Today is Monday December 28, 2020

A little snow fell this morning. Nothing too significant other than covering the roads, trees, the car, sidewalks. It is cold and wet outside.

Happy Monday! It is that final week of 2020. The period between Christmas and New Years. As has been this period over the past 50-plus years (work, graduate school, college, etc), I have the week off. The lab is closed and I am home adjusting to a week without work, or not working from home this week. Unfortunately, travel is limited due to the pandemic. In general it is a weird week on the calendar, which has been discussed and commented on before. In searching the internet, I think this image best sums it up in my humble opinion…

Let’s face facts, the year 2020 just sucked. Here is hoping that 2021 is better. Plenty of memes out there talking about how bad this year was. Of course, many are spun off into signs, pictures, even t-shirts that you can purchase. Guess capitalism is alive and well. As long as you can make it, market it and such, someone may want to buy it.

In the spirit of the election…

Since my last post, I had identified many topics to write about. Not sure if we will cover all of them, but we do have several days until 2021. We can lament about the year later. We can critique my ramblings for the year much later.

Let’s start with McDonald’s, who brought back the McRib sandwich to help us through the end of this year. Why is the McRib so craveable? Start with seasoned boneless pork dipped in a tangy BBQ sauce, topped with slivered onions and dill pickles, all served on a toasted homestyle bun. When everything combines you have BBQ pork sandwich perfection. It’s only here for a limited time so don’t miss out. The previous words are straight from the McDonald’s website. I like how the adjectives just jump off the page. I can truly taste how delicious it is as I write about it here.

From the McDonald’s website announcing the return of the McRib for a limited time only.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the McRib sandwich. When it is out, I usually defer my Big Mac order, or my Quarter Pounder Deluxe order so I can have the McRib. Not my kids though, they have the usual, a Triple Cheeseburger with only ketchup. Do I see a trip for lunch in order?

Ah yes, which brings me to the kids and Christmas. Put the tree up a few weeks ago, stockings hung above the fireplace. A wreath on the door. I had great plans since I was to have them Christmas Eve, stay the night and here Christmas day. And in typical fashion, the best laid plans get ruined by the ex. The kids and I managed a couple hours on Christmas Eve. Had to rush the dinner and such. Take them back and then a few hours on Christmas Day. Still, it was good to have them, even if it was not what I had planned, or even less than what is required. They say that divorce is hard on the kids, yet I think it is harder on me. This too shall pass. I jump to my happy place and all is well.

Anyway, the kids came, we opened gifts, then we enjoyed our time together, playing with or working on the gifts received. Calling or texting with relatives and such. Truth be told I was never that much excited about Christmas since the late 70’s and my excitement wanes every year. Every year I think that I am becoming more like Mr Scrooge, or the Grinch. My preference is the Grinch because he at least has his dog Max to keep him company. It’s this time of year that I break out my Grinch coffee mug at work, giving the Dilbert mug a break. Clearly I am a curmudgeon as time passes on. Bah Humbug! That said, I have much to be thankful for this year. I probably have much to be thankful for every year. And I am thankful for my health and my children. That said, the kids and I did spend some time talking about those less fortunate and in need of help this time of year.

The week before Christmas was an anniversary of sorts for me. I have worked at Los Alamos for now 30 years. No fanfare, no parades, nothing of congrats from my bosses. I did get a few e-mails from former employees whom I had the opportunity to manage over the years. That was personally rewarding and brought a smile. I do not know why I expected more. I did, and was disappointed when there was nothing. Certainly gives me something to write about when I respond to my performance appraisal, as well as my performance goals for the next year.

I guess the big questions for me is whether I will have “a next year”. After all, after 30 years, I am 59 and a half (slightly more), and wonder about retirement. I wonder about it just about every day. This blog was my attempt to explore what the next 50 years has in store for me. I honestly do not know about tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, the next several decades. Some coworkers say I cannot retire because I have kids who have several years of high school before they venture off to college. I expect the economy to crater soon and thus that will cause problems with savings for retirement. Too many bills to pay, too much to do. Have you even decided what you will do in retirement?

