Thursday, December 27, 2012

Holiday Letters

I wrote an introduction to a Holiday Letter that we did not end up using.   As I was putting this down in writing I felt the spirit move in my fingers, and what I ended up with was not particularly what I started out to create.  It went something like this:

If I am writing a letter that describes what my family and I have been doing for the past year and sending it to "family and friends" that have not been interested enough in me to try looking at my Facebook postings or reading my blog, then why am I bothering?  If you want to know what is happening with people today you have multiple avenues to reach them, either actively with an email or phone call here and there to ask them how they are doing, or passively through participating in shared environments like Facebook, blogging, and many others.  My Holiday Letter seems to disrupt this status quo by forcing you to read about me even if you have not been interested in doing so. 

What should I write about?  If you have been following me and my life you know about the big stuff, and likely about the little stuff, too.  What's left to write about?

This brings to mind the old Bert and I skit where Bert returns home after an absence and his friend tells him "There really is no news, except that I should tell you that your dog died."   As the story unfolds, the dog died from eating the dead horse flesh, which died in the fire that destroyed the barn,  which caught fire from sparks that flew from the house, that caught on fire from the candles that were burning around the casket, which held the beloved Aunt that died, who died when she heard the news about your Uncle, etc.   A perfect Shaggy Dog story that never has to end.  It does finally end when he says, "Other than that, there is no news!"

Well, my dog died, but all that other stuff didn't happen!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I feel like a modern poem is inside me...

I thought I would write a poem or two tonight...

I had my iPad out in front of me at the desk, with my leftover dinner heated up in the microwave downstairs in this Howard Johnson hotel in Salem, Oregon.  My intent was to take this free time between 7 and 10 pm and do something useful with it.

But before I start, let me check my email.  Several new ones, some that require responding.  OK, that will only take a couple of minutes.  There, done.  Now I should check Facebook, because I haven't all day...  Several new postings, but nothing important.  What's this?  An IM from my son about his interview at Microsoft today?  Things went well, but no offer yet.  Damn.  We share several messages back and forth as though we were on the phone, but of course it is the new way to communicate, through the fingers instead of using the tongue.  Whatever.  OK, let's start..

Wait, a familiar "bling" and another email is in.  Better check that, and it is from my salesman in Bangkok who is up and at it in the morning of tomorrow.  My tonight is his tomorrow morning, of course, and he has questions about the messages I sent him from work today.  Better answer them now so he can be productive with his day and I don't have to deal with them tomorrow, my time.  He is obviously up and at his computer because as soon as I send one message he responds with 2 more, and here we are off in a conversation about his projects and my recent visit to Thailand.  What should we tell this customer, and how can we move that project along, and what about the problem we are having with this installation down here, and so forth.  Normal communications within companies all over the world, and in this case it really is global in scope.  14 hours difference in time zones is just about as bad as it gets.  There is no common "good time" for us both.

What time is it?  Time to call Judy and get caught up on the day.  How about FaceTime, she on her iPad and me on my iPhone?  It turns out she is just back from a dinner out and is ready to talk.  We get things set up and we chat for about a half hour with the cats wandering through the camera's range from time to time.  Both cats, which is unusual.  I think Judy's voice and stationary pose draws them in.  They don't respond to my voice even when I do the normal kitty, kitty stuff we all do.  Apparently the ability to understand FaceTime takes some sort of higher brain function that cats don't have.  Maybe the guys at Apple need to work on making the interface even more simplistic?

We end our conversation and I see that there are several new emails, including ones from Thailand.  It takes only a few minutes to dispatch these.  The wine is having an effect at this point and if nothing else, my will to be creative and write the poems I had in mind is fading.  It is not gone, but it is fading.

"Bling", and new emails are in.  Judy has taken my advice and checked my blogs which I updated earlier this evening.  She has commented which generates an email for me.  OK, now she is up to date not only on the things we talked about in our phone conversation but also with the things I put in the blog which are beyond normal topics of discussion.  My "Inner Voice" which drives me to write the blog in the first place has been absorbed by her and she has processed it and responded.  Good.  Now she is really up to speed with where I am and what I am thinking.  No response is necessary this time so I just read them and smile.

So, now it is 10:21 and I am finally ready to write a poem.  What was it going to be about, I wonder?

How about, "How does technology today impact our free time?"

Yea, that sounds about right.

Salem Reflections

With the beautiful summer weather now a fading memory, the fall rains have started to fall and I've even seen snow on Mt. Pilchuck down nearly to the bottom. Over the weekend the snow level fell to 2,500 feet, low enough to remind us all that winter is real, and is just around the corner. I need to get the Blizzak's out and ready for installation on the trusty Prius.

Here in Salem the rain is falling and the temperatures are cool.  I'm wearing the pullover nylon tops I favor at home when the house is cool during the day.  In the office the temperatures are OK and I take it off, but when I am out and about it is a comfort, and here in the room I leave the window open a bit to let in the cooler evening air.  It helps me sleep.  This week I am at the Howard Johnson's, selected on for $35/nite, with an all-in price of $135 for 3 nights.  The room is spartan but clean, the shower is hot, and they serve a breakfast that includes cereal and a banana which are my favorites.  I tell Judy that I live like a monk when I am here, and that is almost literally true.  A monk might have more to do in the evenings than I do.

Last night was Monday, the day of the last Presidential Debate.  I watched it.  The pundits on NPR today confided that Obama supporters thought he did well, and Romney supporters felt their candidate also did well.  If that is true then all it really showed was people's ignorance about the Middle East in terms of the geo-political and geographic relationships there, and how impotent the USA is in affecting lasting change there.  Obama was the better of the two, and seemed Presidential in his command of the facts and actions taking place there.  But he would.  I have been in this position before: a Republican candidate scares me with his conservatism and naivete, but when elected the mantles of the office are so constraining that he is actually rather limited in his ability to make changes.  It is true on both sides - Democratic Presidents have the same problem.  It is devilishly hard to make anything happen in DC.

Dinner tonight is leftovers from home.  Same as last night.  I went to Trader Joe's last night and picked up some spicy hummus and crackers for an appetizer, which is good, and some sushi in a plastic box.  I ate half of the sushi last night, and about 1/3rd of the hummus.  Tonite I finish off the sushi and dive into the Moosewood Cookbook noddles with a small pork chop on top.  I'm looking forward to it.

