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Whatever rings Mel's bells

Such a knockout!

Electricians don’t just work with wire.  In fact, as I was surprised to learn on my first site, electricians spend more time working with the pipe that’s going to carry the wire than with the wire itself!  Where the pipes join together, we install junction boxes – usually steel – in which we cut, drill, or punch holes for the pipe.  The pieces that get left when we cut the holes look like this:

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You can see flat ones, which come pre-punched at the factory, then are tacked back into the box before shipping.  That way, they’re easy to remove if we want, but if we don’t want a hole there they stay put and provide a secure barrier to protect the wire.  There are also a couple crescent-shaped ones in there, which are punched eccentrically (rather than concentrically) so you can choose what size hole you want.

Notice the difference between those and the wavy ones.  There’s a size difference, of course, but I love the shape of the wavy ones!  They get that shape because they’re punched out locally with a tool that cuts the hole in two or three places, rather than all around the diameter, at the same time.  So much interest!  So fascinating!  They’re like little pieces of art, all by themselves!

Well, to me they are.  To the rest of the crew they’re so many pieces of detritus, to be swept out with the rest of the garbage.  But the first time I saw one, I saw beauty.  So I took it home and filed it and turned it into this:

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Oh, yeah.  THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, BABY!!!  A knockout necklace that’s made of a knockout! And hopefully will get bought and then worn by a knockout.  ;-D  You can buy it here, BTW.  Just sayin’.

Now I have a million ideas on how I can use these.  With leather, on chain, drill holes in a whole series of them and make a jingly anklet…  So.  Many.  Ideas.

But they all start with finishing the damn things.  *le sigh*  Which means a lot of work.

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Have to grind off the sharp edges, file or sand away the scrapes and dings, then get them to whatever level of finish I want.

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Aside: I am absolutely giddy with excitement that I finally got to use my polishing compounds!  Squee!

With them and my handy-dandy rotary tool, gift of my darling HSO (who reads this blog but I’d say that even if he didn’t), I got a near-mirror finish on one of them:

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The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it is SHI-NY!  Still has some imperfections, but I did rush it a bit.  And I’m relearning stuff I only learned halfway, twenty years ago.  Plus, I’m figuring out how to get different finishes, and I’m not even sure what I want or what my options are.  So I’m giving myself some wiggle room.

At any rate, this is how I spent a couple hours this evening.  Very enjoyable hours, too, though my hands hurt after a while from all the vibration.  Next step is to try out my rotary tumbler with some steel shot, so I can see what kind of results that gives me, then I’ll try them in different orders and see what happens then.  SCIENCE!

Shocking news

Today is a red-letter day, my friends.  Today I’m going to tell you about…  Making jewelry!  Or at least, my jewelry business activities.

Yes, I know!  Unprecedented, isn’t it?  I’m pretty sure I talk about everything *but* jewelry on this blog.  But I figure, hey, why not?  And since I’ve lately been devoting a lot more time to building up my business, I figure I ought to take a crack at it.

What have I been doing, you may ask.  (Or you may not.  But I’m going to tell you anyway.)  Well, first, when I moved the bulk of my item listings to Zibbet, I also started cruising the fora (plural of forum, for those of you who prefer your Latin without the standard American twist) and found a thriving, warm community.  I got involved with a group that does weekly “flash attacks,” trading links and promoting each others’ shops and items.

The best time for me to do this work turned out to be on my morning and afternoon commute, so I ponied up the cash for wifi service on the ferry and signed up for a Hootsuite account to manage all my posts.  And it’s been working brilliantly!

I sign on in the morning and schedule tweets to go out all day while I’m at work.  Generally, I do half of them for the “flashee” at the time, and the other half are divided between my own items and other random things like Seahawks news or current events or useful articles.  I really enjoy finding the twitter handle of someone affiliated with whatever I’m posting and tagging them.  ;-D

One thing I’m really trying to do is provide more content than just sales pitches.  I mean, who’s going to follow me – and pay attention – if all I do is advertise all day?  No, I need to have more to attract people than just that.  So after I schedule out a dozen or so messages (more if the mood strikes) I look at what’s trending and find a discussion to contribute to.  Like the #YesAllWomen, for example, though I wasn’t doing this yet when that got started.

