About Me

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I'm a life-long New Englander, father of 4 challenging kids (I know: I'm supposed to say "wonderful", but while that'd be true, technically speaking, it'd also be misleading), and fortunate husband to my favorite wife of more than 20 years. I've got over 20 years experience breaking things as a test engineer, quality engineer, reliability engineer, and most recently (and most enjoyably) a Product Safety / EMC Compliance Engineer. In the photo, I'm on the left.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Today, as I looked to my reading, I stopped by The Feathered Nest to find out what my friend Delores had to say. Today, she wanted to talk on cyber bullying.

I thought I'd ramble on the thoughts that Delores provoked.

Bullying, naturally, has been around since the dawn of time. Literally, I'm willing to bet. Many of us have been targets of it, and few of us will admit to being the perpetrator. But the face of bullying has changed, it seems.

When I was a kid, my bullies looked like one of two images:

Either this guy (image from 20th Century Fox):

 Or this guy (found on an un-credited site...sorry!)

For contrast, I didn't start growing until I was around 20. Going into high school I weighed about 70 lbs and stood around 4'10". By the end of high school, I was a lot closer to 6', and weighed in just shy of 140 lbs. I had beefed up significantly. I was certainly a target!

Two basic rules of the bully back in that day:
1) They were physically HUGE, and targeted smaller folks or chubby folks who didn't have a following;
b) They were cowards who traveled in packs

These were, of course, rules of thumb. There were deviations from these stereotypes. Well, from the first one. I never found a bully who wasn't a coward and did all of their bullying with a handful of people of low fiber at their back.

The profile of the bully has changed though. They're still cowards, but now they do most of their bullying over the internet. My sense is that today, many of these bullies are female, whereas in my day, they were mostly male.

The results seem to have changed too. "Back then", a bullied kid might come home with torn clothes, or a black eye, bloody nose...whatever. Bullying often promoted a physical contest (one that was exceedingly one-sided). The old piece of conventional wisdom was that once you stood up to the bully, he would no longer bother with you. This wasn't always true, but it was true a significant portion of the time.

Today, there's no safe haven, really. You can't go home, or go on vacation. It isn't the case that you'll be out of contact with the idiots for the summer, and when you get back to school you'll find that you'd changed over the summer and were now bigger than your tormentor was. Today, over the internet, it's business as usual 24/7/365.

AND, the things that kids allow themselves to say to each other over the net is unbelievable. I think in large part because of the lack of today's personal nature of bullying, and the absence of the intimate relationship.

I'm reminded of a quote:
In films murders are always very clean. I show how difficult it is and what a messy thing it is to kill a man.
~Alfred Hitchcock

If your bully is in your face, they can see the reaction of their words. In fact, that's what yesterday's bully was feeding off of. They could also see when they had crossed a line, though. When the rage flared in their target, or when the victim finally did snap and attacked. The act of bullying was a messy affair.

That feedback loop doesn't exist with cyber bullying. Today it's a cleaner thing to bully someone, and I think that this emboldens today's bully to heighten their callous behavior while at the same time not affording the victim what might be considered a legitimate outlet for the rage that is being sowed within them.

Bullies have never picked on other bullies. They don't pick on kids who kick puppies. They pick on the perceived weaker members of society.

The cowards are far more cowardly today than they were yesterday. Today, they don't even have the courage to face their victim. They weave their web of evil without ever affording their victim any true opportunity to respond. Remember that victims are often people who would not naturally engage in such toxic behavior (from my experience this is the case), so responses are somewhat rare, and don't carry the toxicity of the attack. And at the same time: the bully doesn't get any feedback, and really can't appreciate what a messy thing it is that they're doing. They've got no cause-and-effect until they hear that someone committed suicide.

I'm not arguing the yesterday's bully was a kinder, more gentle bully than today's, but the whole dynamic is different today than it was yesterday, and I think that these differences might be a big part of the reason that it seems like today, bullying results in suicides while yesterday it resulted in bloody noses. Of course, perhaps there were many suicides yesterday than we have heretofore been aware of...maybe we're just more aware of the suicides today?

