Nadcap – The Gravitational Hairball

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I am going back to Nadcap one last time!
In a blog post I made just a mere 2 months ago, I gave a “proper goodbye” (Nadcap – A Proper Goodbye) to the program called Nadcap – a 3rd party aerospace special process accreditation program that defined most of my career the last 15 years.  I thought, that mere 2 months ago, I would never have an affiliation with that program again.  What I forgot was that Nadcap is like this great inward sucking vortex of terror that will never let you escape it’s clutches.  I once read a book called “Orbiting the Giant Hairball”, which suggested that institutions like companies or organizations can become hairballs of rules & concepts so big they have their own gravity that sucks you in (your goal is to find a safe orbit around it).  Little did I know that Nadcap’s gravitation pull would find me when I came to JPL.

Point being … Guess who’s going to a Nadcap meeting next week?  This Guy!

There really isn’t anything in my career that I hated more, loved more, loved to hate more, or hated to love more.  Nadcap took me to the greatest places, moved me to my greatest professional heights, and taught me more that any school I ever attended.  It also was a constant source of aggravation, lead to more angry pissing matches, and at times felt like a complete drain on my energies, passions, and time.

Technically speaking – Nadcap is a certification program that allows aerospace primes (the top level companies) to rely on 3rd party auditors to evaluate and mitigate risk of the most critical processes in manufacturing.  During my 11 years at Cessna, I served 10 years on the Nadcap Heat Treat Task Group, most of it as a vice-chair of that task group.  After my ‘Alaskan Sabbatical’, I was thrust into the other side of the process the last two years at Bodycote.

So, why I am going back?   Well … that’s a little complicated.

While we recognize and accept Nadcap audits, JPL doesn’t subscribe to Nadcap — subscription means you garner greater influence through direct evaluation of the program and input on such things like checklists and auditor training.  This subscription, of course, costs money … likely more than we want to spend tax payer money on for the return on that investment.  Still, part of the reason I am going there is to collect information from the new JPL eyes on whether it would be worth our time.

More directly, I am there to present on behalf of NASA  … I am going to let that sink in on you, cause doesn’t that just sound frickin’ awesome?  It’s actually only a couple of slides on Additive Manufacturing (the fancy term for 3-D printing using metal powders).  JPL is actually an industry leader in the developed use of Additive Manufacturing in flight hardware, and we expect to launch some parts on the next Mars rover slated for 2020 (ironically named Mars 2020).  Since we will have to rely on suppliers to make those parts for us, we have a keen interest in the oversight of said processes.  So I am attending to lay out what we would want to see from a 3rd party accreditation of that process.  Attending this meeting is likely a one-time thing, but you never know with programs like this.

All of this comes down to one main subject:
I am going back to Nadcap one last time!

Ironically – the meeting is being held in New Orleans; the city I most love to hate and hate to love.

 

First Night

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Yesterday marked a big turning point in my transition to becoming a California resident – specifically, I finally got my lazy ass to clean out my hotel room and officially spend the first night in my new rented house.  You think I am being funny, but for serious … I waited out of sheer laziness.  I took the keys to the rental house on Jan 31st; which meant after that I could get out of the hotel at any time.  But because I didn’t really have to get out until Feb 9th … I didn’t get out until Feb 9th.  Besides, its easier to bar hop from the hotel.

Finally packing everything up, the pup and I made the move to the house and did what we had to to make it a place someone can live in.  Shifting things around to make it easier to walk through was a big priority.  Getting all my laptops hooked up to the internet helped too.  Groceries, I guess.  Putting sheets on the bed.  All of this to be ready for what was going to be the first real test.  The First Night.

Anytime you have ever spent the first night somewhere new, it’s always an adjustment.  Think of when you are traveling for fun or work – and the first night in the hotel just doesn’t seem right.  Bed is different, sheets are different.  Granted, I am sleeping in the same bed I have slept in for years in the same sheets, but it has been two months since I’ve done just that.  Plus you have all the environmental changes — different temperatures than your old thermostat, new sounds, new smells, new world.

