September 30, 2012

If you follow any of my blogs, you probably get the feeling that writing does not come easily for me.  Well you are absolutely correct.  At times, I labor over each word trying carefully to select the right one thus, providing the meaning I wish to convey.      One good thing–I have discovered the more I read the better writer I become, or at least I think this is the case.  Of course it’s incremental and you don’t automatically become Shakespeare by reading Shakespeare.  Also, there seemingly, is no fixed number of books read that make you a world-class author.   You get the picture.  I do love to read and this, in my case, is a very real benefit relative to the written word.  I always have a book going, sometimes two or three.  With this being the case:

 I just completed a marvelous book entitled “Why School”, written by Will Richardson.  Mr. Richardson was teacher in the public school systems in New Jersey for twenty-two years and methodically develops the case for changing the way we teach by virtue of addressing the ways we NOW learn.  When I was growing up, we had radio, some TV, newspapers, magazines and books.  No Internet, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Google, no Yahoo, no instant messaging, etc.  As we all know, times have changed and dramatically—dramatically!   He makes the case that by virtue of the Internet, our kids are considerably more literate and resourceful when finding answers than we adults are now or possibly ever were.  “I need to Google that to find out how many members we have in Congress.”  “Can someone tell me the zip code for Red Bank, Tennessee?  I’ll go on line and find out.”  “Who was the thirty-eighth President of the United States?”  All of these answers are at our fingertips if we go on line.  Almost in an instant.   He emphasizes we rethink teaching by accomplishing the following:

  • Share everything (or at least something).  Talk to each other.
  • Discover don’t deliver ( the curriculum)
  • Talk to strangers. Don’t limit yourself to individuals you know.  Seek answers from the “guy who wrote the book” or at least someone who has read the book.
  • Be a master learner.  Know something about everything and everything about something.
  • Do real work for real audiences.
  • Transfer power.

 His challenge is as follows:  “Our kids, and we ourselves, can now carry the sum of human knowledge around in our pockets.  Teachers and classrooms are no longer found only in brick-and-mortar schools.  We can have teachers and classrooms with us wherever we go.  What’s needed for reading and writing literacy is evolving far beyond traditional definitions. In fact, by modern standards, most of us are illiterate.  In large measure, the professional and, to some extent, personal lives of our kids will be lived online in transparent, public ways that are vastly different from the much more private spaces most of us grew up in.  It’s now easier than ever to communicate, create, and collaborate with others from around the globe who share our passion to learn.  This changes just about everything when it comes to being educated.”

I think most of us have already discovered the “new” and alternate path to learning.  Who would have ever in a million years predicted a marvelous web site like Word Press?  One in which we all can “publish” for anyone who wishes to read.  A new way to learn.



September 29, 2012

My business requires recording data to perform Six Sigma (6σ) calculations.  Six Sigma is a statistical process in which dimensional data is investigated to determine if that data lies between Upper Specification Limits (USL) and Lower Specification Limits (LSL).   If compliant, the number of failures are limited to 3.4 per million.  Excellent tool for statistically determining the quality of a manufacturing and/or fabricating process.   There are those times in which individual data points are far from normal and well outside expected values.  This data is called random and the points are called “outliers”.  Random data is always investigated and usually found to be of no real value due to errors with instrumentation,   personnel problems in acquiring the data, etc.  It’s always investigated! 

I have recently completed reading a marvelous book entitled “Outliers-The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell.   Published by Back Bay Books; copyright 2011.  As defined by the author, an outlier is something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.  A statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.  This book attempts to explain circumstances in a person’s life that allows success rather than failure.  Why, given two people of similar education and background, one succeeds and one fails.  Mr. Gladwell provides several answers, some of which no one wishes to hear.   Given below, are several finding he enumerates in his book.

  • The community in which one lives and the support one is given from that community can be the difference between success, failure AND overall health.  Of course, individual parenting plays a vital role but the influences from the community make a decided difference, both positive and negative.
  • The systems established to determine who get ahead are not particularly efficient.  There usually is a point in which an individual must do things differently.
  •  10,000 hour rule states that for world-class performance, an individual must practice, play, and become involved with an activity for at least 10,000 hours before real mastery occurs.  Gladwell uses as examples Bill Gates, the Beatles, Bill Joy, Steve Balmer, Paul Allen, Bill Hewlett, Steve Jobs and Mozart.  These people were no more born with genius than the rest of us—they did work harder to achieve.   Mozart was actually a “late bloomer” not a prodigy.
  • IQ is a lot like height in basketball.  Does someone who is five foot six have a realistic chance of playing professional basketball?  Not really. You probably need to be at least six foot or six-one to play at that level but past a certain point, height stops mattering too much.  IQ is the same way.  If you wish to win the Nobel Prize, you apparently have to be “smart enough” but maybe not the smartest person in the universe.  There is a threshold.
  •  Cultural advantage is HUGE!  To succeed, you must not be intimidated by circumstances.
  • Math ability VS growing rice.  (This is without a doubt the most fascinating chapter in the book.) Gladwell makes a good point as to why Asian students excel in math while students in the western world seem to be intimidated by math and the sciences.   This chapter alone is worth buying the book.