I'd be interested to know how a bully feels when they hear that their victim has committed suicide because of the bullying? I wonder if they feel anything? For the rest of their lives?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Fallible Nature of Mnemonics

Do you make use of mnemonics to learn things? Do you remember My Dear Aunt Sally from algebra? This mnemonic is supposed to help us remember the order of mathematical operations: Multiplication,  Division, Addition, Subtraction. Since I was in school, they've changed this to "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" to include Parentheses and Exponents.

"Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain" ring any bells? This phrase is supposed to help us remember the colors of the rainbow (and their order): Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.
The more sociopathic among you might better recognize "Run Over Your Granny Because It's Violent"

Young Electrical Engineers are taught (or so I'm told) that "Bill Brown Realized Only Yesterday Good Boys Value Good Work" to help them remember the color coding of electronic resistors, which utilize a sequence of colored bands around the component, and the order of the colored bands will tell you what the numerical resistance value is. The colors, in order, are Black, Brown, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet, Gray, White.

Older Electrical Engineers were taught a different phrase: "Bad Boys Rape Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly." We all wanted to know where Violet lived, naturally.

Mnemonics have probably been around since mankind was still in its proverbial diapers, and they certainly have their value; I have made as many for myself that were helpful as I did that were not.

To wit:

I have a pair of nieces who are twins. They are not identical twins, but are fraternal (or, I suppose, sororal). Like many twin sets these days, their parents named the first born with a name that begins with "A" and the second born a name that begins with "B".

Despite their being very, very different from each other, I was unable to get a handle on which was which until they were about 8 years old. How stupid am I, eh? I decided at one point that I could use a nice, easy mnemonic for this.

Baby B has blue eyes! B = Blue, and also = Bertha! Easy!
But not for me...Baby A has brown eyes, and B also = Brown. So, does Bertha have Brown or Blue eyes? No idea.

Did I go instead with A = Andrea and also Azure? Does Andrea in fact have Azure eyes? ugh...I could screw up a nap!

When my beautiful wife sent me for Plain yogurt, I got in trouble for coming home with Vanilla. Doesn't Plain = Vanilla? Isn't the phrase "Plan, vanilla wrapper"? This one I screwed up for years...do I get Plain, or Vanilla?

Am I the only one who screws up mnemonics?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Just a quick drop-in to share something new (to me):

A new planet that could be 33% diamond!    <----It's a link!

Just cool...that's all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Curmudgeonly Wisdom on The Nature of Women

I fairly recently found a file that I had long ago thought was long-gone: my old MS Outlook pst file! This single file held a huge cache of e-mails dating back years. I almost cried when I thought I had lost it.

I thought I'd share you a bit of my finite wisdom, which had been buried in this treasure mine and that I recently unearthed:

The set-up:

A friend of mine had recently gotten married, and he was going through some growing pains as he adjusted out of his decades-long life as a bachelor. His new wife and her young daughter had moved into his heretofore inviolate bachelor pad. One day he sent to a few of his long-married friends this missive:

Just so I’m clear, is it in a woman’s nature to rearrange furniture at least twice in a year?

I did my level-best to help:

1) Your question suggests that any man (any of these three men, particularly) would have ANY insight regarding "woman's nature"
2) It is my experience that womenfolk do tend to get tired of the same arrangement of furniture on a periodic basis
3) They will similarly get tired of specific pieces of furniture on a periodic bases

At times like this, you might come home from work one day to find that a particular piece of furniture that they bought some years ago has been replaced by a new piece of similar furniture. DO NOT BE SURPRISED if she contends that she has always hated the replaced piece of furniture, and that it "had to go", her "being sick of it".

IMPORTANT NOTE: when this happens to you DO NOT (repeat: DO NOT) ask her why she purchased the piece of furniture that she now declares that she never liked. Questions like this are documented as being responsible for things like the Chernobyl incident, the Three Mile Island disaster, Mount Vesuvius, and the Permian Extinction (not to mention the end of the dinosaur's reign).

