Monday, December 29, 2008

fireworks, buy 1, get 11 free

Yes, you read that correctly, buy 1, get 11 free. That's apparently the standard deal you can get in Texas (and New Mexico when I lived there) when purchasing fireworks. It's emblazoned on most of the kiosks that sell them. See, unlike California (and presumably New York and most other blue states), fireworks can be purchased here in red country and, um, exploded at your leisure. About two weeks before both the 4th of July and New Year's Eve, these kiosks (sometimes tents) spring up alongside the highways and whatnot (who remembers who said that in high school?) and you can presumably purchase fireworks at them. I've never stopped and asked, but it is certainly tempting to see what kind of business can be sustained when you get 11 free fireworks with the purchase of 1. We do some unusual discounts in the business I'm in, but not like this. Coupons not needed either. I suspect it's 11 snap bangs for 1 really awesome firework.

As always, this reminds me of a clip from The Simpsons, which is already online and can be found here on YouTube and here on Hulu (possibly the greatest site ever for watching television online). Watch the whole clip, but I've always been partial to the line at the 0:53 mark on YouTube (or the 0:47 mark on Hulu). And contrary to what I thought, this line is not uttered by Apu, but instead by some no-name character.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

where i am, where i'm going, maybe

I'm in Los Altos still, but I'll be heading back to Victoria tomorrow afternoon. It's been great to see as many people as I have and I'll try to come back more often than once every two years, but there's a lot of world out there to go and see. Once back in Victoria, I might only be in Texas for 24 hours before heading out on an apartment-hunting trip depending on what happens. It could easily be 2-3 days or possibly much more. I'm young and flexible.

So where might I be headed on a domicile-discovery trip? Louisiana is a strong possibility at this point. Like I've said before, Oman fell through and there was talk of going elsewhere overseas. But I've tried to give it a fresh look and the greater challenge for me likely lies in Bossier City. Hey, if I said something else to anyone in the last 10 days or so, sorry, things change, equations rebalance, and life goes on.

All so-called facts are subject to change, plans may get further altered and I probably won't blog much on this topic until I have a better sense of where I'm going to end up. Instead, it'll be quality entries about the weather, air travel, memories yet green, etc, etc.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

blogging while 'home'

I almost never blog while 'home'. Though, I'll admit that in the last two years, I've almost never been 'home'. Home is in quotes since this isn't really home anymore. This is where I'm from, but I haven't lived here for the last four years, nor is it where I'm going to live in the immediate future. It's the closest thing to home right now, but it isn't really home. Where I actually live now is just that: a place I live. It has my stuff, but it's not home. Actually, given the particulars of my situation, I shouldn't even say that since I'm psuedo-homeless at the moment, but expect to rectify that situation in the next week or two.

Anyway, I don't blog while I'm home because I will ideally see most of my readers while I am back in the Bay Area. And I've been doing my best to stay busy and see people and update everyone, but it is a time of flux for me so it's had to express exactly where I am right now. So for anyone who was told one thing earlier in the week, well, it might not be true anymore. Things change and they can change pretty quickly.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

hard driving and slow minivans

I'm back in the Bay Area and driving my mom's minivan for transportation as my own car is three states away. For about the last month, I've been driving my own car more aggressively than normal for about two basic reasons. The first is the tires. There's something about them that's less than satisfying and I've been trying to figure out how well they hold up, especially in cornering. As I have a front-wheel drive vehicle, the front tires are distinctly more worn than the rear tires, but the difference is more than I think should have developed. The second reasons is that for several weeks, I thought there was a strong chance that I would be selling my car so I might as well have some fun.

The minivan is functional and, um, functional. While there is a chance such a vehicle may grace some mythical driveway of my own, that day is a good ten years out. In the minivan, I find that I am almost always speeding in residential areas and in the slow lane on freeways. The surface street speeding is partly a function of generally higher speed limits in most of Victoria and the lack of familiarity with the minivan. The freeway slowness is mostly a lack of comfort with the van since my own car is much lower, smaller, and tighter handling but it's also because I'm on vacation and I'm just not in a rush right at the moment. And I can't seem to get far enough away from the steering wheel.

Friday, December 19, 2008

more blogging from the Austin airport

Hey my three to six regular readers and that strange person who posts comments with peculiar pseudonyms. Msmadeoff? Nice.

Once again, I'm catching an early flight out of Austin in about 80 minutes and will hit the Bay Area around 0900 PST. I did my usual (if there's such a thing) drive to the airport in the middle of the night, then catch a nap in the car. Unlike the Albuquerque airport which is almost totally empty in the middle of the night and I was once the very first person through the security checkpoint, the Austin airport has people coming and going at all hours. When I pulled up to the airport around 0300, there was a line of cars exiting the airport. Then again, AUS is a bit bigger than ABQ, and yet they don't have wireless internet (I have a broadband card) like ABQ and SJC. And I can't find a store that sells the Wall Street Journal. I always knew there was something seriously wrong with this state.

Anyway, I'm able to come back to the Bay Area, because I am not in the middle of moving far, far away. I might be at the start of moving far, far away, but the first attempt was aborted and we'll see how this one plays out. As such, I'll be back all week before returning to Victoria, wrapping out more closure business, then perhaps going somewhere, but who knows where because it's so dynamic and everyone loves dynamism.

slightly more clarification

Slightly more clarification on my next work assignment. I received my letter this week to go overseas, this time somewhere in Europe (I'll be more specific later). I've accepted (again), already e-mailed stuff to personnel to start the visa process for this country, and we shall see how this plays out. There's always Bossier which was a good assignment offer as well, but this is my chance to go overseas and do something a little different.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

back in California again!

Previously, word on the street was that I would not be in California around the time of the various year end holidays. Lies, all lies, albeit mostly told by me. I will be back starting tomorrow and be around all next week. Oh yes, and I'm going somewhere else for work now, probably, maybe.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

electric football video clip

Success! Check it out, a clip featuring electric football from The Simpsons.

Inspired by this most excellent blog post. Really now, how much fun does it look like it could be. I always knew my childhood was missing something. A big gaping hole called electric football!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

found my box

I found my missing box - inside of another box. Ha!

Monday, December 15, 2008

where oh where did I put that one box?

One of the last boxes I packed when I moved out of my apartment had a couple books and some other miscellaneous items I wanted to be easily accessible. It was that box of stuff that ends up being the last few small items left when you clean out a domicile that you're still living in (but not toiletries or kitchenware). And now I cannot find that box.

It's frustrating because except for one novel, I cannot remember what else was in the box. When I go through my car and storage space and even the couple boxes of work materials in the shop at work, I cannot figure out what else was in that box I packed.

Of course, the most frustrating part is that I cannot find this box in what is a very limited area. My worst case scenario is that I didn't put it in my car, but left it on my roof and drove off and will never see it again. The slightly less worse scenario is that my car was broken into and that box was the only thing taken, which doesn't really make sense for several reasons. The most likely scenario is that the box doesn't exist quite in the form I remember and that I need to make another pass through my stuff looking, specifically for the one novel I know about and the other books which I'm pretty sure I'll know when I see them.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

old papers

I've been going through old everythings in the still possible event that I transfer overseas. In such an event, I am likely to move the bare minimum with me which in this case would equal computers (work and personal), clothes, small personal effects, and whatever will fit in standard airline luggage plus one extra overweight bag. Even if I don't end up overseas (which means I get to take my furniture, tools, car, kitchenware, soft goods, etc with me) this is still a good exercise to go through to winnow down all the things that I have (or used to have).

This has included paperwork and records, things like old checks, bank statements, receipts, old apartment leases, and some of the original materials I had with me when I first interviewed where. I found an old resume from four years ago along with some sample questions and answers that I prepared to make sure I'd stay on all my talking points and not forget about examples of whatever they might ask about. Looking at what used to be on my resume and the kinds of answers I would have given to some stock and not-so-stock interview questions, it's amazing how much my answers have changed given the last four years. Almost all my old preparation is dated now, even a lot of my methodology. The experiences I've had in the last four years trump almost all my college-era experiences.

I'm the same core person, for better or worse, but there's been a lot of shaping and a lot of hardening. All in all, college was a lot of fun, there's no denying that. There's a certain lack of responsibility that accompanies being a college student since it's not the so-called 'real world'. Work has often been fun, especially out in the field getting a job done on a given day (or two). It has to be to make some of the rest of what goes on worthwhile. But at the end of the day, this is serious, this is a business and it gets played for keeps. Actually, it doesn't get played at all. It gets taken very seriously when you boil it all down to its essence. This is peoples' jobs, livelihoods, safety, health, and everything that impacts the type of life someone tries to build for himself.

I can't seem to get away from these posts. They start somewhere else, but they always circle back to trying to get a handle on the essence of the experience that I have had, especially in the last year. I know what has happened since I moved from Farmington, pretty sure about most of what I've learned, but I just haven't figured out how it's changed me, if at all.

electric football

I was reading this post about electric football the other day and nearly fell out of my chair laughing. I'm not sure what exactly put me over the edge from mere humor to uproarious laughter. I suppose I needed to laugh since I hadn't had a good chuckle in a couple of days. It was one of those times when you just need to find something funny and the right thing comes around and you just laugh and laugh and laugh and it feels so good, so absurdly good. Of course, with slick advertising like this how could anyone resist how much fun electric football looked like it could be?

