Wednesday, May 30, 2007

'new' pump

At work, we traded a piece of equipment for another piece of equipment from another district. Specifically, we traded one cement pump unit for a different cement pump. The one we gave up was relatively new and reasonably well maintained. I had a few issues with some of the things the crew it was assigned to did, or perhaps didn't do when it came to maintenance. In the end, cleaning up and fixing the things I had a problem with wasn't more than a days worth of work for a couple guys.

The pump we received was in operational, but poor shape. The other district said it was in regular use up until we traded units and I believe that. It's just that it would have been leaking oil like a sieve. That and it had the wrong fluid in the transmissions, needed new filters of almost every kind, and was probably a few jobs away from burning up seals unless they were continually dumping extra oil into the lubrication system. Hey, it worked for them, but we have standards. I can pretend to spin this positively and say it's giving some new guys a chance to do important maintenance and it is. However, it's bothersome that a district can let equipment maintenance slide that badly. We're not perfect here, but I like to think we try.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

fusion: one month review

Newly busted bumper aside, it is time for the one month review of my car. Short version: I like it. Slightly longer version: It is largely what I expected, both the good and the not quite as good. Longer version: read below.

There's a lot about the car that I like. It's a new, generally well-reviewed competitively-priced vehicle. Personally, I like most of the exterior styling which is fairly bold for a mainstream mid-size sedan. I'm glad it's not an Accord or Camry which are just so boring (though the new Camry is a step up from their previous generation). The interior styling is a little boring, but functional. The camel color is working well, but it would show dirt easily if I was a slob. There's a useful center storage hatch on the dash and the storage area between the front seats is split into two sections. There is also a small storage area next to the glove box, but its use is somewhat limited. Fairly standard things like cup holders and a working HVAC system are a pleasant change from the 300E. Buttons on the steering wheel for cruise control and the audio system are common as well, but I'm appreciating their convenience. From a performance standpoint, the engine has plenty of power to get up and go. I'm getting used to where the shifts occur on the 6-speed automatic and it seems very capable. Handling is clean and I've tried to push it a few times by taking corners aggressively. I've gotten the tires to squeal once so far, but haven't gotten the traction control system to kick in yet. The fold flat rear seats and passenger seat are nice, though I haven't had an occasion to use them yet. As it stands, the trunk is plenty large without folding down any seats. The back seat also has lots of leg room even if I never use it.

There are several things that aren't great, but I knew they wouldn't be from the test drive. For starters, the turning radius isn't very good. However, the only times that comes into play is pulling into parking spots. The trunk line is very high and that limits rear visibility. Combined with large C-pillars this creates pretty large blind spots immediately around the car. However, this is overcome by properly positioning and learning to trust the mirrors and paying attention to how other cars are moving relative to me. I'll probably get a cheater mirror for the driver side eventually, but don't desperately need it. As long as there isn't a hobbit riding a mini-bike behind me, the rear blind spot shouldn't be an issue. I suppose driving an F-350 with a toolbox in the back for work has gotten me used to poor rear visibility. Previous complaints about the positioning of the turn signal stalk have faded as I've grown accustomed to where it is placed.

Fuel economy has been ok. It's better than the 300E, which did very badly last winter, but the 3.8 mile drive to work isn't going to change. It does do very well on the freeway with 30 MPG on an open interstate being easy to achieve. There is this high idle period when I first start the car that I assume is to help it warm up more quickly. After starting the car, it idles at close to 1500 RPM before dropping to around 700 RPM after 30 to 60 seconds and it definitely takes longer when it is colder outside. The thing I can't figure out is the way the idle drops from 1500 to 700. It doesn't happen smoothly or all of a sudden, but takes about 10 seconds and seems like it pauses briefly along the way.

There are also some items that I'm discovering as I use the car that aren't all that great. I suppose they're negatives, but none of them really bother me, though I suppose it's hard for me to get too worked up over a car. Some of the items are definitely motivated by cost savings, key to keeping the price competitive. The poor turning radius is an example of that cost savings. Another curio is that there is no trash receptacle in the car. There are places to put some trash like in the little area beneath the climate controls or in the cup holders, but there is no dedicated trash bin. The top storage area between the front seats has small halls in the top corners such that when you open the lower storage area (which involves flipping the entire top one up) things like pens can fall out. I like the split level storage and it's somewhat clever, but I can't figure out why the holes need to be large enough for a pen to fall through. My center storage hatch on the dash has a fit issue. The lid is slightly crooked but not something worth trying to fix. The storage area in the doors seems underutilized. From the sound of things, the part of the door that's not used for storage is hollow and the storage area could have been extended but would have required a more complicated mold. The craziest thing to me is that the side mirrors are fixed. They do not turn in so if I clip a pedestrian that mirror isn't going to give unless it's snapped off.

