Generators for homeowners and hackers. (how to keep the heat on without burning down the house, or killing a lineman)

I want to preface this with a warning that I am not an electrical engineer, or an electrician.  You should use this information as a guide to get started but do your own due diligence.  Only those qualified should do work on your house electrical systems.

This all started thanksgiving this year.  Our only snow of the season so far.  I was hauling a Megabot suit across the country leaving my wife home alone.  When we purchased our house, we had some clear signs of damage from freezing pipes.  The previous owner did what could best be described as quarter assed prevention of them freezing again.  The garage door was off it's tracks, heat tape had been taped to some pipes, and pink foam panels had been affixed to the ceiling to try and keep the pipes from freezing.  All of this depended on having electricity.

The electricity went out.  Libby went to stay at her sisters who had power and eat a thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat and didn't get up till the very next morning.  I was on the road and could not help so I called up my friend Tyler who was eating dinner at his parents house.  He was able to come and drain the water from our pipes and help us make sure we did not have our pipes blow again.  My wife strongly urged that we come up with a better solution to power outages.

Step One: identify power needs.  

How much power will you need to provide?  This is a decision you will need make based on needs and wants as a trade off.  Most importantly, how do you heat the house to keep pipes from freezing?

Wood Stove 

If you have wood stove you just need some wood and you are good to go.  Anything beyond this will become luxury.  To power this type of heater, you will need a large breakfast of eggs and bacon.  You may have some air circulation fans that should be powered, but this will be very low on the power requirements.

Electric Heat

This will be hard if not impossible to run off a portable generator.  An 80,000 btu Electric heater requires approximately 25kw of power.  This can be costly to run and is expensive equipment.  You will likely save money over all by converting to natural gas.  Check with your local utility for available rebates.

Propane/Natural Gas/Wood Pellets

The heating systems use other fuel than electricity for a power source.  This means that the electricity required is for circulation, venting of exhaust gas, and air handling.  This is just a fraction of the required power and can easily be handled by a small generator.

Calculating power needs.

Power needs are very easy to calculate.  We will use watts as our power unit for this.  Most pieces of equipment will have a label that explains the power requirements under maximum load.  When motors turn on, they draw more energy.  For anyone who does not have a moderate understanding of Ohms Law recommend that everyone go out and get Solar power for dummies.  The concepts of power and energy are well laid out and will get you started with a self evaluation.  
My set up has a natural gas fired hot water heater and hydronic power source for baseboard heaters.
The heat is distributed by circulation pumps to different zones in my house.  On the right, the zone controller from Taco takes input from thermostats and circulates water to conduct heat.  On the floor is a condensate pump this removes condensate from the system.  Negligible at best.
Lets look at what my heater requires for power.  It has two 3 amp 120 volt pumps.  The manual does not state input amperage or total wattage so I will need to do some more research.   
 Since the heater did not give me enough information I needed to go to the instruction manual.  I did not try and get down on the ground, so the information could have been on a panel that I did not see.  I looked over the entire unit but it does not give me information on total draw so I will use an empirical estimate of 15 amps since that is the size of the circuit.

The water heater was sitting next to it so I grabbed that info as well.   
I now have two of the three things I really care about.  The last is the fridge.  Since I don't really care that much, I again am going to assume 15 amps.  If I actually care I would put a clamp meter on one of the hot wire to find out what the draw is.  This can be deceiving.  On start up many of these motors will draw up to twice the operating current of the item.  If you are not comfortable splitting out wires, pick up a line splitter for safety.  These two items can also be used when reducing power consumption within your house.  

When looking at any electrical device, if they don't call out an amperage, then they will likely call out a wattage.   For items that just give you a watt rating, the calculation is very simple.  WATTS = VOLTS * AMPS.  So on a 120 Volt line AMPS= WATTS/VOLTS  so my 1200 watt microwave can be calculated 1200W/120V=10A  This also shows the benefit of high efficiency items in the house.  a 60 watt conventional light bulb is equivalent to an 8 watt LED bulb.  Are you starting to see a theme here?  Reducing energy consumption saves money every day on the electricity bill.  Saving energy also saves money on what the generator system requires.  
A load center with no Breakers installed.  
Next I need to look at how the load is balanced.  Residential electricity is split into two legs.  It comes in with two lines that together have a 240 volt potential.  The neutral wire has a 0 volt ground reference and will show each leg as 120 volts.  What does this mean for you as a future generator operator?  It means that if all of your vital where the breakers are installed.  If all of the important circuits are on a single leg you will not be able to fully utilize your generator, or need to buy a larger generator than required.  If this does not make sense to you, I recommend you contact a qualified electrician.  If load balancing will help, this can be done when you install the transfer switch.  
A sample power chart.

In the above chart, I have given an example of what this may look like.  I am having a new service installed so I am going to have my load balanced then.  What you do see in this chart is that my dryer and stove take a lot of electricity.  In order to buy a 500 dollar generator instead of a 3,000 dollar generator you will have to make concessions and not use the stove and oven for the duration of the power outage.  In the following chart you can see what my plan would be.
Emergency power loading.
 You will need to reduce power consumption until full power is restored or purchase a larger generator.  The stove does not use full power when only a single burner is running so you can still cook a meal or heat some tea.  If you have gas power stove and dryer, this is a non issue.  A comparable burner is 1000 watts of power or about 8 amps.

Generators are usually rated by watt output.  We will have to get our amp total back to watts with the simple WATTS=AMPS*VOLTS.  Important note!  Since some generators will be a 240 volt connection, it will draw from both sides at a maximum.  30Ax120V+12A*120V=5040W.  This is what the number lead you to believe.  In reality, we need to double the highest load side and use that for the power calculation.  30Ax120V+30A*120V=7200W  So a 7200 watt generator would be needed to operate this at full capacity.

Step Two: Choose a generator

Many of these units will have two power rating, intermittent and continuous.  For all of my reference, assume I am talking about continuous power.  When looking at stats talk in continuous power output and make sure any sales people you talk to provide information in this format.  

Inverter: 200-400$

My first plan which was possible was to get an inverter.  You can get a high duty cycle model that can output 600 watts continuous for reasonable money.  This can run off of a car battery with the car running for a period of time.  It is a solution that is a compromise on many levels, thee car is not meant to sit and idle for long periods and the electrical system is not designed for constant draw high current like this.  However, if the choice is to risk damaging your alternator, or freezing the pipes, it may be worth it.  This can also be a stop gap if the supply of generators has dried up in the area and the power is still out.  You may damage your car with this method for long periods of use.  I recommend borrowing your mother in laws car for this reason.  Shut off headlights and AC for best results.

