Friday, February 15, 2013


"I couldn't wait for success, so I went ahead without it.” 

–Jonathan Winters

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Have Yourself a Quality Valentine's Day

Quality assurance/systems humor from Mr. Pareto Head over at AQS's Quality Progress Magazine.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

SoS Hillary Goes Into Dry Dock

The battleship SoS (Secretary of State) Hillary moved out of active service and into dry dock this week.  Will she get the barnacles scrapped off her hull and a new coat of paint to be followed by a re-launching in the next few years? Time will tell as only the Admiralty and her hairdresser know for sure.

But one thing about her retiring from her post caught my attention. It wasn’t so much the fact that most of the news media lauded her accomplishments as the SoS, all that went according to the script, it was how the media used her previous week’s feisty outbursts at the Senate hearings on last September 11th attacks on the U.S. embassy in Bengahazi, Libya. Ms. Clinton’s outbursts and push-backs were used as evidence of her determined character, her resolve, her iron will. Especially her retort to Senator Ron Johnson:

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said, raising her voice. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”

Hmm, what difference does the root cause of an action or event matter? I think in the real world of action-reaction, cause-and-effect, it matters quite a bit. Sticking with the marine theme:

When that puny tugboat called the Titanic struck a North Atlantic iceberg and sank in 1912, did the world shrug its collective shoulders and sigh,”Oh bother -  iceberg, German submarine, faulty cardboard hull material - what difference does it make? It’s on the bottom of the ocean now. Let’s just move on.”

And remember that pesky Gulf of Mexico oil spill of a few years back?  "Who really cares if it was BP’s fault or that of Transocean, Haliburton or the U.S. Minerals Management Service? The root cause makes no difference in how we go forward and try to prevent future disasters, does it?"

Fagetaboutit seems a strange philosophy for running the country’s international affairs. But not to 60 Minutes and the others, apparently.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

P-51 Mustang: Innovation Personified ca 1943

The term "innovation" gets kicked around a lot these days - maybe rightly so. But during WWII there was tremendous innovation occurring on both sides of the conflict, especially with respect to the development of combat aircraft. The jet engine was coming along and would change air warfare, and civilian air travel after that.  But plugging the gap for the Allied forces who needed a high-performance, reliable, long-range fighter plane that could outmatch what Germany and Japan had to offer was the P-51 Mustang designed and built by North American Aviation ("P" stood for "pursuit," later we renamed such planes "F" for "fighter" - a designation still used today). One of the firm's other accomplishments included the B-24 Mitchell medium bomber used on the Doolittle Raid of the Japanese homeland.

On a fast track, North American's prototype of the P-51was rolled out just 102 days after signing the contract with the Pentagon. Entering the European theatre in 1943, the fighter had an immediate effect on the air war and ended up with a kill ratio of 8:1.

The Mustang incorporated a number of innovations that made it a superior aircraft for its time.

·       A thicker wing in its center portion. This improved lift and reduced drag and therefore increased speed.

·       The thicker wing allowed more room for fuel, extending the fighter’s range.

·       A variable pitch prop provided increased fuel efficiency and therefore increased range.

·       The new bubble canopy provided pilots with enhanced visual surveillance decreasing the changes they could be surprised from behind.

·       Finally, the mating of the British Merlin Rolls-Royce V-12 engine greatly improved performance and reliability over the original Allison engine, giving the Mustang a combat edge.

The Aircraft Owner website has one of the best short videos out there portraying the Mustang in flight (showing five of the aircraft that are still flying today).

These two photos hail from a Nashua, NH warbird show in 2004.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Obama is Technology; Republicans are Banking

The public relations firm of Edelman has published their 2013 consumers’ Trust survey and for the third year in a row it turns out we love Technology with a capital “T.”  Somehow we find ways to overlook Google’s prying/spying ways, Microsoft’s bumbling software releases, or all those pricey gadgety things that keep breaking and/or going out of date in 3 months. After all, they are celebrities. We’re in Love and that is blind – as they say.

What sectors don’t we love? Banking and financial services of course. Oh those Snidely Whiplash banking folks! What’s to love??

After yesterday’s inauguration speeches I can’t help feeling that Democrats are Technology and Republicans are Banking. In 2013 maybe that rings true. I don’t know.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bicycle Path

Who knew that a number of early automobile manufacturers were first bicycle manufacturers – Opel, Peugeot, Humber, Morris, Rover, Rambler, Willy’s and others? They pioneered advances in steel-tube framing, ball bearings, chain drives, differential gearing, and the pneumatic tire. They also developed techniques and equipment for volume production that became essential for the volume production of motor vehicles.

“Apart from its impact on road improvement in the United States, no preceding technological innovation – not even the internal combustion engine – was as important to the development of the automobile as the bicycle.”

“The greatest contribution of the bicycle, however, was that it created an enormous demand for individualized, long-distance transportation that could only be satisfied by the mass adoption of motor vehicles.”

James J. Flink, Professor of Comparative Culture at UC Irvine, writing in his book the Automobile Age, back in the Dark Ages of 1988.

Wow, hear that urban enviros? The grandfathers of your spiffy high-end bicycles spurred the growth of the automobile and the three-car American garage. You might need to be careful what you wish for when the Laws of Unintended Consequences are loose in the world.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Friday, January 4, 2013

The World of Short-term Employment

Have you ever been a short-term employee - by choice?

