A friend once proudly told me that he didn't indulge in fiction. What? Why not? We enjoy fiction because it's more entertaining than the hum-drum events of real life.

When we aren't limited to just reporting the behavior of real human beings interacting in a rational manner, we can make up stories that are much more entertaining than in real life, say, for example, like with adults in a workplace.

So every once in awhile—just as an exercise of my creative genius—I try to create fictitious characters that that behave in completely unbelievable ways, doing and saying ridiculous things that nobody in real life would ever do.

You may wonder how in the world I continue to come up with utterly absurd behavior that no real-life human being (especially not a highly paid engineer) would ever engage in.

Eh. It's a gift.

 

The Technolix Chronicles


Chapter Forty, in which Shawn gets Respect

Chapter Forty-one, in which a blowup occurs and a secret serum is administered

Chapter Forty-two, in which irrefutable proof is offered

Chapter Forty-three, in which Todd gets a case of self-induced whiplash

Chapter Forty-four, in which Jarvis calibrates his instincts

Chapter Forty-five, in which an off-the-shelf component appears in a surreal dream

Chapter Forty-six, in which Todd knows a guy

Chapter Forty-seven, in which Todd exercises judiciousness

Chapter Forty-eight, in which a Technician has the gall to send an e-mail

Chapter Forty-nine, in which Frank contemplates his relationship with buses

Chapter Fifty, in which Rob intervenes for Frank

Chapter Fifty-one, in which Rob hears the prophet swear

Chapter Fifty-two, in which Jess gets right on the problem


Chapter Forty, in which Shawn gets Respect

"Good morning," Laura said, as she held the door for Shawn. She had arrived first and out of common courtesy held the door for him so he didn't have to fumble for their keys. Standard protocol suggested that this applied only if the person were within ten paces of the building.

“Morning, Laura, are we sick of this weather yet?” Shawn asked. It had been a particularly wet and snowy winter, and that was a common, if not very original, topic of conversation.

"Oh yes, very, I’m ready for summer."

As the two clocked in at the computer terminals by the door, Laura noticed that the white jacket Shawn was wearing was covered in dirt and oil. "Did you have problems on the way in?" she asked, pointing at his jacket. She was thinking that maybe he had been working on his car.

"No this is my oilfield jacket," Shawn answered.

"Oh. I guess it is oil filled then," she smiled.

"No no. It’s the jacket I wear in the oil field," Shawn explained. "It's the only way you can get respect, you know."


Chapter Forty-one, in which a blowup occurs and a secret serum is administered


This story is excruciatingly long, and hard to follow. It does depict one of the pivotal events in the (fictional) history of (the purely fictitious) Teknolix, so if you're feeling brave, or insomniatic, you can read it here.

I just didn't want to mess up the flow of your experience by including it here.

If you're really feeling masochistic you can click here for other versions of this (completely fictitious fabricated made up) incident. They have more detailed dialog and some parts that are explained better.


Chapter Forty-two, in which irrefutable proof is offered

At the group lunch that day, Frank had the tostada, with chicken—for the second time in a row, as Laura pointed out. It wasn't that Frank cared about what Andy said—those times when he understood what the heck he was saying. But his observation that "Man, you are really getting fat! What's the deal?" did give Frank pause. If Andy, in his childlike innocence, was saying it, everyone was noticing it.

The talk bounced back and forth between the Super Bowl and all the ways you can get safely to first base without hitting the ball. Then it moved to television and the upcoming digital changeover.

"I'm kinda' looking forward to having no TV," Frank said. "The only shows worth watching I'll just pick up on DVD one season late."

"Yeah, but there's nothing worth watching," Darren said.

"Well, we're all in agreeance with that," Rob said.

"But Karee and I do like The Office," Darren said, to Frank's astonishment. He wondered if anyone else found it hilarious or disquieting that their strait-laced boss engaged in that sort of silliness.

"And I get all my news over the internet," Darren continued.

"I finally just quit watching the news," Frank said. "Every night it was just somebody else got murdered in West Valley City."

Clint laughed. "Yeah, they do seem to get more than their share of crime, don't they?"

"But I have a theory," Frank said with a twinkle in his eye.

Rob perked up at the mention of a 'theory.'

"West Valley is a paradise. Sure. It's the best place in the world to live. But all the media folks live there, see? So to keep people from flocking to their paradise, they report all this bogus crime."

Laura chuckled, more out of courtesy than amusement. "So that's it?"

"That's it. That's the only explanation for the amount of crime that gets reported from that place. There's no way any place on the planet could have as much crime as they say there is.

"You know, there's only one thing wrong with that theory," Rob said, pointing his fork for emphasis.

"Oh?" Frank said. "Only one thing?" Clearly Frank was dealing with someone who knew his way around conspiracies.

"How come you still hear about crime from other places?"

Frank had no answer for Rob. He almost wondered if there might be some chance that West Valley really wasn't the paradise home of every single co-conspiring newscaster in the state. Hmm.

On the way back to the plant the talk returned to the Super Bowl and Larry Fitzgerald's spectacular touchdown run. Frank thought it was funny that Fitzgerald was watching himself and his defenders on the monitor above the end zone. "I wonder if that one second delay messed him up any?" Frank said.