Now picture that from the eyes of a dog … and you get what is not a comfortable night.  I don’t always let Auggie sleep with me in the bed, but knowing this is a new place I wanted to make sure he could stay close to me if he wanted to yet give him the freedom to figure out what may lurk in the dark if he wanted to as well.  Sometimes he did … like at least two or three times he got out of bed and went on a search.  He was able to nose the back door open and go out to the back yard (fenced in by the way, so not bound to escape).  Once or twice, he saw something that made him growl.  At one point I woke up to find him doing the ‘snoopy vulture’ thing at the end of the bed as he stared at the refrigerator.  It wasn’t until about 3 or 4 that I noticed he finally curled up next to me and slept soundly.

It may have helped that by that time in the morning the house had grown cold.  It was a warm day in Montrose with little wind.  The house has no air conditioner, so wind blowing through open windows was the only consistent source of fresh air.  Having them open all night meant that the chilly morning etched into the whole house.  Honestly, it was perfect sleeping weather, but hard to get warmed up in a house where you haven’t exactly found all your coffee cups.  Plus that first shower let me know that my hot water heater isn’t turned up high enough for these kind of mornings.

What was nice was the commute – and it’s going to make work hours nice.  Since moving to California, I turned myself into an early riser – with the alarm going off at 5am daily.  While hours are pretty flexible at JPL, but with anyplace the earlier you start the earlier you can leave.  At the hotel in Burbank, the free breakfast didn’t start until 6:30.  By the time I was finished there, and the 20 minute commute, it could be sneaking towards 7:30a by the time I arrived.  Driving distance now to JPL is 9 minutes.  I let the dog out, showered, had breakfast, drove to work, and was at my desk by 6AM.  Not only does this give me more ‘end of the day’ flexibility, will make it easier to justify a nice lunchtime walk.

Regardless, we are through the first night.  Tonight we begin our first weekend.  By next week we should be well into a routine that will make things more comfortable.

… at least for a couple weeks, when the house hunting begins.

DSN Now

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If you are feeling a bit nerdy and what to feel like you are seeing really nerddom at work – I have a NASA website for you.  It’s a website you can access that may not look too interesting to begin with, but has become one of things I just like going on in the background to keep things in perspective.  The website is:

http://eyes.nasa.gov/dsn/dsn.html

It’s Called DSN Now.  DSN stands for Deep Space Network, and is exactly what the name suggests.  DSN is the main communication path between most of the objects exploring our universe beyond Earth’s Orbit.  We are talking those man made objects sent out to explore, like anything that is on, around, or on route to other planets in the solar system.  DSN is made up of a series of radio antennas (or in lay terms, big old satellite dishes) that are placed in three stations approximately 120° apart around the world in Gladstone (middle of nowhere) California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia.  Each station has 4 or 5 dishes, most of which are 36 Meter (118 feet) and are  powerful enough to get data from as far away as Jupiter, and the big ones at 70 Meters (230 feet) are just monsters that can do way more than Jupiter.

The DSN has key functions with all those units out there.  First of all, they track them — make sure they are where they are supposed to be.  Then they get any data the probes are sending.  In return, they send back their own data for things like commands, trajectory changes, software updates, etc.  They do some of their own experimentation, for instance – in conjunction with the Jupiter bound JUNO probe, the communication comes with super accurate time stamps so that the effect of gravitational fields on radio waves can be measured.  For the most part … and this is the lay person description … they act as the guy who takes stuff from the space robots and gets it to the ground nerds.

DSN goes back to the earliest of early days of space exploration.  They were first built in 1958 to track Explorer 1, the first US Satellite – this before NASA existed.  Because Explorer 1 and DSN were both built by JPL … guess who still runs it (you bet … us guys!).  The 70 meter dishes were first built as 64 meter dishes, and were hastily done when the Mariner satellites were losing contact due to weak signals.  They were expanded to their current size because of those damn Voyager probes who don’t know when to quit … more on them later.

