Category Archives: Adventure

Power Plant Control Room Operator and the Life of Pi

Whenever I walked into the Control Room at the coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma and saw Jim Cave manning the helm, I couldn’t help but smile.  I would do the same thing when Gene Day was standing there, but for a different reason.  Jim just seemed to make everyone feel at ease.  There is something special about his personality that rubs everyone the right way.

Jim worked for the company the first summer in 1979 when I was working as a summer help in the maintenance shop.  I really didn’t know him until he became a control room operator and I was in the electric shop.  He was always one of the brighter bulbs in the box.

When I first met Jim Cave, the first thing that came to mind was that he reminds me of a News reporter.  He looks like someone that you would think would be telling you the daily news on TV.  He has that likeable face that you would trust to tell you the news each day.  Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with Jim because he automatically brightened up the photograph.  Thanks to Jim’s Facebook page, I have some pictures to show you.

Chuck Crabtree, Bill Epperson and Jim Cave (from right to left)

Chuck Crabtree, Bill Epperson and Jim Cave (from left to right)

Actually, I think all of the pictures of operators that I have used in my posts over the years have come from Jim Cave’s Facebook photos.  You can see from the picture above that Jim Cave seems to stand out as someone who might be a reporter on the nightly news.

Before I tell you about how Jim Cave has his own story pertaining to the Life of Pi, let me show you a couple of more photos of Operators who couldn’t resist posing with Jim Cave:

Eddie Hickman and Jim Cave

Eddie Hickman and Jim Cave

Jim Cave and Bill Hoffman

Jim Cave and Bill Hoffman

Yipes. Notice how comfortable Jim is standing between Gene Day and Joe Gallahar

Yipes. Notice how comfortable Jim is standing between Gene Day and Joe Gallahar?  Joe.  Is that a Mandolin?

You can see that no matter the situation, Jim is always smiling.  I can’t think of any time that I saw Jim that he wasn’t smiling a genuine smile.

Now that I have embarrassed Gene Day by showing him wearing short shorts (which was the full intent of this post.  The rest about Jim Cave is just to put it in some sort of context), I will begin the actual story…

A new computer was installed one day that was called a VAX system. Instead of being a large mainframe computer in cabinets, this one sat out in the middle of the floor.

a VAX server

a VAX server

This allowed the control room to monitor readings from most of the power plant systems right there on a computer monitor.  This was a new thing at the time.  A few years after it was installed, a new program was installed on a computer on the counter behind the Control Room operator’s desk.  The software was called PI.

OSIsoft software called PI

OSIsoft software called PI

As a side note:  This software was being used by Koch Industry to control oil pipelines across the country.  I’ll tell you how I know below.

When a program like this is first installed, it isn’t of much use.  The reason is that in order to monitor everything, the screens have to be setup.  You can see by the screenshots above that each graph, icon and connecting line has to be defined and setup in order to show you a full picture of what is happening.

If a lot of effort is put into building the screens, then this application not only becomes a great benefit to the control room operators, it also benefits the entire operation of the plant.

We had the same situation with SAP.  We had installed SAP in 1997 at the Electric Company, but the real benefit comes when an effort is made up front to put in all the expert data to make it useful.  While Ray Eberle and I were working to put the expert data into SAP, this new PI system was installed in the Control Room.  In order to make it useful, screens needed to be built.

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Jim Cave with Allen Moore standing in the control room

Notice the alarm panels are still there in the picture in 2005.

Some operators weren’t too keen on the computer since they had been staring at these alarm panels all their adult life, and they were just in tune with the power plant as they could be.  Paper recorders, gauges that you might have to tap every now and then to take an accurate reading… colored red, yellow, blue and red lights.  Red Level gauges, Counters, Knobs to turn, Switches to toggle.  Buttons to push.  All of these things gave the operator a physical connection to the power plant system.  Who needs a computer?

Jim Cave saw the benefit right away.  He took the Pi Manual out and began reading it.  He learned how to create new screens and add components.  Then he began the work of giving “Life to Pi”.

Each time Jim added a new system to Pi, the operators saw the benefit of using this tool more and more (like Allen Moore).

In 2000, Jim Cave had built a complete set of screens, releasing the Power of PI upon the Control Room Operators making their jobs easier and giving them much more insight into the operation of the plant that they never would have dreamed 5 years earlier.  (except for Bill Rivers who had predicted this day 17 years earlier when no one would believe him).

Jim Cave’s Shift Supervisor, Gary Wright wanted to recognize Jim Cave for the tremendous effort he put forth to build the PI system into every Power Plant Operator’s dream.  So, he went to Bill Green the Plant Manager and told him that he would like to do something special for Jim to recognize all the effort he put into the Pi system.

Gene Day is the one standing on the right with the Orange shirt.

A young picture of Gary Wright in the front row with Glasses and red hair. Oh, and Gene Day in the Orange Shirt… finally wearing some decent pants.

Bill replied to Gary by asking if Jim did this while he was on the job, or did he come in during his own time to work on it.  Gary replied that Jim had done this while still performing his job of Control Room operator through his own initiative.  It wasn’t part of his regular job.  Bill clarified, “But this work was done while Jim was on the clock?” “Yes”, Gary answered.  “Then Jim was just doing his job”, Bill replied.

Bill Green

Bill Green

At this same time, I was having a conflict of my own that I was trying to work through.  I will go into more detail in a later post, but here it is in a nutshell….

I had been going to the university to get a degree called “Management Information Systems” or MIS from the business college at Oklahoma State University.  I had been applying for jobs in the IT department in our company, but for reasons I will discuss later, I was not allowed to move to the IT department, even when I had only one semester left before graduating with the degree.

My problem was that I was being offered jobs from various companies when I graduated in May.  Boeing in Wichita even gave me a job offer and wanted me to leave school and to work for them on the spot for having a computer and an electrical background to work on military jets, (which sounded real cool).  The electric company had been paying all of my tuition and fees and 75% of the cost of the books.  So, my education had been paid by the company.  I told Boeing that above all, I wanted to finish my degree before I began my career in IT.

I felt as if I owed the electric company my allegiance and that I would stay with them, and that is why I kept applying for jobs within the company.  I felt that way until the day I heard this story about Gary Wright trying to recognize Jim Cave for his extra effort.

When I heard Bill’s response was, “He was just doing his job…”, it suddenly hit me….  The company paying for my tuition was one of my benefits.  I didn’t owe the company anything in return for that.  I had already given them what was due.  I had been their employee and had done my job.  I no longer felt the need to “pay back” the company by staying.  I had already paid them with my service.  I actually remember saying that out loud to Ray Eberle.  “The company paying for my education is my benefit.”

This was a turning point in my job search.  I felt perfectly free after that to accept a job from another company.  Bill’s response to Gary Wright had opened my eyes.  I felt perfectly at ease accepting the job offer from Dell the following month.  It’s too bad that it took snubbing Jim Cave’s extraordinary effort by the plant manager to put my understanding of my situation in the proper light.

During that time, I had a job offer that I had turned down from Koch Industry in Wichita because they didn’t offer me as much pay as some of the other job offers I had received.  A month later they called me back and asked me to go for another interview in a different department.

When I showed up for the interview, it was with the SCADA department.  SCADA stands for Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition.  That is what the electric company called the system that opens and closes breakers remotely.  Koch Industries uses the same type of system to control the pipelines across the country from their one location in Wichita.

After the interview, they showed me around the office.  When we walked into the lab, one person showed me the computer system they were using to control all the pipelines, and lo and behold…. it was the PI system.  The same one that Jim Cave had learned in the control room at our Power Plant.  They offered me a job in that department as well for a little more.

I thought to myself that if I accepted the job with Koch, then I would ask Jim to teach me what he had learned about the Pi software.  This would come in real handy.  It turned out that the offer from Dell was even better than Koch, which was my second choice if I hadn’t accepted the job at Dell.

Things have changed at the plant since the picture in 2005.  I believe it was in 2006 that the alarm panels were removed from the control room and everything was put on the computers.  The control room operators no longer have to stand in front of panels of lights and gauges and knobs and buttons and switches.  It is all viewed on computer screens.

Here is a picture of Jim sitting in front of some of those computer screens…

Jim Cave manning the Control Room Computers

Jim Cave manning the Control Room Computers

I see eleven computer monitors on the counter behind the old control panel and we can’t even see the other half of the counter.  It looks like Jim built so many screens they just kept having to add more and more monitors to show them all. — Oh.  I know that Jim didn’t create all these screens, but he did help acclimate the Control Room operators to using computers so that when the evolution to a completely computerized system did arrive, they were ready for it.

