Tag Archives: Sharp Calculator

Games Power Plant Men Play

When I first became an electrician at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, my foreman Charles Foster and I would sit each day at lunch and talk about movies we had seen.  We would go into detail explaining each scene to each other so that when I actually watched a movie that Charles had described, I felt as if I had seen it already.  In the years that followed, after we had described to each other just about every movie we could remember, we moved on to playing games.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Sure, there were those jokes we would play now and then, but I’m not talking about those.  This was something different.  One of the games that we played was Chess.

I brought a computerized chessboard to work one day that had pieces on a board that you pressed down when you wanted to move a piece, then you moved it and pressed down on the square where you placed the piece in order for the board to keep track where all the pieces were on the board.

The actual Computerized Chessboard we used

The actual Computerized Chessboard we used

This chessboard had 8 levels of difficulty when you played against the computer. Charles, Terry Blevins, Scott Hubbard and I were not really the competitive type. We were more of the team player types. So, when we played, we played against the computer as a team.

We would set the level of difficulty to the highest level, then as a team, we would spend a long time analyzing our moves. Sometimes we would discuss making our next move over several days. Actually, at the highest level, the computer would some times take up to 7 hours to decide what move to make. — This was when computers were still relatively slow.

We figured out that at level 8, the chessboard would think of all the possibilities for the next 8 moves. Once we realized that, then we knew that we had to think 9 moves ahead in order to beat it. So, you could see how together we would try several strategies that would put us ahead after we had basically forced the computer to make 9 moves… It wasn’t easy, but by realizing what we were dealing with, we were able to beat the chess computer on the highest level.

The game where we beat the computer on the highest level took us over 3 months to play and 72 turns.  The four of us had teamed up against the computer in order to beat it. I remember that I would wake up in the morning dreaming about that game of chess when we were playing it and I would be anxious to go into the electric shop to try out a move that had popped in my mind when I was in the shower.

Once we were able to beat the chess board we went on to other things.

Diana Brien (my first and only “Bucket Buddy”) and I would buy Crossword puzzle magazines and when we were in a spot where we were waiting for an operator to arrive, or for a pump to finish pumping, etc.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

We would pull out the crossword puzzle magazine and start working on them.  If we weren’t doing crossword puzzles, we were doing Word Searches, or Cryptograms… more on them in a moment.

Crossword Puzzle Book - mainstay in Power Plant Tool Buckets

Crossword Puzzle Book – mainstay in Power Plant Tool Buckets

This kept our mine sharp, and just as Fat Albert and Cosby Kids used to say, “If you’re not careful, you might learn something before you’re through.”

I had bought some Crossword puzzles that had other types of puzzles in them.  Some were pretty straightforward like Cryptograms.  That is where you have a phrase where each letter of the alphabet has been changed to another letter of the alphabet, and you have to figure out what it says.  So, for instance, an “A” may have been changed to a “D” and a “B” to a “Z” etc.  So, you end up with a sentence or two that looks like gibberish, but it actually means something once you solve the puzzle.

An example of a cryptogram magazine

An example of a cryptogram magazine

The cryptogram magazine I copied for the picture isn’t complete because of the green rectangle is blocking out part of it, but I can see that it says:  Everyone wants to “understand” art.  Why not try to understand the song of a bird?  (Pablo Picasso).

We were becoming expert cryptogram puzzle solvers, when one day we ran into a short cryptogram that didn’t have many words.  We tried solving this cryptogram for almost a week.  Scott Hubbard was getting frustrated with me, because I would never give up and look at the answer in the back of the book.  So, after he became so fed up with me, he finally looked in the back of the book and wrote the answer in the puzzle.  The answer was this:  “Red breasted Robin, Harbinger of Spring”

Now… how is someone supposed to figure out a puzzle like that?  I had figured on the “ing” in Spring and Harbinger but since Harbinger was barely in my vocabulary to begin with, I was never going to solve this one… I’ll have to admit.

Regardless, I was upset with Scott for looking at the answer in the back of the magazine, so I ripped out all the answers from the magazine and threw them in the dumpster so we would never be able to look at them again….. Still…. I would probably be trying to figure out “Red breasted Robin, Harbinger of Spring” to this day if Scott Hubbard hadn’t looked in the back of the book.  I just felt like I wasn’t getting my money’s worth if we looked at the answers…. Yeah.  all $3.95 worth (pretty cheap entertainment).

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

So, I have a side story to go along with working Cryptograms….

In my later life I changed jobs and went to work at Dell in Texas.  (It just so happened that the Puzzle Books we would buy were usually “Dell” puzzle books…. totally unrelated to the Dell Computer company where I worked).  That’s not really the important part of the side story, but I thought I would throw that in for good measure.

Every so often, our department would have an offsite where some team building events were held in order to… well… build teams.

One particular team building event was held in a park in Round Rock Texas where we were assigned to teams and each team was assigned to their own picnic table.  When the game began we were each given a poster board with some phrase on it… and guess what?  It was a cryptogram!

I was the only person on my team that knew how cryptograms worked, though most had seen them in the newspaper below the crossword puzzle, no one on our team had ever tried solving them.  As a team, we were supposed to solve the puzzle.  The quote was fairly long, which made it easy for someone who had been obsessed with cryptograms for years…. — Myself.

