It’s been 2 years and 9 months since I started this blog.

After 475 posts and 232,172 words (about three medium size novels worth), I think that I’ve shared all there is I want to say about my transition from an engineer living in Washington, DC and working in the defense industry to that of an apprentice bag and sandal maker living these past three years down here in beautiful old Mexico.

As another fellow blogger ended her public writing, so shall I – and again – aptly borrowing from Douglas Adams:

“So long and thanks for all the fish.”

I’ve been here 3 years now and there is still this wonderful freshness to the experience of being here.

And even though I’ve got this place totally dialed in, when I wake up in the morning it is still miraculously all new to me. For instance, I am finally living in a great place, with a great view, that is clean and private and consequently so very livable. But each morning when I step out onto the street there is no question that I am in one of the sweetest most undiscovered spots in all of Mexico.

I got up this morning just before light and brewed up a cup of strong Mexican coffee. Then took the stairs to the 5th floor rooftop, watered my plants and watched the tangerine sunrise over the broad expanse of valley to the east.

A Tangerine Sunrise

A Tangerine Sunrise

At 9:30 I put on a pair of running shorts, grabbed a t-shirt and a bandanna, then slipped on my running sandals parked at the bottom of the stairs before heading out the door. I picked up a bottle of water from the coffee shop across the street and then walked two blocks to catch the grey combi-bus for the 20 minute ride out into the valley.

The sun was hot but the air was cool and there was a light breeze that made my run especially pleasurable. The valley and environs sit about a mile above sea-level and the weather is consistently gorgeous just about every day.

Ran for an hour before catching the combi back into town. Sluiced off with the garden hose on the roof then changed into a pair of cargo shorts and a different pair of sandals before walking the three blocks to Beto’s Carnitas Fonda in the Mercado.

I had three pork tacos: a rib meat taco, a taco made from the crunchy cartilage of the ear, and a kidney taco. All the meat was cooked in freshly rendered lard in a big stainless steel pot over a gas grill. I dressed them each independently with chopped onions, cilantro, hot chilies, avocado sauce and picked onions and carrots.

Some Typical Mexican Condiments

Some Typical Mexican Condiments

A couple of other men sat down at the counter while I was eating and like always I enjoyed watching Beto make up their plates. Everyone likes their carnitas different. And everyone has their own special way to dress them up.

Luz, who woks in Katya’s Fonda, patted me on the arm as she walked by. Ramon (still working his own fonda at 83) came up from behind while I was paying and put his arm around my shoulder and said hello.

These people are all so happily alive and my life here is so simple and delightfully small but packed with a richness that I am joyfully thankful for every single day.

PS – Classically speaking, this isn’t one of those picturesquely charming Mexican towns. Architecturally the town is common. The buildings are utilitarian. The materials of construction are brick. Some walls painted. Some not. But marvelously there is still a beauty to be found in so many local houses and buildings with that worn down quality that can best be described as benign neglect. Where in places, left to time and the elements, eroded plaster partially covered by faded paint exposing crumbled earthen adobe walls.

Art or decay?

Art or decay?

That’s a rather insensitive take no prisoners kind of title isn’t it?

And yes I’d truly be worried about getting hate mail or hauled off to jail for my intolerance if this post were directed anywhere else but to shit-for-brains liberal arts or business school graduates. (What were you thinking anyway? $80K for a BBA? Yeah, that was certainly not a good business decision.)

So now you’ve parachuted into my world. You’ve gotten your technical certification. You’re now a CCIE, CSSE, or whatever. Yeah. Your certification might contain the word engineer but that doesn’t make you an engineer. It’s the training, stupid.

Let’s summarize shall we? Industry technical certifications are useful for three reasons: One, it gets business degree grads retrained so that they can actually earn more than the minimum wage. Two, businesses in the industries get a double payback. They get an additional revenue stream from selling the classes, the books and the tests. And they also get future employees who are certified to work on their machines. And three, tech certs offers individuals a less costly alternative to going (or returning) to university.

The rub is, you get what you pay for.

And no, I am not saying you won’t make money with your certification; CCIEs make a shitload of money. What I am saying is – you’re not getting the full monty. The real deal. True engineer-class training. In other words, you can’t buy your way into this club. And most certainly not with a certification.

And yeah, I’m biased. But only because I gave blood by putting in 5 hard years of studying and working my ass off to make it through a pretty damn rigorous and unforgiving engineering program. And yeah, it pisses me off when someone who has taken a shortcut route into my industry (via a 6 month tech cert) and then somehow thinks that an engineering title makes them a real engineer.

Well it doesn’t. And the difference is all in the training.