I could give additional examples but the bottom line—read this book.  Gladwell shows, by example, the circumstances behind success and what can cause failure in one’s professional and personal life.  I CAN DEFINITELY RECOMMEND READING!!!



September 22, 2012

Portions of the following information were taken from an article written by Ann Thryft for Design News.  Ms. Thryft is an exceptional writer and certainly accomplishes her “do-diligence” relative to the articles she writes for DN.

As you probably know, the Executive Branch of our government has mandated automakers, selling into the United States, accomplish a CAFÉ standard of 54.5 MPG (miles per gallon) by 2025.  Obviously, they must make considerable changes in order to provide automobiles that can meet this requirement.  OK—just how do they do that?  Ms. Thryft has many of the answers.  Let’s take a look.

 A survey, sponsored by DuPont was undertaken  to track the impact of the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) has found that automakers are focused almost equally on improving battery performance, breakthroughs in combustion engine performance, and lighter materials.

Nearly 700 subscribers to WardsAuto responded to the2012 survey.  DuPont released the results during the recent Center for Automotive Research (CAR)’s Management Briefing Seminar.

The technology improvements respondents said would deliver the greatest impact on fuel economy and CO2 emissions were combustion engine breakthroughs at 28 percent; lighter materials at 23 percent; and battery density, performance, and safety at 20 percent. Materials were broken out into two categories with almost equal importance: lower cost, lightweight materials at 13 percent; and lighter, stronger structural materials at 10 percent. Respondents did not mention specific materials, such as lighter metals or carbon composites and plastics, said a company spokeswoman.

A DuPont-sponsored survey has found that automakers are focused almost equally on improving battery performance, breakthroughs in combustion engine performance, and lighter materials.
(Source: DuPont)

Other technology improvement categories were infrastructure, such as recharging stations and alternative fuels, at 15 percent; and diesel emission improvements at 6 percent.

These results were not surprising, Chris Murphy, DuPont’s global automotive industry director, told us. “We have a good sense for what new things are being worked on. Materials affect efforts for improving battery density, and breakthroughs going on in engine performance, so we do get involved in battery designs and combustion engine improvements,” he said. DuPont provides many materials for automotive applications, including fuel line applications.

To help automotive engineers develop fuel-efficient, low-emission, vehicles while maintaining safety, comfort, performance, and cost goals, the company has organized its automotive materials science and global development teams to focus on specific industry needs across systems. These are light weighting, engine efficiency; bio-based solutions, electrification, and alternative drive systems. This focus on cross-system needs is in addition to the existing one on vehicle systems, such as the electrical systems team, or the power train or interior teams.

For example, light weighting is important whether it’s in the chassis and its components or the power train and its components, or in the interior. DuPont’s competency, know-how, and materials that can be used in light weighting the chassis can also be applied in the area of thermal management.

The new matrix focus may help DuPont be more efficient, quicker, and more accurate at converting what the industry says it’s looking for into materials that meet its needs, said Murphy. “So we don’t just respond to a request for new steering wheel materials. Instead, we look at how we can get materials with a lower environmental footprint. Then we can more quickly look at developing bio-based materials that may apply anywhere in the vehicle, rather than only addressing the perfect material for a steering wheel,” he said.



September 19, 2012

Dr. James Hill Tanner:  Hello, this is Dr. Jim Tanner.  Is Dr. Sims available?  It’s very important and somewhat of an emergency.  OK, I’ll certainly wait.

The receptionist answering the phone call could tell Dr. Tanner had a real emergency. His voice was definitely edgy and projected a very serious tone.

Dr. Marcus Grant Sims:  Hey Jimmy, is everything OK? Are you OK?

Dr. Tanner:  Mark, I’ve been a surgeon as long as you and I’ve never seen anything like the case I have right now.  I’m working the night shift in ER—Memorial ER.  They brought this kid in about an hour ago.  He was riding a Honda 350 Scrambler on I-75, heading north when he lost control.  Dumped it big time.   There don’t appear to be any life-threatening injuries although he does have road burns on his legs and portions of his upper back; shoulder blade area.   No indication of head wounds or cranial trauma.  We did an MRI to make sure there were no injuries to his back or head.  No issues there.   The reason I’m calling, one cut on his right arm is very deep, almost to the bone and definitely needs stitches.    While one of our nurses was cleaning the wound preparing for the procedure, she peeled back a layer of tissue and just about lost it.   Absolutely freaked out.     

Dr. Sims:  That bad?

 Dr. Tanner:  She came to get me right away.  Refused to touch the kid until I took a look.  She was white as a bed sheet.  We went into the cubicle where the young man was lying.  She directed me to the laceration.    He was sedated because he would not hold still.  His blood pressure was considerably elevated before sedation.  He kept trying to leave and said he had to get home before they came.

Dr. Sims:  Who is they?

Dr. Tanner:   No idea and he would not say. Just kept telling us he had to get home.