Small quiet portable generator:  500- 1500$  

I have two recommendations for small quiet generators.   They have a few benefits I would like to go over first.  Quiet means they are less likely to annoy your neighbors while running all night in your warm house as they shiver in their fortress of poor preparation.  It is also light and easy to move around.  A down side is that it is easy to steal.  The Ryobi 2200 is a great unit for the money.  It is a knock off of the Honda EU2000ia unit that is a favorite of Burning man attendees.  It is small quiet and aesthetically pleasing.  Honda also makes a Parallel cable that allows two units to be used in concert.  This puts the entire kit for a 4000 watt generator to 3250$.  It is quiet and a reliable system.  It is also a nice take along system for camping or working on the cabin so it may have some non financial benefits.  Ryobi makes a similar kit ST-PKIT2000 that has constantly varying stock.  If you plan to go this route, purchase one when you see it.  

Medium Portable Generator 300-2500$

You can start with the Harbor Freight special for 200 and it goes up from there.  If you don't buy a good generator in the first place, you will still pay for an expensive unit in maintinance and still not have it in the end.  I would spend a few more dollars and buy something that has some grunt.  The more reputable manufacturers will be honest with the numbers.  I like Generac as a brand.  They have decent support and and a large distribution channel.  Do some research before hand and make sure that once you buy the generator, someone local can do warranty work as well as maintenance within a reasonable driving distance.  I like a good 7500 watt system.  When you buy it, spend the extra few dollars to buy a wheel kit and a cover.  this thing will spend most of it's life in a corner doing nothing.  these can weigh 100-300 pounds so get a buddy to help you lift it.  Portable generators can give you up to 20,000 watts of power available.  Once you get to this level, connecting and disconnecting from the household power becomes a problem.  12,000 continuous watts is about the upper limit of what you want to connect and disconnect from your home.  

Permanently installed generator 3500$ and up plus instalation

You have PMV11 blades on all of your hand planes you keep in a climate controlled cabinet with back lighting.  You don't want an extra step when the power goes out to get seamless transfer to the Independent republic of my house.  These and many other reasons exist that you want or need to have power.  Built in generators   have very few downsides.  The biggest one is cost.  The initial cost is going to be much higher than the equivalent portable unit.  Installation cost will be slightly higher for a manual transfer switch vs a bit more for an automatic.  Cost will very by application.  For greater power than 12000 watts this is the only reasonable off the shelf option.  Fuel will often be Propane or natural gas.  If you have a propane tank for heat, this will be a simple choice.  If you have natural gas, you can risk loosing pressure which rarely happens but can during extreme winter power loss situations.  Propane will give you the best stand alone solution.  

Step three: Getting power into the house

Important note!  When you connect a generator to your house it needs to be disconnected from the grid.  Linemen work on the lines in a power outage with an expectation that they are off.  If you turn on your generator after they have checked for power, you can kill them.  the power you are putting into the line is only 240 volts, but it comes down a step down transformer.  When back fed, this ups the voltage to upwards of 1000 volts.  The reason for an interlock is to physically prevent back feeding of the system.  
This is how you kill people.

Double make cords are known as widow makers for a reason.  They can come out of a socket and leave a live 120 volt source (or 240 if you are using a larger plug) out and in the open for killing children and pets.  I am giving a few options of how to get power into your house.

Oh shoot, it is a snow storm and we are not at all ready: 0$ and up

In the middle of the storm, you have somehow gotten a generator.  Unfortunately you did not do any preparation and can't figure out how to plug the generator into the heater.  Somewhere around your heater is an electrical box.  Once you find it, go to Facebook on your phone and beg your friends who may be an electrician or know of one who can come to your house and fix this problem for the low cost of a boat payment.  Do not try and do this yourself unless you completely understand how everything is wired and the experience to safely change over the circuit.  If you do decide that you know what you are doing, get into that box and separate the connection after you have shut the circuit off at the box.  Cap off the unused supply with wire nuts connect an adequate power cord that can then be connected to an extension cord and reach the generator.  This is a pretty simple set up and is easy to reverse.  Once the storm is over, do it properly.  Every step you take think about potentials.  Ask yourself will this put anyone at risk?  When the power comes back on, what will happen?  Just so it is said 7 times, if you don't know what you are doing, don't mess with this.  My house burned down last year due to poor existing wiring.

One circuit for the heater: 100$  + Installation 

Reliance makes a nice transfer switch that will switch over a single circuit.  All in, you are looking at about 300 dollars installed by a licensed electrician.  This can be done easily by a competent DIY person.  You need some amount of wire to make the junction so you should locate this box near another junction box that exists.  If the breaker panel has space, having the shutoff near the breaker panel makes for a simpler operation of the transfer.  ProTip have a flashlight near the breaker box that is ready to go during a power outage.  I recommend a headlamp style led light.  It keeps both of your hands free for trying to start the generator.  This is also great for inverter installs that are going to be 1500 watts or less power.  

Sister Box:  250-800$ + Installation 

Reliance makes another great product that allows you to switch over only a few select circuits.  This is for a transfer switch that runs in parallel for 2-10 circuits.  You can switch things off individually based on needs.  This is a great option if you have a 200 amp modern service installed.  If you have limited power and members of your household who can't consciously change behaviors based on power consumption.  These will often be rated at 7500 watts.  This is due to the limitations of a 30 amp 240 volt connection.  It is the most common connector on generators for RV's and has trickled down into backup generators where the two markets cross over.  

Load center transfer switch:  500$ + installation

Load centers with mechanical interlocks.  This means that you can't physically back feed the line and put linemen at risk.  You will find two styles of manual transfers.  they will be designated with fractions.  The previously linked load center is labelled 40/40 which means that in both standard and generator modes, all circuits get power.  Critical load transfer switches have a limited amount of "utility circuits" that function during generator power and "standby circuits" that are only energized while connected to the grid.  Many of these boxes come ready to have an automatic transfer switch installed.  If you have any thought about doing this in the future, choose a box that can be retrofitted during the initial installation.   In order to install this, you will be dealing with the main service coming from the road.  This will not have an easily accessible shut off so bringing in a pro is a good investment.  During this step, talk to your electrician about load balancing.  With the clamp meter and a friend, you can map out what each circuit supplies and how much current is required.  Giving this information to your electrician ahead of time will make sure they know what you want.   

This is the option I chose for my installation.  The number one reason I chose this was fear.  Earlier this year, my wife and I lived through a fire.  It was started by existing electrical work that shorted. 
Additional contributing reasons for the change:
  • In our new house, we have an old 100 amp service.  
  • Some of the breakers need to be replaced.  The breakers are old and hard to find a replacement for.  
  • I want to install a cnc mill and a welder in the garage and this will require more power.
  • We run a very efficient house so a small amount of power will run the whole house on the generator.  
  • The cost of a service upgrade was 1800 alone.  The cost of a 30 amp generator hook up was 800 installed.  Together, I get 400 dollars off and everything done in one day.  
  • The new service will also give me smart grid features so I can better monitor our energy uses.  

Automatic transfer switch:  500-1000$ + Installation

I have no experience and have done zero research on theses.  If this is what the route you are going, you should contact someone local who specializes in the systems.  I would also recommend choosing a single source solution.  if you buy a generac generator, buy a generac automatic transfer switch.  They will integrate better and dealing with service and warranty is simpler.  by integrating two different manufacturers, they will both blame each other when a problem does come up.  This is also the only reasonable option for 12,000 watt and greater continuous generators.  