I took one look at the puzzle and said…. “That word right there is “that” and I wrote in the word “that”.  Then I began filling in all the letters that had “T”, “H” and “A”.  I quickly found a couple of “The”s which gave me the “E”, then I had one three letter word that began with an “A” and ended with an “E” that could only be the word “Are”.  Which gave me the letter “R”.  I could see that there were a couple of places that ended in “ing”, so I quickly filled those in, and as quickly as we could write all the letters into the puzzle we were done.

My director, Diane Keating, happened to be on my team.  When I first pointed to the word “That” and said, “That is the word ‘that'”, she said, “Wait, how can you tell?”  I said, “Trust me.  I know Cryptograms.”  When we had finished the puzzle within about a minute and a half, we called the person over to check it and she was amazed that we had solved the puzzle so quickly.

That is the end of the side story, except to say that I give credit to the games that Power Plant Men Play for teaching me the fine art of solving Cryptograms.  Our team came in first place…. needless to say after solving three cryptograms in a row.

There were other more complicated but equally fun types of anagram/cryptogram combination puzzles that I worked when we had worked all the cryptogram puzzles in the Dell Variety Magazines.  Eventually Charles Foster and I were looking for something different.  That was when Charles ordered a subscription to a magazine called “GAMES”.

Games Magazines used  by Power Plant Men

Games Magazines used by Power Plant Men

This was a monthly magazine that was full of all sorts of new games.  Today, I understand that this magazine is more about the Video Games that are out than puzzle sort of games.  Each month we would scour the pages of the Game magazine looking for puzzles to conquer.  We worked on those for about a year.

At one point in my days as an electrician, I wrote a Battleship game for my Sharp Calculator that was a two player game.  We each had a battleship in a 100 x 100 grid, which you could move around.  It was sort of like the Battleship game where on the commercial they would say, “You Sunk My Battleship!”  Only, our ships could move and we only had one.

Not the battleship game played by Power Plant Men

Not the battleship game played by Power Plant Men

Each turn when you would plug in the coordinates to shoot at the other person’s ship, it would only tell you how much you missed by.  Then you could plot it on a graph paper and try to figure out where the other person’s ship was.  Even though it could move.  If you were close, then it would damage the other ship, and it would slow down so it couldn’t move as fast.

A Sharp Calculator like I used to program the Battleship game

A Sharp Calculator like I used to program the Battleship game

When the next person took their turn, they could see if their ship had been damaged or sunk, or even had become dead in the water….

The person was randomly assigned a home base at the beginning of the game and they could go there to repair their ship and be given more ammo in case they were running low.  If they did this more than twice, then the other guy would know because the circles they would draw on their graph paper would keep intersecting at that one point.

Anyway…. that was the calculator game I made that I played with Terry Blevins for a while.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

While other Power Plant Men were playing “Rope the Bull” with an Iron rendition of a bull welders had created, some of us in the electric shop were playing different kinds of games.  Puzzles.

I think the reason that electricians like puzzles so much is because a lot of what they do from day-to-day is solve puzzles.  When something isn’t functioning and the electrician has to figure out why, they usually have to follow through a bunch of steps in order to figure out what exactly went wrong.  Solving Circuit problems are a lot like the puzzles we were playing.

Sometimes they are like “Word Searches” where you are looking for needles in the haystacks.  Sometimes they are like Cryptograms where a circuit has been wired incorrectly and you have to figure out which wire is supposed to go where.  Sometimes you get so frustrated that you just wish you could look in the back of the book at the answer page.  In real life, you don’t always have an answer page exactly.

Some of us may think that you can find all you need to know in the Bible, but there are different kinds of “Bibles” for different kinds of jobs.  In the Electric Shop we had the National Electric Code.  We had the Master Blueprints that showed us how things were supposed to be wired up.  Some times we just had to wing it and try putting words in crossword puzzle that we knew might not be the right ones, but they were the best we had at the time.

I’m just glad that I spent that time working puzzles with my friends at the Power Plant.  If solving puzzles together helps build a team, then we had the best darn team around!

Because someone asked me about the game we played against the computer… Here is the play by play (for those who know how to read Chess Playing Geek Language):