It should come as no surprise that this reminded me of a clip from The Simpsons, a clip which I cannot find anywhere on the intertubes. A problem that I may be able to remedy, albeit potentially only temporarily since it would involve copyright infringement. But perhaps if I exhort clip viewers to buy copious copies of The Simpsons on DVD in the summary section then I won't be forced to remove the clip.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

change of plans

I just found out that I'm not going to Oman. Change of plans, change in program. I'm not sure yet where I'll be going instead, but it might be back to Bossier. We shall see.

Friday, December 05, 2008

out of my apartment, last week

I think I was fairly vague about what I was doing leading up to my visit back to the Bay Area last week. So, due to various circumstances, mostly the initial expectation that I would be in Bossier City by last week, my apartment lease ended at the end of November and when I realized that it would be really helpful to stay another couple days or weeks, they told me that I had to get out since they had another tenant lined up. And then last Monday I decided to come home last week for Thanksgiving. So, I had about two days to clear out of my apartment and catch a 0710 flight out of Austin on Thursday.

The plan was simple enough. The execution would prove difficult without help. And slightly more time consuming than planned but I attribute that to ongoing deconstruction at work. So, outside of one run made with a borrowed pick-up, I apparently own about a dozen Ford Fusion loads of inefficiently packed stuff. (I wasn't exactly counting nor was I going for style, just getting out.) I have learned that the only things I own that don't fit in my car are my bed and some wire shelves that I couldn't break apart (and will probably not move with me). I disassembled my dresser and futon to get those items into my car. Flat pack furniture rocks. And it makes me look oh so grown up.

All my stuff, at least what made the first cut, now resides in a 10' by 15' storage space and it would probably fit in a 10' by 10' space if I had even tried to pack it more efficiently. The minimal furniture lifestyle is really paying off. There will be further winnowing down, but not as severely as originally planned. I've learned that I will need to eventually obtain housing when I get to Muscat so I will probably hold onto most of my furniture, but this is a good time to take a pretty dispassionate look at all the crap I own.

The curious reader will probably wonder where I am spending my evenings right now since I am back in Victoria. I spent my first night in my car since I got into town so late and by the time I was done catching up at the yard it was well past midnight. Since then, I've been at a cheap hotel that we put out-of-town field personnel in. But I'll be crashing a couple nights elsewhere next and then probably come back to the hotel. And then after that, I am trying to use up my accrued vacation time.

How? I have a crazy scheme that involves getting my moving estimates next week, coming back to California at the end of it, seeing some people I didn't see last week, leaving some more stuff behind in my room, but I'll clean it up more this time, coming back here, moving my stuff, one last look around, shipping out, having a suspiciously long layover in New York, then continuing on to my final destination in Oman. It just might work. Or not at all. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

i got my visa, not the credit card

When I got back to work, I found that my visa, at least the short-term one to enter and piddle about (read: work) for a few days (or weeks? or months?) Anyway, I still don't have a good timeline nailed down so I'm trying to pull off a scenario where I can burn the rest of my vacation time. Oh, and contrary to what I had been told at first, housing is not provided. Argh. My frustration is not with having to find a place to live, but with trying to get three quotes to move my stuff. And I still won't move all of it. Probably.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

more back-dated posts

Alright, I'm working on a slew of back-dated posts that I meant to get to, but circumstances (read: life) got in the way. But I'm back, and once again, with a vengeance. Links:

Holiday travel

Home for Thanksgiving!

Oman, got my letter

Bailouts, a follow up

holiday travel

I'm blogging from the Austin airport. I've never flown on or around Thanksgiving. It's not too bad, but there was definitely a good surge of people here earlier. I'm only still on the ground because my flight was delayed and amazingly enough, it didn't have to do with holiday crowds or the ridiculous fog that covers Texas from at least Victoria to Austin. Sick flight crew, a substitute lags by two hours in order for them to get sufficient rest as per FAA rules. Kind of like DOT rules, but probably much more strict and more easily enforced.

Anyway, the Austin airport parking lot needs some serious work, but at least the airport was easy to find, despite the fog. Once again, I did my somewhat strange, drive-during-the-middle-of-the-night-for-an-early-flight-at-an-airport-that-is-a-couple-hours-away-thing. If you're unfamiliar with what this consists of, let's say I have a 0700 flight so I'd like to target getting here by 0530. No, am I likely going to get up at 0200, leave by 0300 and make that 2.5 hour drive? No, so what I like to do is leave at 2200-2300 the night before and sleep in the airport parking lot for a couple hours. I'm usually more awake while driving and will almost certainly not oversleep in the awesomeness that is my Fusion. The fundamental basis for this strategy is that I am a night person (which is a good thing considering what I do at work) and not an early morning person. This trip was somewhat muddled by my desperate, but successful attempt to fully vacate my apartment over the last two days while still spending the daylight hours at work. Once again, I can claim to have successfully moved everything I own by myself. This time into a storage facility in Victoria. It's a long story, perhaps to be shared later.

Amusingly enough, I am using my work laptop (so I can check e-mails at the same time) and have yet to use my MacBook for much other than music and DVDs so far. But it is making the trip home with me so I'll play around with it a bit.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

home for thanksgiving!

I know this is late breaking, but I will be home for Thanksgiving. I'm flying back to the Bay Area Thursday morning and leave around midday Monday. Cell number still from the 505.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

oman, got my letter

I have received my official letter to go to Oman last week. I have sent the requested materials in to start the visa paperwork, but do not know when I will be there, in Victoria, on more vacation (I either need to use up my accrued time or cash it out), or possibly bouncing between districts that are nearby to help out. I will almost certianly not be home on or around Christmas as originally planned.

Monday, November 24, 2008

bailouts, a follow-up

I was glad to see that my last post on bailouts engendered (what a great word) so much response. This is my attempt to address the comments made.

The economy is going to suck wind for a while. How long that while is depends on, well, everything, but a key factor is how much toxic waste is left in the financial system and how that will impact, well, everything else.

As for whether I will feel the same way in 25 years? I'd like to hope that my life will never depend too deeply on the status quo. In many ways, it does not and will not need to for at least the next couple of years. I'm highly mobile, live well beneath my means, and have little to nothing to absolutely demand my presence in a particular place. This gives me a healthy cushion, but it still sits upon a presumption that the basic infrastructure of society will function when I need to access it. In that sense, almost everyone is intimately dependent on the status quo. I don't have a water well, generator and some hunting rifles for the day that the system goes catatonic. I need groceries to be available at the store, my apartment to allow me to live there, and electricity is really, really nice.

Can the automakers survive? Yes. And I was very happy to see them sent packing from D.C. being told that they needed a business plan (who'd have thunk it!) before a $25 billion loan (read: donation) would be extended to them. I was also deeply amused that the Executive administration criticized Congress's rebuke of the automakers. If only we had asked Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide, and Washington Mutual for business plans. We could have saved all that money and actually done something useful with it instead of funding spa trips for people who aren't me.

I'm not fully up on what Citi is getting, but I did decide to abuse the system and take advantage of a dead-cat bounce on Monday in the markets.

So are bailouts disastrous? No, not really. They need to be well thought out loans that a responsible bank might make if they had the size and scope to absorb a loss, which is always a possibility even with the most prudent loans.

As for the idea of Big Oil bailing out the automakers, I'm not sure how to respond with anything but incredulity. Oil and gas companies are in the oil and gas business. They aren't in the wind or solar business unless by choice. And they certainly aren't in the car business. Should Intel bail out every poorly run computer maker? And now that the price of oil has tumbled, I'm waiting for Congress to call the oil and gas industry executives back and thank them for bringing the prices down as was desired at the Congressional hearings on the subject earlier this year. What? International oil and gas companies don't control the price of oil at will? Oh, we had no idea since we're just elected officials and only listen to the shrillest people in the room.

The price of oil will climb back. Current prices are unsustainable and the length of time they stay this low will depend on how much demand destruction has occurred / will occur due to the recession we are in (yes, it already started) and if commodity prices that affect drilling, completion, and production costs come down accordingly. Right now, those costs to the industry still exist so the current price is not economically viable. If it stays too low, too long, people pack up shop and then when demand eventually increases, the ability to meet that new demand doesn't exist, there's a surge in price and we do this all over again, but hopefully without reckless financial lending going on at the same time.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

bailouts = disaster

Read this first.

Ok, long, protracted recessions are bad, yes? The goal must be long-term health, not short-term job preservation. Job preservation is not job creation either. Our actions cannot be a pathetic attempt to forestall disaster until [insert political motivation here]. Let's not act surprised that AIG has circled around for more money. The thirteenth largest company (by revenue) in this country is not too big to fail. And neither is the fourth largest.