Step four: Plugin it in

Now that you have a thing wired, you need to connect it to the generator.  If you have hardwired it, you can skip this step.  

Extension cord: 25-300$

Length and current will determine how large a wire diameter you will need.  You have already spent well north of 500$ at this point so don't skimp on the cord.  Get a dedicated cord that sits with the generator.  It is not an extension cord, it is part of the generator.  It should be stored in a pouch attached to the generator coiled neatly.  For 15 amps, get 12 gauge up to 100 feet.  For 20 amps get 10 gauge up to 100 feet.  For 30 amps ,get 10 gauge up to 65 feet.  For 50 amps up to 50 feet get 6 gauge.  You may need thicker cable for longer distances.  This is a jumping off point that will get you a safe cord.  Please do research in what cord you plan to link the generator to your house.  Get a bright color if possible.  This will stick out when you are trying to find it in the snow.  It also may help you avoid cutting the cord in half with a snow blower.  (ask me how I know)


Standard outlets: Nema 5-15 and 5-20

This is the same outlet you will use almost everywhere in your house and at work.  You will need an extension cord of some kind to connect them.  This should be a sturdy weather sealed cord ideally with lighted ends at each side.  This will help when it comes time to trouble shoot operation.  Depending on your amperage this may all that is needed.

30 amp Twist lock 14-30 

If you are doing 30 amp 240, this is the only choice in my opinion.  The 14-30 twistlock is widely used and available in many different configurations.  Twistlocks give a positive engagement and will stay secure in the generator and power inlet on the house.  Buy a good brand that is UL listed as a product.  When it comes time to enter the house, weather proof assemblies are available.  

50 amp Twistlock 

I am unsure of what the actual nema code on this is.  When you get up to this size, you will likely be building a custom cord.  The female plug assemblies have three prongs and the ground is an outside contact of the connector.  They have a mechanical lock beyond just the brings for a secure connection.  

The power inlet has a male plug version of this.  It will transfer a large amount of mechanical force so it should be securely fastened to a stud with heavy lags or deck screws.  

On the generator side, often you will find this straight blade plug set.  

Minimum rated components

When selecting the components for the cord, keep in mind that you need over current devices.  whatever parts you put between  the generator and your heater need to be rated for the maximum allowable amperage.  For instance, if you know the heater only draws 1 amp, but the main breaker is rated for 50 amps, everything up until the heater needs to be rated for 50 amps.  

I have ended up with a 50 amp power inlet twist lock, and then a 10 gauge 30 foot cord to the 30 amp twistlock.  This will allow me to upgrade to a higher power generator in the future.   

Step five: Kick the tires and light some fires

Here is a list of tips for operation of the generator.
  • If the generator is heavy, get a wheel kit, or build one.  On rough terrain, bigger casters are better.
  • Use 93 octane fuel.  It will make starting easier.
  • Put in fuel stabilizer whenever fuel is stored in the generator.
  • Make sure the generator starts up around September.  You don't want to find out about needed repair work during the power outage.  
  • Have spare oil.  Use synthetic detergent free.
  • Turn your spare gas.  Put a little manila hang tag with purchase date written in pencil or grease pen.  Ink pens will bleed from the fuel.  Keep about a gallon in the generator, the rest keep in a fuel jug.  Once every few months, dump it in your cars tank and refill the 5 gallon container.  
  • Fuel has a shelf life when it has all of the additives that are now required.  
  • The new CARB complaint tanks are a pain to work with.  If you have older jugs, hold onto them.  
  • When the power is out, people can get desperate.  If they need a generator, they may take yours.  The first line of defense is to stash it away in the back yard or side where it is not so easy to see from the street.  Once you have planned out where it will be, figure out a way to lock it to your house.  Backing your car up and chaining it to a subframe member works great in a pinch until you forget and drive away dragging it with you.  A cable lock with an anchor point should be planned.  
  • Think about how you will get the generator from the storage to service.  If it is burred in the back of the garage, you will be kicking yourself while digging it out with a flashlight.
  • Test your setup and practice hooking it up.  Teach others in the house to operate it as well.  They may need to refuel and restart it.
  • Have a spare spark plug.
  • Have a can of starting fluid handy.
  • When hiring an electrician, get references from friends and family.  The reference should not be "Hire my boyfriend, he is a great electrician".  It should be "I hired Sue to do this job and she was a good communicator, showed up when she said she would.  She completed the job to my satisfaction and I would recommend her to anyone who needs work done."  
    • If you can't get a reference, try and find an electrician who has been at it for a while.  Angies List is a good source for this.
    • Doing business with friends and family can be stressful.  Expectations often are not made clear on one or both sides prior to the work that needs to be done. 
    • The electrician pays less than you for materials.  He will charge you the same price, or more than you would pay at home depot.  He is not screwing you, this is part of the business model.  If you buy your own supplies, the electrician likely won't cover them with a guarantee.  And may even increase the cost of the job.
    • An electrician is like a doctor.  You pay them for their experience, not so they can recite the nema code book.  When you explain your goals, listen to the feedback they give you. 
    • this person is going to be in your house, you should feel comfortable with them to be in your house with you.
    • They should pull permits for you and show you a license.  Go online and verify it is a valid license. 
  • If your neighbors do not have a generator, figure out what it would take to tap off a little bit of power.  
Be safe everyone!  


Life lesson's from Aubuchon Hardware

When I was 15, I was hired for my first job.  I was a stock boy at Aubuchon hardware store number 019 for minimum wage at the end of ninth grade.  I was one of four employees.  Myself, Dennis , Tim the assistant manager and John, the guy who got me the job.  On my first day as Dennis started training me he showed all the compassion that a former marine would to a know-it-all kid.  “just go and front shelves, it should only take 5 minutes for each shelf.”  I was then immediately sent downstairs for a can of plaid paint.  If you are not familiar with a can of plaid paint, it is similar to a left handed screwdriver and the chrome plated muffler bearing.  It does not exist.  While I was looking for it, i was told to make a list of the paints that were not plaid and organize them.  They had not only played a trick on me, but also gotten me to inventory and organize the basement.  

Some might say that I was being taken advantage of, but 17 years later I can tell you that I was being trained to be a good person.  If it was a goal of theirs or not, Dennis, Tim and the rest of the crew didn't give me an unearned compliment or conversely an undue criticism.  At every job you have to take some abuse.  At my current job I take a bunch every day and often think back to some of my first abuse by customers.  Some interactions of note.  “I was climbing under the caution tape and tripped on a hole in the floor.  You have to pay for my medical bills.”  “I gave the drain cleaner in a bag to my kid in her car seat and she opened it and ruined my carpet.  I expect you to pay for the repair!”  “How dare you charge me 8 cents for this screw, It was only 5 cents in 1972.”  “I want a refund, My wife doesn't like this paint color.”

