Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Coda


Its about time I start to admit that this blog has ran its course. The frequency with which I either write things for it or think of things to write has dropped to nearly zero.  The simply fact is the conditions that made writing what was often a very personal thing have disappeared.
When I first started I was working in the Northwest Territory, distant from any of the few friends I had.  It was broadcasting what I could because I had no one to say anything to up there.  It had a few spikes in activity as time was more available.

The last three years and a bit saw a spike as I faced a hard period of unemployment and temp work.  The ranting there helped me hold together. It was a rather bitter time.  However, during this time things got better, I got less isolated, when it becomes possible to share troubles I don't need to broadcast them.  Now I have a job that matches most of what I was looking for, busy weekends and no on going crisis to report on.   Most of what's going on in my life is either private, trivial, or technical. None of which fits in the what was the scope of this blog.  I'll keep this up because I see no point in taking it down but it will be very unlikely that I will update it in t he future.

Don't worry I'm not off the internet yet.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Hobbits Go Camping, Part one the food.


Its time for a change of pace around here. Today we explore backcountry cooking. 
Over the May long weekend we completed our fourth backpacking camping trip, this was our first two night stay.   It was a trip to Manning Park,  it made a loop of the Whatcom and Dewdney trails, with a two night stay at Snass View camp in between. The journey through to Punch Bowl Pass and to camp is worthy of its own post.  On this occasion however I will be going over the food the Other Hobbit and I prepared to keep us going while camp at the the snow line. 

So to the food.  I will  attempt to break down major meals into something reproducible.  For this trip I made the two lunches, two dinners, and part of a third lunch.  For the majority of our meals we aim for simplest and most effiecnt cooking method we could find, add boiling water to stuff. The stuff in contained in a high quality freezer bag, which can resist the heat.  This cooking method has been enhanced by the creation of insulated pouches consisting of mylar and quilt batting. As a result we have warm if not hot food till the meal is done. 
Cooking with northing more than a one burner white gas stove, one pot, and a plastic bag creates restraints that I am still learning to work within.  In that light most of the meals prepared are still considered experiments and I am not yet stratified with the quality and number of meals I can produce. 

Recipes are for one portion, each meal was prepared in duplicate  
In the order they were eaten. 

Lunch one: pastrami sandwiches, on home made buns with mixed pickles.  This was eaten early in the hike, just before a steep switch back.  It was only worth packing because it's stay was so short. The bread could get its own post, and would be too much trouble do describe here. 

Dinner One: Couscous, dates and Machaca*. Eaten earlier in the trip than planned because it was the most filling of the meals and the pass demanded far more from us than we would care to admit.  
Couscous and Dates. Zatar in small bag
Machaca added later. 
  • 100 Grams Couscous.
  • 30 Grams chopped dates, mixed with couscous.
  • Pinch Salt. 
  • Shake of pepper.
  • Kiss of smoked ghost chilis. 
  • 50 Grams of Machaca.*

In a separate pouch a couple table spoons of Zatar. Zatar or Za’atar is a middle eastern blend of sumac, sesame and other herbs and spices. 

 *Machaca is a Sonoran preparation of dried beaf, differing from jerky in that it beef is raw when it is dried and not cooked till it is added to final dish.   The machaca was made the hard way for a earlier trip, and has proven to be a excellent.  All credit for the Machaca goes to the other hobbit. 

This meal lacked a centre, it was filling calorie rich, but not refined. 

Lunch Two: Curry with rice and cashews, enhanced with pork floss. 
Cashew curry. Yum.
  • 100 Grams Minute Rice
  • 40 Grams Cashews 
  • Pinch Salt, 
  • Shake pepper. 
  • Genrous spoon full of curry. I used the excellent Bombay Curry From Galloway’s fine foods in New Westminster 
  • Generous table spoon of Coconut milk powder. 

In a separate pouch a few pinches of pork floss, a shredded and dried meat, for a little extra protein.

This dish really worked. It was saucy flavourful filling.  The flavours were rich and balanced.  The core of this dish will be used again.

