The Science of Stan

“Stan?”

“Yeah?”

My buddy Stan’s truck was running on fumes.

This was normal, so it didn’t bother me.

More concerning was the unearthly howl that emanated from his left front wheel and the corresponding bone-jarring thump it took every time we hit a pebble.

Again this was normal.

The thing is, we were way out in the boonies on a road I didn’t know and doubted if anyone else knew about either.

“Are we going to make it to town?” I asked.

He ignored me like he usually does.

Suddenly the truck veered sharply to the right and flew into and out of a ditch.

This time it wasn’t the truck’s fault.

Stan was glaring over his shoulder.

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever read,” he said.

I looked around. “What?”

“That yard sign.”

Indeed the sign was troubling. I mean, who puts up a yard sign on a road few people know about and fewer people travel on?

It read, ‘WE BELIEVE IN SCIENCE‘.

“Uh-huh.”

“That’s dumb.”

“Why? Don’t you believe in science?”

“Not in the least.”

I could see that.

Stan has an almost mystical connection with anything mechanical. He actually talks to machines and therefore I could fully understand why he leans more toward the paranormal than the normal.

Besides, no one has ever accused Stan of being rational.

But then he added.

“Dude…., one may believe in Bigfoot but you follow science.”

“Not following you on that.”

“Let’s try it this way. Do you believe in manuals?”

“Huh?”

“Manuals, like what you used to tote around when you were working.”

“Sure.”

“So would you put up a yard sign that read, WE BELIEVE IN MANUALS?”

“Probably not.”

“Why not? Manuals are perhaps the most trustworthy thing you will ever encounter…”

“Yeah, but people think I am weird enough as it is.”

“I can see that.”

We drove on a little further as the howling in Stan’s left front wheel intensified and his gas gauge, fed up with being ignored, flipped over to full then violently returned to empty where it waggled ominously over the E.

“So do you believe in science? Stan asked.

“Sure.”

“So what do you know about science?”

“What I read.”

“In other words, you trust what some twenty-five year hack in Brooklyn who spent an hour rewriting a press release for the New York Times told you about some dubious study.”

“That’s pretty harsh.”

“Yeah, but it’s true. Maybe the kid is honest, maybe competent, maybe not. In the end, it doesn’t matter because if it sells clicks and advertising, it’s as good as true.”

“Again this come from a guy who talks to machines.”

“We are covering old ground here,” he said. “I don’t talk to machines, I listen to them. A lot of people, like you, read manuals and suddenly believe that you understand the topic. I read manuals too – but then I listen to what the machine has to say – and every one is different. They were all built differently by different people and wear down differently and every one has its own story.”

“So then do you believe them?….”

“Nope, because some lie, some have their own agenda and some are just as foolish and delusional as people.”

“So is that why you don’t like the, WE BELIEVE IN SCIENCE sign.”

“Nope.”

“Then why?”

“Because good science, like good mechanics, is about listening and anyone who puts up a sign to proclaim what they believe – is probably not listening.”

Stan was making profound sense and that was deeply troubling. Whenever he does that it usually portends disaster.

“Uh Stan?”

“What?”

“Is this truck going to make it into town?”

“I believe so.”

..

..

Oh crap!!

Thanks to Judy from NewEnglandGardenAndThread for motivating me to write a Stan story. It’s been a while


Author: Almost Iowa

www.almostiowa.com

46 thoughts on “The Science of Stan”

    1. She did motivate me. Let’s see how long it lasts. 🙂

      Actually, I fell into a deep geek hole. I’ve been programming in classic C. Writing vintage applications, like something out of 1975. Spent a whole three weeks exploring B-Tree indexes. Yeah, that’s pretty geeky. 🙂

  1. First of all, welcome back! I’ve missed your posts. Secondly, I have to say I agree with Stan on this one…. Yes, I believe in science, but I see absolutely no need to put a sign in my yard saying so. And I took enough science classes (and even passed most of them) to realize that science is the pursuit of knowledge, not absolute and infallible knowledge. So I think Stan is right in his assessment of whoever put that sign up.
    Hope you made it to town okay…I have a friend who never failed to pick me up from the airport for the twenty mile drive to her house (the last three miles on dirt roads) barefoot and with the gas gauge on “E.” So I feel you pain!

    1. I have a great science story (you know me, I always have a story), but first a preface. This is NOT a critique on the science of global warming, rather, a critique on the interpretation and manipulation of shared information.

