Like A Rock

Big Surf

I chose my initial career path one night in my senior year in high school. I had accompanied my dad on one of his nightly runs to the University of Michigan’s computer center. As he punched a few cards for his next job, I looked around. It must have been at the end of the term, after years into his fellowship. The gleaming clean of the computer rooms counterpointed the trampling dirty footsteps of final’s week. Somehow this dichotomy captured my heart and I longed to be on the other side of that computer room glass. I majored in computer science and at times scrounged dirty, but un-punched cards off of those totally unsanitary floors, but never did I break that glass. I graduated, just barely. My first boss was originally my college advisor’s babysitter. After two years on the job, I had become disenchanted to the point of insubordination. I was got a second chance in Saint Louis.

Anne and I married and moved to Saint Louis. We enjoyed our great adventure, before settling in and buying a house and having kids. My computer company was shot out beneath me. I jumped from the frying pan into the fire and hired into the defense industry, just as the Berlin wall was coming down and my prospective employer was also experiencing its own financial difficulties. What ensued was ten years of layoffs. My employer’s workforce shrank to 20% of my hire in numbers. I still remember my new hire orientation instructor touting his weight loss, while wearing his now oversized suit. Still, I persisted. Those ten year probably took twenty off my life. I survived and eventually prospered. What did I do? I like to say that I made paper airplanes. It tends to fend off further questions and keeps me square with the government. When I calculated that I had made enough money, I punched out.

When I look back over my career, there are a few things that were of note, awards, promotions and innovations. What I value most from my work was that it provided for my family. All of the petty crises that once populated my day-to-day work life have melted away. I can look back and see that my success was founded on three principles: 1) staying healthy 2) staying married and 3) staying employed. I wish my children my kind of success, because I love my life, I love my wife and I hope that they enjoy our kind of success. Show them the money!

Placebo Effect?

Improved Empty Capsules

All kidding aside, back in the day there were lots of good reasons to buy empty capsules. Prescriptions were often filled in bulk form, leaving it to the patient to parcel out the individual doses. Much like patients today fill their weekly pill cases, in the past patients were expected to fill their pill capsules. The advertized rather arcane capsule size “00” holds about 735 mg.

I got a bike ride in today. It was a nice tranquil ride, with a nice mix of other cyclists, including bike commuters, young people out exercising and old farts like me. I got out in the morning, before the heat really set in. Anne and I have Gyrotonics tonight, so I’ll certainly get my exercise for the day.

It looks like our artistic son is getting invited to join the movie and TV union that he has been working in, while on probation, for the past year or so. I guess he found enough Italian ancestry in his background to meet their requirements. This is a job with enough salary that he could make a living wage in NYC or live like a king anywhere elsewhere. The problem is to quote Groucho Marx, “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.” There is another show business union that he would much rather join, but he has not worked in it, let alone been invited. As a parent, it becomes frustrating when you can no longer helicopter in and save the day, but on the other hand it is a good sign of how well we raised our sons that they have these kinds of problems. 

Must See TV

Alarm Clock, Gabriel Manlake, Unsplash

We’ve come to the end of Game of Thrones. After tonight, there is no more. Except for the two more books that GRR Martin has yet to write, but will he? He is not exactly getting any younger. As popular as his books may be, they have been eclipsed by the TV show and that ends tonight.

Tomorrow morning, most people go to work. Among these folks will be two types of people, those that have seen the final episode and those that have not. In that Monday morning gathering around that metaphorical watercooler, there will be two camps, the haves and the have nots. Those who have watched, will participate in the discussions, while those who have not are confined to the periphery and can only listen. We humans are social animals. We require the company of others and will often do what is necessary to acquire that company, even it means subscribing to HBO.

Scoffs may claim that this too will soon pass, but not as quickly as they may hope. Part of the allure of Sunday night TV is that there are five days of follow-up. Networks have long since realized this and now choose Sunday for their best. Often promising series are moved to Sunday and that frequently bolsters their ratings. Shows jockey on Sunday not only for ratings though, but also for that greater prize of awards. In truth, Sunday’s shows are all about bragging.

I’d asked Anne to recap Game of Thrones for me, knowing that she has never seen a single episode. “It is about a bunch of families that don’t get along and dragons.” And to elucidate that her rather succinct color commentary was up to date with last week’s penultimate episode, she added, “and those parents who had named their daughters after Daenerys, might want to add as a middle name, ‘Before the 8th Season’.” I guess that even teachers have their version of that metaphorical watercooler. I think that they call it the teacher’s breakroom. In the future I can see a school discussion such as this, “Daenerys Campbell was doing fine until Johnny Smith pulled her hair and then she went full Targaryen and dumped a jar of gold paint on his head.”

Please don’t fret about any of this. Especially not in those wee small hours of the night. That is a time best left to stew about other more mundane problems. Work will begin in a few hours and with it will unfold a whole new week full of everyday crises. In a few days, YouTube clips will appear and you’ll get to see the highlight reel of what everyone has been talking about. Whatever happens tonight, it will eventually subside and melt into the broader culture. Pundits say that with the advent of binge streaming, this TV series might be the last of this episodic kind of show, the last watercooler moment. References to it may resurface over time, like inside jokes that you won’t get, until they are explained, but please don’t fret. Maybe you could read the books?

