochure advertising their Apple user profile report for that year:

Apple's customers are like no others — a rich blend of the most sociologically elite with those seeking elegant, simple computing. Apple's panache has enabled them to maintain some of the highest margins in the industry, while also sustaining a brand loyalty level which is the envy of many.
… Apple's users have a unique profile in the ways they use their personal computers. Unlike users of Intel/Windows computers, a significant portion of Apple's users are active, exploratory, avant-garde and early adopters. The activities they enjoy are unique in the way that they more-often incorporate rich media such as video and music as well as more-active procurer behavior than many more-passive Windows users.
And of course what does Apple have in common with our current President? Well, the coolness factor of course. Obama is an Apple while Romney is a Droid. Obama/Apple have got coolness locked up – copyrighted in fact. And Coolness = Likeyness. The American consumer cannot resist Likeyness. In America, Likeyness is a winner.
“Obama supporters are like no others – a rich blend of the most sociologically elite with those seeking elegant, but otherwise empty, leadership.”
November 6, 2012 – the Likeyness Election is Coming to a Polling Place Near You.

The Inside Is Outside

The Inside Is Outside and I Cannot Find the Door. So went a “poem” that one of my college roommates claimed one of his former roommates wrote for a class assignment. That’s it, that’s the entire poem. You gotta love the 60s, right?

But I was reminded of the poem today when after my wife gave me a haircut, I shook out my (otherwise clean) black pull-over shirt in the shower stall, even turning it inside out to shake out any loose hairs. Then I put it aside while I showered, shaved and dressed. I apparently forgot to turn it back right side out because when I went back downstairs my wife pointed out that I was wearing it inside out. “Your seams are showing,” she stated matter-of-factly. After confirming she was totally correct (she usually is), my only possible response was “That’s the story of my whole life!”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Moxie Chaser

Posted Sept. 08, 2010, at 6:27 a.m.
PORTLAND, Maine — The host of television show “Man v. Food” has taken on Maine, surviving an encounter with an eight-patty burger chased with a can of Moxie.
Adam Richman’s July trip to Maine will be featured Wednesday at 9 p.m. on the Travel Channel.

The Portland Press Herald says his road trip took him to the Tradewinds Cafe in Arundel, Nosh Kitchen Bar in Portland and the Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth.

At the Tradewinds, Richman took the “Manimal” challenge by scarfing down two dogs, an order of fries, an eight-patty cheeseburger with grilled onions, a can of Moxie and a one-pound butter pecan milkshake. At the Nosh, he ate a rich burger with American cheese, seared pork belly, cured bacon and foie gras.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I Can Do Math and Stuff

I do love the series of TV commercials for the Hopper – a DVR device for DISH satellite TVs. Especially the wacky extended family with the strong Boston accents (Dorchester maybe?). “I’m SMAAHT. I’m wicked SMAAHT.”

I spent much of last week with lots of truly smart people at Canberra Industries, makers of a wide array of radiation detectors for the nuclear industry and others. Lots of engineers there, but I’m use to working in an engineering culture, so that wasn’t anything new. But Canberra employs about 60 radiation physicists at the facility. Now that’s egghead city with super clever folk running up and down the aisles! They can do math & stuff.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Aging Gracefully

Brash Brit pop artist Nick Lowe is aging pretty gracefully I’d say. I should hope to do so well (minus the musical talent of course). Looks like he still has fun for an ol’ bloke. Keep up the good work, Nick.



Back to Church Rap

Humorous Video produced by the Evangelical Covenant Church.  You go, Faye!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

DNC Convention Themes You Didn’t Hear

No one asked me of course, but if I had orchestrated the DNC Convention I would have added some musical accompaniment to each of the major speakers. I was thinking of cover songs of classics that might be appropriate. My selections for:

Sandra Fluke – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cindy Lauper)

Michelle Obama – My Guy (Mary Wells, or maybe channel Whoopi Goldberg from Sister Act)

Joe Biden – I’m Bad (Michael Jackson)

Bill Clinton – If I Ruled the World (Sammy Davis Jr)

Barack Obama – Give Me Just a Little More Time (Chairmen of the Board, 1970)

Give me just a little more time
And our love will surely grow
Baby please baby
Baby please baby

Or maybe, Too Late to Turn Back Now (Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Perfection is Hard to Come By

“The closer you get to perfection, the easier it is to screw it up.” Ain’t it the truth? This statement has a world of applications, but it was uttered by a researcher interviewed in an NPR story. He was referencing the careful grinding of critical lenses for a telescope located in Tucson, AZ. If you remember back to the launch of the Hubble telescope, Perkin-Elmer of Connecticut (no slouches when it comes to scientific optics), made a miscalculation in the primary lens grinding that left the Hubble producing subpar images initially.

Analysis of the flawed images showed that the cause of the problem was that the primary mirror had been ground to the wrong shape. Although it was probably the most precisely figured mirror ever made, with variations from the prescribed curve of only 10 nanometers; it was too flat at the edges by about 2,200 nanometers. This difference proved catastrophic, introducing severe spherical aberration, a flaw in which light reflecting off the edge of a mirror focuses on a different point from the light reflecting off its center. It had to be corrected by a later shuttle flight and crew.

