Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

This is mostly a re-post of something I wrote six years ago on my old blog, polished up and expanded just a bit.  Hope you enjoy it. . .


Over the years, the conviction has grown within me that gratitude is, on a very fundamental level, the most appropriate response we can make for pretty much everything in our lives. There is very little that we have in our lives that wasn't, ultimately, in one way or another, given to us by someone else. 

Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, for which there is no appropriate response except gratitude.  The Creator and Ruler of the Universe has called all things into being, and I myself, along with the rest of it.  There is no fundamental reason why I should exist rather than not exist, and yet I do, through nothing that I did on my own initiative.

Most fundamentally, we owe gratitude to God, "in whom we live and move and have our being", and in whose Image and Likeness we are made. And in knowing whom and loving whom we find our purpose.  "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."

On a more mundane level, we owe gratitude for our connections to other people - to our parents and grandparents; to our teachers, coaches, and mentors; to our brothers and sisters, our wives and husbands, and our friends, whose love and care make our lives rich and meaningful.

Love itself, and the earthy joys of bodily life; food, clothing, and shelter; music, truth and beauty; all the mundane, daily circumstances that, individually and collectively, bring joy to our lives.  Even my Tigers, and my Spartans, most of the time.

Every one of us has his/her own set of things to be thankful for, and 'givers' to whom we owe thanks. On this day of Thanksgiving, I encourage all my friends in Blog-space (for whom and to whom I am also grateful) to pause, however briefly, and give some thought to what you're grateful for, and to whom. . .

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fun With Units

It might surprise you to know that, as an engineer, I have spent virtually my entire career working in metric units.  When I go to the supermarket, I'm used to buying food by the pound or ounce, and I still think miles per hour when I'm driving my car (but there is something fun about those 'Speed Limit 120' signs on Canadian freeways, isn't there?).  I'm not sure what it says that soft drinks by the liter are pretty universally accepted - but when our local dairy tried to introduce 4-liter jugs of milk, it flopped spectacularly.

But when I go to work, it's all millimeters, and kilograms, and Newtons and Megapascals, and all that happy stuff, and if someone tries to talk pounds, or inches, or psi, I mentally convert them back to metrics to get back in my 'comfort zone'.

Anyway, being an engineer, when I see stuff like what you'll see below, it probably amuses me out of all proportion.  This is what happens when engineers try to have fun, I guess. . .

1 unit of suspense in a mystery novel = 1 whod unit
1 milli-Helen = amount of face that will launch one ship
10^12 microphones = 1 megaphone
10^6 bicycles = 2 megacycles
500 millinaries = 1 seminary
453.6 graham crackers = 1 pound cake
10^12 pins = 1 terrapin
10^21 piccolos = 1 gigolo
10 rations = 1 decoration = 1/10 C-ration
10 millipedes = 1 centipede
3-1/3 tridents = 1 decadent
5 holocausts = 1 Pentecost
10 monologues = 5 dialogues = 1 decalogue
2 monograms = 1 diagram
8 nickels = 2 paradigms
2 snake eyes = 1 paradise
2 wharves = 1 paradox
2000 mockingbirds = Two Kilomockingbirds

'Til next time. . .

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Just Shoot Me. . .

My friend Lime has been posting in recent days/weeks about the joys of her quest for a new job.  On one of her recent posts, Daryl left a comment that reminded me, yet again, of a story from my own young life (which actually happened enough years ago as to call into question the actual, factual youth of said life of mine, but whatchagonnado?). . .


Way back when I worked for my previous employer, who was also my first 'real' employer, I was an eager young engineer, fresh out of college.  Our company was, in those days, something of a pioneer in bringing the new-fangled Computer-Aided Design (CAD) stuff into regular use in the wheel industry (our motto: 'Re-Inventing the Wheel Daily') (Yes, I know I used that joke in another post, just recently; sue me).  That fancy-schmancy CAD stuff had originated in the Aircraft industry, and was fairly new in the Auto industry, but li'l ol' wheel companies like us hadn't much gotten around to it yet, in those days.  So it was a kinda cool time to be working there, and my boss got to go on all sorts of boondoggles trips explaining how a mid-size company like ours was using CAD, and more to the point, how we justified spending that kind of money.

