Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cops and Sandwiches

Every Wednesday, the guys in my engineering group and I go out for lunch together. We try hard to not discuss work-related things and a tasty lunch is usually punctuated with plenty of laughter and good-hearted insults. It’s a great camaraderie-building event.

Yesterday, we made a trip to one of our more common stops: the Ohio Deli, a local diner-like place that has GREAT sandwiches and soups. The Deli was recently featured on a Travel Channel show called Man vs. Food. The hero of the show travels the country, visiting different establishments that tout extreme eating challenges. The Ohio Deli’s challenge: The Dagwood.

The Dagwood is certainly a sandwich to behold. Named after the comic strip hero Dagwood Bumstead’s colossal sandwiches, the Dagwood is packed with 2-1/2 pounds of three different kinds of deli meat, tomato, lettuce onion, and mayo, all stuffed between a couple of mammoth hunks of sourdough. The platter comes with a heaping pile of the Deli’s delicious fries and a pickle spear. The challenge is to consume the entire platter in less than 30 minutes. According to their photo wall of fame, the current men’s record is 5-1/2 minutes. (!)

When we entered the Ohio Deli yesterday, we were seated next to some city police officers, who were getting ready to order. After some ribbing from his buddies, one of the officers decided to take the Deli’s Dagwood challenge.

When he got his platter, I think he was little shocked. The sandwich was towering over a huge expanse of fries. The waitress casually placed the platter in front of him (using two hands) and noted that he had until 12:10 to finish (30 minutes). To his credit, the cop really gave his all. He was able to finish the sandwich in about 15 minutes, after loosening his gunbelt. He really struggled through the fries and especially the pickle spear, but he finished with just a few ticks of the clock to spare.

H was, of course, heartily congratulated by our table, and the waitress took his picture and gave him his tee-shirt to commemorate his momentous achievement. As his group was getting up from the table, he commented to us that he sure hopes he doesn’t have to chase anybody or do anything strenuous the rest of the day and we certainly agreed.

However, as they were leaving, we looked out the window to our snow-covered streets, and saw a tiny woman in a BMW stuck at the stoplight. She had already exited her car and was desperately trying to shovel the piles of snow out from underneath the front end. Of course, the officers saw her and felt obligated to push her on her way.

While we couldn’t hear exactly what was being said, it was pretty clear that it was hig buddies thought it be absolutely hilarious that the Dagwood champion was quickly voted the guy to push the lady’s car. And push he did. He got her moving, but was he ever green in the face when he was done.

Of course, after such a display of manliness and heroism, two the guys at my table decided that next week they’re going to attempt the Dagwood challenge. I told them that I’ll happily just watch the clock for them and finished my Buffalo Chicken Spinner. I’ll let you know how next week goes.

I'll bet it goes delicious.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fun With Numbers

It gets to a point with numbers that you start to lose your sense of perspective and relation, especially with money. I can relate to and understand $100,000. I can even relate to one million or one hundred million. But after a point, we start to lose our reference point and it turns into monopoly money and politicians know that. Does $400B dollars really feel twice as big as $200B? Not to me. It's lost perspective. So, it's important to express these numbers in something we can relate to.

Obama's $825B "emergency" stimulus plan (I put "emergency" in quotations because only 3% spent in the first year isn't much of an emergency) is like spending:

$1,000,000 a day for the next 2,260 years.

Yes, that's right. The next 2,260 years. One million dollars. Every day. From now until the year 4269. 4269.

Not enough? Try buying this 14 bedroom, 18 bathroom, 33,000 sq. ft. home in Park City, Utah every hour, on the hour, for the entire length of Obama's first term.

That's spending $23,500,000 over 35,000 times. That's a lot of 23-million dollar mansions. Enough to give every single Senator and Congressional Representative a mansion in each state and still have over eight thousand mansions left over.

Crazy big numbers. Keep them in perspective.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Week One Under the Messiah

Summary of week one under the rule of "the chosen one".