A commission established that the main null corrector, a device used to measure the exact shape of the mirror, had been incorrectly assembled—one lens was wrongly spaced by 1.3 mm. During the polishing of the mirror, Perkin-Elmer had analyzed its surface with two other null correctors, both of which correctly indicated that the mirror was suffering from spherical aberration. The company ignored these test results, as it believed that the two null correctors were less accurate than the primary device that was reporting that the mirror was perfectly figured.

Perfection is hard to come by when human beings are involved, apparently.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Wide Awake Fish

Who says Starbucks doesn’t have a global impact? National Geographic reported earlier this summer that caffeine was detected in the seas of the Pacific Northwest. But don’t get too cocky East Coast readers; caffeine was also detected in Boston Harbor. I guess at some point those pesky colonists switched from dumping tea to coffee in the Commonwealth’s public waters. And two+ decades ago in doing work on trace contaminants in the environment, I came across a study that had found caffeine in the Delaware River water. So NatGeo can’t claim first dibs on the information (and Al Gore, don’t even think of going there). Actually of course, all the caffeine originates in wastewater, one way or the other. So the root cause, as we might say in the quality circle world, is not roots but beans and their extracts guzzled by us Dunkin’s Donuts/Tim Horton/ Maxwell House consumers and, shall we say, “released” back into the environment.   

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lizzie the Angry Schoolmarm

Getting lectured by an angry schoolmarm on national TV. How bizarre. “The system is rigged.” Always, “the system.”  Break out the tin foil hats again, ‘cause you know, Neil Armstrong didn’t really walk on the moon like those conservatives claim. They are e-v-i-l.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Too Important to Give Up

USA Today had this graphic the other day.  I can easily live without pets (and gladly do!), but I'd be hard pressed not to try my best to spring for the other "necessities."  And you?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Geologist at Lunch

Back a few months ago I wrote about the perils of having lunch with scientists.  I was thinking then specifically about food safety specialists.  But I don't think it's very wise to go to lunch with geologists either.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Running Toward the Tsunami

By all means young man, run TOWARDS the tsunami. Come on in, the water's fine!

This sign sponsored by "There's Too Many People on This Planet Anyway" progressive humane society.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

More LinkedIn Weirdness

LinkedIn isn’t a very flashy site, so I’m surprised when it attracts weird folks – or at least folks with weird occupations or titles.  I’ve posted on this before.  But the one I came across today has me shaking my head a bit – a guy who’s job title is Trans-Galatic Healer.  But then when I saw where he hailed from it all made sense – LA. Nuff said I guess.

By comparison, my job titles have been downright boring: Senior Project Manager, Regional Manager, Senior Associate, etc. Yawn. I need new business cards.

Monday, August 20, 2012

STEM and the Earth Sciences

Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala
Despite the economic downturn we are experience, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a nearly 20% growth in science and engineering for the period 2008-2018. This represents a greater growth rate than for most other categories of occupations.

Two-thirds of all currently employed STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, Math) workers hold a college degree and command wages that average 25% higher than their non-STEM counterparts.

The earth sciences/geosciences are a small part of the STEM workforce with only about 1500 college graduates added annually. But hey, we do important stuff!  Do you want to leave your destructive volcanic eruptions in the hands of amateurs? Or have any ol’ bloke predict the movement of the continental plates? I don’t think so.

And there are moves afoot to increase educational initiatives in the lower school grades. A few years back the National Science Foundation funded an Earth Science Literacy Initiative resulting in nine “big ideas” (principles) in earth science:

  1. Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet.
  2. Earth is 4.6 billion years old.
  3. Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air and life.
  4. Earth is continuously changing.
  5. Earth is the water planet.
  6. Life evolves on a dynamic earth and continuously modifies the earth.
  7. Humans depend on the earth for resources.
  8. Natural hazards pose risks to humans.
  9. Humans significantly alter the earth.
Each of these nine big ideas includes a number of supporting principles.

There’s a lot of fun stuff to be had in this niche of the STEM World.

Excerpted in part from a recent Professional Geologist magazine article by Michael J. Urban.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Coffee Break Process Flow Diagram

I love this diagram from an article in my Quality Progress magazine this month. One because I love coffee, two because I love coffee breaks, and three because I love process flow diagrams (although I'm sure not as much as engineers do).

Wading in Shallow Waters

Shove Me In The Shallow Water Before I Get Too Deep. Did we actually need hard evidence that we’ve turned into a celebrity-centric culture? Evidence abounds before our eyes and other senses every day. It isn’t even fair to call it anecdotal; the evidence is so prevalent and dominant.

But along comes definitive, (apparently) data-supported evidence – from the grave no less! Sociological researches at the University of South Carolina analyzed obituaries published in the NY Times from the same randomly-selected days in the years 1900, 1925, 1950, 1975, and 2000. The researchers ranked the attention given to the deaths of individuals in certain occupations in each year group.  Obits of entertainers and athletes rose from 7th ranked in 1900 to 5th in 1925 to 3rd in 1950 and 1st in 1975 and 2000. This group accounted for 28 percent of all published obits by the year 2000.