Let me illustrate.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was reading ‘The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World’s Most Important Company’, written by Michael S. Malone. And while I have bookmarked several important pages, it wasn’t until I got to the chapter on Craig Barrett, covering his single greatest contribution to the company, that it occurred to me that it was also a case study for why non-engineers can’t deliver the same high production values in technology roles.

The back story. In the early ’80s Intel, like every other US integrated-circuit manufacturer, was plagued with low yields. For example, for any given wafer, only 50-60% of the chips would work to spec. That was a huge problem that impacted everything from the ground up including meeting deliveries, to waste, right on up to undermining profit that was desperately needed to fund critical next generation R&D.

Back then there was no real unified fab environment; for example, the Singapore fab did things different than the Portland fab. So the troubleshooting approach was consequently non-organized. And it was a big complicated system. Intel’s fab people took mostly a bottoms up approach wanting to know what was broken; why they weren’t getting the yields. So huge amounts of time and effort were spent sifting through the minutia of large amounts of data but in the end finding nothing useful.

Barrett changed all that. He looked over the fab environment and the first real thing he did was to create a test bed where they would first prove out a fabrication process. Once proved – and here is where the wheels met the proverbial road – he instituted a ‘Copy Exactly’ policy as that process was rolled out to each of Intel’s fabs.

And importantly, he told the fab guys to forget trying to understand what didn’t work and focus instead on what worked (by instituting the practice of copying the proven processes exactly).

That’s kind of common sense isn’t it? No. Actually it isn’t. The fab guys were following what seemed to be a common sense approach – find the problem. That seems logical right up until a cooler head prevailed and stated the obvious; ‘the problem could be problems’ (plural). The fab systems could be seen as a bunch of multi-variables with complex inter-dependencies.

Craig Barrett approached the same situation systemically. First, find out what you know. Put boundaries around things. Isolate everything system by system. Process by process. Test. Reassemble. Test again. Then implement each system process by process.

True that Barrett had to unbolt everything and start over from scratch but still coincidentally in the end, his approach was nothing more than following a version of Deming’s modern method for quality control. (Which ironically was something Detroit turned down but the Japanese embraced; which of course explained their much more acceptable 80% chip yields.)

I joined Intel in ’89 and my first real big project was designing and building the communication systems for Intel’s Sales and Marketing Division. First it started out with me as a temporary loan from my division to Sales and Marketing. I was originally tasked to do only the first 3 new sales offices. After all, I was an infrastructure guy (with a background in small voltage communication systems) as well as a transmission guy.

Anyway, after 3 offices, I was on time and under budget. So 6 weeks turned into 16 months where my role expanded to take in all of the 25 US domestic locations, then Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and then finally all of Asia.

I wasn’t aware of Barrett’s ‘Copy Exactly’ program in the fabs, but I instituted a similar policy for all of the Sales and Marketing communication rooms across the world. And that is that all of them looked exactly the same; right down to the way cables were run and the wires terminated.

I did that for one reason. Troubleshooting. If I was in Denver and something broke in Montreal then it just made sense that the problem would be faster to locate especially if I had to walk someone in Montreal through troubleshooting something as confusing as the cable plant. My guiding principles were simple: propagate a viable working standard across the planet and document everything.

It wasn’t genius, it was just the smartest way that I could think of keep myself out of future trouble. Simplicity. It was only as far back as 100 years ago when Henry Ford proved he was no fool when the first cars to roll off his assembly line came in one model, one style, and one color.

And as unfriendly as it might sound, it has been my experience over a 25 year plus long career that one can’t expect someone who hasn’t been properly trained in a design/build/test environment to understand a systems approach: modules, subsystems, systems; following standards delivered with working documentation.

AT&T was my equipment/cabling/installation vendor – at least domestically – and some of their old time technicians would still try and insist on doing it the way they’d always done it (in Denver or Portland or New York or where ever). Their rationale was as long as it worked who cared how it was done or what it looked like?

And you know what? That would have been the easiest path. As long as it worked, right? Who other than myself would care what it looked like? Who would have known other than me? And on the front end – the installation phase – it was harder work, especially for me as I sometimes had to get AT&T to do an office all over again.

And when that happened, AT&T program management typically went behind my back and bitched to my program manager who – when the first time they bitched to me – I was to remind them to look at the agreement (contract).

And then something like 15 offices into the project and everyone involved – the customer, my management, and finally even AT&T – said, “They (the comm rooms) all look the same!” And with that collective sigh everyone realized that the bit of pain for conformity and the few additional dollars spent doing do-overs on the front end was going to save everyone time and money on the back end. And future support costs, including maintenance, became something more tangible.