Waiting, Expectantly

The Café, Fernand Lungren 1884

I guess that you could say that I am between jobs, as a ship can be in-between ports. Except this ship will never reach its next port. I am retired now and loving it. I travel. I putter about the house. I pester the wife. I do nothing at all. I still feel scheduled though. More so than even when I was working. 

When I was making paper airplanes for Boeing, my work schedule seemed much more elastic than now. I know that I sweated deadlines, but they were pretty much of my own making. In the end, when I began to work larger programs any sense of deadline almost disappeared. This incongruity occurred, because in our iterative development process what didn’t make the current release would be added in the next cycle. New technology always had to fight to earn its way onboard, because there was always a fallback: the way it has always been done. That is the paper plane phase of development. Usually, involving only a few hundred engineers. In my career, I clove to that front-end of the development cycle. Downstream the number of engineers jumped, schedules became more rigid and deadlines were fixed. With increased numbers also came increased cost and metal eventually replaced paper. In reality, we were pretty much paperless by then anyway, with everything being electronic.

Nowadays, I only hear about work. I bump into former co-workers occasionally or do lunch with past colleagues. The company is in the news these days, but not in a good way. Two downed jets is never a good story. The gist of which makes it appear that their causes are an unfortunate conjunction of errors. It has been reported that a race to beat Airbus mentality drove development too quickly. I think that when the underlying causes are revealed, it will be more complicated than that. When I left the company, I was part of an exodus of older talent. Younger men and some women had taken up the reins. With new people comes new ways of doing things. Aircraft manufacturing has always been evolving and with change comes unexpected consequences. While I worked for Boeing, there was a rather macabre term that had some currency, called the blood tax. The idea of which is that every technological advance must be bought with lives.

As we wait expectantly to learn the fate of the 737 MAX, I am reminded of the ancient words of caution that Daedalus gave to his son Icarus. Flying with wings fashioned from feathers and wax, he warned his son first of complacency and then of hubris. Asking that he fly neither too low or the sea’s dampness would clog his wings nor too high or the sun’s heat would melt them. According to myth, hubris won out and Icarus plummeted to his death after flying too close to the sun. Lessons will be learned, changes will be made and consequences felt.

Footed Salver

Footed Salver

The term “salver” is derived from the custom of presenting food and drink to a servant who would ensure it was safe from treachery by tasting it. By the 1600s, a salver or serving platter, was a common part of tableware. This salver is far from common, however. It is made of gold and decorated with intricate patterns hand-chiseled by a masterful artisan. Two marks on the back of the platter, though difficult to read, establish the plate’s origin in the New World and indicate Spain’s quinto tax had been paid.

This particular treasure from the sunken Spanish treasure galleon Atocha, may not be the most politic of images to share in a post about a luncheon with former colleagues, but it does speak to some trepidation that I had about attending. As it turned out, it was all for naught. No one showed and I was seated at a big table. Fortunately, the place never filled. After half-an-hour I ordered lunch for myself. It did feel odd sitting alone at such a big table. Eventually, a familiar face arrived. Ken told me that this week’s lunch had been cancelled and he was there only, because he needed his car serviced nearby. He ordered too and we had a nice quiet lunch together. He took my email and promised to forward it to the guy that organizes these things, so that next time I can get the word too. 

Fresh Food

Osprey with Fish

Life is cruel. Decisions made while young can ripple through ones life, haunting it in later years. Looking back over my life, I am pleased with my career that has allowed me to now enjoy a comfortable retirement, but it didn’t have to be this way. In college, I was a lackadaisical student and barely graduated. But graduate I did and got a job, a real job, and even got married. So there, Bailey Bombers!

On the road to my success, while I was still languishing in East Lansing, I got a job-job. I clerked at a mom and pop Spartan Foods grocery store. Eventually the call came that lifted me out of this dead-end. The fact that the call came from my advisor’s former babysitter is now only serendipity. Both the mom and the pop were pleased for me when I broke the news to them, although pop less so. 

I worked in tech as they now-a-days say. It wasn’t called that back then. One of my early assignments was the automation of the calibration process for crash dummies at Chrysler. The union worker whose job was the calibration of these dummies was less than enthusiastic towards me. I doubt that he still has a job.

I shan’t mourn for truck drivers either. I look forward to the replacement of these over-the-road cowboys, with more dependable robots. Mark me, the robot revolution is coming and Jeff Bezos is leading the charging of the barricades. 

We’ve had U-scans for years at our local grocery store. Just recently, their number has doubled. But their automation is primitive compared to that recently demonstrated at the new Amazon Go grocery store, which looks like a prototype for Whole Foods of the future. Speaking of which, while surveying Google maps, I could not find that old Spartan Foods store. Although, nearby, as in its place is a much larger Whole Foods. Like I said, life is cruel.