28 May 2010

Memorial Day Weekend

Note from the 6th floor:
A brief history of Memorial Day:

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service to our country.

It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers.

During the first national celebration, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there. This event was inspired by local observances of the day that had taken place in several towns throughout America in the three years since the Civil War. By the late 1800s, many more cities and communities had begun to observe Memorial Day, and after World War I, it became a occasion for honoring those who had died in all America’s wars.

Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery each year with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Traditionally, the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday of May.

You can leave today at 3 pm if you are willing to educate a child or someone else who would benefit from the knowledge of why we have the day off on Monday.

Have a good weekend. Rest up for Family Fun Day!

Dan & David
I kinda like the new guys in charge.  Dan is our CEO and he is one funny guy.  Not as self-centered as the last CEO & crew and has a wicked sense of humor.  He took over the reigns about two years ago and has very low-key, self-effacing style of management.  I guess it is some left over indoctrination from my military background, but I have always felt slightly humbled whenever meeting the unit commander or CEO.  Dan is a bit more approachable, and willing to serve as the butt of a joke to inspire and motivate the troops.  Next week we have a company party and we have all sorts of activities that he is encouraging/participating in that I would have never expected from our previous management team (more about that later).  Still, I like his style.  In spite of his upbringing (coming from some northeast college and another company), he seems more grounded in reality.

BTW - consider yourselves educated.  I thought this would be an excellent blog post.  At times we gotta remember why we have a 3 day weekend (and not just for the sales).

Happy Memorial Day!

Live Free or Die!

Back from the Granite State.  Nice trip.  Long flight, but no delays or problems.  The company was located in Salem NH which is about an hour northwest of Boston.  Traffic was nice as long as you were not headed towards Boston.  I enjoy visting the northeast this time of year.  The trees are in full bloom and it is nice driving the highways & back roads through the forests.  I noted the same thing when we went to Philly last month.  Down here, maybe it's due to the coastal region and hotter climate but our trees/forests don't seem quite as dense or lush.  I am an old back woods guy and prefer hiking the hills and trails with lots of greenery.

Looking out over East Texas at 25,000 feet

I noted the state motto for New Hampsire is "Live Free or Die".  We saw it stamped on all license plates and the Welcome to New Hampsire sign.  Somewhere stashed in my old memory files, I seemed to recall that motto, but I still think it is great (even if is does sound a little bit like the title to a Bruce Willis movie).  I think it way better than our state motto (Friendship).  Some other state mottos I find interesting:

  • Arkansas - The people rule

  • California - I have found it (Didn't know you lost it)

  • Maine - I lead (glad someone does)

  • Maryland - Manly deeds, womanly words

  • Minnesota - The star of the North

  • Michigan - If you seek a pleasant penninsula, look around you

  • Nevada - All For Our Country

  • New Mexico - It grows as it goes (sounds like a stoner motto)

  • Washington - By and by (that sounds lame)
Long weekend ahead for me.  I'm heading to Austin on Saturday to help son move out of apartment.  Looks to be another advil adventure. 
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BTW - I must admit that I am impressed by the stamina and grit of some Minnesotans.  While out on the road  I get my news from various sources (USA Today, CNN, Fox - if my wireless connection works) and I spotted an article about a Minnesota woman who gave birth while driving to the hospital.  "It wasn't really that bad," Amanda (the mom) said of the labor pains.  It just proves my point - ya just don't mess with those Minnesotan women.  Now, I am just wondering if the hospital visit was covered by health insurance or AAA?

25 May 2010

One for the road

As I sit here trying to wax poetic or come up with some amusing tales about my next road trip, I am reminded of some of the older Bob Hope & Bing Crosby road movies (Road to Morocco, Road to Zanzibar, etc.).  I know.  Campy old movies with corny plot lines and bad one liners.  Overall there were seven road movies in all spanning from 1940 to 1962 (before my time).  These were made in the days before dvds, tivo, PPV and big budget blockbusters.  I grew up watching a lot of Bob Hope's movies and was always a huge fan.  Somehow, I always felt he looked and acted just like my dad.  Bob Hope & John Wayne were my two favorite actors when I was growing up and I still find my self watching their old movies when they show up on TMC.  Now that I think about it, I am pondering rearranging my netflix movies to pick up a few road movies...