Dr. Sims:  Any I.D.?  Driver’s license, credit cards, Social Security Number?

 Dr. Tanner: None, none whatsoever.

Dr. Sims:  Are we OK treating this guy?

Dr. Tanner:  We felt we had to.   As I mentioned, his blood pressure was 210/122 with a pulse rate of 138. I thought he was headed for a stroke.   The reason I called, when I pulled back the tissue and probed the depth of the wound I saw very small indicator lights.  White lights like tiny LEDs and three flat pieces not unlike printed circuit boards.

 Dr. Sims:  Jimmy, you’ve been working much too hard.  Long hours.  It’s time to take a break.

Dr. Tanner:  Look Mark, we have known each other since med school.  You know I don’t delight in storytelling.  I’m telling you this kid is ten feet from me and I’m looking at the arm right now.  I have had three nurses look also and they refuse to go any further unless we get clarification as to who, or what, this guy is. You are the best orthopedic surgeon in the city and one of the best in the country.  Please come on over and give me your opinion as to what we have here and more importantly, how we treat this kid.

Dr. Sims:  I’m on the way.  Can you give me an update on the BP and pulse rate?

Dr. Tanner:  The same readings.  Very same readings.

Dr. Sims:  Keep him calm, I’m on the way.

Dr. Sim’s office is about ten minutes from Memorial Hospital on East Third Street.  The commute was very brief and he arrived in about fifteen minutes.  Upon arriving at Memorial he went right to the ER; down the hall and into examining room 5.  Dr. Tanner was standing there looking at the boys arm. 

Dr. Sims:  Any improvement?

Dr. Tanner:   None, but no worse.   BP is the same.  He is stable and seems to be in no danger of stroke.

 Dr. Sims:  Let’s take a look at the arm.

Very carefully Dr. Sims opened the wound exposing the lower layer of tissue.  He suddenly jumped back. Looking at Dr. Tanner he said, “What the crap. What am I looking at, Mark?”

Dr. Tanner:  You see what I mean.

Dr. Sims stood there for a moment wondering what approach he should take now that he verified Jim Tanner’s previous observations. 

 Dr. Sims:  How long has he been here?  How did he get here?  Ambulance, private car, police vehicle.

Dr. Tanner:  The cops found the scrambler on the side of the road. Someone had called 911 from a mobile phone.  We think the phone call came from a guy who had seen him dump the cycle.  Just kept going and never stopped to help.  I suppose he felt he had done his civic duty to make the call.   The boy was unconcious when the police arrived.  They called the ambulance.   The officer who brought him in is still here.  If you want to talk to him, I can go get him.

Dr. Sims:  Mark would you hand me a scalpel and a cotton swab?

Again, very carefully, Dr. Sims spread the cut and gently probed the tissues.  What he saw literally blew his mind.    The boy’s arm appeared to be internally constructed with transparent tubes or leads with fluid inside.  He was unable to determine if the fluid was moving, but it appeared to be fairly viscous and seemed to oscillate much like the electrons in an AC circuit.    Dr. Sims took the scalpel and made a small incision to expose additional lengths of the tubing and substructure.  He needed a better look.   Long string-like rods or wires ran length-wise parallel to the boy’s arm.  He supposed these to be similar to our tendons.  When probing the rods, they deflected slightly, but when pressure was released moved back to their original position.     Sims very gently spread the tubes to see what lay beneath them.  He saw what could only be described as electro-mechanical structures, but the structures had movement and seemed to be functioning in some fashion.

Dr. Tanner:  Do you think he felt the knife when you made the incision?

 Dr. Sims:  Jim, I don’t think he feels a thing.  This is the most remarkable prosthesis I have ever seen.  I don’t know where this kid is from but we don’t have anything close to this in the “states”, maybe not the planet.  Do you have any calls from parents, relatives, friends of this young man?

At this time, Dr. Tanner asked one of the attending nurses to check with the front desk to see if anyone had called asking about the patient.  When she returned, the answer was no.  

Dr. Sims:  Jim, let’s look for parting lines in his arms.  I will look on this arm and you look on the good arm.  Let’s see if there are similarities between the two, but notice any tissue interruptions that might indicate conjoined structures. 

Dr. Tanner:  Are you thinking fabrication and if so by whom?

Dr. Sims:  I’m totally beyond rational thinking at this point.  I’ve never seen anything like this.  Do you have your cell phone with you?

Dr. Tanner:  Always!

Dr. Sims: Would you take a picture of the boy’s arm when I pull back the tissues?  Let’s get some documentation before they commit us all.  If you can, get several shots including one of the flat pieces.  There seems to be some sort of interface, a connection between the tubes upstream and the ones downstream.  The flat pieces tie these together in some fashion.  Did you say you did an MRI of the boy’s arm?

Dr. Tanner:  Not the arm.  We were worried about the blood pressure and elevated pulse rate as well as any head or back injuries.  We honestly thought he was in real trouble since he came to us unconscious.

