Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Smart Breaker Story

After a couple of days of planned downtime, the plant was ready to produce again.  Except for one particular breaker that would not reset.

It was not a normal run of the mill breaker, it was a ten thousand dollar smart breaker.  Those were used to control whole MCC sections.  They are sophisticated units, part mechanical with a spring loading mechanism and part electronic with an on board processor and memory.

Not wanting the plant to suffer un-planned downtime, I sprang into action like GI Joe with the Kung-fu grip!  I called the manufacturer.  They connected me to a very knowledgable fellow in tech support.  He instructed me step by step on a 30 minute procedure using a pencil to reactivate the mechanism.

Unknown to me, the plant's engineer (in title only) had already called our local distributor.  They sent three contractors to the plant.  When I looked in, they were trying to remove the breaker.  Only they discovered that the breaker was welded to the bus bars due to our power quality problem.  No problem for the gorillas, they just get bigger tools and use more force!

I tried to stop their madness, but this just caused the engineer to put me in my place:

"They have got to remove that breaker."

"Okay, but then what?"

"We're going to replace it with a new one."

"But, we don't have a new one?"

"Yes we do.  It's only two days out."

"Two days?  Do you know what that downtime is going to cost?  And what about the risk of destroying the bus bars?"

"You guys never mind him.  Just keep doing what you need to..."

If I was to save the plant, I had to get the big cheese involved.  We had to stop the irreversible damage from being done!  I don't know how I did it, but the gorillas were stopped.

The big boss agreed with me on one thing: let's wait until we have a replacement available.  The gorillas were grumpy about packing up their extended pry bars and the engineer was disheveled.  But I got myself a little time and perhaps a chance to do my thing.

I explained what I had learned to my immediate supervisor.  I pleaded for a half hour opportunity to fix that smart breaker.  In that politically charged environment, he reluctantly granted my wish.

I felt like I had to sneak into the MCC room to do my job.  Once inside, I retrieved my notes prescribed by the service tech and thirty minutes later, reset the breaker.

I called my boss with the triumphant news.  He in turn notified the production leads and there was a lot of unhappy workers putting their lunch boxes back down.  They were on their way out the door for an impromptu two day vacation and some hot-shot ruined it!

Everybody at the plant was mad at me for doing my job.  Not the least of which was that engineer that thought he knew better than I did, again.  What's worse?  The plant manager didn't even offer a thanks...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Corporate Land of Oz

It was a strange place indeed, the Corporate Land of Oz.  The Tin Man and Lion conspired against the Wizard.  The minions cheered and sang, "Ding Dong the Witch is dead!" at the demise of the Tin Man.  And Dorothy announced that she would miss the Scarecrow LEAST of all!

When Dorothy first realized that it was NOT her boss that hired her, she remarked to Toto that this obviously wasn't Kansas.  The real man running the show was the Wizard, but the Tin Man did the hiring?  Very strange indeed!

The Tin Man and the Lion were inseperable.  Dorothy could understand the basis of their personal relationship, but their professional relationship was grossly flawed.  Nevertheless, the two were united in their conspiracy to overthrow the Wizard.

Dorothy immediately gained respect for the magic that the Wizard posessed.  The Wizard orchestrated the show with expert precision.  He had such a mastery of Oz that he could dictate any task that Dorothy was assigned to.  He could tell Dorothy how to perform in extreme detail right down to the size of socket she would need on the ratchet!  Time and time again, the Wizard would impress Dorothy with his wisdom and knowledge of Oz.  But the relationship was not reciprocal.

The Wizard was wise to the conspiracy against him.  He knew that the conspirators had hired Dorothy.  Dorothy was viewed in eyes of suspicion, and that went for her little dog too!

It took the help of the wicked Witch, but the Tin Man and the Lion suceeded in overthrowing the Wizard.  They exposed his truth; he was merely a man.  He was not magic at all, but just a fallible human being.

With the Wizard out of the way, they saw the perfect opportunity to bring in their good buddy the Scarecrow.  Dorothy was a certified thermographer and got excited when she heard the Scarecrow too had a camera.  But her hopes of learning from the Scarecrow were dashed when it became immediately clear that he was lacking a brain.

