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Thursday, 14 August 2014

0:18 - The best kind of crazy
During the cooldown portion of my time on the stationary bike this morning, I caught the tail end of Let's Make A Deal. Wayne Brady, not needing to choke a b*tch today*, noted that a contestant had turned down an expensive prize, and said that she was crazy. The school-bus-clad contestant responded that it was the good kind of crazy. That got me back thinking about some other things I've been exploring, to the extent the Internet allows me, during this period off from work. I'm not sure how often I've mentioned it here, but growing up, I was fascinated with the Tour de France. I would watch the highlights on summer afternoons on ESPN, amazed that these men could speed and sprint and climb and time trial under such repetitively stressful conditions. I didn't follow the TdF quite as closely after the rights transferred to what was then the Outdoor Life Network (now NBCSN), and even less so after the Lance stopped winning Tours.

I don't know when it first was that I heard of a test of will and strength of shorter duration, but of significantly greater severity. I speak now of the Badwater Ultramarathon. The lowest and highest points in the lower forty-eight United States lie less than one hundred miles apart, as the attack crow flies. Respectively, Badwater Basin at -282 feet (-85.5 m) and Mount Whitney at 14,505 ft (4,421 m). There's enough man-made interventions between the points so the route can be traversed. Four decades ago, a man named Al Arnold decided to do so. After two failed attempts, he succeeded in 1977. It became something of a holy grail to ultra-distance runners - people who'd refer to a marathon as a warmup run - and a decade after Arnold blazed the trail, an official race was born. Nowadays they only go to the Mt. Whitney trailhead, but nonetheless, "135" - the number of miles from Badwater to the Whitney Portal - is a hallowed number. Oh, and let me mention some other points. In the Tour, you take the start as a team of nine, and as you're hauling ass up those Alps and Pyrénées, the team leader has his domestiques to conserve energy for him before he drives to the top. At Badwater, the organizers strenuously object to and strictly prohibit any sort of drafting. You've got a team along the way - in fact, you're required to - but each competitor must cover every centimeter under their own power. And this race takes place in the middle of July. You don't need to remind me what Death Valley is like in that kind of heat. In 1999, during our family's road excursion to Alaska and back, Mom took us through there. On July 11. Some checking reveals that was only four days before that year's Badwater 135. I slipped out of consciousness for at least part of that leg of the journey, probably thanks to mom securing the air conditioning - which on balance, was integral to us getting through and on to Las Vegas.

Something brought me back to the Badwater website shortly after the start of the year, at which time I discovered a total travesty - the route would have to be significantly altered in this and possibly subsequent years. The superintendent of Death Valley National Park had suspended the issuance of permits for sporting events within the park in order to conduct a "safety review" of such events, notwithstanding the impeccable safety record of AdventureCORPS, the company that stages the event (and others in Death Valley). Seeing this raised the usual libertarian impulses within me, which comprise a combination of "oh, come on now" and "I am not surprised in the least." AdventureCORPS did two things. First, they released a strongly worded statement, combining strains of "you're really stabbing yourselves in the heart" with "did you forget we run 100 milers for fun? We're ready to fight for this." Second, they composed a new course which is arguably tougher. Twenty miles of climbing off the bat? Check. Eight miles up, over dirt, to a ghost town, and back down? Done. Plus the usual finish at Whitney. Striking at Badwater only makes it stronger. Take note, DVNP.

But who gets it in their head to do this? Why does anybody think this is a good idea, much less pay a thousand dollars to do so, not to mention organize the support crew and logistics? Last night, I found the answer in a talk from last year's TEDx Honolulu:
The runner's low - depression & the badwater ultra marathon: Hannah Roberts at TEDxHonolulu
I was stunned by how Hannah laid everything on the table - not only about the community of ultra running, but about her own struggles. On top of that, having done it, she comes back the following year... not to crush the course again, but to crew for somebody else. That brought it home to me just how much of a family the ultra-running community is. I then made my way to her blog, Run Sea Legs Run. The Navy hook intrigued me. I clicked that tag in the sidebar... and found one post in particular. Whoa! Ex-LTJG Roberts is a hard-core "I'm done with this, and I don't care who knows" type, just as I was once upon a time. (There are innumerable posts to that effect in the history of this blog; finding them, especially in the 2007-2009 range, is an exercise left to the reader.)

