Reflections on 100 years of gears at Fairfield Manufacturing

Fairfield Manufacturing Corporation, now part of Dana, Inc., just celebrated its 100-year anniversary with an event commemorating this milestone for current and former employees.

Fairfield was founded in 1919 by David Ross, who also founded Ross Gear (now a division of TRW) and Rostone. Ross was a major benefactor of Purdue University (he is the Ross in the Ross-Ade football stadium) and is buried on the Purdue campus. The company remains the largest independent gear and power transmission product manufacturer in North America with around $300 million in annual sales and 1,100 employees.


I was proud to be employed there for almost 37 years; the last 16 of those years as chief engineer. How did I feel about returning to my former employer? I had and have many great memories of this place and time and in some ways, it felt as comfortable as an old shoe and as if I had never left.

I am proud of what I accomplished at Fairfield and for the many fine people I worked with over the years.

The company was founded right after WWI and has endured through wars, the Great Depression, recessions, good and bad economic times including two near bankruptcy experiences, multiple ownership changes, floods and fires. And through it all, it has persevered.

It was a privately-owned company under Ross family ownership from its founding until 1976. The company has been an integral part of the Lafayette community for generations and supplied employment for thousands over the years. It has always been a great place to work and a good corporate citizen. It has trained and provided personnel to many other companies in this and other industries.

Some have asked: In this world of technological improvements and constant change, will the world still need gears in the future? I say yes. Even electric cars have gears and a gearbox as I found out in my consulting work with Tesla Motors in 2014-2015.

I remember in the early days of my career when I was told that gears would someday be made obsolete during my lifetime. I wondered then; What would replace them? Gears and geared devices have changed of course over the years and there is always a lot to know and learn about them. But gears have been around for thousands of years (from about 2600 BC), and I suspect they will be around for awhile longer. So as long as something moves, gears will probably still be involved and needed.

So, cheers to gears and to 100 years of success at Fairfield. I am looking forward to what the next century will bring for Dana-Fairfield and the gear industry.

It’s Not A Mad World Afterall

Recently, MAD Magazine announced it was ceasing the publication of new material; essentially going out of business. This was sad news to me. Like many of my fellow baby boomers, I fondly remember reading Mad magazine during my adolescence and after. I’m sure that this fact and the comic books I also read, bothered my parents, who are now both deceased. But I turned out just fine as an adult despite this.

Photo credit: Norman Mingo, Mad Magazine.

Photo credit: Norman Mingo, Mad Magazine.

What did MAD magazine teach me about life? That the adult world sometimes doesn’t make sense and is not always logical or easily understandable. Sometimes what we are told by so-called “reputable sources” or “experts” is just plain wrong and false.

I learned to not believe everything you hear and read and to not follow the crowd but do ask questions. Always do your own research, seek out and understand both sides of any important issue and to form your own opinion.

It helps to have a good sense of humor and there are many things in life that are funny, such as MAD Magazine. And humor takes many forms. Sarcasm, satire, parody and irony are just some of the ways the magazine employed to make us laugh and think. There is a time to be serious, but also a time that we can enjoy the humor in life.

Curiously so, MAD’s fictional front man Alfred E. Neuman has a remarkable resemblance to Pete Buttigig, the mayor of my hometown South Bend, Indiana, but with better teeth and more symmetrical facial features. Just the thought of that makes me smile.

Neuman’s motto was “What, me worry?”

Worry not is a great philosophy of life and discovering it early on was foundational in my knowledge and understanding of the concept of mindfulness - to be in and appreciative of the present moment and circumstances.

I’ve learned to not worry about things in life that are unimportant in the overall scheme of things (and there are many of these). I’ve learned to be concerned about, but not worry about the things that are important and deserve my attention, and most importantly, to try to discern the difference.

It is good to have a childlike sense of wonder and awe about the world around us. We all need a spirit of curiosity about all of it and to seek, where possible, to understand it. And in understanding, it’s good to have peace, joy and satisfaction about it all.

