Chapter 3 Notes: On Electricians vs Engineers, Oliver Heaviside, and Cantennas

HiddenTruthFeatureThe Hidden Truth – Chapter 3 Notes

These notes are loaded with spoilers and further explanation for Chapter 3 of my forthcoming novel – The Hidden Truth. I suggest you read Chapter 3 first before continuing. Ready? Let’s begin.

This chapter is titled – “The Preparation.” On one level, it’s about my protagonist preparing a systematic search to get to the bottom of the mystery of the bouncing waves text. On another level, this chapter and the trip to Knoxville allows me to finish fleshing out Dad as a character by introducing his business colleagues and showing his interactions with them. I wanted to show Dad’s technical expertise solving the problem of electromagnetic interference (EMI) from an inverter without getting too deep into unnecessary details. Similarly, Dad’s business judgement is shown in his advice regarding partial progress payments to contractors. That’s a lesson I learned from a friend of mine whose contractor suffered cash flow issues and went out of business, leaving my friend holding the bag. Supporting characters, including Jim Burleson, Dr. Krueger, and Greg Parsons, will be showing up again at opportune times and the trip to Knoxville gave me the opportunity to introduce them all.

A couple of my early readers questioned why an electrical engineer would work as a contractor. Dad’s character and career are modeled in part on the career of an acquaintance of mine who similarly left a job as an electrical engineer to go into the electrical contracting business. He makes a very good living at it. My thought is that Dad got married and had a wife and kid to support and could make more money as an electrician with overtime than as an engineer with straight salary. He found he liked the work, built a team, and was making more money from running a business than he would as an engineer/employee. Plus the background might give him an edge in more technical industrial jobs. The engineer turned contractor I met was actually called in to solve a noise and interference problem almost exactly the same as the one I described at the auto plant.

One motivation I have in writing The Hidden Truth is to impart some insights and life lessons to young readers. Much of the advice Dad gives are nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up over the years. They say that good judgement comes from experience. Unfortunately, the most valuable experience comes largely from bad judgement. By seeing the consequences of others’ actions, in fiction as well as in real life, one can build a store of experience to better cope with life’s many challenges.

Speaking as someone with over a dozen years of post-high-school education, I realize that my Ph.D. came with a steep price in lost opportunities. While I love figuring out how things work, and I make a good living, now, applying science to solve real-world problems, I’d probably have made much more money if I’d gone straight to work with my bachelor’s degree. I was thirty before I held a “real” job, and naturally it took a half dozen years to get good at it and find my niche in ultra-wideband antennas. Also, all that education made me postpone starting a family. I wasn’t a “real” adult in my own eyes until my mid-thirties, and I was nearly forty before I started a family. With lots of hard work, my high-risk life strategy worked out, but I can see how I was lucky to avoid failure.

My advice is to consider the tradeoffs. There are many people who emerge deeply in debt from a university program, who might have been better off going straight into a trade and having the benefit of four years of accumulated earnings. I crafted Dad’s career as an example of someone willing to tackle what some might (erroneously) consider a lower status job as a contractor, and make more of a success at it than an average engineer.

Another early reader found it unrealistically convenient that Jim Burleson just happened to be an expert on Heaviside. You’ll find a small but well-informed minority in most any career who are well read and familiar with the history and origins of their field. Tesla, for instance, has quite a large and active group of enthusiasts. Heaviside is a more obscure figure, but arguably, had even greater influence over the course and development of AC electronics. He has a smaller, but no less devoted, set of fans. The Heaviside Memorial Project, for instance, undertook and completed a project back in 2014 to restore the eccentric scientist’s long-neglected grave.

The scene with Amit and the receptionist is one of those that wrote itself. Our hero’s father wouldn’t have brought his son and his son’s friend in to a business meeting with his lawyer. Stick Amit in the waiting area of a lawyer’s office, and inevitably, you’ll find him flirting with the receptionist.

What is Tor? I do not refer to the science fiction publisher whose employees call their readers racist, misogynist, and homophobic neo-nazis.  Instead, I mean The Onion Router. The Onion Router or Tor is a real-world free software package and online network that helps Internet users maintain privacy online. Tor relays your Internet communications through a distributed network of relays around the world. This makes it difficult for anyone to monitor what sites you may be visiting or to figure out your real location.

Wardriving is the practice of seeking out WiFi connections to enable an even greater degree of anonymity than is available through using Tor. Back around the time this story is set, the “Pringles can antenna” was a topic of considerable notoriety. A creative (if mediocre) solution to the problem of achieving direction WiFi coverage, I was surprised at how mentions of it kept appearing in the press.

I also managed to put in a plug for one of my favorite bloggers, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit. Given that he’s a professor in Knoxville where the story’s set, it seemed appropriate.

Chapter 4: The Execution” will publish on Wednesday April 27.

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