As topsy-turvy as the last five years have been, I most certainly would not have traded them for an equivalent period of time in utilities the not-so-new anymore Navy BDUs. I knew, from a time long before I met my own EAOS, that it was the goal. What I have to admit I'm still looking for is something that Hannah expressed exquisitely in her TEDx talk, and which I requote from AdventureCORPS here:
I used to say that Badwater saved my life and I think I believe that still to an extent, but what I see now, is that it's not the race, because that's really just a place-holder. It's more the community of people that I have been exposed to doing these races. What I think primaly was so initially powerful and appealing to me was not necessarily that people are running this distance in this heat, but as you watch people talk and do Badwater, you are watching people do what they love with people that they love. I think, more than I wanted to be an ultra runner, I wanted to be someone who does what that they love with people that they love. And through ultra running I am so grateful that that has been part of my story. So my hope is not that everyone goes out and runs Badwater, but it is that you find your equivalent, whatever it is that lights you up, and maybe the people that also light you up. So I hope you find a community that by your involvement in, you make it better, and that they make you better.
I hope that Hannah finds the perfect shade of blue for her hair, and that she continues to find the right races to challenge her and the right people to get to the finish line of each of them. And I hope that the rest of us - myself included - find the strength to live up to her words, to find the spark to our torches and the friends to keep them lit over whichever one hundred and thirty-five miles we choose.

* Discovered this clip while searching or the one above linked. Plus two to Robert Flores.

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Saturday, 24 May 2014

22:09 - up for air
Let me first plead absolutely, one hundred percent guilty to the charge of gross negligence in posting in this space. The time has been there, but on many occasions when I've sat down to write, I've ended up with a block in the motor pathway between the brain and the fingertips. Thus, this one will be a catch-all post on a multitude of topics.

Work. I'm presently going into the closing stages of the "generic fundamentals" phase of the license training. This is exactly what the name likely implies - the basics of how things in a nuclear plant work, divided into components, reactor theory, and thermodynamics. Most of this is review for me, having seen it first when I went through Naval Nuclear Power School ten years ago (ooh, nice reminder of oldness there). That being so, there are still differences in terminology, as well as some concepts that aren't the same here (Limerick is a BWR, vice the PWRs that power aircraft carriers and submarines). Also important is the need to get everyone up to the required level of knowledge. Not all of us in the class have backgrounds in operations; some people are seeing much of the material for the first time. The NRC GF exam is in a week and a half, and I expect that not only will everybody be ready, but we all will pass it.

Purchases. The sum provided by Exelon to finance my relocation to Pennsylvania was far more than I required, so I spent some of it on much needed upgrades. Dresser, nightstand, bed and mattress - all hand-me-downs from Mom. Desk - probably the cheapest one there was in Target in New Hampshire in 2007. "Couch" - actually a futon, purchased from the New Haven IKEA in 2008. All of them out to the trash in the first two months of this year, replaced with a large haul from the IKEA in Conshohocken and self-assembled. Now, all the faux wood finish is the same color, so it looks as if I put some thought into interior design - even if it was but a tiny bit of thought. More importantly, I now have a desk sized to my needs, and a mattress and frame that aren't possibly from the middle of the last century.

We had a refueling outage in March, and I spent three weeks working the night shift - three weeks of twelve hours a night, six days a week. The overtime pay from that stretch went toward the end of ridding myself of the last mandatory connection to my time at Cornell - my student loans. The monthly payment was well within reason, and most of the interest had already been paid, so the primary benefit was psychological.

Working a normal weekday schedule (for the most part), combined with the particularly harsh winter, did serious damage to my exercise routine. I've put back on a good chunk of the weight I lost in the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013. Earlier this month, I got another quick influx of cash when LSI Corporation, in which my parents bought me a few shares of stock when I was five years old, was acquired by Avago Technologies. I had been debating internally whether I should join a gym (namely the newly opened Planet Fitness five minutes from my apartment) or buying a piece of fitness gear (which would be a stationary bike, since it's smaller, and the pounding of feet on a treadmill is unworkable in an apartment complex). Some cogent advice from a co-worker earlier this week settled the question in favor of buying the bike. It's not equipped with a suite of wham-o-dyne bells and whistles, but it's silent and it gets the calories burnt, regardless of time of day or precipitation conditions.

