Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who are you?

It is one of the principle differences I notice between life in Europe and life in North America; in Europe, what you do for a living does not define "who you are". In North America it often does.

I remember, long ago, being proudly told by a Dutchman that you can often find a millionaire, a working man, and a homeless man sitting at the bar together, drinking and talking as equals. My own experience backs this up and I remember when friends I had known for long time periods were surprised to find out I was an engineer. It had just never come up in the course of dozens of conversations. I'm also a "writer" and a "diver" and a "teacher" and these are just as likely to be discussed as the day-to-day activities that pay the bills.

It is my experience in North America, when two strangers meet, that "what you do for a living" is almost certain to be amongst the first three questions discussed. In Holland the question instead is "where are you from?"

Worse still, I remember a friend who completely defined herself by her job. And when, through no fault of hers, she was stricken with multiple layoffs over multiple years, it devastated her.

I always felt that that was wrong. A part of who we are is what we do for money, but shouldn't we all strive to be so much more?

If the bar conversation includes me saying," I've lived and worked in Amsterdam for a number of years now," then a Dutchman would ask," How long?" while a Canadian tourist would ask," What job?"

Regardless, my standard answer is," Many jobs and many years," and the conversation moves on.

And it was with this perspective, because of it, that I was beginning to feel guilty. For days now I've been excited and nervous over a perspective job. Overly so, I was thinking.

I've always been proud of my career. But I've also know that "talking shop" can bore people to death. Anything beyond a 20 second description and people's faces glaze over. But if I am lucky enough to get this new job, I can imagine talking non-stop about work, work, work, work, work.

And so the voice of balance speaks from the back of my thoughts. It reminds me that I can share my enthusiasm, but not to excess. Jargon and shop talk will always bore people outside the office. And too much enthusiasm, shared, can be unwelcome. But being enthusiastic about and motivated by your work is a great thing. I look forward to applying this energy at work, to work!

And if the job comes to be, I look forward to celebrating by buying a round, and then asking my friends how their days went. For in the end, I would rather be the good friend who listened well, than the designer of X or Y. It frees up time for more interesting conversations, about who we really are.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Food, Inc.

At first I thought," This isn't really in line with my blog and it's purpose..." And then I realized it was. I care about my coffee and how that's made, as a past example. Well now a documentary shows ties between a lot of other issues I care about. My family is errupting in diabetes diagnoses, and I have no doubt as to why. Years ago I gave up, or at least dramatically reduced, a lot of the poisons I was ingesting. Diet Coke is completely gone from my life, as are the Nutrasweet headaches. But the truth of our food supply, and the consequences of it, go so far beyond all that.

I almost posted yesterday about an interesting show on TV, which discussed how early humans evolved based on our food. That agriculture and hunting changed "society" is clear, but changes in diet also changed people physically and genetically. We aren't physically the same animal that first threw a rock at a beast. The show ended with a warning to "think" about what we eat, and what consequences it may have.

Food, Inc. goes further. It shows, often graphically, the problems when food and farming are brought to an industrial scale. It shows what we aren't supposed to know; aren't supposed to think of. It conveys an important message, and I think everyone should take the time to see it.

Sorry the size doesn't fit the blog format. There are 11 parts in total. I really do think it is worth the time to hear the message. I look forward to seeing this movie again, in the theatre, at the upcoming IDFA festival.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Delayed Neutrons

I learned a life lesson from nuclear physics. To explain, let me tell you about delayed neutrons as they relate to power generation.

Generating power from nuclear fission is about controlling and balancing neutrons. These subatomic particles erupt, two at a time, from each nucleus that fissions. About 0.00001 seconds later the neutrons are slow enough to collide with another uranium or plutonium nucleus and two more neutrons are generated. Controlling a reactor is about ensuring exactly one of each neutron pair is reused to initiate another fission.

Trouble is, when something is capable of doubling (for example, in power) every 0.00001 seconds it is impossible to control. It's a bomb, actually. This is where delayed neutrons become important.

Delayed neutrons are the same as the rest, except they don't get ejected immediately. About one-half of one percent of all the neutrons are delayed, an average of 12 seconds. That tiny portion is enough to skew all the averages. The end result is that fission reactors can indeed be controlled. A tiny portion, gets a tiny delay and the overall falls into control as a result.

And therein is the life lesson. Tiny things make big differences.

Life may feel like it is beyond control. Yet, moments here and there, applied well, can be enough. Enough to be in control rather than bombing out.