Time Passes…

Last night I spent some time with friends I’ve known since college.

Over the past few years, a number of people I’ve known for many years have fallen out of my life.  A few long-time “friends” have been ejected from my life.  And while I can say that politics played a part, the honest truth is that the political piece of it was just the final highlight I needed to see that we had vastly, fundamentally different values, different belief systems, and perhaps most importantly, while I still considered them to be people who could rely on me, I received little or no communication or support from them.  Even when I asked for a simple “hi how are ya?” response.

And yes, it hurts.  Friends of my youth shared many struggles as we formed our adulthood, and I really don’t understand what it is that I did, other than failing to be as successful as they are, despite trying my best.  Some people do have the good fortune in parental selection, while others do manage, through skill and hard work, to develop some success.

I, quite frankly, have been a so-far-successful parent.  I do not say that lightly.  The two people I helped bring into the world are good people – not “well, they ain’t killed no one yet” but they are decent, hard-working, caring, loving, loved, and respected and respectful people.  Which I consider very successful when you look around the world today and see so many young people going off the rails in directions that we really cannot afford.  And not just pure money, but in the calling those in power to account, and more critically, calling those who have made it clear they value behaviors we do not find acceptable in good, decent societies to take responsibility for their conduct.

I guess coming from where I did, I’m a little surprised at myself.  And I tell the true “joke” many times – when I was growing up in the St. Cloud, central Minnesota area in the 1970s-1980s, the area was so very much not integrated that you did not often see a face of a different color anywhere away from the three college campuses in the area.  However, the true fact is that, when I was in high school, there was for a time one African-American student.  He was also the goalie of the hockey team, and his last name was “White.”

When I was in grade school, the Viet Nam War ended and a rather large influx of Vietnamese and others from that area came as refugees to our area.  For some reason, they felt comfortable settling in our climate and making their new homes – and the area welcomed them, from what I remember.

These days, the hatred for those who look different, eat differently, worship and believe differently, is something I do not understand.  Perhaps I’m simply too stupid to see the problem.  Or maybe I’ve just managed to stay undamaged and undaunted.  Either way, the world we currently live in is the world I really don’t like.  And I think that what I need to do is go out of my way to change that world.  If I can at all.  Then again, I already have.  I’ve produced two voters who think like me.

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Bumbling Along…

I know, content has been thin here.  I’ve got a lot of things tugging at my … well, coattails would be an utter exaggeration, because I’ve never worn a proper coat with tails.  I did wear a few tuxedos as a younger man dealing with friends who got married.  At present, the best guess I can make is that of the nine or so weddings I participated in, we’re currently 3 and 6 – that is, three still continuing.  Six went bust.

I wish I knew what the magic ingredient was for those three, that I could bottle and sell, but knowing the people in those relationships, I can tell you that the biggest difference was the maturity of the relationships as they confronted married life.  The people I know who are still married from my youth seemed back then to have a less exciting life style, a less flashy courtship, and a much more … I suppose jaded isn’t the word I want but I think that’s probably a better description than anything else – outlook on life.

One of the first weddings I was in was one of the few I didn’t actually have to rent clothes.  Well, I should have, I guess, but the “courtship” didn’t go the distance.  As the saying goes.  This was a wedding where the bride really wanted to be able to fit into her wedding dress – and she had a short-term weight-gain program they’d managed to embark on.  So rather than hit the original date they had planned for, they cut the process about 6 months short.  And so it happened that at another wedding, I was monitoring from afar (back in the pre-cell-phone days) the progress of the mother-to-be as she was in labor.

Their relationship was boisterous, loud, and frequently passionate.  And while I wanted that for myself, I didn’t want some of the things that went along with it.  There seemed to be a fair amount of anger mixed in with the passion.  And this seems to have been another common theme.  In some cases, the participants themselves were not as aware of themselves as they needed to be.  Self-deception, I suppose, is a fairly common thing.  Lord knows I deceive myself every morning as I get up and say “I’m a competent, talented adult.”

But some of these relationships went off the rails for fairly obvious internal issues.  Choices or behaviors that some of the participants engaged in which was pretty easy to see why the other half of the relationship got burned out.

But as we do here, I’ve digressed from my latest list of excuses.

And you really don’t want to hear about my 3″ thick “woodworking binder” I carry back and forth to work daily.  I truly hate traffic.  I have lived “south of the river” here in the metro area for coming up on 30 years next year.  In August of 1990 I moved from Richfield to Burnsville, and for over two-thirds of that time, my employer has existed north of the Minnesota River.  Which means that I have two primary routes, when you live in the southwest metro, as I do, to get across that river.

One of those routes is 35W, the Western side of the I-35 split.  I-35 runs from the north shore of Lake Superior all the way down to Texas.  Just about two miles south of where I live, I-35 splits into an East and a West track.  East runs through downtown St. Paul, while West goes through downtown Minneapolis.  They re-join some sixty miles or so north of where I live right now.  And while I’m sure there are many congested places along that corridor few are more congested than my little stretch.

The other alternative is the one I currently take daily, Minnesota 169.  When I first moved into the metro area, this was also known as 18.  And was, at that time, a two-lane residential road which carried far too much traffic.  Eden Prairie, where I now work, was a suburb with delusions of reaching the Minnetonka-range level of snobbishness.  Because of this, when the state decided to upgrade a  two-lane road to an interstate-quality four-lane road with the possibility of even more capacity, they objected.  They didn’t want 70 mph traffic tearing through their neighborhoods, and insisted for several major intersections to be controlled by stop lights.

Any four year old can tell you what happens when you attempt to control access or traffic.  People go around.  And so, in preventing the 70 mph traffic through their “neighborhoods” they instead succeeded in flushing most of that traffic through unprepared, poorly designed street paths at 50 (typically in a 30 mph).

