Thursday, October 4, 2007

Walking Among the Dilberts - Daryl Goes to the ASCE

Today, I walked among the Dilberts. That is to say, I attended a professional continuing education training session provided by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was truly like stepping into a Dilbert comic strip. As I looked around the conference center full of my colleagues, I could not help but concede that as individuals and as a group, we engineers are, well ... odd. We look odd, we walk odd, we talk odd, we dress odd, and we have bad hair. We are personality-impaired. We get nervous in extreme social situations, like being in the same room as another human being. Take a hundred or so such individuals and place them in the same location, and a pleasant outcome should not be anticipated.

When asked to introduce and tell a little something interesting about ourselves, we will face the moderator with a face devoid of expression and state our name and employer. Go ahead, moderator, strap me to the table, drip water on my forehead and put bamboo strips under my fingernails. That's all the information the Geneva Convention says I have to provide, and that's all your getting out of me.

Yet, somewhere during the breakout group technical presentation, a transformation will take place. Someone will express a sincere doubt over a value routinely used for Young's modulus. Another will share an opinion regarding the merits of the PTI method of structural slab analysis for a given situation, as opposed to the WRI method for that same situation. Soon, engineers all over the room are baring their technical souls, sharing their innermost convictions, as well uncertainties, over the vicissitudes of technical analysis. And in that moment, as they converse freely on the thoughts that they ponder in their minds, their weirdness melts away. If you could turn down the volume so that you did not know the topic being discussed, it would appear to be a scene of normal people having a passionate conversation on a topic of great conviction. The engineers appear both human and humane.

I have been told that I am just about the average age for an engineer in America, somewhere in their mid-50's, and that fewer college students are choosing engineering as a field of study. Maybe as a nation we are becoming more cool. I have also been told that over the next two or three years, as a nation, more engineers will retire from their careers than will graduate from the universities. In other words, engineers that are retiring from the market place are not being replaced. This is happening at a time when our infrastructure (roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, power grid, etc.) is not sufficient to handle our current population, let alone any increases in population, plus the insufficient infrastructure we have is worn or wearing out and needs to be replaced. Levees and bridges fail, water distribution systems in large eastern cites are centuries old. Engineers in poistions of authority who clearly state the problem are replaced by engineers who will say everything is okay, at least for a another fiscal year.

Admittedly biased, I believe that while all honorable professions make their valid contributions, societies, from antiquity, are built by engineers. My hope for our society is that the American university system will once again make engineering an intelligible field of study, and capable students will return to this field, to produce the next generation of odd Dilberts who are most content to be left alone and moil in solitude, with time standing still as they ponder and unravel some technical mystery. By God's grace, I am looking forward to tomorrow, because once again I get to go back to the ASCE conference to sit and walk among the Dilberts.

A Summary of Life on Steroids

October 2, 2007
Note: These notes refer to closely monitored and regulated amounts of prescription medication administered under the care of a physician for the purpose of fighting cancer.

Day 1 on Steroids: Like shooting up in a rocket ship. Shooting up in a rocket ship is fun.

Days 2-4 on Steroids: Like zooming all over every place at 30,000 ft. and going 600 mph. Going 600 mph at 30,000 ft. is fun.

Day 1 off Steroids: Glide along, no problem. Did somebody hear an engine sputter, or is it just me? A little tumble begins.

Day 2 off Steroids: Tumbling down a rocky slope, banging into every major boulder on the way, yelling, "I'm all right!" (BANG) "Didn't hurt." (BOUNCE) "I'm okay." (WHAM).

The Lion King

September 27, 2007

Tonight Carol and I went to see Disney's Production of the The Lion King at Music Hall in Fair Park. I thought it would be great for us to get away and have no thoughts of cancer whatsoever for a few hours. I forgot about that "Circle of Life" thing.

I can see how people whose focus is on the material and physical would view life as a circle - everything feeds on and eats everything else and the life process goes in a circle. For those whose mindset is on the eternal and the spiritual, however, life is not a circle, but a never-ending straight line. We are born, we live our lives in continuing progression, we die, and we continue our existence in eternity in either heaven or hell, and another generation comes along after us to continue the process. I do not view life as a circle at all, but a never-ending straight line.

New Age theology aside, the production was fantabulous and took your breath away. I enjoyed the lessons of good parenting and consequences for disobedience and stepping up and taking responsibility. My mind's eye would often flash back to see interactions with my own small children as I watched the father and son characters on the stage. We left in awe of the production and rejoicing that we have an eternally true and a firmer hope than some lame "Circle of Life."

The Most Optimistic People I Meet

September 21, 2007:

The most optimistic and cheerful people I meet are in cancer waiting rooms. Sometimes they are patients, sometimes they are staff, but they are the most optimistic and cheerful people that I meet.

I must clarify that not all are that way. Sometimes I see people in great physical distress as they come in for chemo therapy. Their bodies are in extreme nausea, and it wearies their soul as well. I do not fault them at all if they are not at the moment chipper and upbeat.

Still, the most optimistic and cheerful people I ever meet are in cancer waiting rooms. I draw no conclusions at this time, I just ponder my observation.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?

Sept. 3, 2007:

On a long car trip returning towards home, I was not at peace (dare I say depressed?), but couldn’t pin down why. So many things were on my mind. Which one was it that was bothering me? Was I worried over the possibility of having cancer? Was it something else that was bothering me?

Why are you in despair, O my soul?

I found that one partial line from a psalm to keep running through my mind, and mused that an ancient psalmist must have had something bothering him, too, that he couldn’t quite pin down. The lack of peace continued.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?

How did the rest of that verse go? Which Psalm was that? My brain was so tired. I began to wonder what had been bothering the psalmist. Perhaps if I read the psalm, and found out what had been bothering him, it might give me insight into whatever was troubling me.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?

We switched drivers, and eventually, as curiosity and fret won out over fatigue, I looked up verse to find out what had been bothering the psalmist, and more importantly, me. The phrase actually occurs in the Psalms three times – Psalm 42:5, 42:11, and 43:5. In none of the instances is the source for the despair clearly identified, because the source is of no consequence. What matters is the command that always follows the thrice-stated question.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance, and my God.

What are you doing in despair, O my soul? You have no business being there. Hope in God.