Great work Jim Cave!  Thank you for all you have done for the Electric Company in Oklahoma.  You have made a lasting difference that will carry forward to the next generation of Control Room Operators.  I don’t just mean by giving Life to PI.  Your positive attitude in times of stress to the times of boredom have blessed everyone that ever knew you.

I for one am grateful to have met and worked with a True Power Plant Man such as yourself.

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Crack in Power Plant Armor leads to Gaping Hole in Logic

Sometimes when something is written on paper, it becomes carved in stone (I should copyright that phrase — oh.  as soon as I click “Publish” I will).  I saw a flaw in Power Plant logic one day in November 1994.  Corporate Headquarters for the Electric Company in Oklahoma had decided that they needed very clear job descriptions for their Job Announcement program.  We had just completed a downsizing a few months earlier and two electricians were asked to determine what prerequisites someone would need to be able to do their jobs.  My first thought was… “Is that really a smart way to go about this?”  Just think about it….  You are asking someone who just survived a downsizing to determine what it would take to replace that person with someone else…. Can you see the flaw in this logic?

It was decided that in order to be hired as an electrician, you had to have the following prerequisites:   A technical degree in an electrical field.  A minimum of five years experience as an industrial electrician.  Have a technical knowledge of how to walk on water.  Able to swing from tall buildings using four size 2 conductor cable.  Have extensive experience bending conduit.  Able to work in confined space manholes.  Can bend a one inch diameter stainless steel rod with bare hands.  Black Belt in Six Sigma.  Able to explain the meaning of each color on a resistor.  Not afraid of heights.  Willing to shovel coal. — Yep.  that’s what it requires to do my job.

I knew right away this wasn’t going to be good.  We would never find someone who can both walk on water and was willing to shovel coal.  If we ever had to replace an electrician, it would be darn impossible.  This wasn’t only true for electricians.  Every type of job in the company was given similar treatment.  I had been an electrician for 11 years at that point, and I didn’t even meet the minimum qualifications.  If I had left the company and tried to apply for a job at our plant as an electrician, I would have been turned away at the door.

Whatever minimum requirements were written down did not only apply to outside applicants.  This was required of employees applying through the internal Career Announcement Program (CAP) as well.  In other words, I never would have been able to join the electric shop from the Labor Crew as I did in 1983, with only a scant understanding of what it takes to be an electrician.  It wasn’t until a few years later that this occurred to anyone.  The minimum requirements were relaxed a little.  That was when the training program was put in place to take High  School graduates and above and allow them to train at the plant for a particular skill as I described in the post:  “Power Plant Train Wreck“.  The rest of the company had to live with their own minimum requirements.

The results of asking the employees what the minimum requirements should be for their own jobs, HR had painted themselves into a corner.  I knew why they did this.  It was because they had lawsuits in the past where someone was hired over someone else, and they thought they were more qualified for the job.  So, specific requirements for each job needed to be created…. Actually…. I think this is the opposite of what should have been done.

If I had my druthers, I would have approached this from the opposite direction… let me continue with my story and you will see why.

I started getting my degree in Management Information Systems (MIS) in 1997 at Oklahoma State University.  I was going to graduate from the business school in May 2001.  In the fall of 2000, I had only 6 credit hours (or two more classes) left.  I had started in 1999 applying for IT jobs in our company.  Many times I was asked by people in the IT department to apply for specific job openings.  I had worked with a lot of them, and they would have liked for me to work for them.

Unfortunately, at that time, here was the minimum requirements for a Software Developer:  You had to have one or more of the following:  A Bachelor Degree in Computer Science… OR Bachelor Degree in MIS with at least 9 hours of computer languages (I had the 9 hours of computer languages)… OR Bachelor Degree in a business or technically related field with 18 hours of computer science courses including 9 hours of computer languages…. OR Associate Degree in Computer Science with 9 hours of computer languages and 2 years of software development experience….. OR 8 years of directly related experience such as development in C, C++, ABAP, Visual Basic or Cobol.

Software Developer Career Announcement

Software Developer Career Announcement — Yeah.  I kept a copy….  Actually  I have a stack of about 20 job announcements where I applied.

It was that last requirement that I thought I could use.  Especially since I was well on my way to earning the degree.  I had many years writing code in Visual Basic and C.  I had taken a Cobol class already, and studied ABAP (which is used in SAP) on my own.  So, along with almost having my degree and working with IT for more than 8 years, I applied for these jobs.  Every time I did, HR would kick the application back to me and explain that I didn’t meet the minimum requirements so I was not able to be considered for the position.  Not until I had my degree in my hands.  The HR Director said that all the work I had done with IT didn’t count because I was doing it as an electrician.  She said her hands were tied.

In November 2000 the University had a career fair for students applying for IT or business careers.  So, I attended it.  It was in a large room where each of the companies had setup a booth and you walked around to each booth as the various companies explained why it would be nice to go work for their company.  They explained their benefits, and when they were done, they asked you for your resume (prounounced “rez U May” in case you’re wondering) if you were interested.

Before the career fair, I had gone to lectures on how to go through the interview process, and I had read books about how to create a good resume.  I had bought books on these subjects and read them after having gone to a lecture by the author Martin Yate.  Here are three books that came in useful in my job hunt:

Books to help find jobs by Marin Yates

Books to help find jobs by Martin Yate.  I attended his lecture about how to go through the interview process

So, here I was at a job fair dressed in a nice suit I had bought in Oklahoma City at a high end Suit store.  I had studied what color shoes, belt and tie to wear.  I had a stack of my carefully designed resumes in hand.  My wife Kelly had given me a professional haircut the night before, and I had even washed behind my ears.

I had quickly changed into my suit in the bathroom in the office area at the Power Plant.  I quickly took the elevator down to the ground floor and stole out to the parking lot to drive the 30 miles to the Job Fair.  No one saw me leave, except Denise Anson, the receptionist.

I made my way around each aisle of booths, carefully considering each company.  I was not really interested in working as a consultant where I had to do a lot of travelling.  After all, I had a family.  I gave my resume to many companies that day, and later I had interviews with many of them.  It felt very strange as a 40 year old acting as a kid in school handing resumes to companies.  I really just wanted to stay at the Electric Company where I had worked for the past 19 years.

Then I spied the booth I was really curious to visit.  It was the Electric Companies booth.  The company where I worked.  I saw a group of students walk up to the booth and the young man from HR began his speech about why it would be great to work for the Electric Company.  I stood toward the back of the small crowd and listened.  It was weird hearing him tell us about the benefits of working for the company.

The Director of HR was standing next to him.  She was the person that kept rejecting all of my job applications through the internal job announcement program.  I waited patiently thinking… I could come up with better reasons for working for the best Electric Company in the world.  He never mentioned once that the best employees you would ever find in the entire world worked just 30 miles north on Hwy 177 at the big Power Plant on the hill.  That would have been the first thing I would have mentioned.

I waited until the young man completed his speech and then asked the students if they would like to give him their resumes.  I stood there, not moving, but smiling at the young man from HR.  After everyone else left, the man turned to me and asked me if I would like to give him my resume.  I replied as I handed him my resume by saying, “I’ll give you my resume, but I don’t think you can hire me.”

He replied, “Sure we can.” as he glanced down at my resume.  I continued, “See… I already work for the company.”  The young man brightened up and said, “I thought I recognized you!  You work at the Power Plant just north of here!”  I said, “Yeah.  You were the leader at my table during the Money Matters class.”  “Yeah!  I remember that!” He replied.

“Sure, we can hire you!” He replied.  I said, “No.  I don’t think you can.  You see.  I don’t meet the minimum requirements.”  Then I turned my gaze to the Director of HR who was now staring off into space…  The gaping hole in logic had suddenly become very apparent.  She replied very slowly…. “No… I don’t think we can hire you.”  The young man (I think his name is Ben), looked confused, so I explained….

“You see Ben… you can take resumes from all of these college students and offer them a job for when they graduate, but since I already work for the company, I have to have my degree already in my hand before I meet the requirements.  I can go to any other booth in this room and have an interview and be offered a job, but I can’t find an IT job in the company where I work because I don’t meet the minimum requirements.  Seems kind of odd.  Doesn’t it?”

I continued…. “Not only that, but the Electric Company has paid for all my classes to get my degree and 75% of my books.  I have only 6 more hours after December, and I can’t find a job with my own company.  I will probably have to go to another company that is guaranteeing a job when I graduate.  Does that make sense?”