And so when the city leaders realized what they had done, they managed to find the money to re-do those four intersections and now that road is essentially interstate-quality roadway.  Of course, it still is far below the capacity it needs to be, especially with 35W undergoing two years of upgrades to enhance it’s capacity (and reduce, we hope, the potential for high water to shut down that capacity).

So what typically happens is that I get into my vehicle at 6 am or only a few minutes after.  I travel, sometimes at speeds over 70 mph, from my home to my office, some 13 miles away.  I am typically in the office before 6:20 am.  At present, due to work load and team configuration, I am restricted from starting my work day until 9:30 am most days.  Because of this, I spend several hours at my desk, awaiting the time when I can start work, and planning my possible future woodworking projects.

I am sure a few of my readers have just goggled (not googled) at the fact that I arrive at work some 3 hours before I am scheduled to start work.  However, my employer has clear and severe consequences if you fail to notify them you will be unable to be at work on time.  In fact, the system has a three-strikes approach, and you are permitted 5 minutes of leeway.  If I have not punched in within 5 minutes of my scheduled start time, I am notified that this is an attendance offense.  Three of these in one rolling year means I am terminated.  And since I have complete control over this portion of my day, I am absolutely certain to arrive in enough time to be able to punch in right on time every single day.  I don’t like wasting 3 hours a day, so I do with that time what I really want to do, if I have to be out of bed.

And since my employer frowns upon the possibility of people working off the clock, I do not even touch my computer until some 15 minutes before I am scheduled to start.  As our productivity is closely monitored, logging systems permit the managers to see when we do things – like log into our computers, our phones, and … well various systems.

So there you go.

I will, in less than two month, reach my one year anniversary with this employer.  And I am hoping to discuss with my supervisor the possibility of moving my regularly scheduled shift into an earlier portion of the day.  Ideally, I’d like to move it some 2 hours earlier and start at 7:30 am.  I know there will be days I’ll be required to work late, and I have no problem with that.  But I’m a morning person (as evidenced by the fact that on my day off I’m usually up before 8 am most days).  I do my best work when I’m fresh, energized, and prepared to go.

So there you go.

 

 

Ramming Speed…

So very nearly 10 months ago, I started this job.  And things are finally starting to feel like I know what I’m doing and I’m capable.  I’m steadily working to increase my capacity, but my “are you kidding me” meter is still pegged off the high end.

For example, I’m going to let you in on a few secrets of the industry.

When you go to the doctor and the doctor says “you need this” the doctor is basically asking the industry to take care of you.  My employer, one of those bigger kids in the pack, takes that responsibility for some of those services.  And then we take the medical information your doctor has dictated and carefully explained and gives it to us.

We don’t take a vow to never reveal what happens, but let me tell you that when you finish the training on confidentiality and the requirements that are involved with HIPPA – and the penalties for breaking that confidentiality – any testicles you once thought you had have crawled so far inside your body that the only way to find them will be with a CAT scan.

So then there’s the other little bit.  When you pay your insurance premium, which is for most people done by having a chunk taken out of your paycheck, while your employer kicks in another hunk of cash, and it gets sent down the road to the insurance company.

The insurance company then gets to play a little game.  It’s called authorization.  Some folks call it different names, like “certification” but it’s all pretty much the same thing.  It consists of someone like me figuring out based on tables and basic math (once you know it) what the doctor said you need, and how long you need it to happen.  We take these tables and translate all of those five-syllable medication names and diagnoses into what are called CPT or HCPC codes.  I’ve no idea what those stand for – but I can tell you this.  After we interpret and verify our interpretation matches the handwriting the physician took years in school to learn, we ask the insurance company can we please get paid?

For example, let’s say you have a fairly nasty infection.  And you’re a younger sort of person – let’s say under 40 or so.  Let’s also toss in the perk “generally otherwise healthy with no serious underlying health complications” and we’ll put you on a very expensive antibiotic.  It’s called Daptomycin.  Or, in the industry, it’s known as J0878.  That way we don’t have to misspell it nineteen ways to match what the physician did.

And while I can’t tell you the cost of a Dapto prescription, I can tell you it’s expensive.  And how I know this is simple.  Drugs are calculated on doses based on a number of factors – some medications are very tightly linked to your weight and height, because you need more if you’re a bigger person with more body mass.  Dapto’s one of those.  But there are drugs like Piperacillin/Tazobactam/Zosyn – three different names for the same drug.  Now, J2543, as that long string of names is known as otherwise, is calculated by units.  The size of the unit varies by the drug.  J2543 is calculated in 1125 milligram units.  That means we take whatever dose your doctor said you need and divide by that unit value.  So if your physician says “you need to take 3.375 grams of Zosyn three times a day” Someone like me looks at that and says “Oh, Q8 – which means every 8 hours – or 3 doses a day, and 3375 milligrams divided by 1125 milligram units means you’re getting 3 units of J2543 3 times a day – or 9 units a day.”

Daptomycin, on the other hand, is calculated in 1 mg units – or that is, every milligram is a unit.  So if your physician writes an order for you to receive 800 mg of Daptomycin twice a day, that’s 800 mg divided by 1, or if you made it through third grade math (where my father used to say they started to teach you your “gozintas”.  As in “1 goes into 800 exactly eight hundred times”.  So 800 units of dapto twice a day means you’re getting 1600 units of J0878.  If you’re otherwise young and healthy, a physician might insist you go on a six week stretch of treatment like this – which means that if you’re on Zosyn, over that 6 week span, you’d need 378 units to cover 42 days at 9 units a day.  Or if you were on Vancomycin, at the same dosage, we’d ask for authorization for 882 units, because good old J3370, Vancomycin, is in 500 mg units.  And since 3375 is not evenly divisible by 500, we round up so you’d get the medication you need.

But that poor kid getting the twice-a-day Dapto is going to need 67,200 units of J0878.