I just checked on the posting from my fellow bloggers, at least those that I follow.  It is good to see that there are some that are as remiss as I.  Together we make a readable blog but individually we are too infrequent to keep a reader's interest.  I have the ideas in my head, I just don't get them out the way I like.

BTW, I signed up for a free trial of today.  As a key part of the software they acknowledge the Facebook and Twitter-ish nature of the way people connect and they integrate that into the way the software works.  And Google.  When you want to find something you need you call on your contacts to share their experiences, to make recommendations, etc.  Knowing this, why not mine the social networking sites and turn them to your advantage, or at least that what they are trying to do.  I signed up and logged in, but I immediately saw that this is something my kids understand far better than I do.  As usual I am behind the curve.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Crossing to Safety

I got home again just fine and don't really have much to say about it.  I have had "sinking spells" where I just want to close my eyes for a few minutes a couple of times, especially on Wednesday when I traveled and returned to Seattle to face the complete day still to come, but other than that the jet lag thing doesn't seem to affect me much.  I am fine today and things seem to be back to normal.

I wanted to blog today about a book I read on this trip called Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.  This is the guy who wrote Angle of Repose, his first novel I read, and both Judy and I were blown away with his writing style and command of story development.  Angle of Repose was a wonderful book, and I didn't really know what to expect from this other one.  Would it be the same?

The story revolves around the friendship that formed between 2 couples, and the many ways in which people interact.  It takes place in many places, but the central theme is the annual summer pilgrimage to the Lang Families' summer home on a lake in Vermont.  The way the couples meet as new PhD's recruited into the Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison's English Department as instructors, the pressure to be accepted into the department and get started on a tenure track in 1937, the year that they arrive, and the many ways the story unfolds.  Different characters have obvious and hidden traits, the relationship between the men and women is hugely important, and the interplay within the married couples. 

I could see parallels in my own life with the stories and friendships that were portrayed here, and it brought to mind old friends I have not seen in years, and old friends I see all the time.  I have often said that for Judy and I there was a critical time between ages 17 and 24 where we made friends with people where the friendships lasted a lifetime.  It is true - we still see certain people we met at UNH and Mizzou, travel to see their kids get married, go out of our way to see them when we are on vacation, keep current on FB (the modern equivalent of writing letters), and call them on their birthdays (Happy Birthday, Anne!).  In Crossing to Safety there are seminal events recounted in painstaking detail at times, with the benefit of hindsight to identify the critical elements and interactions that will carry the story into the future. 

Stegner's writing in this book is as good as it was in Angle of Repose.  The story is not as hard to read, and the characters are both familiar and engaging.  You feel the losses, celebrate the triumphs, and cheer for them at every turn since they are so easy to identify with and make your own.  But it is the writing that keeps me from putting the book down.

Judy purchased a copy at the Upper Case Bookstore in Snohomish for $6.50.  I'm sure you can find it elsewhere, even at the library.  I haven't checked on the Kindle Store, but some of Stegner's works must be there.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Nana Nights

Mark met us (Dale and me) at the Nana train stop for dinner last night.  This is 9 train stops away from where we have been staying, so maybe about 12 miles or so.  He was staying at the Ambassador Hotel, one of several large western-style hotels in Bangkok which are clustered in this area.  There is a famous alley called No. 11 that they all share, and this small road hosts numerous restaurants, stores, and massage parlors of various types.  The tourists come for the massages and the locals are glad to provide them.  We were there to spectate, and there was quite a spectacle to see.

Mark has been stying there all week and he knew the various haunts.  I was a bit concerned as he demonstrated his breadth of knowledge, but he said it all had come from just walking in the evenings and having a look around.  Nothing so personal as actually getting a massage, he said, and I tend to believe him.  Anyway, short skirts and fancy hair were everywhere.  It was what Bangkok is famous for providing, and the Australian and UK accents on the tourists said it all.

One small note for my American readers:  this area, and most in Bangkok, at street level was filled with the various odors for which the tropic is also famous.  Up through the gutters comes sewage smells.  Passing by a street vendor selling fish grilled on an open fire you get that aroma, or the next stand stir-frying garlic and noodles together.  A converted VW Microbus sits to the side of the road decked out in flashing neon lights, the top hinged back exposing a mobile bar complete with beer on tap, a liquor shelf with under-shelf lighting, loud music blaring, and European customers sitting on patio furniture drinking around it.  Prices from the van bartender are a fraction of the prices for the same drinks inside the hotels, so it is an attractive option if you want to take in the street scene from a comfortable seat.  After all, it is a sort of parade that walks itself by for your amusement.

Dale and I had traveled over from our hotel to meet Mark at 7:00.  We walked up and down the street once and settled on the Shangrila Restaurant which had an island motif and a tourist menu.  We sat inside the glassed-in area in AC comfort, but there were lots of patrons in the warm night air.   We shared several Thai dishes and a couple of beers.  I had Tiger Beer from Singapore, and they had Singha Beer, a local product.  We finished about 9:30 and strolled the walk again.  Dinner was good but not spicy and featured fried wantons, chicken satay, very tame sauces, a duck dish that was very good, Phad Thai (Dale's favorite) and a seafood medley.  Mark's flight was at 5:00 am this morning, so he turned in and Dale and I headed back.  We made a stop at a rooftop bar Chris had taken me to earlier in the week and I had a screwdriver made with fresh squeezed oranges, and Dale had a gin and tonic.  I was back to the room at about 11.

I would note that getting to the rooftop bar is not for the timid.  It is necessary to enter a street level stairway that looks like the kitchen entrance for the bottom floor restaurant with slick nasty concrete stairs at the bottom.   Graffiti in the stairwell is graphic but not violent and features dragons and spiders on different landings, including a metal Spiderman near the top.  The top bar is on the 6th floor so you have lots of stairs to climb and there are other bars on the different landings as you go up.   Once on the top floor there is a balcony with tables and chairs (all filled when we got there last night) with a good look over the train station and the city.  There is no AC.  The bar is about 8 x 8' area where a very small Thai girl is mixing drinks (nobody bigger would fit).  Three small Thai guys chase up beer for patrons from boxes they carry up from the bottom floor, including the ice they use to keep them cool.  This is not a "chrome and glass" glitzy place, this is an Authentic Thai place that is bohemian in the sense of the 1950's beatniks, where talking revolution and treason sits side by side with reviews of the newest Samsung cell phone.

