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The Writing Flowed A Bit Too Easily

, , , , , , , | Learning | October 29, 2023

I was in a lecture on fluid dynamics in my final year of university. There was a LOT to cover. The lecturer was writing it all on the whiteboard, and we were scribbling it all down.

As you’d expect in any engineering lecture, Greek symbols were used a lot, including one new one. It was a vertical squiggly line, and it cropped up a LOT in the lecture.

It was only just toward the end of two hours of note-taking that the lecturer made some comment that made the entire class groan.

There were TWO very similar-looking Greek letters he had been using throughout the lecture, but everyone thought it was the same vertical squiggle!


Managers Might Not Foresee What Happens, But Our Readers Will

, , , , , , , | Working | September 26, 2023

Many years ago, I worked for a multinational engineering company in the aerospace industry. At this point in my career, I was on secondment to the Health, Safety, and Environment department, writing procedures at the site and corporate levels. And as such, I would periodically meet up with a group of HS&E managers from other sites.

Before one particular meeting, the HS&E manager of one site was having a bit of a venting session about what had happened at his site. In addition to HS&E manager, he was also the facilities manager for that site. His site was getting ready to move to a brand new facility. One of the things that wasn’t going to be there was a heat treatment plant. The old site had one, but it wasn’t being moved.

Heat treatment is required for things like hardening steels. Being an aerospace company, there are extremely strict processes that have to be followed, and only facilities that have proper aerospace industry accreditation can be used. You can’t take a component that’s going onto an aircraft and have it heat-treated at just any old place; even if that place did it properly, if the place wasn’t certified, you’d be breaking the law to put the component on a plane.

Even with certification, a change of heat treatment plant would require full inspection of the first batch of each component that goes through it. It’s not a quick process. 

Hence the venting session. You see, this move had been known about for a couple of years. And everyone knew that the heat treatment plant at the old site would be switched off for decommissioning on a certain date — no ifs, no buts, no extensions. 

How did everyone know? Aside from the usual site-wide communications, there were regular start-of-the-week production meetings attended by managers at all levels. And this facility manager attended these meetings to remind everyone that on this particular date the heat treatment plant would be switched off. So, that was at least one reminder a week for over a year.

Our meeting happened a few days after The Big Switch-Off. 

He was venting about all the managers who rang him up on Big Switch-Off Day to complain that they couldn’t get their parts heat treated and to demand to know why they hadn’t been told.

Interesting Assumptions You’re Making There

, , , , , , | Working | September 14, 2023

My colleague is a female engineer from Germany. She can be very defensive when her ideas are challenged, arguing that she is not wrong and the other person is just bothered by a smart woman from another country.

I am in a meeting with her and several members of management when a problem comes up. This is one of the first video meetings at the beginning of the project in late 2020.

Me: “If we follow the plan as it has been laid out, we will have to delay by eight to ten weeks waiting for the parts to be manufactured and shipped from Germany. I think we should look for local resources, instead. This could save a lot of money in shipping costs and cut down on the timeline.”

Colleague: “No! It must be this way! What is so ridiculous?! Just order them.”

Me: “Well, shipping processes all over the world have been delayed due to the [health crisis]. I’m suggesting we look into alternative options that are just as good that can be delivered much faster.”

Colleague: “No! We purchase from these companies in Germany; they will deliver here.”

Me: “Yes… in two months. We need them sooner.”

Colleague: “[My Name], you need to understand. These products must come from that company. That is how we do it in Germany.”

Me: “I understand, but you’re talking about products that don’t have to be shipped across the world because they are manufactured in the same country. I think—”

Colleague: “No. This is not a debate. We will use the company in Germany.”

Finally, the customer — the one representing the company paying for the whole project — chimes in.

Customer: “[My Name], please get a list of resources. If any of them are the same or better quality as what we are waiting for in Germany, we will reach out to the supplier with the best price. If the local resources fall short, we will delay.”

Colleague: “This is ridiculous! All the time, everyone is doubting me! I will quit!

There is silence in the meeting. [Colleague] realizes she has overplayed her hand. 

Colleague: “Fine. I do not think you are right, [My Name] but since everyone agreed with the man and not the woman, fine.”

Customer: “I thought [My Name] was a woman?”

Me: “I am.”

Colleague: “You look like a man looking like a woman. How was I to know?”

Customer: “[Colleague], I think you should excuse yourself from the project indefinitely.”

He booted her from the call and told our supervisor that he would not work with us as long as she was involved. [Colleague] was sent back to Germany in a few days. I did find local suppliers who could get what we needed in two weeks’ time and saved thousands of dollars in delays and shipping.

