Sunday, October 30, 2005

Fireplace Mantle…

Fireplace Mantle…

I mentioned yesterday that one of the things I intended to do was fabricate a mantle for our living room fireplace.

I’d anticipated it taking me a couple of hours, but, like most of my projects, it took the better part of the day, and I actually had to finish it this morning.

Here’s a shot of the fireplace prior to me installing the new mantle.

I should have taken pictures of me during the process as I hit one annoying obstacle after another.

You see Maryan had found this wonderful piece of Red Cedar at a local lumber mill, and now that she’d found the perfect piece of wood, she was holding me to my promise to install it as the mantle before the holidays. I’d originally thought I’d knock off some other things before this on Saturday, but, something told me it would be better to get the mantle done first.

As I was fitting the piece up for length, it was pretty obvious the masons hadn’t given a lot of thought to making the front of the fireplace even. They chose instead to simply let the natural flow of the stone come through. I have to tell you, I really like the look that rough surface provides, but, it lead to a series of very unsightly gaps between the plank and the rock.

The solution? Scribe it of course, and then cut along the scribe line to fit the plank to the flow of the rock. This is where my troubles began.

I carefully scribed the plank to the front of the fireplace and headed out to my now clean and organized shop to cut it out. I grabbed my brand new Bosch 18V saber saw, put in a new blade, slapped in a freshly charged battery and gave the trigger a squeeze.

*Poof… this very pretty, but awful smelling (as those of you who have ever burned out any electrical appliance will attest) small cloud of white smoke came flowing out the vents. The saw never made even a ‘grunt’… just the cloud of smoke… and then nothing.

Now, I said this was brand new, and it was, in December of 2003 when I bought a cordless tool ‘bundle’ of Bosch tools. My old Makita cordless drill had finally died after almost 20 years of service, and I needed another. So I bought this bundle as it was only marginally more expensive than buying the drill alone.

I’ve used the drill, the ‘Skill’ saw, the reciprocating saw and even the flashlight extensively since then. I’d never had a reason to even stick a battery in the skill saw however, before now.

I tried both of the older, corded jig saws I have, but neither of them had the power to cut this 3” piece of lumber.

What did I do? Well I grabbed the Bosch jig saw and headed over to the local Lowe’s Home Improvement center. I stopped in at customer service, to explain that I’d never used the saw, even though I’d bought it nearly two years ago, and that it was flat DOA when I put the battery in it…

To my surprise the woman at the desk was helpful, and called the guy in “Tool World” (Robert) and told him she was sending me over. I’d actually been expecting something along the lines of “it’s been 2 years Sir”…

Unfortunately, they didn’t carry the saw, by itself, and Bosch had since ceased including it in their ‘bundle’… I’m feeling pretty well sunk at this point, but, Robert calls his manager, explains my situation and the manager offers to give me half off on any other saber saw I’d like to replace it!!

I picked out a Bosch corded model, and true to his word, it was discounted and I was on my way home.

I mention Lowe’s by name here, for one important reason. Maryan and I have spent a ton of money there over the past five years. Virtually every stick of lumber, sheetrock, wire, outlets, carpet and vinyl came from there while we were remodeling this place. Not to mention I’ve also bought more than a couple of tools there as well.

They didn’t have to do anything for me, and no one dealing with me yesterday knew if I’d spent $5, $5,000 or $50,000 there in the past. They did however treat me as a valued customer, and went out of their way to ‘make things right’ for me. In this age of super centers were you almost never see an actual clerk, and, when you, do they’re often too ‘busy’ to actually help you, Lowe’s has always been a standout in my experience.

Anyway folks, if you haven’t bought a new power tool lately, when you do, you are in for a treat!! This new saw is 10 ten times what any of my others ever were. It handled this oversized plank without even getting warm. I had to make several cuts to get it ‘just right’, but, in the end, I think it turned out nicely.

I fastened it to the old stone mantle with some “Kwik-Tap” masonry screws. Again, if you have to attach anything to masonry, these or the “Tap-Con” screws are the ticket. Oh, and for masonry drill bits… the Black&Decker FireStorm bits are the “real deal”, they cut quickly, and hold up well, and (more importantly) are about half the cost of some other brands.

I also fixed the toilet in our Master bathroom yesterday, but I didn’t think y’all needed pics of that!!

I’m off to go play electrician and wire up those outside floodlights and outlets I found while cleaning the shop last week! I hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Garage Project Update…

I’ve posted the pics of the results of my ‘Garage Project’ on the website, which is here as well if you want to see all the pics.

I’m pretty happy with the overall results. I’ve still got a ton of ‘stuff’ I uncovered in the cleanup process to sort out and throw away. I’ve tossed more crap out in the past few days than I have since we moved in here. Some of it was in boxes I had tucked away, and looking at it now, all I could think was that I’d held onto it for some ‘sentimental’ reasons.

Funny that I should have felt sentimental about old client files, development logs, and daily work journals from a decade ago. I did though, and was feeling it again as I tossed it all out this week.

Those were heady times. I’ve written about them here before, I smiled and was thinking, “Yep… we were fab back then”. There were 7 bankers boxes filled with the ‘stuff’ about the clients. They were all filled with copies of software, design, development and implementation notes… all useless these days. Even if there were a couple of gems in there, I simply did not have the time, nor the inclination to sift through it all.

I know this is a short post (by my standards), but I’ve got to get on the outside wiring project, hanging the additional lights in the shop and building the new fireplace mantle.

I’ll post some pics of all of that before the weekend is out. Well, I’ll post pics of what I get done… I’ve got a toilet repair on the agenda now as well… just one more of the joys of home ownership!!

What plans will occupy your weekend?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Monkey Brain…

First something unrelated to the title…

I wonder sometimes about the information people “Google” for… Although I was happy to be #3 in the return for [sexy things to tell your mate]… I have to wonder who “Google’s” for that kind of information.