Dorothy thought the Corporate Land of Oz was strange with the Wizard at the controls, but things were much, much worse when the brain-less Scarecrow tried the controls.  The Scarecrow was so inept that he began making everybody around him look like slobbering imbeciles!

When Dorothy saw what was going on, she started clicking her heels and repeating with her eyes closed, "There's no place like home, There's no place like home..."  But she was stuck in Oz for awhile longer.

Dorothy did her very best to make Oz a better place.  But the Lion would tell the Tin Man that Dorothy was an idiot savant.  The Lion had the evil Witch put a spell on Dorothy so that nobody could understand her.  Dorothy thought she was speaking in plain English, but everybody heard Greek coming out of her mouth!

Dorothy couldn't understand why the Wizard could clearly understand her.  But now when she spoke, the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Scarecrow went glossy eyed.

One fateful day, the Witch discovered that the Tin Man had been spiking his oil can with powerful spirits!  Suddenly, the Tin Man was departed and the Lion was very scared, sad, and lonely.

The Scarecrow, however, was very happy because the Witch put him in charge.  The Lion lacked the courage to deal with these changes and hid under his desk from the hyenas.  But none of these going ons helped Dorothy with the disillusions.  She kept counting the days when clicking her heels would work.

There were many opportunities for Dorothy to make meaningful contributions.  But the Witch's spell left her unable to effectively communicate with anybody who might understand.

So the day finally came when the magic in Kansas was right for Dorothy to go home.  Dorothy cheerfully bid adieu to the Corporate Land of Oz.  The Scarecrow showed at her going away party, but in all honesty she had to admit that she would miss him LEAST of all!

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Six Million Dollar (idea) Man!

Knowing how to improve the chances of increasing your net worth is challenging.  I came from the bottom myself.  Hard work, playing the odds and the standard advice rings hollow without stories demonstrating how it can work.

Making a real million dollar contribution is a sure way to get noticed.  It is easier said than done.  So here's three examples that got me some notoriety and a "get out of jail" card in corporate life:

My first employment was a million dollar effort that I wasn't cognitive of.  I was what corporate America desired most of their employees- bright but clueless.  I didn't realize my worth until the very end.  That was when I realized that my contributions were quantified, and it was my own ignorance to blame for failing to profit from my own growth.

Upon returning from an unprecedented vacation of an entire work week, I soon became aware that something really bad happened.  Something to the tune of $15 million!  That should have been my first conscious realization - the sheer size of that number!

My next conscious realization should have taken notice of the huge number of e-mails dedicated to the problem.  Too many to read thoroughly, I started skimming through them.  I started to get a real bad feeling about it, the farther I went into it and pieced together what happened.

When I discovered the conclusion, that I was the MAIN scapegoat for this incredibly costly mistake, it should have been completely obvious the amount of my worth was underpaid!  Instead of thinking like a business man and examining the significance of the numbers, I took the whole ordeal personal.

There was huge potential in being the lowest paid, but apparently most significant player in a multi-million dollar blunder!  If a brother is going to take that kind of responsibility, surely a brother deserves a significant raise!  But I didn't think like that.  Not then.  Instead, I was hung up on the ridiculous situation and focussed on the juggernauts rail-roading my sensitive little ego.

The first to share the blame was the top section head manager.  He was relatively new and immediately instituted department wide changes.  The most significant of this case was the elimination of the defect engineer.  The defect engineers duties would be spread out according to classification.

"What?! Who is going to do the classification? That's the whole purpose of that position." My immediate concern was voiced.

"Don't worry.  You will only be responsible for defects in your area of expertise.  We'll split it up, so everybody shares the burden."

"That doesn't make any sense!  I don't know how to do the defect engineer's job."  My question was not being answered.

"Don't worry.  You will get specialized training."

Lie!  The training never happened.  We were supposed to pick it up on the go.  That was the biggest mistake in this multi-million dollar blunder.

The next in line was that manager's boy.  He was the area coordinator, and admittedly very good at his job.  Maybe a little overconfident with the manager's constant approval?  He networked several of the machines to a common server.  That expedited the updates of software revisions.  This was new to us and we were too busy to remember that all of the machines were linked, right or wrong.

