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, December 22, 2012

Marriage = Work...or not.

Does it take work to make a great marriage?

My answer may surprise you: I don't know.

How can this be? I have what I consider to be a great marriage. Just about 22 years now, and I love my wife today probably deeper than ever I did in my misspent youth. Do we work at our marriage?

I don't know.

There are a couple of old tenets that are at odds, and that I think of every now and then:
1) It takes two people to make a marriage work
2) It takes two people to wreck a marriage.

Bzzzt! It only takes on ass to ruin what might otherwise be a perfectly good marriage.

Do my wife and I see eye-to-eye on everything? Absolutely not. In many aspects of our lives we have different viewpoints and different thoughts on how we approach issues. So how is it that we have an excellent, strong marriage? There are a few key points, and I'll share them with you (I'm feeling very giving right now...don't know why).

Know thyself, and use thee well

One thing that we do is that we tend to use our best tools for any given job.

That is, if there is someone who needs a bit of TLC, comfort, and caring for, DO NOT SEND ME TO DO IT. She is a nurse...a nurturer at heart. I am a somewhat pragmatic and very sarcastic (sometimes snide) engineer, and don't fully understand people. "...and does whining like a loose fan belt help you or this situation?" I'm not really very empathetic.

Need someone to deal with tweaking the investment portfolio. That's my job. I'm much more of a numbers person than she is. Need a something fixed? Usually my job (not that the Mrs. isn't capable, but it's how our individual strengths are put to use). Wiring up the entertainment systems? Me. Keeping in touch with friends and family? Her. Homework? Math, Science, & English: me; projects and displays: her. History: you're on your own, kid (although we'll both help, naturally).

Who cooks? We both do, but she more than I, I think. Grocery shopping? We both do, but me more than she, I think. I do more laundry and almost all the dishes (if I can't rope a kid into that), she cleans bathrooms and deals with chauffeur duty more than I do. I'm not allowed to paint ('cause I truly stink at it).

We're constantly working at life, and raising kids. Are we working at our marriage? I don't know.

We constantly say "I love you." (She more than I). We try to go out together, perhaps with another couple, every two or three weeks. I somewhat infrequently buy flowers for her (I've learned that she likes this...I don't understand, I just do). We talk about what the kids are up to, and if they're up to no good, we figure out what should our response be and deliver it together. We both tend to go to concerts, plays, sports games, etc...(she more than I, truth be told).

Assess your strengths, use them wisely, and grow weaknesses into strengths as much as possible.

How you say what you say...:

We certainly have our trouble communicating, she being quite right-brained and me being so far to the left, but in the back of my mind (and, I suspect, in the back of hers) is the certainty that we are both on the same team and are trying to swim in the same general direction...we have to remind ourselves to give the benefit of the doubt sometimes.

This alone was not an easy lesson to learn; I recall one time when our oldest was growing to be roughly adult-sized my wife had put on the lad's winter jacket and it almost fit. She had that playful pout on her face that made me think that she must be feeling pangs about having an almost adult-sized kid  (my baby's growing up sort of crap). In my infinite wisdom, I pointed out that the jacket remained too small for her. My thought was to mollify her sadness, indicating that the kid is not yet adult. She took it as me calling her fat.

We had a fight about that one! But this is one of those things that pointed out to me - that reminded me - that communication is the most important part of any relationship, and clear, accurate communication is one of the hardest things in the world to master.

This drives home a point that I have made to the kids numerous times, and to many of the people who have worked for me through the years: How you say what you say is generally more important than what you say.

The Benefit of the doubt:

We have communication troubles all the damn time. But let's acknowledge that communication is a multi-part process. You have a transmitter and a receiver  and they don't always share a common understanding of the words that are used. If I'm asked for a trash bag, I'm reaching for the tall white bag that we put into the trash barrel in the kitchen. Sometimes she meant a smaller shopping bag that she could throw a small something into in order to promptly put it outside in the barrel. Sometimes she meant the huge green contractor-sized trash bags.

This is, of course, a simple example, but it'll suffice to show that the words used were correct, but the message received was not necessarily the one that was transmitted. There are countless incidents of this sort, some of them not so simple or kind.

BUT, if, when I hear something from her that rankles me, I think about it and ask myself if she means what I heard, we can avoid a lot of conflict because the answer is almost always 'no, she couldn't have meant what I heard. She's better than that'.

Give the benefit of the doubt. When I bend down to pick something up, and she suddenly knees me in the head, assume that it wasn't done on purpose. She's a better person than that. When I hear her say something mean or derisive to me, I have to think that she said something other than what I heard. Look for clarification.

