So, What’s Next?

January 9th, 2017

by Nick P. Miller

Knowing that I will be retiring on 15 January 2017, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I’m leaving behind after 43 years of consulting.  And what’s next?  How will I replace the challenge and excitement, (without the stress I hope) and what do I really want to do when there are no longer the time demands and obligations to get “work” done?

Somewhere during my occasional reflection on retirement, I remembered how I felt graduating from college.  After finals and before the ceremonies, the engineering faculty held a dinner in the faculty club for the members of Tau Beta Pi.  I remember the candle-lit dinner and a talk by one of my favorite professors.  His topic was a point he often made in lectures:  there’s a “pedestrian” method for solving a problem and an “equestrian” method.  I loved that concept (one that I realize Dick Bolt subscribed to as well).  The concept was emblematic of the education I got in college – go for the essence of the problem; avoid getting wrapped up in details that don’t contribute to the solution.  (I admit this approach is not always easy or obvious, and in fact, its challenge is partly why I like it.) At any rate, I was feeling pretty good about my college experience.  After the dinner, back alone at the apartment that I shared with two other guys, I thought:  “It’s over.  It was great. It was not without some set-backs, but I did my best. So, what’s next?”

That kind of sums up how I feel about retiring.  Though my career was not without missteps, I loved the basic work and the overall objective of trying to make people’s lives a little better, even if it was only in being an objective voice that recognized their problem.  Just as important were the wonderful, varied and unusual people I met, worked with, worked for, and those with whom I shared a dedication to the discipline of acoustics and noise control.  Starting HMMH with Andy, Bob and Carl was certainly just as important and as satisfying as was the work.  I learned so much about people, what motivates them, what upsets them and what helps them do their work.

I don’t want to give the impression that I fell easily into any of this.  Getting used to consulting and being comfortable initially took at least five years, and really cruising probably took ten to fifteen years.  Adding some humor and occasional light-heartedness another five.  That leaves another 23 years when everything was pretty cool.  I never thought of my career that way before now, but that’s about right.  Weird, huh – half the career getting into it?  I’d have to say that the need to support a family, dedication to the people I worked with and led, and perhaps a bit of grit helped me stick it out.

To answer my initial question.  I know two things – I have to have a routine, and I need variety.  Here’s the list I am building: take violin lessons again (I played for nine years as a kid), exercise at least five days a week, clean the excess stuff out of the house we’ve lived in for thirty-eight years, finish the wood trim on our Maine house, cook dinner for my wife and me (and maybe a couple of guests) at least once a week, spend more time than 20 minutes at breakfast reading, play Scrabble with my wife at least once a week and maybe I’ll beat her someday, check out volunteer possibilities in town, spend more time with family and friends, and learn a new craft, like how to make Windsor chairs.  Of course, I’ll do the usual puttering around the house to keep things in shape.

The reason I am revealing this list is to increase the chance that I’ll actually follow-through, so that if anyone asks me how it’s going, I won’t embarrass myself by having to make excuses.

So there you are.  My last blog on the HMMH website.  If I have more to say, I may put reflections on LinkedIn.  I don’t expect to disappear entirely however.  I’ve made too many life-long friends not to stay in touch.

Best of luck and good health to all.  Cheerio!

Of Noise and Nature

December 22nd, 2016

By Nick P. Miller

I wonder how many people experience the sense of peace and uninterrupted reflection that comes from the “quiet” of nature, unaffected by human sounds.  I know I was aware of how special it seemed when I was vacationing as a kid with my family on Lake Champlain and walked to the shore in the evening.  I heard only rippling of the water – nothing else.  Every time I’m in a place of such quiet, whether a National Park or early Sunday morning at home, I’m awed.

We’re usually not much aware of the sounds around us; so many are worth ignoring.  I think you need an attentive awareness of what you can hear to really register the effect of quiet.  However, if we pause and listen for a minute or two, the multiplicity of sounds may be surprising, especially in a city.  In fact, that’s the only time most people notice the sounds that they can hear – when they stop and reflect.  For most of the time, we tune out and don’t consciously hear the sounds that are irrelevant to us.

There is some science that shows how the audible and visual features of a place interact to convey an impression.  Forty-four subjects were instructed to judge the tranquility of audio / video presentations of 11 relatively “tranquil” locations on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 10 (very much), and that they should judge a tranquil environment as one that they considered a quiet, peaceful and attractive place to be.  The figure below shows the results.   Except for Otley Market and Building Site, the locations are primarily natural.  The combined audio and video presentation ratings show not only the interaction of the two, but that together the resulting tranquility rating is not necessarily an average of the two separate responses.  Broadly speaking, the audio for these 11 locations tends to either support the visual sense of tranquility or reduce it.  That is to say, a place can appear very tranquil, but the sounds can ruin that sense.  This degradation by incongruous sounds is more significant the more natural and beautiful is the visual.

