Author Archives: dallonoglepe

About dallonoglepe

A boring fifty-something who receives undeserved gifts every day

The Mind of an Engineer

My brain is in a state of constant conflict. The war is between my creative side and my inner engineer. I seem, at times, IMG_0809to be able to negotiate a truce between these forces, so I have become the self-appointed ambassador for my brethren. It is an ugly war that usually ends up with hurt feelings and bewilderment. You may have a similar response as you deal with my kind. We are creatures who really have your best interest at heart but, our amazing lack of people-skills, tendency for recreational problem solving and general alien approach to life make our interactions sometimes, well, unsatisfying. In the spirit of harmony, I offer this insight into the brain of an engineer. If you are willing to step over a few Legos and old Erector Set parts, I will be happy to show you around.


 You’ve got a problem-I have questions

Ok, so you have asked an engineer about your problem. Let the inquisition begin! Just know, the number of questions will be proportional to our comfort with the subject. I must stop here to explain the lingo. To us, life is an equation. We love words like proportional, exponential, variable, relationship… Those words help us bring order to our scary world. Anyway, we will question you on every conceivable facet of your problem. Be warned, our questions may be seemingly unrelated, arcane and sometimes personal with no regard to your dignity or discretion. While you answer our questions, many times we make notes and draw pictures. Doing this is not a sign of disrespect or a lack of engagement, it helps us focus on your problem. Sometimes, after you are totally exhausted, we will feel we have accumulated enough data

I love data

Engineers feel that with enough data we could solve world hunger, answer the questions of human mortality and cause world peace. Data, we feel, is a gift from God. It should be shared freely and given with glee. We love to manipulate it, organize it, order it and arrange it. We make bar-charts, graphs and histograms from data. We formulate equations and create solutions from data. We love data.

I never have enough napkin drawings and lists

Once our data has been organized and we have properly stabbed entropy in the eye, the real fun begins. We get out our green graph paper or fire up the Excel spreadsheet. This decision is primarily dictated by the age of the engineer. Come back later for an in-depth discussion on that topic. We live for this phase of the problem-solution flow-chart. At this point, if one graph is good, three are better. A sketch or list of the pertinent facts will be produced to scale. We draw, edit and re-edit beautiful flow charts, decision matrices and back them up with solid charts and graphs. Those charts and graphs should describe the exact nature of the uncertainty and the relationship of all the variables in a potential solution.

 

Off to Engineer Mountain

Once we have checked-off items one through three we then must retreat to engineer mountain to ponder the results. This is a solitary affair and you are not invited. Engineer Mountain is really not a place but, a state of mind. Sometimes this physical place could be a Hacky Sac on the lawn or an office or the conference IMG_0812room. During this phase of problem solving, human interaction is not welcomed nor is it necessary. If human interaction becomes necessary, like some warning of impending doom, you know, fire, earthquake, tornado and alike, the process must be started again. We feel the process is most like building a pyramid. Blocks must be placed sequentially with the details of the solution confronted and overcome one at a time. These parts of the solution must be tested independently in a sort of thought experiment. Cause and effect are very interesting even entertaining. We like this process to build on itself to an apex of complete and orgasmic; clear-cut and final; breathtaking and brilliant, solution. Any disruption to this process will cause us to begin the process again. Should we be disturbed, you should expect a mix of anger, incredulousness and confusion on our part. We may not react well. It also may take an exceptional effort to gain our attention while we are on Engineer Mountain.

When I deliver your solution

Once we have properly studied your problem, sometimes days or weeks later, we will show up, many times unannounced and without an appointment, with our solution to your problem. If you have forgotten all about it and don’t even remember your question, just play along. This might require your whole repertoire or expressions, body language and listening words. Words like brilliant, inspired and grateful are always welcomed.


I hope this has helped. We are also able to answer questions on our feet, however, we always reserve the right to go through this process anyway. We love thought experiments of all kinds and usually can’t resist redundant and unwanted analysis. If you have moved on and find one of us presenting you with this kind of solution, simply refer to item five. We may resist immediate answers but, many times you will find our solutions in this scenario just as useful.

Broken Cadillac

I hope you can excuse me while I depart from my normal faire. I am having a crisis of, well, usefulness. Today I was confronted with people who cannot admit my chosen avocation is anything other than an unaffordable, silly, even criminal waste of resources. I find myself looking at their logic and trying to understand why I cannot see or understand their point of view. I find myself questioning my job, belief system and even my connection to my understanding of what God wants for me in my life.

This is a little longer than usual but, maybe it is a conversation we need to have.