I had planned to have my children work at Aubuchon Hardware when it came time to get a job.  Now that My wife and I own a house, we find much need for a hardware store.  I am guilty of going to homedepot and lowes when I need things at 9 at night for a project.  I go to Amazon prime and get parts for my car, the house and work.  I could go to local places, but it is so convenient to just click on my phone and have it show up at my house.  The 20 minute drive to the store is saved, but the 10 minute conversation with Dennis or his staff is missed.  I saw the info on my facebook feed that store number 19 had closed and felt guilty for not spending more of my money at my local hardware store.  I had plans to buy all the paint for my house for our interior renovations.  I am sure many failures have been attributed to best intentions, but in this case, I wonder if I bought those 10 gallons of paint, would the store have pushed to the other side of the bubble?

The biggest vote of confidence Dennis and the store could have was from my brother in-law Wes.  He is a master rock worker and knows what most every tool does and how to use it.  When we talked about hardware stores, he said “Dennis knows what he is talking about”  If you knew Wes, you would know that is one of the highest forms of respect he can give someone.  That's what we lost on Monday.  

And now some life lessons everyone should learn That I learned at 217 Main street Nashua, NH.

Everyone’s money spends the same.    
Dennis was the first adult I dealt with outside of my church, school and family.  All of those situations were basically white middle class college educated individuals.  Working on main street was my first experience with other races, religion, and sexual orientation.  Denis treated everyone the same.  Everyone that came in the door had a problem.  We likely had the solution or could recommend where they could find the right solution.  The only color he saw was green.  The only issue we ever had was with language barriers.  This was pre smartphones and pre internet.  We used a combination of pointing, drawing and charades to bridge the barrier.  

If you don’t know the answer, admit it.
I wanted to know everything.  I wanted to answer every question with the correct answer.  I watched Dennis and Tim say all the time “I don’t know how to fix that”  They may recommend another store, or a professional.  I try and mimic how Dennis would answer with no humility or reservation, “I don’t know”

Treat everyone like they own the company.
With the recent Market Basket work stoppage, we can see that shareholders and stakeholders all came together to force a change.  A company needs to hold it’s customers in as high an esteem as the company owners if not better.  One Saturday A middle aged woman came in and wanted 4 bags of concrete.  I was likely getting ready to leave and go to a party and had mentally checked out.  I responded to her with “I hope you have a strong back.”  It was taken in jest but I likely should have showed her a better customer experience.  Turns out the last name of that random customer was AUBUCHON.  You can’t go wrong if you look at every customer as someone who signs your paycheck.  

We don’t return Plungers or Toilet seats.
Don’t get me wrong, I would give you your money back, but I did not want the item back.  This taught me that sometimes I had to take it on the chin.  The customer may or may not be right, but if I take the return, I will have to deal with a used plunger.  Some days you lose, it happens, get over it and move on.

No two people ever see the same thing.
One Saturday night, we sold a table saw.  Nothing spectacular about it, customer paid via check and we loaded it into his truck.  We were running the check verification when the guy took off with the saw before we got the now obvious “that check is made of rubber.  This evening, Tim was the manager, Phil and I were clerks and we all three screwed this up.  Dennis had trained us better than this but we were so eager for the sale we let go of the item BEFORE we verified the check.  We called the police and he took our statements.  I recalled the guys truck, a 93 F250 super duty with a standard cab, full size bed and west coast style mirrors.  Phil saw the woman with him 5”6” brown hair, brown eyes etc, etc.  Tim saw the man with a goatee, mid 40’s, about 200 pounds etc, etc.  All three of us stood next to each other, one saw a woman, one saw a truck, and one saw a man.  I didn't even recall the woman.  When you have 3 people in a room having a conversation all three can hear something different and still be right.  

Some days we let a shoplifter go because it is the right thing to do.  
We had an elderly lady Rita come in about once a week.  I am pretty sure she was a crotchety lady, but she just wanted a warm place to wait for her taxi or the bus.  She would come in and steal a bag of Circus peanuts.  Phil and I would take turns paying for her 50 cent bag of Circus peanuts off the candy rack as she would go in and take one each week.  I don’t really know why, she was mean and yelled, but at the time it seemed like what we should do.  

Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon.
If you go to purchase a gallon of paint, the paint is not the water, it is the weight that is greater than 8 pounds that is paint.  No matter what the MFG says if you want a good paint job, you need to prep the walls, use two coats of primer and two coats of paint.  When you have a gallon of paint that weighs 8.5 pounds, it is about the same is putting milk on your wall for coverage.

“The key machine is broken” may actually mean I don’t want to make keys.
If I was working Sundays alone, I would shut down the paint machine, glass cutter, and key cutter.  I couldn't make 20 copies of your apt key and keep an eye on the store.  When dealing with companies now I suspect white lies and will sometimes call people on it if I need the service done.  This was a lesson in not over committing.  I won't figure it out until two years from now hopefully, but I can at least identify it now.  

Sketchy people do sketchy things.
When the sketchy painter looking guy asks where the spray paint is and then just leaves without buying anything something is up.  When you get a gut feeling, 9 times out of 10 it is based on something.  About a half hour later, him and his lady (a generous description) came back with osha yellow mouth and nose areas.  They could not find the spray paint on the return trip and we asked them to not come back.  This was the first time I had an up close interaction with an addict.  Before meeting them, I had disgust for addicts.  After this interaction, I felt sorry for them.  It pulled out the christian in me that just wanted to help them get better.  They were not ready to accept help.

People in the store are more important than people that might be in the store.  
It was a few years prior to my employment that Aubuchon’s got a phone in nashua.  883-1400 is one of the few numbers I have ever remembered.  Dennis always said to pay attention to the customer in the store, then the phone.  When talking to someone don’t just ignore your phone, ignore it without checking it.  Make a show of it that you are actively listening. It is a sign of respect that you are giving your entire attention to the customer.  I fail at this at work often because I am stretched so thin, I don’t recognize how little focus I am giving my current interaction.  

Getting fired usually isn't personal
I was trying to work two full time jobs and a Sunday shift at Aubuchon.  Turns out you can’t work 96 hours per week and still go drinking with your buddies and not get fired.  It was not because Dennis had it out for me, it was because he needed to have an employee show up and work when he needed it.  Debbie at Tool Liquidation Center fired me the next day I think.  Again, not let go for any other reason than I over committed and did not show up.  Both of them called me, said it wasn't working out and let me go.  It was professional and polite.  Now I have more volunteers than employee’s which is an even harder person to fire since they get no compensation.  I try and set clear expectations and check to see if they are doing what they need to by when it needs done.  When I have to let someone go, I try and just be straight forward.  

Don’t get between a husband and wife argument about paint colors.
Will my wife like this color of paint?”  
At least weekly we would get a wayward husband coming in to buy paint for a remodeling project.  They had good intentions and would stare at the paint wall for 2 minutes, hastily choose a color and then ask me if their wife would like the color.  Here was Dennis's response.  “Sir, I love my wife, but she would kill me if I did not check with her before choosing a paint color.  Take this color pallet home with you, decide together and come back.”  I imagine a few marital conflicts were avoided by this.  When they show up together and put you in the middle of the decision of what color, choose black.  No one wants black paint inside a house and they should leave you out.  

