Tag Archives: Screensaver

Final Battle for the Illusive Power Plant Safety Pizza

The Electric Shop had tried for three years to win the Safety Slogan of the Year award.  Not because we thought we were safer than any of the other teams at the coal-fired power plant in North Central Oklahoma, but because we really liked pizza (see the post: “When Power Plant Competition Turns Terribly Safe“) .  When the plant was downsized in 1994, the electric shop no longer existed as it had before.  We had become cross-functional teams (See the post: “Crossfunctional Power Plant Dysfunction“).  It looked as if our dream of winning the Power Plant Safety Pizza was no longer in our grasp.

My carpooling buddy, Toby O’Brien had moved from our plant as a Plant Engineer to the Safety Department in Oklahoma City.  He was working with Julia Bevers and Chris McAlister.  Chris had also moved from our plant as a labor crew hand to the Safety Department (This was a great opportunity for Chris!).

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend - Toby O'Brien

Power Plant Engineer and Good Friend – Toby O’Brien

Bill Green our new plant manager introduced a jar of beads during his first safety meeting.  We each picked a bead randomly from the jar through a small hole in the top.  Then Bill Green pointed out that the color of bead represented the result of doing something unsafe.

The green color meant that nothing happened.  The other colors reach represented a different type of accident that occurred.  The ratio of beads in the jar represented the likelihood of each type of accident happening.  There was one black bead in the jar.  That meant that you died when you did something unsafe.  I used to keep the number of each color of marble in my wallet, but that piece of paper disintegrated over the years.

The types of accidents were something like:  First Aid Case, Reportable Accident, Lost Work Day Accident, Hospitalized, and Death.

Bill Green

Bill Green

A couple of months after the downsizing, the Safety department announced that they were going to have a Safety contest.  The contest would be held at each plant and it involved each of the supervisor’s computers.  The prize for the contest was that the winning team would be able to eat a free lunch with complements from the safety team.

Great!  Shortly after the electric shop is busted up and we were scattered to the wind, we finally had one last chance to win the ever illusive Power Plant Safety Pizza!  Only, how were we going to do it?  I was working on Alan Kramer’s team.  My old foreman Andy Tubbs (not old in the sense that he was an old man… old in that he was my former foreman) was now one of the other supervisors with only my old bucket buddy (you know what I mean…  not “old” old) Diana Brien as the electrician on his team.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

Before I go further to explain my conflict during this contest, let me explain how the contest worked.

The supervisors had new computers that ran using Windows 3.1.  Back then, the screensaver on the computer didn’t just shut down the monitor like most of them do today.  Instead, they showed some kind of message, or picture or something animated that kept moving around so that your monitor didn’t get burned in with an image that was constantly on your screen, such as your wallpaper and your icons.

The Safety Department said that each team should come up with some way to display the idea of “Safety” using a screensaver.  They suggested using the screensaver that let you type in a message that would scroll across the screen when the screensaver was turned on.  That was a simple built-in screensaver that came with Windows 3.1.

Then the Safety Department would come to the plant on a particular day and judge each of the computer’s screensaver and announce the winner.  Sounds simple enough.

We first heard about the Safety Slogan Screensaver contest in our Monday Morning Meeting with our team.  Alan Kramer said we should come up with a good slogan that we could put on our scrolling message screensaver.  I kept my mouth shut at the time, because I didn’t know exactly how to proceed.  I was having a feeling of mixed loyalty since my old Electric Shop Team with Andy Tubbs as our foreman had written over 300 safety slogans and had purposely been blocked from winning the Prized Pizza each year.

Andy Tubbs - True Power Plant Electrician

Andy Tubbs – True Power Plant Electrician

Not long after the morning meeting, Andy Tubbs came up to me in the Electric Shop and said, “We have to win this contest!  That Pizza should be ours!  I need you to come up with the best screensaver you can that will blow the others away.”  I gave him my usual answer when Andy asked me to do something (even when he was no longer my foreman).  I said, “Ok, I’ll see what I can do.”

