Sunday, January 31, 2010

Senior Slide, Sushi & Stuff

Rachel is beginning to do the senior-slide. She's got her college acceptance out of the way and has pretty much accomplished all (and more) that she set out to do going into high school. Her GPA isn't as important to her now as it was last year at this time. She's still putting in some late hours though between teaching dance some nights until after 9:00 then hurrying home to finish whatever homework she may have. She thought she was going to have to pull an all-nighter last week but her project came together much more quickly than she thought it would. It's cheesy but it's cute.

I put the finishing touches on the third of six panels above our entertainment center over the weekend. This one as well as the next three are all going to be less work than the first two as they're not as wide. Plus, we're getting into a nice rhythm and making much quicker work of each successive panel.

The three of us headed out to Southern Theater in Minneapolis last Thursday night to watch the play/dance, 1/2 Life. The performance, while interesting left a bit to be desired but the sushi dinner at Koyi Sushi Too before the show was excellent. I think I may have tried sushi once before but if I did it must've been forgettable. We had an order of John Waynroll, Dynamite and Lose Your Worries. Excellent! We're going to start looking for sushi restaurants to check out south of the river.

Not so long ago when I was a mileage junkie I was outdoors on my bike all winter long banging out the miles. Today, I'm content to spend time on my rollers in our basement. It reduces my overall mileage totals for the year as I don't include 'roller' miles with my 'road' miles. Still, it's an excellent way to stay in shape during the off-season in addition to developing a smooth pedaling rhythm.

For me to be conditioned to hit the roads this spring and ready for some longer efforts early on it's necessary to begin gearing up now and that calls for some extra longish efforts like yesterday's 4:22:48, 100 mile workout. I climbed off feeling good about my week of training. I needed this ride to break out of the 40-50 mile routine I've grown accustomed to.

I was kept company on the ride by Lance Armstrong and the rest of the peloton from the 2004 Tour de France as Lance rode to his 6th consecutive win. A most excellent way to spend a Minnesota winter afternoon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thoughts and a Suggestion from a Veteran Controller

Remember, this blog is for my personal reflection. Regulars who frequent here will likely find what I've written below to be repetitive. I make no apology. In following through on my last post I've penned the following and sent it to Administrator Babbitt. Thanks to Rob at work for his help in keeping it focused.

Administrator Babbitt,

My name is Kevin Gilmore and I'm a controller at MSP ARTCC. I've been with the agency since March, 1982 and I also served in the U.S.N. for 4 years in the mid to late '70s. I've been around a while.

I first want to thank you for your efforts in getting us a ratified contract to work under. The imposed work rules did more to wreck employee morale than I ever imagined possible. I was a 'company man' just a few short years ago but today I find myself disillusioned with my employer and struggling to find any remaining respect for management. Mentally, it's not a place I enjoy being, but it's where I am. There are so many others who echo my sentiments.

If you're determined to improve employee morale I have a suggestion for you, but first allow me to preface it by making some observations.

Your management ranks are overstaffed and made of up of too many individuals with very limited time actually working traffic on their own. They often trained for a few years and then only made it a year or two on the boards before leaving for the safety of a desk. More pay for easier, less stressful work; what a deal, but not one that inspires confidence in the workforce.

I was in a meeting a few weeks ago where our area manager told us that he felt the highest paid controller should earn less than the least paid supervisor. It's this sort of condescending attitude that still has a stronghold in our agency and it serves no useful purpose.

This same manager went on to say that he's paid more than us because he has a more responsible position but I don't recall him or any other manager stepping forward and accepting responsibility for their failures during the NWA188 NORDO incident which sullied our public image.

I'm frustrated by what I see happening around me; please don't read anger into my words.

I believe that those who have been paying attention in the general public share the workforces dim view of FAA management. Certainly management's image took a deserved beating with the unnecessary and wasteful contract training in Atlanta that was exposed on ABC News last month. My advice for you will help with that image.

