Tag Archives: Tony Mena

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.

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Power Plant Quittin’ Time

At a Power Plant, three things are certain:  Death, Taxes and Quittin’ Time.  Nothing can stand in the way of any of these three activities.  The only time Quittin’ time might change is on a Friday afternoon just before it is time to go home and you hear the Shift Supervisor paging one of the foremen or the Maintenance Supervisor.  Then you know that Quittin’ time is likely to change at the spur of the moment.  Not eliminated, but only delayed.  I suppose we try doing that with Death as well.  I have never tried delaying Taxes before.

After the downsizing at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma in 1994, a lot of things had changed.  As an electrician, I was now working on a cross-functional team with Charles Foster as my electrical bucket buddy.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

The rest of my team had different skills.  Some were Instrument and Controls, others were Welders, Machinists, Mechanics and then there was Alan Kramer, our foreman.

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

The new way we received work orders (we called them Maintenance Orders or MOs) was from our new Planners.  There were two people responsible for figuring out our work for the week.  That was Ben Davis and Tony Mena.  I don’t have a photo of Tony, but here is Ben.

Ben-Davis

Ben Davis

I have talked about Ben Davis in a number of past posts, as he was my mentor when I first became an electrician.  I always looked up to him as a big brother.  And, well, he treated me as a younger brother… but always with more respect than I deserved.  Tony on the other hand was originally hired to be on the Testing Team when I was on the Labor Crew.

I still remember Monday, July 18, 1983 watching Tony Mena and the rest of the new Testers walking around the plant following Keith Hodges around like baby quail following their mother (at least that was the way Ron Luckey described them as we watched them from the back seat of the crew cab as we drove past them).

The men and woman on Labor Crew had felt passed over when the new testing team had been formed because no one on the labor crew had been considered for the new jobs even when we met the minimum requirements (which was to have any kind of college degree).  So, even though it wasn’t fair to the new testing team, we had an immediate animosity toward them.

After the first downsizing in 1988, Scott Hubbard had moved to the electric shop and I quickly learned that not all testers were rotten, job stealing chumps.  Actually, none of them were.  They never had anything to do with who was chosen for the Testing team.  That came from above.  If you are interested, you can read the post: “‘Take a Note Jan’ Said the Supervisor of Power Production“.  Scott and I became like brothers when he joined our team.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

After the first downsizing, the testing team was reduced down to three people, Tony Mena, Richard Allen and Doug Black.  I don’t have a picture of the first two, but I do have one of Doug:

 

Doug Black

Doug Black

After the second downsizing, the Testing team was eliminated.  Scott had become an electrician seven year earlier, Doug Black moved into the Engineering Department.  Richard Allen became an Instrument and Controls person and Tony Mena became a Planner along with Ben Davis.  We had two other planners Glenn Rowland and Mark Fielder (who later traded with Mike Vogle to become a foreman).  Glenn and Mark spent their time planning major outages, where Tony and Ben did more of the day-to-day stuff.

Tony Mena no longer had anyone to carpool with, so he asked me if he could carpool with Scott and I.  So, we agreed.  We told Tony that it was important to be on time, because we didn’t want to be late arriving at the plant, and we definitely didn’t want to be late going home (which was much more important).  Tony agreed that he would be on time.

Quittin’ Time at the plant is a very important and orchestrated event.  It begins a half hour earlier when everyone returns to the shop and cleans up and puts their tools away.  Then they go into the foremen’s office and fills out their timecards for the day.  This includes adding each of the maintenance orders we have worked on during the day and how many hours on each.

The next step is to grab your lunch box and go stand by the door to wait until the exact second that it is time to leave.  When that happens, a steady stream of Power Plant Men pour into the parking lot, into their pickup trucks (and other vehicles) and head either north or south down Highway 177 toward their homes.  Some stopping along the way for a beverage at the corner convenience store.

The Power Plant Men have Quittin’ Time down to a honed art form.  Each stroke of the brush is carefully orchestrated.  Scott and I went to perform our part of the ballet where the vehicles all backed out of their parking spaces in chaotic unison and quickly perform the three lines out the end of the single lane on the south side of the parking lot.

However, when we arrived in our car, Tony was no where to be found.  As we received concerned looks from Randy Dailey and Jerry Day, as they pirouetted around us, wondering why we weren’t taking our turn in the Parking Lot Tango, all we could do was shrug our shoulders and watch as the dance went on without us.

Finally about 10 minutes past Quittin’ Time, Tony came walking out of the shop apologizing for being late.  We told him that was all right as long as he didn’t make a habit out of it.  We were pretty peeved that day because this meant that we had 10 less minutes that day to spend with our families.

We were even more peeved when the same thing happened the next day.  We didn’t wait 10 minutes.  After 5 minutes we went into the maintenance foremen’s office and found Tony still working away on his computer trying to finish up his work.  We told him he had to leave right now!  He said he hadn’t realized it was time to go.

Nothing is worse than a delayed Quittin’ Time when it isn’t for a legitimate reason.  Tony didn’t have a wife and children at home so he didn’t feel the urgency that Scott and I felt.  So, I figured I was going to have to do something about this.  We weren’t going to tell Tony that he could no longer ride with us, because we knew he needed the company as much as we did, so I came up with a different plan.

The next day at lunch I wrote a program on the computer called “Quittin’ Time!”  Here is how it worked:

It would load up on Tony’s computer when he booted it up, so he didn’t have a choice whether it ran or not.  It showed up in the Task Bar at the bottom.  It said: “Quittin’ Time in: 7:45:35”  for example and it would count down each second.  Then it would count down all day until Quittin’ Time.  There was no visible way to turn it off (Power Plant Men had yet to learn about the Task Manager as this was Windows 3.1).

You could click on Quittin Time in the Task Bar and it would open up a small box in the middle of your computer with the time ticking down, but there was no red X in the corner to shut it down.  There was only a minimize underscore that would put it back in the task bar.

I had added a small feature in the dialog window.  In the lower right corner, there was a little slash sort of hidden in the corner.  If you clicked on that, it opened another dialog box that let you set the actual time of day for “Quittin’ Time”.  So, if you had to leave early, or later, you could adjust your Quittin’ Time.