Let me esplain...no, there is too much; Let me Sum Up: 

To me, it all boils down to a few simple rules:

  • Be on the same side...even if you disagree, at the end of the day, when you confront your common "enemy", you still have to be a unified pair;
  • Give the benefit of the doubt...the message that came in my ears probably didn't come out of her mouth;
  • Communicate;
  • Let it go...we all make mistakes, and sometimes we don't communicate when we should have...sorry, can we get on with our lives?
  • Say "sorry" when it's warranted (and mean it...they can always tell if you don't mean it);
  • Buy flowers every now and then;
  • Share the load;
  • She should be his priority, he should be hers (forgive the genderization there...these things work equally well in same-gender relationships);
  • Play together often;
  • Be apart sometimes (guys' night out, girls' night out...);

Are these things "work"? I don't really think so. I think that these are just the rules of engagement for living in a community, which married couples do. For me, marriage is pretty easy.

I leave you with a quote:

"By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dividing by way of Multiplying

It may be that I'm an engineer, or it may be that the reason that I'm an engineer is the same reason that it bothers me, but I really get a wrinkle in my panties when I hear a lecturer, or see in an ad or on TV (or hear on the radio...) people using math incorrectly.

I'm not talking about when people make an error, and assert that 2+2=p.

I'm talking about when they just don't seem to understand what they're actually saying, but they're talking with great authority and confidence.

I know: what?

As examples:

"Eight times lower"...shouldn't that be "one eighth"? How can something be "Eight times less" than anything? This basic error I see frequently, and I'm sure that my beautiful wife is tired of me pointing it out when it crops out, but it bugs me.

There was an ad for a speed reading system on TV that asserted that you could experience a 1,000% increase in your reading speed. Wouldn't it be great to read everything 10 times faster?

Well, an increase of 10X isn't the same as a 1,000% increase.

Start: 100
A 100% increase brings you to 200, which is 2X.
A 200% increase brings you to 300, which is 3X
It's actually a 900% increase that will bring you to 10X

Here's one that had me wondering:

"We multiplied our efficiency by 50%"

Well, that just sucks. If you started at an efficiency of 100, and you multiply that by 50%, you're now at 50.

This means you got less efficient. You are now half as efficient as you used to be. I wouldn't crow about that.

This is on the coat tails of "Divided by half". When you divide by half, you end up with twice as much, but the advertisements are usually suggesting that you get half of what you started with. I'd hate to divide my electric bill by half...I'd end up paying twice as much!

I recall back in the year 2,000. The Millennium.

Ah, no...that wasn't the Millennium. Of course, those of us who pointed that out were ridiculed endlessly (actually, that's not accurate: the ridicule did end, eventually), and I'm really not sure why. The transition from December 31 2000 to January 1 2001 would have been the Millennium. The mass media and the mainstream didn't seem to care. Or rather, they DID care...they preferred to be wrong! I get the same sorts of responses with these math issues of mine: seems like people would rather be wrong, and rely upon me to "know what they mean".

We've spoken before, I think, about how people allow themselves to use poor language skills, relying upon their listener to simply "know what they mean". This is the same sort of corruption, I think. I'm supposed to just magically "know what they mean". I like to think that the better idea is for the speaker to think about what they're trying to say, and say what they mean. That way, miscommunication is minimized. At the end of the day, I know me: I hardly ever know what anyone means! :)

I'm all alone again, aren't I?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Linkedin Endorsements...FEH!

I read over on Matt Conlon's page his opinion about a new "fad" that's hit the professional social page Linkedin of late. It's called "endorsements". He has a great explanation about it, and why it sits so poorly with him; read it here, on his blog.

Essentially, these endorsements are intended to be exactly what they sound like: one professional is stating in a rather public fashion that it is their professional opinion that THIS PERSON is very good at THIS SKILL.

As a "for instance", I have skills listed on my profile of Product Verification, Risk Management, ISO 14971, and many others that are relevant for the work that I've done these past decades. I don't recall adding all of these, although when this feature first popped up on my radar, I did add one or two (or ten).

It's a great idea.

But the implementation sucks.

Linkedin has made this endorsement scheme pretty much exactly like (how I understand) FaceBook's "like" button.

Click. Done.

This has become a problem for me, and for many other professionals (like Matt) because it's too easy.

