Hard to let go
It is difficult to let go of such idioms as the one quoted in your October issue, “Penny wise and pound foolish.” I still remember the conversions, 12 pennies to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound. I'm glad the U.S. went metric on its currency. The equipment I use at work for measurement — some of it standard issue — uses the old system. I still connect easily with something being a foot long versus a meter long. Even advertisers use the old system, as in Subway's “foot-long” sandwich. I wish we had converted to metric a long time ago, because much of the existing hardware was manufactured in the FPS (foot-pound-second) system. With globalization in full gear, the world needs to be on the same page.
The following letter discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' efforts to prevent Asian carp from spreading to the Great Lakes.
Beware of being slimed
I live in St. Louis, Missouri, and play on the Mississippi River every summer weekend. Specifically, we enjoy Alton Pool, where the Illinois River dumps into the Mississippi. The Asian carp have taken over. I can only hope that what happened with the zebra mussel happens with the carp, and a natural predator emerges. They are bottom feeders, but school in groups of hundreds near the surface. They go nuts when you pass through a school; they can grow more than two feet long and easily knock people out of boats if they hit right. When one jumps into your boat, it flops around and stinks the whole thing up. We call it “being slimed.” People on the Great Lakes have reason to fear them moving further north.Dan Bloch
Luer lock misconnects
Regarding compatibility, it's been reported that most cell phone makers are committed to converting to the same charger configuration — eventually. No such help for chargers used with portable computers, GPS, digital cameras, MP3 players, toothbrushes, or other electronic stuff. On the other hand, things that will interchange, but shouldn't, are far worse than an inconvenience. Search “luer lock misconnects” for some examples, such as IV infusions being connected to epidural lines. In medical electronics, we spend a great deal of time trying to ensure that nothing else can be plugged into a product, which might be a life-critical device. Without some enormous oversight group with authority to set all standards (and enforce them), I don't see any way around this issue.
Scenario: Two companies develop new devices that are incompatible, but happen to use the same connector or ones capable of being mated due to matching dimensions. Neither company can afford to disclose their work until after all patents and other safeguards are in place, and testing for RFI, EMI, explosion-proof, and others are passed. After years of effort, they both reach the market with UL, EU, FDA, and a dozen other agency approvals, only to learn that after thousands of items have shipped into the market, “Houston, we have a problem.”
Worker protection needs overhaul
What I saw in the GM UAW shop where I worked as an engineer for over 40 years would make a reasonable person sick. Worker protection is needed, but not in its present form. GM died from multiple causes and just about everybody connected with them can take some blame: Think salaried workers, management, union workers, and especially government. Factory workers would brag to me about their wages and all the benefits they had that I didn't. My response was that their pay and benefits were great, if the company could afford them. I suggested they could not, and that their kids would never work there because the company would die.
The union is nothing more than the lawyer for the worker. They take no responsibility for what happens inside the plants. A manager once told me that things would only worsen until workers accepted the fact that they have the power to destroy the company and will, unless the company becomes more important to them than their union. In the private sector, union members can always be fired by the customer. In government, they basically can't. The current administration, however, proved that even in the private sector, the government can stop the customer from firing the workers. Now that's political power.