Friday, November 2, 2007

Men, Women, the Toilet Seat, the Controversy, a Hypothesis

You might well imagine what the stakes are here. Marriage, a central institution in our society, is truly in the balance. A colleague at the lab brought it up as he is caught in this divisive vortex with his relationship uncontrollably spinning clockwise (because he is in the northern hemisphere) down the drain. Will the verbal melée between him and his love flush the relationship?

I’ll cut to the chase, ever since Alexander Cummings went to market with the flush toilet in 1775, the conflict has torn loving relationships apart.

Women: Put the seat down. When I’m in a hurry, I don’t want to sit on the bowl; I want a seat! How hard can it be to put it down?

Men: Act like an adult, don’t wait for the last moment to go, when you need to, go! If it’s “not hard to put down” then it’s not hard to put up!

I grew up with three sisters and of course Mom. And in those years, I too heard the traumatic shrill, “Put the seat down!”

At one point, I decided to put forth a test, or better yet a plan to ridicule this horrific social injustice that, at the time, I felt was only supported by women who could not figure out they needed to pee and men who had succumbed to the nagging. My plot was simple…not only did I put the seat down, I also put down the lid! Yes, the lid too! It is just as much work for women to put the seat down as it is to lift the lid (ignoring the effects of gravity).

The result … no complaints. Nothing, nada, not a word, rien de tout, zippo, ne uma palavra, null, nusquam , ничто, nil.

Still, the fervor with which the women of the post-1775 world pursue this endeavor cannot be ignored. What is it that drives women to become “true believers” in their cause?

My hypothesis... the open bowl presents an opportunity that is not quite complete even worse – a possibility but an undesirable possibility AND one that would be easily corrected if someone had put the seat down. The site of the lid resting peacefully over the seat does not offer the same disappointing yet tempting prospect of the open bowl. It is more about the psychological perspective of the moment, when busting through the bathroom door: is there the harrowing decision of risk the bowl or put down the seat followed by “can’t the seat be ready for me?” or the simple neat throne ready to go when she's ready to go, once the lid is lifted …

Your thoughts?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

My Apologies

I'm swamped, I'm crazy busy and I just don't have the time to write things up. I continue with my life as adventurous as I can make it. But it's alot and I've been pushing myself for a long time; the stress is significant and something has got to give.

I will continue to catch up on the lives of my blogging friends by reading their new posts; however, I may not post again until the year end holidays.

Lots of love...


Monday, August 27, 2007

Vista Sucks!

I had hoped to get some travel logs put together as I had a nice summer hopping a plane. (My sister is the Finance & Admin Manager in Paris, France for Continental Airlines and because she isn't married, she gets to designate a spouse for the travel benefits. This year, that's me.)

However Microsoft Vista did a crash and burn, so I spent much of the weekend figuring out how to recover stuff and set up the system to work again. It came down to a format and re-install. I will credit them with the foresight to make it easy to "chuck it in and start all over". Still, an operating system like XP that worked very well thanks to SP2, would be preferable. But I'm dealing with a company that seems to like the idea of "chuck it in and start all over".

Please don't tell me your Mac stories. Mac does not run the engineering applications that I need. I looked into running parallel operating systems and I really tried to buy a Mac - no dice.

I read an article saying that MIT has recommended to students to not upgrade yet. I had hoped to find and link to now that I learned how to do that but I can't find the article. But damn I know I read and I wish I had read it before I bought. (I think my purchase would have been the same as I was looking for something to last 2 yrs to finish school.)

The only thing that I lost was some music downloads from Cup of Coffey, at least that's all I can think of for now.

While it reloaded I did get my postcards done and a bit of tidying up around the house. Both needed to get done too.

I'm hoping that with the long weekend and I won't be going anywhere, I can get another post up.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Indy Jones wanna-be

There are a number of people checking my blog that I haven't met personally and so I thought I might share something for them (and for me this is one of my favorite stories). This is a reprint from an email I circulated when on a sabbatical 7 years ago, for 4 weeks I did nautical archaelogy in Israel then spent 2 weeks checking out the region. It's a fun story, says a bit about me and I hope you like it...

