Sunday, June 7, 2015

Remembering George Biddle

Back in graduate school four decades ago I didn’t just learn from professors. Other staff also taught lessons. In 2012 I blogged about Learning clear communication from a storeroom clerk.

In the mail I just got the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) News for Spring 2015 from that department at Carnegie Mellon University. On pages 6 and 7 was a memorial article titled Remembering George Biddle, 1928 -2014. George was supervisor of the MSE machine shop, located down on the next to bottom level of Doherty Hall. The article included reminisces from three department heads, a dean, and three former graduate students.

I also learned about clear communication in writing from George. The first time I went to submit a drawing of an assembly, George pointed out that I had forgotten to put tolerances on the dimensions. He said that if he gave this to Tony Whelan, then Tony would do exactly what I’d said and make it as precisely as possible - to the nearest 0.0001 inch. That likely was not either what I needed or wanted to pay for. You could always depend on George for practical advice to help improve a design - making it easier to machine and assemble, and less expensive by using parts that already were mass produced and “off the shelf.”

One gizmo I remember seeing was the hot-filament microscope used by Jack Shegog and Gerhard Derge to study dissolution of calcium oxide in steelmaking slag by carefully watching a single droplet under a stereomicroscope. 

Recently I was reading David Brook’s book The Road to Character (which you can preview at Google Books) and found that item #7 of his Humility Code described George:

“Character is a set of dispositions, desires, and habits that are slowly engraved during the struggle against your own weakness. You become more disciplined, considerate, and loving through a thousand small acts of self-control, sharing, service, friendship, and refined enjoyment. If you make disciplined, caring choices, you are slowly engraving certain tendencies into your mind. You are making it more likely that you will desire the right things and execute the right actions. If you make selfish, cruel, or disorganized choices, then you are slowly turning this core thing inside yourself into something that is degraded, inconstant, or fragmented. You can do harm to this core thing with nothing more than ignoble thoughts, even if you are not harming anyone else. You can elevate this core thing with an act of restraint nobody sees. If you don’t develop a coherent character in this way, life will fall to pieces sooner or later. You will become a slave to your passions. But, if you do behave with habitual self discipline, you will become constant and dependable.”  

The painting of a thistle by Fidelia Bridges came from Wikimedia Commons.

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