Interview with Instrument Engineer Jim Hardy

Estimated Read Time: 7 minute(s)
Common Topics: old, energy, power, just, small

Give us a little background on Jim Hardy

Born and raised in Miami Florida of parents with roots in Springfield Missouri . So at heart i’m a small town midwestern fellow. Miami was small in the 1950’s but it became cosmopolitan and outgrew me.

I spent a career working in the nuclear plant south of Miami, so claim a vicarious kinship with Homer Simpson. But his rank in the organization was considerably higher than mine.

What are your favorite places in Arkansas?

Mammoth Spring, and the river that flows out of it.

The brick building is a 1920’s hydro power plant, about 400kw, that ran until 1972. The quaint old machinery is still there, including an early Woodward governor..

Eureka Springs , a popular resort town a couple hours west of here.

The small lake behind my house especially in summer when grandkids visit.

The small barbershop in our small town, run by the same two guys since 1960, where you catch up on the local fishing and political gossip. In the interest of a low pressure life they’re only open Tuesday through Thursday.

What are you doing in your avatar and what equipment is shown?

That’s a picture of the nuke plant’s control rod drive system cabinets. Westinghouse PWR guys will recognize the power cabinet. I am hunkered over a tester that we designed and built to enable exercising the system during plant shutdown so you’re sure it will work properly at startup time. That enabled us to find and fix quite a few intermittent troubles, greatly improving its performance. And it made testing no longer a schedule bottleneck which greatly pleased management .

How did you get interested in electrical engineering?

I had the good fortune to attend a high school that offered a course in electronics taught by a practical old school merchant marine radioman. He took us boys from basic electicity through radio transmiitters and receivers, both tube and solid state, and basic logic circuits. To continue into a EE degree was natural progression.

Tell us about your job at the nuclear power plant

FPL believed in assigning a few engineers to ‘hands on’ support of maintenance departments in their power plants. This made the organization more well rounded. So I worked alongside craft people troubleshooting systems, as did my counterparts with mechanical and nuclear degrees.

It’s symbiotic. Helping line workers gain insight into the plant systems improves their effectiveness at keeping things running well. Also, helping engineering organizations appreciate ‘maintenance friendly design’ creates value in engineering staff by avoiding built in design pitfalls. Design will evolve toward smoother running plants.

A course in Reactor Physics let me act as an interdisciplinary interface, helping nuclear engineers with electronics and helping electricals with basic nuclear terminology.

What energy technologies are you most interested in?

Fast reactors that can burn all this waste my generation accumulated. We’ve sent our kids out into the world , if you’ll allow a metaphor, in a fleet of ’67 Chevy’s with all their old worn out tires stuffed in the trunks. Not a great launch if you ask me.

Cleaned up coal because it’s so plentiful.

Natural gas because it’s so clean burning and lends itself to combined cycles with >50% efficiency.

You’ll observe I lean toward steam – it makes so much power in so little real estate and with so little labor.

How do you see the US energy market changing in the future?

There’s an interesting article just this week in “Foreign Affairs” magazine explaining that ‘microgrids’ are useful for getting indigenous people connected to internet, but to create real prosperity and lift them out of poverty takes an industrial scale energy infrastructure that’ll support manufacturing and transport. So I do not see steam plants going away. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-08-30/debunking-microenergy

Wind and solar will stay with us so long as there’s a robust grid to support them . Every kwh they make is a pound of coal that can stay in the ground , and that’s a good thing. And they provide dispersed power sources that might be able to restart a blacked out grid following some cataclysm. Those are the practical reasons for having wind and solar around.

Also there’s the boutique appeal , people who want to can pay their utility to tell them they’re not getting any kwh from fossil fuel . .

I do advocate solar water heating because it’s such a low tech means of energy storage. It was popular in S Florida before electricity became so cheap in 1950’s.

If you were named Secretary of Energy tomorrow what changes would you implement?

  1. I think i’d rescind mandates on utilities to acquire “X%” of energy from renewables. The grid is a machine and when politicians mess with machinery they generally do it harm.
  2. I’d set a goal of practical and scalable thorium cycle power reactors to get mankind an energy source for the next couple centuries. By then somebody should have fusion working.

What would you say are your favorite engineering marvels and why?

  1. Model T Ford , because it was the product of an imminently practical eccentric and had such profound social effect. Planetary gear transmissions in 1908 ?
  2. The Symphony Orchestra . Most folks wouldn’t consider it ‘scientific’ but watching my friend Harry rebuild violins has given me appreciation of the the science in musical instruments. The Orchestra proves that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.
  3. The Apollo space program. We did it !
  4. The slide rule. It got us to the moon. My sister once asked “If aliens landed tomorrow how would you try to communicate with them? “ I said to her “I’d show them my slide rule, it shows we count in base ten and are aware of transcendental math functions. Surely they’d respect that and we could find a way to communicate.”

What got you into boating, what kind of boat do you have and what boating activities are you into?

Don’t know why but I was always fascinated by boats. I loved to read sea stories as a little kid . Dad and I built a plywood skiff when I was in in eighth grade and I explored all Miami’s waterways with his little Evinrude outboard .

I used to sail quite a bit on Biscayne bay, even went to one of those infamous Columbus Day regattas… and fished quite a bit on the reefs south of Miami.

Living inland now I keep just a couple of small boats and kayaks for the kids. I canoe the nearby Spring river about twenty miles once a year for nostalgia..