No company is too big to fail. The only entity for which failure would be catastrophic is the United States government. And if we keep throwing good money after bad, then that time is only getting closer and closer. I cannot even say we are mortgaging the future away. We already did that years ago. We're mortgaging away magic money, just printing it from thin air as if it grew on trees when everyone knows that it's made from cotton (and some linen).

At this point, it is imperative that a major automaker, possibly two, fail and cease operations. Chrysler first (you deserve this Bob Nardelli for whom I have an irrational dislike of) due to their weak product line. GM is the next option. Yes, this would be disastrous for their employees and their many parts suppliers. But these are not healthy companies. A bailout now won't change their underfunded pensions, overburdened medical plans, moronic unions, wretchedly bad management, and obscenely massive retiree obligations. (One of the morals of the story is to never take the pension option, always go with the 401(k). Your money will always be yours, I hope. Pension money is not really yours.) No, a merger won't help. Hey, let's combine two debt-laden companies and magically we'll get what? A well capitalized, fiscally responsible entity with visionary management that isn't obsessed with revivalist pony cars? (I have to admit, the new Camaro is pretty sweet but I would never buy one and that's about all that matters.) No. We end up with a bigger mess where managers on both sides responsible for their previous failures are deeply entrenched with golden parachutes.

(For these reasons, I was rather upset that America West bought US Airways in 2005. It would have helped the entire industry to see a major airline go out of business. At least airlines have gotten on board with fee-based schemes, which, while not great for travelers now, is probably best for everyone in the long run.)

Back to the regular programming. If you believe a merger would benefit the auto industry, then perhaps I can sell you a bundle of sub-prime mortgages. See, when you pool a bunch of high-risk mortgages together, you end up with a financial instrument that is low risk, right? Uh, not exactly. That only works in a magical world where prices never go down. You cannot statistically manipulate risk to zero. Risk can be reduced through changes in procedure, process, and control, not magic.

What about the banks? Take back the bailout money already given out, force companies into bankruptcy, force certain (read: lots) of key managers into jail, impose corporal punishment and public floggings, and generally take names and kick ass. Capitalism is supposed to reward risk-takers who are successful, not the unsuccessful ones who happen to be well-connected. If we want to go (more) socialist, then this country needs to have a gut check moment and decide what direction it wishes to go.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

shamelessly pointless post

In response to baseless accusations about the frequency of my posting, I bring you a shamelessly pointless post. You know who you are. While I was tempted to stamp "First!" on your guestbook, I thought better of it. But thank goodness the registry is empty or else I'd have to find a way to get you something from Oman. Sand perhaps?

I also demand photos, the more unbearably saccharine sweet, the better. And while it's probably too late to change the venue, I really think you should consider the Crowne Plaza by the airport. It works on so many levels that it boggles the mind!

the past week

So, I think most of my regular readers know what's generally been going on here at work. My situation is still not finalized. Such matters as visa and other paperwork are still pending. I'm keeping busy wrapping up as many loose ends as possible here. Unfortuntely, I suspect that there will be far more than desired still sitting open when I need to leave.

wedding at an airport

I rarely remember my dreams, but I had an interesting one last night that's given me a great idea. In my dream, I was at an airport attending a gala. It was quite distinctly a gala, not a soiree or a party or a dinner, but a gala. I was dressed to the nines and needed to get to the airline ticket counter first because I needed to reschedule my flight since the gala was going to end later than originally planned. Somehow, I couldn't find the counter and instead ended up at the entrance for the room where the gala was being held. Oddly enough, no one could direct me to the ticket counter so I proceeded to run around the airport in a desperate attempt to find the counter. I eventually found it and that's when my dream ended. I woke up and my hamstrings were really tight.

The dream gave me the great idea of having a wedding at an airport. This would work best for a West Coast wedding if you expected many of the guests to fly to the wedding from time zones to the east. That way they could leave early, arrive by midday Pacific time, have a pleasant time, then catch a red-eye back and land early the next morning back in their home towns. If they wanted to stay in town, either before or after the wedding, they could grab a free airport shuttle to a nearby hotel. This would also allow for reckless drinking without the corresponding reckless driving and cut down on car rentals.

You may be asking, then why not have the wedding at one of those nearby hotels? Sigh, because that's not what my dream was like! Don't you realize that once I'm stuck on an idea, it's hard for me to shake it? The wedding on a party bus idea lasted for a couple years. Nothing says fun like open bar and motion sickness. Besides, children could entertain themselves riding around the luggage carousels and people could bring some glamour back to flying by wearing their formal clothes on their flights.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

muscat, oman, oh man

I'm moving to Oman. Many of my regular readers already know this via other forms of communication. Forty-eight hours ago, I thought I was going to be in Bossier City in two weeks. Now, Muscat, Oman as long as the paperwork comes together. Does anyone want my car?

Friday, November 07, 2008


Damn, that was way worse than what I had to do in January. The only thing that made it more palatable this time around was the experience of having done it already. Brian, the axe man, that's me. Aside from the general carnage of it all, I'm very happy that management worked with me to place as many people as possible into other positions. Less than I had hoped, but many more than I expected.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

turn downs

I generally hate having to turn down clients for work. We take pride in what we do and take pride in doing it well and a big part of doing a job well is doing it at the time and place a client wants it at. Obviously, any job we cannot cover (for either lack of time, people, or equipment) we will not get the revenue from. We're supposed to chase work, that's what we do and frankly, that's what we like to do. Sometimes we could do a job, but we turn it down for any number of reasons. Or perhaps a very small number of reasons.

Credit is one of those reasons. We work for a lot of independents around here and some of them have little to no established credit. Others have some, but need to be politely reminded to eventually pay the bills.

Safety matters too. A client operation that is known to have the potential to be unacceptably dangerous is not where we want any of people to be.

Another one is if the risk-reward balance is unfavorable. A couple weeks ago, we turned down a job that was, for a variety of reasons, not worth pursuing. It was the classic example of looking at the risk reward levels and realizing that sometimes you have to say no. Push back and say no and don't even say sorry. If sales can't make it worthwhile, then we don't need to jump through hoops to cover the work. Please don't promise high-risk work to clients at exorbitantly low prices without consulting the field district that you expect to do the job. It's just not going to happen.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I bought a Mac. Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid.

I've been very curious about the new Macbooks that were said to be coming out and intrigued by the various rumors about them, particularly the ones that suggested there would be lower price points. If you're not a gamer or programmer, what does anyone really need their home computer for? Internet and DVDs and some word processing, maybe some personal finance? (Yes Scott, you compose music, but you're not most people either.) But I was underwhelmed by the new Macbooks. Down right disappointed. Price points were not really lower. Instead, they had a revolutionary manufacturing process to dazzle us with and some sophisticated graphics chips. Admittedly it's pretty cool to make a frame out of a single slab of aluminum (or is it aluminium?) but how strong do I really need a laptop to be. My work laptop did just fine for three years in the field. My home machine is now four years old and guess what, it sits on my desk most of the time. So while increased torsional rigidity is theoretically cool, it's practically expensive.

Nonetheless, I've been looking for a change of pace and four years is a lot of life to wring out of a 25GB hard drive these days. Maybe this Mac can change my life, revolutionize the way I view the world, interact with it, and increase my chances of winning the lottery. Or perhaps it will be novel and unique and a new challenge to figure out.

While a Mac would be totally useless at work, it is certainly a brand that has a lot of home user features that I would enjoy. But as I indicated above, I was not wowed by the new Macbooks. Instead, I have opted for a previous generation machine at a pleasant discount. Ironically enough, I am not typing this on my black 13" Macbook. Let's all admit that the white ones look stupid and I didn't pay a premium for this one. And yet, I can see a new day dawning already. That means I really need to go to bed earlier. Damn you daylight savings.

At least I don't own an iPod. Yet.

Monday, November 03, 2008

vote! so i don't have to

Remember everyone: vote early and vote often.

Don't forget the statistical significance of your vote. You just might tip the election. Especially if you're registered in California like most of you reading this. Though if you are voting in California, I suppose you could decide the future of high speed rail in the state!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

being lied to

Being lied to. Sucks.

A couple weeks ago, I was really upset about something I had to do at work (unrelated to the topic from yesterday). It was something I didn't think was the right thing to do even if it was the procedurally correct thing to do. Now, I have more information and I realize that I may have been lied to straight to my face. And now I don't feel so bad about what I was required to do.

It reminded me of something else at work that happened a few months ago. I was lied to by a superior of some kind. I asked a question that I already knew the answer to, not to be a smart ass, but I wanted to know if I would be told the truth. I wasn't. And the lie I was told cast what happened with a client to make it look like my district and I screwed up. It would've been so easy for him to just tell the truth given the overall circumstances. There was a very good way for him to frame this problem to the client as an isolated incident with our district and not with any other district. But that's not what he did. He just lied to me. The worst part might be that we're still dealing with the fallout from the original incident.

That pretty much destroyed my faith in this person's words. Admittedly, I shut down my dealings with him to a bare minimum. Definitely not the most professional thing to do, but I doubt I'll ever quite be a consummate professional.