Tired of factory-type summer jobs during my college years, one summer I decided to sign on with a small landscaping company. The “company” consisted of one 50ish Italian guy with his pickup truck, some tools, and two of us hearty young know-nothings. After one day of trying to keep up with the owner and dog-tired from working from 7 AM to after 6 PM, I decided that I was not really cut out for landscaping (i.e., lawn mowing) and didn’t go back on day 2, forfeiting the one-day pay that was due to me. I failed; but factories did look relatively palatable from that day on.

I can recall being desperate for work during a 5 or 6 week period wedged in between getting my BA and starting grad studies (with a paid teaching assistantship no less). My new wife had secured a modest job at our new locale but our bank account was bone dry – we even borrowed money from her new boss to pay the first month’s rent at the married student apartments!  But who is going to hire you for a month+ when it’s half way through the summer; in Bangor, ME? I even lost out on a gas station job when the owner hired a 15 year old instead so he didn’t have to pay minimum wage. So I signed on with Manpower and waited for “the call.” I did get some interesting one-day assignments – unloading vinyl siding from a railroad car, painting an empty gas station that was changing hands (OK, that took two of us a couple of days) and filling in pot holes with hot asphalt from the back of a truck on the very campus where I would be starting my illustrious grad studies a few weeks hence. I also learned that there was no shortage of folks on Manpower’s list and sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring wouldn’t cut it. I had to take the initiative and call them up every morning to see if any work assignments were waiting to be filled. Squeaky wheel and all that stuff. I confess I was glad when September rolled around and those big fat teaching assistant checks started pouring in (yeah, right).

A consulting firm I worked for many years ago hired a biologist sight unseen from Kentucky for a near-entry level position at our NH headquarters. Apparently this fellow had never been out of KY before and he traveled up to New England by bus on the weekend before his Monday morning start. Seems that one partial weekend sitting in a YMCA room in a foreign land, pondering Momma’s home cooking, was enough for the young guy. He took the first Monday morning bus back to KY, calling his would-be boss from somewhere on the road. Given my prior landscaper’s experience, I withheld any criticism of his actions.

Over the years I’ve supervised a few employees who didn’t stay around too long. One was a bright young 20-something who just graduated from a big-name eastern university. While in grad school she interned with a major federal agency in one of their downtown DC headquarters divisions. It was actually a fairly responsible policy analyst position that addressed a then-controversial regulatory subject area. There was absolutely no shortage of beltway consultants and contractors giving this 20-something worlds of attention (think lobbyists or better, bees to honey). She was definitely the “it girl” while the position lasted. And when it ended, the beltway consulting firm that I was working for at the time hired her. We really didn’t know what she was to do, and didn’t have a suitable on-going client project to stick her on. So while I had no input into her hiring and she had relocated herself to a different east coast city by choice, my boss decided that I should figure out her fit in the company and find her a suitable role. She was quite bright, and actually a very nice individual. But it was soon clear to both of us that there was no fit and she resigned within a week or two. I never met her face-to-face.

That was 10 years ago. But ahhh, now there’s the vibrant internet and people pop up seemingly out of the woodwork. Even ones you’ve forgotten about. It turns out that “Y” had moved from the East Coast to San Fran and has since held many short-term positions in the intervening years. In her own words:

“In 2003, she began her deep personal journey through her learned self, tearing away layers of conditioning to find her true self. She now dedicates her life to the practice of living authentically, and inspires others to live with a sense of self-awareness, connection, gratitude and compassion. A writer, Y uses her deep love of people and the natural world as inspiration for her blog pieces on human behavior and our sense of connection with self, others, and the planet."

“Y is (currently) a freelance environmental analyst, program and project manager, strategic consultant, conference facilitator, writer, and ESL instructor. In May, she visited India where she taught English to Tibetan monks and wrote.”

Probably just intuition, but something deep within my soul seems to be signaling that she probably wouldn’t have made a good long-term landscaper either. I can feel the inner guilt melting away right now.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Rare and Endangered Spotted American Lounge Lizard

Much has been written in scientific journals regarding the demise of the Spotted American Lounge Lizard (ratpackius imitatious).  But largely overlooked in past research is the steady and unfortunate erosion of the creature’s habitat, starting in the 1970s. Habitat is everything for the sustainability of a species and the Lounge Lizard’s primary urban domain, the American Lounge, has long been in a steady decline.

This marked erosion in lounge habitat began in the 1970s when many locales were converted to mirror-balled disco halls by the score. Some Lounge Lizards were able to successfully adapt and trade their spots for pastel leisure suits, but many more chose not to adapt but rather retreat further into the wilderness areas of Nerdania.

The second wave of habitat conversions was even more severe and widespread when, in the post-disco 1980s and 1990s, many establishments were converted to video arcade parlors. The flashing lights were welcoming to the Lounge Lizard but the incessant clatter and loud beeps of the electronic devices interfered greatly with the creature’s dating rituals (the intended subjects could not hear the Lizards’ pick up lines).

Some researchers suspect that there are still a few original Lounge Lizard habitats remaining and that they could be functional and in relatively pristine condition. The University of Peoria recently received a federal Humanities Council grant to dispatch teams to several of these reported sites to attempt to verify their existence and document any inhabitants found there. The very first wave of research teams is headed to Worcester, Poughkeepsie and Altoona as we speak. Wish them well.