Archon – The Early Work Years

My mother worked every day of her life, both as a mother and wife, inside the home, and later, as a fellow-wage-earner, outside it.  This was before automation, and often before electrification.  She instilled in me early, a strong work-ethic.  Between ages eight and twelve, I had three paper-routes for two different newspapers.

The first job I remember her having was as a waitress at the lunch bar/dining room of a local hotel.  Since she worked from 11 till 3, my brother and I ate our lunch where she worked.  I remember a lot of hamburgers and fries, or hotdogs and fries, and the reduced cost of our meals came out of her earnings.

She eventually developed a circle of people she cleaned homes for, both year-round residents and summer visitors.  She was requested to do more than just clean.  She cooked food for soirees, and served as waitress.  A tiny woman, there were often things she wasn’t strong enough to do.  From 12 to 16, I occasionally worked with her, taking down shutters or storm windows, putting up screens, cleaning out garages or storage sheds, mowing lawns, trimming trees, and sweeping or shovelling sand off sidewalks and driveways.

One customer my mother had, was a grumpy old fart who owned a convenience-store and eight cabins near the beach.  He made most of his money during the summer months.  Since my birthday was in September, and I had to be 16 to get a summer job in a factory, she arranged for me to work for him in the summer of 1960, for the lordly sum of 50 cents/hour.  Nothing difficult or complex, a retail clerk.  I took money, made change, directed customers to product, kept an eye out for shoplifters, stocked shelves, swept up and hand-dipped ice-cream cones.

One slow, hot afternoon, I made myself a cone.  The old man came in the back door just as I was putting money in the till to pay for it, and asked me what I was doing.  When I explained, he told me of the girl he’d had the summer before.  She just about ate him out of house and store.  Pop, chips, candy bars, ice-cream cones, and never thought to pay for any of it.  He was impressed with my honesty.

The next year, my father arranged a summer job at the R.C.A. Victor plant where he worked.  For the first week, I moved raw material, sanded some edges, and wiped dust off cabinets about to be packed.  For this, I was paid $1.27/hr.  After last summer’s 50 cents, I was rich.

They moved me to the spray-finishing department.  TV and stereo cabinets came in on rollers from a half a dozen assemblers.  I was to take them off the rollers, and place them on large trays which would carry them by chain-drive through the spray booths.  One of the sprayers came over to tell me that, I could probably move the individual TV cabinets by myself, but the five and six-foot long stereo cabinets needed two people to move safely.  While they liked a mix of big and small on their line, he told me to accumulate several big ones at the end of the rollers, and call him or one of the other guys, who would help me load up a batch at a time.

While I got an hourly wage, these guys were paid piece-work.  They lost money every time I called them.  About the third day, a little light went on.  I walked up the line, and gave the next empty tray a pull.  Sure enough, the drive pin to the chain wasn’t attached, it was merely pushed.  I could pull a tray forward till it touched the end of the previous one, and it would just sit there till the drive caught up to it.  This gave me lots of time to swivel one end of a big cabinet out, and place it at one end, then move to the other end and safely repeat the process.

About the end of the next week, my spray booth guy suddenly commented that the cabinets were randomly mixed and I hadn’t requested any assistance.  When I explained my process, he was thrilled.  They could do it that way when they didn’t have an assistant, and could teach next year’s intern.

Next year I worked there again, just not in that department.  The wage scale had increased to $1.34/hr.  I was rich as Croesus.  Good thing too, I had a car to support.  The plant shipped most of its output in train cars.  I and another young lad were given the job of loading the boxed cabinets into the cars.  The work was sporadic.  A batch would be inspected and packed and sent down a delivery belt, to a set of rollers.  It was our job to roll them out and stack them in the car. 

Often we would finish one lot before another came down.  Since the shipping department was right outside the office, it would not do to have us standing around.  The shipping foreman told us that, if we weren’t loading, we were to be in one of the cars.  He said that we could eat, read, play cards, go across the street to the store, even sleep, but when he stuck his head in to say there was another shipment, we’d better be there, and ready.

My assistant got a case of the runs one day, and was gone for a lonngg time.  Another batch started and was piling up on the delivery belt.  I used the same system I had the year before, only vertically.  I pushed a row against the wall, then another row in front, then lifted the next one up by one end and pushed it back.  Put another row in front and pushed some more up, then repeat, using layer two to lift layer three.  By the time he got back, I had packed the entire lot myself, and the foreman never even knew he was missing.

I was just too damned dedicated.  If there was a job to be done, I was the fool who done it, but I think it made me a better me, and helped me get jobs later in life when I badly needed one.  I feel my work ethic shone through.

