Being a Competent Human

Monday, February 4, 2008
Here is today's quote from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long: "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

As I was changing the quote today, I was mentally going over the tasks on the list to determine if I was a competent human by Heinlein's standards. Here's what I can do:
  • Change a diaper
  • Conn a ship
  • Write a sonnet
  • Balance accounts
  • Comfort the dying
  • Take orders
  • Give orders
  • Cooperate
  • Act alone
  • Analyze a new problem
  • Pitch manure
  • Cook a tasty meal
  • Fight efficiently

One of these I used to be able to do, but have forgotten due to lack of practice (solve equations). A couple of these have never come up (i.e., "die gallantly"), but I hope that if the opportunity arises, I won't disappoint myself.

My score is 62%, which on a typical scale is a "D." So I pass as a competent human being, but just barely.

35 comments:

John the Scientist said...

change a diaper – oh yes.

plan an invasion – not unless you count the BB gun wars we engaged in as kids, but even then I was more the new weapons designer. I once created a disposable rocket launcher out of the cardboard tube from Christmas wrapping paper, a 9V battery, some assorted junk for handles, switches, etc, and a model rocket with fins cut to fit the tube. Just a word of advice – “C” rocket engines have a magnificent backblast, so if you do try this at home don’t hold it right on your shoulder, as the tube will catch fire – and so will you. The look on the faces of the other kids will be worth it, though.

butcher a hog – helped with this as a kid, I’ve only butchered small game and deer by myself, but I’ll give this a half a “yes”. Hogs are BIG.

conn a ship – yes

design a building – not a real, up-to-code building, no.

write a sonnet – badly, but yes. I write poetry mostly for the spousal unit.

balance accounts – yes, I did suffer through several accounting and finance classes. Watching paint dry and all that.

build a wall – yes. Stone or wood.

set a bone – yes, I have set my own finger.

comfort the dying – done that more than I should have at my age.

take orders – lots and lots.

give orders – I’m not as comfortable doing this, but I do.

cooperate – a big piece of my official job description is “influencing without authority”

act alone – One is the loneliest number at 3AM in the lab.

solve equations – see above.

analyze a new problem – ibid, although I also tend to make new problems.

pitch manure – been there, done that, bought the t-shirt (and had it cleaned). Can’t beat my mom’s stories, though.

program a computer – yeah, I still run simple simulations from time to time.

cook a tasty meal – for given values of “tasty”

fight efficiently – hand to hand, yes, I hold a black belt. I shoot pretty well, but unlike my hand to hand skills, I have never used that skill against another human being. Another half a “yes”.

die gallantly – I hope so, but I don’t know.


Score: 85% A solid "B"

Nathan said...

-Diaper? -not on your life.
-Plan an invasion- Of course.
(success questionable).
-Butcher a hog - doubtful.
-Conn a ship - Maybe a little one
(I can read a chart if that helps).
-design a building - does it have
to stand?
-write a sonnet - no
-balance accounts - badly
-build a wall - see bldg. design.
-set a bone - yes - my nose once.
-comfort the dying - yes.
-take orders - grudgingly.
-give orders - natch!
-cooperate - sure.
-act alone - yes.
-solve equations - not a chance.
-analyze a new problem - yes.
-pitch manure - been there, done
that.
-program a computer - help.
-cook a tasty meal - daily.
-fight efficiently - I may cheat.
-die gallantly - If I can't, my disappointment will be short-lived.

55% + FAIL

Stupid Heinlein.

Michelle K said...

change a diaper - Oh yes. Even cloth ones.
plan an invasion - Probably, but I've never had call to do so.
butcher a hog - No. Which is why I don't eat mammals.
conn a ship - No. I live in a landlocked state! I can, however, rock climb.
design a building - From the ground up? No. But we designed and built rooms in our basement. Including a bathroom. Any points for that?
write a sonnet - Michelle + poetry != good.
balance accounts = Yes.
build a wall - Yup. Inside and outside.
set a bone = No. I'm afraid of hurting people.
comfort the dying - Yes.
take orders - Yes sir!
give orders - Hell yes.
cooperate - Yup.
act alone - Yup.
solve equations - Yup. Plus I can do statistics.
analyze a new problem - Constantly and continually.
pitch manure - Yup. For horses and chickens
program a computer - Barely.
cook a tasty meal - Yup. Over a fire even.
fight efficiently - Only if by fight efficiently you mean "able to run away well." I do know how to shoot, but it's been too long since I've done so.
die gallantly - I hope. But who can tell from here.

14 out of 20 = 70%
15 out of 21 = 71%

So a very low C unless someone is willing to give me points for rock climbing, designing a set of rooms in a building, and running away.