It’s as if some folks think Google is some sort of ‘mentor’, be it for relationship, career, sex, or other advice. Maybe it is, or it’s becoming that, a mentor. There was a time when we asked our friends, trusted our elders, or actually experimented ourselves, to discover this kind of information.

I can feel a post about the change in the ‘social structure’ the internet has brought on brewing, you’ve been warned.

I first heard the term ‘monkey brained’ about a decade ago. I was seeing a counselor then trying to sort out some problems, and he used the term to describe what was going on in my head.

He explained that if you watch monkeys, their attention shifts, from one ‘interesting’ object to another. That as soon as the new object has their attention; the other object is nearly forgotten.

It was an over simplification, but, in essence, he was right. When something has my attention, it has all of my attention, not an ounce less. However, the other part of my problem was the times where ‘nothing’ had my attention. During those times, my mind would drift back to things in the past, and replay them, analyzing, critiquing, essentially “re-doing” them as if to correct what ever wasn’t perfect the last time.

I’d find myself running one of these ‘instant replays’, of a project I’d done, on a house I no longer lived in, or owned!!

It was after that discussion with the counselor that I began to find ways to quiet the mind, to allow myself to think of nothing, absolutely nothing, even if only for agonizingly brief periods of time in the beginning.

I discovered that the mind (or at least, my, mind) does not “like” to be quiet. It prefers instead to be shifting between thinking about the past, or the future. To be quietly, in the moment, the present moment, is an un-natural state of mind it seems.

I would have never have thought I’d ever be referred to as being “Monkey Brained”… my stock in trade is the ability to focus, for days, weeks, even months sometimes on a single goal. In my self exploration I discovered that being “monkey brained” is exactly what has made me good in the software development field. Good at developing new systems, processes and algorithms, but less than stellar at the maintenance component.

If you give me something new to build, and the latitude to build it the best way I can devise, I’m in heaven. Put me in a room, close the door and slide some nutrients under the door from time to time and I’ll emerge with a pretty cool product.

On the other hand, if you drop a ton of ‘bug fixing’ on me, I’ll enjoy the challenge, for a while, right up to the point that I begin to see the underlying flaws in the original design.

It’s even worse for me if the original design was mine! Then I become nearly obsessed with fixing the design flaw and can easily lose sight of the need to ‘fix’ the current problem first.

I probably have more ideas, as in unfinished concepts, than I do completed projects. Considering I’ve written well over 700 separate applications over the years, the fact that I probably have at least that many ideas written down troubles me at times. As Firehawk said in his comment, it’s probably not healthy.

I’ve found though, that by writing the idea down, it allows me to stop thinking about it, and get on with the important project at hand. Many of the ideas, well their time has come, and gone.. it is nice though to know I had the idea, before it hit the ‘big time’.

I am working; with what ever time I can carve out, on expanding the ‘Meta Object’ concept I forged with Greg so many years ago. I’ve still not found a mechanism for making it sufficiently generic that it would have universal appeal, but, I’ve started implementing a portion of it in the code base on my current gig. With each use, the process becomes clearer and the implementation cleaner.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be posting pictures to the website of the completed cleanup of the shop. I’m very happy with the results, I just hope the trash guy shows up tomorrow as planned, that pile of trash needs to ‘get gone’ before pieces start finding their way back into the shop!!

So tell me, what breaks your concentration? Takes your focus away from what it should be on?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Anthropological Garage…

As I’ve been telling you, I’ve been deconstructing and reorganizing my garage.

An interesting thing started happening in the process. With each little area that I’d begin ‘unpacking’… I’d find myself remembering.

Remembering projects, intended but never started, started, but never completed, or finished but the ‘remnants’ were squirreled away for one reason or another and long since forgotten. A sort of "Anthropological Dig" if you will.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m a ‘pack-rat’.

I’m not exactly sure why I am, I just know I am. I do have a couple of theories though.

It could be, that growing up “poor” as I did, I never truly believe I’ll have the money to replace these things if I throw them away. I could also be, for the same reason, that because “I bought it, damn it, I’m not throwing anything away”, and down deep I believe that sometime, somehow, I’ll find a use for it.

It could also be, that I’m simply a ‘pack-rat’… that I simply can’t make that crucial “Do I need this?” decision, so I just tuck it away somewhere and decide, to decide, at a later time.

Regardless of the reason, my “pack-rattiness” has finally reached, and exceeded, even my (rather hig) tolerance level. I’m seriously unpacking the garage, reorganizing and throwing out whatever I have no immediate use for. I’ve even gone so far as to call the ‘dumpster’ guy to get a dumpster dropped off this week so I can just ‘store things’ in the dumpster and have him haul it all away.

I’ve also resolved myself to finishing each of the little projects that I discovered the ‘parts’ for. Like the conduit, fittings and lights I bought to install some outdoor wiring and lighting. I started that project, but, in true ‘Tim Taylor” fashion I managed to severely sprain a wrist while drilling an access hole in an exterior wall. That project got sidelined while I healed up, and by the time I had, some other project else had popped to the front of my ‘monkey brain’.

A monkey brain, for those of you who don’t know, is one where it ‘latches’ on to whatever is the most interesting item at the moment… and as soon as something more interesting pops into view, the current item is dropped, and the new one picked up.

Anyway, I’m sitting here, typing, and burning daylight….When I should really be out there working on my “mess”.

I’ve been promising you all a photo update, and you’ve been extremely patient with me, so… without further ramblings from me… here are some pics.

Here's the beginning of the bed sanding project. I tried a half a dozen different tools and various abrasive materials. None of them worked particularly well.

Then, I used a two inch backer, with three inch quick change sanding discs on my right angle die grinder, and while it was still slow going, I started getting the results I wanted/needed.

