Category: work Page 1 of 3

I will never run out of project names

Every time I start a new project, either personal or for work, I first give it a project name. I started doing this about seven or eight years ago and it has contributed immensely to my personal and professional organization. It’s like using paper files. I mentioned this practice to my IP attorney, and he heartily approved, I think for reasons of operational security, but mostly its a mechanism to help me keep track of . . . projects. It’s also very useful when working with others, such as other employees at work or engineering contractors, because there’s no ambiguity when referring to a project name as there might be when using a mere project description.

Project names are assigned randomly. I use an Excel spreadsheet (natch) which includes a hidden column of unused project names. When I add text to the next cell in the description column, a new project name automatically appears. Since the unused project name column is hidden, the new project name is a surprise. Makes the whole thing a little more fun.

The challenge, of course, is coming up with that list of project names to begin with. The set of names I work from has to be a large one, because I literally write down every idea I have and give it a project name, even if there is little chance I will ever do anything with it. My project list is a convenient way for me to record — and organize — my thoughts and ideas.

When I was at Cisco, projects had themes: for example, development projects related to a particular router device might be snakes (“Rattler,” “Asp,” “Cobra,” etc), or perhaps national parks (“Yellowstone,” “Yosemite,” “Denali”). When I started using project names for my work, I took the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks list of mountains and rocks and randomized them (“Amethyst,” ” Chuckwalla,” “Galena,” “Bear,” “Butler,” etc).

But eventually I started running out of names, so I cast about for other lists, other sets. So I used names of all the counties in California; all the counties in Nevada; names of seas; counties in Ireland; names of constellations (which get a little hairy). Finally, I found a list of all the Nobel Prize for Literature laureates and added those. I have plenty of names for now.

But you can never have too many potential project names. I have a list of 164 UN member names (“Panama,” “Kazakhstan,” “Iran,” “Namibia,” “Peru”); 44 American states (“Wisconsin,” “Indiana,” “Alabama,” “Pennsylvania,” “Texas”); 567 auto marques of nine characters or less (“Transinco,” “Frontenac,” “Moskvitch,” “Lambretta,” “Voglietta”); 81 US National Parks (“Gates,” “Hagerman,” “Jewel,” “Hanford,” “Vermilion”); 511 Christian saints (all denominations) (“Anthony,” “Venantius,” “Ursmar,” “Wulfram,” “Severinus”); and 112 Old Testament angels and prophets (“Jeremiah,” “Daniel ,” “Kushiel ,” “Ariel,” “Puriel”). If the numbers don’t seem to match (44 American states?) it’s because I edit each list to eliminate two-word names, etc.

The trickiest part is eliminating duplicates from new name sets. I can do this using the Excel VLOOKUP() function. The lists themselves are randomized, by putting the RAND() function in a column adjacent to the names and sorting on that column (you will get a different sort order every time).

Practice video

Came into the office early this morning to make a quick installation video for our new Truckeee forend for the Benelli M4 shotgun, all in one take.

We’ve been meaning to make some high quality installation videos for years now, but we are always allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We are reluctant to do anything until we have the sound and the lighting right, and we also want to set up a little studio. So nothing ever gets done.

But we are sending this prototype assembly to a guy in the Navy this week and I needed to make an installation video to show him how to install it. No time to make everything perfect. But as you can see, this is on a personal YouTube account of mine and is not ordinarily visible if you don’t have the URL. It’s too crappy and amateurish for our official channel.

More than a year ago we purchased a video editing workstation, lavaliere mic, headphones, Sony Movie Studio 13, etc (we already had a camera), and all this stuff has been sitting in a corner of the warehouse gathering dust. In fact, when I fired up the software this morning to edit the video I had to register the software for the first time.

As with so many things, making videos in-house is a matter of just doing it. I think we can nail the lighting and sound without too much of a problem, so we need to just start shooting stuff. Editing is easy (ironically, over ten years ago I started making innovative (for the time) hiking and shooting videos, but for whatever reason I stopped doing it. Each video was substantially better than the previous one). I’d like to think this first effort has maybe broken the dam, at least a little. It’s no big deal to grab the camera and shoot footage, let’s see what we can do with this.

