Holiday Letter

2013, Year of Changes


Winter Wonderland —

About the image

This photograph is an Internet image by the artist Pete at the link. Unfortunately, Pete didn’t give contact information or license information. I’ve used this image without permission on a non-commercial share with attribution basis.


I’m 65 and I Like It

With apologies to Alice Cooper! But this October I celebrated my 65th name day. (Well 66th if you are a C programmer) One of the good things about becoming 65 is that you are Medicare eligible and Congress encourages you to sign up in a timely manner. Well, I did. And I also signed up for an AARP Medicare Supplement policy that picks up much of what Medicare does not, like the 20 percent copay. Medicare sets you free from the swamp of the individual policy market and from employer group insurance. This latter item was the last check in the box for retirement for me. I have a pre-existing condition and the CABG scars to show for it. Entering the personal market as it was before the ACA (Obamacare) would have been ugly. I’ve yet to make a Medicare claim but that will change in January as my 6 month well baby checks become due again.

One Day and a Wake-up

Tomorrow, December 20, is my last work day, ever. Tomorrow my Facebook occupation becomes None. I’ve been considering something snarky like 90th percentile wealth unit, or petite bourgeoisie to describe my new status. I’ve been fortunate to spend 4 years in the Navy followed by 38 years in profession as a software engineer. Many of my cohort were not so lucky with class mates forced out during each recession, unable to find new work in their field of practice. For me, it took a couple of strategic changes from Fortune 500 boiler maker to small software service companies and then to a veteran owned small business in the modeling and simulation space and 3 moves.

I’ve been lucky to have some gigs that quietly changed part of the world. The first two were at Combustion Engineering which bravely moved from analog to digital reactor monitoring and protection systems in the 1970’s, the first reactor vendor to make the change. The second was also with Combustion, when a team adapted nuclear plant design models for use in operator training simulators. The design models moved from very basic first order models to detailed second order models that represented many fine details of the fission reaction, heat transfer, and mass transport processes in the reactor from start-up conditions to post-accident conditions. This model set was capable of reproducing plant transients and replicated the loss of coolant tests conducted at the National Reactor Test Facility in Idaho.

The third time was with the Navy where my work group changed the way the Navy trains for surface warfare encounters in preparation for deployment. Before, ships went to sea and took turns pretending to be the bad guy. After, embedded training equipment on the ship stimulated the ship’s sensors in response to the behavior of simulated warships and aircraft. The stimulated system training was much more accurate because the OPFOR entities looked to the ship’s sensors as they would in the world rather than as a squadron mate. And it could be done inexpensively in port. So I’ve been fortunate to contribute to some significant projects in my career.

Retirement Lunch

Retiring is a bit bitter-sweet. I met with my work mates for lunch today and was surprised by the turn out. A number of the BMH old hands and the younger folks I had worked closely with at Dam Neck and Norfolk, came to see me off today. Tomorrow is check out with the command and with the company. I’ll miss my work mates and the neat things I was able to do with them.

The thing I’m proudest of is the ballistic missile tracking filter that our tame physicist and I (tame systems engineer) developed. We needed to produce Link tracks of missiles and our effects simulation attempts had failed horribly. I went noodling for useful documents and found a paper describing a tracker that was fairly complete. Giving that and several articles on Kalman filtering to Boris, he derived a tracking filter from our missile ballistics model and coded it up. Once Boris had completed the coding, I tuned it and we premiered it in a missile shoot simulation. The complaints about kinky tracks stopped. I’ve always been a believer that a simple first order model was the thing to do. Effects simulation works for a small set of design basis cases but not for free play and sometimes not at all.

Boris is an experimental physicist and computer scientist by training and was quite brave to dive into non-linear optimal estimation without having seen the subject matter before. He quickly picked up state variable notation and enough random process theory that the two of us could pull it off together. Because the problem was non-linear, we had to linearize it and we had to estimate one of the model parameters. Not hard but more than a homework exercise. Although it was our first effort, it has worked well enough that it has not been challenged and if it were, it is on a sound theoretical basis and we can defend it unlike our attempts at effects simulation. This was a fruitful collaboration because I could round up the theory and read the math but I wouldn’t have gotten the coordinate transformations right. We had to tag team this problem into submission.

Like my other valued work moments, this one is not a personal accomplishment but a team accomplishment where each of us brought valuable knowledge and skills to a problem and solved it together. That’s what engineering is all about.

Life After Work

I’m not planning to sit around watching Fox News and getting angry. That way lies an early grave. For too many years, I’ve lived with a pile of boxes and accumulated cruft in the house. On each of my recent moves, the carrier elected to deliver me last and ate my travel time up. I’d unpack enough to manage and leave the rest boxed. It’s time to sort it all out to fit into an 1100 square foot hip roof ranch. That’s plenty of space for me and a couple of greyhounds but only if disciplined about accumulation.

I also would like to rediscover my waist. Like many of my cohort, I’ve let a few pounds come to stay in several of my 65 years and need to part with them. As I’ve aged, it has become harder and harder to exercise in the evening after work. Dog care has to happen and by the time they can be left, it is late to go exercise. I’ve also found it less pleasant to work out after dark. So I’m looking to start biking around town and to resume lifting at the community center. Norfolk has a nice city fitness center over by the Elizabeth River and a new community center going up on Princess Anne. City fees are $75 a year which is a deal for a nice gym.

We also have a lot of photo opportunities around town and near by including urban life in Ghent, on the Virginia Beach boardwalk, and the various town parks. I’ve been noodling around with digital photography for 10 years but have never taken the time to learn more than the basics. First, digital cameras are more complex than a Nikon F from the old days. The F was completely manual but could be had with an optional match needle through the lens meter. Today’s digital cameras have auto exposure, multiple scene modes that compensate for subject characteristics and ambient light characteristics, and can bracket. They also have auto focus that can be fooled or focused on the subject and locked. And they shoot full motion video at 30 or 60 FPS (25 or 50 in the land of 50 Hz power).

And no more dark room developer tanks, enlarger, and trays or drum processor. We work in light rooms now in front of a computer display using a program that renders the image by doing mathematical transformations of it to correct exposure, dodge shadows, burn in highlights, apply blurs and lens aberration effects or model the classic films and printing papers.

Anyway, there is a lot to learn and practice and no shortage of subject matter at the beach and parks.

The Greyhounds

Rhea is aging gracefully. She’s a dear dog approaching her 14th birthday in good health. Oswald Cobblepot sired her and a well-known stud, Kiowa Sweet Trey. Trey, in turn, sired Lord Nick. So this pair is my most closely related. Usually, the common ancestor is 3 or more generations back. With them, it is 2 for Nick and 1 for Rhea. Kind of neat. And Auntie is sweet on the young whipper-snapper. Nick’s a young 7, not uncommon for Kiowa Sweet Trey dogs. They have a reputation for prolonged adolescence and juvenile delinquency.

Rhea tires quickly so she’s not an outing dog but Nick is always raring to go looking for adventure. He loves to go shopping and on park outings. I’ve been taking Nick to the Shore Drive trail and to the residential beach.  I expect that I’ll get them both out more.

By davehamby

A modern Merlin, hell bent for glory, he shot the works and nothing worked.