1) Has his preacher friend declare that whites are racists for him.
2) States his intent to implement national gun control.
3) Pisses off press corps by not answering questions and talking down to them.
4) Acts like a jackass to the Senate minority whip.
5) Appoints Nancy Pelosi as dictator of national fuel economy standards.
6) Announces closure of terrorist retention facility.
7) States intent to pull out of Iraq ahead of schedule.

I just can't get enough change.


Monday, January 26, 2009

This Ain't Calculus

My wife is due in less than three weeks. Less than 21 days.


To say that I’m personally unprepared is an understatement. Now, don’t’ get me wrong here. I’m an engineer by trade, so preparation and organization is what I do. Our checklists are completed, items have been purchased and assembled, and the closet is stocked with diapers. I’m confident that our home, nursery, and all the required “stuff” is ready to rock (likely overly-ready-to-rock). Stuff-wise, I feel like we could bring home half a dozen babies and not need to buy a thing, but mentally, that’s a different story.

I’m usually calm, collected, and practical. I plan, I rehearse, and when the time comes for most things, I’m sure I can deliver. I’m the kind of guy that rehearses presentations and buys adequate life insurance. I’m confident. I perform well under pressure. That’s why this baby is beating me up. Sure, I’d like to think that I’m mentally prepared for this kid, and I think I do a pretty good job of convincing my wife that we should feel comfortable and ready (and we should!), but deep down I know that I’m personally not even close. What’s worse is that I know even with infinite planning, I'll never be totally prepared and that scares me. I’m not used to that at all.

It’s just that the consequences seem so extreme to me. If I botch a presentation or mess up at work, it’s fixable. If I bang up the car or burn down the house, they’re replaceable. But with this kid, I get one shot to get it right. No do-overs. No mulligans. If I mess him up, it’s permanent. Not only for my wife and I, but for the rest of his life too. That’s absolutely terrifying.

I’ve got the mechanics down. I know how to change a diaper; I know how to operate the carseat. I know how to carry him and I know what to look for when he’s ill. But, how do I know what to say and when to say it? How do I know what to teach and how to teach it? What if I teach him the wrong thing? What if I’m already out-of-touch with today’s kids? How do I even know if I mess up?

This is way out of my comfort zone. I like well-defined answers. Every calculus problem has one correct answer. One. Every design has one optimum. One. Every manufacturing process has one maximum efficiency. One. With this baby, there isn’t one answer, and that unbelievably frustrating.

I need a single solution. An optimum. A perfect plan of what to do and when to do it. It’s pretty obvious I’m not going to get it.

Maybe this is why I hated all those liberal arts classes in college; I need a right answer.

As always, any and all advice would be appreciated.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Direction or Misdirection?

Recently, economist and policy analyst Stephen Moore did an interview with a well-circulated newsletter that I occasionally read. He's is the author of the new book "The End of Prosperity" (linky-linky) and an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal. He is very well educated and was the senior economist for the the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, so he definitely knows what he's talking about. I found this segment of the interview particularly interesting and certainly timely as we start a new era with a president and congress bound and determined to try to regulate, socialize, and tax this country into prosperity:

“The 1990’s was a great decade. Our book (The End of Prosperity) describes when Reagan came in with a new kind of supply-side pro-free-market philosophy- turning around, by the way, the worst decade of the century other than the Great Depression, which was the 1970’s.

Amazingly , the left is rewriting the history of the 70’s: “If only we hadn’t had Reaganomics, we could go back to those wonderful years of the 1970’s”- when we had gas lines and 25% mortgage interest rates and 14% inflation.”

In any case, Reagan did two things. He cut tax rates very significantly from 70% all the way down to 28%. And he slayed inflation. The inflation rate went from 14.5% down to 3%. We had the greatest boom for 25 years in the history of civilization. No country had ever seen anything like what happened in American from the early 1980’s through 2007. We created $40 trillion dollars of net new wealth over that period. It was an awesome experiment in prosperity.

