Posts in "Thinking" category / Page 2

Charity giving and the pitfalls therein

This year, I started the giving a bit early, mostly because of the bombing of the MSF Hospital in Afghanistan. MSF (Doctors Without Borders) is one of my “Usual Suspects” in charity giving, I have given to them for several years. They are a great organization, and I upped the donation this year because of the problems that the USAF caused them. Sending the donation to MSF got me on a roll, and donations to Fisher House, The Salvation Army and Planned Parenthood followed. My donations are based on the good that I feel an organization does, and how well they use the money. Which brings me to the point of this post. How do you donate wisely?

I will ruffle some feathers here, and will preface this by saying that my opinions are my own, you can donate to whomsoever you like and any comments sent here about the organizations that I donate to (or dis) will be deleted with extreme prejudice. With that out of the way, lets proceed.

The first thing I do when thinking about donating to a group is to go to the website

It is a website devoted to gathering all the information you should check on when donating, in one easy site. It gives you information about finances (How much of the money you donate actually goes to a cause? You might be unpleasantly surprised), transparency and pay of the CEO. They also give information about problems with an organization (Red Cross, I am looking at you) and the mission of a group. Giving money without checking on a group might be better than just tossing it out of a helicopter, but not by much.

“What about the United Way” you might ask.  The United Way is an organization I will never, ever give to. I have had too many employers try to force contributions out of me, all to a group that ranges from 2 to 4 stars depending on what location you are in. The ultimate insult was “Your Fair Share”, a proposed giving rate. Let me tell you, when just out of school in an entry level job, “My Fair Share” was, in my estimation, a very damn small number. Nowadays, it’s a pretty large number, but the United Way will never see any of it. On a less personal note, the United Way is a cop out. It is a way to donate, without actually doing any work on where your money goes or how well it is used. Time to jump in the helicopter again…

I don’t like places that have palatial headquarters. The local Red Cross just built a new building, in an expensive part of town. That didn’t come cheap. The local Salvation Army, on the other hand, is in a 1960’s building in the poorer part of town. I will let you guess which one fits my idea of what their mission is.

So, how much should you give? That’s a personal question that only you can answer. My personal number has gone up to about 5% of net income over the years. However, I feel that is probably not doing enough. On the other hand, the people I admire take their own time to work for the charities. Donating your time is a much larger thing to me, and I wish I had the time to do exactly that. Writing a check seems paltry by comparison, but as I have pumped up the amounts over the years, I feel like I am helping somewhat.

My final answer on what you should give? Whatever you are able to, and whatever makes you feel good about yourself. I find that giving money to groups gives me a lot better outlook on life as a result. That makes it cheap, at any price.

The Importance of Airports in Small Towns

I spent yesterday training back up on instrument flying. It is a Sisyphean task, especially in the Midwest. I have been instrument rated for about 12 years. Of that 12 years, 6 of them have seen the plane down,  and most of the rest have been working back up to “comfortable” with instrument flying after an extended period out of the clouds.

My current instrument instructor is also a lawyer (no, really, he is a nice guy), and a graduate of the most excellent OSU aviation program. He has a very good “real world” attitude about flying, he was the first instructor who has us do at least one approach on full automation (and one with all the movie screens turned off) that I have had. Instructors are very much a personal flavor. I have had some really good ones, and some really bad ones. I fly over an hour to train with this guy, just because he and I mesh well. Stay with me, we are getting to the point…

I typically meet up with him in Hope, AR, at airport M18. Hope is a relatively small Arkansas town, mostly famous for being the childhood home of Bill Clinton, and the place (on the airport) where they stored all the FEMA trailers at one point. The airport is a ex-WWII military facility and has the possibility of being quite nice given a bit of attention from the city. Instead, it looks about like what it is, a neglected piece of infrastructure, that the city is making money off of renting one runway out for storage. The runway markings are unreadable, and the runways themselves are in need of attention. In a town of 10k people, in need of additional business injection, that is very nearly unforgivable, considering how much money the airport has and could bring in.

