Road Trip

Road Trip Day 3
April 27, 2011

Let it Rain

It rained again today…  No, it poured, howled and unloaded today.  The wind, rain, and tornado sirens have been an interesting challenge for the drive.  The flooding in many parts of Tennessee and Georgia is intense. By the end of the day though the sky’s had cleared and we were able to make it though the southern half of Georgia with clear skys and late day sun.

Waffle House

The day started at 7:30am with a stop at the Waffle House.  This was another first for Scott I thought was a must.  I don’t think you can go wrong with a Waffle House Breakfast, unless of course you want pancakes.  I ate more than I wanted to as I watched the short order cook.  This has to be the most stressful job on the planet and probably pays a few dollars over minimum wage.  One man in front of 3 Waffle irons, a flat top, 6 toasters and two fry pans.  The logistics of managing these devices alone is impressive.  Only this job is much more intense.  He has to manage the timeing of the bacon, eggs and toast so they all come out at the same time, cooked to perfection.  There are also 4 waitresses that call out the orders.  They don’t hang tickets for him, they call out their orders.  Can you imagine that.  7 different orders called by four different people all featuring a specific toast, egg style and choice of meat. That is lot rattling around in your head.  These guys deserve admiration for their skills.

It reminded me a lot of the John Henry story.  John Henry was the rail road man that out worked a steam engine on the rail road only to then die.  A typical man vs. machine story.  Only when I think of the short order cook I don’t know that a machine could ever replace him.  The memory would be no problem but there are literally 1000’s of other variables to constantly consider and maintain.  I challenge someone to create a Waffle House machine that could out breakfast one of these guys. I bet we will not see the day where we have to mourn a lost short order cook after a machine breakfast battle anytime soon.

Jack Daniel’s

This was a tour!  I have been on countless brewery and distillery tours but this one takes the cake.  The entire distillery is nested in surreal valley.  The place had an old spirit.  They may have gone to lengths to artificially create that feel but if they did, they did it right.  Our driver was wearing overhauls.  Unlike the bartender in a kilt we witnessed in Cincinnati this was clearly not forced on him and was indeed his natural garb.  Our tour guide stopped and broke into side conversation with everyone we encountered on the tour.  We were just a group of guests, come to town and that was no reason to avoid good old conversation.  This is a great tour.

The man:  Turns out Jack Daniels was born Jasper Daniels and was often referred to as Mr. Jack.  At 61 he died because he broke his toe in frustration after kicking his safe.  This led to infection and ultimately his life.  If you can find humor in death, isn’t it funny that Mr. Jack could wait years to savor Whiskey but couldn’t wait another minute to get his safe open?  He was also 5’ 2” which made wonder if the statues of his likeness would remind Scott of the ranger in the caves from the day before and spook him.

The Process: The recipe for Old No. 7 is unchanged and process really hasn’t changed either.  The factory and equipment looks like something you would see from factories in the 1950’s.  The only hint that this was a modern factory was the control room where a wall of HMIs displayed data from all of the sensors in the distilling vats.  I guess the bottling area was also modern but in general there was a lot that clearly hadn’t changed in a long time.  Call me nostalgic but it was cool.  The Stainless Steel factories of today are a marvel of efficiency and engineering but this one had character.  Also the tour was free!  How can you beat that?

The Tornado:  Yes we had a tornado siren at the Jack Daniels Distillary and no it wasn’t in my head after a few to many tastes.  We were literally taken off the tour route and pushed into the break room with the employees on the Bottling line.  This lasted for about five minutes and we were allowed to run back to information area.  I wasn’t scared or even all that concerned but I kept thinking, man, if it blows through here and I die, that will be a story.  I can see it now “Old Drew died to young buried in Jack Daniels”.

The BBQ:  After the tour we did our best to out run the imposing storm front that was following. We made it about 40 miles up some winding back roads to the interstate and pulled off at BBQ joint.  We ordered our food just as the sky opened up, and I do mean opened up.  Hail, rain, the whole nine yards.  It you are going to be rained in a decent BBQ joint is not a bad spot to be.

