Thursday, July 28, 2005

Artists vs Engineers

I have a son. He’s a very good painter—you know easel, brushes, canvas and the smell of turpentine—who calls his work “post impressionism.”

I, on the other hand, am more of an engineer. Actually, I have an MBA degree that was focused on economics, but I have done a lot of industrial engineering and then management in my business career. All that is proves is that a graduate of Case can do anything. I called my work “boss impressionism,” and it must have worked because I wound up as the boss of a lot of bosses and their employees.

There’s not much I can do with pencils and paper and crayons to make something pretty. I can claim an indirect contribution to art because in my retirement career I was a substitute teacher in middle schools who often conducted art classes. I was able to help students develop their art careers; some of them were talented.

For each new group of students, I had the same introduction: “I am an engineer, not an artist. Engineers draw straight lines, while artists draw curved lines. Please do not ask me how to do better work. You already do better work than I do.”

It is safe to say that my son did not inherit much art talent from me. I suspect he did not inherit the talent of organizing people, money, machines and buildings in such a way that manufacturing could take place. But I do not know. He hasn’t tried to do it.

Anyway, we have both made a contribution to society, if in very different ways. And I am very glad that he has not inherited a great deal from me as I did from my father.

My father was an electrical engineer. I definitely picked up the electrical engineering gene from Dad. Also, he appears to have had Marfan Syndrome and I inherited that from him as well.

I hope that the family Marfan stopped with me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Leveling the Jello

Few people in the world have been charged with the responsibility that I have. I am in charge of leveling the Jello at my house.

Why, you ask, is that my responsibility?

It is because I am the proprietor of the level and the shims. And it is because I have a keen eye and once worked in a refrigerator factory.

Every Fourth of July, my wife and I are invited by dear friends to their house for an Independence Day party. My wife makes a delicious desert that isn’t too fattening. It consists of Jell-o and all kinds of other goodies such as fruit, and it is made up of three layers of red, white and you guessed it, blue.

There are few refrigerators in the world whose trays are exactly level. If there are, we have never had one. It seems that when one puts a heavy glass tray on a shelf, it deflects. Thus, the first, second and third layers of Jello in my wife’s desert can never be level, because the glass tray in which they are cooled, tilts to the front. That’s where I come in.

With a practiced eye and the proper tools, I am able to insert shims under the glass tray while it is on a refrigerator shelf, so that it is almost perfectly level. And all three layers of my wife’s delicious are of the same thickness in every direction.

Well, you say, anybody can do that. And perhaps you are right, with enough practice. One of the main problems is that there is never enough room inside a refrigerator to place a level in two positions that are right angles to each other. Once you have knocked over a carton of milk, or a jar of pickles, you will understand. To make matters worse, shims are usually too long, so that once the desired even-ness is obtained, the refrigerator door will not close because the shims are in the way.

And if all other problems are overcome, the job takes too long and the refrigerator warms and food spoils.

Leveling the Jello is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Lacking Beer Skills

It was a week ago when I had to perform an arduous backyard task in the heat that I purchased a six pack of Guinness Stout at a local grocery store. I do not drink much beer or ale or stout, so I looked at the purchase as a low-risk “adventure.”

Well the time came to test my purchase. I think I had run a new sprinkler line to hibiscus plants that had never seen much water before. It was at a new house (to me) and there were many such tasks to be completed. After a fairly standard piping job that included drilling a one inch hole through a cement block wall and impaling my forearms many times on mean-looking rose bushes, I retired to the kitchen for dinner. That was when I opened the bottle of Guinness. I split the contents with my wife, who was marveling at the blood running down my forearms and wondering if I would have the strength left to clean up the kitchen.

My wife did not like the taste of the Guinness, so she did not drink more than a couple sips. I was not wild about its unusual flavor, but drank a little more than that. And I finished my dinner.

While I was cleaning up the kitchen (I did have the strength) I emptied the Guinness into the sink drain. As I did, I heart a rattle. Looking inside the bottle I discovered a strange object. It was about two inches long, light colored and rounded at the top. Wings extended from its sides that would allow it to be placed in the bottle, but would expand so that it could not leave the bottle.

Of a manufacturing mind, I decided the foreign object was part of the bottling process, and it had fallen off the equipment as the bottles were being filled or cleaned. I showed the object to my wife. She said it was probably ice and would melt after a while. I waited.