In the last week or so of the diving excavation, I was having lunch with team members sharing my plans for after the dive. They coincided with the plans of Pearl one of the dive crew and her father. So the three of us started our tour from Israel down to Petra, Jordan and over to Cairo.

My story starts a day before we left to go south. I was in church in Jerusalem; the congregation was small as Sunday is a standard work day. After the opening music the pastor steps up to deliver the sermon and out of the blue points at me and says, "You, you look like that Indiana Jones guy. What's his name? (pause) Harrison Ford." Naturally, I was surprised, still, I played along mentioning that I am told that fairly often (I personally don't see the resemblance). Also, I went on to say that I was actually in Israel for archeology. My sisters had bought me a hat in Australia some time ago that I wear often and friends tease by humming the theme music for Indiana Jones. Well, I told the congregation that I brought the hat from the Chicago to Paris to Israel and the next day was leaving to Petra, Jordan (where the final scene of the 3rd movie was shot) to see the sites and get a picture with me and my hat. On the way back to the hotel, I was entering the old city through Damascus gate when I saw a man selling whips. "How much I asked?" He quoted me 5 shekels or $1.25. "Sold."

The next day, with my whip and hat, Pearl, her father and I started south from Jerusalem. Stopping along the way at Ein Gedi, the Dead Sea and Massada. It was great fun. The following day we found ourselves touring Petra, Jordan! And I got my picture - sporting the hat and flailing the whip.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Simpsonize me!

I have been looking for a fun photo to put up as my pic. When cruising Cup of Coffey (or it might have been on The Girl with Moxie), she hooked me up to SimpsonizeMe. (I haven't quite got down the building in a link, so here it is, nothing clever: )

Monday, August 6, 2007

Is “basically” the new “like”?

Last year I enthusiastically attended a meeting to help promote an Engineers Without Borders project in hopes that our group might generate some fundraising. Our then-president took the microphone and began (paraphrased), “Basically, Engineers Without Borders is basically a club that basically does projects basically anywhere in the world, basically. So, basically, we are trying …”

And it’s everywhere and although I am a student I will not describe it as fingernails on a chalkboard, much too trite and not quite right. Rather, I heard once that the IRA will sometimes influence people by putting a 9 mm drill bit through the kneecap. A standard tool used for abject malevolence. That’s what “basically” is: momentary, piercing pain but it does leave a clean hole. Growing in popularity, I started to feel that it was ready to take over colloquial language when our petite president spoke from that podium. It was an onslaught of “basically” – a mad woman with a nail gun pinning me to my chair with the vicious repetition of the Automatic Kalishnikov 47 with all the cruelty of its inaccuracy.

It is as painful and repugnant as the omnipresent “like”.

Best I can recall, “like” had a colorful birth. Born in the valley, it came on the public stage thanks to Moon Unit Zappa. Both funny (because I was a sophomore at the time) and annoying, it made its mark. However, as much as I might have hoped, it didn’t return home to the valley and fade for good. No, it grew and took hold of the language for generations in the way a vine envelops a home. It grew like a weed. “Like” made its move from fad to cultural fabric.

In my senior year, I got a reprieve. As an exchange student to France, I left for the gran banlieu of Paris to spend a lovely year in Chantilly. Rich in heritage and I could feel just as proud as the French when I walked by the chateau and museum (formerly the Duke Conde’s stables) because I called Chantilly my home. The French and I shared an affinity for language.

I returned to the US to the ever festering “like”. It was in the air, the only stench in the suburban utopia of Naperville. However, most of the people I interacted with for that year between high school and college were much older and had not caught the disease. Then I headed for St. Louis University. And to my good fortune everything happens a bit later in St. Louis. When I was there in 1986 tie-dye was on its way out and disco was the new thing. (I recently heard they are giving up pastel polos to explore grunge music.)