So why do I like DSN Now?  Well … it is a live status of what the DSN is currently doing.  If you are looking at the website, you will see a number of cartoon antenna.  Whether or not a wavy line is coming in or out tells you whether or not it is sending or receiving singles.  Not just that … its specific to who it is really talking to.  So as I type this, one of the Goldstone antenna is in direct contact with the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE).  From this website, I can click on graphic of what ACE looks like.  Copy & Paste into Google, and I know ACE is out doing analysis on the Sun, including getting high resolution graphics of Solar Storms and radiation.  So it becomes this means to learn more what is going on out there.

Where I start to blow my mind some is looking at the ‘Spacecraft’ data that comes with the different data coming in and out.  Right now, the 70 meter in Canberra is working to get contact with Voyager 1.  That probe, launched in 1977, took flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn’s moon of Titan in the 70s and early 80s.  Expected then to just shut up and go it’s merry way, it did everything but shut up.  Okay, the plan wasn’t to make it shut-up, but the point is that the probe’s generators will support communication and instrumentation powerful enough to still get signals back to the DSN.  Currently, Voyager 1 is about 2.1 Billion Kilometers away from Earth.  To put that in perspective, astronomers use the measurement AU for Astronomical Units — meaning 1 AU is equal to the distance from the Earth to the Sun.  That means, Voyager 1 is 137 AUs or the distance to go to the Sun nearly one hundred and forty times.  It is the furthermost man-made object from our planet.  The next furthest is it’s cousin Voyager 2, which we would have to go to Jupiter and back 5 times to cover that distance between those two (based on where Earth is).  This all makes Voyager 1 the loneliest thing we have ever created.

Except for the fact it routinely checks in.

That’s what I mean, there is still communication going on with these probes.  And watching the website shows it happening.  The single is weak, about that of a 90s internet dial-up.  But data still comes in, and data still goes out.  It takes awhile; the distance is so far that the signals the DSN is picking up now left Voyager 1 over 30 hours ago.  So he could have told us yesterday that he just saw an alien, and we won’t hear about it until tomorrow (and then, at America Online speeds).

But this is why DSN Now is so interesting to me.  It is like this quiet little signal that reminds you of the power we have to explore.  I can sit there with that screen up as I read some document or email, and with the gentle sounds of the office of AC units, computer servers, and keyboards, I can watch the steady stream of data crossing over the vast emptiness of space allowing us to get that little bit closer to knowing more of the world beyond our gravity.  It’s a simple, beautiful, and poetic symbol of how big space is – and how it can be at times so small too.

Beautiful Downtown Burbank

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This weekend will mark the transition from being a “temporary relocation resident” to a full fledged “resident” of California (albeit, a temporary resident of my full fledged residency).  Since December 12th, the pup and I have been housed in the Residence Inn Hotel off of Downtown Burbank as we search and moved into our rental.  I picked up the keys last night to the rental house, had a fridge delivered, and wandered the small place for a hour as I made plans of all the stuff I need to buy to make it a home.  Friday, movers arrive to move me in.  Saturday the last of the utilities gets hooked up.  And Sunday before the big game the last of the appliances are dropped off.  By this time next week, we should be fully settled.  Since my house is in Montrose, a 10-15 minuted drive from Burbank, this weekend will be my farewell to the temporary safe harbor I got to know.

Burbank maybe a town that you heard of over the years, mostly from Television shows.  Historically, many of the main networks built stuidos in Burbank to jump on the resources from the movie industry.  It started getting attention from shows like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; but got tounge-in-cheek call outs on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in when the announcer Gary Owens would say they were live from “Beautiful Downtown Burbank.”  The studios are still here, but have shifted ownership, and moved somewhere to the south end of town (closer to Universal City and North Hollywood).  Still, the influence is still here with many of the smaller budget production companies holding offices.

Burbank, though, is more than it’s studios and jokes about the downtown.  Much of the town is pressed up against the Verdugo Mountains that act as the eastern boarder of the San Fernando Valley.  This means not only do you get a nice view of the mountains rising up to the east, but you are able to look down on the valley to the west – along with Griffith Park and Downtown LA beyond.  Much of the valley is flat and industrialized or sprawled – so Burbank gets that extra big of luster that the rest of the valley doesn’t offer.

