The end of the world is coming and I am having a blast!

Completely unrelated to whatever crazy old Harold Camping might be thinking or doing is the fact that, for the last few months I have been having and continue to have one of the best times of my life.

And I want the party to go on!

But not cranky old Harold Camping. A retired civil engineer (I can't believe we share the same profession!) he has been spreading the word around the world that the end is to come on Saturday, May 21st. Two days from now.

And he has billboards in such places as Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Iran! If anything, you have to admire his tenacity.

But he is not trustworthy. His prophecies have backfired on him at least once before, as he had already predicted the end of the world would be on September 6th, 1994. Either he was wrong or I am now living in the Matrix and have not noticed it.

His calculations for claiming the end of the world are downright ridiculous. First, he seems to assume the world is 6,000 years old, as fundamental christians like to believe. Then he places the year of the (non-existent) Flood as 4990 b.c.e and he adds 7000 years (because the bible says somewhere that 1000 years is like a day). Then he does some other cockamanied calculations to arrive at the May 21st. date. When asked, he says that on that day, at 6 in the evening there will be a huge earthquake. Where? Everywhere!

That is why it shames me to know he is an engineer. You would think a member of our time honored profession would know that it cannot be 6 pm everywhere in the world at the same time. It is all nonsense and a lot of crap.

Of course, people like me have been having a blast with the whole thing. Many other predictions of the end of the world have come and gone and nothing has happened, which causes even some christian church officials to denounce doom-sayers like Camping "because they give the church a black eye" when the alleged prophecy fails to happen.

Camping and his cohorts are up for another great disappointment, like the Millerite thing back in 1844. Unfortunately it seems that, like when other prophecies failed, their faith may be somehow reinforced and they will come up with all sorts of explanations as to why the Rapture failed to happen. Unless, of course, there is some "Kool Aid" involved and they are no longer around to explain themselves. We will see... on Sunday.

In the meantime - party on!

Little man, great man

Sai Baba - I got this image from another blog - sorry!

Last week a couple of interesting things happened.

First the little man, Sathya Sai Baba died, at age 84. He missed the mark by 12 years, since he had prophesied his death would occur at age 96, after which 8 years more would elapse before he would reincarnate.

I guess his miscalculation may mean he will not reincarnate. He may have missed the Reincarnation Express.

As mentioned before, Sai Baba was little - he was only about 1.57 meters tall. He became known as an avatar right in the middle of the peace and love era, the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, when his afro look and his orange gowns blended well with the prevailing fashion and the rise of popularity of those oriental/indian beliefs in reincarnation and karma. Sai Baba seems to have been a skilled conjurer (watch this YouTube video) and he had a very long career (more than sixty years) in which he amassed a large fortune, which is now up for grabs.

No saint but just another merchant of faith, a pedophile and, possibly, a murderer. Little man, indeed.

On to the great man.

During the weekend, John Paul II was beatified. Sainthood claims aside I recently heard that how great a man you are depends on how big a void you leave when you go. It seems to me that, for better or for worse, Karol Wojtyla left a huge void indeed.

He presided over a momentous time in the history of Humanity, the fall of the Soviet Union and the establishment of free market and liberty over many formerly occupied countries. And to many, there is little doubt that he was one of the architects of that fall.

He also painted a good face on a decrepit institution. His many travels around the world and his skillful use of the media made him a familiar and welcome face in every home. While remaning a stern critic of other religions (he shared the same belief Pope Ratzinger proclaims, that the Catholic Faith is "superior") he did indeed approach other religious leaders and was the first Pope to visit a mosque and a sinagogue.

Of course, the reign of JPII is tainted by his dogmatism, his sponsorship of very conservative factions like the Opus Dei and his poor handling of the sex abuse scandals that rocked the whole Catholic institution from 2002 on. For that, he will always be criticized.