Dr. Sims:  Nurse, would you call and schedule an MRI on his arm?  I need to see just what’s in there.  I think we’re going to call this an emergency also.  Let’s get him to the MRI immediately. 

At this time, Dr. Tanner and Dr. Sims coordinated the picture taking so as to capture as much of the arm as possible.   Suddenly there was a significant commotion in the hall.

Nurse:  Wait, wait, you can’t go back there.  You wait right here. 

Man’s Voice:   Look lady, I’m with the CIA and if you need to see my credentials I’ll show them to you but right now, I need to find one of your patients.  We were told he’s here.  A kid on a bike was brought in about an hour ago, and I need to take him with us. 

Nurse:  He is in no condition to travel.  He needs to be admitted for a medical assessment.  Right now we are completing our examination, and he is under our care. 

Man:  He’s coming with us, and right now.

Dr. Sims:  Hang on there.  Just who in hell are you, and why are you interested in this boy?  Are you the father?

Man:  I’m with the CIA and I have been sent to bring this guy with us.  He’s wanted by the government.

Dr. Tanner:  What on earth could this kid have done?  Also, let me see some I.D.  Just who are you?

At this point, agent Thomas McCarthy presented his badge and credentials.

Dr. Sims:  Anyone can make credentials.    Give me a phone number. Someone who knows you.

CIA:  You are beginning to wear on me, doctor.

 Dr. Tanner:  I was pretty much there with you when you walked into the examining room.

Dr. Sims:  How about that number?

CIA:  Here is my card.  Make the call.  You all know this is a federal matter, and we have jurisdiction?

Dr. Sims:  I’ll be back.

At this time, an officer from the Chattanooga Police Force came into the room.  

Officer:  Is everything OK here?

CIA:  It will be.

Officer:  OK, who are you?

CIA:  Here we go again.   Do you need an introduction?

 Officer: Yes, I do, and how about right now.

 Agent McCarthy introduced himself to the officer and told the same story he had given to Drs. Sims and Tanner. 

 CIA:  One of your doctors is checking me out right now.

 Officer:  You are out of your jurisdiction aren’t you agent McCarthy?

CIA:  Not on your life.  I’m federal—you’re local.

At this time, Dr. Sims came back to the examining room.

Dr. Sims:  His story checks out.  He is CIA and is instructed to take the child.   I will tell you this we are going to finish our treatment of this boy before you or anyone else takes him anywhere.  He has a four inch wound that is deep, and he needs treatment.  He’s going to get it.  Also, I need some documentation provided by you before I release this kid.  You may as well go get it right now.  He’s going nowhere.  Do you understand that? By the way, you seem to know about this boy—so who is he?  Where is he from?

 I suspect McCarthy thought this would be a cake-walk and he never expected the”push-back” he got from Dr. Sims.  What he did not know is that Sims served with a MASH unit during the Korean War.  He retired from the Army as a full colonel and was not used to taking crap from some punk, including a punk from the CIA.  He stood firm.

 CIA:   I was just instructed to bring him in.  I have no idea as to what he’s done, if anything.

Dr. Sims:  Get me some documentation.  I can’t release a patient we are treating without a proper warrant or other documentation. 

At this point, agent McCarthy left the room went into the hall and started making phone calls.  He never took his eyes from the room where the patient was located–never.  He wanted to make sure the boy did not leave.

Dr. Sims:  Let’s try to sew this boy up.  I suspect he will be going with McCarthy, and there probably is nothing we can do about it.  I also want to get that MRI completed before he leaves, if he leaves.
Nurse:  I can call administration, and they can plead our case for us.

 Dr. Sims:  That might not be a bad idea.  Would you mind doing just that and quickly and how about the MRI?  Are we scheduled?

Nurse:  We can go now or you can start to sew this one up.  Which comes first?

Dr. Sims:  MRI—let’s go.

At this point the bed is prepared for movement to the room where the MRI is given.  That completely freaks the agent.  He rushes over, puts both hands out and braces against the rails of the bed.

 CIA:  No, no, no.   We are going nowhere.  This kid is here until we come to get him. 

 Dr. Tanner: Look, you can come with us.  Stand right beside the bed while we take a look at what’s going on inside.  You forget this boy has been comatose since he came in.  Unless I’m wrong, that’s not normal.  We may lose him if we can’t understand his status.  I’m sure you were instructed to bring him in but, I’m sure some displeasure would be visited upon your head if he came in dead.  Right?  Besides, until we see some written reason for his being removed, he’s ours to treat.

 At this point, agent McCarthy stood stone-cold silent.  He knew Tanner was right.  A boy taking breaths is preferable to one laying in a hospital bed cold as a fish.  While he was pondering his own fate, two of the nurses started moving him down the hall and to the elevator that would carry him to the MRI.  Agent McCarthy followed.   Down the hall, into the elevator, up one floor, turn right and down the hall to where the MRI was located.  The technician met them at the door.

Technician:  Who do we have here?

Dr. Tanner:  This patient was involved in a motorcycle accident about two hours ago.  We need to get a scan of his right arm to insure we don’t make mistakes with his treatment.