Now, Bill Clinton’s tax increase did hurt the economy, The evidence is that in the first two years in the Clinton Administration, the economy actually slowed down. But once you had the Republican Revolution in 1994, once you had the combination of Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey running the Congress, then Clinton moved back to the right. That’s when he gave his speech, “the era of big government is over.”

We had welfare reform, we had the capital gains tax cut, we balanced the budget. Those were all pro-growth Reagan ideas.

But a lot of the economists that I talk to in the Obama camp look at that period and say, “Look, we can raise taxes through the roof and its not going to hurt the economy.”

That’s a very dangerous idea at a time when the rest of the world is going the other way. China, Sweden, India, my goodness, Russia has a 13% flat tax. How are we going to compete with them with a 40% income tax? It’s a really dangerous idea to be talking about raising taxes right now in the face of the worst economy we’ve had in 25 years.”

Ah, the 70's. I'm so glad I was just a baby during the vast majority of them, especially the Carter years. I think my head would have exploded. I just hope the new prez doesn't take us the same direction.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Advice for 01/15/09

Advice of the Day: Don't sneeze when you've got a mouth full of shredded wheat.

Follow-up advice: If you do sneeze with a mouth full of shredded wheat, don't try to contain it with your hand. It just ends up all over your face, including your eyes, beard and nose.

Follow-up to the follow-up advice: If you do sneeze with a mouth full of shredded wheat, and you do try to contain it with your hand, make sure you check yourself out in a mirror before heading to a meeting. Partially-chewed shredded wheat in your goatee is not professional.


Monday, January 12, 2009

The Great Closet Adventure, Part Two

I wanted to make sure that the closet I designed was efficient, functional and most importantly, flexible. I wanted the ability to move shelves and rods around as our closet needs changed and evolved. To me, this meant that everything needs to be installed on standards. (standards are the vertical beams that brackets attach to). That would allow anything to moved up and down in approximately 1.5" increments.

Flexible. So, I started installing the standards I had purchased on every stud in the room. All told, I installed 22 seven-foot standards. When I was done, looked a bit like a prison, with white bars even spaced every 16 inches.

Next, I referenced my parts list and double checked some measurements. Then I started cutting my shelves to length. The shelves I purchased were heavy-duty ClosetMaid shelves that were 12 inches deep and had an integrated hanging rod for clothes on hangers. Even though they were available in 4, 6, and 8-foot lengths too, I purchased the 12-foot lengths to reduce cost. I had a cut sheet drawn before I shopped, so I knew exactly how many lengths to get and how much waste I would have. I pulled out my DeWalt sawzall (my favorite power tool) and got to cutting the shelves to the correct length.

As I cut them one-by-one, I wiped them down and installed the plastic end caps to cover the rough ends. Then I moved the upstairs and installed them on the brackets in the standards. Before long, everything was cut and installed. I made some minor adjustments to the shelf heights and lengths, and at the end I was left with a total of only 18" of scrap shelf, in three pieces. Not too bad.

We spent the rest of the day putting the clothes back in and sorting and re-organizing my wife's clothes. When we were finished, we had gained about 7 linear feet of hanging space and another 12 linear feet of shelf space. We were able to get all of her clothes and all of my clothes in, and still space left over. Efficiency is beautiful.

My wife was amazed. Not only was there more room, but everything was still easily reachable and organized. I was referred to as the "closet magician" the rest of the weekend.

All in all, it was a lot of work, but the wife is happy, the baby has a closet, and I don't have to trek to the basement to retrieve my khakis in the morning. Complete success.


The Great Closet Adventure, Part One

I lost my closet.

My closet has been taken over by an unborn child. You see, when my wife and I married, I got the closet in the spare bedroom upstairs for my clothes. The large walk-in closet in the master bedroom was inefficient and, um, full. My little closet was tight, but adequate. I even built some shelves to better utilize the top space above the hanging rods. Even though I had to go to a different bedroom to retrieve my clothes in the mornings, all was well and we were happy with our closet space.

