In other news: Work Related Education / Certification

I know there are tens and tens of readers out there wondering why it has been a little bit since the last posting and that is due to some of my work related stretch goals. Specifically I have been doing Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training. At the end I will be an officially certified yellow belt. It is low tiered compared to the green belt and black belt certification, but it is a start.

I won't go into the training in this post but talk more about my goals as an engineer. As an engineer, most people want to know what goals do you have to move up in a company, my goals deal with moving anywhere with any company. You see I am concentrating my efforts to make myself into an all around manufacturing/plant/process/project engineer. I hope that I never am pigeon holed into a certain industry or type of position. I still want to move up in the totem pole, but first I want to know the skills that it takes to become more well rounded so that I could apply for pretty much any industrial background. I have been working as an engineer in some capacity for 6 years now and in a manufacturing/machine shop capacity for around 10 years. In that time I have worked as a engineering intern, process engineer, and project engineer in the automotive industry, motorcycle industry, hydraulic industry, and chemical industry. I have significant experience in metal fabrication, machining, production assembly, hydraulics, HVAC systems, and chemical production. It is pretty wide ranging, but I want experience with more.

So every year I lay out a plan for what else I want to do, and with my current company I can get some certifications that I have always wanted. I feel this is something everyone should do. So for this year, MJ will become a yellow belt in lean six sigma, take classes for Allen Bradley PLC programming and troubleshooting, take management styles, and refer to himself in the third person. All should make it that much more possible for me to pick and choose where my next job may be. This should be a good year.


Short and Sweet...Stock Market Down...

Stock Market is pretty crazy right now, I have pulled back my cash on PBD, STP, and NSC. I made money on STP and lost on PBD and NSC. STP and PBD, I will probably look to put money back into once the market fall out is complete. Both are green plays. NSC is still a profitable company, I am going to keep a watchful eye on them.

Alternatively I have identified a new crop of stocks that I am going to do research on. Two good ones seem to be Herman Miller (MLHR) and Frontier Oil (FTO). Frontier Oil showed up on a couple of screens that I run and Herman Miller on another.

My method for stock picking is a little odd. I enjoy running screens, reading various magazines, and predict new trends. In each I research the hell out of my findings. So on this blog I will try to write it all out but you will probably see my stock picks come in two posts. The first post will identify my group of stocks that I am researching, and maybe why. The second will show my pick(s), why I picked it, and the price I am willing to pay for it.


The Beater part 2: More needles in a haystack...

Three more possibilities:

1990 Plymouth Laser (Eclipse clone) $750 - 55k on odo

Cheap, low, low miles, clean interior, light usage, has a head gasket issue...and cheap!

1997 Kia Sephis $700 - 96k on odo

Cheap, needs a new radiator (easy fix), fairly low miles, but it's a early Kia.

1998 Mitsubishi Mirage $1960 - 91K on odo

Good price, modern, automatic, 4 dr, safe vehicle, very clean interior, right now my absolute favorite choice for vehicle. I am trying to get in touch with the owner now.

1994 Olds 88 LSS $1999 - 126k

Great GM V6 (my family has had great luck with this 3800 engine in several cars), car is in good shape, plush old people ride, wish it were cheaper for that mileage though...

Still looking for more...wish me luck


Contractors: can't live with 'em and definitely can't live without 'em!

In my business, contractors are a necessary evil. Actually they can be a lot better than that. Most contractors that I deal with nowadays are actually my friends which is really a good place to be, but it wasn't always that way. I had to deal with deadbeats, slow workers, dim witted workers, and the rest, it really can take awhile to get established into an area.

My inspiration for this rant came from my good friend Grant over at The Corner Office Blog who is having some difficulties with the plumbing at his rental property. He is a pretty good entrepreneur and I thought maybe there are other aspiring entrepreneurs looking for some contractor help.

First let's talk about what a good contractor is by telling you what a bad contractor is. A real bad contractor takes your money and runs. They are the kind that starts the work, usually demo work, and asks for a up front payment. Then you never see them again. Or worse, they keep telling you things require more and more money, threatening to leave the job half way through. Avoid these people like the plague. Any actual contractor should be able to cover all the costs of the work until it is complete, if it is a big project expect to pay 75% of the project costs when the work is 75% of the way done. In other words, the project should be close to finish at that point, and hold the last 25% for the actual project completion.

Beyond money, contractors tend to act in certain ways. More specifically, bad contractors will only do exactly what you want them to do, down to the last nail. Some people think that this is great, but really it is working against you. These people are the experts, and if they encounter something that it unexpected (which can happen often), simply following what you want to do may not be the proper option. Alternatively, at the other end of the spectrum is the bad contractor that does nothing of what you ask. I have an architectural engineer friend of mine that has specified all the sizing, materials, and locations of the HVAC ducting and plumbing for a new building, and the contractor has followed exactly zero of his requests. It is a nightmare for him because somehow the company paying for the building wants him to warranty the design, but the contractor hasn't followed any of it.

