Saturday, February 26, 2011

Things Change

This article caught my eye yesterday. It's a good read if you want to look it up. I recall Gallagher, one of my favorite comedians from the early 1980s, doing a take-off from Chevy Chase's old news update bit on the first SNL. Almost 30-years ago his joke news item was to announce that the president of Mexico had decided to move his offices to Los Angeles so that he could be closer to his people.

A few years later I stopped over in Los Angeles, spending an extra couple of days to walk-through a visa application in order to visit Australia while on a project assignment. My hotel was just off Hollywood Blvd, around the corner from Grauman's Chinese Theatre. The area was still clean and safe enough, but I could not find a single place to eat where the wait staff could understand English! Not one, in 2-days! Every single waitress was Mexican and not a single one spoke even a smattering of English, or if they did, they wouldn't speak it for me.

More recently, I spent some time in Dallas. It has gotten to be much the same there. Things change, don't they?


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stones, Peas, and a Kiss

I was thinking about the Super Bowl half-time show and had heard the criticism it got from today’s crop of critics. To tell you the truth, I haven’t paid much attention to pop music at any time in my life and stopped listening to the radio music stations sometime in the 1970s.

Now and then a really good song would make its way through my personal fog and register in my mind as one to remember…but I’ve generally forgotten those, too. Until the Super Bowl performance I had never heard of the Black-eyed Peas, or of Will-i-am, although I had heard of Fergie…that’s randy Andy’s ex-princess isn’t it?

The Peas’ appearance struck me as rather bizarre and their music struck me as unremarkable. However, Fergie wasn’t hard to look at. Their bizarre appearance is really what got me thinking. Bizarre music acts aren’t anything new.

A generation ago there was Kiss, another bizarre looking group whose music I don’t recall.

In our youth about the most bizarre looking group I can recall would be the Stones, which doesn’t look too bizarre to me now. However, a lot of their songs are a part of me. How many guys of our generation don’t remember most of the lyrics of Under my Thumb and how many times did you wish your own situation with a girl would resolve itself in accordance with the lyrics? But they never did.

Under my thumb
The girl who once had me down
Under my thumb
The girl who once pushed me around
It's down to me
The difference in the clothes she wears
Down to me, the change has come,
She's under my thumb

Yeah, right

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Yankee Station

As we’ve aged, retired, and started reflecting on some of the things we’ve experienced over the past, nearly 50-years since EH, the net has come along at a propitious time. As no other generation has ever had available to them, we have the tools to ask long, unanswered questions and have a reasonable expectation of finding answers. It amazes me nearly every day.

Someone mentioned the F4 Phantom recently and that started my mind going. This was the plane most young pilots wanted to fly, but few got the opportunity. It had a reputation for being powerful, somewhat unwieldy, and dirty with respect to throwing out a lot of black smoke. We used to joke that a Phantom didn’t land as much as it arrived as it came aboard a carrier. They hit hard and emitted a lot of smoke from burning rubber as their heavy frames arrived on deck.

As so many others are going through their old picture files, a lot of old Vietnam material is beginning to appear in online venues such as Flikr and other sites. If you have a specific memory of something you saw, but never photographed, there is now an opportunity to find some of those pictures you never took.

This story is illustrated with a couple of shots I frequently saw but never photographed. Unlike the WWII veterans, we have a marvelous communication tool available to us in the net. For those with an interest in the subject, all you need to know is how to ask the question. I recalled the boiling smoke from the Phantoms coming aboard (arriving) and the close calls they often had with a pitching deck as they made their final approach.

If you were Navy, this is the kind of stuff you saw on Yankee Station, if you were Army or Marines, you saw something different, and if you were Air Force, you saw something different still. I think Navy had the most exciting jobs but since they were done in locations remote to news media, there wasn’t much of a record created of their duties. Only pictures like these, taken by some of the sailors themselves can do a good job of telling their story.

The last picture is an aeronautical chart marked by a carrier pilot for his use in flying a mission into North Vietnam. This is the kind of thing that is essentially unique and rarely seen by others. However, as we clean out some of the old boxes and trunks, this is the kind of thing we are finding.

