Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Total Eclipse

Saturday morning I woke up at around four AM and once again found myself unable to sleep. This seems to be a new trend with me, and I am not at all happy about it. Saturday is supposed to be my day to sleep in - the day that my spouse gets up with the kids and I get to snore and drool on my pillow. Not so much these days though, as far more often than not, I find myself laying there and looking at the ceiling. Anyway, it didn't take me too long to acknowledge the reality, and so I dragged myself out of bed and went downstairs to slurp some coffee. At about 630 AM I started hearing odd noises outside and so I took a peek out the front door. Much to my surprise, I found my neighbors garage wide open, and the garage lit up like a UFO landing site. I stood there at the door for a moment, then looked down at the pajamas that I was still wearing, and thought to myself "what the hell, why not!" Coffee cup still in hand, I strolled across the street in my PJ's.
"Well YOU'RE at it kind of early this morning aren't you?" I quipped as I approached his garage. He had his hands and his head buried in the engine compartment of his hot rod, and clearly he hadn't heard my approach, because he jumped about a foot into the air when I spoke.
"Hey neighbor!" He said with a laugh, reaching out and shaking my hand. "Well, you know there is a car show going in today right? There are gonna be a LOT of real cool cars and neat people there. Just trying to get her ready so I can go show her off!"

He has been working on this car for years, pretty much building it from scratch. He and another friend of his built the frame, and he had been trying to get all of the pieces collected and put together into something resembling a hot rod for a long time. It might not be the prettiest car you will ever see, but if you had known all of the blood, sweat, and tears that he had poured into that thing, you would consider it a thing of beauty. After more than half a decade, he finally had it mobile and he was just dying to get it out and on the road.
"You know you really ought to pull the mustang out and come with me! You would have a ball and there are going to be some great cars there to look at."
"Awe hell, you know that Mustang is nowhere near car show ready, and never will be." I told him with a laugh.
"Hey now, don't be selling yourself short there, you've done a LOT of work on her. I think you should take her."
I sat there sipping at my coffee trying to figure out how to politely tell him that there was no way in hell that I was dragging my poor beat up Mustang into a car show. I guess he saw the thought process in my eyes, because then he pulled out all of the stops.
"You know I've never had this any farther than around the block. I'd sure appreciate having some backup?" He said, looking me straight in the eye. So now we had gone from "you should do this because it will be fun" to "I really wish I had someone to follow me just in case something goes wrong".  And so my pretty pony and I went to the car show . . . 

It turned out to be good that I followed him, because he did indeed have a couple of minor issues that probably would have resulted in his turning around and going back home part way. It turns out that he had made a goof and accidentally trapped the wire going to his temperature sensor between the engine and the transmission. This is what we in electronics like to call a "dead short", and it resulted in his temperature gage constantly reading maximum. In other words, it was telling him that his car was over heating at all times. Fortunately he just happened to have a field service engineer following him in a blue Mustang that had all of the gear to find that short, and also had a temperature probe to prove that the engine was in fact running at exactly the right temperature. In less than ten minutes, we were back on the way to the car show.

I've got to admit that I really enjoyed myself, but I really head to work at not leaving drool on some of the cars that I looked at. So many cars that I would have dearly loved to have, and so many of them with paint jobs that I will never be able to afford. There were a couple of cars there that everyone seemed to agree were just TOO pretty. This was not a crowd that was impressed by how much money you had spent - these guys almost all seemed to prefer cars that people actually worked on and built themselves. Over and over I watched people walk right past the picture perfect and magazine quality hot rods, just to stop and talk shop at the rusted car sitting next to it. I don't know why, but this attitude kind of impressed me. My mustang got a little love, but not much. In the antique car and hot rod crowd, your average Mustang is the equivalent of a cockroach - common as hell and found everywhere. Don't get me wrong, there are some Mustangs that were built for power that these guys would consider to be deserving of respect, but your standard, run-of-the-mill, stock Mustang - no, not so much.  

