23 March 2007

Fun with Engineers

Earlier this week, an acquaintance sent me a bevy of fun engineer jokes ("A doctor, an engineer and a priest are playing golf..."), and I had a good giggle. Of course, we have all seen these jokes innumerable times, but they are still funny every time I see them because they are just so *true.*

Example: Engineer Bob sees Engineer Dave on a new bicycle and asks, "Hey nice bike, where did you get it?" Engineer Dave recounts the story: This woman was riding the bike down the sidewalk, and as she got close to me, she stopped, jumped off the bike, ripped her clothes off and said, "Take what you want." Engineer Bob nods & says, "Good choice. The clothes probably wouldn't have fit you anyway."

If you know a lot of engineers, you know why that's funny. And you will understand the irony of the following event occurring on a day when I knew I was going to spend the whole day in an engineering forum: I had a Great Hair Day.

Ladies, you know what I mean. There are bad hair days (a lot) and good hair days (occasionally), and once in a Blue Moon, a Great Hair Day. I wasted mine on a room full of engineers. (That's a slight exaggeration. It is not politically correct to mention this, but the engineers from Latin America *all* made a special point to introduce themselves. It is not my fault that some people fit their stereotypes.)

The forum was quite good, and I learned some important things. And some of the engineers I was meeting for the first time wondered aloud whether the forum discussion was too complicated for me. (sigh)

The nice thing about an engineering conference is that when they have bathroom breaks, there is never, ever a line for the ladies' room.

18 March 2007

Me & memes

A meme is technically a "unit of cultural information" that can propagate from one mind to another. In the Blogsphere, this typically occurs when someone posts a concept & others pick up on it. There are whole blogs & Web sites out there dedicated to creating blog memes -- questionnaires, topics for blogular discussion, photo subjects for the week, etc.

I'm not a big fan of memes because they usually lack context. Someone from outside of my world is going to suggest a topic that may or may not fit into the context of my life. For example, this weekend, Patrick's Weekender asks about childhood, cartoons & television.

I'm not a big TV person, and I was not 'raised by the TV" as some kids are. My favorite cartoon as a kid was Speed Racer (big surprise, right?). My brother & I would get home from elementary school, make a peanut butter & jelly sandwitch (oh, to have that metabolism again), and plop ourselves in front of Speed Racer before getting on with our childish lives. I can remember the house, the television, the mess in the kitchen, everything. Whether it's a 'real' memory is another question, entirely.

The other questions on Patrick's list didn't do much for me, until I ran over to Wil's Daily Snooze blog to see what's new. There I saw that his Sesame Street character is Cookie Monster, and I thought, "yeah, that fits." Out of curiosity, I memed and (of course) the answer is perfect:

You Are Ernie

Playful and childlike, you are everyone's favorite friend - even if your goofy antics get annoying at times.

You are usually feeling: Amused - you are very easily entertained

You are famous for: Always making people smile. From your silly songs to your wild pranks, you keep things fun.

How you life your life: With ease. Life is only difficult when your friends won't play with you!

Shall I sing the song for you? "Rubber duckie, you're the one; you make bathtime lots of fun. Rubber duckie I'm awfully fond of you! Bo-do-do-de-o." That's plenty. If I sing the rest of the verses you will know I am certifiable.

One last meme, this one from Unconscious Mutterings, again via Wil. UM posts 10 words a week, and bloggers are supposed to respond with the first words that come to mind for each word. Easy enough:

  1. San Francisco :: my heart

  2. Sadness :: tears

  3. Spirits :: ghosts

  4. Harriet :: ozzy

  5. State :: frantic

  6. John :: Bigboote (I'll explain this one so you don't have me committted)

  7. Offense :: lineman

  8. TImeless :: ancient

  9. Account :: payable (another one that needs explaining)

  10. Refuse :: stubborn

John Bigboote is a character, an alien, in Buckaroo Bonzai, a classic awful bad comedic science finction romp. All of the aliens' first names are "John" and some have outrageous last names. This one is particualrly memorable because he is constantly reminding people that it's pronounced "Big-boo-TAY!"

Accounts payable only comes to mind today because I watched Office Space this weekend (on a date!) for the millionth time. You'd think I would know the movie backwards & forwards, but this viewing was the first time I understood what the annoying secretary is squeaking out when she answers the phone: "Corporate Accounts Payable..."

14 March 2007

Ha! Ha?

I like to laugh. I'm just a happy, laughing kind of person. I laugh in the face of adversity, and sometimes I laugh aloud at a funny idea that pops into my head when no one else is around. Some would say this makes me psychotic. I can't help it: I'm just a laugher.

