Friday, August 27, 2010

An engineering "Miracle Worker"

I remember seeing the movie The Miracle Worker as a child (if you consider being 11 years old a child). I didn't particularly like it but I went because my parents wanted to go and I always went with them. At that age, I couldn't understand how Helen Keller's parents would let her get away with so many things and allow her to become so violent. Also, I didn't understand why Anne Sullivan would stick with such a difficult job. Everyone was mad at her. All the time. But as I look back at it and when I see it on television now with a lifetime of learning about these things, I now consider it one of my favorite movies. How a young woman had the courage and ability to help a younger girl, who was also courageous but blind and deaf, learn to read, write and speak is still beyond my understanding. Well, if they ever do a remake of this movie, my suggestion is to update it with one of the guys in our repair department.

Our company used to sell a line of products that were electronic data logging and control devices. You could write a program (in our own programming language) and store it on the device to have it collect and store data (like temperature, humidity, air pressure or whether a switch was open or closed or whether a light was on or off - and many other things) and store that data with a time tag so you knew when it happened. You could also control things like switches, motors or lights and make decisions about how you wanted them to work. For instance, one popular thing for our customers to do was monitor the temperature of something and then either throw a switch to start a heater or a cooler to bring the temperature back in line. Some scientists even used our boards to run and control experiment on the Space Shuttle, in under-sea pressure cases and in remote locations like Antarctica. The idea is that these places are inhospitable for humans to be there for long so our device would try to make decisions of how the experiment should proceed and record the results of the experiment. As you can imagine, these are very complex devices.

But our company dropped that line of products year ago. But the need for those devices didn't stop and customers continue to try to use them and get us to repair them if possible. So, when a customer called me a few weeks ago about trying to get some of our devices running again, I said I'd look at them to see what I could do. I found that two of the five boards were working and I was able to upgrade them with the latest operating system. But three of them were in bad shape. They couldn't communicate. In a sense they couldn't see, hear or speak. I tried a few things but I couldn't get them to go. I talked with one of the guys in our repair department and he offered to try. Since the boards were old, so was our equipment to test and program the devices. The programs don't run on new versions of Windows and our repair guy had to fire up his old computer - and it wouldn't work, either! So, first he had to get his old computer running. Then he had to remember how to test and work on the old boards. Then he had to patiently work through the board to figure out what was wrong. Finally, he had to find replacement parts for the parts that had failed. Our parts buyers weren't buying new parts for these old, discontinued boards and the components were cataloged or stored in the usual place.

Finally, he was able to get the boards to "speak" and "understand" - kind of like the breakthrough that Anne Sullivan made with Helen Keller when Helen finally made the connection between the things of the physical world and the movements of Anne fingers as she spelled out words into Helen's palm. Our repair engineer's miracle didn't take as long as Anne Sullivan's but it was still a miracle. To me at least.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Ball Game - just one more post

When I went to the ball game on August 31, the Red Sox were playing the Detroit Tigers. I was looking forward to the game itself, of course, but I was also looking forward to seeing Jim Leyland, the manager of the Tigers. I think he is a great manager and I've always felt badly that he has only won the World Series once. I grew up in Pittsburgh and followed the Pirates even after I moved away. Mr. Leyland coached the Pirates for eleven years and for three of those years (1990, 1991 and 1992), they finished at the top of their division and went on to the National League Championship game only to lose there without getting to the World Series. The Pirate organization always stressed batting over pitching (the team had the nickname "The Lumber Company" in the 1970's) and I thought Jim Leyland did a great job getting the best from his teams in spite of the organization's lack of top-level pitching. He helped develop Bobby Bonilla, Jay Bell, Barry Bonds, Tim Wakefield and Andy Van Slyke - only to see them traded away once their contracts were up for renewal. Although I was glad to see the Red Sox win, I wish the best for Jim Leyland. I just wish he'd give up smoking.