Dinner Two:  Rice with freeze dried mini shrimp, seaweed and sesame. 
Shrimpy Rice. Also Yum.
  • 100 grams of Minute Rice
  • 30 grams of freeze dried mini shrimp.  These are scarcely bigger than the rice. 
  • 30 grams dried seaweed* broken into short chunks. 
  • couple pinches of roast sesame seeds
  • pinch red pepper flakes. 
  • 1 tea spoon of potato starch
  • pinch salt. 
On the side, a couple teaspoons of rice seasoning, a mix of sesame, seaweed, bonito, and other things.  

This dish also worked.  The shrimps basically vanished into the mix, but they were never the centre piece.  The seaweed hydrated wonderfully adding an almost crisp pop to the dish.  This dish put to the test an ingredient that was purchased for this expedition, potato starch. The addition of that starch produced a light sauce and prevented the rice dish from becoming too dry.  Potato starch was chosen because of its ability to thicken a sauce without having to be brought to a boil, this quality made it ideal for the just add water method employed at our camp. 

*Seaweed. I don’t know what kind I have. Its dark green, long and skinny.  I have also had it in the house for years because its so perfectly dry 

Lunch Three: Partial contribution: Flat Bread. 
An ad hoc recipe that proved too thick to cook quickly and the recipe too random two recreate. However, it did demonstrate that a flat bread can fit in the prepare in bag category. It proved much neater to prepare than pancakes and will be fine tuned for future trips.  

Day Two: Couscous with whole egg powder.  The egg reconstituted well, it could have used more water but was filling. 
Day Three:  Pancakes. Premixed dry ingredients, as prepared by the other hobbit.  Oil and water added on site.  They cook well, however, they add several tools and mess that could be avoided with just about any other meal. They are being phased out. 

Other Foods: These are either the snacks or the contributions from the other Hobbit. Our food had benefited from their owning a food dehydrator, this tool opened up food experiments that we just could not have tried otherwise, including the Machaca, on one occasion a dehydrated chilli, and a few other things

So the other foods, 
  • Humus, dehydrated, water and oil added at site. Served with flat bread after a slippery off trail detour that cost far too much.  It was good and rich, garlicky without being potent, very filling.
  • Carrot sticks, backed because I really wanted something fresh damn the weight
  • Babaghanoush (rehydrated), never prepared. The second day of the adventure was lazy so the extra dish was ignored. 
  • Round Trip Cauliflower. To have been eaten with the Babaghanoush, it like the dip was never eaten. It survived the pass and the many stream crossings. 
  • Dried figs and dates proved a good source of energy. 
  • Beverages, Hot chocolate and instant mocha. The mocha was not good coffee, but it had sugar, caffeine and came in easy to manage paper packets. 

Notes on future meals. 
The shrimps will be phased out. Though they add protein, even freeze dried at low temperature they are too aromatic, not something I want in bear country any later in the year.  The rice an seaweed combo was a winner and warrants refinement.  As a way of creating a very simple sauce, or glaze potato starch is a winner, it will find use in my kitchen at home as well as in camp.  The flat bread and rehydrated dip combo will almost certainly feature again.    

All the Food.
The food I made

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The anatomy of a bad day

So I went to bed knowing that today was likely to be a bad day. It was better than it could have been by far, I got work when I was expecting the day to be a loss and worked with someone I knew from an other gig so there was some catching up.  This is not about that. 

So you go to bed knowing they know longer need you and your not needed there the next day.  Who they are does not matter, what you were doing hardly matters.  What matters is it is over, you were not ready for it to be over.  You spend a few weeks or months learning the gig, you have gained some confidence and some of their trust.  If you are of generous spirit you even like some of the people you work with, are they friends, not really but they are people you have some banter with.  Its worth with some gigs than others, some you know the work is drying up and the project is winding down, your ok with those ending, same with the ones you know are for a very short time. With the short ones you never have time to not feel like the new guy.  But your not needed any more, after feeling useful and perhaps even a little confident you're sent away and those feelings stay at the job site. This has happened before this will happen again, and your response hardly chances. 

If your smart you stick to your normal evening routine, you do dinner, get some exercise and because your brain and body won't let do it any other way you go to bed at more or less the normal time. You turn off the alarm because whatever job you were doing demanded you get up a little too early and you could use the extra sleep.  It doesn't matter in the end you wake up right about when the robot would have told you to.  Whether you had a full nights sleep or a patchy one, and regardless of if you're just missing a little sleep or a lot, you wake up tired. You feel tired and hollow.  Thats how you know its a bad day.  