What I think of as the perfect example:

I had gotten endorsements from people with whom I worked, and I knew that they knew my abilities in (for instance) Risk Management. Great: they think I'm pretty good at that. Thanks! Let me wander over to your profile and endorse you for (for instance) Electronics Design, as I have worked with you while you designed things that I subsequently broke. You're pretty darn good at your Electronics Design work, and I say so.

Then I got an endorsement or two from people with whom I'm friends, but with whom I've never worked. What the huh!?!? How, exactly, do you know that I'm good at basket weaving? Well, I suppose that they, as a friend, decided that I'm a relatively smart fellow, and I've been basket weaving ever since I set Moses afloat in that stream so long ago...they up and endorsed me because they know my character, and know that I wouldn't lie about such a thing. I MUST be good at it.

Then I got endorsements from a person that I know from professional groups that I have belonged to at one point or another. We'll call him "Racer X".

This one puzzled me, and I considered it to be that person just looking to be a good doobie, and telling the world that I'm a stand-up guy. Ok...sort of defeats the purpose of the endorsement thing, but ok.

Then Racer X endorsed me for something else the following day. I looked into his profile, and saw that he is currently unemployed. OK...he's scrounging around Linkedin for job leads, and my ugly face popped up in front of him, and the easiest way for him to keep from puking at the sight of me was to hit "endorse". Go away, thou foul visage.

Should I run out and endorse Racer X? I've never worked with him. One thing that matters to me is my reputation. All the dirty stuff that I do, I do behind closed doors, with a great deal of plausible deniability and no witnesses (and spoofed IP adresses). My name is, thus far, pretty darn clean. I like to think that in my professional circles, my name carries the wind of honor and dignity. No, really...it does.

Then the next day he endorsed me again. Something's up here.

That day, I got a call from one of the Directors in my company's Quality Assurance department. "Hi, Throckmorton." Said he. "We're currently interviewing a person for the position of Progress Slower-Downer, and this fellow appears to know you...can you tell me anything about Racer X?"

Aaahhh...Sokath, his eyes uncovered! (That there's a Star Trek reference...you might have to look it up!).

NOW I understand: Racer X is looking for a job in my company, and he's clearly hoping that, if he endorses me, I will reciprocate and endorse him back! Well, hell.

This is irritating to me, to say the least. These sorts of endorsements mean nothing at all to me. AND, they serve to dilute the value of legitimate endorsements. It makes the whole scheme a useless pile of fertilizer.

If someone wants endorsements or recommendations from me, there are basically two guiding principals by which I oblige:

  • I have to know you, and have direct experience with your ability in the specific skill for which I am endorsing you;
  • I have to like you (which basically means that you're a stand up guy or gal who always tries to do your best in the interest of the company / project and the people with whom you're working);
My name, my reputation, means something to me, and I will protect it. I have, more than once, told people calling me for references for people whom they are interviewing to NOT hire certain folks. When these folks ask me if I'll be a reference for them, I do tell them that I might not be the best choice.

I have, more than once, written and provided glowing references for people of high character and fiber. I will do everything that I can to help a person who wants to work well and actually earn what they get.

This brings to mind some lyrics of a song, which bounce through my mind every now and then, and have since high school:

Don't ask me what I think of you, I might not give you answers that you want me to.
~Fleetwood Mac (apparently...but could be "The Rockets"...Google seems a little confused about that)

At the very least, if you want a reference from me, make sure that you know that I know that you are a person that I would want to work with, and whom I trust to work to the best of your abilities for the company, and for the people around you. I will praise you from the highest mountain in these cases.

As for Linkedin's Endorsements: FEH! I think that I may just go out and see if I can disable that feature.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Blessed Problem

I've come to a realization regarding one of my big issues with the world today. Actually, I think that this is a problem that has been lurking in the world far before my time, and will continue far beyond my time, and I'm stunned when I realize that there are some folks who are completely unaffected by it. Meanwhile, other people, like me, are somewhat constantly caught in the grips of this affliction, and can never fully escape, although we might from time to time find ourselves unencumbered for a short while...only to be fully ensnared again in short order.

This issue is one that saps your energy, disrupts concentration, makes it very difficult to make decisions or to gain traction on any project(s) that you might have on your To Do list. It also utterly disrupts any daily routines that you might have.

It's not wholly on the negative, though. There's a constant learning curve that you find yourself on; I do like to learn new things on a regular basis. Learning new things seems to me to be a necessity for having a fulfilling life. It seems to me that if I'm not learning something, some small part of me is falling into atrophy. Of course, I'd like to have some control over the things that I'm learning, and due to this condition of mine, I don't seem to always have the control that I'd like in that respect.