A saint? Depends on what you call sainthood. From the religious perspective, sainthood claims for the late pope hinge on the testimony of a lonely nun (is there any other kind?), Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who claims her prayers to the late John Paul resulted in a miraculous cure from Parkinson's disease. While it remains to see if she really remains cured (she is not dead yet, so she has not lived a full disease-free life) and there are doubts about her mysterious and sudden "cure" the Vatican or, rather, Pope Ratzinger, fast-tracked the process so John Paul II could be quickly added to the already crowded catholic pantheon of saints.

But a great man? Basis my previous definition, definitely. He left his mark in both the secular as well as the religious arena, which cannot be ignored. He is missed by more than a few and that, too, cannot be ignored.

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And the catholics are pissed because?

Image via Click this link to see the video at

A few days ago I got an e-mail complaining about this ad and I watched it. The e-mail was petitioning me to go somewhere and sign up against the commercial because it "denigrated" the eucharist.

As long as you don't watch the commercial you might think that is true.

I grew up as a catholic so I understand some hints that are there in the commercial, for all to see except maybe for those dyed-in-the-wool catholicts who feel offended by this rather insipid depiction of religion. The "pastor" is called "pastor", not "father" as would be the case if this were a catholic priest. The church is a traditional protestant church - no mistaking that agriculture. Catholics do not keep files of new parishioners as if they were "applicants" for a job. And the flock is, well, very "diverse" - you see a hare krishna and an amish, a jew and a southern baptist... not very catholic.

And so on and so forth...

Religion is like that. People get so charged up with their own points of view that they lose sight of the bigger picture. There is no acceptance of other ways, my way is always the right way and dogma is king.

So, even though no mention is made, either explicit or implicit, that this is a catholic church, catholics get pissed. And again, I ask why?

See the commercial and judge for yourself. And also read this interesting commentary.

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A different point of view

In a previous post (Another one bites the dust! May 6,2009) I told the story of father Alberto Cutié, who was caught red-handed kissing and caressing his girlfriend.

Now married, separated from the Catholic Church and a newly ordained priest in the Episcopal Church, father Alberto is back in the spotlight with his second book which, according to all accounts, is not kind on his former church.

As far as I can tell from watching interviews made promoting his book, father Alberto is accusing the church of nothing less than what I always said it suffers: Hipocrisy. It seems father Alberto's sin was not to have an affair but, rather, to be caught. He mentions how if the church got rid of all the priests and bishops involved in "inapropiate" relationships with both men and women, it would be so crippled it could not function anymore. And how many priests have deserted because of their inability to keep their vows.

Interestingly, during the last couple of weeks I had a couple of conversations with friends on related issues. One, with a former priest, who was a very good friend of mine in college. He told me how he was offered a parrish that he did not accept because the diocesis would not remove the other priest assigned to that place, who had a live-in girlfriend. And we talked about the monsignor who had a daughter with his housekeeper.

Later, during the weekend, I talked to another friend who also graduated from the same Jesuit school I did. He told me he had four classmates who had gone on to priesthood after high school. Of the four, only one remains an active priest.

In reality, I still like father Alberto, for his honesty. He was honest enough to leave the church and he is honest now to tell the truth about his dilemma. And he highlights what I already said is the problem: it's not the priests, it is the system. A corrupt and archaic institution still trying to make people into what they are not.

One of the many reasons I left all that make believe world behind.

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Environmentalists and "tree-huggers"

Wind Turbine. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

A few days ago I wrote about my experiences with Big Oil. Little did I know that I would manage to upset a friend who posted a comment, which I am reproducing here:

"Tree-hugers huh? Don't you think that is a little harsh? Idealists are idiots until their ideas take momentum, after that they are known as visionaries. Not before.

Alternative energy doesn't work? Hell, that's were we will agree to disagree (being a wind turbine engineer and all).
Oil is only the cheapest ECONOMIC source of energ: it is dirty, chemically dangerous, prone to explosion, and its biggest charge is to the enviroment it is IRREPARABLY destroying. Plus, it is not renewable.

I don't want to live as if I were the last generation to use the earth, and I don't even have kids like you do.