Another e-mail exchange

It’s always questionable whether to go down this path, but . . . YOLO!

I need part number #47478 (hex bushing).

Please mail this overnight or whichever is the fastest. It took me 4 weeks to get the stock through Midway. I have a match coming up, and i was hoping to have this shotgun ready in time for it. I understand you’re just trying to save money, but did you lessen the price of the stock when you decided to pull the bushing, which i assume came standard at one point because it was in the instructions? I hope you understand why im soo pissed. I live in Alaska and i regularly get screwed on shipping costs, shipping times, and issues like this. Plus its cold as hell and its dark all the time.

A customer

We’ll get the bushing out to you Priority Mail. I’ll ask the boys to hurry it along.

Before you get upset about us not including the bushing in the package (it’s only needed about 10% of the time), ask yourself what other company would even offer you a replacement bushing? After all, it’s a factory part that can be reused. Not Speedfeed, not Magpul, not Tapco, especially not ATI or Choate. We offer it as a convenience because the factory part is a poor design and it’s hard to get off the return spring tube . . . but not impossible! Our bushing has flats so it’s better (which means it also cost more to make than the factory part). And remember, none of those guys would include a little tool in the box to help you remove the return spring tube, they’d tell you to run out and buy a strap wrench or something. Probably another three or four weeks before you could get one to Alaska.

Also, the Magpul SGA stock for the Remington 870 has an MSRP of $110, while our Urbino stock for the Mossberg 930 has a base price of $130 MSRP, and that includes a replacement return spring, return spring tube, tube removal tool and improved bushing if you need it. I’d say that’s a pretty good value, no one has ever before complained to us about the cost of the stock. In fact, I am pretty sure we could sell it for a lot more and still no one would complain, but we know Mossberg 930 owners like a good value (unlike Benelli owners, for example).

So although I am biased, I think we are doing all right. I just wish we had some way of warning people in advance, so they don’t buy the stock the day before a match (as so many of them do, believe me) and then find out they need another part. We will be making more videos this year and hopefully we can spell things out better in the new video.

I’m sorry it’s so dark and cold in Alaska. When we got fed up with things in California we moved to Nevada.

Mitch

The joy of Solidworks configurations

Last week I met with some local machinists to work out the best way to produce some new AR-15 handguards we’re workingon, and now I’m ready to go. I whipped out the final design:

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The magic of Solidworks, the program I use to design parts, is a feature called configurations (I think I went over this a few years ago concerning some other parts I made). You can design the basic part, and then use configurations to more or less automatically produce similar parts with different dimensions. Well, it’s not automatic, but it’s a lot simpler than designing a new part for every, say (as in my case), barrel length you need to support.

The parts above are for barrel lengths of (left to right) 10½, 14½, 16 and 20 inches. I use the configurations feature with a chart like this one to come up with the different parts:

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The green-tinted cells are fixed constants, basically the numbers I use to derive all the rest. I started with a design for a 16 inch barrel and worked out how many recoil grooves I need (the slots at the top of the part) as well as the length of the top of the rail. Because the recoil grooves are 0.394 inches center on center, all the rail lengths are increased or reduced from the 16 inch barrel length by multiples of 0.394 inches. That’s where the spreadsheet comes in handy.

Thought I’d be able to come in and get more work done seeing as it’s a national holiday, but the phone started ringing off the hook an hour ago and it’s driving me nuts (I’m not answering it, fuck it, it’s a holiday). Time to take a walk.

A holiday letter to our commercial landlord

We had our annual office Christmas party on Friday. As usual, this was a pretty raucous affair, but we also took time during the festivities to reflect on our collective and individual blessings, as is traditional this time of year.

One of the things that came to mind was how fortunate we were to find this space for our office and warehouse. When we were working on our move in 2016, we were under a severe time restraint and were having a lot of difficulty finding a space in Reno or Sparks that would meet our requirements. It was a very stressful time. The space at 1775 Kuenzli is not much to look at, but it is warm in the winter and cool in the summer and meets our needs in every way. It is conveniently located in the center of town, and we like having the river running past the end of the parking lot.