The problem was immediately identified by a random qualification test of one of the machines.  Production didn't recognize that one bad now meant they were all bad either.  Standard procedure was followed, but the techs worked on the single offender all night long and couldn't fix it.

When they filled me in with the details that morning, I had a quick hunch what the problem was.  My hunch was correct and production applauded my ten minute fix that solved their all night problem.  Except I was too busy going on with my new Defect Engineers duties to think that all the machines had the same problem.  I didn't know what the hell I was doing in that role!  I was expected to see the subtle change in the product occuring.  It was an easy catch for the REAL defect engineer.  What in the hell was wrong with me?!

And so it was, that week and the following week that I was on vacation that the product was mis-processed to the tune of $15,000,000.  And I was the tech to fix the problem at the early stage, and I was at the helm in the Defect Engineer's role to catch the problem early - and I was the MAIN person to blame for the blunder.  The department manager called a special meeting to say so.  Never mentioned my name, but everybody knew who I was!

That was the straw that broke the camel's back.  I hit the streets and immediately landed a new job.  I was so excited and elated!
I couldn't wait to tell my boss off!  And my boss's boss and the area coordinator and the whole damned board of directors and the CEO!  Man! was I pissed!

My first day back, I had an abnormal extra spring in my step. I had a fixed grin on my face and I couldn't wait to tell my boss the news.
"I am quitting.  This is my official two weeks notice."

"What!? Are you serious?"  He was obviously rattled.  "You know that KK is going to want to talk to you?"  He had an obvious fear of his superiors.

I chuckled with a hint of disgust, "I should hope so!  I have a few things that I want to tell him!"

It didn't take long for the word to spread.  The area coordinator was the first to come and talk to me.  He was still skirting any responsibility in the matter.

"I have talked to KK about this.  You know that we value your contributions and there is a wage increase in store for you?"

"That is too little too late." My disgusted response to the realization that I was grossly underpaid for years.  "I have already accepted another job and I will honor that commitment."

He was suddenly shaken.  "Well, I think that you should re-consider.  I don't know how much you're making, but from my talk with KK, we are ready to make things right for you..."

I just hardened my stance, "After what's transpired?  I don't think so.  I have a new job.  A new beginning!  That is ALL that matters to me."

He became obviously angry with me.  He didn't say another word to me, ever.  Not even when I bumped into him at the pizza place months later.

Despite the rumors indicating otherwise, I worked out those entire long two last weeks.  On the last day of my final minutes, the facility suffered a power outage.  Everybody else was out to lunch and I was alone in the bay doing my best to salvage the product in the process.  I got that strange feeling of somebody watching me and it was KK, standing in the main hallway watching me scramble.

I'd finally made it to the last hour and my appointment with KK.  I wasn't the slightest bit nervous. The outcome of the meeting didn't matter to me at all.  In a lot of ways, I became more of a man in those coming moments.

I walked straight into his office, standing tall.  He offered me a seat and I declined.  And then I let him have it!  I didn't use a single cuss word, but I was stern and direct.

I told him how he created the environment for me to fail.  I told him how he coddled his "boys" and threw me to the wolves!  And I told him how it felt to be singled out in the department meeting.  When I finished my ranting monologue, I looked him straight in the face.  He was looking down.  And to my surprise, the apologies started.

He was oblivious of the impact that all of this had on me.  He certainly didn't intend for those things to affect me the way they had.  He backed up, admitted his wrong doing, and sincerely apologized.  And then he tried to persuade me to stay.

Something drastically changed inside of me as this was transpiring.  This was not what I imagined?  I was becoming less warrior, not taking everything personal and getting a wider angle on things.  A better business perspective!

I realized that it wasn't a pugilistic relationship.  That was MY mistake.  It really was a cooperative effort.  I realized that I did own half of the power of negotiation.  I was not powerless as I had feared.  They did care about me and they did really want collective success!  If I had been more open about my needs and desires, it would not have become so isolated and personal.  I would have benefitted from a more healthy business relationship.

That experience of my last minute on my last day was so empowering!  It started to make perfect sense.  I didn't have to be envious of others.  I could have what they had too, what an epiphany!  But that wasn't a "six million dollar idea" as much as it was a "six million dollar blunder". 