"What, do they put that in just in case somebody swears?" Laura asked.

"Or for a wardrobe malfunction?" Jarvis wondered.

Frank laughed. "No, it's just the latency in the system. So when he's on the 10 yard line the monitor shows him on the 15. Just system latency, like when Nixon was trying to talk to the astronauts on the moon and they had that six-second communications delay."

"Well, assuming they were on the moon," Clint said.

"Yeah," Frank laughed, "I mean if we really went to the moon."

Rob, in the front passenger's seat, turned around and said "Yeah, but the first time they forgot to put in the delay."

Frank chuckled silently at Clint's cleverness in baiting Rob. "It wasn't in the first radio transmissions, 'cause they were only transmitting from Nevada, and someone remembered and said, 'Hey, shouldn't there be a delay if you're transmitting from the moon?' So in the rest of the transmissions they added the delay."

The rest of the trip back Rob regaled the group with tales about how the ESA had taken pictures of the moon and hadn't found the base of the LEM. Irrefutable proof that it wasn't there.

That night Frank took a look at the story about the pictures on ESA's web site.

AMIE obtained the image on 5 February 2006 from a distance of 1764 kilometres from the surface, with a ground resolution of 159 metres per pixel. The imaged area is centred at a longitude of 23.9º East close to the Moon equator, at 1.7º latitude.
Well, there's your proof, Frank thought. If you can't find a two meter craft with a resolution of 159 meters/pixel, it certainly isn't there.


Chapter Forty-three, in which Todd gets a case of self-induced whiplash

Todd walked into the conference room after everyone else was already assembled. He flopped down in a chair. "Whew!" he exclaimed. When no one noticed or sympathized he expanded on his sigh. "It's been . . . it's like . . . is it going to be this hectic forever?"

Dale Lundberg offered some sympathy in his own special way. "You must be busy. I never see you anymore."

Missing the dig, Todd said "Oh, I know, it's just . . . I've been . . . I probably spend 10% of my time on projects. The rest of the time it's just, like, running around and travel." Then he clarified, "All business."

Now that he thought about it, Frank had noticed that he hadn't seen Todd but once or twice since they had returned from the conference overseas. That must be why things seemed to be running so smoothly. This observation was a sharp contrast to how Todd had explained it to the plant manager in Norway. Todd had told Kelley that he was the R&D Director for Technolix, but now that he was travelling all R&D had "ground to a halt."

Dale brought up the PowerPoint presentation and delivered what he had prepared. It was a pretty standard project report meeting. One hour from then nobody was going to remember anything that had been discussed.

Then, as the meeting was winding down Todd told Darren "You know that Gerry Doughton has given us the X-Project. You remember the X-Project?" Darren didn't. "You remember that project . . . that X-Project where they took us in the room . . . the dark room . . . where they closed all the blinds? Anyway, Gerry has turned that over to us."

Darren still didn't remember. Part of the reason may have been because there was not a project with any such name. Bloomberg-Sheay referred to the project Dalton was talking about as 'Flexanode.'

"So, anyway, we're doing that now. You remember . . . that X Project . . . that X . . . you remember, that one where they jet water into the borehole wall."

Darren finally remembered. "Oh, that! No we're not."

"Yes, we are. Gerry turned that over to us. So we're doing that now . . . "

"No! I don't want to do that," Darren said.

"Oh, I know, I don’t want to either it's . . ."

"It's stupid!" Darren said.

"Oh, it's . . . it's crazy, it's . . . it's just nuts." Todd shook his head at the very idea that Gerry would try to dump it on him. "It'll never work, 'cause the . . . you know, the jets are . . . sometimes, the flow changes and the . . . the jets are all . . . the fluid, it's coming out, then the jet flow can vary and it's just . . . There's a myriad of reasons it'll never work."

"Yeah, and that's why we're not doing it," Darren said. "We don't take our orders from Gerry."

"Yeah," Todd agreed. "That's why I told Melvin, I said . . . Melvin called and he said 'I don't want to do this,' and I said 'Oh, I know, I don't want . . . I don't think we should do this.' So, uh . . . yeah."


Chapter Forty-four, in which Jarvis calibrates his instincts

After the field tests and the trip abroad, the bit group recommended to the assembly at the meeting that they build and test what they were calling the Transition Bit. Darren had a different idea. "What about a small bit rotating inside a larger bit?" He asked.

"Kind of like a pilot reamer, only with a moving center?" Frank asked.

"Right," Darren said. "It's perfect. You have the center bit be free-cutting, it makes this little cliff that the outer bit breaks down. Solves all our problems."

More discussion followed but the mandate was clear. Darren wanted to build a Bit-in-Bit, and the sooner the better. But there was more. "I think we've learned all we can about this method of dagger steering," he said. "We're going to have to find another way to steer the bit."

Frank looked at the diagram of the Bit in Bit concept on the whiteboard. The germ of an idea was forming in his head. "What if," he wondered out loud "We put an imbalance on each of the bits and then control the direction of the steering by . . . I don't know, by how the bit rotation is phased or something?" He stepped to the board and drew a rough diagram, more like thinking with the marker.

"Yeah, yeah, something like that," Darren said.

