It is with great pleasure that we present our annual collection of offbeat Web sites. The 11 months of diligent, intense Web research that produces this column often uncovers Web sites that are totally irrelevant to the topic at hand. These are saved for your winter solstice entertainment. Each of the following sites adheres to the basic philosophy we’ve followed for more than 12 years: authentic content that is zero-cost, noncommercial and registration-free. I hope you find something useful in this exploration of the off-the-beaten-path "sights" that don't necessarily have a rational relationship to the business life of the plant professional.
Honor thy craftsmen
Effective plant maintenance and engineering has its roots in a worker taking pride in doing something correctly the first time and fixing it so it won’t break that way ever again. Most people recognize excellent craftsmanship when they see it. It’s the little details and the precision with which work is completed that define the difference between the skilled cabinet maker in a studio and the typical wood butcher with a basement shop. To see a graphic example of true craftsmanship, point your browser at http://eyecurrent.com, scroll down to the archive listed in the right-hand column and select the January 2008 entry. The 20-minute video there shows how an amateur radio operator fabricates triode vacuum tubes from scratch. And, yes, of course, this craftsman uses several pieces of specialized tooling.
Give an artist a single sheet of paper and something with which to cut it and creativity blossoms — in three dimensions, no less. The Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden hosted a contest in which the rules were just that — one piece of paper and a blade. The entries were simply amazing. But, you can see that for yourself if you cut to http://whyinternet.blogspot.com and click on “Hirshhorn Modern Art Gallery — contest entries” in the January 2008, entry shown on the right side. The 26 entries depicted here include people, buildings, animals and flowers. Words don’t suffice — you’ve got to see it for yourself.
If you fancy yourself a craftsman with a delicate hand, then you have an opportunity to prove it in the virtual world. Our Technology Toolbox columnist, Sheila Kennedy, brought to my attention an online game posted by National Geographic magazine. The idea is that you control three tasks simultaneously using only your trusty desk rodent. As a crane lowers a rotor into a turbine housing, you keep its axis horizontal and centered on the journal bearings while keeping workers out of the danger zone. Give it a try the next time things get boring at the plant. Spin over to http://www.nationalgeographic.com and click on “National Geographic Channel” at the left. Then, click on “Shows” near the top center and again on “World’s Toughest Fixes” listed in the “Featured Shows” section. Finally, click on “Can You Handle a Big Fix” near the top center. Warning: It’s way too easy to overcorrect once things start moving.
Speaking of wheels
That fact we’re a mobile nation is intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer. Those trusty vehicles upon which we rely are subjected to different degrees of maintenance. Reactive people wait until the engine is about to seize before they so much as refill the crankcase. Preventive people get an oil change every 3,000 miles or every three months, whichever comes first, whether it’s needed or not. The rest of us predictive folk listen and monitor and maybe even check the dipstick once in a while. Those comments are here only because I needed a lead-in before mentioning Michael Kaufman, an AMSOIL dealer from Lowell, Mich. He wrote a 177-page book, "The Motor Oil Bible," that you can download at http://motoroilbible.com. Skip to page 17 to avoid the commercial material. From there to page 45, you learn the heavy techno-stuff about oil and get to his main argument that synthetic oils are better than petroleum-based lubes. Kaufman claims that if you use synthetic oil, you can go 10,000 to 25,000 miles between oil changes and rack up 300,000 miles on the odometer. But, he goes way off topic for five pages, beginning at page 145, before returning to the main content of this lubricant magnum opus.
Your vehicle probably needs other fluids, mainly fuel. Even with the recent decline in gasoline prices, you might want to optimize your ROI when you fill up that gas hog. The Microsoft Web site is going to point you to the least-expensive gas station in your area. Drive your mouse over to http://www.msn.com, park on the “Autos” link at the upper left and open the “Gas Prices” door in the lower right. From there you need only enter your zip code to be rewarded with the identity of your gas tank’s best friend.
Perhaps the best thing you can do now is dump that gas guzzler and treat yourself to a new car. You deserve it. If you agree, Edmund Publications Corp., Santa Monica, Calif., wants you to get the best possible price, whether you seek a new or used vehicle. Check out the offerings at www.edmunds.com. There are so many drop-down menus on this site and so many vehicular opinions out there that I’ll leave you to explore in peace.
Verbal precision needed
The reason our economy has been suffering lately might be related to imprecision in what passes for workplace or Washingtonian communication. One can issue directives, knowing full well what is intended, but if the transmission mode is muddled, the receiver won’t understand. Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to clean up our language skills and avoid the BBC’s “50 office-speak phrases you love to hate,” which will appear at http://news.bbc.co.uk after you enter “50 phrases” in the search box.