Sunday, June 27, 2010

A good weekend's work

All packed up for the weekend, after working on the bow section of the pirate ship. At least something vaguely pointy is starting to take shape now. My quality control inspector, Gypsy, looks like she's giving it the "paws up".

Now a very tired Botanist is setting a course for the beer fridge.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What is this thing rising from the ground?

Not very ship-shape, I admit. You need a lot of imagination to flesh out the rest, especially in this rather poor photo. That bright sunlight streaming in made for a very high contrast field of view.

This is the first of two "towers" that are the foundation for the deck.

This one, all levelled off and set in place, will form the raised forecastle. Its twin is assembled in the garage ready to lift into position once I've marked and dug holes for the footings. That one will hold the stern deck. The mid deck will be suspended between them on pairs of 2" x 6" beams.

All this will form a rather square core for the structure, but will be largely hidden from view. Projecting deck joists laid across will give it more of a "ship" shape eventually. But that is a long way off yet.


Now that it's full steam ahead on the pirate ship, I'm reminded time and again of something that has puzzled me ever since I took up DIY many, many years ago.

Every tape measure I've ever used has the measurements printed so that they are the right way up if you stretch it out left-to-right. i.e You hook the end of the tape over the left-hand edge of whatever you are trying to measure, hold the body of the tape in your right hand, and pull it out towards the right.

This works well until you want to mark a measurement.

I'm right handed. I want to hold the pencil in my right hand, which means I have to hold the tape in my left and cross my arms over each other. Awkward.

Also, the left-to-right thing is OK if you have a piece that you are simply trying to cut down to size, lopping off a few inches from the end, because the measured piece is to the left and the waste to the right. But I'm equally likely to be cutting several smaller pieces from a long piece of wood and therefore want to measure from the right.

I find it easier to measure nearly everything from the right, holding the tape in my left hand and not having to cross hands.

So I've got incredibly good at reading off measurements upside down.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What have I let myself in for?

Every big project seems to have that moment when reality sinks in, usually accompanied by some moments of panic and questions like "Am I really doing this?"

The moment usually revolves around some act of commitment, where the theory stops and action takes over. For indoor renovations, it's that first act of necessary destruction before you can start putting things back together again. For software development, it's when you start booking out code and editing.

Last weekend I cleared out the space where the pirate ship will go. Here it is with strings marking out the centre line and far side.

But that was not the moment of reality, because even that was easily reversible. So the corner of the yard is now tidy. Bonus.

For a standalone construction like the pirate ship, the turning point is when I go out and buy that first big load of materials. Like I did this week.

Up until now, it's all been designs on paper. Disposable. Can stop at any time and forget the whole thing. But now I've laid out hard cash. That is a corner turned. Not huge in practical terms, but psychological nonetheless.

Maybe I was coming across as a bit casual in my earlier post on this subject, but I don't mean to belittle or underestimate what I've taken on here. This is a big project. There's no denying it. But it is certainly achievable.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Unsung heroes

One of the comments on my previous post included some kind-hearted good wishes for the job search, and also some observations on the stigma attached to working in government.

Firstly, I can reassure you that the job search is long over. The Dear Aunt Agatha label is a flashback to five years ago, starting from when we landed in Canada. The distant relative and the letters are fictional, but the events themselves are drawn from my journals at that time and are an attempt to recapture our family experiences as new immigrants.

Of course, five years on, we are still a long way from shaking off the label of "newcomers".

But the other bit got me thinking (dangerous!) and it is true. There seems to be a worldwide stereotype of government workers as being lazy, incompetent, and set up for life.

Now, there are undoubtably examples to prove the rule, but my experience in my own corner of government is very different. I am but one tiny voice in a howling wilderness, but seeing as this is Public Service Week here in BC I cannot let the myths go unchallenged.

Job security first: having seen the effects of "workforce adjustment" over the last year let's put a dose of reality around this one.

Part one is easy: non-unionised management are no more secure than anyone in the private sector. Screw're out. No longer're out. So if you rise in the ranks you can forget about security.

Part two: the union does try to look after the security of its members, but that has some unfortunate consequences. At the end of the day, if your position is redundant then somebody has to go. They'll do their best to find you somewhere else, i.e. a vacant position, but if you have seniority then you might end up displacing someone more junior. So in net terms, there is no more job security across the workforce as a whole than anywhere else. What happens is that the security is concentrated in the hands of the more long-term staff, and all the uncertainty is most cruelly heaped on the newcomers. This year we had people in an agony of suspense for months, knowing that their hold on their position was at risk and waiting to see how the dice would land.

As for "lazy", I have to laugh. I don't think I've ever worked with a harder-working group of people.

Before going any further, I should explain my stance on the term "lazy" to avoid misunderstanding. I suspect that many people, especially those who find themselves driven to work long evenings and weekends, will happily dismiss anyone not regularly turning in a 60+ hour week as lazy.

IMHO laziness has nothing to do with how many hours you clock on the job. It is about what you do with those hours. My own view is that regularly working insane hours is a sign of poor management, not something to be proud of, unless you've made a deliberate and informed choice to live your life that way.

Out here on the West coast, people generally have a deep respect for work/life balance. I don't think it is at all lazy to set boundaries around how much of your life work is allowed to encroach on, in order to leave time

But while you are at work, you are there to work and be productive.