Application to be reimbursed for summer courses in 1999

Application to be reimbursed for summer courses I took in 1999 — notice how cheap school was back then.  Also notice that I crammed 10 hours into one session of summer school.

The HR Director was still staring off into space.  She knew as soon as I opened my mouth who I was.  She had personally signed each rejection letter to me.

So, what had happened?  It had happened a few years earlier when the employees were asked what the minimum requirements should be for someone to be hired for their jobs.  That led them down a path of closed doors instead of opening up opportunities.

Here is what I would have done instead… I would have done what other companies do… Minimum Requirements:  “Team Player.  Able to work well with others.  Demonstrated an ability to learn new skills.”  — Who wouldn’t want an employee like that?  Sure.  Add some “Desired attributes” on the end like: Able to bend conduit.  Able Walk on Water, etc.

I had spent about an hour at the career fair handing my resume to potential employers before I left.  I drove back to the plant.  On the way back to the plant I was having this sinking feeling that I was not going to be able to stay with the Electric Company.  I can’t describe how sad I was at this thought.

I couldn’t just stick around at the plant hoping that once I had a degree in my hands that I would be able to move into the IT department.  For all I knew, our own plant manager could have been telling HR that I couldn’t leave the plant because I was the only person that worked inside the precipitator.  I had been flown around the country to interview with different companies who were now offering me jobs.  Those offers wouldn’t still be there if I waited until I graduated, so I had to make a decision soon.

I knew that the Plant Manager Bill Green kept asking the Supervisor over Maintenance about my degree because Jim Arnold would ask me from time-to-time, “What’s that degree you’re getting again?”  I would say, “Management Information Systems” in the Business College.  Jim would go back to Bill and say, “Oh.  You don’t have to worry about Kevin leaving.  No one wants someone with that degree” (Yeah.  Heard that from someone that heard it first hand).

When I arrived back at the plant, I walked in the entrance and hurried to the elevator.  I waved at Denise as I quickly walked by the receptionist window and quickly went into the men’s room to change back into my jeans and tee-shirt and work boots.  No one else saw me.  I returned to work with Ray Eberle in the Print Room to work on SAP.  Ray asked me how it went…

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

I told Ray about my adventure and my encounter at the Electric Company booth.  Ray came to the same realization that I had on the way back to the plant… I wasn’t going to be able to stay with the company.  I was going to have to move on…

Power Plant Millennium Experience

I suppose most people remember where they were New Year’s Eve at midnight on Saturday, January 1, 2000.  That is a night I will never forget.  Some people were hiding in self-made bunkers waiting for the end of the world which never came, others were celebrating at home with their families and friends.  I suppose some people went on with their lives as if nothing was different that night.  Not my family.  My wife and two children spent the night at the Power Plant waiting to see if all of the testing we had performed the last two years had covered all possible failures of the Y2K scare.

A small group of Power Plant Men had been chosen to attend a party with our families in the main conference room at the Power Plant.  All the food and drinks were supplied by the company.  Our Plant Manager, Bill Green was there.  Children were given the opportunity to rest in some other room as it reached their bedtimes.

Two years before this fateful night, the company was in full swing preparing for the Y2K computer disaster that had been foretold by those who knew that many computer systems only used two digits for the year instead of all four.  so, when the year 2000 rolled around, it would suddenly show up in the computer as 00, which didn’t compute as a year in some systems. After all, you can’t divide something by 00.  Suddenly, the time between events that just happened before midnight and those that happen just after midnight are 100 years apart in the wrong direction.

The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma was completed in 1979 and 1980, so, my first thought was that by that time, computers were far enough along to know better.  The Instrument and Controls Power Plant Men along with the Plant Engineers decided that the best way to check their systems was to change the clocks on the computers one at a time to just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and see what happens.

I thought that was a pretty ingenious way to go about testing the computer systems.  By changing the clock on each system one at a time to New Year’s Eve and watching it roll over to the new Millennium, you learn right away if you have a problem, and you have contained the disaster to one system at a time while you test it.  By doing this, it turned out that there was a problem with one system at the Co-Generation plant at the Continental Oil Refinery 20 miles north of the plant.

I wrote a post about the Co-Generation Plant in a previous post: “What Coal-fired Power Plant Electricians Are Doing at an Oil Refinery“.  When it was discovered that the computer at the Conoco Oil Refinery Power Plant would crash on New Year’s Eve, it was decided that we would just roll the clock back to 1950 (or so), and we wouldn’t have to worry about it for another 50 years.  The thought was that by that time, this computer would be replaced.

This was the original thought which caused the Y2K problem in the first place.  No one thought in the 1960’s that their computer systems would still be operating when the year 2000 came around, so they didn’t bother to use four digits for the year.  Disk space was expensive at that time, and anything that could save a few bytes was considered an improvement instead of a bug.

My wife wasn’t too pleased when I told her where we were going to spend New Year’s Eve when Y2K rolled around, but then again, where would you rather be if a worldwide disaster happened and the electricity shutdown across the country?  I would think the Power Plant would be the best place.  You could at least say, “I was in the actual Control Room at a Power Plant watching them throw the switch and light up Oklahoma City!”  Besides, we usually spent New Year’s Eve quietly at home with our kids.

Even though we were fairly certain everything had been accounted for, it was the unknown computer system sitting out there that no one had thought about that might shut everything down.  Some system in a relay house in a substation, or some terrorist attack.  So, there we sat watching the New Year roll in on a big screen TV at one end of the break room.  Children’s movies were being shown most of the evening to keep the young occupied while we waited.

I thought that Jim Arnold, the Supervisor over the Maintenance Department, wanted me in the break room at the Power Plant so that he could keep an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t going to be causing trouble that night.  Jim never really trusted me….  I suppose that was because strange things would happen when I was around.  Of course, I would never do anything that would jeopardize the operation of the Power Plant, but that didn’t stop me from keeping Jim guessing.

No.  Not really.  I was there because I had a way with computers.  I was the computer go to person at the plant, and if anything happened to any of them, I would probably be the person that could whisper it back into service.  Also, if for some reason the Generators tripped, I was a switchman that could open and close switches in the substation and start the precipitator back up and run up to the top of the boiler if the boiler elevator broke down and get it started back up.

Except for my natural affinity for computers, any of the electricians in the Power Plant could do all those other things.  I think there was just a little “prejudice” left over about me from when Bill Bennett our past A foreman used to say, “Let Kevin do it.  He doesn’t mind getting dirty”  (or…. he likes to climb the boiler, or…. he likes confined spaces, or… Kevin likes to stay up at all hours of the night working on things… I could go on… that was Bill’s response when someone asked him who should do the really grimy jobs  — of course… to some degree…. he was usually right).

I was actually a little proud to be told that I was going to have to spend New Year’s Eve at the Power Plant.  I had almost 17 years of experience as a Power Plant Electrician at that time, and I felt very comfortable working on any piece of equipment in the plant.  If it was something I had never worked on before, then I would quickly learn how it worked… As I said, all the electricians in the plant were the same way.  It was our way of life.

At 11:00 pm Central Time, we watched as the ball dropped in Time Square in New York City.  The 10 or so Power Plant Men with their families sat in anticipation waiting…. and waiting… to see if the lights went out in New York….  Of course you know now that nothing happened, but we were ready to jump into a crisis mode if there were any reports of power failures across the country.

You see…. The electric grid on the east side of the Rocky Mountains is all connected together.  If the power grid were to go down in one area, it could try dragging down the rest of the country.  If protective relays in substations across the country don’t operate flawlessly, then a blackout occurs in a larger area than just one particular area covered by one electric company.

When relays operate properly, a blackout is contained in the smallest area possible.  There was only one problem…. Breakers in substations are now controlled by remote computer systems.  If those systems began to act erratic, then the country could have a problem.  This did not happen that night.

There was a contract worker in the engineering department at our plant who was at his home in the country during this time hunkered down in a bunker waiting for the end of the world as was foretold by the minister of his church.  He had purchased a large supply of food and water and had piled them up in his shelter along with a portable generator.  He and his family waited out the end of the world that night waiting for the rapture.  He told me about that a few months later.  He was rather disappointed that the world hadn’t ended like it was supposed to.  He was so prepared for it.

After 11 pm rolled around and there was no disaster on the east coast, things lightened up a bit.  I decided to take my son and daughter on a night tour of the plant.  So, we walked over to the control room where they could look at the control panels with all of the the lights and alarms.  Here is a picture of Jim Cave and Allen Moore standing in front of the Unit 1 Control Panel:

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Jim Cave with Allen Moore

Then I took each of them up to the top of the Boiler where you could look out over the lake at night from a view 250 feet high.  The Power Plant becomes a magical world at night, with the rumbling sounds from the boiler, the quiet hissing of steam muffled by the night.  The lights shining through the metal structure and open grating floors.