Basically, I’m trying to interact with others in the Twitterverse in a way that encourages them to pay attention.  Thus far I’m meeting with some results.  Pretty much every day something that’s come out of my feed gets attention from outside our flash attack group.  Which is the mark of success for what I’m doing – we’re all very attentive to each other, so when these ladies share my tweets it’s awesome, but doesn’t show the same results that I’m looking for in my other posts.

It’s a slow process, but I think it’s working.  At least a bit.  Which is really all I can ask for!  As my darling HSO is fond of saying, “Progress is.”

Songwriter’s block

I blog when I can’t write a song
‘Cause the words are all coming out wrong
The rhythm and rhyme
All end up out of time
And the meter in one line always seems to end up way too long for the rest of it, but I can’t seem to cut it shorter because I really want to say what’s already in there, you know? And I can never find a good way to restate it more concisely while retaining the meaning I tried to get at in the first place. So it really screws up the whole intent and the – um… Yeah.

Putting out fires at work

Usually when I use that phrase, I’m referring to urgent problems that I have to solve quickly.  Yesterday… not so much.

Yup!  Real fire!

Not a big one, mind you, but still, fire.  Open flame in a place where no open flame belongs.

Brent and I were pulling string into conduits in the north grade level, and Dave was up on a scaffold with Kim, showing her how to cad weld.  He decides to shield everything below from sparks – but he chooses to use a piece of cardboard.  I’d say that was his first mistake, but actually it was his second.  See, Kim was supposed to be his fire watch.  Which means she should have been down below him where the sparks would fall – and (incidentally) where the fire extinguisher was.

So the flammable-object-as-fire-protection was actually his second mistake.  It lit, of course, so he put it out.  Sort of…

Yup!  Third mistake was not making sure it was completely extinguished, which he compounded by then dropping the cardboard off the scaffold.  Needless to say, it flared back up and next thing you know, there’s flaming cardboard landing a foot away from me.

It was easily fixed, of course.  Grab cardboard (by non-burning end), stomp on cardboard, double check that it’s really out.  Problem solved.

But still, it was the talk of the crew for the rest of the day.  And probably will be when I get in today, as well!

Pin ceremony

Tonight I’m at a union meeting, in particular what promises to be a very long union meeting.  They’re never precisely short, but tonight promises to take a little more of my time than usual, because they are awarding service pins to the folks who have been around for a while.

Half a dozen names were read for gentlemen who have been in the union for 65 years.  65 YEARS, people!!  These guys have been working members of the Brotherhood for 30 years longer than I’ve been alive!  It’s kind of crazy, in fact, for me to consider what these folks have seen over the years.  The changes in the industry, in the area, in the world as a whole…  It’s mind-boggling.

It makes me wonder what I’ll see when I’ve been around as long as they have.  It makes me wonder about the things that will change over the years, and how.  It makes me wonder what I’ll see, and how I’ll change as the years pass.

The first 30 years of service had only men, and there have only been a handful of people of color so far; it makes me wonder if those numbers were similar last year, or will be again next year.  As I look around at work and at school, I think they’re probably close.  Most of the folks in the hall are white males.  How much of that is due to like attracting like, how much to active discrimination, and how much to lack of interest on the part of minorities around here?

I guess I’m the reflective type; always thinking and wondering and deducting.  Trying to figure things out.  Attempting to make sense of things, despite the fact that they often don’t.  Glutton for punishment?  Perhaps.

All I know is that sitting here tonight, I feel like I’m part of something greater; something that will be here for the rest of my life; something that I can invest in and that will, in time, pay back strong dividends based on my investment.  It’s an organization that builds the community, that drives the economy, and that raises the bar for worker treatment and for the industry as a whole.

I’m proud to be a union member.  I can’t wait to be up there myself, getting a 65 year pin.  You know, if I live that long!

Taking a break

Thanksgiving is over, Christmas is around the corner, and I’m at home.  Why is that?  Because I got laid off.  :-(  Good news is, it’s temporary.  Being a member of the IBEW (da UNION), and especially being an apprentice, I’ll get sent back to work within a couple weeks any time I get laid off.  And in this case, I’ll be back at the same site by Christmas because as soon as the last concrete pour is ready they’ll need me (and several other people) back again.