It wasn’t until I returned to France again in 1987 with the university’s program in Orleans, a well-reputed program with students from all over the US, I mixed and mingled again with the contemporary culture. The disease had taken a strong-hold. It seemed unavoidable. Fortunately, there were quite a few students from St. Louis and I could find a reprieve when I wanted to speak English (and discuss history in the present tense). Besides I was there to speak French – best done with French people. Although I spent most my time with the frogs, we did meet up as a group quite a bit, bonfires on campus to hang out and teach the locals how to drink for the sake of drinking. American students chatting about in French, translating word for word and guess what word came up three times in every breath? “Alors, c’est comme … comme … comme.” Affereux! Honteux.

I confess that I do find myself, on rare occasions, slipping out a “like”. I hope all of you that love the language like I do will forgive me. As such I do not judge; if that is your style, then express yourself. I will also confess, I gracefully avoid social interaction with the style just like I also prefer to choose a different path than through a mine field.

In 1990-1991, I lived in Glasgow, Scotland and “like” had not infected the language. On my subsequent trips to Great Britain, I observed it did begin its incubation in London, the sickness broke out and headed north. It doesn’t seem to have become the full blown epidemic as in the states, still it is pervasive. It is also not so poignant. With their accent, the drill bits and nails are traded in for rotting fruit. Not piercing, a different sort of pain – it is still foul. Add the cockney accent to the “like” and it’s like being pelted with frozen rotting fruit. The deep gutural and lazy-jowl speech adds that bludgeoning affect.

I'm assuming a news anchor should command the language; I think that's not too much to ask. And yet, I recently lost hope for our culture when in an interview with Katie Couric, she gasped and said, “I have days when I'm like, `Oh my God, what did I do?'” I was wondering what the producers were doing? One of them has to be old enough to have seen “My Fair Lady” or "Pygmalion"; it’s their job to find solutions to these problems.

And now, “basically” is the new arrival. But is it a rival? Will “basically” replace “like”? Would that be better or worse? Four syllables (oft said in only three) versus one? An adverb versus the various parts of speech for “like”? A debate of which is the lesser of evils seems futile when in the end you know you will be machine gunned down by its misuse and excessive use. In fact, I think it will be worse. Both will remain to terrorize our ears and shred our pride of the language. The future? Basically, it’s like a chancre to add to the herpes.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mission Accomplished!

First of five summer goals is accomplished. I read “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” – brillant writing by Hunter S Thompson. Reading a book that had nothing to do with engineering was a huge goal for me. (One could argue that it had a lot to do with chemical engineering but … well, that’s not fair, you can’t avoid science.)

So, I was trying to ease up on the booze of late. I kind of let loose once exams were over. It wasn’t difficult. I didn’t need absinthe – total lightwieght. Two or three brews at Dive Bar and I was discovering Baudelaire’s Paradis Artificiels. In time, I did pick up some more gusto and that only gave me more girth. Again, I was looking pull back the reigns. Then I start in on this psychodelic escapade of a journalist … oh, excuse please, a Doctor of Journalism, and his attorney who are on a quest for the American Dream. They hunt it with the religious passion so many have sought the Holy Grail, and they’ve got the alpha to omega of drugs. So why should I care about a few glasses of wine and some run raisin ice cream?

Another goal - stop swearing. That’s easy: take all the fucking stress out of my life and out goes the vulgarity with it. Life is good this summer. Come exams, I’ll cuss up a storm.

GRE was another important one. I started the summer thinking this may be my most peaceful summer in my back to school experience, so I took the prep class and was ready to hunker down. The professor who is my boss in the lab where I work told me that it is not important. The class professor informed me that often schools will take results that are from more than 5 years ago. He has heard of a 10 year old score being accepted. “I thought they were purged after 5 years!” I took it 5 years ago and did better than the average bear and was in the class thinking I had to work up to and pay for my own GRE déjà vu. Actually, scores are archived. Sort of … they are purged from the expensive database but archived in the pay-in-bearer-bonds database. Alas, I may not need to take it. If I go for a PhD, I can see a school not taking it, but if I only do a master’s then the GRE is a silly check mark necessary for the school to maintain accredation.

