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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Poor Communication...my bad!

From the comments that I got on last day's post on errors and accidents, it would seem like my thinking may have been poorly communicated...sorry about that.

Seems like I might have communicated that there's a bunch of stupidity running around, and the only options when a thing is done that shouldn't have been, are stupidity and malice.

I do like that quote (Hanlon's Razor), but I think that there's another option that I didn't communicate well.

The fact is that everyone, regardless of IQ, makes mistakes. I think that I make them more than most, and sooner or later I'm bound to post about some of my dumber moves that I've made through the years.

I think my thought is that:
If a thing that oughtn't be done is done...
and it is done with intent...
then the options, to me, are stupidity and malice.

I have done many, many, many things that oughtn't have been done, but not so much with intent. Those are accidents that we hope to learn from (and are expected to a degree). I have also done things that oughtn't have been done, and I did them with intent. Those are going to show up in posts as my own personal stupid human tricks. I don't think that I've been motivated to do such things out of malice.

So there are three options, really: Accident, Stupidity, and Malice. Again: for having done things that oughtn't be done.

We all err (and such errors are often, but are not always, born of stupidity); we all commit accidents (which we hopefully learn from).

Sometimes, we might with intent do things that oughtn't be done...let us assume that when someone else does something of this sort, it's stupidity and not malice that motivates them.

Monday, February 27, 2012

One Wonders if Anything is Ever Done On Purpose

In the realm of doing things that oughtn't be done, a big part of culpability lies with intent. For instance, without intent, it's manslaughter; with intent it's murder. Without intent, it's an accident that we hope to learn from; with intent, it's a transgression...a punishable offense.

It always amazes me that folks think that just about anything that is done is done with intent. I have seen, for instance, a kid in my back yard kick a soccer ball that is re-routed mid-air by another kid "playing goalie", and the ball continues on its new trajectory to bounce off of the roof of the house, then off of a post of the handrail of our deck, and ultimately hit another kid. Naturally, the hit kid gets really pissed off, and attacks the kicker of the ball with great anger and vehemently asserts that the kicker hit him on purpose.

Now I KNOW that the kid who kicked that ball couldn't have intentionally hit a hippo from two feet away, let alone execute a masterwork of skill and geometry that would challenge the abilitiesof the offspring of Minnesota Fats & Pele. But to the kid who got hit, it was done on purpose.

I see this played out over and over. There are countless times when a device that's being tested gets taken and used for one reason or another, only to invalidate the data being taken for the test. And it is almost invariably asserted that the reason the device was taken and used was for the express reason of invalidating the test.

Why can't we seem to default to an explanation of accident? Of oversight? Error? And the hypocrisy is that the folks who think that other people do things on purpose are the same ones that will tell you that they themselves make errors, and experience accidents. For them, it's an accident, for the other guy, it was done on purpose.

"Why did that idiot cut me off?" Or "Oh, my, I didn't even see that person there."
"That jerk gave me 11 donuts instead of 12...what a thief!!" Or, "Oops. I miscounted."
When I provide incorrect information, I'm lying; when they provide incorrect information, they're mistaken.

It actually saddens me that we can't just give the benefit of the doubt, and assume that it's an accident, that it wasn't a purposeful transgression.

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
~Hanlon's Razor

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Wife's Super Powers

You may recall that in an earlier post, I had admitted that my beautiful wife is possessed of super powers. You can read here on her amazing internal chronometer.

Well, she does have more super powers, and one of the most remarkable ones that has saved us over and over is her ability to SMELL LIES.

I don't really have a lot of issues with this super power of hers, since I try to be down-earth honest, except when I'm trying to surprise her with a gift or a special trip or something, but it sure does make our kids' lives pretty tough.

I don't want folks to think that I've got rotten kids. They're actually pretty great kids. No alcohol, no drugs, they aren't violent or overly destructive, no thieves...not even habitual liars.

However, they are kids after all. They have in their time (each of them) had opportunity to err, as humans are wont to do. And, as many kids, when they are faced with trying to rationalize their way out of the trouble that is grown around them, enveloped them, and at the same time trying to remain out of trouble. A large effort that, at best. So, like most kids, they have been known to invent circumstances to try to explain things such that nothing is their fault.

When kids are actually kids, spotting these prevarications is something that an idiot like me can do. BUT, when kids are no longer actually kids, and they have co-conspirators at school to help them spot the blatant holes in their little stories, and they also have greater imaginations, more time to prepare, a better handle on what might sound possible...well, the lies become harder to spot. Especially the "small" ones.