"I'm not sure exactly how," Frank said, "It just seems like we should be able to stack the imbalances with each other or use them to cancel . . ." Frank drew a sine wave below and overlaid a shifted sine wave on top of it in a different color. "I don't know. I'll think about it."

"All right," Darren said. "Now let's go build a Bit-in-Bit."

About a month after the mandate Darren came into the office Frank and KC shared. "How's it coming on the Bit-in-Bit?" KC showed him the models on the computer. They talked at some length about the details of the design. "We still need to come up with a good way to steer that design," David said. "Todd's already come up with a good way to steer a conventional bit" [covered in another chapter] "But we need a good way to steer this one."

"What about the differential imbalance thing we've been talking about?" Darren looked at Frank blankly. "You know, the idea we talked about . . . well, here." Frank drew a rough diagram on the white board. "We introduce an intentional imbalance into both the bits then control the net imbalance by something like the difference in RPM . . . I'm still sorting out exactly how we'd implement it, but it seems like if we control the phase of the two bits we could control the direction the assembly steers."

Darren looked at the diagram. "Well, anyway, we'll keep thinking on this. I know there's a way to do it."

The next day was the weekly project review. In that review Darren brought up the need for steering the Bit-in-Bit assembly. Frank was about to bring up the concept he had shown Darren when Todd had an idea. "Darren," he said, "Couldn't we introduce a preferential imbalance?"

"Explain," Darren said.

"No, it's simple. It couldn't be simpler!" Todd said with excitement. We just . . . all we do is . . . we just make both bits unbalanced . . . " Todd stood up and walked to the white board. "Look, if we just . . . all we have to do is make this bit unbalanced, say this way" he drew a mark on one bit "And the other in a different way" he drew a mark on the outer bit "And then we just set the RPM to where we want to steer!"

Frank looked at Todd incredulously. Then he studied Darren face for some sign that he recognized what was being presented.

Darren was deeply engaged. Todd fed off the encouragement. "It couldn't be simpler! We just . . . all we have to do is set this RPM . . . we have a controller . . . so it speeds up and slows down every revolution so it hits the right point . . . It's elegant."

"This could be a breakthrough!" Darren said. He sat up straight in his chair. "This is what we're looking for!"

"Darren," Frank said, "This seems an awful lot like what we were talking about yesterday."

Darren looked surprised, like Frank's voice was a startling distraction,but didn't verbally acknowledge that what Frank said had anything to do with the concept being discussed. "Todd, explain about the RPM control."

Frank stared at the whiteboard, wondering if the smoke coming out of his ears was visible. He didn't want to pull a Todd, spouting off that this was all his idea. He could point out that you can't speed up and slow down a mud motor in the middle of a revolution to have it hit a certain point, but that would sound like petty criticism of someone else's idea. Except that it wasn't someone else's idea.

"Sure, Todd was saying, "We just set the inner bit to twice the RPM of the outer bit. Then as it comes around we speed it up or slow it down so it hits the point on the outer bit where . . . it's so simple! I could . . . this is . . . we could build one right now."

Marty tried to come to Frank's aid. He said he didn't understand how double the RPM would give you a single off balance point. Frank, who was cheating since he'd already put a lot of thought into that very concept, said that double the RPM would give you two points of coincidence—a net balance. He knew; he had already run the equations. Marty expressed doubt about how precisely you could control not only the exact point the imbalances come together, but the differential RPM as well. Todd responded with his standard discussion terminator: "They do it all the time!"

KC tried one last time. "This is just the same thing we've been talking about for a few weeks now."

As far as Darren was concerned he and Todd were the only ones in the room. "Well, okay. It sounds like we have a solution."

 

After the meeting Jarvis appeared at the door to Frank's office. Frank motioned him in. "Am I given to understand that the idea Todd presented in the meeting this morning has been floated before?" Jarvis asked.

Frank chuckled. "You picked up on that, huh?"

Jarvis said "Something about the body language, the . . . I just got the impression that this wasn't the first time people had heard that."

Frank motioned to the drawing on the whiteboard next to the door. "Just last night Darren and I discussed that exact thing right there on that whiteboard." KC confirmed that was the case.

"Okay," Jarvis said, "I just wanted to see if my instincts were correct."


Chapter Forty-five, in which an off-the-shelf component appears in a surreal dream

The Uintah Basin is just far enough away from home that it can reasonably be visited in a day trip. But it's a long day.

All Frank wanted to do was sleep. The whining of the mud digger tires on the pavement was inviting him do just that, and he had 30 more minutes of driving before he got out of the canyon. He bypassed rolling down the window and tugging on the hairs on the back of his neck. It was time to pull out the big guns. He plugged the iPod into the dock and turned it up.

Frank knew, as does anyone who's had a driver's license more than five minutes, that listening to music doesn't keep you awake, no matter how loud it is. Frank was going to sing along.

Frank got back from the Uintah Basin in time to attend an engineering review. Or he thought he had . . . the events in the review made him wonder. Had he fallen asleep while driving and dreamed the whole thing?

The engineers in the review were going over a design to use a turbine to actuate something downhole (in this case a gage reamer), and Frank was looking at the design projected on the whiteboard in the conference room. Todd was presenting his design, the same Todd who a couple of years ago had ridiculed Frank in a brainstorming session for suggesting that a planetary gearset downhole might be an approach to running a countershaft in a drill bit.