That's why an article from yesterday's New York Times is just so disturbing. Seems you are only "supposed" to laugh at those who are above you in status and not at those who are below. And if you're a woman that pretty much means you are allowed to laugh at everything.

I don't like to think some poor self-image is what makes me laugh. When I laugh out loud at the dog pushing her ball through her tunnel in the backyard, am I somehow projecting that I'm inferior to the dog? Or is it possible that I actually get some joy out of seeing such unhibited play? When I laugh at an engineer telling an autobiographical story that he clearly means to be funny, am I sending a signal that he's a superior, or am I laughing because 1) I understand what happened and commiserate with his stuation, 2) I bet it was not even a little bit funny at the time, 3) I think he wants me to laugh rather than insult him, and 4) in hindsight and with proper comedic timing and his great accent, it's a giggle.

Not to be outdone by the muffin 'joke' that leads the NYT story (and no, I didn't laugh but I felt I was supposed to want to laugh), I will tell you the engineer's story that made my eyes water with laughing so hard. You can judge for yourself: Is it funny?

"I'll tell you, ma'am, we ran that [oilfield equipment] in the hole, and we did [the work we needed to do] just as perfect as anything. The customer was happy, I was happy, and we were doing great. Then this total idiot of an engineer -- and I can say that about him because I happen to know him reeeeeeeal well -- tells the operator ok, this is going so great, we can just crank it up a notch while we're pulling out of the hole. (pause) You know, he only took it up maybe 5 or 10 feet per minute. (pause) Damn if we didn't get that sucker stuck in the damn well."

Are you laughing? OK, it's not as funny on this end, either, as I'm typing it. I swear it was hilarious at the time.

Anyway, I don't buy the "superiority" argument. I prefer the argument presented in Comment #7 on the NYT reporter's blog about that story.

13 March 2007

No gain?

It's now two days since the 2:08, and I have not had any pain. If you live by the 'no pain/no gain" rule, then I wasted two hours of my Sunday, but two hours of sunshine is always good. Unless you live by the 'avoid sun or die of skin cancer" rule, in which case I really had a bad Sunday.

The ankles, in particular, didn't care one whit about the bike ride. In fact, riding a bike is the one exercise that my doctor actually recommended if I felt a need to sweat. It's non-weight-bearing and really has very limited ankle movement (some, but nothing like the elliptical machine), so as far as the ankles are concerned, the bike ride was a non-event.

I'm thinking about getting a new seat, and sometimes I think about getting a new bike. Then I look at the bike and the seat and think, "You have a perfectly good seat on a perfectly good bike. And you have another bike in the corner over there. Stop this nonsense immediately." The practical Smukke is not nearly as much fun as the silly Smukke, but she does have a nice house.

Bike #2 is a mountain bike. The ex & I bought a pair of these one year as an anniversary gift. I rode mine once & realized I hate mountain biking. I rode it a few more times after that but I really do not like being out of control, having roots, ruts and gravel grabbing my wheel & trying to tip me over, and having constant threats of pain & worse. When I was explaining this to my boss at the office today, he pretty much summed up the mountain bike experience: "If you aren't bleeding when you get home, you didn't have fun."

The bike is a few years older than the snazzy, shiny thing on the Trek site, and it's bright yellow. It's actually not bad for geocaching because it does allow you to follow nice trails off into recreational areas where geocachers like to hide things. However, it's not nearly as much fun in a daily basis as a road bike, which can take you to the grocery store for milk, the library for a new load of books, or over to mom & dad's with the paper.

My road bike is a sweetheart, but she's a hybrid road/touring bike, a Trek 400. When I went to look for a link, I found it under "vintage steel road bikes." (sigh). I bought her in the late 1980s when I was living in NJ and needed to replace my 9000-lb Sears monster. She has ridden innumerable centuries (100 miles in a day), one double century (200 miles in a day) and across the US (LA to Boston, but no, not in a day). She's a hard worker, is happy to carry panniers (which I use almost all the time to carry stuff) and has no problems. She is not as shiny as she once was, and she is not a color I would choose on purpose, but I can't really justify replacing her.

11 March 2007


That's how long the computer says I rode my bike today.

It was a perfect day for a ride. I started off with the foolish notion of riding down to my office & back, just to see how long it would take and determine whether the roads were relatively bike-friendly. My normal driving route is 13 miles and definitely *not* bike-friendly: skinny, two lane roads with no shoulder & lots of trucks. So I had this plan to go a different way.