However, this is NOT a problem in our house, because we have a lie detector in the nose of the Mrs. I kind of think that it operates similarly to Spiderman's spider sense, which "tingles" when danger is nigh. For her, the corners of her eyes is where that tingle resides. I think this because when she's on the scent of a lie, her eyes narrow to tiny, focused, slits that fire lie-piercing lasers.

She may not know the truth, necessarily, but she knows a lie when she smells one. If she cares, she eventually knows the truth too...she's a bit of a master sleuth as well. That's part of the game: you gotta know when knowing the truth matters, and when it doesn't. When your kids are involved, it almost always matters...you have to dig out those lies every time.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Parasites on a Dog

Yesterday I went on and on about my interpretation of Global Warming. You can read that right here, if you're so inclined. Based upon the comments that I've seen, it looks like we're a bit of a like-minded community (read: tree-hugging hippie-types) here, and that makes a bit of sense in a birds-of-a-feather way.

One of those comments sent my mind immediately to a quote that I've got stored away, and I thought I'd share. 'Cause I'm such a sharing person.

One of my new friends (Delores, whom I visit at The Feathered Nest, left this comment (this is part of her comment...she's a very insightful lady):

It does seem to me that we are having an abundance of natural disasters which I interpret as the planet trying to shake off the infestation of human parasites much as a dog tries to shake of fleas. Not a pretty picture.
~Delores (hope you don't mind me using your quote).

I've interpreted these disasters very similarly...seems like the wee orb is pretty pissed at someone.

The (older) quote that this put me in mind of is:

...The earth hath skin, and the skin hath diseases. One of these....is called man.
~Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Fortunately for the earth, and us, there are a growing number of folks who are actually concerned about our collective treatment of the earth. As kids who love the planet grow up and become scientists and engineers, I think we as a population will be kinder and kinder to the earth. Hopefully, that dog will have better parasites in the near future.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Scientists Find the Kahunas to Agree with Sarcastic Test Guy

I was reading in one of the on-line periodicals that I frequent and found this article on Global Warming, and I must say that it fairly warmed my heart (what's left of my heart, at any rate).

I know that everyone is probably fed up with this whole subject, but I'm going to talk to myself about it anyway, so fair warning: what follows are my long-since established thoughts on the topic of global warming.

Is global warming "real"? Sure seems to be.
Is man THE reason for global warming? Pft...who really knows?

What got me right from the start on this topic is the assertion that humans are responsible for the current trend of global warming. CFCs, ozone, blah, blah, blah. At the same time, there is no end of evidence that the world was a much warming place when the dinosaurs walked the earth (palm trees in Alaska type warm). I immediately wondered, if humans are responsible, on whom do we blame THAT period of global warm? That one lasted for millions of years.

Also, we know that there have been several Ice Ages. According to UnmaskingEvolution.com and Wikipedia, there have been at least five major Ice Ages in the earth's past. So if there were five distinct periods of global cooling, then logic dictates that there have also been at least five distinct periods of global warming too.

I like this particular graphic, which I took from Wikipediea:

This only a graphic of the last five million years, of course; my understanding is that during the dino times (which, by the way, was the name of the newspaper that was being published during the Triassic), the world was warmer than the beginning of this graphic.

It's interesting to note that as we get closer and closer to today, according to this chart, the variation in period-on-period temperature seems to swing more and more widely. And for the most part, these swings have been going on with no humans on the planet.

I watched a documentary some time ago (within the last year or two) that talked about the "Little Ice Age". This documentary started its tale sometime around 1,000 AD (or ce, whichever you prefer). During the time  from about 950 AD to 1250 AD, the world seems to have been a warmer place. I recall them stating that there were at that time grape vineyards in England (significant only because grape vineyards don't grow there today because the climate isn't warm enough). Wikipedia refers to this as the "Medieval Warm Period".

CFCs? Too much hair spray? Automobile emissions? Bah, Humbug!

What followed the MWP was the "Little Ice Age". Here's a Wikipedia article on that too. Very cool fact: the year 1816 is known as "the year without a summer" because frost and snow were reported in New England and Northern Europe during the months of June and July.

Of course, following the end of the Little Ice Age (mid 1800's, by most accounts), there must also have been a trend for global warming. I, for one, have never seen snow in my neck of the woods in June OR July.

So here we are talking about mere decades of global temperatures trending warmer than the previous several decades. On a glacial time scale, I don't think that we've got enough data to state what's going to happen. Not with any certainty.

Is this trend caused by man's presence on the planet? Maybe. Maybe not. I certainly don't think that we've been helping the cause for the last century.