So, for 67 consecutive years MAD Magazine has been teaching us to laugh at and find the humor in life and in ourselves; and for that I am glad, not mad.

From Soap Box Derby to the world stage

West Lafayette, Indiana resident and Purdue mechanical engineering student Abby Mills just won the 2019 All-American Soap Box Derby world championship in Akron, Ohio. I am happy for her as she represents the town where I lived for 33 years; the university where I graduated, and the engineering discipline I have spent my adult life working at. Bravo for this outstanding accomplishment.

All-American Soap Box Derby

As a young boy in South Bend, Indiana, I remember when the soap box derby was run there. My best friend Rusty, his brother Tallie, and their father Paul, an engineer that my father worked with, constructed a soap box car that won the local event. They went on to compete in the national event in Akron, Ohio. Rusty and I later scavenged some of the parts of that car to make one of our first powered go-carts. All of this reinforced my native interest in cars, racing and anything that moved under its own power.

Tragically, in 1969 Tallie died in an automobile accident. He survived his military experience during the VietNam War only to be killed stateside in a car.

Although I never raced a soap box car myself, I’m glad that bright young people like Tallie and Abby Mills have done so and continue to do it so well.

The Indianapolis 500 and Me


On the eve of the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, I have many fond memories of this historic race. I was born into a family that loved auto racing and the “500”. I cannot remember a time when I did not listen to “The Race” on the radio while growing up when that was the only way to experience it for me.

When I became old enough to attend the race itself, I did, starting in 1968. I well remember Mario Andretti winning in 1969. I had a great view from my seat right across from the start/finish line and the pits.

Around that time, I learned about my grandfather Otto Schafer’s involvement in racing and the Indy 500. Starting in the 1940s, he owned and raced a series of Midget, Sprint and Indy 500 type cars. To my surprise, I learned that he entered, qualified and then raced a car that he owned in 1948 Indy 500 race! That car, known as The Schafer Gear Works Special #17, started in the 33rd position (last) and after only 42 laps finished 25th. That was the only time grandpa Otto entered a car in the Indy 500, but he continued to race his other cars.

Top left: My uncles Dick, Ray Haroon and Norm Schafer at the IMS standing in front of a 1954 Corvette.  Bottom left: Grandpa Otto Schafer. Top right/middle: My first ‘car’ was a Peddle car, followed by my first powered car, a Go-cart, then the first of six corvettes.

Top left: My uncles Dick, Ray Haroon and Norm Schafer at the IMS standing in front of a 1954 Corvette.
Bottom left: Grandpa Otto Schafer.
Top right/middle: My first ‘car’ was a Peddle car, followed by my first powered car, a Go-cart, then the first of six corvettes.

As a car owner, he hired some of the best professional drivers of that era to drive for him including Johnnie Parsons, the winner of the 1950 Indianapolis 500. As a very young boy in the ‘60s, I remember meeting many race car drivers at my grandparent’s house.

Grandpa Otto spent many months of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1955, he was one of the founding members of The United States Auto Club (USAC), which was the Indy 500 sanctioning body from that time on. And just days before the 1970 race, he died while attending a race-related banquet in Indianapolis.

After his death, the flag hung in my childhood home in South Bend, Indiana and today, a replica of it hangs in my house in Indianapolis (the original is stored elsewhere).

I have always loved cars and racing. More recently, I have driven my Corvette around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track many times, which was always a dream of mine. Thanks go to the Corvette Indy club and its sponsor Roger Penske Chevrolet.

So, I am continuing some of my grandfather’s traditions, in that my first job upon graduating from Purdue University was working at the company he founded in 1934, Schafer Gear Works, which has operated continuously for 85 years.

This is a race flag which my grandfather created in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He had many of the famous drivers of the day sign it including Ray Haroon, the winner of the first Indy 500 in 1911, and all the three-time winners up to that time — Mauri Rose, Wilbur Shaw and Louie Meyer.

