Thursday, September 28, 2006

Appreciation Goes a Long Way

Something very odd, and very good, happened to me at work this week. I'll give you a little background first, just so this makes since.

For a nuclear power plant to buy and install a doohickey of some sort, they have to buy it from an approved vendor. Being an approved vendor ensures that they know you're following quality practices that are acceptable to the standards they require, and that the parts they are getting have been tested for functionality in whatever worst-case scenarios they can come up with. We are an approved supplier for most nuclear plants out there, so suffice it to say we mainly deal in high margin sales, if you know what I mean.

To satisfy part of this worst-case scenario, we have a seismic table that is used to simulate vibrations, earthquakes, etc. Well, for this big project we've been working on, we've been shaking a flowmeter for TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant. And, what we didn't know, is that for this hard of a shake, this flow meter weighs too much for our table. So Russell and I have spent the last 3 weeks attempting to shake these flow meters, and subsequently rebuilding the table after it broke with each attempt. Well, this past Tuesday Russell and I finally got through with the final shake. Of course we found metal shavings on the slider rails of the table just before the final shake, thus the table must be rebuilt again before we shake anything else, but that project is done. To give you an idea of what we've gone through, the first time the table broke it pulled itself out of the concrete. After we got that fixed, we've broken most everything else on the table and we've honestly lost count of the number of times we've had to rebuild it.

I know what you're thinking. "Kelly broke something? That's not that hard to believe." Well, I'm not finished yet. It just so happened that our president and vice president were in town for the final few shakes, along with a particularly troublesome last rebuild of the table. Wednesday morning our vice president pulled me and Russell aside to give us gift certificates to Connors Steak House, just to thank us for all the hard work and extra hours we put into getting that project done. We were shocked! I honestly didn't know what to say. Appreciation is something that I'm not really accustomed to. I was at ESC for 6 years, and for the first 5 years I spent most of my time trying to make sure that my bosses didn't have a way to use me as a scapegoat for something they screwed up. (On a positive note, I had a new boss for that last year of the six that was great to work for.) The only thing I could say at the time was "that's what you pay us for."

Nothing makes you smile like an "Attaboy".

As for the next week, Christal's leaving tomorrow to go on a cruise with her family. I'm having somewhat conflicting thoughts about it. We're very different in that sometimes, I just like to have my own time. Christal doesn't do very well if she's not with someone at all times. So, in one way, it'll be nice for it to just be quiet and alone around here. On the other hand, it'll be that quiet for a week. I'm sure I'll keep myself busy though. I've already got a project in the works. Next week I'll either have a cool post about something I've built, or a really good "how not to" post. We'll see next week!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bad Week

Sorry for the delay this week folks. I didn’t get home from work until about 11:00 PM Thursday night. Friday night I attempted to recover, and last night the power went out during the storm as I was finishing up my post. It was just the perfect end to the not-so-perfect week. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good challenge. But I think this week was a bit too much. I can’t point to anything specific, or blame any one person. It was just one of those weeks, ya know? It’ll be ok though. I have faith that everything will work out for the best.

On a positive note, I noticed last weekend that Wal-mart already has their Halloween stuff out. I love Halloween! Halloween means it’s almost time for my now annual, soon to be famous pumpkin carving contest with Mike! Of course, as with everything else Mike and I do, it didn’t start out as a contest. Two years ago Christal and I were hanging out with Mike and Lori one October weekend when Mike suggested that we carve jack-o-lanterns. Lori and Christal humored us as we searched all of Maryville for pumpkins, and then ignored us as we went out to their garage and carved away. Those pumpkins looked roughly like a third grader carvcd them, but we had fun. Last year we had a small pumpkin carving party. We had a few friends over, one new carver/competitor (Christal), and in the spirit of competition we stepped it up about 10 notches. Of course, we still can’t get an impartial judge, no matter how hard we try. But we still have fun doing it. I’m going to finish out this week’s post by showing you some pictures of last year’s pumpkins.

I think you're going to agree that Christal's are the best. I'm not sure where she got her pumpkin carving skillz, and she definitely hasn't shared them.

Her first was this cool happy candy corn.

The second was this incredibly intricate cat. I was very proud of her for pulling this one off.

Mike was an overachiever and whipped out three pumpkins.

The first was a graveyard scene. Pretty cool!

The second was my favorite of his. Check this ghost out!

And the third was this cool skull.

I did this one using 3 pumpkins . Not too hard to do, yet creative.

I also did this one. I can't help but like it. Of course, I'm a Looney Tunes nut, so what would you expect?

And finally, I'm going to throw in a picture of this one. I did it the next day, just because I wanted to try it. It's the one I'm most proud of, and it definitely took the most effort and time. There was so much material gone that it only lasted about 8 hours and it had already fallen down.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Road Trip!