On our flight, we landed at Magnolia (KAGO).  Magnolia is also a 10,000 pop town, but is a completely different town than Hope. There are several small and medium businesses in Magnolia, the town is quite dynamic, and the airport reflects this. There are about 10 hangars, mostly new. The runway is freshly repaved and marked, there is an AWOS II being put in and the fuel is working and reasonably priced. The terminal buildings are fresh and in very good shape. Altogether, it is the type of place that if you were on a quick trip around several towns, in search of a place to locate a business,  you would remember. It’s a showplace for the town, and the first step to luring business into town.

A good airport will always help support a town. A bad airport is barely better than no airport at all. You look at Hope, and you see a town that has given up. You look at Magnolia, and you see a town that is working hard at getting to the next step, whatever that is.

I know where I would want to live…



Shoelace Length, and solutions

I walk about 4 miles a day on a treadmill (actually a walking desk, an amazing invention. Look it up, it will change your life). For a FAA 170 lb human, shoes are supposed to last about 400 miles. As you get heavier, the mileage you can get out of a shoe drops off substantially. Since the FAA considers me ~1.5 human, my shoe mileage runs about 300 or so miles, meaning I am getting a new pair of shoes about every 3 months. That’s not actually too bad, before my knee replacement (aviation injury, but not nearly as sexy as it sounds) I was walking 10 miles a day and blowing through a new pair every month. I use NB shoes exclusively, besides the company’s attempt at keeping things American made (or at least designed), they have a better selection of widths, and fit better. Bad shoes for distance walking, running or whatever are murder on your feet. I also wear Injinji “toe socks” to keep my toes from blistering each other. But, I digress.

The last couple of pair of NB shoes I have purchased have seemingly had shorter and shorter shoelaces. This is not just an opinion, I pulled one old set and compared them to the new ones. I am not sure if NB is getting shorted by a supplier, decided that they could save a penny or two per hundred shoes or just ran out of longer laces, but the laces supplied with the shoes are no longer usable for me as supplied. I bought a couple of new sets of laces, but then came on a better solution.

On the Internet, there is everything. For people who want to look, you can find recipes, cars, and sites specifically devoted to lacing shoes. My solution to the NB problem is to switch them to straight bar lacing, a method that allows for 28% longer lace ends. With the shorter shoelaces, this comes out about right.

But I would prefer getting the right laces for the shoes.



What I use

Paul Thurott has an interesting habit of posting a list of his current hardware/software that he is using at various times in the year. I thought I would try the same, as my needs as a support/field service guy are quite a bit different than your average user.


This is the first place that things are a bit different from the average guy. Since I have to handle multiple operating systems going back to DOS, I have multiple computers. My primary computer is a Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10. I have a couple of docks in the office, so I can move from a 3 screen setup to a 2 screen setup on my walking desk. I also carry some portable screens with me on most trips so that I can get full productivity while on the road. I also keep a Lenovo W520 as my “big guy” because it has all the ports. The SP3 has one USB3 port and everything has to go through it. The 520 has 4, and so it’s not a problem to connect up to most anything. I also keep a IBM T40 running Win98/Dos. The 520 gets used a fair amount for jobs that require a full laptop, but the T40 is strictly in a crash bag for service calls where I need the old software. I also have a Lenovo K series desktop with dual video cards and a 1T hard drive along with a 250Gb SSD running Win10 Preview (now Win10). That is kind of my test unit, although I am typing this on Win10 now. I used to be a Thinkpad guy, but I feel since Lenovo took them over, they are more a consumer machine than a professional one.


I use Microsoft Office exclusively, with a Office 365 Business subscription. My personal email goes through this, and my company email is run through Google for Business. I have found that the Google for Business email has exceptional uptime and is quite flexible. I have looked at some alternatives, but never found anything that warranted a change (and the accompanying xfter of 6 years worth of email. For accounting software, I use AccountEdge, for  no other reason than it is what I started out with 20 years ago. There are undoubtedly better software packages out there, but I know (mostly) how to use this, as do my people.