That being said, I really did grow to enjoy Downtown Burbank.  My hotel was two blocks from the start of it, and it ran for a good four or five blocks and into one of the big malls in town.  Old pictures suggest that the street was filled in by green space but now is a very walkable and very well kept sidewalks.  There’s even a growing plaza where bigger theatres and restraunts are going in.  I found myself on most nights walking the streets to selection from the variety of dining options.  There’s at least three good sushi places, a couple of nice Mediterranean places, and a nice selection of brew pubs.  Not just that, but I found that the people were right up my alley.  Friendly, easy going, and (this is almost hard to admit) mostly middle aged like me.  It was really simple for me to merge into the folks here, and woke me up to the fact that not all of the world is hard to get ot know like Bostonians.

I’m not saying that a return to Burbank is out of the cards.  It’s easy for me to say that if I found a house here I would move back to Burbank.  Part of the lure for me is that I lived three blocks from Beautiful Downtown Burbank … and there really isn’t good residences in that same area.  The places that would be good are either far enough away that Downtown now becomes a little bit of a hassel, or is out of my price range.

Until then, farewell to Beautiful Downtown Burbank – and thanks for putting up with us the last two months.

Compliance on the Brain

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My parents pointed out that I have been a little quiet on the blog front.  Well there is a reason for that … and no, it’s not some executive order.

All this week, I have been on what is officially my first week of travel for my new job.  It’s a massive, long distance 40 miles down the road from Burbank – specifically in Anaheim, CA.  Before you get all excited about the possibilities that may come with a vacation-esq week close to the home Mick and Doofy Moose, or see if I can spot a Mighty Duck … don’t be.  I am here for a week’s worth of training.  Specifically, Lead Auditor Training on AS 9100 Rev. D.

Sound exciting?

Well.  Let me go way more into detail, then I will ask again.

Let me frame it out like this.  My job with JPL, as was my job with BP in Alaska, as was my job for most the time I was with Cessna in Wichita; is a supplier quality auditor.  That means, I am to go out to companies that do work for us (either through contracts or other procurement activity) and make sure they are doing their job right.  In a way, you can compare that to an IRS auditor or other types of Financial auditor, but they tend to split hairs on data.  Quality auditors are more about identifying the situations where issues may occur so that the risk can be assessed and corrections can drive towards improvement.

Now let me restate that in a way that doesn’t sound suffocating … I look at folks to tell them how they can get better so we get better stuff from them.

So you maybe asking yourself why I need training if I did this before.  NOW we get to the boring.

Basically, anytime you meet someone who is a part of an auditing function needs to have a basis to start from.  IRS has tax laws.  Health Inspectors have codes.  Stuff like that.  For most of manufacturing throughout the world, the fundamental code that is used is a standard called ISO 9001.  You may have even see it listed on random stuff or business as you drive down the street.  ISO 9001 is a brilliant standard in that in about 30 pages it outlines all the key functions of a good manufacturer down to the key areas that they should control for good quality product – but does so in a way that is applicable to any company that does anything.

That being said – certain industries say “that’s all good … but we have some other stuff that would be good too.”  Medical devices, automotive, food services, test houses; they all have their own standard.  So Aerospace said, we need one too.  Enter AS9100.  Now, Aerospace was at least smart enough to figure out ISO 9001 is a good starting point – so they didn’t throw out ISO 9001, just add stuff to it to make AS 9100.  Now I’ve worked with AS 9100 since 2005, so it’s not new to me.  But a year & a half ago, ISO 9001 issued a major revision.  Because AS 9100 is an ‘additional too’, it revised as well last year to Revision D.  So — my training is keyed on the new revision.  It also will classify me (at least in the eyes of the industry) as a “Lead Auditor” … meaning, I am more important than the rest of you.

This training, though, is pretty grueling.  It’s 40 hours shoved into 4-1/2 days.  Early mornings, late afternoons, and occasional homework.  There is lectures, role playing, activities, and tomorrow we wrap it all up with a two hour test.  I’ve spent so much of the last four days in this standard, I have compliance on the brain.  I’ve questioned my intentions, followed conformance trails, and asked more interview questions on things that aren’t real than anyone should have to in a week.

But it all wraps up tomorrow.

Then the weekend comes.

