Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bagging On Bags

I'm sure you've noticed that every product that comes with a storage bag -- air mattresses, tents, sleeping bags, quilts, etc., -- all come with storage bags that are sized so that the intended contents can only be folded small enough to fit back into those bags if you are a professional "Folder," working from a Folding Blueprint, and have arms and hands as powerful as Popeye.

If you're a normal person, chances are that your best efforts, along with multiple re-folding attempts, will only result in a lump of product that either won't go into the storage bag at all or which sticks out of the end of the bag.


Message to manufacturers: You shit heads! I'm paying hundreds of dollars for your stinking product and you can't spend 30¢ to enlarge the stinking bag ... oh, maybe get crazy and slip in 6 whole inches ... so that normal people can put their valuable purchase away after using it. Sheesh!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Stir Star Awards (Toll Road Division)

For those of you who don’t have toll roads or may not even know what they are, please indulge me. Read on. You might recognize a stirring performance that you’ve seen elsewhere.

The guy in the full service pay-lane that waits until he is stopped in front of the toll booth before he leans over to fish out his wallet; and, then he has to dig around in it to come up with the appropriate folding money.

Why am I in the full service lane anyway? Ya gotta be here in Houston to know. At some toll plazas (like the West Little York, on the West Sam Houston) if you are getting on the toll road at Little York, to go south, you are barred from using the main automatic lanes. And, the toll road authority brain trust has decided to only install a single automatic lane for EZ-Tag and that usually backs up beyond belief. Thus, if you want to get home while supper is still hot, it is quicker to go to a different lane. Sometimes the full service lanes look like they’re moving faster. That’s when I end up there.

Now, why is it such a reach for me to expect a person to plan ahead just a little … and BE CONSIDERATE (you clod!) of the dozen cars behind you. We don’t need to watch you finger through a wad of bills in your wallet while you select THE special dollar that you’ve been saving for years, just in case you ever have to pay a toll. Get that shit out before you even start to drive, dunce boy.

Taking your foot off the gas at the electronic toll gates, over on the EZ-Tag-only side.

Oh, all right, these people probably only deserve 1 stir, but this is a pet peeve of mine.

And, admittedly, there are signs that tell you to slow down and even signs that tell you to slow to 45 but this is the only State on Earth where some fools actually do it. Some states (e.g., Illinois) have even built the automatic lanes far away from the cash lanes, separating them by berms and trees. They command you to not slow down.

So, WHY do so many Houstonians slow down?

Are you afraid that the Tag reader won’t be able to read your Tag? It works on radio waves, Einstein. They’re travelling at more than 186,000 miles per second. Do you really think you can drive fast enough so that the speed of light waves cannot get down to your car and then be received in the return signal?

Scared of other drivers changing lanes right up at the readers and that they then might side-swipe you? We’re only changing lanes because people like you are impeding the flow of traffic when you slow down, pudding head.

And, what’s with you people at the Westheimer Plaza? What is so special about your fears and foibles that you need to slow down to stop & go for the automatic lanes? Who starts that mess? Please, some cowboy, shoot them.

Stop it. Just stop it. Keep your stinking foot smashed down on that stinking little narrow pedal on the right.

On the side of the toll road where EZ is mixed in with Full Service, getting into the EZ-Tag-Only lane when you don’t have an EZ-Tag.

Are you truly that unaware of your surroundings? Or are you just a mega-turd that thinks he’s getting to the head of the line … screw the rest of the world.

What happens, is that all of the lanes are filled up with long lines of cars needing to pay cash. In our single lonely EZ-Tag lane, the traffic usually moves significantly faster because we don’t have any clown digging under his seat for loose change.

Note to HCTRA: I’ve written to you jack-wads twice about leaving gates down across EZ-Tag lanes. One of your little minions even admitted that she couldn’t think of any reason why they are left operational. TAKE THOSE DAMNED GATES OUT!!!!!

Back to the story …

So, while we are moving reasonably steadily (5 mph,) down the long canyon created by lines of cash-pay cars, inevitably some anti-Mensa either doesn’t notice that he’s in the EZ-Tag Only lane or he’s trying to get to the head of the class. Either way, he then tries to push his way out of the Tag lane and into one of the cash lanes.

But it can’t be done. The cash lanes are at a dead stop and they only creep along one car length at a time. We, then, are trapped behind this clever person, building up our own traffic backup.

