Poozilla

At one point or another in our lives we come to a pause moment. A moment in time where you’re captured by some effect; a physical condition or limitation, a change in jobs, a marriage or divorce, a delightful surprise or perhaps the cataclysmic upheaval from the death of a loved one. Whatever the causes, these pause moments can make us take a step back and reflect a little.

And yesterday was no different. You see, yesterday I ran into a pause moment. Well, to be more accurate, my wife and I ran into it, because I suppose that I would have completely missed it, if my lovely wife of 30 years hadn’t pointed it out. We were on the first day of our one-week celebration vacation for our 30th wedding anniversary, doing a little antique shopping up in central Washington State.

And what had innocently begun as a nice, calm stroll through the basement of another antique store, ended abruptly in a pause moment – only this is the kind of pause moment that no amount of soap, eye wash or electroshock therapy will ever remove.

These are her unforgettable words as we strolled down the aisle:

“That picture is making me dizzy,” she says from a little distance away.

“Oh?” I stop my duck-like stroll and look up. Seeing that she has my attention, she turns, finger pointing slightly up and away from her. Then I see it. It only took a split second, and to my dismay, I immediately know that it can’t be unseen. Amid all the clutter, all the other pictures hung in various orientations vying for the attention of the shoppers meandering through the brightly lit halls of antiquity, this picture had them all beat, hands down. No contest.

Dizzy doesn’t even begin to touch it.

Now, point of clarification here; I’m generally not a picture shopper, and most men are mercifully endowed with powerful filtration systems on their single-threaded input channels, so my visual cortex was blind to pictures until that moment.

Lest you be expecting the usual depiction of black-light illuminated sad-eyed bulls and crying orphans on a velvet canvass, you’d be as wrong as my daughter, who guessed it was that bastion of all things kitsch when she called me, a day late, for father’s day. Oh if it were only so mundane. I could soon forget even sad-eyed bulls goring crying orphans, but I could not forget this. Well, maybe I can’t forget sad-eyed bulls goring crying orphans, because despite my best efforts, that Firesign Theatre CD always seems to resurface, but I digress.

So by now you’re wondering what’s all the kerfuffle about? Trust me, dear reader, you are nearing the end of your normal life as you know it. For if you continue along this journey with me, despite my oath to protect and serve and uphold the laws and constitution of this State, I feel compelled as if watching a train-wreck and unable to resist, to share this image with you. But be warned – and don’t say I didn’t warn you – that once seen, you will never be able to un-see it, and alas, you will never be quite the same again. So, I bid you fair warning and counsel to carefully consider before continuing.

You think I jest?

Well, before I reveal this….thing… let me relay a quick story, one from my childhood that might help you decide.

You see, there was this show. I have never seen it since, though I have looked – I was probably far too young and too impressionable to be watching this particular show at the time. It was some Sci-Fi TV show or movie, in black and white, about some guy who owned this mystery box. It looked like an ordinary wooden box, but my memory is fading. I don’t recall the circumstances around this box, only that it made this weird sound – as if something were spinning around and around inside of it. The tension kept building up. There was something horrible inside. Something monstrous. Something evil.

The guy who owned the box didn’t want people to see what was in it – the details are vague – all I recall was that it was set in a typical 1950’s style urban American home. During the movie, some people looked into the box and freaked out. The viewer of course, doesn’t see what’s in it, we only see the results and impacts on those that do, and they weren’t pleasant.

In one scene toward the end, there’s this small hole in the box, and despite the owner’s attempts to keep people away, this (I think woman?) peeks into a hole in the side of the box, and we see that it’s a human eyeball orbiting in a circle inside the box. She screams, and that’s how the show ended, or that’s how it ended for me – likely because my 5-year old self went scurrying into the nearest bed and buried myself into the blankets and pillows. Nightmares ensued.

Ok, so consider that I’ve given you fair warning. Enough, you say. Very well. Just put your drink down before you look at this. Be nice to your computer screen. Be prepared for nightmares.

 Exhibit one,  Poozilla:

PooZilla

Poozilla

Missing from the effect here – besides the nuclear war between the colors – is that the creator of this abomination apparently wasn’t satisfied with a simple two-dimensional picture. Oh, goodness no. They went with a THREE DIMENSIONAL effect, using a massive full-size Fresnel lens over the entire picture so that the metal-framed damnation appears to be more alive and vibrant in its reach-out-and-explode-your-head assault.