I am a Windows Phone guy. My current phone is Lumia 1520, which is tied to a Microsoft Band ( I do not recommend this with the Band 2.0 comming out soon) and a Plantronics Edge Bluetooth headset. My mechanic got one, and called me while doing a full power run up on a 300 hp plane with the door open. I asked him why he was shouting, because I couldn’t hear the engine or prop at all, the noise cancelling is that good. My backup phone is a Lumia 1020, which is also my primary camera. Both of these are on AT&T, with my Aux Backup phone being a iPhone6 on Verizon. Having phones on two different networks can be a lifesaver at times. I also use Google Voice for additional lines.


I use WordPress for websites now, designed by Haden Interactive. I previously used Dreamweaver, and for a while wrote my own websites. The world has moved on, and I find that I am better off with someone else doing this. It still makes me somewhat nervous not having the reins myself though.


So, that’s an overview. I will update this from time to time, depending on what I am using and changes that happen.


Buying Beer on the 4th of July, 1984

So I had thought I might fly today, and went up to the airport. Low cloud deck meant that I got to spend an hour updating the maps in the avionics and not much else. On the way back home, I was instructed by “She who must be obeyed” to buy some brats and some beer to boil them in. So, I stopped at the local Springdale, AR Harps store. picked up the brats, some buns and some cheap beer to boil them in.

Welcome to 1984…

When I reached the checkout and got ready to pay, the girl asked for my ID. Being 54 and looking most of that age if not older, I muttered something about fishing for a tip and pulled out my wallet to display my license. I was then astounded when she asked me to pull the license out so she could scan it. Since I was a bit pressed for time I did so, but on the way home I kept thinking about the Orwellian implications.

1. What does Harp’s want with my license info? Name, address, phone number, DOB, that I am an organ donor and who knows what else. This is info that most places would be happy to pay for, yet I had to give it up just to pay THEM for a bottle of cheap beer.

2. On doing some research, I was unable to find a “Confidentiality of Driver’s License” Statute in Arkansas. In California, for instance, businesses cannot retain information like this that they (supposedly) scan for validation of DOB. Like, can the kids not do math anymore? Actually that may be a problem, but that is why they have the little calendars that say “Don’t even think of buying liquor unless you were born before xx”.

3. Is the fact that I bought beer tied to my AMEX card that I used to check out? My Insurance? What happens to the information? Why is it that Harp’s scans DLs when other places (including Liquor Stores) don’t?

Perhaps I am overthinking it. But the 4th of July is supposed to celebrate our freedom, and I got stuck showing my papers to a computer instead. Not going to be buying beer at Harp’s anymore, that’s for damn sure….

The importance of getting the right professional for the job.

So a short time back, I almost died.

Since living is important to me, and since I made some mistakes during this incident, along with some good choices, I thought I would offer them for your consideration.

The problem started off simply enough. I went to my dentist for a cleaning. I have a very good dentist, and trust him and his staff implicitly. The cleaning went well, and besides some jaw pain from being in the chair with my mouth wide open for an hour, there were no complications. I had a client with an emergency in MS, and the weather wasn’t such that I could fly down, nor did I have a charter service that could get the power supply to the customer, so I drove it. After a 12 hour round trip, the jaw seemed worse, but I had another trip, this time to Dallas on the books. I grabbed a night’s sleep and headed to Dallas. In Dallas the next day I noticed some swelling and the pain was worse so I headed to an urgent care and had things looked at.  Leaving with pain meds and antibiotics, I finished out the rest of the day, and hit the bed. The next morning, things were much worse, with my jawline fading under the swelling. Now I was convinced I was in trouble, and headed for the ER. Since I didn’t know Dallas hospitals that well (although I travel to Dallas often), I called the urgent care for a recommendation.

A little research goes a long way.

I should have saved my dime and gone to the web instead. The urgent care referred me to a local hospital (which I found out later was owned by the same company), that was fairly far down most of the lists of quality for Dallas. The ER was quick and competent though, and I was admitted to the hospital with IV antibiotics flowing and feeling fairly good about getting on things so quickly. A CT had shown nothing of note, and so the idea appeared to be to hit the infection hard (white count up) and see if it fell over. The next morning however, things were even worse, with the swelling going under the chin and up the cheek.

It was also at this point that I figured out that this hospital was in way over their head. Nobody had a clue what was going on with me, they had lost the first set of blood cultures they had pulled and had to pull a second set. They had nothing set up for the next morning other than wait and see, and with my condition worsening, that wasn’t good enough for me. I called Mrs Dr Jernigan and asked her to fly down and help me get to someplace worthwhile.