Oh, and I am back on the road again for a few days.  Headed back to the northeast to Salem, New Hampshire.  Another short supplier audit, day of travel up, full day of digging through a company's processes/records, another day of travel back.  At least it gets me out of the office for a few days.  Now, if only everyone would leave me alone while I am out.

Long weekend ahead but full agenda.  I will get back from the road in time to head out to Austin to help son move out of one apartment and into another.  As much of a pita this will be, I am looking forward to spending the time with him albeit humping boxes & furniture into storage.  Momma has chosen (wisely, I might add) to stay back and man the fort with the dog crew.  That means it'll be a guy's weekend......          

18 May 2010

Who's your daddy?

Pets can be like second children to some.

I just read an article in the local rag that some people will spend as much on their pets at they do their children.  Some folk, when the kids move away will look to their pets as just another family member (albeit a hairy one).  In the old days, when the dog got ill or injured or old could wind up with a one way a trip to the vet.  Now people are taking Fido to the "spa" or giving Spot a massage.  Many people don't even blink at dropping a wad of Benjamins to keep Scruffy healthy.  Hip surgery?  Cancer treatment?  For many, it is not an option.  Pet care has become a huge business.     

My co-worker has enlighten me about a new test you can run on your dog/cat to determine their genetic make up.  For a mere $59.95, you can determine what is the exact breed of your dog.  Half German Shepard, Half Lab?  Half Poodle, half Yorkie?  Half Chihuahua, half Saint Bernard?  If you really want to know who's the daddy, now you can CSI them and determine what kind of dog you really have.  My co-worker wanted to know the dominant breed was for her dog (stray) so she could understand if it had any long term issues.  I can see some benefit knowing what kind of personality a dog might have or what illnesses they might be prone to get, but, I have mixed feelings.  

I am pretty sure Grayson is a pure Golden.  He has the classic Golden posture/stance, displays many of the Golden traits (loyalty, gentle, dedicated, and had a definite Golden personality (goofy, affectionate, needy, energetic).  If I had to take a bet, I would wager that Grayson is 100% (or at least 99%).  Claire, on the other hand, has a little bit of mystery to her.  Oh, she is gentle and loving to a fault.  Got a killer tongue that will lick you without provocation and a smile that goes for miles.  She has a mischievous side to her and loves to get Grayson stirred up, but I blame that on the redhead in her.  I am tempted to test the two of them just to verify my assumptions, but I honestly don't think I want to know.  Sometimes ignorance is better than too much information. 

When's the last time you saw a dentist?

14 May 2010

Meets Expectations

I hate review time.