I can deal with the truth. Just don't lie to me. I will find out eventually and then where will we be, where will you be, where will I be, and most importantly, where will I be when I find out?

four years


Saturday, November 01, 2008


I pre-wrote or at least drafted a series of entries about two weeks ago when my last few appeared. There was this plan to get a lot of ideas out onto the intertubes for no particular reason. Just a chance to get a lot of the clutter out of my mind and organize some rather disparate thoughts into something, anything. And then I sort of got rocked with some work information and have had a rough run around since then, mostly spending my time trying to do some damage control, deal cutting, and favor making/taking even though I don't have any markers to call in. Now I have lots of other ideas cluttering the mental bowling lanes but I can't really discuss it right now. I'll be able to say more about this specific topic in about a week. Maybe. And even then I'll be vague and dodgy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

real engineer, sort of

Some days, I actually feel like I know what I'm doing. Not about management (see yesterday's post), but about what we actually do here: oilfield cementing. While my knowledge base represents only a tiny fraction of the possible knowledge that exists, I'm still actually capable of constructive advice. It's exciting!

This is hard to explain, or perhaps it isn't. Knowledge has a way of becoming very niche, very fast and this is a great example of that. I've got a spongy brain, theoretical high energy, and selective enthusiasm and these combine for? I'm not sure, but I can get surprisingly geeked up about cementing. It's what I do right now. Probably not what I'll do my entire professional life, but it is what I do now and it's a pretty challenging gig in a lot of ways, but very satisfying to actually provide a useful service in a fairly fundamental industry.

One of the things I learned a long time ago is that age doesn't necessarily equate to knowledge. It can be ever so niche. The first clear example I have of this is from fifth grade. It was a word problem about how many different outfits can be made if you have a something likes 3 hats, 4 shirts, and 2 pants. I'm not sure why I knew it or when I learned it, but I knew that you just had to multiply 3 times 4 times 2 to get the total number of outfits. I explained this, not sure how successfully, to my teacher at the time who seemed surprised that this would yield the answer. Since then, I've lost all faith in adults. No, not really. But I have known that age does not lead to greater knowledge about all subjects. It does mean greater experience, but it doesn't mean new experiences, new knowledge, new challenges and puzzles to solve.

It's a hard sell to convince people that just because they did something a certain way in the past and it worked, doesn't mean it is a good idea this time around or that it will even work this time. Something I try to tell our guys at work is that no matter how many times they think they've done a particular job, they haven't. Every day is different and every job is different, even if we are approaching it the same basic way. It is my attempt to impress upon them that they must always pay attention to what they are doing and how some seemingly irrelevant details can actually make or break the successful outcome of a job.

Anyway, nothing is ever the same, even when it is the same, because we have never been right here, right now, doing whatever is we're doing before (depending on which cosmological models you believe). Every day is a new problem, even if it is only slightly different than the last one, but it means a chance to learn something new.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

real manager, trying to be

Some days, I really feel like a manager, a title I generally eschew (a great example of a word I would never use at work). I audit things, lots of things: time sheets, job packets, designs, safety, bills, compliance, etc. It's a not insignificant part of my job since I have to be responsible for, not just what people are supposed to know and do, but also what they actually know and do. Thus, I try to spend a large portion of my time each day communicating, making sure everyone, myself included, is on the page that we are supposed to be. And where we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to be doing is usually not quite where people want to be and what they want to be doing. My ability to get others to where I'd like them to be, whether it be by hook, crook, charisma, persuasion, gentle force, not-so-gentle force, anger, or outright lies, is a work in progress. I don't use those last three very often.

Some days, I actually feel like I'm leading the people who work here. Other days, I know I'm not a good enough leader, whether it be a failing in decisiveness, charisma, communication, consistency, respect. Some days, I'm here, but I'm not. I guess I've learned that it's hard to always be 'on' and put on a good face even when you have no desire to talk to someone, deal with some problem, make a decision. Maybe I'm finally a real adult?

If I am, then it has often meant following the rules, even when doing what is 'right' seems like something else.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


It's been a pretty hectic two weeks since I've been back from vacation. Outside the expected avalanche of e-mails at work, it's been a long, steady pull. So much to do, way too much drama.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

back, updates eventually

I'm back in Victoria. Updates eventually. But come on, I leave and the financial markets melt down? I wasn't even able to engage in panic selling like the rest of you.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

yay vacation!

Vacation time. See you all in 11 days. Maybe less. Probably more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

what's wrong with a recession?

Why are the people who seem able to influence what happens during this financial morass seem so interested in avoiding a recession? Have they become so arrogant that they believe they can move beyond the economic cycle by simply printing more bail-out money? We need pain and we need it now. The alternative is much more pain in a few years.

But the system could collapse they say. So what? Is a little revolution now and then such a terrible thing? It's only fitting that we're due for a financial revolution and we get a sprinkling of cultural revolution thrown in as well. There will be blood, most of it metaphorical, but some of it could be literal and that might help remind people what it means to be responsible and accountable for the downfall of a system through the systematic flaunting of the rules and regulations that were placed there for a reason. It's a revolution, not a sound and cohesive financial system.

We as Americans also must accept the fact that we need to pursue, on average, a lower standard of living. Simplify. Don't obfuscate.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

panic, not at the disco, on Wall St.

I suspect LinkedIn is seeing a spike in activity from some (ex-)Wall Streeters this week. (Yes Jack, I'll updat my profile eventually.) That's right Lehman, your storied history has been trumped by your sub par management. Tragically, your management was only slightly less stellar than that of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide (that's right Mozilo, we didn't forget your role in this disasterpiece), and Washington Mutual. It's a good thing my money with WaMu is federally insured, but only for as long as the US government is solvent. You mean it's not solvent? (feigns surprise)

If anything, Lehman wasn't necessarily the most poorly run of the aforementioned all stars, they simply weren't big enough to win a bail out. My favorite financial blogger, Barry Ritholtz, ran through the the lessons learned from Bear Stears and why some earn their way (read: stumble) into a bailout while others are less vampirish. I think this sentence says it best, "Don't just risk your company, risk the entire world of Finance. Modest incompetence is insufficient -- if you merely destroy your own company, you won't get rescued. You have to threaten to bring down the entire global financial system." And now with what used to be the thirteenth biggest company (as a function of revenue) in America on the cusp of a conservatorship, it looks like we've decided to become socialists. Hurray? Or is it Hooray?

We just need to ask who's going to be next in line for a handout. No, we don't have to wait since it looks like it's going to be the automakers. I would've guessed airlines, but I can only assume that they were too busy figuring out how to continue to lose their latest loans. In all fairness, the airlines are doing what they should have done several years ago: cut routes, cut service, raise rates, charge for incidentals, and fly slower. Airlines going out of business is good for the industry. Sure it's bad for consumers and I don't like it since I fly more than the average person, though much less than any road warrior, but it is necessary. It would have been a good thing to see a major automaker go out of business too. Damn you Cerberus, why did you buy Chrysler? (I bet Nardelli is going to have just as much success running that ship as he did with Home Depot. And who knew Dan Quayle was part of that group. Weirdness.)

Back to the the financial debacle that is rapidly sinking this country. What happened? What should we do? And why are all the proposed solutions going to suck more than normal because it is an election year?

Some people want to circle back to housing and blame this on the collapse in the housing market and how it's pulling down the value of CDOs and other investments and et cetera. Damnit, that's so wrong. It's right in the sense that housing appears to have been the trigger, but it doesn't really address the root cause of the problem.

We're the problem. America has become complacent, allowing itself to be run by people of less than stellar moral fiber and we seem to implicitly accept this as sound management. Why was housing ever as expensive as it was? Why did people think it could only go up? How and why were people able to purchase (I use that term very loosely) houses with no-money down, in fact, paying even less than the interest on the mortgage? Why was so much stacked upon so little? Why do people think that they can get rich quick, have a free lunch, have their cake and eat it too?

My friend Jack is right. We should be angry. Actually, we should be pissed off. Perhaps I've been listening to too much anti-capitalist, angry, Flobots music (but it is really good and seems to fit so well right now). Damn, it's late and I'm getting up early. More anger coming.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

sunday's ike update? or not

Who cares. It didn't hit here and I'm not in Houston and neither are any of my employees. Now, as for North American headquarters, they get enough perks as it is so I shan't be shedding any crocodile tears.

In other fantabulous news, I am taking a moderately well-deserved vacation in two weeks. I'll be overseas haggling over the appropriate color of lederhosen to wear while studying finely crafted timepieces. As to when I'll be back in sunny California? Probably when it isn't so sunny, let's say the week of New Year's if all goes well.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

the boy who cried wolf

My great concern with how Hurricane Ike has turned out for Victoria, specifically our employees is that it was a lot of hype and no payoff. I certainly didn't want mayhem and destruction to descend upon the city, peoples' homes, and the yard, but we essentially saw nothing from the hurricane and I can already tell that some people will not take the next threat as seriously. Despite generally well-intentioned efforts, the forecasting of weather is a task that has a high margin of error.