Another pleasantly surprising thing happened with a member of the Tigers. The young Miguel Cabrera is a member of the Tigers and can he hit! During batting practice, he launched a steady stream of balls into the stands and made it look easy. He was so impressive, the people in the stands nearest home plate (where I was sitting) gave him a round of applause. He was surprised and made an appreciative bow to the Boston fans. I liked this show of good sportsmanship on both sides. I thought about shouting, "Well done! Take the rest of the day off." But I didn't. Mr. Cabrera hit a home run in the first inning with a man on to give the Tigers an early lead. He had a pretty good day getting two hits in three at bats and walking once. Luckily, for the Red Sox and their fans, it wasn't enough and the home team won. I can still admire an opposing player and manager, though. I think they are both class acts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I've ridden over 1000 miles on my scooter

It's been about two months since I got my scooter and I've already ridden over 1,000 miles on it. As you can see in the picture here, it was at 999.2 miles when I left this morning and it turned over 1,000 just down the street. I didn't have time (or the room) to pull over and take a picture of the event. I figured this was close enough.

I love this scooter. I look for excuses to use it (even when I shouldn't). It is fun to ride and I feel it is very safe. It is stable and easy to handle. It gets between 90 and 100 miles per gallon so it doesn't cost much to use. Because the top speed is about 50 miles per hour, I take back roads to work and I'm enjoying that, too. It turns out to only take about 5 more minutes to get to work on my scooter than it does in the car using the more direct four-lane highway (it takes about 20 minutes to get to work in the car). One of these days I hope to take the time to take some pictures along my route to work. I'll post them here.

I mentioned above that I look for excuses to use my new scooter ("Oh, we need milk? I'll just zip down to the store on my scooter and get it!") and that sometimes I shouldn't have. That happened when I went to pick up some pizza we ordered. The boxes were too big to lie flat on the floor board or inside the seat so I stood them on edge between my feet. When I got home and opened the boxes, I saw that the pizza had slid down and that half of each pizza was folded over. My family was not pleased. I ended up eating the folded pieces. They were delicious! See, even food tastes better when it's been for a ride on my scooter.

In the interest of full disclosure: I'm actually posting this on August 20 but this happened on August 17 so entering it like this will help me remember the day.

A great message

I like the sermons the pastor of our church delivers. I've mentioned them here from time to time. I should mention them more and I will try to do that in the future. But this Sunday, we had a guest speaker because our pastor is on vacation. The guest speaker is a member of our church but isn't here often. He is a leader in a missions group whose mission is prisoners in jail - in this country and others.

His sermon was from 1 Timothy 2 : 1-7 and it was wonderful. But the line he used that affected me the most was (I'm paraphrasing here):
What we truly believe causes us to act.
In other words, it's easy to say we believe something. It's another matter, though, to truly believe something and it causes us to act. If I don't truly believe that this chair will hold me, I will not sit on it. If I don't truly believe that my next breath will draw in fresh, clean air, I will not breathe freely. So, if I truly DO believe that God has put me here for a purpose and has a plan for my life, how should I act on that? We all have mundane things to do every day. We can't do the Lord's work every minute of every day. But I know I can do more. I know I waste a lot of time. I need to keep reminding myself of this every day.

As a counterpoint to this, I am including this funny quote I saw attached to an e-mail message today.
It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What else could I expect on Friday the 13th?

I don't believe in luck and I don't think people have more trouble on Friday the 13th than on any other day. BUT...

I ran out of gas on my scooter on the way into work today. The sad part is I was pretty sure I might and was going to go to a gas station first so I wouldn't have to worry the whole way in to work. But then I got started late and thought maybe I'd "luck out" and make it in after all. Of course, I didn't. I thought I wasn't too far from a gas station, though, so when one of my co-workers saw me walking the scooter and stopped to help, I said, "Oh, there's a gas station right around the corner. Thanks anyway." I hadn't paid attention when I went to the gas station before. It wasn't right around the corner. It was two corners beyond that.

Scooters aren't meant to be pushed. You can't really put them into neutral. There is always something working against you as you push or try to coast down a hill. Plus, I kept worrying about when I would ride it down a little bit of a hill that I should wear my helmet or I might get stopped by the police. So, I was wearing my helmet most of the time. I finally got around the "third corner" after about a half an hour. When I gassed up, the total only came to about 1.5+ gallons where the manual says the gas tank should hold 1.6 gallons. Another lesson learned.