Move White Black Move White Black Move White Black
1 P-K4 P-K4 25 P-KN4 K-B1 49 R-R8 K-B5
2 N-KB3 N-QB3 26 P-N5 P-B6 50 P-B5 N-K4
3 P-Q4 PxP 27 QNPxP P-N5 51 R-B8 R-B3ch
4 NxP B-B4 28 P-B4 R-R3 52 K-N7 RxR
5 B-K3 NxN 29 K-N2 P-N6 53 KxR N-Q3
6 BxN BxB 30 BPxP R-N1 54 P-B6 N-N5
7 QxB Q-B3 31 PxP P-B3 55 P-B7 N-Q4
8 P-K5 Q-KN3 32 R-KN1 PxP 56 R-R7 N-N3ch
9 N-R3 N-K2 33 PxP R-R4 57 K-N7 K-K4
10 P-KN3 P-QB4 34 R-B2ch K-K2 58 KxP N-B1
11 Q-Q3 K-KN1csl 35 R-N7ch K-K3 59 K-N8 N-Q3
12 QxQ NxQ 36 N-B2 R-B4 60 R-Q7 K-K2
13 P-KB4 P-N3 37 K-B3 P-Q3 61 R-Q6 KxR
14 B-N2 R-N1 38 K-Q4 RxKP 62 P-B8 K-K4
15 K-QB1csl B-N2 39 N-N5ch RxN 63 P-R4 K-K5
16 KR-N1 KR-Q1 40 RxR NxP 64 P-R5 K-K4
17 N-B4 BxB 41 R-R2 K-B3 65 P-R6 K-B3
18 RxB P-N4 42 N5-R5 N-B4ch 66 P-R7 K-K4
19 N-Q6 P-B5 43 K-Q5 N-K6ch 67 P-R8 K-Q5
20 P-KR4 R-N3 44 KxP R-KB3 68 B8-B4ch K-K4
21 P-R5 N-K2 45 K-B7 N-N5 69 R8-Q5ch K-B3
22 P-R6 PxP 46 R2-R4 K-N3 70 B4-B6ch K-K2
23 R-R2 K-N2 47 RxP R-KB3 71 Q5-Q7ch K-B1
24 Q4-R1 N-N1 48 R-K7 K-N4 72 B6-B8 MATE
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Making Power Plant Friends with Motor Alignment

I know I’m getting old when I pick up a small piece of paper and I am suddenly taken back 17 years to the day I pulled the small page from the Hunzicker Brothers Inc. Notepad sitting on the desk in the Electric Shop office.  It was the day that I was finally able to come to the aid of a noble Power Plant Man that the plant generally referred to as “Stick”.

Gary (Stick) McCain

Gary (Stick) McCain

Gary McCain, or Stick, is a tall thin Power Plant Man (sort of like a stick) known for his intellect and knowledge of “Machine Language”.  In this case, “Machine Language” refers to the ability to understand how machines work, not how to talk directly to computers using zeroes and ones.

Gary had just walked into the Electric Shop office at the power plant in North Central Oklahoma as lunch was ending.  He was carrying a textbook, which seemed odd right off the bat.  He explained that some of the machinists and mechanics had been sent to motor alignment school and they had been given this textbook in case they wanted to refer back to the material that was covered in the class.

Gary sat down next to me and set the book on the desk opening it to the page he had bookmarked (Yeah.  We used to use books made out of paper, and we put pieces of paper between pages to bookmark the pages we wanted to remember…  Bookmarking wasn’t something new with Internet browsers).

Gary (am I going to start all my paragraphs with the word “Gary”?  Maybe the next paragraph, I’ll just say “That tall guy”) pointed to a formula on the page and asked me if it was possible to use the computer to make calculations that will help him align motors using this formula.

I told that tall guy (Gary) that we could use a program called “Excel” (from Microsoft) that could be used to solve problems just like that.  So, I grabbed the small sheet of paper off of the Hunzicker Brothers Inc. notepad and wrote down the variables for the formula on one side, and the four formulas on the back side.  Here is what I wrote:

Variables for the Motor Alignment formulas

Variables for the Motor Alignment formulas

Oh yeah.  I think I ripped off the corner of the paper to use as a bookmark because I didn’t like the one Gary was using.  It was too small.

Motor Alignment Formulas (or is it Formulae?)

Motor Alignment Formulas (or is it Formulae?)

I guess at this point I should stop and tell you what is meant by “motor alignment” and why machinists and mechanics are interested in this in the first place.

The alignment that is done with a motor is performed when you are putting a pump back in place or some other equipment like a gear box or fan shaft or… well… a lot of things.  You have to make sure that the shaft on the motor is perfectly aligned with the pump otherwise it will quickly tear something up when you turn it on.

motor coupled to a compressor

motor coupled to a compressor

This picture shows how the motor is aligned up with the compressor so that the red coupling lines up perfectly.  Once it is aligned the coupling can be bolted together to connect the motor to the pump.

Notice that the motor has bolts to mount it to the skid in the front and the back on both sides, as well as the pump.  These are called “Feet”.  Usually when you put the pump and the motor back in place, they don’t line up perfectly, so thin pieces of brass called “shims” are used to raise the various feet just the right amount so that the shaft on the motor and shaft on the pump are looking right at each other.

A special piece of equipment is used to check the alignment.  It is called a “Dial Caliper” and it is mounted to the coupling on the motor and the pump with a magnet and it tests the alignment as it is rotated around.

A mounted dial caliper used to measure the alignment of the motor

A mounted dial caliper used to measure the alignment of the motor

I’m sorry if I’m boring those of you who don’t immediately see the beauty of Motor Alignment.  Try pretending that the dial caliper is something invented by ancient aliens if you need to make this part of the post more interesting (actually, who needs ancient aliens when you have machinists?).

Gary told me that the company was looking into buying laser guided motor alignment machines for only $30,000 a piece.  They would probably buy three of them that could be used between the four main plants.  He said that he didn’t think we needed them if we could use these formulas to calculate exactly how to align the motors.  This would save the company around $90,000 and at the same time show the mechanics the “joy of math”!

So, I made some notes on another page which simplified, (or maybe complicated) the formulas further.  Then I sat down at the computer and began putting them into Excel.  The idea was to have the person doing the motor alignment take some notes, then go to the computer and enter them into the Excel sheet and it would tell them right away how many shims to put under any of the 8 feet (four on the motor and four on the pump).