I actually have something to talk about this week! I know, I know, you’re probably much happier than I am about it. I think it’s something that everyone will like too. I mean, who doesn’t like a road trip?

I’ve been trying to plan this trip for a while now. I haven’t said anything for a couple of reasons. Of course, I didn’t want to spill the beans. It makes for a much better story if I haven’t told you about it before it happens. Second, it’s been pretty difficult to plan. At first no one could do it on the optimum weekend for me. Then I was busy when anyone else could go. So, when Patrick told me when he could go, I just bit the bullet and did it anyway (almost spur of the moment, two weeks notice). Of course I ended up sending my mother-in-law a big basket of chocolate for missing her birthday, and was still the first one to tell her “happy birthday” on her birthday, but sometimes things just work out that way.

As most of you would have guessed, we’re talking a motorcycle trip. Even though I live 19 miles away from one of the greatest motorcycling roads in the USA, north Georgia is one of my favorite places to go on two wheels. There are so many curvy roads to explore that you feel as if you could ride all day (and literally can) without riding the same road over and over and over. Some of my earlier readers may remember a trip I took to Georgia with my friends Danny and Spencer early this past spring. This trip was somewhat different though. Patrick, while interested in the curvy roads, was also interested in seeing some of the sites to see in Georgia and along the way. Which is cool, since it gave me something new to experience as well.

Anyway, I have many pictures to share and a few stories to tell. So, on with the story and pictures!

Note: For some reason Blogger didn't let anyone but me post comments to my blog last week. I'll check into it, and get them involved it I must. If you have something you'd like to share and Blogger won't let you, feel free to send love or hate mail to

Most every Saturday morning (and Sunday morning for that matter) some guys from EastTNriders get together for breakfast at Deals Gap. We get up unbelievably early to meet at the overlook at Deals Gap. Of course, as I complain about how early we get up, I live a mere 19 miles away. Some guys ride from as far as Burnside, KY to meet at 8:00 am for this regular gathering.

Here’s a pic of us packed and ready to go, early Saturday morning. Photo credit to Pat.

As Pat found out, I’m usually one of the first ones up there. I enjoy the peace and serenity of the mountains. Anyway, Saturday was an awfully pretty morning with low clouds and patchy fog in the valleys.

About 8:15, we decided that everyone that would show up had, and we headed out for some breakfast. Here Pat shows off his pancakes and bacon. (BTW, if you’re hungry, you might want to postpone reading this. By our pictures, you’d think all we did was eat.) Photo credit to Pat.

For those not familiar, Deals Gap is actually in North Carolina (by about 0.5 miles) at the corner of US129 and US28. After the aforementioned breakfast and some tall tales, we headed off down US28. Ok, it was a LOT of tall tales, and we didn’t get out of there until aobut 10:45! Our first stop was at Fontana Dam, about 10 miles away. Boy, weren’t we making good time! Anyway, here are some dam photos we took. (that never gets old!) Photos by both.

When we got to the top of the dam, we found out it was a meeting place for the Ford Cobra rally that was happening that weekend. Here are a couple of pictures of the dam Cobras (see what I mean? It’s still funny!) Photos by both.

Ok, just a couple more Dam pictures (*snicker*) and we’ll move on.

From after that Dam stop (hehehe) we headed on down 28 towards Bryson City. Unfortunately there is a little bit of 4-lane that way, but sometimes you just can’t help it. Just before getting to Bryson City 28 turns south and becomes a REALLY fun, REALLY twisty little road. It gradually straightens out as you get to Franklin, NC, but only slightly. This road gets a definite 2 thumbs up!

Once in Franklin, we stopped at a Hot Spot gas station to stretch our legs and get some push-juice for Patrick’s bike. We realized that it was about noon, that there was an Italian-ish restaurant in the gas station, and that LOTS of locals seemed to be going in. Why not?

It turns out that once inside, you’d swear you were in a European restaurant. Very quaint, very homey. The owner (whose name is Richard, in case you were wondering) noticed we were wearing gear and came over, with a restaurant full of people for lunch on a Saturday, to spend about 5 minutes just talking, asking about our ride, asking if we thought the Gap would be a good place to play with his sports cars (we’ll get to that), etc. He told us that when/if we were back through, make sure to say hi! Just a really nice touch to a really nice restaurant.

When the waiter came to take our order, he brought a plate of bread. It was probably the softest French bread I’d ever had. It came with something I’d never had before, marinara sauce served over olive oil. VERY tasty.

Pasta didn’t sound like it would sit too good on the next curvy road, so we went with sandwiches. Here’s a photo of my “John Gotti” (I love yankee meats) and Patrick’s Gyro.

