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from the department of lifelong learning...

March 18, 2007

A View from the High Ground

A week ago last Friday, I got a call from one of my closest friends, Nels Tyring. Many of you may know who Nels is, or know Nels, since he is commonly considered the Father of Control System Integration. If you don't know who Nels is, or don't know Nels, bear with me, because I think this is important for all of you to read. Nels, as is his wont, got right to the point. "Walter," he said, "I've got a problem."

A View from the High Ground

A week ago last Friday, I got a call from one of my closest friends, Nels Tyring. Many of you may know who Nels is, or know Nels, since he is commonly considered the Father of Control System Integration. If you don't know who Nels is, or don't know Nels, bear with me, because I think this is important for all of you to read. Nels, as is his wont, got right to the point. "Walter," he said, "I've got a problem."
He went on to tell me that he, at the age of 75, had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. "I don't know why, exactly," he said, "but I don't appear to be going through the normal stages of what happens when you get this kind of news. I'm looking at it as just another experience." "Maybe," he went on, "it is because fifty-odd years ago I had a chance to really look death in the face, and it hasn't scared me since." I can't imagine anything scaring Nels Tyring. Although he is reluctant to speak of it, and when he does speak of it, it brings tears, Nels, as a young Marine, was one of the few who walked back from Inchon Reservoir, bearing their brother dead. No one who did that need ever explain about bravery, valor, manhood, or fear. He is a most remarkable man. A self-taught engineer, he became an expert on control valves, then on automation and controls, founded one of the first successful control system integration companies, TVC Inc., guided the ISA Publications Department for over twenty years, helped found the Control System Integrators Association, the Industrial Computing Society, and lots of other stuff. As Nels has gotten older, his zest for new experience has continued unabated. For his 65th birthday, I dropped him off with a folding touring bicycle at the Amtrak station in St. Paul, MN. He spent the next week or more, riding his bike across Wisconsin, meeting and talking to people all along the way. He wrote of his experiences, and shared them with his friends. On another birthday, later, he sailed as supercargo on the replica sailing vessel, the Beagle, which sails to the Galapagos Islands every year, and yes, that "old" man climbed the mainmast. It doesn't surprise me that he's looking at what may be the end of his life as "just another new experience." Nels is chronicling his new experience at Nelsblogs. Some of the things he's written are astounding. "I am encouraged by the preliminary diagnosis because it indicates that there is an indication that I am in an early stage and therefore in a position to put up a good defense," he writes. "My reference to 'high ground' is from my old Marine Corps training," he continues, "which teaches that one should hold high ground whenever possible because it gives you a strategic advantage over the enemy. "Cancer is now my enemy and I need to develop, with my doctors, family and friends a strategy and the tactical tools to defeat that enemy. "The defeat of that enemy along with the lessons of the experience is what I hope I will take away from this period of my life. "In all combat situations there is risk but a well-prepared strategy and tactics make the overall risk less and the chances of victory increase. Stay tuned and we'll see how it plays out." The phone call a week ago last Friday ended with him agreeing to write another article for Control! The article is going to be about why many automation projects fail, and what you can do about it. It is taken from a speech Nels gave a couple of months ago at the Northeast Combined Heat and Power Group at UNH in Durham, NH. Nels is like that.

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