Here are the notes I made:

Notes made to calculate the motor alignment

Notes made to calculate the motor alignment

If you are Jesse Cheng (or some other old time calculator geek), you can see what I was doing with my notes.  I was thinking of the next steps… which I’ll explain below…. (oh… ok… I’ll tell you… this is the code that you would use if you were creating a program for a Casio calculator).

After creating the spreadsheet, Gary headed out the door to go start aligning a motor using our newfangled motor alignment method.  A little while later he came back into the shop and pulling out his handy dandy notepad he read off the notes he had taken while he put the values into Excel…  When he was finished, he wrote down the results and headed back out the door to add the proper shims to the motor and the pump.

A notepad like this

Handy Dandy Power Plant Notepad

We had to tweak the program a little to work out the bugs, but after a couple of tries it worked very well and Gary was pleased.  Only, there was one problem with this method…  Over the next couple of weeks, Gary would come bursting into the electric shop office interrupting me and Charles Foster while we were having a deep discussion about the virtues of banana peppers on ham sandwiches.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

So, I suggested to Gary that we could use a calculator to do the same thing that we were doing with the spreadsheet.  That way he wouldn’t have to travel back and forth to the computer.  Instead, he could just stand there at the motor and enter the information and have it display the answers that he was seeking.

Right off the bat (hmm… the second time I have used that “cliche”…. I need to read more often), Gary didn’t understand how a calculator could do this.  So, I explained to him that some calculators are programmable and I can write a program on the calculator that would do just that.  I said, “Let me show you”….. After all, I had grown up in Missouri (the Show Me State)…  So, I took my calculator off of the top of the filing cabinet and placed it on the table.

My Sharp Calculator with the Thermal printer connecting to a tape recorder

My Sharp Calculator with the Thermal printer connecting to a tape recorder

I used the thermal printer to connect the calculator to the tape recorder to store my programs, so I didn’t have to enter them manually after I entered them once.

I took my notes and wrote the following program and entered it into the calculator.

The short quick version of the calculator program

The short quick version of the calculator program

I gave the calculator to Gary and showed him how to run the program and sent him to try it out for himself.  He was very excited about this and offered some suggestions to make the program easier to use.

A few days later Gary caught me walking across the maintenance shop and showed me a catalog with various calculators for sale.  He said he wanted to buy some calculators for the shop so that every person that had been trained to align motors had a calculator with a program on it.  I showed him a Casio calculator that would work for about $70.  So, he ordered a better one.

A Casio CFX-9850G

Gary ordered the Casio CFX-9850G

Even though the language for programming it was different than the Sharp calculator, it didn’t take long for me to write a program for it that did the same thing since I had sort of already written it by that time.  After Gary proved to his foreman that the calculator worked, he ordered several more and when they arrived he asked me if I could program them as well.

It took almost a half hour just to type the program into each calculator, so I bought a small pigtail that connected two calculators together.  This allowed me to copy the program from one calculator to another one.  So, when Gary arrived one day with a box of over 20 calculators for the rest of the plants, it took me longer to open the packages than it did to copy the program from one calculator to the next.

The pigtail I used to connect the calculators

The pigtail I used to connect the calculators

Since the calculator was a graphic calculator, I thought about improving the program by drawing a little picture of a motor shaft and a pump shaft and showing how they were out of alignment after the information was entered, but I never took the time to do that as I was on to another computer project by that time (which I will write about later).

So, think about this.  The company was willing to buy $90,000 worth of laser-guided motor alignment equipment to do something that machinists and mechanics already knew how to do.  The specialized equipment would work, and it might have been faster I suppose.  With the aid of a programmable calculator, however, a mechanic can stand at the motor, takes a few measurements and come up with the same results probably just as fast as the laser-guided motor alignment gizmo could do it.

Either way, the mechanic still had to install the same number of shims under the same feet whether they used the calculator and the dial caliper or the laser beam.  The 26 or so calculators that were purchased for the four plants came up to less than $2,000, which is a savings of $88,000.  I don’t think the laser would have saved that much time.  It still had to be carried over to the motor and plugged in and mounted on the motor.  My guess is that as soon as the laser was dropped on the floor accidentally, it would have been broken anyway.

The best part of this little project was that I was able to help out a True Power Plant Man Gary McCain, that I hadn’t really had the opportunity to help much before.  Gary didn’t need much help as he is one of those Power Plant Men that people seek out when they need advice. So, when he came to me and asked for help with the computer, I was more than glad to do what I could to help him.

Sometimes it is a little difficult for my wife to understand why I keep scraps of paper laying around that have meaningless scribbles on them.  One might be a doodle that some friend of mine created one day while talking on the phone.  Another might be a fortune from a cookie that I opened when I was eating lunch with a coworker.  Today the piece of paper I picked up happened to have a mathematical formula written on the back.

I think my son understands now that when I seem to be picking up trash off of the table and a tear comes to my eye, it isn’t because I have just picked up something rotten, but because I have just been transported back in time to place where I am with some people that I love.  It doesn’t stop him from saying, “Dad?  It’s just a piece of paper.  Geez!”  Well… I know I’m getting old… but that scrap of paper is poetry to me.

