Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Battlefield Mars!

(With apologies to Andy Weir)

Day -1:
A crew member: "Lewis, do you REALLY want to spend more months traveling back to Earth with Watson? Trapped? In a small spacecraft?"

Lewis: "What are you proposing?"

Crew member: "An accident. A terrible accident that makes Watson a hero and means we can have a little peace and quiet on the way home. No actuarial table anecdotes. No spending hours comparing paint drying rates. No more braying 'I'm Sherlock Holmes' dimmer accomplice! HAW! HAW' We may actually get some work done on the way home."

Lewis: (Pauses a long while) "Can you make it look like an accident? I can't believe I'm even considering this....."

Day 1: 
Some people would say "I'm really fucked now!" Personally, I don't like to use that kind of language. And gosh darn it, I'm up to this challenge! I mean, out of the entire crew, I'm the one most likely to survive in this situation, having decades of experience in the insurance industry, not to mention my experience painting spacecraft.

Piece. Of. Cake.

Granted, I was a little disappointed when we were driving the Mars Rover back to base in a sandstorm and someone suddenly pulled out a suppressed .45 and shot me. If I hadn't had one of my copies of 'Dianetics' in that pocket, I probably would have died. No other book would have been dense enough to stop a .45.

OK, here I am at the shelter. It really could use another coat of paint. This sunlight really bleaches the heck out of paint FAST. I'll need to start experimenting with more concentrated paint formulas if I want to keep the outside of this shelter looking professionally painted!

I sure hope those Twinkies I had stashed away are enough to keep me alive until the next Mars mission arrives.

Day 2:
Watson watches paint dry.

Day 3:
Watson watches paint dry.

Day 4:
Watson watches paint dry.

Day 68:
I nearly died today when I forgot to adequately ventilate my paint experimentation lab and the fumes got to me. One minute I was just about to settle in and watch the paint dry and the next minute I was CHOWING DOWN Twinkies and looking out the window at a cloud of hundreds of savage bats flying towards the shelter.

I don't think there are bats on Mars.

Day 73:
Mission Control:
Brianna Wu: "Excuse me, Mr Holmes. Do you have a minute?"

Sherlock Homes: "I am on my way to a meeting. Can we talk on the way?"

Brianna: "Certainly. Sir, I think Watson may have survived that accident on Mars!"

Sherlock: "Impossible. We arranged, er, what makes you say that?"

Brianna: "Look at these pictures. Sir, somebody keeps painting the outside of the shelter, Over and over and over."

Sherlock: "Could be Martians. I need more to go on."

Brianna: "Also, somebody carved 'Xenu was here!' on Olympus Mons yesterday in 20 foot letters. And then painted them."

Sherlock: "Damn. Er, IT'S A MIRACLE! OK Brianna, it's up to you to find a way to talk to Watson and contact him twice daily."

Brianna: "Damn."

Sherlock: "That boy has some serious expense reports to get caught up on! It's all about ethics in expense accounting."

Day 105:
Watson watches paint dry.

Day 130:
Watson watches paint dry and then recalculates actuarial tables.

Day 130:
Watson watches paint dry.

Day 163:
Mission Control:
Brianna Wu: "Excuse me, Mr. Sagan, could you explain the intricacies of Martian vs Earth expense reports again?"

Day 185:
Watson watches paint dry.

Day 190:
Watson watches paint dry.

Day 305:
Martian orbit:
Watson is saved in a dramatic orbital maneuver.

Day 307:
Returning to Earth:
Watson is "accidentally lost out an airlock with no suit and a stake through his heart."

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Reading: By Any Means Necessary

Reading is inherently a creative activity. It is work done by two people, a conversation between two minds:

- the writer, who took ideas swirling around in their head, depositing them in the book

- the reader, who lifts them off of the page and up into the air, interpreting their vision of what the author is describing

This is real work. It is why a person reading the cheesiest novel is doing something more rewarding than sitting and watching television, the television delivering prepackaged images straight into their cerebral cortex. And for some books, the difficult books, the challenge of understanding them and seeing their world is especially daunting.

Shakespeare. Virginia Woolf. James Joyce. All of these authors are regarded as difficult reads and indeed, they do present significant challenges. They also present some of the richest and most brilliant statements ever made in literature. How does a reader get from the point where they're facing an imposing page of text to the point where they are tapping into its brilliant insights and images?

By any means necessary.

There is no cheating here. There is no need to avoid a work which both attracts and intimidates you. Nothing that helps you get a foothold in such a work is out of bounds. Any understanding that you gain, any enrichment of your life from understanding this material is GOOD.

There are so many tools to consider using here:
- a college class that you attend in person

- classes taught via audiobooks, including The Great Courses. Peter Saccio's courses on Shakespeare are brilliant and make it abundantly clear what a field for study Shakespeare's plays are

- audiobooks in which the book is narrated. For the James Joyce book Ulysses, hearing it narrated opened it up to understanding and enjoyment

- reading critical opinions about great literature can reveal aspects of the work that you might not have thought of, on your own.

There is NO need to think that any book is a mountain that you must either climb solo, without any gear or consider yourself a failure. Mountain climbers use equipment devised and made by scores of other people and start out following routes established by those who went before them. And if they don't let that hold then back from continuing to climb, it means that they can eventually be pathfinders, in their own right.

Learn to be a pathfinder in the great cultural conversation: read the great books!

Applying Scientific Concepts to Corporate Culture

There have been times during my career where I have stared in slack-jawed wonder at corporate culture that seemed, if not incompetent, at least the next best thing to it. Seeing the same mistakes made over and over again without learning any lessons seems like a horrible waste of time and resources.

Maybe part of the frustration is due to being an engineer with, you know, a modicum of interest in efficiency: in achieving the best results from all efforts put forward, rather than just muddling forward and hoping for the best.

With that being said, here are a couple concepts from the scientific world which seem to have obvious applicability in the business world but which seem to be strangely ignored in that capacity.

- Brownian motion/Random walk: in this context, a decisions making process in which random changes or reverses in direction, without any consistency or concern for lost effort. This one is on my mind most today because I work for a plucky small company that wastes a ridiculous amount of energy.

- The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle: in the workplace there is often a spastic or even frantic, constant interruption of the staff to inquire about status. No thought is given as to whether the work being measured depends on an ability to maintain focus on the task at hand. No thought is given about the efficient SHARING of status information one person has already obtained.

It's time to put the engineers in charge!!!