Monday, January 7, 2008

Back to Work!

Ahhh! Hear that? That's the sound of blessed silence.

It's quiet out in a way that only rural Alaska in the deep winter can be. The temperature has been dropping for the last week, and as a result all the remaining moisture has been condensing out of the atmosphere as hoar frost on every tree branch and surface. Since we live very close to the ocean, that's a lot of moisture. The trees are thickly coated in fuzzy white crystalline jackets and the ground makes a weird squealing noise when you walk across it. The thick coating of hoar frost acts as a sound absorber, and the world is dead silent outside, pitch black, and the sky is full of stars. Some people find it eerie, but I like it - it reminds me of the short story by Fritz Leiber, A Pail of Air.

Christmas break is over. The kid is back in school, and I've returned to my usual schedule - which is good, because insanity wasn't far away otherwise.

I've got a veritable plethora of projects going at the moment. I allow myself a hour for blogging first thing. Then an hour or so for Deep Thunder. Then several hours on The Iyes of the Dead, which is my current novel - a scifi locked room murder mystery told in the traditional mode. I've been at a standstill on that book for a while now, but I've finally figured out how to move the story along without losing momentum, and I'm excited to get back to it. Then I need a couple of hours to work on a piece I'm doing for submission to the the Anchorage Daily News, and to work on the outline for a military leadership book which will use lessons from history to illustrate true leadership in the face of adversity. Some time this month I need to find time to outline a 'how to' book on building a professional woodworking shop for cheap, using nothing but materials and equipment scrounged from scrap heaps, Craigslist, and eBay.

Writing takes up the first seven hours of my day, then I need to head out to the shop to start the millwork I've contracted for. I completed the templates and jigs for that project over the break and today I'll start the prototypes in plywood, making whatever adjustments are necessary to the jigs and templates. Tomorrow I'll convert the prototype templates from MDF into the final Plexiglass versions, and Wednesday I'll be able to start production. And somewhere in between all that I've got to find time during the week to finish up a couple of carved bowls which are due within the next two weeks, sooner if possible.

So, I'm going to be just a bit busy this week.

And people told me I'd have nothing to do after I retired from the Navy. Hah, fools! Fools!


  1. Obviously, they didn't know the depth of your skill set.

    Your work for the book on leadership reminds me of a very good read (not that you have time to read ;) -- The Mask of Command, by John Keegan. Fascinating premise of four types of leadership, using Alexander, U.S.Grant, and Hitler, as examples.
    The best section is the last chapter or two about leadership in the nuclear age.
    Not that I think you need to reference Keegan's work for your book, but it's an interesting read nonetheless.

  2. I've read The Mask of Command, and it's an excellent work.

    However, I don't agree with some of the premise, i.e. that leadership comes in different types. which is my major beef with most work regarding leadership - inevitably, people attempt to quantify leadership, and divide it up into categories. And I see this consistently from Demming to Keegan. And just as inevitably, when those books are taught or discussed, people automatically begin to divide themselves up into categories of leadership - usually starting with the Brigg-Meyers battery. Bah. I don't believe that true leadership can be broken down into a recipe. Great leaders are often trained within a structured environment, but almost without exception they are known for the fact that in a crisis, they are the ones leading from the front through the force of personality and because above all they command true respect in their subordinates - and not necessarily from their peers or superiors.

    Personally I think there is only one form of leadership, leadership by example, and that is the gist of the book I'm outlining. You are what you do.

  3. Getting away from all this heady stuff regarding leadership and Jim you got it right. Let's get to the templates. Plexiglass! Sheesh why not aluminum. Hardboard has always been my favorite for templates. It's durable, doesn't warp and if you don't hit it with a stray router bit or a bandsaw blade it will out last plexi. But then again the plexi probably came from the magic dumpster and since it's lying around the shop it's gotta be used.

    Chapter 4 of the how to book... The Magic Dumpster.

