The Problem with Integrity

I think about Winston Churchill a lot. A successful writer, correspondent, painter, politician and businessman, he is known for his bold principled stand against Hitler. However, zoom in and a more complex narrative emerges.

After Neville Chamberlain negotiated the Munich Agreement in 1938, which sought to appease Nazi Germany by allowing them to take control of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, Winston Churchill famously said, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.”

They look wise now, but his comments were unwelcome. Many people in Britain and other countries believed that the agreement would prevent war and that Churchill’s warnings were alarmist. He was even removed from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1939 and was not given any major government positions until 1940 when he became Prime Minister as the war had already started.

He pushed through years of criticism and personally rallied a nation with his bold, counter-cultural, stand that led the allied powers to victory. If we stopped there, we have a tight schoolbook story of leader who did the right thing and was vindicated and honored.

Unfortunately for Sir Winston, shortly after the war, his government was defeated in the general election of July 1945. The British people were tired after six years of war and preferred the Labour Party’s program of social reforms. He found himself doubted, vindicated and then cast away.

Everyone and every organization wants integrity, but actually having it, keeping it and acting on it is a challenge. Nothing is simple when you find yourself at a different place than those around you. Holding a counter-cultural view means going against the dominant beliefs and values of the system you are working hard to support.

Yes, integrity can be dangerous. The word integrity doesn’t have meaning and power when everyone agrees. When integrity forces you to be different, it’s dangerous for you and others. You risk losing your friends, your job and your sleep.

Counter-cultural integrity threatens the status quo and big organizations need broad buy in to the status quo to get things done. The right thing may be good in the long run, but it can be disruptive now. Personal integrity requires standards that may not change with culture or a corporation’s strategy for risk mitigation. Anyone who holds to an independent set of standards will eventually find themselves a problem in a rigid and ever changing system.

Standing Alone

Worst of all, the road towards acting on integrity brings you into contact with the dark side. There is a temptation to be right and feel superior to the system you are in. You need the inspiration of the examples of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln, but you can’t conflate your situation and your strength with theirs. You have to remain humble while not losing your convictions. You have to be continually open to being wrong. You have to push yourself to be flexible. You have to see and respect the other side.

The other temptation is to give in to self-pity and think that the world is against you. The professional world can be a dark, amoral, and heartless place. That is reality–true everywhere. No one is a unique and constant victim of unjustified persecution or mistreatment. There is no conspiracy, just people trying to make it all work and not lose their status, jobs or relationships.

The stress of finding yourself alone, against the crowd, is real. The only way to survive it is to have a trusted network of friends– not friends who just listen, affirm and agree, but friends who hold you accountable and clarify your thoughts. A good friend turns a dark and lonely road into conviction that can confirm your individuality and authenticity. Most important, sharing your story can lead to positive change. There is no tighter community than like-minded individuals who support, refine, and validate each other’s perspectives.

I’ve taken several counter-cultural stands in my life with a wide range of outcomes. All were painful. Every stand I’ve taken has resulted in some degree of lost friendships and increased pain. Some day I may be proud of these actions, but all of them resulted in a lost opportunity where I had to get off the boat and watch it sail on. If there is any pride in that, it’s drowned out by the sadness of it all.

I’ve learned that I’m not particularly brave or strong. However, I’m blessed with great community, a love of history and a deep care for others. Most of all, I feel convicted to protect others who trust and depend on me doing the right thing.

But this isn’t the movies. As I’ve post-processed tough stands, when I did the most good, I felt the worst inside. Taking a different road leaves you feeling alone and scared, self-conscious and unsure. Integrity put into practice in these scenarios makes part of you wish you didn’t have it. It’s not fun and it doesn’t feel courageous. When I’ve done the most right, the overwhelming emotion is sadness and insecurity.

Here I’m convicted and encouraged by two father son chats. The first is Polonius, who is giving advice in Hamlet to his son Laertes as he prepares to leave for France. Polonius urges his son to be honest with himself, to be true to his own values and beliefs, and to avoid the temptations and pitfalls of the world. He advises Laertes to “neither a borrower nor a lender be” and to “this above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” If Laertes is true to himself, he will not be able to deceive others; he will be true to himself and avoid compromise for the sake of others or for the sake of fitting in.

The second is from Cicero. He wrote to his son, Marcus, that an unjust act will never profit him.

Stop. Just let the gravity of this settle. This may be the most counter-cultural message ever written. A thief can at least enjoy his spoils a little bit, right? A boss who complies with pressure to promote a lesser qualified person at the expense of her/his better judgment may get a promotion that helps their career, right?

No, Cicero says it won’t help them. He believed in an absolute view of morality and integrity. He wrote that an unjust act is not only morally wrong, but it will also ultimately harm the person who commits it and the society that allows it. He believed that living a virtuous life and making the right choices, even if difficult, is the only true path to true happiness and fulfillment. In his letter Ad Familiares Cicero wrote: “There is nothing more virtuous, nothing more in accord with duty, than to take one’s stand for what is right.” He also wrote in this same letter:

“What is morally right is not always politically expedient; and what is politically expedient is not always morally right.”

Cicero believed that true success and happiness come from living a virtuous life, and that this requires standing up for what is right, even when it may be difficult or unpopular. Even when it looks like an easy compromise, it will never profit you. Never. Even if you are lucky and some good results from your actions, you have harmed your soul.

The wisdom of history, a deep personal faith and a tight network of friends all give me confidence to do the right thing, no matter the cost. This is true even with full knowledge of just how dangerous, costly and lonely the road of counter-cultural integrity is.

I’m jealous of those who can compromise, make things work and steer situations to a middle ground, but I have trouble here. This isn’t a brave or honorable as much as I see no other option. Without deep reflection on, and a commitment to hold to standards, I wouldn’t have individuality or authenticity.

Just as breathing is a necessary function for survival, holding to one’s standards and integrity is necessary for maintaining a sense of self and personal agency. Without it, one risks becoming a mere follower or conforming to the beliefs and values of others, losing their unique perspective and individuality. Holding to one’s standards and integrity can be challenging–it’s been the hardest thing I’ve had to do–but it is a fundamental aspect of being true to oneself.

It’s fitting to have just passed Martin Luther King day. MLK wrote:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Character is revealed not in moments of ease, but in times of adversity, and when difficult choices and decisions are made. This quote reminds me that true strength and honor come from standing up for what is right, even when it is hard and uncomfortable, and that we should strive to be true to our principles and values, even in the face of opposition. All power is moral power and all strength requires the willingness to walk the hard road, even when it isn’t where you want to go.

Pairing Philosophers in 2023

Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche are valued teachers and they generated many of the ideas bumping into each other in the culture today.