Garbage Collection

My father left a number of impressions with me. One of them being a strong recollection of his running dissatisfaction with garbage collection services of the 1950s and 1960s; the years I lived in his house. As a kid, I had a lot of house chores to do, but taking the garbage out was one Dad kept for himself and consistently complained about the service. I think it became a matter of wills over who was going to call the shots. Trouble was that garbage collectors tend to occupy a similar spot as does the anus in the old joke about who is the boss of the human body. Perhaps you’ve heard the joke.

Dad was a 20-year old Lt. in the WWII Air Force and at an early age had grown accustomed to having people jump when he barked a command. Of course, civilian life was different in that respect, and the garbage collectors tended to be different still. They generally set the rules of garbage collection, not the customers. I think Dad hated that. After a running battle with one garbage collection service, he even started wrapping his garbage in red ribbon, complete with bows just like a gift. True story.

Of course, we are all accustomed to having our garbage collected on a certain day of the week, maybe even twice a week. I’ve found that during my run at life, garbage collection has tended to be rather inconspicuous and of only minor irritation. But now and then, a new driver can change things and introduce irritation for a few collection cycles.

Our local rules are to place garbage in bags and then bags into cans. I tried doing it that way years ago, but with women in the house, we have always been significant bottom-line contributors to all the major paper companies and have produced far more garbage than can be conveniently fit into a can or even two of them; so, I prefer to use just the bags without the cans. My rationale is that one trip out with the bags is less work than two trips required by using the cans—one to leave it out and another to retrieve the cans.

Our local lady garbage Nazi clucks at me at times about my bags…but she’s been doing that for 20-years without result. We understand each other. One thing about garbage Nazis is that they are good at clucking, but weak at conflict.

Yes, yes, I know the animal problem argument and have suffered some irritation with aggressive squirrels, crows, a fox now and then, and a herd of raccoons at one house; however, overall I’ve experienced very little animal problems over the span of about 40-years of fussing with the garbage.

Most irritating is when a regular driver establishes a predictable schedule, then suddenly changes it, as happened again this week. The week before last, after months of picking up about mid-morning, he shows up in the late afternoon. Last week, he skipped a day and showed up the next. This week, as I’m enjoying my morning coffee, expecting him to come about mid-morning, he shows up at the crack of dawn. I’ve got to get it out before I planned…now my schedule is being jerked around by this joker who has suddenly gone erratic. Maybe I should use some of Dad’s red ribbon?


Friday, February 11, 2011

Super Bowl Flyover

There’s a snit in the air today as information about the Super Bowl flyover of 4 Navy F-18 fighters become public knowledge.  There are a few troublesome facts emerging.  Apparently the Navy acknowledges a fuel cost of about $110,000 for flying the jets from Virginia to Texas and back.  The other costs being tacked on would be for maintenance and other operating expenses.

One wonders why jets from Pensacola or Corpus or even locally from nearby Naval Air Stations in the DFW area couldn’t have been used.  Maybe they didn’t have any available state of the art planes or maybe not enough available pilots, who knows.

Of course, one obvious question would be to ask why do it at all when the stadium roof was closed due to snow and icy weather.  Some defenders are already responding to that one with statements that the flyover wasn’t done for the folks in the stadium, it was done for the 100+ million TV audience.

Well, be that as it may, there are some legitimate questions that need to be answered about this decision.


Tuesday, February 08, 2011


While chatting with a colleague many years ago, I remarked I was frustrated that so many people were not driven to do their work promptly and competently.  Some even seemed content to let things drop altogether, even though they were capable people.  Management tolerated it.

For those like me, those driven to get something done, life in a working environment that included many others with differing motivations was annoying.  Thankfully, I spent most of my working years in small, entrepreneurial endeavors.  There, we associated only with motivated people having useful skills.

My colleague, an ex-pat Brit who was content for many years to be Dilbert-like within a large corporation, got out a pad of paper and drew a quadrant diagram, numbering the quadrants 1-4.  He then marked 4 personality types, one in each quadrant and showed that each group was useful, except one…that one should be taken out and shot (his words).

His drawing and explanation amused me and I found later that the theory is well known in some areas of organization philosophy. 
1.     smart & sluggish
2.     smart & hard-working
3.     stupid & sluggish
4.     stupid & hard-working

Apparently the first known proponent to publish his version of the theory was a German Army general who rose to prominence during the period between WWI and WWII.  As Chief of the Army High Command, Kurt Hammerstein-Equord oversaw the composition of the German manual on military unit command (Truppenführung), dated 17 October 1933.  He originated a special classification scheme for his men:
I divide my officers into four classes;

1.     the clever,

2.     the lazy,

3.     the industrious,

4.     stupid.