So there I stood in stunned silence, a palpable, nauseating miasma of mixed feelings erupting in my throat that began to rip me apart in several directions. The sheer and utter hideousness of it, the assault on any sensibility, the questions, and the myriad of objections, all gave way to the feeling of helplessness that it had been seen. I heaved, choked, farted and inhaled a snorted laugh all at the same time.

And I was terrified.

My analytical mind jammed up like a tilted pachinko machine. What’s with that apocalyptic log-jam background? Or is it the rubble of some poor city? Is that a toxic cloudburst above it, showering down in a gloomy green graveyard deluge of death? And those flowers, arranged so thoughtfully, and carefully, almost as if Poozilla was cheerfully breathing out some kind of fragrant but lethal fireball of doom.

The Coup De Grâce of course, is the powder-blue carpet our happy white Poozilla is so prominently placed upon. As foregrounds go, this one is definitely DEA, schedule-A, psychotropic. Just where did they find that anyway? Please, don’t answer, I really don’t want to know. It’s more than enough to consider that somewhere, at some time, there was a carpet factory that actually cranked this stuff out.

And did I mention it was metal framed?

“Of course it is,” you reply. What else would it be framed with? What else could hold such magnificence? What else could contain it?

And there, if you will note, to the right, in a picture hung on the same wall just behind Poozilla is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ depicted in his passion as He suffers on the cross to atone for the sins of a lost and dying world. Is it my imagination, or does He appear to be fixing a gaze on Poozilla as well? As if He hadn’t suffered enough already. The ignominy of it all.

Well, there it is. Poozilla. Now you’ve seen it, you can never un-see it.

To be fair, this was probably someone’s beloved pet from the 1970’s and they likely paid a small fortune to have some travel-agent / passport photographer snap this shot of Petunia and for an extra $35, they got the deluxe, stereo-3D package complete with chain-link metal frame to last a lifetime.

If you know me at all, you know that I like to wrap stories around things to make sense out of them. Especially things that make no sense whatsoever. Like our Poozilla here.

So it is, after framing, with Petunia in tow, Bert and Ethel (Petunia’s imaginary owners) probably jumped back in their 1972 Winnebago and drove down the road with their brand new picture firmly affixed to the wall above the bed where Petunia could watch over them day and night. At some point in the retired couples’ lifetime journey, like all of ours, the road sadly ended and they had to park it. It’s entirely possible someone found Poozilla in the slowly rotting, half-decimated remains of their old Winnebago in a forgotten, dusty-hot backlot of a U-Pull-It in southern Arizona.

It’s also possible that Ethel, having buried Burt a few years back, found this garish reminder of their canine homunculus while cleaning out the last of his side of the closet and promptly disposed of it at a thrift store where it was picked up by a near-sighted color-blind antique collector with a texture fetish.

We just don’t know.

Judging by the robustness of the metal frame alone, this thing could likely survive world war III. And for only $39, it can be all yours if you – perish the thought – actually like it.

One thing is for certain. Now that I’ve written about it and photographed it, we’re all stuck with it.

A note to a boy I’d like to see become a man.

“I give up.”

This is what I read on a recent social media account of a family friend. I’m sitting here in hospital next to my daughter who has complications from several medical issues while they make preparations to take her in for a spinal tap.  So when I read, “I give up,” in a Facebook post from an otherwise strapping young man, whom, as far as I know,  is a strong, healthy and physically capable 17 year old high school graduate, I really wanted to reach through the computer screen and wring his neck.

I’ve known this young man since he was in his mother’s belly, and have watched him grow these last 17 years into a tall, physically strong young man. His parents – two good friends we’ve known since the early 1990’s – have provided for him in every conceivable fashion; more recently giving him several cars, most of which he summarily wrecked.

He has been afforded the trappings of a well-fed middle class home, devoid of the inner city troubles of gangs and violent crimes and lives out here in north western Oregon where the biggest problems we have are frequent elk crossings and where to put all the rain. Not much has been withheld from his hand; food, shelter, several game consoles, a cell phone, computer and a car all provided to him free of charge by two loving parents who recently set some boundaries and have followed through with them.