But what we cherish most of all is having such a kind, generous and helpful landlord. In this respect we are truly blessed, and we wanted to dash off this note to make sure you knew you were appreciated by all the crew at Mesa Tactical.

We look forward to being your faithful tenants in the years ahead.

He really is a very sweet man. We can’t give him booze for Christmas because he’s Mormon

The free-floating apex

When I was at Cisco I worked on a project team that was headed by a woman who was, well, by the standard of the other people at Cisco, not very competent. But there was widespread understanding (in fact, I believe it was actually spelled out by management) that Cisco wanted to see more female executives at the higher levels (there were only a few, because there were in those days very few women in tech, though Cisco was co-founded by a woman). Anyway, this woman’s team members did not report to her, we were from other parts of the company, with different specialties. She was a mid-level “executive” or “manager,” but she had only a single direct report, her personal assistant. In other words, she was a “free floating apex” because while the company wanted to see women in high places, they did not trust this particular woman with her own department; not because she was a woman, but because she was not very competent (Cisco had other very capable female executives, but apparently not as many as they wanted).

She was not held in very high regard by many of my fellow team members, either. It wasn’t that we didn’t like her, it was just that everyone recognized she wasn’t very good at her job.

One day she sent a spreadsheet to a very widely read internal e-mail mailing list. A minute later her assistant sent a follow up message saying the spreadsheet was personal, sent by mistake, and would everyone please delete it. I deleted it. While I can be as voyeuristic as anyone, it can only be with strangers. I don’t like reading letters and other private stuff of people I know.

But a guy I worked with had no such qualms. As soon as he got the second message he opened the spreadsheet, and later he told me what was in it. It was a record of this woman’s stock option grants (everyone in the company kept such a spreadsheet handy, and updated it daily with the closing share price). At the time of the e-mail fale, her options were worth $10 million (they would have been worth several times that by 2000).

So this woman who owed her position, we all presumed, since she was obviously not very competent, to her two X chromosomes, was worth ten million dollars. Okay, that was nice for her, but it was sure pretty fucking demoralizing for everyone else, especially people hopelessly stuck with a Y chromosome who were obliged to perform with energy and excellence if they wanted advancement and stock options.

That was, in some ways, when you think about it, a hostile work environment. But no one really cared too much because in the late 1990s the rising tide was raising all boats, no matter what kind of chromosomes you had.

The anal life

I use Excel for organizing stuff with computers. It doesn’t scale, but I haven’t made the time to learn SQL. All our part numbers and bills of materials are in a massive spreadsheet I started in 2003. We outgrew the spreadsheet years ago, but I don’t have an alternative now. We tried a software-based inventory management system; it was a disaster.

Once I clean up all the shit on my desk, it gets filed:

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All the file tabs are printed in 10 point Arial Bold. I have files at home going back to the 1980s. Nothing gets thrown away.

I can’t stand sorting through boxes of fasteners looking for screws or whatever. Each separate fastener gets a labeled drawer in the parts organizers:

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They don’t make those steel walled parts organizers anymore, but I can find them on eBay.

Shop furniture

I need to build some shop furniture, mostly roll-round utility tables, but I will also need stands for things like the drill press, grinders, etc. Rather than re-invent the wheel every time, I decided to settle on a single design I can use for a variety of applications.

Back in 2005 when I moved my office from our first 700 square foot building on Whittier Ave to a 1,500 square foot unit on Monrovia, I spent Memorial Day Weekend building five workbenches out of structural Douglas fir, some pine boards and 5/8 inch sheathing:

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It’s a very basic design. I didn’t see it anywhere, it just seemed a natural way to build a bench. Those were assembled with deck screws; later I would use 1/4 inch lag screws in most places. I covered the benches with sacrificial 1/8 inch Masonite (hardboard) that can be removed and replaced after it gets worn, a trick I learned from my father:

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When that photo was taken, there was only one person working in the warehouse: me!