You may recall, that I had one corner of the bed that was completely gone. Worse yet it involved a portion of the bed that is visible every time you open the tailgate. It also involved having a very small portion 'rolled over' the lower valence panel. It took quite a bit of time to form and fit this particluar piece. In the end I think it fit up well.

These next couple of shots are top views of the finished panel. If you look closely, you'll see the welds are not ground off 'flush'. There's a reason for that. When you grind away on a weld, the steel in the actual weld, is harder than the surrounding steel. With sheet metal, if you attempt to grind it flush, you risk 'thinning' the surrounding metal. So, I knock off the high spots, and let it be.

Once this is all in primer, I'll come back, skim a thin coat of filler over the seams and feather it out. Once that's done, the patch will be invisible to the eye.

It seems blogger has a limit on the number of pics in a post... so all of the pictures are posted here, Click the 'recent photos' button on the left and then select the 'Garage Project'.

As always, thanks for reading, listening and your wonderful commenting that serves to keep my spirits up as I grunt my way through this!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Busy… busy… b-u-s-y!!

I haven’t been around the blog world much that last few days.

I’ve been deep in a big project at work, and my little ‘garage reorganization’ project has become a major endeavor!

Let’s talk about work first. I know FoxPro is not the first choice among business developers it once was, and it’s a real shame. It’s such a strong language, so rich with features, tools and flat usability that I really feel like the rest of the world is really missing the boat here. Despite an intensely loyal bunch of die hard types like me, I don’t see it recovering anytime soon, if ever.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, primarily because the POL tool I built will probably not make it into the production environment. Why? Well, first and foremost there doesn’t seem to be anyone that is available, or that feels capable, of porting it to COBOL or Java (the only two supported languages at the client site). I’ve offered to port it, but, because I’m attached to the ‘business services’ group, I’m not authorized to write code destined for production.

I’m not saying that they should integrate FoxPro into their already huge code-base. What I am saying is that Microsoft has done such a poor job of positioning and marketing the product, they’re beginning to feel like the old Ashton-Tate folks. For those of you who don’t know, Ashton-Tate was the company that first brought dBASE, the product FoxPro and several other variants were based on, to the market.

They felt so comfortable in their number one position that they didn’t feel the need to properly market the product. The fact that many of you have heard of FoxPro, and not of dBASE, tells you how successful their business plan was. (When I first arrived at this client, they were convinced Microsoft had stopped selling FoxPro, not exactly a stellar marketing group at MS either!)

I’ve been working with Visual Studio.Net for several years now, and while it continues to improve and the languages, especially VB.Net, are getting better all the time, the simple fact is, they’re not yet remotely close to VFP’s ability to manipulate data, in large quantities, with amazing speed.

I think, when this project finally comes to a close, at the end of this year, or next, I’ll probably be hanging up my VFP gloves and adopting .Net as my primary platform. Not because it’s better, but simply because there’s more work, at better rates. I’ve been looking over some of the features in the 2005 release of .Net, and in short, I think by the time 2006 comes to a close, it’ll be ready for serious data work (which is, and has been, my major 'selling' point).

I’m also very interested in PHP, CSS (most blog templates are a CSS style page), XML, DHTML and several other web environments. My main web interest though is publishing, publishing data, in report and graphical forms, in real time, on demand, on the web.

If the weather gets too cold to work on the truck this winter, you might get to see a sampling of what I’ve got in mind.

Anyway… enough work…

Back to the garage project. My driveway looks like a going out of business yard sale for a repair shop. I’ve moved everything I could pick up, drag, push or otherwise move, outside. I had to cover it all with tarps tonight as we’re expecting rain here, overnight or during the day tomorrow.

Inside, I’ve hung four additional eight foot dual tube fluorescent light fixtures (for a total of six now the other two being HO type units) and have started building some shelves over the work benchs. I’m caulking holes, adding some insulation and moving the two four foot fixtures I took down to add additional light at the workbench.

I’ve also fabricated some brackets to attach to one wall so I can hang all the plywood and lumber ‘pieces’ I still have left over from the remodel project on the wall and get them off the floor. It’s all good stuff, and with plywood topping $30/sheet for construction grade stuff, it’s too expensive to just toss.

So, I’m figuring if I work every night after work, as well as all day Saturday and Sunday this weekend I’ll have the garage back together, a place for everything, everything in its place and be ready to start the bed reassembly process the weekend of the 28th. I can't wait to show you all that process, and how good everything looks!!

I should have done this before I started this project. I’ve been working around so much ‘stuff’ the past few weeks I actually felt like I was spending more time moving things around, than actually working.

That’s what I’ve been doing, what are you up to?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Zen and Body Work….

One of the things I think I enjoy about restorations, and body work in particular, is the ‘mental health time’ it gives me. While I wasn’t entirely happy about having to re-strip the bed of the pickup, doing so gave me a lot of time to think.

Mike commented (when he asked to borrow a tool) that it sure seemed like I was putting a lot of work into something that most folks would never see. He made that comment a couple of times when we were in the middle of the remodel as well. I do spend a lot of time on details that almost no one else will notice.

So, as usual, I began to ponder… why is it that I spend all that time on something rarely seen. Why do I hold off on doing things until I can ‘do them right’? By the way, “right”, is a relative term. What’s right to me, may be entirely different than what’s right to someone else.

I know that there are some basic reasons. The first is that I hate doing anything twice. I’d prefer to wait until I can do it once and be done with it. I’m in a situation like that right now with our kitchen. It’s the one room in the house that we use daily, which really needs to be brought up to the level of the rest of the house. The cabinets weren’t ‘top of the line’ when they were new, and they’ve certainly not aged well. We also need an exhaust fan over the stove.

I have the exhaust fan, and vent materials. I haven’t installed it because I know I’ll have to move it, and most likely move the vent opening through the wall, when we do replace the cabinets. I know it won’t be in the same place because we want to change the design of the cabinet layout, not a lot, but enough that I’m sure the stove will move six inches, left or right, from its existing location, depending on how things work out.

