Posts tagged “finger”

Joe’s War Story: Clean Break

Joe Moran is a product research scientist at Cogito Corporation in Boston, a startup using AI to decode emotion from voice.

Working as an applied cognitive scientist, I was in the field at Fort Bragg, NC, embedded with an airborne military unit. Our group was tasked with learning about typical soldier maneuvers and the surrounding culture. A few of us (along with a couple of ex-Army handlers) had been invited to watch a “movement-to-contact” drill. This is where a single squad marches to an agreed-upon point, followed by a simulated firefight. I thought this was to be a straightforward observation; it turned out to be a learning experience punctuated by hubris, initiation, and a broken bone.

I had failed to realise what “movement-to-contact” really meant. Assuming we would be safe behind glass surveying a sanitised battlefield, I was wearing a thin jacket, jeans, and decidedly flimsy sneakers. We arrived at the agreed upon start point, and I quickly realised that we were in for a full-on march through woods with no trails (and since it was winter, the ground was muddy and slippery). Nevertheless, I was in reasonably good shape, and confident that I could keep up. After all, how hard it could be to walk and observe at the same time?

I strode off to follow the soldiers. The squad realised we were in tow, and decided to set a pretty quick pace to show us where we belonged; while the officers had brought us in, the rank and file didn’t seem to have much need for us. No matter, we were not weighed down by heavy gear, and we could keep up, even if it meant breaking into a jog every now and then. As we marched along, I managed to get some great photographs of the soldiers in action. After a while, we came upon a small ravine, eight feet wide, with the side nearest us having two ledges that each descended about four feet. The soldiers marched right across, and we soon followed. I stepped down off the first ledge, directly into soft ground and slid down on my butt those four feet. I got right up, and dusted myself off, wiping my hands on my jacket. I looked down and saw my left little finger pointed about 20 degrees off to the left. It was clearly dislocated, and I was clearly past “observation.”

At this point, every fibre in my British being was telling me to keep calm and carry on, ‘tis just a flesh wound. I covered the offending appendage in a coat sleeve and thrust out my other hand for a lift up and out of the ravine. I continued on the march, but soon it was clear this situation was untenable. Either I could continue protecting my darkening finger from catching against anything unruly and risk breaking it, or I could call for help, bring the whole exercise to a crashing halt, and end up branded as the scientist who ruined the researchers’ privileges during our very first observation.

I decided to flag down one of our handlers, who had been a medic. He gave me the classic “Look away, this is going to hurt me more than it does you!”, snapped it back into place, taped it up, and I continued with the observation. I was able to observe the rest of the movement-to-contact, and learned a lot about how this group works.

But this was only day one of a planned five-day trip! If I went to the Army medic, I risked being sent home and unable to complete the research. When I showed the unit commander my injury, he winced, laughed, and gave a broad smile welcoming me to the unit. By seeking treatment in a way that did not impact the mission, I gained the trust of the commander, and our group was invited back for many subsequent observations, leading to lots of fruitful observations about all aspects of the unit’s work.

I got an X-ray when I got home and unfortunately my finger was worse than merely dislocated: there was a clean break through the proximal phalange. Next time I showed up to Bragg, my finger was in a cast after surgery, and the soldiers got a good laugh at the return of “that guy”. From this experience I learned to (a) prepare for the unexpected, (b) not be be headstrong and charge in when I’m not prepared, and (c) improvise quickly when thing do not go to plan!

Out and About: Steve in Ottawa

Last week I was in Ottawa speaking at Carleton University as well as delivering the closing keynote for UXcamp Ottawa. Here are some photographic highlights of my time there. Look for the rest of my pictures on Flickr.


Joseph Henri Maurice “The Rocket” Richard


Suzy Q Donuts.


The Canada Hall in the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Depicting 1000 years of history, this was an outstanding exhibit. In addition to the familiar elements of contemporary museum design, it had just enough realism, sort of the heightened-fakery from a movie studio backlot. The open-ended design enabled an immersive stroll through recreations of the past. As you wandered you could go in and poke around stores, schools, mills, airports, and so on. It was almost like being in a holodeck, strolling through time (and from east to west).


Building environmental control module or splash screen for circa 1974 television news magazine?


Recreation of the Robert Frank image used on the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street cover.


Stickers stuck to poles outside of the National Gallery. I took the picture without knowing what the heck I was looking at, though. It was only when I got my ticket for the National Gallery and was asked to put the same sticker on my clothing did I realize how those poles ended up like that.


That about covers it.

And it was all yellow

The SFChron reports on the man who provided the chili fingertip. The whole affair has been handled by the press about as lamely as you’d expect (hype, sensationalization, etc.) – probably not as bad as Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, et. al, but still pretty bad. But the Chron takes it way into yellow journalism, like something out of 40s-era scandal sheets about Hollywood starts caught in love-nests, etc. Here’s some of the story that seemed most egregious (and let’s start with the photo, above), making the dude out to be as much of a low-life as they can. For no reason, except, hey, it sells papers. This was a front-page story today, BTW.

Las Vegas — After days of hiding, the man whose infamous fingertip ended up in the middle of the Wendy’s chili scandal said Thursday night that his life had been thrown into a tailspin by the case.

“It’s been hell — you don’t even know!” Brian Rossiter, 36, bellowed from behind the door to his apartment at Thrift Suites, where residents pay by the week. He slammed his fists on the door and yelled obscenities as two reporters stood outside.

Rossiter said he had done nothing wrong but refused to discuss the case. He also said he was tired of the media attention and at one point shoved a television reporter before retreating behind the door.

Although Rossiter was terse Thursday night, he held court the day before at his favorite watering hole, the Sporting Chance Saloon, where his bar buddies refer to him by his nickname, “Fudge.”

Rossiter showed off his mangled hand, patrons said Thursday, and asked people if they wanted “to shake the most famous hand in America.”

Bar buddies bought him shots of his favorite drink, a cinnamon-flavored schnapps with gold flecks called Goldschlager.

Bartenders said he had gotten belligerent and then cursed his mother, who lives in Pennsylvania and told The Chronicle on Tuesday that her son had given away his fingertip to get out of a $50 gambling debt he had with Plascencia. A friend at the bar had to drive Rossiter home, about 5 miles away.

Ira Byrd, who lives in an apartment below Rossiter, saw him come home around 4 p.m. Wednesday. Rossiter confided in Byrd that he was having a bad day.

“I asked him why his day was bad, and he asked me if I had heard the Wendy’s chili story,” Byrd said. “Then he held up his hand and showed me it was him.”

Rick Fuller, a maintenance worker at Thrift Suites, said he believed that Rossiter would sell his fingertip for money. Rossiter was three days behind in his $175 weekly rent Thursday, said Thrift Suites chief engineer Alan Sneddon.

“Most people come in here with a story, like they lost their wallet,” Fuller said. “Rossiter just said he spent his paycheck gambling. At least he told the truth — that’s unusual around here.”

Finger Traced to Woman Who Blamed Wendy’s

The finger that a woman said she found in a bowl of Wendy’s chili came from an associate of her husband who lost the digit in an industrial accident, police said Friday.

The man is from Nevada and lost a part of his finger in an accident last December, Davis said. His identity was traced through a tip made to Wendy’s hot line, he said. He said authorities ‘positively confirmed that this subject was in fact the source of the fingertip.’


And now we know.

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