Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Question for FAA Management

Lance Armstrong will take 3rd place overall tomorrow when the Tour de France finishes in Paris. He did about as good as I was expecting him to considering his age and the broken collar bone injury he sustained a few months before the race. His presence in the Tour made for quite a bit of added interest, certainly for me anyway. He'll be back next year and this time with his own team, Team RadioShack. I admire what the guy does for cycling.

The long, frustrating, disingenuous and hypocritical road FAA management has had us air traffic controllers on for the past three years may soon be coming to an end. Our union met with FAA management last month (thank you President Obama) to try and reach agreement on all things contract-related. The issues that matter most (at least to me) were sent to arbitration and are out of both ours and management's hands. I'm speaking of pay.

There were several items/articles where we reached agreement but I have a difficult time getting very excited about any one of them in particular. I'll be able to wear jeans and tennis shoes to work. Wow. I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm diminishing the work of those on our contract team because that's not my intention. These are simply my feelings on what's been made public to this point. It's the culture we've been working within that needs serious change and no contract can fix that. Removing some key people from positions of management can. A simple following of the Golden Rule would also help as it's been absent for far too long.

For people in management who think controllers are whining let me ask you this; would you be upset if controllers were made whole and given back the pay that was taken from them? You may not be happy for us but I doubt you would lose sleep over it. Now, let me ask you this; suppose we were made whole but then you had your pay frozen for three years as we did while we continued to get raises...would that upset you? I thought so. And no, your job is neither more responsible nor difficult and deserving of more pay than a controller earns. In fact, I would argue that the work you do is both considerably easier and carries less responsibility. Rest assured that the closest you'll get to ever having to live with the scenario I've described is me posing a hypothetical question; how nice. Walk a mile in my shoes please before you dismiss my frustration as whining. Thank you.

The sheetrocking job in our garage got delayed a bit because of too humid conditions last week which kept Joel and John from being able to do the final sanding until this Monday. I'd intended to use my weekend to get the space painted but I'll be pushing that back a week. No hurries.

I've decided against a do-it-yourself epoxy application for the garage floor and I'm going to hire the job out. I'm not convinced that any epoxy I put down will hold up more than a few years and then what do I somebody a bunch of money to come in and remove it? I don't think so.

Tammy and I met with Skip yesterday who showed us samples of some of the applications he does. We're sold. I was fine with one of the cheaper finishes but Tammy gave me the go-ahead to do something more. We're tentatively planning to have him come in and do the work the week after next. It's a messy job which involves abrading/roughening of the surface before the finish goes on.

Video to follow. Aren't you excited?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dare to Dream

One of my earliest memories is of being outside our home with my parents and siblings near Detroit as a 4 or 5-year-old and looking up into the night sky to see one of the Sputnik satellites pass overhead. I didn't understand what I was looking at but I could see the blue dot moving across the sky.

I was one month shy of my 12th birthday in July 1969 when Apollo 11 lifted off for the moon. Those were captivating moments for an entire nation and more. When there was a space launch or reentry during school hours we'd sometimes get to watch it on monitors in the school's auditorium. Witnessing history play out on those too small black and white television screens held my attention like no teacher could. The crackling of the booster rockets as they propelled the tiny capsule into space was awe-inspiring. I sat riveted to the screen as earth-based cameras transitioned to video from aircraft and continued to monitor the rocket until the boosters fell away. Had anybody been talking to me during any of it I don't think I'd have heard a word.

We were vacationing in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and at my aunt and uncle's home in Winona the night Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the lunar surface and made history. I remember looking up at the moon that night through the window in their family room and trying to get my head around the fact that men were actually up there.

We were a divided nation back then as the Vietnam war dragged on, much the same as we are today but the space program gave us something that we could all rally around and feel good about. I don't sense that we have any sort of common bond in today's world; possibly getting the economy moving again, maybe. The space program caused you to pause and realize what man is capable of. I miss that spirit.

The Space Shuttle is currently circling the globe but it's pretty much become 'ho-hum' anymore and it shouldn't be.