However, when we found out that my lovely wife was pregnant, the spare bedroom upstairs was quickly deemed "the nursery'. At first, I thought "No problem. Baby clothes are tiny and don't need hung up anyway. My closet is safe." Boy, was I wrong. Through the nesting process (learn about that bit of fun here), I was firmly informed that baby clothes are indeed hang-able and will take up a lot of space. They even sell baby clothes hangers, which are basically miniature versions of adult hangers at higher prices, but apparently they're very important. Ask me how I know.

Anyway, I was also informed that under no circumstances was I to enter the nursery every morning at 4:30am to retrieve my clothes. So, I was ousted from my closet and had to come up another solution. The basement bedroom was out (too far), the office closet upstairs was out (full of office-y stuff), and the coat closets downstairs already house, well, coats.

So, that left me with reorganizing and increasing the space efficiency of the master bedroom walk-in closet. So this weekend, we set off on that task.

The master bedroom closet is a pretty big space, although oddly-shaped. The existing shelves and rods were installed by the previous owner and were in rough shape. They were the cheapest plastic-coasted wire shelves you could buy, supported by plastic wall hooks and flimsy sheet metal brackets. Nothing was screwed into studs, but used plastic wall anchors in drywall. Many shelves had started to droop and the anchors were starting to pull out of the drywall. To top it off, it was ridiculously inefficient. All the shelves were hung at approximately eye-level, leaving a three-foot space of unused space above them, and another 2 foot space underneath the clothes that hung off them.

Since the closet was already full of my wife's clothes, belts, and shoes, there was absolutely zero space for my items. Add that to the near-dangerous hardware, and it was clear that I needed to rip everything out and start over.

On Friday (I only work four days a week...more about that later, I suppose), we moved all of her clothing to a couple of portable closets and out of the way. Then we spent the remainder of the day removing the existing shelving.

Apparently, the previous owners were not engineers. Nor were they efficiency experts or likely even high school graduates. What they were, however, is lazy. Complete home improvement hacks. They were the type of folks that wire light sockets backwards so you get zapped with you change a lightbulb. Or the kind that add lights to the garage by looping wires over existing wires and just taping them up. Dangerous home improvement hacks.

As I stated, not a single screw in the closet was screwed into a stud. Screws were either screwed directly into the drywall (which means they did essentially nothing) or used plastic wall anchors of varying sizes. What's more, no less than eleven different screw sizes and types were used. Eleven! Apparently whatever they had laying around sufficed. They ranged from 2" deck screws to 4" wood screws and even some machine screws. Some had flat heads, some had round heads. Some required a Phillips screwdriver, some required a flathead. Some of the brackets were even secured with nails pounded into wall anchors.

Yep. Nails.

When we were finished removing the old stuff, I was left with an empty room with 64 holes the drywall ranging from 1/8" (screws directly into drywall) to 1/2" (BIG plastic wall anchors). Did you see that? Sixty-four holes. None of which lined up with a stud. Zero. I can't believe the whole system didn't collapse under the weight of Wifey's stuff.

So, I used an entire small container of putty and patches and got to work. Four hours later, everything was spackled, dry, sanded, and smooth. Since the putty matched the paint, it didn't even look too bad. I took some measurements of the room and grabbed my green engineering grid paper (yep, I'm a dork).

I made scale drawings of the room from all angles and optimized the space available with the parts I knew were available at our local hardware store. Before long, I had six scale drawings of the closet from varying angles with every shelf, rod, bracket and standard in place, along with a complete parts list.

90 minutes, $700, and one scary car trip later, I had every piece of hardware needed laid out in the garage. I set up my WorkMate (which are awesome) as a portable vise and went to bed. The rest would be tackled in the morning.

More later...