Making Power Plant Friends with Motor Alignment

I know I’m getting old when I pick up a small piece of paper and I am suddenly taken back 17 years to the day I pulled the small page from the Hunzicker Brothers Inc. Notepad sitting on the desk in the Electric Shop office.  It was the day that I was finally able to come to the aid of a noble Power Plant Man that the plant generally referred to as “Stick”.

Gary (Stick) McCain

Gary (Stick) McCain

Gary McCain, or Stick, is a tall thin Power Plant Man (sort of like a stick) known for his intellect and knowledge of “Machine Language”.  In this case, “Machine Language” refers to the ability to understand how machines work, not how to talk directly to computers using zeroes and ones.

Gary had just walked into the Electric Shop office at the power plant in North Central Oklahoma as lunch was ending.  He was carrying a textbook, which seemed odd right off the bat.  He explained that some of the machinists and mechanics had been sent to motor alignment school and they had been given this textbook in case they wanted to refer back to the material that was covered in the class.

Gary sat down next to me and set the book on the desk opening it to the page he had bookmarked (Yeah.  We used to use books made out of paper, and we put pieces of paper between pages to bookmark the pages we wanted to remember…  Bookmarking wasn’t something new with Internet browsers).

Gary (am I going to start all my paragraphs with the word “Gary”?  Maybe the next paragraph, I’ll just say “That tall guy”) pointed to a formula on the page and asked me if it was possible to use the computer to make calculations that will help him align motors using this formula.

I told that tall guy (Gary) that we could use a program called “Excel” (from Microsoft) that could be used to solve problems just like that.  So, I grabbed the small sheet of paper off of the Hunzicker Brothers Inc. notepad and wrote down the variables for the formula on one side, and the four formulas on the back side.  Here is what I wrote:

Variables for the Motor Alignment formulas

Variables for the Motor Alignment formulas

Oh yeah.  I think I ripped off the corner of the paper to use as a bookmark because I didn’t like the one Gary was using.  It was too small.

Motor Alignment Formulas (or is it Formulae?)

Motor Alignment Formulas (or is it Formulae?)

I guess at this point I should stop and tell you what is meant by “motor alignment” and why machinists and mechanics are interested in this in the first place.

The alignment that is done with a motor is performed when you are putting a pump back in place or some other equipment like a gear box or fan shaft or… well… a lot of things.  You have to make sure that the shaft on the motor is perfectly aligned with the pump otherwise it will quickly tear something up when you turn it on.

motor coupled to a compressor

motor coupled to a compressor

This picture shows how the motor is aligned up with the compressor so that the red coupling lines up perfectly.  Once it is aligned the coupling can be bolted together to connect the motor to the pump.

Notice that the motor has bolts to mount it to the skid in the front and the back on both sides, as well as the pump.  These are called “Feet”.  Usually when you put the pump and the motor back in place, they don’t line up perfectly, so thin pieces of brass called “shims” are used to raise the various feet just the right amount so that the shaft on the motor and shaft on the pump are looking right at each other.

A special piece of equipment is used to check the alignment.  It is called a “Dial Caliper” and it is mounted to the coupling on the motor and the pump with a magnet and it tests the alignment as it is rotated around.

A mounted dial caliper used to measure the alignment of the motor

A mounted dial caliper used to measure the alignment of the motor

I’m sorry if I’m boring those of you who don’t immediately see the beauty of Motor Alignment.  Try pretending that the dial caliper is something invented by ancient aliens if you need to make this part of the post more interesting (actually, who needs ancient aliens when you have machinists?).

Gary told me that the company was looking into buying laser guided motor alignment machines for only $30,000 a piece.  They would probably buy three of them that could be used between the four main plants.  He said that he didn’t think we needed them if we could use these formulas to calculate exactly how to align the motors.  This would save the company around $90,000 and at the same time show the mechanics the “joy of math”!

So, I made some notes on another page which simplified, (or maybe complicated) the formulas further.  Then I sat down at the computer and began putting them into Excel.  The idea was to have the person doing the motor alignment take some notes, then go to the computer and enter them into the Excel sheet and it would tell them right away how many shims to put under any of the 8 feet (four on the motor and four on the pump).

Here are the notes I made:

Notes made to calculate the motor alignment

Notes made to calculate the motor alignment

If you are Jesse Cheng (or some other old time calculator geek), you can see what I was doing with my notes.  I was thinking of the next steps… which I’ll explain below…. (oh… ok… I’ll tell you… this is the code that you would use if you were creating a program for a Casio calculator).

After creating the spreadsheet, Gary headed out the door to go start aligning a motor using our newfangled motor alignment method.  A little while later he came back into the shop and pulling out his handy dandy notepad he read off the notes he had taken while he put the values into Excel…  When he was finished, he wrote down the results and headed back out the door to add the proper shims to the motor and the pump.

A notepad like this

Handy Dandy Power Plant Notepad

We had to tweak the program a little to work out the bugs, but after a couple of tries it worked very well and Gary was pleased.  Only, there was one problem with this method…  Over the next couple of weeks, Gary would come bursting into the electric shop office interrupting me and Charles Foster while we were having a deep discussion about the virtues of banana peppers on ham sandwiches.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

So, I suggested to Gary that we could use a calculator to do the same thing that we were doing with the spreadsheet.  That way he wouldn’t have to travel back and forth to the computer.  Instead, he could just stand there at the motor and enter the information and have it display the answers that he was seeking.

