Don’t Sit on the Sticker Bushes

Good advice! Something Cheryl was looking at on TV prompted this comment from her.

Life is full of little surprise comments. Sometimes funny some times not. They can punctuate our lives and section off unhappy or anxious feelings from the good times.

“There are more things today that don’t mean shit than ever before!”, said Jerry. Then he left my office.

The Valco Saga


Mistakes are made but they are all part of the plan or not.

From 1990 to 1994 I worked for a little company in southwest Ohio called Valco Cincinnati. They manufacture adhesive application equipment for the packaging industry. It was an interesting application of control electronics. And it was a giant leap of faith.

I had previously spent 18 years at Cincinnati Milacron. A stalwart old line Cincinnati company that was the gold standard of machine tool manufacturers. Cincinnati Milacron no longer exists. Remnants of the old company do, the largest of which is simply called Milacron today.

Two weeks into the new job, I began to wonder about the wisdom of my decision to accept the position of chief electrical engineer. The previous holder of the position I had never met. But he had, according to hearsay, a bit of a drinking problem. At the very least he was more gregarious than I, but most importantly, he had the protection of half of the owning partnership.

From the perspective of 25 years later, one might imagine that the memories would fade. They do but I took notes of various kinds along the way. Mostly funny little things people would say. Engineers and technical folks are a cynical group. Most are conservative decision makers. Me included. Most carry thoughts in the background of “prove it to me” or “Oh yeah? Show me.” It is part of the nature of an engineer. If the math works, they will believe it.

Towards the end of my tenure I started to journal. I imagine Scott Adams started down this same road at PG&E, except that he was better at it. He turned it into a career. I kept funny memos that the ownership and other managers would publish. The pointy haired boss in Dilbert reminds me of one half of the ownership of Valco. The half that hired me.

After I was terminated, fired, sacked; a friend and colleague took all my notes from what he referred to as the “wall of shame” and collected them in a cast-off binder and sent them to me. This friend is the Jerry I refer to in the quote above. He had more insight into the workings of a privately held company than I gave him credit for at the time.

It may sound corny but these notes are precious to me. They chronicle my time there. These little messages are in addition to my journalling. Termination from a less than satisfactory job was a much needed learning experience. That I was terminated was disappointing but I now believe that everyone should be terminated at some time in their life. It is devastating. But it helps you to find inner strength. And often a better situation. At the very least it gives you perspective about what has importance and what is unimportant to you.

The Wall of Shame

Some statements transcend time, dates and space…. Somewhere during this experience I received one of those cute little desk calendars with a engineer saying on it for each day. Some of those I kept after I had scissored off the date. Engineering always lives in a cube farm. The walls of which made great bulletin boards. It is on of the few things I miss about working as an engineer, posting stuff on the wall for commentary by others. Much like Facebook but much more intimate and personal.

A favorite: WESTHEIMER’S RULE: To estimate the time to do a task, estimate the time you think it should take, multiply by two and change the unit of measure to the next higher unit,. Thus we allocate two days for a one hour task. — (I added) — and predict April 15th as the finish date.

As I started the wall, others came by and helped. Many added sayings that they had tripped over in memos or simply spoke out loud. Some of the guys would be very careful about what they said around my cubicle.

undefinedParts of the wall at the start.

This actually got better as I and others continued to collect little remarks that people say to each other in an office or elsewhere in the vein of the old sage wise sayings.

At the end of a memo written to encourage moving on with some decision: … I BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A WINNER IF WE MAKE THESE CHANGES AND WE SHOULD PROCEED WITHOUT HASTE (sic) I have no idea why it is written in all caps. I do not have the rest of the memo. I like the thought though — damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead BACKWARDS!

Another: Papoose (def) — consolation prize for taking a chance on an Indian blanket. [anon] And another – God hates a coward!

One of my personal favorites: “We’ll just come to that bridge when we cross it!” spoken by our service manager at the time, Larry, after a meeting. It might be the first time I started to write down misspoken comments by others. This is profoundly true if you stop to ponder it.