 

At least I think the weekend will come by then … I haven’t seen the objective evidence to substantiate the statement of fact given to me by the manager of weekends.  So I will need to see that by the end of the audit, or any other retained documented information address both the plan for (and the effectiveness of) said days off.  If you have competency records (i.e. retained documented information on training) I will need to see that or the maintained documented information on the means to plan said competency.  If not, walk me through your process on improvement, specific to the measurements used and the awareness of your organizations’ impact on product safety.

Or something like that …

Everything’s Coming Up Manhattan

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I can proudly say that I have officially executed the first step on Habitation Master Plan, I have found a place to live.  Now granted, that may not sound like a huge deal … then again, it maybe is a huge deal.  Either way, it is a huge-er deal to me than you probably think it is.

For those of you who didn’t read the Habitation Master Plan (either because you don’t like me, or you are just plain lazy … cause that is the only reasons I can think of to ignore my brilliant blogs) what it really consists of is how I intend to settle into life in Southern California.  Specifically, move into a rental for a few months as the first step – then find a ‘forever home’ to buy.  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Well it wasn’t.

The problem was that most rentals in this area don’t allow dogs, and only a small minority of those allow ‘aggressive breed’ dogs that poor little Auggie the Doggie officially was categorized as. I can’t even exaggerate how isolating that situation made this search.  Let me play this out by the numbers.  Looking specifically at Pasadena, CA, and specifically in the area that lumps in Downtown – Hotpads (a ‘reputable’ apartment search site) shows there are currently 211 listings for available rentals.  Of those, only 24 (or 11%) accepts dogs of any kind.  And of those 24, only 1 would accept my dog.  1 Rental Property out of 211.  I know that as a direct fact because I contacted each of those 24 properties that directly stated they accepted dogs personally.  While some of those never returned my contact, it was only that one that did.  Keep in mind, Hotpads is only one of a number of sites, I was checking Craigslist, Apartments dot com, Apartment Lists dot com, West Side Rentals, just to name a few.  I had real estate agents working with me, help from title companies, and friends of friends.  I even blew the cover on three apartment scammers who were trying to get people to submit their personal data for identity theft or to agree to rent a property that they didn’t own.  I wasn’t just looking Pasadena, I was looking at Burbank, Glendale, North Hollywood, Eagle Rock, Arcadia, Altadena, and the Canada of the south, La Cañada.

The point I am trying to make is that finding a place to live was becoming an all consuming task.  I was spending hours each day searching for available rentals.  Contacting up to ten to fifteen locations a day.  Every time asking the same questions.  Every time getting the same shut downs.  My options were so limited that I only got to the point of looking at available rentals at two places in the last month; neither of those working out.

A week ago, I was starting to believe I wouldn’t find anything at all.

That’s when I found two places.

Well, three actually.  Maybe three and a twin.

I came across a house in Burbank.  I didn’t like it, too expensive, right on a main street, cramped.  But they would take me and the dog.  So I started to draw up plans, but didn’t give up the search.

Then the condos came up.  It started on a hint that one of the properties I was looking at was a possibility was another scam.  The price was good, the place was good, the contact was iffy.  It was in a condo block, so I did a search of other properties in the block and found that it’s neighbor was a rental open for a new renter too, if not for a little higher price.  Playing a verification on both, I found both to be legit, and both willing to accept Auggie.  Good news.  Except it wasn’t perfect.  No yard, condensed area, and still a little on the high side.  Still,

But there came Manhattan, so named for the street it is on.  I will tell you right now, if any of you see this place you won’t like it.  It’s kinda dumpy looking, but then again … so am I.  It’s a house that currently is under plans to have major renovations.  The owner intends to take the main building and expand it, then take the garage and expand it – turning it into two rentals on one plot of land.  The thing is, the permits aren’t ready. So he is renting it for six months, and maybe month-to-month afterwords.  Which according to my Habitation Master Plan is perfect, right?  It’s a house, small, but as much as I really need.  Good location in Monrtose, a small older community that is literally less than 10 minutes from work.  Most of all, big fenced back yard, with all the room for Auggie to run, be stupid, and poo.  That … and great price too!