The issue? The condition? Affliction? This thing of the world...of the human condition...that is so challenging?

It simple: there are just too darn many interesting things in the world. Every time that I look around, something of interest catches my eye, my attention, and my mind. It doesn't matter what I might have been doing, or intending to do, something crops up in the course of the day, and like a raven to a shiny bauble, I'm ensnared. Off I go to study that new thing, or to do something that I had no intentions of doing, and those things that I had intended doing are left undone.


This is what has kept me from frequent writing out here, from reading things that have long been on my list, from undertaking projects that I'd like to undertake for pleasure and entertainment value, and all other sort of minor goals that I'd like to see accomplished.

I signed up for a wood turning course recently; I've been longing to learn how to turn wood for years, but there was always something else to engage me. I'll have to sign up for that again, as it was cancelled.

I traveled to the US Northwest for a week at the beginning of November and there were nearly endless things of interest there. In flight, I typically read, and I had loaded up my kindle with a couple of books (I'm a very slow reader!) that have been on my list to read for a long while. However, two magazines caught my eye; they were as shiny as shiny gets. National Geographic, both: 50 of the World's Last Great Places, and one that focused on historical figures like Ben Franklin and Leonardo DaVinci. I read the second, but haven't cracked the first.

I've been thinking of joining Toastmasters, which is a group that helps you to hone your public speaking skills and be more comfortable talking in front of others. This is helpful in all forms of communication, whether that's at home, in the office, or in front of those live groups.

I've been asked to participate in the Ad Com in a professional society that I've been a member of for 10+ years.

As I looked for resources on learning wood turning, one person to whom I reached out suggested that I join the somewhat local wood turner's social club.

Waiting for doctors to attend me and mine, I have finally read a couple of Shakespeare's plays (A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night). I've started reading The Bronze Eagle, by
Baroness Emmuska Orczy. There's just plain too much of interest to read!

I can recall back in the early 90s, when the company that I worked for was downsizing by offering what I would call exceedingly attractive severance packages to workers. I know a few workers who received over 2 years' salary to NOT return to work. But there were some who were on the proverbial fence. Of near-retirement age, and offered a severance package that would pay them essentially a year or more...seems like a good idea to me.

More than one voiced a concern, not about finances and how they might meet monetary obligations after they are no longer working, but rather about what to do to fill their day. Even today my jaw drops at this "problem".

If I retire, what do I do every day? How do I fill my time?
Really?!? That's a problem for people? Am I the only one with interests outside of work? Are there really people who can look at the world around them and not find *something* of interest? I remember my boss back in that time was  fellow who had many legitimate hobbies, plus a relatively new grandson. What do you do with your day?

Spend time with your grandchild.
Do some wood working (which he did like to do)
Fix the house
Hike (or walk)
Volunteer your time (food pantries, libraries, school systems...the list goes on and on)
Talk to your wife
"Talk" to your wife :)
Learn how to cook

My personal list seems to me to endless. How can anyone not have any idea of what to do with their time if they're not working? This notion boggles my mind, especially since I can barely concentrate long enough to get one project completed before something else grabs my attention and asks to be considered. Most of my project are about 80% completed at best.

I still have one cabinet to complete for the kitchen that I remodeled about 5 years ago.
I never put all of the screws in the deck that I built 4 years ago. And there's a railing that needs to be added now that we've changed a window.
I've been cleaning and organizing my workshop; that's about 75% completed, and I'm wondering when I'll get back to it.
There's some trim that's not quite completed in the bathroom that I remodeled...I don't know...9 years ago.
It's pretty close to winter here and I haven't made a "home" for our kayaks in the basement. Time's running out for that one!
I've always wanted to be a published writer, and I do have a book about half written. I started writing it right after I got married more than 2 decades ago. When will that get finished?

Then there's what the future holds:
I have a few ideas for businesses: something to keep retirement entertaining;
I'd like to take some cooking classes (There's a weekend-long grilling course in the Smokey Mountains (I think) that I've long wanted to attend);
More wood working classes and projects;
I've been thinking of another blog that would concentrate on reviewing products from a reliability, functionality, usability perspective;
More writing;
More reading;
I've always thought that there should be a radio show dedicated to what I call "should have been classics" - dedicated to the thousands of awesome songs that have been recorded but that have never gotten air time;

Every week I get another thought on things that I'd like to be doing.

With all the stuff that the world has to offer, am I the only one that has trouble finding the time to do things (like blogging) and complete projects? I'll try to be better in the future, but dog-gone it, there's just so much to do, and so little time!