It would be simpler if my mind didn’t see the changes, and I could just install the fan now, my wife would be happier, and the kitchen would be a more pleasant place to cook.

The second primary reason for my attention to these hidden details is the pride I take when someone actually does notice. This truck for example, when it goes up on a lift for an inspection, and a mechanic comes back to me and says something like “Your truck is immaculate, underneath!”, well, it leaves me with a sense of pride that’s hard to explain.

I had a similar reaction when an electrician, adding a breaker to a sub-panel box I’d installed asked “Who did this wiring?”. I responded to him by asking “Why?”, and he said, “It’s the cleanest box I’ve ever seen, it looks like a textbook picture”. Having a professional, tell me that, well, again, a sense of pride in a job well done.

The most important reason of all though, and the reason I like to do all of these ‘do-it-yourself’ projects, is the sense of accomplishment I feel, not only when I finish one, but at each step along the way.

I learned, a long time ago, that if I ‘cut a corner’, doing so would haunt me. I mean it would literally keep me awake at night, that knowledge, that I’d taken a short cut, not done as good a job as I could have, I found it diminished me somehow. My mind would replay the project over and over, each time focusing on the skipped step, and re-doing that step, showing me how much ‘better’ the overall result would/could have been.

So, while sanding the entire bed, again, has been tedious, it’s left me with a renewed sense of purpose. I started this project because I wanted to give my wife something she’d never had before. A unique, one of a kind vehicle, which had been built for her, by someone she loved. Not for money, but simply because that person wanted to see the smile on her face the first time she drove it.

Why did I decide to build her a pickup truck?

That’s a simple answer. This was the first vehicle she’d ever purchased, entirely on her own, and been proud of. Her eyes would light up when she’d talk about how pretty the truck was when she first got it, and I love to see her eyes light up. They’d dim considerably after telling the story though, as she thought about the careless treatment of the truck by some of the people she’d let use it over the years.

So initially, this started out as a ‘freshen the old girl up’ project. But, like every project I start, it took on a life of its own. I’m more like Tim from the show “Home Improvement” than I care to admit at lot of the time. I can’t seem to do anything a little bit.

If I’m lucky, and things go well, I might have this finished by Spring. The more realistic time frame though is summer, and that would be Ok too. The only thing that’s really important to me, is the smile on her face when I hand her the keys and she drives it for the first time.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep working on it, taking everything one step at a time and not calling it ‘done’ until I’m satisfied that it’s done. It’s sort of like the Zen practice of contemplating each footstep, focusing on the step, and only that step, as you walk. It clears the mind of the other clutter, and allows you to fully enjoy the journey. I have an overall goal, a direction and a plan, but I’m enjoying the steps, and the process of working on and completing each one along the way!

I’ll post the pictures of the, once again stripped bed, this evening or tomorrow.

Today though, once the bed is stripped I have 4 new lights to hang, some ‘hard’ air line and two air filter/dryers to install and four shelves to put up, in the shop. So the picture posting will depend on what time when I get everything finished.

What project(s) are you in the middle of?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The best laid plans..

of both mice and men... often go astray …..

What began as a small project. . . .

When we found the house we now live in... she'd been sorely neglected... lived in but not cared for in nearly five years, and then totally vacant for three more years..

Our initial inspections and estimates had us spending maybe $8,000 and being wrapped up and in the house in maybe 6 weeks at the outside. Armed with all of our facts, as well as a ton of overconfidence, we negotiated her away from the foreclosure folks who had her, and into our anxious hands...

We decided to tackle the leaking kitchen roof first, as we wanted to get it dry inside before we started any of the other renovations...

Well, what at first appeared to be simple 'reshingle' project, turned out to be a major roof project!!

We wound up tearing *everything* off the roof, including not only the plywood sheathing, but actually having to replace all the roof rafters!! This little set back not only ate up 2.5 weeks of our schedule, it also ate up more than $5,000 of our budget!!

Oh well... the best laid plans you know!

Undaunted, with the roof tightened up, we began a 'tear out' of the original house. We pulled off all the drywall, wall and ceilings from the living room, walls and most of the ceiling from the den (which was slated to become a new Master bedroom) as well as tore out any and all cracked drywall throughout the house. This ended up meaning we replaced about 70% of all the drywall in the house.

In the middle of this tear out, we had our first real rainstorm... guess what?

The new roof, well, it still leaked around all the skylights.

We investigated, and discovered 'why' (or at least what we thought was why), and added small 'diverters' to channel the rainwater between each of the skylights, and the leaks..

We watched carefully during the next rainstorm (which occurred while we were reinstalling the drywall) and wonder of wonders, they appeared to have stopped leaking.

I remember sitting in the back yard one day, thinking about how *all* that time and money could have been saved, if only someone had thought of the diverters a decade sooner!! (I now know *why* I lived in Upstate NY all those years.. so I'd know about such things as diverters!!)


That was then, this is now.

I started writing that piece for my old MSN community back in 2001, and never finished it.

One of the skylights in the kitchen never did stop leaking entirely. Whenever we had a wind driven rain, a really long and in several hours rain, or, a whenever we were expecting company rain, it would leak again.

It was an exercise in anger management for me every time it did. I’d go through a whole gamut of emotion, depression, anger, frustration, laughter, pretty much any emotional condition you can imagine. It would tear me from any 'fun' mood I was in, and at times I'd border on despair. I'd never had a roof leak I couldn't solve before, and this one was tearing me up!

In addition, the during the first major rainstorm we had after moving in, we found there were leaks around the stone work for the fireplaces. Just very frustrating stuff.

