A Twist Of Fate
April, 2011 Entries
"Fiction writing is great, you can make up almost anything." - Anonymous

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(04/30/11 - 2:18 PM)
This week, you're getting a monster one-off entry. For details, keep reading.

Stopped into work this morning for a bit, and cleared the way for Monday's arrival. Hopefully, this week will be better than the last. This week was insanely busy. Couple that with the absence of my Assistant on Monday and Tuesday, following a 3-day weekend, and you have a veritable perfect-storm scenario. We were behind to begin with, and - without her assistance - were further behind still.

The other side of the equation, however, was my other Assistant kicking it up a notch, and delivering a stellar performance. Within the first couple of hours, we seemed to develop a rhythm that kept the day flowing nicely. It was tough, but we made it through.

Suffice it to say, that my personal life - and the blog - have suffered greatly as a consequence.

On Friday afternoon, I managed to get the lawn mowed for a second time this year - and none too soon. Any longer, and my mower would have bogged down to the point of disfunction.

One exciting item of note: After nearly 20 years together, my cousin LaVaughn and her boyfriend Mike are FINALLY getting married. This becomes wedding #6, and leaves me wondering who is left to be married that isn't already. It's apparently the year for it, and I'm starting to wonder if it doesn't point to the Apocalypse any more surely than some flood or holocaust. For me, this is the strangest happening that could occur - individuals who I thought would NEVER get married are suddenly hitching up.


It's looking like I might get a two-fer for promoting my book. My friend Emily is working on getting me on the fall/winter schedule for the Rockford Public Libray, and my friend Pat turned me on to a new book-themed Bakery opening soon, where I will most likely be doing a signing. All in all, fairly exciting, as I haven't had any solid exposure in months - and in case you haven't noticed, I'm still trying to sell my book and continue on my path toward being an author.

Now I just need to find some damn time to write. Between my back and hip acting up, and life in general, I've too many distractions of late. I keep promising myself that I'm going to make time on the weekends, but something invariably comes up to thwart my efforts and I find myself on Sunday evening asking myself what happened.

This weekend, unfortunately, is no exception.

Maybe next weekened...

I might have mentioned that my dear friend, Bryan (who was the Best Man at my wedding), is getting married on a cruise in February. This week, I booked a mid-ship balcony suite to lock in our position on the boat. On Monday, it'll be official - we're going on our first cruise - and I figured why not go in a little style?

I just hope that neither of us finds out that seasickness is among our secret ailments (a-la, scallops). That would blow chunks - literally.

I've let the media library languish this week, and now find myself faced with paying for it tomorrow. I have a ton of music that's piled up throughout the week to catalog, and I'm not really looking forward to it. Really, at all. I keep telling myself that I'll bypass it, but I know better.

But that's tomorrow.

The cat has, this week, eaten the final leaf on the final plant in the lower living area. So, I now have a ceramic planter with nothing but an assortment of stems in my window. It's sad, really. I really liked those plants.

On the other hand, the cacti succulents we purchased to replaced two of the original four plants are faring quite well, based on my cat's inability (or perhaps, desire) to figure out a way to eat them. One, in fact, is in bloom - something that shocked me, as I did not expect a 6" floral spike to appear overnight from the goody bag area of the plant itself. Live and learn. It's been growing up and out ever since, and is now apparently on the cusp of bloom. I can't wait to see what in the world this flower will look like, mostly because for as quickly as the stalk appeared, the bloom is painfully slow in opening.

I >FINALLY< landed a first edition/first printing of James Bamford's seminal work, "The Puzzle Palace". It's taken me years to find a reasonably priced copy that wasn't ex-library, when one was to be found at all. All in all, a long time coming, but a happy addition to my little collection. A more personal one of fondness than value, but somewhat coveted in good condition, nonetheless.

The 'Hill For Wayward Plants' is in full-tilt growth. The irises are replicating once more, and I look forward to seeing this year's crop. The mulberry tree that accidentally started growing at the top of the berm is now about four years old, and finally starting to look respectable. I realize that on most fronts, this is possibly the WORST tree to have growing near your home (think bird's love of the berries, and you can figure it from there, I reckon), but I grew up around them and the memories of the sight and taste were just too much to ignore. So I let it grow, for better or worse. I think it will be worth the sacrafice, especially if I beat the birds to the berries. Last year the crop was spartan, but now that it's old enough to bear fruit, I expect exponential improvement from here on out.

