Mostly recaps of two wheeled rambles through the countryside, but sometimes thoughts on other things.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rain, rain, go away

No, dear readers, you haven't missed any ride reports over the past week or so. There haven't been any. Today is my first healthy day in a week, but the sunshine is liquid and radar indicates that more is in the offing. I'm not sure that I'll be able to get out with a group later, as there are certainly enough rainy day chores indoors to keep my attention all day long. Perhaps a few laps pedaling around the block will do in the early evening. (Our block is a mile loop with a 70' rise in the middle, so doing laps is actually a decent workout)

It seems that everyone in our office has had some variant of "the bug." Coughs, stuffy heads, sneezes. Some have had bronchitis, some a cold, and a few think that they may have had the flu. I started to feel a general malaise last Friday afternoon, but managed a dinner date with our friends Steve and Melanie. Good too, as Mel had a super tip about a quiet clearance sale at J C Penny. Saturday morning, I went in and found a leather bomber jacket marked down from $225 to $29.92. Yeah, 30 bucks. And it's a nice soft Napa leather too. I would not have needed a jacket, had my son not swiped my perfectly good (and considerably more than 30 bucks) one. Truth be told, it fits him better than me anyway, so getting one the right size and the right price was actually a good thing. Coupled with the prior week's big score on merino shirts at Belks, I am on a run of getting good clothes for cheap. I don't like to buy clothes, so the typical shirt hanging in my closet dates to 1997. I started a new job up north that year and had no long sleeve work shirts. I got some from Land's End and some from Penny's, and there in my closet they remain, still in the rotation. 5 year old shoes? Still new as far as I am concerned.

A business trip to Houston on the 12th was an unwelcome interruption to the week, and not very productive. I suppose that more travel there will ensue once matters on that disputed project begin to proceed. That customer has gone to double the original budget for their project and is looking lots of places to try and recover expenses. We are not inclined to want to help. Business in general is slow. Inquires are down, sales are fewer, and where 6 used to compete on any given project, now 20 or more do. Many people that I come into contact with don't see a robust economy before 2010. If then. You know, if 10% of people are unemployed, there are still a lot of people (90%) who are still working, and they still need to conduct day to day living activities. Part of the problem is perception. If there is any momentum for some confidence, then business will pick back up. In the mean while, no new bikes on my horizon, for sure. We've been blessed with finding a few projects to sell this month, and having a small enough operation that we can be nimble when times are difficult. Just last night, our sales manager called me to ask if we could design, draw and manufacture an aircraft hangar in 5 weeks. "Sure," I said. "Ask them if they'll take it any earlier."

You meet all kinds of people in our business. We shipped a hangar last week to a hurricane prone area. The doors we provided are able to stand up to 150 mph winds with no damage. (Recently, a customer in TX who said winds exceeded 150 mph and had no damage to our doors, bought replacements from us for his other hangar doors, which did not fare so well) The customer's architect walked out to look at the building as it was going up, and announced that he wanted phenolic (plastic) wheels, not high strength steel as we provided. Where steel has a tensile strength of around 70,000 psi, the plastic wheels are good for about 550 lbs. We sent pictures of broken plastic wheels used (not by us) at another airport and which failed in hurricane winds (we replaced them with our steel ones, which are still in service) but they folded their arms, and stamped their feet, and said, "We don't care, we want phenolic." (I exaggerate slightly) Well, Okay. We can send anything they want. Like the old Fram commercials about "pay me now or pay me later." I expect to get the contract to redo that hangar after the next hurricane. In steel. The engineers we meet sometimes have ego issues. The architects almost ALWAYS do. And they usually know far less about the details of making a structure work. The devil is, as most people know, in the details. I've learned that it is often the people doing the work who have the most useful input about how to do it, or to improve it. I ask our shop people for ideas all the time. Intellectual arrogance does not generate profit, or better work.

Here's a picture of a recent project. We supplied 4 large hangars here. One is almost complete and the opposite one is just starting. We do lots of types of buildings, but mostly aircraft hangars.

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