It started as a pretty good day. I was able to do what I do best with a large part of the day. My favorite and most productive time at work is in the recon. No, not a camouflaged romp on a moonless night. This kind of romp allows me to bring my near twenty years of transportation engineering experience, those late nights of study at Clemson and some common sense to your service. Well, your service if you drive. In these romps my tools are a vehicle, a steno pad and my brain, well, my brain attached to my eyes. I ride a state route, look for defects and decide who should fix the problem, when the problem should be fixed and how the problem should be fixed. The when is very important because, as you probably know, we are in a perpetual state of underfunding at the DOT.

Underfunding you say? I heard you clear your throat, look away and wonder if those left-over steak tips in the refrigerator were still edible. Let me stop and tell you a story.

Your gramps was sittin around with grammy a few decades ago and decided his widget business might take off if he could drive a car instead of ridin Daisy, the horse, to the people buying his widgets. He might even sell a few over in Anywhereville and Podunk. It was a few days ride to those places and he might have a real advantage over his competition with some kind of automobile. He also though that he and grammy might even be able to put some of her fried pies in a basket and drive over to the levee for a picnic from time to time.

So grampaw went downtown and bought a Cadillac. Grammy had to dig pretty deep in the cookie jar to pay for the Caddy. She had to dig even further for the oil changes, tune ups and tires which followed. Well, after a while, grampaw had made so much selling his widgets to his new customers in Podunk that he and grammy were able to go to the beach for the first time since he stormed one in Normandy. Before long your daddy came along and he too used the Caddy. He used it to go over to Backwater University and get his BS degree in stuff and things. Your daddy’s degree was another first in your family’s history. He made a good living with that Caddy. He spent his hard-earned money to take care of your grampaw’s gift and was also able to take you to the beach when you were a kid.

A few years ago, he gave you the Caddy. It needed some work on the transmission but, you said the cost was too high. You justified this decision because you had seen the transmission mechanics taking coffee breaks that were too long. You didn’t change the oil because someone on TV told you it wasn’t necessary. They told you that you could save money on oil by using some kind of a fairy dust. You knew your dad and grampaw had conscientiously bought and changed the oil for years but, you liked the idea of something for nothing. Anyway, you had heard those oil change mechanics were sorry, lazy, overpriced. One morning you woke up and needed the Caddy to get to a work meeting over in Podunk. The Caddy smoked and missed. It quit half-way to Podunk. You got fired.

Did some of the story ring true for you? If it did, you are not a bad person. You are really like everybody else when it comes to roads and funding. As long as your road seems to work then you are ok. You don’t think too hard about roads and bridges. Because, after all, some people on the TV have told you road prices are somehow different from milk prices. Yes, I compared roads to milk. Ok, try this little thought experiment with me. If you were to walk into Wal-Mart and demand milk for 1992 prices what would happen? By the way, 1992 was the last time the gas tax was increased. Do you think Wal-Mart would call people who would take you away in a straight-jacket for a nice relaxing night in a rubber room for making that demand?

But, back to my day in the life…

I ate lunch at a fast food establishment known for taking perfectly healthy fish, adding batter and deep-frying anything approaching healthy out of it. By this time, I had four pages of road defects. Unfortunately, some of the defects will have to wait. The trick, art and science of it is which ones? That’s when you really need me. Which defects are the true “widow makers” like a four-inch pavement drop off and which are inconveniences. I guess I should add one more category. Which defects will cost you the most money in the long run if I don’t fix it today?

It was now time for a meeting about a kinda dangerous set intersections next to the interstate. Two nearby truck stops and series of increasingly busy intersecting roads had boogered the exit to the point the witches brew of trucks and cars had begun to boil over. The best way to fix it was to eliminate some of the crossing roads and combine those crossing roads into one with a traffic signal. I was meeting with the local mayor and some county officials. The big question on everyone’s mind was not if a series of very bad truck versus car accidents was about to happen, it was how we would pay for the improvements. I won’t bore you with the details but, we halved the baby.

I must tell you, I worry that the metaphor turns into a real live thing.

After a few more hours and a few more pages, I met with a DOT neighbor about a driveway. He wanted to build a set of storage buildings where an old set was removed by a tornado four or five years back. I wonder how many storage buildings… who could possibly rent all these things? Anyway, this citizen was upset that his driveway must be permitted and built to today’s rules. After explaining that we engineers were an odd sort and when we figured out building something a certain way killed people, we had a strange way of asking people not to build things that way anymore. I went on to explain the people of the great state of Alabama had spoken and they really felt their gas taxes shouldn’t pay for his new driveway which would kill fewer people. My logic apparently escaped him.