Right off the bat (hmm… the second time I have used that “cliche”…. I need to read more often), Gary didn’t understand how a calculator could do this.  So, I explained to him that some calculators are programmable and I can write a program on the calculator that would do just that.  I said, “Let me show you”….. After all, I had grown up in Missouri (the Show Me State)…  So, I took my calculator off of the top of the filing cabinet and placed it on the table.

My Sharp Calculator with the Thermal printer connecting to a tape recorder

My Sharp Calculator with the Thermal printer connecting to a tape recorder

I used the thermal printer to connect the calculator to the tape recorder to store my programs, so I didn’t have to enter them manually after I entered them once.

I took my notes and wrote the following program and entered it into the calculator.

The short quick version of the calculator program

The short quick version of the calculator program

I gave the calculator to Gary and showed him how to run the program and sent him to try it out for himself.  He was very excited about this and offered some suggestions to make the program easier to use.

A few days later Gary caught me walking across the maintenance shop and showed me a catalog with various calculators for sale.  He said he wanted to buy some calculators for the shop so that every person that had been trained to align motors had a calculator with a program on it.  I showed him a Casio calculator that would work for about $70.  So, he ordered a better one.

A Casio CFX-9850G

Gary ordered the Casio CFX-9850G

Even though the language for programming it was different than the Sharp calculator, it didn’t take long for me to write a program for it that did the same thing since I had sort of already written it by that time.  After Gary proved to his foreman that the calculator worked, he ordered several more and when they arrived he asked me if I could program them as well.

It took almost a half hour just to type the program into each calculator, so I bought a small pigtail that connected two calculators together.  This allowed me to copy the program from one calculator to another one.  So, when Gary arrived one day with a box of over 20 calculators for the rest of the plants, it took me longer to open the packages than it did to copy the program from one calculator to the next.

The pigtail I used to connect the calculators

The pigtail I used to connect the calculators

Since the calculator was a graphic calculator, I thought about improving the program by drawing a little picture of a motor shaft and a pump shaft and showing how they were out of alignment after the information was entered, but I never took the time to do that as I was on to another computer project by that time (which I will write about later).

So, think about this.  The company was willing to buy $90,000 worth of laser-guided motor alignment equipment to do something that machinists and mechanics already knew how to do.  The specialized equipment would work, and it might have been faster I suppose.  With the aid of a programmable calculator, however, a mechanic can stand at the motor, takes a few measurements and come up with the same results probably just as fast as the laser-guided motor alignment gizmo could do it.

Either way, the mechanic still had to install the same number of shims under the same feet whether they used the calculator and the dial caliper or the laser beam.  The 26 or so calculators that were purchased for the four plants came up to less than $2,000, which is a savings of $88,000.  I don’t think the laser would have saved that much time.  It still had to be carried over to the motor and plugged in and mounted on the motor.  My guess is that as soon as the laser was dropped on the floor accidentally, it would have been broken anyway.

The best part of this little project was that I was able to help out a True Power Plant Man Gary McCain, that I hadn’t really had the opportunity to help much before.  Gary didn’t need much help as he is one of those Power Plant Men that people seek out when they need advice. So, when he came to me and asked for help with the computer, I was more than glad to do what I could to help him.

Sometimes it is a little difficult for my wife to understand why I keep scraps of paper laying around that have meaningless scribbles on them.  One might be a doodle that some friend of mine created one day while talking on the phone.  Another might be a fortune from a cookie that I opened when I was eating lunch with a coworker.  Today the piece of paper I picked up happened to have a mathematical formula written on the back.

I think my son understands now that when I seem to be picking up trash off of the table and a tear comes to my eye, it isn’t because I have just picked up something rotten, but because I have just been transported back in time to place where I am with some people that I love.  It doesn’t stop him from saying, “Dad?  It’s just a piece of paper.  Geez!”  Well… I know I’m getting old… but that scrap of paper is poetry to me.

Games Power Plant Men Play

When I first became an electrician at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, my foreman Charles Foster and I would sit each day at lunch and talk about movies we had seen.  We would go into detail explaining each scene to each other so that when I actually watched a movie that Charles had described, I felt as if I had seen it already.  In the years that followed, after we had described to each other just about every movie we could remember, we moved on to playing games.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

Sure, there were those jokes we would play now and then, but I’m not talking about those.  This was something different.  One of the games that we played was Chess.

I brought a computerized chessboard to work one day that had pieces on a board that you pressed down when you wanted to move a piece, then you moved it and pressed down on the square where you placed the piece in order for the board to keep track where all the pieces were on the board.

The actual Computerized Chessboard we used

The actual Computerized Chessboard we used

This chessboard had 8 levels of difficulty when you played against the computer. Charles, Terry Blevins, Scott Hubbard and I were not really the competitive type. We were more of the team player types. So, when we played, we played against the computer as a team.

We would set the level of difficulty to the highest level, then as a team, we would spend a long time analyzing our moves. Sometimes we would discuss making our next move over several days. Actually, at the highest level, the computer would some times take up to 7 hours to decide what move to make. — This was when computers were still relatively slow.