My next opportunity came at my next employer.  We had a long conveyor belt that was difficult to track and resulted in $2 million of annual product waste.  At least three different engineers had given their best shot, but the problem remained.

I was assigned to go on a business trip to learn about a new machine that we were purchasing.  My reputation as a scribe and willingness to share new information got me on the plane with three other constituents. 

I quickly got bored with the sanitation demonstration and wandered away from the small crowd.  What was really drawing my attention was the long conveyor belt running on a nearby bake tunnel.  One of their engineers noticed my snooping.

"How do you do that?  That belt tracking is tight!"

His eyes lit up and I immediately knew that I was lucky enough to ask the right person.  "We have demanding standards and found this one particular vendor out of a dozen that met those needs."

That single discovery saved our company millions!  It was something that I could hang my hat on.  It probably got me out of jail a time or two?

My next example wasn't as much a single idea as it was a sustained million dollar effort.  There was a fair amount of good luck involved in this case because I happened upon a perfect storm.

The technician whom I took over from was fired.  He was a union guy, so it took the better part of two years to get rid of him.  He did a poor job in every aspect.  Things were in dire straits when I took over.  I was up for the challenge and my skill set and experience was a perfect match for what was needed to turn operations around.

It took six months of scrambling to get things back to par.  After that the section manager held a meeting to introduce a stretch goal.  They had identified $1.2 million annual waste from the machines that I was supporting.  In addition of that was $100,000 they were spending on field service just to keep running.

One field tech in particular made most of the visits.  He was a dedicated, intelligent, straight up guy that made the most of his limited time there.  We became immediate friends, like two thieves meeting in the night.

The million dollar waste number was calculated from the performance capabilities claimed by the manufacturer.  The devil was in the details though, and the machines were far from their operation capabilities because of lacking discipline on our part.

The caring field tech had made a substantial list of recommendations to improve performance.  But that implementation would require the efforts of full time employees.  Since the tech responsible for that was a loser, absolutely nothing on the list was done for two years.  Once I got my head above water, I set to changing that.

Over the next six months, I started by making some lasting improvements that compounded.  We continued checking off literally​ a couple hundred little things that contributed to the goal.  Along the way, I added a few big hitter ideas of my own.

I was there for almost one year exactly when we had a follow up meeting for the stretch goal.  We were still short of the stretch goal, but we had gotten half way in six months!  Adding that to the $100,000 that I'd saved the company in field service, and my $50,000 salary was up for negotiation. 

They tried real hard to keep me on after I was offered another job.  The kick in the ass there was that the union would not allow my salary boost!  They said that I had peaked for my classification!  But the company pulled out the stops and offered to make me salary which would remove the union control of the situation and allow them to top my recent offer.  I still declined because my new offer was more consistent with my long term goal.

Bad bosses series: The Making of a Safety Zealot

"Don't worry.  Everybody will receive the proper training in due time."

It was the half-truth that I have heard many times before.  This new cost cutting philosophy would cause the catalyst that changed my life, forever.

The boring importance of a safety-first attitude first occured to me in my thirties.  I began to realize that it was taking longer to heal from my mistakes!  But along with that realization, witnessing and participating in a horrific industrial accident left a lasting impression on me about safe behavior.

She was the sweetest of ladies of Asian descent.  Everybody took a liking to her quickly and she had absolutely zero enemies.  She was soft spoken and easy to talk with.  She was also an exceptionally hard worker and extremely detail quality oriented. 

The new flavor of the month management variety was a cost cutting scheme that better utilized human resources.  It would require regular production workers to perform specialized sanitation duties as well, at the food manufacturing facility.  "Don't worry.  You will all receive proper training in due time.", was the half truth coming from the bosses.

So there she was, the regular production operator, now performing sanitation on the machines.  She was cleaning a conveyor belt while the belt was running.  She missed a spot that passed over the nose to underneath.  Being so detail oriented, she didn't think twice about going after it.

She was wearing latex gloves for protection from the cleaning chemicals.  The conveyor belt was siliconized urethane and especially grippy against latex gloves.  As she got under the machine, she saw the offending spot and reached for it.  The belt pulled her hand in.