The thought of staying in bed and getting more of the needed rest crosses your mind.  It's tempting, but you know the sleep will not be good, besides too many years of early mornings have made 7am feel like sleeping in.  So you get up, its a shamble.  You know you're having a bad day, but you have a choice, do you fight to make it a better day, so you get up.  Breakfast and coffee follow their usual rhythm, perhaps slowed down a bit because you are not scrambling to be out the door at a fixed time.  It was not your plan when you got up but you shave and shower, because the bad day does not want you to do them.  Now its an hour or more before the business day starts. Do you call the people who help you get work first thing so you can be busy making money that day or do you take the day for catch up.  

Its never a question, there is always catching up todo.  Your work is tiring, often at inconvenient locations.  The question is not if there is catching up to do, but can you afford to take the time to do it. Some of the catching up is house work, if nothing comes up for work you will try to do it.  The bad day is worse in a messy home.  The other catching up is the working on the plan.  You know you don't want this mind eating uncertainty ruling your working life. There is some direction and you want to do work to chance your circumstances.  

That work, is the hardest thing you know to do.  Applying for jobs, cold calling, networking they have never been easy for you.  By now you have cleaned the floor and are looking for a snack, you know you should be digging into the applications but first a sandwich. You'll open a job board, it don't matter which one.  You have a dozen tabs open, you trim it down to a few less.  The application you write are lack lustre and hastily constructed.   Not like you ever believed anything you said about yourself in those cover letters.  No matter what level of job you apply for, or how qualified you are, the thoughts behind the words going into the application are all the qualities you believe you lack.  It is still a bad day, and what little confidence you might have to put together a pitch worth catching is spent pushing past that bad day gloom.  By now its lunch time. 

You feel down for taking too long to make a good lunch when you should be back at the keyboard hacking out another submission.  But all the convenient food was used on the work days.  Worse you know the work you have been throwing into the web is one of the worse ways to get the result you want.  You have found yourself in the company of employment councillors off and on for close to 20 years.  The refrain has always been 80% of jobs are not posted, its who you know, NETWORKING.  This advice, well your opinion of it requires some anatomically impossible things done without consent. Its not even that it doesn't work. You have had successes in past.  Its just so hard, painfully hard.  You know you should call some of the places on your list, you know who you want to talk with. And you look at the phone and you chicken out.  Or if you don't you're likely to have stammering opening that leaves all the wrong impressions.   And then you try to do it again.  You can't do this too many times.   You try to ignore the feeling that you could fail a Turing test when trying to introduce yourself over the phone.   You think back now and understand your best successes at this occurred at a time and place where my day to day survival was secure.  I could afford the slow recharge. 

There are always a couple things in the back of your mind as you approach any conversation about work.  You're always ashamed that you either don't have a job or are seeking a better job.  But lets be real you don't have a job on these days, nothing lasting.  So you start with shame, and add to it the feeling that your asking for a favour that they don't want to give, and you are asking for MONEY.  Asking for one of two would be bad enough, but at once makes you clamp up.  It don't matter that you are ten steps away from even thinking about salary negotiation ( you have heard rumors about this but you don't believe it, just like you don't believe people can pound in fence posts with just a mallet.)  No, when work is on the table, then money is on the table and it is awkward.   Its close to the end of the business day, your'e hungry again and your brain is tired.  

You put on the show you were watching last and disconnect. The number of things not crossed off from your list is far longer than the things you have crossed off.  You're ashamed of that, and if you let that get to you tomorrow could be a bad day too.  You hope some day to get it right, to get some work that lasts more than 2.5 years.  Work where you know your role, have trust and autonomy, with access to a good mentor.  Its a fight for you to get through the steps at a level that gets any results.  You have been fighting this fight, most of your adult life, it angers you.  On the bad days it is a impotent anger, you know what the input should be, you know what the outcome should be and even know most of the parts in-between but it never comes together.  So you take the next contract, its too far away, the work does nothing to advance your plan, but the rent is coming, the rent is always coming.  