Then there was the less measurable benefit of maximizing uptime; a real time asset that was way more important to the support people within that international division who operated around the clock from 50 different locations including 3 in India.

Note: After the Sales and Marketing project wrapped up I went on to do similar work for some of Intel’s factories in Asia. With that I changed groups within Intel and shortly after arriving in my new group I got pulled into troubleshooting an intermittent (the worse kind) network outage at one of the factories near Seoul, Korea.

We spent hours on the phone talking to the IT guys at the factory. And hours and many conference calls with the Korean Telecom authority. Until finally my boss told me to go out there, find the problem and get the damn thing fixed. And the cause was so unbelievably stupid that it turned out to have been one of the easiest troubleshooting problems of my life.

Who knows how many tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars had been lost in productivity to an improperly terminated cable? I found it the first day. The telecom provided [fractional] T1 cable had literally been stabbed through a broken window (that was my first clue) and was dangling (and then not tightened down), hence making only intermittent contact with the DSU (the main landing point for the international data circuit). Intermittent contact equals intermittent problem.

Consistency, precision, reproducibility: all critical engineering lexicon.

PS – I ran a lab for Intel for a couple of years where we tested new comm hardware and software. Anytime anything got tested it was, ‘show me the results’. Where I was university trained, in that ‘if you didn’t write it down’ (the results), ‘you didn’t do it’. And the results, if they were written down, had better be coherent to the next person. And if need be, you had better be able to reproduce the results. And if you can’t, then that was demonstrable proof that you had better rethink your methodology.

PPS – This whole post is just another example of why I hate business majors and other non-technical ilk – with lame industry certifications – working in technology roles.
It’s not just wrong. It’s stupid.

Another traditional fiesta that is celebrated September 14th as a reminder from generation to generation just how important the cowboy/charro culture is to Mexico.

As I’ve often said in many of my posts, Mexico keeps its traditions alive by involving their sons and daughters from the earliest of ages.

The plaza was slammed with people and there were lots and lots of cute little kids all dressed up in the traditional charro garb.

The central plaza last night. (A block from my house).

The central plaza last night. (A block from my house).

IMG_3177

A pretty girl in a beautiful costume.

A brother and sister having a laugh.

A brother and sister having a laugh.

The church is a part of every fiesta.

The church is a part of every fiesta.

Homemade potato chips was one of the many treats.

Homemade potato chips was one of the many treats.

I am reading ‘The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World’s Most Important Company’, written by Michael S. Malone. And I am totally enjoying it.

The book starts out with how Noyce and Moore along with 6 others jumped ship from William Shockley’s startup – he was the physicist who won the Nobel prize for inventing the transistor – and started Fairchild Semiconductors in ’57 before moving on to start Intel.

After a brief introduction the story picks up with Bob Noyce and gives the reader a peek into his formative years; growing up as the son of a congregational minister father and a mother who was also the daughter of a minister.

Anyway, it struck me today while reading about Noyce’s childhood how the quest for success can come from two distinctly different vantage points: A nurtured childhood or an oppressive childhood.

First, there was Noyce who grew up in home where both parents were educated and where both parents encouraged all four of their sons to learn, to experiment, to build and to create.

And then I got to thinking about my Uncle Glenn, another highly successful individual and how his motivation came from that entirely different place; a hatred of his father and being a kid who was constantly the object of undeserved criticism.

Glenn – like Bob Noyce – graduated at the top of his small rural high school class. But unlike Bob he did so probably because he was told by his dad that he’d never amount to anything. It is my opinion that Glenn strove for success if for no other reason but to rub his father’s nose in it. And the more his success the further he could push his father’s face into it. As in, ‘F**k yourself. You were wrong about me.’

And his first success came with being the first in our family to go to university; the University of Michigan where he got a BS in Civil Engineering.

When the war started (WWII) he joined up and became a commissioned pilot in the European Theater. And then when the war was over he returned and went back to school where he got an MS in Mechanical Engineering.

Ironically, shortly thereafter he discovered he didn’t much care for the profession and turned to medicine where he got his MD; all the meanwhile raising four kids with the most major support of his long-suffering wife, Helen.

Then it didn’t take him long to discover that he really didn’t like working with sick people so he turned to research. He eventually landed in tropical medicine studying infectious diseases where he had a pretty distinguished career that took him to 120 different countries.

He was pretty much a success at everything he did. He played scratch golf – and did a few rounds over the years with the legendary Arnold Palmer – and he was a talented cribbage player, among other things. (The last time that we played he beat me three straight games in California when he and my Aunt Helen came to stay with me and my young family in ’90.)

