Something to Think About


Many years ago I avoided young people, because even though I raised four of them, I felt like I would not relate to them.  Surprisingly, after a persistent nun convinced me to teach a Sunday School class to 14-15 year olds, did I realize how enjoyable it is to visit with them.

I have a slew of questions to ask the young people I meet.  To get a grasp of where they are, I ask them their favorite subject in school and their hobbies.  I am a bit disappointed to hear one say they want a profession in Video Game Creations.  Now I doubt there are any readers of this blog who are of that age, but I tell you I find myself wanting to throttle them and tell them, that is a profession with overflowing applicants.  Like Computer programmers when I was young.

A few months ago, I sat with pencil and paper and evaluated my life of employment.  To my surprise I realized I have had 16 different professions and worked for 16 different companies.  Not necessarily corresponding.

I will have to spend some time and write down my employment history in detail, because looking back, some of it has surprised even me.  But here is a summary of it.

My first job was flipping hamburgers at the local Dairy Queen for a dollar an hour.  I was able to eat free, so there were times I think I ate the profits of the company.  To this day, I feel every kid coming out of High School should work at least 3 months in the food industry to get a perspective of the people on the other side of the counter.

Once I worked for a heating and air conditioning company installing HVAC systems, both in 140 degree attics and under houses with cobwebs and empty eggs, (which indicates the presence of snakes).  Those were also my ditch digging years.

I worked as a Roustabout in the gas fields of the Texas Panhandle and Western Oklahoma.  That was an experience.  One day, January 6th, it was 6 below zero and the engines we used had trouble starting.

My boss said, “Let’s go into town and get some coffee.”

I commented that I didn’t drink coffee.

He replied, “You stay here and work.”

Suddenly, I remembered I do indeed drink coffee, and have imbibed in it since.

I worked at three different appliance companies and ended up being one of their Maytag repairmen.  Don’t believe the nonsense of him being the loneliest guy; I kept busy.

Went to work as a welder, building derricks that could pull almost a million pounds of pipe out of the ground.

Been unemployed three times, one of which was my choice.

Worked part time as a Mechanic/Welder for a couple of wealthy ranchers who had more money than common sense.

Worked as an Electrician at four different companies:  an Electrical Contractor in a small town in Texas, then at a Manufacturing plant, then took a job with a Government Contractor in Afghanistan and then a Contractor in Moscow.

Afghanistan was an experience.  I worked alongside some of the laziest people in the world and worked with some of the heroes of this Nation.  I moved up the ladder as an Admin guy, (don’t know how else to describe it), then as a Construction Coordinator, (my most satisfying job) then as a Scheduler/Planner.  (My most frustrating job)

Through a chain of events, I now sit at my most enjoyable job I’ve had; yet I would be lying if I stated there was no frustration involved with it, because when you work in the Government sector you have to endure some of the most ridiculous decrees you can imagine.  Everyone with a title thinks they are boss.  If you break wind the wrong way, you will have to endure diversity training.  If you saw the Employee Evaluation process, you would laugh.  In all fairness, I knew what I was getting into.

But all in all, I am proud of what I have done and accomplished.  Regrets?  Absolutely.  Anyone who states they have no regrets in Life either does not see outside the box, or they are lying to themselves.

In years past, I never would have thought I would someday be sitting in a 7th floor apartment, in a country that sits between Europe and Asia; writing something for a blog on the Internet.  To have set foot in countries I fantasized about when I was young.  Countries I looked at on maps, wondering what they were like.  Countries I was told I would never visit, so enjoy reading about them in the Geography books.  Yet countries that have become a part of me in what I have seen, and the wonderful people that have become part of my Life.

Now all this is getting to a point that I want to bring up.

Mike Rowe is a well known TV personality.  You may not recognize the name but you will know the voice.  He does the narrating for Deadliest Catch and is the main character on Dirty Jobs.

He recently started a program to help people get to work without having a college degree.  When you get a chance, visit his websites and see what he is all about.  I have been watching this since its inception and have been pleasantly surprised at its growth.  It made us feel good to donate a little to his project, in hopes that it will help someone find a job that they enjoy.  It’s not unlike us helping Hywot with her advanced medical classes in Addis.  In the years to come, when we are standing in line to answer for all we did wrong, and all we did right, it will be something we can brag about.  And I am convinced we will be able to see in the past what effect we had, and the ripples that rolled out from the good we did.        and


Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

How many times have you heard that expression?  If I were to ask people what is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I would get hundreds of suggestions.  Let me state a few that I’ve been told that are in that group.