One small note from the evening.  At the Nana train station exit there were many, many street vendors selling goods, including knives, hunting rifle telescopes, bootleg DVD's, and all sorts of durable goods that we did not see at the Weekend Market at Mo Chit.  Some of the knives had brass knuckle handles with spikes on them.  These were very nasty.  So far this is the only place we have seen anything that resembles the sort of violent weaponry we are used to seeing in the USA.  Thai people seem to be a gentler sort that than this.  I'm sure they sell this to the tourists, but I didn't like seeing it, all the same.  I suppose people can check this on the airplane to get it home?

Here are the two guys who made my time in Bangkok so much fun.  Mark Moriarty and Dale Gremaux.  Thanks guys!

Bangkok Market Visit

The Open Air Market in Bangkok was HUGE!  The Three Musketeers here, Dale (Beaverton, Oregon), me, and Mark (Boston) walked it for 2 hours and I bet we didn't see more than 10% of it.  We all bought things to bring home, Mark especially, but it is just plain overwhelming.  I've been to similar markets in China, Australia, and Seattle, but this one beats them all in terms of sheer scope, breadth, and numbers of people involved in selling and buying.  It was incredible.

Despite Mark's silly grin we had nothing to drink at this point.  We were totally sober.

That didn't last long...

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bangkok Baijo Dinner

My dear readers,

Your traveling correspondent has been terribly amiss in his duties over the past month. I have been traveling, indeed, but failing to chronicle my exploits, some of which have been fairly noteworthy. The now routine 265 mile commute from my home in Snohomish to my new employment home in Salem OR does take up the time I might have used to communicate with you all, but that is no excuse. My intent was to journal my thoughts and experiences, and I have failed in my self-assigned task. Let me make amends!

I write this on Saturday morning, Oct. 6, from my hotel room in the Vic3 Bangkok Hotel. I arrived here just after midnight on Monday, Oct. 1. Tuesday I helped set up a trade show booth and generally hung around, and Wednesday through last night I have been manning the booth, talking to Thai people (and many others) about biomass processing, and doing little else. WSM has an employee here in Bangkok who is a Caucasian that speaks Mandarin and some Thai, who has lived here for 15 months, and knows the city well in terms of places to eat, where to shop for the best bargains, etc. He and I have been spending a lot of time together, as well as 2 folks from the Oregon Trade group sponsored by the State of Oregon. It has been fun, and productive.

One of the objectives I had when coming was to sit down and hammer out the final details for an order for one of our larger pieces of grinding equipment, along with ancillary components, which had an aggregate total value of about $740,000. The customer has been working with the WSM home office for quite some time to get this in place, and Chris, the local guy, has been smoothing things over, selling the value of the equipment, etc., and the customer has been asking lots of questions, and pounding on price (which is what they do here on everything). To make this long story somewhat short we signed the contract yesterday, and now we are off to the races to build this thing. Chris wanted to celebrate with a special dinner so last night 4 of us headed out into the teeth of a monsoon to find his favorite Chinese restaurant and drink some baijo (pronounced bye-joe), a Chinese liquor that tastes like gasoline. 

We took the train to the appointed stop and stepped out into a torrential downpour.  We had to go about 2 blocks through huge puddles which drenched our feet and the rain soaked us from above.  We ducked into a restaurant that was not unknown to him but wasn’t the objective one either, but the weather made that decision for us.  We sat at a round table with the ever-present glass Lazy Susan in the middle, Chris ordered in Chinese, a large glass bottle with a clear liquid inside appeared with a price on it of 3,000 baht ($100!), and the dinner was on!  We shared 8-10 dishes of different sorts including a delicious lamb stew, spicy tofu on rice, seaweed salad, sautéed bean sprouts with garlic, and dried beef.  There were others but I can’t remember them just now. 

Through this all we toasted our success with very small glasses of baijo chased with beer.  When the food was done the glass bottle was only half empty but we sat there talking, telling stories of the road, arguing over who won the presidential debate (which only 2 of the 4 had seen), and finished it off in about an hour.  I won’t say we were quiet while doing it, but the other patrons were respectful and I didn’t see any harsh looks or upset faces.  Amazingly I didn’t feel at all smashed, and we were able to negotiate the Bangkok train system just fine and made it home without incident.  Chris had received a message from his Thai buddies and left to join them, so one other guy and I made it back to the hotel at about 11 pm, at which time I fell into bed and straight to sleep.  I feel fine today, so maybe “The Good Stuff” which Chris called our particular bottle, actually was better than a kick in the head.

It is raining today, but only a sort of misty rain.  I have plans to visit the Open Market with 2 of the three guys from last night.  I just want to wander around and see the sights. 


Friday, September 7, 2012

Thoughts from the Road

One of the things I've learned is that summer is hotter in Oregon than in Washington.  I can watch the temperature fall as I drive home.  Granted I depart at 4:30 and arrive home at 9:30, and this is the time when the temperature falls anyway, but yesterday I departed Salem in 91 degree heat and arrived in Snohomish in 64 degree coolness. 

And another thing I should have taken into consideration when I worked out this arrangement: The Mariners don't play baseball on Thursdays!  That is their one night off per week.  So, as I drive home and could be listening to the play by play action on the radio, it is all talk radio crap on ESPN.  Or Pittsburgh is playing Detroit - who cares!

So, after 4 weeks of making the commute it is still working for me.  My costs have been less than I anticipated.  I need to develop better eating habits - I've gained 3 pounds over these 4 weeks that I didn't want to gain.  I haven't figured out how to work in an exercise program yet.  One evening a week playing 9 holes of golf is not an exercise program, even though I do walk the course and don't get a cart (I've done this two times in 4 weeks).  B and B living is OK, and I like having breakfast and dinner on a deck where I can also work on my iPad, write blogs, Skype with Judy, and so forth.  The Prius is getting 47-50 mpg on each tank of gas, and I'm driving 625 to 1000 miles per week, depending on where I stay (when I stay with Chief and Rose it adds up as they live 60+ miles from Salem).  Work travel is about to pick up - I have 2 day trips this next week, then off for a vacation week, then a 3 day conference in Eugene, then off to Bangkok for 2 weeks.

