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.
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.
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.
“Work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work. Hello, boys. You have a good night’s rest? I missed you.” – Governor Lepetomane, Blazing Saddles
I bought a new laptop. The old one was getting pretty long in the tooth and while still serviceable, it was becoming more and more difficult to use. After I unboxed the new one and powered it up, the PC launched itself into endless Windows update mode. Eventually, I got to begin personalizing the machine. I loaded some software and photos. Adding everything that I could think of. It almost felt like being back at work, where in the closing months of my career, I lived a gypsy life. Going from one new machine to the next and setting each one up to my tastes, before I could begin working with it.
As background to my activity, the staccato sound of a jack hammer filtered in from outside. MSD has arrived. They are drilling test holes in the street, trying to locate the existing infrastructure, before they begin trenching for the new sewer line. Gotta uncross the streams. Laclede Gas eventually joined the party and they were like that guest that just won’t go home. It looked like they were backhoeing out one of the neighbors’ laterals. MSD packed it in and Laclede was still at it. The streetlights came on and they continued working. The 10 o’clock news finished and the late shows were beginning and we were getting ready for bed, before they finally packed it in and wheeled away. I’m glad that I had a desk job and I’m even more glad that I don’t have to work it any longer.
I Will Make War No More Forever
Today was my last day of employment with the Boeing Company. I am now officially retired. As befits this overly long separation process today’s duties were relatively light. The day began with a donut, courtesy of Paul. I did one more round of goodbyes, before my boss corralled me for my exit interview, the main purpose of which seemed to be to make sure that I had returned all company property in my possession, which I had. I sent out one last email blast that disseminated my personal email address to as many people as I could think of. I visited HR just to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything. Then I visited security and got myself debriefed from the myriad of proprietary programs that I had been given access to. There were way more than I had expected. I must have signed my name fifty times. There were way more forms to sign then there were numbers left on my program badge. I had no idea that there were so many. I know now why some people charge for their autographs, because signing your name time after time is work. It is a good thing that I have a short name. There was only one more thing left to do and that was to turn in my badge. I met my boss again, he walked me out and took my badge and I was done and I was out of the plant by noon. I’m ready now to start this next phase of my life, retirement.