The Rest of England
While I haven't been blogging, I've been having a really good time over here in England.
If you come to this country for more than a few days though, be sure to bring your own audio entertainment. I think England collectively has a total of five radio stations, all monopolized by the BBC.
(Salisbury Cathedral, with Kate and Kendra who I ran around with all summer)
They all cycle the same news. One plays classical music, and the other four play the same pop music with slight variation; 1) One with an occasional oldie mixed in, 2) another with an occasional rowdy rock song mixed, 3) one with more news than pop music, and 4) one with more pop music than news. They all take commercial and news breaks at the exact same time (+/- 30 seconds). It's almost seems like a conspiracy in how thoroughly they monopolize the thought processes of the public on their commute to and from work.
(Gloucester Cathedral.Part of Harry Potter was shot here.)
But at this point, it seems like a fairly benign monopolization of public thinking... and the public feels like they're aware of the monopolization of information, and the biases the BBC wants them to believe (anti-business, pro-politically correct, pro-environment, etc).
It's pretty cool to see the restoration work here. Time takes a toll, even on things that appear to be immortal, unless the appearance of immortality is maintained.
One of my favorite finds that makes not miss the radio much is www.audible.com. This site has a huge collection of audible books, and it's pretty darn inexpensive. I've always been a pretty slow reader, but with books recorded, I've been getting through loads of books that have long been on my list.
The way I see it, a book is just an unnecessary extra step in communicating thoughts. A book is translated from sound into visual symbols, and then translated back into sound by the reader. Listening to books takes out the translation step. Of course, diagrams are valuable, and those can't be turned into sound very well... but that's because they didn't originate as sound, in the way words did.
Another result from the monopolization of radio waves is I will forever have Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" song ingrained into my association with England. When I first came here, this song was on every radio station, seemingly every hour. But I like Avril now, and this other song also makes me laugh (no correlation with the current girlfriend situation). "I wish you were her..."
Minovia came out for a few weeks, and we had a really good time. This is at one of the colleges in Oxford she was considering for undergrad. Instead, she chose to attend Nebraska Wesleyan where she'd graduate without debt, and go to a big name school for her graduate degree. I recently came across the blog of a space guy who chose Ohio's Engineering program over Carnegie Mellon because of the debt factor, and I think he likewise made the right decision. Of all the engineers I've interviewed and met at MIT, there isn't a strong differentiation based their undergrad university. Granted, your undergrad university does a lot to determine what extra curricular projects are available, and smaller name colleges only get regional recruiters, so there is value in the big names. Even so, it seems to me that a smart engineer can differentiate themselves with very interesting accomplishments at the second tier universities. Using this guy as an example, the content of his blog,Space Monitor , is well researched and well written, and he's building a good general foundation for himself in the space exploration industry. I laughed when I saw he was only in high school (I love that about the internet). In my judgment, that says a lot more than a more recognized name on his degree... and he wont have stacks and stacks of debt when he graduates.
The reason I found this kid's blog in the first place was doing research to write the book you see here, Rocketeers. Only, I didn't write this book. At the beginning of the summer a friend emailed me, and made me realize nobody had written anything on the current landscape of commercial spaceflight, and I could write that book. I was surprised to find nothing suitable was in print, so I started organizing to write the book myself. Two months later, Rocketeers by Michael Belfiore was published. One month after that, the book came to my attention. So I bought it and read it. He did a good job. It's an entertaining read, and goes into just the right amount of depth of the industry for somebody who wants to see the landscape. I was personally planning to include more industry analysis and dynamics that allow this to occur now but not previously. There may be space for a book like that, but after deliberating many things associated with that option, I decided to put it to rest and pursue a different objective on my horizon.
This has been an interesting example of the changing competitive field in which we're living, enable by the internet. Belfiore is professionally a space and technology writer, the kind I expected to have already written this book. However, with all the blogs on web space, and the relative inexpense of travel, an amateur like me, or even the young but talented Space Monitor, can viably compete in this arena. It's a matter of bandwidth and speed to market, among other things, but past prominence is now much less relevant (except maybe for getting a publisher to look at your manuscript).
But the scope of this upheaval only extend so far (for the moment). The Sloanies in London this summer for Finance and Consulting internships are on the only path into those industries. No internet shortcuts. The same holds for Operations, Engineering (except software), and Manufacturing.