So, if you’re ever through Franklin, the restaurant is right downtown in the Hot Spot gas station.

Be sure to look for Richard’s car parked outside, a spanky new Porsche Cayman S.

From Franklin, we headed south on 28 to Highlands, NC. Along the way, we noticed this waterfall beside the road.

As we were remounting to head on down the road, we caught our first little shower of the trip. It was just enough to wet the road, and was over just down the road. We thought, “Wow, if this is all we get, this has been a good trip!” Why we had to jinx ourselves, I’ll never know.

Not far after the rain let up, we came to Bridal Veil Falls. The cool part about this waterfall is that Stevie Wonder can see it from the car! You almost get wet driving by it.

Now there’s a bit of a break in the pictures, as we started to realize that we weren’t really getting anywhere. We headed on in to Highlands, NC, then cut over to Dillard, GA. We stopped to check out the Dillard House, but it turns out there’s not much to see there if you’re not eating. So we remounted, headed into Clayton, GA and over to Hiawassee, GA to check into the Holiday Inn Express, our home for the next two nights.

After getting our luggage unloaded, I know the VFR was a little lighter on it’s tires. Patrick even commented on the change in my riding. We headed south out of Hiawassee on 75 to 180 over to Suches, GA to have dinner at Two Wheels Only. We actually ended up getting there a little early for dinner, which gave us a little time to relax and look around. Well, I did. Patrick decided to

Ok, he posed for that. Here are some other cool pictures from around TWO.

Finally, dinner time! To be such a gaudy place, TWO has some of the best food EVAH! Here Patrick shows off his chicken dinner, and I’m pretty proud of my Cheeseburger and “thick cut, beer battered onion rings”.

After dinner, we dashed back to the Hiawassee. We didn’t beat dark, but we damn sure gave it a run for it’s money. Today’s summery is:

Day Two started out with lots of potential, and boy did it live up! We first started out heading to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in GA. Thankfully, some old guy will drive you from the parking lot to the observation center for $2 round trip. Money well spent.

Once there, we struck up a conversation with an old lady that worked there. When she found out I was in the power industry, she wanted to know why the US didn’t convert to solar power. I politely told her that there’s just not enough power in it. She then proceeded to explain to us that she had taught gifted children who had done the calculations and that if a solar panel were put on every government building we could power the US. We started to tell her that between the two of us we had 4 degrees in Mechanical Engineering and that I have almost 7 years experience in the power industry (including solar power plants) and it couldn’t be done, but we decided to save that breath. I’m pretty sure all the textbooks in the world wouldn’t have convinced her otherwise.

Anyway, the views from the top were a little hazy. It was a little disappointing, but oh well.

While on the observation platform, I actually found some interesting news. It turns out that Rocky Top is in Georgia! That out to shut those UT fans up!

In the museum, we found an interesting object. (In case you were wondering, the Climax Engine is NOT Patrick).

After our leisurely ride down the mountain in the van, we saddled up for our next jaunt. We headed down 180 to the Richard Russell Scenic Highway, a FANTASTIC road that goes to Helen, GA. We hit Unicoi State Park just outside Helen to see a waterfall that Patrick had found.

Along the way Patrick took this picture over his shoulder. While I like the picture, I have to say it was the least graceful thing I saw anyone do on a motorcycle all weekend (and I saw a guy mistakenly head out through the grass on his Yamaha R6 and bang his head off a guardrail!).

Anna Ruby Falls is about 0.5 miles straight up a paved path in the back of Unicoi State Park. It is definitely worth the walk in. Just don’t do it carrying 30 pounds of dead cow and wearing boots that most definitely were NOT made for walking! (Where’s that guy with the van at now?)
Along the way, I found these two signs. Ok, so maybe the boots are ok afterall.

After exerting some effort, I was ready for LUNCH!!!! How convenient that we were in Helen, a Bavarian town stuck randomly in Georgia. We used the “Eeny Miney Mo” method to pick a German restaurant on the strip in Helen.

Pictures of lunch ensue.

After lunch, it was time for some straight up RIDING!!!! I wanted another crack at the Richard Russell Scenic Highway, so we headed back over the other direction. There was much more uphill road going north than there was south, and everyone knows motorcycles are more fun to ride uphill, so Patrick readily agreed. Here’s a picture from the top of the Highway.

At the north end of the Highway, we turned left for about a mile, then south on highway 129. Yes, it’s the same 129 that goes through the Gap. Only here, it goes over Blood Mountain, the local motorcycle playground. It’s also a crossing for the Appalachian Trail, and the location of a Hostel along the trail.

Here’s some pictures that Patrick took from the top of Blood Mountain.