The design on the board was chock full of gears, and not nasty, heavy-duty gears like you'd see in industrial equipment. These were pretty little dainty gears like you'd find in a four wheeler. Todd was saying "This is a centrifugal clutch that you can get off-the-shelf, and when it engages it turns this shaft . . . " And then the scene turned into one of those Rube Goldberg devices " . . . then the firecracker goes off waking up the frog which snags the fly that's connected to the string that opens the gate that releases the marble down the track . . . " And all of that happening in a downhole drilling environment. Todd went on, "And the beautiful thing is that all these components are available off the shelf, from the centrifugal clutch to the . . . "

Now, Frank had seen some centrifugal clutches in his day, but only on go karts and such. His main experience with them was replacing them after the neighbor kids used the go karts. Those little darlings hadn't bought into the the doctrine Frank constantly preached to his own kids: "You're either on the throttle or off the throttle! Don't be slipping my clutch!"

So Frank was curious that someone made one for industrial use. He interrupted Todd and said "What shelf are you getting this off of, exactly?"

"It's actually . . . we . . .what we've done is actually . . . " Todd said. " I actually have one right here on my desk."

Todd disappeared into the office for a second and returned carrying – and here's the point where Frank wondered in horror if he was dreaming and about to be killed in a one-car accident – a go kart clutch. A go-kart clutch complete with a spindly little sprocket for a #35 chain.

Frank looked around the table at the $600/hr. worth of engineering talent, waiting for them to say "Smile! You're on Candid Camera!" He held the clutch and turned it over in his hands. He was confused and trying to wake up and hoping that at the bare minimum he wasn't driving by a cliff when he drifted off into this alternate universe. Maybe he would just wake up in a cold sweat in his own bed and get up and get a drink and look out the window at the moonlight on the pasture and laugh to himself about how ridiculous and incongruent dreams are.

Frank was about to conclude that he was not dead and this was real life—which in some ways was as disquieting as the bad dream—when Darren spoke up. "You have some reservations about this?"

Frank expressed his reservations and then Darren said "Well, let's use your expertise and make sure we're not dooming ourselves to failure on this."

Darren had asked for Frank to lend expertise to Todd? Now he was more confused than ever about whether he was experiencing real life.


Chapter Forty-six, in which Todd knows a guy

The group in the press meeting had gone over time and the attendees for the diamond meeting were already in their places waiting for their meeting to start. Rob was agitated over the alignment of the presses. The group had spent 20 minutes looking at two finite element analyses and arguing about whether they needed that much anti-rotation.

Rob finally got exasperated and said, in his charming, understated way, "Guys! The alignment on press fourteen SUCKS! I want this done and I want it now!"

Todd said "You're, right, Rob. You're absolutely right. Look, we will . . .this will be . . . over the holiday we will make this our highest priority!" He paused, then finished a little sheepishly. "Well, Stan will. I'll be gone."

This pronouncement was followed by loud laughter and general sounds of amusement. Everyone was well aware of Todd's 'work' schedule, and he no longer had the grace to be embarrassed about it.

As the press group was leaving so the next meeting could start, someone mentioned what a nice projector the conference room had, and wondered how much something like that might cost. Larry Patterson, the newly hired production manager, said that it had to be around two thousand dollars.

"Actually," Todd said, "I have . . . a friend of mine . . . a guy in my ward, he has one like that and he only paid, like, 500 for it."

Larry pointed out that you pay for the lumens. To get one as good as the one in the conference room you'd be paying more like two grand.

"No. No," Todd said. "His is better than that, and he . . . actually, he is a multi-media guy . . . he takes Blu-ray discs, and deconstructs them and displays them at twice the resolution . . ."

"What do you mean, twice the resolution?" Larry interrupted, "All you have is . . . "

"No, he does, he does it all the time. He actually . . . what he does . . . he's . . . his name is . . . I can give you his name. You can call him yourself."

"You can't display more than you've got. A DVD is only . . ." Larry tried to argue.

"No, he does. Twice the resolution. He has all the equipment and he . . . I'll give you his name. You can call him."

Larry said "You can't. How can you? All you've got is 1080 to work with, you can't . . . "

"His name is Alfred Campbell. You talk to him. You call him."

"Well," Rob interjected, "Maybe we should get on with the meeting and discuss this later."

But Todd wasn't through. "All I'm saying is that Larry's wrong."

"No," Larry said, "You're wrong. I'm not wrong. You're wrong."

"So," Rob tried again, "On the latest . . . . "

"You can call him yourself!" Todd repeated. "I'm not wrong. You can call him yourself. I'll get you his number. You can call him yourself."

"No," Larry said, "You're wrong."


Chapter Forty-seven, in which Todd exercises judiciousness

It had been more than a month since the company reorganization. Frank loved being the director of the Design Group. If he were to sit down and formulate his ideal job, it would be this. His background, experience, and skills all pointed to this being his vocation, but the arrival at that position was marred by one thing: Frank now reported directly to Todd Dalton.