As natural disasters go, hurricanes are agonizingly slow. We've been staring at Ike for over two weeks, even before it had a name over at the National Hurricane Center. Once a storm actually gets a name, there are a bevy of other sites available to spew forth colorful graphics and models, but almost all the raw data comes from the NHC. I favor like Stormpulse and Weather Underground for fancy colored things. The NHC site does have satellite imagery that you can watch in a loop, though I wish it went back more than five hours. It still is a very interesting look at how a hurricane moves.

All this forecasting is great but there's just so much of it. And the disasterpiece that was Katrina has made people in this part of the country both acutely aware of the consequences of being ill-prepared and somehow over-confident in their own preparations. Some of that is due in part to the fact that many people in the Gulf Coast region who are not from New Orleans generally look down on people who are from New Orleans. It would be fair to say that a not insignificant portion of that disdain is racial in origin. You may live above sea level, but a storm surge will still flood your home if you live in low-lying areas, especially places near water.

As far as disasters go, earthquakes have a certain suddenness that defies prediction and even some preparation. As much a logistical nightmare it is to evacuate people for a monstrous hurricane, it's simply not possible to even hazard a guess as to when an earthquake will strike. Hurricanes however can change direction and in this instance, by the time they realized the severity of damage Houston would experience, officials knew it was more dangerous to evacuate several million people from the city than to have them ride our the storm. The only mandated evacuations came from the coastal counties that were certain to flood.

saturday's ike update

Well, that was spectacularly boring. I might not be saying that if I as one of the 2.6 million people without power in Houston, but we did not see a lot of storm action in Victoria. In fact, it didn't rain at all last night and winds were probably never over 40 mph. As the past week progressed, the storm track forecast went from a landfall south of Corpus Christi all the way to it's actual landfall right by Galveston. And as big as Ike was (nearly the size of Texas by some measures), we were simply lapped by its gentle edges.

Houston is a mess. I am told that except for the hospital district, most of the city does not have power. The storm surge has flooded a large portion of the land between Galveston all the way to Houston Hobby airport.

Our yard is already very nearly up and running. Now if only I could get everyone to return to town instead of treating this like a vacation.

Friday, September 12, 2008

friday's ike update

I have made my decision and will be riding out the storm here in Victoria. Due to the change in the storm's forecast track closer to Galveston, the city has moved some of their emergency personnel to other counties that expect to be more severely impacted. No mandatory evacuation order has been issued and, at this point, none is expected. I will be up until about 01:00 to see the expected update before going to bed tonight.

There was a distinct quietness about the city today. Most businesses were closed today, though some were open in the first half of the day. I went for a short walk this afternoon from my place to Target. Some wind, but cloud cover wasn't complete and not a drop of rain yet. From what I have seen, less than half the homes have boarded their windows, but it seems to vary a lot by neighborhood. I would venture to guess that most of the boarded homes belong to people who have also left town since most of that occurred two days ago when Victoria seemed to be in greater danger.

I saw some interesting sunset colors and bands of clouds after dinner. Now, the wind is still blowing, but it's not what I would call strong. With landfall near Galveston, we should see a relatively boring hurricane for Victoria. I have been told by a friend in Houston that some parts have already been flooded by the storm surge, which is Houston's great threat. The city is a drainage nightmare and it's probably going to be very bad.

For work, I plan on being back at the yard by noon. I expect the weather to be raining and gusty but we should be striving to be operational as soon as possible provided that we do not lose power.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

thursday's ike update

Note: I cheated and dumped two other posts in at the same time so scroll down to read them, probably read those first.

We're closed as indicated in my last post. I am still in Victoria and will likely remain in Victoria if the storm continues to track north and east of Victoria. With landfall now much closer to Freeport than Port O'Connor, Victoria should see substantially lower wind speeds. I know definitively that at least four other employees from our yard are staying in town, though I suspect a couple more will also be around, especially given the storm's expected path. If, by tomorrow morning, Ike has veered back towards Victoria, I will be heading to San Antonio at a fairly early hour in the morning. Otherwise, I am prepared to ride out the storm here and should be able to handle no power or water for several days if it is necessary.


It's Thursday night, about 24-30 hours until landfall for Hurricane Ike. We closed shop this morning and by the end of the day, so had our major competitors. I know for sure that a smaller competitor was at least open during daytime hours. Driving around town today, it did seem a little bit emptier than normal but most stores were still open, though some have boarded most of their windows. I believe a significant number of businesses will be closed tomorrow even though the storm is turning further north towards Houston. The decision to close or stay open needs to get made far enough in advance that your employees have time to make their own preparations if leaving town becomes necessary. Unfortunately, that decision point must be made far enough in advance that we can all end up looking overly cautious if the potentially impending disaster doesn't materialize.

This evening, I did a drive-by of the work yard to make sure everything looked normal and then went looking for a bite to eat. It was interesting to see that McDonald's and Burger King were both closed at about 20:15 while Sonic, Whataburger, Taco Bell, and the Subway where I ended up eating were all open. I was hoping to get a $5 footlong sandwich and eat half for dinner and save half for lunch tomorrow. Tragically, they were out of bread and I wasn't too keen on waiting 35 minutes for the new bread to bake and cool. They told me a lot of out-of-towners had come through today. I have been seeing a disproportionate number of people with boats and campers on the road the last two days. Imagine that. Back on point, I opted for a personal pizza cooked in that super oven they have that can probably bake a 17 pound turkey in 4 minutes. This isn't meant to be a food review, but it was fair though some bites had some aromatic overtones that I couldn't quite place.

Back to which stores were closed and which ones were open. I should also mention that many local eateries were closed though I suspect two fundamentally different reasons for why the biggest of the big, McDonald's and Burger King would be closed while many of the other household names were open. It's the same reason we're closed and I like to call it liability. And bigger companies, through size alone, must be inherently more cautious when it comes to worker safety because of how the risk/reward equation is balanced. So what does McDonald's really lose by closing a day earlier than their competition? Some lost revenue which sucks for the local manager, but life goes on. What does McDonald's gain? Well, it's really about what they are even less likely to lose. Because now they've given their people enough time to evacuate, haven't coerced anyone to work while the wind rattles the storefront, and a little bit of goodwill from their employees. That last one especially because 36 hours ago, this storm was gunning for Victoria and the city was on the verge of issuing a mandatory evacuation order.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

wednesday's ike update

Earlier today, Ike was pointed straight at Victoria. It is now projected to make landfall almost due east of Victoria and pass to the northeast of us. This is obviously much better, but it is also better than if the storm passed us on the west. Given the counter-clockwise rotation of the hurricane, the winds coming over the top so to speak tend to be stronger. Our yard is essentially shut down, though a couple of us will make a final walk through in the morning. If necessary, I will evacuate to San Antonio and I have accommodations lined up though sleeping in my car would hardly be a first. Earlier today, a mandatory evacuation order for tomorrow morning seemed highly likely. Now, given the new track of the storm, it appears to have fallen to a roughly 50% probability based on no real information other than my gut feeling.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Here it comes. Also, see some nifty models that have borne steadily worsening news for Victoria.

We're still three days from landfall and that's both a lot of time and yet nowhere near enough. However, the show is going to go on as long as possible, which means until headquarters mandates a halt in operations. The only problem is that we can't exactly stop operations on a dime. For instance, we have every intention of engaging in pre-job preparations first thing tomorrow morning for a job that should go the next day. We need to mobilize equipment and cement to location prior to the call-out of the job. Tomorrow afternoon is supposed to be the decision point on whether or not we evacuate but we can't wait that long to prepare for some jobs. Of course, we can move equipment to districts that are further inland and work from there, but that's less than ideal. Some clients near the coast have shut down, but others are further inland and expect the hurricane to have weakened considerably by the time it pushes 100 miles inland.

We've already started to secure the yard and will push quite aggressively tomorrow to finish what is possible this early in the process. Most of it is basic yard clean-up putting things inside, etc. The aggravating part will come when we start to move physical files, lots and lots of paper to interior rooms for protection. Oh the joy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

towing the line

My last post and this current one definitely tread near touchy areas, but my real focus in these posts is on the difficulty of hiring the right people. For all the processes any company can put in place, it's very hard to get the true measure of a man (or woman) until they are actually trying to walk the walk (work) instead of merely talk the talk (interview).

One of my general impressions from the interview session last week was on the level of preparedness, or lack thereof, of the interview candidates. Quite simply, I was disappointed with how little research about both the company and the particular job these people were ostensibly applying for. It's been a while for myself, but I recall doing a fair bit prep work for both the standard interview questions as well as the company-specific ones.

The whole experience last week really did highlight the difficulty in trying to get a proper read on someone via a resume, phone/screen interview, a brief speech in front of everyone, and a personal interview. Throw in some activities, tours, and a hefty bit of observation time and the picture doesn't get much clearer. It's hard even after you get to look someone in the eye, which if course is a marker I've never considered especially useful. (Then again, I'm an outsider amongst insiders.) There is a definite premium on being able to observe prospective supervisors in various settings, not simply during the strictly formal interviews. During the team exercises and tours there are certain expectations. At dinner, even more expectations. People can either be passive and blend in or engage us and ask good questions and stand out.