Other studies have demonstrated that locations with natural sounds and landscapes can be restorative and that spending time there will actually clear your mind.  People’s problem solving is improved after spending time in a setting that is predominantly natural.

Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more difficult to find places dominated by natural sounds.  The things we want (thanks for the idea Garret) – cars, planes, various recreational vehicles, leaf blowers – are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to get away from their noise. Even in natural areas you’d expect to be very quiet, it’s possible to hear a chain saw or small plane miles away.  Most ubiquitous are high-altitude jets; at six miles high, they can be as much as 20 dB louder than quiet natural settings; 20 dB louder is a lot – an intruding sound you couldn’t ignore.  And consider that the most beautiful natural places are the ones that most easily lose the sense of solitude and tranquility they convey when human sounds intrude.

I admit real quiet can be spooky for some.  If you’re a city person, enamored of the hustle and bustle, then maybe serious quiet might be unsettling.  But I have found, and I think most people will, that time spent in nature with little other than natural sounds can be a wonderful, memorable experience, later pleasantly recalled.

HMMH Signs White House Equal Pay Pledge

December 7th, 2016

By Mary Ellen Eagan

Today the White House announced new signatories to the White House Equal Pay Pledge. HMMH is proud to be among the first 100 national signatories to the pledge.

“Inequality in the workforce doesn’t just adversely affect women; it affects our families and our broader economy. As President Obama says, ‘When women succeed, America succeeds.’ That’s why today’s announcement is a great step in the right direction and the Obama Administration applauds companies making this commitment to advance equal pay. However, the work doesn’t stop there. We must continue to ask what more we can all do to ensure that the 21st century workplace reflects the priorities and values of the 21st century worker.”

White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett

 

By signing the pledge, businesses agree to:

  • Play a critical role in closing the national pay gap
  • Conduct an annual company-wide gender pay analysis
  • Review hiring and promotion processes to reduce unconscious bias and barriers
  • Include equal pay efforts into other equity initiatives
  • Identify and promote best practices to ensure fundamental fairness for all workers

 

HMMH is also a signatory to the 100% Talent Compact, an initiative of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, which served as a model for the national pledge. The most recent BWWC Report on pay gap showed that the gap for women in transportation is 75% in the Boston Area (i.e., on average, women make 75% of the salary of men).

boston-pay

Boston Wage Gap (Source: City of Boston 2013)

And this doesn’t even begin to touch the work we must do to get more women in our industry at all (a subject for another day). And our firm. We’ve got a long way to go, baby.

 

So Long Leo, the Last of the Three, and Thanks for BBN

October 18th, 2016

By Nick P. Miller

I worked at BBN from 1973 to 1981. At the time, I didn’t know how much that experience would affect my life – my career, yes – but also the many friendships and experiences I would have. You can go on the web, and find as much as you could want about Leo and BBN, so what I want to briefly describe here is my personal experience at BBN, and how that laid the foundation for the rest of my career, which will soon draw to a close. I view this as a tribute to Leo and the company that he, Dick Bolt and Bob Newman created.

leo_bbn_npm_blog

Dick, Bob and Leo

I developed my work habits, my sense of professionalism and the paramount importance of quality, and responsiveness to client needs. Some say BBN had an academic environment. I think it was better. The people I worked with were not competitive with each other, but only wanted to provide the best solutions to client problems. Importantly, the results of our efforts were not “academic” but were practical solutions that helped clients sleep better. We worked together in informal teams, the constitution of which changed depending on the challenge at hand. There was no question that anyone could contribute ideas for solving knotty problems. I loved that – still do.

Because of those experiences, Andy, Bob, Carl and I founded a company that was in our own image of the best of BBN. We worked together to bring in jobs, hire people, mentor the younger, less experienced employees and, as we wrote in our first brochure, “provide an environment that encouraged personal and professional growth.” Luck played a roll, I admit. When we began, “micro-computers” were just becoming available and made our tiny company look much bigger in the quality of the materials we produced. Competition was less at the time as well. We believed, do the best work you can (constrained by schedule and budget), and the work and money will come. And so it did.

The last two times I saw Leo were at conferences. At the 2005 Noise-Con / ASA meeting in Minneapolis, I was eating lunch in the hotel dining room and saw Leo in line waiting in for a table. I caught his eye, and waved him over and we had lunch together. As we sat, I asked what interested him the most these days and he said, not surprisingly, concert halls. He talked about some of his recent experiences and ideas. I said he should stop by HMMH and talk about his work. He replied (at 91 years old – little did we know) that he’d been over a few years ago, and we should wait a few more years until he had something new to talk about.

