Category Archives: software

NIPSCO – Life Changing Time

Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter

What was I thinking? I was a young professional enjoying a great lifestyle in Northwest Colorado. Yes, life was good, but I started thinking I could make it better, but to do that I would need to expand upon this new career as a chemist.

MitchelPlant

Dean Mitchell Power Station

So I started applying at other power plants around the country and an option that came up was to be a plant chemist at NIPSCO’s Mitchell Power Station in Gary, IN. So I rationalized that Gary would not be terrible and access to Chicago might be cool, etc, etc. We moved to the armpit of America in the Spring of 1980, finding a rental home in Hammond, IN, for my new job in Gary. It took about a week for us to start making plans for how we could get out of this place. I now understand how that young man with an adventurous spirit justified this move, but at that time I had no idea how life changing it would be.

I think the tone was set when I took my required physical exam for the job. I was from Indiana but I had changed into a free spirited mountain man from Colorado. During the exam the nurse asked me if I smoked. So my reply was, sure I smoked some marijuana occasionally, but never tobacco. It never crossed my mind that one should not divulge such information. So three days later I was asked to appear in the plant directors office where I was greeted by plant leadership. They asked me if I knew why I was there and I truly did not. They said, no one has ever answered the question about smoking the way I had. OK, now I realized what I had done and where I did it. I took a moment to speak, but then with great confidence I said: “Look at it this way, I am the most honest person that works here”. And they bought it. I assured them that I would never be under the influence of marijuana while at work and they could totally trust my work ethic. I still cannot believe that I did this, but I totally understand where my state of mind was that allowed me to.

Connie and I were making the best of this home. We rented a fairly cool old house in Hammond. Connie got a job as a legal secretary, we got to visit our family in Indiana, we checked out Chicagoland. I was enjoying the chemist job helping them create more standardized testing procedures.

Our pets were dominating our attention since Coco was about to have pups, Rusty was playing the father dog role and Barney the Cat was establishing his turf. Unfortunately, Barney did not understand the ways of the urban cat gangs. He had been missing for a few days when he showed up all torn up from fighting. We patched him up but he went right back out to retake his turf and we never saw him again. CocoPuppies80We were sad but also a bit impressed by Barney’s determination. Soon Coco had a litter of 12 cute australian shepherd puppies and we were knee deep in puppy poop in our basement. Unfortunately, Coco developed an infection that prevented her from caring for her pups as we might have hoped so Connie and I provided assistance with baby bottles. It was intense for a few weeks and we lost 2 of the pups, but soon we had crazy playful pups all over us.

If we had lived anywhere other than in the Chicago area we could have made some pretty good money off those pups, but soon it was just about finding them good homes, which we accomplished.

It was starting to warm up and the Indiana humidity combined with the industrial pollution of the area was motivating us all the more to escape this horrible place. AppleIIComputerLandA volcano named, Mt St Helens, erupted in the Northwest which created red skies in Chicago that looked like there was a fire in the heavens. Why were we here? But then I discovered a computer store called ComputerLand that was selling the Apple II computer. OMG, I could own a computer. I was obsessed and scraped together enough money to buy the Apple with a monitor, cassette tape drive and thermal printer. There were very few programs available so I started writing my own, quickly realizing that I could develop supporting programs for the chemist work we were doing. There was a dream evolving in my mind where I could envision my new evolving skill parlaying into a computer career. It was also about this time when our plant’s labor union decided to go on strike.

I quickly learned that a strike in the industrial armpit of America was a significant event. Unions in this area were in solidarity when it came to strikes, so when NIPSCO management did not budge and our workers went out on strike it was no longer safe for us non-union strike breakers to conduct our lives as usual. We went into a total plant lockdown where the administrators, supervisors and plant professionals took over responsibility for running the plant. Oh yes, and they paid us triple our salary which would financially pave the way for my exit.

