Monday, April 18, 2011

Josh's Work and Wanderings

[Guest posting by Josh]  Last week was quite a week. So much so, in fact, that I decided to post this entry to the MisFitz blog, rather than just my Facebook page. I don't actually have that many friends on Facebook (just my closest), and some of my interested readers (hi Mom) aren't on Facebook anyway, so I suspect there will be a wider audience on the blog.

Monday started off normal enough. Get up at 6:20, leave by 7, bike like hell for the 7:31 train at Surbiton, detrain in Farnborough at 8:01 and bike the 2 miles to Farnborough Aerospace Centre, shower and dress in the gym, be at my desk by 8:45, then start my day.

In my first week at work I spent my time on five basic areas: 1) attempting to address the various technical and administrative challenges of settling in to a new job (there are many); 2) substantive meetings, often surprisingly productive, introducing myself to various officials and groups within BAE, familiarizing myself with the company and its operations, and trying to build an understanding of how it manages export compliance issues; 3) supporting our ongoing negotiations with the US State Department to resolve allegations that certain company practices violated the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR (BAE hired me primarily as a result of these issues, to assist the company in improving its practices and its relationships with the US Government after the negotiations are concluded); 4) drafting a 2-hour presentation for BAE's April 15th export compliance conference in Oxford; and 5) attempting to manage all of the non-work issues that have become so critical to our lives, such as setting up bank accounts, dealing with housing and customs issues, working out my commuting and travel routines, etc. I spent Monday juggling all of these priorities, with lots of back and forth and a 2 hour conference call on the State Department discussions, a mandatory briefing on company ethics policies (don't be unethical!), banking and import issues, drafting my presentation for the Oxford conference, and arranging meetings later in the week. My last call of the day was at 9PM with our investment advisers back in DC to discuss rolling over my 401ks from prior employment.

Tuesday I was to visit our design and manufacturing facilities in Warton, on the NW coast of England between Wales and Scotland. In comparison to Monday the day was both less hectic, and more. Less, because my itinerary was mostly arranged and managed by others. More, because I was scheduled in 30 minute increments all day long. This time it was up at 5:45 so I could be at the office in time for an 8:30 airport check-in for a company flight to Warton. My office is on the south-eastern boundary of Farnborough airport, so checking in consisted of walking from my office 150 yards to the BAE terminal, showing my company badge and having my name ticked off a list. The terminal may be modest, but the BAE aviation services division is anything but. I had expected a relatively small corporate shuttle, with maybe 10 or 20 seats and two propellers out on the wings. Instead, I got a full security screening with x-ray, wanding AND pat-down (my lucky day!), a departure lounge, boarding cards, priority boarding queues, and a BAE 146 regional airliner with -- count 'em -- four jet engines on the wings, about 100 seats, two stewardesses and in-flight food service. One may legitimately wonder whether full commercial security screening is necessary for a company shuttle on which everyone is a fully security cleared company employee, but it was all part and parcel of feeling like a regular airline. They even charged my department $300 dollars for the tickets. As our friend Rob would say, "They don't eff around!"

The flight itself was very nice. Take off from one BAE facility (Farnborough), fly over lovely central England, and land at another BAE facility (Warton). At Farnborough we are adjacent to the airport; at Warton I think we OWN the airport. It is a huge secure site where we run a number of military aviation programs, including the Typhoon fighter aircraft, Tornado bomber, a range of civil and military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and some simulation programs that look very much like highly elaborate, immersive video games. I spent my day touring the various facilities, meeting lots of company personnel very interested in what I do (that others might find what I do of interest, even if it does directly affect them, is a new experience for me), and attending meetings, briefing sessions, demos and discussions. After it all I caught the 5PM shuttle back to Farnborough, flying down over Liverpool and the Welsh border, hopped on the bike, and was back home by 8:30. It was an amazing day from start to finish, but I must admit for me the highlight was the UAV hanger, where I saw, sitting between a very imposing UAV and a Typhoon fighter, a Pitts 1 Special -- a very small aerobatic biplane that could almost fit in your pocket (I exaggerate, but only slightly). The Pitts has no military application; apparently it was there because some of the test pilots like to keep their toys in the company hangar. Very cool.