I don't suppose a rekindling of space exploration is on our nation's shortlist of pressing matters but maybe it should be. Rather than having our youngest generation imprint on some overpaid, self-absorbed athlete or entertainer they could actually have real-life heroes to emulate. Imagine that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Another Project Begins

I woke up Wednesday morning and hung around waiting for the cable TV guy to come by and splice in a line for a cable connection in our garage. I want to be like the other guys in the neighborhood and have a TV set turned on in the background that I'll never watch while I'm out there. I think it's a status thing actually. I don't know that any of the locals are sporting a flat-screen yet so maybe I'll be the first and raise the bar.

Splicing the connection was less than a $30 charge from Charter and I figured for that price it wasn't much more money than had I done it myself considering the amount of cable he had to use. Plus, I was able to have the tech check the strength on our internet connection to make sure the extra splice didn't noticeably degrade our connection any. It didn't.

I'd been waiting for a call from the guy who was to hang the sheetrock for us but it was midweek and he didn't appear to be in a hurry to get back to me. I grew impatient and got a number from a neighbor for some drywall guys she used and gave them a call. We met Wednesday morning and agreed on a price. The guy I wanted to give the job to finally called on Thursday but I had to tell him that I'd already hired another crew to do the work next week. He understood. It's beyond me how contractors can be so slow to return a call especially when there isn't an over-abundance of jobs to be had.

I didn't expect to have the sheetrock scheduled to go up so quickly so I had to get busy to prepare the space. Hanging insulation and covering it with sheets of 4 mil poly as a barrier against the elements would be my job. I used the rest of my Wednesday to clear out our garage. I'm pretty good at keeping useless stuff to a minimum but I could be better about it. I'm finally parting with a desk that Keith gave me over 17 years ago when I first moved into our home. It's supported a few boxes and my bench grinder in the garage for years. I brought it down to the bottom of the driveway and Tammy made a couple 'Free' signs for it. We get very little traffic on our street so it sat out there for a couple days before I took the time to put it up on Craig's List.

Keith came by later on Wednesday so we could go over his plans for our cabinets. He also ran some electrical outlets to better service the workspace and for some under-cabinet lighting he has planned as well as a couple outlets for other areas in the garage. I don't do electrical, mostly because I don't know how. Here are the plans: back wall, left wall, and overhead view.

I spent all of Thursday and Friday hanging insulation. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be but then I'm particular about things that are unimportant and maybe I was being too careful when I should've been just throwing the stuff up there knowing it would be covered with sheetrock and nobody would ever see it. Trust me, I've got the nicest looking insulation you'll never see. I'm quite sure the work would've gone considerably faster had it not been for the nearly 11-foot ceilings I had to work with. I was literally up and down the ladder hundreds of times balancing 8-foot lengths of insulation and tacking them in place. I could tell my patience was wearing thin when I'd find myself cursing because either the air hose had gotten caught on something and wouldn't reach where I needed it to or the gun would run out of staples at an inconvenient time. Two days of non-stop insulation work takes its toll when you're not used to doing it.

By Friday night I still hadn't taken time to buy the sheetrock and this was beginning to nag me. I needed to finish most of the work in the garage as I didn't want to have to be stepping around it. The guys hanging it said it would be quite a bit cheaper if we bought it ourselves and they prefer 12-foot sheets. I've only handled sheetrock a few times and never a 12-foot section. What could be so difficult? I called Home Depot to see how late they were open and if they carried 12-foot lengths as not all places did. 10:00pm and yes they do. We had two hours to get the job done and it was only going to happen if their rental truck was available. Fortunately, it was.

We were on the road with the first 16 sheets by 8:30 but I was having doubts that we could get it offloaded and repeat the process to have the truck back before 10:00. Tammy made a good effort with the first sheet but I could tell she'd never make it through all of them. We improvised by putting her end on a wheelbarrow. This is where I have to pause to confess that I didn't want to drive the fully loaded truck on our driveway for fear of creating a crack in our relatively new concrete surface. We'd have to haul them into the garage from the street. We had the truck offloaded and back for our second load by 9:05. We called ahead and they were waiting for us with our next 16 sheets. The next 16 were considerably heavier than the first as they were 5/8" thick for the ceiling instead of the 1/2" used for the walls.