It’s so rough, he’s giving up.

Well, let’s be honest. It’s not about giving up. It’s about pity. He’s just like so many other young people; coddled in the relative comforts of a middle class home from an early age and brought up in the protected enclaves of a modern America. When faced with a real performance requirement, it’s time to throw a tantrum.

A social tantrum – whining on display for all to see. He wants pity. He’s trolling for likes and soothing words to assuage his poor injured ego all because he’s got to either continue with school, or go find a job. Much difficult, many angst. So horror.

He’s crying on the collective shoulders of those he considers and thinks of as admirers. You know, the people who can’t wait for him to post yet another smiling ‘selfie’ and dote over every written word he posts. Social whining is a symptom of the self-pitying, somewhat emasculated ranks of emotionally weak and psychologically fragile boys making their belly aches known on oversharing central at an international level (aka Facebook.) In this case, like many, he sees himself a victim – “things are unfair,” he declares. And has declared over and over again. Why? Rules.

Those uncaring adults and their rules.

Rules like, if you aren’t going back to school or actively working to get a job, then we’re taking away your toys until you do. It’s just so unfair.

Sleeping around with other teenagers hasn’t satiated his fragile ego, and he clings to some notion that he’s going to join the marines. Perhaps he hasn’t bothered to read the “A few good men,” moniker on the recruitment posters. Men, that is. Texas steel. Why men? Because boys don’t follow orders, boys shy away from hard work and effort. Boys will run at the first shot and boys cry on social media that their lives are unfair and miserable.

Boys give up.

What my young friend hasn’t figured out is that being a man has little to do with a functional sex organ and more to do with self-discipline. Unfortunately, he’s in good company these days. And by good, I don’t mean wonderful, I mean a goodly amount – numerous, many; legion.

Unfortunately it’s not all his fault, really. If we wanted responsible, productive and disciplined adults capable of taking care of themselves and others then we’d discipline them as children at home and at school. Too often, it’s one or both of those places where discipline is poorly, wrongly or never applied. Failure to discipline children is the same as failing to provide an education. A child raised without being taught to read and write still won’t be able to read and write as an adult. It’s not magic.

We are a product of what we do or don’t do today. Instead of coddling ‘Jonny’ with participation awards, perhaps giving the real winner a real prize will drive the others to try harder next time. It’s a mistake to award mediocrity.

It’s a far bigger mistake to shield children from the consequences of their bad decisions and withhold discipline. Parents, while loving their offspring, are also stunting their child’s development by attempting to be the omnipresent guardian – pulling them away from each and every little mishap before it happens, replacing items willfully smashed, or getting in the way of school discipline when it’s been handed out or simply refusing to do it themselves.

The real world is eating these children up. In the real world, there are consequences for bad decisions and consequences have a nasty propensity to accumulate and become quite terrifying and complex to get out from underneath them. There are no second place or participation awards at a job interview. Mortgage and rent payments don’t care if you’re sick this week. You can’t pay for groceries with a printed selfie and a note from Mom excusing them from work because they needed a ‘mental break.’

We’re producing a generation of hopeless children addicted to instant gratification, mothering and video games and quite dependent on handouts from parents and welfare. They’re unmotivated, slovenly, entitled, give up easily, haters of truth and anyone that would dare tell them that they need a swift kick up their ass. I see this in people of advanced age – in one traffic stop after another, there’s often a whiny, self-indulgent child at the wheel who can’t handle the consequences of their actions. “I didn’t know it was only 35 here,” or “I didn’t see that stop sign,” or, “Can’t you just give me a warning?”

If it were only that simple – I know of at least a few other men that would volunteer to stand with me and administer those swift kicks if only it would correct the manifest issues at hand. But it won’t.

Unfortunately, for many, until and unless the consequences of their poor planning, poor decisions and poor performance fall on them, they won’t change. Pain and suffering aren’t desirable and that’s what makes them great motivators and behavioral change agents. Like most, I’d rather see motivation come from envisioning success and the diligent, disciplined approach to achieving it. That means seeing something in your mind – like where you want to be in 5 years – then setting up a plan and a series of milestones and getting to it.

Getting to it, as in working for it – earning it – and learning the true value of something achieved.