CIA:  I need to come in while you are running the scan.

Technician:  I can assure you I do these ten hours a day, and I don’t need any help.

CIA: How long does it take?

 Technician:  The sooner we get started, the sooner we will be finished.

CIA:  Maybe you didn’t hear me.  How long?

Technician:  Normally, about   thirty to forty minutes.

Agent McCarthy entered the room, took a look around, making sure there was no alternate way the boy could exit.

CIA:  OK, get him in.

About fifteen minutes into the procedure, Dr. Jerome Hurst came down the hall. 

Dr. Hurst:  What do we have here?

CIA:  Who are you?

Dr. Hurst:  I’m Jerome Hurst, the managing director of the hospital.  I run this place. Who are you?

 CIA:  I’m McCarthy, and I’m a field agent with the CIA.

 Dr. Hurst:  Can you prove that?  Can I see some I.D.?

CIA:  We’ve done that.

Dr. Hurst: You have not done that for me.  I need to know why you are trying to remove our patient from the hospital and denying our efforts to provide medical treatment.  That’s important to us.

 At this point, McCarthy again produced his badge and I.D. requested by Dr. Hurst.  Dr. Hurst looked these over and asked:

Dr. Hurst:  Have we verified this information?  Is agent McCarthy who he says he is?

Dr. Tanner:  Yes he is.  He’s legit.

 Dr. Hurst:  Why do you want this boy?  What has he done that is so interesting?

CIA:  They don’t always tell me everything, and I have no earthly idea.  They just told me to bring him in.

Dr. Hurst:  I looked at his charts and he has a significant laceration on one arm and probably needs continuous treatment—after we sew him up.  Are you capable of giving him that treatment?

CIA:  We can provide whatever he needs medically.

Dr. Hurst:  Just who is we?

CIA:  The Central Intelligence Agency.

Dr. Tanner:  Agent McCarthy is obtaining the necessary documentation for the boy’s release.

Dr. Hurst:  I’m still not that convinced we need to see this kid removed from the hospital.  At least until we have a better fix on his condition and future treatment.

 Another ten minutes passes and the door to the MRI facility opens.

Technician:  All finished.  I have called Dr. Thomas to come and read the MRI.  He is in the hospital and is coming right now.

Dr. Hurst:  We wait.

Down the hall you can hear the familiar “ding” of the elevator reaching its destination.  The door opens and out walks another guy looking like he just stepped down from a recruiting poster. 

CIA: Do you have what we need?

 CIA #2:  This will do it.  Now let’s get going.

 Dr. Hurst:   I need to see what you have.  Let me take a look.

CIA #2:  Who is this guy?

 Dr. Hurst:  I’m the guy who runs this place. I’m the one that’s just about to call the police and have you boys taken outside. 

CIA:  That will not be necessary.  Take a look at the documents and release your patient to us.

Dr. Hurst carefully looks over the documents presented and makes a telephone call.

Dr. Hurst:  Ed, can you come down to the second floor?  I have some papers you will need to look at before we decide to release one of our patents.

CIA:  OK, just who the hell is Ed and why should we wait on him to look at the papers?

Dr. Hurst:  Ed is our general counsel.  He will give us direction on whether or not this kid is leaving with you or staying with us.  He goes nowhere until we get legal direction.

 CIA #2 is really put out at this time.   He must have been interrupted from a hot date or something because he was nervous as a cat. 

CIA #2:  We have to get going, McCarthy, and right now.

Again, the elevator opens and out walks the legal counsel for the hospital.  Dr. Hurst hands him the documents.  He then sits down on the bench to examine what he had just been given.  It does not take long.

 Counsel:  These look to be in order, and we don’t have reason to hold the patient.

Dr. Tanner: How about the arm?  We can’t let the boy leave without additional treatment.

Dr. Hurst: Take him back to ER and sew him up.  Then he goes with the spooks.  That’s all we can do.

At this point, the bed, with patient, travels back to ER.  Staples are applied closing the wound.  A van is waiting outside.  A black van.  The boy, agent McCarthy, CIA #2 and driver leave the hospital.  Not too much was said by the ER staff, although this would be a night to remember, and many more questions were asked than answered.


In their haste, the CIA agents did not take with them the MRI scans accomplished previously.   Dr. Thomas did arrive at the examining room to read the digital information provided to him by the technician.

Dr. Thomas:  Is this a joke? Where did you get these?

Technician:  ER brought a boy in who had been involved in a motorcycle accident some time earlier in the evening.  He needed treatment but first Dr. Tanner and Dr. Sims wanted to get a look at what  was going on inside.

Dr. Thomas:  I need to see this patient.

Technician:  They took him.

Dr. Thomas:  Who took him?

Technician:  Guys from the CIA. They took him.

Dr. Thomas:  Did you look at these scans?

Technician:  Yes sir, I did and I’m not too sure I can believe what I saw.

Dr. Thomas:  No wonder. This kid has bodily systems I have never seen.  Parts that may work but don’t work like ours work.   Is anyone going to do a write-up on these scans?