This is a race flag which my grandfather created in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He had many of the famous drivers of the day sign it including Ray Haroon, the winner of the first Indy 500 in 1911, and all the three-time winners up to that time — Mauri Rose, Wilbur Shaw and Louie Meyer.

My entire career has been in the gear business and I continue to share grandpa Otto’s and uncles Dick and Norman’s love of gears and the Indy 500. I hope that I am making them proud.

Don't make resolutions. Be resolute. The example of Charlie Miller.

My father-in-law, Charles Richard Miller (Yes, my wife Monica was born as and now remains, with me, a Miller) provides an example to me of this principle.

Charlie’s example to me: be resolute, consistent and intentional about the things that are important in life. Always stay true to your values. And it helps to have good values. This applies whether the yearly resolutions are made or not.

New Year’s resolutions are fine, and I have nothing against them, but it is more important and it certainly helps you to successfully achieve them if you are a resolute and consistent person to start with. Any resolutions you make will then be aligned with your values and principles and is an extension of and refinement of them thus making them easier to achieve.

Some background. Charlie at 86 years old grew up in small town Indiana (Belleville). At age 18, just out of high school, he volunteered (instead of being drafted) for and served in the Korean War in the U.S. Navy on the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea.

After the war, he worked for AT&T in a management role. He retired from the “telephone company” in 1989.

CM / Jan 2019

CM / Jan 2019

In retirement, he took up sailing and owned a 30-foot C&C sailboat keeled out for speed and raced it successfully for some years; he was around 60 years old at that time (remember he was and is a Navy man).

In the boating years, he identified a problem; cleaning the underside of his sailboat. He figured out a unique, unconventional yet very effective solution. He obtained his scuba diving certification for the sole purpose of this task. He was now able to gain access underneath his boat while it was still in the water and clean it much more effectively than before. So, there he was in the St. Johns River in Jacksonville Florida, with weights on his ankles in shallow, murky water cleaning the underside of his boat. He never used this training for anything else. Task accomplished. As an engineer, I admire that kind of problem-solving ability and unconventional thinking.

An athlete by nature, he raced and rode bicycles for exercise and enjoyment all his life. He raced competitively in in the masters’ category (age 40 and older) and up until about a year ago, he regularly rode 20 miles or more at a time many days. The sport took Charlie and his wife Janice to the big screen as they appeared in the 1979 Hoosier-based movie Breaking Away in true-to-life roles — he as a racer and she as a cycling referee.

He doesn’t ride his bike as much today but does walk two to three miles per day.

So, instead of simply making a resolution to be healthy and exercise more, he actually did it for decades. And at an unusually vigorous pace.

A self-professed TV man (he was trained in television repair prior to taking his job with AT&T) he has followed and kept up with the technology from the 1950s tube TVs through today. He currently owns five TVs including the latest model OLED display.

Charlie’s example for me and others: Keep up with new technologies, be flexible and always willing to learn and accept new ideas and new things. Be curious about all things. He currently owns the latest Apple watch, iPhone and a recent iPad, and uses them all.

He can and does speak intelligently with me and many others about many topics: sports; both college and pro; cars, TVs and anything electronic, politics and current events and other subjects.  

I don’t know if Charlie ever made any New Year’s resolutions. If he sees something that needs to be done, he just does it. At the time it is needed. Period. No resolution needed. He has led a life of purpose and accomplishment nevertheless. And isn’t that the point? Not bad for a boy from Belleville, Indiana.

Where there's a Will, there's a way

According to his high school football coach, my son Will, a senior wide receiver, has ‘made himself into a football player.’ And that didn’t happen overnight, in a vacuum or in a random manner. Achieving hard-earned goals never do.

Eric Schlene for the Journal & Courier

Eric Schlene for the Journal & Courier

Starting as a youth football player, Will’s commitment to the sport has been obvious, relentless, and fervent.

And during game three of his high school senior season, my son’s dogged determination to not just achieve, but surpass his training and game-day goals were realized.