We were out of money, our entire renovation budget, five times over (yeah, about $40,000, not $8,000), had been spent, and we were resolute that we had to pay down some bills before starting any new projects. I’d go up on the roof, caulk around the chimney, and adjust the diverter for the one leaking skylight, all to no real solution. Oh it would stop, for a little while, but then, just when we thought it was finally fixed, it would start up again.

This summer, we had the entire roof professionally torn off, reflashed, 30# felt laid down and new 30-Yr shingles applied.

It's much improved, the skylight no longer leaks, but, we still have a small leak around the stone work for the fireplaces. It’s certainly much better than it ever was, but it’s still not right. The contractor seems to think that the mortar and stone has become ‘porous’ and that’s where the water is getting in. So today he’s pressure washing the exterior and applying a sealer of some sort (all part of the price we paid as he guaranteed no leaks) and will recheck the new flashing for any problems.

The best part of all of this, is that this guy, will make it right, one way or another and finally, we’ll have a roof that doesn’t leak!! That what he’s promised, and I’ve never known him to break a promise.

The second best part, is that while he’s doing that, I get to keep sanding on the truck bed.

Yep, I’m still trying to get all of the ‘One Step’ product off the bed. It’s off, most everywhere except in the sanding scratches, where it’s hanging on for dear life. I think most folks would assume if it’s that tough to get out, it’s ‘stuck’ well enough. Not me, it’s all coming off as I have no desire to have the paint start lifting a year after the truck is finished!!

Well, that’s it for now, time for me to go have at the truck again. Thanks again for stopping by!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


This is the second article to be published in Alamance Magazine. The actual title of the article was "Rave Reviews For ARMC". For those of you not local to the area ARMC is the local hospital, Alamance Regional Medical Center. I wrote the article primarily because I was tired of hearing local folks downplay the facility, which is actually one of the best in the country.

Those of use that live in Alamance County are very fortunate when it comes to the availability of quality health care. We have Alamance Regional Medical Center (ARMC) in Burlington, a facility that’s only ten years old and has facilities that rival larger hospitals in much larger cities.

With such well known hospitals nearby, it’s often easy to dismiss the one in your backyard. As my wife and I have had a series of medical procedures over the past few years we did a lot of research into ARMC before we chose it.

In the research process I discovered a number of interesting items about our local hospital. Did you know that ARMC was selected as one of North Carolina’s Best Hospitals by Business North Carolina magazine? That ARMC also made the Top 10 list for orthopedics? I didn’t, and knowing those little pieces of information was very comforting when my wife had her knee surgery.

I’m always interested however, not only in what a hospital does medically, but how it’s run, on a day to day basis by the managers. I found that ARMC has been named to Solucient’s Top 100 Hospitals List for performance improvement, a means by which all hospitals are measured. This included aspects like quality of care, operational efficiency and financial performance. Only two other North Carolina hospitals made the national cut.

The real test for me though, is the people, and how they treat the patients. All of us are uncomfortable in the hospital, we probably didn’t want to be there in the first place, don’t feel well, are a bit irritable, and to be honest, in a lot of cases just a bit scared.

I’m always impressed with the volunteers at ARMC, especially those folks who greet you when you arrive for your scheduled procedure. They’re also your contact point if you’ve accompanied a loved one to the hospital. I’ve had more than a few experiences, and, in each and every case they were polite, helpful and extremely understanding.

That waiting period, while you sit quietly for your turn, can be very stressful. The care, compassion and helpfulness these folks provide, has far exceeded anything I’ve experienced elsewhere.

Our most recent experience at ARMC was for my wife’s hysterectomy. The surgery took a quite a bit longer than they’d originally anticipated, but as soon as the Doctor was through he came upstairs and explained everything. What he’d found, how the procedure went, what to expect over the next few hours and days and that he felt she was going to make a quick recovery.

She did recover quickly, and in no small part thanks to the nurses working the OB\Gyn floor that day. Any time she was in any discomfort or distress, I simply mentioned it to the staff and they were right there with something to get her feeling better again. Even when they had to contact the Doctor, they’d stop back in to give us an update.

I remember they were all very busy that day, but that entire group worked extremely well together, each doing their job, and more. There was always a kind word, a smile or a small joke to make us smile. These aren’t things they’re required to do, these are things that people who love their work, and the people they care for, do.

I can’t tell you where to go for your health care. I can tell you though, for us, ARMC is our first choice.

You can find out more about ARMC by visiting their nationally acclaimed website at:

Or learn all about wellness and use their interactive health information at:

Monday, October 10, 2005

More on Relationships…

While I’m certainly no relationship expert, I do have plenty of experience with good, and bad, relationships. I think that most folks, by the time they reach this stage in life, unless they’ve been locked in a room the entire time, have had plenty as well.

Why is it that a relationship can be so difficult to maintain, feel so fragile one day, and rocks steady another?

I think it boils down to communication.

I’m talking here, primarily, about personal relationships, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives, but I think the concept applies to any relationship, business or personal.

Communication; it’s the foundation, and the core, of the relationship. Without very good communication skills, in both partners, in my experience, the relationship is in for a rocky ride.

I see it in business relationships all the time. A client makes a request, the consulting company carries out what it thinks the request was, sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re not. Often the relationship is ended over this type of miscommunication. Who was at fault? Is it the client for not being clear enough? The consultant for not making sure they fully understood the request?

Obviously, both companies ‘wanted’ the same, or at least a similar, outcome. The client wanted what they’d requested, the consultant wanted to deliver exactly that, and get paid. Neither side got what they wanted; from that point on things begin to disintegrate.

They crumble in business relationships because of a loss of faith, the same is true in our personal lives. The two companies above will part ways, and they’ll both claim the other ‘cost them money’, but, in reality what they’re saying is that they no longer have faith that they can maintain a profitable relationship with the other.