People will re-frame a question to try to get you to validate their screw up.
We would get customers in and they would give you this hypothetical question to which you would give them the correct answer.  They would then re-frame the problem hoping for a different answer.  Dennis taught me how to let a man know he screwed up and still hold his head high at the end.  

I am sure more will come to me with time.  But recalling all of this was tough to think that no one will ever get to have the experience I had working at this hardware store.  They won't make bets on identifying screw threads by sight from three feet away with customers.  They won’t spend hours looking for a can of plaid paint while co workers laugh upstairs.  They won’t get to have florescent light bulb sword fights.  They also won’t have a boss who doesn't even ask questions when you ask for material donations for your Eagle Scout project.  15 years later, Denis handed me all of his glass scraps for use at MakeIt Labs.  I think as we revitalize main street we may have lost one of the staples of main street.  It is a sad day that we as a community can’t support a small business like this.  I am part of the problem.   

Sorry Aubuchon hardware, we failed you.  From Nashua  


How to UnMake a Makerspace build thread: Why I make things, Part 2 My Biggest Influence.

Full disclosure, I work often 7 days a week.  I scheduled this post to happen on fathers day so I could let my dad know how important what he did with me when I was younger.  Turns out that is next Sunday, but it is still on the schedule for publication.  Happy father day Bob Masek, you are a pretty great father!

I have a lot of influences in my early life.  I could go on for hours about so many memories from the early morning Saturday morning infomercial tool guy to my excitement at the sears wish book every year.

Let me give you some back ground on the legend that is Bob Masek.  He is a stubborn man.   I think he may have gotten it from his mom.  Grandma would get an idea, and you could either be on board, or be on board.  How stubborn you ask?  His CB handle was the plow.  He got it while working at Boyscout camp in upper Wisconsin. He would plow through tasks with a force that I have not ever seen paralleled.  They built things, drank beer and enjoyed the woods.  It is not that dissimilar to what happens at most maker spaces.  He went to college for mechanical engineering and took a job in Peoria IL at Caterpillar where he met my Mom at a ski club.  He worked as a young engineer until they realized that Bob Masek was a talker.  He ended up as some type of fleet sales engineer.  I never fully understood his job when I was younger.  They ended up in NH and made three little kids.  My sisters all own drills, and can change a tire so they were not ignored.  I however loved turning wrenches.  

On Saturday mornings we would go down to his workshop.  He had a workbench made of an old hollow core door with a 1/4 inch sheet of Masonite on top of it.  It had a few coats of shellac and a Craftsman machinist vice with bend handles from using cheaters on them.  It wasn't just a work holding device.  It was an anvil.  It was a bearing press.  It was a sheet metal brake.  It was a flattening die.  It seamed like every thing we did involved that vice.  a 13 inch black and white tv sat on a shelf and it played this old house, the New Yankee Workshop and American Bandstand.  Dad would always try and show how cool he was by knowing the hip music.  This system would involve messing with the antennas and adjusting v hold, h hold, ans some other knobs that I can't recall.  

I don't know if we even owned safety glasses.  When things didn't fit, we had a wide assortment of hammers, pry bars, cheaters, brass punches, and other implements of destruction.  Under the bench we had boxes of "the good chemicals you can't buy anymore," power cables, extension cords, masonry tools, paint, and other things you might file under hoarding.  Then there was his craftsman tool chest.  It had a silver frame with red drawers.  Every drawer was overloaded.  and the slides required constant maintenance.  Each tool had been hand engraved with RBM his initials.  All of my tools are initialed with RJM, just like my grandfather.  5-piece Offset (45°) Box End  was my favorite set of wrenches to use. Anytime we would run into a metric bolt it was a "communist conspiracy".  

I vividly recall going to Hammer Hardware and Osgoods Hardware.  We would go and look for the one bolt we needed.  We would go to all of the specialty shops to get car parts, vacuum parts, springs for the dishwasher at the Maytag place.  This was not a time of Amazon Prime.  It was a time of a file cabinet with every manual to everything we bought.  Parts diagrams were not a searchable document.  It required phone calls, filling out hand written order forms with checks and waiting weeks for parts to show up.  Many a time we had to give up and fabricate the replacement part or modify something to work.  As time has gone on it was no longer affordable to replace the windings on a motor in the Shop Vac, it is cheaper to replace the entire unit than to buy just the part.

I was brought as a Bohemian.  I didn't realize it at the time, but the statement was actually a slightly raciest commentary on how cheap the Czechs were.  In order to be cheap, we had to be resourceful and efficient.  I want to give a few examples of working with my dad and how he came up with creative solutions to complex or non existent problems.  

CAD- Cardboard Aided Design

We used to cut up file folders for everything.  Before I could manipulate things on a computer in Solidworks, I learned to visualize it.  We would build a scale model of each room and all the furniture.  If we wanted to rearrange the room, we would take out all of the little scale footprints and move them around by hand.  As kids, this taught us spacial reasoning and an understanding of not just the size of things, but how to think about the human factors of floor plans.

Calibrated extension cords.

My dad was stubborn and would not hook into the city sewer.  He made a scaled drawing of where the opening was but we did not own a tape measure that was long enough to measure it.  He had two extension cords that were marked off with the proper lengths.  He could have done it with string, but knew that the value of an extension cord meant it would not disappear anytime soon.

Labeled Light Switches

In my house as a child, we had a bunch of switches.  They all did something.  Every switch was labeled with an embossed brown plastic strip.  

The List

Every Saturday morning we would get a and written list with check boxes on a little yellow notepad.  Steps would be detailed, order would be based on scarcity and work center limitations.  Each kid would get one and have to complete it by the time we would go get hot dogs from the hot dog lady for lunch.  Now we all make lists when we need to get things done.  

I don't think he thought about giving me something extra when growing up.  I think he firmly believes that being able to fix things was a necessary life skill.  This is something that everyone needs, they need exposure to making.  My father gave me experience with many different vocations from breaking the cheapest taps available to stripping slotted screws and a dash rounded bolt head for flavor.  We didn't just fix the house, we built rockets.  We changed oil, rebuilt carburetors, and soldered circuit boards.  I never heard my dad say he couldn't do something.  I got my willing  ignorance of what I can do, and do it anyways from him.  He got it from his father.  

When he needed to learn something he did it with books, I have Google and YouTube. He let me break his tools, and then was nice enough to let me bring them to sears for a replacement.  He let me make mistakes.  He let me fail when I needed to.  But at the end he helped me finish the project.  From all of those many memories I get to have him looking over my shoulder shaking his head with befuddled look on every project from memories. (He isn't dead, he just lives just north of the middle of nowhere IL and can't use Skype)  I don't think it had to be my dad, it could have been my mom, a neighbor, or a teacher.  It could have been you.  If you don't have a kid, find one who needs an adult and show up.  They need someone to tell them they can do it.  If you do have a kid, teach them to change a tire, wire a lamp, and use basic power tools.  It is more important than this weeks Real Housewives of the OC or the big game.  