As it turned out, we settled into a bit of an unusual mix of hardware and software, but it worked well for us.  Before long, our CAD system had grown to the point that it was beyond the modest abilities of us engineers to maintain it (besides which, we really wanted to be working on 'engineering stuff', not taking care of a bunch of computer hardware and software), so we decided to hire a 'computer guy' to take care of our CAD system for us.  We talked to the IT department (which, in those days, was called 'Data Processing'), to see if they had anyone they could assign to us, who could run our quirky little mix of stuff.  They didn't have anyone to fit our needs, so we set about looking for someone who could.

Now, we used to go to all the various and sundry 'User's Conferences' for the hardware and software we were using (which, I suppose, is why they were called 'User's Conferences'), and we would meet other folks who were using the same stuff we were, and we'd get new ideas for how to do things differently/better than we were.  It was at one of these User's Conferences that we were talking to a young fellow (even younger than me, and that was back when I was still young) who worked for a company that used the exact same quirky mix of hardware and software that we did, so we could talk to each other with a high degree of familiarity with what each other were doing.  At one conference, he told us that he was a bit disillusioned with his employer, and inquired as to whether or not we might have a position for him, since he was already familiar with what we were doing.

Well, that just seemed too good to be true.  We had just decided to look for someone who could tend our oddball little CAD system, and here was perhaps the one guy in the United States (or the world, for that matter) who could just walk through our door and do the job, from Day One.  So we scheduled a set of interviews for him, barely containing our glee at having found the single, best, perfect guy, before we really even started looking.

So, we brought him in and had him talk to our engineering bosses, and everyone agreed that he was perfect for us, almost like the heavens had opened and dropped him in our laps.

The final interview of the day was with our Data Processing guys, mainly as a courtesy, since his job would actually be a 'computer job', even though he'd be working for Engineering.  He spoke with the DP guys, then we all went out to dinner, looking ahead to when he could start working for us, and all the ways he'd help us do stuff better, faster, etc, etc.  We all shook hands, and he got back on his plane to head home and wait for our offer.

The next day, all the interviewers got together to discuss the interviews, and come to a consensus on what kind of offer to make him.  All of the engineering guys were beaming at the way the perfect guy had just fallen so serendipitously into our laps, but the DP guys were strangely silent.  When we asked them what they thought, they said, "He doesn't know COBOL."  (At this late date, how many of the elderly among you even remember what COBOL was?)

"So what?" we said.  "The job doesn't have anything to do with COBOL.  He's a perfect fit for what we need.  What's COBOL got to do with anything?"

"Well, we have a corporate hiring policy that all DP employees have to know COBOL.  And he'll be a DP employee.  He doesn't know COBOL, so we can't hire him."

"But he'll be working in Engineering!  We'll do his performance reviews, and all his work will be accountable to us!"

"Doesn't matter.  He'll be under our organization, and we can't hire anybody who doesn't know COBOL.  If he ever wants to transfer away from Engineering, we'll be stuck with him."

"He can take a COBOL class, if he needs to know COBOL."

"But he doesn't know it now, so we can't hire him."

And so it went, back and forth, around and around, for over an hour.  We tried to insist that his job shouldn't be under the DP 'umbrella', and that he should be a direct employee of Engineering, but the DP Manager and his VP insisted that anybody who actually touched a computer was part of the DP organization, and at some point, the Director of Engineering and the Engineering VP gave in on that point, and then the battle was lost.

And that's how the perfect guy CAME TO US, looking for a job, but we didn't hire him, over a policy point that had NOTHING to do with, you know, the actual job (to say nothing of the fact that COBOL was already well on its way into obsolescence by then, and had been for a few years).

Looking back, it had way more to do with corporate politics and internal empire-building, and who had the 'cheese' to tell the other one how things were gonna go, than anything else.  I'm sure that, by the time the decision was communicated to our erstwhile would-be employee, he was just as happy not to have come to work for us.  Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that, at that point, the company had maybe ten years left in its viable lifetime. . .


Yesterday was a beautiful day around here, what they used to call Indian Summer when I was growing up - it was 65F in the afternoon, just before sunset.  I was planning to ride 25-30 miles, but about 5 miles in, I decided that it was so nice that I'd stretch it to 36 (and, you know, you don't get many opportunities to be out in shorts in November, so when they come along, you gotta make the most of 'em).  Along with the 25 I rode last weekend, and the 24 I rode on Election Day (which my company very helpfully gave us off), that brought me to 1702 for the year. Oh, yes, I knew exactly how many miles I needed to pass the next milestone; at this time of the year, better to take the miles when you can get them, because you never know when the cold and snow will call the riding season to a screeching halt.  I'd have been really frustrated to finish yesterday's ride in the 1690s, and have it snow 6 inches before I could get the last few miles in.  And there is snow in the forecast for Monday/Tuesday (it's still pretty rare for it to stay this early, but you never know).  So, woo-hoo! and all that.  It's been a good year of riding.  I don't think 1800 is very likely, but I'll just keep riding, and we'll see where it ends up. . .