Your next bad day is on the job site. No one else notices, you showed up on time, worked hard and smart enough to make a good impression.  You hid behind some gallows humour and stuck to yourself for most of the day.  But your tired of being an expendable piece of commodity labour, the new guy every few, days, weeks, or months.  Your've all but forgotten you had jobs where you had bigger responsibilities.  And no matter how much work you undertake, you can't shake the feeling that non of your past experience is any good now.  So you take the next contract, you hope it will turn into something that will stick, you know it won't. If you're lucky the commute will be short enough that you might, just be able to have enough left over to stay a head, but the next bad day is coming. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Physicist, a Psychologist, and a Geologist find the true meaning of Christmas

The meaning of Xmas.  Originally published Christmas eve 2010. 

The invite was for a Dim Sum feast at a vegetarian restaurant up on Main Street.  I arrived early as I typically do, but was not awkwardly so and not alone in being so.   The others arrived before too long.  

We sat a big round table with a lazy Susan occupying much of the space, a common arrangement for family style meals.  The meal was good, though can only  recall one dish.  The company provided interesting banter.  At that time I was prone to taking pot shots vegans, of which there was one at the table, Mr. Dr. Rob.    It is a diet choice that can lead to some moralizing, which lead me to the engage in mockery.   One casserole topped with a simulated cheese produced the high point of my wit for that season.   

As written on the Facebook all those months ago.  

 While admiring the browned cheese on the rice and simulated seafood casserole I commented on the unique quality of  cheese to produce such an appearance. The vegan said, just you wait. My retort, There already exists a perfectly adequate means for turning vegetable mater in to cheese. It is called a mammal.

The meal stretched on for a comfortable hour or so before we started to disperse.  I lacked after plans, though there had been an invite to a church service where two of our number would be playing horns.

Three of us,decided a drink or two was in order. The three of headed up will looking for a open bar.   This is not a story that starts with a Doctor, Geologist and Physicist walking into a bar.

We walked south up hill in the dar and the rain. Searching for a pub, a golden fleece to our damp Argonauts. This being Main Street we did some window shopping commenting on the unusual knickknacks that in antique and other novelty shops. One storefront was full of mannequin parts and the red lights, This was clearly a robot brothel. Near the robot brothel was a shop proudly displaying a combination bathtub and love seat. It would have been comfortable as long as you stayed clear of the tap. Sharing the window with the love tub was a polished copper and brass contraption that at once looked like a bong a plunger. I now doubt that toilet water makes good bong water.  We came to the end of the block and the end of the novel shops. Still not bars in sight.  Then along came Bob.
Not Our Bob

Bob, was found in the road, which was doing its best impression of a small river. He was dead centre of the right lane.  It would have been generous to say he was walking. It was a jelly boned stagger.  Removing the man from the lane was generally considered an ethical choice. 

Our initial plan was catch and release. He had fallen and spilled out across the pavement.  We were lucky, the traffic light was red.  It would be for best if he was elsewhere when they traffic started flowing again. With a hand under each arm we moved him on to the sidewalk. 

Bob developed a list, he had scarily walked 5 meters before his stagger developed a dangerous leftward direction. He was aiming right for the road. Quick action steered him out of harms way, and we thought perhaps he could go on his way. This hypothesis was proven false when he fell into a cedar hedge. It was clear there would be need for some adult supervision on his journey home. So with a heave hoe, I pulled him up by the scruff of his neck and with Doctor on one arm the Physicist on the other we tried to walk him home. 

The weather that night was the kind of winter rain that might make you regret moving to Vancouver, snow could have been an improvement. It was dark, it may have been well above zero but the damp would suck the heat out of as sure as anything.  Between the monochrome light, the damp and the cut of his cloths, comparisons to It’s a Wonderful Life were inevitable. 
It was almost a shame that Bob did not call us a swell bunch of fella’s.  It would have been the perfect detail, especially if he pulled of old times radio voice, but Bob did not call us swell.  Our kindness was praised no less earnestly. 

Instinct must have guided us towards his abode.  We did stop more than once to clarify the directions, the answers were disjointed and vague.   During this trek he offered us a shot of brandy for our troubles.  How he planned to fit more alcohol into his blood was be feat that defied all medical sense. 

