Corner of Safety Street and Frugal Road

A lot of times in life we (the people of the world), will find ourselves making a decision to go with the cheap, risky decision or with the more expensive, safer choice. Like jumping on the solar stock bandwagon vs. just buying an oil ETF, or getting the seasonal best apples at the supermarket vs the free (possibly over ripened) watermelon at the farmer's market. Like choosing the special at the Chinese Take-Out vs the good ol' sweet and sour chicken or purchasing the good, known equipment for work vs buying from the lowest bidder.

Well I am at that junction with the gas prices. I am *gasp* thinking about commuting to work by *double gasp* bike or scooter. My GF and I have been working at the same place for the past year and she is quitting this week to pursue other ventures. We have been commuting together up until this point. Her car was wrecked during the ice storms we had here this last winter and I want to leave my car around for her. So out have come my bike and scooter, appropriately named Ghetto Superstar and Piglet. I will tell the stories of their names some other date. The scoot is in dire need of a overhaul, but the bike is ready to go.

So here is the dilemma, I live in Kansas on the Southwest side of downtown KC and work just north across the river of downtown KC (approximately 10 miles). So to get from my home in Mission to work in North KC, I will have to go some of the not so friendly bike parts of downtown. That makes me a little nervous. I do like to ride and have been covering about 20-25 miles a week in preparation so the distance isn't my problem, it's the whole bike vs car thing. While some may think a bike can rival any car out there, I can tell you from a few interactions that I have had, that a car wins that fight every time. Even when you are sneaking up from it from behind, while it is parked. Regardless, I used to be a pretty decent rider back in the day (cue Toby Keith - As Good As I Once Was), and was never afraid of traffic before. The possibility has it's health perks though too, what with the work out and all, which I could definitely use the exercise. Work has showers and lockers available, although usually meant for the Union guys on the factory floor.

I am equally encouraged by Noah kc-info.blogspot.com who has had a little bit of publicity on the radio and newspaper in KC recently. He essentially rides the streets that I had mapped out previously into the city everyday, so we will see. I really like his blog as well, he seems rather friendly and open. I have read his friend the CommuterDude before when researching commuting in KC as well. Anyway, my plan is to begin riding when I get back from the Philippines, it's all preparation until then.

I almost forgot, I love the scoots. Piglet (1980 Suzuki FZ50) has lived a glorious life by getting my brother through undergrad and med school and then getting me through 6 years of engineering school. Piglet (a play on 'Hog') is an underpowered, high mileage trooper and frankly may need open motor surgery to get it all working again. That will be my backup for the bike on days I can't ride or am late for work. 60 mpg won't make me feel guilty about the ozone depletion anyway. Grant could probably tell you some good college stories about it, but basically I chose a more expensive winter jacket vs paying the Parking Patrol at college. I loathed the Parking Department there and pranked them often.

I really want this to work out, because I do miss riding regularly on my bike. I am not old by any sense of the word, but I am getting to the point where soccer and lacrosse are causing me more pain then good. The exercise benefit isn't there when I am hurt with an ankle injury for two months and can't really do any active sports. I like the idea of bike commuting too because it doesn't really take away time from my GF and our pets and I still get to do a sport I enjoy.

I will keep you updated on the progress next month.


Bush's tenure summed up in today's Q&A

President Bush had himself a little speech today about Fannie and Freddie and the Q&A portion was particularly enlightening.

"Q But you do have the Strategic Oil Petroleum Reserve. What about opening that?
THE PRESIDENT: The Strategic Oil Petroleum Reserve is for, you know, emergencies. But that doesn't address the fundamental issue. And we need to address the fundamental issue, which I, frankly, have been talking about since I first became President -- which is a combination of using technology to have alternative sources of energy, but at the same time finding oil and gas here at home. And now is the time to get it done. I heard somebody say, well, it's going to take seven years. Well, if we'd have done it seven years ago we'd be having a different conversation today. I'm not suggesting it would have completely created -- you know, changed the dynamics in the world, but it certainly would have been -- we'd have been using more of our own oil and sending less money overseas. "

I take issue with his seven years ago statement, that is seven years ago he was not looking into fuel alternatives. Seven years ago, he could have demanded for higher mpg standards for cars made today to help combat gas demand. Seven years ago, he could have been chasing Bin Laden and not Iraq for oil. Seven years ago, he could have upheld the Kyoto Treaty as a directive for our nation to shoot for. Seven years ago, he could have encouraged transportation projects like trains that down play our dependance on oil. Seven years ago he could have done a lot more crap that could have significantly affected our dependance and demand on foreign oil instead of some sort of b.s. comment on opening up ANWR to put a drop in the bucket US oil. I can't wait for a new regime right now, I just hope I could get enough write in votes for Ross Perot to make a difference. Or was that Ralph Nader?