This leaves me with a couple weeks of having extra time on my hands.  What am I doing with it?  EVERYTHING.  I’m catching up on sleep, housework, paperwork, correspondence…  And also I’m creating for the first time in months!  It feels GREAT by the way.  My schedule has been so ridiculous (13 hours gone every day for work and commute) and I’ve been so far behind for so long.  I’m not happy with the financial picture this is painting, but I definitely need the break.

All in all, it’s good timing.  Now I’ll have time to make Christmas gifts as planned.  :-D  And I’ll try to update this a few times while I’m not so frantically busy!

No NaNo

Not this year.  Nope, I’m skipping NaNoWriMo this year.  I turned in my ML card and threw in the towel.

It feels strange, but not bad.  I mean, it turns out that noveling is just not my thing.  And that’s good information to know – that it’s not my strength.  I learned a lot about myself from trying NaNo 3 years in a row, and I’m glad I did it.  But I’m not gonna do it again.

Instead, watch for FAWM – February is Album Writing Month!  Yep, the shortest month of 2014 will spawn enough material for an album.  (Not that I expect it all to be good enough to publish!)  The goal is to write 14 songs in 28 days.  I did it this year and I got 9, which falls short of the goal but is 9 more songs that I would have otherwise.  And it gets me writing, even collaborating with other writers!  So it’s really a great thing.  Like NaNo, there are no prizes, and their website connects you with other songwriters all over the world.  I haven’t been writing much lately, but I have been collecting ideas to work on in Feb.  In fact, I’m having to remind myself that I’m allowed to write the other 11 months too, not just save everything up for Feb!  LOL

So when that rolls around, I may (if I’m feeling bold) share a link or two here for you to enjoy.

Or maybe not.

Time to be moving on

I have some unpleasant news folks; due to some recent policy changes, I’m going to shut down my Etsy shop.  A few days ago I got an email sent out by the CEO of Etsy discussing these new “clarified” policies, and frankly I was appalled.  Etsy bills itself as a marketplace for handmade goods, but over the past years the “handmade” section has been taken over by mass producers pretending to be crafters.  By checking sites like CraftCount that track the top sellers, this becomes obvious.  The top several sellers are from Far East countries well known for large numbers of sweatshops, and with average daily sales in the hundreds for each of these shops it’s obvious these aren’t individual sellers.

Well, as of January 1st, the rules allow these sellers to hire employees, use fulfillment services, and even involve outside manufacturers – as long as they’ve designed the product.  By redefining the term “handmade” to include work that CLEARLY is not handmade, it puts the nail in the coffin of small, indie sellers like myself who not only design but also create all our own goods with our own hands.

So I’m leaving.  This is not a decision I’m making lightly; I’ve spent nearly five years on Etsy.  This change will affect every aspect of my business.  But I can’t compete with that demographic and I don’t want to.  That’s why I went to Etsy in the first place – because I want to be part of a community of small sellers like myself.

To make a long story short, I’ve started migrating my listings over to Zibbet.com as of this week.  To where, you say?  I know, I hadn’t heard of them before either.  But they have the potential to compete very strongly with Etsy in time.  The costs are lower to start up, they actively police listings and flag (and even remove!) shops that are out of compliance, and they have a firm reputation for fast and personal responses.

I hope you’ll come visit me at my new web home http://www.zibbet.com/MelsBellsJewelry which will be (slowly) filling up with all the same goodies from my Etsy site, as well as a bunch of new stuff you haven’t even seen yet!  Thanks for all your support, as always.  I’m trusting that this change, though frustrating for me, will lead me to a better community that I’ll truly fit into.

Why health care is so expensive in America

Why hello blogosphere, it’s been some time.  Sorry to have neglected you so, I’ve been trying to survive and all that.  But I’m at home sick today and have thus had a little time to internet (yes I used it as a verb) and OF COURSE posted something political that caused a friend to respond which caused me to want to respond back which led me to learn more about the subject with all the copious spare time I had this afternoon.  (That would be a couple of hours.)  So.  Here is the product of said interneting (Mommmmmm, she did it again!) and I hope not only that you will enjoy it but that you will in fact respond.  Because as it turns out (SPOILER ALERT) the end is a great big question mark.