I do enjoy fixing up old outboard motors just to hear the old things run again, I have probably fifteen of them mostly from late 1940’s through about 1960.

What are some of your favorite hobbies, movies, foods and books?

My hobby of late has been keeping the cars appliances running , for myself and some neighbors too .

I still have an old telescope and enjoy occasional stargazing. And as I mentioned, restoring new life to old outboards and boats.. And Physics Forums.

Movies ? I like light hearted looks at society like “Blast from the Past”,

and character studies like “Twelve O’Clock High” . They present us with good role models to appreciate.

Foods ? Anything I can cook on the grill. Learned recently how good are vegetables drenched with olive oil and garlic salt then grilled. Fair Anne makes a great Shrimp Alfredo…

Books ? I’m drawn to sea stories and light science. I’m a fan of Joseph Conrad , he specialized in character studies.. Just finished “The Sun Kings” about history of solar astronomy solar flares and the like and just started “Pinpoint” about GPS.

Growing up and throughout your education years who were your heroes or idols?

Oh wow,

We kids idolized TV’s Hopalong Cassidy who always did ‘the right thing’ .

I read Richard Halliburton’s tales of hobo-ing around the world and later on Loren Eiseley’s tales of hobo-ing around the US. I admired both for drawing such rich experience from such dire circumstances.

Middle years I liked Kurt Vonnegut for the ridicule he heaped on “the establishment”(‘God Bless you Mr Rosewater’) but later I came to regard him as a sad cynic . I do greatly admire to this day Eric Hoffer, who drew from his experience as a California hobo and migrant worker. Hmmm, there’s a theme emerging, eh ? Maybe it says something about my self image… that’s another story though..

I always admired the characters portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in films like “Spirit of St Louis” and “No Highway In The Sky”, plain folks who focused on what they wanted to achieve and just did it without fanfare.

Being now in my later years I look back at some teachers who expended extreme effort for us kids, particularly my high school electronics and English teachers, and a fourth grade teacher who got the whole class up to where we needed to be in math.

As an early product of the TV age I still offer up a few entertainers as heroes because they set examples for humility and harmless humor– Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Bob Hope , Victor Borge and Danny Kaye. We need more of that today.



9 replies
  1. sophiecentaur says:

    I will say that I recently had a "mini-epiphany" about this Sophie, but alas, I can't remember what it was about.Ask the Matron. She often helps me out at times like this. :biggrin:

  2. Drakkith says:

    I heard someone rattle my cage. :smile:Wasn't me…

    *Puts away the stick and whistles innocently*

    I will say that I recently had a "mini-epiphany" about this Sophie, but alas, I can't remember what it was about. :sorry:

  3. sophiecentaur says:
    John Green

    Mr. Hardy, I loved a comment you made on one of the fora about a year and a half ago (Transmission line voltage loss) wherein you said. "As Sophie says, "Classification is the enemy of understanding.". That comment jibed with lessons that I have taken from life and I should like to quote you on that from time to time but Sophie says mystifies me. So my question is Is there some more history to this quotation? Just who is Sophie?
    Thanks, You may reply to [personal e-mail removed by mentor] if you wish.

    Reference https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/transmission-line-voltage-loss.812451/page-2I heard someone rattle my cage. :smile:

    My point about Classification was aimed at Classification for its own sake, without the backup of any understanding. Arranging items into groups with similar characteristics can be very useful but NOT if one hasn't a clue about what those characteristics actually mean. I speak from years of experience of students trying to rely on learned 'lists' in order to work out a problem. Such an approach gets in the way of real learning and understanding. Rote learning of certain things is, of course, essential and you can't go through life working things out from scratch but you can't work anything out with classification alone.
    "Nature abhors a vacuum" will take you quite a long way in the design of a rudimentary pump and knowing the Periods and Groups of the table of elements will get you points in a Quiz but neither of those can make you a Scientist.

  4. John Green says:

    Mr. Hardy, I loved a comment you made on one of the fora about a year and a half ago (Transmission line voltage loss) wherein you said. "As Sophie says, "Classification is the enemy of understanding.". That comment jibed with lessons that I have taken from life and I should like to quote you on that from time to time but Sophie says mystifies me. So my question is Is there some more history to this quotation? Just who is Sophie?
    Thanks, You may reply to ulao10 at gmail dot com if you wish.

    Reference https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/transmission-line-voltage-loss.812451/page-2

  5. jim hardy says:

    Thanks Guys.  I still remember vividly my parents taking my sister and me to a children's concert when we were eight-ish years old. The moment the orchestra started i was engulfed with a tingling sensation , the sound of the live strings seemed to enter my brain and soothed me clear down to my toes as if i were standing in a cool ,  gentle waterfall..  I wonder what is the neurological affect of music.  A pleasant melody picks up and carries my psyche.  My sister described Mozart's Requiem as "A backrub for your soul."  His Horn Concerto #4 puts me in a near trance,  but i recently played it for my friends and they were indifferent.  We're just not all wired the same,  i guess. Maybe somebody will do one of those science shows where they show brain activity with a scanner . An icebreaker ?   How'd you get to tour one of those ?I took the engine room tour on Alaska Ferry (MV Columbia) ,  and just wandered down into engine room of the Cape May (NJ) ferryboat .

  6. TheAdmin says:

    I think you “Symphony Orchestra” comment was very unexpected and interesting. I’ve also had some interest in nuclear reactors ever since I got to view the inside of a live reactor on a Russian nuclear ice breaker a few years ago.

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