From the top of the boiler, you could look south and see the night lights from Stillwater, Pawnee and Perry.  Looking north, you could see Ponca City and the Oil Refinery at Conoco (later Phillips).  The only structure taller than the boilers are the smoke stacks.  There was always a special quality about the plant at night that is hard to put your finger on.  A sort of silence in a world of noise.  It is like a large ship on the ocean.  In a world of its own.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset across the lake

We returned to the break room 20 minutes before midnight, where our plant manager Bill Green and Jim Arnold tested their radios with the Control Room to make sure we were all in contact with each other.  I had carried my tool bucket up to the break room in case I needed to dash off somewhere in a hurry.

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

This is an actual picture of my tool bucket

We felt confident by this time that a disaster was not going to happen when the clock rolled over to midnight.  When the countdown happened, and the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 counted down, We cheered “Happy New Year!” and hugged one another.  I think both of my children had dozed off by this point.

Bill Green called the control room.  The word came back that everything was business as usual.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  We waited around another hour just to make sure that nothing had shutdown.  By 1:00 am on January 1, 2000, Bill Green gave us the (Bill) Green Light.  We were all free to return to our homes.

I gathered up my two children and my wife Kelly, and we drove the 25 miles back home to the comfort of our own beds.  When we went to bed early that morning after I had climbed into bed, I reached over and turned off the light on my nightstand.  When the light went out, it was because I had decided to turn it off.  Not because the world had suddenly come to an end.  A new Millennium had just begun.

Letters to the Power Plant #117 — Taking a Breath at Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the one hundred and seventeenth letter I wrote.

5/5/05 – Taking a breath at Dell

Howdy Folks (That’s Texan for “Dear Sooner Plantians, and friends”),

It’s been about 5 weeks since I wrote last, and this is the first time I have had a moment to stop and take a breath.  Like Gimli said in the Lord of the Rings, “Keep Breathing.  That’s the Key”.

Things went well with the Kronos upgrade.  —  That’s the one where we didn’t have any consultants on site to do it.  I had found most of the reasons why “no company had ever upgraded without the consultants on site before”, but not all of them.

Their installation instructions left a lot to be desired and their code was all wrong, but that’s all behind me now and everything is running better than it has ever run before, so everyone’s happy, (except for some report formatting issues — which I’ll deal with shortly  —  You would think with a name like “Crystal Reports” that the format would be “clear”.  Like “Crystal”.  —  You know.  From the movie with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, where Jack says, “Am I clear?” and Tom says, “Crystal”  —  Oh.  Nevermind.  I’m ramblin’ again…..).

So our business partners gave me great Kudos and they refer to me now as “#1”.  They gave me an “On-The-Spot” award for $100 and told everyone from my director down in our All-Hands meeting last week that I had done all these wonderful things and how I had solved all of their issues, and that I was such a great person to work with……

Boy.  I was just glad no one saw me slip that pocket watch on the chain back in my pocket after I had hypnotized them all or I might not have gotten away with such praise.

Gee, I haven’t had that much attention since Jasper Christensen called me to his office to tell me that I couldn’t have access to the Internet because the staff had decided that no one at our plant needed access to the Internet except for Jim Arnold and Summer Goebel, and they only needed it so they could have “e-mail”.  —  Oh.  Those were the days.

Note to Reader:  To read more about Jasper Christensen and the Internet read this post:  Power Plant Quest for the Internet.

I used to receive so much attention.  —  Almost as much as “The Birthday Phantom”.  —  I actually used part of that program in another program I wrote here a couple of years ago that sent out e-mails to users with links in it to PowerPoint presentations and Excel sheets every Monday morning.

Note to Reader:  To read more about the Birthday Phantom, read the post Power Plant Birthday Phantom.

Instead of getting hardhat stickers down here, they give us other things instead (since we don’t wear hardhats).  Today when I came to my cubicle I found a nifty key ring that looks like it is made from pewter and has a picture of the world with Dell written across it and it swivels around inside of a ring.  It says:  “America’s Most Admired Company” for 2005.

They gave us that because Fortune Magazine named Dell as America’s most admired company.  —  It reminded me of when we would get those jackets that would say that Sooner Plant was the most efficient plant in the country.  We had the lowest operating cost of over 300 or so different power plants.

I’m just glad I’m working for a company with such integrity.  —  Gee.  Now I’m sounding like a commercial.  —  We really do everything we can to be a real ethical company.  That’s refreshing.

You know.  I’ll bet no one on the staff ever figured out that one of the main reasons Sooner could produce power so cheaply was because the precipitators were so properly tuned that they hardly used any power. (hu hu  —  That’s me breathing on my fingernails like I’m acting cool.).

Normally the Precipitator uses more power than anything else in the plant  —  Normally, it uses about as much power as the rest of the plant.  —  But not at Sooner.  — Nope  —  The whole idea that a preciptator needs “Power” to work is all wrong to begin with.

That was the hardest thing to convince people who had real thick skulls (like Bohny-Headed Engineers are opt to have.  —  No.  I didn’t misspell that), because they just couldn’t accept the fact that in order to move particles of airborne ash an average of 2 1/4 INCHES to the collection plate didn’t require as much 1,000 times the energy it takes to pump that same ash 1/2 MILE in a pipe to the Fly Ash silo up at the coal yard.

It makes sense to me that the precipitator doesn’t really require “Power” to operate (well.  A small amount).  It just requires “voltage”.  —  That’s what STATIC is anyway.  It’s VOLTAGE, not POWER.  —  And that is an ElectroSTATIC precipitator.

If it’s using Power it’s not Static!!!.  Geez.  This is only “Rocket Science”.  And rocket science isn’t all that hard these days with computers.  Geez.  —  Oh.  Sorry.  Ramblin’ again.  —  You can tell I’ve been dreaming about Precipitators again.  —  Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

Well.  I better go work on my IDP (Individual Development Plan) while I have the chance.  —  I’m supposed to take tomorrow off since I was on call last week.  —  Isn’t that neat?  When you are on “Hots”, they let you off a whole day the following week.  —  I’m not complaining.  Sometimes it takes me so much by surprise that I forget to breath.  I need to remember.  “Keep Breathing.  That’s the key.”

Talk to you later,

Your friend from Dell,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile

______________________

Kevin J. Breazile

Global Financial Services I/T

Dell Inc.

(512) 728-1527

Letters to the Power Plant #118 — Things are getting Hot at Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the one hundred and eighteenth letter I wrote.

7/6/05 – Things are getting Hot at Dell

Dear friends from Sooner Plant,

Has it really been two whole months since I have written?  Wow.  That must be a record for me keeping my mouth shut!  I did have a vacation during that time and I did go to training, and we did have a couple of holidays and I did forget to write most of the time, even though I think about you guys and the plant about EVERY DAY!!!!

I had this real weird dream where I was at the power plant and it was in the evening when it is kind of dark.  I’m not sure what I was doing there, but I was really amazed with this new conveyor system that you guys had.

It ran all over the plant and it moved equipment and barrels around automatically and the way it worked, it could move anything anywhere on the plant grounds where they needed to go, because the entire ground was made up of strips of conveyors that looked like asphalt sidewalks, but they moved along like conveyors.

Then in-between the sidewalks was grass, but the grass moved between the conveyor systems so, for instance in my dream I was watching this barrel go by and it went down this asphalt conveyor and was pushed out into the grass, where the grass carried it over to another conveyor and then to another patch of grass until it hit an asphalt conveyor that was going in the direction where it needed to go and off to the coal yard it went.

So it was like the plant was running all by itself and people didn’t have to move stuff around.  They just moved themselves.  —  It was actually a little creepy.

I heard that your honeymoon with Wendling has already come to an end.  —  I suppose that’s too bad.  I guess he came and did what they wanted him to do, and now that Jim Arnold is gone, he can go do other things.  —  Maybe that’s why I haven’t felt the urgent need to write to you guys before.

I knew you were all in bliss in your Shangri La Palace at Sooner since you were relieved of a few trouble makers.  I hope your new plant manager is acceptable for you guys.  I know that the times I had to deal with John Parham they weren’t always the most pleasant.  But I can chalk a little of that up to my attitude at the time.

I do know that he insisted one time that the heat energy being lost out of the top of the precipitators at Muskogee equaled only around 4000 watts of power (or so).  Which was so ridiculous, I knew there wasn’t any sense in arguing with him… but you know me.  I can’t keep my mouth shut.