Will threw for a 41-yard touchdown pass, rare for a wide receiver, and then a few plays later scored on a 61-yard touchdown run contributing to his team’s 45-21 victory. The stadium announcer said, “What’s he going to do next, kick a field goal?”

Conditioning, training, off-season workouts and just plain hard work, both individually and with the team, were his not-so-secret ingredients to transforming himself into a seemingly overnight senior offensive sensation.

When you believe in yourself, anything is possible.

In sport as it is in life, consistent and persistent effort toward the goal of making yourself the best you can be equals success. For anything worth doing, there is no substitute for hard work, practice, and preparation.

Your toughest competitor is almost always going to be you. In your singular quest to achieve your highest potential, believing you can is half the battle.

A time when Will Power had no willpower

Photo by USA Today

Photo by USA Today

When IndyCar driver Will Power became a first-time Indy 500 Race winner on Sunday, he reacted in a most non ‘Will-like’ manner. The Australian, known for being calm as a kangaroo while amassing his double-digit IndyCar career wins for Team Penske, instantly knew this win was different. This was the race that to date, had eluded him. This was THE Indy 500 that Power had just won, and boy did his joy pour out.

He screamed with excitement over and over. Even though he is lactose intolerant, he gladly drank milk from the winner’s bottle – an Indy 500 tradition – then sprayed it everywhere dousing himself and the 500 Festival queen standing nearby. No apologies needed. Unbridled excitement ruled the moment.  

Power was overcome with emotion in Victory Lane and in doing so, it illustrated just how hard he had worked for that moment. His exuberant reaction showed everyone how important that achievement was to him.  

Sometimes when events go really well and a hard-fought goal is met, some people are caught off-guard and react in unexpected ways.

Have you ever felt that giddy child-like euphoric feeling that comes from accomplishing something great – maybe surprisingly so? What was it like? How did it make you feel? Hopefully, that has happened at least a few times in your life.

For me, I got that feeling every time one of my gearbox designs was assembled in the plant and then installed in a customer’s machine. Knowing the customer was satisfied with my design always got me charged up.  And when the US Patent Office notified me not once, but three times that each of my patents was approved and issued, I was animated. For a gearhead like me, that’s saying a lot.

We all can’t win the Indy500, or a gold medal at the Olympics, but we all can achieve an important and valued goal and capture some of that feeling.

Education: The gift that keeps on giving

As my alma mater’s basketball team, the Purdue Boilermakers, prepares itself for what I hope will be a deep run in the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, I’m reminded of how my Purdue mechanical engineering education set in motion my profound thirst for knowledge.

Throughout my engineering career, I’ve never stopped learning. Whether it be a technical conference or webinar, researching and authoring a technical paper or taking a deep dive into a colleague’s publication, I am intentional in seeking out knowledge to better me personally and professionally. And you should too.

Purdue University president Mitch Daniels said, “Every successful enterprise has a very clear strategic purpose.” My personal strategy, one that has served me and my consulting business well, is to be curious and to never stop learning. 

Celebrating National Engineers Week

It’s National Engineers Week (Feb. 18-24) which gives me the chance to reflect on the opportunity I’m afforded to work with so many talented fellow engineers.

Photo by Gazette Review 2018

Photo by Gazette Review 2018

As vice chairman of AGMA’s vehicle gearing committee, it’s cool when great minds come together to talk shop while crafting industry standards.  And in my daily consulting work, I get to help my clients, leading-edge manufacturers in the United States and around the world, with gear and gearbox design and analysis. Finding innovative solutions for my clients never gets old. 

So, this week, and as I did last year, I applaud the talented professionals I’m lucky to work with ― engineers who contribute to society in so many ways.