So Frank had arrived at his ideal position, but the cost was a situation he had avoided and dreaded his entire career at Technolix. He recalled how his father used to describe the state of mixed emotion he was experiencing: It was like watching your Mother-in-Law drive off a cliff—in your new Corvette!

But it hadn't been so bad. During that period Frank had had exactly one conversation with his new boss. The two of them had exchanged exactly one e-mail.

Frank was working at his desk when Todd walked in. "Darren would like to have a meeting about, you know . . . design, mechanicals . . . all that."

"Okay, great. When?"

"Right now."

Frank grabbed his lab book and followed Todd into Darren's office. He had no sooner taken his seat than Darren launched into him, telling him he had to step up and take charge because all of the design projects were falling through the cracks.

"Which projects?" Frank asked, taken aback.

"There are just a whole lot of things that aren't getting done," Darren said.

Frank turned to Todd and said "This is the first I've heard that there are things not getting done. Can you give me some specifics?" He half hoped his voice conveyed the rancor he was feeling.

Todd seemed a little startled. This was Darren's meeting. He wasn't supposed to be getting questioned. "Oh, there are just a lot . . . it's just that . . . a lot of design things aren't getting done."

"Well, everything I am aware of is getting done." Frank paused, his eyes challenging Todd for a specific refutation to that. Todd glanced at Darren for moral support, so Frank looked at Darren. Darren parried the look back to Todd, and Frank again directed his gaze at that worthy. "This is the first I've heard about anyone being dissatisfied with what we're doing," he repeated. "If you have information other than that it would be helpful if you let me know about it."

Todd had adopted his standard expression of smugness, but when he spoke he didn't look at Frank. "Well, I just wanted to be judicious, you know, give everyone a chance to settle in to the new structure . . . so I didn't want to say anything."

'Yeah,' Frank thought, 'You didn't want to say anything to me, but you had no problem running to Darren saying I'm a waste of skin.'

 

Frank left the meeting—nay, ambush—with a feeling that it was just the beginning; that this was just a set up for a larger strategy. That was the only context in which the meeting made any sense at all.

"I think you're reading too much into this," KC said when Frank expressed his concerns to him. It seems like KC didn't think that Todd had the smarts to pull off a political maneuver like that. But Frank couldn't shake the feeling; the same feeling he had after the conference call with Rob. It seemed like once again he was late to the battle and the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

Darren had been presented with a narrative; that's what he was operating on.


Chapter Forty-eight, in which a Technician has the gall to send an e-mail

KC was the plant bit designer. Virtually all of the programs and methods the company used for laying out the cutting structure had been developed by him or with his involvement. This included the self-generating cutter program—for which he held a patent—that created a solid model from a spreadsheet. Because of the complexity of the models he designed he was the go-to man for questions on the solids modeling software, especially advanced techniques that few of the designers ever used.

Like many of the designers at Technolix, KC was working his way through an Engineering degree. Darren, the company owner, preferred it that way. First, it provided the designers with real world experience that a degree alone could not. Although Darren's father had been a PhD of some renown, neither Darren nor his father put that much stock in a degree. Additionally, though you would not hear Darren advertise it, the arrangement gave him a measure of control he wouldn't have with an engineer with a degree.

Jeremy was following a similar path, working at Technolix and attending school part time. His real-world experience was equal to that of anybody in the plant. His ability to conceive of, design, and build useful mechanisms made him one of Darren's most productive designers and innovators. Jeremy reported to Todd Dalton.

Todd was one of Darren's engineers with a degree.

Armed with a Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering, Todd constantly floated concepts that left anyone who had ever handled an actual wrench shaking his head in dismay. Some of the Rube Goldberg devices that he proposed had people seriously wondering if Todd was a comic genius just trying to see how far he could push credibility before someone called "Bullcrap!"

Darren never did.

If ever Darren were going to be pushed to that edge, a good time might have been when Todd proposed The Great Indexed Bit Design.

The concept was simple, and it was one that had been floating around for a while. Bits wear out. When they do, you have to pull them out of the hole and replace them. That is an expensive proposition when the bit is located a couple of miles underground and it takes a shift or two to pull it out and put it back. That's rig time that's costing money, but not making any hole. So why not build a bit that can be indexed to a fresh set of cutters once it's worn out?

The idea of changing a bit without tripping out and back in was an avenue to the Holy Grail of Drilling—deeper holes faster.

The concept of indexing a bit is simple, but so is the idea of blasting a man to the moon. The mechanism for moving cutters downhole is extremely complex—or it would be for an ordinary mortal. But not for degreed Engineer Todd Dalton.

In fact, Todd took the design to the next level and "balanced" it.

In Todd's design the two sides of the bit rotated opposite directions. Since the torques theoretically cancelled each other out, it was free rotational energy—a fact that Todd supported with various fancy equations that he included in the e-mail to those involved in the project.

One of the recipients of the e-mail was Darren, another degreed Engineer, who everyone knew was as impressed with mathematical analyses as he was disinclined to actually look at them. Another recipient was Engineering student and the only bit design expert the company had, KC.