Wednesday was much like Monday, but busier, and with more meetings. Much was accomplished; some of it even by me.

Despite all that had happened the prior three days, the week's highlight for me came on Thursday and Friday. Thursday I got up late (7:20, which is a joke for anyone who knows my prior law firm schedule), packed my bag, hopped the tube to Paddington Station (a straight shot from Wimbledon on the District Line), and took a 10:50 train to Oxford, about 60 miles and an hour to the NW.
Paddington Station
From the Oxford train station I walked up the high street, passed the Oxford castle (1071 AD, I think), turned left through the gate into the Porter's Lodge at Magdalen College (pronounced "Maudlin," God knows why), and -- in my own fantasy -- became for two days a student of distinction and peerage at a storied college in Oxford University.
Oxford Castle, now with restaurants and shopping
Part of Oxford Castle.  Probably the extra old bit.
The college was founded in 1458. I stayed in a 300 year old dorm room; ate in a 400 year old dining hall (think Hogwarts); and toured buildings called "New" because they were built in the 1730s. Momentous events in politics, religion and society had been happening within those college walls for the better part of a millennium. Not the least of which, for geeks like me, was the fact that C.S. Lewis spent his professional life as a master in the college. This in and of itself would be of little import, except that Lewis was close friend to, and fellow "Inklings" club member with, J.R.R. Tolkien. Which means Tolkien walked those paving stones in Magdalen College for nearly 40 years, up until just about the year of my birth. English history, Harry Potter and Tolkien all rolled into one.

Since they won't fit above, herewith the pictures:

Magdalen College, exterior
Old Porter's Gate, Magdalen College
President's Lodgings and Garden, Magdalen College
Chapel, Magdalen College
Dining Hall View from the Buttery, Magdalen College
Old Quad Gate, Magdalen College
Old Quad, Magdalen College
I was in Oxford to participate in BAE's annual export control conference, which brings together a small sample of BAE export control professionals across the company for two days to hear the latest developments, meet each other and share ideas in the hot world of ITAR, EAR, EGAD, OGELS, and SIELS. The conference was chaired by my boss. I ran a workshop the second day on "Voluntary Self Disclosures." (The linguistically unnecessary "self" is in there, I think, to avoid an unfortunate acronym.) VSDs are what companies do when they discover they may have violated some ITAR rule or other, and want to come clean to the State Department. As you can imagine, admitting to the US Government that you may have broken the law is a difficult topic when there are jail terms and millions in penalties on the line, so there was a lot of interest in my workshop. I am pleased to say it went quite well. There were about 30-40 attendees, including a member of the House of Lords who acts as an independent overseer of the company's compliance efforts, and they all seemed very excited by the subject and the different fact patterns I had presented them with during the workshop. I could almost have been teaching a course to bunch of undergraduates at Oxford, if they taught export controls at Oxford, which strikes me as unlikely.

I was sad to leave on Friday afternoon, although the fact that I was heading back to see Naina kept me out of the doldrums. I cannot recall another occasion that combined professional achievement with such an inspiring personal experience. As they say around here, it was brilliant.

That's all for now. Dinner is on the stove, laundry needs be hung, and preparations for the coming work week must be made. Mostly that means ironing.


  1. This is great, Josh--thanks for the update! I'm so happy to hear that things are going well, and the trip to Oxford sounds incredible. Cambridge also has a Magdalen College, pronounced the same confusing way as the one you saw, and it's lovely.

  2. I heart all the acronyms associated with what you do, particularly "EGAD", for obvious reasons, as that's what you must CERTAINLY have uttered upon seeing the Hogwarts dining hall. I wish our universities were so lovely...

  3. Sonia, EGAD is my favorite acronym, too!

  4. EGAD -- Export Group for Aerospace and Defence. It's a British industry group. They seem to enjoy their cheeky acronyms over here.


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