I went down our list of safety slogans looking for the best slogan I could find.  Here are a few of them:

“Having an accident is never convenient, So always make Safety a key ingredient.”

“Take the time to do it right, Use your goggles, save your sight.”

“To take the lead in the ‘Safety Race’, You must pay attention to your work place.”

“Unsafe conditions can be resolved, If we all work together and get involved.”

After thumbing through the entire list, I knew we really needed something else.  So, I began to think of alternate screen savers.  One caught my attention.  It was called “Spotlight”. It came with the  “After Dark 2.0 Screensavers” (best known for the “Flying Toaster” screensaver). I had found a freeware version that did the same thing.  You can see how the spotlight works at 7:15 on the video below (just slide the time bar over to 7:15):

For those who can’t view YouTube videos directly through the above picture, here is the direct link:  “After Dark Screensavers“.

The spotlight screensaver basically turns your screen dark, then has a circle (or spotlight) where you can see the background screen behind it.  It roams around on your desktop showing only that portion of your wallpaper at a time.  You can adjust the size of the circle and the speed that it moves around the screen.

Taking our safety slogans, I began creating a wallpaper for the computer screen by filling it with little one liner safety slogans.  I also added yellow flags to the wallpaper because that was a symbol for safety at our plant (for more information why see the post: “Power Plant Imps and Accident Apes“).

See the Yellow Flag Before the Accident Happens

See the Yellow Flag Before the Accident Happens

With the help of Charles Foster and Scott Hubbard (both Power Plant electricians), when I was finished the wallpaper looked like this:

Safety Slogan Wallpaper

Safety Slogan Wallpaper

I printed this out in black and white, but the slogans were written in different colors.

I arranged Andy’s icons on his desktop so they were around the edge of the screen.  That way they didn’t cover up the safety slogans.  I set the speed of the spotlight to very slow and and the size of the spotlight so that it was just big enough to see each safety slogan.  The effect worked out real well.  Imagine a dark screen with a spotlight moving randomly around the screen exposing each safety slogan (and yellow flag… don’t forget about those) as it went.

Besides the electricians, no one else knew that I was working on this for Andy. As far as Alan Kramer knew, I was on his side in this contest.  I even kept Toby O’Brien in the dark about it, because I knew that he was going to be one of the judges and even though he knew how much winning the Safety Pizza meant to me.  I didn’t want to influence his decision.  Besides, this Safety Screensaver was going to win.  It was the coolest screensaver around.  The trick was to keep it hidden from the other teams until it was time for the Safety Department to judge it.

I had the impression from Toby that he had purposely talked the Safety Department into this contest to give me a chance to win the Safety Pizza at our plant.  Scott Hubbard and I had carpooled with Toby throughout the years we were trying to win that pizza, and I think he just felt our pain enough that when he was in the position, he was trying to pay us back for our effort.

The screensaver judging was done during the morning, and was going to be announced that afternoon during the monthly safety meeting.  A short time before the Safety Meeting began, Toby O’Brien came up to me and in an apologetic manner told me that the safety slogan winner probably wasn’t going to be who I thought it was.  I figured that was because he thought I was hoping Alan Kramer’s team was going to win since that was my team.  I just smiled back and told him that it was all right.

It was announced during the safety meeting that Andy Tubbs’ team won the contest, and all the electricians were happy.  I think it was at that point that Alan Kramer realized that I had helped Andy with his screensaver.  He looked at me as if I had betrayed him.  I said something like, “Andy Tubbs has been trying to win a safety contest for years.  It’s about time.”

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

The following week, when Andy’s team was given their prize for winning the safety screensaver contest, he brought two pizzas to the electric shop and we all sat around the table relishing in the pepperonis.  We had finally received our Power Plant Safety Pizza!  Even though I really like pizza anytime, the pizza that day tasted especially good.