Mr Babbitt, it's my strong suggestion that you impose a 3 year pay freeze for personnel in air traffic management and staff just as was done to controllers, the people on the razor's edge of critical decision making. If you're concerned that such a move would cause a mass exodus from management ranks let me assure you that it wouldn't because as I said earlier, too many of those in management ran for the cover of desk jobs and they're not about to give them up. Consider when Pay Reclass was enacted in 1998 and controller/management pay was much more comparable; there was no lack of people to staff management positions then.

My base pay is more than 16k less than a person whom I was paid equally to (due to my pay being frozen for 3 years) before the imposed work rules. I'm quite sure that had pay been frozen equally across the board there would've been little to no complaining from the workforce and no lingering resentment. But, considering the unfair way in which controllers were singled out as the only means for reigning in costs, animosity over our treatment remains.

Please study what sort of cost savings could be realized by a 3 year pay freeze for management and staff specialists. Trust me when I tell you that such a move would go a long way toward improving employee morale and heading us in a new direction where we can begin to act more as a team and less like adversaries.

You couldn't ask for more ideal circumstances to move forward with such a proposal given the dire fiscal situation we find ourselves not only within FAA but also overall government spending. I'm quite sure that people all across America would applaud a move by you to enact a pay freeze for management; certainly President Obama would.

Mr Babbitt, controllers both young and old are in need of leadership that embraces fairness in the workplace. I urge you to give serious consideration to my suggestion because I believe a move in this direction is not only timely, given our current state of affairs, but also overdue.

Thank you for your time.

Respectfully and sincerely,

Kevin Gilmore
952-220-xxxx

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday Night Potpourri

It's the dead of winter here in the Midwest and I've been pretty much cocooned in our home for the past couple months with the exception of an occasional trip to the mall. Usually this time of year I'm out on my bike but I've been content to do my training on my rollers in the basement. It's probably a better workout anyway. I got suited up Thursday morning to hit the roads for a couple hours but after putting one foot onto our driveway I found that the light drizzle which had been falling was freezing to the surface despite a temp in the mid 30s. Maybe next week.

I'm not sure if it's a phase of life I'm transitioning into but I've taken to feeding birds this winter. Along with the birds we've got a bunch of squirrels too and if I do like most people I'll get caught up in the game of trying to keep the squirrels from the bird food but that's not me. I probably enjoy seeing squirrels out there as much as I do birds so I feed them as well. I noticed an albino squirrel a couple months ago and thought that having it around would add an interesting wrinkle to the animals that frequent the spot on the side of our home because I can actually differentiate it from the others and it will be interesting to see how long it makes its home here.

I had a suspicion that there may possibly be another just like it because it seemed to be able to get around so quickly. One moment I'd see it in the upper branches of the tree and the next it would be on the ground below the bird feeders. I dismissed the idea because what are the odds of that? Maybe not odd enough. I got a confirmation to my hunch one morning this past week when I opened the blinds to see this.

Tammy and I made a break from our routine last night and went to Mystic Lake Casino. Neither of us are much for gambling but it can be an interesting diversion for a couple hours on a Friday night during a Minnesota winter. $22 into our venture among the smoke and noise Tammy hit on a $140 payout. We played until we lost $10 of that then decided to take our winnings and quit while we were ahead. She'd taken her mother to one of the local casinos when she was in town a few months ago and they managed to walk out with over $400 to the good. I see no reason for me to be putting money into the machines when she does this well.

While we were out Tammy got a text from Rachel, "im at fmsc" and she wondered what it meant. After thinking about it for a moment I figured it out. She was at Feed My Starving Children in Eagan. She's been going there for the last year on occasion with groups of kids from church and school. She has a heart for the less advantaged and the down and out and I like that she has an outlet for being able to give of herself the way she does.

Tammy and I were downstairs when she came home and she brought up Haiti. She mentioned how disappointed she was with the way we as people don't give a moments thought about such places until something terrible happens. A friend of hers was mentioning how she got to talk with some celebrity on the phone as she called in a donation to the live telecast last night. Is that what it takes she wondered? While it's good that people are stepping up to help now, there has been a need going way back. She said that at FMSC they have a status board that shows where the donations have been going. In the month of December during a ten day stretch, 4 of 10 shipments had gone to Haiti. FMSC get's it.