Those benches are still in use, and I made a few more five years later when we moved across the parking lot to Unit B1. When we moved across town to Baker St I asked my production manager if she wanted to get fancy proper workbenches and she said she liked the ones we had, so we made some more. I think we have ten of them now.

In the meantime I also constructed some big 8×4 foot worktables of pretty much the same design (with no shelves) for use in the shipping and receiving area. When we moved to Baker St I made some more, but fitted them with casters so you could move them around the shop easily (note the assembly benches in the background):

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This proved to be a remarkably useful innovation. We have four of those big roller benches and we use them constantly. It’s incredibly productive to be able to stack stuff up on a bench in your working area and then simply roll it out to the shipping area, or vice-versa. Which reminds me of an anecdote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb concerning wheels on airport luggage . . .

So I decided that from now on utility benches would have casters.

For my woodshop I am looking at a different design, this one of 3/4 inch birch plywood. It’s something I have seen around on YouTube. Also, the woodshop next door to us when we were on Baker had a bunch of these (they later added casters to them after they saw our roll-around benches). All my projects are assigned random project names (from a spreadsheet, natch), and this project is called Jade:

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I’ve been trying to work out how large to make my Jade bench(es). The big 8×4 foot bench is too big for my space and anyway the eight foot span probably tests the strength limits for this particular bench design. Luckily, my design software, SolidWorks, lets you easily develop what it calls configurations, that is, variations on a single basic design that differ by dimensions or other changes. So after designing my Jade bench, I whipped up a number of different configurations by changing the main table top dimensions, which are all at a 2:1 aspect ratio (that is, the width is half the length):

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SolidWorks would allow the widths of the stretchers and legs to be changed for each configuration to make them more proportional, but I wanted to keep things simple, so in all cases the legs and stretchers are five inches wide.

Of course, there’s a spreadsheet at upper left in the illustration. That’s to work out the bill of materials (or more specifically the cut schedule) for each bench. The green tinted cells are variables, that is, dimensions that might be specific to a particular bench size. Once those are entered the rest is calculated automagically.

Non-USAn readers might note with dismay and alarm all the fractions that appear in the Length and Width columns of the spreadsheet. These are truly the American Man’s Burden, and what set us apart from the rest of the world far more profoundly than rampant gun nuttery. In fact, I have often wondered whether any other culture in the world besides the US and the British use fractions at all, for any reason (and the British are migrating away from them now too). The worst part is when you have to do math with fractions. Luckily, we have spreadsheets for that.

Naturally, going metric for this sort of thing would be practical, but here is why I won’t:

For my mechanical design work I use decimal inches, no fractions. This is easy for me and easy for the machinists, who just punch decimals into a CNC program. From that point of view, calling out 2.763 inches is no easier or more difficult than using 7.018 cm.

Mathematically, fractions can be more accurate than decimals. For example, 5/32 is much more precise than, say, 0.156, which is rounded up from 0.15625. But today computers and calculators just work with the floating point, so fractions don’t give you anything when doing calculations. And when measuring you are subject to tolerances anyway. If I want to use a dimension of 5/32, it will be called out as 0.16 if I can live with a tolerance of 0.015; and 0.156 if I need it to be accurate to within 0.005. I never get to 0.15625, practically speaking.

The problems occur once a tape measure gets involved. All the tape measures I have ever seen are in fractions of an inch. So are the yardsticks and just about every other device for taking linear measurements except a few engineering scales I have laying around (my digital micrometers can switch at will, of course). So anything architectural, or in the woodshop, uses fractions of an inch.

If I really cared (and maybe if I was raising kids I would care more), I could round up every tape measure and ruler in the house and in the shop and trade them all in for metric equivalents. Within a week of using a metric tape measure I suspect centimeters and millimeters would be as natural to me as inches and quarter inches. After all, it didn’t take long for me to find driving in the UK as natural as driving in the US.

But there is no compelling reason for me to make the switch, especially as I can do the math with Excel, when necessary.