Here was the clincher with the Quittin’ Time program.  It was not enough to just show Tony that it was Quittin’ Time.  This program had to force Tony to shut down and go home.  So, when it was 15 minutes before Quittin’ Time, a Big Yellow Window would open up on top of any other work and would flash on and off that it was “15 minutes before Quittin’ Time!  Time to Finish your Work!”  Tony could close this window.

Then when it was 5 minutes to Quittin’ Time, another big yellow window would open up flashing 5 minutes before Quittin’ Time!  Finish your work now!” and it would beep at you 5 times. Tony could close this window.

At one minute until Quittin’ Time, all heck broke loose on the computer.  A big red window would open up and the computer would start beeping continually.  The flashing Window could not be closed.  It would say:  “Less than One Minute To Quittin’ Time!  Save all your Work!”  The words would continually flash as well at the red background while counting down the seconds and it could not be stopped.

At “Quittin’ Time” The Red Box would say “QUITTIN’ TIME!”  and the computer would lock up beeping continuously as loud as that little beeper(the internal speaker) could beep (this was a 386 PC).  At that point, the only thing you could do was hit the power button and shut your computer off.  I wish I had some screen shots to show you.  Maybe I’ll find my old code and recreate it and take some and add them to this post later.

Needless to say, the first day I added this program to Tony’s computer, he didn’t heed the warnings.  When the computer went crazy, he tried saving his work, but ended up losing a little of it before the computer completely locked up on him.  He came out to the parking lot on time, however, he wasn’t in the greatest mood.  We were.  Scott and I were smiling.  We were going to be home on time, and best yet, that day, we were included in the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” being performed by the pickup trucks that day in the Parking Lot.

The best part of the Quittin’ Time program came later.  After about a week, Tony (who now left work on time every day) asked me if I could add something to the Quittin’ Time program.  He wanted to know if I could make it so that he would remember to eat lunch.  He would get so involved in work that he would miss his lunch entirely.  So, I added a “Lunch Time” Feature to the program as well.  He could adjust his lunch time using the same option window that opened when you clicked on the little slash in the lower corner of the Quittin’ Time window.

When I added the Lunch Time feature, I also added an Internet Feature that would go out to Yahoo Stock Quotes and get the Daily Stock Quotes for all of our 401k Mutual Funds and our company stock and at 3:40pm CST would pop up a window with the day’s stocks, so you could see how the Mutual funds in your 401k did that day. — Nothing better than watching your retirement plan grow each day.  Yahoo posted the Mutual Fund updates for the day around 3:30pm, so Tony would be the first person each day to get the latest Stock news for our Mutual Funds.

Tony Mena was known as Planner 4 later when we moved to SAP because that was the username he used.  Ray Eberle used to say to me, “We always want to keep Planner 4 happy!”  Later this year, I will go into various ways we kept Tony happy, or confused… or well… on his toes anyway.

How Many Different Power Plant Man Jobs?

In the morning when a Power Plant Man drives through the gate at the plant, with the boilers and smoke stacks looming ahead of them, they know that whatever lies ahead for them can be any one of over 20,000 different Power Plant Man Jobs!  Yes.  That’s right.  There are over 20,000 separate jobs that a person can be assigned on over 1,000 different pieces of equipment.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset

The bravery brings to mind the “Charge of the Light Brigade” (by Alfred Lord Tennyson), where “…All in the Valley of Death rode the six hundred”… only there were about 44 He-men and Women to repair whatever was in need of repair that day.  And as in the commemorative poem about the Battle of Balaclava where “… Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the Left of them Cannon in front of them… Into the Jaws of Death, Into the Mouth of Hell Rode the Six Hundred.”  Or 44 in the case of the Power Plant Men and Women.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade

It is true of the bravery possessed by True Power Plant Men and Women as they go about their daily quest for perfection.  Unlike the Charge of the Light Brigade, who through an error in the command structure was ordered to perform a suicide mission, Power Plant Men go into daily battle well prepared using the correct tools, Safety Gear, Clearance Procedures and the knowledge of how to perform any one of the 20,000 jobs that could be assigned to them on any given day.  (wait!  Did I just create an extremely long run-on sentence? — No wonder I could never get an A in English class!).

As Lord Tennyson Memorialized the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 by writing the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, one day when I showed up to work during the spring of 1998, I was assigned a similar task at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  “What’s that you say? Similar to writing the Charge of the Light Brigade?”  Yeah.  You heard me.  I was given the job of chronicling each and every task that a Power Plant Man or Woman could possibly ever perform at the Power Plant.

For the next three years, I spent 50% of my time at the plant sitting in front of a computer in the Master Print Room (where the master blueprints for the entire plant are kept) entering each task into the program called SAP.  You may have heard me mention this program before.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

We had started using SAP a year earlier at the Electric Company.  The benefit of using this product was that it connected all of the functions of the company together into one application.  So, as soon as a Power Plant Man took a part out of the warehouse, it was reflected in the finance system on the Asset Balance sheet.  When our time was entered into SAP, the expense was calculated and charged to the actual piece of equipment we had been working on during that day.  It gave us a lot of visibility into where and how the company was spending their money.

This became even more useful if we were able to tell SAP more and more about what we did.  That was where Ray Eberle and I came in.  Ray was assigned to enter all of the Bill of Materials for every piece of equipment at the plant.  I was assigned the task of entering all of the possible jobs that could be performed at the plant into SAP.

I entered jobs into a section called “Task Lists”.  When I created a task about a specific job, I had to tell SAP all about how do perform that job.  This is referred to as “Expert Data” in the world of Enterprise Software. (sorry to bother you with all these boring technical terms).

Each task had to include any Safety Concerns about doing the job.  It included a list of instruction manuals for the equipment that needed to be repaired and where to find them.  I had to the include the Safety clearance procedure that needed to be performed in order to clear out the equipment before working on it.

The Task also included all the parts that could be used to fix the equipment if something was broken along with the warehouse part number.  Then I would add a list of tools that would be used to perform the job.  This would include every wrench size, screwdriver, soft choker, come-along, pry bar, and nasal spray that might be needed for the job (well, you never know… there could be job that required the use of nasal spray).  Ok.  You have me… I only threw that in there because I found this great picture of Nasal Spray on Google Images and this was the only way I think of to show it to you:

Nasal Spray

Nasal Spray

Finally I would list each of the steps that a person would take to fix the equipment they were assigned to repair.  This was a step-by-step procedure about how to perform the job.