She tried to push her self away with her free hand in a futile effort.  The powerful machine just pulled both hands in.  The ten horsepower motor didn't slow a bit as it ground away at her shoulder and face, trying to pull her whole body in.  She was stuck for long minutes that must have felt like hours before  somebody passing by stopped to take notice of her fainting cries, "help...help"

At first thought the passerby thought it to be  joke.  She couldn't see anybody around, yet she thought for sure that she heard a soft human voice?  She crouched down and discovered the gruesome sight.  In absolute panic, she passed the emergency button before coming back to hit it.

I was walking the floor with my tool bag in hand when the first operator frantically ran to me.  I immediately read from his still and colorless face that something bad had happened.  I was the first tech to arrive at the scene and immediately locked the power off at the local disconnect.  As soon as I snapped my padlock tight, I peered underneath to see a life-less body half hanging from the machine.

I froze.  I could feel my eyes welling up and all of my energy seemed to drain from my head, down my shoulders, and fall off of my hands.  Just then, my coworker showed up.  "What do we do?" I asked him trying to fight off the shock.

"Get your tools down here, we've got to get her free."

And we began to take the machine apart while other emergency responders struggled underneath to support her motionless body.  We couldn't seem to turn the wrenches fast enough.  All the while, fresh blood was running down our hands and pooling on the floor that we had to lay on to reach the machine.

We finally got the machine apart and her body just slumped into the many hands of the responders supporting her.  They immediately began first aid and we went to meet the paramedics who were on their way in.  We didn't know that she was still alive until after the paramedics had taken her away. 

She suffered multiple fractures, especially to the first arm that went in and wrapped around a roller.  She had to endure surgeries and skin grafts and the mental recuperation which included visiting the machine afterwards.  After a partial recovery, she was re-assigned to administration duties.

The evening after that event, I must have washed my hands more than six times and I could still smell blood.  I couldn't sleep a wink that night.

I decided to get more involved with the safety efforts.  I volunteered to join the safety committee and when a new program was introduced, I was on the core team.  I took advantage of every opportunity offered to learn more about "safety".

Safety is hard and thankless work.  It was a lot like maintenance in that respect; I could totally relate.  There are no ticker-tape parades for safe behaviors that result in nothingness.  The same for preventive maintenance that results in not a break down.  There's nothing spectacular about preventing catastrophe.  No big show. No big thanks.  Not even an acknowledgement.  In fact, usually the opposite!

There is a natural human tendency to only react to "newsworthy" events.  By and large, almost any effort that goes to prevent a newsworthy event goes unheralded.  It was a lot like my career in maintenance.  You worked hard at performing modifications and performing periodic maintenance so that a machine would not break down.  The "player haters" of the world would accuse us of being a bunch of lazy slackers.

It's too easy and too common for people to confuse motion with progress.  If they don't see the fire-fighters fighting a fire, they deem the fire-fighters as unnecessary.  There is the same stigma with safety.  There is no exciting glory to any work performed that prevents accidents.

Good safety people have to be tough, self-motivated, hard workers. 

"What should we call ourselves?"  The question came up at our first meeting.

"How about safety NAZI's?"  I suggested trying to be quick witted and lighten the mood.

"You know? An acronym for No Accidents and Zero Incidents."

They actually gave it some serious consideration before deciding upon something less memorable.  We were the safety "Bears" or something like that?

I had unselfish and selfish reasons for my dedication to safety.  As much as I wanted to help others and never go through another horrible accident, I also wanted to protect myself.  I knew that I only had my labor to sell.  My "product" would be harder to market without a fully functional healthy body. 

Employers are well aware of the high costs associated with un-healthy workers.  Sick leave, insurance premiums, and low productivity are all detrimental to business.  I have always been driven to make the most of what I have.  That is probably one of the keys to success?  If it was as simple as having the best of everything, then everybody would be out buying it.

I still remember a lot of the key behaviors that we routinely went over hundreds of repetitions.  Keep your eyes on the path and task, don't put your hands where you can not see,  proper grip and force, the right tool for the job,  proper lifting form, proper personal protective equipment, proper communication, lock out tag out, zero energy state, and many other time consuming difficult behaviors.

I learned that you can do the same un-safe behavior 99 times without any negative consequences.  BUT, that 100th time is a real BITCH!  The only difference is LUCK.  To remove the luck factor requires a little extra effort.  It's that little effort that everybody agrees was worthwhile AFTER something bad happens.