Technician:  I don’t know Dr. Thomas.  Dr. Tanner and Dr. Sims treated the patient prior to him leaving, and I have not talked to them since they went back downstairs to the ER.

Dr. Thomas:  Are they there now?

Technician:  I have no idea.

At this time, Dr. Thomas goes down stairs to the ER.

Dr. Thomas:  Where are Doctors Tanner and Sims? Are they still on duty?

Nurse:  No sir. Dr. Tanner’s shift is over for the night and Dr. Sims has probably gone home.

 Tragically, Drs. Tanner and Sims died over the space of the next few days.  Dr. Tanner, a massive heart attack.  He was forty-six years old and a marathon runner.   Everyone was surprised.    Dr. Sims, a one-car accident.   They said his brakes failed.  Dr. Thomas was unable to discuss results of the scan with them before they died.   He decided to retire very suddenly and literally disappeared.  The nurses on duty that evening relocated to other areas of the country– unavailable for comment or consultation.   Strangely enough, all medical records for that evening disappeared.   Not a trace remained, even the admitting records.  The event never happened.

Four years ago my wife and I traveled by train from Montreal to Quebec City.  It’s about a two and one-half hour train ride through lovely country—thoroughly enjoyable.  I sat next to a gentleman and we quickly engaged in conversation.  Just a few words and we both knew we each were in the presence of fellow southerners.  

Writer: Where are you from?

Fellow Traveler:  I’m originally from Chattanooga-Chattanooga, Tennessee

Writer:  Are you kidding?

Fellow Traveler:  Not kidding.  Is that unusual?

Writer:  Only because my wife and I are from Chattanooga also. Are you up here on vacation like we are?

Fellow Traveler:  No, I live here now and really enjoy Canada.  Good place to hide.

Writer:  Hide?

At this point we started talking in some detail. Where he lived. If he was married. How many kids, if any.  What he did for a living.  Come to find out he was a medical technician.  Operated MRI equipment for a large hospital in Quebec City.   Small world.


















September 18, 2012

  It’s amazing the people we meet and the stories we hear over a lifetime.  People absolutely fascinate me.  Their background, ethnicity, culture, religion, languages, where they went to school—in other words, their life experiences.   I am absolutely convinced that engaging life can provide a remarkably fulfilling “value-added”, every-day experience.  Also, it can be a remarkable learning experience.  I am sure you are aware of the fact that most of history is unrecorded.  Long before people learned to read and write, their stories were verbalized.  Passed down from generation to generation.  Carefully transmitted, leaving no minuet detail untold.    Some details were lost in translation but the basic stories remain intact.  Much of the folklore we read comes to us via this mechanism.

One sad thing about our culture today is the accelerating loss of face-to-face engagement.  We simply don’t communicate with each other enough to hear those stories that frame our lives, define who we are and educate those coming after us.  We rip off a quick e-mail, camp on Facebook, buy and sell on eBay with no personal interaction whatsoever.  Our ability to think and write suffer with digital communication.    The stories we miss because we are simply too busy to listen are a very sad reality.

At the tender age of seventy, I have decided to tell some of the stories I’ve heard over a lifetime.  Please keep in mind I will continue to write and publish through Word Press/ Cielo subject matter relative to education, engineering, technology, STEM, university ranking, engineering salary reviews, etc.  These subjects, as you have noticed in the past, will reveal sources used in preparation for writing the material (blog).    Good hard facts and data backed up by reliable sources.  That’s what we do.  Periodically, I would like to tell one of my stories, interlacing events that might seem off-the-wall to some.  These stories, told to me directly, range from believable to “where on earth did you get that one”.  I will let you decide fact or fiction.  I would love to hear from you as to how you enjoy the experience.  Again,  I will continue with posting that are absolutely fact-driven but now and then, infuse blogs that might seem just a little unusual.

Many thanks and do let me know.