I'd hoped to get the 3rd of 6 panels for our entertainment center done this weekend but it'll have to wait another week. I came close. All the glass it cut and in place. All that's left to do is solder and patina the window; a few hours work if all goes well.

I hope to maybe get two more panels done before winter is over and I close up shop.

We've got a contractor at work that handles much of the training in the FAA and they employ probably a couple dozen people in our facility alone. Most of them were given layoff notices this last week. I was told by one of those laid off that the reason given was the recent contract negotiated for air traffic controllers. It was apparently too rich. [sarcasm]We all should've done the right thing and accepted the additional 2 years of pay freeze management wanted for us to go along with the 3 we'd already endured and no layoffs would've been necessary.[/sarcasm] Whether or not it's true what this person told me with respect to the reason for the layoffs I can't be sure but would it surprise me? Not at all.

Here's an idea for any controllers out there. How about we all take a few moments this week and write letters to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt suggesting it's time to look at freezing management's pay for a similar amount of time as a way of reducing costs. We should at least be calling for a study of the numbers to see how much savings can be generated by such a proposal.

Management had a catchy phrase they were throwing around a few years back called 'leading from where you are'. We can call this 'leading from behind'.

My guess is his email address is randy.babbitt@faa.gov

I'm in.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Prepare to Get Underway

...in a virtual sense. Stay with me to the end of this entry to see what I mean.

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

It had been 9 months since returning from our last WestPac (Western Pacific) deployment and I'd found a nice routine to my life. We'd go out to sea occasionally, possibly a run up the coast to San Francisco or a day or two spent off the San Diego coast doing maneuvers. We were never gone for very long so what was not to like?

I came back from a ride one weekend afternoon to find our ship had experienced a fire while I was gone. The following taken from my journal, "I spent the day out in the country today and while I was doing that, number 2 engine room on the Fresno was burning up. They finally got the fire out after three hours of work. I got there just as they were finishing. So now it looks like REFTRA (refresher training) has been canceled indefinitely and there is talk of a yard period."

Elvis would die sitting on his toilet 9 days later.

We had our next WestPac cruise scheduled for the following March but we wouldn't make it and the crew would lose experience over the next several months of down time. We OS's would get together and do maneuvering board drills and some team training on base but that was all. Our main focus would be spiffying up our quarters. We'd get real good at that for whatever it was worth. The next time we would get underway would be January 23rd, five and a half months after the fire.

Before long the crew began to turn over and I'd soon find myself in the position of CIC (Combat Information Center) watch supervisor. I'd have a crew of two to three other guys with me in Combat and we'd be responsible for taking radar navigation fixes on our way into and out of port as well as tracking any traffic that got near us while making course and speed recommendations to the bridge to avoid it. We were located just aft of the bridge where we'd sometimes be a happening place while other times we could go for days out in the middle of the ocean without seeing another target.

The most interesting times at sea were when we were traveling in formation with other ships from our squadron conducting maneuvering exercises using coded tactical messages with the bridge taking their cues from Operation's Specialists such as myself in CIC. It was a thing of beauty to see all the ships turning in formation like synchronized swimmers on the water's surface. We didn't get to do this often enough for me.

We would spend the next several months making short trips out to sea in preparation for our WestPac cruise that had been pushed back to late August, '78 because of the fire.

There was never a lack of concerts to see in San Diego or southern California during my time there in the mid to late '70s: Foghat, Kansas, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Santana, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Supertramp...all in their prime.  If we were off, we were there.

I was doing laundry one Friday afternoon at the laundry mat on Highland Ave when one of my shipmates, Brad Livingston, came in. He mentioned the Cal-Jam 2 concert up in Ontario and wondered if I wanted to go. I had nothing holding me back. I got back to the ship and changed into some clothes that would have to get me through the next day and a half at least. This wasn't something you packed for. We caught a cab to the airport and jumped on a flight to get us in the general vicinity. We were totally making this up as we went.