Internet, cell phones, GPS, caller ID, silicone implants, microwave ovens, compact disks, graphics programs, disposable diapers, Lasik surgery, penicillin, motion pictures, television, 3D movies, the internal combustion engine, 3-phase electricity, fuel cells and the mute button on a TV remote.

It’s actually an endless list.

Many years ago, I was a member of an odd group of people who met on Friday nights to create the answers to many of life’s questions.  Yes, I said, create answers.

One topic always left standing was Technology.  For those of you who remember the Dick Tracy comic strips, you will think of the wrist radio/television (WR/T) they wore, along with the flying buckets they traveled in.  I always thought the WR/T would be something that we would actually see in the future, but in looking back over the years, the future actually made the WR/T obsolete before it could be invented.

In 10 A.D., Roman Engineer Julius Sextus Frontinus reportedly said, “Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further developments.”

And in similar fashion, I found this statement:

“In 1900, the British physicist Lord Kelvin is said to have pronounced: ‘There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now.  All that remains is more and more precise measurement.’  Within three decades, quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity had revolutionized the field.  Today, no physicist would dare assert that our physical knowledge of the universe is near completion.”

Stephen Hawking is a modern day genius that holds the same position at Cambridge University, that Sir Isaac Newton held in the 1600’s.  Below is one of many quotes from his book, A Brief History of Time.

Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable.  They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world.  Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from.  Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest.  And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.

Science will continue into eternity, because Science begets Science.

A most interesting book I read more than a decade ago is Microcosm by George Gilder.  The book covers the development of electronics over the centuries.  It basically begins with the creation of the germanium transistor at the Bell Laboratories by William Shockley, and advances up to the most advanced computer chip at that time of publication, the i486.

Something very few people know, the first computer CPUs, (computer brain) were designed on paper rolled out on a gymnasium floor, because the schematics were so complex.  One of the greatest inventions for computers is a program that actually designed the CPUs, making it no longer necessary to lay it out on a huge area.  Thus, one of many greatest inventions since sliced bread.

To give you a better grasp of how fast computers are compared to 20 years ago, my first computer was the Commodore 64 with a CPU speed of 1 MHZ.  This means, it had a “heatbeat’ of one million “beats” per second.

In the early eighties, I became interested in Fractal Geometry.  On the little black and white design below, the black center is known as the Mandelbrot, named in honor of the Polish Mathematician, Benoit Mandelbrot, who invented the Fractal algorithm.

My little Commodore 64 took 25 hours to produce the image.  My desktop computer I am using now has two “hearts”, each running at 2.5 billion times a second.  That’s 2500 times faster than my old Commodore 64, and yet it is considered slow by today’s standards.  To create the color fractal shown, my outdated computer took a little over a second.

Let’s look at some of the inventors of these greatest things since sliced bread.

Alexander Graham Bell.  Credited with inventing the telephone while in the process of creating an acoustic telegraph in his work with the deaf.  It was the famous, “Mr Watson, come here; I want to see you”  that were the first transmitted words.

Thomas Edison.  First invention was the phonograph.  He also invented the electric lightbulb.  He tried many different things to use as the filament in the bulbs, even trying human hair, before finding tungsten the best.  When he died in 1931, he had 1093 patents to his name.  Four of them were granted posthumously.

Nickoli Tesla.  A most interesting immigrant from Yugoslavia, who is said invented the 20th Century.  He was an extremely odd man, always giving the appearance of grandeur.  When he first came to America, he apprenticed under Edison.  They both were geniuses whose ideas went different directions and eventually parted company, becoming bitter enemies the remainder of their lives.

Tesla is most recognized as the creator of the neon lights and 3-phase power.  He invented the transformers that step electrical power up or down, thus enabling cities hundreds of miles away to share electricity from a power station.  This was in direct conflict with Edison’s thinking, who stated DC power was the safest and the best.  An untrue statement in many ways.  I could write an extremely interesting chapter about the conflicts between the two geniuses.

Another pioneer in technology was Henry Ford.  His greatest invention is not the automobile, but the assembly line.  One of many reasons America moved ahead at the time in GNP in the world.