Did my logic make any sense to you? Should I make myself a tin-foil hat?

After a few minutes of the citizen snorting and flinging profanities about government bureaucracy, waste and inefficiency, I noticed he had an identity badge for a local utility. Trying another tack, I asked him if his utility, also a monopoly, didn’t have rules about attaching to their services. I then asked if they didn’t learn lessons and change rules from time to time. He conceded both points but, was unmoved by my logic. Somehow a utility was different from a state DOT. I tell you, the only difference I saw was that his pay and benefits were better. Of course he also had better equipment. He also got paid for his overtime… My utility bill has seen numerous increases since 1992 and sure my neighbors and I gripe for a day or two but, that griping doesn’t morph into some kind of philosophical almost religious vendetta against utility companies.

Just tell me, why is a utility rate hike any different from a gas tax increase?

Finally, on my way home, I got the call all transportation workers dread. There had been a fatality on one of my roads. I use the personal pronoun on purpose. When there are accidents, they are accidents on MY roads. I arrived on the scene to take my pictures and do my investigation just as they were removing the victim from the vehicle. Many times there are next of kin there to identify the body. Today was no exception. There is an emotional gravity placed on your shoulders as a transportation professional at these scenes which defies my written explanation.

The fairy dust didn’t work for this victim. The fairy dust didn’t work for more than 100 others today. I am tired of fairy dust. I want my concrete, asphalt, rocks and steel back. I want a group of dedicated professionals, operators and technicians who aren’t treated as pariahs to use those materials to take care of the Cadillac your grandfather gave you.

Afflicted with Lameitude

One of the perks of this new blogging job is being able to make up words. Today’s word is Lameitude. Big Brother Gates apparently hates my new word because he continues to underline it with a squiggly bright red line. At some point, I may add it to the dictionary which I am sure will be immediately reported through some seemingly innocuous update to the bowels of the high command in Redmond. His friend Mark will send multitudes of hoodie wearing geeks to determine what to sell me since I invented it. Their arch enemies, Larry and Sergey, over in Mountain View will develop some sort of algorithm to predict the who, what, when, where and why of new words and how they might capitalize on this knowledge.

Do you have as much trouble with focus as I do? Do you think it is part of my disease?

Well, back to the word of the day. Lameitude is a progressive seemingly incurable illness which afflicts parents. Research on this disease has been troublesome because it affects parents though a wide range of ages, nationalities and cultures. In a strange twist of the scientific method however, it has now been determined that the disease’s onset is most closely linked not to the age of the victim but, to the age of the victim’s children. More study is needed and continue to monitor this website for breaking news on this disease.

I think I should tell you some of the symptoms so that you will know if you have contracted this insidious disease.

After diapers, colic and potty training my wife and I were happy parents for a time…

I have to stop here. Can you believe Bill underlines potty? The fact that Bill doesn’t know the word potty is both scary and an indictment of our society. Were there so many levels of nannies and caretakers between himself and his children that he was robbed of the splendor of the potty? Well, I just feel sad for him…

Parenting was simple. Our daughter had needs and we met them. Food was easy after sterilized bottles, breast pumps and frozen milk. She ate most anything including broccoli and crunchy carrots. Entertainment was a breeze. Hours and hours of uncontrolled laughter could be produced by the cutting of the eyes. Clothing was a snap. A sundress with the blue vomit stain of too much birthday cake was socially acceptable. As long as she was clean, fed, warm and dry, things went well. Her only extravagance was a song to go to sleep and a new dress for church. Songs work for lots of things. My favorite is Sweet Baby James.IMG_0058

You must be vigilant with this disease because, out of nowhere, sometime around her 11th birthday I began to be afflicted with Lameitude.

Yup, I hate to tell you but, eye cutting will quit working. Total and complete meltdowns will occur when you bring out the blue vomit dress. My Lameitude makes her refuse to eat broccoli, carrots, lasagna, chicken stew, potato soup, peppers, onions… well, it would be easier to list her current Lameitude tolerant menu. My singing has become revolting due to my Lameitude. I really don’t see or understand how embarrassing my Lameitude has become. It is so embarrassing my daughter has resorted to walking several steps ahead or behind me when in public.

I tell you, Lameitude affects everything including my speech and voice.

Lameitude has caused the language centers in my brain not to function properly. It makes me think I am speaking easily decipherable sentences but, apparently, I can’t. Many times I believe I am speaking but, my daughter’s eyes remain in a glazed, catatonic state.

It is a really terrible disease and I hope you don’t get it.