I was pretty gung ho on the PhD at the beginning of the summer. Hence an important goal was to look at which fields of research I want to pursue (pretty much done) then find out who are the leaders in those fields and start writing them. Take up a dialogue. It sure beats applying cold. That might not happen. I’m thinking I’m headed back to industry and if the company wants to pay for I will perhaps do it.

Finally, training for the NYC marathon is back on track. I had a great race a few weeks back was a 10k; I hoped to do less than 42 min. Surprised me to do less than 40 min. - 39:30 was on my watch. 39:33 officially or 6:22 pace. The other race I signed up for, I missed because I was hung over and j’accuse Mr. Hunter S. Thompson.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Airbus Can Suck Wind!

Airbus can suck wind! For as much as I have compassion for the 10,000 or so people who will lose their jobs, I am happy to see Airbus taking another hit. Too many times have I heard those Europeans acting all trashy about how they can make great planes and blah, blah, blah... and Boeing is heavily subsidized by its military contracts and blah, blah, blah, ... Clam it!

The A380 is an intellectual monstrosity like the Concord and it will go the way of the Concord unless those mono-brow execs get a clue.

First, ask any European who owns Airbus and few will know that it is primarily EADS and BAE, the two largest miliatry contractors in Europe. Boeing isn't the only company that takes military contracts. Second, those Eurotrashies give some silly arguement about how military contracts serve to cross subsidize its civilian business, blah, blah, blah ... Clam it! McDonnell Douglas had great military contracts (F-14 and the Tomahawk missile) and its civilian aircraft industry brought it to the brink, so clam it. If the business line doesn't make money, it gets cut. No government contracts are going to make, save or otherwise the civilian aircraft business.

Second, nothing Boeing gets compares to the massive subsidized "loans" that Airbus gets. And that's loans in quotes because before too many jobs are lost, the loans will be forgiven. (Note: I know a few ways Boeing gets subsidized but that's because I read and find out the truth; I don't just believe any commérage I overhear in a café.)

So today the A380 frieghter lost its last and biggest customer, UPS. Production delays put it to rest. And like the Concord, those Eurotrashies will be saying its the fault of the Americans. I've been accused of not buying a Concord because no US company ever bought one (Air France and British Airways were the only clients). Well, Lockheed built a prototype of a supersonic commercial jet and no US company wanted to buy one and it was DOA. Maybe there was just never a market for it. Quit whining and clam it!

So, today an article told of the decision by Airbus to make its US debut in NY's JFK. (No surprise to me; NY is the center of the world.) Their primary client, Qantas, was all in a huff because their contract required that it be LAX. Airbus had to back down and wiggle a compromise; it will arrive in JFK hours after it arrives in LAX. On the whole, if I were Qantas I would be shitting bricks and throwing them at Airbus. Don't they care about their customers? Don't they care about their best customer? Of course not, the government will take care of them. "Mais oui le gouvernment s'en occupe."

Airbus can suck wind!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

People say (or at least one person says) I've got nice eyes.

I got a nice compliment on my eyes today.

Rotaract (corrected spelling) brings gifts for a birthday party at the East Harlem Soup Kitchen every 3 months. That's Spanish Harlem. There are a lot of projects in that 'hood. The Sisters of Mary of Nazereth run the show - Frenchies, but the good kind. So, those of us that can attend bring gifts for 2 kids and we hand them out. It's great fun! The kitchen provides cake and the crafts stuff. We wrap and offer the gifts.

One of the gift buyers was late but people were ready to go home, so we started handing out gifts. Still, the colleague that had called to say he'd arrive late at 1 p was not yet there and it was already later than that. So, I told the little boy, Johnny, the story and it's on his way. And hats off to Johnny, he was really a good kid.

I also took a moment to explain it to his mom, who before I could get a word out said, "You have very beautiful eyes." Naturally, I smiled and said thank you. I told her the situation and she told me not to worry Johnny is very patient.

I went back and bragged to my friends.

Of course, Johnny's mom looked like she'd spent too much of her life as a crack-house ho but at last had found Jesus. Crystal meth had gotten the best of her teeth.