So, there was no bad luck involved. I just made two bad decisions:
1) Not going directly to a gas station
2) Refusing my friend's help
And as one famous quote says:
Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions. 
I've seen this attributed to various people so I'll just leave it as an anonymous quote here. I will now make a better decision the next time I think I might be low on gas. And I won't refuse help the next time it is offered.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Ball Game - part 3

This is the third post about my trip to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. The first post is here and the second post is here.

Now we get to the game itself. It was a perfect day. The temperature was in the 70's (that's Fahrenheit - it was in the 20's in Celsius). There was a bit of a breeze and my seat was in the shade so I didn't have to worry about sunburn. But what did I do with that other ticket? I was going to sell it for about half of its face value of $95. You're not allowed to sell tickets for more than their face value and I thought $40 to $45 would be fair and pay for the parking, subway fare and lunch. I walked into a ticket office and asked what seats in the Loge section would be worth. Our tickets were in the section I circled in the top picture to the right - the circle on the lower right of the blue arrowed line. He asked if I had two tickets. "Well, I want to use one," I said but he answered, "No, I'll trade you your tickets for a single seat closer to the field. And I'll give you $50." Well, how could I argue? The ticket he gave me was in the section behind home plate that I've circled on the upper left with the arrow pointing to it. It was only 10 rows back of the field. That's where you see me standing in the picture of the first post.

OK, OK - the game. The Red Sox were playing the Detroit Tigers. They shouldn't have had much trouble with them but the night before, the Sox were way behind the Tigers going into the final inning when David Ortiz hit a Grand Slam Home Run to bring them to within one run but the rest of the team couldn't get any more runs and the Sox had lost. So, the team and the fans were out for revenge. The Red Sox pitcher was Daisuke Matsuzaka. He is a good pitcher but is not very consistent. Well, the whole team has been inconsistent this year.

Things didn't go well through the first seven innings of the game. The Tigers were ahead 4 - 0. The Red Sox kept getting men into scoring position only to strike out or hit into a double play to waste the chance. One of the bright spots was a player playing in his first major league game. Ryan Kalish got a hit in his first time up and ended up with two hits and knocked in a run for the Sox. But going into the bottom half of the last inning, the Red Sox were still two runs behind the Tigers. Once again they loaded the bases and who should come up but David Ortiz - the guy who had hit a grand slam the night before. Could he do it again or would he leave men on base as he'd done earlier in this game? The picture to the left shows the men on base waiting for Big Papi (David Ortiz' nickname) to get them home.

He did! He didn't hit a home run but his double was enough to drive in the three runs the Red Sox needed to win the game and keep it from going into extra innings. The last picture shows him swinging with the bases loaded but, unfortunately, this wasn't the swing that drove in the runs. I think this was a foul ball just before he hit the double. But it was the most exciting ball game I'd ever been to. I just wish my son Evan had been able to make the trip with me. We'd have talked about this for the rest of our lives.

Monday, August 09, 2010

I don't expect much but....

When I'm driving, I try to do the right thing. If I see someone trying to get into traffic or cross traffic from a side street, I let them out if it doesn't mess up the flow or delay people behind me by too much. I don't expect a thank you because I consider it my civic duty to help keep traffic moving. Don't get me wrong - I like getting a thank you or a smile as much as anyone but if I don't get one I don't get mad.

There are those times, though, when I'm ready to blow my top. Two days ago, I stopped to let another car cross the lane I was in to get to the lane going the other way. As they crossed, the driver looked at me. This usually precedes a smile or a wave of thanks but not this time. The driver glared at me. You'd have thought I'd tried to hit them or yelled at them given the look they gave me. I wasn't too close. They had plenty of room. I hadn't stopped quickly making it look like they'd forced me to let them through. As far as I know, I was happy that day and didn't have my own mean look on my face. No - they just returned my kindness with a mean look and there was no mistaking it.