From the airport we caught a cab to the concert site at Ontario Motor Speedway, or so we thought. It wasn't long before we were standing still in traffic with the meter running. We paid the fare and took to walking and thumbing a ride for those times when traffic seemed to be moving. I remember being in the back of a pickup truck at one point packed with others headed for the show.

This was what we were in for.

We finally got to the speedway in the early morning hours before the sun came up. We did our best to get ourselves pretty close to the stage for the first few acts but we backed off later opting for the convenience of being able to move around and for the location of the biffys. Somehow we managed to stick together and never lose track of each other. The ability to send a text message would've been nice.

We headed out late that day and after less than 5 minutes of thumbing for a ride we hooked up with a guy who would take us all the way to the base in San Diego. I wrote in my diary that I'd been up for 45 hours by the time I finally made it to my rack. Somewhere along the way I've lost a bit of that spontaneity and maybe some endurance. I'm guessing that's a good thing.

I was in a comfortable position on the ship at this point as a 3rd class and somewhat immune to the slave labor sort of jobs I'd previously been tasked with. We had a good officer heading our division in Ensign Suehs and he would easily be the best guy of all of them that we'd have during my time on the Fresno. It was the two OS1's we acquired who would cause me concern. Tyre and Howard...what a pair. I saw them both as being incompetent but nonetheless they were in charge of us OS's.

The summer of 1978 came to a close and we found ourselves ready for deployment. There would be no more late night trips to Winchell's on my bike for a while. We'd spent a fair amount of time at sea in preparation for what lay ahead and now it was time to put it all together.

We left San Diego on a Thursday morning minus just one of our crew that I was aware of...a certain OS named Rivas. He owned a Mexican restaurant not far from the base and there was no way he was leaving his family and his restaurant behind. I don't think any of us were surprised when he wasn't there the morning we left. I'd find out later that he watched the ship leave from a safe distance on Shelter Island.

The WestPac cruise would be one full of highs and lows for me culminating in a desire for home and a return to civilian life that I hadn't known prior to leaving.

I took note of our coordinates each day during the cruise to one day plot out on a large wall map and reminisce about all those miles sailed so many years earlier. I never got around to buying a map large enough to do it justice but I did take some time over the last couple days to make a digital file of the trip using Google Earth. I've combined the latitude/longitude way-points with my journal entries and photos and I'm quite pleased with the result.

To view the file you'll first need to download Google Earth; here's a link.

To show you how to use the file I put together this quick tutorial.  Be sure to watch it in HD for better detail if you have a good enough connection.

Here's the kmz file of our trip. Enjoy.

To be continued...

Friday, January 8, 2010

My Turn

I started my blog over 6 years ago. There's no one particular reason why I write in it but I'd say that more than anything it's therapy; a way for me to sort through my thoughts. I also like the idea of being able to look back on all that's been written here many years from now and reminisce about my life. There's one other reason though that it's important to me: it allows me to tell my side of the story on that rare occasion where I feel it's necessary and that's where this post is headed.

I had a conversation with one of our facility's managers at work last week. The conversation eventually worked its way to the incident I was written up for in April, '08. It became apparent that he'd only heard one version of the story; he hadn't heard what actually happened. Management wasn't the least bit interested in my side so it only stands to reason that he didn't know the truth. He implied that he was surprised by what he'd heard as what he'd been told was out of character for me. he was right; that wasn't me.

When I was written up for insubordination it was during a time when there was no grievance process in the FAA for people such as me to have their concerns or rebuttals impartially heard. Literally hundreds of thousands of grievances were ignored. It was during a time of management imposed work rules where our union was all but neutered by an administration that had much disdain for workers and high admiration for management. If you found yourself in my position you were at the mercy of those directly above you and if they wanted, they could trump up whatever charges they desired. And they did.