Søren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian, and social critic who is known for his contributions to the field of existentialism. He believed that the individual’s relationship to God was the most important aspect of human life, and that the search for meaning and purpose was an essential part of the human experience. Kierkegaard argued that the traditional institutions of society, such as the church and the state, were inadequate for helping individuals to find meaning and fulfillment in life, and he called for a return to a more personal and inward-looking approach to faith and spirituality.

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who is known for his critiques of traditional values and his celebration of the individual. He argued that traditional morality, with its emphasis on self-denial and restraint, was destructive to the human spirit and hindered the development of truly great individuals. Nietzsche believed that people should embrace their own desires and passions, and strive to become what he called “overmen,” or individuals who had fully realized their own potential and lived life to the fullest.

These two philosophers define authentic to me. Neither of them would have been comfortable in my Church or in my society, but I can’t escape how much I would love to host a cup of coffee with these two thinkers.

Two Gents talking

Authenticity is really hard because we can’t escape our obsession with status no matter how hard we try. It’s better to not think about status too much because focusing on it can compromise authenticity. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are good to match up because they both were independent thinkers who didn’t care about others’ opinions, yet were deeply wounded by the world’s rejection.

One stark difference: Kierkegaard embraced faith, while Nietzsche rejected the idea of a greater meaning in life.

Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were obsessed with finding the truth, wherever that quest went, and were both deeply troubled by what they found and by the process of finding it.

Desiring truth not consistency is probably the hardest intellectual challenge and it can be a lonely and troubling journey. Since I know that I’m not wiser than the weight of history or the leaders of my faith community, I tend to side on tradition when I don’t understand things. Yet I strive to overcome the temptation to prioritize consistency in my beliefs over seeking new information that may challenge them. Consistency is a good default, but it can prevent us from fully understanding the world around us and making informed decisions. An open and certain mind is a rare thing and both do and don’t have one.

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard inspire me on this point. They were concerned with the nature of human existence and the meaning of life, and they both sought to fundamentally re-think the traditional Western philosophical tradition. This makes them good foils to consider what they might think about three significant developments in the modern world: the rise of populism, the decrease in organized religion, and the rise of artificial intelligence.

The Rise of Populism

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were both critical of the values of the Enlightenment and the modern world, and they both argued that the modern world had lost touch with the deeper meanings and values of life. In this sense, they might both view the rise of populism with a certain degree of skepticism. Populism is often associated with a rejection of traditional political and social elites and a focus on the needs and concerns of ordinary people. Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard would likely argue that this focus on the needs and desires of the masses can lead to a superficial and shallow understanding of the world, and they would both caution against a reliance on the “tyranny of the majority” as a guiding principle for society.

At the same time, however, both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard placed a strong emphasis on the importance of individuality and the need for individuals to be true to themselves and their own values. In this sense, they might both see the rise of populism as an opportunity for individuals to reclaim their own autonomy and agency, and to resist the homogenizing forces of modernity.

Nietzsche the populist?

The Decrease in Organized Religion

Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were deeply concerned with the role of religion in human life, and they both grappled with the question of how individuals can find meaning and purpose in the absence of traditional religious beliefs. Nietzsche was highly critical of traditional Christianity and other monotheistic religions, and he is known for his arguments against the existence of God and his rejection of traditional moral values. He argued that individuals should create their own values and meaning rather than relying on traditional sources of authority.

Kierkegaard, on the other hand, was deeply religious and saw faith as a central aspect of human life. He argued that belief in God was not a matter of reason, but rather a matter of the heart, and he developed the concept of the “leap of faith” to describe the idea that individuals must make a leap of faith in order to truly believe in something.

In the modern world, we are seeing a decline in organized religion and a shift away from traditional religious beliefs. Nietzsche might view this trend as a positive development, as he rejected traditional religious beliefs and saw them as a source of oppression and illusion. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, might view the decline in organized religion with concern, as he saw faith as a central aspect of human life and argued that individuals need a sense of transcendence and meaning beyond the material world.

The Rise of Artificial Intelligence

In the 21st century, we are seeing a rapid development of artificial intelligence and the increasing integration of technology into all aspects of our lives. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard would likely have very different perspectives on the rise of artificial intelligence.

Kierkegaard and AI (picture generated by Dall-E 2)

Nietzsche might view the development of artificial intelligence with a certain degree of skepticism, as he placed a strong emphasis on the value of human creativity and individuality. He might argue that the increasing reliance on artificial intelligence could lead to a dehumanization of society and a loss of the unique qualities that make humans special. But! Nietzsche was interested in the potential of technology to enhance human life and enable individuals to overcome their limitations, and he might have seen the development of artificial intelligence as a potential way to achieve this.

Kierkegaard, on the other hand, might have been more skeptical of the role of technology in society and could have seen it as a threat to human dignity and autonomy. He might have argued that the increasing reliance on technology was a symptom of a deeper spiritual malaise in modern society and could lead to a loss of meaning and purpose in life. (Good grief, how much I love Kierkegaard.)

Who Else?

All this had me thinking, what other pair might be an interesting lens to view society? And I think five other pairings would be super fun to meet up with:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke

Best friends?

These two philosophers had very different views on the nature of the state and the role of the individual in society. Rousseau argued for the primacy of the common good and the need for the state to exert control over the lives of individuals, while Locke argued for the importance of individual rights and the need for limited government. Comparing these two philosophers could provide a useful framework for thinking about issues related to the balance between individual freedom and the role of the state in modern society.

Karl Marx and Adam Smith

These two philosophers had very different views on the nature of economic systems and the role of the state in regulating them. Marx argued for the abolition of private property and the need for a socialist economic system, while Smith argued for the importance of free markets and the role of self-interest in driving economic growth. Comparing these two philosophers could provide a useful framework for thinking about issues related to economic policy and the role of the state in the economy.

Michel Foucault and John Rawls

Focualt and Rawls on the March

These two philosophers had very different views on the nature of justice and the foundations of moral and political theory. They pretty much define the camps in the American left today. Foucault argued that power relations are a fundamental aspect of society (#BLM, Woke!) and that justice is not an objective concept, while Rawls argued for the importance of a social contract based on fairness and equality (think Clinton/Blair). Comparing these two philosophers could provide a useful framework for thinking about issues related to social justice and the foundations of political theory.

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

These two philosophers had very different views on the nature of the state and the role of the individual in society. Hobbes argued for the need for a strong, centralized state in order to maintain order and prevent anarchy, while Locke argued for the importance of individual rights and the need for limited government. Comparing these two philosophers could provide a useful framework for thinking about issues related to the balance between individual freedom and the role of the state in modern society.

Finally, Kant and Hegel!