So there’s some of the math.  Now, since the company I work for does as part of their service a thing where we just use some form of pump to push the medication directly into your blood stream (think IV, but on a much more sophisticated level, and in the home version of our game).  Since we’re doing this every day, we also need to get an OK to provide you daily supplies – which change based on how often you’re getting the medication.  So we ask for that code, too.

And the truly disturbing part of this – something that took me a few weeks to comes to terms with – is that every phone call you make to ask these insurance giants if we can take care of you have a disclaimer.  All the math that I do, and the figuring I do, and all the bases that I cover to make sure you receive your medication, are wholly dependent on people who are … well, on more than a few occasions, the sort of people you really wouldn’t want handling your deli meat, let alone your life-and-death decisions.  Because their employers have on their automated phone greeting machines a canned statement which says “Authorization is not a guarantee that you will be paid for the services, it will depend on the circumstances when the bill is presented” which is the legalese way of saying “Well, if the patient cancels their insurance, the planet changes position in such a way we think we can get away with it, or we just don’t feel like it, we ain’t gonna pay you.”  What keeps the industry functional is the check and balances system, where companies like mine can choose to not take care of patients who have certain kinds of insurance.

Now I’m sure a few of you are highly pissed that I wrote that.  I mean, your doctor said you need this, didn’t he?  What right do I have to say you can’t have it?  Well, the tip of the spear here is that I didn’t say you couldn’t have it.  Your insurer has said that they aren’t going to pay for you to receive this treatment.  So I’m not turning you down, your insurer is.

And some of them have many little tricks up their sleeves.  A few of the smaller ones insist that they won’t back date.  That is – you’re in the hospital, and your doctor says “look, I want you to get out of this building filled with sick people, but we’re going to continue your treatment at home.”  They’ll write up what they want you to get, and then they’ll send it over to me.  If there’s a day or two in there where the hospital says “look, we need the bed, you’re well enough, go home” and they start you on the treatment, some of these small piss-ants say “you didn’t tell us five days before the patient started, so you’re not going to get paid.”  This is when people like me hand all of our work over to the legal department who stays fully employed, and we usually get paid.

But then there are other tricks.  Like one of the state medicaid programs which kept telling me “no, we’re not going to pay for this two week course of antibiotics for your patient.”  I kept asking why not, and they kept insisting that they told me.  Well, they told me no.  But they kept sending the information to an address which wasn’t ours, and which kept returning it to them.

Now in the real world, where most of us live, that would indicate we’re sending it to the wrong place, and we’d ask how to get it to the right place.  Not this outfit.  They keep sending it to the wrong place because even though they have my address, the address of the patient, and the address where the patient went to get the help, they’re going to send it to the wrong place because that’s what their system tells them to do.

And the other day I discovered the broken cog in the system – the one person who was willing to take time out of her busy day and spend 3 minutes explaining to me that the problem was not with my request – not at all.  It was, in fact, the fault of the doctor who put the wrong number in the wrong box, and despite the fact that I submitted 24 pages of additional diagnostic reporting, they looked at the one page and threw the rest of the information out.

Then there was the situation I ran into tonight.  The patient needed chemotherapy.  And for the first time in their treatment, the physician chose to write the orders for that treatment to include 3 courses of chemotherapy.  Now, chemo is damned weird.  It makes that math above look downright pedestrian.  Most chemo patients get their drugs over a 48 hour period.  Because literally NO ONE starts their treatment at 12:00:00 am, this 48 hour period typically stretches across 3 calendar days. And that person gets the treatment for 3 days, and their body then gets 11 days to recover.  Then they go again.

And there are some tools we call portals we use in requesting this authorization.  One of the better ones – from my experience – does a lot of the math for you.  And when it’s those simple “dose X every 8 hours for 42 days” it’s fantastic.  When it’s “Dose U over a 48 hour period that lasts for 3 calendar days, and requires 11 days of rest before repeating” it takes a lot of mathematical gymnastics to get it to work out.

Which is what I did at 5:50 pm this evening to finish up an older task in the queue and get it requested – until the patient’s insurer told me “oh, boy, you aren’t going to go past the end of the month, because that’s when the patient’s insurance is scheduled to change from us to someone else – maybe – we think – but we’re not sure, so we’re not gonna go any further.”

So yeah, that was fun.

And here’s hoping the patient soon gets completely over the cancer they have, and recover.  That’s my goal, every morning – helping the patient NOT need our services.

I’m making a difference.  Every day, in a lot of small ways.  And if feels good.

Fifty Years…

In a little less than a month, we as a species will note – and some will celebrate – a truly epic, wonderful accomplishment by our species.

Unlike the first fish-type animal that decided to step onto land, or the first marsupial humanoid to step down from the trees, or the first humanoid to recognize a branch, a bone, or a rock as a tool that would increase their capability, we have, and will have a record, of one man who represented all of us, and stepped from a small metal spacecraft onto a separate body traveling through space from the one he was born on.

This is going to sound grandiose, but if you really think about it, the fact that twelve of us humanoids have actually set foot on a body in space is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Some people today have a hard time believing it happened – others refuse to believe that it had.  And yes, it is pretty hard to believe it when you look around at the technology of today.

But then you aren’t using the brains you’ve had for some time.

Because much of that technology was inspired by and grew from the moon program – which in turn grew from some truly epic imaginations.

Consider that at one point, we didn’t even think that the moon was real – or a celestial body – we are something of a pretty spectacular outcome when it comes to evolution.

But when you think about it, and you think that the cell phone in your pocket is a very powerful computer, you probably don’t realize how it came about.  Or why.  Because, let’s face it, when those twelve people stood on the moon, the computer in their space craft wasn’t as powerful as the one that controls your car today.

But where do you think they got the idea?