With no further ado, I present “Several Reasons Why Health Care is So Expensive in America.”

 

1.  We’re living longer.

Not only do you pay for the statins that delay your heart attack, and the angioplasty that deals with it when it does happen, but then you also pay for the cancer and the knee replacement and the Alzheimer’s that you wouldn’t have lived long enough to get in an earlier age.  None of these treatments existed in the past; you often got ineffective care and then died.  D’oh!  Modern medicine can do wonderful, nearly magical things – gene therapies, transplants, and more – which simply didn’t exist twenty or fifty or a hundred (or two!) years ago.  So of course with more options for treatment available, there’s more spending going on.  And the older we get, the more spending goes on per person.

What do we do about it?  Well nothing directly – living longer is a good thing!  We don’t want to stop that, it’s the entire point of medicine, right?  But we wouldn’t get some of those diseases if we lived better (ate healthy food and stayed active) in the first place.  Unfortunately overcoming this will take a herculean effort to change the entire food system – a system that has convinced people that just because a company’s food isn’t fried, it must be healthy.  (I’m looking at you and your processed meats, Subway.  Eat fresh, my ass.)  So even an indirect solution seems unlikely in the immediate future.  Incremental improvement?  Possible.  But self-driven for the most part, and therefore entirely unpredictable IMHO.

 

2.  Medical administration is inherently inefficient.

Self-insured companies pay a percentage of their fees, not a flat rate, to the companies that process their employees’ claims.  Just as in any other cost-plus system (like NASA) this leads to the generation of artificial costs that do nothing but drive up costs and therefore profit.  Who cares if you’re spending twice the payroll to administer costs, if you’re getting paid three times what it actually costs you?  Cutting your payroll at that point will actually cut your profit, because if your costs go down so does your pay!

That’s right, the more they spend, the more they waste, and the more they ultimately make.  Ain’t nobody gonna change that from the inside.  Efficiency expert, thy name is Mudd.

 

3.  We pretend that we have a free market, but we really don’t.

A free market presupposes that the buyer is able to make judicious and rational decisions based on the costs and benefits of various options.  By balancing the cost you’re paying with the benefit you get, you can choose the product that’s right for you.  Seems legit.  But wait, when was the last time you were told the cost of a medical procedure before you decided to have it done?  When was the last time you found out how much of that particular procedure your insurer would cover?  The doctor tells us, “You need this done,” and we generally say, “Okay.”  Some few people ask, “Is that expensive?  Is there a less costly – or less invasive – option?” but these folks are few and far between.  And in most cases, the doctor’s office doesn’t even know how much the procedure is going to cost.

Try it.  Next time you go to the doctor, ask him or her point-blank how much the procedure is going to cost you out of pocket.  Ask the desk attendant how much the visit will cost you before you go in.  If you have an insurer that they work with a great deal, they’ll probably give you a number for the visit itself, but they’ll qualify it.  “It should be around $XXX or so.”  Don’t want to be too sure and end up wrong, do we?  If you want anything more than that, they’re likely going to say they don’t know, and heaven help you if you have an insurance they aren’t familiar with.  If you’re lucky the staff is very friendly and will be willing to do some research for you to find out, and hopefully you’ll get an answer in a few days.  You know, after you already spent the money.

Why are we so eager to write blank checks for our medical care?  Maybe because this is a place the free market *shouldn’t* rule?  Maybe because our medical decisions are too fraught with emotional impact to make logical decisions and live by caveat emptor?  Maybe because it’s ridiculous to think a patient’s family can make sensible financial decisions and negotiate prices when their parent is dying of cancer, or their child is injured in an accident, or their wife has an emergency in the middle of labor?  Hmm…

 