In the last post I commented that I took the car in for repairs. Well the car is fixed and now, it will not start. Thought it was a dead battery so I replaced the batter. Now it still will not star. Probably the starter motor so I have some more car repairs in the future. The car is about 18 years old and has over 189,000 miles. Yet when it runs, I still get the same gas mileage. Over the 18 years, I have put about $10,000 in repairs into it. The kids and I have many fond memories in that car so I cannot see replacing it anytime soon.

Looking outside, I can still see some snow flakes falling onto the ground. Nothing too dramatic except the forecast was for snow tomorrow. High today is in the upper 40’s, but wind will put the wind chill into the upper 30’s. But as I write this post, and words jump off this page and cause me to search the internet, I come across a meme that can sum up today’s post:

Have a good week.

Today is Sunday November 8.

Lazy weekend here in the McKee house. It is my weekend with the kids. Neither one wants to talk about their on-line homework. Son finally had a play date…only four hour’s straight of video games, two medium pizza’s and several soda’s. Daughter has a riding lesson this afternoon and is sequestered in her room doing art and stuff. As for me, I think about work, spend some time reading and cleaning up around the house.

Outside it is cold and windy. Rain last night with snow and cold weather in the forecast for the week. Haven’t spent much time on the computer since the election. Still collecting my thoughts and have read some stories about where things are heading. Not surprised by either outcome. That said, I am not happy with the outcome either.

In 40 days I will eclipse another milestone. I will have worked at Los Alamos for 30 years. Even I cannot believe it. So I will get some Nambeware, lunch with the lab director (not sure how that will work under COVID restrictions), and then the hard decisions: How much longer do I want to work?

Nambeware example of Butterfly bowls.

Nambe is an eight-metal alloy whose major component is aluminum. It was created at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1940s and is exclusively produced by the Nambe Mills, Inc., which was founded in 1951 near Nambe Pueblo, some 10 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Nambe was made by a small group of Santa Fe craftsmen using sand molds. A bowl or platter is broken away from its mold and shaped and polished to a silvery luster that, with age, acquires a patina all its own. Because each sand mold is used only once, no two pieces are exactly alike.

Was is the key word because like just about everything else, it is no longer manufactured in the USA. So where are those distinctive, silverlike dishes and housewares made from a special alloy and named for an Indian pueblo north of Santa Fe being cast now? “In India and China”, said Nambe President Bob Varakian. “To our exact specifications and quality.” Nambe’s Santa Fe foundry, off Siler Road, is not operating, although it’s possible the plant will reopen, Varakian said. That was reported in 2009 in the Albuquerque Journal. The overseas casting started “probably a year ago,” Varakian said.

The company was sold in 2019 to a British manufacturer and worldwide distributor for $12 million. The headquarters is in Santa Fe, distribution and polishing operations still exist in Española, but none of it’s products are made in either New Mexico or even the United States. Nambe is now considered a design company. The company’s crystal comes from Europe, and wood pieces and dinnerware from Thailand, flatware, currently produced in China, and castings from India and China.

In order to turn this country around, we need to do more than design (think of Apple), finance (Goldman or JP Morgan), and retail (Amazon or Walmart). We need to make things. Very little is made in this country, and that is another lesson that we must learn from the pandemic. In America, we assemble automobiles from parts manufactured elsewhere. In America, we develop new drugs, but most of the manufacturing is outside the country. To make things, we need to use automation and computers. This will rebuild the middle class, create well paying jobs, improve education.

We lead in science and discovery but we somehow cannot take those achievements and capitalize on them. It is much easier to license the work and collect a fee. And while that is OK for the short term, it is destructive for the long term. There is much science to explore, much work to do to help America rebuild and restore the country, independent of the election.

Arial view of the Standard Steel factory in 2011.

In my birthplace of Lewistown, Pennsylvania the local steel mill still exists. Standard Steel has been in existence since 1795, one of the longest continuously operating forging operations in the United States. The company’s history throughout the 20th century was punctuated by several milestones. In 1904 it produced the first solid forged and rolled wheel in the United States. By 1939, Standard Steel was making one-fifth of all the locomotive tires in the United States. During World War I, commercial operations modified to include artillery shells and howitzer forgings. Then, when World War II arrived, the factory was retooled to include the production of gun barrels, tank castings and military forgings. Annual steelmaking capacity was 160,000 tons.