How to UnMake a Makerspace build thread: Why I make things, Part 1 Emotional Needs.

You know they sell that at Walmart for like 20 dollars right? 

I do, but thanks for letting me know.  I could for sure buy something close to what I want for a very small amount of money mass manufactured in china that is very similar to what I am making.  But I want it to have the USB port able to continuously deliver 2 amps and dissipate the heat. Why would I computer model, 3D print, make a custom PCB for greater cost than the off the shelf solution that takes 16 hours to do?

Because I can!

I may actually have some deeper emotional needs than just "Because I can".  In life I can't control much.  It gives me anxiety when things are out of my control.  I put great effort into understanding the world around me.  Issac Newton, the father of modern day science, watched as the entirety of human knowledge became greater than anyone man could understand as he ushered out the age of alchemy.  Since I likely won't be able to understand all of recorded human knowledge I need to grab what I can.  We all have different learning styles, my strongest tendency is towards kinesthetic learning. Specifically project based learning.

By doing a project, I retain a greater portion of the subject matter.  The hands on creates emotional connection to the parts of the project and the lessons learned.  For anyone who questions this, take a look at a broken tap or stripped screw and tell me you don't have an emotional response.  I know I do, I can still picture exactly the first tap I broke in a fighting robot.  I can remember every tap I have broken.  Each time I can also go back to the point where I had to reflect on the failure.  Did I repeat a dumb mistake, or did I fail in a new and different way?

Making satisfies some of the Human-Givens approach list of ten required emotional nourishment.

1.  Sense of competence and achievement

By finishing a project, I get a high.  It is similar to the high I get while at the gym pressing atlas stones or dead lifting.  A raw guttural response and an explosion of energy.  I have a physical manifestation of what I have learned and put into practice.   

2. Meaning and purpose — which come from being stretched in what we do and think.

It may for a short period of time, but I have a purpose, make a thing.  When I choose a project, I choose it based on pushing limits of what I have done in the past.  

3.  Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience

I reflect on what I do as I step through the learning process.  This is an internal process usually focusing mistakes or as Gui calls them "opportunities."  The only way to avoid screwing things up is to not do anything.  My projects often have a lot of opportunities for learning.

And that about covers it for working in my basement alone.  That leaves me with a gaping opening with the rest of the list.  For most people they need a third place.  After home and work, they go to church, bowling, or a bar.  It usually will knock out the most of this list.  But I don't fit at most of these places.  I got this from Fighting robots and Crossfit.  I was working as a 3D printer Application Engineer when a friend and co worker pointed out an article in the Nashua Telegraph. Earlier in 2011 I met my wife and after our first date it was like that was how my life was always supposed to be.  To a far less degree but with the same conviction I knew what I had walked into when I entered MakeIt Labs.  I could check off some more boxes on the list.

4.  Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully

The space was accepting of failure.  Just like at CrossfitTuff, everyone cheers you on when you are trying. They give you ideas and share experience.  They give you the one piece you need or lend you a tool.  When you say "hold my beer and watch this," more than one person offers and they film it for "Science."

5.  Attention (to give and receive it) — a form of nutrition

Kevin Smith says that one of the basic human needs is to be heard.  In order to have someone listen you need to say something.  I can tell stories of things I have done in the past, but as time goes by the minds eye's focus starts to become less clear.  Did I get pulled over at 107 or 117 MPH?  I can very clearly however tell you about the Unified Chart of Accounts for Non Profits and how it is designed to fill out the 990 tax form.  My audience may not car so much about the content every time, but they hear my passion.  On the flip side, I enjoy hearing about other peoples projects and learning.  I have a lot of experience, sometimes people become apologetic as they explain what they assume is a mundane task to me.  It never is, I am always excited to see the passion in peoples eyes as they get that eureka moment

6.  Sense of autonomy and control — having volition to make responsible choice.

Lets be serious.  Doing things is dangerous.  Walking down the street you could get hit by a 16 ton anvil falling from the sky.  The chance is remote, but it could happen.  Walking into a room with power tools is going to increase that danger by an exponential factor.  Every tool is designed to deliver energy in some type high discharge function.  A trained cyclist can output 400 watts at peak for short amounts of time.  The Plasma cutter can output 11,000 watts of power continuously for 45 minutes.  10 milliamps at 100 volts can kill a human.    That tool can kill you 110,000 times over in 5 seconds.  Ever used a bandsaw? No better tool exists to cut meat and bones in a butcher shop.  You know what we are made of? Mostly meat, some bones.  The shop is a direct representation a humans need for making good decisions.  Every injury I deal with begins with some version of the statement "I didn't think."  

On the flip side what you do also effects others.  By leaving the shop better than you found it, you are setting up the next user for success.  By leaving a mess, broken tools, or an unsafe condition, you are being selfish.  You can receive gratification by leaving things better than you found them.  

7.  Emotional intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts 'n' all”

I don't think I deal with this much at the space, Paul generally grunts and drinks beers.  That may be as good as we get.Experiences may vary on this one.

8.  Feeling part of a wider community

When I walk in, I say hello to a bunch of people.  They all know my name.  I can often go for weeks at a time and only see my wife, Dunkin Donuts employees, and Inmates.  How many of you can say that everyone at your work, customers and co workers, want for the place to do well and be better?  I may not always agree with the path, but we want the place to be better just the same.  It gives us a reason to work past our differences.  All you have to do is try not to be a jerk.  To be fair, we like them to. 

9.  Sense of status within social groupings

Maker spaces become a Meritocracy.  We have co authored a term Do-ocracy as a community.  The doers actions become louder than the "experts".   How much do I weigh your input?  How good does your R4-D5 unit replicate the original?  

I am not comfortable with excepting the world around me.  I need to make it better.  I need to know that when I am gone, what I did will be looked upon as a net positive on the balance sheet of life.

I leave you with Adam Savages talk on Why We Make.


How to UnMake a Makerspace build thread: "What do you make?"

"What do you make?"  

The TARDIS door at MPR2.
This is the first question I get asked by most people when they encounter me incidentally at work.  I meet new people on tours, or at Tag's Hardware, or just walking down the street.  My answer varies from robots to rally cars at the beginning.  I have said all kinds of answers but most of them were a lie at the time and described something I had done in the past.  One day a sweet old woman was on a tour I was giving asked me this question.  I was doing the tour in between working on some sort of infrastructure improvement.  I explained the specific project and she responded with a very succinct  "So you Make Makerspaces?"

Now when people ask me that question I have a very specific answer canned and a few sentences.  "I make Makerspaces!  I work as the facilities manager.  I make sure tools work, people are safe and things make sense".  That was true.  For a while at least.