Anyway, as I said, this is a point were we will have to agree to disagree.
I have a TREMENDOUS respect for you, and it is only such respect that allows me to retort; I know you are a rational person who will not corner me to the ground just because I think differently about a subject.

In any case, the best of lucks in your new endevours. All the best to you and your family. ^__^


I also have Arc in the highest of regards and this comment provides a footing to talk about some ideas I have been juggling in my head.

First, the use of the words "tree-hugger" is not casual - it is deliberate. I am certainly not very diplomatic when I am dealing with prejudiced or dishonest people and I find a lot of those in the "green" movement.

Before going any further, I am all for preserving the environment, as much as it is possible to reconcile such preservation with the needed economic development for poor people/countries. I think all life is precious and while I cannot accept the killing of one more marine mammal, for instance, I also think the life of some members of a rather abundant species of two-legged land mammals is also important to preserve.

However, the tree-huggers I am refering to are people who use the banner of the green movement in order to further their perverse agendas, which seemingly do not include the well being of many of those two-legged land mammals. I do not really understand what those agendas may be, if they exist at all: it seems to me that many of these infamous characters are in the game only for personal gain.

And they are dishonest. I was outraged last year when a well known (in my country) catholic bishop called a press conference in order to present his findings after conducting some water analysis in the neighborhood of a gold mine. He accused the mining company of poisoning the river with "heavy metals". What heavy metals? Aluminum, magnesium and silicon... some of the most abundant materials in the Earth's crust.

So, I stand by my use of the word tree hugger. I am an environmentalist, an advocate of conservancy, not of poverty and famine for those who could use a good job in a gold mine - as long as the mine complies with good environmental practices. But the tree huggers will have none of that and they want all those jobs to go away.

As for renewable energy, I am all for developing renewable and alternate energy sources. However, I don't think they are all quite ready for prime time.

My good friend Arc says he is a wind turbine engineer. Nice job. I like wind turbines. They are one of the most mature technologies for renewable/alternate energy around. Unfortunately, they have two shortcomings:

1) Mostly, they are not good for providing base energy as the wind does not always blow the same when you need it and 2) They are not that reliable as yet.

I tried to indicate that alternate energy would come into its own sometime later this century. Wind power is a good example. There is already work underway to make wind turbines more reliable, going to direct drive and avoiding those pesky, difficult to maintain gearboxes. Yes, Big Oil will suffer at not being able to sell lubricants to the wind turbines anymore (with direct drive) but I, for one, aplaud the idea as the gearbox is the weakest link in a power system comprising wind turbines.

And, I have to say, wind power is also attacked by the green movement. Migrating birds are killed by the spinning blades and pressure differentials between one side of the turbine and the other kills bats. I sympathize with the birds and the bats but I also believe that good locations can be found for those needed wind farms where they will make the least damage to the flying fauna.

Not that all of them will be spared. But you have to give some to get some, right? Which, would bring me back to the gold mine...

So, friend Arc. we do not disagree at all. We are in violent agreement. But it is all a matter of balancing the pros and the cons and coming up with the best solution for all - marine mammals, flying fauna and those insipid two-legged land dwellers that tree-huggers don't seem to consider worthy of conservation.

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The end of an era (for me...)

This is me, about 20 years ago, a talk to customers. My bosses, in the background, watching...

Yesterday, after 20.6 years of working with Big Oil, my employment came to an end.

20.6 years is a lot. I always ask my kids if they remember seeing me working for another employer. Your personality becomes entangled with the company's and friends and family think of you when they see the company logo and viceversa... sometimes I think I have a star already engraved on my forehead!

I remember 20-something years when I was in need of a job and looked in many places... the story itself of how I began working with Big Oil is interesting. But in that time, with my youth ideals still fresh I used to think I would not work with the brewery or the distillery - I do not agree with the excess in drinking that these companies seem to promote. I didn't want to work for Big Tobacco either, even though they called... I think it is inmoral to help produce a product that causes disease and death. But Big Oil, even though twenty years ago did not have the greenest image did not look bad to me. Besides, I always sold lubricants, even then. No one seems to notice but, who can live without lubricants? (Even reproduction would be difficult...)