I found myself desperately trying to recall the names of all of the guys that I was meeting, but I'm afraid I did a poor job. I'd have to admit that I felt a little uncomfortable at times, because most of these guys had grown up together, all ran in the same crowd, and were definitely the macho types. Into the mix comes I, a fairly clueless individual with no biceps and no tattoos. If not for the efforts of my neighbor to include me, I doubt anyone would have spoken twice to me.  I had just decided to find a spot in the shade and sit down for a moment when my phone rang. The day was all downhill after that. . .

So tell me - why is it that when it comes to work, the shit never hits the fan on a Monday morning? Why does it always have to be late Friday afternoon, or Saturday when things go to hell, and people are screaming that they need help? One of our larger customers has one of our more complex machines, and it no worky. Since it no worky, part of the customers factory no worky. When THAT happens, people start loosing lots of money every hour and they tend to get a bit excitable about it. I guess this problem had actually started Friday night, but since the customer was not in my region, I had known nothing about it. My region or not, I was the one that everyone started calling Saturday afternoon when the customer started screaming. It is Sunday morning as I type this, and guess who is on an airplane to Utah?

I used to actually dislike traveling on US Airways because their people just weren't anywhere close to being as personable as the folks at Delta Airlines, but I am happy to share that this has changed. Most of the people that I have interacted with on the last few flights have actually been quite friendly with me. As I walked up to the airline counter, the lady behind it looked up and gave me a great big smile.
"Well good morning and welcome back! Two bags to check?" She asked, eyeing the two large bags that I was pulling and no doubt having dealt with me so me many times.
"Sure - two big and HEAVY bags for ya'!" I replied with a laugh as I set my bags up onto her scale. "Y'all must just LOVE me for making you heft so much weight all of the time."
"Oh come on now, they aren't THAT bad!" She said, reading the weight off of the display. There was a moment of quiet as she punched a lot of keys trying to bring up my reservation.
"I had to book this flight at the last second just last night; what's the odds of my getting an upgrade now?" I asked her.
"Hold on and I'll look for you." She answered with a cheerful tone, and then started typing again. "Today is your lucky day we have seats available."
"Yay!" I said with a grin.
"But it won't let me give one to you." She said with a frown, still typing at.
"Not yay," I moaned.
"Well it told me that there were seats available and asked if I wanted to give one to you. I told it 'yes' but it didn't change your seat." She told me with a puzzled tone of voice.
"So it just wanted to know if I WANTED the seat, it wasn't necessarily offering to GIVE it to me huh?"
"That seems to be the case," she laughed. "Hold on - got it!"
So, it might be Sunday, and I might be headed to a major customer without a single component to try and resolve their issue, but I'm ah goin there first class!

When it came time to board the aircraft, the gate agent came over the PA and gave a slightly modified version of their usual spiel:
"When you approach the podium, we would appreciate it if you would have your tickets out and ready. Please don't have them wadded up, wrinkled up, or soaking wet." Fortunately the crowd in the gate area saw the humor in her request and laughed about it, but I decided to have fun with her as I was handing in my ticket.
"So your pretty fussy and demanding when it comes to these things huh?” I asked her with a wink.
"Ugh!" She let out an exasperated sigh, dropping her hand with my ticket still in it for emphasis. "You wouldn't belief the way some people hand them to us - all torn up and wadded in a little ball!"
"And let me guess," I said as she handed me back my ticket. "Some people are holding them in their mouths because they are carrying so many bags they have no other way to hold them."
"YES. EXACTLY!" She replied with a laugh. 

Oh, that failed system? Yeah, I got it running again.

On the cool side of things, the weather in SLC was perfect and flawless for viewing the total eclipse of the moon! If I had been at home in Austin, I would have missed seeing it!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Screwed the pooch!

Well, I screwed the pooch! (Messed up)

For those of you that don't know, Flickr is a website where you can upload your photos onto the internet. Once there, you can use these photos in blogs or posts on forums. All of the photos that you see in my blog are posted in that way - the photo exists on the Flickr website, and in my blog post, I tell the blog where to find that photo so that it can be displayed here.

Well, for personal reasons I recently changed my flickr account to make all of my photos private for a while. When I decided that this was no longer necessary, I changed them all back to "public" and thought that that would be that! I was wrong.
You see, Flickr pulled a fast one on me - it changed the LOCATION of each and every photo on my account. Now if you think about that for a second, you will realize that this is a pretty big problem for me. . .