I loved the guy. He was really the only mentor that I had growing up and he was a great uncle to me. Extremely smart, sophisticated, 6′-2″, movie star handsome; all in all, a man’s man.

I looked up to him and he knew it. And growing up he always acknowledged me. Like he always sent me postcards from faraway places like Egypt. And when he came up north for a visit he and I would always play a game or two of cribbage.

But he was never able to shake the anger from his childhood. And like his father, he was mean son of a bitch to his family. His kids, especially his son, could never measure up to his standards. He was – it turns out – also a mean husband, and oftentimes sarcastic to those who he perceived as underachievers (which could be pretty much everyone else).

So here we’ve got Robert Noyce, the product of a good home, and my Uncle Glenn; the son of a mean oppressive father. Both men driven to success from two entirely different environmental models.

And as I think about my Uncle Glenn – although he was never once cruel or condescending to me – I forgive him for his transgressions to others.

Shaking off an evil childhood and having a mean bastard for a father can sometimes prove to be an impossible thing to do.

So. American Foreign Policy creates a vacuum in the Middle East first by destabilizing it, then vacating it.

ISIS, a complete surprise to the same foreign policy experts, starts carving out a kingdom across Syria and Iraq. Killing and destroying sites of antiquity.

It was recently reported by one of the British papers that an archaeologist discovered that ISIS was destroying the antiquities not because they were offensive to Islam – which has been their cover story all along – but rather to cover up up the fact that they’d looted the sites before blowing them up to cover their trail. Collectors have been buying up the artifacts on the black market and the money (tens, hundreds of millions of dollars) is then fed back into ISiS’s war machine.

So vacuums create opportunities. At present Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and ISIS all have troops on the ground in Syria. And Russia just yesterday admitted to sending troops in. Even the French are talking about expanding their presence. And the US is still willy-nilly bombing targets.

Which brings me to the Law of Unintended Consequences. Who in the hell in their right mind would want to live in Syria these days? Or Iraq? Or for that matter all those scary parts of Africa that are being shot up in the same fashion?

No one. And those that can get out, are trying to get out. And this is creating – and I quote – “The largest migrant crisis since WWII.” Every last one of those migrants are desperately trying to get into Europe.

P1000444

Why can’t those over paid foreign policy geniuses attempt to a least try and envision a real endgame before running off to whisper in the president’s ear?

PS – The EU has an overall unemployment rate somewhere around 10%. Spain’s is more like 25%, so has Greece and most probably Italy. Where are the jobs for all of these displaced people going to come from? The answer is they’re not. That’s why this summer the evil genie has finally been called what it is. A crisis.

I just finished this exhaustive biography on the legendary king of country music and when I finally put the book down it was with a sense of awe and wonder. Seriously.

And I hate country music. But I was intrigued about the man. He died New Year’s Day 1953 in the back of a car on the way to a performance. And he was just 29 years old.

The author, Colin Escott, summed up the importance of the man best when he said,”Most singers hope to hang their careers on one or two classics; Hank cut four classics between 1:30 and 3:40 on the afternoon of September 23rd, 1952, including ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’, the song that would become as much his anthem in death as ‘Lovesick Blues’ had been in life. ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ is the song that – for all intents and purposes – defines country music.”

The book was highly readable, well researched, and a wonderful tale of a man who packed more living into 10 years than any other ten people do in a typical lifetime.

Hank Williams: the consummate singer, songwriter, and performer; done in by his painfully ruptured spine, bad heart, and all the booze and drugs he took to fight the pain.

It was the story of a skinny hillbilly with a body that gave him nothing but pain who somehow soldiered on to conquer country music. Mr. Escott didn’t deliberately tell it that way but it was still a story to break your heart.

PS – The book ends speculating as to what the future might have held for Hank Williams had he lived. The conclusion that the author drew was Hank’s hillbilly flavor of country didn’t have a future; it was a sound that wouldn’t carry. The author pointed out that Hank arrived on the big stage at the right time (1948) while there was still the remembrance of the depression, and the ‘right social and market conditions’ to carry his particular kind of music.

Music rapidly changed after Hank’s death in ’53. Rockabilly morphed along with the blues into rock and roll. Country music shed most of its coarse hillbilly roots when it went more mainstream and merged into a more nationally formatted flavor of pop music.

I have my own personal memory from a little later – ’64/’65 – when my grandfather was ‘calling’ a square dance at the Burt Lake Community Center on a hot Saturday afternoon. I remember the teenagers that had gathered – it was a small community, no other place to go – who were holding up Beatles records; of the 45 variety. They wanted to dance too. I especially remember a rather pouty teenage girl behived a bit like Brigitte Bardot who twisted her way into my fantasies.