My first thought when I was assigned the job of chronicling every possible job a Power Plant Maintenance Man could perform was “Great!  I will get to work on the computer!  Everyone will be glad to help me with this task as it will make their lives easier!”  Well… After I began the task of collecting information about the jobs, I unexpectedly found a lot of opposition to the idea of listing down each of the steps that a Power Plant Man performed to do their job. — Can you guess why?

Well… Yeah.  It’s true that I have an annoying personality, and sometimes I may come across as unpleasant, but that wasn’t the main reason.  Here is what happened….

When a Maintenance Order was created, one of the planners, Either Ben Davis (Planner 3) or Tony Mena (Planner 4) would flag the work order as needing a Task created for that particular job.

Ben Davis

Ben Davis

I would pull up the list of work orders and start creating the task list for that job.  I could tell who was assigned to it, so I figured I would just go up to them and ask them how they were going to fix the equipment.

I remember going up to the first person on my list (Earl Frazier) the first day and explaining to him what I was doing.  I asked him if he could tell me the steps to replacing the tail roller on belt 18 in the Surge Bin Tower.  His response was, “Why should I tell you?  You will just put all of that into the computer and then when you have described how to do all of the jobs, they can just get rid of us and hire some contractors to do our jobs.”

A conveyor Drum Roller similar to the one on the coal conveyor belts

A conveyor Drum Roller similar to the one on the coal conveyor belts

Oh… I hadn’t thought about that.  It seemed unlikely, because there is a big difference between having a low wage contractor working on something and a dedicated Power Plant Man.  There just isn’t any comparison.

In order to write up the task for this job, I just waited until the men were up in the Surge Bin Tower pulling the roller off of the belt, and I went up there and watched them.  I took notes of all of the tools and equipment they were using, and asked one of them the steps they were taking to get the new roller up to the tower, and how they were taking the old one out, etc.

Ok… I wasn’t going to do this… but I can feel your anticipation clear from here while I am writing this, that you really want to know what kind of tools it took to pull the roller from the Surge Bin Tower Conveyor belt….  Here is a list of just the tools needed….  just warning you… reading this list of tools just may cause you to drop whatever you are doing and drive out in the country to your nearest Power Plant and apply for a job…. just to warn you… if you don’t think that would be good for you, you may want to skip this next paragraph.

One 9 Foot Extension Ladder.  Two 1-1/2 ton come-alongs, and one 3/4 come-along. Two large pry bars, a 15/16 in. and 3/4 inch sockets, an air or electric impact wrench (to be used with the sockets).  An 8 foot step ladder.  One can of WD-40.  a 3/8 in. screwdriver.  Oxygen-Acetylene tanks with Torch, a Welding machine, two 8 ft. 2 by 4’s (that’s two pieces of wood).  A hammer, a 1/8 in. wrench.  One small pipe wrench.  One hook to hold up the roller.  Three extension cords, with adapters for the coal-handling safety plug-ins.  One 4 in. electric grinder.  Two 6 in. C Clamps and four 6 ft. Steel Chokers.

I decided that I would make things easier for myself up front by working on all of the electrician maintenance jobs first since I knew how to do most of those already.  So, I spent the first year almost solely working on Electrical and Instrument and Control jobs.  I could easily write the task lists for these, because I new all of the steps.

For instance… If I needed to take a clearance on the A Tripper Drive motor, I knew that the breaker was on the Motor Control Center (MCC) 13B Cubicle 1C already.  I didn’t have to even look that one up. (I often wondered what they were thinking when they put Tripper B on MCC 13B Cubicle 2B.  Why not put it in the same place (1C)  on the next Motor Control Center?  It would make things less confusing  — Just things I think about when I’m sitting on my “thinkin’ chair”).

Power Plant Thinkin' Chair

Power Plant Thinkin’ Chair

Some tasks were short and easy.  Others were novels.  Take “Elevator is Malfunctioning” Maintenance order.  I included all sorts of troubleshooting tips for that one.  I even drew a sort of diagram of relays showing how they should be picked up and dropped out as the elevator went up and down…   When the elevator was going up, I put in a table of relay positions like this (U means the relay is picked up, D means it is dropped out).  Those names at the top are the names of the relays.

Elevator DA UA HS 2LC LR LRD LRU
At Rest D D D D U D D
At Start up D U D U D D D
Running Up D U U U D D D
Slowdown up D D D U D D D
Slowdown 2 up D D D D D D U
Slowdown 3 up D D D D U D U
At Stop up D D D D U D D

I wrote a similar one for when the elevator was going down.

Anyway….I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Ray Eberle and I worked together side-by-side for most of the three years while I was writing the task lists (see the post “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“).  After I had written a number of novels about different Electrician jobs in the form of task lists, I began working on the general maintenance tasks.

After a while the Mechanics came around and saw the benefits of the task lists.  I remember one of the men who had been the most vocal about not telling me how to do his job (yes.  Earl Frazier) came up to me after I had written a task list about changing out the number 2 conveyor belt gear box and he asked me to add another wrench to the list.  He said, that they had to go all the way back down the belt at the coal yard, drive back to the shop and retrieve the wrench, all because they hadn’t taken it with them the first time.  I added it in a heartbeat and he left smiling.

Earl-Frazier

Earl Frazier

Every once in a while I would run across a Maintenance Order where I could be somewhat creative.  For instance, I had to write a task list about how to inspect the railroad tracks and right-away from the plant to where the tracks entered the town of Red Rock, Oklahoma about 5 miles away.

After explaining how the person connected the railroad truck to the tracks and drove on the tracks toward the growing Metropolis of Red Rock (population 282).  I explained about how they were to make sure that all the wildlife was being treated well.  I also said that when they arrived at Red Rock, they should go into the feed store and build up our public relations by striking up friendly conversations with the “locals”.