Calling all Bloggers!

I am making a request out there to the blog-o-sphere for some filler posts while I am on vacation in the Philippines from July 28th through August 11th. I am really open to just about anything, from personal observations to stock ideas to life with dyslexia to well, anything. If someone were to classify what I have consentrated on so far, I would say industrial stocks, alternative energy, recession-no recession, inflation-no inflation, What's in your Toolbox, engineering and construction advice, and some dyslexic topics.

I am willing in turn to post on your blog (if you would like), add your blog to the blog list, and even research a stock for you if so requested. Feel free to comment here or email me on dyslexicresearch@yahoo.com.

Thanks, the management.

Big Projects

So the company I work for has decided to move a bunch of equipment from one plant to another that will effectively fill the holes we have here in a major production area and then create another expanded minor production area. Truly it is exciting stuff. Since I am working this weekend I thought I would take a break and run down a few of important details when doing a major construction project outside of just dealing with contractors. I think that I have covered the “what to do while the project is running” details before, so this is more the beginning work that occurs.

Planning and permits:

This is sometimes your second step instead of the first but typically it needs to be the first one. When beginning a major project you will need just a general plan get started, goals, basic outline of equipment needed, and an idea of any permits needed. Almost every major project has a goal, something like increased production, energy savings, equipment upgrade, or equipment improvement. Once these basics are listed classify things as a replacement in kind (essentially an equipment swap, no permitting needed), if it will have energy savings, if it will need additional energy, water, air, etc, or could cause pollution. It is important to note that most municipalities now have tax incentives for shown energy savings improvements that can be seen in 1-5 years (up to $40k in rebates dependant on areas), but you have to apply for these rebates up front before the project begins. Once the equipment is installed and running it is too late, I learned this the hard way with a pair of new Trane chillers that were installed at the plant. I found out about the tax credits after the work was complete and nothing was available for us. Also mentioned was the possibility of new power, water, or even air requirements. All will require coordination with the local municipalities for the upgrade and usually permits for construction. Finally the new equipment may need air permits or construction permits to cover government regulations. It is all dependant on what is installed and if any pollution or other materials could be exhausted into the atmosphere or leaked into the ground.

Real planning and project design:

This step is the one that can sometimes swap with step listed above; it will really depend on the project. Every big project requires three things: project scope, project timeline, and project design. For me the most important thing is the project scope. The scope should have all of the guts needed to complete the project successfully. I like to best lay everything out in the scope in an outline, and just list every little detail into it from equipment needed to little things like, “make sure the equipment manuals are included” and “what are the preventative maintenance measures needed for this device”. When I do that I know that as the project continues along I will be able to check off every detail. Typically the next part for me is moving that whole scope into some sort of project timeline software (I use Microsoft Project). I don’t necessarily include all the little details like I do in the scope but the encompassing work for those little details. This part is where to assign a time frame to each task. My advice is to use realistic time frames and realize what can truly be completed in parallel and what cannot. As a young process engineer I made many mistakes with this part by only inserting the best possible outcome for dates and when things didn’t pan out perfectly then I looked like an idiot who didn’t have an idea of what I am doing. See this timeline is typically what your boss sees and your boss’s boss sees and they expect the project to be completed in that timeframe. After all, you made the timeline and you should know what it would take finish the work. So be careful and be realistic because this may be all they ever look at. One other piece of advice is to avoid applying real concrete dates until the project is actually started. Meaning I could make a plan for stuff to occur tomorrow but if the work doesn’t begin until two weeks from tomorrow then my boss may think that I am actually two weeks behind from my plan. Again egg on face occurring. Be careful.

Last in this step is the project design. I think a lot of people make two mistakes while doing this step. The first is that they skip the project scope part, which I think is the most important step. This typically causes the designer to get way too caught up designing without planning, and can typically cause a bunch of double work. With a scope in hand, the designer is simply drawing out the details already known; it is really like a visual checklist. The second is that they can make things too complicated. Designers can easily get into a “paralysis of analysis” when looking at big projects. It is important to be extremely detailed in design but realize when it is important have fine detail and when that pipefitter is going to figure out himself how to cut a whole in the wall and shove a tube through. Again to me the scope is the most important part, it should be there to make sure every minute thing is covered and checked off, the literal design is more of a guide for the project work. Of course this is coming from the guy who is the engineering department, with more people involved in the design process perhaps a bit more detail can be made in the drawings. I just don’t have the time.