More Postings. As time moved on the classic posts came from one or another of my colleagues. undefined

And the wall grew and grew.undefined

1993 Exploded with all of these gems and in some cases I categorized them because context became more important.

  • I wonder how they put up with me? — Dave
  • The bigger the orifice the more shit you get out! — Randy
  • I never drink under the influence. — Scott
  • There is no group that takes more time away from family life than the Church! — R. Cloud
  • It looks reasonably promising (fence sitter) — Lance
  • People are clueless! — Todd
  • Jack Shit running loose is NOT a good thing! — J. Lutterbie
  • Some animals aren’t trainable — Jay
  • Not all boats will rise with the tide. (stock market) — Don
  • … a frozen semi-state (the fifth state of matter)– Jim
  • (sensitivity, empathy) He’s about as sensitive as fire ants crawling up your ass. — Mike
  • ADVICE – help that you don’t want to give out — Dean
  • It’s one of those loose T&E’s — B. Nolting
  • Give them lips a rest young co-op — Paul
  • Nothing comes from being stupid in public — Jerry
  • (control theory) The temperature is set on 75, the thermostat reads 67, everything’s fine. — L Marsh
  • (Social commentary) Stereotypes are typically based on observation — Mike
  • (Administration’s statement of the obvious) Everybody’s busy or they’re gone! — Jim Bornhorst
  • (Conversation) Are you coming back later? we’re having Karaoke tonight. — No thanks I’m on a low fat diet.

1994 brought:

  • (life commentary) Will we ever understand anything? — Jerry
  • (Electrostatic discharge) If we’d just clean up management there’d be a lot less static around here. — Gene
  • (why things often do not work) We didn’t load the bogus values correctly. — Dave
  • (obviousness) That’s going to be blank unless we put something on it! — R Woolf
  • His reality contact is a little low. — Kappeler
  • (fence sitter) I think I’ve got this somewhat under control. — Kathy
  • Some things you get for free you can’t afford. — Keith
  • God, what a Fu-Fu this has been!
  • It was relatively impressive. If that makes any sense. — Jerry
  • Fuck this place. — Paul
  • It was a lot easier when we didn’t have to deal with the Germans. — Paul

This last page was written by the the best of the best when it came to folks that I have worked with:

…. the final word:undefinedSo you have to be aware that if Bornhorst sacks you because he can’t decide how else to suck up to Greg, understand that it is your fault that some projects turned to crap. For a while at least I was pissed at Jim Bornhorst but then I realized that, as a friend once said, nothing good comes from being stupid in public. I hold those words dear. And in 1994 we were concerned about Global Warming but doing nothing.

The Silver Lining

This experience caused my brother to reach out to me.

Bill called me in 1994 after I had been terminated from my job with Valco. I do not remember him calling me much. It was the other way around in my memory. So, his call was a surprise.

He called me, he said to offer some advice. He said, ” You have to decide what you are going to charge.” ‘Charge for what?’ I replied. They are going to trip over some problem that they will need you to fix, because they did not know they had it. Something you would have just handled. They will try to get you to do it for nothing but its a temp job. Figure out how much you are going to charge to fix their problem.

Every worker should be fired at some point in their life. It is not very much fun while it is happening but it is an excellent learning experience. You get down on yourself. What did I do wrong? How will I go on? If you are part of the engineering staff of a company, you often operate under the illusion that you are part of the management cadre. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are a worker bee like everyone else. Your work however is to think, design, plan and create the product.

Bill’s little advice made me realize my value. Anything I did had a price. And that price was value for my time, experience, problem solving ability, cleverness and elegance of design. More importantly that price included time away from things, family, people and situations that might be more important to me than doing some job that the only tangible benefit was a pay check. He had put it in perspective. Life is too short.

Indeed! In retrospect it is unsatisfactory to harbor ill will to anyone. Better things come to you if you spend little time angry and upset about such a small thing as getting sacked. Trust in God to make better things happen but you have to help. Do not sit on your hands.

More Silver

This all happened long ago. I learned from this experience that not everything happens for a reason. Most of the time if one can see past the immediate hurt, one discovers that a better existence is ahead.

I still collect sayings and phrases that engineers use. Dilbert is a favorite comic although Scott Adams is far enough away from daily existence at PG&E that often his take on office life is not as funny as it once was. Perhaps I too am older and less connected.

Some memos and silly comments were forwarded to me after I was gone. If only I could draw cartoons.