After completing over 10,000 different task lists…..  I had begun to get into a routine where I felt like my creativity was becoming a little stifled.  Then one day, Ray Eberle suggested that when I’m writing my task lists, I should think about how Planner 4 (Tony Mena) would like to see something a little more exciting than the usual…. “this is how you fix this piece of equipment” task list…

One day I remember writing a task list about something called a “Sparser Bar”.  A sparser bar is something that sprays water at the bottom of a sump to stir up the coal when the pump is running so that it doesn’t build up or maybe on a conveyor belt for dust suppression.  Anyway… One of the tasks I needed to write was for a person to “create a new Sparser bar”.

An iron pipe like this with holes in it

An iron pipe like this with holes in it

I wish I had the exact Task List that I wrote.  I know that many years later, Ray Eberle sent me a copy of it when he ran across it one day, but I don’t have it readily available, so I’ll just go by memory (until someone at the plant wants to print it out and send it to me).  I don’t know… I may be able to write a better one now…. let me see….

Here are the instruction:

  1. Cut a one and a quarter inch pipe 30 inches long.
  2. Drill 1/8 inch holes along the pipe so that you have exactly 24 holes evenly distributed across the pipe leaving at least 3 inches on either side of the pipe.
    1. If you accidentally drill 23 holes, then you should add an extra hole so that you end up with exactly 24 holes.
    2. If you drill 25 holes, then you should discard the pipe and start over again.
    3. Note:  Do not drill holes that are larger than 1/8 inches in diameter as this will be too big.  If you drill holes bigger than 1/8 inches, then discard the new sparser bar and begin again.
    4. Another Note:  Do not drill the holes smaller than 1/8 inches in diameter.  If you drill holes that are smaller than 1/8 inches, then obtain a 1/8 inch drill bit and use that to increase the diameter of the holes that you have drilled.
  3. Once you have exactly 24 holes in the new Sparser Bar, then rotate the pipe 30 degrees and drill 24 more holes in the exact same positions as the holes that are now 30 degrees from where you are going to drill the new holes.
    1. Note:  Do not drill the second set of holes at a 40 degree angle from the first set of holes as this is not the correct angle.  Only drill the holes at a 30 degree angle from the first set of holes.
    2. Also Note:  Do not drill the holes at a 20 degree angle, as this is also not the correct angle from the first set of holes.
    3. Caution:  If you find that you have drilled the second set of holes at an angle other than 30 degrees, please discard the sparser bar and begin again.
  4. Once you have exactly 48 holes (count them… 24 + 24) in the sparser bar, thread both ends of the pipe.
  5. After you have threaded both ends of the new sparser bar, put a metal cap on one end of the sparser bar.
    1. Note:  Do Not under any circumstance put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar as this will render the sparser bar useless because there will not be any way to attach the sparser bar to the water line.
    2. Caution:  If you find that you have accidentally put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar, then remove the metal cap from one end (and only one end) of the sparser bar so that it can be attached to the water line.
  6. After you have completed creating the new sparser bar with two rows of 24  1/8 in. holes each at an angle of exactly 30 degrees, then using a medium pipe wrench attach the new sparser bar to the water line.
  7. Align the holes on the sparser bar so that they will have the maximum desired affect when the water is turned on.

See?  Only 7 easy steps.  I think Tony Mena said he fell asleep trying to read my “Sparser Bar Task List”.  I seem to remember Ray Eberle telling me that Tony said, “Kevin’s a nut!”

So, I have one more story to tell you about writing task lists, and then I will conclude this post with the proper conclusive paragraph….

At the plant, every piece of equipment had their own “Cost Center”.  This came in handy when you were looking for spending trends and things like that.  The structure of the cost center was like this:  SO-1-FD-A-FDFLOP   — I just made that up.  It’s not a real cost center… I just wanted to show you the structure…. The first two characters SO represent the plant.  The following “1” represents the unit.  We had 2 units.  The FD represents a “functional area” like “Force Draft Fan.  The “A” represents the number of the piece of equipment, like A or B or C, etc…. depending on how many there are.  The FDFLOP is the piece of equipment.  In this case it might be a Forced Draft Fan Lube Oil Pump.

I’m explaining this apparently boring aspect of Power Plant Life, because I made an attempt to make it a little more interesting. Here is what I did…. The Ultra Clean water that goes in the boilers and are used to turn the turbine are stored in a couple of large water tanks in front of the main power transformer.  The code for their functional area just happened to be: “AM”.  So, when you were creating a task for working on a piece of equipment on the first of the two tanks, the Functional area would look like this:  SO-1-AM-A…..

See where I’m going with this?  It looks like it is saying… “So I am a….”  This quickly reminded me of Jim Arnold, who was the Superintendent of Maintenance.  The guy that had assigned me to write all of these task lists in the first place.  He always seemed like he was king of the jungle, so I thought I would have a little fun with this….

I created a completely new Functional Area Cost Center for this water tank for a non-existent piece of equipment…. I called it the “Gould Outdoor Detector”.  So, when I created the Cost Center string, it looked like this:  SO-1-AM-A-GOD.  For the Gould Outdoor Detector.  — I know… I was being rotten.

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Then using this cost center (that looked like “So, I am a God”), I created a Task List called:  “How to be Superintendent of Maintenance”.  I added a lot of steps to the task about how you can humiliate your employees and over work them, and kick them when they are down, and stuff like that.  I don’t remember the details.  Anyway, that was a lot of fun.

I created task lists up until the day before I left the plant.  At my going away party Jim Arnold asked me how many task lists I had created in the last three years… the count was something close to 17,800 task lists.  Yeah.  That’s right.  I wrote over 17,000 descriptions of Power Plant Man jobs in three years.  Our plant had over three times more task lists in SAP than the rest of the entire electric company put together.

You can see that I was proud of some, like my the novel I wrote about Elevator Maintenance.  You can also tell that working side-by-side with Ray Eberle kept us both entertained during those years.  We were the best of friends when I left.  I don’t know how many times I just about passed out because I was laughing so hard while we worked together.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

If I were to write Power Plant Tasks today, I think I would write the ones that aren’t assigned to a Maintenance Order… they would be more like “How to be a True Power Plant Man”.  It would be a novel that would describe the tremendous character of each and every True Power Plant Man and Woman that I learned to love during my stay at the “Power Plant Palace.”

How Many Different Power Plant Man Jobs?