Power Plant Pepperoni Pizza

Power Plant Pepperoni Pizza

I don’t know if we ever told Toby that when Andy Tubbs team won, we all won.  Maybe some day he will read this story and know…. “The Rest of the Story”.

In case you can’t read all the little safety slogans on the wallpaper, here is a list of them:

Safety First.  Be Safe.  Safety begins here.  Watch your step.  Check your boundaries.  Have Good Posture.  Haste makes waste.  Bend your knees.  Avoid Shortcuts.  Be Safe or Be Gone.  Know your chemicals.  Check O2 before Entry.  Use Safety Guards.  Know your limit.  Report Spills.  Safety is job #1.  Beware of Pinch Points.  Buckle up.  Safety is no accident.  Impatience kills.  Strive to Survive.  Protect your hearing.  Use the right tool.  Keep your back straight.  Drive friendly.  Keep Aisles clear.  Don’t take chances.  Prevention is the cure.  Safety is your job.  Communicate with others.  Always tie off.  Don’t cut corners.  Wear your glasses.  Act safe.  Barricade Hazards.  Use your respirator.  Be responsible.  Lock it out.  Plug your ears.  Stay fit.  Safety never hurts.  Don’t block exits.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Safety is top priority.    Don’t be careless.  Pick up your trash.  Think Ahead.  Slippery When Wet.  Think Safety.  Don’t hurry.  Report Hazards.  Wear your gloves.  Save your eyes.  No Running.  Wear your Safety Belt.  Plan Ahead.  Avoid Backing.  Use your Safety Sense.  Good Housekeeping.  Get Help.  Keep Cylinders Chained.  Protect your hands.  Don’t improvise.  Beware of hazards.  Get the Safety Habit.  Be Prepared.  Gear up for Safety.  Use your PPE.  Do not litter.  Zero Accidents.  Don’t be a Bead (a reference to Bill Green’s jar of beads).  Eat Right.  Keep Floors clean.  Watch out.  Safety Pays.  Drive Safely.  Take Safety Home.  Know Safety, use Safety.  Read the MSDS.  Cotton Clothes Prevents Burns.  Follow the rules.  Wear your hard hat.  Watch out for your buddy.  Test your Confined space.  Remember the Yellow Flag.  Safe Mind, Sound Body.  Clean up your spills.  Don’t take risks.  Beware of Ice.  Watch out for the other guy.  Obey the rules.  Don’t tailgate.  Circle for safety.  Safety Me, Safety You.  Protect your Toes.  Knowing is not enough.  When in doubt, Check it out.  Falls can kill.  Be Alert!  Avoid slick spots.  Safety is a team event.  Almost is not enough.  Avoid the Noise.  Give Safety your all.  And finally…  This Space for Rent.

Power Plant Men Take the Corporate Mainframe Computer Home

When the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma downsized from 218 employees to 124 employees in 1994, everyone was scrambling to figure out how we were going to complete all the work that needed to be done to keep the plant running.  We had become cross-functional teams which seemed to help right away, but we needed to know what jobs were the higher priority jobs, because it became obvious, at least for the short run, that we were not keeping up with the workload.

That was where the “Planners” came in.  In other industries, we may call these guys, “Project Managers”.  They planned the work, and gave us the Maintenance Orders when it was time to work on them.  At first, this was a daunting task for the four planners at our plant.  The planners were Mike Vogle, Glenn Rowland, Ben Davis and Tony Mena.

This was a new job for all of them.  Glenn Rowland had been an A Foreman for the Instrument and Controls Department.  Tony Mena had been on the Testing team.  Mike Vogle had been a B Foreman over the Labor Crew.  Ben Davis had been an electrician.  Now they were suddenly working on a computer all day long trying to learn how to plan their days so they could plan ours.  I currently don’t have any good pictures of this team, or I would let you see for yourself what great guys they are.