Sports. John Tavares got hurt during the Olympics; while it sucked, it's the nature of having the dual duties to club and country, as has long been the case in the World Cup. Besides, the Islanders were already well out of contention by that point. They managed to salvage something for Thomas Vanek, but a single prospect and a draft pick swap deepened the sting of saying goodbye to Matt Moulson. Cornell hockey made it back to the conference semifinals, where they lost to Union; the Dutchmen would not only take their third straight ECAC Hockey championship, they came here to southeastern Pennsylvania and convincingly won the national title, something that would have been absolutely unthinkable a decade ago. Cornell lacrosse did what Cornell lacrosse has done on many occasions in recent years - they came out on the wrong end of a razor-thin margin, this time against Maryland in the first round. As I suspected they might before the baseball season started, the Mets seem solidly headed toward another win total in the mid-seventies.

I got a chance to see my family at the start of the month, right after my birthday. What felt the most weird was sleeping in Dad's room, since the room I'd previously occupied was now taken by my brother, who moved back in a couple of weeks prior. They both seemed to be doing okay. It was good to be back, and a weekend felt like just about the right amount of time to be there.

Last but not least... Ever since Cornell announced that Ed Helms, aka "Andy Bernard," would give this year's Senior Convocation address, I've been looking forward to it. I've haven't watched an episode of either the American or British versions of The Office, so I'm not familiar with Helms' work beyond his role in The Hangover. But I was just so glad that for the first time since 2008, the graduating class secured someone who's claim to fame isn't politically related. And Helms delivered a great address, archived here. Helms's speech begins at 28:45, but I also recommend class president Rob Callahan's remarks at 3:45. The fictional Cornell alumnus was insightful without being very preachy, along the lines of Keith Olbermann in 1998, and for humor content, with Phil Rosenthal at Hofstra in 2011. Neither playing an alumnus who's a touchstone of popular culture nor delivering the Convocation address confers a real Cornell degree on Helms. In that respect, I'm in the same boat as him, and I join his congratulations to the Class of 2014 - you deserve it, and you most certainly have earned it.
Current Location: Phoenixville, PA

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Thursday, 6 February 2014

21:05 - In former Soviet Russia, OLYMPIC FLAME LIGHTS YOU!
The XXII Olympic Winter Games are just underway, even though the opening ceremony isn't until tomorrow night. When the Olympic flame enters the stadium, the cauldron will be lit and the fire sustained for sixteen days by a steady stream of 1,000-ruble notes. After all, Sochi has already gone through fifty-one billion dollars - what's a few million more at this point?

You'd think all that money would produce facilities that are state of the art and the envy of the world - for all parties; competitors, officials, fans, and media alike. You'd be wrong in thinking that. The international press arrived to the shore of the Black Sea to find, as John O'Connell tweeted, something "like an extended Yakov Smirnoff bit." The accommodations are not up to par in the eyes of the Western media - and in some cases, not even completed. Deadspin has a lovely compilation of what reporters are finding over there. And this doesn't even cover all of it; I read elsewhere that some of the faucets spewed forth raw sewage.

Given these circumstances, I would not have begrudged Shaun Walker had he bought the bottle of gin after realizing that it wasn't water. But it was that picture at the very top that got my attention here. Greg Wyshynski, aka "Puck Daddy," tweeted out a picture of a sign warning against depositing toilet paper in the toilet, kindly requesting that the bin beside the bowl be used instead. He's been getting some backlash, with people calling him "high maintenance" for this stance. I stand with Puck Daddy on this one. Even though your country is barely two decades removed from the shackles of communism, you signed up to host a world-class event. That means that for these two weeks, you need to be a world-class city. And part of being a world-class city is having sewage lines that can handle stained TP. Had MTV sent the Great Cornholio to the Games as a special correspondent, his bunghole might unleash a wrath that not even Putin's FSB could contain. But that's not why I initially found the picture humorous. I cracked up upon first seeing it because the rule on the sign was, and still is, the rule in the Carberry household, on the lovely North Shore of Long Island, New York, in the United States of America. You see, the Ancestral Palace - aka, my mom's house - has not more than a cesspool. Whether simply to keep the lines from clogging, or to save money by not pumping it out as often, placing toilet paper into the bowl was verboten growing up.