The Royal Wedding also happened this week, I only mention it because I'm thankful I won't have to hear another damn thing about it. I was SHOCKED by the number of folks who just couldn't wait to see the thing - and planned their lives around it. Me - I just didn't get it. I guess one person did have one good point however. They mentioned that it was a long-running piece of good news that wasn't a scandal, or a war, or wholesale murder. Alright - I'll begrudgingly grant you that point. Other than that... not so much.

Easter Sunday with Wanda's side was a nice afternoon of giggles and food - especially Wanda's Aunt Julie's potato salad. I don't think I've ever had home-made that was ever better. Way to go, JBBF! >Smooch<.

The new Robert V.S. Redick book - "River Of Shadows" - arrived this week. Since the evening it came out, I've been checking for a signed, lined, and dated first edition on the secondary market to round out my collection. So far, nothing. I'm beginning to wonder if there will be one, but my hopes are high. It's just killing me not to be able to read the final installment yet. It's sooooooo good.

This one comes courtesy of my friend, Larry, and is for all the good folks living in Wisconsin. I sympathize, folks - I truly do. As a life-long Illinoisian, I understand how crappy Governance can really ruin your day... month... year... and even decade:

Wisconsin - You Have My Sympathy

(04/23/11 - 6:18 PM)
Finished Keith Thomson's breakout novel, "Once A Spy", as recommended by my friend Maurice.

While a fast-paced read, it was a little difficult to keep straight who was on who's side. That, and Thomson isn't a whiz at painting a setting. Often I was trying to envision who was where in the spartan environ he had textually painted, and I came up thinking I had it right, only to have someone appear from somewhere I didn't think they'd be.

I realize that if you haven't read the book, you probably have no idea what I mean. And if you have, you're nodding about now.

Unfortunately, I - like one of the protagonists - felt like >I< had Alzheimer's at times due to the writing structure. Still, a good spy novel with an interesting twist.

Hopefully, he'll overcome that with the next book (which I'm moving on to next, this very afternoon).

(04/22/11 - 2:45 PM)
My Good Friday off from work began with a phone call at 12:35 AM from work. Yes - you read that right.

When I woke up (for real, the second time) I got together all of The Salvation Army donations that we had gathered up over the months, and prepared to take them in.

I was stymied by a call from another employee who needed assistance, so I went to the shop instead.

I ended up staying, because there was a lot of stuff piling up, and my Boss needed some little things taken care of, as he was out of town.

So, three hours later, I finally made it to The Salvation Army to drop off my boxes, and headed home.

I'm hoping that the rest of my day goes better than the first half, as it hasn't felt at all like a day off.

Also, interesting fact for the day: The term 'Holy Mackerel' finds its roots in the Catholic tradition of eating fish on Friday's during Lent. I was raised Catholic, and this was the first that I'd heard of this.

(04/21/11 - 7:22 PM)
Best commercial / song combination in a long, long time...

(04/20/11 - 8:13 PM)
Happy 4-20!

Wind Tunnel, Here I Come!

(04/19/11 - 7:22 PM)
It's Tuesday. Uh... let's see... what else...

Wanda and I finished the first two seasons of "Dexter" and it's fair to say that we're beyond hooked. This show, like other formerly movie-only, pay-television network programs, really shines in both writing and style.

The show has believable protagonists and antagonists and, while requiring only a mild sense of suspension of belief, manages to keep you glued to the set, unknowing of how much time is passing. It's that compelling.

The thought of a benevolent serial killer, to me, is a good one. Especially having been a fan of Tim Dorsey's Serge Storms character (I'm still waiting for THAT series, Showtime). For me, it's hard to take all of the stupidity and crime in the world. And a righteous, vigilante protagonist does, admittedly, have a certain appeal to me.

I'm a terrible person, I know. But I can't help but think that there is a viable place for such a creature in this world of ours where criminals roam free and crime is rampant.

(04/18/11 - 6:12 PM)
Home alone this evening, as my wife volunteers at the food pantry.

This morning I was greeted by 2" of snow in my yard, and now I have pea-sized hail pelting my house as I write this. It's sort of like a bad joke, with no punchline.