As a young man, I was unbelievably fortunate.  Prior to the rise of the internet, we had this thing called Mail.  And for a number of years, thanks to a part-time job my father had picked up with my uncle, the cartoonist, Dad was the beneficiary of being on the NASA Public Relations Mailing List.  This led to a literally daily delivery – every day except Sunday, that is – where we got mail, it was almost a requirement to also receive a piece of mail from NASA.  Even today, I can see them in that mail box.  Black and white, a full-sized sheet of paper folded in half, and detailing the latest announcement/discover/plan from NASA.

For many years one of my prized possessions was a reprint of the Apollo 11 moon landing press kit, and the follow up report.  It was issued in 1979, on the 10th anniversary.  And was a spectacular trove of detail.  The thing that still, today, awes me is the part of the follow up report that was produced in 1977, and at that time detailed the fact that in real dollars, every dollar spent to send Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon – along with all of the other men who orbited it, or set foot on it, had produced a real economic benefit that they said meant that for each dollar spent, our economy realized $7 in benefit.  That is, in 1977 dollars, a dollar spent in 1965 on improving the computers of the time produced a $7 benefit.  I would submit that today, we could reasonably claim that for every $1 spent in 1955-1972 to put man into space and on the moon is, today, responsible for roughly $500 in economic impact over the past 50 years.

Why?  Improved materials. Improved material handling. Known capabilities of material.  Electronics – capabilities, and just the idea.  Cell phones, for starters.  The fact that a man with his head in a fishbowl 250,000 miles away could say something, and then, with a transmitter strapped onto his back, that message would reach the earth, and everyone within range of a radio or television could see what that man was seeing and hear what he said is truly spectacular.

But there are those of small minds, those who can’t believe that we as humans are capable of so much more when we work together, and they will denigrate the accomplishments of those men and women.  No, to date, no female person has stepped on the Moon.  In part, this was due to the time, and in part due to the limitations that we had mistakenly placed on half of our population.  The fact that some parts of the space program were dominated by women essential to their success is now know, and we’re not only willing to but trying to insure that they’re represented in the next moon program is a good thing.  I’m not going to scream at those men who did succeed because they didn’t pick any women – they were the product of their time.  This doesn’t excuse the behavior – but it does permit us to move forward with new goals.

And yes, we need to go back.  We need to explore.  We need to seek what’s out there and learn what we can.  Because we need to know.  We haven’t finished exploring what we can here, but we need to keep exploring, pushing our limits, and extending our capabilities.

Because before we do something, it is always said by some that it is impossible.  In fact, just about everything we do is an impossibility to someone who lacks imagination, faith, and the willingness to work hard to achieve a goal.  And when I say faith, I’m not talking about a named higher power, but faith in our fellow man.

Each and every one of those men who slid into a seat on a rocket and was blasted off this planet and into space, on their way to the moon, put their faith in the experts who had built the systems and machines that got them there.  As we all know, far too many times that faith was misplaced in some people, some systems, and some decisions.  But we learned – and we aren’t making the same mistakes. We can’t.

We need to explore – because if we do not, we become a species destined to die off – as we have no new goals.

On Fatherhood…

I have a hard time critiquing the overall quality of my own father, because he was the only one I knew for many years.

My dad had a number of limitations.  Some of them came from his physical handicaps, having contracted polio at the age of 3.  He also lost two brothers – one from what is now an easily cured form of leukemia, while the other brother died in what we used to call crib death – he just stopped breathing when he was still an infant.

When you have five sisters (four older, one younger), and you’re the boy of the family, there’s a lot of expectation riding on you.  I know for me I never heard anything said directly, but at family reunions we would gather with my father’s five sisters and their children.  My father had the largest family (one more child than the mostly-average 4 kids that 3 of his sisters had each.  One with 3 kids, and one with just one).  At each family reunion, at least one aunt would say something along the lines of “It’s a Dominik Family Reunion, and you’re The Dominik.”  With four sisters of my own, I’m sure my father was thinking of the similarities between our family experiences.

But my father was also a product of his times.  I can count on the number of fingers I have the times I saw him hug my mother.  I expect that in part due to his physical handicaps, he was limited in the amounts of physical affection he could show.  But I also expect that some of it was due to his upbringing and just the times in general.

And he really wasn’t much of a talker.  He was very much a writer, but this did not translate into telling us kids anything.  Dad was much more a learn by watching sort.

I was 8 years old when my father’s mother – my grandma – died.  And it was rather devastating to all of us.  I had been frequently farmed off to Grandma for days as she lived less than a mile from us, and sometimes there were just too many kids for my mother to handle – usually when she was pregnant.

Shortly after my grandmother died, my father purchased a riding lawn mower.  Our lot at home was perhaps a half acre in size, but it did take a lot to mow it.  And the lot of the house his mother had lived in was almost two full acres (1.94, according to the county).  And my father talked to one of my mother’s brothers, and he had him build a frame for a cart.  The cart attached to the back of the riding lawn mower, and was used to carry the gas can and anything else we needed when he would go over to Grandma’s house to mow the lawn.  After a few tries, I was able to ride my bike behind Dad as he went to Grandma’s, and then watch to make sure nothing happened.

Despite the time we spent together, we didn’t talk too much.  When I started to build things, I remember several times my father told me I over built stuff.  And yes, I do.  But there were a few things my father had built over the years that hadn’t quite worked.

For many years, we had home delivery of milk and other dairy products.  This was just a given, even though we lived 8 miles from the dairy that was doing the delivery.  But they brought it out three times a week – until they reduced it to two, and later to just once a week.

After we moved into the house along the river, my father built a shelf in the garage that the milk man could put the milk on.  Below that shelf was another shelf for storage or really heavy things.  By this time, the milk had transitioned from those heavy glass bottles to paper cartons – but we were getting milk in gallon lots.  The half-gallon cardboard containers would fit nine in a milk crate (which was never left at our house).