There are two principle feeders into this particular candidate pool. On average, one feeder yields candidates that are technically stronger, but often have difficulty dealing with the lifestyle demands. The other feeder has the opposite problem with largely adaptable people, but some who are less technically capable. I'll leave it to the clever reader to figure out what the general backgrounds are of these two groups. The good news is that the difference with some of these profiles is that the various segments have different needs and expectations from their personnel.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I participated in a second interview session up in Sugar Land last week. We were looking for future field supervisors for most of the segments in the United States. The interviewees had all been through a first interview of some kind, either in person at a career fair or a phone interview. The interviewers were either members of the recruiting team or 'hiring managers' like myself. Who knew I had yet another illustrious title. I'll have to re-emboss my business cards with a Phillips head screwdriver instead of the regular flat head that I've been using. (I'm even considering an upgrade to a Torx-style screwdriver. Very classy.)

The session left me with a lot of interesting impressions and some questions about how I came to work here. Right now, we're still in a ramp-up mode and hiring very aggressively, especially field supervisors. However, I was keen on rejecting borderline candidates while many of my colleagues seemed willing to take a more, uh, gallant approach. We should all know the costs of a failed hire and it's measured in much more than simple dollars.

There were characteristics, particularly leadership qualities (these are field supervisors) and a couple other key markers that I don't want to give away, that we were all looking for. The experience has left me very badly wanting to participate in a field engineer interview session. When I look back at the person I was many moons ago, I'm not sure I would have hired myself. However, there may be certain factors that go into a FE session that were not strongly weighted during the FS session. Or, I was much more dazzling than many of the people I have so recently seen.

I question my own hirability (which I'm fairly certain isn't a word) because I did not possess many of the markers that I believe correlate with a higher retention rate such as degree-type, school, past internship with company, know people in the company, etc. Essentially, I was the ultimate outsider. Some days, I still feel like an outsider in that I'm never going to be a one of the boys, not a local or even semi-regional guy, I don't look the part, and I just feel like I have a fundamentally different approach to most things than many of my counterparts. However, most days I am an insider because of what I do, the time I put in, what I know, and how I'm able to put it all together. I'll call it a definite topic for future discussion.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

ten pence

In the chance I received today while engaging in a fiduciary transaction, I received a ten pence coin bearing the regal likeness of Queen Elizabeth II. 'Where is my Montana state quarter,' I cried. 'My collection is nearly complete!'

Alas, the novelty of having the chance to not quite properly use fiduciary prompted me to keep the well-traveled coin. If only I had a New Mexico state quarter. (I already have Montana.)


More than anything I've been rather preoccupied with some more work items (yes, more than one) that I've been trying to work through. We've made some changes locally, some changes occurred elsewhere and now we might actually be in a good position to capitalize on the time we've spent grinding it out for most of the year.

This preoccupation has me off a lot of my normal routines, or what semblance of a routine I attempt to maintain. It's basically a funk, but I'm through it now and working to get my mojo back. I'm pretty sure I'll find it unless it got stuck in some ridiculous spy-spoof movie.

oh where oh where have i been?


Monday, August 04, 2008

another storm? bah

Another day, another tropical storm. Edouard? Really? You people named a storm after Manet?

Monday, July 28, 2008

tour de france?

Apparently, the Tour de France ended yesterday. Evidently it's as unpopular as ever, especially when you don't own a television.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

hurricane? pshaw

So, that Hurricane Dolly wasn't that impressive. In fact, I think it rained more in Houston than here since some of the major bands swept well north of Victoria. All we ended up with was a few gusts in the 30-40 mph range and a few inches of rain. However, I'm told the hurricane made some strong inroads and managed to dump a lot of rain on Laredo while our Mission district shut down and moved equipment to a safer locale. I am glad we didn't have to go into full 'batten down the hatches' mode since it would involve a lot of really aggravating work and then more work to undo everything we had done.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

identifying headlights

When I drive at night, I like to play a little game where I attempt to identify the vehicle that is driving behind me. Size and shape certainly help identify the class of the vehicle (ie: sedan versus SUV/truck) but headlights can be surprisingly distinct.

One of the easiest vehicles to identify is the previous generation Ford Explorer. It has a two by two headlight arrangement with the turn signal lights diagonally across from each other. Of course, when the turn signal is on, it's a dead giveaway, but they are still partially illuminated when jsut the main headlight is on.

Another easy to identify vehicle is a Chevy pick-up, both Silverados and Colorados. They sport similar headlight arrangements with a bar (chrome on the Silverado) that splits the assembly into upper and lower halves. Obviously, the bar isn't lit at night, but there's usually enough reflected light to see the distinct separation between the two sections.

Most cars, principally due to their generic looks, are more difficult to identify. However, a couple of nights ago, I correctly guessed an older Toyota Camry while I was waiting at stoplight. However, until I can parlay this into a meaningful skill, it remains un-monetized.

Friday, July 11, 2008

enormous sunglasses

What's up with big sunglasses? They're everywhere. Why do I suspect that they'll go out of style in a couple of years?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

argh, the e-mails!

I am finding that I am fighting an incresingly losing battle with e-mail both at work and home which really means I'm fighting an increasingly losing battle with my own time management. (I may also be fighting increasingly losing battles with laundry, errands, and personal grooming.)

Regarding e-mail, I have a rather specific system at work and yet it's not specific enough. I sort all client-related e-mails pretty quickly into their respective folders since I'll always know where to find them. However, most other current business I leave in my in box until I have responded to it or otherwise dealt with whatever the matter is. When done with it, I try to sort them into categories, though there's a great deal that sort of blurs the lines and I have trouble keeping my own system straight. Either way, current busiess becomes past due business becomes I'm running way behind business. This all makes for more and more e-mails that are not fully dealt with in the in box.

Monday, June 23, 2008

i've been around

I suppose I need to say something relevant and witty before I break my old record. However, all I have right now is that Hermione was in town for the last week and a bit more and I decided I had much better things to do than blog with our limited time.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

games in business

My last serious post (as in the one that was neither about corn, airline fees nor frogs) got me thinking about the games people play. Work and various aspects of work is so often referred to as a "game" or "playing the game". It is nothing of the sort. Work is serious and it certainly isn't a game. I would say that it's for keeps, but that would it sound like we're offing people over here. However, it is for peoples' jobs, careers, their very livelihoods. Work is work and it is no game. In the realm of games though, I cannot stand people who act like this is a game with their petty power struggles, ridiculous rules and decrees, and general idiot-mongering.

The thing that I've realized though is that the people who have the time and resources for such games are those who don't have better things to do with their time and resources. Those who fall into this category tend to be involved in non-direct functions of the company. Basically, the people grinding it out in the field where the money is really made are busy making money and not scheming up BS. It seems like it's only at higher levels where ego-stroking is important and support functions where people have a need to create importance for what they do that the BS quotient approaches the most absurd levels.

My realization of this is quite positive. It comes as I'm figuring out more about people as well as understanding that there are ways to circumvent the crap that people put out there. It's not that I didn't believe some people weren't blow hards and generally aggravating self-promoters. I'm much too cynical to believe that people are nothing but inherently good. However, the extent to which people behave in ways that are not really beneficial is a bit disheartening. It's not even that there is a lot of it, but what little there is is still far too much.

we have frogs!

We have frog here. And lots of them. There seem to be two main types. The first are larger, but their not even bigger than a man's palm. These frogs are darker green or mottled in color with browns and move sort of slowly. They also predominantly hop along the ground. Then there are smaller frogs that are shinier and a brighter green. These ones stick to things like walls, picnic tables, portables, and all manner of surfaces that can be found. Anyway, I stepped on one of the larger frogs the other night. I didn't see it since it was dark right outside my apartment and it was right at the base of the door. I felt something squishy beneath my feet and let off before seeing a dark shape hop away.

airline fees

An interesting table of the latest airline fees.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

we have corn!

I was out the other day on a job. I'll say I was there for an audit, but I was available and they phoned in that there was a last minute request for sugar so I went. I shouldn't even call it a last minute request. We had already started pumping cement downhole when the company man asked for sugar. It was a ridiculous request, but we're the service company bitch so we pretty much do whatever our clients ask for no matter how stupid, reckless or generally petty their demands are. Anyway, we were done with the job, sitting on the side of the road just off location have a our pre-convoy meeting. We happened to be in the middle of a corn field so some of the guys helped themselves to some corn. Sigh.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


We're perpetually short-handed at work. Well, it feels like we are now. Now, as in this moment on this day at this hour. I'm staring at an interesting next 24 hours, possibly interesting 48 hours, maybe even 72 hours. It's hard to say when the interest will die down. And by interest, I mean borderline panic. In some ways, this is a better problem than having too many people and then having to make heartbreaking layoffs. (That is still probably the worst work experience I've ever had to go through so far.)

We are hiring and it's a good thing. But there's a long lead time on getting someone to what I'll call field usable. No, that's not strictly accurate. It's a short time until someone is field usable, but a long time until they are standalone field usable. There's no real short-term fix. We're implementing just about every short-term stop-gap measure that we can. I'm not going to be specific, but we're getting our work covered. The longer-term fix is simply going to take time.