  4. Beastly, the first templates are made from hardboard (and yes, I know I owe you pictures, just hold your freain' horses). However, hardboard is easily dented or chipped and as you well know, every dent will then transfer to the final product on the shaper table. We need something much more durable. And it needs to be at least a 1/4" thick so the pilot bits can follow it easily. I assume I don't have to spell out the cost of 1/4" aluminum in Alaska? (Yes, I know we wouldn't be having this conversation if I'd only send you the fucking pictures so's you'd have an idea of what I've been telling you on the phone. Yes, yes, yes. I'm taking the pictures. Behold as I stagger to the door, camera in hand! Bawhahaha!)

    (for the rest of you, I'm kidding with Beastly, who, besides my wife, is my very best friend in the entire known universe. You should hear us in person!)

    Anyway, so I made the first templates out of MDF/Hardboard, which can be easily shaped and sanded to exact specification. Then I'm using those to produce the final templates in Plexiglass, which is nearly as easy to work, cheap, and hard as a rock when complete. First prototype production run tomorrow. Call me when you get home from work and I'll give you the update. Groovy?

  5. Bah. I don't believe that true leadership can be broken down into a recipe. Great leaders are often trained within a structured environment, but almost without exception they are known for the fact that in a crisis, they are the ones leading from the front through the force of personality and because above all they command true respect in their subordinates - and not necessarily from their peers or superiors.

    I buy that, particularly the part about leading by example. That's something I keep in mind every day, because even on the days that I'm not "leading" someone, I'm still being observed and if I'm not presenting an acceptable example, how can I expect the same from others?

    That aside, I'd have to point out that one can't always lead from the front...
    Scratch that -- I just wrote a paragraph on that and realized that my point was irrelevant. Essentially "upper management" are still leaders, but they have handed over day-to-day leadership to front-line men and women.

    Dammit, you're right, Jim.

  6. Anne, you've touched on the very crux of leadership.

    As a leader, you are what you do. Period. By leading from the front, what I mean is that as a leader (whether formally assigned, or simply as someone others automatically follow) you always are an example - and you must endeavor to always lead by that example. Always, even when others are not watching.

    You can always spot the true leader in any crowd - and they may not be the one in charge. In a crisis, watch and see who people look to: if only for a moment, people will glance at the one they respect the most, they one whose opinion and guidance matter, the one they trust to get them out of the situation - i.e. the one they respect. Leadership, is always, ultimately about respect. Period. And respect cannot be bought, or bargained for, or demanded - it must be earned, always, and with every action. And it's easy to lose, a simple careless word or action is all it takes. Respect is also a two-way street, you can't get it, without giving it. This more than anything else is the key to leadership - respect is the one thing that all true leaders have in common.

    And yet, I almost never see respect mentioned in leadership courses or books.

    This is basic gist of the book I'm currently outlining.

  7. Anne, just one more thought to build on what I said in the last comment.

    You mentioned Hitler. He was a powerful leader, but he led out of fear and terror. And he came to power in demoralized nation at a critical time. He had everything his own way for quite a while, however, when it came down to it - in the final moment, his people did not follow him. They feared him, but they did not respect him. No one who leads from fear and intimidation can command respect. Same with Saddam.

    Look at Yeltsin. A drunkard and sometimes a clown. Yet, when it really mattered - Yeltsin stood before those massed Soviet tanks in front of the whole world. That single action earned him the respect of an entire people and toppled an empire. The Russians feared the Soviets, but they respected Yeltsin, despite his failings. Hitler hid in bunker and took the coward's way out, Saddam was found hiding in a hole. You are what you do.

    GWB and his cronies cannot grasp this concept. They claim to uphold the principles on which America was founded, and yet nearly every action shows their utter contempt for those principles. They speak of patriotism, and yet show no understanding of what true patriots fought for. Contempt breeds contempt. Respect commands respect.

    You are what you do.

    You can see this everywhere. The Writers Strike - the studios have shown nothing but contempt for those who are the creative genius behind their fortunes. The studios have shown a complete lack of respect for the abilities and creative work of the writers. Again, contempt breeds contempt.


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