The Marines say "We never send a Marine where we can't send a bullet first."  I modified this simple and easy to remember mantra as my guiding concept to safety: "Don't put your body where your mind hasn't gone first!"

I have learned so many methods of promoting safety - ALL legitimate and applicable.  It is a topic that you have to continually learn and practice so long as you value your single greatest asset:
YOUR HEALTH!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Art - that you can eat!

Part of what keeps America great is the diversity of heritage.  Our National culture can be re-defined and expanded in many directions.  Hyphenated Americans can chose the best of their old culture, or adapt the better American culture.  This is especially exciting regarding the variety of food.  The limitless expression of food preparation on our diverse and ever evolving culture.

My heritage was the perfect spark of interest for my beginning art of food, both old world and new world.  Otherwise, I might not have been encouraged to learn, because most of American culture considers food preparation to be a feminine trait.  In the old country there are no such pre-conceived notions.

Most Americans can accept top male chefs as well as female worldwide.  But for whatever reason, there is stigmatism for the home cooks.  The male home cook is a bold minority in America.  Although I think we have progressed lately?

There have always been a few macho food subsets.  The one that immediately comes to mind is barbeque.  It's always been manly to cook meat over an open fire.  But a further study on the expanse of the subject of just bbq exposes the same fundamental artistic qualities as any other cooking.  So you have to wonder why certain things are considered more masculine when we are talking about food?  I'm just glad that I've never felt inhibited by such non-sensical ideas.

Early in life, I had good reasons to be enthusiastic about food.  The two people that fed me the best made lasting impressions on me: my Grandmother and my Dad.

My Grandma was the prototypical classic American home cook.  She would have won on so many cooking competition television shows that I like watching.  She elevated everything that she did to the level of Art, especially her cooking!

Her kitchen repertoire was seemingly limitless.  I wondered if the extreme circumstances of her upbringing, and the Great Depression and all somehow contributed to her creativity?  She could make the mundane magnificent!

I would have to start a whole 'nother blog to go on and on about my Grandma.  To keep it short and to one story: she would call me up when she got to missing me.  "There's peach cobbler in the oven."  And I would drop everything that I was doing and pull out all of the stops to get there in time to enjoy her warm and fresh from the oven peach cobbler!

My Dad's cooking ability is also off the charts.  He often plays host to other hyper-critical Basque guests.  Cracked me up when he served solomo and told his guests that the red peppers were from Spain.  It was good before, but that new information made it SO GOOD!  In the Basque country, if you are a man and you can't cook, you are an anomaly.

Most Americans are familiar with the excellence of French cuisine.  But I don't think many people know about the contribution of the Basque to the food fanatics?

My Dad must have started learning sooner than I know about?  I do know that he did his share of the cooking in the sheep camp.  It's pretty well recorded in folklore about the gourmet dishes that the Basque shepherds created in the wilderness with limited resources.  My Dad was one of the best, so imagine what he can do in a fully stocked modern kitchen?

However, I must admit that I am too much Gringo to enjoy some of the authentic traditional meals.  The Basque have always valued everything.  Hoof to head and everything in between is opportunity for good eating.  I'm only part Basque in that respect!

Two world class examples was enough to inspire me.  I wanted to become a good cook.  But before you can become a cook, you must be a critic.  There's nothing easier or more natural than becoming a food critic.  But you do need to have an adventurous spirit to try new things.  I've had to survive some nasty tastes in order to discover some winners.

One of the worst things I've ever ate was rancid home-made butter.  I was just a teenager when my Dad took me along to visit friends.  They had home-made bread AND butter, and were quite proud of them.  The bread was good, but the butter was awful.  I choked it down just to be polite. 

When they noticed my empty plate, they brought another serving!  My lesson in this was to never sacrifice honesty for the sake of being polite.  I suffered trying to get that second helping down.  I ate very slow for two reasons: 1) not to suffer the embarrassment of puking and 2) occupy the real estate on my plate!

I've probably hurt a lot of peoples' feelings after that experience?  I am quick and forthcoming when I experience something that is offending to my palate.  I will try almost anything, but I am not shy about rejecting it.

