this and that

Some Thoughts on Meeting Your Heroes

There’s an old adage that you should never meet your heroes because you will inevitably be disappointed, or something to that effect. As I ponder the people I’ve come to know and in many cases befriend over the past decade, I’ve come to believe the core premise of that statement is fundamentally flawed. We are all after all simply human beings and without our inherent flaws and frailties, raising anyone to hero status diminishes that humanity.

In many ways, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in the course of my life and career. When I was young I spent countless hours pouring through car books and magazines wishing I could be the narrator or protagonist in those tales. After focusing on engine design and vehicle dynamics while studying mechanical engineering, my later work took me off in very different directions which would later prove be very valuable to me. However, throughout the first decade of my professional life, I never really imagined where my path would ultimately take me and who I would know today.

It was only the emergence of blogging and online journalism that opened new doorways that I was able to pass through. As a young reader and engineer I was aware of the many names on bylines and the characters they wrote about. Executives, designers, engineers, racers and writers. In some respects I saw some or many of them as personal heroes that I’d like to emulate.

Now however, as I’m well into middle age, having met many of these people, my view is more tempered. While I’ve obviously never met many of the people that are widely considered truly heroic like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela or Eleanor Roosevelt, we’ve all heard enough about other aspects of their respective lives to realize that above all else, humans.

This is not meant to denigrate the accomplishments or actions of any of those people. The accomplishments must be taken in context. The context of our limitations and flaws and humans and the environment in which we live. In some cases, that context will serve to further elevate while in others, we’ll find that the accomplishments came about by mistreating those around the person we might have admired.

I’ve been remarkably fortunate in that I feel like the balance in my life has been generally toward the positive people. Despite some of the personal struggles along the way, having the opportunity to know and befriend many of the people whose work has inspired, educated and entertained me over the 40-some years since I became interested in cars has been a wonderful experience and I’m eternally grateful to my amazing wife for supporting me along my path.

But there have been those that I now know enough about that I would never want to consider as friends despite still respecting what they achieved.

Ultimately though, I’ve come to believe that hero worship is not a positive thing and it should be discouraged. It would be better for society as a whole if we all looked at each other in the context of our lives. By elevating people excessively despite the decidedly not heroic aspects, we are dehumanizing them. In that, we lose the perspective that we are all capable of doing admirable things great and small and being better humans.

I'd seen this building countless times over the past 25 years and always wondered what its story was

I'd seen this building countless times over the past 25 years and always wondered what its story was

Sad to see another landmark go ?

It s gone. The main hangar on what became Detroit Metro Airport was an iconic building–designed for the future of aviation, built at a time of relentless optimism in the nation s newest technology and with a belief that the appearance of public buildings should reflect they dynamism of those who created them.

7 years old today!

Seven years ago today I published the very first post on this blog. Since then I’ve become a full-time professional writer working at various times as a journalist and a PR flack. These days I publish most of my stuff through Google Plus because I have a bigger audience over there.

Fortunately Google doesn’t mind users pulling their data out so I use Daniel Treadwell’s Google+ plugin for WordPress to automatically pull all of the content from G+ and cross-post it here. It’s been a fun ride and I’ll continue to use this venue to share my random thoughts for the foreseeable future.

All things great and small set to scale 2

In the grand scheme of things, what we do here on our little blue ball doesn't really amount to a hill of beans.

Reshared post from +Erin Fors

This. Is. Bad. Ass. The scale of the universe. Check it.

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Fascinating to watch!

Fascinating to watch!

Reshared post from +Google Earth

This Google Earth animation of the Costa Concordia wreck (by Peter Olsen) is a pretty impressive example of Google Earth's advanced touring capabilities (and 3D modeling)!

Learn more about how the tour was made on this great recap post from the +Google Earth Blog ( and then download the tour for yourself ( to dig deeper in Google Earth.

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The uncanny valley and racism

This week’s edition of On the Media features a segment discussing the concept of the “the uncanny valley.” The idea is that if you have a representation of a human that is 50, 60 or even 95 percent correct, people will have no problem recognizing that image as non-human and accepting it.

However, as you get closer to 100 percent, the brain crosses a threshold where the image suddenly shifts from being a representation to something akin to a human with something wrong with it.  This is most commonly manifested in modern computer generated graphics. That’s why you can watch something like Avatar, Shreck or Up with no problem. The alien or cartoonish characters are clearly not human. However, when you look at Polar Express, the characters look downright creepy with their dead eyes.  This is a movie that falls into the valley.

Most people think about the uncanny valley in terms of technology and how to avoid it. However, it says much more about the human brain and how we perceive the visual inputs that we get.  We see something and process it and if it doesn’t meet our expectations we recoil from it. Is this what drives racism? Do we see someone with a slightly different skin tone or nose shape or height and think that they are “broken”? Obviously we can tell that these people are alive and yet it seems that the way we respond is not so very different from the way we recoil in fear or disgust from the artificial characters in video games or movies.

Is it possible that the solution to problem of the uncanny valley is not and should not be with changing technology but rather with understanding ourselves and making changes within?

Google saves the day again

As I went downstairs this afternoon to throw some laundry in the washer, I was distressed to find a large quantity of water at the foot of the steps. After doing some diagnosis I found that it was not the sewer backing up again but rather the washer itself that was the source. A quick search of google led me to a tear-down manual for the this particular machine and Apparently the housing of the drain pump is not supposed to have a large gash in the housing where an impeller with a bad bearing had worn through it. If this phenomena does occur, there is a good chance that the washer will spew water all over your floor.

RepairClinic had the part I needed in stock and less than two hours after discovering the water, the washer was doing a fresh load with nothing leaking out. Now if only I could afford to pay myself what a repair tech would have charged to fix the same problem I’d be all set.