We figured out that at level 8, the chessboard would think of all the possibilities for the next 8 moves. Once we realized that, then we knew that we had to think 9 moves ahead in order to beat it. So, you could see how together we would try several strategies that would put us ahead after we had basically forced the computer to make 9 moves… It wasn’t easy, but by realizing what we were dealing with, we were able to beat the chess computer on the highest level.

The game where we beat the computer on the highest level took us over 3 months to play and 72 turns.  The four of us had teamed up against the computer in order to beat it. I remember that I would wake up in the morning dreaming about that game of chess when we were playing it and I would be anxious to go into the electric shop to try out a move that had popped in my mind when I was in the shower.

Once we were able to beat the chess board we went on to other things.

Diana Brien (my first and only “Bucket Buddy”) and I would buy Crossword puzzle magazines and when we were in a spot where we were waiting for an operator to arrive, or for a pump to finish pumping, etc.

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

My Bucket Buddy Diana Brien

We would pull out the crossword puzzle magazine and start working on them.  If we weren’t doing crossword puzzles, we were doing Word Searches, or Cryptograms… more on them in a moment.

Crossword Puzzle Book - mainstay in Power Plant Tool Buckets

Crossword Puzzle Book – mainstay in Power Plant Tool Buckets

This kept our mine sharp, and just as Fat Albert and Cosby Kids used to say, “If you’re not careful, you might learn something before you’re through.”

I had bought some Crossword puzzles that had other types of puzzles in them.  Some were pretty straightforward like Cryptograms.  That is where you have a phrase where each letter of the alphabet has been changed to another letter of the alphabet, and you have to figure out what it says.  So, for instance, an “A” may have been changed to a “D” and a “B” to a “Z” etc.  So, you end up with a sentence or two that looks like gibberish, but it actually means something once you solve the puzzle.

An example of a cryptogram magazine

An example of a cryptogram magazine

The cryptogram magazine I copied for the picture isn’t complete because of the green rectangle is blocking out part of it, but I can see that it says:  Everyone wants to “understand” art.  Why not try to understand the song of a bird?  (Pablo Picasso).

We were becoming expert cryptogram puzzle solvers, when one day we ran into a short cryptogram that didn’t have many words.  We tried solving this cryptogram for almost a week.  Scott Hubbard was getting frustrated with me, because I would never give up and look at the answer in the back of the book.  So, after he became so fed up with me, he finally looked in the back of the book and wrote the answer in the puzzle.  The answer was this:  “Red breasted Robin, Harbinger of Spring”

Now… how is someone supposed to figure out a puzzle like that?  I had figured on the “ing” in Spring and Harbinger but since Harbinger was barely in my vocabulary to begin with, I was never going to solve this one… I’ll have to admit.

Regardless, I was upset with Scott for looking at the answer in the back of the magazine, so I ripped out all the answers from the magazine and threw them in the dumpster so we would never be able to look at them again….. Still…. I would probably be trying to figure out “Red breasted Robin, Harbinger of Spring” to this day if Scott Hubbard hadn’t looked in the back of the book.  I just felt like I wasn’t getting my money’s worth if we looked at the answers…. Yeah.  all $3.95 worth (pretty cheap entertainment).

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

So, I have a side story to go along with working Cryptograms….

In my later life I changed jobs and went to work at Dell in Texas.  (It just so happened that the Puzzle Books we would buy were usually “Dell” puzzle books…. totally unrelated to the Dell Computer company where I worked).  That’s not really the important part of the side story, but I thought I would throw that in for good measure.

Every so often, our department would have an offsite where some team building events were held in order to… well… build teams.

One particular team building event was held in a park in Round Rock Texas where we were assigned to teams and each team was assigned to their own picnic table.  When the game began we were each given a poster board with some phrase on it… and guess what?  It was a cryptogram!

I was the only person on my team that knew how cryptograms worked, though most had seen them in the newspaper below the crossword puzzle, no one on our team had ever tried solving them.  As a team, we were supposed to solve the puzzle.  The quote was fairly long, which made it easy for someone who had been obsessed with cryptograms for years…. — Myself.

I took one look at the puzzle and said…. “That word right there is “that” and I wrote in the word “that”.  Then I began filling in all the letters that had “T”, “H” and “A”.  I quickly found a couple of “The”s which gave me the “E”, then I had one three letter word that began with an “A” and ended with an “E” that could only be the word “Are”.  Which gave me the letter “R”.  I could see that there were a couple of places that ended in “ing”, so I quickly filled those in, and as quickly as we could write all the letters into the puzzle we were done.

My director, Diane Keating, happened to be on my team.  When I first pointed to the word “That” and said, “That is the word ‘that'”, she said, “Wait, how can you tell?”  I said, “Trust me.  I know Cryptograms.”  When we had finished the puzzle within about a minute and a half, we called the person over to check it and she was amazed that we had solved the puzzle so quickly.

That is the end of the side story, except to say that I give credit to the games that Power Plant Men Play for teaching me the fine art of solving Cryptograms.  Our team came in first place…. needless to say after solving three cryptograms in a row.

There were other more complicated but equally fun types of anagram/cryptogram combination puzzles that I worked when we had worked all the cryptogram puzzles in the Dell Variety Magazines.  Eventually Charles Foster and I were looking for something different.  That was when Charles ordered a subscription to a magazine called “GAMES”.