While we work through this morass we find ourselves in, I am realizing a great deal about how business works, especially this particular business. I'm figuring out which rules, policies, procedures, standards are truly sacred and which ones are not. The good rank and file front-line manager in me is supposed to pitch the message that all the rules and whatchamabobs are important. Some are very important and truly are the sacred cows of the company. Others tend to wilt under the pressure of the sacred cow of all industry: money. This is not some anti-capitalist screed (duh), but a simple realization. Now, the system in which we operate is changing. And money cannot triumph all, or at least not directly. So, while some people I know and have known within the organization appear to have gotten away with murder in the past, the same tricks may not hold up in the future. A good start to a very interesting line of thought.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

winning the peace

I was drifting through presentations from TED and came across a presentation on winning the peace. It's a bit long, but worth watchig all the way through, especially since his explanation of how existing resources would be split is near the end. Very interesting, but probably impossible to pull off given the enormous inertia within most social institutions, esepcially the military and overall government.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

the undiscovered country

Here's a bit of quirky trivia. The sixth Star Trek film was called Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in which the undiscovered country was a reference to peace, specifically between the Klingons and humans. But in Hamlet, you know, the one by Shakespeare, there is a line that Hamlet speaks in Act III, Scene I where he says:

The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns

The undiscovered country being death, a rather far cry from peace.

Friday, May 09, 2008

unpleasant tasks

The posts about discipline and conflict are really part of something that's been on my mind a lot lately. They both fall under the category of things we, specifically me, must do that are unpleasant. Hardly earth shattering for sure, but highly relevant within the context of exploring the limits of my comfort zone.

Work, and other things, but let's stick to work for now, forces many decisions upon me that are often choosing between two undesirable options. (The parallels with electing modern political candidates is stunning no doubt.) This is not to say that the situations were not preventable or that we needed to end up at the decision we are forced to now make. In fact, many of the most difficult decisions would have never had to be made if everything actually went as planned. No one really wants to make crisis decisions because it means you've managed to work yourself into a crisis position in the first place. While some people may thrive, or claim to thrive, in a crisis, no one should really want to be in a place that has no desirable options, only least undesirable options.

A couple years ago, a friend of mine, who we'll call Jack, touched on the difference between the correct decision versus the perfect decision in one of his many posts about poker and the various lessons to be learned. This is the problem with limited information. We make the best decision we can, with the information we have at that time. I can think of at least two decisions in the last month that I believe were the correct decision, but were almost certainly not the perfect decision. This is the clarity of hindsight and having to live with not just your second guesses, but those of everyone else. I know when I've learned from an event or a mistake because I know what's going on in my head. Bases on how many times people repeat things to me, I'm fairly certain that most people don't realize how quickly I learn. This is something that I can accept pretty easily, or I must accept pretty often, because it is a necessary ability.

Back to the topic at hand, difficult tasks and decisions. I need to take them on every day at work. It's part of being a pseudo-manager (or actual manager) and part of growing up. Responsibility is really what I get paid for. I am paid o a degree for the things I know and even a few things I can do. But ultimately, I bring down lower-management pay to keep the ship in order and make the day-to-day operating decisions. Decisions that force me to, quite simply, be an adult about it. In order to do my job well, I need to be responsible for everything I do.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

what the "average american" spends

I'm not really sure who or what the "average American" is, but this is how he/she/it spends his/her/its money over the course of a year. Note that this isn't meant to convey where Americans allocate their money each year because there is no spot for savings. Though with an negative savings rate for the last two years, the average American would need to give some of that wonderful infographic pie back each year.

Hat tip to The Big Picture as always for his wonderful posts.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

discipline is un-fun

One of the least pleasant things about being a pseudo-manager is disciplining employees. It's better than actually laying people off, but still unpleasant. I like the people I work with. They're good people, have lives, but sometimes under-deliver when it comes to expectations. And while a good talk to clarify expectations is pleasant enough, much more than that becomes less fun.

What likely bothers me the most about employee discipline is that it usually presages something worse. Formal verbal warnings and write-ups are almost always precursors to termination. It may not happen tomorrow, but if someone has slipped up enough to actually warrant formal action, then it's usually just a matter of time until the final straw. But of course, we need documentation and progressive discipline to cover our corporate hides when the ax finally falls. Most people actually on boards with the program will not reach the point where formal discipline is required.

If we're into true and formal discipline, it means I'm already assuming we'll be out an employee in the not-too-distant future. Which means interviews and hiring, uncertainty, training costs, etc. Good people are great to have. As long as they're not complaining all the time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Deep down, I really dislike conflict. For whatever people think they know about me now or think they knew about my in high school, college or whenever, I find conflict incredibly unappetizing. I like a good debate, lively discussion, a passionate deployment of contrary ideals. But conflict is something else. Something darker.

I've seen plenty of conflict. Not strictly in my own life, but I've seen lots that was tangential (or possibly perpendicular) to my existence. Conflict gets very little done. It's this leech upon peoples' attitude and morale. Unfortunately, there's perpetually a lot of conflict at work.

This is not solely the fault of people here at work. Admittedly, this is a difficult working environment. The hours, labor, and clients all put strains on otherwise sane and normal people. (Though I must question if any normal person could hold a job here.) Thus, my desire to not be a part of the creation of any additional conflict. I have a take on the whole situation that amounts to this: There's so much bullshit that we have to put up with because of the nature of the business that we don't need to go around manufacturing more aggravation. It's basically a corollary to The No Asshole Rule .

Monday, April 21, 2008

so lots of people are paired up now

Not that this is a startling revelation, but getting around our vaunted internet has made me realize that several of my friends (and myself) are currently in long-term relationships. Long-term, serious, committed relationships. And there's a good chance many of them will likely marry the person they are now with. Just saying.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

just really busy

Work is strange. It always has been. This is a peculiar place to work in a great sort of way. At a field district, it's pleasantly casual in terms of dress and speech, but ultimately very serious in terms of getting the job done that needs to be done. People tell a lot of jokes, have a good time, but we all know what we need to do and will work as long as necessary to get it done.

I should never pretend that I have a lot of work to do. Well, I do, but its spread out. Work is tied to when clients want our work. So hours and phone calls are erratic. It's not like I'm still in the field, but I'm still responsible for what happens in the field. So I sleep in my own bed nearly every night (no more pick-ups for me) but the phone has a tendency to ring. Sometimes the questions are good, sometimes not so good.

That is one of the things I have been trying to push. It's something I've discussed at our last two meetings. I like to think I make myself accessible to those around me and can help them with their questions and problems. However, don't come to me with a problem you haven't tried to solve. Come to me with a solution. Or at least show a demonstrable effort that you tried to solve the problem. The joys, the frustrations of people.

Friday, April 04, 2008

weak dollar --> wii shortage?

Has the weak U.S. dollar led to a Wii shortage? One analysts says yes. If you do not wish to register for The Dallas Morning News, here are the relevant passages:

With a weak dollar, foreign companies that sell their goods in the U.S. for dollars and then convert those dollars to their native currencies get a smaller profit than if they sell their products in countries with strong currencies of their own (such as Europe with the euro). In other words, Nintendo makes a bigger profit on Wiis sold in Europe than on Wiis sold in the U.S.

So Nintendo, Mr. Pachter said, has been behaving perfectly rationally by sending excess Wii consoles to Europe to satisfy the more profitable consumers there.

This may actually be a good thing. Our lazainess, which is the root of our endless desire to print money, has finally prevented people from engaging in more lazy behavior. Though, since this is the Wii, people might get some sort of workout from it playing some of the games.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

big rims, small brakes

There's a place here in Victoria called Rent A Tire. Much like it's name implies, you can rent tires for your car from there. You can also rent rims. The very fact that this store can exist signals everything that is wrong with America. It represents both how people are terrible with money and what awful automotive tastes we collectively have.

More importantly, it teaches us that big rims with small spokes look laughingly ludicrous on any car that someone with such poor taste is likely to be driving. Becasue while the car now has big flashy rims, you can see it's small cheap brakes pads and rotors. Hilarious.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

so i see i haven't posted in a while

So I see I haven't posted anything here for a couple weeks. In my defense, I was really busy, out of town and then really busy again. I was mostly really busy the first time trying to makie sure I had everything set up to go out of town. And I'll discuss all that eventually. The thing currently on my mind is that since I've been back, I've been dealing with an utter shitstorm, for lack of a better word.

We had a job go south on us. Way south. It's hard to be specific and yet suitably vague and still get across just what this might mean. Essentially, it took us a couple tries to get a job right. And it was very frustrating for a lot of people, especially those in the field who ended up on location for 48 hours.

In the end, while our internal problems created a delay for the client, it was much better then trying to perform a job that was destined to fail halfway through. That would have been an unmitigated disaster. This was merely a crisis of faith in comparison. With a lot of lessons learned.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

all my movies are not four years old (or more)

Unlike my music, my movies are not all four years old or older. However, I do possess a strange and even more eclectic collection of movies that are four years old and older. Once again, hearkening back once again to my college days, I collected through potentially questionable methods a vast number of movies in digital form. I haven't even watched most of them. I simply collected them out of some weird obsession to have as many as possible. And then it stopped almost as quickly as it had begun. I moved out of the dorms, collected a few more, realized how absurd it all was and simply stopped. These days, I still have all the movies, but almost never look at any of them.