Anyway.  I went to see the Grand Canyon on my vacation and that was a lot of fun.  Everything went well.  When I got back after being away for over 2 weeks, it took me about a week to read all my e-mails.

Then I had training for another week.  I took a week long database course called:   Oracle PL/SQL advanced programming and performance tuning.  —  Now every time I turn around I’m looking for something to tweak to make it better.  —  I think I’m getting on some of my “cubicle mate’s” nerves.  Maybe I should stop making that squeaky “Tweak” noise every time I try to Tweak something.

Well.  Let me know how things are going up there.  What’s the latest?

Your friendly Dell programmer,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile

Letters to the Power Plant #119 — Dell Me About It

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the one hundred and nineteenth letter I wrote.

9/16/05 — Dell me about it

Hello Friends from Sooner and beyond,

Remember me?  Someone reminded me the other day that it has been two whole months since I wrote to you guys.  Gee.  Has it been that long?  I thought it was only early last week.  Boy does time fly when you’re having fun (or whatever I’m having).

Well.  Things have been going well with me.  I’m on a different team now.  I’m in what’s called “Release Management”.  That means that we deploy all the applications into production for our area.  Our area has grown, so that we not only have all the Financial applications at Dell, we also have all the HR and Product Group applications also.

I’m still being asked to write programs real fast that do things that they need right away, and that’s probably the reason I have not had time to write.  I now have three computers on my desk and I’m using all of them most of the time.

It keeps me hopping, but then, that’s what my cube mates like to see.  It keeps them entertained.  —  They ask me why I enjoy working so much, and I tell them.  “This isn’t hard.  You ought to try shoveling coal with my buddies up at the power plant for a while.  That’s hard work.”

They just roll their eyes around and act like I’m crazy.  —  Well.  I might be crazy, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.

So.  Now that I’m on Release Management, I’m expected to be involved on a lot more projects now.  So I’m having to learn a lot of different things.

I’m also called an “Application Administrator” for Oracle Financials.  That’s like the Financial Module of SAP.  —  Yep.  They finally decided that since I could figure out how to access everything anyway, even though Jim Arnold had told the world many years ago that no one needs Internet Access except for him and Summer Goebel, they might as well make me “Application Administrator”.

I think it’s a good title to have, since when I pass by, people seem to bow in my presence.  —  Of course, that could be because my deodorant has failed because of all of my nervous energy, and they are trying to keep their lunch down in their stomach.

I have missed you guys terribly, and I have been having some more crazy dreams of the power plant.  I heard you guys were putting up better security around the plant.  It’s about time.

You never know when an old retired Maintenance Supervisor might try to make an appearance when it’s not even “Men’s Club”.  I don’t think they should allow him into the plant, for his own safety.

I remember when he cared so much about my safety that he told Andy to tell me that I couldn’t come out for a visit a couple of years ago because it wouldn’t be safe.  —  At least I was able to get in there in time to wish him well on his retirement.

He was probably thinking about what I said about safety in my PowerPoint presentation when I left.  I was going to make a website and put the presentation out there so that he can go look at it any time he wants just in case he forgets.

I suppose one of the reasons I don’t feel so compelled to write to you guys lately is because I know that things are looking up for most of you.  Before; I thought you might need a little cheering up every now and then.  Now that the dumbily duo have gone, I know you are doing a lot better.

I have heard about Ray Eberle’s wife and about Jimmie Moore, and my family is keeping them both in our prayers every day.  Keep me updated on how they are doing.  I haven’t heard much news coming from your way lately.  Let me know how things are going.

Your friendly Dell Programmer,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile

_____________________

Kevin J. Breazile

GFCS, HR, and PG IT

Dell Inc.

(512) 728-1527

Letters to the Power Plant #120 — Electrical Internet

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the one hundred and twentieth letter I wrote.

10/4/05  —  Electrical Internet

Dear Sooner buddies,

Hey.  I was just reading an article about the Internet and it reminded me of one of our Power Ideas.  —  Oh.  You remember.  “We’ve Got the Power” in 1990.  And how it gave everyone that warm and fuzzy feeling for each other….and how it sort of brought everyone together in a wave of kindness…..  Well.  At least that’s the way I remember it…..or is it.

Anyway.  I remember one of our “way out there” ideas was to have our company invest in research on using the electric lines for Internet access, because that’s where the big bucks are going to be in the future.

But silly me (remember…this was pre-World Wide Web days).  I forgot that OG&E makes electricity, and even though they said that they wanted to do other things, the only thing they “really” wanted to do was spin those turbines and pour out the juice to the community.

Well.  Read this article:

Note to Reader:  I removed the link because it no longer works.  In order to read more about the “We’ve Got the Power” program read the post “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power Program” and “Power Plant We’ve Got the Power Stress Buster“.

‘Cause, here it comes.  —  Of course, I still hear our illustrious Supervisor of Equipment Support (Well.  He was over the Engineers at the time) telling Summer Goebel when she asked me how to setup her computer to use High Memory, “It doesn’t matter how much memory your computer has, it can only use the first 640K anyway.”  —  I can still hear the sound of Toby ducking under his desk in his cubicle when I gave Arnold my response.

Ok…. Note to Reader:  My response was “You may be stupid, but I’m not!”

I thought this would be an interesting article for you to peruse.

Your friendly Dell programmer.

Kevin

______________________

Kevin J. Breazile

Global Financial Services I/T

Dell Inc.

(512) 728-1527

Letters to the Power Plant #121 — Happy Thanksgiving from Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the one hundred and twenty first letter I wrote.

11/21/05  —  A Happy Thanksgiving from Dell

Dear Sooner Plantians and friends,

It has been hard these days to find the time to write, but things are starting to ease up some.  I’m on vacation this week, so I finally have “some” time to write.  Notice that even though I’m on vacation I am still logging into work to check on things.

Old habits are hard to…..well….anyway…..I thought I would log in just to see what is going on.  I’m going to be in Stillwater this Wednesday night thru Friday night to visit my parents.  I think we will be staying at the Hampton Inn, since it’s about the only good Hotel in town.

I hope everything is going well with all of you.  I haven’t really heard much lately.  Is your new plant manager keeping you so busy that you don’t have time to write either?

We just went through another Reorganization / downsizing.  I’m still on the same team I was on last month when I wrote last.  Things are finally settling down so that I’m only doing two jobs now instead of three.  I’m still the Application Administrator of the Oracle Financials application.  That’s the program that is sorta like SAP, but only the Financial module.

So, how is it with your new plant manager?

I keep having strange dreams about the plant, but it has changed so much in my dreams that it has morphed into a sort of Dellish, Power Plantish, Universityish, Europeanish, 18 century villageish sort of mystical place.

I suppose you guys have those sorts of dreams too. —  Where you are going to work on some kind of a big piece of equipment (carrying the printout of your Task List), and being chased by some mythical creature that lurks in the boiler and comes out like the monster in Beowulf, out of the furnace to snatch unsuspecting hardhatted fellows.

Then you may stumble into a meeting room in order to have a one-on-one meeting with your foreman, only to find that all the meeting rooms are booked, and there isn’t anywhere to hide, so you go darting out of the room and find your self running down a cobblestone street in the dark trying to remember if you have already taken a clearance on the bowl mill, and whether or not Bill Robinson put the tags on the right one.

Then as you are climbing the ladder up the side of the bowl mill you hear a tap-tap-tapping coming from inside the mill and realize that some tinker is sitting on his three-legged stool tink-tink-tinking away at some wooden object outside the front of his shop where his family has been tinking for centuries.  And he is singing a song that sounds like the song that is sung by Intake pumps as they hum along.

And as you leap over the ash pipes by the Intake pumps and stumble and roll into the electric manhole because someone has left the lid off of it and didn’t put up a barricade, and fall splashing into the manhole since the manhole pump doesn’t work and water from Sooner Lake has seeped in and filled it up.

You know I watched a little open motored pump pump that hole dry one day.  It was the strangest thing to see that motor running under water.  Totally soaked with water.  That must have been some clean water.

Anyway.  You know how dreams are.  When you fall in the dark water of a manhole, you either get zapped by electricity and wake up, or you are suddenly transported to the top of the Fly Ash silo and the only way down is to walk the crosswalk across the top of the silos and make your way down the zigzag stairway since the elevator doesn’t seem to want to cooperate.

And as you walk down the railroad tracks into the dumper, you hear the pound-pounding of your feet on the metal hull of the dumper as you walk through it.  The deluge pump on the south side seems to be leaking water down the side of the dumper into the dark coal stained concrete.