I will say that the sunny weather is absolutely great.  I am very happy about that.  I know it will not last, but I love it as long as it does.

I am listening to the Narnia Series, and I am down to the Last Battle, the last of the books.  I'll be sad when it is finished.  I've enjoyed them very much.  I wish my cat could talk...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A country villa

I've just poured the last glass of wine from a bottle I opened on Monday.  I drank half as I ate a dinner of hummous and pita bread then, and I am finishing it tonight with a dinner of a Greek salad.  A Chilean red of no great importance, but good company on a beautiful evening in the country south of Salem.

I am staying for the first time in a bed and breakfast arranged online using a website called  I have been looking and thinking about doing this for quite some time, but finally pulled the trigger last week, to stay this week.  It has worked out very well, actually, as I have a private room and bathroom in the lower floor of a large house on a hill, with a nook that contains the breakfast part and holds a small fridge, microwave, tea and coffe makers, dishes, and all the necessaries of a do-it-yourself breakfast.  My hosts are a couple that wanted to make a little extra cash, and they have been surprised at the freindliness of the visitors, and the success of thier venture.  Debbie, the hostess, tells me they have cleared $1,000 in August alone.  Not bad at $50/nite.

My week has been what is coming to be part of a routine.  Everyone is in the office this week, or mostly.  One of my sales guys is doing a start-up in central CA today and tomorrow, but he was around Monday and Tuesday.  The boss and my co-workers are all here, and we are having what I think of as very good communication and I am fitting in very well with them.  It is clear that someone to fill the void I have filled was needed.  There is lots to do and someone needed to do it.  That's me!  I have good help, and things are moving along fine.  I continue to hear from my industry friends who tell me that I have joined a good company (my feeling exactly) and they are telling my co-workers that West Salem Machinery has got a good guy on their team (again, my feelings!).  So far we are all on the honeymoon, and I haven't stepped on any toes yet.  Yet.

Last night I played golf with the owner of WSM, and we had a good chat while we played.  He is a very good golfer, but we played about even.   On one hole he drove to within 30 yards of the green, his best drive of the night, but ended up with 7 strokes on the hole.  My drive was not as good but I got a 6, so I had something to rib him about, which I did not.  We walked and talked, and it is clear that he needs a confidant and advisor in many things, and this is the role I am to play here.  It is a good place for me, and is a big part of why I like being a part of this group.  Very different than the last company.

The thing that is starting to define my travels is something quite unexpected.  Peter Harvey, my friend and finnacial advisor, gave me a set of audio CD's with the chronicles of Narnia on them by C.S. Lewis.  I am listening to these in the car, and I am HOOKED!  I can't wait to jump in the car and find out what Peter, Edmund, Sally, and Lucy are up to now.  Aslan and all the talking animals of Narnia.  It is very exciting, and interesting.  Too much dialogue, in my opion, but the action scenes are fun and the good guys always win in the end.

I hope you are reading this and find it interesting.  I see that people are checking it out, so perhaps my efforts are not just for my benefit only.  A diary, as it were.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Living in Salem, Week 2

It is Wednesday night, and I have almost completed Week 2 of my new Normal, living in Salem Oregon during the week.  I drove down on Sunday night, stayed in Gresham for a few hours, and finished my drive here on Monday morning in terrible traffic.  I spend Monday through Wednesday nights at a Howard Johnson's not too far from the interstate.  It is what I call Spartan in terms of accommodations, but  in my new Monastic State, I suppose it would suit me fine.

Monday I explored, Tuesday I rode my bicycle around a local park on the Willamette River for an hour (very narrow bike path, lots of walkers, and lots of turns).  Tonight I golfed at Oak Knob Golf Course after work with a couple I met on the first tee.  This course is notable in that the fairways are absolutely straight, every one.  A hook or slice and you will be playing your ball in the adjacent fairway, guaranteed.  The par 5 holes were all over 500 yards (this is long, in my experience), and the par 3 holes were 180 yards+, which is also long.  The greens were soft and slow, but smooth and nicely cared for.

Work is starting to fall into a routine.  It is summer, and there are lots of people taking time off.  The manufacturing pace is brisk, and things get done.  We have a large project in house that is being manufactured and progress on that happens daily - you can see large machinery moving through the stages of manufacture.  I wander through the factory looking at parts and pieces going together.  It is fun.

My new computer is being worked on by the IT staff, so that I can work remotely, so that I have the latest versions of the software, so that I can do anything I might need to do anywhere I might be.  Today they were working on it for an hour or two in the middle of the day, which gets in my way of doing things.  I'm sure it will settle down shortly.  Perhaps tomorrow I will get a key to the front door that will allow me to stay late and work, since if I don't depart with the last person I stand a pretty good chance of being locked in.  Not good...

Tomorrow I depart for Snohomish at 4:30 or thereabouts.  Wish me luck with the Portland Traffic!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Time to Catch Up

Well, it has been a while since I've taken the time to sit down and write up something for my blog, and in that time things have changed quite a bit for me.  I am on the road more literally these days, logging 1,000 miles a week on the Prius driving to and from a new job.  I have completely changed hardware for my Road Warrior support system, including a new cell phone and phone number, new computer (I lost lost of old stuff including some contacts, so if I ask for your info, that is why), new email address for work, and a host of new co-workers.  But more on that in a moment.

In brief, I now work in Salem, Oregon.  This is a city about 250 miles south of my home in Snohomish.  Judy, Marilyn, and the cats and dog will continue to live in this wonderful house close to the kids and grandkid, and I will commute.  This means I depart on Sunday evening, stay with my dad and Rose in Gresham, OR (3.5 hours drive) and then make the final 1 hour trip on Monday morning.  I will be in residence in Salem Monday through Thursday, typically departing 4:45 or so for home.  Last Thursday it took 5 hours, door to door, to get back.  Without traffic it takes 4.5 hours, so I lost just a little time in Portland, but Seattle was clear sailing.