I got so excited about the place that within 24 hours of physically seeing this place, I was ready to sign a lease.  It’s the mad rush to get myself set-up that I hadn’t even settled down to think what could go horribly wrong with the whole thing.

This is not like me.  I analyze, over analyze, and regret.  Not get excited and make an emotional decision.  So it’s just odd.  It’s like the post I did a while back about Everything’s Comin’ Up Milhouse; except this is on Manhattan.

As I sat in the agent’s office tonight signing the lease, the agent told me they were pretty happy I came along.  Her words: “We’ve been waiting a long time for you.”  And here I am.  Ready to be no longer homeless.

I move in after the first of the month, pending when I can get movers to show up.  By that time I can share with all who want to send fruit baskets and doggie goodies the address.

Traffic Report

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The one thing people from outside of LA ask me about living out here is the traffic.  To be honest, that makes y’all a little boring and due to your lack of creativity.  This area is the entertainment capitol of the world, why not ask if I started dating a C or D-Level actress, or met the guy who knows the guy who handles the dog from Modern Family.  Why don’t you ask if I have been to one of the lesser amusement parks, like Spleen World or Notts Dairy Blarms, or Disney’s California Adventure?  Instead, you ask me how the traffic is.

I get it.  Most of you want to think I am spending eight hours a day parked on an Interstate.  Picturing me blaring my horn at some jerk who cut me off.

Well, I hate to break it to you, my commute is not bad.  In fact … it is quite awesome.

To explain it all to you, let’s get out a map alright?  I am currently living in Burbank, specifically just off of Downtown Burbank.  I work at JPL (like you hadn’t heard me say that before) which is on the Northern-most point of Pasadena, and splits with La Cañada-Flintridge. To get between the two places, I actually go on five different interstates:
I-5 South out of Burbank
CA-134 East thru Glendale
CA-2 North
I-210 South
There really isn’t a direct path between the two places, because the two cities are separated by the Verdugo mountains, a short range but still impassible directly.  As a better description — Burbank is inside the San Fernando Valley, and Pasadena is in the San Gabriel Valley … and two valleys have to be separated by something.  This is important, so remember that point.

Traffic much of the time in any place is all about finding the trend of where commuters are going.  My route counters that trend.  The I-5 Route is the only part that doesn’t since it is the main route out of Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley and High Desert – so I go in the same direction as those folks (but that’s just for 2 miles).  By CA-134, I am countering the flow in and out of Glendale by seemingly heading into where everyone else is leaving.  CA-2 is … well … I don’t get CA-2.  It’s five lanes in each direction, but I rarely see more that four or five cars on that patch of road.  It’s free and clear.  Then I-210 just seems to be a steady pace right through to the end.  I have city streets getting to JPL, so with that in context the 15 mile drive takes me between 18-20 minutes on the way in, and (due to I-5) about 20-25 getting home.  Not to bad is it?

Well, here’s the good part .. and the real payoff.  You know that mountain pass I have to cross to get between valleys?  Have you ever driven through a mountain pass and said “wow, that’s boring”.  CA-2 is that stretch.  It’s a climb, there is a 600 foot elevation change between Burbank and La Cañada, and I know neither city is at the peak of that pass. The road gives just a bit of a wind to point out the crests and hill tops around the two valleys.  At night, coming over the top and head down towards Glendale/Burbank allows for the lights of the valley to come alive.  In the mornings, as the sun breaks through and casts its light upon the hills, you get a new glow where the orange meshes with the rough colored slopes.  But with all this rain, we get fog or low hanging clouds – those thinner, dynamic clouds that aren’t sure if they want to just create a haze, drop it’s rain, or just burn away.  In short, the views on that route are absolutely gorgeous, and is one of the contributing factors to pushing me to consider living in Burbank / Glendale … just to have the opportunity to see those views daily.

People give me an odd stare when I say I am happy about the traffic out here.  A drive that length in Boston would have taken me about 45 minutes at the same times of day.  The other drivers would be more nasty and more difficult to deal with.  And the best views would be of the water dripping in the tunnels making new holes that would lead to them shutting down the big dig.  So yeah, I’ll take this traffic … I’ll take it any day of the week.