This page written circa 4 March, 2005.
Geoff Hopcraft, debating whether to return to Agilent from his sabbatical running a Bridge Club, asked me how much fun I was having. I started to list all the accomplishments I could think of... I am the architect of the favoured TopCat advanced development project; I received my first Patent Plaque (see left), and there are more in the pipeline; I got a raise; I have IEEE publications accepted and submitted; with Ben I will get to fool around with beakers and chemicals in the fab; my SparkPlug project is being well received at NIST and Agilent... at which point I paused.
It sounded like I was having a lot of fun, so I stopped and told Geoff "Actually, I am not having all that much fun." The truth is that I am directing my creative energies into model train microlayouts, inspired by Carl Arendt's site, and into learning about microcontrollers, inspired by MicroChip's 8-pin complete microcontrollers like the clever 12F683, to provide some intellectual challenge (and design train electronics), not to mention compiling these little intellectual jaunts. Over lunches (less and less frequently in the cafeteria) I discover that plenty of others are likewise uninspired. We have no confidence in Agilent's ability to pick up, assess and back any product ideas, nor is there action to back rhetoric about support for innovation. Genius languishes, opportunities are missed, proposals ignored for quarter after quarter.
If I had paid more attention to career choices, I might have asked
questions of potential employers along the lines of "In what class do
your professionals fly on business trips?" or "How many support staff
would report to me?".
I might have been in pharma or bio, and at moments when it wasn't so much fun at least
I'd be getting paid a shitload. Engineering has a pay problem,
especially in Aus, where the SMH reports that
"the wrench replaces the scalpel" as plumbers and electricians
earn amounts comparable to doctors and lawyers; no wonder the country
has a problem.
Two years ago we figured that the US dollar would sink, and it has started to do just that. The US debt has climbed past $60k/family and onward, while California's high schools are being strangled in real time. My recurrent thought is that at least I can leave. Books such as The Coming Generational Storm are becoming more common, and more convincing. This one actually suggests emigrating to NZ or Aus as a valid strategy.
Our friend Brian has been reinventing his life after the loss of his spouse and soulmate, so he is up to date with recent thinking on the subject. In one theory typical of the Geoffrey Moore school, businesses have phases depending upon where they are in the tornadoes and chasms of new technologies, "A" businesses are just starting, a "C" business is in a mature market, and so forth. The same idea can be applied to one's personal life: The "A" phase of your life is getting educated, the "B" phase is your earning career, the "D" phase is when you become infirm, managed care and all that. The "C" phase is where you have retired from full-time employment, and you are still healthy enough to have fun. This is the bit you are supposed to enjoy the most, and the aim in this land of opportunity is to maximise the length and strength of the "C" phase. Given that longevity is maximised by retiring early but never completely stopping work, the sooner you reach semi-retirement the longer a "C phase" you are likely to get. (Sans kids, I'd bloody well be there by now.)
I have speculated in these pages about the merits of life in the US, Europe, or Australia. When you are talking about the "C phase of life", where salary is of less matter, the playing field levels. Kent's son is to emigrate to NZ. Andy T is looking at Aus or NZ in a few years. If only I could convert the assets tied up in this house to A$ now instead of later....