The top shelf my father constructed was made from quarter-inch masonite (a sort of pressed wood product, which is to say it was more a mixture of glue and sawdust/shredded paper) – today we call it “Medium-Density Fiberboard”.  Most people may know it as the stuff that makes up the bottom of inexpensive drawers.  Dad’s idea of heavy-duty was to use some three-quarter-inch thick hardwood rails around the outside of this material to build a basic frame underneath, then attach the shelf to the two walls on the side and behind the shelf.  And to support the corner that was hanging out in the breeze, dad used another 3/4″ rail as an angled brace.

I think this shelf lasted about two months before it collapsed.

And it obviously had a pretty big effect on my thinking of durability.  Had I been responsible for that shelf, in my youth, it would have had a 2×4 frame below it, been made out of 3/4″ plywood, and a single leg would have gone from that unsupported corner all the way to the floor.  And the leg probably would have been another 2×4.  So while my father’s shelf collapsed after an order of 6 gallons of milk and other items, mine would have probably endured an elephant.

Before you laugh, for a few years I had a business that built lofts for college students.  And I was later assured that the lofts which I had built, one young lady kept after college – and assured me that any activity that she and her boyfriend attempted in that loft never produced a squeak or any sort of banging against the walls at all…

But I did learn a lot about fatherhood from my dad, and later from other men – and so I decided to emulate some, and avoid the mistakes of others.

As uncomfortable as it sometimes made me, I made the effort to show my children physical affection – and show my wife that same physical affection in front of our children.  We still talk often, and of all the things I’ve done with my life, my kids are second only to the fact that as a young man I had the very good sense to recognize in the young woman I chose to marry the strength of character and the overwhelming quality of her as a person, in addition to her physical attraction.

And my children have, and continue, to make me both proud and humble that I am their parent.  I owe them so far much more than I can ever express, and while I know that some will say that a good life is one that has no regrets, I think there’s more truth in saying a good life with no regrets is lived by an unaware, inattentive, and rather naive individual.  I can look back and see a hundred things I wish I had done better, differently, or found another way, and in doing so, prevented the pain and the anguish I caused the people I love the most.

But I suppose that is the true nature of life.  If you are paying attention as you go through, you learn.  If you are fortunate, as I have been in some areas, you learn from the regret and try not to make the same mistakes over and over and over and over again.

And I’d like to think I’ve only made a few of the same mistakes.  I keep finding new opportunities, though, and that makes it all the more … well, life.

As this weekend marks ten years since I had the opportunity to call my father up on father’s day and wish him Happy Father’s Day.  One of my very great regrets was missing that call on his last Father’s Day.  Our history of not talking to one another ended up getting the best of me.  I still miss my dad, and I miss those rare moments he took time out to show me things or do things with me.  And I make damned sure I take the opportunities I have, which are now decreasing, to spend the time with my own kids doing the same things.

So I guess I’ve learned – and I hope my children have learned from my mistakes, as well.

No Easy Way Out…

I was thinking the other day about the political realities in the world today.  And I think there are more than a few people who are – or should be – having a crises of conscience.

The first batch of people who really should be lined up and shot are the folks who are currently attempting to run the Democratic Party here in the United States.

Aside from their clear bias in the last election, there are now rumors that are traveling about which are alleging that the DNC – otherwise known as the Democratic National Committee – is forbidding candidates from discussing any sort of climate change positions, or they wouldn’t be invited to any scrums/debates/candidate forums/circuses they will sponsor.

And thanks to recent revelations that external forces are seeking to influence the debate on various topics here in this country, we’re going to have to legislate/require certain functions in certain places which are, currently, utterly unregulated.

So, as I would like some day to be the king of the world, I’d like to toss out the following proposals.

First – Any/all social media platforms which permit publicly viewable statements made by members, every member using the portal must provide a signed paper copy annually.  The paperwork must be generated and mailed via verifiable government source (that is, US Postal service) a document which must be received at the address so noted for the member.  This copy must contain the address of the member.  This address must be a physical residential address, not a mail drop or post office box.  Failure to verify the location of each member will result in a fine to that social media platform starting at $50,000 per identity, extending upwards to $5,000,000 per identity unidentified.  Until the identity is verified, the member’s posts may not be viewed by any account other than that account which posted it.  Verified user’s prior posts may be revealed or not, as per the platform’s choice.

Verification will be required annually.  The verification will be required effective the date the user began using the platform – not per any date noted on the document.  All documents received by the platform must be stamped with the date received.  If there is a difference (as expected) between the date the form is signed or the date the form is received, the receipt date, if later than the signature date, will be the date used for renewal purposes.  The platform will be required to send renewal notices to the address on file no less than 30 days prior to the expiration, one full calendar year from the previous date (receipt or signature, as determined per above).  If the renewal has not been received within 14 days AFTER the scheduled expiration date, all information submitted to the social media platform through the account will be marked private and viewable only by administrators, law enforcement, and the original poster.

All posts made to the social media platform will be identified by the original poster and will include the country of origin from the original poster.

This would insure that all persons using social media had a verified physical address – which would also make it rather obvious that outside agents are affecting chaos.

I would like to think that the leaders in some parts of the world like China and Russia would really feel that they could benefit from chaos in the more democratic parts of the world – thus, what better way to promote such chaos than the whole Brexit mess in Britain, or just point at any political hot-button issue in the US.

Sure, we grow our own idiots – look at our President, for example – but we really don’t need help to build a better fool.  We do damned well all on our own.

The Struggle Is Real…

Haven’t forgotten this place.  Just haven’t had much free time.

What’s that?  Well, it starts with my work schedule.  I start work at 9:30 am most days right now.  But because I positively hate sitting in traffic, I’m usually on the road by 6 am.  Which means I arrive in my office by 6:15 am.  And yes, I’m hoping when an earlier shift becomes available to be considered to be shifted to it.