I believe our personal relationships work in much the same way. Both parties have essentially complimentary intentions, but often, it’s an inability to clearly communicate what those are that leaves us feeling hurt, or misled, like the companies in the my example. The difference is, it's not 'money' but something far more important, self esteem. Bad communications, missed cues, can combine to hurt one person's feelings, and then self esteem is challenged.

Once that happens, it puts a ‘chink’ in our relationship armor, a ding, a surface imperfection. Each time it happens, we add another ‘ding’, once it’s gone on long enough, our relationship begins to resemble a car that’s been driven hard, and not cared for very well. It’s dull, faded, dinged up and in general a lot the worse for the wear.

So what is communication within a relationship? It’s made up of many things; one of the most important is listening.

It’s at least as important to listen, as it is to talk, when communicating with your partner. You need to listen carefully to what they’re saying, not only their words, but their body language and facial expressions. Listen, and try not to be preparing questions for anything you don’t understand completely (and you don’t understand anything, completely, trust me). You can ask for more information when they’ve finished, spend your time listening, not thinking.

Men and women, well we think, hear and interpret things quite differently. Men, we’re much more literal. If we say we want to go to the parts/hardware store for a can of paint, that’s why we’re going to the parts store. If we say that we see “another way” to approach a situation, that’s what we mean.

A woman, in my limited experience, is likely to interpret those statements differently from the intent. The parts/hardware store statement, for my wife, is heard something like “There might be a new part, or tool I don’t have, so I’m going to the store to get this can of paint, and check on new stuff”.

The I see a “different way” statement, could easily be interpreted as me trying to say whatever way she’s handling a problem now, is somehow wrong, and she should change to ‘my way’.

In the first case… well, if I’m being completely honest, she’d be right, at least some of the time. But the majority of the time, I’m on a mission, at least when I set out. I might see, or the parts guy might tell me of, something new that could make the project I’m working on better, or allow me to complete it quicker, but my intent was to get a specific item and return.

In the second case, she’d almost never be right. If I thought she was handling something in a certain manner and that the way she was doing it was somehow preventing her from reaching her goals, I’d tell her exactly that. I would not try to work up some vague way of getting her to figure it out from things I’d said.

If we reverse this scenario, for just a minute, you might see the reverse is also true. It’s unlikely she’d tell me, directly, that she thought I was ‘screwing up’. Instead, she’d discuss it with me, finding ways to cause me to think about my actions, and my results, until I saw it for myself.

You see, our approaches are different. She’s concerned about my ‘feelings’, and wants to be sure whatever she says doesn’t ‘sting’. Our ‘manly’ approach is to just state the facts, and expect they’ll be taken as facts, not as personal attacks.

I mean, after all, it was just the facts.

The real problem here is that we (men and women) approach our conversations, within our relationships, as though we were dealing with a member of our own sex, or ourselves, rather than with a member of the opposite sex, or our partner.

Men and women, see, interpret and feel things entirely differently (well for the most part, there are exceptions, but I’m generalizing here).

So, even more so than with your friends, associates, business clients and partners, you and your partner need to listen carefully to one another. Take the time to ask questions, to determine if what you heard, was what you thought you heard… especially if you thought you heard a ‘dig’… after all this person did choose you to spend their time/life with… would they really have said, what you thought they said, if you were their top choice?? Probably not if it was something you ‘heard’ negatively…

Asking these questions is not easy. Often we’re afraid we’ll hear an answer we do not want to hear… I’m here to tell you... you NEED to hear the answer… regardless. If your worst fears come true, and they meant what you thought you heard… you need to know that… and find out why they’re saying that.

On the other hand, it’s quite possible, when you ask you’ll hear something to allow you to put away those fears, and realize the person you’re with loves you, and would never, intentionally say anything to hurt your feelings.

Start now, today. Work on your communication skills, and especially communicating with your partner. Do it now, before you let a lack of effort ‘beat up’ your relationship. You’ll be glad you did!!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A bad day in the shop…..

Is still better than a good day in some other places… like prison for example…

I’ve had the most frustrating day I can remember, today.

Yesterday I finished the welding on the floor of the truck bed. After that I spent the rest of the day sanding (mostly by hand) the entire floor. You see after 25 years of service there was hardly a square inch of the floor that wasn’t scratched and rusting, at least lightly.

All of the ridges in a bed floor, that give it strength, also make it nearly impossible to machine sand. As a result it’s a slow, tedious, manual process, that, I actually felt pretty good about when I had it finished.

The final step for the day was to spray down three coats of a product from ‘Mar-Hyde’ called “One-Step Rust Converter”. Well the fact that I had to spray three coats should have been my first inkling that it wasn’t really a ‘One Step’ process.

This is supposedly some ‘high-tech’ stuff… chemical process this… binds at the molecular level that… mumbo jumbo…

But, I sprayed down the three coats, and watched in amazement as the product began to turn from clear, to purple… then to black… just like the directions said.

I closed the shop down, leaving the doors open and the fans on to pull the fumes out, and went in to get cleaned up for dinner.

After dinner I finished closing up the shop and called it a night.

This morning, I hit the shop with all sorts of ideas of ‘scuffing’ the material I’d put down yesterday, and beginning the final work on the floor.

The first pass of a piece of 180 grit sandpaper over that beautiful black “One Step” product; told me I was in trouble. The stuff had not adhered to the metal, or the rust! It was coming off in quarter and silver dollar sized flakes.

This is like a nightmare. On one hand, I’m glad I discovered it now, and not after I’d put another couple of days work and several hundred dollars of materials in place!! On the other, all that material (and money), paint, sand paper, etc, etc… are wasted, and it’s got to all come off, again.

So… what did I do today? I sanded, scraped and essentially had an instant replay of yesterday. The big question in my mind is ‘why’? Why did this stuff not ‘stick’, or adhere, like you would expect. With those thoughts in my mind, it's sanded, but I didn't put down any sort of sealer, I'll decide on that tomorrow.