Bob started to share the story of Bob, the details space.  His presumably adult children were expected to visit. I am struggling to recall if this was met with anticipation or dread.  Memory fails here, I wrote that he was not looking forward to the visit and also recall that he was expecting a great Christmas.  It does not mater in the end, there is no version of the memory that does not translate into my imagining his family visiting out of duty. The holiday driving visits to the estranged old man.  

Any other details of Bob’s life have long since been forgotten, non of the specifics matter, just little slices of a little quiet tragedy.  Adding Bob’s narrative to the darkness and the perfectly choreographed weather drove home the It’s A Wonderful Life feel.  Here we were trying to save someone from a terrible fate on Christmas eve, pulling a struggling fellow from his metaphorical bridge.  Unlike the original this remake did not have the budget for one key thing, hope.  Its A life, not staring Jimmy Stewart.

Eventually he recognized his house. In a fit of independence Bob tried to make for the entrance way on his own power. This effort lasted all of 3 meters, where his leftward list lead once again into a bush. Once again we hoisted Bob to his feet.  After we righted Bob, and collected the sad plastic bags with his christmas cheer he steered us into the yard.  

The house could be described as a Vancouver special. It sat on some unassuming side street near 20th and Main.  The first sight of it was intimidating. A short stair case half a story or so lead to the front door.  I had no notion of how we were going to haul a man with consistency of a drunk octopus up those steps.  I need not have worried. Bob made the only right turn of that evening and took us around back. Here there was a door conveniently level with the ground, and unlocked.   We were thanked one last time, there was a lot of thanking that evening.  

We left Bob in what we assume to be his home. It had a sad worn quality it that suited him.  Was that his home? very likely, and if it wasn’t it was better than being out of the rain and in the traffic.  And isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas. 

A note on this repost. 

Originally I had planned to simply clean up the writing from 5 years ago. However I was embraced to read my own words.  It was written hastily full of chunky phrasing.  Run on sentences galloped through it tearing grammar as they went. So it I rewrote it.  In doing so it morphed from a funny story with sad details to a sad story with funny details.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thinking out loud, in words.


Lets try this again. I tried writing it last night but my head was too muddled from a tiring an seemingly unproductive day at work.  Had I tried writing it the night before last it likely would have worked out, the composition was fresh.  Yes sometimes it is the time to write something and then it passes.  Yesterdays writing was turning into a disjointed word salad.  So lets try this again.

About a year ago I took a contract. It was in far away Delta, coming from East Vancouver it was a ninety minute transit trek.  I was told something about photocopiers.  Once I got in the building I was handed a pile of printed instructions, a 5.5mm nut driver, and presented with a box and large photocopier.  The objective, to get the parts in the box into, or onto the photocopier.  It was an uncertain start, that was the first time building things was my main job.  So I did what made sense, read the instructions, laid out the parts and figured it out.  Nine months later that first build that inimated me had become my bread and butter and I could fly through it.  I occasionally had the opportunity to install bigger more complex things.  It was routine enough to get boring, it was also interesting enough to keep me there. My regret being I never had a chance to learn more.

Two months ago I took a demolition job. It had less to offer, but better pay.  It reminded me that in I am comfortable in certain industrial setting.  That there are even some advantages to sites where there are risks and machines.  The demands of situation awareness take advantage of my brains desire to be omniscient, it really wants to know about everything going on everywhere. Squirrel!. In combining these to experiences, with some qualities I want to find in a job I found myself needing to look into the trades as an means to a better working life.

Now three paragraphs in I can start to get down to details.  I am trying to narrow down things to a trade that I can both use as a branching off point, get into at a novice level. I want to both expand end employ the mechanical thinking that built up, but always existed, at the photocopier job. I know I am able to work comfortably in a construction, or industrial setting which is good because that's where a lot of the work is going to be.  So the problems start to be, I really don't know what's out there.  At some level I break it down to pipes or wires, and exclude wood.

I choose to ignore carpentry because the demolition job proved one thing clearly, my joints can't take impact loads.  Moving heavy things no problem, being on my feet no problem, repeatedly absorbing shock and vibration, big problem.  A reliable source tells me that carpentry requires repeated, nearly all day hammer use.