But around the time that Standard Steel celebrated its 200th anniversary, the steel industry in the United States was under assault from both foreign imports and from a general decline in manufacturing here. In 2001, the company, which had been calling itself Freedom Forge again for about two decades, filed for voluntary protection under Chapter 11 bankruptcy in an effort to reorganize, although it continued to operate during the bankruptcy process. The firm also made some very difficult choices, one being to focus solely on its core railroad business. In 2003, the company slashed its payroll when it exited the product line at the plant that produced steel rings for jet engines, power plants, mining and oil exploration.

Their singular product today is wheels and axles for railroads around the world. That’s what they made when I lived there in the 60’s and 70’s, where members of my family worked, and they still do this today.

From http://www.standardsteel.com/history.php

Currently owned by a Sumitomo Corporation, a Japanese Company, Standard Steel is a leading manufacturer of forged steel wheels and axles for freight rail cars, locomotives and passenger rail cars. It is the only producer of forged steel wheels for rail cars and locomotives in North America. Much of their steel comes from recycling.

Well that about sums up the thoughts for today. Hope you liked today’s post as it offers some though about where I may go with some future posts.

End of the year 2019

Twice this week I had the intention of writing several posts since I have been off for about a week now. Historically, the lab closes between Christmas and New Year’s, so the week is one without work and vacation is taken to compensate my lack of salary. Aside from the normal days that I was required to take off (paid as in vacation or unpaid as in leave without pay), an additional day of vacation gets me two weeks off. Not a bad deal if one plans accordingly.

So here I sit New Years Eve 2019 (6am December 31 to be exact) and contemplate the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2019 and ponder what 2020 may have in store for me.

See the source image
Yes, I borrowed this image from the internet. Source: https://the2020deadline.twinsystems.com/
Adequate image of the road I am still taking.

Work was rather stressful for me this year. More so than in past years. Still doing the same thing, but management sucks. They don’t have a clue about what they need to do to get things done. Spend too much time planning, developing schedules, tracking costs and performance. I literally sit in several hour-long meetings each week tracking where we were, where we are going. Why did this take twice as long? Why was this not completed on Tuesday? We need more resources? We cannot process x until y and z is finished, but z will take new work procedures and set us back weeks. Team BLAH BLAH BLAH failed to do this task last month, they had 6 months to complete it. This list of excuses goes on and on. The accomplishments become fewer. Over the past 40 days of planned work, I think we actually managed to be productive for 8 of those days. More difficult these days to pull rabbits out of my hat…they usually are pulled from my ass! Requirements not met, equipment not available, resources pulled for higher priority tasks, so and so called in sick. I find myself enjoying it less and less. YES, I actually still enjoy my job and even though the bull shit has increased exponentially, I still get some satisfaction when even the smallest task is accomplished. More often than not, I now just put in my time, get stuff done and just collect the paycheck. That said, it is clear that the return from investment continues to decrease. One puts in more time and gets less and less done. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT I AM WORKING 60, 70, OR EVEN 80 HOURS A WEEK, like I did when I was younger. It means that it takes two, three, four times as long to get things done. In scheduling, I call that the pi factor. If the task duration is 1 day, I multiply the duration by pi (3.14159). Such a nerd I can be at times. And even that creates a “success-oriented schedule” that usually fails. Funk and frustration redux…

An anniversary of sorts happened before the holiday’s. I celebrated my 29th anniversary working at the lab. I guess that you can say that over my 58 years, I have lived in this area of the country (New Mexico) the most. Pennsylvania comes in second, living 18 years near Lewistown, PA. Happy Anniversary.

With that milestone comes the obvious. What are my plans for the future? Should I retire? Can I retire? When will I retire? Do I have enough money saved in order to retire? What does it mean to retire? Where do I see myself over the next 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? 50 years? Where will I live? Will I just make that change and go do something totally different.