Man's Logic: If you didn't like it, then why did you buy it?
Womans "Logic": lakuerpkjk jfoiwej qw345 kdouks iowiefdks!! (When you manage to decode this, please forward the "rationale" to me...I'd be very interested. Perhaps we could make a sort of rosetta stone out of the answer.

Quick survey:
Pre-Nuptual: How many items did you have in your ownership that were floral in decoration? Call this answer "A"
Post-Nuptual: How many items do you have in your ownership that are floral in decoration? Call this answer "B"


We're not sure what exactly "X" is, but as a numerical value we belive that it will have some impact on man's ultimate salvation. Please note that in MOST circumstances, B is extrememly close to X.

Let me know when you show up at home and find the place completely re-painted (or when you wake up in the morning and find similar phemonena). My favorite is coming home and finding either new walls in places where there weren't walls, or no walls in places where there WERE walls.

I'll say again what I said when I heard that you were getting married: Good luck with that. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Spoiler Alert! - I DO Care!

This post is intended to pay homage to a fellow blogger - Matt Conlon. He wrote an excellent post titled similarly to this one; read it here.

Not to spoil anything, but the crux of his post  (at least the crux that provoked this particular post that you're reading now) is to wonder why a person might be reticent to "spoil" the end of a movie or book by telling how it turns out.

I'm on the other side of the coin from Matt. I absolutely hate it when someone tells me ahead of time how a movie ends, and I also hate it when people ask me what happens in a movie or in a book. I hate telling folks what is going to happen.

My lovely wife is one that wants to know what happens, and I hate to tell her.

I'm glad to have read Matt's post though, as it gives me an understanding of how other folks enjoy things. I think that going forward I will have less trouble in answering the "what happens" question.

But Matt also asks what motivates dolts like me to NOT like to answer that question; he asks:

What could possible matter to you about sharing a story you already know with someone who doesn’t? What do you get out of knowing something that I don’t, which I will eventually anyway? Do you get some sort of perverse feeling of superiority from it? Some kind of “I read faster and comprehend better than you, and if you can’t just do it, then you don’t belong in the “I know the end of that story” club with me?

I'll attempt to answer this question. It's got nothing whatever to do with a sense of superiority, or of me trying to piss you off in any way. Although, being who I am, I can definitely understand that you might be thinking that I'm trying to piss you off! :)

I like to tell jokes. I like to relate stories of funny things that happened. I like to think that I'm pretty good at relating things in such a manner as to lead my listener from one point to the other in a nice, uniform way that delivers impact.

I believe that a story should be related in its intended fashion. For a movie or a book, things take place in a certain time and way, and writers, directors, actors, and others work really hard to deliver their message such that it will have the greatest impact and leave you, the watcher or reader, with a certain set of impressions and emotions. The only way you're going to get that is to watch the movie in the order that it's intended.

As a "for instance", try this joke:

Once in a land far, far away there lived a group of people called Trids. The Trids were happy except for the huge ogre that lived on the mountain. The ogre would periodically terrorize the Trids.

"Silly Rabbi, kicks are for Trids!"

I have enjoyed this joke since I was a kid...something like 6th grade. Of course, reading it from above, it doesn't seem funny at all!

You can see the actual joke at answerbag.com.

How about the guy who refused Novocaine when he went to the dentist?

I ran out of chain!

This joke is on this page.

My point is that experiencing a story or movie in the order that it's intended is crucial to maximizing enjoyment of that story.

Matt's point is probably better: He doesn't care! He's right too: it's crucial to MY maximizing MY enjoyment of that story.

Of course, my lovely wife says that she would enjoy it better if she knows the ending, but at the same time I've seen her enjoy movies much better for sitting through them. "The Illusionist" (2006, Edward Norton, Jessica Biel) is a prime example of this. The very last scene, where Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti's best performance ever, in my opinion) is "putting it all together" is awesome. But, that scene would be completely trashed if I were to have described it ahead of time. I saw my beautiful wife attending that scene with great focus, and I firmly believe that had she and I discussed that ahead of time, she would have enjoyed it a lot less.

