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, May 29, 2013

What does “exotic” mean?

I’ve been doing a fair amount of wood working lately. Pen making, actually. For this endeavor, I have ordered a number of pieces of wood that the sellers advertise as “exotic” wood species. These are species like Chakte Viga, Yucatan Rosewood,  Bocote, Wenge, Cocobolo, and many others. By the way: I strongly advise you to NEVER work with Cocobolo: it’s a truly beautiful wood, but the dust and oil from it is also quite problematic, and if you’re sensitive to it to begin with, the dust can be fatal.

SO not worth a pen!

In any event, having purchased and worked with so many different species of exotic wood, my mind started to wander and scrutinize the definition of “exotic”. I’ve done this many times over the years, and the conclusion that I reached recently is no different from the conclusion that I’ve reached so often over time.

That is, what is exotic to me is mundane to someone else, and what is mundane to me is exotic to others.

Merriam-Webster tells me that “exotic” has a few different definitions: I’m going to ignore the one that talks about striptease, and focus on the other three, all of which say pretty much the same thing for my purposes: 1) not native to the place where found, 2) foreign, 3) strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously unusual.

Essentially: not from here.

Consider snakewood, for instance, which is a wood species that has what I think are unbelievable grain patterns that can create some very stunning objects. Snakewood is from South America.

Do you think that the average Brazilian looks at snakewood and thinks, ‘Golly! That’s a lovely piece of wood! How exotic!’?

I wonder what the Portuguese word for “golly” is?

Or is that Brazilian more likely to say ‘Crap, another piece of snakewood. Why can’t I ever get any white birch???’?

White birch, of course, grows pretty abundantly right next to my house here in New England. Nothing exotic about it.

To me.

So this leads me to wonder: let’s say that I was living in South America, and I ordered a box of exotic wood “blanks”, how pissed off would I be if I got snakewood in that box?

What if I went out for “exotic” food and was given a baked potato?

“Exotic”, at the end of the day, is just something that’s not from where you are. It’s what made trade routes so damn long back in the day. The longer, the more profitable. The more exoticer.

That should be a word, right?

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Nature of Talent

I’ve been churning a bit lately on what we in America are delivering in the way of a message what’s a valuable talent. That provoked this musing. I get a little preachy here, and probably a bit touch-feely too. That’s unfamiliar territory for me, so I’m going to ask for some latitude. That said, on with my thoughts…

What does talent look like?

I have decided that talent is a characteristic with which one is born. It is a near-relative of skill, except that skill is something that you work to develop while talent was given to you.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that there are people who are born with talent, and there are people who are NOT born with talent. Additionally, we may have the sense that some people have more talent than others, and there are some people who have less talent than others.

My own personal thought on the matter is that we all have talent, and we all have pretty much the same amount of talent as other people have. The only questions are:
  • Do you know what your talent is?
  • Do you even know what field your talent lies in? Photography? Wood working? Machine building? Archery? Painting? Writing? Acting? There are countless fields of study and pleasure; it’s very difficult to know where your talents lie (this, by the way, is one of the many reasons why it’s important to take classes that expose you to new experiences and disciplines as you go through your school-going years).
I think that here in America we are doing ourselves a great disservice with our media coverage on what talent looks like. We have a seemingly unending array of TV shows that are designed to show off talent to the masses. Any kind of talent! Whether it’s singing OR dancing. So long as it’s some version of rock, what we call “country” music, or perhaps pop.

I’m reminded of the movie “The Blues Brothers”, where they assert: “We have both kinds of music: country AND western!”

Here in America the masses seem to acknowledge basically this one type of talent: music.

I know a number of people who measure your worth by how well you can swing a hammer. That is, “Eddie is so awesome: did you see the dog house that he built? It’s beautiful! You know, you should maybe work with him a little, and see if you can learn something from him; perhaps one day you could build something that might not be too bad.”

“I did see that dog house, and yes: it is beautiful. Did you notice that my paper was published in an industry magazine that has global reach, and I’ve been nominated for the best damn writer of the year?”

“Oh, that’s nice. Did you ever see Eddie’s table that he built? He does such lovely work. I see that he gave the sun permission to rise today!”

Ok…it’s not quite that bad, but it sure does seem to be true that we in our culture have a very narrow view of what’s talent and what’s not. And unfortunately the talents that some folks have will make them wealthy beyond sanity, while other talents will leave their hosts wondering how to feed the kids next week. This is sad, because at the end of the day, I don’t think that any talent is worth more or less, realistically, than any other talent.

Of course, it must be acknowledged that talent alone isn’t what makes money: you need drive, ambition, luck, and a host of other characteristics.

But I think that happiness starts with finding your talent, embracing it, and finding other people who appreciate it. Unfortunately, some talents are very stealthy (did you ever read the book “A Spell for Chameleon”?), and they need to be searched for. Some of us never identify them until we have kids of our own, or until we’re several years out of our teens.

I’ll tell you one of the best ways to find out what your talent is, if you happen to have a particularly stealthy one: ask your closest friends and relatives. I realize that this sounds like begging for praise, but if you don’t know what your talent might be (and believe me: that’s not uncommon in the least), it’d be a better, quicker path to happy than some of the other options. Some of the people that you ask may not be able to articulate your talent, but some of them will. On the chance that no one can illuminate your talent, that’s not the end, it’s the start of a journey for you.

Finally, do not make the mistake of thinking that you don’t have talent. You do. It’s in there somewhere, waiting to hatch and find its wings. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that talent is whether or not you can sing or dance. It’s just so much more than that.

I don’t want you to think that I’m a proponent of the “more money is more happy” mantra, so I leave you with this thought (I’ve read this quote, in myriad forms, attributed to many different people, so I’m leaving it in more or less my own words, attributed to no one):

There are two ways to be wealthy: either have a lot of stuff, or need very little.