My new job is as the VP of Sales and Marketing for West Salem Machine (  They make machines that grind, chip, chop, crunch, and mill all sorts of waste materials including wood and bark, plastic, yard wastes, municipal wastes, pallets, construction debris, corn stover and wheat straw, and lots more.  They have a very good reputation for making strong and durable machines, selling them at a competitive price, and standing behind them.  They have not had anyone in this particular position in the past, with the owner and General Manager sort of doing the selling and marketing in their free time while running the company.  They needed someone to help them and here I am.  I have known the company and these guys for many years, and we are all old friends.  So far it is working out very well and I am pleased.  I have a small staff in the office, and one remote guy who works for WSM and lives in Bangkok, Thailand.

I gave notice at BRUKS and spent a week in Atlanta off-loading my projects and information.  The BRUKS people think that WSM is a good company, and they often include WSM equipment in their system offers.  There was one project where both BRI and WSM were bidding, and I have stayed away from that one so there is no conflict of ethics involved.  Other than that the companies are very different - WSM is much more like Acrowood in that they make the machines, and BRI didn't make anything directly. 

I felt that it was important for me to be working from the home office rather than remotely, both because a Sales Manager needs contact with the daily activities of the company and because my remote office environment at BRUKS kept me too distant from the flow of information that is vital to being involved with a company.  With salesmen and support people reporting to me I needed to be at hand to have the impact the company needs me to have.  I have already jumped into some manufacturing issues that I dealt with in the past, and am making contributions here and there beyond things that are strictly sales.  Wood handling machinery is what I do.  It is god to be back in close contact with the sounds and smells of making machinery.

So that is the big news on my end and how I see things going for at least the rest of the year.  I will have evenings to spend blogging, and I hope it works out that way.  I am taking my bicycle and golf clubs with me this week, and hope to do some evening riding or ball driving.  I am staying in hotels for the three nights I need them.  I book on and can find decent (not great) rooms for $50/nite.  It doesn't take much to make me happy, I suppose.  Long term it might make sense to rent a room in a house or rent a studio apartment, but this is OK for now.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Houston TX

Instead of heading home on Thursday, I headed to Houston instead. Yesterday I traveled to car down to Galveston and visited a port facility that is planning on adding a ship loader. I had bid this 2 months ago, and now they area ready to go ahead with this. We talked a bit, but they are not going to actually buy until the end of July. I drive over to th beach, where the temp was 100 F or more. Really hot. People were splasihng in the waves, and sloshing on sun screen. I overnighted in downtown Houston, and visited another customer there this morning who is planning a biomass pellet plant in Alabama, among other locations. I had a good meeting, and then came here to the airport. I'm sitting in the cafeteria area writing call reports and now sending out updates on my blog. I've signed on to the internet here through Boingo. I had a mongthly subscription to this a few years ago, and it was helpful from time to time. Today I am only on for an hour, so I am typing fast. I wanted to send in my call reports while they were fresh on my mind, and so everyone could see them over the weekend, if they were so inclined. I hope you, my readers, are still with me. My intermittent posting probably you are not checking all that often. OK, you can find this later.

June 25 - On the Road

Today is Judy's birthday. I am in an airplane flying to Atlanta for my monthly office trip and not home to treat her well on her special day. Poor timing on my part, I can tell you. Sorry dear. This past weekend was spent with Mark and Anne in Olympia. Judy and I traveled down Friday afternoon, in the terrible Seattle area traffic. It was raining, and this slowed things down a lot. It took 3 hours to get there, when without traffic it takes 90 minutes. That wears a person down a bit. On Saturday Mark and I played golf with Galen Wright and Ken Thompson at Indian Summer Golf Club where Galen and Ken are members. This is a challenging course under good conditions, and we didn't have good conditions. It rained all the damn time, and very hard at some times. We all got soaked. There was a friendly sort of competition organized by Ken, which added to the enjoyment of the day. We played a sort of rolling team structure, so we all got to play with the other guys in a 2 on 2 format. It was fun despite the weather. Judy and Anne toured Olympia, including the Farmer's Market, and found some parks, although they said it was too wet to actually tour the parks. We all met back in the afternoon for a hot shower, and then dinner at Galen and Rondi's house. Very nice. We had a hearty breakfast on Sunday, then a short visit back to the Market where I bought oysters and mushrooms for dinner. Both were excellent. We traveled home in the early afternoon and were able to work in the garden a bit before the end of the day. Shannon came over and shared in the oysters and mushrooms, and did I mention steak for dinner? All her favorite things. This week I'll be in Alpharetta through Thursday, home about midnight. Guests on Friday for dinner with little kids. Should be fun.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Wenatchee Century, or a bit less...

Yesterday was the annual Wenatchee Century ride. It starts at Walla Walla Park in downtown Wenatchee, and now runs up the Wenatchee River valley to Leavenworth, then to Plain, and to Lake Wenatchee and back. It travels on the margins of Highway 2 in just a couple of places, but mostly takes place on back roads, farm roads, and other places high on the sides of the ridges. I rode with 4 others, including Kendall Kreft. My asthma was keeping me from getting full lungs of air, I think, and I was really slow. I am also in great shape for sitting all day in a car, plane, or at my computer, so that may have had something to do with my slow progress. We all met at Leavenworth at 25 miles, but they took off. I rode towards Plain for a while, but eventually turned around and headed back. I did Deadman's Road (huge hill climb) and crossed over the new bridge into Monitor (a first for me) and finished with just over 60 miles overall. KK showed up about an hour behind me, which is tremendous considering he did the full 100 miles. That shows you how different our speeds are. Anyway, it casts a doubt in my mind about the wisdom of trying to do the STP (200 miles) until i get into better shape. Less glf and more cycling? That is what it will take, but I sure do like to play golf...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


My dear readers, if three are any of you left, my sincere apologies for not writing sooner. I have been everywhere and I've not written a thing to you. Hopefully you are on FB and my occasional anemic postings have given you a clue. Tonight I am in Roseburg, OR. I've traveled here today from home, with stops in Salem and Eugene (2). Tomorrow I travel to Klamath Falls, another 170 miles down the road, and then turn around and head for home. I departed at 5:00 am and arrived at 6:00 pm, so another 13 hours on the road and in offices visiting. Tomorrow should be about the same. On the Good News side the weather here is fabulous - sunny and low 80's. But, I have no bicycle and no golf clubs in the trusty Prius, so it is all work, work, work for me. Last week I was in Atlanta, the the BRUKS offices. Week before that it was Houston at a conference, plus a bonus day visiting 2 plants that have BRUKS equipment. I really liked that part. Next week I will be in Spokane for a day, and then down to Oregon for a day, then home. Busy schedule. Two of the folks I visited with today turned out to be golfers, and one was a U of O scholarship athlete in the sport. I have no allusions of being competitive but they both offered to play with me next time if I can bring my clubs. Score! I considered going back home and retrieving them!