The second and last time was at the 2014 ASA meeting in Providence. Wherever he was, people flocked around him to talk. I was hoping to catch him alone because I wanted to convey a personal thanks. It was after lunch and I was wandering, wondering what session would be of most interest to me, when I saw Leo alone with his walker making his way to the elevators. I hurried over to him. “Leo, Leo”. He stopped to greet me. I said, “You probably don’t remember me, but….” He said “Sure I do Nick.” “I just want to say that my time working at BBN was wonderful and led me to a fantastic career and I want to thank you.” Obviously, he expressed pleasure with my compliment. I meant every word of it.

Thanks Leo.

Reflections on Retirement: You Can Take Me Out of the Army, But Can You Take the Army Out of Me?

July 11th, 2016

I am closing my fifty-two years of military service. When I joined the army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all my boyish hopes and dreams.

The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away.

And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good-by.

                                                                                                                                                                                   — General Douglas MacArthur Speech before a
Joint Meeting of Congress (April 19, 1951)

 

In no meaningful way could it ever be said that my military career resembled that of General MacArthur’s:

  • I was commissioned through ROTC rather than having attended West Point;
  • I served only a fraction of the time he did (28 years rather than 52 years) during an era when weapons, tactics, and society have completely changed;
  • Except for two mobilizations and an initial four-month training in my basic branch (Quartermaster) I was exclusively a reservist, serving part-time while simultaneously being engaged in a completely different, and non-military, career; and,
  • My retirement occurred by an orderly operation of law, coming as scheduled upon my reaching maximum time in grade rather than as the result of an abrupt relief by the Commander-in-Chief aiming to re-assert civilian control over the Armed Forces during a shooting war

Nonetheless, I feel I understand the sentiment so famously expressed by the General to such a wide and influential audience some 65 years ago this spring. After 28 years of service, I retired from the US Army Reserve on June 1st, drawing to a close something that was part of my life for a longer period of time than it was not.

Much like my year-long mobilizations in 2003-04 and 2013-14, the end of my time in the Army left me with a somewhat bewildering, but not at all uncommon, sense of doing one’s job to the very end, going full steam ahead, until suddenly, one day, the activity just stops. After completing my last annual training this past spring, a somewhat intense two-week stint during which I supported an multi-national command post exercise in Stockholm, Sweden toward the end of April, I flew back to the states on a Friday afternoon and promptly boarded another flight to my final weekend drill in Virginia the very same evening. Naturally, the Army being the Army, they saw fit to have me take a physical fitness test (situps/push-ups/2-mile run) and a random drug test on the Saturday, well, just because. (Actually, that was the month that unit does such things and the PT Test and weigh-in were in fact scheduled well in advance. The random drug test, for obvious reasons, however was not.) “Up in the morning with the rising sun ..” and “we do more before 9AM than some folks do all day”, and all those fine platitudes we soldiers like to spout about ourselves; it was an Army weekend much lake any other I have had through the years. Admittedly, it did take some restraint on my part to resist the temptation to think – “well, what are they going to do if I flunk, kick me out?” – as I grunted out those sit-ups and ran through the light rain, attempting to beat a clock and meet a standard. And so I did, passing my last fitness test. (I will admit to being one of those slugs whose reaction to the idea of exercise is to lie down until the feeling passes.) In its infinite wisdom, the Army also saw fit that weekend to run me (along with my fellow members of the unit) through soldier medical processing and pre-deployment readiness assessment, including a HIV test, cholesterol blood draw, and EKG, the latter two being for soldiers over 40. It was almost the reverse of my entry physical before basic training and in a weird way seemed like a fitting bookend to my career.

That last drill weekend, probably the 300th or so during my time in service, went by extremely quickly as we accomplished our myriad training objectives and I was dismissed from a formation for the last time. And then, poof, it was time to fly back to Boston and go to work the next day, a Monday like any other. No more flights down to Virginia for drill weekends, no emails, phone calls, and staff meetings between drill to coordinate and plan for an upcoming duty weekend, no more slightly nagging but justified concern of an unplanned (and at this point in my life probably unwelcome) recall to active duty with a year-long deployment over yonder. Just poof, soldier no more, thanks for your service LTC (ret) Hellauer. Best wishes and good luck.

For a variety of reasons, including the fact that the unit with which I drilled is 450 miles from where I work and live, and the fact that the person who most would care to have been there after my wife is my father, a retired US Air Force Reserve Colonel, who unfortunately happens to be in somewhat poor health and less able to travel as easily as he might like, I opted to not have a retirement ceremony during my last drill. While my brothers- and sisters-in-arms certainly wished me well and we said our goodbyes during that last drill weekend, my take is that a retirement ceremony (especially for a Reservist) is more a chance to thank those who have supported you along the way, primarily your family but also your employers and co-workers, and your friends. It is an appropriate time and place to recognize those to whom a soldier is indebted, those on whose shoulders (s)he stood and those whose hands provided a lift up; that is, it is a time to thank those without whom career success in the military is simply not possible. Not having Dad, or my wife and kids, or my work colleagues there really did not make having a ceremony in Virginia seem terribly worthwhile. So I didn’t, preferring instead to take solace in MacArthur’s quote and being somewhat content to simply fade from the scene.

