Tuesday, June 18, 2013


For my first Father's Day, Amy took me up to Snowbird for Brewfest 2013.  We enjoyed perfect weather and a beautiful backdrop to complement the exceptional local beers.  I have to say, this was a great event.  $20 gets you a mug and 15 tokens.  Each token gets you 3 ounces of beer (supposedly).  Every brew-stand I visited was friendly to the extreme and had a bit of a sticky tap (I would guess 6 ounces per token is more accurate).  I got to try beers from all over Utah.  My favorite beer may have been Rooster's Polygamy Pale.  The guy from Roosters informed me that it was an IPA recipe.  Very balanced pale ale.  We enjoyed lunch together outside at 10,000ft while I sipped beers and my boy fed himself.  I will be back next year!

Work has been interesting lately.  I have transitioned to some smaller projects in the interim between big projects.  It has been nice to have some shorter term projects to wrap up quickly. 

I am very excited for our upcoming trip to Oregon.  We will be taking our bikes and hope to get some good activities in!

Listening to: Deer Tick - Awesome band that I randomly found based on a recommendation from Rhapsody.  They do a really cool cover of "What Kind of Fool Am I?".

I am so lucky to have Amy as a wife and mother to my boy!  What a great Father's Day weekend!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Thoughts on Commissioning

I have been spending a lot of time working on my home lately.  It has been very rewarding work, and opened my eyes to how simple it is to do a lot of the things yourself that would otherwise cost you a fortune.  All you really need is some can-do attitude, a bit of mechanical aptitude, and access to the internet :).  Seriously, how did people do it before the internet? Youtube has become a part of my toolbox, right next to the cordless drill.

I recently completed the shop commissioning of the massive new drill rig project I designed.  It was, as always, a great learning experience in addition to being very rewarding.  Some of the recurring truisms from the commissioning:
  • You just have to try some things.  A few minutes of real world testing is worth weeks of time in front of the computer in some cases.  Now not all cases!  Thank you Finite Element Analysis!  But software, for example, almost cannot be tried soon enough in the development process.
  • Its never the problem you expect.  This one is rather obvious, but rears its head frequently.  Fact is, if it was a problem you expected and didn't do anything about, you are kind of an idiot, right?  Well, not exactly.  Engineering can be an iterative process, and there is a degree of uncertainty with any new creation.  As engineers, we try to think of all the things that could go wrong, and I would bet that 90% of the time what actually goes wrong is not on that list.  This is likely due to the fact that if you are able to anticipate a certain type of problem, you eliminate it from your design the best you can.  If you are creating something new though, expect a few of these "gotchas".
  • Sometimes, entropy wins.  Sure, there are a few problems you run into and think: "yeah, this happens all the time".  A leaky hose for example.  Some problems, however, are almost impossible to track down and are completely unique.  Like a faulty bus bar from a manufacture with a tiny piece of plastic covering the conductor in one of several hundred terminals.  Yeah, $2 part, 4 hours tracking it down.  Entropy 1, Engineer 0.
  • Running a new piece of equipment can bring the hind-sight engineering specialists out of the woodwork.  "Why didn't you do this?" or "Why wasn't that considered in the design?".  The fact is, when building a prototype, some things are going to get missed.  Don't let it bother you, instead try to create a culture of jumping in and fixing problems rather than just pointing them out.  Remember that a toddler can spot an oil leak, it takes an adult to fix it.
  • Nine women cannot have a baby in one month. I think this is a German saying.  It may be my favorite thing to remind managers who want to solve a technical issue by pulling in more resources.
  • Perspective can be a big blessing.  After spending about 25 days straight working on something, that thing can pretty easily creep steadily higher on your shit list.  Every problem you encounter can seam insurmountable because it gets jammed into your crowded brain with all problems fixed and outstanding.  Get someone new involved when this starts to happen!  For my project, I called in a drilling supervisor to see what he thought of the rig.  He reminded us that we are doing stuff that has never been done before and SUCCEEDING.  All of a sudden building a small step to change a filter seams like the minute task it is.  
  • Telling people what they want to hear when it comes to timing is a mistake.  This one is easy to fall victim to if you are a people pleaser (a terminal problem I deal with, along with Irish guilt).  If someone asks you when it will be done, give your honest estimate.  And don't forget to double it.  Adding time to your estimate is NOT unscientific, it is what experienced professionals do (see entropy).  It is always better to take the heat for the timeline now and be a hero if all the stars align and by some miracle you complete your project early.  
  • Beer is good.  Having a beer with your team after a hard days work is good for everyone.
  • Lists rule.  keep one running punch list.  ONE.  That is the key.  Maintaining multiple lists is impractical and causes things to get missed.  Don't get too hung up on categorizing your list either.  Just write it down.  You can always organize it later! 
  • Things seam easier when they are done.  Don't forget all the heart-ache you poured into your creation.  People will look at it and it will appear simple to them.  Remember that it is easy to make a convoluted and complex mechanism to do a function unreliably.  To create something simple and reliable is the pinnacle of engineering achievement.  And when someone looks at it and says "duh, of course that is how that is done", remind yourself that if it was really that obvious, people would already be doing it that way.  You have created something simple and innovative (prepare to be copied thanklessly :) )
I am so excited to be at this phase of the project.  My team, which was pulled together from Australia, Canada, and the US, worked very well together!   Lots of exciting new developments and innovations.  I will post a link as soon as the info goes public!