The earth's cooler periods are generally caused by excess dust of one kind or another in the atmosphere. Generally, either from a sizable volcanic eruption, or many lesser such eruptions, or a meteor event. We haven't really had any of these events in a long while. Yes, there have been many eruptions, but none large enough to have the sort of impact that we're talking about.

Now, I'm also of a mind that many of the initiatives that have been undertaken in the name of "fixing" global warming should probably be done anyway. The energy saving measures, leaning towards solar energy over fossil fuels, cars with much better mileage or that run off of more benign sources such as Hydrogen...all are great things that we should be doing anyway. Not necessarily because I think that these are the causes of global warming, but because we ought to be taking care of our planet.

We did not inherit the earth from our fathers, we borrowed it from our children.
~Chief Seattle

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ruined Words - Ignorant

One of the things that I rail against every now and then is how perfectly good words have gotten ruined over time and, frequently, misuse. Today's word is "ignorant".

It seems to me that these days to call someone 'ignorant' is worse than calling them 'stupid'. 'Stupid' is arguing words, while 'ignorant' is fighting words.

Why are people afraid to be seen as ignorant? Why does it get one's dander up so fully? I was at a vendor once, asking them to explain a portion of their process to me (along with the "why's" of it), and I explained that his was a process that I was pretty much completely ignorant of. He graciously responded with "It's not that you're ignorant, you just don't know."

Thanks for clearing that up for me. It's not that you're ugly, you're just gargoylesque to look at.

In the Etymological Dictionary (Here), the word ignorant means :
"not to know, to be unacquainted; mistake, misunderstand; take no notice of, pay no attention to".

There are a LOT of things that I don't know, and too many things that I'm unacquainted with. More that I don't and aren't than there are that I do and are.

Somewhere along the lines this word was ruined and obtained its sense of ill-mannered or rude. Now, all that anyone hears when this word is used is negative connotation (granted, there's no real *positive* connotation, but to not know something isn't exactly negative either).

I think that what we've got here is nothing more than evolution. Linguistic evolution. Language is a thing very much alive, and words change their meaning by geography, tone, context, and time. Evolution is a good thing, by and large, but every now and then a word, much like a species of animal, gets ruined, alas.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sgt. Preston of the Ukraine

I've been thinking a bit lately about my college days...don't know why. But I thought I'd share a couple of anecdotes about how, when I was growing up and muddling my way through my own mediocrity and our schools, America seemed to think that there were no maps made of other countries.

I don't recall taking ANY classes in geography growing up, other than 'here's a map - you fill in all the states and their capitals'. A map of the USA, of course.

Our relative ignorance of the world's shape and size really hit me twice in college.

Ignoramus 1: As I suppose happens in many schools that are largely commuter-oriented, we ("the gang" and I) had a little area that we adopted in our student center. At any given time on any given day, there could be between 1 and a couple dozen of us either lounging or crowding (as appropriate) into this corner of our student center. One of the less-well-embedded members of the gang was a giant muscle-bound, intolerant meathead. Not a bad fellow, but not one to mull over an idea that was not his own, and very phobic of non-mainstream ideas.

Our little area was one day invaded by a couple of new comers...two young ladies each with a heavy eastern European-like accent. Asked where they came from, they answered "The Ukraine". As an aside it boggles my mind that a couple of kids would literally travel to the other side of the world to get an education. Very cool stuff that.

Meathead asked if The Ukraine was in Alaska. He distinctly remembered a TV show about a mountie or something...Sgt. Preston of the Ukraine.

I've never been a geographical wizard, but I knew better than that. Allowing that meathead was making a legitimate mistake, I offered that the show was Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, and that the Yukon is attached to Alaska, though a Canadian territory. This is where meathead showed not only his ignorance, but his stupidity. He simply would not believe me. It was Sgt. Preston of the Ukraine, and that was in Alaska.

These poor girls. They didn't even look like Inuits, Canadians, or Alaskans. Apparently they were used to having to explain where The Ukraine is, because they took it all in stride. Sometimes I wonder if meathead ever pulled his meaty head out of his ass and bothered to learn anything. I hope so. Or, if we're lucky, perhaps he just didn't reproduce. Perhaps those steroids have had a positive effect on the gene pool.

Ignoramus 2: I was, while still in college, in the computer lab one day working on an assignment. I overheard one student talking to another. The one was a young Asian fellow with a local accent; the other was a lovely lady of color with a quite different accent (very French-sounding).

The one was clearly working on picking the other up; he asked where she was from. She replied that she was from Haiti. He asked if that was 'around here' ('here' being Boston Mass).