In the morning when a Power Plant Man drives through the gate at the plant, with the boilers and smoke stacks looming ahead of them, they know that whatever lies ahead for them can be any one of over 20,000 different Power Plant Man Jobs!  Yes.  That’s right.  There are over 20,000 separate jobs that a person can be assigned on over 1,000 different pieces of equipment.

Power Plant at sunset

Power Plant at sunset

The bravery brings to mind the “Charge of the Light Brigade” (by Alfred Lord Tennyson), where “…All in the Valley of Death rode the six hundred”… only there were about 44 He-men and Women to repair whatever was in need of repair that day.  And as in the commemorative poem about the Battle of Balaclava where “… Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the Left of them Cannon in front of them… Into the Jaws of Death, Into the Mouth of Hell Rode the Six Hundred.”  Or 44 in the case of the Power Plant Men and Women.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade

It is true of the bravery possessed by True Power Plant Men and Women as they go about their daily quest for perfection.  Unlike the Charge of the Light Brigade, who through an error in the command structure was ordered to perform a suicide mission, Power Plant Men go into daily battle well prepared using the correct tools, Safety Gear, Clearance Procedures and the knowledge of how to perform any one of the 20,000 jobs that could be assigned to them on any given day.  (wait!  Did I just create an extremely long run-on sentence? — No wonder I could never get an A in English class!).

As Lord Tennyson Memorialized the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 by writing the poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, one day when I showed up to work during the spring of 1998, I was assigned a similar task at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma.  “What’s that you say? Similar to writing the Charge of the Light Brigade?”  Yeah.  You heard me.  I was given the job of chronicling each and every task that a Power Plant Man or Woman could possibly ever perform at the Power Plant.

For the next three years, I spent 50% of my time at the plant sitting in front of a computer in the Master Print Room (where the master blueprints for the entire plant are kept) entering each task into the program called SAP.  You may have heard me mention this program before.

SAP Logo

SAP Logo

We had started using SAP a year earlier at the Electric Company.  The benefit of using this product was that it connected all of the functions of the company together into one application.  So, as soon as a Power Plant Man took a part out of the warehouse, it was reflected in the finance system on the Asset Balance sheet.  When our time was entered into SAP, the expense was calculated and charged to the actual piece of equipment we had been working on during that day.  It gave us a lot of visibility into where and how the company was spending their money.

This became even more useful if we were able to tell SAP more and more about what we did.  That was where Ray Eberle and I came in.  Ray was assigned to enter all of the Bill of Materials for every piece of equipment at the plant.  I was assigned the task of entering all of the possible jobs that could be performed at the plant into SAP.

I entered jobs into a section called “Task Lists”.  When I created a task about a specific job, I had to tell SAP all about how do perform that job.  This is referred to as “Expert Data” in the world of Enterprise Software. (sorry to bother you with all these boring technical terms).

Each task had to include any Safety Concerns about doing the job.  It included a list of instruction manuals for the equipment that needed to be repaired and where to find them.  I had to the include the Safety clearance procedure that needed to be performed in order to clear out the equipment before working on it.

The Task also included all the parts that could be needed to fix the equipment if something was broken along with the warehouse part number.  Then I would add in a list of tools that would be used to perform the job.  This would include every wrench size, screwdriver, soft choker, come-along, pry bar, and nasal spray that might be needed for the job (well, you never know… there could be job that required the use of nasal spray).  Ok.  You have me… I only threw that in there because I found this great picture of Nasal Spray on Google Images and this was the only way I think of to show it to you:

Nasal Spray

Nasal Spray

Finally I would list each of the steps that a person would take to fix the equipment they were assigned to repair.  This was a step-by-step procedure about how to perform the job.

My first thought when I was assigned the job of chronicling every possible job a Power Plant Maintenance Man could perform was “Great!  I will get to work on the computer!  Everyone will be glad to help me with this task as it will make their lives easier!”  Well… After I began the task of collecting information about the jobs, I unexpectedly found a lot of opposition to the idea of listing down each of the steps that a Power Plant Man performed to do their job. — Can you guess why?

Well… Yeah.  It’s true that I have an annoying personality, and sometimes I may come across as unpleasant, but that wasn’t the main reason.  Here is what happened….

When a Maintenance Order was created, one of the planners, Either Ben Davis (Planner 3) or Tony Mena (Planner 4) would flag the work order as needing a Task created for that particular job.

Ben Davis

Ben Davis

I would pull up the list of work orders and start creating the task list for that job.  I could tell who was assigned to it, so I figured I would just go up to them and ask them how they were going to fix the equipment.

I remember going up to the first person on my list the first day and explaining to him what I was doing.  I asked him if he could tell me the steps to replacing the tail roller on belt 18 in the Surge Bin Tower.  His response was, “Why should I tell you?  You will just put all of that into the computer and then when you have described how to do all of the jobs, they can just get rid of us and hire some contractors to do our jobs.”

A conveyor Drum Roller similar to the one on the coal conveyor belts

A conveyor Drum Roller similar to the one on the coal conveyor belts

Oh… I hadn’t thought about that.  It seemed unlikely, because there is a big difference between having a low wage contractor working on something and a dedicated Power Plant Man.  There just isn’t any comparison.

In order to write up the task for this job, I just waited until the men were up in the Surge Bin Tower pulling the roller off of the belt, and I went up there and watched them.  I took notes of all of the tools and equipment they were using, and asked one of them the steps they were taking to get the new roller up to the tower, and how they were taking the old one out, etc.

Ok… I wasn’t going to do this… but I can feel your anticipation clear from here while I am writing this, that you really want to know what kind of tools it took to pull the roller from the Surge Bin Tower Conveyor belt….  Here is a list of just the tools needed….  just warning you… reading this list of tools just may cause you to drop whatever you are doing and drive out in the country to your nearest Power Plant and apply for a job…. just to warn you… if you don’t think that would be good for you, you may want to skip this next paragraph.

