Sunday, July 27, 2008

Emma's 9th Birthday

We had a great time at Emma's party, yesterday. Did the presents, did the cake, had fun out of the sun in the Family Room. Emma got lots of good stuff, including her bi-annual replacement Elmo and Zoe puppets.

Once again, the cameras were rolling. Commence with the Amateur Auteur Hour:



 emma opens card


Happy Birthday, Girl!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Great Aunt Willo May

Willo May

The service for Willo May was yesterday. I waited until today to write about her because I needed to. I wanted to reverberate the thoughts of her family, friends, and co-workers with my own, in an effort to be not quite so selfish in my thinking about her. For you see, it's one of the words that describes Willo May. Unselfish.

Willo May was, as her son said, part of "The Greatest Generation." She was a professor of music - piano, organ, theory - for some 39 years. She taught piano to thousands of people, including me. She began playing piano, then organ, in church services at the age of 12, nearly every Sunday, until 17 days before her death - a span of 79 years. She was one of those individuals who befriended nearly everyone, cooked for nearly everyone, taught us all much more than just music, and prayed and cared for everyone. She has played piano and organ for multiple generations of families' weddings (yes, mine and my parents') and funerals - she's accompanied thousands of rehearsals, recitals, choirs. . . A life of service.

She has always been a part of my consciousness, my wider family circle. As a young boy, we would travel to Aunt Willo May's for Thanksgiving and New Year's Day - they lived in Pasadena, and, back then, on New Year's Day, the floats from the Rose Parade would be parked about three blocks from their home, where we could see them up close. I know that it was more about the food and the fellowship, though, than flowers. In my memory, I have been remembering the sights and smells of that house, these past weeks. Her husband, Dan, was a football fan of epic proportions, particularly college football. His enthusiasm was infectious, and I found myself following players just to try and impress Uncle Dan, or at least keep up, when we were there. Thanksgiving usually included at least one guest from the college, or a serviceman from church - their hospitality nearly always extended outward to someone not home for the holidays. To put it bluntly, they set standards for us all, not by display, but by practice, of how to serve and love each other.

Then there were the piano lessons. Learning to play the piano, unfortunately, became the skirmish line in the battle between my Mother and I for control. I hated it. I was learning to play the cello, then the bass, rock and roll was in full swing, all I saw were guitars and basses - and I really didn't want to be a church pianist at all. It is a testament to both of them that they persevered with me as long as they did, and I did learn many valuable things about theory and life and love from Willo May. You see, we lived in Long Beach, about 30 -40 miles apart. Mom used to drive me, every other weekend, for at least two years, to Willo May's for piano lessons. I have a musical gift that is in fact a two-headed monster - I have a real 'ear' for music. It makes it easy for casual music, to learn by listening. It doesn't work so well for the orchestra or, let's say, playing the piano, where you're really supposed to play the notes exactly as written. Most piano teachers, when giving me new music, would play the piece for me as an example. I would then go home and, when not stubbornly not practicing, I would learn to play the song from memory, not disciplining myself to translate the notation. Willo May figured this out, and started handing me music to learn sans demonstration. It was tough love. What small skills I now possess in the realm of reading music are attributable to her - as much for the realization that there was more to be gained by this than by not learning it, that discipline brought long-term rewards over short term satisfaction. She set a new standard for me. I didn't meet it, and I don't think it was too long after that that Mom surrendered to the battle of wills. Over the years, I had a few opportunities to play alongside her, as a bass player, and she was always very complimentary. She didn't know it, but I cherished those times, as I did her approval. I know that she wasn't pleased that I hadn't pursued the piano, but she never spoke a word to me to that effect. Willo May was a self-determined accompanist, and I understood this, and have shared and tried to emulate that aspect in my own playing.

I'd always felt that Willo May 'got' me, that she knew me pretty well, and loved me in spite of all that. I came to the realization, many years ago, however, that that was the way just about everyone else felt about her. The loss of that feeling of exclusivity, eventually, made me just love her more. Whether this trait was a gift, or the result of great effort, I do not know, but she applied it generously.

She died from what turned out to be a rapidly growing brain tumor. The diagnosis was that she'd have 3-4 months to live. I lazily assumed that she'd be around, this next weekend, for Emma's birthday party. I didn't speak with her. Fortunately, a large number of those that she'd 'gotten' did. She teaches, again, by example. Don't hesitate to tell those you love that you love them.