Every year, we seem to go through the same exercise. You are expected to rate/evaluate your employees for their productivity and performance over the past 12 months and you have less than a week to summarize everyone's efforts. I should be used to this. For almost 30 years, I have been in a leadership role of one form or another. First the Army followed by several manufacturing companies. I have done very simple reviews on a basic form to some complex computer system that calculates how much we get to reward (or penalize) someone for their performance. I have had as few as 3 people and as many as 35 to rate at one time. They've ranged from the fresh out of school, still wet behind the ears kids all the way to grandma who is months away from retirement. I've done hourly employees, salary employees, engineers, supervisors, managers, mechanics, sergeants, privates. After all of the hours of evaluating people and lumping them into one group or another, I still hate the process. Just when you have your system down, they change the rules/format. Been doing a particular style of review here for the past 4 years.  IMHO, the format sucks, the rating scale looks like it was made up by a drunken sailor, and you are required to rate people for some odd skills that have nothing to do with their job  This year's grades have changed as well.  Last few years you got rated a number from 1 (low) to 5 (high).  If you got a 1, you better be looking for another job.  A 5 meant you essentially walk on water.  Not many people get a 5.  I once tried to rate my team lead a 5 (felt she earned it and it was fully justified) and got a lot of crap from HR as to how my score was inflated.  For the most part, everyone fell into the 3/4 range.  This year, the grades are either EE - Exceeds Expectation, ME- Meets Expectations, NE - Needs Improvement.  Much as I disliked this format, we were used to and knew how to make it work. Of course, that means we are ripe for change. 2 weeks ago, our new HR manager rolled out an entirely new form and the overall response is, to put it mildly, less than enthusiastic. We've gone from a 3-4 page review for that rates you over different skills/traits and has various blocks to check off for the rating to a single page form with 4 open blocks that you enter in the applicable accomplishments and skills required for the job. Basically, I have to sum up your entire year's efforts in a single page. And there has been very little guidance on how this is to be filled out or what are the minimum requirements. There is much confusion down here on the farm and the natives are not happy. I worked over the weekend trying to give as much feedback and detail to make a fair assessment only to be told yesterday that I did not need all of the detail I had provided. There are a number of supervisors with 10+ people that are burning the midnight oil to get these done by Friday. The Army taught me a long time ago how to be very "loquacious" on reviews. I can take a simple sentence and make it into a full paragraph, if need be. Asking me to be brief is like asking Claire not to chase tree rats. I am lucky this year because I only have 3 reviews to give and they are positive. Over the years I have discovered that a number of people don't really care what you rate them, many are just interested in the bottom line. Great rating. How much does that translate into?  I have a few that genuinely want a high score, even if it does not give them much of an increase. There have been a few years where the raises were scarce or marginal, so I am grateful we are doing well enough to reward everyone's efforts. 

11 May 2010

Whirlwind weekend

As if things weren't hectic enough, we took off for the weekend to head out to Kerrville to attend a graduation ceremony for my nephew.  At 28, this has been a long time coming.  He hasn't had the easiest time getting to this point and there have been a lot of challenges along the way and, quite frankly, we weren't certain this was going to happen, but Andrew finally earned his sheepskin this weekend.  So the entire family (sans brother #2 in Seattle) made the trek out to west Texas to attend the ceremony.  Even my kid drove out from Austin to make it just under the wire to watch Andrew walk across.  Small university with about 250 graduating seniors.  This is the last child of 4 for my oldest brother, so they can finally claim they have no kids in school after a very long time.  We are grateful for our only one.  My parents made it out for the gig.  At 88+, they are not sure how many more they will be able to attend, but we have one more to go (for the grand kids).  My son is on target to graduate next spring in Austin.  Already making tentative plans for next spring.  In the meantime, I will have to go back to Austin later this month to help extract him out of his apartment.  He and his buddy are renting a house up in Austin this summer and he has landed another internship in Austin this year, so he will  much closer to home and momma.  Not sure where he will be staying, but he has a plan (just would be nice to know what it is).  

Was a good, but long road trip.  The parents, the older brother and us took our trailers out to Kerrville Friday to camp out before the ceremony.  Kerrville is a long haul from here without a rig to tow.  At least 1.5 hours west of San Antonio, it took us 5 hours to make the trek out and 6 coming back.  Traffic was OK, just slow at spots.  The country out past San Antonio is very beautiful (IMHO).  Start of the Texas Hill Country with lots of small hills and scrub oaks.  The blue bonnets were all gone, but a lot of flowers still remained.  Weather was iffy, so no good photo ops.  The dogs travelled very well for the first long road trip.  They were well behaved and the darling of everyone at the campground.  Goldens are typical magnets and love any attention they get.  Biggest problem I had was with the grass burrs.  Since Kerrville is a very dry country, most of the grass was dried up with lots of weeks and burrs.  Every time I walked the dogs, even for a short walk around the RV park, I wound up picking burrs out of their feet/coats for 20 minutes afterwards.  Both were very patient, but Claire has developed a tendency/preference to walk in the road rather than the grass.  One woman had a pair of huge, white Great Pyrenees that dwarfed Grayson & Claire.  Gorgeous dogs, very gentle & calm.  They were happy to see our Goldens as that us the only dog they are allowed to play with (due to their size & stature).  These were trained herding dogs and could typically herd sheep in an open field.  At 150+ lbs each, Grayson was somewhat intimidated by their size.  With the grass burr problem, when I ran into this woman, both dogs look like they had been rolling in a field of burrs.  Probably took half the day to dethatch them.