(Then again, she could have just returned from a mission in Africa where her husband, a doctor, died while helping the refugees of Darfur. However, that's not funny.)

Christina joked, "You can be Johnny's dad if you want."

Suddenly, two kids that weren't on our list to buy for came in at the last moment, Maya looked to our reserve cache and said, "We need gifts for a boy age 5 and a girl age 7."

"If you need me to go out for something let me know, 'cause I've got to get flowers for Johnny's mom."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Engineers Without Borders

In January 2007 I spent 12 days in Honduras where our team built a water tank for a small village in the mountains of Honduras – no electricity, no running water, just a plan and a lot of gusto. My shift was the second of 21 days for the entire project, so when I arrived the land was prepared and the form for the base slab was in place. The first attempt to poor concrete went sour trying to get the mix right. Fortunately, they were smart enough to experiment first. There were instructions on the bag but as is the reputation for the underdeveloped world, there was no suggested amount of water. Nulbi, our local construction manager, was familiar with the cement's quality and suggested a few adjustments. A couple of days after arriving, we were pouring concrete – 17 yards using 105 bags of cement, each bag got about 45 shovels of gravel and another 30 of sand. We did get some gas powered mixers from the regional government and a generator. It took 8 hours but it was done as dusk hit and there were a lot of happy faces; we all celebrated with coffee and a cake-like treat similar to corn bread. Nothing sweeter than a job well done!

This was something great about the experience as the project really falls under "Civil Engineering". Before leaving we had a workshop on mixing concrete and the chemical reactions and it's properties at different stages of the process. It was fun to learn about the other discipline. And it was great that I got to be a part of the pouring of the slab and that was that. CE students take a whole semester on concrete. That's the name of the class, "Concrete". Not very macho. In ME, we have "Turbo Machinery", "Aero-thermo Fluids Lab" and "Internal Combustion Engines"; things that make you grunt. They have other classes like "Steel" and "Transportation". I defer again to the way I differentiate between Civil and Mechanical: ME's make bombs, CE's make targets.

While the concrete set I focused on carpentry – making the funnels for the filling grout and a jig for cutting spaces in the cinder blocks to place the rebar. Miguel and I moved 570 blocks in and out of the jig plus cutting them with the diamond blade. We got it down to just over 2 minutes per set of four and finished in a day and a half. I never knew there were so many muscles in my hands but they let me know they were there and that they were hurting! The walls went up, three blocks high per day. And at the end of the day, the reward was a cold shower. Some days it was wonderful.

Our team of young engineers bonded as well. It was great to be dancing bachata and seeing my colleagues doing the same atop the tank walls. A sign of a good crew is the number of inside jokes – we've got plenty. Those of me revolve around the emerald bag around my waist that seemed to have everything. Lots of years of traveling taught me well: crazy glue, shoe goo, med tape (no need for a band-aid, just slap on the med tape), inflatable pillow, small sewing kit, safety pins, hand sanitizer, but the biggest surprise was when I pulled out the Grey Poupon mustard. I like to travel but I don't like to rough it.

The last day when coming down the mountain, I caught up with Nulbi, which was nice as I couldn't find him when I was saying goodbyes. I offered him a ride; we got to talking and we pulled over for a drink to chat some more. He said he had to leave the sight earlier to shed a few tears. Nulbi loves water projects like ours and this was his 7th or so. Every time he finishes and sees the impact on the village, especially on the working life for the women, he feels inspired to do another. He mentioned he got a call for another job the day before. Business is good.

Our team will go back to inspect the final work in April. The locals will put a roof on the tank, shore up the dam at the spring, and lay the piping from the spring to the tank and from the tank to the homes. We will also conduct more tests on the water. From samples so far the spring is quite clean. Just getting the villagers to 100% consumption from the spring (eliminating usage from nearby brooks) should dramatically reduce intestinal and skin diseases. Workshops have been prepared on maintenance, composting, hygiene, etc. I'm also hoping to dance a little bachata with the villagers at the inauguration.

And so as my first blog I chose this one as it represents so much of me and the steps forward during this transitional period in my life.