Immanuel Kant, an 18th-century philosopher has had the same level of influence as Kierkegaard on me. I consider myself a Kantian. I love the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined by the motivation behind it, rather than the consequences that it produces. An action is considered morally right if it is done out of a sense of duty or respect for moral law, rather than as a means to achieve some other end or goal. Also, the moral law is universal and applies to all people, regardless of their individual circumstances or desires.

Kantian ethicists argue that we have a moral duty to treat others with respect and to always act in accordance with moral principles, even when it is difficult or inconvenient to do so. They believe that this is the only way to create a just and moral society, and that failure to live up to these standards can have serious consequences for individuals and for society as a whole.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a 19th-century philosopher, would be a great contrast to Kant. Some specific areas of disagreement between the two philosophers include:

The nature of history and the role of reason: Kant argued that human reason was a universal and timeless principle, while Hegel argued that reason was an inherent part of the historical process and that the world was shaped by the interplay of opposing forces. Hegel used organic metaphors and language to describe the way in which history unfolds and develops over time. For example, he referred to the process of historical development as a “world-historical process” and described the different periods of history as “stages” in the development of human consciousness.

The nature of the state and the role of the individual: Kant argued for the importance of individual rights and the need for limited government, while Hegel argued for the primacy of the state and the idea that individuals should be subservient to the state.

The nature of knowledge and the foundations of moral and political theory: Kant argued for the importance of reason and the a priori principles that structure our experience, while Hegel argued that knowledge was a product of the historical process and that the ultimate goal of human development was the realization of the “Absolute.”

How fun it would be to pair all the philosophers mentioned above about up. They probably would find my company pretty boring, but it would be fun to tell them about the 1900s and answer their questions about what we believe today. Ah, well, I get to read their books, write this stuff up and, even better, talk to you about this stuff.

Review: From Strength to Strength

Devote the back half of your life to serving others with your wisdom. Get old sharing the things you believe are most important. Excellence is always its own reward, and this is how you can be most excellent as you age.

Arthur C. Brooks

How do you ensure you don’t get the most out of aging well: cultivate gratitude, practice compassion, build relationships, and create beauty. I love the simplicity and truth of that.

In “From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life,” Arthur Brooks addresses a common problem faced by many successful individuals (who he calls “strivers”) as they enter the second half of their lives.

Yes, but I’m 46, should I care about this? Well, yes, according to most research I’m past my professional prime. In the world of tech/science the most common age for producing a magnum opus is the late 30s. The likelihood of a major discovery increases steadily through one’s 20s and 30s and then declines through one’s 40s, 50s, and 60s. Research shows that the likelihood of producing a major innovation at age 70 is approximately what it was at age 20—almost nonexistent.

My brand is innovation and innovators typically have an abundance of fluid intelligence. It is highest relatively early in adulthood and diminishes starting in one’s 30s and 40s. This is why tech entrepreneurs, for instance, do so well so early, and why older people have a much harder time innovating.

Crystallized intelligence, in contrast, is the ability to use knowledge gained in the past. Think of it as possessing a vast library and understanding how to use it. It is the essence of wisdom. Because crystallized intelligence relies on an accumulating stock of knowledge, it tends to increase through one’s 40s, and does not diminish until very late in life.

Careers that rely primarily on fluid intelligence tend to peak early, while those that use more crystallized intelligence peak later. For example, Dean Keith Simonton has found that poets—highly fluid in their creativity—tend to have produced half their lifetime creative output by age 40 or so. Historians—who rely on a crystallized stock of knowledge—don’t reach this milestone until about 60.

No matter what mix of intelligence your field requires, you can always endeavor to weight your career away from innovation and toward the strengths that persist, or even increase, later in life.

This book underscores the tragedy of “peaking early” and failing to grow and adjust to life’s stages. But this is the lot of the striver. There will be a point where worldly accomplishment diminishes or even stops. What happens then when the most difficult task is the daily struggle with a sense of failure and despondency.

To address this issue, Brooks suggests that it is necessary for individuals to find a deep purpose in their second half of life. This can be achieved through the cultivation of gratitude, the practice of compassion, the building of relationships, and the creation of beauty. By focusing on these actions, individuals can find a sense of fulfillment and purpose that will carry them through the second half of life and enable them to finish well.

One of the most compelling aspects of Brooks’ book is his emphasis on the importance of gratitude. He argues that cultivating gratitude allows individuals to find joy and purpose in their lives, even in the midst of challenges and setbacks. By focusing on the things we are thankful for, we can find meaning and fulfillment that is not dependent on external circumstances or accomplishments.

But gratitude is empty without the practice of compassion. By seeking to understand and care for others, we can find a sense of purpose and meaning that goes beyond our own individual accomplishments. Brooks makes it clear that this can be especially meaningful in the second half of life, as it allows us to contribute to the greater good and make a positive impact on the world around us.

In addition to cultivating gratitude and practicing compassion, Brooks also emphasizes the importance of building relationships. He argues that strong relationships with others can provide us with a sense of belonging and purpose that is essential for a fulfilling life. By investing in these relationships and seeking to connect with others, we can find meaning and joy in the second half of our lives.

Finally, Brooks suggests that creating beauty is another key way in which individuals can find purpose and meaning in the second half of life. Whether through art, music, or other creative endeavors, the act of creating beauty or building beautiful things allows us to connect with something greater than ourselves and find a sense of fulfillment and joy.

Winston Churchill Painting as a Pastime

On a personal note, I have to contrast Brooks message with the story of the apostle Paul. Writing from prison, he emphasized the importance of pressing on towards the goal and finishing his course. However, this is not a problem unique to Paul, as many people struggle with a sense of failure and despondency in the second half of life. What would Paul think of the danger of peaking in one’s career between the ages of 30 and 50, and the potential for a sense of failure and despondency in the latter half of life.

Brooks suggests that in order to avoid this sense of failure, it is necessary for individuals to find a deep purpose in their second half of life. Paul would say it is also important for individuals to recognize that their identity should not be solely based on their accomplishments or successes. Instead, our identity should be rooted in our relationship with God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. This allows us to find a sense of purpose and meaning that is not dependent on our external circumstances or accomplishments.

I also found wisdom from a completely different angle: the varnasrama system of Hinduism which splits up our lives into four distinct stages, each happening every 20-25 years—with vanaprastha (वनप्रस्थ) being the all-important third stage.

After our youthful first stage (“figure out who I am”), in our early-20s we move to a second stage (“prove yourself”) that lasts until we are about 50 years of age. In the second stage, we are driven by the pursuit of pleasure, sex, money, and accomplishments. But by the third stage (“give back”), at around age 50, we begin to pull back from a focus on professional and social advancement. Instead, we become more interested in spirituality and faith.