Amy has done an amazing job documenting our family life!  Let me know if you want access to that blog, as it is set to private.  I will just say here that having a baby has been by far the greatest thing to happen to me.  I couldn't be happier with my family, career, or home.  Life is good.  Cheers, friends.

Music:  I am digging the new Queens of the Stone Age album "...Like Clockwork"
Reading: I am reading "Dune Heretics"...  Frank Herbert awesomeness.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bureau of Qualification

I propose the creation of a "Bureau of Qualification" to issue "Person of Qualification" certificates.  Let me explain:

During the engineering process, you often need a product you can purchase to accomplish a function.  Now, how the search goes, viewed from an engineer perspective.

I know I need a product that will do "x" in my design.  I know someone is currently producing this product, but I don't know who.  I know it is something we haven't had in a design before so I can't just look at a legacy design.  I will search the internet for information and try to find a supplier that looks legitimate and has a nice website (we all think bad websites indicate a lack of technical competence or a certain stuck-in-their-way-edness).  I find a company I like the looks of, and click on the contact page because I HAVE to talk to a real person.  Here is where it gets sticky.  I call the 800 number most companies list that gets you an operator.  I ask for someone in engineering.  90% of the time, this stuns the operator, and they direct you to someone in sales. I get connected and it is apparent within a few seconds if you have hit a dead end.  If I get lucky, I get someone who can direct me to a product that truly meets my needs.  This is very rare.  The fundamental problem, I feel, is that I don't know exactly what I want, and companies are not set up to help people like me.  What do I know?  I know EXACTLY what function the product needs to perform, in what environment, and I have a general feeling for how robust or light the product needs to be.  It takes the right person on the other end of the line to make the connections, understand the mental sketches used to communicate concepts, and interpret the parameters.

The reason I only pass along parameters and functional descriptions is: if you tell someone exactly what you want, you will get exactly what you ask for.  Dictating exactly what you want takes any expertise or experience the other company could offer out of the equation, and often produces an inferior or flawed solution.  How do we solve this problem?

Create a certification "Person of Qualification".  When I call a company, I would ask for a "Person of Qualification" immediately. I do not need a PoQ if all I need is a price or a quote, but can ask for one if I need some genuine creativity or direction.  PoQ certifications could be field specific, but I think think a general PoQ would cover most of what you need.  Someone who is a PoQ doesn't have to be an expert on everything, but would at least know what they don't know (often as valuable and much less dangerous).

I am kidding of course.  But man is it frustrating dealing with people who just cannot contribute!  All my engineer buddies here are backing my concept :)

Monday, June 25, 2012

So Starts Summer

We are getting closer to Paul's arrival and are on high alert!  To say I am excited to be a dad would be a major undersell.  I think about it constantly - finding myself on the Nokona website looking at a ball glove for the little guy or thinking about what I want to teach him.  I understand I am a bit ahead of myself here.  I realize he won't be sizing beams, fixing the water heater, or picking ground balls for a while; but what can I say?  I am EXCITED!  I hope to inspire in Paul a sense of wonder, curiosity, and a perpetual thirst for knowledge.  I also look forward to playing with Legos again :)

We have been on high alert based on a loose prediction from our doctor that he may arrive early.  A "maybe" from our doctor morphed into certainty in our minds. This, in turn, has caused our hopes to inflate.  We are now anxiously awaiting any sign that he could be on his way.  Unfortunately, we have had NO indication that he will show up early.  What does this amount to?  Me asking Amy every tenth of an hour "Any changes!?".  Thankfully I have a patient wife.

Paul will be a lucky boy.  We are very thankful to have such a great family and great friends.  Amy is going to be such an amazing mom!  This has been a good time for reflection.  Along those lines, we love our new house!  I have spent a lot of time fixing it up to our standards.  Lots of yard work so far and a lot remaining, but we are making progress.  I am learning a lot and enjoying the process of continual home improvement.  I think it will be a great place to raise a family.

Work has been going really well.  As always, I am loving the challenges of my job.  I have been taking on more of a project management role as my project ends the design phase and heads full on into production.  What a great time!  Seeing my designs come together in the shop never gets old.  I am blown away by the talent of the fabricators and machinists I get to work with.  I take every chance I can to learn from them.  I have said it before, but it is always refreshing dealing with truly competent people.  I have also noticed that people who really know what they are doing are VERY willing to share their knowledge and methods.  This project has truly covered all aspects of engineering from controls to structural analysis, and I am pleased to say that I have been intimately involved in every part of it.