As you follow the water down into the dumper and through the grid at the bottom, you crawl out through the hatchway at the bottom of the dumper hopper.  Rolling onto the floor you become drenched in the damp coal dust that soaks into your pores and heals your wounds, making you forget your cracked skull and bruised knees.

Following the faint dumper lighting, you make your way to Conveyor 2 and start the long climb to the surface.  As you climb higher and higher, you find yourself watching computers flowing by as the conveyor belt turns into rollers that swiftly and cleanly shifts computers this way and that sending them on their way to the customers waiting patiently at their door.

Where they eagerly open their computer boxes and madly assembling the monitor and keyboard and plugging it into the wall, connecting it to the generator that hums in the power plant, being spun by the steam that is made by the coal that came to the plant on the train that was dumped into the hopper and carried on Conveyor 2 up and up to the top of the stackout tower where it is dumped onto the coal pile.

Where brave men in their large yellow coal moving machines run like ants over the surface.  Packing and moving and packing again…..

Then the engineering professor points to the chalkboard with his long wooden pointer and his bushy moustache and eyebrows, and funny hat and glasses, and he says “that is the circle of life”.  And the crowd roars with applause, and the professor bows and the applause becomes more and more tinny until it is nothing more than a tink-tink-tinking sound that sounds like the sound of the tinker.

Or is it the sound of the footsteps of that horrible creature that lives in the boiler and comes out every now and then to snatch unsuspecting fellows in their yellow hardhats?  Creep-creep-creeping up on you.     —-  You know.  Dreams like that.  I’m sure you guys must have them all the time.  Or perhaps you “Live Them!!!”

Your Friendly Dell Programmer,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile

Letters to the Power Plant #122 — Job Battles at Dell

After I left the power plant and went to work for Dell on August 20, 2001, I wrote letters back to my friends at the plant letting them know how things were going.  This is the one hundred and twenty second letter I wrote.  Keep in mind that at the time when I originally penned this letter I didn’t intend on it being posted online.

3/3/06 – Job Battles at Dell

Dear Sooner heroes,

I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me.  I have finally finished the “battle of the jobs”, and now I’m in quite a different position than the last time I wrote to you.  I have one arm and two legs all stretched twice as long as usual and that makes it hard to walk and eat, but I’m very happy about it anyway.

I am now called a “Technical Advisor” and I work in the Finance Department in Payroll.  It’s was quite a battle, but here I am…  —  Well.  Right now I’m actually in Denver Colorado getting ready to go back home.   I’ve been taking a class all week learning new things about Kronos.

I realized today that OG&E would really benefit from a timekeeping application like Kronos.  —  Do you realize that Dell has over 50,000 employees and only 3 people that support timekeeping? — and I’m one of them.

So, here’s the scoop.  There I was minding my own business…– working about 60 hours a week in I/T Support.  I was on a team that was redesigning the way that I/T rolled projects into production and I still supported the applications that I was supporting before because we were shorthanded —  When The manager of the Employment Services Group asked me if I would join their team.

My first reaction was that it was an absurd request.  How could I, who loves I/T with a passion ever make a conscious decision to leave it to go to the business?  I told the manager that it was tempting and that I would consider it (I was saying that to be polite), but I didn’t think I could justify it.

She said that she understood, but just wanted to give it a try anyway since their entire team, when they heard of the job opening said that the only person that could fill that position was me.  —  I was flattered, but didn’t give it much real thought.

I talked it over with Kelly (my wife), and she said I should do whatever I thought was best.

Daily I would receive e-mails and IMs (Instant Messages) from the team describing how better my work-life balance would be if I moved to their team.  I talked it over with my former manager and he thought it would be a good move for me.

The team invited Kelly and I to their Christmas party with the intention of talking Kelly into talking me into moving to their team.  —  The last time I had this much attention was when Jim Arnold argued for me to stay in Equipment Support instead of letting me have the Training Director position because he just loved me so much….

So we went to the Christmas party and everyone tried to convince Kelly why I should go to their team.  —  No more pagers, regular hours.  —  I could even work 4 – 10’s if I wanted to.

When I first told my former manager (from the Program Development group) that I had applied for the job, he quickly rushed me into a team room and told me that it had gone all the way up to his Vice President that they were going to force the I/T Support group to move me over to Development because they needed my skills and couldn’t find them anywhere.

He is a good friend of mine and I told him that I would like to go back to the Development group, but (and then rubbing my fingers with my thumbs) I said, “show me the money”.  He said that he understood and hoped that I got the job.

Well.  Also, when I applied for the job, I told my current manager that I had applied for it (I had told him about a month earlier that they were asking me if I would take it, but that I wasn’t seriously thinking about it), he said that he would talk it over with my director and let her know, but he didn’t think there would be a problem with it.

Then the day before I had an interview with the director over the new team, my own director took me into a room and told me that she wasn’t going to let me go because they couldn’t afford to lose me right now.  I told her that I was going to go one way or the other and that when I decide to do something, I do it.  She reiterated that she couldn’t lose me and wasn’t going to let me go.

So the next day when I went to the interview with the director for the new position, the first thing I told her was that my director had told me the day before that she wasn’t going to let me move to this job.  The director said that she couldn’t just say that without a valid business justification and that she was going to take it up to her Vice President to make sure that they didn’t let her get away with it keeping me back.

I told her that I appreciated any help she could give because I was beginning to look forward to this new position especially since I was looking forward to working a more regular schedule.

Well.  Needless to say:  I was being pulled in three different directions all at the same time.  It was almost as stressful as working at Sooner Plant on a Friday afternoon at 4:00 when you hear the shift supervisor calling the Equipment Support Supervisor, and visions of shoveling Coal all weekend pops into your mind!!!

I really like my new team.  They have a lot of work for me to do, and I stay real busy, but for some reason I feel like I’m playing all day long, because I’m really doing something that I know how to, instead of swimming up stream all the time working on so many things at once on things that I’ve never worked on before.

The team lead on the team that I left was really fighting for them to keep me there.  I asked him why, since the only thing I was an expert on supporting were applications like Kronos, Oracle Financials and Concur (our expense program).

He said that it wasn’t that I knew a whole lot about everything but that I was able to troubleshoot programs that I had never seen before faster than anyone else.  —  I told him that was a skill that I learned working at the power plant, because that is what we did every day as an electrician but that they couldn’t penalize me by keeping me in one place.

I told him that the only reason I became an electrician was because I was a good janitor and the electric department (Charles Foster) noticed and asked me if I would consider working for them.  What if they said that I was too good of a janitor to let me go to the electric shop?  This was the same situation.  I had worked writing programs and supporting applications for this group and that is why they wanted me.

So.  Here I am.  No longer in I/T, but a “technical consultant”.

Maybe now I will have more time to write.

Your friendly Dell friend,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile

Letters to the Power Plant #126 — Travelin’ at Dell

This is my longest post ever, so make some popcorn, sit back and read the one hundred and twenty sixth letter I wrote to the Power Plant.  I wrote it over a two week period and I probably could break it down into about 5 posts, but below is the way I sent it back to my friends at the Power Plant:

4/9/07 —  Travellin’ at Dell

Dear Sooner Plantians,

I finally have a few minutes of spare time to write to my favorite buddies up there in the frozen tundra of Oklahoma.  Right now I am sitting in the airport in Los Angeles waiting for a plane to Singapore.  From there I have to fly to Penang Malaysia to train the IT support team for a week.

I don’t know if I mentioned them before.  They are waiting to meet me because I have been telling them that I am really old with gray hair and a long gray beard that gets caught in my keyboard every now and then.

A few weeks ago one of the Penangers (That’s what I call it when they send me an IM – Getting “Penanged”), was IMing me a few weeks ago and was complaining about how Global Warming was causing all the weather to change.  I told her that it wasn’t as bad as it was in the 1930s.  It was really bad back then.

Then I said,  “Oh, but you probably weren’t around back then, were you?”  Then one time when they were “Penanging” me, I didn’t reply for a few minutes because I was working on something at the time.  So, they started to give me a hard time for not replying right away, and I told them that I am so fat that my hands can’t reach the keyboard when I’m sitting back in my chair  because my stomach is in the way and I was just taking a rest.

I asked the Penangers how far away is their workplace from the hotel where I am staying.  They told me it was about an hour and a half walk if I wanted to walk there, but that I should take a Taxi.  I told them if it was too far, then I would probably have to take my walker with me on the plane, so I could rest on my way to work.