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Flow It, Show It, Long as I Can Grow It. . .

My friend Flutterby posted, not too long ago, about the history of her hair, which got me to thinking that there was probably a story or two for me to tell, along similar lines. . .


I grew up in the 60s (which really lasted into the early 70s, but that's a different topic for a different time). My senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I, uh, grew my hair long.

Before that, my dad and my coaches generally conspired together to keep said growth in abeyance.  It is difficult to describe to folks who weren't there for the fun, but the years of my adolescence were marked by seemingly endless conflict between young men and their fathers over the length of their hair (the sons' hair, not the fathers').  It almost seems comical now, but even the 1964-vintage Beatles haircuts could inspire men of my dad's generation to something close to apoplexy (and hey, how could I pass up an opportunity to embed a Beatles photo in my blog?).

Dad used to grumble, when he saw a 'long-haired' young man on the street, "You can't even tell he's not a girl, if you see him from behind."  If I pointed out that his butt was not nearly wide or round enough to be a girl's, Dad would get on my case for looking at girls' butts too closely.  It was seriously no-win.

My senior year, though, Dad took a new job in a city 500 miles away, and during the six months or so before the family moved to join him in the new city, he only saw me on weekends, during which he was pretty much sleep-deprived, and had other things to deal with than keeping track of the length of my hair.  And Mom was a bit mellower about it.  Through a rather convoluted set of circumstances, I also didn't play football that fall, so my football coaches also  lost such traction as they'd ever had on my fashion sense as pertaining to the length of my hair.  And, to be perfectly, brutally candid, if they all hadn't made such a fuss about the length of my hair, I quite probably wouldn't have felt the appeal of growing it long ('cuz, yeah, I'm just that kind of contrary, when I put my mind to it, although I was generally quite compliant toward the authorities in my life; but when that authority was no longer in force, well, then, woo-hoo!).  I promised myself that I would never fight with my kids over their hair the way my dad had fought with me (*sigh*; mohawks and piercings hadn't occurred to anyone yet. . .)

In the fullness of time, at its longest, my hair eventually reached almost to my shoulders, thick and wavy, and parted down the middle. Once, one of the ladies at church grabbed me and asked, "Who does your hair?"  When I told her that it just grew that way, and all I did to it was wash it, she made a sour face, and muttered, "I would KILL for hair like that, and you just get it for free. . ."  Well, didn't I just feel so blessed. . .

At its longest, I could just pull it together into a pony-tail.  Which, in the long, hot summer of '73, working as I did at a manual-labor-type job, was something of a practical necessity.  Sometime during the fall term at college, I got a girl I knew to cut it back to something more like jaw-length.  Between how hot it was, and how long it took to dry after I washed it (to say nothing of shampoo expenses; those 59-cent bottles of cheap shampoo could really add up), I decided to scale back on the sheer bulk of my hair, to something just a tad more manageable (at least by mid-70s standards; it was still long enough to keep my ears warm in the winter, without having to resort to a hat).   By the time I finished college, I had returned to parting my hair on the side, and even though it was still fairly long and thick by today's standards (the 70s were famously renowned for 'helmet-hair'), I was a much more conventional-looking young man by then (here is a photo from our wedding, in the summer of 1980).  And it wasn't many years after that, before I became engaged in a stubborn (and, alas, probably ultimately futile) holding-action against follicular attrition.


When 1F was somewhere around 6 or so (thus dating the event to the late 80s, when I'd have been in my early 30s), she was poking around in my desk one day, and found my old freshman ID card from college (reproduced here for your edification and enjoyment; the photo was taken roughly 3-4 months before max-length).

She checked it out for a minute, and couldn't quite wrap her young mind around what it seemed to be saying, that this was, by golly, a photo of her dear ol' dad.  She brought it to me, asking, "Is this a picture of you, Dad?"  When I confirmed that I had, in fact, looked like that in an earlier lifetime, she fell on the floor laughing, and said, "You look like a mommy!"

"Yeah," I answered, sighing, "that's what my dad said, too. . ."