Yesterday was beautiful. I cried, not from sorrow, but from gratitude. Many people never know someone like Willo May. Others are influenced. I was privileged to gain part of her heritage; to claim her as my own, if only in small part. The outpouring of music, most of it selected by her, was testament to both her talent and heart for her savior. Her legacy is substantial, albeit mostly played out in churches around the world on Sunday mornings, not in great concert halls.
A life lived with excellence, through service to others. It is the life that Christ calls us all to.
Well Done, Aunt Willo May. Thank you. Thank you.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tube System Tales - Epilogue

Sunday night, one of the four APU's (blower) motor bearings went to pieces. The decision was made to tear the motor down to see how much damage had been done. My 'mentor' joined me, and helped me disconnect it and unbolt it from the floor.


The APU lineup.
The black boxes are air shifters. Air goes into the motor on the left tube, out of the motor on the right, the air shifter's like a paddle that moves in a circular housing to direct the flow.


Here's the APU off the floor.
Notice the screens at the bottom. The inlet side is about 70% PLUGGED. The outlet side, about 40% PLUGGED.

My 'mentor" - the guy that I'd inherited the system from, was flabbergasted. He had no idea that these screens were there, let alone that they needed to be cleaned. The preventive maintenance work order procedure (quarterly) says to clean the blower motor screens, but he thought that meant another set of screens that are on the air shifters. Upon further discussion, and questioning, there were other employees that knew of this need, and had in fact performed this maintenance - it was a situation where the proper information had not been passed along from knowledgeable people to those that needed to know. These screens had not been inspected or cleaned for at least THREE YEARS.

I left the motor tear down to the real mechanics, and returned to the tube room. One at a time, I cleared and cleaned blocked screens. Four hours later, I had a rockin' tube system. To express it numerically, tube stations where my meter had shown vacuum of 5 inches of water now showed 15. The BOC guy got a complaint call from one floor secretary that her tube station was making too much noise - no, baby, that's the sucking sound of success!

That nagging feeling that something wasn't the way it was supposed to be was gone. The need to primp and preen each opening and orifice to keep minimum functionality was gone. The pressure, now on full blast, was off me. I was observed, smiling, at work - a phenomenon rarely seen since the turn of the century. Like the motors, I was relieved. It is now 10 degrees cooler in the tube room than it usually is. Transactions - tracked by the computer - are taking 2/3 of the time they used to take to get there. Faster. Better. More reliable. Me happy.
I can deal with this.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sucker, Part IV, or Existing in a Vacuum

In frustration, I turned to the healthier parts of the system. I learned that:

  • There are several different ways to construct a diverter - it seemed that each one was put together in a manner different from the last 3 I had looked at. I am going to assume that it's because diverters are set up differently - horizontal tubes, vertical tubes, etc - and not that we were just the victim of using whatever happened to be on the truck, that day. It didn't really matter now, except that each solution would be different.
  • In my well-working zones, there wasn't a whole lot of difference in pressure/suction between the stations closest to the APU's (Air Power Units - blowers) and those at the farthest end. This meant that it was possible to realistically expect this - not to assume that the end stations were just going to be weak.
  • The two zones I had problems with, those stations had the largest number of diverters between them and the APU's. More opportunities for leakage. Sure, it makes sense now, but I was learning this on my own.
  • Suction was the first indicator of a problem, because of inertia. When pressure is applied to the tube, it's only about 20 feet from the APU. Gets the kick in the pants and off it goes. If the pressure's weakening as it gets to the outer limits of the system, gravity and inertia tend to carry it along. With suction, it's the opposite. The closest analogy I've thought of is holding a rubber band between your two hands. The farther you pull your hands apart, the more force it takes. That, of course is kinetic energy pulling your hands back together, but the point is that that energy has to be transmitted the entire length of the tube to have an effect on that carrier sitting out in the open atmosphere in an arm to be pulled into the tube in the first place. The reverse effect. Did I mention that I have a degree in psychology? Thank you.

Fascinated? I know I am. Let's continue.

One exampleslider1, then we'll move on. Here's one end of one diverter. The white plastic ring is what would slide on the metal wall of the box from one path to the other. The other end would be connected to a section of metal tube with a rubber sleeve, flexible enough to accommodate the movement. At the other end, another sleeve to the one opening at the other end. Now, let's take a closer look, shall we?