And momma & I had a great, quiet anniversary last week.  Dinner out at The Cheesecake Factory and, as like last year, the son ordered us a Cheesecake (Godiva Chocolate).  One slice has enough calories to sustain a person for weeks.  A funny corollary to our anniversary was with the cards.  While shopping for an anniversary card (I prefer the funny ones), I spotted a card with two Golden Retrievers sitting side by side.  The inside comment was "Another Year Closer to Looking like Each Other".  I liked the card, but thought it was more of a card to give to another couple, so I bought it to give to my brother and his wife next month.  Brought the card home and momma spotted it on the desk and noted that she has bought the same card before realizing it was more of a "give to someone else card".  Funny.  What makes this ironic is that, our darling son who is miles away in Austin, sent us a card for our anniversary and take a guess as what card he sent us.  Freaky.  Que the twilight zone music... 

07 May 2010

Life with kids & dogs. 
It never gets dull.

04 May 2010

Roadside attractions

I enjoy driving.  Not a big fan of flying as much anymore, given all of the hassles and costs, but I'll take a long distance drive over flying any day.  A few weeks back I drove to Dallas for my aunt's funeral.  Could have taken a flight and been there in 1/2 the time, but I preferred to drive up this time of year.

Springtime in Texas brings out lots of color.  The roadsides and fields have exploded with Bluebonnets and Indian Painbrush.  With all of the rain we've had and colder winter, the flowers are at their peak right now.  A lot of people travel the back roads on the weekends in search some great backdrops.  I am taking the crew out to Kerrville later this month for a graduation and will look for some roadside color along the way. 

And momma & I crossed another milestone today.

30 years
Way back in spring of 1980, 2 young, innocent (ok, I wasn't so innocent) kids hooked up.
Where does the time go?
When did we get old?
We are planning a quiet celebration.

02 May 2010

Pennsylvania report

Whenever I go on  road trip, I tend to make mental notes about the trip.
What worked, what didn't.
What I liked, what I didn't.
What I am glad to have done/seen, what I will never do again.

I've been to Philly before.  About 10 years ago, with a different company, for a different reason.  We spent a week in a small town north of Philadelphia in training.  We tried to see some of the area, but only got time to see Valley Forge.  We did have a chance on the weekend we arrived to drive out to Atlantic City for some gambling.  Never made it downtown to see Independence Hall or the Liberty Bell.  My initial observation from the last trip was that it was a nice area, very wooded, green.  Traffic sucked.  Hated the toll road system.  Food was good - found a great German food restaurant, but their liquor laws were a bit confusing.  You cannot buy beer or wine at the local grocery store, but I finally stumbled across a package store that sold beer by case.  I may be a seasoned drinker, but trying to consume a case of beer in less than 4 days is something I might have done in college.  Tried out a local Mexican food restaurant that was, to put it nicely, on my "never again" list.  I mean, really, how can you screw up a Margarita?  The trip was pretty good, but I was left with the impression that the traffic/road system was something less that I would prefer on a regular basis.