The best contractor knows how to do both, meaning he/she can follow your specifications, but also knows how to effectively handle issues that may arrive. More importantly, if there is a flaw in what you want done, it is their job to speak up and offer other possible solutions. Remember alternatives can be expensive or cheap, but no matter what it is better and cheaper to do the job once.

So what else is good advise? When selecting contractors always speak to friends or even associates that may have had work done similar to what you are needing. If none are available, apply the rule of three. Three quotes for any job that needs to be contracted. Two quotes will give you a high-low scenario, but three will typically give you an idea of what the real costs are, mostly because at least two of the quotes will be similar. If two are high and one low, I would venture that the low bidder is forgetting something. If two are low and one is high, you might want to find out why that one is so high. If they are all over the place, one of two things has occurred. Either you didn't tell each contractor the same thing and thus not allowing you to compare apples to apples, or you may need to get one more quote to see where the real price lies. The whole three quote thing is meant to get you on talking terms with the contractors. Don't be afraid to tell them that you are looking into getting quotes from other companies as well, the best ones will fight for your money. Another good question to ask is for references. Ask if you can possibly see their previous work or at least call the individual that they did the work for.

Another piece of good advice is look for contractors that use union labor. Typically those workers have been through a regimented apprenticeship and even testing on that specialty. This ensures that your worker has the knowledge of the skills needed to do the job and isn't a handyman just because he says so. You don't have to go this way but it typically is a pretty good bet.

Don't judge a book by it's cover either. The best plumber I know looks like a distant cousin of Igor, but does the best finish work I have ever seen. The best millwright I use blinks and twitches a lot, but has built more than 75% of the production area at my facility. These guys are good at what they do, which isn't always appearance.

So now you have hired a NEW contractor and begun the work what else is good to do. Well a mentor of mine has a mantra: be tough and tight on a contractor in the beginning so that they understand the expectations and only then and when you get a feel for their work do you relax on them. After all you pay them by the hour. It's good to show up at the job site each morning and evening, if you can make it there at lunch time that is good as well. The mornings should be basically be a “What do you need from me?” sort of routine and maybe a quick summary of what is going on during the day. Lunchtime is a time for quick questions from them. Also, it is always a good time to look over some completed work and if something needs to be changed or added, it is no big deal then and it isn't not too much work to go a different direction. The evening is the most important time, this should be a time for a thorough walk through with your foreman or lead guy. What was accomplished today, what are you doing tomorrow, what supplies do you need, anything you see that needs to be different, is there some additional costs that will be incurred? This is your best time to go through everything. Basically for a given project you want to get in there and answer/ask questions and get out. They need to do their job and spending time looking over their shoulder only slows them down.

Another couple of rules, the two day rule for small projects, and the three day rule for big projects. If there is major demolition work to be done, then this is for after that work. It can take awhile for someone to gather materials for a project, so you do have give them some time to order supplies. For bigger projects like laying down flooring or putting a doorway in where there hasn't been one, it typically will take a couple of days to line up materials, rental equipment, and extra manpower if needed. But once all the material arrives, these guys/gals need to be working their butts off. Sometimes contractors will order parts and then do demo or sometimes they will begin demo and then order parts, it all depends on the job. So if it is a small job and the contractor hasn't begun work on the second day, start finding out why. Same thing for a big job on the third day, find out why things haven't begun.

Once you get a real feel for their work ethic and style, ease up on your attitude. These guys will be way more likely to bring you ideas once they get to know you and what you are all about. They'll become no different to you than your favorite barber or car mechanic.

I should add this is how I work with contractors, if anyone has some other really good suggestions or lessons learned they want to share, please do. Use the comment box or email me directly and I will post your comments in their entirety.


What's in your toolbox #1: Manufacturing Engineer's First Line of Defense

This is the first in a series of installments that I hope to show what people carry for tools for a given trade. I will provide the first few articles; toolbox for a manufacturing/process engineer, home bike mechanic toolbox, and maybe a couple from the various tradesmen I deal with daily. Eventually, I want to have examples of electricians, pipe fitters, HVAC repair guys, maintenance workers, but also people like architects, doctors, computer programmers, and others you wouldn't normally think of. I encourage others who read this blog to share their toolbox.

With that out of the way I entitled this the first line of defense for a manufacturing engineer for a reason. When I started out no one shared the basic tools that I needed for my engineering job, I had to develop it. What follows is the basics items that you will find yourself using again and again.