At the end of last year I put in a bunch of orders and nothing was ordered.  It turns out we ran into a cash crunch as an organization.  I will go into this deeper in a future post and how we are fixing it.  From this with no resources to do my job, I turned my attention to why I did not have the resources to do my job.  As time progressed, I used my extra time to understand the business of Making a Makerspace.  This system can best be described like my pants and waist since I stopped working out at Crossfit.  My waste grew and I lied to myself saying that my pants still fit.  Then one day you go to buy a suit and the tailor measuring you says 53 when you are expecting 38.  It's not like I didn't have a mirror, I just didn't have enough perspective to see the change and notice the issues.

Let me make one thing very clear.  Being a not for profit does not mean running with no surplus.  It means that you are tax exempt and can't distribute dividends or profit.

We ran with greater than 90% earned income.  If we had an unexpected expense or drop in revenue for even a brief period, we would have issues weathering it.  In a December of 2013 we had both a drop in revenue, and an unexpected expense. I didn't know what was going on.

I have developed a system for when I don't know something.

Step one: Buy a book on the subject.
Step two: Read it and become an expert.
Step three: Make stuff.

I then went on a buying spree on amazon since I didn't know why we were where we were.  If the money did not make sense, lets look at that Nonprofit Bookkeeping & Accounting For Dummies This started to give me a better picture of the intricacies of Not for Profit accounting.  All of my experience was based on Cost accounting, or Throughput accounting as applied in a lean manufacturing environment.  In either case, I would use quantifiable data to make decisions to either maximize profits or reduce bottlenecks in a manufacturing process.  With a not for profit organization we start to add some additional data points.  As a not for profit, profit was not the goal, programs are the deliverable.  This was a much more qualitative measurement.  But how does this fit onto a balance sheet?

The next book I bought was The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management.  I poured over it to understand the differences between a not for profit and a for profit.  I started to look deeper at the numbers and we were running with a very low margin of revenue and social capital.

Working for Artisan's Asylum as an organization has been very hard, emotionally and mentally.  I ended up taking a position of Operations manager (Transitional Manager) after our Interim executive director stepped down.  I figured that I could just find a book that talked about how to do this. How To Do Everything had some great tips but I was in the same position as my predecessors, no one ever did the thing we were doing.  Lots of not for profits exist.  Lots of shared shop space exist.  Lots of Makerspaces exist, some with more people, some with more tools, some with more space.   None at the level Artisan's Asylum is.  Every time we do something for the first time, it is the first time it has been done to the level that we need to do it.  Gui gave three levels of projects he does, awesome, ridiculous and ludicrous.  Being that that is how we plan projects, it has been hard to translate this to GAAP.

The first thing we had to do was stop and admit we had problems.  Our staff, our board, and members took on our biggest community project to date.  We were going to fix OUR Makerspace.  One of my favorite parts of Battlebots competitions was the open build threads where people gave detailed build reports as a story.  Not much was held back.  Our story has just begun.  I want to start to chronicle some of our failures and successes for not just the Artisan's Asylum members, but for all other community workshops to learn from.  This will be a build thread and a place to document for me what has happened.

Please leave specific questions in the comments for future blog posts on topics you would like to see covered.  This is not an Asylum project and only reflects my personal views and experiences.


Winter challenger rally 07

Pulling up an old blog from myspace. 

It all started on January 20th when myself and the Russian went to winter awd driving school. We learned that when you enter a turn on snow you car should be sideways. And that is fun. While we were there at an all Subaru event there were two guys who stood out. One with an evo, and one with a Corrado. Obviously the Russian kids would show up with non Subaru's to a Subaru event. They told us of a magical event of a clandestine nature. Vermont winter challenge TSD. It has been running for like 20 years now.

The premise for the rally is a bunch of caffiened up over tired rally enthusiasts drive through the woods at unsafe speeds with no sleep for 10 hours. To add to the complication it doesn't start till 8pm. Sounds to simple eh? Lets now add in that there is no map, it is a sheet of paper with some writing comprised of miles, times, landmarks, and some more nonsensical writing which means nothing to my novice team. To make it a touch harder it is a "mildly trapped"(see note 1). Yea, didn't sound like fun yet. So they also give a "constant average speed" (see note 2). Now we are talking. to summarize what I thought I was doing before I signed up.

-driving fast at night in Vermont back road on ice and snow.
-the rest I do not know, but am looking forward to the first bulleted item.

So vlad and I sent in our paperwork. Nothing left to do now but let the realization of how unprepared we were for this experience. We figured since this is an Overnight Vermont winter challenge TSD, we should look at what we have going for us. We have both completed winter driving school. Overnight, hmm we both go to bed at 11 so this may not be in our favor. Barre, Vermont I live in Nashua(150 miles away) and vlad in Dover(even further), that doesn't seam to be good either. Winter, vlad thinks he should live in Florida and I don't like the cold. This also may not be to our advantage. TSD, having 20 days of knowledge of what a tsd was or even there existence, we were certifiable experts at this point.

Well, at this point I think I could have given a list of equipment which would be nice to have. So we figured since there was nothing else we knew that is what we should do. here is the list we came up with.

-Pi graphic, I think this shows best of what we will be doing. 2piR = us driving around in circles.
-full size spare- would be nice when out in the woods to not be a tripod with a donut. It wasn't a snow, but re92's are better then donuts.
-aluminum race jack, I hate oem jacks, and wrenches.
-breaker bar and socket, boo oem lug wrenches.
-Tow straps. I had one, and wouldn't realize why we should have two till the rally.
-spotlight, we used it a few times, but for 10 dollars at auto zone, it was worth it.
-shovel, maybe we should bring two next time.
-mittens and hat my gf made me, figured she would be happy knowing I wore her items she made for me.
-sugar free red bull, my family has a history of diabetes.
-trail mix, it makes me feel like I am on a pbs special.
-basic tool kit, so when something does break it will for sure need an obscure replacement and or tool which I did not plan for and will be stuck in the middle of nowhere.
-gas can with extra gas in case someone runs out, or we do away from town.
-jumper cables, for when the tow strap breaks and I need a last ditch effort. Make sure to get 4 gauge or higher for this reason. They also make nice exhaust hangers.
-glass cleaner and rainex, so I could see what I was doing while driving.
-new wipers, bird sap got onto the originals and tore them up.
-snow tires, re92's in the snow are about the same as trying to grip a rounded nut with an adjustable wrench.
-triangles, all the "off" equipment is there to ensure we prepared for nothing. Had we forgotten any equipment we would still be on the side of a hill, or in a cranberry bog.
-Ali G sound track. self explanatory. good way to start the night, ended with Nina Simone in the third section.
-Tire chains, again if we didn't take them, we would have needed them.

Now with an assortment of items bungee corded into the back of the wrx, we are off to the races. Well, in a week. Ruslan gave us advise of drive as fast as you can, and you will likely still be to slow.

Vlad handled the graphics from conception to installation.