Several hours later, I checked and found the “icy” object remarkably unfazed by room temperature. I determined that I would take the six pack back to the grocer. I didn’t care about the money involved, but I wanted him to notify Mr. Guinness in Ireland that he had a process problem (provided that I wasn’t poisoned).

The next day I found myself in good health. I wrote a letter to the manager of the grocery, describing what had happened. While we could not find the receipt, I was sure he could get a lot number from the sixpack carton that records would show the bottles went to his company and his store. It is good to have these things thought out in advance.

With the sixpack in a grocery bag from the appropriate store, and the letter in my back pocket, I drove to the grocery. I really didn’t want to go. It would be easier to forget the whole thing. But I had told my wife I would take it back and that is what I had to do. I went in to see if they sold the product (it could have been another grocery company, my wife told me). But I knew it was the right store when I looked at the shelves, so I went back to my car to get the bag and its contents.

I figured I was going to help the grocer when he found out there was a product problem. He wasn’t responsible but would no doubt thank me.

It took a few minutes for the manager of the store to come to his counter and find out what I wanted.

“I got a dividend with my Guinness,” I told him as I opened the package and rattled the bottle to show that it had something in it. A crowd gathered around us.

“That’s right, he told me. It belongs in the bottle. Guinness puts it in there to increase the foam. It adds CO2.” With that, he pulled out a second bottle and rattled it. Sure enough, there was something in that bottle as well.

People in the crowd smiled and nodded wisely. I felt foolish as well as naïve as I put the bottles back in the bag. I am sure my face reddened. The letter disappeared in my back pocket.

“I am sorry,” I told the manager. “I wasted your time. I must confess that I don’t drink much of this stuff, so I didn’t know about the insert.”

“Oh, that’s all right. It’s a new development,” he tried to reassure me. But my confidence was gone. I was a failure as a beer drinker, a connoisseur and a process engineer; in addition I was a hopeless leftover from the twentieth century. And all the onlookers knew it.

Deflated, I drove back home. I was going to have to tell my wife.

Maybe I should have stuck with lemonade. I just don’t have beer skills.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Importance of Cooking Rituals

Last night I was going to be the gracious cook and provide dinner for my wife and me.

My step-son gave us his old Weber three burner barbecue several years ago. And it worked most of the time. But there were frustrating cookouts when all I got out of it was a very small flame on three burners. I always thought the tank was empty or there were spiders in the pipes. But it happened twice lately and I installed a new tank of gas in between times.

I was ready to go out an purchase a new 40 dollar regulator at Home Depot. But I decided to clean out the spiders first. And I did. As I cleaned, I read deeply in the instruction book. It was humid outside and I was in a burning, many degree sun, so I read fast.

It seems there is an anger management control (AMC) attached to the gas line that I did not know about. But I disassembled and reassembled the black, greasy machine, anyway. And then I followed the instructions for the ritual for appeasing the AMC.
It seems that for any reason at all, the machine will cut off its own gas supply. In other words the finest chef in the world is cooking at the whim and caprice of some kind of a device that shuts down and reduces the heat to a point at which the melting of butter is impossible, even on a hot day. There is a procedure one follows to convince the AMC that whatever happened, the chef was only kidding and it wouldn't happen again. Ever.

I tested the machine after I had followed the ritual and it worked.

The odd thing is, if I had purchased a new regulator for 40 dollars, I would have followed the ritual accidentally and the burners would have come on brightly, anyway.

I want to get into the regulator business right away.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Living Bomb