None of us like to see our kids suffer, but rescuing them from the consequences of their poor decisions is really bad parenting.

So, young man. If you’re reading this, understand two things. First, I care enough about you that I’m not going to blow smoke up that skirt you’re apparently wearing. Second, I’ve taken a number of hours out of my day to write this in the sincere hope it will someday get through to you. Nobody’s going to hand you success. Nobody can MAKE you happy. Mommy and Daddy love you, but it’s time to grow up and start to become a man.  This whiny, self-indulgent, and spoiled boy we see posting on Facebook is not a man, not even close to one.

If you want to join the ranks of the 40-somethings still living at home playing video games living off the meager earnings of retired parents and thinking that someday they’ll become rich, win the lottery or be recognized for the brilliant move they made on level 122 of that game, then stay where you are. It’s a sad, uninspiring existence – only a small percentage ever actually make it to 40. A lot of them commit suicide or die from heart disease. Those that do are working only to their own demise; fooling themselves that it’s OK to live off Mom and Dad. Fooling themselves that someday it will be different because the government will rescue them.

If, on the other hand, you want to live the life God has planned and set out for you, then it’s time to put away the toys, the little girls dropping their panties for you and man up. You can ask for help, you can seek career advice and I’d recommend that you do just that. Discipline yourself to get up in the morning and either find a job to carry you through higher education, or start one as a career and build on that career through learning job related skills and gaining experience. In order to change, you must make good choices and act on them. And not just for praise and group hugs, but for your own sake. Hoping Mommy or Daddy will make the right choices for you won’t produce anything. It’s only by doing the right thing that right results are produced.

Wake up. It’s time to leave that boy behind.

Psalm 119

Engineering Disaster

When you read the news these days, you can’t help but be left with a real feeling of helplessness. I don’t mean the kind of distraught, outright despair and restless nights one might experience after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. No, this is more of a ‘we knew this was going to happen, and there’s little or nothing that can be done now,’ kind of helplessness.

At work, I’m an industrial engineer. I design, build and integrate hardware and software together to make functional solutions, so I tend to consciously, and at times, subconsciously, to analyze things and derive one or more approaches to a solution. In the last 30 years of doing this kind of work, I’ve observed that not everyone who comes to an engineering firm or group wants a solution. Further, of those that have expressed their desire for a solution to be found or created, there’s a remarkably high percentage of these clients that completely disregard the engineering recommendations, or don’t implement the solution. More on this later.

If it were a few isolated incidents here and there, it could be written off as poor engineering work product (and plenty of examples come to mind) or faulted as the result of a measure of miscommunication at some crucial stage in the solution development process that crippled the adoptive process for the client.

While I observe the engineering industry and the goings on in the companies I’ve worked at and work in, this odd tendency remains true not only across engineering disciplines and their market segments, it remains true in every industry, business and institution I’ve seen.

Let me illustrate here with a couple of examples.

Several years back, when I worked for a brand-name sports and apparel company, we developed a mobile credentialing and access control system for athletes and visitors to the company hospitality suite at all major sporting events around the world. It started life as an idea by a then defunct .COM and was dropped in my lap some years after our company had terminated the contract with said .COM – the equipment was gathering dust in a forgotten closet where I was relegated to make it work in time for the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

A few months later, I emerged with a working system. That’s when they added another person to the project – a project manager. Over the next year, a few more team members were added and we brought the little system from a very manually operated setup of cameras, wireless routers, badge printers and a ‘football’ server to a fairly full-featured global event management system. I traveled with the system to the pre-Olympic track & field event in Los Angeles, then to Athens Greece in 2004, and finally Helsinki Finland in 2005. When the system was being prepped for the 2006 Winter Olympics to be held in Torino, Italy, I was approached by my new manager and asked what it would take to operate the system. The idea was that they wanted to save cost by sending less expensive resources – this was understandable and expected.

My reply was that since the system had always been designed and built on a shoe-string budget, there were no automated setups or menus from which to click ‘fix’ or ‘setup’ buttons from. For instance – the ‘football’ server was a small mini-ITX form-factor setup that ran Windows 2003 Server and Oracle Server version 9i. It was the nexus point for 5 wireless laptop clients with USB-attached cameras and two dye-sublimation badge printers that jammed if you stared at them cross-eyed. I stated that they needed to send an individual familiar with the setup and one that possessed a blend of hardware and software troubleshooting skill sets, as the Olympic environment was an unforgiving one, since it was a high profile event. They (my manager and his assistant) agreed, but sent the technically challenged project manager to the event anyway.  This, at least in my field, is what we refer to as a ‘predictable outcome.’