KC had been pulled into the project to approve the cutting structure, a task beyond the capacity of sheepskin-endowed Engineer Todd Dalton. KC was neither afraid of nor impressed with calculations involving Greek letters, but he was aware of some basic physics. He was also aware that because he was now part of the project his reputation was tied to its success. The original plan was that he would handle suggestions about and ultimate approval of the cutter layout, and Todd would own the design of the mechanism. But KC had dealt with Dalton before. He knew that once someone else's fingerprints were on a design, the Dalton Distribution Plan would assign blame for failure and credit for success in a way that always preserved Dalton's status as Teacher's Pet.

That is why KC reluctantly replied to the e-mail in a way everyone—including Darren, with his fascination with seeing but aversion to looking at equations—would understand. KC used the simple analogy of gripping a rod with two hands on opposite ends and twisting. This illustration was intended to make the point that although the net torque was indeed zero, there were forces involved that equaled the total torque of both hands.

Jeremy, Engineering student and current Chargé d'Making Todd Look Good, was in the room when Todd got the reply e-mail to those on the project. He watched as Todd leaned back in his chair, pushed his glasses up onto his forehead, rubbed his eyes, and sighed dramatically.

"What?" Jeremy asked.

"It's just . . . I just . . . people just . . . " Finally Todd summed up his frustration in one bitter word, one that he emitted reluctantly as though its crossing his tongue left contamination in its wake. "Technicians!"

Jeremy, engineering "technician", was then provided a treatise on Todd's burdens; the specter of having to explain concepts to mere technicians. Real people, like Engineers, yes, there are words and terms and concepts one can use. But a technician? Apparently further intonation of the word could do no further damage, because Todd used it freely in his hand-wringing monologue. The danger was that a "technician" had now planted doubts in Darren's head (Darren's Mechanical Engineering degree-endowed head). People with the background and intellect to understand these mysteries Todd could communicate with. With an engineer one could even present things in a spreadsheet!

"But, how," lamented Todd, "How do you explain things to a . . . a . . . a technician?"


Chapter Forty-nine, in which Frank contemplates his relationship with buses

I had been probably six or seven years ago, maybe more. Frank had been walking down the hallway from the Salt Lab to his office when his phone rang. It was Darren.

"Hello?"

"Are Steve's guys working in the Salt Lab this morning?"

"Yes. He called and asked . . ."

"Well, Steve has work he needs to get done and he can't get it done without his guys."

"I . . ." Frank started to say, but Darren wasn't finished.

"This concrete has to be poured! Right away!" Darren yelled. "Steve needs his workers, but you've got them doing things that aren't their job!" Darren was screaming now. He sounded on the verge of tears. "And that JUST ISN'T RIGHT!" In his mind, Frank could see Darren's face, red and bloated with apoplexy.

Of all the things Frank wanted to say, he chose "Okay. I'll send them over right away." His voice was calm and quiet, but his hands were trembling with fury as he slid his phone back into his pocket. Just that morning Steve had called Frank asking for any work his guys could do to keep busy, otherwise he'd have to send them home. It was a request Steve sometimes made—his work was somewhat seasonal—and Frank always tried to accommodate him. Together with Roger, the salt lab supervisor, they had come up with some work Steve's crew could do to keep them busy.

Frank turned and headed back to the Salt Lab. He explained the situation to Roger. "But, but Steve, he . . ." Roger started to sputter his indignation.

Frank held up his hand. "I know, I know. Just make sure that we never, ever, let Steve send us his guys again. No matter what. Next time he calls just tell him we don't have anything, no matter how busy we are."

Frank tried to cool off. He had always liked Steve, respected him, and gotten along well with him. He could see the scene in his mind.

Steve is working on the forms when Darren walks up. "How come these aren't done yet?" Darren asks. Steve, caught off guard, has to think of something. In desperation he spurts out "Well, as soon as I get my crew back . . ." Darren, the man of action, pulls out his phone and goes to the source of the "problem."

It can be pretty intimidating, the guy who signs your paychecks asking why your work is not getting done. Frank guessed he could understand that. He could forgive Steve that one.

The company owned a skid steer loader. It got sporadic use during the week and occasionally a worker would ask to take it home on a weekend. Darren almost always agreed to that, and finally decided that the loan of that piece of equipment would be a good carrot to use with the employees. He asked Frank to be in charge of keeping track of who took it on the weekends. That was one of the drawbacks of having an office close to Darren's. Frank was used to getting random assignments having nothing to do with his job.

Frank kept the keys in a lock box on his wall. He tracked the users on a spreadsheet on his computer.

One day while Steve's crew was using the loader to clear brush behind the plant they allowed the radiator to get clogged. The engine overheated and seized up. It was going to have to be rebuilt or replaced.

When Frank found out, he contacted the people on the list and let them know that the loader wouldn't be available for a while. About a month after the incident, Frank ran into Steve in the parking lot. "What's the status on the skid steer loader?" he asked.

Steve said that it was still down; he had to get on that. Frank asked "What did Darren say when he found about the blown engine?" Steve looked a little uncomfortable. He said he still had to figure out a way tell Darren.

That was understandable. Darren was not going to be pleased at that $10,000 expense. Still, it seemed odd that he hadn't found out through the grapevine. What the Physical Plant crew had done was common knowledge around the plant.

About six weeks after Steve's crew blew the engine, Frank was sitting in his office when the door opened and Jarvis marched in. He walked over to the lock box on the wall. He started looking around it, giving it tentative tugs. "How do I get in here?"