Today was blustery, cold, and just all-around unpleasant. Work was tough, and nothing eventful - aside from the aforementioned - happened.

(04/17/11 - 3:18 PM)
Okay, so... weird.

(04/16/11 - 11:15 PM)
Spent an awesome morning, afternoon, and evening with my wife, my brother, and my sister-in-law. Had a great lunch at a local Mexican favorite, followed by Wii Bowling, Balderdash, Pictionary, and sampling one another's scotch collections.

It turns out that my brother prefers the peaty, smoky ones: Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and the Indian, Amrut. I personally wasn't too fond of them, but did enjoy his Oban 14 year, his Old Pulteney 12 year, and the Highland Park 12 year.

My collection's favorites include the lighter, more fruity, and less smoky/peaty: the previously mentioned Balvanie 12 year Doublewood, as well as the Balvanie 15 year single cask, the Macallan 12 & 17 year triple wood, as well as the Dalwhinnie 15 year, and the Cardhu 12 year.

My brother did seem to take to the Glenfiddich 15 year, as well as the Glenmorangie 12 year Sherry Cask.

All told, a neat experience trying an assortment of whiskeys I would never have had the opportunity to try. Even better, learning that I don't care for some that I might have otherwise bought, without the pain and expense of having done so.

Now, it's time for sleep. Lots and lots of sleep.

(04/15/11 - 7:47 PM)

I Regret Nothing!

(04/13/11 - 9:26 PM)
Finished "These Is My Words" by Nancy E. Turner, as recommended by my friend Melisa. I never would have picked this one up on my own, but it was a good read.

Personally, I had a hard time with the writing style. The fortunate portion was that, as the book progressed, the style changed as the 'diary entries' were written by a progressively more educated individual.

While not a bad story on it's own, it did seem to lack the depth of a true novel. And I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing. On the whole, I can say this with certainty: It was rather like an Ingalls-Wilder book but more gritty, grown-up, and realistic. If you liked those, you'll like this one.

(04/12/11 - 7:13 PM)
Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. Conway Twitty... er, no... Mr. Phillips Screwdriver.

It begins like this:

Our lathe operators have some things in their areas that are useful to them, that the outside observer might see differently without knowing more. Specifically, they have pieces of 'leftover' or 'junk' stock that they use for gapping jaws, spacing components, etc.

It's sort of like a little bin of miscellaneous material leftovers in different shapes and sizes that they collect over the years because they are useful to them, and are more than likely heading for recycling anyway. So we let them keep whatever they need to remain expedient in their work.

Tonight, our Expediting Manager saw our Saw Operator working on painting and inventorying a large pan of miscellaneous materials the likes of which I have just described.

Curious why he wasn't working on what the Expediting Manager needed done, he interceded, and politely asked.

"Well," began the Saw Operator, "I was walking by the lathes, and Mr. Phillips Screwdriver called me over. He said, 'See this pan of materials down here? Take this back with you and put it back in inventory', so I did as I was asked."

Our Expediting Manager was angry, and perplexed.

Essentially, here is what happened:

Mr. Phillips Screwdriver wandered out of his department, and into another. Within the department, the largest machine was sitting idle, as the first-shift employee had gone home for the day, and our second-shift operator runs the smaller of the two machines.

He then proceeded to poke around under the workbenches of said machine, find this pan of materials that the lathe operator used for his own devices, and make a decision on his own.

He then stopped a fellow employee who, for all intents and purposes, is an equal in the chain of command, and commanded him to remove this pan of materials from an area that was not his own. He then gave further, explicit instructions to our Saw Operator to re-inventory it.

Our Saw Operator, figuring this was important, and not sure about answering to this fellow, did as asked. He took the pan back, and began sorting through it. This takes time, and effort, as it has to be parsed out to determine what, exactly, each material is. Then, once it's determined, both outer faces require painting in an appropriate color for clear identification. Finally, it has to be logged for input into our real-time system the following day.

This is what my Expediting Manager found our Saw Operator working on, instead of the jobs that needed to be cut to move to the machines so that all departments had current jobs to work on.

This, my friends, is the enigma that is Mr. Phillips Screwdriver.