I actually started off going that way, but I went to mom & dad's instead, a little 6-mile jaunt. There, I sat on the couch, blabbed with mom (who was fixin' to go play golf) & sucked down a bottle of water. When I left, I meant to loop around by the new Wal*Mart and back home, but it was a nice day. So I did the stupid thing & rode all the way to the office :)

The relatively bike-friendly one-way route is just shy of 15 miles, which is pretty much an hour in each direction. Or, according to the bike computer, one hour and one minute there & one hour and not quite eight minutes home. Aside from being tired on the ride home, there was a headwind for the last seven-ish painful miles. (whine whine whine)

The headwind is one of those 'matter of perspective' things. The trees aren't moving, so it's hard to say "oh yes, it's windy." But the weather page says we have a 10 mph wind. When you are on a bike, pedaling your brains out to achieve an average speed of 15 mph, that 10 mph wind is a brick wall. The nice thing about a good wind is that The Woodlands has lots of big fountains in ponds alongside the road. When it's windy, the fountains spray water all over hot, sweaty, tired cyclists, making them smile. (The fact that the water in those ponds is sort of yucky is another matter entirely.)

The other thing that is a 'matter of perspective' on a bike is the definition of 'hill.' For example, when I left my house, my street was flat. When I got home, after 2 hours on the bike, it was entirely uphill, including the driveway. Go ahead and laugh if you are from NJ or upstate NY or any other place with real hills, but for those who think of southeast Texas as flat, you may see it differently from a skinny, hard bicycle seat.

Parts that are going to be complaining tomorrow: butt (already complaining), neck (already complaining), hands (a little whiny), thighs (not complaining yet, but extremely likely tomorrow).

10 March 2007

Aliens among us

First came the weeds.

The stuff that Houstonians call grass is considered a 'weed' in anyplace that has real grass. I grew up with "real grass" in the Midwest, and I am pretty sure we did everything in our power to kill any St. Augustine 'grass' that came anywhere near the state of Illinois. We did it with weed killers: chemicals designed specifically to kill "alien plant species" and thicken up the good grasses.

Here in Houston, we thicken up this alleged grass and kill the even more annoying alien plant species. It is a miracle of chemistry that we can be so plant-specific about our killing, but then again, the Perm-O-Green folks just gave me an estimate today so we may find out next week that they just arbitrarily kill everything plant-like in the yard. This would probably not be the end of the world, since I'm fairly sure that more than 70% of the green stuff out there is non-grass. Scary.

Perm-O-Green promises only to kill the evil aliens that lurk among the St. Augustine, not the stuff that has taken over the front garden. So I spent this lovely, sunny Saturday afternoon yanking things out by the roots (and no, I don't mean gray hairs). The front garden now looks much better, but the Perm-O-Green guy said it badly needs a layer of mulch. The Mini is not particularly good at carrying such things, so it will wait until I can find new yard guys.

Because, you see, my yard guys are a different kind of aliens. There is no way (cough) for me to know whether they are legal or illegal aliens, but they are definitely not from 'around here.' Anyway, they last came in October, and they do not apepar to be coming back anytime soon. Meanwhile, the yard is looking a bit shaggy. I'd love to hire a neighborhood kid, but I have never seen one mowing in my neighborhood. Buying a lawnmower is, of course, totally out of the question. For now...

And then there is the final kind of alien, which is the little dog who I found in my backyard Thursday morning. I went out to encourage Lakrids to return to the house so I could go to work, and there she was, looking at this little brown alien. Seems Scooby (the neighbor's adorable, sweet white dog) has dug a hole under the fence, but he's still a little too large to get through it. Instead, Cowboy (the neighbor's annoying little yapping brown thing) squeezes through. Heh. The neighbor came over today to apologize & say they're fixing the hole. Heh. Naughty dogs are so cute when they are somebody else's !!

07 March 2007

People Who Matter

As I was fixin' to shut down my computer at work today, I got an e-mail that made me sad. One of my favorite work colleagues has resigned.

There are very few people whose resignations would make such a powerful impact on my day. This person's kindness, patience and general professional values made him one of my favorite internal customers. He challenged me, believed in me, pushed me to try things I didn't think I could do. He was affirming when affirmation was called for, and corrected me when I needed correction. I like to think I made his life a little easier for the last year, and maybe I did, since he sent me a note apart from any general announcement to 'everybody'.

I love my job, and I enjoy working with a number of my "internal customers" who respect my skills and praise my work. But I'll still miss this one engineer who did so much to make me -- an outsider in so many senses of the word -- feel like a valuable member of his team.

The oil industry is booming, and we're suffering, like many companies, with painful losses of good people to customers, competitors, startups & consultants. Seems this fella is going to do consulting. He will be great; he's a brilliant guy. I hope it makes him happy & affords him some time to enjoy the sunshine.