One 9 Foot Extension Ladder.  Two 1-1/2 ton come-alongs, and one 3/4 come-along. Two large pry bars, a 15/16 in. and 3/4 inch sockets, an air or electric impact wrench (to be used with the sockets).  An 8 foot step ladder.  One can of WD-40.  a 3/8 in. screwdriver.  Oxygen-Acetylene tanks with Torch, a Welding machine, two 8 ft. 2 by 4’s (that’s two pieces of wood).  A hammer, a 1/8 in. wrench.  One small pipe wrench.  One hook to hold up the roller.  Three extension cords, with adapters for the coal-handling safety plug-ins.  One 4 in. electric grinder.  Two 6 in. C Clamps and four 6 ft. Steel Chokers.

I decided that I would make things easier for myself up front by working on all of the electrician maintenance jobs first since I knew how to do most of those already.  So, I spent the first year almost solely working on Electrical and Instrument and Control jobs.  I could easily write the task lists for these, because I new all of the steps.

For instance… If I needed to take a clearance on the A Tripper Drive motor, I knew that the breaker was on the Motor Control Center (MCC) 13B Cubicle 1C already.  I didn’t have to even look that one up. (I often wondered what they were thinking when they put Tripper B on MCC 13B Cubicle 2B.  Why not put it in the same place (1C)  on the next Motor Control Center?  It would make things less confusing  — Just things I think about when I’m sitting on my “thinkin’ chair”).

Power Plant Thinkin' Chair

Power Plant Thinkin’ Chair

Some tasks were short and easy.  Others were novels.  Take “Elevator is Malfunctioning” Maintenance order.  I included all sorts of troubleshooting tips for that one.  I even drew a sort of diagram of relays showing how they should be picked up and dropped out as the elevator when up and down…   When the elevator was going up, I put in a table of relay positions like this (U means the relay is picked up, D means it is dropped out).  Those names at the top are the names of the relays.

Elevator DA UA HS 2LC LR LRD LRU
At Rest D D D D U D D
At Start up D U D U D D D
Running Up D U U U D D D
Slowdown up D D D U D D D
Slowdown 2 up D D D D D D U
Slowdown 3 up D D D D U D U
At Stop up D D D D U D D

I wrote a similar one for when the elevator was going down.

Anyway….I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Ray Eberle and I worked together side-by-side for most of the three years while I was writing the task lists (see the post “Tales of Power Plant Prowess by Ray Eberle“).  After I had written a number of novels about different Electrician jobs in the form of task lists, I began working on the general maintenance tasks.

After a while the Mechanics came around and saw the benefits of the task lists.  I remember one of the men who had been the most vocal about not telling me how to do his job came up to me after I had written a task list about changing out the number 2 conveyor belt gear box and he asked me to add another wrench to the list.  He said, that they had to go all the way back down the belt at the coal yard, drive back to the shop and retrieve the wrench, all because they hadn’t taken it with them the first time.  I added it in a heartbeat and he left smiling.

Every once in a while I would run across a Maintenance Order where I could be somewhat creative.  For instance, I had to write a task list about how to inspect the railroad tracks and right-away from the plant to where the tracks entered the town of Red Rock, Oklahoma about 5 miles away.

After explaining how the person connected the railroad truck to the tracks and drove on the tracks toward the growing Metropolis of Red Rock (population 282).  I explained about how they were to make sure that all the wildlife was being treated well.  I also said that when they arrived at Red Rock, they should go into the feed store and build up our public relations by striking up friendly conversations with the “locals”.

After completing over 10,000 different task lists…..  I had begun to get into a routine where I felt like my creativity was becoming a little stifled.  Then one day, Ray Eberle suggested that when I’m writing my task lists, I should think about how Planner 4 (Tony Mena) would like to see something a little more exciting than the usual…. “this is how you fix this piece of equipment” task list…

One day I remember writing a task list about something called a “Sparser Bar”.  A sparser bar is something that sprays water at the bottom of a sump to stir up the coal when the pump is running so that it doesn’t build up or maybe on a conveyor belt for dust suppression.  Anyway… One of the tasks I needed to write was for a person to “create a new Sparser bar”.

An iron pipe like this with holes in it

An iron pipe like this with holes in it

I wish I had the exact Task List that I wrote.  I know that many years later, Ray Eberle sent me a copy of it when he ran across it one day, but I don’t have it readily available, so I’ll just go by memory (until someone at the plant wants to print it out and send it to me).  I don’t know… I may be able to write a better one now…. let me see….

Here are the instruction:

  1. Cut a one and a quarter inch pipe 30 inches long.
  2. Drill 1/8 inch holes along the pipe so that you have exactly 24 holes evenly distributed across the pipe with leaving at least 3 inches on either side of the pipe.
    1. If you accidentally drill 23 holes, then you should add an extra hole so that you end up with exactly 24 holes.
    2. If you drill 25 holes, then you should discard the pipe and start over again.
    3. Note:  Do not drill holes that are larger than 1/8 inches in diameter as this will be too big.  If you drill holes bigger than 1/8 inches, then discard the new sparser bar and begin again.
    4. Another Note:  Do not drill the holes smaller than 1/8 inches in diameter.  If you drill holes that are smaller than 1/8 inches, then obtain a 1/8 inch drill bit and use that to increase the diameter of the holes that you have drilled.
  3. Once you have exactly 24 holes in the new Sparser Bar, then rotate the pipe 30 degrees and drill 24 more holes in the exact same positions as the holes that are now 30 degrees from where you are going to drill the new holes.
    1. Note:  Do not drill the second set of holes at a 40 degree angle from the first set of holes as this is not the correct angle.  Only drill the holes at a 30 degree angle from the first set of holes.
    2. Also Note:  Do not drill the holes at a 20 degree angle, as this is also not the correct angle from the first set of holes.
    3. Caution:  If you find that you have drilled the second set of holes at an angle other than 30 degrees, please discard the sparser bar and begin again.
  4. Once you have exactly 48 holes (count them… 24 + 24) in the sparser bar, thread both ends of the pipe.
  5. After you have threaded both ends of the new sparser bar, put a metal cap on one end of the sparser bar.
    1. Note:  Do Not under any circumstance put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar as this will render the sparser bar useless because there will not be any way to attach the sparser bar to the water line.
    2. Caution:  If you find that you have accidentally put a metal cap on both ends of the sparser bar, then remove the metal cap from one end (and only one end) of the sparser bar so that it can be attached to the water line.
  6. After you have completed creating the new sparser bar with two rows of 24  1/8 in. holes each at an angle of exactly 30 degrees, then using a medium pipe wrench attach the new sparser bar to the water line.
  7. Align the holes on the sparser bar so that they will have the maximum desired affect when the water is turned on.