The important transition is from stage 2 to 3, which typically occurs around age 50, can be difficult for many people, especially in Western societies, where there is often a strong emphasis on professional and social advancement. According to Arthur C. Brooks, this transition is important because it can lead to increased happiness and contentment, as well as better physical health. Additionally, as people age, they tend to become wiser, with greater ability to combine and express complex ideas, interpret the ideas of others, and use the knowledge they have gained throughout their lives. This “crystallized intelligence” can be put to good use by sharing wisdom with others and becoming more devoted to spiritual growth. It is important to let go of the things that once defined us in the eyes of the world and embrace this new stage of life in order to truly thrive in the latter half of adulthood. In summary, the older we get, the better we get at:

  • Combining and using complex ideas and expressing them to others
  • Interpreting the ideas others have (even if we didn’t create them ourselves)
  • Using the knowledge we have gained during our lives

As we approach the finish line of our journey, it is essential that we strive to finish well. This involves finding a deep purpose in the second half of life, cultivating gratitude, practicing compassion, building relationships, and creating beauty. By doing so, we can navigate the challenges and winds of life with a focus on the ultimate goal of glorifying God and finishing our course with joy and purpose.

“From Strength to Strength” is a thought-provoking and insightful book that offers valuable insights and strategies for finding success, happiness, and deep purpose in the second half of life. Whether you are just entering this phase of your journey or are well into the second half, this book offers valuable guidance and encouragement for navigating the challenges and winds of life with a focus on the ultimate goal of finishing well.

Shapeoko Troubles

I recently encountered an issue when generating a grid of holes for workbench. I had recently planed down an old workbench from our house in New Jersey. I was planning on 20 mm holes spaced in a grid with 96mm spacing to match the festool MFT table. I’m hoping to use the available array of cool attachments and eventually add the aluminum profile to the side. For example, an MFT table can be used as a bench with a variety of different attachments, such as clamping elements and stops.

Unfortunately, the holes didn’t create a proper grid and the spacing was off. I used a CNC machine to cut the holes, but I noticed that they were off. Just looking at it showed that each row had fairly consistent spacing, but the start of the rows varied in the X direction.

To accomplish a 96 mm grid, the g-code was programmed to start at the bottom of the workpiece and move across in a row. This process was then supposed to be repeated until the entire grid was cut. However, as I mentioned earlier, I encountered some issues with the spacing of the holes and had to troubleshoot the problem.

One theory I became aware of online (thanks gdon_2003, Julien, LiamN, SLCJedi and WillAdams) is that set screws are a part of Shapeoko drive system and a loose set screw can cause this type of behavior. That’s because the set screws transfer motion from the motor shafts to the pulleys, which rotate against the belts. They are intended to be pushed tightly against the flat spot on the motor shaft, causing the pulley to turn with the motor. If the set screw becomes loose, the pulley may turn independently of the motor before snapping into place, which can cause issues with the motion of the machine. This may show up as flat spots on circles or other imperfections in projects. You can see why a loose set screw is bad as captured in the screenshot below from this youtube video by See-N-C.

Screenshot that describes how set screws work

Doing some Math

In order to do some analysis on what happened, I needed to register the image and get the location of the points.

The drawpoint command in MATLAB is a function that allows you to draw a single point on an image or plot. You can specify the coordinates of the point on an image using the mouse to record position. Using drawpoint, I recorded the coordinates of the center point of each circle and put this information in a struct. I then wrote code to turn the struct into two arrays: one for the x coordinates and one for the y coordinates. This allowed me to easily analyze the variance in the x coordinates for each column and the variance in the y coordinates for each row.

I was also able to use the drawpoint command in MATLAB to mark points on the ruler captured in the image. This allowed me to easily record the coordinates of the points and then do the math and convert the distances between the points from pixels to millimeters.

I used the pdist2 function in Matlab to calculate the Euclidean distances between my two sampled points and then converted the distances to the desired units through a conversion factor of 610 mm/523.4087 px.

Since the job started at the upper right and progressed down and across, we could look at the variance throughout the job. The variance in the x direction seemed to increase in the last four columns:

x1.2610.36030.58540.76563.24253.963
Variance of X in each Column (in mm)

The variance in the y direction was much bigger across the rows and also increased as the job progressed. I used this MATLAB to generate this: makemm(var(y(:,:),0,2))

y24.753724.573630.623235.246736.3425
Variance of Y in each row (in mm)

To generate the ideal points based on a 96 mm grid, I wrote a function that takes in two inputs, iX and iY, which represent the starting x and y coordinates, respectively. The function first initializes two matrices, X and Y, to store the calculated x and y coordinates for each point. Then, it defines a conversion factor, cf, which is used to convert the units from millimeters to pixels.

Next, the function uses a nested for loop to iterate through each column and row of the matrices. For each iteration, the function calculates the x and y coordinates of the current point by adding the starting coordinates (iX and iY) to the appropriate offsets, which are determined by the loop variables and the conversion factor. The calculated x and y coordinates are then stored in the corresponding elements of the X and Y matrices.

To calculate the root mean squared (RMS) error, I subtracted the actual coordinates from the ideal coordinates to find the error in both the x and y directions and then took the square root of the mean of the squared errors in both directions.

123456
103.64134.867812.579612.847612.0532
21.29864.71474.923613.636513.884112.3934
31.6041.47845.26213.272213.526513.8716
42.61142.536214.100214.219514.898816.2787
56.15646.040717.367317.355818.812919.6045
RMS errors for each hole

You can see the error increasing as the job progresses, but the major error starts in column 4-6, supported by a big jump in column 3, row 4, which supports the idea that the screw isn’t seating well resulting in slippage.

Overall, doing this math allowed me to see what was really going on. By adjusting for the variance at 4,3:

Pattern in Holes

Otis on Leadership

In Shawshank redemption Otis “Red” goes before the parole board with promises to be better. He tries to play by the rules and repeatedly gets denied. Finally, he has had enough and lets them have it. He is done with their game, they can keep him there forever.  He speaks with the tired wisdom of an old man desperate to speak sense to his younger self, bereft of the hope that a future is possible. He doesn’t care, and now they approve his release.

As amusing as this story is, I’m convinced it speaks to a deeper truth. The road to excellence in leadership doesn’t end with learning what to care about, but it definitely starts with a decision to follow your convictions over learning to do what others in power want.

When I was at DARPA, a PM’s goal was to get to the tech council and get the funding to make our idea happen. In several startups, I’ve marched a similar path to get funding. Each time, I had to navigate a maze of intermediaries, each wanting to hear specific things before I could get to the decision maker. The temptation was always present to win their approval by making my main focus to learn and deliver what they wanted to hear at the expense of my core vision. Keeping this temptation in check always helped in the end and I started to really know that conviction matters more than compliance.