Friday, April 27, 2012

April has zipped by...

To my many readers (or are there any left?), I apologize.  I have truly been on the road, and I have failed to blog about it for a month.  I should be flogged.

Let me give you a brief run down of where I have been recently.

This week:
Monday    I visited the TransAlta Power Plant in Centralia, WA.  They have equipment from BRUKS Rockwood and I was there to see about a disquieting noise it was making.  The plant was completely down, and has been since January due to the abundance of water in the Columbia River (see the Big Questions Cafe blog about this from a month ago), and the low price of natural gas.  Coal power is not currently cost effective in this climate, it seems. Anyway, I was able to offer some good service during their visit and all now seems to be OK.

Wednesday    I flew to Houston, TX, to the IAH airport (George Bush), which is on the north side of town.  I then rented a car and drove to Galveston.  I stayed in the Holiday Inn on the Seawall, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  Ordinarily this is no big shakes, but a steady wind was blowing at 20-30 MPH, and there were dozens of ships lying off the harbor, waiting their turn to get into port.  Very pretty sight.  The temp was 86 when I landed, and didn't get below 72 the whole time I visited.  BTW, Hobby Airport is way closer to Galveston that IAH, but I couldn't get good tickets to HOU without going through Atlanta, or some other inconvenient place.  The irony is that I had to drive right by HOU on my way to Galveston.  IAH is about 30 miles north of HOU, and about 70 miles from Galveston.

Thursday     I visited one of these ports, who want to buy a ship loader to export fertilizer and soda ash.  My meeting time was 1:00, so I worked in my room until about 11:00, then checked out and drove around old downtown Galveston, and presented myself at the port at 12:45.  Then I sat and waited in the small room by the door until the company president and the GM were done with their other meeting and were ready to let me in, which happened at about 2:25.  When I did get in we had a good meeting, and I think they are interested in an offer from us for their project.  I had to depart by 4:00 to catch my plane, and I made it fine because there were no traffic problems at that time of day.  So, I spend 48 hours of travel time for a 1:30 meeting.  I hate to put the costs into an equation in this case, the cost per hour would be too terrible to think about.  I got in to SEA at about 11:30 pm PDT, and was in my bed at 12:40 am.  Long day.

OK, so today I'm home.  Sunday Judy and Marilyn depart for a conference in California.  Monday I head to Portland area for a conference.  We all get back on Wednesday, and Thursday Judy and I head to Washington DC for a wedding next weekend.  Wow, what a lot of air time.

I'll try and be a bit better at keeping you all up to date with where I am and where I am going.  I've been a bit lax.  - Des

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Heading Home from AB

I am now nicley at home, in fact I am getting ready to head out for the weekend. I typed a bit in the plane on my way home, but have not had a chance to get it posted. well, here it is. I would comment that for some reason, when I compose the text using Pages the paragraph spacings get lost. Sorry about that. Even if I insert estra Returns, it comes out as a block. 20 March 2012 Grande Prairie: it was -15C this morning when I got to the car at 5:50 am. The frost on the windows scraped off easily, thank goodness, and I was at the airport at 6:10. I love these smaller towns with straight roads and no traffic! Last night I watched a movie in my room, Jumper. I liked it. The idea is that there are special people called Jumpers that haven figured out a way to teleport themselves. They can go anywhere they can think of, and they need to spend a good bit of time figuring out where they want to go. Another group thinks the Jumpers should all be dead and are trying to kill them, which sets up the conflict in the film. Although it is a bit predictable the scenery is nice since they go all over the world, and the action can be hectic. The characters on the bad guy side a cardboard cut outs of real people, but the British Jumper is a good relief character. The star is the guy who played young Anakin Skywalker, and although he is sometimes very subdued, he is good wheat counts. 3.5 Stars For dinner I went to Mr. Bills, a local steak restaurant. I has the NY Strip and it was very good. Much better than the last steak I had in Eugene OR at the Outback Steakhouse. Caesar salad and a beer makes a lovely dinner. I was still full this morning when I woke up. Great dreams, I must say. Maybe the combination of the movie with the steak? I'm now in the plane between Edmonton and Abbottsford. I should be home shortly after noon. This has been. A good trip although I would have prefered to be able to get home yesterday.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Grimshaw AB

I am now in my final spot for the day, Grimshaw AB.  This is a small farming/First Nations community in the nothingness of northern Alberta prairie.  There is a large hotel in which I am staying, and a few roadside restaurants and gas stations (often together).  I had a delicious dinner of KFC watching the NCAA BB tournament on TV in my room. 

I had an epiphany on my drive up here this afternoon.  I have seen infinity.  Infinity means something that goes on without end, right?  Well, that is what I saw.  It is either the endlessness of the prairie, or the number of abandoned homesteads and sheds that litter the countryside up here.  If I chose to change my vocation and took up taking pictures of old sheds and old abandoned houses in northern AB I would be at it for the rest of my life.  Literally.  It is amazing.

En Route to Snow

Edmonton, AB: the weather here isn't as bad as I expected. The ground is mostly bare, and it about freezing. I am going to be on the ground here for about about an hour between flights, on my way to Grande Prairie. My flight Fromm Abbotsford here was packed, as always, but the WestJet flight attendants we good and the flight was fast. No complaints from me. Even the border crossing was a quick and painless.

I ordered replacement headlights for the Prius. The first real problem I've had with it, the HID headlights go out while I am driving in the dark. You can flip them off at the switch and then back on, and that will get them going again for a while, but now they are mostly off. Normally this is a simple matter to change, but in the Prius the recommended method to change them is to take the front cowlings off, and disassemble major parts of the front of the car. I've seen UTube videos showing shortcut methods that don't require this degree of work.