Oh.  Ok.  Here is a later picture of Mike Vogle which I absconded from his Facebook page:

Mike Vogle

Mike Vogle

At this time, though they were using the “state of the art” 286 PCs, they were really working on the Honeywell mainframe computer at Corporate Headquarters in Oklahoma City.  They did this by using a Dumb Terminal emulator named GLink.  See the post: “Working Smarter Power Plant with Dumb Terminals” for a better explanation.

This is GLink today.  Back then it was for Windows 3.1

This is GLink today. Back then it was for Windows 3.1

The Power Plant Men knew that I liked to play around on the computers.  I was always going around helping people improve their computer experience by writing little programs that would do important things.  For instance, Windows back then had a screensaver that would fly the windows logo out from the screen so that it looked like you were flying into  the windows logos and they were passing you by.

Flying Windows Screensaver

Flying Windows Screensaver

In the executable program, if you changed the value of one particular byte, you could change the picture from the windows logo to any other of the 255 Wingding Characters.  This included things like Skull and Crossbones, Hearts, Crosses, Envelopes, Stars, Snowflakes and a lot more.  So, I was able to customize their screensavers using any of the wingding characters.

I wrote simple little programs to change their font size and color when they were using DOS, so they could read their screen easier (for the old timers that had a hard time reading the little letters).

Anyway, I had developed a reputation as not only being a troublemaker, but also of being a computer whiz. I have more stories to tell at a later time, but for now I will stick to the one about bringing the Honeywell mainframe home.

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

A Honeywell Mainframe computer

Mike Vogle first asked me the question.  He explained to me that he was staying later and later each night at work doing his job.  The earliest he was leaving was after 7pm each day, and he didn’t have time anymore to even see his family by the time he arrived home. So, he asked me if there was some way he could take his home work with him.  What he would ideally like to do would be to take a disk from work with the Maintenance Orders on them where he could complete them.  Then the next morning bring that disk back to work and put it in the computer and load it into the system.

I can see that a lot of you are rolling your eyes wondering why he didn’t just log into the company network and work remotely.  Well, in 1994, the Internet was something new.  We didn’t have the Network infrastructure built yet that would allow something like that.  We were using Windows 3.1 on old 16 bit computers.  Most of the programs we were running on the computers were still Pre-Windows.  The GLink application, even though it had a windows Icon, was really a DOS program emulating a Dumb Terminal.

I told Mike I would look into it to see if there was some way I could emulate the emulator.  That is, write a program that would be able to interact with the GLink program to upload and download data from the mainframe automatically.  I was sitting in the Electric Shop Office with Charles Foster thinking about this over lunch when Terry Blevins came in.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

Terry and I had worked together the last seven years on the precipitators.  During the downsizing Terry was offered a job working on “Special Assignments”, which was a great move up for him.  We were all happy for him.  He had setup shop at the warehouse office where he could work part of the time from our plant instead of having to drive from Ponca City, Oklahoma to Oklahoma City to go to work.

When Terry came in to eat lunch with us, I told him what Mike Vogle had asked me.  Terry said right away that the GLink program had a Macro language that we might be able to use to automate the process.  This was just what I needed to hear.  If I could write a program that would write macros and send them to GLink to run, then that would do it.  I looked up the macro commands for GLink by opening up the Help section and printing out the list.

I used BASIC 7.0 (no.  Not Visual Basic, I hadn’t advanced that far yet).  BASIC 7.0 was the first BASIC that did away with line numbers and advanced a real second generation programming language.  It came out about the same time as MS Windows.  When I first bought the program, it was about $500.00 which was quite a lot for me.  But it allowed me to create actual DOS executables where I could do just about anything I wanted.

BASIC 7.0 Programmer's Guide

BASIC 7.0 Programmer’s Guide

Keep in mind that the language I was using to write the program didn’t know about Text Boxes, or even “Word Wrap” for that matter.  Everything that the user did on the screen, I had to take into account myself.  Just like I was working with a dumb terminal.  It didn’t understand “Word Wrap” either.  When you finished typing at the end of the line, if it jumped down to the next line in the middle of the word, you had to arrow up, and arrow to the right (forget using a mouse), and backspace until you had erased the letters at the end of the line, and then arrow back down to the next line and start typing again.