For years I've been writing blogs and making posts on forums. As an example, in any one of those posts, I've told the blog software to find the photo that I want displayed in that particular post at "flickr/StupidKimberly/folder A/pic 1" and now flickr has changed that location to "flickr/StupidKimberly/Folder C/pic 1". As a result, every post and blog that I have ever made over the last decade and a half now links to photo locations that no longer exist - that is why all of the photos do not display correctly now. 
I will slowly make my way through all of the old blogs that I have posted and fix them. As long as I am going through the effort anyway, I will probably go ahead and move/copy the photos I used in this blog to's photo hosting site so that this doesn't happen again. Closing the barn door AFTER the horse has escaped . . . 

I've had a lot of emails and messages asking if I am all right, and so I thought I should make a post to let everyone know that nothing is wrong with me and I have not died or gone into hiding. I've just unintentionally screwed things up and there is no way to fix it in a hurry.
I also want y'all you to know how much I appreciate the concern that so many of you showed - y'all are awesome!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Catching up with Kim

Fair warning – some of you may have developed a picture of me in your head as a happy-go-lucky and upbeat person, always up for the challenge, and always heading out into the real world no matter what people may think of me. If you want to keep that picture in your head, you might wanna just go ahead and hit the “back” button on your browser now. I’ve always been upfront and honest in my blog, and am not about to change that now just because it is not a happy story.

As I am sure that you have noticed, my blogs are coming few and far between these days, and that is for an assortment of reasons. I have been very busy for my job, and am doing quite a lot of travel, but not much of it is as Kim. Nope, these days I am doing most of my travel the old fashioned way – as a tired and old man.  

On the few trips that I have recently made “as Kim” (as if I am ever not Kim at some level) nothing worthy of writing a blog has occurred. I don’t know if people are changing and becoming acclimated to folks like us, or if my own perceptions have changed, but it seems that only rarely does anything terribly amusing or interesting happen these days when I travel.  So, with nothing interesting occurring, there is no point to try writing a blog about it.
“Today I took a trip – nothing happened.”
The other considerations are darker I am afraid. I can’t recall the last time when I traveled pretty and actually felt like it was worth the time and effort. Worse yet, I’ve actually begun to feel like a bit of a freak myself.  I can handle knowing that other people may consider me a freak, but when I start to feel that way about myself, we have a bit of a problem I think.

 When I first started out on this little adventure, that is exactly what it was – an exciting adventure! It was also more than a little personally fulfilling for me. After a lifetime of hiding, of wishing, and of wondering what it would be like, I was at last out and about in the world as a woman, and it was a wonderful thing!  I felt great and at peace with myself and at peace with my own personal demons.
These days? Not so much. I feel like nothing more than a chubby old man in a dress. . .
 I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with being a chubby old man in a dress, but that is not what I am after, what I want, nor how I wish to be perceived.  Screw what others think, that is not how I wish to be perceived by myself.
What I have felt for the last six months or more is not at all flattering, and I am talking about far more than just my vanity. True, I am getting older and showing the wear and tear of those years on my face these days, but that is not the driving force here. This is far more about the way I feel about myself and how I perceive myself. We can debate all day long about the rationality, or lack thereof, of my seeing myself as a woman when I traveled pretty, but rational or not, that is how I felt.  
I felt like “I am Kim – I have a right to be here, I’m pleased to be here, and I am honored to be here. It feels right that I should be here.”
I just don’t know how to state it any clearer, but I don’t feel like a woman when I travel pretty these days.
I feel like a guy who is strutting around in skirts and making an ass out of himself.
I feel like a husband that has put his wife through pure hell.
I feel like a father that has let his children down and done wrong by them.
I feel tired . . .

Despite all of this, I still make the effort here and there, sort of hoping that maybe this is a temporary thing with me that will work itself out; hoping that maybe the wonder will return to it for me. We shall see. . .