      For the last half decade, various municipalities have been suing Exxon over claims of damages due to climate change. They claim that droughts, fires, sea level rise have all caused them real damage and future climate change is threatening to create growing liabilities.

      They make an excellent case.

      But in one of the greatest moves in the history of jurisprudence, lawyers for Exxon dug up statements that each of these municipalities were required to make to the SEC before selling their bonds. You see, before a government entity can let out bonds they have to honestly state their ability to repay the bonds and thus reveal any risks they might incur.

      Included in the assessment of risks were lengthy statements about global warming which said, and I paraphrase, “no problem”, “nothing that we have noticed”, “not a big deal”.

      The cases were kicked out of court, with prejudice (but they are trying again).

      IMHO, the physics of climate change is rock solid – but everything beyond that is subject to subjective interpretation – and interpret we do.

  2. As someone who made a pretty decent living writing manuals I have to say, Stan is right. There’s a lot of good that can come from paying attention and actually listening.
    Looks like I’m not the only one who has been away for a while – good to see you back at it 🙂

    1. Norm, in my humble opinion, the greatest manual ever written was “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive; A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot.” by John Muir. It was a delightful classic from 1969.

      My favorite parts read like this, “for this next step, you will need a friend…”

      Perhaps it became the model for the For Dummies series that have become so popular.

      Having read countless manuals, I have always been keenly aware of the difference between “describe” and “explain”. Again, in my opinion, the worst manuals describe in excruciating detail, while the best describe only what is necessary, but then explain.

  3. I am pretty sure one of the reasons the truck lurched is the manual was not fastened down in the glove compartment. When it shifted the truck was bound to lurch. I checked with uncle fester and he confirmed it. Oh back to that beginning I am just sure. I checked both in the manual and the mirror. I am never pretty. Of that I am sure…

  4. The day will come when manuals are redundant. Our machines will simply tell us, ‘it’s time to change the belts dumb ass’. Whether we choose to believe is up to us.
    😉

    1. That day has come.

      A couple of years ago, my wife and I got pulled over by the highway patrol. “One of your headlights is out,” the trooper said.

      “I know! I know!” my wife said, “Look, I just got a text from GM telling us that.”

      The trooper was dumbfounded. That was five years ago. I suspect that now, GM will send a text along with coupons from every dealership within a 100 mile radius.

  5. Very good! I think I have a friend similar to Stan… Maybe more than one. A few days ago, one of the left rear turn signal bulbs stopped working in my 1996 Buick. There are two on each side. I bought a new bulb this afternoon and replaced it. Then, instead of it blinking properly, it was VERY SLOW. I removed the bulb and exchanged it with the other and it stopped working again. So, I took one from the other side and tried it. It worked perfectly. I put everything back together and it stopped working again. SO, I looked at the bulb that had been on the there side and it was shot. The bulb was not burned out, but the bottom that fits in the socket was flat and no way to get current. I took the bulb that had not been working originally, put it on the other side, and all is well. I have no clue what that was about unless I got the bulbs mixed up… It was weird and I learned nothing but at least the turn signals are working. Thanks for sharing!

  6. A few days ago, the air conditioner in my car began humming. It was a light hum, but when I cranked it up to full speed, it sounded like a thousand low-pitched cicadas. The more I listened, the more distressing it sounded, even though it was cooling. When I took it into Toyota this morning, I suggested they check the fan, or the belt.

    Thirty minutes after I arrived, a tech was standing in front of me, grinning. It wasn’t a belt, and it wasn’t the fan. Trying to keep from laughing, the guy said, “You have to stop shoving so many papers into the glove box. They can creep into the engine compartment and get caught up in the machinery. Part of your car’s manual was causing the hum.”

    There’s a lesson there of some kind. I believe Stan would understand. I know it’s good to see you back.

  7. Good to hear from you and Stan, and I got to be the first ‘like’ too! This past year has challenged us all, and one thing I learned is I appreciate my blogging friends, and you were missed. “Listening” is a skill we do have to work at and remember its importance, so thank Stan for me once you get to town. 🙂

    1. Hey, thanks again for the motivation. I am not sure how much writing I will do in the near future, the muse and me are still on the outs. I think my wife has something to do with it. She says, “I don’t want to come across as jealous but you two spent too much time together.”

    1. Always believe in stories.

      I came across a great term the other day, “poetic truth”. The best explanation for it come from the 1962 film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and the quote goes, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”.

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