My organisation runs the BC Provincial IT network. Lots of people rely on this network for things like 911 dispatch, getting welfare cheques, bringing criminal cases to trial, setting up emergency fire control centres during the fire season...lots of real-world health & welfare or life & limb dependencies.

In my building, people slog their guts out to keep things running. We've been crippled by cutbacks over the last year but none of the work has gone away. Everywhere I look people are busy. I often come home with my head spinning from all the conflicting tugs on my time and attention because we all have too much to do and too few people to do it.

I could tell you how much the staff here understand the importance of their work, and how dedicated they are. Instead I'll show you through a real story from 2008.

Just as Canada was sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, the power went out across the whole of southern Vancouver Island. It came back an hour or so later. No big deal, our datacentre has backup power and loads of protection devices.

Nevertheless I went to check for emails just in case, and quickly realised that things were not rosy. I eventually managed to get through to the security desk and learned that the whole network was down. I realised there was nothing I could do to help right then; my world is in the applications layer and none of that can begin to work until it has a network to run on. But dozens of staff had already abandoned their families and their dinners and checked in, not even waiting to be called, and starting putting the network back together.

They worked through the night and on through the following day (which was a public holiday) to bring everything back online. One of my own team answered a call at 2am to restore one of our application services critical to the IT business. And everyone was back in the office the following day for their normal shift.

These are not lazy people.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

(2005) Loose ends

June 2005

Dear Aunt Agatha,

The tidying continues. Cleared out more junk from the yard, and it is good to know there are loads of places to dump and recycle stuff around here. Any metal items we can drop off for free at a salvage depot. Tin shed - RIP.

I've been working out where to put a cat flap. The cats have always been used to an indoor/outdoor life, and we don't intend to confine them to the house for the rest of their lives. We've been warned that things can get messy if they try tangling with raccoons, but those midnight visitors haven't been back since we got Gyspy. Now the main worry is making a meal for one of the eagles that occasionally pass by our way.

My first instinct was to cut a hole in the back door into the playroom. It is the only suitable door in the house. Apart from the front door, everything else is glass sliders. Luckily I inspected the door carefully before I started work, because I discovered that it is actually lined with metal. Would have made a real mess if I'd tried to cut it.

Eventually had another thought that it would be easier to go through a wall instead. We are so used to brick and (thick) stone walls that it just didn't occur to me before how easy a job that might be. I wasn't going to tackle that myself, but we got the guys round who did the kids' bedrooms. In the end it was only a couple of hours work. Who'd have thought? We've got to keep remembering the differences between here and the UK.

The biggest thing this month has been concentrating on job applications. Of all the arrangements in moving over here, this is the one remaining (and rather important) item that has not yet fallen into place.

One thing I've learned is that things can move very slowly over here. And, at least in Government, the interview process is a whole lot more formalised than I've been used to. I've hired a number of people over the years in Guernsey, and the process was very lightweight. Place an ad in the paper, with a closing date. Sort through the replies looking for possible fits. Invite the top runners for interview, which will often be driven by filling in gaps or following up interesting points in their CV's (oh, and they are called resumes over here), then decide and make an offer. The whole process can easily be over within a few days of the closing date. Here, I'm often waiting weeks to hear anything, and I've learned that some of the hiring processes are very rigidly constrained, asking all the candidates identical questions and scoring them, and many of them involve written assignments too! Not convinced that will always give the right result, but those are the ground rules here.

Other than that, we've been enjoying lots of sunshine and living a fairly outdoor life. Walks and picnics, and discovering loads of parks and trails within easy distance of home. I like this place.

I have to finish with some worrying news. We've discovered that Rufus has diabetes. We are consulting with the vet to see if there's any prospect of controlling it through diet before we resort to insulin, but it is not looking good.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Some you win, some you lose

Today, Ray Rhamey posted my first page from The Ashes of Home on Flogging the Quill. He turned the page and, so far, so have the majority of voters (10 to 2 in favour at the time of posting).

Cue happy dance (while no-one is looking).

I'm relieved as well as happy, because this opening hasn't yet been critiqued and cleaned up. In fact, it has never before been seen outside of my laptop. A couple of weeks ago, Ray posted on his blog a plea for more submissions because he was starting to run out. So I duly obliged, but it had to go in raw and unreviewed.

Also today, Rachelle Gardner posted the winners of her "One Sentence Summary" contest. I sent in the one sentence pitch for Ghosts, but it didn't make it anywhere near the finish line. Oh well. With five hundred entries in the contest I think I'm in good company. And the winners were good.

Cue compensatory libation (as if I need an excuse).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ahoy there, Mateys!

Back in March, the kids put forward their wish list for the pirate ship that I've been promising them for the last couple of years.

Since then I've been working on finishing that front bed, which was a necessary precursor because there was a big heap of compost in the way of the pirate ship that made its way into the bed.

Now that's done, I need to crack on. Expectations duly set, I now have my working drawings for the project.

Here's the master plan for how it should look. A proper pirate ship, masts, wheel, crows nest and all. To give an idea of scale, the whole thing is 24' in length, and 6' wide at its widest point.

And here are the construction drawings for the platform. With a solid base like this, decking and sides will be relatively easy to attach.

Wish me luck!
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