However, and rather unexpectedly, my wife Amie and HMMH co-workers conspired so as to not let me completely fade away like the old soldier I have become and now am. Last month they arranged for a surprise ceremony at HMMH’s Burlington office where Amie, one of my daughters (Erin), and my local colleagues gathered one Thursday at the end of the day and presented me with a framed montage of pictures from my military career over the years while we enjoyed cake and adult beverages. Below are some excerpts of a note I sent them out the following day.

Thank you so much for the unexpected and very kind recognition of my retirement from the US Army Reserve.  It really is a milestone in my life and I still am somewhat in disbelief that something I have done for so long and which has at times been source of many varied and intense emotions – excitement, joy, fear, frustration, boredom but ultimately, satisfaction from being a part of something worthwhile that is also bigger than myself – has simply ended, much like flipping a switch.

Membership in the reserves does not work without the ongoing support of families, employers, and co-workers.  Twice in my 28-year career I have been mobilized (called to active duty) and taken a leave of absence from by civilian employer, once for 18 months with a previous employer and in 2013-2014 (a little under a year) with HMMH.  Both times were quite unexpected, disruptive to employers, and came on relatively short notice of around 30 days or so.  I am quite mindful that such time away from work, along with the more mundane (and frequent!) occurrences for drill weekends and annual military training for a couple of weeks at a time, often resulted in additional work for my colleagues to cover my absences and pick up the slack I temporarily left behind.   After all, whether I’m here or not the show must go on, clients must be served, and commitments made – not only to our external customers but also to ourselves, our firm and its stakeholders – must be honored.

 So since that page has turned and I’m not liable to be recalled into military service, I would be remiss if I did not take the occasion to thank my co-workers here and in the past and recognize the support they gave to me, without complaint.  The Pro Patria award HMMH won last year recognizes employers and supervisors.  But I also wanted to give a shout-out to my colleagues.  I vividly recall the an AICUZ project team working long hours on short deadlines during a time that Uncle Sam inconveniently decided that I should have a four-day drill during a workweek.  On another occasion, I also recall several of you helping HMMH respond to a sources-sought for a potential Federal client that happened to be released the night before I flew to Tajikistan last fall and was due the day I flew home two weeks later.  Over the course of my career there have been many such instances, more than I probably can remember, where my co-workers past and present stepped into the breach, held the line, and by strapping on additional duties that otherwise would have been mine, supported my career in the Army.  And for that I thank you.

After retiring and converting my health and life insurance from Tricare and SGLI to retiree equivalents, after having turned in my active Reservist ID card and gotten a Retiree one instead, and after letting my hair grow out a bit more (but not too long yet since I have less of it to work with than I did 28 years ago), I do find myself wondering how much of the Army will remain in me a year from now or when I turn 60 a decade from now. On the plus side, I am flying more and beginning work on my Flight Instructor certificate and having a great time exploring New England by air. I do still find myself wondering my fellow servicemen and women are up to, especially when the weekend rolls around although that too is starting to fade. In the end, soldiering is a young person’s vocation and those who follow in my footsteps are more than up to the task and frankly better in many respects. Looking back and reflecting upon my career taken as a whole, I still can maintain that I got more out of Uncle Sam than I gave in my time and toil.

I do promise, however, that my next blog post will not be about the Army. Like a commencement such as that my other daughter Mary just experienced when finishing her high school career, there is a world of wonder still yet to be experienced, a life after the Army. Being a (part-time) Soldier is something I did, not who I am or what defines me. Retirement from the Army Reserve opens up doors, particularly in my abiding passion of aviation, to opportunities that over the years I typically was too busy to engage in with any depth, despite my having been a pilot for nearly 30 years. To name but one, learning the nuances of IFR operations and the micro-climates found in the vicinity of the airports one finds in the Cape Approach, Boston TRACON, and Boston Center airspace is proving to be quite invigorating and led to a serendipitous discover of a wonderful restaurant in Worcester. Making new friends with the instructors, aircraft owners, fixed-base operator staffs, and controllers, the latter of whose acquaintance is more of a virtual one, gained and pieced together from aural snippets heard over my aircraft headsets while they issue clearances in typical, New England rapid-fire cadences and accents, helps replace in its own way the lost comradery I had with my fellow soldiers.