And I think there are several things missing. I mean, being able to use tools to build a house seems far more useful than being able to design a house. And what about wiring and plumbing? I think that's far more useful than writing a sonnet.

Plus, I can do both those things.

Janiece Murphy said...

Michelle, the list seemed a bit anemic from my perspective, too, but hey, I didn't write it. Maybe I'll do another entry some day detailing my own required skill set.

Jim Wright said...

1. change a diaper - yep, many. Also understand the difference between changing boy and girl babies - boys pee straight up, every damned time. Usually all over your last clean uniform, right before inspection at Chief's initiation (that's for you, Janiece).
2. plan an invasion - I don't know about 'invasion,' but I've planned and executed several assaults under wartime conditions, so I'm going to say yep. Successfully too, and I got my men all home alive.
3. butcher a hog - yep, and a cow, and chickens, deer, and moose. Including wax paper wrapping and vacuum packing.
4. conn a ship - oh hell yes, certified in fact. I can get a cruiser away from the pier without tugs and against onsetting winds and tides and then take her wherever you want.
5. design a building - yep, and build one too.
6. write a sonnet - no, no way, not even if you put a gun to my head. I have no musical ability at all.
7. balance accounts - yep, though there may be cursing and throwing and spitting involved
8. build a wall - yep, stone, brick, or wood, your choice. I can drywall and texture it too. Call me, my rates are reasonable and I've got all my own tools.
9. set a bone - yep, including my own (arm, foot, fingers).
10. comfort the dying - yep, though I'm not very good at it.
11. take orders - yep, many.
12. give orders - yep, much better at this than at the converse.
13. cooperate - yep, grudgingly in some cases but I can.
14. act alone - yep, and I prefer it that way.
15. solve equations - yep, depending on the equation, I am unlikely to solve Fermat's Last Theorem before the heat death of the universe, however.
16. analyze a new problem - hey, that's what I'm good at, that's what a good intel officer does.
17. pitch manure - yep, grew up with horses.
18. program a computer - yep, two degrees in CompSci, and certs in seven computer languages, none of which are still in use - but by God if you need some Pascal or Fortran 77 code, I'm your man.
19. cook a tasty meal - yep, including desert and I can get every dish in the kitchen dirty doing it.
20. fight efficiently - yep, at least that's what the medal citations say
21. die gallantly - let's hope so though it is unlikely to come to that nowadays.

95% Pass

However, I think (as has been noted) that the test is somewhat incomplete. And it may be biased in my favor - Heinlein and I have similar backgrounds and outlooks. He was a Naval Officer and a woodworker (and a damned fine one too, on both accounts).

John the Scientist said...

Heinlein skewed things in all his writing towards his own or his wife's strengths. Stonemasonry, mathematics, etc.

I'd add: design a simple circuit, sweat copper pipe, maintain a small engine, fly an aircraft, purify water, reload ammunition, use your @#^$ing turn signal fer Chrissakes (that last one is especially important for me to consider you a competent human being).

I'm surprised he didn't add "speak a foreign language", given his "three legged stool of understanding". But AFAIK, Virginia was the linguist of the two.

Janiece Murphy said...

Um, Jim? A sonnet is a poem. Why does your lack of musical ability affect your ability to write poetry?

Not that I'm messing with Mr. 95%, me being a D student and all. Just sayin'.

And John? Yeah, turn signal, you asstards.

Michelle K said...

Sweat a copper pipe? Isn't that why compression fittings were invented?!

:)

Though when we put in our bathroom, we used PVC because it was a heck of a lot cheaper.

Janiece,
And he didn't even consider gardening. I mean, it's all well and good to be able to go out and kill something to eat, but I think it's just as important to be able to grow food as well.

BAH! MEN!

Michelle K said...

Jim,

As far as changing boy babies, that's why you always have extra cloth diapers lying around. You have one in hand and drop it for cover while you're taking off the dirty, and leave it there until you bring up the front of the clean.

At least that's what I was taught to do. As there are 20 years and four boys between girls in my family (between me and my cousin), there were lots boy diapers to change.

John the Scientist said...

"Sweat a copper pipe? Isn't that why compression fittings were invented?!"

Can't use 'em on a laser power supply. And really, who needs running water except to run a multi-watt UV laser? ;-)

Janiece Murphy said...

John, you really need to get out more. Just sayin'.

Vince said...