Can You Imagine Being On A Plane For Twenty Hours Straight?!

, , , , , , , | Working | September 4, 2023

I work for a large engineering company approving employees’ requests to travel abroad. They have to tell me where they’re going, how they’re getting there, how long they’ll be there, etc. Although everyone here is very smart, few adults are able to fill out simple forms correctly. I have conversations like this one about once a day.

Me: “Do you have a layover on your flight?”

Senior Engineer: “No.”

Me: “Are you sure?”

Senior Engineer: “Yes.”

Me: “You don’t have a layover? From Heathrow to Sydney?”

Senior Engineer: “No.”

Me: “You’re flying from London, England to Sydney, Australia without a layover.”

Senior Engineer: “Yes.”

Me: “Okay. You’re flying directly from the UK to Australia.”

Senior Engineer: “No, I have three hours to change planes in Dallas, Texas.”

Me: *Head-desk*

The longest flight in the world will only get you from New York City to Singapore, so I knew he couldn’t be flying direct. I’ve tried every way of phrasing this question. I think that some of them consider a layover to be an overnight stay? I’m lost.

You Patch More Pipes With Honey Than With Vinegar… Wait…

, , , , , , , , , | Working | July 27, 2023

One day at work, a drainpipe above our office starts leaking, dripping vinegary water into the office. We have to hastily cover the computers, printers, etc. We call facilities to have them fix it and replace the damaged ceiling tiles.

The next day, it’s dripping in an adjacent area. Repeat for the next several weeks.

Since they haven’t replaced the ceiling tiles yet, we can see that they’ve just applied a pipe bandage, which obviously isn’t working.

One day, the plumber is there while I’m still there, so I drift over to talk to him. 

Me: “What’s going on?”

Plumber “Well, the copper pipe is all eaten up. I don’t know why. It’s like they’re draining acid through it!”

Me: “Um, yeah, they are. That’s the drain for the photo darkroom, and they dump the chemicals at the end of the day. The developer and fixer are saved to be reprocessed to recover the silver, but the stop bath is just dumped. And the stop bath is diluted glacial acetic acid…”

Plumber: “Oh…”

Me: “And if I recall correctly, all of the copper acetates are water-soluble… so the pipe is dissolving.”

Another week later, I talk to the plumber again.

Plumber: “My management is insisting it’s not that bad and refusing to replace the pipe.”

Me: “Okay. What additional forms do I need to submit to escalate this complaint?”

He tells me, adding that it won’t work.

Me: “It’s all in how you write it up.”

The next day, he sends me the forms through the in-plant mail, and I spend a bit of time working out the wording. Then, I fill the form out on a typewriter (we don’t have very many PCs at the time) and have my manager submit it. I don’t think he reads it because he is already pretty frustrated and wants the problem fixed. (Remember, we’re about a month into this ordeal.)

This was late in the week. When we arrive on Monday morning, even more tiles are down, and there’s a stack of sawn-up copper pipes in a corner and a brand-spanking-new heavy-guage gray PVC pipe in its place.


That evening, they remove the sawn-up copper… and no more leaks.

On Tuesday, my boss calls me into a meeting with his boss. They’re looking at a copy of the form I had him submit.

My Boss: “[My Name], it’s not that we don’t appreciate you getting this fixed, but you can’t lie to get it fixed!”

Me: “I did not lie. Read that carefully, and point to one thing I said that is not true.”

My Boss: “This part about hazardous waste!”

Me: “That’s not what I said. I said, ‘Leakage of acid process waste creating hazardous conditions,’ which is not the same. Corrosion damage to energized electronic equipment is liable to cause fires, which are definitely hazardous, and the spillage was also creating a significant slip hazard.”

My Boss: “Um…”

They read through it again.

My Boss: “Um. No, you didn’t say anything untrue, but you know they didn’t read it that way.”

Me: “Their lack of reading comprehension is not my problem. And I shouldn’t have needed to do that to get a leaking pipe fixed. Explaining it to the plumber should have been enough, but it wasn’t. Actually, his report on the conditions discovered should have been enough — and it wasn’t. On the other hand…”

I gesture at the new pipe above the ceiling.

My boss looks at his boss, who is nodding.

His Boss: “Just don’t do it again… unless it’s necessary. And maybe tell us first if it is.”

My boss looks a bit embarrassed.

My Boss: “[My Name] gave it to me to submit, and I’ll admit I didn’t look that closely because I wanted it fixed, not patched.”