This experience was fascinating to watch the process whereby company management had to prove that they did not need the union workers. The line was drawn and the two sides were facing off which is why we initially had to stay in the plant for like 10 days. Then it was something like out for 3 and in for 7 days at a time. Accomodations were made for us to sleep in areas converted to dorms, but I asked if I could bring my parent’s camping trailer on the property and stay there. 69ShastaTrailerAnd they said yes which sort of set things up for me to stay more independent which is what I had always been since I don’t think anyone else had ever taken a job there from Colorado. We went about our jobs along with some new assignments but we did have free time and everyone seemed to showcase some hobby or personal interest. A coworker who I had gotten to know was a serious saxophone player so I got to observe what that life looked like. For me it was about my computer but I also had this desire to play frisbee on the turbine floor. To do that I had to find someone who could throw so that I could have fun with my acrobatic catches. I guess we were all just trying to show off. But I was learning a lot about people.

VHSBetaFor entertainment we were fortunate to be living at the time of the VHS and Beta Tape battles and no real legal control over the pirating of current run movies. So we were actually watching movies that were in the local theaters. But the ultimate entertainment night would be on my shoulders. I was telling people about my Apple Computer and that I had some games on it. These were typically simple text oriented games but I started to get some of the guys to checkout my football game. A simple play by play where you would run a play or choose a defense and the computer would randomly provide an outcome for the play. I found a way to put in our own names for the players which gave me the idea to create a game based on our own plant groups playing each other. Somehow the hype took off and everyone ended up in the cafeteria one night with my computer displaying the football game action projected onto a screen. We played an entire game where my computer was giving play-by-play results which included the names of most everyone in the room. These hard core power plant professionals went wild cheering for each play and I just made it run. Keeping all of this in context: I’m a 26 year old chemist who came from Colorado and by then everyone knew how I had answered the smoking question and I am orchestrating one of the weirdest parties that I could have imagined. I think that is when I realized that anything was possible and I decided to take my strike pay winfall and go start a computer store and write software in Steamboat Springs, CO. I called Jeff, my college buddy who had just graduated with an MBA and degree in Law to see he wanted to join me. Connie was all in and left for Steamboat with the dogs. Soon after that I resigned from my job at NIPSCO and finalized my move back to Steamboat to launch my new computer career with Jeff.


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Helping Habitat ReStore Sell Online

After retiring and satisfying my need to venture into the wilderness for a number of backpacking trips I have settled back into a volunteer role helping fulfill the mission of Swedemom Center of Giving, SCOG, by helping move our local Habitat ReStore forward with online sales. SwedemomLogoThis all started in 2015 when I helped startup MacHub which laid the groundwork for the SCOG dream. I departed for a year working in Washington and much progress occurred as MacHub became a Causal Hub for the Yamhill County Gospel Rescue Mission under the umbrella of Swedemom Center of Giving and McMinnville Habitat ReStore transitioned from a partial hub to become a full Causal hub. The SCOG mission has always been “To generate financial stability for all nonprofit organizations and ensure the success of their programs”. This has proven to be possible and I am fortunate to have found a way that I can be a part of this dream.

Swedemom provides specialized financial assistance to other nonprofits through the Swedemom LLC online sales platform which utilizes eBay and other similar online sales networks. Our nonprofit partners collect donations of quality goods, sell them on the nationwide Swedemom platform, and become self-sustaining hubs that generate funds for their charitable programs. The original Swedemom sales website is about to be replaced with options to allow the individual hubs to show their own items. This will be so valuable for the ReStore to have their own online sales presence.

ReStore-Online-Logo

I have joined the SCOG Board of Directors but my focus is on helping the McMinnville Habitat ReStore become a successful casual hub. They have been developing this hub since I was helping MacHub and they have been making consistent progress with a the prospect of a huge upside potential. The ReStore model is a perfect fit, they have a donations intake operation that can easily expand beyond just taking in building and home items. For the last couple of months I have been providing consistency for running the ReStore Hub which in turn has given me a working perspective on the overall effort needed to be successful. Many of you may know how to sell items on eBay, however, taking it to a inventory based operation with daily sales fulfillment requires an organizational commitment.