September 16, 2012

I just finished a marvelous book called “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.   Published by Random House with copyright date of 2001.  Ms. Hillenbrand is also the author of Seabiscuit, another terrific book which became a movie three or four years ago .  Unbroken is about the life of Louis Zamperini from high school years until his death.  The primary chapters of the book concern his capture and incarceration in Japanese prison camps during the Second World War.    In 1942, Zamperini served in the Army Air Force (AAF) as a bombardier aboard a B-24 “Liberator”, also known as the “flying brick”.   His plane was named Super Man.   He was a member of flight crew number 8 in the nine-crew   372nd Bomb Squadron of the 307th Bomb Group, Seventh Air Force.  The first duty station for Zamperini and his crew was Hickam Field, Oahu were the war  had begun for Americans eleven months earlier.   The major portion of the book begins with the plane he was in , not Super Man,  ditching in the South Pacific and the flight crew’s remarkable survival at sea.  Shot down in the Pacific Theater,  Hillenbrand explains their situation as follows: “Slumped alongside him (Zamperini ) was a sergeant and one of his plane’s gunners while on a separate raft, tethered to the first, lay another  crewman, a gash zigzagging across  his forehead.  Their bodies burned by the sun and stained yellow from the raft dye, had withered down to skeletons.  Sharks glided in lazy loops around them, dragging their backs along the rafts, waiting.”  The rafts had floated at least 1,000 miles, deep into Japanese-controlled waters.  They were picked up by passing Japanese fishing boat.  While the crew had hoped for deliverance instead, they were turned over to Japanese captors who held them in various prison camps for the duration of the war.  After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they were liberated by US forces.  The POWs were beaten mercilessly by their captors and many were judged and sentenced by military tribunals after the war for inhuman treatment to prisoners.   Imprisonment took a definite physical toll on Zamperini but also a significant mental toll; showing up only after he returned to the United States.  Hillenbrand details the demons Louis had to conquer to overcome aberrant behavior and a quick temper.     Daily nightmares were commonplace and the only way Louis fought back was by drowning  the inevitable  “visitors” in alcohol.  He became an alcoholic.  His marriage suffered, his children suffered and family kept away because his actions were so unpredictable.   An equally remarkable part of the story is how Zamperini overcame  his mental problems and how he spent the remainder of  his life after restoration to normal.

I can highly recommend this book to you.   The book is not fiction.  Many pictures of Zamperini, his flight crew and his family are given in the pages with supporting text indicating their importance.  It details the life of an Olympic runner, war hero, husband, father and most of all, a survivor who remained unbroken.



September 7, 2012

Each year the Princeton Review publishes lists of colleges and universities that excel in specific areas of the “university experience”.   They actually conduct polls to question attending students relative to activities that might seem irrelevant to education but none the less very important to students.  I certainly recommend this web site to you.  It has a wealth of information.    Questions are asked regarding several categories as follows:

  • Great Financial Aid
  • Best Career Services
  • Most Religious Students
  • LGBT  Friendly
  • Best Town Life
  • Schools by Type
  • Most Politically Active
  •  Best  College Dorms
  •  Most Beautiful Campus
  • Lots of Greek Life
  • Reefer Madness (Can’t imagine what this one is like.)

 There are also sub-listings such as the ones below:

  • Students Who Study the Most
  • Students Who Study the Least
  • Least Accessible Professors
  •  Best Party Schools
  •  Stone-cold Sober Schools
  • Most Unhappy Students
  • Happiest Students

 It is really fascinating to me that year after year the least happy students seem to be attending schools that are generally known for engineering or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curricula.  The Review goes into significant detail regarding the categories and represents an “illuminating” read if you have already had the “university experience”.   The two lists below will show those schools making the “good” list and those making the “bad” list.


The Princeton Review’s “Least Happy Students” List

  1. Montana Tech of the University of Montana ( School of Mines and Engineering)
  2. Marywood University(Scranton, Pa)
  3. New Jersey Institute of Technology
  4. United States Merchant Marine Academy
  5. Indiana University of Pennsylvania
  6. United States Naval Academy
  7. Clarkson University( Potsdam, NY)
  8. Illinois Institute of Technology
  9. University of Maine
  10. City University of New York — Baruch College

The Princeton Review’s “Happiest Students” List

  1. Rice University
  2. Bowdoin College(Brunswick, Me)
  3. University of California — Santa Barbara
  4. Clemson University
  5. Vanderbilt University
  6. Claremont McKenna College ( Claremont,Ca)
  7. Thomas Aquinas College (Santa Paula, Ca)
  8. Kansas State University
  9. University of Southern California
  10. Pomona College

 When engineering students are interviewed as to their dislikes we hear the same general comments.

                “This stuff is really hard.”

                “I study all the time.”

                “I had no idea it would be this involved.”

                “The labs kill me.”

                 “I have no beer time.”

                “No time to party like the other students.”

                “My daddy made me go into engineering.”

When I attended the University of Tennessee we had classes on MWF, TuThurs, TuThursSat.  Yes, Saturday classes and it WAS hard but we thought it was supposed to be.  The drop-out rate and transfer rate was north of 50% the first year. My junior and senior classes rarely had more than ten students at the very most.  I understand other disciplines such as engineering physics, materials and nuclear engineering had even fewer students in each classroom during those last two years.   One good thing—if you survived to your second semester junior year, the professors knew you were serious about the subject matter and graduation.    Very few students dropped out or failed their senior year.  The teachers always gave you access and time and worked hard to get you over the finish line.  By that time, you had a reputation, for better or worse, and the professors knew you.   They knew what to expect from each student.  They knew you put in the hours.  They knew you were hard-core and intended to graduate regardless.  

I feel we have become a society in which rigor and discipline, for the most part, have dropped by the wayside.  I had much rather be entertained than study, but hadn’t we all?   I don’t know of a time when attention spans have been so short.  We feel the need to hop from one thing to another.  Multi-tasking has become uppermost in our minds for just about every endeavor.  In looking back, I can say my years at the university were well spent and have allowed me to provide for my family in a nice fashion.  4.0 GPA—forget about it!  Never happened and did not happen to most of my fellow classmates in mechanical engineering.  A “gentleman’s C” was sometimes a hard-fought proposition and concerning finals-win, lose or draw you were very happy when they were over.   Wonder if we can, as a nation, regain the enthusiasm we once had for education, even though some courses of study remain difficult?