They asked me what a “walker” was.  One of my IT friends calls them Penanguins, but I probably told you that already.  It has been a while since I wrote last, and as old as I am, my memory isn’t what it used to be.  At least I don’t think it is what it used to be, but, I can’t really remember how that was, so I’m just “speculating”.

I’m sitting at a table by some restaurants, and out the window are a couple of palm trees and a bunch of airplanes.  —  All big ones.  They are the planes that fly over the Pacific ocean.

I think my next flight is supposed to be 18 hours long!!!  Then I change planes and fly another hour and a half.  Arriving in Penang on Sunday morning.  (Right now it is Friday afternoon).  —  I am not writing this “online”.  I am just writing it in Word, since the wireless connection in the airport is not being “User-friendly”.

Anyway.  I will be teaching the IT support over there how to take care of the applications that I am in charge of maintaining.  I tried to get them to send a couple of people from there to come to the U.S. instead of having them send me over there, but they had a big “cat fight” about who they should send, because everyone wanted to meet me, so they decided that it was cheaper to send me than to have their entire IT department fly over to Austin.

One of the items on the agenda is called:  “The proper use of the Elvis Wand”.  I am bring an “Elvis Wand” (which is a fan with Elvis’s face on it that I use when all else fails.  —  It has the same effect as when I lay my hands on the monitor and yell “Heal!!”).

I am returning to the U.S. this upcoming Friday night.  Then I have to leave again on Sunday morning to fly to Boston where I am a speaker for a bunch of companies that want to know how we do Time and Attendance.  Kronos (the timekeeping software that we use) is paying my way.

Hey!  No need to pass up a free lunch.  —  So I am going to see my family in passing, on my way to bed, then on my way back out the door when I wake up early Sunday morning.

I have been getting to know people all over the country since we have been putting Kronos clocks in our Kiosks in the Malls.  If you are ever at Woodland Hills in Tulsa, or Penn Square mall in OKC, if the team lead is there, most likely they have talked to me a few times.

I have become pretty familiar with the names of malls lately.  It is interesting to see what kind of names they have.  Some of them sound pretty fancy, like “The Mall at Wellington Green” in Florida.  Some of them sound rather dull, like “Tucson Mall”.

There is one that sounds like a foreign country in Pennsylvania.  It is called “Plaza at King of Prussia”.  I suppose they have to come up with unique names.  There are two malls called “Independence Mall”.  Which doesn’t make me think they are “That” independent.

I figured I would make this a fairly long letter, since I have nothing to do for the next couple of hours except sit here and watch the people.  The interesting thing I noticed about this airport is that it really seems old and simple.

After taking a trek though the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport a few times, this airport seems way too small.  For instance.  When I arrived, I was in Terminal 4.  My next flight is in Terminal 2.  Now, in the DFW airport, you know what that means….

That means that you have to get on the sky link train which takes you around to the place where you get on the shuttle, that takes you way out to some parking lot (because you got on the wrong one!  —  don’t you hate when that happens?), Then you have to hitchhike back to the airport where you follow the signs to Terminal 2, which must be near the Red River and almost into Oklahoma.

So I was thinking….. “Oh great.  I have a lot of time today to go from Terminal 4 to Terminal 2, but when I’m coming back, I only have an hour and 45 minutes.”  And that means, going through customs, going out of the secure area and getting my American Airlines boarding Pass, (since I will be on Singapore Airline), then hoofing it to Terminal 4 and going through the security check, all in time to just see the plane taking off without me (or so I imagine).

So, as I exited my last plane, I made my way out of the building to a man standing there looking like he was trying to help people.  So, I asked him.  “What is the fastest way to get to Terminal 2?”  He whipped out a map and said, “See this blue line here?  That is this sidewalk.  If you walk around this sidewalk, you will see Terminal 3, then you will see Terminal 2, and there you are.”

I’m thinking… “Boy.  If that is the fastest way, then the traffic around here must really be bad, or all those buses only take you to parking lots out in some field somewhere.  So I said, “Thanks a bunch”,  and I headed around the sidewalk.  I hadn’t walked 50 yards, and I was already at the main terminal and I could see from what his map had showed me that these terminals are not very far apart, and they aren’t that big.  For instance.  In terminal 4, I came in at gate 48, and guess what?  That’s the biggest number.  48.  This is Los Angeles, after all, isn’t it?  Isn’t this like one of the biggest cities in the country?  —  The distance around all these terminals doesn’t look much bigger than walking around the two boilers and T-G building.

Well.  I’m going to stop here, to save my battery, until I can find a place to plug my laptop in.

Ok.

Now that was very fun.  I made the long trek (not really), to the gate where my next ride is going to arrive in two hours or so.  I noticed that a few gates down from my gate there was a plane going to Moscow, so I thought I would watch the people boarding the plane, just to see the kind of folks that were heading that way.

There were a handful of serious looking people wearing bland clothes, and the rest looked like regular Joe’s, so I thought, “now would be a good time to test out the camera on my new mobile phone.”  So I stood alongside the line of people getting on the plane, and looked around at them through the camera lens on the phone for about a minute.

Then I zeroed in on two of those bland blokes and acted like I was taking their pictures as they boarded the plane.  Then I put my phone back in the holster and picked up my bags and walked off.

So, after doe-see-doeing (imagine that.  My spell checker didn’t have “doe-see-doeing” in it  — does now) around quite a few pillars, I finally found a place to plug in my laptop.  So now, I’m sitting at a gate going to Guadalajara Mexico.

This is definitely a different set of people taking this plane.  I suppose it is spring break and some of these people are just heading to a beach somewhere.   A much more laid back crowd.  This gate is more fun than my own gate.

Besides, I can tell what they are saying over the intercom…. Oh, wait…. They just said something that sounded like “Dos es los quervo por favor”.  Does that mean they have Margaritas on that flight?  The word Quervo caught my attention.

Looking outside, I see a seagull flying by.  It had the appearance of admiration as it flew over those jumbo jets out there.  I wonder what must be going through its mind when it sees a big plane like that.  —  Probably, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

I suppose there must be an ocean around here someplace.  —  At least, there is when I watch Perry Mason.

I suppose I should be taking a nap right now.  After all, it may be 4:30 pm here, but it is 7 tomorrow morning over in Penang right now, and I just stayed up most of their night.  I’ll try to make it up on that long plane ride.

Hey, they just announced over the intercom that the plane to Dublin is now boarding.  I should go watch them.  That should be interesting…… No, I should probably head back to my gate to make sure they didn’t make any last minute changes and move my gate over to Terminal 6 or something like that….

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Well.  It has been a while since I added anything to this letter…. Actually, I’m on my way back home and I’m sitting in the Singapore Airport.  Yep.  It’s Friday again, and I have spent my week in Malaysia.  —  Boy.  Was that an adventure.

So, here is the scoop.  If you have to fly over the Pacific Ocean, the way to do it is with Singapore Airline.  They treat you real nice, and keep giving you drinks (I mean the alcoholic type) and they have foot rests that come up so you can sleep better, and they have a TV screen right in front of you where you can watch Movies On Demand, and play video games, and even make a play list where it plays the songs you choose over and over again.

So here is how I spent the 18 hours:  I spent 6 hours sleeping.  6 hours playing video games.  3 hours talking to the guy next to me, and hour and a half watching a movie (The Night at the Museum) and an hour and a half eating and looking around at what other people were watching on their TVs.

So, I have something I would like to talk to the Electricians and Instrument and Controls guys, so the rest of you can skip the next few paragraphs:

I was sitting next to a guy that works for “AutoDesk”.  You probably don’t remember, but that is the company that makes AutoCAD.  The blueprint drawing program.  They have this real neat program now for Electrical Schematics, and PLC drawings and you name it.  The guy showed it to me and it was impressive.

You can actually have a drawing of a Junction Box, with all the relays in it and wiring (which you can build by selecting the correct model of relays and stuff), and you can click it and go to a schematic diagram or even a Parts List.

You can view PLC programs as a Ladder Diagram and look at the parts, or even look at the layout of the wiring to the different contacts, based on the model number of the PLC.  I told him about our meager attempt to come up with a Red Lining Program, back in the Ron Kilman Regime.

Now I want to talk to just Toby O’Brien:

I asked him if AutoCAD had something like that for Piping, and you should see what they have.   It was real impressive.

You can build 3D images of piping, then look at the layout diagram, or click on a section of pipe and have it give you all the part number information about it.  When designing something, all you have to do is pick your parts, and put them together and it builds a 3D image on the screen.  If you want to modify it, you just choose different parts or rotate something, and it builds the thing before your eyes.

