Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Http://www.CrispinArms.com is now live

The website for Crispin Arms http://www.crispinarms.com is now live.

It's just a placeholder for now, but it has our description, and our contact info.

Which, by the way, I'm going to list here as well.

Contact Hours (all times Pacific):

10am-6pm Mo-Fri

Available weekends (please call and leave a message, we'll get back to you as soon as possible).

Shop Hours:

10am-6pm Mo-Fri - Shop visits by appointment only

Toll Free: 1-855-CrisEnt (1-855-274-7368)
Local/Intl: 208-265-2404
FAX: 1-855-239-9291
E-Mail: Info@crispinarms.com

Crispin Arms
Sagle, Idaho 83860

Remember, it is only a placeholder. IT won't look like this, this won't be the content; but with an announcement out there, I felt I needed to put a placeholder site up.

24 hours in bed

That's how I spent yesterday, and part of today.

After a couple... months really... of sleep deprivation (excepting a few days where I collapsed in exhaustion and slept for 6 to 8 hours; I haven't had more than 4 hours of sleep in any given 24 hour period in about three months... most days, less. Yes, it's because of the cancer. No, there's nothing I can do about it. Medications either don't work, or they work way too well, nothing in between); which has been particularly bad the last few weeks (I've been doing cycles of 40 hours awake, 2-4 hours asleep the last few weeks); unsurprisingly, my body gave out on me.

I collapsed into bed 8am yesterday with a moderate fever. Minus a few minutes waking up here and there, and a couple hours of half wakefulness overnight; I slept until about 8am this morning (thankfully, with no fever).

I don't know if you've ever slept 24 hours straight. It sounds great, restful and all that. It's not. You actually feel incredibly groggy, stiff etc... and it's a sonofabitch to get up and going into full wakefulness and productivity.

That said... god, I needed that.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back to the docs again, for the roller coaster ride

So, when I checked in on this issue last, I had managed to break down as far as 380lbs, and was holding steady under 395 most days; that being 117lbs weight loss in 9 months.

Unfortunately, a couple months back, my peripheral neuropathy began to get worse... much worse.

By about six weeks ago, I got to the point where I couldn't actually feel my fingers or toes, could only partially feel my palms; and had tingling and shooting pain from my fingertips and toes, to my elbows and knees.

It was a matter of good days and bad days; some days it wasn't all that bad, somedays I couldn't make a fist.

My docs didn't really have any idea what was up. There was no obvious reason for the problem; except for the swelling caused by the edema, and that shouldn't have been enough to cause neuropathy that severe (though some was expected).

One rather nasty possibility, was pernicious anemia; which is the loss of ability to absorb b12. B12 deficiency is the second most common cause of peripheral neuropathy.

At the same time, my diuretics also stopped working; however my kidney function was OK.

That was an indicator, that I was severely deficient in something; but we couldn't figure out what, because my blood serum levels were all in the "normal" range.

As a last ditch measure, we decided to stop all my medications for a week, to see what would happen.

What happened, was that my neuropathy improved dramatically.

What also happened however, was that I gained 48lbs in a week; shooting up to 428lbs.

We also did a series of blood tests before and after, and again everything seemed normal (except my cholesterol is up from 160 to 180 in three months; which is odd since I haven't been eating as much red meat or fatty foods lately). My a1c was 5.6% (the most common cause of neuropathy is elevated blood sugar). My b12 level was 470pg/ml, which is right in the middle of normal (though they prefer to see levels around 700).

Of course, that B12 level was after me taking megadoses of the stuff every day for months (megadoses in the range of 100,000% RDA); so it really should have been higher.

That was an indication that I wasn't absorbing B vitamins properly; but since I've managed to get my potassium and magnesium under control, it was somewhat odd.

We added my medications back one at a time to see if we could induce a problem again; we couldn't.

So... what happened?

Excess vitamin B6 is what happened.

Or rather, I made an idiotic mistake is what happened.

When my neuropathy started becoming more than just an annoyance, and I started having some problems with B vitamin absorption, I started taking large doses of the various B vitamins. At first, that made the neuropathy much better, but after a couple weeks, it started getting worse again.

Apparently, a side effect of large doses of B6 is severe neuropathy.

The funny thing is, that's also an effect of being deficient in b1, b2, b3, b5, and b12; and prior to taking the high levels of supplementation I was experiencing the effects of too LITTLE B6, which include seborrheic dermatitis (really bad dandruff, acne, and skin rashes).

So, I had to supplement all the B vitamins, but I was taking too much of the b6.

So, we switched from a b complex (which is all the B vitamins mixed together), and cut way back on the B6 supplement; and my neuropathy is back to a tolerable level. Now I'm back on my normal ridiculous dose of diuretics and anti-inflammatories.

The only problem is, I may have suffered some permanent nerve damage. We'll know in a couple months whether things go back to "normal", or whether there is going to be some permanent pain and loss of sensation.

In the mean time, I've lost pretty much all of those 48 pounds since Wednesday (when I got the last of my test results); weighing in at 382 yesterday morning (yeah, I know, 46lbs in five days isn't healthy).

The funny thing is, I'm still bloated with excess water (and my weight is still fluctuating as much as 16lbs per day)... I'd estimate at least 16lbs worth; so my "Real" weight is probably something between 360lbs and 370lbs.