And Ol’ Hank? The question of ‘what if?’ is really moot. Given his serious medical condition he was fated to die a young man. To everything there is a season, right? And none of us ever manage to find out until perhaps the very last minute that season was ours. And some of us never know. Hank died loaded up on booze and painkillers and probably just slipped from unconsciousness into death.

PPS – I finished a novel a few months back by someone I had never heard of named Steve Earle and his book was called, ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’. And it wasn’t until I read this biography of Hank Williams did I understand more of the basis for Steve Earle’s novel. One, he took his title from a song written by Hank William’s of the same name and two, the ghost always entreating Earle’s protagonist to ‘take a ride’ was none other than Hank Williams himself.

A man came home from work and saw a note taped to the refrigerator. It said, “It isn’t working. I can’t take it anymore. Gone to stay with my sister.”
He opened the frig, the light came on, and the beer was cold. He scratched his head and said,”What in the hell is she talking about?”

I’ve often joked about how many times I’ve been kissed and lied to. Here are a few of the better ones by approximate order of appearance:

  • The so ’50s, ‘You’re lazy, stupid, and worthless’ accusation (parents)
  • The so ’60s, ‘You’re never going to amount to anything’ accusation (family, community)
  • ’60’s- ’70s, ‘Drugs will set you free’ conjecture (dead friends, culture)
  • Your friends will come and go but your family is there forever (family)
  • More counterculture hogwash, Poverty was liberating (culture)
  • To be a professional you need to be a doctor, lawyer or dentist (student counselors) Major uninformed A-holes.
  • Rock and roll was going to change the world (culture)
  • The Vietnam War was all about democracy – “Sometimes you have to destroy a village [physically] to save it [morally]” (General Westmoreland)
  • [Politely paraphrased] ‘I am going to be more successful than you’ (D. Kuthy, D. Gaye)
  • Chief engineer [1979] told me, ‘You don’t need an engineering degree to succeed’ – he liked my work and he liked me just where I was; working for him (M. Butler)
  • A senior Intel manager told me at the last minute [as an explanation for withdrawing his support during one of my most major project rollouts to date], “I can’t support you because you’re going to fail” (A. Rodriguez)
  • ‘Finish up the Asian WAN rollout and I’ll get you that promotion’ (B. Licht)
  • ‘We are going to appeal [secretly knowing full well at that moment that all future appeals had been denied in the first ruling]…so you’ll get your $40K’ [in back pay, plus a bonus for all your hard work] (TecSec)

All lies.

PS – The best revenge is a thoughtful and meditative life well lived.

Notes:

  1. ‘Lazy, stupid, and worthless’ was a typical lower-class putdown from that era.
  2. Ditto, ‘You’re never going to amount to anything’.
  3. Drugs. Smart? Cool? I’ve got lots of dead childhood friends to suggest otherwise.
  4. Yeah, Ma. In a good way or a bad way?
  5. Poverty as sold by writer’s and musicians of that era was just so much romanticized poppycock. John Lennon bought a Ferrari in ’66 although he didn’t publicly talk about it at the time. ‘I’ve got you babe’. And you all sure did.
  6. Rock and Roll was always about the money.
  7. I was marginally draft age at the time but I think Westmoreland’s quote pretty much sums up the idiocy of Vietnam.
  8. D. Kuthy, one of my early college peers is now a bankrupt attorney. D. Gaye, shortly after having made a putdown of such monstrous proportions – like you’re a loser and I am going to be rich  – and said that to my face mind you. I didn’t even break a smile when shortly thereafter he lost his entire real estate empire.
  9. 3 years later upon getting my BSEE, M. Butler and ended up working as peers on a project together. He certainly didn’t like that.
  10. The project was a tremendous success although Rodriguez later tried to save face by shitting all over my accomplishment by telling everyone ‘He was lucky’. Less than a year after that incident, A. Rodriguez was let go from Intel. In Intel speak, ‘sent down to the redeployment pool’, aka cut loose. I can only conjecture that his bosses weren’t all that impressed with his management skills. I however stuck it out another 6 years at Intel before I resigned.
  11. B. Licht, just like A. Rodriguez and so many other managers were operationally speaking, first and foremost political opportunists. This kind of explains why I don’t – as a general rule – like managers. I personally never wanted to be a manager of people because at heart, I am not a political animal. (I did manage projects though…)
  12. TecSec. Seriously duplicitous lying f**ks. Still owe me $40K. That’s forty-thousand US dollars.

“Shut up or make noise. It is all the same for somewhere they have already sentenced you. There is no way out that does not lead to dishonor or the gallows: your dreams are too clear, you need a strong philosophy.”
Octavio Paz