Most often two of these qualities come together.  
       The officers who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments.  
       Those who are stupid and lazy make up around 90% of every army in the world, and they can be used for routine work.  
       The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations.  
       But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Super Bowl – Take the Ball, Dummy!

I suppose one indication that you’ve gotten old is that things, that for a lifetime you’ve taken as fact, are rejected by that huge group of younger people that have been building behind you while you were distracted with raising your family.

For instance, once again this evening at the opening flip of the coin, I’ve seen a team win the toss and give the ball to the other club!!! Good God, man…what in the hell are you doing? My offspring patiently explain to me that that is how these things are done now. The winner of the coin flip gives the ball to the other team in order “to see what they have” they say.

Who gives a shit, I retort. My offspring return those patient with the old man glances, and I know that further discussion is useless…that is the way it is done today, Dad.

Look kid, I say. In my day I learned that having the ball was a distinct advantage over not having the ball. Most importantly, YOU CANNOT SCORE IF YOU DON"T HAVE THE BALL. Explain to me kid, how is it different to win the coin flip and give the ball away than it is to fumble or throw an interception? No answer, just that patient look.

Further, in the old days our thinking went like this…take the ball any time you have the opportunity. You will find out what they have soon enough.

The only time we might have considered choosing which end of the field to start instead of taking the ball, might be an instance of there being a strong wind. In that case, we might choose the end of the field to start the game that would give us the wind behind our backs in the 4th quarter. Of course, we didn’t have indoor stadiums when we played, so today wind is usually not a factor. Take the f***ing ball.

If you play chess, do you ever take black when you have the first choice? No, of course not, you take white...white always has the first move. Having that first move advantage all the way through a game between evenly matched players is very important.

….blank stares….

President Ronald Regan would have been 100 today. There was an extraordinary service held in California this afternoon to mark the milestone. Be sure to watch a rebroadcast if you get the chance. Rather than post a video of yet another young singer trying too hard to stylize our National Anthem and muffing the words, I thought it would more substantive to post a couple of other visuals. Mr. Reagan’s picture speaks for itself. The video is only 1 minute long…stay with it to see the last few seconds of the young marine holding his/her salute. Tell me what you think.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

DFW Power Shortages - Winter Storm

I don't understand several things about the power shortages reported in Texas yesterday and today.  Maybe I'm wrong, but isn't summer air conditioning load much larger than winter heating load?  Is 20-deg. really that cold?

Why did ERCOT lose 50 generators totaling about 7,000MW?  I heard one radio report that the west Texas wind mills failed to provide power during this storm, but have been unable to find anything written about it.

Next day...Oncor, the transmission company admitted making a mistake by cutting off critical care hospitals while implementing ERCOT's "rolling blackout" order.  Oops, my bad!  Going forward, the Oncor spokesperson said they need to work on their "processes".   This new wave management gibberish drives me nuts.  It seems to me that the current approach to ducking responsibility is to fog the issue with meaningless lingo.

When our utility was TXU or even the TESCO, DP&L, TP&L companies before that, I don't recall them having the same problems doing what they were charged to do; generate and deliver electricity.  Sure, there were upsets due to tornado or hurricane damage, but losing 7,000 MW to a cold snap, come on now.

About 3-years ago TXU was purchased by 3 large investment fund managers and broken in to several subsidiaries--a generating co. and a transmission co. among them.  I'm not a fan of bankers, accountants, and lawyers trying to "run" technical enterprises.  Invariably, they focus on the short-term balance sheets and resist making long-term reliability investments.

If the technical group were out ranked and out classed by the financial gurus, then I would expect expensive things like preventative maintenance work to be a hard sell within the organization.  Ultimately, as the old adage goes, you can pay now or you can pay later...but with regard to keeping equipment running, you are going to pay sometime.

A technical guy will recommend doing the routine maintenance so you can better control the reliability, but a financial guy will want to wait until it breaks and he is forced to spend the money.  Unfortunately, waiting leads to unscheduled outages at the least convenient times.  But luckily for the geniuses making the "wait" decisions, retribution is rarely forthcoming because few outsiders understand the real problem they induce.

I think this is a sort of replay of the foolishness in the BP blowout this past summer.