Change a diaper - oh so many diapers
Plan an invasion - don't know, haven't tried
Butcher a hog - I've never butchered anything beyond the English language (oh, and German and Chinese - neither of which I remember much of), so that would be no
Conn a ship - ship, no; kayak, yes
Design a building - don't have the theory, so that would be no
Write a sonnet - never tried, but I'm a published poet, so yeah, probably
Balance accounts - oh, yeah. If not, I wasted way too much money on accounting classes
Build a wall - by myself, no; help someone else do so, yes
Set a bone - in theory, yes, I've taken Red Cross courses. But I've never had to do so in practice
Comfort the dying - yes, and have helped do so. It was very difficult, but I'm glad I did it.
Take orders - I'm ex-Air Force, so that would be yes
Give orders - I made seargent, so that would also be yes. I took my job seriously, so I think I did a good job. But it was easier to take orders, especially when giving them to people who are friends and sometimes want to take advantage of that fact. But then I'm sure Jim and Janiece know what I mean.
Cooperate - yep, 'cause sometimes that's the only way to get things done
Act alone - yep
Solve equations - hell yeah, I LOVE math (I'm serious!)
Analyze a new problem - can you actually survive without being able to do this, even poorly? Yes.
Pitch manure - if I have to
Program a computer - yep, part of how I make my living
Cook a tasty meal - sometimes they're tasty
Fight efficiently - if by this you mean do unto the other person before they can do unto me, yes. I can shoot, but have not had to do so at another person and hope I never will. I'm a gentle soul. But I learned how in the Air Force (please, keep the laughter down) and would do so in defense of family, friends and country.
Die gallantly - how can you know? But as others have said, I would hope so

As a huge Heinlein fan, I'm quite familiar with this list. And yes, it's a bit anemic and biased toward what he and Virginia could do. But he sums up his point in the last sentence. Multiple skills allow you to better adapt to change. Oddly enough, this works for businesses, too, although lots of them don't seem to get this.

Tania said...

Well, I don't feel confident claiming to be able to:
conn a ship (I've operated a small boat, but that doesn't count)
I would try to fight efficiently
I hope to die gallantly and nobly
I have no qualifications to plan an invasion

Everything else I've actually been directly involved in one way or another.

Jim, I'm sure you know that the trick to changing boy babies is to have a washcloth or spare diaper handy. As soon as you reveal their offending member drop a cloth over it, take care of the rest of your diapering/cleaning business, and remove the cloth right as you finish up. Baby boys seem to love peeing all over stuff. Then again, adult men seem to enjoy taking a leak in the back yard because they can, so maybe it's just a biological thing.

Janiece Murphy said...

Vince, welcome.

We'll try and keep the AF baiting to a minimum. We have a number of veterans who hang around here, as well as many Heinlein fans, but I believe you're the first AF Vet/Heinlein fan combo.

And not all AF endeavors are laugh-worthy. I have a very healthy respect for the PJ's, for example.

John the Scientist said...

Janeice, I do get out. Since my running water is only for the laser, I have to go out to pee. ;-)

MWT said...

Hmmm. I can plan an invasion or design a building, but like with Nathan's plans/designs, they may not be particularly sound.

I can give orders, but not necessarily get people to follow them.

I can program a computer for certain (low) values of "program."

I do use my turn signal! However, I'd say it would be far more useful if more people would learn how to read car body language.

I've not yet killed my pot of chives.

I can take orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze new problems, and cook a tasty meal.

So, in short: I'm useless. Except for throwing around gauntlets and calling people names. :)

Also: Steve Buchheit is an AF vet/Heinlein fan, isn't he?

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, you may be correct - I knew Steve was a vet, but I didn't know what branch.

Vince said...

Thanks Janeice.

My dad's retired Air Force, two of my brothers served in the AF and one in the Navy. And one of my nieces is an Army MP who is married to a Marine she met in Iraq.

Been a Heinlein fan since I discovered him in high school, lo these many years ago. Even when I disagree with him, he always makes me think. And I have had to replace many of his books more than once because the were read until they fell apart.

Janiece Murphy said...

Vince, my family has a tradition of military service, too.

I like Heinlein for the same reasons you do. I'm not a rabid fan girl or anything, but I've read everything he wrote. And ended up naming one of my kids after a Heinlein character.

Anne C. said...

Here's my breakdown:
Definite No: 2 (Butcher hog, Conn ship)
Have not done, but think I could manage: 3 (Change diaper, Plan invasion, Build wall)
Have done, but am rusty and would need reminders: 2 (Write sonnet, Program computer)
Definite Yes: 14 (everything else)

I'll give myself half a point for the Maybes (2.5 points) + 14 points

16.5 out of 21 = 79% (If you don't count the sorta/maybes, I'm a D student with you, Janiece, at 67%.)

Better than I expected.

(And who didn't guess that Jim would be head of the class?)

Jim Wright said...

Vince, hot damn, we need an AF guy to pick on and blush when we use Navy language. :)

Yeah, I know all about the extra diaper trick with boys. Now. Not then.

I can sweat copper pipe and wire a house - and have done so. I can also change out a toilet and snake a main drain line - which if you own a house you really ought to know how to do, unless you want to pay your plumber's kid's college tuition. Just saying.