So what do I want to do, don't know exactly.  I know I liked figuring out the mechanical connections involved in building things. Even if my work was large prefab out of the box stuff.  My brain loves systems, I am more engaged on working with the small things when I have a grasp on how it fits in the bigger thing. This is a general truth and does not exactly help me narrow things down.  There is a long term goal, being great at a useful skill set, working with even more skilled competent people. I want to dig into their deep knowledge and earn my own.  Thats the there I want to reach. So whats the path.

Here are the questions, and other things.

  • Optimistic plan A. Get hired as an apprentice, like trade, stay on said path. 
    • Plan A Modified, Redirect training as I narrow down what I like more. 
  • Plan B: Take on construction or other trade related work without out direct path to apprenticeship.  Gain access to experience and narrow down interests. 
  • Plan C:  Pick a foundation training program, or coop program, in an appealing trade and hope it's a good fit before sinking too much time and borrowed money into it. 
Plans A and B involve doing the one activity I fail at most consistently.  Plan B could be started by approaching day labour places as they often bring in grunt labour. However at zero job security, and even worse wages there is good reason to be reluctant.  Plans A and B are largely dependent on who will have me.  A thirty something failed geologist, the worlds slowest computer programer, and nerd. Once started I expect that any starting point will be off the mark and trimming the course will be an ongoing project.  I can no long hold on to the notion that I can plan one path and expect it work as imagined the first time.  Plan C is the comfort zone, of hitting the books and hoping something comes out at the end.  

The recent addition of body art to my skin sits as a permanent reminder that the differences between what I imagine and what is rendered is small.  More importantly the art is the product of thought planning, research, and communication, and proof that I can trust my tastes.  Neither of the pieces are exactly how I envisioned them, neither is so far off that they failed to fit the vision.  Being comfortable with those differences makes me more confident that I can steer my work life closer to stratifying. 

Some more questions I am trying to answer. 

  • Do I want to work in a workshop.
  • Do I want to work at a job site.
  • Both?!  I like that both idea
  • How much schooling am I willing to take at once. 
    • Largely conditional on how exciting I find the final outcome.
Now I must really engage in the uncomfortable job hunting work that will make plans A and B possible.   And when it comes to Plan B, whoever will have me will be a good start, I need to get my hands on site and learn what I can get better for the next move.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Coffee Calibration


It was late September, I was still enjoying work at the photocopier warehouse, though it was clear that the work was winding down.  That job did not pay enough despite its value in pointing me towards desirable work.  What it did do was have me looking at machines filled with gears, wires, sensors and rollers all day.  Not something I look do at home typically, but there were special circumstances.

I was planning a camping trip.  It was  trip planned at the end of summer, for near the end of September.  This was one of an ongoing series of field tests designed to ramp up the level of our outdoor adventures.  The core gear was proven and provided by the other member of the expedition.  Both by opportunity and inclination I took on the food.  A very specific set of things got into my head, I ran between several stores in different parts of town looking for and often failing to find what I had aimed to prepare. I spent more money in more places than I was comfortable with.  The last item on the list was coffee, a necessity for me.  The original plan, which is still a good one was to buy Turkish or Lebanese style coffee.  The stuff is finely ground and can be brewed with nothing more than a pot and boiling water. Two days before the trip I was spent from hunting all the other things, leaving the house for one last thing was not going to happen.  Enter the coffee grinder.

The faithful bean crusher.
 On paper, quite literally, my coffee grinder is able to produce a Turkish grind. It says so in the user's manual.  I have a moderately fancy grinder, it is a conical burr grinder, not a blade grinder.  The blade grinder is the one you likely have at home, two little knives spinning in a close little cup.  You hold your hand on the trigger till the beans sound right or your fingers go numb. I could never get consistent results with that, so I upgrade.  The upgrade, solved the consistency problem, I adjust two knobs, fill the upper hopper with beans, push one button and the lower hopper fills with correct amount of correctly ground coffee.  Except when I tried to grind ultra fine. 