The second problem is that the parts store price for the bulbs is $100 each. I've ordered mine on Amazon for $53 each, and they will be delivered on Tuesday. Still not cheap, but moving in the right direction. I should mention that my Prius has fog lights that stay on, so having the headlights go out is not good but does not mean I have no light by which to drive. I just have less light than I would like.

When I get to Grande Prairie I have about a 2 hour drive north to Peace River where I will be tonight. I drive by Sexsmith, which I have always considered to be a strange name for a town. Where did it get that name, anyway? I'll blog more later when I get to my room.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Madness Begins!

Am I really back in Atlanta? Has it been a month since I've posted a blog about my travels?

I apologize, my patient readers, and can only hope you are Facebook friends with me so you can keep up with my daily (sort of) activities. I've had a busy time at home but not so much with travels as with doing things in my relative neighborhood. I have found that posting pictures on FB is pretty easy, so keeping up with me there is probably a better way as long as you don't mind really short communications.

I am back in Atlanta, and I arrived on Monday evening in the rain and relative cool. My flight was fine, and no problems. I mention this because of the news this morning of a plane that skidded off the taxi way and into a ditch. I was not on that plane. However, I often take a flight that arrives at about that time, so it is possible I will be in the ditch at some future time.

Tonight starts the crazy time of March when the national championship tournament begins - so called March Madness. Missouri is highly rated as the only team where I attended for any time. UNH and OSU are not in the Big Dance, so this is at least one reason you should attend more than one college. I'm currently watching Oregon play LSU in the NIT on TV, which is the alternative post-season activity. Washington plays in an hour. While UW was a pretty good team this year and they won the Pac-12 regular season, they lost in the Pac-12 tournament and so were snubbed by the selection committee for the National title. O well. Feelings were hurt, but at least they get to play on.

I'm going to write the BQ Question next, so I encourage you to have a look. This time I'm doing a question that is a bit different, but one that means a lot to me, and should mean a lot to all people who live in Washington and in the Pacific Northwest in general. I hope the discussion is a good one. It happens on this Friday.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oregon and Logging?

Once a year a group of people interested in the act of cutting down trees for the good of mankind gets together in the city of Eugene for the Oregon Logging Conference.  It is happening right now.  It goes on for 3 days, and ends on Saturday.  I chose to attend today, or at least to make a showing.  I don't really have a role to play at the Conference this year, but it is good to see people I know and to "wave the flag" for my company.  Jeff from Birmingham AL flew up to be the official representative of BRUKS.  I just showed up because it is my territory and I know everyone.

Today was the day schools organize field trips to the Conference.  Busloads of 4-6th Graders were trooped around to look a the big machines and to have them explained to them.  I don't think they really care about feller-bunchers and slide delimbers, but you never know.  Perhaps their dad's work on one, or maybe a grandpa.  The intent is to make forestry accessible to youngsters, and perhaps to spark some interest in what we all think of as "a nasty, hot, sweaty, cold, muddy, noisy, and dangerous profession that doesn't pay all that well but you do get to work with some pretty cool machines" career.  After all, it is all about the toys, right?  the kid's favorite part is the chainsaw carving demos, when the guy carves owls and fish out of wood as they watch.  Sawdust everywhere, the smell of 2-cycle engines, and lots of noise always attracts a crowd.

We Old Timers just shake our heads and talk about the old days when the Oregon State Fairgrounds was awash in high line yarders, donkeys (machine type, not the animals), and skidders all over the place.  Today it is maybe 20% of what it was "in the day".  True, the new machines are computerized, mechanized, can climb steep hills without slipping, and send the day's work production data to the home office using telemetry in real time, with all the trucks being tracked by GPS!  But is that progress?  Hell, YES!  And you don't even get dirty.

Tomorrow I head home.  The weather today was sunny but cool.  Tomorrow it will rain becasue I have to be out driving in it.  Thanks, Weather Gods!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Atlanta for the Week

As I finish another week in Atlanta, I am taking a moment to reflect on the past week. Sometimes I wonder why I don't blog during the week, but the fact is that I have very little time to myself in a normal working week down here. My days a full, and the evenings are busy with dinners and dinner meetings. Having Jeff always here means that I don't lack for a dinner companion, nor do I lack for someone to have a drink with , or a nightcap. The actual act of traveling at the airport and on the airplane is a different thing, however, and here I am a finally by myself again.

The focus this week has been on a.getting the final details worked out on a ship loader destined for the Port of Portland, OR. The customer is a promising a decision and and order next week, so we a taking the details seriously. The bidding as process we use goes from sloppy to increasingly accurate as the project develops. At this point it is supposed to be as accurate as we can make it, and many sets of eyes go over documents I have been sending out. Since receiving the PO is my last act in this process, I welcome the late scrutiny because this is our last chance to change anything. The customer is doing the same, as they ensure they have everything in the contract they want to have there. Since I have had 2 projects officially cancel this week, it would be good to have at least one commissionable project go this quarter.

I attended MOTAG South the past 2 days and had a chance to catch up with lots of the guys I know in the pulp business in the south and Atlantic states. For the first time in many years we have attendees above 150 and lots of them are from mills. My activity with this group stretches back to 1985 when I first attended and I have made man, many presentations here. The papers that were given this time were on many of the same subjects (chipping, screening) and people came up to me and asked why I wasn't giving them? Ha, ha. I should have.

Next week I'm on the road again, to Seattle on Tuesday, and Oregon for the balance of the week. Since snow is gradually falling out of possibility I should change out of the Blizzak tires and back into the high MPG tires I have. But not quite yet.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Winter's Holiday

Today is Wednesday, February 1st. Judy and I arrived in Whistler on Sunday, January 29th, with Shannon and Clint. The weather was just above freezing, and at the level of the village the precipitation was in the form of rain, heavy at times. The trees where free of snow, but we could occasionally see the hill above us blanketed in snow. We passed car after car that were heading towards Vancouver on our way up, and true to form the village was quiet and peaceful. There were people present, of course, but the hoards had departed for the City, and we had the place to ourselves.