Games Magazines used  by Power Plant Men

Games Magazines used by Power Plant Men

This was a monthly magazine that was full of all sorts of new games.  Today, I understand that this magazine is more about the Video Games that are out than puzzle sort of games.  Each month we would scour the pages of the Game magazine looking for puzzles to conquer.  We worked on those for about a year.

At one point in my days as an electrician, I wrote a Battleship game for my Sharp Calculator that was a two player game.  We each had a battleship in a 100 x 100 grid, which you could move around.  It was sort of like the Battleship game where on the commercial they would say, “You Sunk My Battleship!”  Only, our ships could move and we only had one.

Not the battleship game played by Power Plant Men

Not the battleship game played by Power Plant Men

Each turn when you would plug in the coordinates to shoot at the other person’s ship, it would only tell you how much you missed by.  Then you could plot it on a graph paper and try to figure out where the other person’s ship was.  Even though it could move.  If you were close, then it would damage the other ship, and it would slow down so it couldn’t move as fast.

A Sharp Calculator like I used to program the Battleship game

A Sharp Calculator like I used to program the Battleship game

When the next person took their turn, they could see if their ship had been damaged or sunk, or even had become dead in the water….

The person was randomly assigned a home base at the beginning of the game and they could go there to repair their ship and be given more ammo in case they were running low.  If they did this more than twice, then the other guy would know because the circles they would draw on their graph paper would keep intersecting at that one point.

Anyway…. that was the calculator game I made that I played with Terry Blevins for a while.

Terry Blevins

Terry Blevins

While other Power Plant Men were playing “Rope the Bull” with an Iron rendition of a bull welders had created, some of us in the electric shop were playing different kinds of games.  Puzzles.

I think the reason that electricians like puzzles so much is because a lot of what they do from day-to-day is solve puzzles.  When something isn’t functioning and the electrician has to figure out why, they usually have to follow through a bunch of steps in order to figure out what exactly went wrong.  Solving Circuit problems are a lot like the puzzles we were playing.

Sometimes they are like “Word Searches” where you are looking for needles in the haystacks.  Sometimes they are like Cryptograms where a circuit has been wired incorrectly and you have to figure out which wire is supposed to go where.  Sometimes you get so frustrated that you just wish you could look in the back of the book at the answer page.  In real life, you don’t always have an answer page exactly.

Some of us may think that you can find all you need to know in the Bible, but there are different kinds of “Bibles” for different kinds of jobs.  In the Electric Shop we had the National Electric Code.  We had the Master Blueprints that showed us how things were supposed to be wired up.  Some times we just had to wing it and try putting words in crossword puzzle that we knew might not be the right ones, but they were the best we had at the time.

I’m just glad that I spent that time working puzzles with my friends at the Power Plant.  If solving puzzles together helps build a team, then we had the best darn team around!

Because someone asked me about the game we played against the computer… Here is the play by play (for those who know how to read Chess Playing Geek Language):

Move White Black Move White Black Move White Black
1 P-K4 P-K4 25 P-KN4 K-B1 49 R-R8 K-B5
2 N-KB3 N-QB3 26 P-N5 P-B6 50 P-B5 N-K4
3 P-Q4 PxP 27 QNPxP P-N5 51 R-B8 R-B3ch
4 NxP B-B4 28 P-B4 R-R3 52 K-N7 RxR
5 B-K3 NxN 29 K-N2 P-N6 53 KxR N-Q3
6 BxN BxB 30 BPxP R-N1 54 P-B6 N-N5
7 QxB Q-B3 31 PxP P-B3 55 P-B7 N-Q4
8 P-K5 Q-KN3 32 R-KN1 PxP 56 R-R7 N-N3ch
9 N-R3 N-K2 33 PxP R-R4 57 K-N7 K-K4
10 P-KN3 P-QB4 34 R-B2ch K-K2 58 KxP N-B1
11 Q-Q3 K-KN1csl 35 R-N7ch K-K3 59 K-N8 N-Q3
12 QxQ NxQ 36 N-B2 R-B4 60 R-Q7 K-K2
13 P-KB4 P-N3 37 K-B3 P-Q3 61 R-Q6 KxR
14 B-N2 R-N1 38 K-Q4 RxKP 62 P-B8 K-K4
15 K-QB1csl B-N2 39 N-N5ch RxN 63 P-R4 K-K5
16 KR-N1 KR-Q1 40 RxR NxP 64 P-R5 K-K4
17 N-B4 BxB 41 R-R2 K-B3 65 P-R6 K-B3
18 RxB P-N4 42 N5-R5 N-B4ch 66 P-R7 K-K4
19 N-Q6 P-B5 43 K-Q5 N-K6ch 67 P-R8 K-Q5
20 P-KR4 R-N3 44 KxP R-KB3 68 B8-B4ch K-K4
21 P-R5 N-K2 45 K-B7 N-N5 69 R8-Q5ch K-B3
22 P-R6 PxP 46 R2-R4 K-N3 70 B4-B6ch K-K2
23 R-R2 K-N2 47 RxP R-KB3 71 Q5-Q7ch K-B1
24 Q4-R1 N-N1 48 R-K7 K-N4 72 B6-B8 MATE