The plan was simple.  Grind the coffee as fine as the machine would let me.  Take the powder out to the woods add boiling water let it settle. The reality proved more frustrating and a lot more chewy than planned. I turned the dial, it goes from 9 to 1, 1 being the finest setting.  Somewhere near 2.5 it jammed, it would not budge.  Pushing any harder on the plastic wheel would have risked ripping off the flesh of my thumb or braking the plastic gear.  At that time I had spent more than 8 months with a  screw drive in my hand for most of the day, I was used to big complex machines, even if I was only touching the simplest parts of them.  The demand for coffee in the following morning cemented in my head, I would fix it and I would fix it now.

Step one, was grind some coffee at the setting it jammed on just it case I broke it, this is what I took camping.  Then it was a simple mater, of unplugging it, emptying the bean hopper and separating the top and bottom halves of the machine.  That part actually went well, I had a screw driver fine enough to engage the small phillips heads that held the top half in place, and all the parts I would need to access were at that level.  It was the parts I did not expect that caused the first problem, where did that spring a plastic cap come from.

Now to get a little technical.  This grinder drops the beans between two steel discs fitted with what looks like carbide tool faces, making it the cutest tunnel boring machine ever.  When the grinds are fine enough that the teeth can not longer engage with them the fall out into the lower hopper.  Grind size is controlled by the spacing between the to discs. Simple right.  Thats what I thought.  So I cleaned all the parts I could reach, betting it was gunk jamming things put it back together and tested it.
Lower grinder. All the gears removed. Note the threading above the disc.

It worked.  It worked in that, the dials turned, the power went on and coffee was ground. The coffee was ground so coarse that only way you could have brewed anything out of it was boiling it stove top, till the souls of the beans scream for the fires of hell. I had missed a key element of the design.  A simple elegant and logical design.  The upper disc of the grinder nests in a plastic cup that threads into the lower half of the machine, it is also toothed along the outside. When you turn the grind selection knob you are causing a second gear to rase or lower the cup holding the grinder.  When I had put it together the first time(s) the grinder elements were far enough apart that all they could do was politely crush the beans.

So I took it a part again. And again. I recall perhaps as many as five strip downs. I found the use of the plastic cap, and where the spring went. They both went under the selection knob to hold it in place. On the most worrying test runs the machine refused to run, the lid was off, a user error.  Calibration also included several runs where I was very confident of things going great, until for no apparent reason upper plate rattled loose. The reason is crystal clear now that it is not late in the evening hours into the project. They were too close together and upper half twisted loose. It made a frightful racket.
Upper Hopper, lower grinder

At the edge of giving up I tested it yet again.  It worked, sort of.  Nothing jammed nothing rattled loose, coffee came out.  However, the knob said it was grinding the coarsest, but the output said it was grinding its finest.  Had I tried to select a finer setting at that point things would have jammed quickly. But I had a calibration point, an output close to Turkish. The fix then was simple, without moving any of the other parts I lifted the selection knob and dropped it back down inverting the settings.  That worked, it now grinds the full range as described in the manual, the knob still travels freely between all the settings.

Ideally I would have liked to strip the machine to create  a detailed photo log of what I did, but that is unwise.  The three screws that hold the upper
Upper grinder. 
half on have an aggressive thread and connect with soft plastic stocks, mess up that plastic and I won't be able have it hold together.

The end of September and first half of October saw me drinking a lot of extra bitter coffee. The first calibration runs half ground a lot of beans, I had a freezer bag full of them, there was no way I was tossing them out.

As for the camping trip. I used the inappropriately ground coffee I had saved just before I started tinkering. It was far too chewy to be worth recommending. The grounds made a plug in the throat of the thermos and the only way to get the coffee out was to get more grit in your cup.  On the second camping trip it was not chewy. Yes my cup got lined with a thick black sludge, but thats normal. It out performed the instant coffee brought by others.  Next time I might just buy the damn stuff.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Lets talk work again.