“What do ya want to do, Ali?”
I dunno. Taxes are due and my girl is mad at me, and the shark who lent me money wants it back. I didn’t get her no birthday present ‘cause I don’t got any money. What would ya do in my place?”
“Do what I been tellin’ ya for some time. Let’s blow us up. We ain’t got money for plane tickets, so let’s do it on a train instead. At rush hour, when there’s a lot of people around. We can take some of ‘em wif us. Maybe a lot.”
“Oh, I dunno, Ziad. That’s kinda final. . . .”
“Listen--Muhammed and Syed are ready for this. It wouldn’t be just us two. Together we could make a real impression on this damn place. I hate London, anyway. It would show ‘em good.”
“Maybe. How would we do it?”
“Oh, we would just put packs on our backs and set them off at a certain time, when we’re in a crowd.”
“Wouldn’t it hurt, Ali?”
“Naw, ya wouldn’t feel a thing. Besides, we we’d get all kinds of brownie points in Paradise. Maybe even all those virgins to take care of us. Think of all that sex!”
“Why don’t we just put timers in our packs and leave ‘em on the train, then?”
“Cause we don’t get paid as much if we do that, Ziad.”
“We get paid? That’s neat. Wait a minute! Do we get paid before or after the bombs go off?”
“Before, of course. Unless you want the money sent to your parents.”
“Nah. I wouldn’t give them anything. What’d they ever do for me? I want the money first. Then I would have a big night out. Lotsa girls and gin. Then I would do the dirty.”
“It ain’t dirty if it’s for Allah. Nothin’ ya do for Allah can be called dirty, Ziad.”
“That covers a lot of territory. I bet I could think of some things that . . .”
“Remember not to think. This is a time when it’s Satanic to think. It’s time to act. Remember what the Imam told us about how evil this place is? It’s up to us to strike against London. He said he wants us to do it.”
“Oh, who appointed us to be the pioneers, Ali?”
“That’s just the way it is. We’re the courageous few. If we don’t do it, no one else will. But if we take the lead, then lots of others will follow. We’re the leaders, Ziad. We can take the first strike for Allah. Maybe the people will be so upset they’ll force old Blair to pull British troops out of Iraq.”
“Yeah, Ali. If we really squash a lot of people on the trains like they did in Spain, then we could change the world.”
“Now, you’re thinkin’. I’ll get Muhammed and Syed. They’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
“That soon?”
“Yeah. It’s all planned. We’ve been waitin’ until the big meetin’ in Scotland so we can get some attention from the press. And security’ll be focused on them, not us. We gotta do it tomorrow.”
“Can ya get me the money so we can go out tonight? I gotta have at least one big night before I leave this place.”
“This afternoon. I’ll get it to ya this afternoon, unless . . .”
“Unless what, Ali?”
“There’s only room for six of us in on this. If the other places are taken, then I guess I can’t get you the money and you’ll have to continue to live in this evil place.”
“Oh, it ain’t that bad. I guess I could take it another few months. But try, anyway. I really need a good night out. Haven’t had one in a year, since the money ran out.”
“All right, Ziad, I’ll see what I can do. But only if you’re really, really serious.”

And the next day five bombs with timers on them were placed on trains. Ziad went aboard a crowded train with a bomb in his backpack and blew himself to smithereens. Many people were killed or maimed. Two of the bombs did not go off.
Ali began his search for another living bomber.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Jefferson Lives

It is that Time of Year

The time may yet come when the demand for freedom issues from Europe, Africa or Asia, rather than this country. But that time is not now. Right now freedom’s causes emanate from the United States of America. Not only are its citizens evangelistic about freedom for all people but also optimistic and hopeful that all people will someday experience freedom’s benefits.

Yes, there are the Old World Socialists among us who know better than the people of this Republic and don’t care for freedom. But they are in the minority, their strident voices muted by the whispers of freedom-lovers who in their quiet way unite to form a roar of thanksgiving. The free are grateful to those who gave so willingly of their assets and lives that freedom might exist and might even someday, become universal.

It is that time of year.

Two hundred and thirty years ago, a group of Englishmen threw down the gauntlet. They signed their own death warrants when they signed a document called the Declaration of Independence; they were determined to fight against the best army in Europe rather than take any more of the unjust behavior of the government that ruled them.

That document and subsequent events shook the world, which began to change at that moment when the ink dried. The chain of events that followed is yet causing changes nearly two and half centuries later.

Thomas Jefferson lived long and made many contributions to the welfare of mankind during his productive, somewhat flawed life. He died some fifty-one years after our war for Independence began. What did he want to be remembered for? Only one thing: Jefferson wanted to be remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence. The rest of his accomplishments, those in government, diplomacy, science, engineering, agriculture, music, and architecture he held as unimportant, next to that document.

Jefferson knew what was really important. The Declaration of Independence has inspired millions of people since 1775, and its spirit infects people today.

While authorship of the Declaration belongs to one man, it is the reflection of the ideas and desires of a young nation. If Jefferson had not written it, perhaps another person would. It was the time when freedom was struggling to be born. Now we can take a few minutes to reflect on this wonderful gift of freedom.

It is that time of year.