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Bumper sticker advice: Words of wisdom from a caged geek


October 27, 2010
By Dick Morley


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This column is written under pressure. Late again. When will I learn? Actually, the first column I wrote for this issue was submitted on time, and I was so proud. However, while scripting, the geek side of my brain escaped its cage. Math, calculus and velocity control. Oh my! The devil made me do it. Our noble editor, Mary Del Ciancio, and my secretary, Deb, said to put the geek back in its cage. So, rather than headaches for all, I had a shower, put on business clothes, and this is the result.

My favourite bumper sticker slogans are posted on the multidimensional walls of my barn. Most of these stickers are self explanatory, but some are mysterious. The one titled "I don’t do windows" is a word play on the earlier PC versus Mac religions. I am obviously a Mac guy.

Some of the bumper stickers are personal and relate to a life adventure.  An example: "First, you gotta make a hole." This is a story I’ve told before in this column, but it’s a lesson worth repeating.

My adventure with this philosophy occurred long ago – about 45 years ago. It was Christmas Eve, and my biker buddy was helping me install a dishwasher in my first house. Shirley – my long-suffering bride – did not want a dishwasher, but of course, I didn’t listen. Back then it was a cool, new gadget.

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We had a plan. First, two tall glasses of gin for each of us. Next, we expertly considered the installation by carefully reading the manual. We spent 30 minutes trying to understand the "DOS for Dishes" instructions. Finally, my biker buddy picked up his monster sawzall and made a hole under the sink. We didn’t even take out the cutlery. Knives and forks were scattered about the kitchen. We cut through pipes, wires and wood. We noticed that the loud noise behind us was my noble bride. I think she was louder than the sawzall. She was not happy with the hole, but it really did help us.

Because we could see the entire problem, the installation went off without a hitch. As a famous general once said, "Planning is everything, but the plan itself is worthless." Indeed, who needs a plan? This was just part of the lesson. 

The second part of the lesson happened that very same night. By then, our thirst was slaked, but our hunger was not. We decided to order Chinese food. We got into the car and trundled off to the restaurant. What a sight we were – dirty, and smelling of sewer and gin. We had not ordered the food ahead of time, so we had to wait. That’s when the trouble started. A well-dressed suit sitting on my right started to make disparaging remarks about our vesture. We ignored him. He kept going. Finally, my biker buddy went to the restroom and gestured to the suit to go with him. Shortly after, the suit emerged with a loosened tie and a bloody nose.

After this management memo, we thought we would have some peace. We picked up the order and started walking to the car. The suit followed. I guess my buddy’s message wasn’t clear. We got into the car, but the suit would not give up. He kept the driver side door open and tried to hit my biker buddy. Your columnist was delegated to deliver a stronger memo, and the suit retreated. Then we noticed that his bachelor party was emerging from the restaurant. This explained his courage. Right behind them was the cook staff, coming to see what all of the commotion was outside. We left for home, and my bride never asked for Chinese food again.

There are several lessons here:
• Open up the problem so that it is visible;
• Write clear memos;
• Stop thinking and act;
• It is better to be lucky than smart; and
• Don’t mess with bikers.

Back to my barn wall bumper stickers. There is one slogan on my wall that elicits the most questions. It is, "Do you have blue windows?" Let me explain.

I was (am) a machinist. Vacations from MIT meant that I had to work in a machine shop replacing the normal staff during the holidays and summer. My dad was a supervisor on the day shift and seemed to be a good manager. I asked how he knew when a shop was well managed and profitable. His answer was: "It has blue windows." What?

The meaning came to me after I understood chaos and data mining. If the shop had a clean floor, happy workers and no broken windows, it was well run. The windows were painted blue to reduce bright sunlight and keep the shop cooler.


Dick Morley is the inventor of the PLC, an author, speaker, automation industry maverick and a self-proclaimed ubergeek. E-mail him at morley@barn.org.