No matter how far down the road you have traveled, if you find yourself on the wrong one, turn around.

The hospital was not happy with me wanting to move, and went into damage control fairly quickly. However, I was firm about leaving, and in their defense, they did start working to transfer me to the hospital I wanted to go to (Baylor Medical Center in downtown Dallas). They also went pretty much limp on my care, which I find unforgivable. When I accused them of this, there were more excuses, but by that point I was ready to walk out the door, and did as soon as my wife arrived. My quick departure probably saved them from the wrath of the Doctor of Chemical Engineering discussing the shortcomings of people who can’t keep their hands on cultures (and make stupid statements about them taking a week to get results).  The hospital couldn’t seem to get the transfer to work in the timeframe I wanted, so we walked out to drive the 8 miles to Baylor ourselves.

Don’t mistake the appearance of action for actual action. If things aren’t happening fast enough, do something yourself instead of relying on people who may have other things going on.

Baylor was very, very good. They compare on many levels to Mayo Clinic (my gold standard for care). The ER quickly established that I was in serious trouble, and got numerous professionals on my case. I got one of the best nurses I have ever had dealing almost exclusively with me (and the gallons of stuff they wanted pumped in) and with a new CT and other x-rays had a couple of the surgeons from the Dept of Oral surgery looking at me. The only problem was, they couldn’t see anything causing the problem.

Good professionals don’t dither, they consult.

The Dr who had looked at my case that night took the films the next morning to the chief radiologist. The second time around, and with a more experienced set of eyes, they found the problem. The back molar had split all the way through the tooth vertically, and had perforated the mandible. The infection had started there, and despite being pumped full of antibiotics, they were not helping because there was a reservoir of infection to repopulate things as the antibiotics killed things off.  The problem now was that the swelling had gone all the way under the jaw to the other side, the swelling on the right was up to the orbit of the eye, I had lost my chin in the swelling and the left side was going up the cheek as well. I couldn’t open my mouth enough for a tooth removal under local, and my airway was becoming compromised.

The right guys have the right resources.

Despite it being Memorial Day weekend, Baylor got an OR team together, and wheeled me into surgery. The less said about that the better, they had to intubate me while still conscious, which I fortunately don’t remember much of.  Good surgeons, good anesthesiologists and good care got me through the surgery, and with the tooth gone and drains in, the infection started abating. Another week would pass before I left the hospital, and several weeks before the swelling went completely away, but the surgery was the turning point.

Hear hoofbeats, expect horses, not zebras. However, don’t discount zebras until you see the color of the coat.

The tooth cleaning was a red herring. It had nothing to do with the problem. The split tooth was the issue and was not even obvious from a CT scan. I was fortunate that Baylor had people who would not let it go and kept looking until they found the answer. They had the right people (College of Oral Surgery) and the right facilities to do the job and they kept going until they had the problem nailed. They were not afraid to ask for help from other resources and they wouldn’t just let things proceed until the problem became obvious (which in my case would have been at the post mortem).

While this is a tale of staying alive, the lessons here transfer quite easily to other situations.


Why we’re here…

It’s always a good question to start with. My purpose with this site is to get some of the thoughts I have had over the years of working with clients out into the open. Some of the good things, some of the mistakes and some of the stuff that makes you just stare in amazement. I think as an engineering consultant, I get to see organizations at the high stress point. People who call me are usually in trouble, they are down, may have been down for days (weeks sometimes). This leaves very little room for pretense.

It’s a different world out there from when I started in engineering. Some of the changes are for the better, some of them are astoundingly short sighted at best, and positively penny-wise and pound-foolish at worse. If I can get some people to start thinking about what they are doing, and why they are doing it this way, then I will be happy (or perhaps content, happy might be too strong).  This site is not only for engineers, but for the folks who manage them.

Not all of the post will be about engineering, industry or such. I intend to hit a wide range of subjects, and will hopefully be less boring than it may sound. Comments are welcome, although they may never show up, I will certainly see them.

Off we go!

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