September 3, 2012

The sources for this blog come from the following  institutions: 1.) College Board, 2.) National Center for Education Statistics, 3.) US News, 4.) The Cafferty  File and 5.)   New York Times.

My wife and I have two older granddaughters attending Georgia State University in Atlanta.  The oldest is pre-law and the second granddaughter is majoring in textiles.   Our son, their father, was discussing with me the incredible costs of sending those girls to school, even with scholarships, grants, loans and generous grandparents.  “How much more could it cost than when you attended Mercer, I ask?”  I was literally blown away.  Books alone were about $600.00 for each—one semester; one semester and undergraduate at that.    I am one of those guys who always purchased new books.  I always said that surviving an engineering course is somewhat like earning a “badge of honor” and in my opinion, keeping your books just may come in handy as reference guides when working a real job.   With that being the case, I took a look at several of the books I used as a student years ago.  Are you ready for this one?

  • Norton Anthology of English Literature–$8.9 5
  • The American Tradition in Literature– $7.25
  •  Introduction to Logic–$5.50
  •  Marketing Management and Planning–$12.50
  • Thermodynamics– $7.95
  • Kinematics and Dynamics- $9.75
  • Design of Machine Elements– $ 10.95

Granted, that was years ago, specifically 1961 through 1966.  OK, I’m an old guy but these are undergraduate publications, the content of which has not changed that much over the years.  Undergraduate work is ground zero and during that time basic foundations are hopefully established from which more detailed and specialized work is accomplished.  The concepts are really not cutting edge at all.

The comparative cost of books necessary for completion of undergraduate education got my attention.  I decided to take a much closer look at how university costs have risen.  I was actually shocked.  Here we go.

You can see from this chart and the summary above, the cost of a university education continues to outpace the rise in median family income by a considerable amount.   Even the cost of medical care has risen less than the cost for obtaining a four-year university or college degree.   By the year 2008, tuition costs represented 25% of a families’ combined income.   At this rate, tuition costs are estimated to rise as represented by the following graph:

Can you imagine the debt after four years of attending a private university?   Granted, a public education is considerably less expensive but still substantial.  Very few families can pay outright the costs of a four year degree; wonderful if possible but somewhat rare indeed.  An estimate of the actual itemized cost is shown with the next chart. 

Even if you are a resident, like my granddaughters, you are “in the bag” for approximately $18,000   plus.  The “other expenses” could vary considerably depending upon spending habits and I feel the “other expenses” above is a very conservative estimate.    (Have you seen the number of shoes my second granddaughter has?)

OK, where does the money come from if you are not a trust fund baby?  Another look!               

As you can see, approximately 50% come from Federal loans—indentured slavery.

Fewer than 12% of private college students pay those schools’ high sticker prices. Fully 88% of all freshmen at private universities received scholarships to reduce their costs, according to a recent survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Private college students receive, on average, $15,530 in scholarships and federal tax benefits, reducing their average net cost to $26,700, the College Board found.

Fewer than half of all public university students pay the full sticker price to attend. Federal surveys show at least 52% of all students at public four-year universities receive scholarships or grants. Aid, not counting loans or campus jobs, brought the net tuition paid by the average student at a typical public university to about $2,500, the College Board estimates. That brings the total average net cost of a year on campus (including dorm, books, travel and living expenses) to $11,400.

 The really sad news– according to one study, the median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000 a year. That’s 10% lower than what those who entered the workforce from 2006 through 2008 earned. A separate study found only about 45% of college graduates under age 25 are working jobs that requires a college degree. Less than half. That number varies from major to major: Those who majored in education and teaching or engineering are much more likely to find a job requiring a college degree. But while engineering jobs are highly paid, education and teaching jobs have much lower earning potential.

And here’s a sobering thought: Half the 54,000 jobs created in May of 2012 came from McDonald’s.

I studied engineering, specifically mechanical engineering, because I was fascinated with the way things worked.  How they were put together.  What components “made them go” and go properly.  How to improve designs that would allow the products to “go the distance” and perform their function well into a tenth year or even longer.  In my wildest dreams, I did not realize my efforts would allow me to work to the ripe old age of 70.  I unknowingly chose one profession that seems to remain in demand– regardless.  Now, I have made every attempt to keep up with existing technology.  You really can train old dogs to learn new tricks.  If I were giving advice to an entering freshman, I would say consider the engineering profession.  Consider a life in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) professions.   These disciplines will not fade as time goes by.  They will not lessen in importance.  They are global in their appeal.  One possible fact does worry me. 

By virtue of university costs, we may be structuring a caste system n which the educated control the uneducated and using this mechanism, advances become problematic if not impossible.  Some educators feel this is happening now with the remarkable elevation in costs…Just a thought.

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