From Space to Sleep
Yesterday, a friend of mine, Luis Suarez, posted some information on Google+ about sleep, which elicited a fair amount of commentary (including from me) and, in the process, reminded me of a story that comes from my first days as a member of the Flight Operations team on the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) program.
I’ve written before about my feelings regarding meetings and their efficacy, which I tend to frequently question. However, this was a meeting where I might have been able to learn more about the job I was embarking upon. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like I hoped it would.
SSME, MCC, HPFTP, HPOTP, LPFTP, LPOTP, MECO
The aerospace industry, like many others, is replete with acronyms. In addition, I was working at an organization that was primarily an Engineering company and I’m not an Engineer. After over two decades there I have often noted I am now covered with a reasonably thick patina of Engineer, but this was at the very beginning of my tenure and everything was new to me.
This particular meeting was a telecon with our NASA counterparts at a time when the U.S. Space program was recovering from the destruction of Challenger. The year was 1988 and we were approximately 8 months away from returning to flight; human flight, that is. Although the SSME was in no way implicated in the disaster, we had been using the stand-down to prepare a Failure Mode and Effect Analysis, as well as a Critical Items List (referred to as a FMEA-CIL). It consisted of breaking down the operation of our engines into discrete activities beginning with “tanking” (the loading of fuel into the External Tank) and ending with MECO (Main Engine Cut-Off).
To make a long story short, I entered a packed conference room designed to accommodate approximately 35 – 40 people. It was full, with every available seat taken, and there was a conference phone, on the other side of which was an equally packed room at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. I don’t recall the specific technical issues that were discussed at that meeting, partly because I really didn’t have the faintest idea what they were talking about – especially because of the prolific use of the aforementioned acronyms and technical jargon, as well as the use of numerous bullet charts and a dizzying array of graphics which, presumably, represented performance data of various sorts.
The Hypoglycemia Zone
I sat in the back, against the wall, and tried to follow along, anxious to learn what I could about my new job and what my organization was responsible for. It wasn’t long before I felt my head bang against the wall. With horror, and not a little consternation, I realized I had dozed off. To make things worse, I was quite certain I had begun to snore, as I have been shunned by many because of my snoring. I also noticed I received a couple of sidelong glances from my new colleagues.
Needless to say, I got up and left the room, delaying my education . . . and hoping I hadn’t been noticed by too many influential people. I never forgot that day and, throughout my over two decades career there, I was always conscious of the possibility of falling asleep during meetings, especially terminally long ones where incredibly arcane technical discussions were accompanied by the kinds of charts I grew used to, and which Edward Tufte so vociferously decried. In that more than twenty years I also witnessed an awful lot of people dozing during meetings, especially if they took place after lunch – in the Hypoglycemia zone.
I really think meetings are over-rated and we tend to have far too many that are unproductive and unnecessary. Is this the case where you work?
Photo Courtesy of Rational Supervision