We were offloading by 9:25 and feeling a bit desperate after watching the first sheet crash to the ground after slipping from Tammy's grip. Not to be deterred for long, Tammy suggested we use the 'Free' desk at the bottom of the driveway as an intermediate step off the truck and onto the wheelbarrow. It worked beautifully. We were back on the road with a little less than 15 minutes to gas up the truck and get it back. We had 5 minutes to spare.

I hope we're not left with several sheets of drywall when this is all over because by my estimates, we have maybe 6 sheets too many. I used 1200 square feet of poly to prep the walls and ceiling but I've got over 1500 square feet of sheetrock sitting on our garage floor. All I know is I don't want to have to touch the stuff again.

So, I was back at work yesterday after a week off and sitting in the sector enjoying that I was finally able to simply sit still. I'd gotten a ton of work done over the past week and a half and I was feeling good about that. You could almost say that it was nice to be back at work but I don't think I'd go that far.

Oh, and the desk is still available if anybody's interested.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Working Vacation

I got off the all-night shift last Thursday morning and came home for a couple hours of sleep before heading out with Tammy, Rachel, and Josh to Babbitt to paint Tammy's parent's home. I hadn't ever looked at the exterior of their home with a critical eye to recall what sort of shape the trim was in but I recalled that the siding looked to be good. Should the trim need a lot of prep work I wasn't sure we'd have enough time to get the job done. I'd know soon enough.

We avoided buying too many of our supplies in the cities and opted for spending our money at the hardware store in Babbitt to help their local economy in our small way. It's the same when we refuel our cars on trips up north. The stations in Babbitt always get our business even if it costs us a bit more.

We got to Babbitt around 3:30 in the afternoon and wasted no time getting busy power-washing the house. The trim was much worse than I imagined it would be and would need to be scraped down to the wood. I'd like to have had more time and tools to replace a few areas where the trim was showing signs of rotting but with our limited time and resources, we'd have to make compromises. That's not the way I like to do things.

We worked in a steady rain the first afternoon but as messy as the work was the rain didn't seem to matter. We'd get most of the scraping done before calling it quits several hours later.

Sometime during the first night we were there, Charlie discovered he could jump up on the furniture without our help. This could get interesting back home as jumping up on the furniture is how Toby and Allie escape the pestering of the little guy.

We spent most of the first half of the next day applying primer and going over that with white paint saving the body of the house for last. I think our approach may have been a bit backward but it worked for us. The trim was tedious work and we wanted to make sure we didn't leave ourselves too little time to get it done.

We bought a couple PaintSticks for painting the siding. They're a huge time saver. Not as quick as spraying the paint on but much faster than an ordinary roller and paint pan. The paint is drawn (like a hypodermic needle) into the handle of the paint-stick then squeezed out through perforations in the roller pad onto the house. They work great. Josh was a huge help with that phase of the project. There's no way we'd have finished the job in the limited time we had without him.

This is as close as I'll ever get to being a supervisor of any sort. How do I look?

We suffered our only causality when Tammy fell off a ladder trying to transition from it to the front steps. She slipped and came down hard between the ladder and the cement steps but like a trooper, she shook it off and continued on. She's got some major bruising on an elbow and upper thigh a few days later as I write this.

Rachel was our detail person going over all the trim on the windows (when she wasn't painting our faces) and getting it just right. For much of the time there were six of us each working together to finish the job. The only thing we lacked was an additional ladder or two.

Day three saw us futzing with the finer details. I figured we'd have the job done by mid-morning but we didn't wrap things up until after 3:00, about 48 hours from when we first arrived. We were all happy to have the job done and with how it turned out, especially Tammy's mom, Elaine.