Here's the kicker - if you think this is bad, imagine the possibility of it being multiplied by ten, when Russia hosts the World Cup in four years' time. But let's end this on a positive note. In the (completely out of context) words of the great Borat Sagdiyev, "U S AND A! GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!" The start of another Olympic Games is yet another opportunity to demonstrate Borat's prescience.

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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

21:05 - New Year... pretty much new everything
The last couple of weeks of 2013 were a frantic capstone to a wild year. After finally getting final confirmation of my new job on December 11, here's the next week in tiny snippets:

Wednesday: resign from Cooper.
Thursday: apply for new apartment in Pennsylvania.
Friday: cancel existing electric and cable; sign up for new electric and cable, as well as renter's insurance. Start packing. Enjoy one final night out in Findlay.
Saturday: Pick up rental truck and load car onto the carrier. Entertain no thought of going any further than my apartment, as it's snowing outside. Finish packing.
Sunday: Spend morning loading truck in the midst of 20-25 mph winds. After lunch, drive out of Findlay for the last time and go for the next six hours. Break for dinner and drive for another three and a half. Drive all that distance with constant nervousness that the car is going to come loose from the restraints and become a two-ton missile.
Monday: Drive the final 35 miles to Phoenixville, after walking into a post office with fourteen hundred dollars in cash, to secure money orders for initial rent and security deposit. Sign lease and unload truck into new apartment as soon as possible. Happily return truck. Return home to Verizon guy waiting for me. Get minimal setup accomplished.
Tuesday: start new job, leaving behind a pile of unopened boxes in my living room.

The apartment - a significant upgrade on my old place in Ohio - has long since been set up, and I've changed over the car and license. Coming in right before the holidays has meant it's been a quiet period at work, which has given me plenty of working hours to tour the power plant and get used to where major things are. I really like the mix of co-workers I'm working with here; I even went out with a couple of them last night to celebrate the New Year. All in all, it's tough to complain about the way 2013 ended, despite the personal loss and professional setbacks I encountered earlier in the year. I'm excited and ready to engage 2014 and make it great.

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

23:12 - This is even bigger.
October 15:
I flew out to Philadelphia to take an interview in southeastern Pennsylvania, which I thought went well, and is somewhere I can definitely see myself being for a long time to come.
November 30:
I haven't posted in a while because I've been consumed with a major development in my life that is still a work in progress. There are so many ducks involved with this one, they have to be arranged not simply into a row, but into a highly complex formation. Once we get there, I'll drop the big news.

We're there, so here's the big news. Next Tuesday, I'll be starting a new job with Exelon Nuclear as a Reactor Operator in training, at the Limerick Generating Station in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

This thing has been six weeks in the making; the offer was initially tendered on October 28. I flew out to Limerick for the pre-employment physical and security processing in early November. The security side went off without a hitch, but there was a problem with the medical. They didn't quite get all the tests they needed. Once this was conveyed to me, it was already the Monday before Thanksgiving, and it was apparent that I wouldn't be able to start on the originally scheduled date of December 3. So we moved the date, I had blood drawn at a lab out here after the holiday, and I flew back out to Baltimore and then drove to a different power plant (a harrowing experience in itself) to complete another background check, since I was unable to start within 30 days of the first one. This morning, I got the word that everything had been buttoned up, and having already taken my tools out of the plant and turned in my access badge, I filled out the resignation form this afternoon - with deepest apologies for the lack of notice, a necessity given the exigent circumstances.

I'm a big fan of the stability of Exelon, in comparison to the disarray of Cooper. I'm a big fan of the competitive compensation. I'm a big fan of the location - close to a major city (Philadelphia*), three hours from Northport by car, and less than four from Ithaca. I'm an especially big fan of the challenge this offer presents, and that it will utilize the full breadth of my education and my experience.