During the event, the project manager was on the phone with me almost every night (late, very late our time) trying to make sense out of the problems that kept surfacing. The system came back with dozens of stuck-on labels that read, “bad” or “inoperative” and in a follow-up meeting, our new boss expressed his deeply felt conviction that the entire team had let him down because the customer (the Sports Marketing group) had done everything except pour gasoline on him and light him on fire. While he went clockwise around the room, asking every individual in the meeting what we could have done differently (most of them weren’t involved with the project at any level) I sat quietly and simply listened to the many theories.

Finally, he turned to me and stated that he was most interested in what I thought. I would like  to say this is where I threw him out the 3rd floor window after having set him on fire, despite the leniency shown by Sports Marketing, but I’d be writing this from prison had I entertained that idea beyond the initial mental spark…

What amazed me then was that despite my even-handed redress of the ‘faulty’ equipment and findings of no systemic problems which were subsequently validated by another engineer, he maintained that it was somehow the team’s fault that the Torino event was declared a spectacular failure (all the while looking at me when he’d reiterate that mantra.) As it turned out, the project manager had essentially begged him to go to Torino as Italy was his home country and he hadn’t been back since he was a kid. The Sports Marketing folks informed me later that he and his wife quickly jettisoned after the Olympics were over, leaving the clean-up to the Sports Marketing team, as he’d scheduled vacation for 20 days immediately after the event. A goodly portion of their ire, as it turns out, was directed towards the project manager’s work-ethic and not so much at the equipment which had worked beautifully at all the other (and subsequent) events.

Here’s the point.

Had the manager taken the good advice of someone who knew the system and had sent a technically competent person (even if it was or wasn’t me) we would’ve avoided that bad experience with our customer altogether. In the end, the manager’s decision was manifestly less about the responsible thing to do than it was to satisfy or appease a friend by doing them a favor. His attitude and behavior following this event demonstrated that he’d learned nothing about listening to and acting on the good counsel of his team.

The second example illustrates that it’s not just in engineering work that we see this problem.

Despite your political inclinations to one side or the other, one can’t help but wonder how the President of the United States could conscionably skip half of his security briefings and yet assert that it was an intelligence failure that allowed ISIS to become what it is today? Perhaps I don’t know enough of the relevant facts, or have the real story behind the unfolding events. That could entirely be true. Since most news outlets are now unabashedly peddling partisan views of world events, there’s no room for anyone suggesting they know everything for certain.

Despite the warnings, the best advice and input from his most senior military advisers, our President has made and continues to make the decision(s) to play down, disregard, (and as documented, 50% of the time) has outright skipped-out on the security briefings that raised the issue of Al-Qaeda (now ISIS) growing in numbers and power.  ISIS has demonstrated itself as an evil terrorist cancer that needs to be met head-on and decisively. Yet, we can readily read and watch the actions and statements from the Oval office that the commitment and decisiveness to do just that are bizarrely missing from the equation.

Again, I fear this is going to be what we refer to in my business as a predictable outcome.

To conclude this observare commentarium I’m left wondering how deeply corrupt our current model of self-governance has become? I see this problem everywhere I turn, everywhere I work and in just about every relationship I see or read about.

Good inputs are routinely disregarded, and are exchanged for convenience, or as it were, to do a ‘favor’ for someone else at the expense of the greater corporation. Is our record-low approval ratings President now feeling a little embattled? Is his fragile ego ultimately driving his decisions? Is he trying to appease the ever dwindling circle of his sycophants by making such foolish and blind declarations that we can solve the ISIS problem without putting boots on the ground? No competent engineer would have advised my manager back then that it would be a good idea to send in an un-trained, technically challenged project manager to do an engineer’s job at a high-profile world event.

And you know what else? I think I can also boldly state that no competent military adviser has told the President that we can even begin to address the ISIS crisis with a handful of airstrikes and tomahawks.

Golf, anyone?