Sunday night we visited a Greek restaurant, and three of us has the lamb, which was large and delicious. We enjoyed red wine with our dinner, which was the reason Shannon and Clint both complained of a poor night's sleep that night. I was fine, but apparently they weren't. Monday morning was the Get Up and Get 'Er Done day on the slopes, and it started out slowly with the Tremper's "walking like zombies". They bounded back pretty fast, I think, and when we met them for lunch they were both fine.

Judy and I skied together Monday morning on wide open slopes with essentially no lift line waits. We were on the Blackcomb Mountain side, and we stuck to the blue groomed slopes. They were wide open and smooth, and Judy did great. Our old skis were quite the attraction, though. As we got off the lift at the top we stopped by to talk with 2 skip patrol volunteers, women about our age or a bit older, who both commented on our skis. They encouraged us to go to the Demo Hut and get some proper skis for the day, but we decided to wait until later to try them out. Consequently we used the technology from the 1980's to ply the 2012 slopes, with seemingly good effect.

We met S&C at noon, and they commented that they had run into these same women, who recounted the tail of the couple with old skis on the hill, who didn't get Demo Skis. Keep in mind that they had no idea who S&C were with respect to us! Shannon asked if we had helmets, and they said no. In fact we were about the only ones on the mountain without them! I had no idea that this had caught on so completely. anyway, Shannon pointed out that the anachronistic couple skiing were actually her parents! We caught up with the ladies later and had a good laugh about it. we also then demoed the new style skis, and they were very nice to ride. I'm not going to concede that our older style skis were anything but fine and serviceable, They were. The new skis were certainly faster owing to the wax job they had, but our older ones also worked fine.

After lunch we all skied together for a while, and then the kids and I went further up the hill to the 7th Heaven lift, which goes above tree line. We took these long and wonderful runs a couple of times, and then decided to rejoin Judy and think about heading down. Juruf was quite tired at this point, and she opted to take the lift down. We skied next to the lift, and paced her most of the way to the midpoint of the mountain, where she needed to transfer to another lift to the bottom. Just before we got to that point we hit the fog bank, and the temperature jumped above freezing. The snow was wet and heavy, the visibility was nil, and we decided to take the lift ourselves. As we neared the bottom we saw Judy just ahead of us, still on her skis, heading to the Aspens Resort where we were staying. We all made it there at the same time, and headed to the hot tub for some needed relaxation.

We had a great time, and getting back on skis was fun for me. I am not in the shape I need to be in for this sort of activity, however. I need much more leg exercising, and I need to get my legs into shape. Back to the bicycle!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

San Francisco

I missed posting about my trip to the Bay Area this past week. The Pacific biomass Conference was being held downtown at the Mariott and I was speaking on Tuesday morning. I flew down from Seattle on Monday afternoon, arriving about 4:00. I took BART in from the airport to Powell Street, which was right next to the hotel. Very convenient, and just as fast as a taxi at 1/5th the price.

Also at that station is an Apple Store. I took advantage of this by taking my iPad in. It had spopped charging normally, and they agreed that it was messed up. They offered to replace it with a new iPad just like the one I had, for $99. I took the deal when they would not make an allowance on an iPad 2. So, this posting is being made on my new iPad.

The conference was well attended and I had a good visit wth lots of industry friends. As the news from Seattle continued to predict a bad storm starting at midnight, I chose to take an early flight and hit the ground at 10:40 pm. I made it home at midnight. It was not snowing when I was coming home, and there was no snow south of Woodinville. However, there was lots of snow on the ground on Wednesday morning, and the depth increased during the day. I made the right call by coming home early.

You have seen the images of the snow from the TV. Suffice it to say that there was as much snow here as anywhere in the Seattle area. Judy was steadily shoveling. I broke out the snow blower on Thursday and did the driveway and the courtyard. I took them down to less than an inch, and when the rain started on Friday they cleared first. It was nice to have clear driving at home.

The local roads were terrible on friday. Slush, deep snow, and lots of rain combined to make things difficult. By Saturday it was getting better. The main roads were good, and the highways were fine and clear. In another couple of days there won't be any snow left.

A bit of home work

Mostly I write about my travels, but I wanted to recount the trevails of a little kitchen repair project that has taken a week to complete.

Last Saturday we decided to finally get around to replacing the not-working hot water tap at the kitchen sink. When we had the grantite counters installed we also had this convenient little tap installed, and loved the occasional cup of tea it provided. The instant-on hot water was nice. Well, after a few years it started acting up with occasional bursts of spontaneous hot water erupting from it, then loud heating noises, then a funny smell in the water. I finally just unplugged it from the outlet under the sink, and turned off the water supply. So, there it sat from then until last Saturday when it "was time" to do somethihg about it. We went to the Home Depot and bought a replacement, cleaned out under the sink, and here I go...

I had put this project off exactly because I knew what would be required. I had to dismantle all the piping under the sink, take out the garbage disposal unit, remove the soap dispenser, and un-hook all the connections to the heater unit. The real trick was to get that large box from behind all the obstructions. Unfortunately the replcement box was even biggger! I managed to get it in, and mounted to the back wall. In fact, after all this Joe Plummer stuff with me lying on my back with my head in the leaked kink drippings (which smelled very bad), I was reminded why I went to university in the first place! Anyway, I had it all but installed when the final act was to be to use the screw in the bottom of the faucet unit to engage a moon-shaped plate under the granite which holds it in place tightly. Damn, the screw was 1/2" too short! Judy ran to the hardware store to get a longer one, but they were closed (Sunday afternoon in the snow storm), etc. We were literally screwed. I got a replacement screw yesterday and the final installation took about 30 minutes.

I didn't mention a slight complication. During the dismantling process I left the main water faucet alone so it could be used. Judy just casually took the portion of the faucet that pulls out, like she had done a 1,000 times, and it snaps off in her hand, spraying water all over her and the kitchen! What are the chances? Anyway, while I had all the parts accessible we were able to replace this part too, so now we have all new hardware. Very nice.

So, in the standard Smith Family fashion, a Molehill to Mountain sort of situation developed when none was planned. We started out to replace the hot water spiggot, and ended up replacing all the sink faucets in the process. Overall cost was about $425.