So yeah, I’m in the office an average of 12 hours a day during the week.  And no, it’s not all paid.  Because they monitor things pretty closely.  But as I pointed out to a number of people, yes, it’s more comfortable to sit at home and wait to come in.  But if I fall asleep in the chair, and I’m already at work, it’s a nine or ten inch commute to get to the keyboard and punch in.  If I don’t wake up in my chair until 11:30, well, I’m 2 hours late and still have to get to work.

Then there’s the other fun stuff with my mother’s estate, still dragging along, and there’s also my mother in law who is in declining health.

The only thing worse than getting old is not getting old.

So I’m still in there swinging…

Curmudgeonly…

I suppose getting older means that one learns to accept the crap that one does not like.  I guess I’ll probably die pissed off for something that most of the population never really noticed, but such is my life.

In the last 18 hours, I’ve gotten irritated at a number of things which really shouldn’t piss me off that much.

For example – last night, I took my son and his girlfriend out for pizza.  There’s a local place – Carbones – which has pretty good pizza.  Unfortunately, it’s expensive, and not my wife’s favorite – so I don’t get it that often.  And when I say “Expensive” I’m talking a 14″ meat lover’s pizza is $20.  Not the crappy $7 for Dominos, which is the default in this neck of the woods.  I can’t eat Dominos any more – or Little Caesars, either – and certainly not Pizza Hut.  I made too damned many Pizza Hut pizzas…

What’s that?  I never talked about working for Pizza Hut?  That’s because I never did.  I did, however, work for Target.  And the Big Red Menace used to have what we called “Target Cafe” which was essentially a lunch counter of sorts.  A small dining room/gathering area space was set aside for people who could use it whether or not they bought food, but we had pizzas, hot dogs, popcorn, grilled cheese sandwiches, a soda pop fountain with both Coke AND Pepsi products, icees, coffee, and a few things like cookies.

From the “oh he’s old” department, when I started in the Cafe, we still baked the cookies on site daily.  Most excellent pre-made, frozen cookie dough which we popped not into the microwave or the pizza oven, but a small under-counter convection oven we used for the cookies.  And they were so good when they came out of that oven.  As was the popcorn – some of the best in town, I was assured repeatedly.  The pizza?  And the pasta, which came in shortly after I started over there?  It was … Pizza Hut.  I got to the point where the smell of it would almost make me gag.

But yes, you in the back, I heard you yelling “what pissed you off about your favorite pizza?”  Service – to put a very fine point on it.

Normally, when we arrive, which is early enough in the evening, we pick a table in the back corner, which is often more family friendly, has much better service, and is far quieter than the rest of the place.  Their Burnsville location is where Denny’s used to be – but Denny’s is now over across the road where another restaurant used to be.  I think the location was an Embers or something going back quite a few years, it was later closed, reopened, reclosed, then turned into a Hooters for a while.  Now it’s been a Denny’s for about two years.

The former Denny’s location which is where Carbone’s landed after they moved out of what used to be the Benchwarmer Bob’s location (owned by former professional football player and all around great guy Bob Lurtsema, whom I’ve met a few times, and my wife used to work in the same building his offices were in, just a few miles from the former home of the Vikings when he was a player for them).  Last night’s server was … well, I don’t know.  The young man was one of what appeared to be three servers working the floor.  After seating ourselves much like everyone did, and waiting for 15 minutes, I went over to the wait stand area (very close to where we usually sit, which is probably why the service over there is better), and was rather deliberately rude (I stood in people’s way until they acknowledged me) and asked for some menus and service.

We were assured someone would be right over.

The young fellow who came over initially impressed me.  He noted a very small speck of something floating in the drinks we eventually received, and he took it back and got me a fresh Mt. Dew.  I suppose the fact that we weren’t drinking beer was an issue, as they probably make more money off of us if we buy beer, but whatever.  We did order a LOT of pizza for 3 people (one large, two small pizzas, one large order of pizza fries (essentially a pizza crust with a garlic sauce and cheese) and one order of pizza sticks (a calzone, sliced into strips)).  We brought a LOT of it home, but we got very poor service, generally.  The young man never visited the table without having to be flagged down.

So that was much of the evening.  After we spent an hour and a half there (doing what I figured should have taken 45 minutes), I got home and walked the dogs.  Then I decided as I’d been up since 4 am, 10:30 pm would be an excellent bed time (earlier would have been better, but I was waylaid)…  And so, while I was in the bathroom performing those required pre-bed rituals, I noticed that the bathroom clock seemed to have acquired an echo – a louder tick occurring just slightly off time, and just slightly shorter than a full second.  Then I noticed it wasn’t coming out of the clock, but the laundry room.

So I opened the door, turned on the light, and found the Great Laundry Room Flood of 2019.  Yesterday was the second day temperatures achieved the 80-degree plus day in a row, and the third time so far this year.  So I’d turned the air conditioning on.  Mostly not for me, but for the other residents who are required to wear fur coats year round.  And they seemed to have appreciated the cooler indoor temperatures.

What I had forgotten was a few unfortunate incidents.  I had backed my high-back office chair I’m sitting in while I type these (yes, my “home office” is in the laundry room.  My dreams of moving out of it were trashed when my wife decided she wanted the upstairs spare bedroom once our daughter moved out to become her office) updates into the corner of the furnace and broken off a length of PVC pipe connected to a hose.  Apparently this is what the dehumidifier uses to suck the humidity out of our air, and transfer it from one corner of the laundry room all the way across to the other corner where the floor drain resides.  Our work in the basement and in adding a new hose to actually reach the floor drain had not followed as I had hoped, as the hose was running down to the floor, then up and over a stack of filing cabinets I use for storing paperwork.