See?  Only 7 easy steps.  I think Tony Mena said he fell asleep trying to read my “Sparser Bar Task List”.  I seem to remember Ray Eberle telling me that Tony said, “Kevin’s a nut!”

So, I have one more story to tell you about writing task lists, and then I will conclude this post with the proper conclusive paragraph….

At the plant, every piece of equipment had their own “Cost Center”.  This came in handy when you were looking for spending trends and things like that.  The structure of the cost center was like this:  SO-1-FD-A-FDFLP   — I just made that up.  It’s not a real cost center… I just wanted to show you the structure…. The first two characters SO represent the plant.  The following “1” represents the unit.  We had 2.  The FD represents a “functional area” like “Force Draft Fan.  The “A” represents the number of the piece of equipment, like A or B or C, etc…. depending on how many there are.  The FDFLP is the piece of equipment.  In this case it might be a Forced Draft Fan Lube Oil Pump.

I’m explaining this apparently boring aspect of Power Plant Life, because I made an attempt to make it a little more interesting. Here is what I did…. The Ultra Clean water that goes in the boilers are stored in a couple of large water tanks in front of the main power transformer.  The code for their functional area just happened to be: “AM”.  So, when you were creating a task for working on a piece of equipment on the first of the two tanks, the Functional area would look like this:  SO-1-AM-A…..

See where I’m going with this?  It looks like it is saying… “So I am a….”  This quickly reminded me of Jim Arnold, who was the Superintendent of Maintenance.  The guy that had assigned me to write all of these task lists in the first place.  He always seemed like he was king of the jungle, so I thought I would have a little fun with this….

I created a completely new Functional Area Cost Center for this water tank for a non-existent piece of equipment…. I called it the “Gould Outdoor Detector”.  So, when I created the Cost Center string, it looked like this:  SO-1-AM-A-GOD.  For the Gould Outdoor Detector.  — I know… I was being rotten.

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Jim Arnold in all of his awesomeness

Then using this cost center (that looked like “So, I am a God”), I created a Task List called:  “How to be Superintendent of Maintenance”.  I added a lot of steps to the task about how you can humiliate your employees and over work them, and kick them when they are down, and stuff like that.  I don’t remember the details.  Anyway, that was a lot of fun.

I created task lists up until the day before I left the plant.  At my going away party Jim Arnold asked me how many task lists I had created in the last three years… the count was something close to 17,800 task lists.  Yeah.  That’s right.  I wrote over 17,000 descriptions of Power Plant Man jobs in three years.  Our plant had over three times more task lists in SAP than the rest of the entire electric company put together.

You can see that I was proud of some, like my the novel I wrote about Elevator Maintenance.  You can also tell that working side-by-side with Ray Eberle kept us both entertained during those years.  We were the best of friends when I left.  I don’t know how many times I just about passed out because I was laughing so hard while we worked together.

Ray Eberle

Ray Eberle

If I were to write Power Plant Tasks today, I think I would write the ones that aren’t assigned to a Maintenance Order… they would be more like “How to be a True Power Plant Man”.  It would be a novel that would describe the tremendous character of each and every True Power Plant Man and Woman that I learned to love during my stay at the “Power Plant Palace.”

Power Plant Quittin’ Time

At a Power Plant, three things are certain:  Death, Taxes and Quittin’ Time.  Nothing can stand in the way of any of these three activities.  The only time Quittin’ time might change is on a Friday afternoon just before it is time to go home and you hear the Shift Supervisor paging one of the foremen or the Maintenance Supervisor.  Then you know that Quittin’ time is likely to change at the spur of the moment.  Not eliminated, but only delayed.  I suppose we try doing that with Death as well.  I have never tried delaying Taxes before.

After the downsizing at the Coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma in 1994, a lot of things had changed.  As an electrician, I was now working on a cross-functional team with Charles Foster as my electrical bucket buddy.

Charles Foster

Charles Foster

The rest of my team had different skills.  Some were Instrument and Controls, others were Welders, Machinists, Mechanics and then there was Alan Kramer, our foreman.

Alan Kramer

Alan Kramer

The new way we received work orders (we called them Maintenance Orders or MOs) was from our new Planners.  There were two people responsible for figuring out our work for the week.  That was Ben Davis and Tony Mena.  The two people that I lack photos.

I have talked about Ben Davis in a number of past posts, as he was my mentor when I first became an electrician.  I always looked up to him as a big brother.  And, well, he treated me as a younger brother… but always with more respect than I deserved.  Tony on the other hand was originally hired to be on the Testing Team when I was on the Labor Crew.

I still remember Monday, July 18, 1983 watching Tony Mena and the rest of the new Testers walking around the plant following Keith Hodges around like baby quail following their mother (at least that was the way Ron Luckey described them as we watched them from the back seat of the crew cab as we drove past them).

The men and woman on Labor Crew had felt passed over when the new testing team had been formed because no one on the labor crew had been considered for the new jobs even when we met the minimum requirements (which was to have any kind of college degree).  So, even though it wasn’t fair to the new testing team, we had an immediate animosity toward them.

After the first downsizing in 1988, Scott Hubbard had moved to the electric shop and I quickly learned that not all testers were rotten, job stealing chumps.  Actually, none of them were.  They never had anything to do with who was chosen for the Testing team.  That came from above.  If you are interested, you can read the post: “‘Take a Note Jan’ Said the Supervisor of Power Production“.  Scott and I became like brothers when he joined our team.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

After the first downsizing, the testing team was reduced down to three people, Tony Mena, Richard Allen and Doug Black.  I don’t have a picture of the first two, but I do have one of Doug:

 

Doug Black

Doug Black

After the second downsizing, the Testing team was eliminated.  Scott became an electrician, Doug Black moved into the Engineering Department.  Richard Allen became an Instrument and Controls person and Tony Mena became a Planner along with Ben Davis.  We had two other planners Glenn Rowland and Mark Fielder (who later traded with Mike Vogle to become a foreman).  Glenn and Mark spent their time planning major outages, where Tony and Ben did more of the day-to-day stuff.