There you have it. The 2007 Ford Fusion (SE) is an eminently functional daily driver with scads of storage room, strong exterior styling and a clever but bland interior.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


I got rear-ended today. It was a low-speed collision and no one was hurt. The other driver was a teenager more freaked out about what his parents were going to do to him than anything else. His car also fared much worse than mine. Funny how I can relate to that.

My car now has a somewhat ugly bumper, but is otherwise in good shape. You'll have to excuse the general dustiness of the car that might be obscuring what is collision damage and what is just dirt. The frequent lights rains followed by dusty wind make keeping a car clean, especially a dark colored one, rather futile. (Personally, I think the finger marks along the bottom of the trunk section are stylish.) If it looks like the top portion of the bumper along the middle is bowed upwards, that's because it is. However, the trunk works fine and the only thing it lost was a rubber stop that popped out that I was able to reattach. The only other easily noticeable damage is some paint transfer onto the left tailpipe that I might be able to simply rub off. Underneath the middle of the car, there is a very small dent into the wheel well that holds the spare tire. It's small enough to not merit another mention ever again. In the end, I need a new bumper and that's all I can see for the time being.

The other guy's car fared much worse than mine. If you're wondering about the coloring, the hood and right fender are not painted. Aside from the obvious front bumper, headlight, and hood damage, the right fender no longer fits properly. It looks like he fared so much worse than I did because my rear bumper was slightly taller than his front bumper. That's probably why my bumper ended up being bowed upwards in the top middle section. Meanwhile, the top of his bumper is damaged along with his hood and all the subsequent damage as the hood got pushed back. If you're wondering where his grill is, the 1999 Hyundai Accent is rather interestingly styled with no grill. For the observant reader, you'll notice that that picture is from New Zealand and you can see that the car is right-hand drive. Regardless (or is that irregardless) there's no grill on that model year.

I was planning on putting out a one month review of my car tomorrow. It's already written, but now I need to change a few things. I was going to have some comments about how I thought the rear bumper was flimsy, but I now see the value in that apparent flimsiness. The bumper gave ground in a low-speed collision the way it was supposed to and kept the rest of the car from being damaged. It performed very well and I'm very pleased that my car sustained relatively little damage.

Friday, May 25, 2007

let's sue OPEC!

Sometimes, you just have to wonder what our United States Congress is thinking. And with bipartisan support too! It's this kind of thinking that is setting up the United States for its slow, but inexorable decline in the global stage. Hey, let's not change our behavior and habits. Let's blame some other people for our self-made problems.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Eye contact aside, Denver was illuminating for other reasons. One of the other things (aside from making more eye contact) that I was told during my Denver postmortem was that they felt my behavior was arrogant. Not entirely so, but certain things I did (and of course a lack of eye contact that evidently made me seem bored at times) contributed to some thinking I was a bit arrogant. When I heard that, I was genuinely surprised.

In hindsight, and given their explanations, I can see how they gathered that impression. The short response is that they badly misinterpreted several different things. That is not to say that it was not my fault that they misinterpreted several different things. A lot of this goes back to eye contact, or lack thereof, which is very noticeable and something most people cue heavily off of. Obviously, there were other behaviors and acts cited that added to the appearance of arrogance. I am fairly certain that if I engaged in a more typical level of eye contact, my other actions would have been interpreted very differently. Read: not arrogant.

Am I actually arrogant? Mostly no, but I have my moments. However, work is not where those moments come out. When it comes to my attitude at work, the basic driver is that everyone has something to teach me so there's always a need to listen and humble one's attitude. In the same vein, I probably have something that I can teach everyone. Of course, I say all sorts of facially arrogant things, but they are meant in jest and context is important. There was none of that in Denver because it was more formal and serious and I have discovered that sarcasm does not translate well. Any perceived arrogance in Denver was just that: perceived, not real.

The entire sequence has provided me with an invaluable learning experience. Ultimately, it is my image and my responsibility to manage that image. If others misinterpret my basic attitude, that may be their mistake, but it is my problem. Obviously, I get one first impression and that colors how people perceive me for a long time. My experience is that I make generally poor first impressions. Perhaps not poor, but much weaker than I am capable of. The only way to overcome weak impressions is to spend enough time with me either at work or socially and get to know my style and how I get things done. Unfortunately, sometimes there isn't time to get to know me, so all people get are their impressions.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Ah, the sweet absurdity of divestitures. Apparently, some of our presidential candidates have investments in companies that do business in Sudan. And my employer is one of those companies! How utterly shocking. (In fact, the moment I saw the article's headline, I knew it would be named.) The thing is, a lot of people own a bit of Schlumberger. It's one of the most widely held companies in the world with over a thousand institutions holding shares. You may not own individual shares, but that's a lot of different mutual funds and other institutions that you may have a piece of.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

eye contact

Eye contact is my mortal enemy. I also face (no pun intended) a big contradiction when it comes to how I feel about making eye contact when I am speaking versus when I am listening. It is perhaps fittingly ironic due to recent events that the contradiction seems to arise from the differences in how I perceive others compared to how I think others perceive me.