Sonnet - well, of the rose are red, violets are blue brand, maybe. Depending on how much booze I've consumed.

Oh - and my internet connection is back up. Whee.

Jeri said...

-Diaper – of course
-Plan an invasion- I learned this in ROTC and practiced on my fellow cadets. I'll give it a half credit
-Butcher a hog – probably not.
-Conn a ship – A small one, I'm coast guard small boat safety certified and we tool around the Puget Sound all the time using charts and our GPS/depthfinder
-design a building – for fun, yes… for actual architect-grade building, probably not - half credit
-write a sonnet - yep
-balance accounts - yep
-build a wall – Alaskan style (Will it work? Yes. To code? No.)
-set a bone – nope
-comfort the dying - yep
-take orders – yep, although I occasionally have small authority problems. I think LL did too.
-give orders - yep
-cooperate - yep
-act alone - yep
-solve equations – in college calc, yes, but I'm having problems assisting the Smug Boys with their math today - half credit
-analyze a new problem - yep
-pitch manure - yep
-program a computer – did this, too, in college but haven't messed with it since – half credit
-cook a tasty meal - yep
-fight efficiently – Efficiently, sure. Effectively, probably not.
-die gallantly – I'm not qualified to rate myself on this one, hopefully my family will give me full marks.

Jeri said...

How about just a few more:

Build a fire
Plant a garden and live off the produce
Plan and execute a family vacation without domestic violence
Write detailed instructions
Make a speech
Clean a bathroom thoroughly (corollary: aim properly)
Sew a button or mend a hem
Change a flat tire
Talk to a teen about contraceptives
Rescue a drowning swimmer

Tom said...

For everyone who's responded, I'm willing to give you guys full credit on the "die gallantly" until someone proves me wrong. That's the kind of people you've shown me you are.

I've done most of "the List" and think I could make pretty good attempts at the rest. Especially if I "had" to. I like Jeri's additions, too. Very practical.

Detailed instructions. I once gave my big brother instructions on how to get to my house, and he complimented me on their usefulness and exactitude. And, this is mh "Big" brother. His praise is not lightly given.

And you all get extra credit for honesty. We're ALL human. Wish I could say that for a greater percentage of the population.

Nathan said...

Not to make you feel lonely or anything, Jim, but you're clearly too qualified. Cyborg much?

Anne C. said...

Nathan, we've long suspected Jim to be a android infiltrator of some sort. Clearly his programmers did not know about "Mary Sues" or they would have made him a little more believable. ;)

MWT said...

I doubt I'd pass the "die gallantly" test either. Most likely if there was a fight for me to not fight efficiently in, I'd die cowering under something.

Michelle K said...

mwt,

If it helps any, my idea of dying gallantly means stepping up to help others in an emergency, not high noon at the OK corral.

I think you'd do just fine with the first part.

Tom said...

Anne, I, for one, welcome our heroic lead android infiltrator overlords!

Michelle, you've just proven my point. That's gallantry, and exactly the kind of thing I was thinking of.

Good people.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jim's a Mary Sue! Jim's a Mary Sue!

And an android infiltrator Future Ultimate Emporer of the Universe. Or something.

Anne C. said...

It's quite simple, really:
The information Jim gathers for the android invasion renders him a hero to the androids. They elect him the Future Emperor of the Universe. Fortunately for us, during his infiltration, he developed an appreciation (the android equivalent of a "soft spot") for humans. He eventually brings androids and humans together under his benevolent rule. That's how Janiece becomes Captain (or was it Admiral?) of his flagship.

Nathan said...

I had a freakin' scout ship! Out there all by my lonesome. WITH MY ASS HANGING OUT THERE ON THE LINE!!111!!

No fucking respect.

Actually, I miss the days of FooeyU! It was a simpler time.

Jim Wright said...

Hah! As I noted earlier, I believe the test was significantly biased in my favor.

There are many, many things I'm not good at - can't play sports of any kind, and no interest either. No musical ability at all, as noted. Can't dance (possibly related to the previous item). And etc.

As to the cyborg thing, well it is true that I have a certain about of metal in my body. However, most of it is of the pins and screws variety - none of it gives me super strength, night vision, or enhanced cognitive abilities, so I'm thinking I don't really qualify here.

And Janiece became Fleet Captain, and then Commodore because she asked - and because frankly she scares me ;)

Janiece Murphy said...

Jim, I only scare you because I remind you of your lovely wife. And we all know who wears the pants in your family. And it ain't you. Or your son.

Jim Wright said...

Actually today she is wearing a spiffy wool jacket and and skirt, thank you very much.

And I am too wearing pants - because she said it was OK