Tony Mena no longer had anyone to carpool with, so he asked me if he could carpool with Scott and I.  So, we agreed.  We told Tony that it was important to be on time, because we didn’t want to be late arriving at the plant, and we definitely didn’t want to be late going home (which was much more important).  Tony agreed that he would be on time.

Quittin’ Time at the plant is a very important and orchestrated event.  It begins a half hour earlier when everyone returns to the shop and cleans up and puts their tools away.  Then they go into the foremen’s office and fills out their timecards for the day.  This includes adding each of the maintenance orders we have worked on during the day and how many hours on each.

The next step is to grab your lunch box and go stand by the door to wait until the exact second that it is time to leave.  When that happens, a steady stream of Power Plant Men pour into the parking lot, into their pickup trucks (and other vehicles) and head either north or south down Highway 177 toward their homes.  Some stopping along the way for a beverage at the corner convenience store.

The Power Plant Men have Quittin’ Time down to a honed art form.  Each stroke of the brush is carefully orchestrated.  Scott and I went to perform our part in the part of the ballet where the vehicles all backed out of their parking spaces in chaotic unison and quickly perform the three lines out the end of the single lane on the south side of the parking lot.

However, when we arrived in our car, Tony was no where to be found.  As we received concerned looks from Randy Dailey and Jerry Day, as they pirouetted around us, wondering why we weren’t taking our turn in the Parking Lot Tango, all we could do was shrug our shoulders and watch as the dance went on without us.

Finally about 10 minutes past Quittin’ Time, Tony came walking out of the shop apologizing for being late.  We told him that was all right as long as he didn’t make a habit out of it.  We were pretty peeved that day because this meant that we had 10 less minutes that day to spend with our families.

We were even more peeved when the same thing happened the next day.  We didn’t wait 10 minutes.  After 5 minutes we went into the maintenance foremen’s office and found Tony still working away on his computer trying to finish up his work.  We told him he had to leave right now!  He said he hadn’t realized it was time to go.

Nothing is worse than a delayed Quittin’ Time when it isn’t for a legitimate reason.  Tony didn’t have a wife and children at home so he didn’t feel the urgency that Scott and I felt.  So, I figured I was going to have to do something about this.  We weren’t going to tell Tony that he could no longer ride with us, because we knew he needed the company as much as we did, so I came up with a different plan.

The next day at lunch I wrote a program on the computer called “Quittin’ Time!”  Here is how it worked:

It would load up on Tony’s computer when he booted it up, so he didn’t have a choice whether it ran or not.  It showed up in the Task Bar at the bottom.  It said: “Quittin’ Time in: 7:45:35”  for example and it would count down each second.  Then it would count down all day until Quittin’ Time.  There was no visible way to turn it off (Power Plant Men had yet to learn about the Task Manager as this was Windows 3.1).

You could click on Quittin Time in the Task Bar and it would open up a small box in the middle of your computer with the time ticking down, but there was no red X in the corner to shut it down.  There was only a minimize underscore that would put it back in the task bar.

I had added a small feature in the dialog window.  In the lower right corner, there was a little slash sort of hidden in the corner.  If you clicked on that, it opened another dialog box that let you set the actual time of day for “Quittin’ Time”.  So, if you had to leave early, or later, you could adjust your Quittin’ Time.

Here was the clincher with the Quittin’ Time program.  It was not enough to just show Tony that it was Quittin’ Time.  This program had to force Tony to shut down and go home.  So, when it was 15 minutes before Quittin’ Time, a Big Yellow Window would open up on top of any other work and would flash on and off that it was “15 minutes before Quittin’ Time!  Time to Finish your Work!”  Tony could close this window.

Then when it was 5 minutes to Quittin’ Time, another big yellow window would open up flashing 5 minutes before Quittin’ Time!  Finish your work now!” and it would beep at you 5 times. Tony could close this window.

At one minute until Quittin’ Time, all heck broke loose on the computer.  A big red window would open up and the computer would start beeping continually.  The flashing Window could not be closed.  It would say:  “Less than One Minute To Quittin’ Time!  Save all your Work!”  The words would continually flash as well at the red background and it could not be stopped.

At “Quittin’ Time” The Red Box would say “QUITTIN’ TIME!”  and the computer would lock up beeping continuously as loud as that little beeper(the internal speaker) could beep (this was a 386 PC).  At that point, the only thing you could do was hit the power button and shut your computer off.  I wish I had some screen shots to show you.  Maybe I’ll find my old code and recreate it and take some and add them to this post later.

Needless to say, the first day I added this program to Tony’s computer, he didn’t heed the warnings.  When the computer went crazy, he tried saving his work, but ended up losing a little of it before the computer completely locked up on him.  He came out to the parking lot on time, however, he wasn’t in the greatest mood.  We were.  Scott and I were smiling.  We were going to be home on time, and best yet, that day, we were included in the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” being performed by the pickup trucks that day in the Parking Lot.

The best part of the Quittin’ Time program came later.  After about a week, Tony (who now left work on time every day) asked me if I could add something to the Quittin’ Time program.  He wanted to know if I could make it so that he would remember to eat lunch.  He would get so involved in work that he would miss his lunch entirely.  So, I added a “Lunch Time” Feature to the program as well.  He could adjust his lunch time using the same option window that opened when you clicked on the little slash in the lower corner of the Quittin’ Time window.

When I added the Lunch Time feature, I also added an Internet Feature that would go out to Yahoo Stock Quotes and get the Daily Stock Quotes for all of our 401k Mutual Funds and our company stock and at 3:40pm CST would pop up a window with the day’s stocks, so you could see how the Mutual funds in your 401k did that day. — Nothing better than watching your retirement plan grow each day.  Yahoo posted the Mutual Fund updates for the day around 3:30pm, so Tony would be the first person each day to get the latest Stock news for our Mutual Funds.

Tony Mena was known as Planner 4 later when we moved to SAP because that was the username he used.  Ray Eberle used to say to me, “We always want to keep Planner 4 happy!”  Later this year, I will go into various ways we kept Tony happy, or confused… or well… on his toes anyway.

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.