Ok, that’s DARPA and startups. But most of my time has been in government and big companies. Big companies don’t just have intermediaries, they have systems, processes and whole organizations that test our compliance versus conviction trade. Conversations in every company start to change as everyone pays attention to where the winds are going. Conviction is still there, but it becomes bounded by what the boss or bosses emphasize. This is a natural consequence of what leadership means. We set the emphasis of our team and that includes culture and values. Shouldn’t we want our workforce to adopt what we are projecting?

Not at the expense of core individual convictions. To get a flavor of how this can lead us off the high road, a senior leader at a former company made (the fine topic of) female empowerment a core platform of his leadership and bombarded LinkedIn with his progress in this area at the expense of any other vision or message. I took pitches every day from vendors and vendor pitches started to include slides at the beginning that highlighted their commitment to female empowerment. This is how you end up with technology pitches that didn’t emphasize technology. While it was great that the boss was speaking his conviction, it was sad to watch the ecosystem around the company pander and step outside their prime value.

Tech vendor’s sometimes do this even when they focus on technology. When a topic becomes hot, say blockchain or machine learning, you start to hear lots of references to high concept phrases. Do you do X? Oh, yes we know X very well. Do you integrate with Y? oh yes. In my research work I get to bump into real thought leaders and it’s a completely different story. They question my question: “why would you do X?”. They often disagree with what I’m saying and point out my misunderstanding. I like these conversations. I like these people. They have different incentives, but they get my call back.

The best conversations are not banal agreements. Listen to a couple on their first date as they try to please each other. It’s funny watching them try and agree. It’s also a boring conversation.

Then watch the verbal tennis match of two long time friends disagreeing. “No, that’s not the best, this is . . . You’re crazy, this is . . .” In such disagreements there is life and learning and love. They deeply care about each other, but they aren’t focused on pleasing the other person. They have transitioned to something greater.

There just isn’t room for multiple things at the top of your priorities. If you focus on playing the game and optimizing the system to your advantage, you not only hurt your chances of success, but you risk any gains you make leaving you empty and not really adding up to any real change. On the other hand, if you really bottom out your convictions and decide what you really want to do, you have to take on the system. The system will fight you and may beat you down. The collective goals of that system will differ from yours and people will defend their equities in ways that give you headaches, sleepless nights and may even break you.

However, some people, and in the right culture, the right people, will watch. They will know that you care more about the impact of your principles than personal gain. They may not agree with you, but they will respect you. And when you succeed your success will have meaning and will take root. It may grow as others are inspired by your conviction and the truth of your principles.

One of my heroes, John Boyd, said you have to make a fundamental decision to the question: do you want to do something or do you want to be somebody? The magic of this is you really can have both, but you have to pick the right door. Both doors will lead to frustration. The choice to be somebody will make you an expert in what people want to hear and where the system is going. It will feed your ego with each win and teach you how to navigate a system with the right partnerships, the right things to do and the right things to believe. Each year you will risk becoming less and less of the person you once were, even if the organization rewards you.

The choice to do something driven by your convictions alone may pit you against the world. John Boyd never became a general. He never developed executive presence and took on the assignments that would get his name at the top of the promotion lists. He lived in a small apartment and his Facebook and LinkedIn page would have been boring and unnoticed. (Hint: I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have one.) He did change the art of war and gave us our F-16, A-10, and built the science of aerial combat. He made a real impact on national security, but his lasting impact was on his acolytes who went on to change the Air Force and the DoD. His impact lives on.

The choice can’t be more clear. Integrity, conviction and meaning over advancement and ego. It’s Cincinnatus returning to his farm. It’s  General Marshall telling president Roosevelt that general Eisenhower was the better man to lead D-day. It’s George Washington refusing to be crowned King. It’s Socrates taking the cup of hemlock. It’s Martin Luther walking down the streets of Wittenberg with a piece of paper in his hand that will change the world.

The greatest parable is Solomon’s test for the two mothers who both claimed parentage of the same child: who cares more about the baby? When you truly care, you can’t lose. Without Solomon’s wisdom, the true mother would have suffered greatly. She wouldn’t have her baby to touch, to teach and to watch grow. But she could take great joy in the child’s life. There would be a chance for the truth to break free and make all things right.

Even if the other mother “won”, she would live a lie. It would be a parenthood devoid of meaning, filled with guilt and deception. Not living the lie is what bringing your full self means. It means being fully aware of the trades you will make, who you are and what you stand for.

This is all simple when described here, who wouldn’t choose the greater good when it’s described this way? But this gets complicated in Monday’s staff meeting or in your strategy review. Who will you be when you aren’t focused on the questions above? Every day you make decisions that together comprise a life. If you come to forks in the road and you haven’t been intentional about your principles and practiced applying them, then your path will be filled with extra obstacles to find meaning and you risk ending in a tale of sound and fury, in the end signifying nothing. That’s a heavy price to pay for the trophies you get from a happy system.

Christian perspective on Work

I pulled this content out of a longer post meant for a more general audience.

The Bible is clear that God created us to labor. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .” (Genesis 1:28). God designed us for action–to exert energy and employ skill to produce goods for human flourishing. This was all before sin when God “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Work is not a result of the curse! Even the description for woman’s creation was to be “a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18), a helper for what? We don’t need much help relaxing. The exhortation here is to use, not squander, the energy we are given daily through food and rest, to accomplish his mission — the work — he gave us to do in the world. For us, such work is a central aspect of what it means to be human.

Now would this pre-sin work have been free of pain? That is a hard one, but the work we have now is clearly intertwined with pain. Immediately post Adam’s fall, God curses the creation, and he also curses our work:

Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. . . . By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread. (Genesis 3:17–19)

So our work is simultaneously good and cursed. While we hunger for creation to be set free from its bondage to corruption, I’m convicted that a future in heaven will not be characterized by sitting around doing nothing, but more by freedom to work and move and expend ourselves in joy, finally unencumbered by the curse.

Paul loves to talk about work and effort. He tells us that some in the church were idle, refusing to work — waiting, they claimed, for Christ’s imminent return. Paul saw it as a spiritual-sounding covering for laziness. He put himself and Timothy forward as examples of hard work.

You remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

We were not idle when we were with you, . . . but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. (2 Thessalonians 3:7–8)

Paul not only commended hard work (Acts 20:35Romans 16:612Colossians 4:132 Timothy 2:6), but criticized the idle and lazy (1 Thessalonians 5:152 Thessalonians 3:6711Titus 1:12–13). And he was not the first. Proverbs warns against the folly of sloth (Proverbs 12:242719:15) and against the sluggard (fourteen times). Twice we read:

A little sleep, a little slumber,
     a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
     and want like an armed man. (Both Proverbs 6:10–11 and 24:33–34)

The opposite of the sluggard is the diligent (Proverbs 13:4) and upright (Proverbs 15:19). Laziness will catch up with us; it’s just a matter of time (Proverbs 6:6–1120:421:2524:30–34). Laziness makes ridiculous excuses to protect its own comforts (Proverbs 22:1326:13). Sluggards may even think (and say) they are smart and develop elaborate rationales against just doing hard work (Proverbs 26:16).