Like any good geek, I went to the internet, found their website, and looked for answers… none to be found. Clicked on their ‘forums’ button… only to find it wasn’t a ‘forum’ but a way to submit a question, which I did, but, as yet, no answer.

I have some suspicions, some thoughts on the adhesion problem, but, if I’m right, they definitely should have put it on the label!!

I think, the humidity was too high. They do impress the importance of making sure the surface is clean, and dry. I had degreased it, as well as wiped it all down with a final surface prep… and had let all of that dry. But, the humidity was very high yesterday as it rained almost all day.

I think that moisture interferes with the ‘chemical molecular binding process’ crap… and that it doesn’t have to be wet… it could just be ‘damp’ from the ambient moisture in the air.

So, I’m delayed at least another week before I can begin re-assembly of the truck bed as I have to find out how to solve this problem. If I’m wrong, and it’s not the moisture that’s the culprit, I’m clueless as what else I could have done!!

If any of you reading this, have any knowledge, I’d love to hear what you know!!

I did take some pics, and after I decide what to do tomorrow, I’ll get those off the camera and at least let you see where I am with all of this.

Something tells me I should have just loaded up some good old lacquer primer laid down two or three good coats and moved on… I’m not so sure technology is always the best answer!!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

My second article came out today!

I was out in the shop.... I looked up from sanding (endlessly) on the truck bed (more on that later) and saw my wife standing in front of the garage door waving 'something' in her hand.

In my primer and bondo-dust haze I had a tough time figuring out what she was doing... until I realized it was the October issue of AlamanceCounty magazine!

Once again I feel like a proud father or something.... this feeling, of seeing my words in print, could get very addictive!

That's it for now... back to the shop!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

It’s been a busy week…

But, due to the hours I’ve been logging, I’ll be getting a 3 day weekend! The client wants to keep my weekly hours around 40, and by taking Friday off I’ll still have 82 for the two week period… More dust, grease, welding and grinding this weekend for sure!

First, I think I might not have been clear in my last post. I’m still doing the same thing, at the same place, through the same broker. What changed is that I took a little less $$$ (about 5% net) to pick up paid holiday, sick and vacation time (21 days total) and health benefits. It’s true though, I’m an actual IRS certified... ‘employee’… Although, to the client, I'm still a contractor.

I did write a neat little piece of code today, that I think I’ll publish on one of my websites this weekend. The short of it is that it will automatically sync structure changes made to a ‘remote’ database whenever you are updating a local copy. This has been a real issue for the work I’ve been doing. Most of the data I am working with, originates as DB2 tables on a mainframe. For the most part, I pull it down to the network and perform analysis and reporting with it. In addition there are several applications that make use of this data via daily ‘updates’ and this takes a burden off the mainframe for local queries and so on.

The DB2 admins are regularly changing that table structures to meet the needs of the 1,000’s of users. Unfortunately, when they do that to one of ‘my’ tables, it means I’m not getting all the information in the file. This little dynamic ‘structure checker’ identifies that, and will automatically bring the two systems back in sync.

Ok… enough code talk…

I’ve talked, in the past, about a lot of my old friends. I’ve never really talked about my family though, outside of my Mom and Dad.

For whatever reason, today, I found myself thinking about my brother Jim.

I kept thinking back to something that occurred over 30 years ago.

It happened one weekend that I’d come home on leave from the service, possibly right before I shipped overseas.

The summer before I enlisted, 1971, I’d bought a brand new Honda 350SL MotoSport. A sweet, on/off road bike that wasn’t great at either, but fun riding either place, none the less! I’d ridden it all over that summer, and before I left, I’d stored it in my parent’s garage. I was 19 or 20 when this happened, so Jim had to be 15 or 16.

I never gave it a thought when I was storing it there, but, to a teenager, a motorcycle, just sitting there, begging to be ridden had to be an almost irresistible temptation. It turned out to be not an ‘almost’, but an impossible, temptation for Jim.

Unconcerned about the wrath that could (and most likely would) come his way from me, or my parents, he’d found the keys, figured out how to start and ride it, and was enjoying a daily ride in the ‘woods’ with his buddies.

All was going pretty well for Jim; his clandestine rides had gone undetected, up until this particular day.

It seems they’d been venturing further and further from home, exploring new and uncharted territory (to them), in short having the time of their young lives.

It all came to a screeching halt, on the day in question, when, as they were riding alongside the railroad tracks, they happened upon a railroad patrol officer, who had with him one of the local town cops.

Well, they put the fear of God into the young lads, and, when Jim gave the cop his name, it turned out he’d played basketball with our Dad. He told Jim that if he’d have Dad call him, he wouldn’t confiscate the bike, and there would be no formal charges for trespassing.

So here I am, drifting into town, on leave, planning a great time with the girlfriend… that my brother had been stealing my bike and riding it without my permission, was the furthest thing from my mind.

As I walked in the back door, Jim immediately grabs me and explains that he’s got something to tell me.

Now, you’ve got to know my brother Jim, he’s very hard to get, or stay, mad at. He’s always had a sort of ‘comic’ personality, where if you start off getting angry, you end up laughing.

Well, by the time he’s finished telling me this story, so nervous he’s close to hyperventilation (he’s breathing that fast), I don’t know whether I should be angry, or laugh at the dilemma he’s got himself into.

My Dad will absolutely come unglued, I have no doubt that Jim would ‘still’ be grounded… it would have been that bad, but, in telling me, he’s risked a huge ass kickin… and he knew it. The best part however, he saved for last…

His plan, to 'fix' all of this, is for me to call the officer, say I’m ‘Bill Coupe’ (which is true, just not ‘the’ Bill Coupe he’s expecting to be calling), and talk the matter over with him.

At first, I told him ‘No way’… that I wasn’t going to be a part of his ‘criminal career’… but, I knew all along I was going to do it… I just wanted him to suffer a little first!