This is one of those few times that (I'll admit when) my mouth got ahead of my brain. "Really?!?!" I asked. "Well, I don't know." The lad protested. "Haiti?" I pressed. "Port-Au-Prince? The Caribbean? The other half of The Dominican Republic?"

You gotta be kidding me. What are these kids doing? I don't think that without looking at a map I could tell you exactly where these places are (what's the next island or country to the left, for instance), but shouldn't we have a *little* idea where things are?

Of course it'd help if they weren't rearranged every so often, but that's a different plea.

My biggest issue with this subject was still lurking many years in the future, however...

The 'you've gotta be friggin' kidding me' ignoramus:
My second was in (I think) first grade. These days, all my kids have had a fair amount of global geography lessons. It's nice that the schools are doing something to bring this learning to our kids (now, if they'd only offer Latin instead of Spanish or French...).

The kid came home one day and shared with us a large poster that they had made in class. On this paper was, in roughly first-grade drawing and spelling, the continent of North America. He really did a good job on it, being the age that he was. He had worked hard on it, and the blatant errors that were represented there were NOT his fault at all. They were the fault of the idiot school and its idiot teacher (and I typically have a great deal of respect for teachers...NOT a job that I could ever do).

The basis of my aggravation on this work was the written content that stated that:

The North American continent is comprised of three countries: Mexico, Canada, and North America.

Oh...My...Lord. Is this really what you're teaching my kid? Is our country North America, or the United States of America? You can't even get the name of your own COUNTRY right?!? And are there really only three countries? The North American continent goes all the way down to Panama...what happened to all those countries between Mexico and Panama? What happened to Cuba and all the countries that dot the Caribbean? Not for nothing, but there's a great, big land mass called "Greenland" on that continent too.

By the way, in writing this I wondered about Iceland...Iceland is apparently not on either the North American nor the European continent, but is rather a raised part of the oceanic crust. Very cool that. I love it when I learn something new before 9:00 am...it means I don't have to worry about learning something new for the rest of the day. Whoo-hoo!

Back to my rant: I think that what bothered me so much (and continues to do so today) about this school project is that these folks spouting this misinformation are professional educators. These are people who went to school and learned stuff to teach our kids. If they didn't learn geography, they should have learned to check their facts. If they didn't learn to check their facts, what else are they teaching our kids that's wrong? How would I ever know?

The American education system takes a lot of knocks from folks around the world (folks to whom I've spoken, at any rate), and these sorts of anecdotes kind of validate those knocks in my mind. However, as I'll no doubt post in another observation, our education system does have its advantages...if only people would use the darn thing!

Sgt. Preston of the Ukraine indeed...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How I Met my (future) Wife

This little story flashed through my mind as a result of reading one at Suldog's site.

In my freshman year at college in Boston (she a nursing student, and I an engineering one) I met a whole bunch of people, one of them being my (then future) wife. I still recall our first meeting, as uneventful as it was. We didn't experience a Thunderbolt, this was not love at first sight for either of us. Hers was one of dozens of friendships that grew during that year of class.

But even now I can see her black patent leather shoes, the white frilly ankle-high socks, black slacks, white turtle-neck and powder-blue knit sweater, and the fake pearl necklace that she was wearing on that day. I can also see the big, ugly purple below-the-knee jacket that she was carrying too. Which is pretty amazing, since I can't see clearly the breakfast that I ate a couple of hours ago. One wonders if I had NOT experienced a Thunderbolt, but it was well below my threshold of perception...food for thought.

One thing about me: I'm nothing if not slow. I don't mean 'slow' as in 'can't run fast' or 'couldn't read until I was 17'. But everything that I do is done slowly, from DIY projects to cooking dinner. I think and think and think and think until I have a fair idea of what needs to be done, then I think a bit about it more, and make decisions typically when they need to be made, and not a moment sooner.

Thus it was that she and I, along with a large group of engineering students, a few nursing students, and the occasional PT student, enjoyed each other's company for over two years while we all collectively became fast friends.

Now, it was clear to me long before those two years were up that I was attracted to her. However, she was at that time involved and engaged (to what I refer to as 'her previous asshole'), and it would be a breach of honor to try to become involved with her in 'that condition'. The second thing that I like to think that I am is honorable, so she was clearly off limits.

But you know the axiom: you don't choose who you fall in love with.

There are dozens of reasons to love her: she's smart, infinitely kind, possessed of a great sense of humor, generous, patient when it counts (and at the same time not patient in certain aspects), adventurous, intrepid, she brings a sack-full of happiness wherever she goes, she's thankful for the least things (good for me, naturally)...the list goes on and on. And she's a pushy broad too.

