An Olympian Feat of Engineering – Curiosity

Watching the Olympics over the past days has been inspiring to old and young. Everyone hopes the games will spur the next generation to engage in sports and see role models in their Olympic favorites. Likewise, seeing the joy and exhilaration on the faces of engineers and scientists at the NASA station on 5 August 2012 as they discovered that the Mars rover Curiosity had landed safely was just as compelling, even far more compelling in my mind.

Curiosity Team, from Washington Post

A problem is that you can’t find a Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis in the control room – only a team of dedicated scientists and engineers. Perhaps that is the key inspiration that might come from Curiosity – the significance of team work in the new era. Of course this comes across in the Olympics as well when credit to a basketball or football team is assigned to them working like a team rather than a set of individual stars, but at the end of the day, we focus primarily on individuals rather than teams, and this might be a fault that Curiosity could help address.

Surfing through life is often – almost always – about the individual, but the surfer is one piece of a larger technical system of tools and techniques designed by people around the world to ride the waves. Congratulations to the team at NASA – a continuing role model for teams across the world.


Irreplaceable Maggie Whalley at Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary

Maggie Whalley, the warden of Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary, ‘passed away last month. She died aged 57 on July 23 at Sobell House Hospice in Headington, after suffering from liver cancer’. Her obituary has been published at thisisoxfordshire

I met Maggie when my wife and I started walking dogs at the Sanctuary. It was so apparent that she cared for each and every animal in the sanctuary – she will be absolutely irreplaceable, but she is supported by an incredibly strong and caring staff who are arranging a dedication. We are among the lucky people to have adopted a dog from the sanctuary, and it probably would not have happened without Maggie’s reassurance and advice.

Maggie protected and respected the dignity of all the dogs and animals and died with admiration from everyone who knew her.

Maggie Whalley with Ragamuffin from Oxford Times

New Surf Museum: The Prince of Wales Taking a Wave in 1920

Today, 6 April 2012, the Museum of British Surfing in Braunton, North Devon, opens. The Guardian provided a nice article about the opening, featuring the Prince of Wales taking a wave in 1920, arguably as one of the first photographed British surfers.The article is nicely titled: ‘A Prince is born to rule the waves – and to surf in Hawaii.’ Yes, and the article comments on his form, but he certainly caught a wave.

Edward VIII Surfing from Museum of British Surfing

Good Surfers are Strategic Thinkers

Can surfers learn from business leaders, or vice versa? Paul Shoemaker has written about six things that characterize strategic thinkers – things they do well: Well, think about it – surfers – these are all aspects of good surfing. They are:

Clark Little Surf Photos

1. Anticipate, focusing on what lies ahead. Well, all surfers sit with their eyes off-shore, looking for the next best wave.

2. Think Critically, not following the herd, but making your own judgements. Good surfers do not get lost in a pack of surfers competing for the same wave.

3. Interpret, synthesizing information from multiple sources. This of course is the art of surfing – taking in signals from the ocean, wind, the movements of other surfers.

4. Decide, rather than freese up and not make a decision. Good surfers don’t sit on their board all day, but take the best wave and go for it.

5. Align with others. Good surfers are not rouge surfers, they gain the respect of others, who know that they will be fair even if competitive in taking wave, and respect the other surfers.

6. Learn from success as well as failure, constantly. Surfers can always improve and all good surfers sense that surfing gets easier and easier, unless you push yourself to another level, given what you’ve learned.

Again, this short list demonstrates the premise of this blog: Surfing provides good rules to live by, and life provides good rules for surfing through life and wiping out with dignity. Apply them!

Pastygate: The Law of Unintended Consequences

Fascinating how a UK government tax change that effects whether or not VAT is charged on pasties became a national debate over whether the Chancellor and Prime Minister were in touch with their constituents.

    This has been a continuing media story that has had one clear impact, I am sure: More people are sampling pasties. I, for one, tried one the next day. They are great. So, despite VAT, the government might have given the Cornish Pasty advertising that you can’t buy.

Problems of Everyday Life

There are Many Problems with Everyday Problems

There are a number of reasons why our everyday problems don’t get solved. Let me note a few of the more common problems with everyday problems, but I am sure you might suggest others that fail to come to my mind at the moment.

The Single Point of Failure. You are working with a complex set of equipment or a system that experiences one simple point of failure, and all stops. I am about to use my smart phone, part of a global technical system, but find that my battery is too low. I’ve stopped doing home repair jobs because I continually find one aspect that fails, leading the whole job to be redone.

The Missing Piece. Closely related to the single failure is the missing piece. You have everything in place to accomplish something, but you are missing one piece. This could be the screw left out of the do it yourself kit, or when the phone runs out of power, you are missing the wire needed to recharge the phone from your laptop. Problems?

The Over-determined Problem. Here the problem is the result of so many failures that it is impossible to attribute the problem to any one or even a small set of failures. Many disasters are over-determined by many things going wrong simultaneously.

The Problem is Too Big. Some problems have a clear solution, which you are equipped to solve, but they are so big and time consuming that you can’t face it. I experience this problem in doing taxes.

The Problem is Too Little. In contrast, some problems are so trivial that you see not point in solving it right here and now. I always put off moving a dirty cup from the counter into the dish washer.

The Problem is not Immediate. This can be confused with problems that are not immediate. You could do it later. I often put my glasses in an odd place, because I can always move them to my desk or bedside later. Although that creates the problem of finding the glasses since the problem was not a problem in the immediate situation, but becomes a time consuming problem when you can’t find the glasses.

The Problem is Down Stream. Solving your problem often needs to wait on someone else solving theirs. A father and son pair of carpenters at my home used to always say “I have a dollar waiting on a nickel.” Until he father did his little bit, the son could not move ahead with the big job.

Not my Problem. You might recognize a problem, but not feel it is yours to solve. Someone else owns the problem. If someone cannot surf, it is not your problem.

It is a Genuine Problem without a Clear Solution. These are rare, but the fear of these often leads you to avoid them.

Surfing is a genuine problem, which is why it is one reason that it is so satisfying.

Joan Baez Surfs

Remarkable concert tonight by Joan Baez. Her voice, lyrics, values — what dignity and grace.

When you are a novice at surfing, everything is hard. You can tell you are learning to surf as it gets easy to paddle out, catch waves, and more. Well you could see Joan Baez showing you how easy it is for her to move her audience. Fifty some years of experience shows in all aspects of her performance.

Joan Baez in Oxford

She dedicated her night to the Occupy Movement. How brillant a fit is that. Joan Baez made anti-war protests meaningful in the 1960s, and the Occupy Movement has helped to resurrect peaceful protests since 2010.

Prediction: Youth will rediscover Joan Baez in 2012 and beyond.