I thought about rolling down my window and shouting at them as they passed but decided against it. Why make the matter worse? Would it make me feel any better? No, it would just put me in a bad mood. I ended up doing what I usually do in that situation. I said to myself (as if talking to them), "I'm sure glad I'm not you." Can you imagine being that person every day? They probably wonder why so few people go out of their way to help them. They probably wonder why they have so few friends. Thank God that's not my life.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Ball Game - part 2

As I said in the original post, my wife Cindy won two tickets to a Red Sox game. When she first told me about it, she said the game was going to be on July 17. But when we looked at the tickets, they said July 31. Neither of us could figure out where Cindy originally got the idea that the game was on the 17th. We let it drop.

Also part of the wining package was the chance to meet and have lunch with Jonathan Paplebon, the Red Sox closing pitcher (a relief pitcher who specializes in coming in at the end of the game when his team is ahead - the "Closer" shuts down the other team and allows his team to coast to victory - sometimes). Cindy didn't want to go and said it would be better if I took my son Evan. So, we planned for that but as the big day approached, Evan got nervous because we weren't sure what the situation would be. Would we be sitting at a table with him and need to know what to talk about or would we be among a large number of fans and just be lucky to get to shake his hand and get a picture with him? But Evan was worried to the point that it was ruining the entire event for him.

I could sympathize with Evan. When I was about his age, and my parents were shopping for a new car, the owner of one of the dealerships got a call while we were there. He talked to the person for a short time and then asked me if I'd like to talk to the greatest ballplayer ever. Well, I was a Pirates fan and assumed he meant Roberto Clemente but he was talking about a guy who had been born and raised in nearby Donora - Stan Musial. Like Evan, about 45 years earlier, I wasn't sure what to say to him. What if he asked me about the Cardinals (the team he had played for)? What if he asked me which team I played on (I didn't play organized baseball)? What if...what if...what if? So, I just said, "No, thank you." To my father's credit, he didn't force me into it. He probably couldn't understand my reasons (he was very outgoing and would have talked Stan Musial's ear off) but he respected my feelings enough to just let it go.

So, we decided that I'd go alone and sell the other ticket because at this late time, I couldn't find anyone else to go with me. So, I left the house at 8:30 AM to get to Boston at 11 AM for the lunchtime meeting with Jonathan Paplebon. When I got there, the restaurant where the meeting was to take place was closed. I waited around until I saw some waitresses arriving and asked them about it. As I got out the voucher for our meeting with Mr. Paplebon and looked at it again, I finally noticed the date of the event - July 17. That's where my wife had gotten the date from originally. But when I saw that the game was on July 31, I just assumed that the meeting would take place on the same day. Wrong! I'll read everything the next time but even if we'd have known that meeting Mr Paplebon would take place two weeks before the ballgame, we might not have made the trip to Boston just for that.

But the saddest part to me was that Evan would have made the trip with me if it hadn't been for the meeting and lunch with the famous ball player. We could have had a wonderful father and son day at the game and not have had to spend so much time there as I ended up having to do waiting for the 4 PM game to start. I ended up having a good time (more on that in later posts) but I didn't have as good a time as I would have had if my son had made the trip with me. If I'd only read the voucher.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Funny business slogans

We interrupt this series on my trip to the ballgame with a short, funny (I hope) post about some interesting slogans I've seen for a few businesses. The first is the slogan I saw on an electrician's truck in Virginia:

Let us get into your shorts.

The next is the slogan from a plumber in our area:

Our business is going down the toilet.

Finally, a slogan I saw on a pizza place in the Georgetown section of Washington DC:

Pizza on Earth to men of good will.

That's it. Hope you enjoyed those.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Ball Game

I hope to write a few posts about my adventure this past week-end. My wife, Cindy, is an avid sweepstakes participant. She has won many things and one of the contests she won recently included two tickets to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. This picture shows me standing at my seat as the pregame ceremonies were ending and the Red Sox were taking the field.

Which day did I go to the game? Was the weather as perfect as it seems in this picture? Was I with the guy who took my picture or was I there alone? If I was alone, why was I alone (where Cindy)? Why does it look like I was so tired? Why do I look relieved? Did the Red Sox win the game? All those answers and more in the coming days.

Yes, I know I've said before that it is a mistake to say ahead of time what my blog posts will be in the near future. I'm hoping this will put some pressure on me to get these posts written and published in a reasonable time. We'll see.