This particular method didn’t work – in part because the duct tape I’d used to patch the broke pipe had dried out and become less waterproof.  And also in part because in order for water to rely on gravity flow, there has to be a fairly steady down slope.  Water won’t flow up hill without some pump assistance, and we didn’t have that.  What I had instead was a full section of hose overflowing and the water was dripping onto the floor – one large drop a second.

So I had to get my son who had just arrived home to assist me in re-routing the hose and reattaching/refixing the PVC connection.

Then this morning the topper to it all was to find the number of tools and extensions that I now need to load into Firefox, which had been my favorite browser for many years, in order to do the basic things I want to do.  Such as bookmarks.

Somewhere along the line in recent years when Firefox suddenly decided they wanted to churn their version number up because it wasn’t sexy enough I suppose, some fuckwit decided that you want all your bookmarks in a folder named “Other Bookmarks”.  So unless I’m willing to accept that, I have to select another folder each and every time I bookmark something.

What a giant pain in the ass.

So yeah, I guess I should probably go have breakfast and get started with the day – and accomplish something useful.

The Duh Principle…

There are times when I seek solutions that are right in front of my face – I just don’t see them.  I blame the bifocals.

During summer months we regularly grill out.  This is a fairly involved process which involves me bringing out the meats and other foods we plan to grill, followed by the tools, then half the spice cabinet depending on the things I’m grilling – and then cleaning up at the end by making multiple trips hauling it all back in.

And so I’m looking about for a barbecue or grilling caddy – a device that has a handle or two and allows one to carry the items they need to the grill, then bring them back in after they’ve grilled.

Last night, after we sat out eating in the side yard, it occured to me.  Why don’t I just make the damned thing?  And base it on an old toolbox design.

So that’s the next planned project I’ll dither on about before actually accomplishing it.  Should be fun.

Rethinking The Future

I’m reassured that intelligent people often change their plans when better ideas present themselves.  So I’m not wishy-washy, I’m just a thinker.

My plan for many months after we moved into our current home was to build a set of shelves like I had done in our previous home.  But when I contemplated what that would do in my garage and my limited space, it became pretty obvious that neither the storage I’d planned nor the workspace I’d hoped to save were going to be adequate.

Then, some months ago, while perusing a magazine, I saw an article and a fellow who had perhaps far more engineering capabilities and money than I have at my disposal, for he installed on his garage ceiling some sort of device that allowed him to pull out shelves.  He built these four foot deep by two foot wide by eight foot high shelving units that were hung from some sort of ceiling rack that allowed them to glide out and glide back into place.  I looked at the idea and figured that there was nothing good that I could glean from it.

Then I started to think.  And I thought what about, rather than hanging them from the ceiling and therefore limiting their utility, what if I started bottom up by putting the things on wheels?  Basically I’d build shelving units that rolled around.  It’s done all the time.  Then I thought, rather than making them open shelving units and having stuff fall off as I roll them about, what if I built sides on them – you know, big old doors.  The doors would be shut when they move, but when time comes to look around in them, you open the doors from either side.

And that idea really ran away with me.  I had all sorts of plans for these rolling carts.  Then I started thinking about moving them.  You know, what if I moved, or what if I needed to move them out of the garage and store them elsewhere?  That seemed unlikely to work if I have to rent a large U-Haul truck in order to relocate, no matter how temporarily, these things.  After all, they were going to be just about six feet tall, with the wheels, two feet wide, and four feet long.

So this was the operating idea until earlier this week when I started thinking what if I made the cabinets modular?  You know, instead of one giant five foot eight inch tall box with wheels under it, instead, I build a short cart with wheels, and then on top, I stack footlockers.  Boxes that could be opened on the top, or the front (because you know if they’re in a stack, you’re always going to want the stuff out of the bottom box).

So I’m back at the drawing board, sort of, redesigning the whole project.  Instead of relying on 3/4″ and 1/4″ plywood and a light frame inside, I’ve come up with a design that has boxes that are made out of 1/4″ plywood with 2×4 frames inside.  The boxes are 42″ long, 24″ wide, and about 20″ tall.  They’re not a full two feet tall because I want to be able to stack them 3 tall and still get out the garage door – and my garage door is sort of short.  I can’t park my Expedition in my garage because my Expedition is slightly over six and a half feet tall – and my garage door is slightly under six feet three inches tall.  So like the fellow who built the boat in the basement, I’m careful not to exceed that door height.

But the idea I came up with that I thought was particularly good was the framing on the top and bottom of the boxes.  On the top, about an inch and three-quarters in from the edges, I’ll put a “rim” of 1×2 lumber (which is actually going to be an inch and a half wide, and three-quarters of an inch tall).  On the bottom, going all the way around the perimeter of the box, will be a similar border of 1×2.

Which means that the bottoms are going to have a frame that is going to fit right over the frame on the top of the box – with a quarter-inch to spare all the way around.  And that means I can stack the boxes up one on top of the other and they’ll sort of interlock with one another so that when I push, they won’t slide apart.

And so I can also stack them in a pick up bed and tie them down and they’ll stay stacked so long as someone doesn’t take a corner at 80 mph.

After all of that figuring, it occurred to me if I were a better programmer, I had a million dollar idea.  Odds are it already exists, somewhere, but not in my price range.  I want to build a piece of software that’s a combination CAD program and database.

I know, I’m hearing you say “Huh?”

Think of it this way.  When I draw up a design, I use a program called CAD STD Lite.  It’s a 2D drawing program that is not much more than boxes and lines and curves.  What I’d do is extend this, slightly.  Instead of boxes and curves and etc., I’d attach the CAD program to a database.  And in the database I’d have pre-defined blocks of wood.  You know, things like 2x4s, 1x2s, 2x2s, 2x10s, etc – essentially all the common lumber types one finds at a lumber yard.

When it comes time to design something, I would go into the program and select 2×4.  Then tell it I need four pieces 17″ long.  And then draw another one 38″ long as a cross brace.  Add 1/4″ plywood pieces, etc., etc., etc.  Until I finished my design.