I'd always had positive dealings with management my entire career up until this episode. The incident you're about to read would leave me distrustful of nearly all of them which is where I remain today. As you read the story of what happened it's important to note that there were witnesses to what went down but management wasn't at all interested in hearing what they had to say. By management, I'm referring to my Area Manager (Pat Sullivan) as it's my opinion that he was the one who could have and should have stepped in and done the right thing but he didn't. He should've reigned in an out-of-control supervisor. Instead, he backed this individual and emboldened him to go after others in a similar way should he desire. That's not leadership and if there's any management skills involved there they're severely lacking.

In the end it became obvious to me that there was no sense in fighting this because there was no winning on this unfair playing field so I gave up. I had only one request when I threw in the towel and that was for a meeting with my supervisor, my area manager and the supervisor who brought the charges against me so I could hear them tell me why they'd done this to me and be allowed to have my say, face to face. I wasn't even asking for union representation in the meeting. This too I was denied. What could possibly have been their reasoning behind their denial?

This entry was prompted by the recent conversation I had with the manager at work earlier in the week and is long overdue but every bit as important today as it was when I wrote it. I hadn't intended to publish it but I don't particularly like the idea of having my character defined by anybody but myself much less the persons at the center of this who caused me so much grief.  Unfortunately, it appears there are those who've only heard one side of this story.  It's my turn.

The Anatomy of a Lynching

The story doesn't actually end there and in fact gets even more pitiful given the context of what was going on in our workplace.

No CRM for Me

I care about the place I work and I care about fairness. It's a very frustrating position to find oneself when you're up against those who in my opinion would abuse the 'power/authority' entrusted to them and that is exactly what happened to me.  

And now you know the rest of the story.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Years Weekend, 2010

I'm not much of a pack-rat, in fact I'm distracted by clutter in our home. I wouldn't say I'm obsessive about it but I function best when I keep it to a minimum. Removing all the clutter from our garage during its renovation last summer was more satisfying than you can imagine. Nearly equally as satisfying was the project Tammy undertook within our home for most of last week when she tackled the job of emptying out all our cupboards, drawers and closets to get rid of stuff we no longer need and reorganize whatever was left. To any visitors who happened by they must've thought we were terrible housekeepers to see our home in such disarray. She's got a bit left to do but the majority of it is done and I know she's feeling good about having that monkey off her back. Me too.

I stayed out of her way by immersing myself in our stained glass project down in the shop. I made good progress on it and hope to have this panel wrapped up in the next few weeks which should give us time to get at least one more panel done before spring arrives and we close up shop. That will leave us the remaining two to do next winter. I'm sure I'll be ready to move onto something else once we've got this entire project completed. It's a long time to focus on one thing when I've got lots of other ideas I'm kicking around in my head.

Tammy came down in the shop after she got off work last night and put a project in the kiln. It's a simple spoon tray for a friend. It fired overnight and is back in the kiln to be slumped to a form other than flat.

I want her to teach me how to do this but so far I haven't taken the time to learn. It's not difficult but there are certain things you need to factor into a project; things related to what various types of glass do at different temperatures and techniques used. Our kiln isn't large but it's got a programmable control unit so that the temp can be ramped up at a specific rate to a predetermined temperature, held there for however long and then ramped back down, again, at a specified rate. This stuff can be key depending on what you're trying to achieve.

My goal for a while has been to incorporate some fused glass into our stained glass so I'm looking forward to playing around with the 'warm glass' aspect of all of this.

I'm not sure why but I was carrying Charlie up from downstairs a couple days ago when the oddest thing happened. I set him down half way up the stairs and he proceeded to go all the way back down before starting up again. I had to get the video camera out to see if he'd do it again. Rachel later wondered if he'd still do it if we put him nearer the top step. We did her little experiment the next day and it turned out that if we put him one step below the top he'd go straight up but anything further than that and he'd make his way all the way down and then come up. I'm still trying to figure this little guy out and I'm sure I will be for a while to come.

One other upload to my YouTube account over the weekend...we've got an albino squirrel that's been hanging around our yard since last fall. The guys at work are giving me a hard time this afternoon saying that my age is showing since I'm now resorted to posting video of a squirrel. Me...getting old?

All I can say guys is come ride with me. ;)