I really hate it for my daughter. She has resorted to staying in her room because she can’t stand the disease’s effects. She hardly, if ever, smiles. She mostly talks to her friends though Facetime, Facebook, IPhone, IPad, IThis and Facethat now. She must fill her days with Instagram and YouTube and other things I can’t understand because of my disease. I hate to say this but, I am afraid her mother has it too. There was a time when they were inseparable. My daughter was even clingy to her mom but, my daughter has to get away from her now too.IMG_0052

I have to tell you, I really miss my daughter. I miss swinging and going fishing. I hope I am cured soon.

Happy Trails Bevis

I guess reading Bill Bryson’s book, A Walk in the Woods, planted the seed some time ago. Here and now however, I admit Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, fertilized that seed and made it sprout. The theme in both books and Strayed’s in particular of renewal and redemption while experiencing nature, as I believe God intended, spoke to me on a very spiritual level. Some people seem to be having a little trouble admitting this fact. The cleansing concept of one person, one trail and a broken spirit with God and his perfect creation is becoming very powerful in my life.

And tell me, who among us is not broken in some way?a12f4e5aa50cb4c6db268ab8d7ef9a61web

I started with a few walks in the woods and now find myself looking forward to my trips. I love to travel with friends but, one man alone with his God and his thoughts is starting to give me chills too. I find myself daydreaming about a through hike on the PCT or how the stars must look while camping near Guitar Lake or how seeing my first bear close-up will make me feel or how much lighter a two-pound tent will feel than a two and a half pound tent…

Ok, I hear you, maybe I am a little obsessed.

Don’t worry. I don’t have my resignation letter written yet but, I have spent a few bucks on backpacking equipment lately. Hiking boots, a backpack and trekking poles top the list today. More is on the way at some point. I haven’t done any camping yet but, camping, too, is on the way. That will require a sleeping bag and a tent. Oh, and I will need something to cook on. Maybe I can go to Mount Cheaha on my first camping trip. Better yet, the Smokies on the APT.

What’s that you say? Settle down Bevis?

With hiking boots and a pack I feel so powerful. I feel so grateful. When at an overlook sometimes I feel like John Gillespie Magee, Jr.:

                                …And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod

 The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I guess I have found something I needed on the trail. Maybe it is something pure, untouched and sacred. There is evidence of God elsewhere, like the selfless anonymous acts of people. But, if I can find a peaceful mind on the trail. If that peace brings me closer to God, then maybe it is ok to go a little overboard.

If you want to follow my journeys, you can see the tracks and pictures here;

https://www.gaiagps.com/datasummary/tracks

Scout and Jem all over again

My mom has a signed copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I paint a little so, for her birthday a few years back, I painted her a Mockingbird. I painted the bird on a red background so it would match her book cover. She proudly displays the painting with the book and tells everyone who asks, and some who don’t, that her son painted the picture. She even forgets about how Harper Lee signed her book. This is strange because I think it is one of her favorite books. Harper is not really her favorite author because she really only wrote one book, more or less. But, that is a whole new story that I won’t bore you with now.

I think mom likes the book because it attempts to reach into the cracks and crevasses of our fear. It especially explores our fear of people who look different. Sadly, part of our walk on this earth is to separate, characterize and sort. As babies only a few days old, we instinctively know we must be able to differentiate men (?) and women (lunch). Later we learn things like triangle headed snakes put you in the hospital while the round headed ones just hurt a little.

I guess you have figured out by now that this is not a book report.

As Harper so painfully points out, we in the south have brought differentiation to a whole new level. My best and most personal example of this is the difference between my first and second grade years in the Nashville Metropolitan School System. It seems that the good citizens of Nashville held out for “separate but, equal” as long as they could. The piper finally came around right before I graduated the first grade. When other kids were buying pencils and notebooks my classmates and I should have been buying riot gear and helmets. When mom dropped me off on the first day of second grade, the white parents were out in force. We were lucky they were only throwing epitaphs and holding signs not fit for Sunday School. Once in the class, I met big black Mrs. Battleaxe (not her real name). She quickly informed us white kids that she and those black kids had been on the bus since five that morning and they didn’t need any slack from us. After beating me with a three-foot wooden device designed to draw circles on a chalk board, she informed me that I was a lazy boy that would never have made it at her old school. Soon after that, she told me I was too stupid to pronounce my own name.

You may have spent some time in a war zone and maybe we can compare notes sometime.

This was our reality for months. We were a bunch of innocent seven year-olds, black and white, just trying to survive another day. Finally, mercifully, a truce seemed to take hold. After the adults got tired of war, we kids did what kids do. We began to discuss culinary differences between fried bologna and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We made friends I still Facebook today. Sadly, many of my cross-town brethren have fallen victim to the vicious street. Mrs. Battleaxe even came around a little. She stopped forcing us to listen to stories of the marble steps and golden bannisters of her former school.