Fast forward to last week.  Took a short hop to north Philly for a pair of supplier audits.  I was the leader of this little expedition, so I was left with the planning/logistics.  Since the two companies we were going to audit were on different ends of Philly, I picked a hotel in the middle.  A decent Hampton Inn in Plymouth Meeting just off of 476.  Given some of my previous experience and the geographic location, I figured to make use of the toll road system to get us to where we needed to go.   Hop on the 276 toll road east in the morning to the first site and then back on 276 to the west for the second day.  No big deal, right.  Only the entrances to the toll roads were as confusing as I recall from my last visit.  We could find all sorts of ways to get onto 276 west, but could not buy our way onto the east bound toll road.  Left the hotel early on Tuesday morning with plenty of time to make it to the site only to spend 20 minutes wandering through the local streets to find a east bound entrance.  Finally made it onto the toll road and to the site only 15 minutes late.  Nothing pisses me off that getting screwed up on my directions and being late to an audit that I scheduled.  Throws me off my game.  After the audit, we went downtown to tour the historical center and we had no troubles getting there and back to the hotel.  Wandered around some of the local suburbs looking for a good restaurant before we stumbled across a very nice, small bar/cafe that had an outstanding cheese steak.  Day two, I figured we had it made.  Right next to the toll road and we know where the west bound entrance was.  Can't screw this one up, right?  Au contrair, my friend.  I got on the entrance, navigated the ticket lanes only to jump on the east bound toll road entrance.  Before we could blink, we were headed east again into Jersey.  Of course, we had to go 10 miles before I could get off and execute a u-turn in the toll booth lane to put us back on the west bound side.  Needless to say, I was pissed again for messing up this simple execution.  Put us about 15 minutes late to the supplier, but not too far behind schedule.  This place was in a very nice little town west of Philly way out from the main traffic.  Coming back I had no problems navigating the roads to get us back to the hotel.  On the toll road/highways, I did note that, most Pennsylvanians do not tend to use their turn signals.  At times, I felt like was an out lander by signalling my intent to change lanes.  On our last day in Philly, we left the hotel early enough to make the airport, but misread the exit to the rental car place and wound up driving across the river into south Philly.  If we had the time, we would have looked for Pat's.  Finally made it to the rental place but could not find a gas station so had to let them pay for gas to fill up the car ($6.99/gallon).  Glad it wasn't my dime paying for this rental.  

Overall, my impression was that the surrounding areas of Philly were nice.  Traffic sucked.  Toll roads were confusing, headaches.  I am reminded of Meleah's trials on the NJTPK.  Not quite as bad, but still I am not a big fan of the Philly toll roads.           

01 May 2010

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

Or on a deadline...

The last time I touched this site, I was packing up for my road trip to Philly.  Made it there and back without any serious damage.  These supplier audits are a necessary evil for my business and I've come to accept the hassles they sometimes present (airline delays, lousy hotels, eating on the road, traffic, etc.).  This one was pretty decent.  I know enough to plan ahead and make the most of wherever we will be going.  This time it was Philadelphia, PA.  The birthplace of our Independence.  Weather at the start was lousy/raining but it improved towards the back end of the trip.  Both supplier audits turned out well and we had time on Tuesday to head downtown for a few hours to tour Independence Hall and see the Liberty Bell.  Lots of history, plenty of sights.  Normally, we don't have time to sight see, but, since I was the tour captain for this run, I padded our schedule enough to allow a side trip.  Very interesting opportunity to see a bit of our history.  The last time I was in Philly (10 years ago), we only had a chance to tour Valley Forge.  

The second audit went well but was an all day gig that left us pretty worn out.  This was a precious metals supplier that deals in platinum components located in a very small town south of Philadelphia.  Basically a foundry to process metal ores for different parts/applications.  To me, it was an old union machine shop with lots of presses and furnaces to process very expensive metals.  The security there was tighter than going through the airport.  We were not allowed to take anything metallic into the plant that could be picked up on the metal scanners.  No watches, cell phones, blackberries, laptops, rings, jewelry, keys, pocket knives, etc.  Basically, nothing metallic that will be picked up on the scanners.  Take note:  anything metallic you have on you WILL be picked up by the scanner. That includes body jewelry of any kind. Not that we had any issues, but our host did explain that on occasion, they have some visitors that come through with certain "jewelry" that light up the monitors.  My buyer had the opportunity to hold a brick of pure platinum that they use in their process. The brick was about the size of a normal house brick but weighed about 25 pounds. Our host initially pegged the street value as somewhere close to $150,000, but towards the end of the tour, he admitted he had miscalculated the cost and, given the current price of platinum, the brick was a wee bit closer to $525,000.  My house cost as much as that brick.