Anyway, Big Oil hired me at the toughest time in my life, recently married and with a child on the way. Watching shop windows full of baby clothes and stuff I could not buy. And, in time, it gave me enough to raise and educate my children, feed and clothe them, a good life - all these, things for which I am very grateful.

Besides, Big Oil gave me the opportunity to learn to manage a business with other people's money. I made mistakes that cost the company mone. They told me "don't do it again" and I moved on. I learned so many things... I don't think many people (certainly no more than 10) in Guatemala know so much about lubricants as I do. And I met many important poeple, some of which are now offering me employment... And I knew so many places, in Guatemala and elsewhere in the world, that I would have never visited if it were not for the job. All of which has enriched my life in a wonderful way.

I cannot neglect mentioning also the opportunity to work with so many talented colleagues and some extraordinary bosses ( I always think of Ralph when I think of good bosses). Many friends, many colleagues, many customers and acquaintances, relationships that I hope will be able to continue even though I am no longer with the company.

A great experience. I would not change those 20.6 years for anything. And I defend Big Oil. It is true that BP has messed with the industry's image with this big screw-up in the Gulf but the industry, generally speaking, is not irresponsible, in spite of how much the tree-huggers may crow.

And there is much to say about our dependence from oil. A few weeks ago, a local columnist was making an apology of alternative energy. Everything fine and dandy except it does not work. Yet. The cheapest source of energy available to us at the moment is oil and that will not change in the next 20 years. Maybe in 50.

In the meantime, all the best successes to my friends and colleagues working for Big Oil. And to Big Oil, as well, because success for the companies carries with it success for their employees.

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The Titanic chore of thinking critically

R.M.S. Titanic. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

This morning I was browsing through TLT magazine and I found a great column on Titanic which clearly illustrates one of the critical thinking processes involved in solving problems by attacking root causes.

If asked why Titanic sank, most people would say it was because it hit an iceberg. However, that was not the real cause of the sinking, as demonstrated by this interesting article. Titanic sank because of defective rivets.

How come? What do rivets have to do with large chunks of ice?

In order to find out what the real cause of an event is, you need to ask why over and over. That is a technique we use frequently at work when conducting investigations of loss incidents. For example, if an employee crashes the company car, we ask why? Maybe the guy hit the car in front when the other driver suddendly stopped. Why? Because he was not following at the right distance. Of course. Be more careful next time.

Most people would stop investigating at this stage. And conclude that in order not to crash you have to follow the car in front at a larger distance. However, that may not have been the root cause of the accident.

If we ask why a second time we might begin to find interesting things. For instance, if the second answer is "I didn't know I had to follow at such and such distance" we may begin inquiring into training. Other possible answers might lead to fatigue, poor eyesight, etc. In all those causes, the solution needed to prevent a repeat accident would be different - training, journey planning, eye testing, etc.

Going back to Titanic, I found most interesting that the old ship can still teach us new lessons. In this case, when asking why the ship sank after hitting the ice, the answer is that it developed a large leak that flooded too many watertight compartments. Going further into the why asking questions and combining this technique with recent research, it was found that rivets used in the bow and stern of the ship were not steel but iron and they were of substandard quality. It turns out that Harland & Wolff probably knew about the poor quality of the rivets but used them anyway - a typical case of "nothing bad has happened before so I keep on doing it". In the end it all came down to a case of trying to manage through difficult financial and logistical conditions.

That is what critical thinking leads to. In order to prevent a repeat disaster, ships had to be built with steel, not iron, rivets. Had rivets in the bow of the Titanic been steel, we might today have a Titanic museum.

So, it was not the route, the decision to turn the engines, etc. what sank the mighty ship. And the way through to that knowledge was pure critical thinking and root cause analysis.

More information on Titanic can be found here linked from the Harland & Wolff website

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