So, there you have it: the other side of the coin.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Cost of a Secondary Education

It's been much on my mind of late, to be sure. One in college, another about to go in just a couple of years away. The cost here in America of a college education is way, way, way too much. Everyone seems to agree. The sticker prices that I've seen range from low $20k per year (plus room, food plans, and other insundry items) to mid $50k per year plus the aforementioned insundry items. Total costs more like $28K to $60K, excepting most community colleges and Ivy League.

The cost since I went has far outstripped inflation. One wonders if Physics has changed, that they must constantly create new laws and rules and what not. Fair: there's more history now than there was a quarter of a century ago, but not all the kids are taking history...they don't really have all that much more to learn!

I've been reading a bit about this, and there are several arguments about exactly why college is so ridiculously priced.

They point to the fact that many colleges have installed "world-class" fitness facilities with rock walls, archery ranges, and other niceties to lure students. More stuff = more students = more money, but more stuff costs more money = higher tuition. Some other probable causes are gourmet food services. The argument is that kids are eating awesome food, fit for kings! Not the swill that I ate in my day. Better food = higher costs = higher tuition. BUT, better food is a lure for the kids. It's cyclical.

I read that some years ago our government tried to make secondary education more affordable by offering more money (mostly low interest loans) to families sending kids to school. Colleges perked up: "They have more money? GREAT!! We can take that!" These loans didn't make it easier to pay; the made our education cost more!

Businessweek had a decent article about this here:

Most of what I've read really tip-toes around what I think is truly the cause of out-of-control college costs in America:


Seems to me that a couple of generations ago, it was perfectly possible for a kid to pay his or her own way through college, and it was quite common to do so. I did, as did my beautiful wife. We had loans, but we were able to pay those loans. In some cases (not really ours, but in other cases), parents were able to help out and did so as much as they could.

Colleges, I'm thinking, put their nose into the wind and smelled money. "What? Mom and Dad are paying?!? Why, they've got more money than kids do...let's take that money!"

And the KA-CHING! sounded in the hallowed halls of American education.

"What? Many parents have houses! With Equity, no less! Why, I'm sure they won't mind digging into that for Jr's education!"


"What's this I hear? Mom and Dad were saving for retirement!?! HAHA! It is to laugh! Let us jack up tuition and take that as well!"


I can't find the article now, but I read one recently that said that one school's Dean (or president...can't recall which) went from a salary of ~$150k in 2000ish to ~$650k in 2010. Did anyone else get a 433% pay raise in that decade, while we were all losing pensions and 401(k) value? Not to mention the value of our real estate (and / or our jobs)? And not for nothing, am I the only one who thinks it's absolutely crazy that a school official makes more per year than the President?

Also note: that 433% is actually HALF A MILLION DOLLARS!!! Anyone else making an additional half million per year? Not I, certainly.

It's pure, unadulterated greed.

"But wait: we have put in this most awesome workout room! Free for your son or daughter to use!"

I'd rather get them a membership at a nearby gym and save myself the money. Not for nothing, my kids don't go to gyms. Kids will also by and large eat utter crap and be happy about it! Gourmet food is completely lost on them!

I have an idea, why don't you dispense with niceties, and keep my kid in school more? For the money that it costs, it absurd that they're out of school (and I know it varies) from late April to Late August, and for a month around New Year's, and then again for a week in the spring! They attend classes for just over half the year!

And the final blow: You spend 4 years to get a BA degree, pile up $100k in debt, and you can (if you're really lucky) get a job earning $30k per year. That's if the job is open, which it probably isn't because the fellow who helped you pay for the $125k that you didn't borrow to get through school can't retire because the school took the equity in his home and raped his savings, so he still needs the job and can't afford to retire!

Greed. And the paper isn't worth it anymore, but neither can we dispense with it.

Just plain greed. And no one is really saying that.

This is one of those cases where everyone knows that there's a pile of elephant crap in the middle of the room, and they're all looking at the bottom of their shoes to find out where the stink is coming from.

"Perhaps the baby needs a change, luvvie?" As he lights his cigar with a $1,000 dollar bill.
"And fire the cook!"