Free stuff

This is something that happened a few months ago and certainly affects me directly. I haven’t seen any discussion of it anywhere in the media. Not only does it reveal the bizarre worldview of progressives, but the fact it hasn’t gotten any traction anywhere underscores how this unreal worldview has permeated society. I’ve long maintained that neither progressives nor conservatives really have any principles, they simply follow the flags of their tribal leaders.

This is a story of free stuff, and while conservatives like to pretend it’s only progressives that want free stuff, in fact everyone is in favor of free stuff. Free stuff for them, just not for other people (progressives are just more likely to openly state they think this, but in their heart of hearts everyone feels this way: someone else should pick up the tab. I doubt the membership of the AARP, for example, whose entire raison d’être is the securing of more free stuff, is entirely or even mostly politically progressive).

In May the Obama Administration announced a change to the rules governing who can be a non-exempt employee (that is, salaried vs hourly). I was never aware of the Federal rules until this year, but California had clear-cut definitions and pay thresholds (I learned about the Federal rules when researching Nevada rules; Nevada has none of its own).

For example, in California, for an employee to be salaried, he has to make decisions of his own while on the job and he has to be paid the equivalent of twice the legal minimum wage. With a California minimum wage of $10.00 per hour, that means the minimum salary I could pay in California was $41,600 per year. Going to non-exempt is good for me because it’s one less time card I have to fuck with, and good for the employee because there is a certain dignity in not having to punch a time card. Also his pay is more predictable. The only downside for the employee is he doesn’t get paid for overtime, but that doesn’t matter much at Mesa Tactical because there is very little overtime anyway.

So once the duties and compensation of the employee warranted it, I would move her to salary as soon as possible.

I was not aware until this year of a Federal minimum salary of $23,660. Obviously a salary requirement that low has no effect on anyone in California, since we were obliged to pay much more. But in moving to Nevada, I was able to bump my lowest-paid full-time worker to salary at $35,360, which was a substantial raise for him, and something he had been agitating for and which I could not do in California. He no longer has to punch a time card and I no longer have to work out his pay every two weeks. Everyone is happy.

Except now the Obama Administration, once again, insists on getting between me and my employees and telling me what that relationship has to be, even though they have no fucking clue about my business. People in government seem to think this is just right and natural.

In the new rule, the minimum Federal salary has been doubled to $47,476. Admittedly, the old figure was from 2004, but there is no phase-in or anything like that: just double the number at midnight on 31 December. But the best part is in how they spin it:

This long-awaited update will result in a meaningful boost to many workers’ wallets, and will go a long way toward realizing President Obama’s commitment to ensuring every worker is compensated fairly for their hard work.

Here is the LA Times headline:

Obama administration announces final overtime rule, boosting pay for millions

This is how most of the people in society, not just progressives, think: you can boost pay for millions of workers simply by making a rule change in a Federal bureaucracy. At the stroke of a pen, a community organizer from the Chicago Daley Machine will make millions of Americans richer, through no effort of their own (aside from the effort required to vote for him in the first place).

No, you don’t have to boost productivity; it’s not necessary to increase the revenues or the profits of the employers. By making the rule change, employers will simply shower their workers with additional monies they were heretofore holding back.

People really believe this. The Labor Department believes it, the LA Times believes it, Obama believes it, Hilary Clinton (who, you have to admit, has really worked for her millions) believes it. It’s an attitude that has completely permeated society. And there’s no going back.

Allow an actual bona fide employer, a guy who personally runs the payroll every two weeks and has been doing so for a dozen years, tell you what this rule change really means. It means that unless I find it in my heart to give my lowest paid employee a 34% raise at the end of the year (and that’s unlikely as he just got a 30% raise), he is going to go back to punching a time clock, and I am going to go back to working on time sheets every two weeks. In fact, I will probably have to do this for a couple employees.

No massive boost in pay packets here, since for some reason the new Labor Department rule hasn’t resulted in lots of additional revenues just appearing out of nowhere in our bank account.

Radio man

Did a radio interview with the NRA:

https://www.nranews.com/series/cam-and- … pisode-155

Starts at 0:25:50 mark

I have a voice that was made for silent films.

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