Amy is starting a blog to document our lives as parents!  We will be uploading pictures of Paul to that blog and will most likely not be uploading his pictures to Facebook, so add a message in the comments here if you would like access to that blog (will be set to private) and we will get you set up.

Boy, it is hot here!  Slight exaggeration warning: anything aluminum is a few degrees from melting.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Endings and Beginnings

Amy's Grandfather, Howard Dean Bakker, passed away Tuesday, March 6th.  We had a service for him yesterday (March 9th).  He really was a great man and it was a real loss.  I spent countless hours discussing books we had both read, listening to his Navy stories, and talking politics.  He will be truly missed.  Read his obituary here.

It has been announced on Facebook, but I wanted to post on here that Amy and I are expecting!  We will be welcoming our first child, ultrasound says BOY!, on July 1st.  We are absolutely thrilled!  Amy is showing and the time is approaching.  

We are 92% sure of a name for our boy: Paul Andrew Robinette.  I have always liked the name Paul.  After all, he was essentially the writer of the new testament and the hero of one of my favorite sci-fi novels: Dune.  Andrew is my Great Great Grandpa's name on the Robinette side.  Andrew John Patterson came over from Ireland in about 1883.  We still have his bible from catholic school.  I really like the flow of the name and think it should serve Paul well.  Having said that, we still reserve the right to change it!

So, as Howard's life ends a new life begins.  It is a bittersweet time; a time filled with family, joy, and mourning.  I have much more to say on many topics, but this will do for now.  From Lake Havasu City, where Howard lived with his beloved Nadine, so long everyone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


December is in full swing here in Utah.  Temperatures are dipping below freezing, the mountains are covered in snow, and I have been skiing exactly zero times.  I hope that changes in the next month or so. 

Amy is substitute teaching and has been able to be selective on jobs and still manages to work every day.  It has really been a nice job for her; she really enjoys the flexibility.  The schools down here are pretty great with a lot of technology in the classroom.  The kids have been pretty darn good as well.  Best part of subbing in my opinion: not dealing with parents! 

I am sitting in the Delta Lounge at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Note that I am not actually allowed in here on my own as I do not have enough miles yet; I am with a co-worker who gets referred to as "Mr. ____" by Delta staff and could actually probably redeem his miles and buy a mega-yacht or an iPad (yes, that is an Apple price joke from an avid Apple user).  I seriously think he is like a Diamond member or something.  I just got upgraded from lava-rock status.

We are headed home in December for Christmas with the family in Oregon.  We are very excited to meet our niece and see our growing nephew!  It will be really good to catch up with family and friends as well.  So if you are going to be in Southern Oregon at the end of December, let us know!

I just found out that I passed my PE exam!  I am stoked, this is very exciting so if you count yourself as a friend of mine, tip back a beer and celebrate with me long-distance!

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Salute to General Nonsense

Can we all agree on revising politeness to include telling people they have a certain kind of distraction hanging out of their nose?You may be telling me the secret to life or a legit way to make millions from my couch, but all I can focus on is that bat fluttering around the cave entrance.

Now that we have taken care of that, on to other things."What is going on with politics these days!?" is something someone who has the patience to pay attention to the current campaigning might say.I tire quickly of this stuff, so lets avoid this subject.So, what is there to talk about?Plenty.

My niece Josi Ann Teaters was born on November 10th!Mother and daughter are both healthy and happy!We are very fortunate to have a new baby girl in our family and I cannot wait to see what her life will bring.Amy and I really wish we could be there, but we will be home for Christmas, which can't get here fast enough.

Salt Lake area is currently in "mud season", the time between mountain biking season and ski season.I am really excited to get to the ski-hill this year as often as possible.In this downtime, I have been very busy studying for my PE exam, which I sat for at the end of October.It had been a while (4 years) since I had touched many of the subjects covered, so studying was quite the chore.Eight hour tests should only be used on enemies of the state... No fun.And eight weeks to get the results!? For a scantron test!?Maybe the robots are out occupying Wall Street.

Work is going great.It challenges me daily, which I have learned is a requirement for me to remain happy.I am now obsessed with mobile equipment.Drilling is a fascinating industry filled with passionate people.It is the perfect environment for someone who likes to learn.I find that truly competent people share easily and are very open to new ideas.I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by competent people.

Amy and I have been married for five years as of August 26th!Five years and two states later, I still cannot imagine my life without her.Thanks for everything Famous, you are amazing and life with you rocks!

Travelling for work: I have had some great experiences on the road and as usual, I have learned a lot from the people I have encountered.BUT: flying really, really sucks.My shoulders are a curse on an airplane, meaning I have to do this awkward sort of lean into the aisle on commuter jets so my neighbor doesn't have to use my shoulder as a chin-rest.And how bad is the feeling of walking down the aisle and waiting to see who you are stuck next to?I swear I could get on a jet 90% full of horse jockeys and get seated next to an NFL lineman.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!We are very lucky to have guests travelling to SLC to see us.Enjoy your family and friends!