So, long before ‘Dad’ would be home, I made the call. Got the officer on the phone, listened to the story, got an earful of tidbits on the pranks this cop and my Dad had pulled ‘back in the day’… explained that it was actually my oldest son’s bike that he’d left here while doing his tour of duty in the Navy… and had a good laugh with him about the ‘thrashing’ Jim was going to get.

In the end, it turned out that there never were any charges; the railroad guy was just worried the kids would get hurt, and didn’t want them near the tracks on their motorcycles. However, had Jim had to tell our Dad, knowing how much he hated motorcycles, Jim would surely have been in big trouble!

I don’t know if Jim ever rode the bike again, he said he didn’t, but I tend to think he did, just being more careful about ‘where’ and ‘when’ he rode it.

There are certainly a 1,000 or more other stories about my siblings, hopefully I’ll remember a few, and write them up before my memory fails me!

Anyway, thanks for stopping by… and as always, I love to know what you’re thinking… so leave a comment!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I’m actually an “employee” again…

I inked a deal on Friday, with the contract house that has been finding and administrating my contracts, ITI .

For the past year or so I’ve been an independent contractor, a ‘1099’ employee. While that’s been fine, it also meant I had to keep track of my tax liabilities, provide my own medical and dental as well as set up my own retirement account and so on.

I've had very little contact with these folks over the last year. I met a few people at the start of the contract, but, as it was only supposed to be six (6) weeks long, I wasn't expecting to see too much of them. There have been one or two phone calls, mainly me calling to give them a 'heads up' about contract extensions and so on, but, all in all, they've been very transparent in the process.

I had lunch (for the first time) with the owner and one of the reps this week and during the meal they discussed the idea of me becoming an regular (W-2) type "employee".

I have to admit I was a bit torn. On one hand it’s been nice being independent, I work the hours I want, no problem keeping up with ‘paid time off’ (as there is none) and every hour I am billable for, I get paid for. All in all, a straight up and fair to all parties, deal.

There had also been the possibility (as mentioned to me several times troughout the year) that the client was going to hire me, but last week in several conversations it became pretty clear that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. My manager explained that, for next year I’d been put in the budget as a contractor, not an employee. Not a big deal, in and of itself, to me.

I figured I could buy my own health insurance (as COBRA will be ending soon), continue to fund my own 401K and just continue doing what I’d been doing.

However, when Maryan and I were going through the mail one evening this week my thoughts began to change.

It seems my previous employer had elected to switch health insurance carriers (once again, not a big deal by itself). However, the new plan isn’t in the new insurance company’s “system” yet, and, some of the health care providers we’ve been dealing with for Maryan’s back are not ‘in network’ and the new company requires ‘pre-approval’ for all physical therapy, in, or out of, their “network”.

Well things began to cascade fairly quickly from there. The PT place cancelled all of her appointments next week, citing a lack of approval from the (non-existent) health insurance company. We can’t get any prescriptions filled (without paying full price now and waiting for a reimbursement from the, (again non-existent) insurance company… etc... etc…

So, Maryan made several calls to the previous employer during the week, talked with HR, the President’s secretary, the insurance agent and the insurance company… all to no avail.

Friday morning, I called and left John (the President) a voicemail, asking for a personal favor, that he get this resolved for me. I also called the insurance agent and asked for the same help.

Well, when she called back the insurance agent proceeds to tell me I have nothing to worry about… and I have to stop her right there, and explain that despite what she ‘thinks’, I do have something to worry about. That my wife’s post surgery therapy is being interrupted, that the PT center has cancelled all of her appointments for next week and the insurance company has no information, at all, on this supposed new policy, or, and more importantly, "us".

I went on to explain, as calmly as I could, that if this in any way hindered her full recovery, I would hold, her, the agency and my former employer (who as of this morning, has still not returned my call) liable.

She then started to explain that the company made the decision to ‘switch’ insurance carriers, late… and once again I stopped her.

I asked why, should her inability to get her client to act in a timely manner, or the client’s inability to make a timely decision, be my problem. That this was certainly looking more and more like an actionable situation should my wife be harmed by their inability to take action in a timely manner.

When it was all said and done, she promised to get things straight, today, and call me back.

In the meantime, the folks from ITI (the contract house) called, with an offer. It was exactly what I’d hoped it would be, paid time off, medical, dental, 401K (with a generous match) a ‘salary’ + hourly payment for any billable hours worked past 40!

All in all, net... net… I’m going to wind up within 5% of where I am now. Pretty fair deal all the way around, as far as I’m concerned.

The real bonus in all of this, to me, is that Maryan and I won’t have to deal with the ‘old’ employer any longer. We’ll be finally free of all of that, and trust me, that alone is a big deal to me!! Maybe even more importantly, ITI has Blue Cross as their health insurance carrier, which, in my opinion, is vastly superior to 'WellPath', the company my old employer had switched to!!

So, it’s Sunday morning, I spent a good 6 hours in the garage yesterday, but took only two pictures as I spent the entire time trying to get the last patch welded into the truck bed. (I still have a little more work to do there today!)

It was one of those if it can go wrong it will kind of things. I initially forgot to turn the shielding gas on, and with a MIG welder that leads to all sorts of trouble… Duhhhh… so it was cut the patch back out, refit it as best I could (you may recall I got rid of all the ‘spare’ donor bed parts in the dumpster earlier in the week) and attempt to make up the voids that resulted with thin strips of sheet metal.

Not exactly a masterpiece, but with an hour or so more work, it’ll be a pretty seamless patch to all but a very trained eye. Once I blend it with some body filler, prime it, paint it and then have the bed liner sprayed down, I doubt anyone will ever be able to tell!

I know I promised pictures, and as soon as I start getting all these pieces into primer I’ll definitely take, and post them!

Thanks again for stopping by, and for leaving me comments… I love hearing what you folks are thinking!