Its time again to return to that topic that has become the theme of this blog for the better part of the last three years.  Work. Today I finished a contract that kept me busy all through October and November. It was hard tiring labour. The pay was the best I had since I started temping.  There were a few bad days there, when I felt the depression trying to bite me and drag me down.  The end was better than the beginning, when I started I was bummed out from having the last contract end, and irritated that I was being reduced to a human forklift. Eight weeks later and having watched countless temps get sent home I made to the end of the project.   The wing of the building effected by the fire and flood when from sodden furniture and personal effects to chaos of cut up drywall and busted up concrete.  When I left the work was far from done but the walls were bare studs, the floor dusty plywood, the rebuilding could start.  The rebuilding does not need unskilled grunts, like I was hired to be.

The hate, and bad moods became less as I got distant from my previous contract. As hard as the work was, it was the best rate the agent could get me and I was determined to keep at it till the very end.  There were a few simple things I did to get keep me there.  Start work on time, keep busy, thinking a step ahead.  The mood improved, as I became a steady part of a crew, some of the camaraderie I was missing returned.  The uncertainty shifted from will I be asked to come in again to when will the work be done.  It was not a job that could last for long, demolition is a finite process.  As the work shifted though several phases of clean up I had had many chances to think about what I hated, liked(not much) and things that did not bother me.

What I hated. It was dull. Most of the time was spent moving spent building materials and occasional non recoverable content from one place to a dumpster. Shovelling concrete is hard, too many jarring motions and impacts aggravated irritations gained from my first field job.  Things hurt, elbows and wrists, too much brute force, and no easy way to avoid it.  It was often cold and wet. Though for my own good I did not much enjoy the respirator and Tyvek suit I had to ware to protect me from mould, dust, and lead.  At first I did not like the atmosphere, the early mornings, and large impatient men crowding around a coffee source reminded me of camp mornings in the North West Territory, at time I would rather not think about.  The crowds thinned and I grew more comfortable with the people.  Did I ever like it, not not really. It was work you do it because it needs done, you don't complain because what's the point, and eventually the job is done.

So about the odd category. Thinks I did not mind. Some things make a job unbearable, evening shift, micromanagement, being out of town for weeks.  These things will drive me away.  Some things make a job attractive and I will go into those more later.  In between are the things I take in stride because well thats how I roll.  At least at the hight of a low rise building I am cool with being on scaffolding.  Cold, wet, and cold and wet weather, sure I don't like working in them but gear can be adjusted meet the conditions and you motor through it.   Hard labour, so long as I minimize the impact loads on my arm joints I don't mind and my body likes to be moving.  After spending years in rough, potentially dangerous places, I guess I am used to it.  As I said yesterday I have an easier time fitting in around rednecks than I do office drones.

Now for the new territory. And to get somethings off my chest. I am tired of being a temp.  Deeply tired. No security, no vacations, no benefits, no long term planning, just solving the problem of work for a week or months at a time.  There is frustration and anger at the failure of this to have yielded a permanent position.  Though that is a bit of a lie as most places I was happy to leave, they were not where I would want to end up.  The experiment is not a failure, much has been learned, both at work and about what I want out of work.  Every job has fuelled thought, this has evolved into a list.  The list would have turned into a plan and action had I not rushed into more work at the start of October.  Here then is the list things I need from work.

  • Working with my hands is important, I like problem solving in physical systems. Its fun to build a thing and see it work.
  • Learning, the field must have many layers of things to learn.  I don't want to level off soon. 
  • Uncoupled from geography.  My geology career forced me to go to the work. My GIS job searches have shown work is in only a handful of places.  I want work that is available in many places.
  • Similarly I don't want another obscure specialty. I need something that the average person will think, yes that's a mostly normal job.  And common enough that when I get laid off there are a healthy number of places that need the same kind of work done. 
  • The option to work a lone but not isolated. 
  • Insulated from direct dealings with customers. Or infrequent engagements. 
I am bad at a lists. My thoughts suffer from too many subclauses.  The summery is I want to be good a technical job. I am tired of not knowing how to do things. The work I did in photocopiers was bushing the surface of skilled technical work, I want more.  To get there I need a trade.  I'm serious. It would let me learn to work with my hands. I would learn to use tools which I always wanted to. Done right I don't have to commit to large blocks of schooling and there is always something to learn.

It is not really a question any more of if, but which.  To get there I have to, research, what's popular, what's well distributed, talk to people who know such things better than I.  Find training money, find work placements. And get on with having real work and planning.