Nevertheless, you have to keep courage and an open mind.  You can't decide that you don't like something first, because your mind can trick you.  There is a lot of good yet to be discovered.

Every time I meet a new artisan, I am trying to learn something.  I start trying to identify their dominant style classification.  My particular style is somewhat simple.  My typical objective is usually a fairly direct approach trying to master the details of fundamentals to accent the natural flavor of a few quality ingredients.  That was a mouthful!

A few of my friends in contrast, create elaborate sophisticated combinations.  Sometimes their ingredients list runs off a page.  Most of the time, their results are excellent.  So I try to borrow pieces and ideas from everything that fancies my taste.

My recipe collection is an evolving living combination of documents.  I rarely ever follow a recipe exactly.  Almost every single dish has a tweak to the recipe.  I have even adapted some of my grandma's original recipes.  I can't help it, but continue trying to learn new things and try to continue improving.  My current chocolate chip cookie recipe is the latest evolution from a literal hundred different iterations. 

The greatest thing about art is there are no absolute directions.  There are no boundaries nor are there limitations.  You're only limited by your imagination. And when you have created, what greater enjoyment of Art can there be, but the one you can eat?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tale of two cow dogs - and opposite personalities

We've had a few dogs and cats on our humble farm.  All have been second hand animals.  The first two dogs that I got to help me with the farm project worked well together, but they were polar opposite personalities.

Lance came from a local shelter.  No doubt he was somebody's prized herder, because he'd been trained.  He was "thick skinned" and didn't ever take criticism too harshly. He was mostly border collie.

Pria, on the other hand was overly sensitive to any negative feedback.  She only had some basic training, but pretty good herding instinct.  She was mostly Australian shepherd. 

A working stock dog is amazing to watch.  Herding and sorting livestock that are generally stupid, but always faster, and usually stronger then we are is tough work. No matter how well planned out, something is bound to go wrong!  Domesticated animals still depend on the basic instinct of survival.  When in danger, their reaction is often unpredictable.  Enter the herding dog.

Herding dogs are an intelligent breed that have a delicate balance between hunter and team player.  It's in their nature to try and please the leader of the pack.

I had the good fortune of meeting a hay customer that is an International Trials Dog Judge.  One year, he invited us to his farm during his annual sponsored event.  There were dogs and handlers from far away places competing in the livestock herding event.

It was quite the learning experience watching the pros.  I could especially appreciate the dogs that handled the livestock smoothly and methodically.  The whole purpose of owning livestock is to realize a profit from them.  Livestock that don't experience unnecessary stress produce the best.  A dog that has the patience and tact to handle livestock without stressing them out is the absolute pinnacle. There were several of those quality dogs at that event.

Both of my dogs were willing hard workers that aimed to please.  But I quickly learned to tailor my approach to them individually.  I learned a lot about them and myself in the years we had together.

With second hand dogs, the first thing you have to do is gain their confidence.  You have to get to the point that it is them who adopt you.  For Pria, that came fast and naturally.  She was open, loving, and loyal (to a fault).  Lance was far more independent and self absorbed (to a fault).

Pria and I were fast and naturally bonded because our personalities were very similar.  I have to work consciously to be more thick skinned.  The perfect cow dog would have both personality traits that you could call upon as the situation demanded.  Just as I have had to change my personality (or fake it) during different life circumstances.

I found out very quickly that if I harshly corrected Pria during her effort, she would quit on me.  And it would take a great deal of praise and patience to bring her back.  But even if I could get her back, she would be hanging on to those sore feelings and if I so much as postured wrong - she was out!

She put 100% of her effort into pleasing me.  She was always doing everything in her power to help out.  If I wasn't completely satisfied, she had nothing left to give.  That was love and loyalty to a fault.  It made it very difficult to work with her.

Lance on the other hand, was never more than half in.  His loyalty peaked at 50%.  If I were to give him negative feedback, he forgot about it three seconds later.  He'd go right back to work.  And that made it difficult to direct him.  There were times that he would not quit - doing the wrong thing!

For most of my wage earning life, I've played the stock dog role.  I've had conflict with authority, but I always tried to make my employers business my business.  I tried to learn and understand as much as possible about what made the employer successful and gave 100% effort towards those means.  The conflict with authority always came about when the boss directed me to row the boat in the wrong direction.