Paul tells us to work with our hands and to “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12).

Mooches and thieves alike were to find a new work ethic once they came to Christ. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). But! The Bible also talks about rest and underscores the futility of making work and end in itself.

This starts with our understanding of merit and grace. No message about work is more important (and more unique to Christianity) that the idea that work does nothing for God’s favor. Human effort and exertion have nothing to do with “by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24), not through our working, even our doing of God-commanded works (Romans 3:28). The Bible is so wonderfully specific here, our standing before God “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). More good stuff on this in Romans 4:4–52 Timothy 1:9Titus 3:5.

Enter rest. Christian faith itself (justification by faith alone) is the world’s greatest rest from human labor. Jesus invites “all who labor and are heavy laden” to come to him for his gift of rest (Matthew 11:28). It is in this rest that we then exert ourselves with remarkable, even supernatural, ambition for pouring out what energies we have for the good of others.

The desires for this work are driven by the gift of “the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). The Spirit not only produces in us the faith by which we’re justified, but he gives us new hope in Christ, new desires, new inclinations, new instincts. We can then work for love, not fear. Paul says, the Spirit begins to make us “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14), eager and ready to do good (2 Timothy 2:213:16–17Titus 3:1–2), devoting ourselves to acts that serve the good of others (Titus 3:814).

Ultimate rest for the soul produced a different kind of people. Not a lazy and apathetic people. But the kind of people with new energy and freedom, new vision and hope, fresh initiatives, fresh freedom from self, and new desires to expend self for the good of others. The kind of people who have the Spirit of God in them. Max Weber called this “the Protestant work ethic.”

Work vs Relaxation or Why Captain Call is the Villain

Embracing hard things is important. We lift up those among us who work harder, endure more and suffer to get stronger or make the world better. But how much suck should we embrace? When is ok to relax or is choosing to relax opening the door to cowardice and weakness?

Pretty much not Relaxing

Yesterday when I was playing with my 11 year old daughter having a carefree time horsing around and I had a pang of guilt: should I be doing something harder? Of course not. It’s common wisdom that it’s good to horse around with kids and to have fun, with no specific agenda or goal. It’s necessary to be present in the moment and to enjoy oneself apart from achieving any goal. But! While it’s ok, would it be better to be push for something better? That time with my daughter, wouldn’t it be better to aim for some lesson? What if I were trying to make it more fun for her instead of just enjoying myself? The fact is that we can always do something better and can always elevate our impact — delivering more purpose, meaning and, ultimately, the potential for more joy.

The call to a life of unlimited effort is alive and well today. At MIT, all-nighters, an insane course load and failing health due to work were a badge of honor. I remember my first week, when an upper classman on crew bragged to me that she just finished a two-hour team workout that started at 5am after pulling her second consecutive all-nighter. My first thought was not sympathy, but if I had what it takes in this new environment.

It doesn’t get any easier. The professional life is a road race that puts you in constant competition. Also, you start to get a feel for the cost of your time as the demands for your money go up. A single hour of fun could alternatively provide enough money to do something significant for people you love. When I started consulting, this became much more stressful. I could turn an hour of rest into money. When you know the value of your time and can directly convert hours to dollars, it presents a real challenge. Naval Ravikant (investor, entrepreneur) writes:

“Say you value your time at $100 an hour. If you decide to spend an hour driving across town to get something, you’re effectively throwing away $100. Are you going to do that? . . . I would make a theatrical show out of throwing something in the trash or giving it to Salvation Army, rather than returning it or trying to fix it.”

Naval Ravikant

Now he famously valued his time at the start of his career at $5,000 an hour. That is a good trick to focus your priorities, but watching a sunset fall at the cost of 5K is a non-trivial decision if you think about all the good you can do with that kind of money.

The good news is that at some level, we have to sleep, relax and kick back or we die. Since we must relax, there has to be a point when is it ok, watch a movie in flight, or just sit and watch the trees blow — without it being a chance to “reflect on strategy”? Under what conditions is it ok to take a nap or waste time? Do we relax, just so we can run faster later, or do we run fast so we can relax? Put more broadly, what principles govern the balance of work and play? To what degree can we actually enjoy things without feeling guilty that we aren’t doing something harder. It’s clear to me that all meaningful things are hard, but are all hard things more meaningful than their alternative?

I’ve thought about this a lot and one of my first conclusions is to focus on what the right thing is, evaluate your current actions, and do the right thing. Always be honest, kind, just and humble. If it’s hard, do it. If it’s easy, enjoy it. This provides a lot of clarity. When riding a bike, you work hard on the up-hills and enjoy the glide on the downhills. In both cases you are completely focused and acting to reach your destination. There should be zero guilt on a pain free and enjoyable glide down hill. In that case, your optimal strategy is to enjoy the moment.

So that may be pretty easy, but what about when you pause the race, when you step away from fastest way to get somewhere? Stopping the race to enjoy the scenery will definitely cost you, but also give you something. It’s selfish to stop, breathe fresh air and be solely present in the moment, but it’s also necessary.

Yet another Optimizer hard at work

I’ve always loved how CS Lewis gets at this in the Screwtape letters. Joy is a fundamental human need and it maps closely to meaning and joy requires being present in the physical moment. He writes that the demon must prevent the “patient” from enjoying the present:

“It is far better to make them live in the Future…it is unknown to them, so that making them think about it we make them think of unrealities… it is the most completely temporal part of time- for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays” 

CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Operations Research provides an opportunity to understand how to separate the goal from the enablers. Every set of equations has an objective function: the ultimate goal, and a set of constraints that bound the ability to get the optimal answer. To understand how to balance work and relaxation, you have to answer the question of what gives life meaning. There can be many constraints on that objective function: the need to sleep, make money, stay in shape, eat food. But it’s key to keep the constraints separate from the objective. There is no benefit in dying with a six-pack or even of dying with a lot of trophies. Effort, the suck, doing hard things are all about the doing the constraints well– in order to optimize something else. What is that?

The staid reformers of the Heidelberg Catechism asked: What is the chief end of man? Answer: To glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever. The cause and effect are so clearly bound together: act and receive. Glorifying God is work, but it’s also a joy to the believer. Enjoying God is pure rest, and is also joy. Work and rest. Suffer and enjoy. It would be so easy to stop at the first clause, but that would deny the purpose of our creation–we were created, not just to worship, but to enjoy that act. With an objective like this, the “hard things” are embraced as a means to an end. The “soft things” are there to be fully accepted, enjoyed and shared.

