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.”

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Church Tenure

It’s a pretty obvious statement to say that Christian church membership in the US isn’t what it was just 30 or 40 years ago, especially in most of the mainline or traditional denominations.  Church attendance in general continues its downward trend and the loyalty we exhibit to individual churches or denominations has greatly waned. Some of this is due to our more mobile society and far-flung career opportunities. And there’s the migration out of the Rust Belt and Northeast to the South and Southwest. But even those who stay put are much more prone to job hopping and church hopping than members of our grandparents’ generation. Guilty as charged on both counts.

This week my wife was cleaning out older files and records and set aside a pile of papers for me to go through to confirm they could be banished to the paper recycling bin. Among the various documents was a group of annual reports from a church we attended for a number of years (and were active, voting members). One of the annual reports I came across listed a number of recently deceased older congregants and how many years they had been members. This was a 150+ year old traditional church trying to transition to a more contemporary venue to better match the needs and wishes of younger Christians. The annual report informed us (names altered):

Mrs. Edna Mae Brown – member 1943 – 2005
Mrs. Ellen C. Franklin – member 1950-2006, Sunday School teacher for 50 years
Mrs. Lorraine R. Carter – member 1950 – 2006
Edgar Samuel Hitchcock – member 1932 – 2006 (74 years), Church Clerk for 20 years

End of an era I think. I can’t imagine we of the Restless Society could ever stay put or tie down our church loyalties like those who came before us.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Shark - White (and Yankee)

You may have read about the shark attack earlier this week on Cape Cod - off an Atlantic-side beach in the town of Truro (one of two towns that still have the feel of Olde Cape Cod, the other being Wellfleet). But I digress. A man and his son were body surfing 400 - 500 yards offshore when he was bitten on both legs, but made it to shore and was just releaded today from a Boston hospital. Shark experts have weighed in that the attack was almost certainly carried out by a Great White. Great Whites have been summering several towns south of Truro in the Chatham area the past few years because of the abundant seal population there (good sand bars for sunning - and escaping Great Whites). You may have caught the photo earlier in July of the shark following a kayaker in shallow Chatham waters.

Non-Yankees need not fret though. The Whites definitely seem to prefer a taste of New England. The kayaker is from Manchester, NH, and the next most recent Great White attack before this week was in 1936 on the other side of Cape Cod in Buzzard's Bay waters where a young boy from Dorchester, MA was killed. I posted on that incident in one of the first pieces I wrote after starting this blog.  Read about it here.

Now this week's Truro victim was visiting from the Denver area, so perhaps the shark realized on first taste that he/she was dealing with a non-Yankee. Maybe Yankees taste a lot like seal?  That's my working theory, for now.

So ya'll Southerners feel free to come on up to the Cape and enjoy our waters - unmolested. What's that, you don't get in the water unless it's 80 degrees or warmer.  Sorry, can't oblige on that count.