By many analyses, I am expected to live at least another 20 years, which would mean that I would live until I am 78. Advances in medicine and such could tack on another 5 years. Of course all of this depends on how health I am currently. Have I taken care of myself? Are their things in my family history or how I currently live that could adjust that? Hell, I could die in a car crash tomorrow and never see my 59th birthday. I don’t exercise enough? I don’t drink enough red wine? I am considered obese yet managed to lose and keep off 15 pounds this year. My blood pressure is under control with medication, but my doctor thinks I need to look at my sleep habits. No thanks. I have survived 40 years sleeping on average 4 hours a night. And yes, I have read that 7 is the preferred number of hours of sleep required to be healthy. The whole concept of life expectancy, health and actuarial tables is interesting, yet at the same time somewhat morbid. Given all of that, I have planned to lived until I am 92. That is another 34 years, minimum.

Maybe I should write a “year in review” post. What did I accomplish in the past year? What did I write about during the course of this year but need to update? Did I ever finish reading “Atlas Shrugged”? Well that is an easy one to answer. My copy has 1168 pages and I am on page 90. So NO, I have not finished the book that I have started to read thrice before. I seem to stop reading at about 120 pages and so, the copy that I purchased in the summer of 2011 has some wear and tear, but remains unfinished. Should I make this a New Year’s resolution for 2020? I do need to spend more time reading.

I am never very good in the resolutions. Every year it is the same. Eat better, exercise more, spend less. Stop and smell the roses. Reduce the clutter in my house. Am I still in the rut that has plagued me and that I have written about in the past? Is my frustration and funk continuing into 2020? If I had my magic 8 ball, what would it say? “All signs point to yes”? There is another thing to contemplate. How is my mental health and how does that interact with life expectancy. Stress is not a good thing. What can I do to reduce or relieve my stress?

I am a single (divorced) white male with a dog. I have read that that divorce and male are bad in terms of life expectancy, but having a dog is good. I take dog for walk, and so I get some exercise. Jewel likes her walks and gets upset when we don’t go for a walk each and every day. That too is good, except for it being 6:30 in the morning and single digits outside like today. Snow on the ground. It is cold, there is some wind, and I have been stuck in the house for the past few days, screaming at the TV about bad officiating in several football games. OHIO STATE WAS ROBBED by bad officiating in their game.

Staying inside has other bad effects. I eat too much, don’t get enough exercise, and BAM! Put on a few pounds. Eat, drink and be merry. Get an exercise bike and set it in the living room. Read, watch TV and exercise at the same time. Unfortunately I eat too much because I try my hand at cooking. It is the only Chemistry that I perform these days. One of the posts that I had contemplated over the past week was on cooking, complete with before and after photo’s. Last night I made sausage, fennel and pasta. Over the years I have diverged

See the source image
Looks what I made last night, except I did not have any grated cheese to finish it off. Yes, I borrowed this picture as well, from https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/penne-with-sausage-fennel-and-pecorino. The recipe is close to what I use, except for the quantity of ingredients.

somewhat from the recipe. I add my own proportions of the ingredients. Equal amounts of fennel and onion. More than what is typically called for in the recipe, but not too much. Typically one fennel bulb (large) and one medium white onion. I love to cook with onions. Diced tomato instead of tomato paste. It was good, and with control, I have enough to last for several meals for myself. The kids don’t care for it. Even though it is made with love, it takes time. Processed food is easier to prepare. One can Kraft Mac and Cheese between commercials. But processed foods I read are not good for you. BTW, Mac and Cheese is good with Hatch Green Chile (and so are cheesy grits). Have not added green chile to this recipe yet. Red pepper works fine to add heat.

I could probably go on and on. But I will end it here. Let’s say good bye to 2019 and hello to 2020. No resolutions agreed upon, or posted, written down, placed on FaceBook. Just try and live every day to its fullest. Hoping that tomorrow is better than yesterday.

Sunday ramblings

Today is Sunday August 4. Spent the better part of the past 3 days contemplate my future. In the background is the Fox News broadcast “Life, Liberty & Levin”. I seldom watch the news on TV, but there wasn’t anything else worth watching. The platform is a question and answer session, which is better than many of the talking heads from both sides of the political spectrum. The subject is a discussion about the second Cold War with Niall Ferguson. It entails an economic war as opposed to a military conflict, but that the long view is that China will win because they take a long-term view and that our political system will rive change and we will loose site on the long term. Interesting conversation. I have long found that the interface between economics and history/politics interesting. If I had been smarter, perhaps I could have made a career in the field.