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Segway

I’ve recently read no less than three articles where the word segue was incorrectly used/spelled, because a writer, trying to appear erudite, had no idea what he was writing.  The word, pronounced, Seg – Way, reminded me of the Segway scooter, the two-wheeled person mover, which balances on its tiptoes, by means of gyroscopes.  The company is located near H. E. Ellis’ pile of tires in New Hampster.

On their website, the company brags about being green because Segways produce no emissions, and shows a picture of a wind turbine, but most people plug it in to recharge from an electrical outlet supplied by a sulphur-laced coal-burning power plant.  They also list Segway racing.  I wondered how you hop up a Segway, until I found that they were sponsoring BMX motorcycle races.

When these things first appeared, almost 11 years ago, there were people who touted them as a game changer.  They were to completely revolutionise the personal transportation scene.  These cheerleader types were what I like to refer to as seriously demented.  These things cost almost $4,000.  For that kind of money, you can get a decent-sized second-hand automobile which will carry four people at sixty MPH, enclosed and protected from the weather.

The only places where they are bought and used, is at companies with large, sprawling buildings, and malls.  If you’ve seen Kevin James, in Paul Blart – Mall Cop, you have my sympathy and pity.  If you send me a stamped, self-addressed postcard, I will send you, absolutely free, your choice of either two tickets to his new movie, Zookeeper, or enough IQ points to get you up to being able to watch Lethal Weapon or Rush Hour movies.

The automotive Big Three try to bully their suppliers into using single-floor plants.  It obviates many potential problems of moving parts from floor to floor in case of power failure, or other emergencies.  My company’s Plant II, which they sold, was one floor.  Despite the Jeep plant in Toledo being five stories high, Chrysler urged our management to move to a single-floor facility.

Plants like that often use golf carts for management to get around.  They cost about as much as a Segway, but again, will carry up to four people and/or freight, move faster, and you ride sitting down.  Some buildings are so crowded with machinery or stored goods that golf carts are not useful.

I did two weeks of Monday to Friday, midnight security in a building where furniture for Electrohome was made, stereo and TV cabinets, as well as easy chairs and footstools.  They had a boiler in the plant which required a 24/7 rotation of Stationary Engineers, but for the two-week summer shut-down period, the place was empty, therefore, security guards.

To make the hourly security patrol around the vast, winding pedestrian walkway on foot would have taken almost an hour, and then it would be time to do it again, with no-one to answer the phone or watch the doors.  For the supervisors, they provided three or four pony-bikes.  Remember them?  Small bikes, banana seats, back wheel larger than the front, protruding, chopper-style steering!  I suppose it would have been possible to roll Segways around the twisty, narrow walkways, if they’d been available back then.  I did it with the pony bike.

My then teen-age son accompanied me for a couple of midnight shifts.  Like the big kids we both were, we brought along water pistols, and rode around trying to hit different targets on the fly.  We each earned a compliment from the other.  I have taken almost 350 hours of gun handling/safety training.  Despite playing with “only water-pistols” I controlled the muzzle, and never pointed it at anything I didn’t intend to shoot.  The son lauded me for that, and I returned the praise for having noticed, and learning to do the same.

The furniture moved from department to department on roller conveyors, 30 inches off the floor, some of them powered.  In the shipping department there was a roller ramp, where the pallets/boxes rolled down to the floor.  The second night the son came with me, I rolled into the shipping department on my little pony bike, with him right behind me.  I saw that roller ramp, and silliness ensued.  I rode my bike right up the ramp, and onto the conveyor system, and he followed me.

Soon, we were making the security rounds by riding on the rollers.  The bikes were short enough that any balance problems could be immediately solved, just by putting feet on the conveyor side rails, but that never happened.  You had to maintain modest, steady acceleration.  A sudden powerful push on the pedals produced a short stretch of wildly spinning rollers. I bet you can’t do that with a Segway.

You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.  A big part of security work is boredom, and how to combat it.  The employer hopes that as much energy and attention as possible is directed toward actual security of the facility, but, ya gotta have a little fun sometimes.  My son also accompanied me on a Friday night shift in a small-town, where they had an arena full of expensive boats for a weekend boat-show, and a broken lock on the back door.

For obvious reasons they didn’t give us the key to the refreshment stand area, but there were chairs inside, as well as paper cups and ice we wished to use for soft drinks we brought along.  Two curious monkeys investigated the stand.  I found one way in at the same time the son found a different way.  When two of the organizers staggered walked in around 2 AM, after closing a bar, we immediately waved to them.

After being asked, we pointed out the soft spots.  One could be fixed by having personnel reminded to lock the steel roll-down.  The other was a hole in a concrete wall, where they had inserted an easily moved popcorn machine.  Not so easily remedied.  Fix the damned lock on the back door!