Worship as a chief end is not just for the Christians. “Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children,” wrote Derek Thompson in the Atlantic. “But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.” Could work itself be a valid great objective and life-purpose?

But we can dig into this more under the lens of Christianity. While the goal of life is open-ended for the non-believer, the believer is instructed to worship and obey as revealed through an honest and consistent reading of scripture. The apostle Paul emphasized his work and suffering in his descriptions of beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, and hunger (2 Corinthians 6:5). He makes it clear that life in a fallen world is not easy, and the Christian life is described as more difficult, even challenged by demonic forces. In Genesis, physical labor is cursed with friction and obstacles at every turn. And yet Christians are called to rise and face these challenges. Paul’s hardships are shown as a means for the faithful to encounter resistance and endure, not give up.

Paul, Living His Best Life Now

Christians should be the freest people on the planet to work hard because their doctrine liberates them to pour their energy, time and skill and creativity into blessing others. This is principle leading to behavior. It is a good rule to work hard, but to avoid self worth, or even identity based on that work. Conversely, rest is just another activity, and does not confer identity. Work and rest have purpose, when they seek to optimize worship and make room for joy. (I originally had about 8 more paragraphs on the Christian view of work, but pulled that out into a separate post.)

A counterpoint to Christian view is much older, the first philosophers widely considered that enjoyment itself was a valuable pursuit. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Democritus, Aristippus, and Epicurus embraced the hedonistic theory that a good life involved pleasure and you had a moral duty to make good use of your pleasures. You have a short life so you had better do what you can to enjoy living it. Aristotle thought that work made you worse because people who are too busy working don’t have the time to perform their civic duty or develop sophisticated morals. Other philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard and Michel Foucault believe that pleasure is essential in developing selfhood. Foucault thought that embracing pleasure was a form of expressing and developing personal freedom. Kierkegaard adopted Hegel’s view that in enjoyment the individual develops an awareness of themself as the particular individual they are.

Making pleasure a goal doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve always been skeptical of the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of something with broader meaning seems so much more important. Jordan Peterson resonates with me when he writes:

It’s all very well to think the meaning of life is happiness, but what happens when you’re unhappy? Happiness is a great side effect. When it comes, accept it gratefully. But it’s fleeting and unpredictable. It’s not something to aim at – because it’s not an aim. And if happiness is the purpose of life, what happens when you’re unhappy? Then you’re a failure. And perhaps a suicidal failure. Happiness is like cotton candy. It’s just not going to do the job.

Jordan Peterson

However, this post is the result from a recent perspective from a much less holy book I read recently: Lonesome Dove a 1985 Western novel by Larry McMurtry. It’s a story of two different protagonists: one who lives life to enjoy it, Gus McCrae, in another one who lives life to work, Captain Call. Both of them are superheroes of the James Bourne type: put them in front of a pack of bandits or wild Indians and each of them are going to emerge victorious. Gus, however, is loud, talkative and willing to take in the pleasures of life. Capt Call works from sun up until dark and steadily leads a motley bunch of cowboys and former bandits. In the end, however, he is ultimately a coward, using work to hide his pain. His son doesn’t know who his father is, and Capt Call is too afraid or ashamed to tell him. Even worse, his absence of vulnerability prevents him from experiencing joy and developing friendships.

Two Heros?

Several scenes show his power. When his son is threatened by a solider who wants to take a horse, Capt Call easily beats the solider senseless. He endures all manner of hardship to honor a promise and take his friend’s body back to Texas. The natural opinion is to see Gus and Capt Call as a powerful pair who match each other’s weaknesses. The two of them together form the power of their team and their friendship appears to be the bond that keeps the group together.

After more thought, I’m convicted that Capt Call is the villain of the whole story. He has all the appearances of strength, but when it matters he is a coward, unwilling to be happy and willing to embrace the full potential of life. Gus, by contrast, exhibits a deplorable set of values. He treats woman as objects, is an open racist, lacks empathy and is prone towards physical violence. He leaves broken lives in his wake and, worst of all, is oblivious to the pain he causes from his selfish pursuit of pleasure. Some of this is excused by his era and the hard nature of his life. And there is no doubting that he is a clear hero–willing to risk his life to help and save others. He also has an endearing sense of humor. What truly makes him great is his embrace of life. He is willing to work, but he doesn’t serve work. Work is a constraint, not an objective in itself and none of this diminishes his strength.

So what life do you want to live: One more like Gus or one like Capt Call? I want to have hard, fulfilling work, that is seasoned with much joy. I want to have the courage to do the hard things that need doing, but to also have the wisdom to put effort in it’s proper place. I’m very deliberate and intentional about the roles I have: worshiper, husband, father, worker, citizen. I want to do all those things with honor. Really doing those right, especially the first three, requires a copious amount of joy and grace. My children are best served by remembering a dad who was quick to laugh, serve and wait for them, than a dad who was always after optimizing his personal output, growth and accomplishment. Relationships are formed in trust and shared joys and the roles I list are successful only in the context of deeply effective relationships.

All this said, what do I do? First, keep the goal separate from the constraints. The most critical thing for me is to be clear on the goal. I divide the goals into roles. As a living being (health goals), worshiper (spiritual goals), husband, father, worker, and citizen. I picture the life I want to have and the contributions I want to make. I write these down and review them during my daily journaling. Well set goals, shared with your community, provide peace. You can either rest or adjust your goals. They force you to prioritize and decide. The goals you agree not to do are just as important as the goals you decide to pursue. And this is a very iterative process for me. I’m constantly adjusting and learning what I can and can’t do as well as what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Time audits/journaling and sharing your goals with others provide the ideal feedback mechanism.

The constraints are just as meaningful as the goals as they become your personal set of rules. I love this WSJ article from 2015. In that article, Jennifer Wallace writes that “personal policies”

Personal policies are an established set of simple rules that guide your decisions and actions. On the surface, they offer a gentler way of saying no, as in: “I don’t take work calls on Saturdays because that’s my time with family.” On a deeper level, they encourage reflection, help to define priorities and aid decision-making, especially with in-the-moment requests. They can stop you from defaulting to that regretful “yes.”

A Policy of Saying ‘No’ Can Save You Time and Guilt by Jennifer Breheny Wallace

These are also connected to what James Clear writes about identity based habits and Ray Dalio in principles. Rules like: “I don’t swear”, “I go to bed at 10pm” or “I exercise every day” become the type of constraints that form what you get done in life. They should all be tied to specific goals. They make the decisions that lead toward successful completion of goals easy. Just like goals, they require a system that evaluates them. I also have found that community is key. Your spouse or close friends will be a great sounding board for rules that just don’t make sense for you. I’ve found that even the process of sharing them culls a lot of stupid rules. In any case, being intentional here is key. You have to write down your rules. I also tie them to the role they support and the associated goal for that role. I end up with rules like this:

  • In order to be a good husband, I will be sure to call my wife every day, no matter where I’m traveling.
  • Since my chief end is worship, I start every day with a prayer, followed by reflection and journaling.
  • As a Christian, I go to church every Sunday and participate actively in the congregation.
  • As an athlete, I exercise every day.
  • etc.