Please, oh please, give me Sidewinder missiles on my next car.

Stopping fully in front of the toll gate in an EZ-Tag lane when you have an EZ-Tag.

Ohmigod! What are you thinking!?! Oh … right. You haven’t the capacity to think.

Very close to these people are the folks that make a mistake in lane selection and then not only stop, but they begin to back up. I’m not making this up.

Patricia and I were driving back home one day, at about 75 mph (oh, get over it). She was driving and talking to me. I was lazily semi-focused on the road ahead as I listened. Something caught my attention. Something didn’t look right in the traffic way up ahead at the toll plaza.

Once the old synapses processed the message and I shouted, “Car backing up!” Pat barely had time to react. She got into a different lane and we went by that 7-stir. As we sped away down the road, I watched him in the side view mirror, expecting to see a fireball as he got run over by an 18 wheeler but, alas, no fireworks that day.

That’s the rant for the day. Many of the wackos that I mentioned in earlier posts about Houston drivers are doing their surface street tricks up on the toll roads, also. Sometimes it is just too bizarre to even award stirs.

Why are they breathing my air?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


I B Flummoxed. How else can I be?

A bit of background:

My company uses fairly large quantities of hydraulic oil. So, rather than have a zillion steel drums sitting around, we store our oil inventory in 275 gallon "totes."

Totes look like giant cubic plastic boxes. Picture your favorite refrigerator box-wine large enough to hold 275 gallons. Now, replace the cardboard wine box with a steel cage and make the plastic bag have thick enough walls so that it holds its shape. That's a tote.

But, because anything can leak, and because neither I nor the EPA want hydraulic oil running down the street in rivers, all users of big quantities of hazardous liquids are required to set up "secondary containment" around or under all "primary" containers. In other words, if the tote leaks, it has to leak into a tub or something so that it is contained for disposal.

For totes, we use specially made "pallets" that look like a monstrous kid's square wading pool, with a thick grill over the top. The totes sit on this grill and if they leak, the oil simply drops down into the "wading pool."

However, the secondary containment pool has a finite volume. If you let the pool fill up and don't empty it, then subsequent leaks would overflow the pool and run out on the floor. Therefore, one would think that every person would think of that when they saw the pool filling up, over time. Wouldn't one always strive to keep the secondary empty and dry?

One would also think that folks working around these totes and their secondary containment pools would object to the smell of the hydraulic oil emitting up from the pool, if you leave oil in it.

Finally, one would think that just out of general good housekeeping practices that workers wouldn't want all of that leaked oil sitting around out in the open. Oil just seems to get everywhere when you have it out in the open.

BUT ... our pudding heads are not (apparently) folks that think or act in any of the ways that "one" would think!

My morning:

Arrived at 8. Plugged in my laptop and booted it. Shuffled a little paper and decided that it would be a good time for me to do a sweep through the shop, ensuring that safe work practices are being observed.

Walked out the door, into the shop, and there's a tote, perched on its secondary containment, with piles and piles of granulated absorbent heaped up around it.

"What's going on?!?" I gasped.

"That funny tub thing got a leak," said one of the braver workers.

"How ... uh ... wha ... hey. How would the secondary leak? It's supposed to be empty?" I spat out.

"No. It always has a lot of oil in it ... at least since they were filling those hoses the other day and spilled a whole bunch down in there," said Brave Boy.

"No," I said back, "No, there is never supposed to be ANY oil in the secondary containment unless the tote leaks!" I said, starting to lose it.

"I didn't know," said Brave Boy, now meekly.

I'm thinking, "Yeah, but there are a half dozen "old salts" standing around you that know damn well that there isn't supposed to be oil in the secondary," but I sucked it in and kept the thoughts to myself. Time for a safety meeting -- for sure!

"Wait," I said, "That's a new secondary. How could it leak?"

Now the troops within ear shot are starting to look REALLY busy. Way too busy to be a part of this conversation.

Brave Boy goes on, "Well, we were sliding the plastic thingy into the pallet rack and when he backed out, his forks were tilted up too much and he ripped a hole in the bottom of the thingy."

Two more stirs.