People other than me have said these things about her (honest, none of these are made up by me):

  • She's the sunshine of the facility in which she works.
  • She is the yardstick by which some of my friends measure other women (possible partners).
  • Everyone needs a little (insert name here) in their lives.
  • When you meet her, you instantly feel like you've known her forever.
  • She's way, way too good for me (ok, this one's shared only by me and her mother)
  • She makes [this place] a better place (the office, the world...depends on who's speaking)

Naturally, lots of other folks knew that we were in love before we ourselves did. Mostly because of her predicament, and also because when you walk into a room, you don't see what your own impact is on folks in that room. So, she was always happy anyway, and not just (or especially) if I happened to be there.

Fast forward to a winter day when I learned that she had broken up with her previous asshole and needed a new one. And there I was! Imagine! The truth of it is that some other person made her aware that I had been interested in her, and it was up to her to make the first move (me being the thumb-sucking coward that I am). Thankfully, and bewilderingly, she did make that move and hauled my ass out of a class to go for a ride and have a conversation about it. Which is to say that she ambushed me.

Early in our romantic relationship, we found ourselves sharing lunch at a Friendly's. Being an omnivorous fellow, and not overly imaginative, Burger and fries was on my menu, and that called for ketchup. One of the many problems with ketchup, however, is that is separates in the bottle and you have to shake it.

My learning on this particular day was to always make sure that the cap is actually screwed onto the ketchup bottle when you shake it. This comes up every so often even now, more than a quarter of a century later. She never got put out by it, but laughed and filed it away with her growing list of things to hold against me...like her stomach.

Now I had known long before this experience that she was a keeper, but this is a pretty good anecdote that relates just that point. Ketchup all over her sweater (and she has always been careful about her cleanliness and whether her clothes "go" with each other and what not) in public, and she just laughed. Perfect, because I know, without a doubt, that Mr. Clumsy here is going to be doing things like that for a long, long time, and how she responds is very important.

We were married 7 years after we met. We debated on where to go for our honeymoon. She wanted a Caribbean cruise, and I wanted to go to Alaska. We compromised and went on a Caribbean cruise. We'll get to Alaska yet.

The best relationships do indeed begin with a firm foundation of friendship.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Where'd the Manners Go?

I've long been bothered by the fact that more than 9 out of 10 times that I let a driver into the lane ahead of me, they don't have the courtesy to wave a simple "thanks". Where are the manners?

The other night the wife and I stepped out to dinner; we chose the Cheesecake Factory. As we were trying to go into the restaurant, there was a fair-sized group of folks coming out. I held the door for them. The first lady looked up at me, smiled, and said "Thank you." She was a kind lady, by the smile in her eyes; she kind of reminded me of the chubby maid in "The Help", but older.

After this lady came a string of what looked like her family...four kids or so and at least one toddler-sized grandchild. Not one of them said 'thanks'. Not one of them looked up and acknowledged that someone was holding the door for them. Just walked on by as they please.

Where are the manners? Somehow it seems that they managed to stop short at my generation. My own kids have manners (or ELSE), and there are plenty to be had amongst the children of our friends, but for the most part, I don't see them in the stores, in the malls, cinemas, highways, or most any other place where people are strangers.

It's like folks think that saying "thank you" or "please" will cause sudden heart attack or something. It really doesn't cost anything, and can make someone's day. It's easy.

Or is it just in my area?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stupid Business Travelers

So I'm just back from a few days' worth of business travelling to North Carolina. Winter is in full swing down there, so the trees are just starting to bud. Not a bad trip, overall, but I did get frustrated by a few instances that reminded me how stupid business travelers can be.

In this instance, all happenings were the result of a single bone-headed, idiotic business traveler, his towering ignorance fueling bad decisions after bad decision. That idiot was...ME.

So I got a too-close-to-last-minute ride to the shuttle, which would take me to that airport. I rushed into the little building where they sell their tickets and bought a round-trip ticket to (and from) the air port. NEVER MIND that the wife had told me that she'd prefer to pick me up at the airport when I landed. Oops.

I was very careful to ensure that I brought my little "Jump" cable, so that I could recharge my iPhone from the USB port of my laptop. I forgot, however, the AC power cord for the laptop. Oops.

I ordered room service on Monday night...very nice little portabella mushroom and tortellini dish, soda water and (to treat myself) a dessert (which I don't usually get, but what the heck). Slapped a $4 tip on the bill for the fellow who delivered it and sat down to my yummy meal. As I ate I looked at my bill and noted that in large red letters at the top of the receipt the words 18% Gratuity Added. That fellow made quite a killing on my NOT paying attention. Oops.

Good trip; well worth the price of admission! Maybe I'll do better next time.