4.  We get care we don’t really need.

By “we” I mean people with excellent medical coverage who have doctors more concerned with malpractice suits than patient care; doctors who order tests that are unnecessarily expensive, or effectively duplicate results, so that they can “prove” that they did their very best by the patient.  How about you spend more time with the patient instead?  How about you more carefully review their personal history for possible causal factors?  How about you “doc up” and tell them that they’re sick because they eat terribly and don’t exercise?  (No, they’d probably find another doctor who sugarcoats them lies.  ”It’s not your fault, you have a glandular problem.”  For every person who really does have a genuine problem in that area – and there are plenty – I have no doubt that there are three who use it as an excuse.)  Nope, the only thing that impresses some people is dollar signs.  And with all the medical advertising that goes on (“Ask your doctor if XXXX is right for you!”) and the kickbacks doctors are getting from the drug companies (Notice those branded pens around your doctor’s office?  They don’t appear magically, you know!) I guarantee the care you get is strongly influenced by factors OTHER than your best interest as an individual.

I won’t even get into the fallout from false positives and rabbit-track diagnostic distractions, but they add significantly to the problem as well.

 

5.  We don’t get the care we do need.

In this case “we” refers to people with substandard or no medical coverage; people for whom a visit to the doctor for a minor sickness or injury gets put off because of the high cost, leading to a more severe, or even chronic health issue.  Head cold turns into pneumonia; puncture wound goes septic; etc.  When people have to decide between paying the power bill and going to the doctor, or between eating and going to the doctor (which is a rising problem among seniors), they buy another bottle of aspirin every time.  Then, when they finally get desperate enough to seek medical care, they end up in the ER – and after filling out financial aid forms they learn that they still owe several thousand dollars.  (See #3 above.)

 

6.  We pay more for procedures than anyone else does.

I don’t even have anything more to say about this; just check out the link and see what I mean.

 

So what do we have then?  A system where the people with no coverage get no care, where people with average coverage get too little care, and where people with good coverage get too much care that often is of the wrong kind and costs too much anyway.  The extra costs generated in the system are magnified by the inefficiencies inherent, and we are treated as children rather than informed consumers able to make our own decisions.  In fact, we’re indoctrinated to not make our own medical decisions by the mystery that shrouds the entire profession!  “Well are YOU a medical professional?  Then why are you telling me which procedure is better for you?  Trust me, I’m a doctor!”

The system is broken.  It’s really, really broken, busted beyond repair as far as I’m concerned.  The Affordable Care Act does seem to be having an impact as of February, but IMHO it’s too little too late.  If we wanted to fix the real problem, we’d have to overhaul every level of it from top to bottom and rework the way every bit of it is done.  From “Ambulatory Surgical Centers” that step people up from office procedures by telling them it’s cheaper than a hospital stay, to those stupid commercials with lists of side effects that sound worse than the condition being treated, everything would have to change.  Complete overhaul of a multi-billion – oh, I’m sorry, did I say billion?  I meant TRILLION – dollar economic juggernaut?  I don’t think so.

Not to mention the fear-mongering.  Oh yes, any proposed change gets branded as BAD FOR US.  Terrible, in fact, and to be avoided at all costs.  Death panels!  Socialized medicine!  Waiting lines!  Malpractice!  God help us if anything changes – and by “us” I mean the corporations whose controlling officers paid over 5 billion dollars to lobby Congress between 1998 and 2010.  By comparison, THE DEFENSE LOBBY spent less than a third of that during the same time period.  How on earth do we dislodge an industry that makes so much money, and that has us so thoroughly under their thumb?

 

That wasn’t a rhetorical question.

Happy birthday, apprentice!

I got the most wickedly awesome birthday present today – a new career!

Last fall I got into the electrical trade, applying for an apprenticeship as an Inside Wireman and getting a  job as a low-voltage Sound & Communications Installer.  The installer job wasn’t meant to last forever, just till I got into my apprenticeship.  However, that can take a really long time – six months or even several years if you don’t get in the first time.  So I was just happy to be working at all, let alone in my chosen field.

Guess what?  I got into the program on my first try!  And today I went to my employer’s office and got dispatched out to my FIRST SITE AS AN APPRENTICE.  And it’s my birthday.  How about them apples?!?  Kiss it, retail, I told you I’m never coming back!

Gotta say, things got pretty hairy last fall, and I was worried I’d have to go back to the hateful retail world.  But I got the install job, and now I’m taking the first step on the five-year path to my Journeyman ticket.

I am SO. EXCITED.