Rick Miller's technical paper featured in Gear Technology Magazine

Indianapolis, Ind. - Innovative Drive Solutions LLC proudly shares that Rick Miller, president and sole member's technical paper was published by Gear Technology Magazine. Miller's technical paper, "Designing Very Strong Gear Teeth by Means of High Pressure Angles" was originally presented by him at the American Gear Manufacturers Association's 2016 Fall Technical Meeting and reprinted in the June 2017 issue of Gear Technology.

Photo by AGMA

Photo by AGMA

Miller presents a method of designing and specifying gear teeth with much higher bending and surface contact strength (reduced bending and surface contact stresses). His paper shows calculation procedures, mathematical solutions and the theoretical background equations to do this. Read here.

The beautiful music called life

Many have compared life to an orchestra where everyone’s contribution is essential. To make beautiful music together, it’s important to find out what instrument you are best suited for, play it to the best of your ability, and don’t try play a musical instrument you simply are not good at.

Be true to yourself. If you’re an oboe player, be an oboe player, but be the best one you can be. Don’t try to be a saxophone player as there are others who are better suited for it. Find out what instrument you are and play it – only it. We all were created to play a part and to play only our part.

For me, my contribution to the orchestra of life is to be an engineer, something I’ve known for a very long time.

When I was in junior high school, I loved to build plastic model kit cars. My grandmother recognized my bent for all things mechanical and encouraged my hobby by letting me keep the model cars at her house. My 20-plus model car collection resided safely on display in one of grandmother’s spare bedrooms. Had they been in my own bedroom across town, my older brother probably would have smashed them all with a hammer.

My grandmother saw something within me that I hadn’t yet recognized and she nurtured it. She knew I was not necessarily bound for a different career, but one as an engineer or in a related technical field. Perhaps I reminded her of her late husband, my grandfather, who was a mechanical engineer.

So, a lesson here is that even small acts of kindness, caring, generosity and encouragement can make a tremendous impact in a young person’s life. Fifty years later, I still remember hanging out with my model cars at grandma’s house and the significant impact her mentoring had on me.

Grandma knew I was not born to be an oboe player, but would be a darn good saxophone player, and eventually, an engineer.

Sometimes little things can help us to figure out what instrument we are in the orchestra of life, and it may and probably will take others to help us recognize this.

Once you find our niche - your instrument - resist those who say, you can’t do that, it will never work, or we tried that once before and it didn’t work.  People kill ideas if we let them. Don’t let anyone kill your dreams and ideas, and don’t be a dream or idea killer yourself.

Don’t break someone’s spirit, whether that person is an employee, a child, or anyone else. Everyone is an expert at something and you are good at something. Don’t put people in a box and put artificial limits on them.

So, find your part in the symphony orchestra of life. Find your instrument, what you are best suited for, learn to perform it to the best of your abilities and encourage this in others. Accept what your instrument is and don’t despair that you would rather it be something else. Embrace it whatever it is and know everyone’s contribution to the beautiful music of life is needed. This is what you were created for.

The Amphicar: A boat or a car?


During a visit with family to Disney Springs at Walt Disney World in Orlando, I happened upon a one-of-a-kind attraction – a vintage Amphicar ride. In a wanderlust sense of creativity, this vehicle drives on land as easily as it can propel through water. 

In a seemingly outrageous idea that combines two totally separate entities - a car and a boat, the Amphicar performed neither function well. It was not a good car nor a good boat.

The novelty of it even caught the attention of President Lyndon B. Johnson who owned an Amphicar. President Johnson was known to prank his unsuspecting passengers as he drove the Amphicar straight into a lake, much to their shock. 

The Amphicar was produced in West Germany and sold in the U.S. from 1961 to 1967. It was commercially unsuccessful as well, selling less than 4,000 units total.  Some 50 years later, eight perfectly restored Amphicars delight passengers and onlookers alike, with land/water tours launching from Disney Springs’ Boathouse.

By most standards, the Amphicar was a technical failure and was commercially unsuccessful, but failure has lessons for us all.