SO! What else has been happening with me these days?
To start with, I had a second floor bathroom rot out from under me. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Yeah, the previous owners of our home did a half assed job when they remodeled the bathroom off of the master bedroom. They didn’t use the appropriate drywall to back the shower stall; they just put the tile directly onto regular drywall that is not designed for high moisture or getting wet. Of course our first clue of this was when a tile literally just fell off of the shower wall, exposing the rotted and water damaged wall behind it. Even at that, we had not realized just how bad the damage was behind the tile, and we just stopped using that shower. Well, I finally got up the courage, or got desperate enough, depending upon how you look at it, to tear the shower stall down in preparation for putting up a new one. What I found shocked and devastated us – far more than just the drywall needed to be replaced. Every bit of structural wood behind and under the wall that tile had fallen off of was horribly rotted. Much of the wood was flat out gone – long since turned to dust and fallen away. Some of the wood remaining was about the consistency of Styrofoam – so weak and brittle that you could put your finger through it easily. What had started out as a one or two weekend job to replace a shower stall had morphed into two months or so of rebuilding an entire bathroom, to include the structure of the floor and the exterior wall. You just haven’t lived until to see your home with a gaping hole through the exterior wall up on the second floor. We have the scary part done now – the structure of the floor, sub floor, and wall is once again sound, strong, and complete. Now all we have to do is come up with a lot of money to buy the things required to do the “finish” work and install a proper floor and interior wall surface. We are going to use a “wood-like substance” for the floor (something that looks like wood but is designed to tolerate water) and we are going to put wood up on the walls. Once that is out of the way, we will install a claw foot “slipper” tub IF we can get the damned thing up the steps. At four hundred pounds, getting it up there is going to be a significant challenge.

As I think I mentioned on my last blog, my oldest son is going through a divorce. I don’t know any details and wouldn’t share them here if I did, but let’s suffice it to say that it is a hard time for him. My little boy, my first child, is in the US Navy, far away from home, hurting, and there is absolutely nothing that I can do to help make it better for him. What little I hear from him makes it clear that he is not doing real well and is clearly depressed. I just hope that he handles depression better than I did when I was his age, but I’m kind of doubting it. I turned to alcohol and pretty much drank like a fish, and I suspect that he might be doing much the same. I call and text him often and let him know that even if he is far away, he is never alone – we are always with him and will always have his back. I make sure that he knows that if he needs me, I can and will be there in no more than a day or two – no longer than it takes to either get flights or drive there.  It sucks but it’s all I’ve got to offer him.

Do you remember those huge and painful bruises that I used to get on my legs for no obvious reason at all? We thought that we had that licked as I had gone almost two years without them, but they have once again graced me with their presence. Even as I type this, my lower left calf is a pretty shade of red and swollen to half again its normal width. It feels and pretty much looks exactly as if someone had taken a blow torch and burnt the entire lower calf with it. It hurts and it hurts bad, but in over 15 years, the dozen doctors that I have seen for it still can’t figure out what is causing it, nor come up with a treatment to make it go away. I just try to grin and bear it, except that I can’t grin and I can hardly bear it. Gotta feed the wife and babies though, so I keep going even though I can hardly walk first thing in the morning until it swells up so bad that it can no longer transmit pain. There are people out there with MUCH more serious problems so I will try and keep mine in perspective.

And at work?  The only other field service engineer in my company that understood one of our more prolific instruments as well as I do is about to be fired. It seems that he has been fabricating receipts for things and expensing them to the company. Eventually, he got over confident and got so blatant that he caught the attention of our accounting department. They started going through his expense reports with a fine tooth comb, and then started reviewing his old ones, and have clear and unambiguous proof that he has been committing fraud and stealing from our company. There is no question that he is going to be fired. Now the question is, will they prosecute him? All questions of integrity and honor aside, I find it hard to imagine being stupid enough to risk a job that pays well and offers a lot of freedom, just to steal a hundred dollars here and there. It just doesn’t make sense to me. This guy lived in New Jersey, with-in driving distance of a LOT of our customers, and so now someone is going to have to pick up the slack when he is gone, and I expect that it will be me.
It’s ironic aint it? Now that I am no longer delighted to travel, it is almost a certainty that I will be traveling a lot in the near future. Sigh . . .