Then what I’d do is select a button, and a report would come up that would tell me all of the parts, by dimension and type, I’d used.  4-17″ 2x4s, 3-38″ 2x4s, 4-16 1/2″ 2x4s, etc., etc.  And I could poke another button and get the “cut list” which is the pieces you’d have to cut.  Now that would be the fun part to do because you would need to figure out is the most efficient method for cutting your parts.

Over the years, I’ve developed a method using a spreadsheet where I identify each part I’m going to need. Here’s a screenshot of a part of the spreadsheet from a recent idea/plan for a workbench I’ve wanted to build.

Each part is given a letter name in the column “Part ID” and then identified by the type of “Material.”  As the material will typically tell me two of the dimensions – such as a 2×4 – then the next column identifies the overall “Length” of the piece.  Then I have a column to identify how many I “Need.”

After that, I get fancy with the spreadsheet.  I have a column which identifies how many pieces I’ve “Done,” and how many I “Still Need.”  I also like to sort pieces by length – the longer ones first, then shorter – but sometimes I want to sort differently – so I have a column titled “Serial” to allow me to number the parts and sort them.  Then a “Description” of the piece – as in where it fits, as I don’t have the drawing right there on the screen.

Below that, I have the business part of the spreadsheet.  Most 2x4s and other dimensional lumber that I typically use come in standard 96″ (or eight foot) length, or what’s called “Stud Length” which would be used to build walls.  Those are 92 5/8″ – or for the purpose of my spreadsheet, 92.625.

So I look to see what’s on sale, if anything, then I build the bottom part – my “Cut List”.

The first column is titled “Remaining.”  Then “Used,” “Part Length,” “Saw Kerfs,” and “OAL.”  OAL stands for Overall length – which is where I put the 96 or 92.625.  The next columns are titled “What” to tell me what sort of Material, and “Count”.  Then the columns are numbered 1 through 10.

How it works is I enter the part letter in the numbered column.  Further over on the spreadsheet, out of sight for when I’m working directly on the overall parts, is a section that looks up the letter in the section where I identify the parts.  If it finds the letter, it replaces a “0” with the number from the length column.  And those numbers are what are used for all the math.

Going back over those first columns, backwards, is Count – When I start putting pieces into the Cut List, I identify each line in that part of the spreadsheet as to the material.  Which allows me to keep track of how many of that type of lumber I need.  For example, I keep all of the 2x4s together so the Count column looks to see if the contents of the “What” cell in that row match the What cell in the row above.  If it does, then it adds one to the number above in the count column.  If not, it restarts numbering.

The OAL column doesn’t change, unless the part length I’m planning to get does.  The next one is rather important.  It tells me how many parts I’ll be getting out of that 2×4.  And since a saw is not like a knife, and removes a part of the overall length of the piece in order to separate the pieces, that column is pretty important.  The “Part Length” column adds up the values for the length of the parts, but the Used column multiplies the number in the Saw Kerfs column by .125 – to account for the width of my saw blade, about 1/8″ wide, which is what becomes sawdust.  Which is why if you have a 96″ long 2×4, you can’t count on getting 2 48″ lengths out of it, because you’re taking 1/8″ of the piece and making it into sawdust to separate the other two parts.

Now, one thing I’ve discovered in some 45 years of woodworking is that a 2×4 that is sold as 8 feet long is rarely 8 feet long.  For most of my early years, you rarely saw anything other than 96″ long.  On very rare occasions, you would find lengths that were 1/16″ short, or sometimes even more rare, the extra 1/8″.  Lately, as in the last ten years or so, I very rarely find an 8′ long 2×4.  They are almost always 96 1/8″ – some are all the way up to an extra 1/4″.

And while it would be nice to stand next to the 2×4 pile and pick the longest ones, these days, I more importantly have to select for straight and square.  That’s because, all too often, I find 2x4s that have a huge chunk missing down the length of one edge, or are twisted or curved.  Some are so badly curved I could make snow skis out of them – or barrel staves, if I want.  Sometimes I can use the curved or twisted pieces because the shorter parts I need won’t be affected by the overall change – but sometimes I find pieces that are unusable – but contractors could probably use them in walls. I wouldn’t, but this is why I’m not a contractor.

And I know at least one of you says “well, why not look at something other than pine for your 2x4s since pine is such a problem wood?” Pine is a fast-growing wood – which is why it’s a softwood.  And because of that, pine is commonly used because it’s “strong enough” when grouped with a large number, and covered with other material.  Sure, I could go over a few aisles and pick up an oak 2×4, as the lumber yard I regularly goes to has them.  But because oak is a much slower growing hardwood, my lumber yard gets pine 2x4s in skids – which is a block of 2x4s 12 deep by 30 tall – or a block that’s 8 feet wide, 42″ deep, and 45″ tall – 360 at a time, and from what I’ve seen, they’ll go through a couple of those a week.  At current prices of about $2.49 each, that’s not bad.  Oak 2x4s, on the other hand, come individually plastic shrink wrapped, and for $27.99 each, they’re all straight, square, and far too expensive for me to use on internal framing that no one will ever see.

Anyway, once I’ve reached the Used column, I’ve added my pieces up, then used my saw kerf column to figure out how much of the wood will disappear into sawdust.  And I subtract that from the OAL column to tell me how much is left of that particular piece of wood.

And so, back to my programming idea, what I typically do is start with the longest pieces, and put them into the cut list.  Then I’ll add shorter pieces if there’s enough of the 2×4 left to do anything.  I try to come up with the least amount left over in the “Remaining” column because that’s scrap – or parts I use for other projects when I can.

So anyway, my rolling cart idea is gone, and I’ll probably be building a stack of rolling footlockers to store my stuff.  It’s a better, more portable idea.