On rare occasions something results from one's efforts on the net that provides a very nice feeling to oneself. One of those times was when doing a routine examination of comments that have accumulated, and this morning it resulted in finding a nice comment for http://kestsgeojedc.blogspot.com/2010/03/writing-sci-fi-re-management.html
bringing connection to a long past part of my life, a bit of a high point in it. (Even in the comment's news was a sad note too; the cherished supervisor, Alastair Heaslett, had long since tragically passed away from cancer.) At that gracious comment's encouragement, another related high point's memories flowed in like a wave upon the beach, bringing stuff with it.
Back in the same employment era at Shugart Corp. in Sunnyvale, CA, where I worked in floppy disk development work, one day I was asked to see if I could help out at another division, the hard disk drive division. Arriving there for the first time, I found a few people whom I had worked with in earlier years in technology development. It was explained to me that they had a problem with their new Hard Drive product, and the production line was shut down and costing $20,000 a day because of that. They showed me an environmental test chamber (much as I mentioned in the above-mentioned post) which is a large box about 5 feet on a side, with a door in front and various controls on it and openings in sides for connecting to what was within. An instrument to be tested would be put inside, and the controls set to change the internal environment to some temperature and humidity level.
Inside this one was a hard disk drive, much advanced over the hard disk drives I had worked on in development half a dozen years before at a different company, Pertec Computer Corp. in Chatsworth CA. This hard disk drive had a transparent plastic covered chamber for the disks and heads, where the actuator could be watched moving the heads across the disks. They explained that it all worked fine, except in some installations, after running awhile there would be some hard errors appearing, an unacceptable thing. It only occurred when installed in a large electronic rack and after operating a few hours, usually when unattended overnight somewhere. They suspected that it was because in that sealed bubble environment where the disks and heads were, that when it got hot, the relative humidity went down, and that the plastic insulation of the wires to the heads might then generate enough static electricity - by occasionally rubbing on the plastic of the plastic enclosure - to generate a tiny spark; but they had not been able to prove that. They had a fine digital scope - something new in those days and this one cost $70,000 I recalled as I had recommended buying it years before and they did but gave it to somebody else to use - and it was hooked up to show the signals where the scope probes were hooked to the instrument, and caught the events triggered by an error detection. But nothing correlated preceding the error signal. The events only happened a couple of times a test run and usually during the night while it was all running unattended. It would be very expensive to have a metal casting made to replace the plastic bubble cover, taking a long time to make, and it might then turn out to not fix the problem. Could I help solve the problem, they asked.
Well, if there were indeed a small spark between the read-write head wires on the actuator, as they swept past the plastic enclosure during some kinds of track span jump vibrations of the wires, perhaps the spark could be detected by a piece of metal placed on the outer surface of the plastic bubble right across from the read-write head wires. (I had started out as a physics major in college, and only got into electronics as a career when I eventually dropped out of college - but that is another story dwelled on elsewhere: Tinnitus, wheat gluten, impoverished, lost girlfriend, Asperger's without a support system, etc.) I asked one of the assemblers in the room, whom I had worked with before, if she had some aluminum foil and she said no. Asking a few other people got the same answer. I did not have any either in my own work area, so I determined the next day to bring some from home. I showed up the next day with some aluminum foil in my pocket, and taped it on the plastic bubble at the site where the read-write head wires came closest, and attached a 10 MegOhm scope probe onto the foil. Closed up the environmental chamber and coordinating to have the same test run again overnight sealed and heating.
The next morning I came over there and asked what the result was; they said that indeed, every time there had been an error signal, it had been preceded by a blip from the probe I had connected to the aluminum foil, as recorded by the pre-triggered digital scope. The problem was solved; it was thus proven that it was caused by static electricity discharge under the extreme condition of low hot humidity and particular motions of the read-write head actuator wire motion during a few of the random test jumps between tracks, due to proximity to the plastic of the transparent housing. The need for me was over so I turned and left, returning to my normal job in the floppy disk development area.
Although nobody ever thanked me or commented on it, I think that maybe that event contributed to my being put into a design-development engineer's position.
I had forgotten about all that long ago. But now with memories coming back as stimulated by that woman's nice comment on my blog post, daughter of the cherished manager back then, I now realize that those times had some pleasant memories too.
And moreso, back to that previous post I made re management, I recall that most of my immediate supervisors over my career were competent and considerate managers. Even the rare upper management that I had any connection with over my lifetime, seemed like very fine people.
As for those who were inspiration for my science fiction's Ownma Corp and TANFL Corp inimically powerful management, most likely it was my frustration with upper management at my last two electronics jobs, people that I rarely if ever met but whom seemed quite hostile towards my efforts to get exceptions from their employment agreements regarding my prior personal creation of my space transportation concepts, particularly my KESTS to GEO concept and my Centristation concept. They refused to respond to my emails, and the HR lady when I hired in who said that of course the record would be made modifying the Employment Agreement, would not respond either and then soon was replaced. I began to suspect there was something afoot attempting to rob me of my authorship of those concepts, but was stonewalled whenever attempting to contact HR and upper management either directly or up through my immediate supervisor.
There was a bit of indirect help, however, in working then for a company named "Orbital Sciences Sensor Systems Division," in that in my efforts to get a technical paper accepted for formal presentation and publication finally got an acceptance for the ASCE space conference to be held in 2000, shortly after I started working for Orbital Sciences in Pomona. (Having an employer named Orbital Sciences - nevermind in what capacity - apparently somehow got me into a peer-classification with those space industry folks; in contrast to my being employed by a small car alarm manufacturing company when I first came up with the integrated KESTS to GEO concept and the Centristation concept.) That broke the ice and eventually I also was invited to present technical papers on my KESTS to GEO concept in 2002, 2004 and 2005, getting published each time in the conference proceedings. Although it was too late to cheer my mother, who had financed my first formal presentation of the KESTS to GEO concept at the 1997 space conference at Princeton at the Space Studies Institute, where I was laughed away after I gave my extremely stressful presentation in the huge auditorium, and they refused to publish my paper, without giving any reasonable reason. Looking back I realize it was a huge academic ego thing, most likely; how dare I, an academic nobody, come up with a concept that they themselves had not thought of to enable large scale space activity in the near future; but that did not help cheer my mother's faith in me, and she soon passed away after my 1997 space paper's failure to be published, no doubt frustrated at my performance, which now is known as Asperger's, or "high functioning autism;" but at the time was not recognized as other than being sometimes a bit odd as well as gifted.
Ah, the memories. I guess that is mostly all an old man has anymore. And also the opportunity to write high-tech science fiction novels, where I get to finally live out the adventures of creating systems using my space transportation and utilization concepts - if only in the virtual world of sci fi writing. Sometimes, like this morning reading the comment to my post last March, brings a nice comfy feeling of being appreciated.
Labels: Alastair Heaslett, engineering development, KESTS to GEO concept papers, management, presentations, Science fiction, Shugart Corp, supervision