I would draw your attention to the brown thing between the white ring and the metal. That's a rubber ring, yes it is. It's actually tubing that's wedged in there, with the ends glued together to make a ring. Now, this is one of the things that I really didn't see until someone pointed it out to me - remember that these boxes are wedged up in the ceiling between conduits, steam lines, gas lines of various persuasions, etc. - and this is only one configuration. Some of these details, one can only find by feel or shutting it down and dismantling them. It was time, though.

There was no huge leak. They were all over. It became a matter of methodically working through the diverters, and the suction increased gradually until we were peggin' the meter everywhere.

The lessons learned were these:

  • The system was more complex (and better designed) than I originally thought it was.
  • Because of this, my expectations of what it could do needed to change.
  • Once my predecessor finally started to get more detailed, this included admitting to a certain lack of maintenance and, shall we say, follow-through on his and others' parts. Aye, there's the rub! Now the college boy was making him look bad. Guess what, the system was doing that, not me.

So, I'm smarter, it's better, and I've gained a certain confidence in an area I never wanted to know better. I'm proud of the work ethic that's been instilled in me by those who chose to invest, as well as my own stubbornness and ability to work through really being pissed off. Sad to say, I'm surrounded by a working atmosphere where, when the work's not obvious, people take shortcuts and would rather put some tape on something that really needs to be replaced. Most of this system is hidden; I have literally pulled 3-4 layers of tape off certain places. It is also sad that our current working environment does not lend itself readily to mentoring, apprenticeship, the passing down of the values behind the processes, the true nature of quality that starts with the person holding the tools, doing the right thing, making those pieces shine that no one else would ever see. It was this realization that turned my anger into action, and then into pride of accomplishment. I learned what it would take to make this work like it should, and then did it. It's why I've gone on so long about it. Nobody else really cares, beyond it's working or not, but I know better. I'm not proud about a lot of things; you won't hear me talk like this, very often (at least I hope not). It has been something of a journey for me, this tube system.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Sucker, Part III

Pardon the blurry cellphone pics, please.


Ok, so I was angry. The guy before me was really too busy to help me, cleaning out a boiler. I was left to my own devices. I soon learned that there were no devices - you just kinda looked around for leaks, fixed what you found, and tried it again. I had a couple of problems with this, in that I didn't know what I was looking at, listening for, or feeling around at. After about a week, crawling around in ceilings - oh yes, it's all in the ceilings, obscured by ductwork, insulation, and conduits - I decided that I needed a device. Something to measure the movement of air, specifically suction. Following the layout of the zone, I still really couldn't tell where my vacuum was dropping off, at least not by sticking my hand into the open maw of each tube station to get a sense. I needed numbers.


Air pressure/vacuum is measured in "inches of water" - no, I really still don't know what that means, my degree is in psychology. At any rate, I found a Magnehelic gauge with a working range for what I wanted to do, and set to drilling, running a tube through a carrier to said gauge. My co-workers gazed at me with disdain, the college boy's wasting more time. I fitted it with a rubber collar, I didn't want this thing taking off and embarrassing me further.



I soon learned that a properly working station would peg the scale, providing at least 5 inches of water. The non-working stations were only 'pulling' 3 or more. Receiving, at the end of the line, barely made 2.

I enlisted the aid of my co-workers. Some gave me good advice, some told me long, anecdotal stories with no real point, and still others sent me on complete wild-goose chases. One of the things that ultimately turned me from psychology as a career, as a young man, was that it's practical application depended upon one's philosophy/philosophies, there were no concrete answers. I was beginning to feel that way about this tentacled beast that seemed to defy common sense. Everyone had their theories, but none were proven. I was wrong, of course, it was just a matter of getting the right information, this is physics, not the inner workings of the human mind.

I was on my way. There was at least one big leak, and I was going to find it. Now, if it had been water, the problem would be evident. How to find it? Couldn't use smoke. . . although it was tempting. Thought of using some sort of odor, but I let that pass, too. I knew from my exploration that there were no gaping holes, no cracked open section due to some contractor's mucking about on some other mission. It had to be the diverters. Specifically, it had to be either diverter C12, C07, C11 or C06. I'd been told (and shown!) by one co-worker that they were all fine. Little did I know that he knew as little as I did.

Next time: Diversions and Elbog's rubber-band theory of space and time.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hey, Ain't This Great!

Woman has breast cancer-free baby!

Hope they can soon screen for the "won't grow up to hate her parents and join the Druids" gene or "economic success - will definitely end up on the dole" gene.
I'm just saying. We're on the precipice. How good is your vision?