We wanted more input and experience then that, so we started to seek alternate sources. when we got to Synaptic 3 http://www.synaptic3.com/ on Thursday for free pizza and to check out the shop, we met a guy named Rick who gave us lots of good advise on rally experience. He gave Vlad and I a much better mental position going into the race. I also poked around, looked at Aarons RX7, talked with him and the rest of the boys, and looked at djruslans almost done wrx. My machine shop teacher used to tell me, "look at a machinist hands. If they are intact, he is a good machinist." The guys have all of their fingers and it is where I bring any project I don't think I can handle. They all gave me some good info on driving, and how to approach it mentally. At 1:30 I headed home. I got home, and got stuck on a conference call till 5am with nz so I was thrilled to the max. This would have been a great schedule to move to for the weekend had I been able to skip work Friday and didn't have to help load a robot arena on Saturday at 10am. so Friday I get up do some bs for work, go and grab another 3a 55w driving light bulb (don't do a continuity test on these bulbs with 19. volts) installed, changed oil, and did a traction dance to Mickey Thompson, god of traction. well, at this point, I have nothing to do but hope. I stay in Cambridge on Friday wake up, go help Brian load some arena, and then take off. I have at this point driven 314 miles since Friday morning. I get to Nashua, go over my check list, and start grabbing things I am kind of remembering. some things that come up that I should have done but ran out of time

-Skid plate
-more lights
-mud flaps, I keep selling sets so I never get them put on my car.
-PA system for hailing enemy ships that seam hostile.
-directions to the starting point.
-done any research on what we were actually doing.

eh, screw it, it is now or never, we leave for the rally.

We stop somewhere in Vermont for some drinks and they had no public bathrooms. luckily the tree behind the building had no lines so I utilized that. With a Vermont atlas, little Debbie products and a power bar, we were on our way. as we reached the town of bair, we turned the wrong way off of the highway. this is a great start to an event which relies heavily on navigation skills. so as we went through the center of town, we saw an Audi with some extra lights so as I would normally do in a situation like this, I pulled in front of them and asked "where are we going" they were to say the least confused. I then explained how we were up for a rally and they offered to let us follow them back to the paddock. As we watched the gas fill his car like a gentle stream of urine, we gave up and took verbal directions. We then made it to the walker Mazda, and saw the rest of the rally guys. every single car and driving team looked more prepared then I did. We went and checked in, got our packet and looked at it like a dear in headlights.

Time for tech inspection. I have inspected 100's of robots designed to destroy things so I figured I could pass a car inspection without any trouble.

from there, we had to make an edit, rally safety guys said 86 the spare gas, so I went to the gas station to fill up my tank for stage I and while there, gave the tank to someone. His wife came out of the gas station and he had to smooth things over for some reason. Anyways vlad and I have bladders like thimbles so we used the fine gas stations water closet. On the way out, I spotted this poster by the car parts section. http://www.streetdrugs.org/eShop/products/retailposter.gif
I have on occasion before talked about meth, and it's prominence in northern NH. This stereotype, I also hold for northern Maine, and northern Vermont. well, northern New England and the Midwest as a whole. The counter lady then went onto a dissertation about meth in the south, and how the trailer they rent has meth burn stains on the walls that "don't get cleaned out some with soap" She then explained how I could make meth with items in the store and how to properly distribute it. Would you say this disproves or supports my theorem on meth use in northern New England?

We roll into subway and I ask the guy for a surprise and he was confused at first then got all excited he got to have a creative outlet for all his bottled up artistic ability which he never allows to shine while confined behind a subway apron. I tell you this Italian sub was a work of art.

Some coffee, and time to go back for the drivers meeting. When there, vlad pointed out Travis Pastrana, and I heard his story of his rental outback. Nice guy, wasn't a star, but a competitor. He rembered vlad, but didn't say his name because like everyone else, Russian names are hard to say due to the addition of extra constanants, and some things I wouldn't consider letters at all. We all received our route packet, and start time of 8:24. as we opened our packet we realized the extent of our lack of preparation for this rally so we laid out a few goals that seamed reasonable for our first event. in this order

1. Don't die
2. Don't total car
3. Don't damage car
4. Pull someone out of a snow bank so purchase of tow rope will be justified.
5. Finish a stage.

we go out and sat down to look at stage notes. It has three columns, one with mileage sometimes, one with some obscure directions, and one with times and "CAS". None of these meant a damn at this point to vlad or I. We started asking for info on what stuff meant. Adams wife helped us a bit, and rallyk did as well. Thanks both for your help. as we went through the book we read every line to see if it made sense, and made corrections that were called for. If we were to be rookies again, I would have read this information first, which I recommend to all of you.

So now we are completely screwed, at is almost start time, and we have no idea what is going on. Lets race. 8:23:39 seconds reset trip odometer, and say goodbye to the last time this precision would actually mean anything. we head off through the calibration stage, and are about 1 percent off. so on an 80 mile rally, that is .8 miles wrong by the end. Not to worry on stage one would never make it to the 8 mile mark. as we drive through the stage on the first turn we see a mini in the snow, we couldn't push him out so I hooked up to tow him. Having a firm understanding of my inability to place, let alone win, I didn't mind loosing time. We had him out a few minutes and we were both on our way. we started to get lost driving down the wrong roads a half dozen times or so, it was now after 10pm, and no freaking idea where we were.

luckily we were joined by the corrado of doom and another oil burning jetta. as we tried to get to no where as fast as we could, ruslan somehow took his corrado from on all four wheels going in the intended direction to pointing opposite the direction of travel and on his side. as Aaron and ruslan climbed out through the sunroof, we all pushed the car over and then assessed if it would be ok to move. We needed to tow it so jetta guy was going to hook on and pull him down hill. after some evaluation of the physics involved we decided to pull him up hill in order to no allow slack to form on the tow rope, or for it to break loose and slide into my car.

after we pull him out, synaptic 3 race support fastened his oil cooler back in, and away we go. we scrubbed the stage, and got back to 14. at that point we traveled up to cialis or something, and cut across some nice logging road at what may have been a high speed. as we get to the McDonalds they give us like 6 minutes before section 2, we get some food, and take off again. we did good up until check point two, then vlad started to get sick. the map and directions made him unable to navigate so I was trying to help out, and we see a datsun fly by us at fast mph. so we and the black rs followed at a brisk pace. Luckily it got us through this stage. P and H time for a peanut butter cup, and we are ready for stage 3.

We take off, and everything just starts making sense. vlad is spot on with all of his commands, his calculations are right on, and we are off like a dress on prom night. I am unsure of what our speed or times on this section was, but we had a blast and loved every minute of it.

I think I have convinced Dawn and Heidi to do the next rally day after my birthday. Maybe we can make her cammary the e car.
here is info on that.

Things I would bring for next time
-mores/better stop watches
-bigger button calculator
-more pencils, highlighters
-red headlight for vlad to read directions.
-in car camera
-finish skid plate, mud flaps, in car camera mount.

let me know anything else you have to say.
see you guys next time.