There is a cool story about him that is one my favorites, but I have been unable to locate the exact verbiage.  During a press conference, a journalist tried to embarrass Ford by asking a very complex question knowing he would not have the answer.  Without hesitation Ford replied, “I do not have the answer, but within 15 minutes I can find someone who does.”

Factories in the 1800s, had steam engines (first patented in 1698 by Thomas Savery) that turned a large shaft that ran the length of the manufacturing plant, with belts that transferred power to the machines.  Today, each machine has its own 3-phase motor that is far more efficient.

Look at the work of Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin.  There is Rudolf Diesel who invented the diesel engine, which is used far more in Industry than the gasoline engine.  There is Samuel Colt who invented the revolver, because he was afraid his slaves were going to rise up against him.  You’ve heard of George Westinghouse, but his first invention was the pneumatic brakes on a train.  He also worked with Tesla to invent the Electric Chair, which was the first patent granted for the use of AC power, that Edison was devoutly against.  As a matter of fact, Edison pointed at the invention and told the world, “Look, AC power will kill you!”  Not letting on that DC will do the same, but a few milliseconds slower.

Albert Einstein had many incredible and thought provoking ideas that changed the world.  But his first contribution to mankind was a refrigerator with no moving parts.  Basically, a gas refrigerator.  Einstein was an extremely interesting individual.  There is a story that the neighborhood girl would bake cookies for him, in exchange for him doing her homework.  The Otis elevator company once installed an elevator in his two story house as a gift, just because Einstein loved elevators.

Penicillin is perhaps the greatest invention in medicine, by Alexander Fleming in 1928.  Louis Pasteur invented the rabies vaccine which injected weakened disease cells into the body, which causes the immune system to create antibodies.  Didn’t matter if the disease was weak or already dead, the body responded anyway.  So, when the healthy disease showed up, it was already immune to it.  The vaccine was designed for many other ailments also.  The first person to receive the rabies vaccine was nine year old Joseph Meister who was bitten by a rabid dog just weeks after the vaccine’s creation.

Vacuum tubes & IC chips.  This is one of the most interesting developments of technology in the past century.  I have several old short wave radios that use the old mysterious vacuum tubes inside to collect magnetic radiation from radio stations thousands of miles away.  They were efficient in their time, but with the innovations of Bell labs, William Shockley and team invented the germanium transistor, which could do the same thing, but faster, cheaper and with much less power.  Eventually, technology was able to place hundreds on a single integrated circuit, then thousands and then millions.  This is why a cell phone will fit in your hand and can do more instrumentation than a decade ago.

The CD (compact disk) uses approximately 16 trillion microscopic pits on its surface to hold data, and is read by a laser beam that makes over 44,000 mathematical calculations every second.  With that amount of memory, you can put over eight hours of movies on some disks.

The hard drives on your computer have increased in capacity at an exponential rate.  I remember seeing an ad for a 5 megabyte hard drive (capacity of 5 million pieces of data) for $2500 in an old Omni magazine.  Today, 1 terabyte drives (one trillion) are selling for $40.  That’s 200,000 times more data capacity, with a total ratio of size vs. cost of 16 million to one.

Fiber optics is a long continuous strand of glass that a light beam travels in, providing more information than thousands of wires can.  This is why your long distance calls are no longer accompanied with whistles and static like the phone lines of the 50’s and 60’s.

A decade ago, one of the discussions on computers was Artificial Intelligence (AI), but you hear very little of it now.  Study shows the brain uses something called fuzzy logic.  Plus, no computer could come up with the creativity of the human mind.

I could go on and on and on with this.  But the idea is to make you realize what technology is doing while we sleep and dream.  While we go to work, sit with friends for a meal, or sit and watch a movie.  Technology moves on in ways we do not understand and a rates we cannot envision.  We may think we are being overrun with technology, but consider this provoking thought from the book Microcosm:

Computer theorist have been humbled to discover that one human being can perform more image processing than all the supercomputers in the world put together.  They have found that a baby in a mother’s arms performs feat of learning and pattern recognition that defies large arrays of today’s computers.  They described computer operation is faster than thought.  They are right, computers are faster than thought, but they must still wait for humans to do the most critical thinking.

We will pass our knowledge to our children, and they will study it, improve it, and then recreate it.  And what they end up with will be passed on to their children, who will work it in ways our children do not understand.  And it will be passed on to the next generation, then the next.

“You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.  You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”    

                                                                                                  Kahlil Gibran

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