Thursday, January 24, 2008

My trip to the Big City

We (all the engineers in our company) made our trip to the Air-conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration exposition in New York City yesterday (January 23). We had to leave at 5 AM to get there by the 10 AM opening. I felt like a country hick going to the big city -well, I guess that's because that's what I was! As much as I make fun of New York City and people who live there, I have to admit that it is a great city and has a real character. Of course, many other cities have a character but New York City is special to our country. I'd like to take some time and go there with my family to explore. There is a variety of history, entertainment and interesting things to do that is hard to match anywhere else. I also love going to Boston. And I grew up near Pittsburgh. There is a wide variety of things to do there - especially for such a small city. But they don't have the variety of New York City. Near the convention center, you could see the Empire State Building (picture to the right). Even though it is not the highest building in the world anymore, it is still impressive. And there aren't that many larger buildings around the world.

Anyway, the expo itself was both disappointing yet very interesting. There were vendors for everything from large metal bending machinery to tiny sensors to measure a large number of physical properties (temperature, humidity, vibration, acceleration and various gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and oxygen). There were huge machines and fans (yes, there was a company called the Big Ass Fans which made really huge fans) and welders along with tiny boxes to record the state of the air to measure how efficiently the big machines were running. There were lots of displays to show how well one pump or another was able to move water or air or one pipe configuration was able to reduce the force needed to move the water or air (one demonstration is shown at the right). We got to talk with a lot of people who could use our products and we saw the way a lot of other companies design and produce the same products that we do.

But, all in all, I have to say the trip was disappointing. Most of the seventeen hours we spent on the trip (eleven of those on the bus), I kept thinking how much I could have gotten done back in the office. Another thing I worried about, but didn't mention, was: What would have happened to our company if our bus had been in an accident a large number of us had been injured? The show lasted for three days. We could have at least split up into three groups and attended each of the days. Or have some of us go to different expositions. I think that those of us in the Software Department got the least out of this experience.

But it was nice that all of the engineers got to be together at one time. We had some good laughs and got to know each other a little better. And we got to watch a couple movies on the bus on the way home. I've seen bits and pieces of Cool Hand Luke before but now I've seen the movie all the way through! And I've heard about Caddyshack for years but had never seen it. Now I have. I won't be adding it to my list of favorite movies, though. Hey, there's an idea for another blog entry. A list of my ten favorite movies - with reasons why they are my favorites. And my lists of favorite books and favorite foods. Stay tuned.

By the way, on the bus ride to the expo, I got most of the way through reading The Children of Hurin, J. R. R. Tolkien. I highly recommend it. It is not easy to read and a tragic story but the complex storyline has a number of enlightening and satisfying themes. You wonder how Mr. Tolkien could keep every thing in his mind as he wrote it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Going to the Big City

Our company is sending all of the engineers (about 30 of us) to New York City for a big exposition for air conditioning, heating and refrigeration tomorrow. They've rented a bus, ordered box lunches and registered all of us. We need to show up at the office at 4:45 AM and won't get home until 11 PM that night. They want us to not only see what our potential customers are interested in but also to look at what our competitors offer. The air conditioning and heating industry is only one of the industries we sell to. Actually, we do most of our business with environmental resources companies. But our company wants to get into industrial applications more than we have in the past.

Many of the folks who are going are upset and I can see that they are worried that it takes a whole day away from the projects they are working on. But I am actually kind of excited about it. I've always enjoyed going to things like the Embedded Systems Conference and walking around the exhibits floor. You get to see all the latest developments in a field and get to talk with some pretty smart people. You can also pick up some pretty neat toys. I'm planning on taking my camera so maybe I'll get some interesting pictures to show here. I haven't been to New York for a long, long time. As a matter of fact, the last time I visited the city (rather than just passing through), was over 25 years ago when I was taking a bicycle trip from Richmond, VA to Boston, MA. I ran out of money in New York, though, and ended up taking the bus home from there. But the funny part was that Pope John Paul II was visiting the city just as I got there and I got to see him in the parade. Afterward, they still had Broadway shut down and I was able to ride my bike right up the middle of New York with no traffic around me! If I ever find the old slides I took of that trip, I should try to convert them to digital pictures and put some of them on this blog.

It is nice to think that our products could be used to help monitor buildings to reduce their usage of energy. I'd like to think that the things we design and build here will have a positive influence on the world. Our products have always been used by researchers and engineers in a wide variety of fields. Our products have been used in, under and on the ocean. They've been sent to Mars and used in the Space Shuttle. They've been used to track the movement of moose in Yellowstone Park and record the sounds that dolphins and whales make as they swim in the ocean. They've been used to help in human powered flight and in solar powered airplanes. They've been used to ensure that Patriot missiles are ready for action and that the temperature of food has not risen too high during its trip from the farm to the store. I hope our trip tomorrow will help us find more ideas for things to help in more ways.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Poor restaurant seating

I'm not usually a complainer and I don't like to make a fuss in public. But sometimes it seems that the place we are asked to sit in a restaurant is terrible. Too close to a door; near some noisy people; next to the bathroom. Those places will get me to ask for a new location.