Gathering of the usual suspects:

It all comes back to contractors, and this step is usually one of the most difficult. The reason why is that typically you want contractors to see the project, give you a bid the next day, and work shortly thereafter. Reality is to get your contractors in early so that they can have a little time to put together a realistic quote. The more stuff the contractors know about before the bid delivery date, then the more likely the bid will be accurate and cost effective. Contractors are used to this process and for everything they “don’t” know about they will add a “fudge” factor price to cover those costs. So give them a little bit of time to get things gathered. Also, make sure you are sharing the same thing to each contractor; otherwise you are not comparing equal quotes from competing contractors.

Make sure to parade the contractors through the work area and allow them to come in any time during the bidding period to work out some of the little details with their workers and possible sub-contractors. Each should get some sort of copy of the project scope and project plan. The project timeline needs to be shared with them as well, so that they could let you know if any changes to the schedule are needed, like the concrete truck can’t make it that day.

Remember with contractors the mottos are “be firm but fair” and “trust but verify”. They will bend over backwards to make you happy if you are fair with a good contractor, but push people around all of the time, they can just as easily screw you over. Walk that line, but remember whose butt is on the line (hint its not there’s).


Sorry for the Hiatus! More on Contractors...

I have been out of town on business, our company is shuffling equipment around from our facilities and I have to do the installations in KC. All I can say about it is that highway 40 in middle Tennesee is covered in cops.

Regardless, I am gearing up for a lot of work with contractors again, and wanted to add some types of contractors that I don't recommend doing business with*. They are:

Mr. We're Cheap 'til You Get the Bill Guy:
Currently, I hate this guy the most. He has on many occasions has been told to accurately bid some of our factory work, including a little fluff factor for the unknown. Instead, he has constantly been bidding low, charges something high, and then I have to argue with him on the final price of the work. His people do the best work around, but he I can do without. Let me tell you how his game works. His guys start a project, work hard, and get a bunch of stuff done. Then one of them asks me a question about something that may need to change, I approve, workers continue to work, and complete project on quoted time. Now, in every big project there will be changes that may occur, it is expected, and contractors should build it into the quote as best they can. I even think that if material that was not originally in the quote is used then that will become the buyer's liablility, that is fair. But what he does is, at the point of change he begins charging me double labor time plus material. The same number of guys still work the same quoted amount of time but he will charge extra for the everything after the change. He has done it every time and I am done with him.

Mr. 80% Done, 100% Pay Guy,
My current pain in the ass is this guy. He has completed one major project for me and for that I am greatful, but he has one consistently poor attribute. When the project he completes for me is 80% done, he claims the project is done or close enough for final payment. After the 80% point it is like pushing a wall to get his crew back in here to complete the work. Especially irritating is the fact that I have paid this person a lot of money over the past two years to do a whole bunch of big time work. What he doesn't realize is that it is going to cost him some seriously well paying projects coming up soon.

The next guy I am not so irritated at but I am tired of the situation:

Mr. Fair Price, Take a While Guy,
This man is currently working a job on a project for me at my home and is doing an extremely quality job at a fair price. My only fault with him is that he is slow. I have been out of my house for 4 weeks now and there is still probably a week's worth of work. I am not frustrated with him at all, he is not in the best of health, but I am frustrated with the situation. I think this is one of those life lesson things though. I really like this guy, so I need to just get over it. I could never hire this guy for a fast job, it's unfortunate.

So I am looking for new contractors to do work in our plant next week, it should be fun. Breaking in new contractors to my ideals is always an adventure.

More updates this weekend, the market is circling done the bowl right now.


A few changes and poll...gasp!

I won't pretend to be blog savy but I am trying to slowly make this blog more user friendly and well eventually give it a little 'cough' style. So I have added the new Yahoo stock sidebars to help track my current stocks (except for EWC, EWH, & EWY which don't work in it for some reason) and also a poll. I have no idea how to measure the amount of people coming to this website, so I thought a poll by be a good way to find out. I can't wait for the ones and ones of readers to participate.

Enjoy! --------------------------------------------------->