Now I want to just talk to the Boiler Rats…  Oh yes.  You know who you are.

I told the guy that works for AutoDesk about how they need to build an application that would have the racks of boiler tubes that are in a boiler, where you have the ability to remove sections of tubing and put in new tube, with all the serial number and ASME data that you have to keep track of, so that your boiler tubes are “certified”.  You know what I mean.  I just don’t know the correct term to use.

I explained to him how it is important to keep track of all the tubes sections that go in the boiler, and if they could build something where you could just move your mouse over the different sections of the boiler, then zoom in, then rotate it and zoom in some more, and then just hover your mouse over the tubes and see all the information about that section of tube.  —  He said he would pass that on to the people who make those decisions.

Ok, for all of you that I haven’t been talking to….. I’m back to just my regular rambling again.

So, I arrived in Penang last Sunday Morning after leaving home on Friday Morning (it was Saturday evening Austin time when I arrived in Penang).  I was only there about half an hour before the Penangers called me and told me they wanted to take me out to eat and to look around Penang.

So, instead of resting up after my long trip, I quickly took a shower, and met the team I was going to be training.  They took me to a Mall that is much like a regular American Mall, except for a few things.

They wanted me to eat every kind of food they could imagine, so I actually spent most of the week eating whenever I wasn’t teaching.  After we ate lunch, they took me to go see a Buddhist Temple on a hill.  It has the biggest bronze statue in the world of a god that I think is called something like “Look-See”.

So I started climbing the long winding path up to the temple through all the souvenir shops that literally created a tunnel all the way up the hill.  The weather was like Oklahoma in August.

Every once in a while I would turn around and find that I had left the Penangers, somewhere down the hill through the maze of souvenir shops.  —  It wasn’t that they had stopped to shop.  They just weren’t in very good shape.  They were all as thin as a rail, (unlike me, who has the distinguished look of a miniature Buddha or Alfred Hitchcock, or both), but they were not in very good shape.

The last leg of the journey, they insisted on taking a cable car.  So we did.  We came to a temple where it was packed with people all kneeling and praying with a big pile of shoes outside.  There were monks inside praying real loud and it reminded me of watching Kung Fu, because the monks were wearing robes just like the monks in Kung Fu.

The team tried to take me to see the temple where there was a statue of “Sleeping Buddha”, but it was closed.  Across the street from that temple there was another temple, and when we went in it there was a monk sitting on a chair to one side of a very tall statue of some god that I don’t know…

So I went over to him and asked him what was the significance of taking off your shoes when you entered the temple.  He was a Burmese Buddhist monk, and knew very little English, so after waving my arms around and talking real slow, and making gestures like I would think Kwai Chang Caine would make, I finally gave up trying to find out, though I think by what he tried to tell me in the language of a Burmese Buddhist monk, I think he said that it was to keep the floor clean.

When people drive in Malaysia, it is quite different than driving in the U.S.  For instance:  They drive on the wrong side of the road like England…  So, they were probably an English Colony at some time or other.

The other peculiar thing they do, is that the lines that distinguish between one lane and another lane does not have the same meaning as it does in the U.S..  I think in Malaysia, the dashed lines in the middle of the road is more of a “suggested” boundary that can be ignored whenever you want.

So, even though you are traveling down the road in one lane, it doesn’t mean that two other cars may not decide to come up right alongside you in the same lane at the same time, while a string of little motorcycles go weaving back and forth between the cars.  —  The whole act of driving reminded me of a large flock of birds all flying in a whirl, but not running into each other.

I think in Malaysia, they drive more by instinct than we do in the U.S.  —  Oh.  They have accidents.  I think I counted three that I saw just on the way to the office and back.

When you get a ticket for doing something wrong, you can usually just give the police some money to go buy coffee and they will let you go.  One guy I was with did get pulled over, because I think it was lunch time and the Police needed some extra cash to go out to lunch.  – Pretty weird, huh?

So, my entire week was spent eating, teaching and being driven around the island (Penang is on an island, just off the coast of Malaysia).  I ate every kind of Asian food they could find.  Most of which I can’t pronounce.

One guy (let’s call him Farid, because that is what everyone else calls him, because, well, that’s his name), asked me if I felt nervous when Soo Yuen was driving.  I told him that after the first day, I just realized that everything was in God’s hands at this point, and I would just let him take care of me, so I didn’t have to worry about it.

I gave the team I was teaching the Elvis wand and showed them how to use it correctly.  Now Farid has it sticking up above his cubicle so that the whole team can feel blessed by Elvis’s presence when they have a difficult issue they are trying to resolve.

So, now I’m on my way home.  I will try to send this e-mail to you guys sometime on Saturday, if I remember, or I might just continue it on my way to Boston on Sunday morning.  —  I will be back from there next Wednesday.

While I was in Penang I went to the website of my High School and found a few of my friends from my High School and grade school days in Columbia Missouri, so I’ll try to remember to include them on this e-mail as well.  They haven’t seen me since High School and don’t have a clue what I’ve been doing with my life, so this can help fill them in.

From what I gather, one guy named Tim (Knight) is a brain expert in Washington State (so I should probably call him Doctor Tim —  Like I sometimes refer to my friend Jesse as Doctor Jesse  — “come get your Chili!!”), another guy also named Tim (Collins) is in Florida working on a SWAT team at the Kennedy Space Center.  How cool is that?

Boy.  I never realized how much trouble those astronauts were causing down there.  Matt Tapley, my other friend just happens to be getting his Masters in Math down here in AUSTIN!!!!  Isn’t that neat?

So, by the way…. I am sending this letter to my friends at my previous job where I worked for 20 years.  18 of those years as an electrician.  Sooner Plant is a large coal-fired plant that makes Electricity for the folks in Oklahoma (I said that for the benefit of my “old” friends that don’t understand why I was calling you “Sooner Plantians” at the beginning of this e-mail).

By the way, I include Mark Schlemper and Brent Stewart on these e-mails.  They are in Columbia still.  And a couple of other people here and there that you know, and some that you don’t.   —  But they know who they are. —  I hope.

Some lady just came up to me while I was sitting here typing this letter and told me that if I have a long wait in this airport (which is more like a shopping mall than an airport), then they actually have a free tour of Singapore while you wait.

Well.  I better start making my way toward my gate.  I won’t have time to stop and write when I’m in Los Angeles.  I will barely have time to make it between flights.  —  I’ll let you know if I missed it when I finish this letter later…

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All right.   To make a long story a bit longer, I’ll try to be brief for the rest of this letter….  (yeah…  Like that is going to happen).

I made my flight just fine.  I didn’t lose any bags, because I carry everything on the plane with me.  I arrived back in Austin around 11 pm, and was home by midnight.  I slept most of the next day and had to get up around 3 in the morning to get to the airport to catch my flight to Boston to attend a Kronos Tech Summit where I was a guest speaker.

I spoke to 350 engineers that developed their Timekeeping application.  I talked for two hours to them, and then they came up to me after it was over to ask me a bunch of questions.  Then the following day (which was a Tuesday), I flew back home.

Because it took me so long to write the last part of this letter, I might as well continue….  I knew I couldn’t keep this short….

Last week, (April 3), three of us on our team drove up to Dallas to accept an award from Kronos for “Best Practices”.  We spoke to over 250 people about how Dell uses Kronos and why we are so good.  They gave us a big award and then I met with people from all sorts of companies (including the Oklahoma State Government) that wanted to know more about how we did this or that with Kronos.  Then we drove back home (on April 4).

My wife was wondering why my voice was so hoarse when I returned from my trip to Dallas.  I told her that my voice became hoarse while I was listening to the guy that was driving the car tell stories all the way to Dallas and back…..  —  Yeah.  Right….  She didn’t believe it either.

Needless to say.  My friends in the car (as Ed Shiever can testify), now knows a lot more about you than you know about him.  — Specifically, they know a lot more about Walt Oswalt than anyone else at the plant, because by the time we made it to Dallas (about 2 1/2 hours later), I was just about done telling stories about Walt.

Three times I had to grab the steering wheel because the car was swerving off of I-35 while Stephen (that’s the guy that was driving), was laughing so hard he couldn’t stay on the road.  — I have only started to introduce him to Bud Schoonover!!!!!

So, now I have finally filled you ‘all in on all I have been doing the past month.  It has been real crazy.  I hope things will finally settle down now so that I can catch up with the 3,000 e-mails I have in my Inbox!!!!

I hope to hear from you soon.

Your friend,

Kevin James Anthony Breazile