So, please, enjoy the downhill rides, and the hard slogs uphill. Also, enjoy the stops on the side of the road, especially if you are sharing the ride, because you know where you are going and when you need to get there. Hug your companion. Joke, laugh and watch the sunset. In the morning, run hard, work hard and don’t be afraid to sweat. All these are the constraints. Define your objective, and keep that in mind. Never waver from doing the hard things that need doing. But! Most important, never place effort, work and grit as the objective itself. That’s a bad drug that gives the appearance of meaning, but the meaning get’s trapped and self-consumed without joy to make it fully flower.

If you make work itself the goal, you need look no farther to the austere and empty end that met Capt Call.

Hard Work that is Going Somewhere

Lauren’s Desk

Lauren was using her desk for art and computing. She sketched out a design and I quickly drew it in sketchup.

Desk Concept

We decided to use an existing top from Home Depot. I probably won’t do this again. The quality is really poor. I had a to gouge out lots of loose wood and we used lots of Cyanoacrylate (“CA”) glue and epoxy to fill in the voids and then used my Lie-Nielsen No. 60-1/2 Adjustable Mouth Block Plane to shave off the excess adhesive. The end result was a nice smooth table, but the wood quality was really poor.

Pocket Hole Calculations

I measured my Kreg pocket hole drill bit as 133 mm long and 9.5mm wide with a pilot hole that is 4 mm in diameter and 12mm long (please comment below if you know the factory dimensions). Getting the Kreg dimensions right is an interesting problem. You can some discussion and calculations at this link and folks have talked about this.

Kreg pocket hole calculations

Since I’ll be screwing pocket holes into the legs, I selected 1″ Long Square-Drive Flat Head Screws for Wood, Black-Oxide Steel, Number 8 Screw Size. I will be using glue as well. The key dimension is the 15 degree angle and the key parameter is the distance between the 75 degree offset plane (green above) and the start of the pilot hole. In this case, I needed zero.

To get this working in fusion 360, I wrote this script.

I then drew the desk in Fusion 360.

desk rendered
Desk Rendered

And used cutlistoptimizer.com to generate the layout.

Cutlist Optimizer

I generated engineering drawings for the desk drawer.

drawer

And also generated drawings for all the components.

Major Desk Components

I’ve been generally unhappy with most table leg brackets, so I designed my own. This was pretty complicated, since they were an odd size that I had to cut out of a solid block of ash.

Brackets

I made them to fit the dimensions of the table exactly and use a lag screw to anchor the legs.

bracket dimensions

To build these brackets, I laser cut a jig to ensure I cut the holes at the right places. This worked out really well using my crosscut sled and drill press.

Jig Design

The final desk came together pretty much exactly according to plan.

Final Product

DIY Calibration tools

I had purchased Fowler 52-520-109-0 Dial Indicator with 1″ Travel with +/-0.5% measurement accuracy.

Fowler Dial Indicator

I wanted to measure the alignment of my table saw blade and fence. You can buy tools that do this using the miter slot track with a dial gauge included for about $70. For example, this one:

Example tooling

This had fairly limited travel and I already had a dial gauge. So I designed one. I did the design while I had my morning coffee before work. I cut it while finishing my email so I built this with about 30 minutes of total time. Lockheed provided access to the laser-cutter and also provides the material for hobby use:

Component

I made the part from 1/4 inch think acrylic and manufactured it on a laser cutter (Glowforge). I tapped two M6 holes (5mm hole diameter) in the back so I could get a secure bolt.

Tool in Action

In order to cut this, I used the arrange and post processing with a 0.1778mm kerf:

Part planform

Fusion 360 renders this in a full joint analysis.

Math of the Kreg 720

The Pocket-Hole Jig 720 uses Kreg Automaxx™ to enable one-motion clamping by simultaneously clamping your workpiece and automatically adjusting to the exact thickness of your material (from 1/2″ to 1 1/2″). GripMaxx™ anti-slip holds the project piece secure. The manual doesn’t address how to pick the right screw length or how to set the stop outside of several settings. This isn’t good enough for me and I need to do some measurements and geometry to figure out the exact length.

Basic Block Geometry

I like to be exact. The standard angle of Kreg pocket holes is 15 degrees, the whole assembly approaches the workpiece at a fixed angle to place the start of the hole in the right distance from the bottom of the board.

If I measure this in Photoshop (after skewing to correct for image distortion), I get an angle of 58.1 degrees.

Measure Tool in Photoshop

If I measure it direct (after accounting for the angle of the desktop by zeroing out the surface), then I get 57 degrees.

Direct Measurement

The most accurate method is to measure.

Measuring \(\theta\) via x,y distances

So I took these measurements and came out with.

sd
high point (mm)43.954
low10.10
accuracy0.10.1
Δ33.854
θ57.95648317

So I have two measurements, 57.95648317 degrees or 58 degrees or 57 degrees. I’m going to go with what I measured and refine as I measure real cuts.

The geometry of this is cool: as the timber gets wider, the drill bit translates up at double the degree of the pilot hole to ensure the tip of the drill hits the center of the board. The angle of the jig and wedge is twice the angle of the screw since the drill bit angle has to be half the wedge angle if it is to intersect the base at half the width of the board. It’s designed to bring the tip of the bit out in the center of the edge of the piece being drilled and automatically compensates for the timber thickness. Because of this, if the black slope is 58° from horizontal then it is 32° off vertical and the actual angle of the pocket hole is 16°.

Armed with this angle, I have to do some geometry. Given \(t_{\text{min}}\), \(t_b\) the thickness of the board for pocket holes, \(t_T\) the thickness of the board you are screwing into, \(\theta\), the angle of the jig, and \(s\), the length of the shaft of the screw. We want to find \(D\) the length of the shaft of the pilot screw.

Geometry

From this I can calculate:

$$D = \frac{H}{\cos(15 \deg)} – \frac{s}{2} \text{ or } D = \frac{H}{\cos(\theta/2)} – \frac{s}{2} $$

$$d = \tan(\theta) \, \left( t_b -t_{ \text{min} } \right) \text{ where } \theta = 58 \deg $$

Putting these together from \(H=d_{\text{min}} + d\) we have:

$$ D = \frac{ d_{ \text{min}} + \tan(\theta) \, \left( t_b -t_{ \text{min} } \right) }{\cos(\theta/2)} – \frac{s}{2} $$

I hope to use this some day to make an online calculator.