(04/11/11 - 6:22 PM)
Mr. Phillips Screwdriver in: 'Love Thy Flush Arbor':

At work, we make our own soft jaws for our turning centers (these are the steel things that hold the pieces in the chuck while you turn them, and they can be cut just like a part to conform to a certain shape and size to do so - so they get used up over time). We've found that we can make them slightly cheaper than we can buy them and that, in making them, the operator running any of the operations is also free to do something else at the same time, thereby making it a no-brainer.

The final operation takes the longest. It is the serration of the individual jaw, which is adding all those fine-toothed, pyramidal shaped dealies that interlock the jaw to the chuck on the back side, while making it outwardly or inwardly adjustable.

While performing this operation, we found that our preferred cutter got dull early, and so we were forced to substitute a less desirable choice cutter in order to keep the job runing while the first one was re-sharpened. The operator responsible for the job found a way to make it work by using some of the components of another tool in the shop called a flush arbor.

Now, it just so happens that this is the only arbor of its kind in house. Further, it was specifically requested that we add this tool to our arsenal some time back by none other than... Mr. Phillips Screwdriver. As such, it has remained covetously in his area since then, even though it belongs to the shop and anyone may use it. Suffice it to say that as long as it's out in the open, we don't really mind where it resides - and everyone knows where to find it. So, in that light, it's not all that unusual.

Mr. Phillips Screwdriver came in for his shift about the time that the operator was putting together this kludged-workaround tool, and said, "You can't use those arbor spacers on that arbor! They're for THIS one!"

The operator replied that yes, he knew what they were for, but his workaround required them, and so he was using them to keep production moving.

Mr. Phillips Screwdriver was not at all pleased.

So, the evening came and went. In the morning, the second cutter also proved too dull to make any more components, so we sent it out for sharpening as well. To do so, we had to deconstruct the workholder that our employee had cleverly put together to work around the problem. He laid it out on the bench in an 'exploded' manner, so that anyone following in his stead could figure out how to put it back together, if the sharpened tool happened to come in when he was not around.

Clever, I know. And the forethought was much appreciated on my part.

The next day came, and the cutters came back, all nice and sharp and ready for action. The original operator was there, so he went over to the machine they were running on to re-construct his workaround unit once more.

There was just one problem: The spacers that Mr. Phillips Screwdriver didn't like him using had vanished.

So, he spent a good deal of time searching for them, when an idea dawned on another employee. Acting on a hunch, the employee went to Mr. Phillips Screwdriver's area, and began looking for the original box of the cutter whose parts Mr. P.S. did not want used.

Shortly, the box was located - then opened. Within the hidden box were the spacers. Mr. Phillips Screwdriver had, apparently, taken it upon himself to re-unite the spacers with the rest of the cutter, and then proceed to hide the entire box and contents to keep them from being used again.

What can I say? The man likes his tool, I guess.

(04/09/11 - 7:36 PM)
Holy cow! Big news! My dear friend (and also my Best Man) Bryan is getting married. I NEVER thought I'd see the day, but he'd be a sucker not to marry this one. Cindy's a keeper.

The neater thing? He's doing it on a cruise. So, we get to fly to Florida, take a cruise for the first time, he gets married, and we're among friends instead of strangers while on the boat.

How cool is that? I've always wanted to take a cruise, just because, but taking one with friends, to me, will make the event exponentially more enjoyable.

Now I just have to wait until next February. Woot!

(04/08/11 - 6:42 PM)
I want to hang out with this kid...

(04/07/11 - 8:23 PM)
The old back and hip have been giving me trouble again, just in time for spring yard work. I fear I might have to hire out the lawnmowing this year, which is humiliating and frustrating all at the same time.

I picked up an association copy of Nicholas Basbanes' book, "Among The Gently Mad" this week (something I haven't had in the collection thus far - I've got one dedication copy, but no associations) inscribed to a fairly prominent bookseller and collector.

It was kind of neat to see a full paragraph in the inscription, along with specifics, the signature, and date.

It's definately a highlight in my collection now.

(04/06/11 - 7:37 PM)
Today at work, an employee's wife called in to say that he would not be in as he had had a heart attack.

This was a first. This fellow is a great machinist who keeps to himself, but is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet once you get to know him. And I appreciate him as a machinist and employee, but also as a friend and confidante in the day to day life of the company.