We left for home late Saturday afternoon in time to stop and see Tammy's father at his retirement home in Virginia. What was a mild case of Alzheimer's a little over a year ago has become full-blown. He appears to recognize me but I'm no longer Kevin, I'm John. Tammy was able to spend some time talking with the nurses who provide his care. She clipped his nails while he told us his stories. He leads the way in our conversations as you never know what direction they'll take.

I've got the rest of the week off before returning to work on Sunday. I have a bunch of projects centered around finishing the inside of our garage that I'm slowly chipping away at and aiming to have them all completed sometime this fall.

My bike sat idle much of the past week but I did manage a nice ride yesterday out in the hills of western Wisconsin along highway 35. I don't know that there's any better riding around here than what that area has to offer especially with respect to hills. There are miles of 10%+ grades for the taking off the main highway and I was in a taking mood yesterday.

I began the ride not feeling all that sure that I had much fight in me and for a time considered cutting the ride short to go work on stuff in my garage. As I made my way into Hastings I had a decision to make...head for home or head for the hills. The hills won out. The further I got into the ride the more psyched to continue I became. It was a vacation day for me with a temp in the mid 70s and light winds. How could I not stay out?

My cellphone camera couldn't do this shot justice. When I came around the bend and saw this climb I had to stop to get a photo of it. It was 7/10 of a mile long at a grade of 11%. This sort of stuff gets my heart racing. There was one stretch where I went at least 5 miles without seeing another car or motorcycle. Total solitude along the winding, rolling hills of western Wisconsin among the farmhouses and cattle that dotted the countryside.

Climbing out of Redwing on highway 61 there's a climb nearly 3 miles long at a grade of 3%. No matter how tired I may be I always look forward to this climb. I'd like to have something of that length just a bit steeper around here but I'll take what I can get.

I ended the day with 110 miles ridden, 5153 feet climbed and a feeling of having accomplished quite a bit in the last few days.

Time to publish this and get moving. I've got a vacation to work on.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Two Wheel Talk

I got a call at work yesterday morning from Tammy. "Are you watching the tour?" she asked. The excitement in her voice told me everything I didn't want to know just yet about the day's stage. I quickly replied, "Don't say anymore...I don't want you to give it away" but I was too late. It was the team time trial and Astana, Lance's team, was rocking through the course and it appeared that lance would be in the Maillot Jaune (leader's jersey) by the end of the day. We made plans to record the race and watch it together later in the evening.

I love that she enjoys following the Tour de France with me. Sometimes I think she's more excited about it than I am. I have to smile when I come home and turn on the TV to find that it's been tuned to Versus where the race is broadcast.

Lance literally came up a fraction of a second too slow to claim the yellow jersey and although I think he'd like to have it I also think there's a part of him that would rather not have to defend it this early in the race.

Do I think he'll win? Not really but his presence is certainly making the race more entertaining and interesting to follow. My guess is the smart money is on Alberto Contador, Lance's teammate, for the overall win. A quick check shows that that's what the oddsmakers are also saying.

The Tour hits the mountains on Friday and that's when the real action will begin. It's also where any soft spots in Lance's ability to recover from a hard day of riding will appear.

I spent yesterday afternoon on my bike. I'd intended to ride 50-60 miles but once I got out there I couldn't think of a good enough reason to bring it home so soon. Light wind days are a rare thing lately and yesterday had them at around 5 mph. It's tough not to take advantage of those conditions.

Coming out of Fairbault I headed northwest on Hwy 21. It had been nearly ten years since I'd been on this stretch of road. It was newly surfaced and I imagined that this is what roads in heaven will be like except for the rumble strip along the side. All we cyclists really want is an 18" wide strip of pavement to the right of the white line to do our thing. This road had that but somebody ruined it. Why? Were people really having a difficult time staying awake on this winding stretch of road that they needed a rumble strip to politely wake them when they began to nod off? Excuse me while I ride with traffic being careful not to get too close to all those bumps on the other side of the stripe.

I managed over 85 miles.