I do have many movies that are less than four years old. And some older than that. But these were all collected through non-questionable methods. When I first purchased DVDs, I bought movies I knew I liked and that I thought I would like watching over and over. By and large, that's been true for most of those early DVD purchases. These days, now that I rarely go to movie theaters, I find myself purchasing DVDs of movies that I have never seen before. I assume I'll like them based on reviews, genre, actors, general story and whatever else goes into tickling my fancy. And while they're almost impulse purchases of sorts, it's only because they're on sale. By and large, I have liked most of these purchases. They have also allowed me to stay in touch with popular movie culture in the last four years. (And long flights. I watch movies on those too.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

all my music is four years old (or more)

I have never been a big collector of music. In fact, even in the heyday of unfettered peer-to-peer networking which seemed to peak while I was in college, I didn't download that many songs. I'll readily concede that p2p networks have grown considerably in the last four years, but they have certainly attracted the attention of parties with vested interests in the nature of the content being so freely swapped. Regardless, my music collecting days began a sharply downward descent after I moved out of the dorms. The result is that I have a music collection that is curiously dated. There's nothing less than four years old and very little in the year or two before then.

This line of thought was prompted when I decided to dump all the MP3s I had into one big Winamp playlist and let it shuffle through songs. I have some really strange stuff. For instance, I think it speaks to the power of the 'Boy Band' phenomenon that even I have a handful of songs from those compelling luminaries. And why oh why do I have any techno and house music? And how can System of a Down and Disturbed coexist with Lifehouse and Jars of Clay? They simply do.

I also went through many jags where I collected songs from a particular artist or group or even everything from the soundtrack of a movie. But hey, I like the music on the soundtracks of both O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Matrix. And who doesn't like The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back.

All this speaks the vague and eclectic music tastes I seem to have. More than anything, I see it as a compelling argument that there is little loyalty to be had in the business, at least from folks like me. I listen to music in the radio. I haven't bought an actual CD in over two years. In those same two years, I've probably purchased a handful of songs on iTunes, but generally disliked the user experience since I hadn't drunk the Apple Kool-Aid at the time. (And while I find their laptops compelling, I still don't care enough about music to buy into a user experience that is highly proprietary.)

Oh, there's no point to this post. Just rambling.

Friday, March 07, 2008

bye bye laredo

So that was Laredo. We never really had to leave the hotel since the we were using their conference room for the class I was attending. And, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays they offer complimentary snacks starting at 1700. And these snacks re really more food than I eat for a typical dinner so I took full advantage of that on Tuesday night and didn't bother going out since I was tired and had bajillions of e-mails to respond to. And the only reason I left the hotel on Wednesday night was because we had a class dinner at a disturbingly empty restaurant. It filled in a little eventually, but I was concerned when the first few appetizers were rather lackluster. They salvaged the evening when the meat finally arrived. Go beef!

Anyway, I never bothered seeking the US-Mexico border out. Especially since I was advised not to head that way given the security situation across the river in Nuevo Laredo. Fun times had by all.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Laredo here I come

I'll be shipping out to Laredo for work for three days, coming back on Thursday night. Fun times await at this three-day safety course.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

slightly older

Officially slightly older.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

cheeseburger in a can, reviewed

The world's greatest food product reviewed! And for your information, I'm quite sure I stumbled upon this when it was featured on the front page of Yahoo!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

the mexican john stoops

For the two people who read this and will get this, I was Alice, TX last week for work and met a guy who looks like the Mexican version of John Stoops.

Monday, February 11, 2008

feeling better?

I'm almost back to normal after nearly a week of being sick. Apparently, sleep isn't overrated.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

ron paul rally pictures!

Ha, I bet you didn't expect those Ron Paul rally pictures so soon. I certainly didn't. But, I'm doing laundry and this seems like a perfectly good time to not work at my salaried job. (I could be compiling permits right now, but I'm such a rebel.)

As I mentioned a couple days ago, Ron Paul has some very ardent and creative supporters. And, he's done a very good job of gaining the support of many young, relatively tech savvy 20 and 30-somethings. Just try to picture any of the images linked below at a rally for Clinton or McCain. Perhaps for Obama, or at least with the same enthusiasm, but definitely with different messages being represented.

The first sight that caught my eye was someone holding a rather clever poster. Very funny and very apt if you knew that Ron Paul wishes to abolish the IRS. (Speaking of which, I need to do my taxes. And this will probably be the first year in a while in which I do not receive a refund. We'll see.) But if you didn't know his stance on the IRS and my explanation made it all click, then you've already lost out on the inherest humor. And you have to be familiar with the Geico gecko .

Then there was a young man in a Back to the Future-themed t-shirt. Once again, you gotta know Ron Paul to find it funny. Next, there was a woman with rather nice looking portrait of Ron Paul. Note that he has signed the paining. A true man of his people and the 14th Congressional District of the State of Texas. When was the last time you saw that? Well, let's be honest. When was the last time you were at a rally for a marginal candidate from a major party?

The coup d'etat of the day was when I noticed a young woman as the rally was ending. She was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask! Hilarious. I suppose you not only need to know Ron Paul's positions, but also who Guy Fawkes is or to have seen V for Vendetta. After all, a little revolution now and then is a good thing.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

ron paul rally

I attended a Ron Paul rally yesterday. Huh? Yes, you read that correctly. There's a guy at work who is really into Ron Paul and he's got a couple others from work drinking the Kool-Aid so I decided to go for the spectacle. After all, Dr. Paul (he was an OBGYN at some point) does represent the 14th Congressional District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives which encompasses the city in which I now live. If you don't believe wikipedia, check out this mostly legitimate looking site.

Anyway, if you're not familiar with who Ron Paul is, he is a Congressman running for President and right now he's trying to win the Republican nomination. He won't win mind you. We'll almost know for sure in two days when inevitability plays out. Nonetheless, he does have some loyal and slightly zany supporters. This is mostly a result of his steadfast and slightly zany positions. To briefly explain his general political leanings, he ran for President in 2004 with the Libertarian party.

His ardent supporters were out there yesterday. I don't want to give anything away so I'll just leave you hanging. I took some photos and when I have time (read: never) I'll post them. There was some really clever stuff going on.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

greater than, less than

What is up with people using greater than (>) and less than (<) signs to compare things?

Friday, February 01, 2008

month end

I finally sort of get what month end is all about for businesses. And I only have to deal with it on the very last day of the month. There are no complicated reports to run, letters to send, complex accounting. My task is fairly simple. Get any tickets from the field processed by 1700 or else we have to fill out a lot of paperwork explaining why it's not in by then and thus cannot be counted towards the revenue for the month.

It's actually quite easy. Except for the part about waiting for supervisors to bring back their job packets and upload their reports so that I and others can process the tickets in a mad dash before time runs out. The only other thing is to get in a really good estimate by noon of our final numbers and explain why we were above or below the original forecast.

Yesterday was a bit taxing since of the three people who can process tickets, one was at a class in Houston, the second was at a funeral, and the third one is me. Plus, we were trying finally process a job from the way-back-when of previous management that had never been done right. And trying to resolve a mystery credit from a job even further in the way-back-when caused by using the wrong customer number. (It's hard to get paid if you don't send the bill to the right people. I never would have guessed that.) Those two things have made the importance of doing things right the first time abundantly clear.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

mac and zune

As strange as this may sound, while I am contemplating getting a Macbook (but probably not for a few months) I would not get an iPod to go with it. Instead, I'd probably get a Zune.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

texas tags, finally

I may have loosely interpreted the thirty days grace period I had, but I finally registered my car in the state of Texas today. It only cost me $223.30 and stops at three different places. First, there was the vehicle inspection for $15.50 which can be done at almost any place that does car service work. Another $193.80 to cover the registration fee, title application fee and new resident tax down at the county tax office. And finally, $24.00 to stand in the strangest DMV that I've ever been in and request a Texas license. And I'm fairly certain that the guy who handled my paperwork was actually a highway patrol officer as indicated by his sidearm and badge. This isn't entirely bizarre since what I call the DMV here is actually part of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

More amusingly in a pathetic sort of way, two of the four people in front of me in line at the DMV were trying to get their licenses reinstated. Apparently, failure to report to court will do that to you.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to keep my New Mexico license as a keepsake. (When I received my NM license, I was allowed to keep my CA license, but they punched holes through the magnetic strip.) I was told it was going to get sent to Austin and then back to New Mexico. At least I was able to register to vote at the same time. And I have my old New Mexico license plate. I'm now up to four previous license plates. My two California plates from the 300E, the one from New Mexico for the 300E and the one from New Mexico for the Fusion. If I keep moving, I might just build up a nice little collection. Or I can just take some the next time I eat at Fuddruckers.