Like Harper, you probably know the pain is in the resistance and not the change.

The first step toward a solution is always admitting you have a problem. We have passed bad ideas to our children because we can’t get honest with ourselves. We perpetuate the problem by whistling past the graveyard and by doing so, we continue to fight the same battles. By being silent, we allow people who look like us to force us all to feel the pain of resistance over and over again. Forget the moral arguments if you like. Ignore new covenant if you want. By the way, Jesus’ skin was probably a different color than yours. Seek change because you are tired of the pain of resistance.

Bub’s Light

They still make fun of me today. I sat on his couch in his living room and rubbed my hands together while I watched them intently. It was like I concerned that they would spontaneously combust or something. I looked at the floor, walls, hands, anywhere but his eyes. I couldn’t look at the eyes of the man whom I was asking for his daughter’s hand. As beads of sweat formed on my forehead which, by the way, was much shorter at the time, he only smiled.

His smile was a service because, you would have probably laughed out loud at this spectacle.

He smiled because by this time it was really no secret. By this time, Jennifer and I were spending most of our non-working time together. By this time, I ate at his table almost every night. By this time, I was his helper on his various projects. By this time, I was his Walmart wingman. By this time he had already introduced me around at the hunting camp. By this time, I was already his third son. By this time, he knew all we lacked was a ring and a vow.

I wish you could have known him.

You would have liked Bubba because everybody else did. Going anywhere with Bub took longer because he knew EVERYBODY and each and every one of them liked him. He greeted everyone warmly even the strangers who were apparently visiting from another planet. He introduced me like I was some kind of royalty. He was so proud of me for reasons which continue to escape me now. With Bub, I always felt like a wealthy Widget mogul when we both knew I counted my Tom’s Chip coins in his basement.

Like my own dad, I learned service from Bub. He constantly provided his electrician skills to anyone who needed help. He would get old air conditioners and refrigerators for his service. He knew the value of service and the dignity of a widow-woman’s two Mites. Today we still use a stove Bub got in trade. He allowed me to help when I could. He loved the stories people told and few people knew that a little conversation and coffee after a job was all the payment he needed.

He left us almost a year ago now. There is darkness in this life but, Bub was full of light. Toward the end Bub had a Cardinal visit him from time to time on the Dogwood tree outside his window. There is a Cardinal that sings as I sit on the cinderblock steps in my front yard most mornings. I use that time, just as the sun comes up, to pray and meditate. Maybe its Bub’s Cardinal because I sometimes feel Bub’s presence as his Cardinal sings. Maybe Bub just asks God to send the Cardinal because he knows I miss him.

 

Will the REAL Dal Ogle please stand up

My name is Dal Ogle. I was raised mostly in Nashville, Tennessee until I was in 2nd grade and Russellville, Alabama until I left home for the Army. I was a mediocre high school student, an Army cold-warrior and after a few jobs in retail, a civil engineer. I married a girl from Sheffield, Alabama and have a 12 year-old daughter. My family and I attend the Episcopal Church.

My engineering career began in county government. The county had a whopping 14,000 people. The town to which I moved my “city mouse” wife was a thriving metropolis of 2,700 people. We restored a house just outside of town and after noon on Wednesday and Saturday a forty-five minute trip to Columbus, Mississippi was frequently required.

After a couple of years I moved on to a private engineering firm. I made millions, for someone else. I was good at it. I seem to have an inborn fondness for molding people. That trait probably comes from my father who found himself called from the computer world in the private sector to teaching in a middle school when I was seven.

I too felt the tug after a few years. All the REAL FUN work seemed to be done by the guys at the DOT. In the private sector, your projects are only as good as your client can afford. If I wanted to build big things like the Interstate and NOT only nibble around the edges, I knew I had to go to the public sector. I also had an important role model in my father. He believed that “to whom much is given” and he lived it. In his mid-seventies he still teaches night classes to help people get their high school diploma.

That is really it.

We have very normal lives. We carry a kid to school, then voice lessons, then gymnastics, then Girl Scouts, soccer… We go to church. We spend weekends mowing grass, cleaning house and go on a bike ride or a hike. We catch a movie at the theatre because we have that popcorn bucket. We clean gutters. We work. We have two dogs, a cat and a mortgage. We are, well, sometimes painfully normal.

I started this blog because I love to write. I hope some of what I say gives you something to laugh about or ponder. I hope you enjoy it and come back often. Please leave feedback and as long as it is fit to print, I will try to post it.