But We Think You Should Keep Your Old Snowblower

We all try to save money. It’s the same with snowblower maintenance. I take good care of my 26-year-old Toro 521 snowblower. Occasionally, I have to replace an auger belt between maintenance sessions. It’s not too hard, and snow starts getting thrown properly with a new belt.

This week, the ultimate happened.  Right after replacing the auger belt, part of the cowling that protects the engine and belt assemblies from rocks and moisture on the ground, had rotted away, hung down, and was caught in the snow. Now bent, the snow blower started acting like a dirt plow farmers use before sowing seed. One side where the cowling fastens had just plain old rotted away.

So, we have no more snowblower, until it gets repaired. This will undoubtedly include welding the cowling where it rotted away. While my dealer has the snowblower, they might as well perform a maintenance as well, even if were 6 weeks away from the end of the snow season.

So for today’s storm, it is shovel time.

But here’s the punch line. Before the cowling broke, I was picking up the extra belt and asked about purchasing a new snowblower.

“Your snowblower isn’t that old.”, the owner of the shop said.

“As long as the engine and body are intact, why not get it repaired?”, she went on.

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The Intermediate Milestone

Yesterday New Year’s Even 2013, I was at work. Like many projects, the last 10% seems to be taking 90% of the time. I was hoping to reach a a milestone, whose description would be so boring it would put most people to sleep or drive them out in the street. So let’s use rockets and lunar modules as an analogy, specifically, putting an astronaut into one orbit around Earth with a safe return.

I didn’t reach that sought-after milestone. The milestone I reached was more encouraging than the rocket blowing up on the launch pad, or the rocket launching and ascending a few hundred feet and then crashing. No, my rocket ascended, descended, and no one was injured. Pretty soon, we’ll have the capsule into one orbit and then several, but for now, I’m content with the results.

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The Spreadsheet, Factory Floor, and Goodbye Columbus

My life exists in a hybrid world. I was born before personal computers and CDs. Stereo had just been invented, and there were not many FM radio stations. You learned how to use a slide rule in high school, and, if your school had them, you got to use those mechanical calculators, that could estimate logarithms and trig, let alone crunch decimal numbers.

Now, we have all this electronic stuff and computers. We can build buildings with them, and solve just about every problem. I believe the electronic spreadsheet is one of the most powerful things every invented, and I also believe it is one of the most misused.

A bit of spreadsheet use might go like this. Here, I can save the company some dough by eliminating network hardware maintenance and wipe away the budget for network hardware upgrades. Oh, and, by the way, I want the network speed increased. Why isn’t it running faster?

Spredsheets are great. You can run what if I did this scenarios to look at all the impacts from different budget decisions. But just tweaking numbers in a spreadsheet doesn’t take you to the factory floor. That is, just moving numbers in a spreadsheet does not give you the experience of what moving those numbers actually does.

In your life, you probably don’t work in a factory, but your factory floor is there, nonetheless. It’s wherever you work. I’m just using factory floor as the name to describe where the works gets done. Those who make decisions in a room never having walked on the factory floor miss out on what is really going on and why a process taking us from point A to point B does not always work the way we would like.

And that brings me to Ron Patimkin from Goodbye Columbus, a 1969 film about the merging of classes.

To me, one of the funniest, saddest, and most poignant moments in the film is Ron, having returned from Ohio State on a basketball scholarship, is now a manager in his father’s plumbing supply business. After all that education and playing basketball, the only job Ron can have is holding a clipboard telling workers who already know their jobs loading a large supply panel truck, to keep moving along.

That’s what seems to be going on these days. We want a tasks to happen, don’t understand what it takes to make it happen, and then say to those who report to us, C’mon, c’mon, keep moving.





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Do you know where your chocolates are?

Many years ago, I got to announce news and run the [radio] board for the Paul Parent Garden Club at WBOQ 104.9 FM. Paul Parent has a syndicated radio show that runs on Sunday mornings. When you work at a radio station, you sometimes get to voice spots (radio commercials). So here is one of mine for one of my favorite places, Turtle Alley Chocolates in Gloucester.

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Frank’s Cough

Many years ago when I worked in a software company west of Boston, I worked with a product manager named Frank. Frank helped me navigate my new company, had an excellent sense of humor, and I am forever grateful to him for his wisdom and friendship.

When I first started, Frank sat in a cube next to mine, and he had a really serious cough. At the time, I was still working at WBOQ 104.5 FM Gloucester, and decided I would write him a funny spot (radio advertisement). The copy and cough are mine, but I needed a real voice talent, sportscaster J. P. Lewis.

Mrs. Highpants, who is a fan of James Horner, suggested we use the main title theme to Zorro, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, here is “Frank’s Cough”.

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Die Gedanken Sind Frei

This is a story about a song I learned when I was a kid. The song is traditional, and I only heard it referenced one place. That was a movie. This story may also be about music education, as well.

To say my music education was esoteric would be an understatement. I played, not very well, drums and and autoharp in a youth band, and we sang during music class. You name it; we sang it, songs of the sea, classic songs, and songs from other countries.

One song we learned to sing was Die Gedanken Sind Frei , and I did not think much of its significance in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, until I heard the song in a 1971 TV movie The Birdmen.

For years I’ve been trying to find the song, and finally I did. I forgot about the “Ge” in front of danken. Otherwise I probably would have found the song sooner.

It is a song of protest and, in the movie, was sung as a group of escaped prisoners flew a glider away from a castle into Switzerland. But my first memory is singing in Miss Jean McCauley’s music class in the early 1960s. My music education did not limit me to the enjoyment of classic older songs, but instead, I view it now as having taught history.

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Pookie The Cockatiel

Almost twenty-two years ago, Pookie The Cockatiel came to live with us. He was raised by a breeder near us, and hatched in an outdoor aviary, kept around fifty degrees. He was an only bird for just a few months, because Peachy showed up not much later, and then came Louie, and finally Zephy. People stopping by @ZephyLoveBird have seen Pookie in pictures and heard his name, but he has preferred the low profile life.

Pookie Getting February sun

Pookie Getting February sun

Pookie has spent most of his life living with at least one other bird, first Peachy The Lovebird and then Zephy The Lovebird, and for fourteen years a Quaker Parakeet, Louie. Now, Pookie is training us to be more bird-like, because with the loss of Zephy, we are stepping in to perform extra duties like preening and hanging out. It is not hard work; he is our friend.

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