Soggy Peanuts on Empty:
Scott was on support most of the afternoon so I drove while he did is best to hear customers over the pouring rain on a car going 70 mph. I had to pull over for a few sales calls as well.  They can forward calls from the office directly to our phones. Anyway, I was driving and was on a mission to drive until I was out of gas.  The Ford Focus gives you a mileage countdowns to empty.  Scott was getting nervous at about a quarter tank so I played it up when the 50 Miles left notice came up.  Then the 25 and the 10.  The 10 miles left came up just as we passed an exit and saw a sign that said, “next exit in 14 miles”.  I think seeing that sign may have taken a year or more off poor Scott’s life.  I am sure there was some reserve after 0 but I never got a chance to find out.  We pulled into the station just as the counter ticked to 0.  Scott told me he was driving from now on…

They also had a strange stand outside of this gas station.  It offered peaches and Hot P nuts.  I was attracted to this weird shack and after seeing the quality of the peaches inquired about the Hot P nuts.  I was expecting warm or spicy Peanuts and after wandering in I thought I would get some.  I was wrong, dead wrong.  Turns out this guy boils up 4,500 lbs of Peanuts a week.  Boils em! He has me try one.  So I throw the warm squishy thing in my mouth soft shell and all.  “No, hey now, what you doin, you can’t go eat’n that shell you fool” he yelled at me.  Turn out there was no real harm just that they weren’t as good that way.  I have to disagree.  If you haven’t had boiled Peanuts you are not missing all that much.  The nuts turn into soggy, almost baked bean like blobs.  I figured he had worked me enough so I bought his smallest cup, which was still nearly a pound, for 3 dollars.  I figured getting Scott to try it alone would be worth it.  Scott wouldn’t even try one and they stunk up the car something fierce.  Lesson learned, do not eat boiled peanuts.

Made it to Orlando a little after 12am

Day 2
April 26, 2011

Honest Abe, Air Pressure and Mammoth Caves

Day two was another good day.  We learned a lot of things, about a lot of things.  First the rain that seemed to follow us has been around for nearly a month we found out.  Cincinnati had its highest level of rain since 1820 something.  The banks of all the rivers had poured into yards and across a number of roads.  The flooding is intense, it is still raining, and the forecast is for more storms tonight.

We started the morning at Big Boy for breakfast.  Scott had never been and I was more than happy the take a rare chance to visit the Big Boy.  It was only 8am but I couldn’t resist ordering the Super Big Boy burger.  It a lot like a Big Mac it turns out.  From Big Boy it was a short drive over a few flooded streets to see Powerex.

Powerex is a mid sized company that deals in air pumps.  If you went to a hospital and heard the doctor say, “Nurse Suction” there is a good chance the compressor behind it was a Powerex compressor.  They also supply the air to the masks and tubes that many patients need for respiration.  Cool stuff.  These guys were serious about compressors the stats, sizes, makes, models and specs they could rattle off reminded me of talking with a true car lover.  I had a vague idea of what was going on and could grasp the big benefit of each feature but to say I had the understanding or passion for compressors these people did would be false.

That is one of the best parts of my job.  We make gateways that move data from x protocol to y protocol and we are passionate about it, as dorky as that may seem.  The cool part is that our customers do and are passionate about 1000 different things.  We move data with little regard for it represents.  So we have customers that make pumps, trains, planes, drives, power meters, solar panes and everything else you can imagine.  They are passionate about things I will never fully understand but I can appreciate their passion and can add a benefit to their products and application with what we are passionate about. This leads to many mutually beneficial relationships

Lincoln:

No question Lincoln was a great president but how many states need to fight over his legacy and heritage.  Illinois is the land of Lincoln, Indiana is the childhood home of Lincoln and Kentucky is where he was born.   These facts are featured on the welcome signs of each state.  Seems like a three way battle to grab the after glow of a national figure.  We only made a stop in Kentucky to see the place of his birth.  It is a rather grandiose National Monument.  A huge flight of marble stairs lead up to a massive marble structure containing the log cabin Lincoln was born in.  Only one hitch, it not really his cabin.  Shortly after Roosevelt commissioned the monument and laid the corner stone in 1909 it was discovered the house was not his birth house but a close proximity.  It was still cool to see but it seems like a lot of trouble for a random cabin.  I might just be bitter though.  The most famous politician to come out of Wisconsin was a lunatic that led our country on a modern day witch hunt.  Yes Senator Joseph McCarthy was from Wisconsin.  Makes me wish Lincoln had done something in Wisconsin we could jump on his bandwagon.