Daughter leaves for the US Pony Club National Championships central region. The competition is in Colorado this year, which is a 6 hour trip near Denver. Son and I will stay home to keep the stress down. I wish her luck in all of the events that she is competing in. Hopefully she will remain n the horse and finish. Both she and Ruby have been practicing hard the past several weeks. She will be competing in show jumping and eventing.

Friday I managed to visit with my financial guy to review my status on the path towards retirement. While I am on tract, I have a few areas to clean up. The discussion covered numerous areas beyond just focusing on 401k balances, debt, and what I plan to do after retirement. Of course, plans are always subject to change. Given the current political climate, I am concerned that much could change and destroy my plans and my future.

Then of course, we had another weekend of a lone gunmen and mass killings. I am pro gun and believe that guns don’t kill people, rather people kill people. That said, I have no problems with background checks, licenses and insurance much like one has for an automobile, keeping automatic guns out of the hands of people, and mental health. You need to keep guns out of the hands of some people. The issue then becomes how. You also need to acknowledge that if people want to harm others, they will. I get a check up annually as far as my mental health as required for my job and my employer. Sadly, I am afraid that the increases in gun killings recently has more to do with the declines in our society and it’s values, the fact that we continue to lesson the value of human life. This is in opposition to those who subscribe to a theory that the increase is associated with the number of guns available.

There is much hate these days, and it surfaces on social media often. Politically, we are divided as a nation and it shows in many areas. I will have more to say about these topics as we continue on the journey of this blog.

My story, or is it?

As I think about subjects to write about, I have been thinking about a pathway to guide me through the summer months. I started this blog based on a conversation at work with a coworker, during one of our morning “coffee cabels”. They often deal with work issues, but this one morning, the discussion focused on retirement, what to do after retirement, whether to retire and return part time, or under contract to another company. The work stuff focuses on what is working, what is not working, our management, solving this or that technical problem. Sometimes the conversation triggers thoughts about almost anything. I try to make a mental note about those things; ideas for a future blog post.

The pathway was my thought about the fact that my topics ramble on in terms of subject. While some themes have emerged, I think it will take some time to improve my skills, improve my subjects, and how the fit together. As an example, lots of my posts speak about my kids. I love them, but I don’t think they read my blog. I’ll keep trying.

Now in my third week, I have been exposed to many fellow bloggers in the past few weeks. I find their stories and subjects equally interesting. Some deal with writing, animals, art, a variety of topics. Some readings that I have exposed myself to suggest writing about one or more of my hobbies. I have some future plans in this area and will lay those out over the next few months. I have lots of interests, but they all clearly are not hobbies. Book reviews, movie reviews are all fair game, but I fail to see how writing about those subjects will separate this blog from others. A book review about my reading might appear. I bet you all are interested in how far I have gotten in Atlas Shrugged (7 pages). Fishing, hunting, hiking and camping are also fair game. I won’t write about sports or skiing, although an occasional shout out to my teams is permitted. Similarly, food and alcohol are things that I enjoy, but I am neither a cook, critic or a connoisseur. Lots of blogs on history and politics but I don’t want to alienate half of the audience who would disagree with my political views. But then again, I would not be true to myself if I didn’t write about these things.

Some of these topics go to the heart of why I started this blog. It’s obvious that writing and communication are important in my job, with my friends and coworkers. It’s all around us. It’s also under assault (in my opinion). Just spend some time on Facebook. Read the comments to any article. Whether you agree or disagree, there is someone who has an opinion, or will tell you why your opinion is wrong, bad, stupid, or just embark on a characterization of you in detail in comparison to a part of the human anatomy. It doesn’t matter if your male or female. That is what is wrong with Facebook. But it gets worse as they try to have “community standards” that they impose. The imposition stifles free speech and communication of diverse subjects. We cannot have a debate, which is what is destroying our country, or democracy. That is a strength of social media, and for that Twitter might be better ( I am not on Twitter, but really, the limited character size constrains us). It is why we cannot compromise, we cannot move forward together. It’s sad that this has been the turn of our country since the 70’s by my recollections. But here we are. This blog isn’t going to fix those issues, but I will at least be able to express. Myself. And I hope that you will respond in kind and join me in these conversations. I’ll keep trying. I won’t be right all of the time, or most of the time, but I need to express myself.