The metal cage around the tote has fork lift channels under it so that one can lift these totes up off of the secondary containment for filling or discharging them. Steel. Strong. Fully protecting the tote's plastic bladder. In contrast, secondaries have narrow, thin PLASTIC grooves under them so that you could, if you were stupid, lift directly under the plastic wading pool to lift the pool and the tote, together, as a unit. Well over a ton of load on the little pool bottom.

Huh. I wonder why it split?

So-ho-ho-ho-ho, now I have a ripped open, useless $2,000.00 secondary; plus, another 10 gallons or so of liquid contaminated (hazardous material) oil to pay someone to dispose of; plus several 40 lb bags of "kitty litter" oil sorbent, soaked with oil (hazardous material) to also pay someone to dispose of.

Maybe if I'm lucky, tomorrow somebody will jam a forklift fork through this tote's steel cage and gash the plastic bladder open. I've always wanted to see if those oil containment booms work well. I wonder if we can get them deployed before the oil seeps under the office wall and into the office carpet?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Learning From Our Mistakes

What ever happened to “learning from our mistakes?” Is this time-tested precept of the higher apes also passing away as a distant memory of a few elders in the clan of mankind?

One of our “experienced,” albeit newer, employees was hired to lead some teams and sort of take care of the newbies and the dolts, thereby avoiding losses, embarrassments or accidents. To hear this guy’s personal testimony, he’s waged wars, fought fights, conquered countries and validated virgins from Timbuktu to infinity and beyond. One would think that there had been a few teensy mistakes along the way and our hero, who I call “Slinky,” should have learned a thing or two.


Many weeks ago, my company mobilized large machines, portable control rooms and gobs of tools to rig out an offshore demolition boat. (Our parent company manufactures machinery that cuts apart pipe and steel structurals, under the sea.)

A critical little tool – a cutter – is terribly expensive for its size so we don’t keep hundreds of them on the shelf. We don’t have to. One of these palm sized little cutters will zip a 3-inch diameter hole through a sunken deck plate in minutes and keep on “punching” more holes all day. At almost $500.00 each, they better. So, we had only about 20 of them in stock.

Slinky supervised the load-out of the equipment for this boat, knowing full well that this would be only one of many boats to be equipped from our inventory. But, a couple of days after everything was shipped out, the boss, Tree Tall, went looking for a few of these cutters to be used in a demonstration. The shelves were empty.

“Where’d they go?” he wanted to know.

“Well, I sent them all out to the boat,” said Slinky, lamely.

With no love in his voice, Tree asked, “So what were you planning to send out on the next boat?”

No answer.

That’s when I got sucked into the fray.

Tree wanted at least two (preferably 3 or 4) cutters for his demonstration; and, he knew that another boat was coming up for outfitting in a couple more weeks. He turned to me to locate more cutters.

I contacted all the vendors and discovered that our normal cutters were 4 to 6 weeks delivery. Another vendor proposed an alternate cutter design which we accepted out of dire need. We cleaned that guy’s inventory out, bringing all 10 of the available alternate cutters into Houston on Fedex Next Day. I also promptly put in an order for 10 more from the usual vendor who would build them to our regular specifications.

I sort of lost track/interest in the cutters after that, although I did notice that “da boyz” were doing several extra demonstrations that might eat into the cutter supply. No worries, I thought. These guys have just been through the wringer over these things and they’ll tell me when they need more cutters. Besides, in about a week we should have the second order of ten pieces.

Then came an order for a third boat.

And in came an order for a training demo.

Both used these hard to find cutters.

But, I’m not aware of these events, so I don’t bump up the inbound order quantity.

This immediately past Saturday, Slinky and da boyz worked like maniacs to get everything out the door for boats two and three. The training demo is tomorrow (for divers who will eventually work from one or more of the boats we’d outfitted.)

Today, Tree wandered out into the Houston shop to grab cutters for the training demo.

“Who moved the 3-inch cutters?” he said. He probably had a knot in his stomach, fearing that he knew the awful answer. He dialed Slinky’s cell phone. “Where are the 3” cutters, Slink?”

“Why? I sent them to the boat.”

Worst fears confirmed.

“All of them,” said Tree, more as a statement of resignation than a question. He looked at me. I shrugged. He shook his head. The same stupid move had been made again.

The 6-week-delivery cutters aren’t due in for another couple of days. I found one dusty old cutter on a vendor’s back shelf and that’s the best we can hope for.

Do I think that there’s a possibility that Slinky and his team learned anything this time?

What do you think?