Big Caves:

After saying goodbye to the birth place of Honest Abe we headed down the interstate in route to some undecided location in TN for the night.  By chance we saw the first roadside sign for Mammoth Caves National Park and knew we had to make a stop.  I have found if the park is worthy of being a National Park it is always worth the stop.  We went on the 2pm Historic tour and it was worth it.

The cave, beyond that fact that it has over 400 miles of under ground caves, was also an important natural resource in the war of 1812.  The caves were all formed by the Green River some 10 million years ago.  Since the level of the Green river has fallen some 500  feet over those 10 million years the caves are now extremely dry.  The interior is limestone but a cap of shall acts like a raincoat diverting water from trickling into the cave.  This leaves dry Nitrogen rich dirt which can be processed into salt peter for making gun power.

In the war of 1812 the British had blocked our ports so no gun power could be brought in.  Had it not been for this mine and Mr. Dupont back East, we would probably be saluting the Queen today.

You should see the system they had for this.  Hollowed out logs ran over a quarter mile into the cave to bring water to washing beds.  There the piles of dry dirt were moistened and filtered so that the nitrogen rich water could be pumped back out of the cave and distilled into salt peter.  I took a minute to image the time and labor it would take to hollow out one 10+ foot log.  This was not easy labor!  Beyond the history the other great entertainment on the tour came from Scott.

For those of you who do not know Scott he is a pretty jumpy guy.  To that point that if you turn the corner on the way to washroom, with no bad intent, you may cause him to jump and squeal.  This is not to say that I am so innocent that I never take advantage of this trait and jump out at him.  It is only to say it sometimes doesn’t even take that effort.

In this case we where a mile and a half into the cave.  We had two tour guides for our 30 person group.  The first was an eccentric old man that was a true character and the second was a young women all of about 5’ 2” in height.  I don’t think she said a word the entire tour.  She was there to police the crowd and make sure no one was lost in the cave.  She was silent and nimble.  Distracted by the dark and gawking at the cave formations around us we often lost track of her.  This is where it gets good.  At one point while heading into a particularly dark and narrow portion of the cave she had gotten ahead of the group and was squatted waiting in the dark for us to pass. Scott was the first to pass and as he looked to his right his entire body leapt and a some exasperated words and sounds came out of his mouth.  In Scott’s defense it was creepy and you really couldn’t see her until you were upon her, but his reaction deep in that cave was priceless.

After Mammoth Cave we headed to Nashville for the night for a goods nights sleep.

 

Road Trip Day 1
April 25, 2011

Bacon Eats and Automation Deceit

Day 1 can only be described as a success.  My back is stiff from the road and I am struggling now to keep my eyes open now but those are minor side effects that I would endure time and time again for a day like today.  Not even the lousy weather could dampen this day and lousy might be an understatement.  We left Milwaukee with 40 degree weather and rain.  While the temperature steadily increased as we moved to ever more southern latitudes the rain was a constant and unwelcome companion for the entire trip.  But like I said it was good day. The silver linings of those dreaded clouds were found.

The Bacon Eats: (The Americana discovery portion of the day)

We hit the road at 5 am.  The biggest reason for the early departure was to avoid the Chicago traffic.  With the exception of minor delays we accomplished that.  Two CD’s into Alan Alda’s book “Why You Should Never Stuff Your Dog” we hit the Indiana border and were ready to refuel.

We pulled off the highway and hit a truck stop.  It was a pretty typical truck stop.  It had a Denny’s and a gift shop featuring all the best collector spoons and shot glasses.  Had it not been for a particular piece of pork this leg of the journey would not have been worth mentioning.  The piece of pork we are referring to is of course Bacon.  Denny’s is running an all Bacon campaign featuring different flavors and industrial sized servings of the pig product.  Scott got some breakfast featuring 6 slices and I got a dish featuring 2 slices of the peppercorn bacon, not bad.  That course alone makes me seem much less gluttonous than I truly was.  You see the crowing dish on this bacon menu was a Bacon Maple Sundae and no, I could not resist.