It's been over a week since I've been on my Rollerblades and already I can tell that my knees are feeling better. The knee pain was maybe a good thing though as it's got me working on a pedal stroke where I'm not mashing the pedals so much as is my and most people's natural tendency. My new stroke incorporates more of my glutes which minimizes the forces on my knees. It's just going to take some work before it becomes automatic.

Charlie loves beer. That goofy dog got a lick off the top of my beer bottle the other night and instantly fell in love with the stuff. Toby likes coffee and Charlie likes beer. I'm sure if Allie has a drink of choice; she just loves to lick.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

About Our Conversation and Tour Time

I had a conversation with a friend from work last week about the possible changes we'll soon see in our workplace with respect to pay and work rules. It was his opinion that we wouldn't have been living under the imposed work rules (IWR) the last three years had it not been for the actions of our union. We brought this on ourselves. I was in a sector which was getting busier by the minute as we spoke so I was unable to engage him as I would have liked. Our conversation ended before it ever really got started. I thought about our exchange the next day while on my weekend and sent him the following email.

Hi xxxxxx,

I know that you're not one to engage in argument and I wouldn't go there with y
ou but I did want to add just one thing to our conversation from yesterday.

The people you mentioned who jokingly point to the Natca pocket calendars as the only good thing to come out of Natca are forgetting Pay Reclass of 1998 which Natca fought for, for all of us, labor and management alike, and won.

Let's hope we'll soon see s
ome extra cash in our checks when the latest contract talks are complete and if and when we do please be mindful that management fought us over it every step of the way. I wish it weren't so but that's the agency we work for. Natca truly does some good work for us all. That's the only point I wanted to make.

Thanks for listening,


Anybody interested in a slightly used pair of size 11 Rollerblades? I can't use them anymore because of some serious knee pain they're causing me. I'm quite bummed about this. I don't notice any issues while I'm using them but it becomes very apparent afterward. I'm riding my bike less than I have in many years so I'm certain it's not my riding causing me pain. I spoke with my brother Keith about it and he says he experiences the same pain when he uses his. It must have something to do with the binding forces on the knee when I push off. This actually may be a blessing in disguise as my blades are easily more dangerous than my bike, at least the way I use mine.

With my reduced riding mileage I'm spending more time working on projects around our home. I took some time this past weekend to begin organizing our garage for its face-lift. Keith came by to size up the space for cabinets and a workbench. He convinced me that I'd need a heater and a cable connection for a television suspended from the ceiling in the corner. It didn't take much convincing.

I'd like to apply an epoxy finish/sealer to the garage floor too as it's pitting where we park our cars and the salt sludge from the winter roads sloughs off. Sealing the floor is something I should've done years ago. I'm doing a bit of research first to learn the pros and cons of this sort of application. It's not something that's easily undone should I decide I don't like it.

The 96th edition of Le Tour de France began yesterday in Monaco with a ten-mile individual time trial. In case you hadn't heard, Lance Armstrong is racing once again. I, like so many others, was hoping for him to win the prologue but I knew it was asking a lot. He finished 10th which was very good considering he was one of 180 riders.

I think it will be difficult for him to recover day after day as he was able to when he was younger. I look to see him have days of brilliance followed by days where he struggles. It's just a guess and I hope I'm wrong about the struggling part.

There's the race and then there's the race within the race.

Lance is riding for team Astana of Kazakhstan, easily the strongest team in this year's event. Alberto Contador is the official team leader who Lance will ride in support of but there are many who feel that a race leader for the team has yet to be established. Lance so much as said so yesterday when he commented that while it was true that Alberto was the team leader he qualified the statement with "for now".

Hmm...I wonder if we have another 1986 tour in the makings? In that tour, Bernard Hinault was to ride in support of Greg LeMond but spent most of the race trying to break Greg. He would later say that he was only trying to wear down the competition from other teams but many people questioned his true motives.

I see Lance as being a classy guy although many don't like his attitude and are certain that he's doped. I think he's been great for the sport and should be celebrated for the millions he's raised for cancer research. It will no doubt be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few weeks. How can you not root for Lance?