  • Try something new and unconventional. Sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t, but don’t be afraid to try.
  • Think outside the box by combining different functions in the same device. For example, in the Dick Tracy comic strip from decades ago, Tracy had a wrist watch that performed the functions of a two-way radio, telephone and TV all in one. And today, we have the iPhone and Apple Watch that perform these functions.

Some ideas, concepts and devices are not technically feasible at the time of their invention, or are not commercially successful, at least not yet. Sometimes failure is the necessity of innovation. As an inventor, you just have to dream big, time it right and make it happen.  

Rick Miller issued patent for invention of a dual rack output pinion drive

Patent art.png

Indianapolis, Indiana - Rick Miller announces the issuance to him by the U.S. Patent Office of a patent for a dual rack output pinion drive. 

Issued on December 27, 2016, patent No. 9,531,237 is an invention intended to be used for the lifting and lowering of the legs of off-shore oil rig platforms. This patent is Miller’s third and the second in the last 15 months.

This patent describes a device which enables a single motor to drive a gearbox with two outputs, each one of which is a spur gear pinion which then drives a rack. The invention allows for and helps assure torque and load sharing so that near equal torque is applied to each of the two output pinions.

Rick Miller is president of Innovative Drive Solutions, LLC, an Indianapolis-based mechanical engineering design consulting firm.

Miller has 40 years of experience in the gear industry, including 37 years with Oerlikon Fairfield Mfg. Co. in Lafayette, Indiana, the last 16 years as chief engineer. With more than 300 original designs, Miller helps clients in the United States and around the globe with his gear and gearbox design and analysis expertise, creativity and out-of-the-box problem solving abilities. Visit

Gear Solutions magazine Q&A with Rick Miller

I was honored when the editor of Gear Solutions magazine, the number-one B2B publication in the gear industry, selected Innovative Drive Solutions LLC - my design consultancy business - to profile in its November 2016 issue.  

"As an inventor, I am always discovering a solution to every problem to the benefit of my customers," as told to Gear Solutions.

Read the full interview online here or download it here.

Giving back to the profession that has given me so much

Each year, the American Gear Manufacturers Association Fall Technical Meeting provides an outstanding opportunity to share ideas with others in the gear industry on design, analysis, manufacturing and application of gears, and gear drives and related products, as well as associated processes and procedures.

Photo provided by American Gear Manufacturers Association.

Photo provided by American Gear Manufacturers Association.

And last week in Pittsburgh, the founding location of AGMA, I was among the selected authors to present the results of their work to an audience of knowledgeable professionals from the United States and around the world and to participate in discussions with that audience.


It was a career highlight for me to contribute to the engineering profession as a whole, especially during AGMA’s Centennial Year (1916-2016), while enlightening my peers on a subject I know well.

My technical paper, Designing Very Strong Gear Teeth by Means of High Pressure Angles, illustrates a method of designing and specifying gear teeth with much higher bending and surface contact strength than that of conventional gear teeth. To obtain the abstract, go here.

Miller to present at fall technical meeting

I look forward to presenting my technical paper at the American Gear Manufacturers Association's Fall Technical Meeting on Oct. 3 in Pittsburgh. By sharing with my industry peers the latest methods and cutting-edge technologies, my technical paper - Designing Very Strong Gear Teeth by Means of High Pressure Angles - illustrates a method of designing and specifying gear teeth with much higher bending and surface contact strength than that of conventional gear teeth.

    Innovation for every generation

    It’s National Engineers Week (Feb. 21-27) and there’s plenty to celebrate. Engineers have been making our world a better place since the beginning of time. 

    The first ‘engineer’ was God who, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1) and then marveled at his design. And from that day forward, inventive minds have propelled us out of the Neanderthal era of living in caves to 4,000 B.C. China and when the first evidence of wheeled vehicles were used in rice farming.

    Inventors like Nikola Tesla and Henry Ford challenged norms and changed the way we live. And today, iconic creative minds like Steve Jobs, Dean KamenElon Musk and Burt Rutan continue to dream big and make it happen.