I am sure this is really a novelty dish, put on the menu more as a marketing ploy and conversation point than as a culinary offering but I don’t care! It worked and I was sucked in to ordering the Bacon Sundae I assume only myself and a few testosterone filled frat boys had ever even considered eating.  The waitress literally shuttered and made a grown at the idea of serving the dish.  She said she has only served it to a few guys, and only to guys.  Why am I not surprised?  After much anticipation the thing finally came.  Three scoops of vanilla ice cream, drenched in Maple syrup, and laced with piles of chopped bacon.  I can only imagine what I looked like at that moment.  It was probably a mix between a wide eyed kid at a candy store and that same kid getting ready for a spoonful of cough syrup.  Deep dread and utter pleasure powering over me at the same time as that first bite was on its way.  The result was less climatic but surprising.

It really wasn’t that bad.  The crunchy salty bits of bacon were like the peanuts in a Snicker.  The bacon was the perfect compliment to the Maple syrup and ice cream.  I am not stopping for another on the way home but kudos to the inventor and marketing guy that got that dish on the menu.

10,000 calories later we hit the road again and flew through Indiana and their amazing 70 MPH limits.  Scott was driving now and I think the close proximity to Indianapolis made him think he was driving in the Indy 500.  It is clear his knowledge of racing is a lot like mine.  And that is no knowledge outside of crashes or near crashes.  I say this because that was the part of the race he seemed to be emulating.  I needed an excuse to get my heart rate up anyway…

As we sped along we saw the large wind mills on the side of the road.  The clouds were hanging so low with their payload of rain that you could only see the lowest blade swoop down from the mist.  The sight bore a slight resemblance to a giant golf club swinging from the clouds and I though the Big Guy must be working on his drives here in Indiana.

We arrived in Cincinnati at around 1pm where Scott and I both enjoyed our first sampling of Skyline Chili.  He had the Dogs w/out cheese (he has a lactose thing) and I had a four way with onions and substituted for the new habanero cheese.  We were both offered bibs which was great and the chili, if you can call it that, wasn’t bad.  We left with a smile, full stomachs and another thing checked off the bucket list.

It was now time to head over to Midwest Equipment for some real business.  They were a great group and a lot like RTA is size, structure and strengths.  We are both little companies owned by entrepreneurial guys.  We carve out our niche in market with great service, delivery, and support.  I think we will be a good match.  If anyone in the Cincinnati area is looking at purchasing one of our gateways give the Guys at Midwest Equipment a call.

After the meeting we settled into our hotel and headed out to grab a bite to eat.

We found a true gem, Terry’s Turf house.  This was the quintessential Road Trip restaurant.  We pull up to this non descript location 20 min outside of downtown Cincinnati (it may have taken 10 min but by navigator was distracted).  The area was half residential half abandon manufacturing.  Then like a beacon on the horizon you see the warming and welcoming glow of neon light.  I hope I can get the video up soon because I don’t think words can describe it.  There were hundreds of neon’s and full sized human cut outs covering the lawn and sides of this shack sized building.  Once you get inside it is even better.  The walls were covered in old beer and soda neon’s as well as nostalgic 1950’s pieces.  Peanut shells cracked under our feet and the smells from the open kitchen let me know we were at the right place.

 

We ate at the bar that over looking the kitchen.  The service was great.  A heavy dose of witty smart a$# complimented with a sincere level service.  Think the best quality service you can imagine with a heavy bit of quirky personality.  Not for everyone but perfect in my book.

The burgers were these monster ½ pound patty’s cooked up on a flat top grill.  They top them with what can only be described as gourmet sauces and fixens.  I had a roasted red pepper feta sauce, with onions and gorgonzola cheese.  Scott had the same hold the gorgonzola.  We shared a large order of fresh cut fries; the menu said a serving was enough for two, it was right..  The burger was killer.   It was a to the elbows, absolutely delicious, mess.  I should have taken my Skyline Chili bib with me.  This burger was officially added to my “WBB” list (Worlds Best Burger) and is in the top 5.  Plus this place has to be seen to be believed.  We both agreed it was a great stop.  If you are in Cincinnati check out Terry’s Turf Club

 

The Automation Deceit: (The industry related section)

While the long trip gave me ample time to digest and day dream about the big guy on back nine, it also left some time for work and industry related thoughts.

