March, 2014 browsing by month


Kind of big to lose, no?

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

239 people and a 300,000 pound airplane, gone without a trace. Pretty hard to believe, but it seems to have happened. Had a wreck turned up by now, or someone taken credit for it, we would at least know, however horrific, what had happened. But nature abhors a vacuum, so all sorts of… interesting theories have been surfacing:

  • Crew committed suicide
  • Massive mechanical failure
  • Plane landed by hostiles somewhere, to be repurposed as a flying bomb
  • Plane captured by aliens
  • Plane still flying around.. but in 1939
  • Etc.

In the absence of any evidence, it’s tough to make a guess as to what really happened. But since there are no consequences, I’m going to take a stab at it anyway.

I think the plane was hijacked. But some time afterward, as with United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, either the crew or the passengers attempted to retake the plane, and either the plane crashed as a result of the struggle, or the hijackers deliberately crashed the plane to avoid capture. There aren’t many facts available as of this date, but this scenario is consistent with the few we have.

I’m sure that in a few weeks, we’ll know for sure. Stay tuned.




That Engineering Mentality, Again

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

There’s a claim that True Engineers (whatever that means) never rise very far in corporate environments because they’re more interested in solving problems than fixing blame or positioning themselves politically. That’s consistent with my experience in the corporate world, but this is more about the first part of that: having a need to solve problems.

Take the cover artist I’ve been working with recently. They’re doing very nice work, at a very reasonable price. I get along great with my contact there, he seems to understand what I’m looking for and he’s receptive to doing as many iterations on a project as we need to get the job done. But it seems that he stand me up on just about every other Skype conference call we schedule.

Why? Because the power in Columbo, Sri Lanka is unreliable as hell, and very often he’s in the middle of a blackout when we’re supposed to be communicating. We’ve managed to at least work out a system of text messaging when he’s in the dark, so I know what’s going on. But that’s a band-aid, not a fix.

I did a bit of research and eventually found  the web site of Sri Lanka’s electrical utility, the Ceylon Energy Board. There’s a section in the FAQ entitled “How do Island-Wide Power Failures Occur”, which makes me think they’re a fairly common occurrence – my contact there is most likely not making excuses. Okay, one more reason to be happy that I’m living in the First World.

But their reaction to the power failures is what surprises me. If we had them in my hometown with any frequency, you can bet that within  a few months there would be a backup power unit next to each PC, cables running across the floor to a stack of car batteries in the corner of the room, and a cellular access point buried somewhere in the rat’s next of cables to provide internet connectivity. But there, the reaction seem to be to just wait around until the power comes back.

Is this a contrast between engineers and lay people? Or between Americans and Sri Lankans? Or perhaps something else? Whatever it is, the correlation between willingness to engage in problem solving, and productivity, is obvious.

Channeling all that increased productivity in a useful direction, however, can be more challenging.


The Time Machine

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

It is said that if sit down at your computer late in the evening and browse the web long enough, eventually you’ll wind up on YouTube looking at cat videos. Personally, I’ve found that to be less than completely true, though I’d agree completely with the assessment that you’ll waste enormous amounts of time following long chains of links to sites you would never have gone to directly.

So I’m not sure exactly how I wound up there, but late a few nights ago I wound up reading the IMDB citation for the 1970 classic Airport. I had a vague recollection that, like most tales, the book was better than the movie, and as I believe there’s always an opportunity to learn from a master I hunted down a copy and began reading. I’d read it once before, but that was <mumble> years ago, and though the book hadn’t change, almost certainly I had.

And I’ll admit that part of the reason I enjoy reading umm… ‘mature’ books is that they’re a telescope into what life was like when they were written: the mores, values, what was controversial, what was accepted as fact, and what people worried about. That’s probably why I really can’t warm up to any of the contemporary reboots of Sherlock Holmes-what I enjoyed most about the original is that it was a visit to the Victorian era and all it’s trappings.

So hunted down a copy of Airport, the book, and polished it off over the course of a few days, partly to study it’s construction and partly to see what life was like forty-five years ago. Many things have changed, but many haven’t. The book today is an unintentional tour through areas as diverse as male/female relationships, career, aviation technology, bureaucracy, government, lawyers, abortion, race, and much much more. Its also a multi-threaded series of plots, all culminating in a climax that occurs only about eighty percent of the way through. Yet author Arthur Haley manages to maintain suspense and keep the reader’s interest all the way to the end.

So in addition to being an enjoyable page-turner (screen-swiper?) and an interesting view into the past, the book is also a place to learn about the craft of writing. Perhaps even more so than the various ‘How to Write’ books written by various other best-selling authors, sadly not including Mr. Hailey. And I’ll bet that his other works would be equally didactic, viewed from the right angle.

So there’s an opportunity to both learn and have fun simultaneously. Time to get started!