We have a long way to go to fine tune the Swedemom model but we have the people and enough resources to guarantee success. Helping Habitat for Humanity fulfill their dream to create “A world where everyone has a decent place to live” does resonate with my passion. This is “Way Cool”, stay tuned as we get ready to setup more Habitat ReStore Hubs in Oregon.

Helping to Launch MacHub

I’m finished backpacking for a while so I have some time before I jump back into the IT world of higher education. This gives me the opportunity to volunteer full-time in support of a worthy non-profit that is based on selling donated items online so that the proceeds can go to a designated charity. It is called MacHub and it was all made possible because the successful online sales business, Swedemom, transitioned into this non-profit version. I had no idea that I would end up helping MacHub, it could be that  God had His hand on this and maybe He is calling in a favor for saving my life on the Lost Coast Trail earlier this month.

There is no doubt that this MacHub venture is a great idea, but success will take some hard work and discipline. There are all kinds of charity selling models that work for the local demographics. But what if you had an option to get top value for your donations by selling it online to an international market. Of course this concept was made possible by the eBay online selling model, but anyone who has sold on eBay knows that it is not that simple. MacHub has been discovered rather quickly here in McMinnville, OR, which means that managing growth has already become a problem. MacHub benefits include more than just cash for charities, jobs for the homeless is also an outcome. But it is a business that must control expenses so that the realized proceeds for the Charity will justify the effort.

Success for MacHub does appear to be inevitable. The transition of assets from Swedemom and the use of their sophisticated database and sales processing software is invaluable. Combine that with a community that immediately rallied around the concept thanks to strong support from the local Newspaper, a small grant and a parent organization, Yamhill County Gospel Rescue Mission, YCGRM, plus dedicated people and you have a winning formula. And as my departed mentor, Bill Mitchell, used to advise, the goal only needs to be to “Do Good”. 

What is really cool about this business model is that the donors can become partners. The simplest option is for a donor to just drop off items similar to the Goodwill model so that the proceeds can help cover the costs of the MacHub expenses. But a donor typically will designate the charity to receive the proceeds from the sale of their items, and they can get an account to actually check the status and validate the donation value for IRS purposes. Any organization can qualify to be a partner of varying levels based on the the amount of item preparation work they want to provide.

We are now working out the details for establishing an umbrella organization that will handle the administrative duties to ensure that the software continues to be developed and is maintained. The need for an umbrella non-profit is due to the interest by other organizations around the country wanting to start their own version of MacHub. We currently have a pilot version in Chicago that is more of a single charity supporting a large homeless shelter and one near St. Louis that is a community model like Mac Hub.

Be Supportive not Restrictive

I was outside recently watching our Research Support Student employees fly our helicopter drone over campus capturing some great autumn video.

Abby

Abby

I also had my dog, Abby, with me since I designated it to be “bring your dog to work friday”. Well Abby was generating some interest from students homesick for their pets while I got into a conversation with a couple of our IT Support Services Student employees about their programming ideas. These ideas come from our encouragement for our student employees to explore ways that we might improve our business processes. The idea was about a web app that the student workers could use to trade shifts with their coworkers. The gist of the conversation quickly focused on their perception that IT only recommended development based on Perl. Well he mentioned this to the right guy, actually the boss, but really what a ridiculous perception that obviously had roots from the past. But that type of preferential influence will not fly today.

Perl does have a significant development presence here and there is nothing wrong with Perl, but that should not dictate the requirements of future development. The student asked if he could develop in PHP but was told that PHP was not secure. Well maybe that a general statement with some merit but probably not of concern for a student employment shift sharing application. The student actually wanted to use Python and then our conversation steered toward new ideas like the possibility that WordPress might be utilized. My major point with bringing this up is that we in IT have to be cognizant of the influence we convey and that our way is not the only way. IT should remember when they were the radical adopters of new application platforms. Consider the fights they must have had with cobol and fortran proponents.

30 Years Since Visicalc

This week marks the 30 year anniversary for the release of Visicalc, the software application that launched the micro-computer industry. Maybe most remembered for the fact that the author’s never patented visicalc and saw the idea turned into a fortune by Lotus 123. The first true Open Source release unfortunately ahead of its time.

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