Automation is a wonderful thing.  When used properly it can save time, money, and lives.  On the other side of that coin there are also countless applications that have been poorly thought out and executed in the name of one or more of those savings.  Automation means nothing without proper thought and execution.

Case and Point: Toll Booths

Here is a perfect example of bad execution in a system that is prime for automation.  In Illinois the toll booths are mostly manned booths, exits and ipass aside.  This is not highly skilled labor but these people have worked out a system to efficiently move you through while collecting your toll.  Change for every conceivable monetary denomination is ready for a quick grab when your car approaches and you present your toll.  The quick exchange takes under 4 seconds and as you accelerate away the clerk is resetting for the next driver.

I am sure this is mind numbing work but these people are efficient.  Contrast this with Indiana.

Indiana has automated toll stations.  I am sure the savings in labor are founded and justified but the execution is junk.  The idea is right on.  Build a device that will accept dollars coins and credit cards to cover a per axel rate.  Essentially use a machine to replace monotonous, costly, highly repetitive relatively simple (in function) jobs.  In this economy I hate to champion destroying jobs but this is an application that just screams to be automated and yet the execution was a total failure.

You pull up to the large ATM sized box and wait for the price to appear on an LED panel 15 feet in front of the car.  The sign is highly visible only you don’t notice it when you are looking at this large machine trying to make up and down of it.  Once you find the price display the rest should be cake.  Put in the corresponding dollars and coins to reach that amount and move on.  Only it wasn’t that simple.

The dollars were taken in one at a time and there was a 4-5 second delay while the machine processed each bill.  This is far slower than the least motivated toll person.  Our toll was $1.80 so after the first bill I went to add coins.  What could go wrong, you ask?  Well they designed the coin slot poorly.  The coins didn’t just fall in you had to give them a bit of a push to get them over some internal lip.  Not difficult with a large quarter but the nickels and dimes took a few try’s and some finagling.  On top of that the sides of the coin slot were not smooth and somehow I managed to get a dime lodged in the opening. Yes, I got a dime stuck in a coin slot?!?! Yes it said it accepted dines and yes when I say lodged I mean lodged, I could not get it out.

So I have now been at an automation toll station for over 45 seconds and am feeling flustered and embarrassed.  No friendly toll person to set me straight in sight, or even a grumpy one to push me on my way.  I grab another dollar shove it in, wait 8-9 seconds, get my change and drive off.

I personally held up the traffic behind me for a minute and I can only imagine what the now nonfunctioning coin slot did to the traffic beyond my extended stay.  Even if I did everything right the transaction would have taken nearly 3-4 times as long as with a teller.  They failed miserably in their design and execution. Maybe on paper they are still saving money but this was a terrible device.  It was slower than the least qualified laborer and was wrought with poor design.

The lesson will be fresh in my mind.  Look at everything from the user or customer’s perspective and design it to their needs.  Technology of all kinds is now more readily available than at any time before.  The burden on Machine builders and system integrators is to use these different, readily available, pieces of technology in well thought out ways.  If your machine doesn’t do the job as well as a person you either have a poor application for automation or failed miserably in your design and implementation.

More to come from Tuesday Travels!

Happy Trails.

04/22/11

The RTA Road Trip Car is in the Parking Lot

Picked the rental car up at the Enterprise this afternoon.  There is nothing quite like putting a rental through its paces early.  Scott scolded me when we arrived back at the office for putting unneeded wear on the tires.  To which I replied, “This is why we rent”.  I am pretty sure that brought a twinkle to his eye, or maybe it was a tear knowing he would be spending the next week with me in that car.  Either way it will be good to get on the road.

The weather here is crummy as you can see in the image below.  Mid 40’s and raining.  The warm breezes and afternoon showers of Orlando are calling me.

RTA Road Trip Car

First stop is Monday in Cincinnati.  We leave Milwaukee at 5 am and are meeting with a customer at 3pm that same day.  For dinner we are on the search for that famous Sky Line Chili.  I don’t want to look like a tourist so I am taking it the local way on spaghetti.  It will be a first for me and I look forward to it.