Another challenge I'm a big fan of is pulling up stakes here and moving in this short time frame. I can stay in my apartment here through the end of the month, but with the Christmas holiday coming up, it seems to me much easier to get all my possessions out of Ohio sooner rather than later, so I don't have to come back here just before or just after the holiday. Having had all this time since the offer was tendered, I've already identified the apartment complex where I want to live. Last month, when I did the first pre-employment screenings, I had some time to kill between completing them and flying out of Philadelphia. I drove around a bit, and when I hit Bridge Street in Phoenixville, I felt something right. Plus, as I later discovered, it's Mike Piazza's hometown! As much as I try to tell myself I'm not superstitious, that's a great sign.

* might have to ask about what my schedule looks like in April; if I can fit it in, I'll have to find me some Frozen Four tickets.

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Saturday, 30 November 2013

23:55 - Even quicker update
I haven't posted in a while because I've been consumed with a major development in my life that is still a work in progress. There are so many ducks involved with this one, they have to be arranged not simply into a row, but into a highly complex formation. Once we get there, I'll drop the big news.

In the meantime, Cooper's plants are all shut down this week. This was highly beneficial to me, as it enabled me to beat a quick retreat out of Findlay on Monday night, ahead of the winter storm that stung the eastern United States over the last two days. Northwest Ohio emerged unscathed. Long Island was (relatively) simply deluged with rain. But the route in between bore some of the worst of the snow. That was not something I needed to be involved with, nor did I need to be battling against the clock to make it in ahead of the holiday.

We went out to the cemetery on Tuesday to visit Dad's grave, which now has its headstone installed above it. The inscription, "Loving Husband And Father, Great Friend," couldn't be more true. We had our family dinner, which is really more of a late lunch, and it wasn't quite the same, nor will it ever be. Last night, I saw Ryan for a few drinks and some catching up. And today I drove back to Findlay, where I find myself still somewhat in limbo, but with a clearer path toward its resolution.

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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

0:36 - Quick update
As described in the last post, I did make it out to Ithaca for Grand Bonecoming three weeks ago. The drive there was particularly grueling, as I was hopped up on adrenaline at 6 a.m. on Friday morning, so there wouldn't be any sleep before getting underway. Somehow, I managed to make it through the day, dinner at the Glenwood Pines, and the party with Bones spanning over twenty years. The next morning, we formally dedicated the Fischell Band Center, and enjoyed a great tailgate. That led up to the game at 3:00. The answer to "how was the game?" depends on which specific aspect of the experience I'm being asked about. On the field? Great. The Big Red rolled to an easy win, the alumni got to march again, and the postgame concert was excellent - and thankfully, covered inside the new building. This was especially important because the weather did the exact opposite of cooperating. It was an absolute deluge. And for the first half, I was out in that rain, without anything to keep my clothes from getting soaked. I spent the second half in the covered area at the top of the Crescent, but the damage to my clothes had been done. though they've already been through the washer, there might still be some central New York rain embedded in what I wore that day.

After the game, we congregated again at the Homewood Bonewood Suites for a barbecue, which was followed by a sojourn to the full band party back in Collegetown. In addition to sticking to beer and abstaining during the game and immediately afterward, relying on others for transport was also a wise decision, because I enjoyed myself most thoroughly, if you know what I mean. Despite the additional difficulties this presented on the following day's drive home, it was well worth it.

I didn't even put my suitcase back on the shelf, because I had another trip to make. I flew out to Philadelphia to take an interview in southeastern Pennsylvania, which I thought went well, and is somewhere I can definitely see myself being for a long time to come. A decision on that should come this week.

Events since that interview have made me want a favorable decision from that interview even more. Recall that Cooper Tire & Rubber has agreed to be bought by Apollo Tyres of India. The certainty of that "compelling transaction," as Cooper CEO Roy Armes calls it, is questionable at best, and quite likely doubtful. Two weeks ago, Cooper's stockholders approved the merger at the contractually agreed price of $35 per share. But the deal hasn't closed. Ostensibly, this is because Apollo has not concluded new collective bargaining agreements with two USW locals*. There may be other reasons, such as less than stellar performance forecasts from Cooper for 2013, and the fact that the Chinese factory we're a partner in isn't producing any of our tires. Apollo isn't inclined to buy every last share of CTB stock out there. Cooper is insistent that none of these events give Apollo the right to delay the transaction. In fact, Cooper is suing Apollo in the Delaware Court of Chancery to force this deal to go through. If you hate your life, you can read Cooper's suit here. We've got a Mexican standoff, one that Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III has to rule on. (That title and name in and of themselves add another nice layer to the story.) Given the market's reaction to all this news - that is, that Cooper's stock is almost back down to its pre-merger price - I don't expect this deal to go through at this price, if Cooper is simply maneuvering to keep the price as high as possible. If Cooper is committed to being bought out at $35 come hell or high water, then I don't see this deal going through at all. Regardless, this layers more uncertainty upon the whole thing.

