The other day an engineer arranged a field trip to see some work going on, and sent an email to our group. Amidst the information and instructions was this tidbit: “…we’ll leave at 1:30pm and return by COB”. COB, of course, means Close Of Business, and in this context meant about 5pm.

However we have a couple of engineers who arrive irregularly, though usually late (9:30 to 10am) and dependably leave early (1 to 2pm). So in talking about the field-trip memo with our wise-guy engineer, who always sees a funny twist in everything, this guy said, “Hey, what happens if your COB is 1:30pm? What are those people supposed to do??”

I thought that was funny as hell. I rushed back to my cube and Replied-All to the original email with that question: What if your COB is 1:30pm? Then awaited the reaction.

First was our boss. She came out of her office laughing about it. I thought that odd since she is the one who implicitly approves all the short hours.

A staff engineer asked me about something else and before leaving said, “What does that mean? Is COB 1:30pm?” I said it was sort of an inside joke and if he didn’t understand it, not to worry about it. Fairly quiet after that, even when one of the targets of the Reply-All came in (9:30am) and the wise-guy and I razzed her some.

But at 1:30pm I stuck my head in her cube and said “COB!” The original staff engineer started collecting his group and before leaving told me, “Hey, I sure wish I could have COB at 1:30pm!” Smiling, I replied “But you can…anyone can in this group.” He looked surprised and departed.

At 1:40pm the target engineer left for her home. COB delayed by 10 minutes! And so it goes in our little corner of State work.


Explaining Failures

A friend sent this:

There are a wide variety of excuses available to all observers to “explain away” a failure. And since rocket scientists know that the first step towards one’s next disaster is to forget about — or deny — the previous disaster, the North Korean insistence against all evidence that their first two satellites were actually successful, is not auspicious.

The first and most traditional reaction from Pyongyang to a satellite failure would be simply to pretend it succeeded. That worked for them in 1998 and 2009, but this time there is too much scrutiny from visitors and worldwide radio amateurs to make such a pretense attractive.

The next choice, however, is worse: Blame foreign enemies. If the failure occurred early in flight, the South Koreans can be implicated. If it occurred farther away, out of radio contact, U.S. malevolence is an obvious scapegoat. This is an instinct that we even saw in some supposedly sensible Russian space experts when their recent Mars probe tripped on its face just out of the starting gate. U.S. radar interference was widely suggested as the cause, a gimmick that North Korea could be expected to copy for its own needs.

Alternately, Pyongyang could blame internal enemies intent on sabotage, an old Stalin-era trick. It could help fuel a major purge of less-than-perfectly-loyal officials during the ongoing regime transition. Hundreds could be fired, and many shot — a convenient excuse for a housecleaning.

He sent this with the hint that just by changing the failure from rockets to, say, a numerical models; and by changing the incompetent builder from North Korea to a certain individual; the above could be a near-perfect description of what happened in our little group. And so it is. The multi-million dollar failures, in a number of projects, of said individual have been totally ignored, declared in fact successes, or blamed on others (the individual has a long supply of excuses). No corrective actions are taken, he is simply given another project to fail at.