The short version is that I am reluctant to make eye contact with my audience when speaking because they will somehow see something bad in them. I'm not really sure what I'm so concerned about that they might see. Perhaps it's a lack of enthusiasm, which might be real because I am intrinsically enthusiastic about so few things. Perhaps they'll think I'm hiding something, which may also be true because I'm always hiding something. To be honest, whenever I talk to someone, I'm thinking about other things at the same time. Sometimes my thoughts run parallel thinking about topics tangentially related to the actual conversation or I might be thinking about how my moral relativism leaves me on a slippery slope or I might be thinking that I'm really bored by the people I'm talking to and need to figure a way to end the conversation as quickly as possible. Perhaps my audience will see in me all the things I see in me, most of which aren't that great. They'll see every doubt, every piece of contrary evidence, past failures, and every poor decision I have ever made. In my head, I know they can't see any of this. They can't see the doubt, boredom, or insecurity. But maybe, just maybe they can, so I avoid it.

When listening to people, I avoid eye contact because I generally don't believe it will help me take in their message any better. I understand that eye contact at the socially prescribed levels conveys a sense of engagement to the speaker, but I can be perfectly engaged and not look at someone's eyes or at least not look at them 50% of the time. All the things that I fear other people will read into my eyes when I speak, I can figure out without looking at someone's eyes half the time. It's an odd contradiction, but there it is. For me, since I am not accustomed to looking people in the eye the socially recommended amount, it takes concerted effort on my part. That is effort that cannot go towards processing their words and tones and thinking about what their saying while listening to it at the same time. I can look at a person's eyes and face and body language when it is necessary, but the difference between necessary and socially acceptable is quite large.

Perhaps the contradiction isn't so great. It may be a matter of scale. I don't avoid eye contact at all costs, but I don't engage in it very often. I look at peoples' eyes only enough for my sake, not for theirs. I will look at someone's eyes to get the information I need from them or I may even look people in the eyes to make sure they understand what I am saying. But I will not look people in the eye half the time or more just because it is the socially proper thing to do. I am told that making eye contact is an honest gesture. Well, I'm an honest person and an attentive conversation partner should be able to pick that up. I shouldn't have to stare them down until they figure it out. Once again, my arrogance has been mistaken for apathy. Excellent.

In the end, the most likely explanation for why I avoid eye contact is because it's an acquired skill that I have not acquired. To me, eye contact in nature conjures up images of staring and hostility. It's not a natural thing for people to do during a conversation. It's an elaborate song and dance meant to convey honesty and attentiveness and sincerity because people don't know how to simply be those things and don't know when others have those qualities. Eye contact is not natural for me and I suspect it's not a natural skill for most people. I know I need to work on it and I will, but only grudgingly.

Friday, May 11, 2007

image management

I had a very interesting experience in Denver this week. The end result of my time there was not the desired outcome I sought and something I think most people would consider to be pretty bad. Since that sounds somewhat ominous, before I go any further, I should say that I still have a job. As the secret eternal optimist that I am, I have decided to spin my experience into one of learning.

The principle purpose of my trip to Denver was for an internal control (or vetting) process to check a variety of items like presentation and speaking skills, technical knowledge, understanding of safety standards, finance, and other relevant topics. I did not pass. It was not due to my lack of knowledge (though that could have been better), but principally due to my attitude, or my perceived attitude, and behavior. Woe is me for I am so misunderstood! Or maybe I'm just a jerk. But probably not the latter. Or the former. Perhaps like most things, reality lies somewhere in the middle.

For example, my eye contact or lack thereof was one of the specific items cited. I think anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with me knows, or will now think about all their interactions with me in a different light after reading this, that I am not big on eye contact. I rarely look people in the eyes ever. It doesn't matter if I'm doing the listening or the talking. I just don't feel a compelling need to look people in the eye. I understand the significance most people attach to eye contact and I've been trying to figure out why I apparently find it less important and of course I have some theories.

To me, looking someone in the eye to indicate that I am listening to them doesn't actually make me pay attention any better. I understand that it lets the speaker know that I'm listening and that conveys respect for what he or she is saying which raises their esteem for me because I am pretending to find what they have to say deeply fascinating. (Ah, sarcasm is always so close by.) However, looking at someone's eyes is distracting. It allows for the speaker to convey non-verbal messages through facial and eye expressions that could warp the message I am receiving when I want their words and words alone. If I wanted to let their eyes potentially lie to me, then I would look at their eyes. Looking away while listening make sit easier to think simultaneously because I don't need to distract myself with darting eyeballs.

In much the same vein, I don't look people in the eyes when I talk to them. I suspect part of it is my reluctance to allow others to see inside me and realize that I have no soul since I traded it for a donut several years ago.

There were a variety of other specifics cited, but I think the eye contact is easy to understand and illustrate. All in all, it provided a very interesting lesson in image management.