Other than that, I'm making do. Nights are doing okay by my body. At the end of this week, I'll pick up a little bonus for the plant making certain performance targets during the third quarter. My weight is holding fairly steady. You have to take the positives when you can; otherwise, you'll just go insane. Yes, I know some may claim I'm already there, but you know what I mean.

* I am a member of one of those, Local 207L, and any opinion you read here is not the official position of said union, being instead solely my own.

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Monday, 16 September 2013

22:40 - It's finally almost here...
Bonecoming. But not just Bonecoming... Grand Bonecoming, which comes upon us only once every three years.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!! The Big Red Marching Band is formally opening the new, spacious, purpose-built, and badly-needed facility first announced two years ago and built over the last year. So it isn't just Da Bones who have been called home to Ithaca in great numbers. Great men and women of all sections - yes, even the trumpets - will make their way to the East Hill to celebrate this milestone, and to watch a non-scholarship football team with a coach two years younger than I am do battle.

Here are some recaps of previous Bonecomings: 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011. There's no equivalent entry from last year because in order to write one, it does one well to remember the experience, and there are significant chunks of that weekend that are beyond my capacity to recall. I went into it with the best of intentions to enjoy it, but executed those intentions horribly. The lessons of 2012 will remain close to the top of my mind throughout this upcoming weekend. Foremost among those lessons: moderate. Especially with the harder liquors. Perhaps even abstain from those for the duration.

Friday promises to be a challenge. I'll execute the Findlay to Ithaca drive, which Google times at seven and a half hours, on little rest and much caffeine. I'm working the Thursday night shift, which doesn't end until 6 a.m. the following morning. I plan to get a few hours sleep after work, but if a surge of adrenaline hits, that could change. One other possible complication: the upcoming week's work schedule. It'll be posted tomorrow night, and since our pay and work week runs Saturday to Friday, there's a chance that Cooper could schedule me for overtime - i.e. force me in. If they did so, said force would simply be ignored, with my sincerest apology to the company. I've been planning and waiting for this weekend for the last year. I held those plans in abeyance for the first three months of my employment here, hoping that I would have this weekend off. A sudden derailment of this nature will simply not be tolerated. I remind myself of something that harkens back to my Navy days: Cooper can't send me to captain's mast. That is, they can't dock my pay (beyond what I would have earned for the twelve hours), they can't restrict my movements to the boundaries of the plant for 45 days, they can't reduce me to the next lower skilled trade pay grade. All they can do is put me back at the top of the force rotation. That's a tiny price to pay for a few days with a few hundred of my closest friends.

Pinesburger, well done, Thousand, with fries ... and for dessert? Another Pinesburger! ... the Card of the People! ... you're a freshman? That means you were four when I arrived here ... Here's to Matt, to Matt, to Matt, here's to Matt, he's with us tonight ... Truck? Yeah, a PMP sounds great ... AARDVARK! ... Pinball Wizard, horns up! ... 'Tis an echo from the walls, of our own, our fair Cornell.

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Friday, 6 September 2013

15:36 - Joke of the day
I just got a receipt for my purchase of Tetris for my iPhone a couple of days ago, which helps the slow times on the night shift pass. I noticed that I hadn't changed the address on my iTunes account following my move. When I logged in to do so, I saw the following note at the bottom:
Apple uses industry-standard encryption to protect the confidentiality of your personal information.
I have no doubt about the first half of that sentence, and that Apple deploys its encryption with the best of intentions. But given the latest revelation by Edward Snowden in the Guardian (in conjunction with The New York Times and ProPublica), I find the assurance of the security of my information more than a little difficult to believe.