Well, after I saw how this poor little Black-capped Chickadee had to maneuver to get its meal, I figured I should never complain again. I can't imagine having to hang upside down while trying to pry a seed from a pine cone. He was so intent on the job that I was able to sneak up close and snap this photo. They must have been delicious!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Too bad we don't get better - all of a sudden

I've been feeling bad (sick, not depressed) since New Year's Day. That's fourteen days. I'm gradually getting better but wouldn't it be nice if one day you just woke up and felt great? I find that sometimes it's hard to remember how it felt when you weren't sick. Maybe, as you get older, you just never reach the point of feeling as good as you did before you got sick. Maybe it's just all downhill once you reach a peak in your 20s or 30s. Now you see how bad I'm feeling. Maybe I am a little depressed. I'm not usually this pessimistic.

It all started around Christmas when our daughter started coughing and sneezing. She started out with a fever and was lethargic. The fever passed quickly but she was sneezing and coughing for weeks. After the first five or six days, though, we all thought we out of the woods and wouldn't get what she had. Bzzzt! Wrong. It just waited until the new year hit. As I mentioned before, my son and I tried to stay up until midnight to see the new year but only made it until 11:30 pm. I just assumed that's why I felt bad the next day. Bzzzt! Wrong again. So, I laid around the whole day, wasting one final day off. I didn't feel too bad that night and figured I'd go to work the next day. Bzzzt! Wrong yet again. I called in sick and hoped one more day off would help. It didn't.

This stupid cold was insidious. It ran in peaks and valleys - almost like the wave you see when you alternately charge and discharge a capacitor. Felt great for a few hours and then felt like crap for a few hours. Every day for fourteen days. But I could see the valleys (what I describe as feeling bad) weren't as deep each time. But the point of this whole, rambling post is that it only gradually got better. So, at the end of the fourteen days, it was hard to feel, "OK, I'm better now." It could have just been another peak; soon to be followed by another, hopefully less deep, valley. Wouldn't it be nice if you just stayed sick for as long as it took and then one day you woke up and, BING, you were better? You'd be sure you could go to work. You'd be sure you could devote the whole day to things you needed to do or fun things you wanted to do with your family. Another nice side-effect to this Feel-Better-Switch would be that you'd know if it was a good time to make a decision.

This is a thought I'll try to expand on in a later post: I try to not make any big decisions when I'm feeling sick, tired or depressed. It's amazing how many really bad decisions I've made while I'm not feeling good. And if I'd have just waited a few days (or hours or minutes :-), I would have felt better and made a better decision. More on that sometime. For now - look out, world - I'm feeling better!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Sometimes it's better not to know the story

I'm a big fan of Turner Classic Movies, American Movie Classics and older movies in general. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy seeing movies on the big screen in the darkened theater while I eat popcorn and drink a Coke. But we often don't get to see anything except new movies in the theater. Here's the link to my previous rant about that. The good thing about TCM and AMC is that you get to see some classic movies you wouldn't get to see without renting them. And, of course, to rent a movie, you have to know about the movie. How else are you going to see a new (to you) movie unless someone else tells you about it or plays it for you?

I love it when you happen to tune into a movie near its beginning and it is so fascinating that it grabs you right away and you just can't turn it off. This has happened many times but one of my better experiences was around 1980 or 1981 (yes, this was before TCM and AMC - or at least before I had access to them). I was sharing a house with two other people but they were out at the time. I was flipping through the channels and came on an old, black and white movie. I missed the opening credits but it started with a view of space with stars and galaxies showing. Then, a couple of the galaxies started flashing and voices came from them. They were discussing someone who was in trouble and they were going to send someone to help him. Yes, I'd just tuned into the beginning of It's a Wonderful Life. The idea of this just fascinated me and I watched the rest of the movie. My housemates came back in the middle of the movie and recognized it right away. They couldn't believe that I'd never seen it before. But I was spellbound and couldn't move until it was over. Speaking of Spellbound, that was another movie I saw this way. It didn't make as big an impression on me because I knew it was an Alfred Hitchcock movie so I, sort of, knew what to expect. I know I enjoyed it more, though, because I didn't know what it was about or how it ended.