An Analog Curmudgeon In A Digital World

The new world of communications is owned by the young.  The younger the person, the more and better they are connected to the rest of the world.  I value my peace and solitude.  To a large degree I do not wish the rest of the world to be connected to me.

I suppose, like many other things, I’m communicatively in the middle.  Unlike people like my brother, I own and use a computer, and have for years.  Unlike some of you young whipper-snappers out there, I don’t Face Book, I twit people, but I don’t Tweet, I don’t Pinterest, I don’t pingback.  I don’t include photos with my posts, although I’m on the slow train to learning how.  The wife is trying to learn how to embed videos, and when she figures it out, she might get the whip and chair, and train me.

The younger the more likely but, what many of you have learned about computers and other electronics, almost by osmosis, continues to elude me.  I’m a light-switch kind of guy in a serial-thinking world.  I can do 1/0 easily, but 1011010011100101100 makes me work for it.

Continuing with the light-switch analogy, (see, I told you I was analog.) I remember twist light-switches, before the up/down, on/off version became standard.  If I want a light on, I flip the switch up.  If I want the light off, I go flip the switch down.  Simple, easy!  Even light-switches are becoming “computerised”.

I had a new garage door installed recently.  If I push the button to raise or lower the door, the light on the motor comes on….and stays on for a minute, after the door is up or down.  I could (maybe) reprogram it down to 30 seconds, if I just climb up on a ladder and remove the housing.  I probably won’t go broke paying for a minute’s electricity, but my cheap Scottish OCD wants that damned light off when I’m done.

To turn the light off, I have to push the light button.  Not an ON button, or an OFF button, just a light button.  The light’s already on, but I have to *turn it on.*  I push the button, and wait two seconds for it to recognize.  Now the light knows it’s on, so I push the same button that I just pushed to turn it on, to turn it off, and wait two seconds.  If all goes well, the garage goes dark.  If all does not go well, the neighbor kid learns some new words.

Speaking of lights, these new twisty fluorescents that they’re pushing us to replace our incandescents with, are not an unmixed blessing.  Oh, they do save money by using less power, and they will give the equivalent amount of light….if you wait for them to warm up.  All you have to do is go into a dark room five minutes before you need light, and turn them on.  The ones outside the front door and garage take forever in the winter.

In our garage, we have our garbage pail, a blue recycling bin, and a heavy-duty paper bag for kitchen waste.  I open the door/step out a half-dozen times a day.  All four cats are fascinated.  Two have learned to squirt out for a look, as I drop stuff in the pail.  One has been squeezed by the rapidly closing door a few times, but still makes the run whenever he can get away with it.  Oh well, the light’s out, let him stay out there in the dark for five minutes.   As the weather gets colder, he’ll stay warm inside more.

I stepped out a couple of weeks ago and pushed the up-door button….and it didn’t.  Great!  A brand-new closer, and it won’t work.  It took me a week to figure out why.  The old door went up and down!  If there was something under it on the way down, too bad, guillotine!  The new door has an infra-red sender/receiver combo mounted 6 inches off the floor.  If they don’t talk to each other, the door don’t work.

One time, when the cat was prowling around in the dark, he must have stepped on the receiver unit, and popped it off the rail.  I snapped it back into place and, Viola, the door works fine, finally.  I only learned a couple of years ago about drag-up and drag-down menus on computer screens.  Actually, they’re not on the screen.  If I can’t see them, how in Hell do I even know they’re there?!

We bought a new stereo receiver a couple of years ago.  The demo model in the store worked fine.  I took mine home and connected the Gordian Knot to the back of it and turned it on to AM.  Nothing!  Switched to FM.  Nothing!  Switched to CD.  Nothing!  Back to AM.  Nothing, nothing, nothing!  I took it back to the store and said it was defective.  The little sales clerk, who was younger than my socks, soon had it working perfectly.  Apparently, this unit has a five-second recognition span, and I didn’t have a five-second patience span before I changed functions.  Duh, never mind.

I’m learning new things and getting more proficient with the computer all the time.  With my attention-span and crappy memory it’s a struggle.  Just when I get barely competent, version 7 of some program comes out, and I start learning all over again.  Click on this icon.  Open option box, choose and enter option.  Pull up currently invisible menu, activate function initialize.  Choose desired function, place cursor on box and right-click twice, while holding a piece of Edam cheese between your upper lip and nose.  Perform all these actions with a hand with Parkinson-like tics, and three cats crawling all over the computer desk.

I don’t want to have to train the computer.  I want one that’s already smarter and has a better memory than me.  That’s the whole point.  Shouldn’t be that hard; the light-switch and his friend the doorknob can already outwit me.  I’d go back to the Freddy Flintstone sheet of slate, with hammer and chisel version, but it’s no longer compatible!  Aaggh!  Insanity, version 3.0.  Failure is not an option.  It comes pre-installed.