So, I put in my own logic for word wrapping because the mainframe window had only so many characters per line, and it had no mercy.  Everything had to be in the right box when you clicked on Submit.  When I was finished writing this program, I was so proud of myself for creating something as simple as “Word Wrap”.

Word Wrap, for those of you who don’t understand the phrase is when you get to the end of the line you are typing and instead of splitting the word up when it goes to the next line, it moves the entire word down to the next line.  You see it all the time now, but early on, the person writing a computer program had to take that into account if they wanted something to word wrap.  Windows Text Boxes and Word Processors had Word Wrap built in, so today a programmer doesn’t have to worry about all those little things, because the objects already know how to do that.  Just like this internet page knows how to do it.

Years later when I was interviewing for a Developer job with other companies and they would ask me what was one of my greatest programming accomplishments, I might blurt out “Word Wrap” before I realized how silly that sounds today.

Another problem I had was that strings of characters in the computer code are delimited by Double Quotes, so what happens when someone is filling out their Maintenance order and they use a Double Quote (“).  I didn’t think about this, and the first time I gave the program to Mike Vogle to test it out, it went all crazy and entered a bunch of bad data into a Maintenance Order because there was a Double Quote in it….. Yeah.  I forgot that if you want to say you worked on a four inch pipe, you would write that as 4” pipe.

So, my second great accomplishment when writing this program was to watch each key stroke, and if it was a double quote, then I would concatenate the string to another string around the double quote that was delimited with single quotes.  After doing all that, the program worked pretty good.  I gave it to Mike, and he tested it out and after making a few more tweeks, it was ready.

Mike could then take his disk of Maintenance orders home with him, and complete his work there, and in the morning he would put the disk in the computer, type a simple command, and it would open up GLink and start uploading all the work he did the night before.  Flashing screen after screen as it worked through all the Maintenance Orders.

Over time (not overtime, but Over Time, as in after a number of days or weeks, not like getting paid time and a half), the program became popular with some of the foremen, because it had Word Wrap and the GLink Emulator didn’t because it was emulating the Dumb Terminal which is too dumb to wrap words from one line to the other.  So, this one little feature that I was so proud of figuring out actually turned out to be the selling point for the foremen to use my new program during the day at work.

I had originally written the program so that Mike could take it home and use it to store macros on the disk that would upload the data to the Mainframe in the morning, but now the foremen were using it during the day at work because it was easier to use than the actual program that talked directly to the mainframe.

It was fun writing a program that essentially wrote another program (macros) that would tell another program (GLink) what to do.  To me, it was the first step for me to take over the world (as one of my Managers at Dell used to accuse me of doing).  What I mean is, that if you could write programs that writes other programs, aren’t you essentially creating some sort of “Artificial Intelligence”?

Because of my initial experience with this effort, it has given me the idea to write a program called:  “Old Man”.  Someday, maybe when I retire, I want to write a program that will help old men… like I will be.  Old men that are losing their memory (like I will be… or already am).  And it will learn what the old man does and how he lives, and it will remind him to do simple tasks.  Basically, it will nag him like his wife would do if she was still living.  It will use voice recognition so it will speak and listen to the old man speak back.

The “Old Man” application will remind him to brush his teeth.  Go to the barber, wash the sheets on his bed.  The list can be endless, because it will learn what this person needs from scratch and dynamically build the database and infrastructure in the background to take care of this old man when he can’t remember if he has just taken his medicine already or not.  It will even make a shopping list for him and help him with cooking.  It will be connected to the Internet so that it can pull all sorts of information it needs.

The “Mainframe Emulator Commander” program that I wrote for Mike Vogle really was my first step to becoming a real nuisance at the plant, because after that, I wanted to write more and more programs. So, I was always on the alert as to what I could do next.  I will write about some of the things we came up with throughout this year.