Leatherman squirt P4

Don't let this key chain sized, fold-up beauty fool you, the features packed in this multi-tool may as well regulate it to a heavyweight boxer. I use this everyday at least ten times, it's more useful than a mountain sherpa. Let's go through all of the options: spring action needlenose pliers w/ wire cutters, straight knife, eyeglasses sized flat screwdriver, medium flat screwdriver, small flat Phillips screwdriver, combo single/cross cut file, awl, opener, and key/lanyard attachment. I use the needlenose to grab screws, strip electrical wires, cut zipties, and the end is precision enough to use as a reliable pair of tweezers. The screwdrivers are all well-made and easily bust rusted screws, open electrical panels, and fix any nerds broken glasses. The files are good for fingernails and cleaning up metals. It is just so handy!

Pilot Mini G2 Pen

Simple, small, and fits in any shirt pocket, the Pilot mini pen is perfect for tucking itself away just about anywhere. My GF calls them midget pens and sings songs about them, that is how cool they are.

Engineer's Grid (Computation) Notebook

And the final item for this installment is the gridded notebook. No one tells you this secret in the beginning and that is to carry a notebook around and write everything down ALL THE TIME! People's names, project specifics, evaluations, specs, drawings, meeting minutes, etc, put it all in there. Another tip: use only one notebook. That way you have all the info in one place, and you are constantly looking at the material instead of putting it on the shelf and ignoring it until a later day. Always write down the days date, notes to cover your ass, and what people exactly asked of you, it well help you a thousand times over.

Next time I will actually pull out the real toolbox...


New Years Resolutions

  1. Buy a house for the misses and me.
  2. Setup a truly easier lifestyle at said home.
  3. Max out Roth IRA for 2007 (til April).
  4. Begin a true side business.
  5. Go on an extended vacation.

That should do for now...I hope I measure up by the end of the year.


The best maps on the internet!

It's not Google, Yahoo!, or Mapquest (although all are handy), it's actually a Microsoft product. There I said it, don't shoot. Microsoft provides a great one at http://maps.live.com/

Try it out, I like to search all things via the internet and this one is great for looking for homes. My family is trying to find a new home to shack up in and this one allows you to see the property from the four different cardinal directions. Simply type in the address that you want to look at and then select the Bird's Eye View from the options, it is amazing. Don't forget to zoom in to see things more closely.

This has even helped me with my job as a manufacturing engineer as well. We were having our yearly checks on our rooftop HVAC units and having trouble discussing the location of the faulty machines with the contractors. The contractors and I fired up Live Maps and just looked at the Bird's Eye image that we needed and eveyone could communicate better. Truly a useful tool.


The Beater!?!

Due to certain circumstances involving a hill, ice on said hill, and a car wreck at the bottom of the hill, my family has to find a new used car. Luckily, we still have our newer, reliable, albeit “nice” vehicle intact but still need another vehicle to use. Furthermore, we don't want to spend very much money on the car either.

Thus we have entered the beater-zone. That's right, find the best car you can for under $2K and just deal with it for awhile. I used to play sports with a guy known for his beater-savvy ways. Jeep CJ's, Chevy Astro's, Dodge Spirits, and the what not. He could find that needle in the haystack, diamond in the rough, and make it last and last. It was amazing. My own father found a high-mileage German maker coupe for $2K and has since put another 50,000 miles on the car. Some people have the “knack”.

So here I find myself deep in the beater-zone. Not one to shy away from finding the best deal for a given price, I have found three current potential candidates. I would truly enjoy some of your opinions on these vehicle and any advice or experience with any brands or makes that may help sway our decision.

Bachelor #1:
1989 Dodge Dynasty $1200 – 56,000 miles on odo

Seems nice enough, currently at a car lot in a questionable part of town, and not much info on the web page. Pictures make the vehicle look like it is in good shape, interior is clean, and V6 engine. Right now seems to be the top runner.

Bachelor #2:
1991 Ford Ranger $1650 – 83,500 miles on odo

Reliable year for Ford four cylinder engines. Truck seems in great shape both interior and exterior, seems like the guy took care of the truck well, nice wheels, paint's in good shape, and may even be mistaken as not a beater. The greatest plus for this is that it is a truck, which is always useful. Again, it is a 4 cyl so it has to get good gas mileage. Looks pretty good to me.

Bachelor #3:
Everybody else

So I lied I have more than three, there is in fact several others that are out there but not really convincing me one way or another.
They are:

95 Lumina

78 Chevette

94 Spirit

I am no dummy, anything I am looking at I will drive, check out under the hood, and basically kick the tires. For now this is what I have narrowed down internet-wise. Let me here your thoughts.