During this same period the obits for prominent figures in manufacturing and business dropped by half. Similarly, obits for religious figures fell from 4th place in 1950 to last in rank in 2000. The researchers actually found no published obits (within the 20 dates sampled) for a religious figure in 2000.

Now, there could be some compounding factors involved, no doubt, and I’m not sure if the SC researchers tried to account for factors such as the rise of a the professional athlete and celebrity classes as major occupations in the latter half of the 20th century. This could be coupled with a similar decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs and those following a full-time religious vocation. It would be interesting to delve into this further.

But I really get a chuckle out of the scramble from sociologists and psychologists to explain some facet of modern human behavior – in this case, celebrity worship. With them it always boils down to evolution and something our cavemen relatives did, or didn’t do. In this instance, their speculation on a survival-driven instinct to pay attention to whatever the top-dog in the cave was up to. "Hey, look at Grog, he has his finger up nose. Me do same." So how many cavemen exactly did they interview to reach their academic conclusions and subsequent pontifications on this topic? I’ll bet it wasn’t a statistically valid sample.

More direct is an explanation by consulting psychologist James Houran quoted in a similar Live Science article: "Celebrity worship, at its heart, seems to fill something in a person's life," he said. "It gives them a sense of identity, a sense of self. It feeds a psychological need.”

There was a time when most of us found that our Christian faith and associated understandings filled that “something” in our lives, not Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, or Peyton Manning. It seems that our obits simply reflect our preference for wading in the shallows.

The French Bulldog Days of Summer

It’s the dog days of summer, but no, I’ve not been on vacation, just too busy with my day job and weekend commitments to post anything recently. I keep wondering though; I’m of French heritage, so why don’t I get the entire month of August off from work like all my French compatriots?  They don’t break a sweat all month. This year my August vacation was the first Sunday of the month – from 2:00 to 5:00 PM.  At least it sometimes feels that way.

Actually, the whole issue of vacations is a running topic in our household. I’ve always worked for consulting firms throughout my career – sometimes small ones.  Consulting firms of most any size are not particularly known for a providing a generous array of earned vacation time. My friend Gerry worked as an engineer for the super-paternalistic firm of Anheuser-Busch (before it was acquired by InBev). I recall him telling me once that he had reached his 5 year anniversary with the company and now was entitled to 5 weeks vacation (plus about 16 or more holidays per year). I was working for a 100 person consulting firm at the time and responded, “Gerry, I could rise to the position of President in our firm and I wouldn’t get five weeks vacation after 30 years!”

One of my current clients is a branded boutique in the food industry. Think Ben & Jerry’s and you’d be in the right ballpark. I’m working with the company’s sustainability staff on some management system improvements and the point-of-contact for the project I’m working on is a very nice, bright 20-something. Progress has slowed a bit on the project since she is off on her paid sabbatical this month. Sabbatical. Wow. I’ve been in the workforce 35 years and never come close to that perk.

And don’t even get me started on Federal worker vacation/holiday/sick time benefits. My head hurts just thinking about it in this election year and with the Federal budget mess.

Being a scientist and therefore fond of logic, I can only conclude that I’m a pretty dumb yardbird for staying in the consulting track all these years. Not the brightest Bunsen burner on the bench or shiniest Erlenmeyer flask on the shelf. Why didn’t my French relatives warn me about this while I was still at a tender young age? Maybe they did and I just couldn’t understand them. I took Russian in HS and college. Foolish me. Это жизнь в большом городе.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

U-2 Would Want to Avoid Soviet Prisons

Francis Gary Powers was piloting a Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance plane over the central Soviet Union when his aircraft was brought down by a near-miss from a Russian surface-to-air guided missile. 
Russia’s dirty little secret during the Cold War was that their long-range manned bomber fleet was no where near as numerous or sophisticated as the U.S. believed. But rather they were quietly putting their efforts into advancing their missile technology. Powers was shot down on May 1, 1960 (May Day in the Communist world!).

After capture, Powers was taken to Moscow and the famous Lubyanka Building which served as KGB headquarters and where he was held for several months and interrogated constantly prior to his public trial. In August of 1960 he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Upon his release from prison (early release in a spy exchange with the Soviets), Powers wanted his account of the events of that period of his life told, including the interrogations by his captors and his prison experiences. In 1970 he published Operation Overflight to try to set the records straight (as opposed to the CIA’s and Eisenhower Administration’s versions of events).

One part of his account especially struck me – the basic need for human interaction, even under less-than-ideal circumstances. Powers describes the conclusion of the active interrogations by KGB agents and his wait for his trial to begin, or actually, his wait for the pre-trail preparations to begin.

“When the interrogations were in progress, I had dreamed of the day they would be over.  Now, left alone in my cell, I missed them. Deceiving my captors had been a challenge; even that stimulation was gone, and with it any semblance of human companionship. This was the way they intended it, I was sure. No beatings, no torture except that inflicted by the mind. Only an all-pervading emptiness that made you desire even the company of your enemies.”

Brings a bit of different implication to our recently-created term, “frienemies.”