I was never a good soldier like Lance.  When I didn't agree with the bosses, I would let them know.  I would be humble, discrete, and tactful, but not to the extent of losing the message.  Once I got to voice my opinion, I would gleefully row the boat in the wrong direction with all my might.  There were instances that I was not privy  to all of the information behind a decision.

Like a good stock dog, I tried to be optimistic and high spirited toward every working day.  But just like my dogs, I had limitations due to my God given personality.

I was always grateful for the experiences that I had with those dogs.  They taught me a lot about them and myself.  That understanding helped me to deal with some of the battles that went on in my mind and hopefully made me a little more balanced.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Poor Man is a Lousy Philanthropist

Philanthropy.  When I first heard the word, I had to look it up.  It's a long and complicated definition of Greek origin.  That's fitting, because helping others is complicated.

Statistics for financial gift giving are somewhat revealing.  Conservatives are more giving than liberals.  Liberals tend to be very generous with other peoples' money, but more stingy with their own.  Conservatives are much more generous with their own money, but their charities tend to be extensions of themselves.  The greatest majority of their contribution goes to their religious affiliation.  That benefits others, but also indirectly benefits themselves. 

The deeper that you look into the subject, the more you begin to understand the difficulty.  At one extreme, you contribute to your ego's agenda.  At the other extreme, you wind up giving drinks to drunks.  But the need for help is real.  How do you go about helping others without contributing to their problems?

In my younger years, as soon as I had a little expendable income, I started giving.  I would send $10-20 every month to any charity that showed up in my mailbox.  I also added to my utility bill to help people with trouble paying electricity.

It made me feel good about myself.  I believed that I was doing good and helping others in need.  It was so simple.  Put a check in the mail and feel righteous.  Then a friend told me a little bit more about "non-profit" institutions.

He told me about the IRS mandated form 1090.  It was public access for non-profit institutions and declared the percent of income towards the cause and the other "administration" expense.

I did a little more research about my mailbox charities.  All charities are not equal.  To my dismay, many of the charities that I was giving to had substantial "administration" costs!  I could imagine some administrator driving away from his cush desk job in his shiny new Porsche Carrera.

Where was that administrator when I was working (free) overtime?  Where was he when I was in the fab at 2am on Christmas morning?  Where was he when I was being evaluated by medical staff after being exposed to poisonous chemicals?  Where was he when I saw my life flash before my eyes in the seat of a crane?  In every case, I expect that he was snug as a bug in a rug, enjoying a pleasant sleep in a warm bed.

The more I learned, the less righteous satisfaction I got from sharing.  I still continued to share, but I became a lot more discriminating, and as a result, I shared less.  When a person has to sacrifice and work hard for the money, it takes on a greater value.  And it should, because money is the best representation we have of past service and production. 

So how do the wealthy elite go about helping others?  They are approached in a myriad of ways.  Some needs are legit, but many are not.  Money wasted on a shifty cause takes away from the real needs.  So how do they tell the difference in a flood of needy requests? 

I have known a few multi-millionaires and witnessed their dilemma.  In one case, I personally knew the people in need and their cause.  I donated $200 and the multi-millionaire donated $100.  The recipients were not impressed by the rich giver's donation.  They shared the letter that accompanied the donation.

The letter was heart-felt and offered advice.  I could read in the tone of the letter the difficulty that the giver had with managing the abundance of requests for monetary help. 

So I suspect that big and small philanthropists struggle with the same cynicism.  I remember reading about Warren Buffett approaching the subject.  He came to understand that he was doing a lot of the same diligence as Bill and Melinda Gates and decided to throw in with them.

I suppose that there have always been posers, beggars, and drunks.  It's just that some of them have evolved with modern life so it's not quite so obvious what they are. Nobody wants to give a dollar to them only to discover a real need tomorrow and wish that you had that dollar to give.

A poor man is a lousy philanthropist. He is not going to build libraries or hospitals. But maybe he can help a neighbor or a stranger on occasion.  I only recently learned of a case that my earlier giving did benefit a legitimate need. That was a good feeling. I would like to do it again.