We immediately made it our business to track him down, hospital-wise, and find out how he was doing. He'll be fine, thank God, and we look forward to his speedy recovery without discomfort - we love ya, Big Guy.

Now this, in and of itself, is blog-worthy news. But it takes a twist about the time Mr. Phillips Screwdriver comes in to work and asks what happened to his co-worker.

One of his co-workers explains that he has suffered a heart attack, and without blinking, Mr. Phillips Screwdriver says, "I told him, Milk will do that. You gotta stay away from that stuff."

One of my employees laughed so hard he was in tears, and the others in hearing just stared at each other, dumb-founded, silently questioning with furtive eye movements from one another if they had just heard that right.

So folks, I implore you: Stop killing your children by feeding them breakfast cereal. You should all be flayed alive for introducing the cardiac menace of bovine lactation into your children's lives.

I hope you're happy, murderers.

(04/05/11 - 7:04 PM)
My brother and I (and our wives, of course) are getting together next weekend. It turns out that my brother has just discovered good Scotch and, finding that I had done likewise about nine months back, he thought it would be fun to try one another's stash.

I heartily concurred. Good Scotch is, unfortunately, expensive. Therefore, if you cannot attend a tasting (which I probably never would because of my high-levels of dislike for crowds) then cross-sampling stashes is a great way to discover potential new favorites.

I know on a couple of occasions, I have been disappointed by the hype of a brand (particularly Elmer T. Lee), and on others have been shocked at the decidedly unfair ratings of something I felt was top-notch.

Which begs the statement: Don't believe everything you read. Do believe everything your mouth and tastebuds tell you.

For me, it's been all about two brands: The Balvanie & The Macallan. These two are just something apart from the rest of the twenty or so others I have tried. That isn't to say that others haven't been good - some have. But these are two that I would buy in perpetuity to simply have around when the mood strikes.

So, I look forward to having something more in common with my only brother who, interestingly enough, is just about the exact opposite of me in so many ways. It's nice to have these touchstones to keep us connected on some levels.

(04/04/11 - 7:13 PM)
Here's a link to a site that my wife loves, and has resulted in many hours of hysterics. Enjoy! And remember, when you're addicted, it isn't >MY< fault: Damn You, Autocorrect!

(04/02/11 - 8:46 PM)
Went to work this morning for about three hours, then came home and jacketed some books.

I decided to get real ambitious, as my hip joint was only mildly throbbing, and put up the two ceiling fans I purchased last fall, just before all the nerve trouble started.

When I finished, I was tired, but I knew it had been a good decision. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had accomplished something around the house. I am so tired of being in constant pain and a state of sleepiness from the medications - no pun intended. In the past month I've simply resolved that it's only going to be as good as it wants, so I've been trying to go about my normal business again. It's been a struggle, but in the end it's worth it. The sense of accomplishment is priceless. Even if it was only two measley ceiling fans that I could have put up in my sleep.

(04/01/11 - 8:46 PM)
Loooong day at work today. We modified a part to a customer's verbal and written instructions, only to find out he wanted the opposite of what he asked for.


The trouble was, he didn't remember it that way, and held us accountable. So it made for a stressful day. It's been a pretty rough week, actually.

Next week will be better, and I'm not going to dwell on it.

Stopped by the accountant's to pick up my tax return, and was shocked at the return that we realized this year. It was a nice surprise after an otherwise lousy day.

Finished Robert Charles Wilson's third book, "Gypsies", and was pleasantly satisfied.

Wilson was an author who I picked up at random one day at one of the two Madison, Wisconsin Half-Price Books in the form of "BIOS" and enjoyed quite a bit.

While not the best Sci-Fi writer I've ever encountered, he is different because he draws you in with wild premises that seem simple on the surface, but soon become infinitely more complex than one first imagined. Further, his books are an easy, short read without a lot of fluff and unecessary words. The economy makes for a shorter book but, in my opinion, a better read.

"Gypsies" was the earliest of his works that I've read to date and, sure enough, it blossomed into a full-blown, delicate onion of layers before all was said and done. If you like a good afternoon read that will turn your mind over just a little bit, then I can't recommend him enough. If you're not a fan of science fiction, then I don't suppose you'll care for his works too much.

Good thing I am then, I suppose.

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