"Here's the key." Frank stood up and handed it to Jarvis. "What do you need?"

"I'll be assuming responsibility for these keys going forward."

"Okay . . ."

As Frank opened the box and unscrewed it from the wall he thought, Steve must have finally told Darren about blown engine. Jarvis had just come from the weekly meeting with the Physical Plant group. Jarvis confirmed Frank's suspicions.

That afternoon Frank was leaving the breakroom as Steve was walking in. "So, what did Darren say when he found out about the engine on the skid steer?" he asked.

Steve swallowed. He looked away as if thinking, then turned his attention to somewhere over Frank's shoulder as he spoke. "Well, he was a little surprised that employees were taking it for personal use." He then continued outside.

Frank went back to his desk, but the more he thought about it the more furious he became. He composed an e-mail to Darren, with a cc to Steve, explaining exactly what had really happened and how he felt about being the scapegoat.

Then, in an uncharacteristic display of clear-headedness, he decided to let the draft simmer overnight before he sent it. Over the next week he carefully edited and massaged the e-mail, shooting for the perfect tone that would awaken Darren's sense of fairness and justice without making Frank seem vindictive toward Steve. Although Frank's fury was slow to abate, with every passing day the e-mail seemed less relevant, until Frank finally deleted it.

He never decided whether that had been the right thing to do.

 


These learning experiences now flooded back into Frank's head as he sat in the daily lunch meeting. Rob was talking. "In the meeting yesterday Daren asked about the drum box," he said. The drum box was Frank's latest assignment. The fact that it was being discussed in a meeting he wasn't invited to was a little disconcerting, but not that unusual.

"Darren asked when it was going to get tested," Rob continued, "and we told him we'd given you all the contact information, but you hadn't called anyone."

"Oh?" Frank said. "And when were you planning to get me that information?" Frank was slightly amused that, mixed in with the annoyance, he felt a sense of surprise that Rob's direct approach still caught him of guard after all these years.

"Well," Rob said. "Larry sent you that e-mail . . ."

Frank wasn't sure how to play it, but he hoped he had learned something from his past. "You mean the one that said he would talk to Jocelyn?"

"Well, I mean . . . I'm just telling you what was said."

Frank laughed. "Well, thanks for standing up for me, anyway." Of the dozen or so people in the room, about half of them chuckled openly. Nick made a noise that was a very passable imitation of a bus running someone over.

Frank shot some barb about how it was nice to hear about things that involve him after the fact, Rob responded that he was telling him now, and the meeting moved on.

'At least he's telling me,' Frank thought, but he was still irritated.


Chapter Fifty, in which Rob intervenes for Frank

The company reorganization had been a few years ago and had lasted for a few months. After that brief period things had gone back to the Technolix way—management structure guided less by an org chart than by which warlord personalities were strong enough to hold their positions.

It was all but forgotten in everyone's mind.

Frank now reported to Rob. He didn't care; he got along fine with Rob and the amount on his paycheck didn't change. And he didn't have to deal with Dalton. The "career" phase of his life was over. Now Frank just had a job. His last ambitions for finding fulfillment in his work had vanished with the Design Group.

Frank thought that the best use of his talents and preparation and past experience was in that position, but Darren had gotten rich without relying on Frank's advice. It seemed obvious that his removal from the position had been because Dalton had wanted supreme control of a project and the designers that worked on it. Dalton was Darren's pet, and Darren owned the company. In retrospect Frank realized that he had felt like it had been to good to be true; that he knew that state of affairs would never last.

One day in casual conversation Rob said "Remember back when Darren had you running the Design Group?" Frank said he did remember.

"I don't know if you know this," Rob said, "But I knew you hated that job. So I talked to Darren. I let him know you weren't happy there and he should make a change."

Frank couldn't think of anything to say. Absent from the list of things he was considering was the phrase Rob was waiting for: "Thank you so much!"


Chapter Fifty-one, in which Rob hears the prophet swear

Mormon folklore holds that J. Golden Kimball claims he once heard the prophet swear. He and President Grant were looking over the drought-stricken cornfields in Southern Utah when Kimball said, "It's a helluva shame, isn't it Heber?"

"Yes. Yes it is," President Grant replied.

 

Through the open door that connected their offices Frank could hear Rob going on about something. "You know what he is? All he is is a . . . a . . . " Rob paused, then he called to Frank through the open door between their offices. "What's that word? What do you call someone who sells out his principles?"

"I'd call them a prostitute," Frank replied.

"Yeah. Yeah, that's what he is," Rob said, and continued explaining to those in his office why Senator Hatch was a pile of crap. Senator Hatch had cast a vote that Rob didn't agree with, and he was vociferously offering his opinion to anyone within earshot.

At the lunch meeting that day Rob took advantage of the larger audience to again explain why Senator Hatch was not worthy of his support. He said "Frank said it best. Frank said he's a prostitute."

Frank laughed. He looked at Jed and asked "Did I ever tell you about the time I heard the prophet swear?"


Chapter Fifty-two, in which Jess gets right on the problem

Frank was talking to Larry in the hallway when Jess walked by. Jess stopped to join in the conversation. "How's everything going?"