Another time, about two years ago after I was married and we had both of our children, my wife had to go into the hospital for an operation and had to stay overnight. While it wasn't a serious problem, there could be a lot of pain involved and she didn't look very comfortable when we left her. Our daughter had to be in bed early but our son, who is six years older (he was nine years old at the time), seemed to be disturbed about his mother being uncomfortable and he really missed her. This was the first time he had been away from her overnight. So, I let him sleep with me but we were both restless and decided to watch TV in bed. We were watching TCM and a cartoon was coming on so I thought it was OK for him to watch it. It started out with a really silly song with strange images during the opening credits and we almost turned it off but once the story started, we got caught up in it. The animation was completely different than anything we'd seen before and there wasn't much action. A father and his two young daughters were moving into a house in the country (rural Japan) and it just drew us in as they opened up the house, saw each room and discovered the house was full of "soot sprites". Why was this family moving? Where was the children's mother? Were the soot sprites going to cause problems? The movie was My Neighbor Totoro and I am sure I would have never rented it if I had just read the plot summary. My son and I stayed up too late that night but we couldn't help ourselves. We had to know how it all worked out. And, the movie had two sub-plots that were appealing to us. One because we have and love our cats and the other sub-plot was similar to our situation and it had a special meaning for us that it wouldn't have at a different time in our lives.

Another time, my wife and I were flipping through the channels and came on an old, black and white movie that grabbed us. It turned out to be a murder mystery which really lends itself to being "discovered" in this manner. We missed the opening credits and the first few scenes but we saw a fellow being accused of murdering his wife. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence against him and he is quickly convicted. All his friends abandon him (who wants to be associated with the murderer?) except his secretary. His only alibi is that he spent the time of the murder with another woman. But he never got her name and knew nothing about her. It's up to his secretary to find the Phantom Lady. We had to know: Why was the secretary so loyal? Was the accused murderer as loyal to his secretary? Would she find the "lady" in time? Would it make any difference? This was another case of, "would I rent this if I had only read a short plot description?" I don't think so. We just happened to bump into it when we had some time to watch it. I don't think I would have watched it alone. It was just the right circumstances with just the right company.

Sometimes it is just better to not know what you are getting into. This also helps with some engineering projects. If I'd have known ahead of time how difficult some of the things I've worked on would be, I would have never started them. Or the company would have never allowed me to work on them. But the projects ended up getting done and were well worth the time and trouble. But if someone would have written a short plot summary for me, I would have never spent the time! Maybe I could write more about this some day.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

First entry for 2008

It's the morning of January 1 and we're finally all awake. My son and I tried to stay up until midnight last night but could only make it until 11:30 pm. I think we could have made it but it seemed silly somehow. We stayed up watching the DVD of the ninth season of Seinfeld that I got for Christmas and the movie Meet the Robinsons that my son got for Christmas. He enjoyed it when he saw it in the theater. I missed it in the theater but enjoyed it last night.

My first, and most obvious, New Year's Resolution is to write in this blog more often. But beyond that, I'd like to write better entries. Not so much to better entertain the three or four people who have seen my blog but to keep a better record of what is going on in my life and my family's life. I'd like to try to explain the circumstances better and talk more about our thoughts and feelings as we respond to events in our lives and what we make of our lives. I hope to explain more about how I do things at work (without revealing "secrets").

Another resolution is to be a better person. As a Christian, I should be spending more time helping those who need help. I should be spending more time encouraging people and not finding fault with them.

Another resolution is to lose some weight. I'm back up to about 220 pounds while the doctor says I should be closer to 190 or 200. Combined with this, though, I need to get in better shape. I'm slowing down and getting less flexible. I need to make sure I walk every day but also need to spend more time on different activities to keep my muscles from drying up and my joints from locking up.

I need to start practicing the piano more. Whenever I go to play a song, I notice how bad I've gotten and it gets worse every time I play something. Since I'm not playing for our church anymore (other than filling in when someone is away or sick), there is no opportunity to play.

I'm still walking at lunch and taking pictures but that has slowed down and I'm more apt to miss a walk during the colder, rainier weather. I need to take a change of socks to work (I already have walking boots there) in case I get wet at lunch. That is my number one reason for skipping a lunch-time walk - the worry that I'll have to sit all afternoon in wet socks! What a trauma in my otherwise sheltered and blessed life.

I hope we all have a wonderful new year. While I know that what is good for some is bad for others, I pray that we will all take each other into account as we make decisions in the coming year and, if possible, keep the consequences to others in mind as we make our decisions. Tomorrow, I go back to work after having taken four vacation days (we got Christmas Eve off). So, it's been eleven days off. Tomorrow is going to be tough. But it will only be a three day week and then comes another week-end. Then maybe I'll do all the things I said I was going to do these eleven days but didn't.