We will be updating this page nightly with all the adventures from the day.  Of course if that is not enough and you need real time streaming Drew and Scott there will be plenty of options for you.  To the right you can see our latest twitter posts, Dueling posts!  To see images and comments live friend us on Facebook, user name “Real Time Automation”.  And if you can’t wait to see our videos subscribe to our Youtube account, user name RealTimeAutomation (no spaces).

Consumer technology is wild, even as a young man it boggles my mind.  We are broadcasting this entire trip with no more than an Android phone and a few apps.  I can’t help but continue to wonder what this technology will eventually bring to the factory floor.

I know our industry is slow to change and new technologies never sweep in and eliminate the old ones like in the consumer market.  I like to think that if the consumer market was like our market we would still have 20% of people using beta (yes I am old enough to remember beta) and a strong loyal following for the 8-track (I am too young for 8-track though).

While new technology may never have sweeping changes in our industry I see many advances possible in peripheral and monitoring devices.  It’s hard to stomach replacing a million dollar machine with new technology but using new technology to better monitor it is much easier to swallow.  The new BlackBerry PlayBook (ipad competition) has a QNX operating system. We have QNX EtherNet/IP and EtherNet/IP tag client source code software, anyone want to make an app for that?  Think about the ability to read and write tags in your Allen-Bradley PLC with your phone, now that is a cool use of technology.

Happy Trails!

04/20/11

5 Days Until We Hit the Road, and Ready for a Revolution

We hit the road in five days and it couldn’t come soon enough. The goal is to promote our gateways and spread the “Simplicity Revolution”. This is our philosophy on automation products. Why deal with products that do 100 things, have a 300 page manual and require days of support when all you need is a simple gateway to connect two protocols? That question is what spurred the “Simplicity Revolution” find out more in the posts to come…

Simplicity_Revolution

CSIA 2011 Orlando or Bust

Scott and Drew of Real Time Automation set out on a week long road trip from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Orlando, Florida for the 2011 CSIA Executive Conference.  They are on a journey to see past and present customers using Real Time Automation gateways, explore Americana East of the Mississippi, and will try not to get into any trouble.

One Rental Car, Seven Days, One Engineer, One Marketer, all broadcast live via twitter, our blog and Facebook.

This will be a true road trip adventure for the ages.  Think Thelma and Louise without the crime, Louis and Clark without Pocahontas, Harold and Lloyd without the moped or bad haircuts, the National Lampoons without Chevy Chase, Easy Rider without the Motor Cycles, or Cheech and Chong without the dope.  I guess that leaves us with Drew and Scott stuck in a car for 7 days…

This is Why We Need You

To make this anything more than just a test of patiences and a social experiment on long term coworker exposure we need your help.  If you reside east of the Mississippi and have used our products we want to stop by and get a picture of us with you, your business and our gateway in action on the front lines of your application.  If you want help getting a unit up and running we want to stop by to assist you and share your application.  If you just have a great roadside attraction for Scott and Drew we want to hear from you.

Just post below to get your stop on the Great Eastern RTA road trip of 2011.

What’s in it for you?  As if seeing Scott’s boyish good looks in person is not enough…

Anyone who gives us an invitation or suggestion will receive the official “I got connected with Scott and Drew in 2011 and all I got was this crappy bumper sticker” bumper sticker, a full assortment of useless but fun RTA giveaways, and a USB rocket launcher (my personal favorite).  Also you and your company (link) will be included in all of the road trip event literature and web pages.  This will be included in our literature to all CSIA Executive conference attendees.

The Logistics

Scott and Drew are leaving Milwaukee, WI at 5am on April 25th and need to be in Orlando by Thursday April 28th by noon.  They then have from 8pm Thursday till Sunday to make it back to Milwaukee.  All visits must be between April 25th and the 28th or the 29th to May 1st.   No location, no matter how obscure or out of the way, will be ignored if it is at all possible to get to within the time frame.

Help us create a road trip for the ages and send your suggestion for the Gateway Connection tour 2011 now.

Call us at 262-436-9299 or click contact us at the top of the page