"Oh, you know. It's busy. We're getting things done."

Most everybody liked Jess, but the most common question about him was "What does he do around here?" The best answer anyone could come up with was "Walk around."

The three talked for a couple of minutes about the price of oil, new changes in the company, and whether the long winter was finally over. While they were chatting, Rondaldo came by from the direction of shipping/receiving. Rondaldo was the IT tech who worked for Rick, the head of the IT department. He was carrying three packages.

"Hang on a sec," Frank said to Jess. Then to Ronaldo "Hey, is one of those the new Apple TV box?"

"Probably." Ronaldo said. "They are for Rick. I know that one in the conference room was having a problem."

After Ronaldo left Jess asked "What was that?"

"Oh," Frank said, "The Apple TV in the main conference room has been on the blink for about three weeks. We told Rick about it when it happened and a couple of times since. Then Rob e-mailed him a couple of days ago and Rick told him there was a new one on the way. I talked to Rick this morning and he said he was expecting it any day now."

Jess nodded his understanding and the two finished up their conversation. Frank didn't think any more about it until he got the e-mail from Jess an hour later.

From: Jessie Crocker
Sent: Friday, March 04, 2016 11:38 AM
To: Robert Crandall ; Frank McClean ; MERussert@tlx.com; Nell Carnon ; Dana Beltran ; Todd Harmann
Cc: Richard Brinkherhoff-TIWorx
Subject: Apple TV, Emerald Conference Room

FYI – the Apple TV system is now back up and functioning. I know some of you liked having this feature so I had Rick fix it. (Thanks Rick!)

Thanks,

Jess


Cast of Characters

When you write long enough about characters you've created out of your imagination, you become acquainted with them, almost like you know them. But some of the characters that don't show up as often you might not remember.

So I made this quick reference to keep track of the (fictitious) characters that I make up (completely out of my imagination without reference to anyone that I've ever known).


Frank: Criminally handsome, brilliant young engineer, the very backbone of the Technolix organization
Darren: Owner and President of Technolix, unconventional in his approach
Todd Dalton: Insufferable Engineer, often in error, never in doubt, former employee of 4N, still talks about "The way we used to do it."
Marshall Jonsen: Todd's little minion, probably not technically gay, fairly capable engineer, but knows which side his bread is buttered on
Don Velasquez: "Engineer" from India, with a Master's Degree and brain damage
Clint: Very capable Seismic Engineer, former employee of BLS
Laura: Mechanical Engineer, Clint's wife, former BLS employee, head of one of the drilling divisions
Andy: Portly Nigerian guy, speaks English with perfect syntax and vocabulary but with an accent that makes him impossible to understand.
Joseph: Andy's office mate
Rob: Production Manager and plant conspiracy expert, jokingly referred to as "Jet-bit manager" for his confusion about who runs that project
Bo Folkes: Former lawyer (excuse my language), head of IP department, sometimes referred to as "Joe" until I can get in and edit all this stuff
Bryson: IP department right hand man, very capable patent writer
Wayne: Engineer, works for Rob
Jed: Engineer on the pick project, a veritable wizard, some say
Ray Jennolds: Machine shop manager
Doug: Engineering intern who works for the finishing department
Jim: Press Designer, fisherman extraordinaire
Kim Shirley: Head of the electronics group
Dale Lundberg: Mechanical Engineer
Dave Smart: Designer, Dale's good buddy, part of the design group, not fond of Don
Nelson Finlayson: Engineer on the drilling project, feisty little guy
Delano: Mechanical Engineer who’s into programming, dead ringer for Napoleon Dynamite
Ronaldo: Brazilian IT guy
Shawn Billings: Engineering Technologist on Jet-bit project
Harvey Snyder: Outside consultant mad scientist on downhole tools
Peter Jordansen: Engineering intern
Stan Woolsey: Analytical Engineer, all around cool nerd
(Uncle) Larry Patterson: Rob's uncle, formerly with Jones international (like Frank and Rob), brought in to be production/plant manager, manager of pick project
Tracy: Water well driller, worked for Wintelligent, brought in to test the Jet-Bit
Bill: A Principal in the investment firm
Wallace Davidson: Electrical engineer on the pick project
Marty Meeks: Former USAF guy, staff scientist for Technolix, brought in from Hans-Christensen
Jarvis: David's accountant and right-hand man for business development
KC: Engineering designer and plant bit design expert
Gerry Doughton: Manager for Bloomberg-Sheay in the UK, interface with Technolix on drilling
Melvin: Former plant manager for Perry-Anderson, lives in the UK, works for Technolix managing bits

Cuttitup Group: a consulting firm brought in by the investment group
Sunray Technologies: Korean firm getting diamond treated
Jet-Bit: The Technolix drill bit project
Medialologist: Offsite provider of the exchange server for the company
Bloomberg-Sheay: (Stock ticker BLS) French firm, major player in the Oil & Gas industry
Jones International: Major player in Oil & Gas, owner of Make-a-Diamond
Perry-Anderson: British bit company, at one time housed in the Technolix building
Wintelligent: Technolix spin-off company, maker of Bright-Pipe

 


Earlier chapters can be found in The Technolix Archives.