And sometimes you can't be certain if something was created by a person in pursuit of a career, or careless workmanship associated with another type of career. We had to stop to admire this modern art discretely displayed in the heart of London. I'm not joking when I say this truly has become one of my favorite artistic expressions of the conflict between the benefits and illnesses of urban society, and the realities of the ever-continuing progress of humanity.
The works of some people hang around a little longer than others.
And what do people do with the greatest works remaining from a civilization? They stand in front of it for a cheesy picture, of course!
While some people build enduring monuments, others spend their lives doing less enduring activities, such as walking. I was invited to go walking with a "walking club". It turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. I spent over two hours talking with a seventy six year old guy who was one of the first people to research phonemes for computer speech following World War II. His work won't be a visible monument, but helped lay the foundation of work that is now taking technology to the point that it can (almost) read text from a web page automatically, and it sounds pretty good.
The funniest part was an old sixty-something guy talking with my co-worker who signed us up for the walk, saying: "Do you like walking? What I mean is, are you a good walker? Why, we used to do walks sometimes that were thirteen miles long. I'll tell you..." Ahh yes, the pride of physical accomplishment never fades.
These kids jumping their bikes brought me back to the glory days of my greatest endeavors.
If you remember hearing about the floods that shut down England for a few weeks, I was right in the middle of it. They did a really good job of distributing water to people for the two and half weeks many of us were dry, setting up these big "Bowsers" all around, and handing out bottled water. I had to laugh when it was all done, and the radio spent a whole day running a clip "Congratulating the BBC for being the best source of information during the crisis" as though there was an alternative source of information!
I missed the rainstorm that brought the floods though, because I was in Cartagena with Minovia, Colombia's costal vacation spot.
It's interesting spending time among so many different cultures that grew up so differently, and share common threads throughout. Some things synthesize well, and others can be a headache. I'm dealing with a manager right now who is the most ungrateful, narrow focused, hasty manager I ever expect to encounter. I wrote him a very diplomatic and objective three page letter several weeks ago, and it served to iron out our working relationship. However, his methods cause problems throughout the department. I think there are several factors that contribute to his incapacity to manage people such that they use their own initiative. I'm not sure. But I'm sorting out how to deal with this scenario. I'm going to be gone in two months, but the rest of the people will still be here... and it's not in my nature to leave a problem alone when I have a stake in it. A new masters graduate from China, schooled in France, just started and I'm training her to take my place. A smart and fun girl, with a great English accent, and she's getting a great start. I don't want her to get plowed under when I leave, like is happening to the others. Furthermore, the company needs it. Nobody benefits in millions of dollars lost because of management induced systematic problems in a Supply Chain. Schlumberger is doing everything they can to be a great company, and corporate citizen in the world. I want to support that.
Team America - And as we mix cultures from around the world... It's surprising what garbage on America comes into this country. Michael Moore's movies, dubbed by the gullible as "documentaries", are watched by everyone. One guy even innocently looked surprised saying to me "Isn't Michael Moore like the American version of the BBC's documentary group?"
But we all get a good laugh at stereotypes, so it's become a weekly tradition to do "Team America" at my flat, watching movies that pick on stereotypes of America and other countries. It's fun because we have people originating from all over the world: American, French, Belgian, Pakistani, Welsh, English, and Chinese.
And we also come together for the Rugby World Cup. In this case, we borrow from the grand tradition of the English Pub. Everyone from the neighborhood shows up to their local pub, and we all hoot and yell when England scores. Last Saturday, Johnny Wilkinson brought England into the Semi-Finals, becoming the all time leading scorer in Rugby World Cup History. The next day, we cheered as France charged to victory. Not because the English like the French, but because we have a better chance of beating France than New Zealand. I've never been much of a sports observer, but now I love rugby. Tonight we play France. Go England!!!
I received an unexpected invitation a week or two ago. AIAA is holding their annual conference on Managing Your Career in the 21st Century, and they've invited me to be the Keynote Speaker! I think that's pretty cool. So, to any aerospace people in the vicinity of Reno, NV on January 8th, drop on in and say hi, and you can listen to me try to say something worthwhile for an hour.