    As always, engineers are solving society’s technical problems by applying scientific principles to advance civilization forward.  

    For those of us who make our living as engineers in a career identified as a “hot job” and those who benefit from our inventions past, present and future, happy National Engineers Week.  

    When opportunity knocks, take notice

    Most people know Bobby Rahal as the Indianapolis 500 race winner from 1986. Do you remember who finished in second place?

    It was Kevin Cogan who today lives in relative obscurity in a suburb of Los Angeles. 

    Rahal went from winning the greatest spectacle in racing to become an Indy car team owner winning in 2004 with Buddy Rice driving across the yard of bricks, to a successful career in business and owner of 16 auto dealerships in Pennsylvania.

    In the 1986 race, fellow Indy car driver Arie Luyendyk crashed on lap 195 out of 200 and Rahal passed Cogan on the restart with two laps between he and the checkered flag.  He took the lead, won the race and earned his rightful place in racing history.

    In an Indy Star article profiling Rahal’s career, Rahal talked about that very day, race, and moment when he saw the opportunity to not settle for second place.  That day, Rahal and Cogan’s lives were changed forever. 

    There are periods in a person’s life when you either go through the door or you never get to knock on it again.
    — Bobbie Rahal

    I often wonder how many people never go through that door called opportunity. Perhaps some never even see the door and miss an opening to go in a new direction, to take a step toward achieving their goals.

    Events in life sometimes present us with opportunities; doors so to speak, and we can either decide to go through them or leave them closed and forever forgo that choice and opportunity; perhaps never getting that chance again. And we can’t always control this (see, Andretti; Mario. He and Rahal each won the same number of Indy 500 races: 1). Sometimes it is simply luck and fortune, although it is often said that people make their own luck.

    Rahal said that in a lot of races (and in life), something happened to put someone in position to win.

    The lesson that Rahal teaches us is that when a high percentage opportunity is offered, take it and go through that door. You may have but a brief moment to consider your choices and the potential consequences. The opportunity to choose may not come again.

    Be bold. Take the action and take the (slight) risk. That is how great things are achieved and how great and successful people act.

    Has opportunity ever knocked on your door, but you failed to open it? Did you miss that one chance in life and it never came around again?  Or, like Rahal, did the decision you made that one day change your life forever?

    Finding space for Martian problem-solving

    Recently, my wife and I watched The Martian, Ridley Scott’s movie starring A-list actor Matt Damon. In this thrilling science fiction drama, NASA astronaut Mark Watney, portrayed by Damon, found himself stranded on Mars, completely alone and with no way to signal Earth 140 million miles away that he’s alive. Against insurmountable odds and with dwindling supplies, Watney refuses to be the first man to die on Mars.  

    To survive, Watney draws upon his ingenuity, his incredible resourcefulness, his engineering and botany skills, and a dogged determination. He solves seemingly unsolvable problems one after the other in a masterful display of intelligence, wit and engineering prowess.

    In the science fiction novel The Martian by Andy Weir, the lead character Watney is portrayed as having earned master’s degrees in botany and mechanical engineering, yet the movie reveals Watney as having a Ph.D in botany with no mention of an engineering degree.

    Whether it be the movie or the novel, with a botany degree and/or a mechanical engineering degree, it’s clear that Watney is one thing – a master at solving problems.

    When failure brought the surety of death, Watney solved problems. And on Mars, alone and left to his own devices for his very existence, he engineered his way to survive and ultimately be rescued.

    As an engineer, I solve mechanical problems for a living. Sometimes the solutions are simple and obvious, but often times they are as mind-bending as trying to find ways to live on Mars.

    I’d like to think I could engineer my way home from an unsustainable planet called Mars, but that’s the folly of science fiction. For now, I’ll keep unleashing my creativity as if my life depended on it from the safety of the planet I call home – Earth. 

    Rick Miller is president / sole owner of Innovative Drive Solution LLC, an engineering consulting firm specializing in gears and power transmission devices.