Since the NSA thinks it relevant to the prevention of terrorist attack, let me just go ahead and admit it: I'm a proud owner of the official Tetris app. I've got it on both my iPhone and iPad, in fact. And you know what else, overlord spymasters? I'm quite good at the game.

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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

1:59 - A progress report at the quarter (of a year) pole
It's been three months since I hired in started working at Cooper Tire and Rubber Company. They have been three topsy turvy months, to say the least. It's not just a mixed bag - it's a highly agitated one.

Upon arriving into this plant, and for the first month afterward, I was assigned to train in "materials/assembly," colloquially known as the "tire room." That's the part of the plant where skilled workers assemble the layers of rubber into a shape that somewhat resembles a tire. But all of a sudden, while we were shut down around Independence Day, I was shifted into a different department - "curing." Seeing that word might make you think of the treatment of a disease, or of the process that turns ordinary pork bellies into delicious bacon. But when you're talking about tires, it's something completely different. It's the cooking of those "green" tires at high temperature and pressure to get them up to the shape and strength where they can be fitted onto a vehicle. Let me particularly emphasize the words "high temperature" in the last sentence. In these dog days of summer, temperatures into the triple digits are not uncommon on the floor - and they soar ever higher when you're going to the top of a press to replace a proximity switch. So the conditions in this plant, to say the least, aren't exactly ideal.

I don't recall whether it was asked in Norfolk or Findlay, but during the interview process, I was asked whether I was willing to work in dirt and heat. I answered yes, having been advised by Orion International not to give a potentially disqualifying response - and of course, wanting to best position myself for an offer. But there's a difference between "willing to" and "wanting to," and the latter just isn't there. This truth made itself clear within two weeks of starting here. It's not just the reality of these conditions hitting me squarely in the face. It's remembering that I went back to college after leaving the Navy, and got a bachelor's degree, so that I would not have to endure such conditions. The uniforms are light blue shirts with dark blue pants. Since we're on call, there can be long periods of monotony, without much to stimulate, punctuated my moments of action, which put all my knowledge and training to the test. Dear readers, does this sound familiar? I say again, does this sound familiar? (All right, so maybe it isn't quite that bad.)

With respect to the late great Billy Mays... but wait, there's more! I don't recall anyone mentioning in the interview process that this job provides zero - that's right, ZERO - paid vacation time in the first year, and only one week in each of years two and three. I don't recall hearing that the company locked out the local union for three months right after Thanksgiving 2011, with the taste in both sides' mouths still bitter even now. And I most certainly don't recall hearing anything, from the company or other sources, threatening Cooper's future as an independent firm. On June 12, the game changed on that front. Apollo Tyres of Gurgaon, India, executed an agreement to buy Cooper. While some minor roadblocks have appeared in the way, none of the parties who truly have standing to object (that is, the regulators and the shareholders) seem likely to do so. And so the solid ground onto which I thought I was stepping when I accepted this job offer is shifting under my feet, and I'm not sure what the future is here.

The circumstances I've described in the last two paragraphs have made me apprehensive about putting down roots here permanently. To be clear, the problem isn't Findlay. I like this city and its people. But I can't feel comfortable committing in the long term to this place, or to a relationship here, without being sure that Cooper is where I expect to be in the long term - to say nothing of whether Cooper and/or Apollo expect to be in Findlay in the long term. And of course, there's also the second game changer. You know, the one I described in my last post. The passing of my father has me questioning whether I should try to get back toward the East Coast, to be closer to my family.

I want to close out by highlighting the positive. Cooper's response to Dad's death was stellar. They paid for the two days of my regular shift I missed, and the electricians sent a floral arrangement, even though I gave them nothing more than the name, city, and state of the funeral home. This past weekend, I changed over to the night shift. I don't have enough data to fully evaluate the transition, but the early returns indicate that it'll be better on my body than was the day shift. That changeover also broke in my favor in another way; I stayed on the same rotation, which clears the way for me to travel to Ithaca for Grand Bonecoming 2013 in two and a half weeks. And the two most important positives... (a) each shift in the tire plant gives me more experience and makes me more comfortable that I'll be able to perform to the expectations Cooper had when they hired me; and (b) I'm getting paid, thus stanching the outflow of money from my bank account. Even if only a transition to something else, my time here has not been entirely for naught.

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