Tip of the Iceberg

A spate of identity thefts in recent weeks brings to mind an experience I had the summer of ’78.I was a welder at Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
Written by Richard Stiennon, Contributor on

A spate of identity thefts in recent weeks brings to mind an experience I had the summer of ’78.

I was a welder at Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

My brother and I worked the second shift starting at 2 PM and quitting at 11:00 PM. Most nights we would work overtime until midnight or 2 AM. We were college kids doing honest labor and feeling rich earning $5.45 an hour. Imagine late afternoon in northern Wisconsin in August. The sun is high in the sky, the dark umber steel boat is baking and temperatures below deck get to 110 degrees F. We were assigned to a long seam weld ( the E to D1 section ) on the Edwin H. Gott the last of the 1,000 foot Great Lakes ore carriers. We were given the latest in production welding gear, a wire fed, inner flux core welding gun. The lifers in the ship yard had learned long ago that wire feed welding was a plot against labor foisted on them by efficiency engineers and management. Unlike the traditional stick welding which allowed you to stop every four inches and take a break as you inserted a new welding rod, adjusted your position, smoked a cigarette, with wire feed you can go for ever because there is a large spool of welding wire being constantly fed through your welding gun. Wirefeed.jpg

The only limit to how long you can weld is that the heat from the arc eventually penetrates your gloves and you have to stop before you get burns on the backs of your hands.

Here I have to give a little lecture on welding or the whole point of this story will be lost. As you know, iron rusts. Rust is the oxidation of iron. Iron has an affinity for oxygen, especially when it is molten as in the puddle of metal under your welding arc. So, to keep oxygen away from the metal while it is hot you have to introduce a shield. One way is to use a gas like CO2 or nitrogen to flood the weld with something other than oxygen. Another way is to use a flux which is a bunch of chemicals (Borax for instance) that melt and form a cloud of smoke around the molten metal that excludes oxygen. With a welding rod the flux coats the rod. With wire feed welding the flux is on the inside of the wire.

OK. It’s hot and I am welding at a furious pace. My welding instructor feels sorry for me so he fabricates a way to cool me off. Every welder on the ship drags a big hose along with him (or her) that feeds compressed air to a tool called a jitter bug that looks like a hand held jack hammer with a chisel at the end. jitterbug.jpeg The idea is that you use the jitter bug to clean the slag off of your weld when you are done. Slag is the crystallized flux after it cools. You also use the jitter bug to get rid of pin holes that occasionally show up in your welds. Very small sharp imperfections in structures are called stress concentrations and are usually the place where cracks start. Imagine a big crack growing from one of my welds and breaking the ship in two! (Remember the Edmund Fitzgerald? It was made in a sister shipyard to Bay Shipbuilding and the welder’s lore claimed it was the first ship built with the new fangled wire feed, flux inner core, welders! )

With my own personal cooling device fabricated from a piece of tubing with holes along its length and coupled to the compressed air hose I could happily weld 10 or 12 feet of critical seam at a time. At the end of a shift one day I had doffed my welding helmet, detached the air jet cooling device, snapped my jitter bug into place and knocked all the slag off my last weld. There was a tiny pin hole so, like a dentist going after that nasty bit of decayed tooth I drilled in with the edge of my pneumatic chisel to work metal over the pin hole. Imagine my horror when the edge of the chisel cut through a thin crust on top of my weld to reveal an interior that looked like metal foam. The compressed air bathing me with its cooling influence all day had been blowing the protective clouds of smoke away from the weld as I went along. How much of the welding I had done that day was no more effective a weld than chewing gum stuffed in that seam?

A tiny pin hole was the only evidence of a weld that was completely flawed along its entire length.

I can’t help thinking about this experience when I see the recent rise in reports of successful attacks on large stores of personal information by hackers. DSW Shoe Warehouse, Lowes, Lexis-Nexis, Kinkos, and now Sumitomo Mitsui Bank. The banking incident is the scariest. Banks are very secretive about losses. If they can cover up an incident and keep it from the public eye they will. In this case they brought in outside help to track down the culprits but only after having determined that the attempt had failed.

Is the Sumitomo incident like the pinhole in my weld? Is the rest of the banking industry experiencing continuous concerted cyber attacks on their assets? Are they successful attacks?

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