Oh and my sleep apnea stopped as soon as I dropped under 400lbs (and was very much reduced when I went under 420).

My endocrinologist is recommending to my surgeon that she conduct the surgery as soon as possible, that I don't need to lose any more weight before she does it (when we spoke a few weeks ago, she wanted to wait 'til I was at 360lbs).

So, we'll see. Maybe I can get the tumor out this year (and under this deductible). If not, I'll have another $16,000 in medical bills I can't afford in the first few months of next year.

Mean time, this is what I look like today:


I have a jaw and cheekbones again. Compare that picture to this picture from my brothers funeral in JAnuary:


or even this picture in August:



The difference is huge. For one thing, I have a chin and cheekbones again.

So, what exactly is Crispin Enterprises?

Simply put, Crispin Enterprises is the umbrella for the business efforts of the Byrne Family.

What was originally several different small companies, with diverse names, was combined under one name when we reincorporated in Idaho in 2010, and of course, has just been added on to with Crispin Arms and Crispin Fabrication.

Those companies are:

Crispin Consulting - 


This is masthead for my consulting activities; primarily including information systems; physical, electronic, and information security; storage, archive, and HA/DR; architecture, administration, engineering, management, managed services consulting, and training.

Crispin Press - 


A small, special interest, and short run; publisher and printer. Offering editing, layout and pre-press, publishing, and distribution services on both a shared venture, and a custom published or contract published basis.

Crispin Press offers specialty printing, formatting, and binding that conventional publishers and printers can't, or that they charge prohibitively high rates for; as well as offering authors with a very small potential audience, an opportunity to publish and be distributed; that a larger publisher, with higher overhead, otherwise could not offer.

Crispin Fabrication -

A custom fabrication, repair, restoration, and finishing shop for wood and metal.

Services including custom machining, custom sheetmetal work, welding, custom electronics and electronics repair, wood and metal finishing and refinishing, wood and metal repair and restoration, and antique repair and restoration.

Crispin Fabrication has particular expertise in automotive, powersport and motorsport applications; aviation applications; boating and marine applications; guitar repair and fabrication; and furniture repair and restoration.

We also manufacture specialty tools and fixtures, and custom and reproduction parts, for all of the industries and interests above.

Crispin Arms - 

Crispin Arms is a small gunsmithing shop, and soon will be an FFL dealer, Class 3 SOT, and manufacturer of firearms and class III items (paperwork is pending on those); maker of custom knives; and manufacturer of high precision, custom loaded ammunition.

We specialize in custom gunsmithing, ammosmithing, bladesmithing, custom fabrication in metal and wood, and firearms repair and refinishing; including repair of class III items, and fabrication and fitting of hard to find and out of production parts for firearms and class III items.

Crispin Arms has particular expertise in 1911 type pistols, and long range rifles.

We specialize in custom gunsmithing, bladesmithing, custom fabrication in metal and wood, and firearms repair; including repair of class III items, and fabrication and fitting of hard to find and out of production parts for firearms and class III items.

Crispin Arms has particular expertise in 1911 type pistols, and long range rifles.

Why? ...and what's the history?

Basically... I prefer to work for myself, and I have a diverse set of skills and interests.

I'm an engineer by nature and by education; and a trained and experienced metal fabricator, finish carpenter, and cabinet maker (both by interest, and by periodic employment).

I have periodically worked professionally in firearms since I was 21, and in fabrication and restoration of metal and wood since before high school (I was 13 when I first apprenticed at my uncles furniture restoration shop, and 16 when I learned welding and machining at a local custom bicycle maker).  I started my first computer business when I was in high school. I've been doing all four since, on both a personal, and a professional basis.

Basically, the reason I haven't worked in gunsmithing or fabricating (or guitar repair, or publishing) full time; is because I can make a lot more money in IT consulting, for a lot fewer hours worked, and a lot less effort in developing new business. It has just made more sense.

My wife and I have these businesses, because they align nicely with our interests, and our passions.

We have all of them, because it gives us more opportunities for revenue; and frankly, because other than IT consulting, none of them individually can generate enough revenue to support our family at the scale we want to operate on (small home based or small shop based; with no, or very few, employees).
 
Why Crispin?

That's easy. I'm a big Shakespeare fan, and as it happens, my favorite piece of dramatic prose in all of history happens to be Henry V; Act 4, Scene 3:
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

The eventual goal of my wife and I, is to have a ranch and farm, as close to self sustaining as possible (not self sufficient, that's impossible these days. But self sustaining. We want to sell to everyone, and buy as little as possible, from as close as possible); up here in north Idaho. 

When we made the decision to move here almost three years ago, we decided to figure out the name for our enterprise. The name we came up with, was Crispin Ranch. From there, it was a simple extension to Crispin Enterprises as the overall name for our business, and Crispin Press for our publishing company.

Project Hal

This little 400lb crate:


Is what I was waiting for to arrive, before I made the announcement.

Inside said 400lb crate, is a Seig SuperX3 Mill drill; the best of the Chinese made benchtop mills, here in the guise of the Grizzly G0619 "small mill drill" (it's also available from Jet, and from Shop Fox):


It's one step up from the "mini mills" and "hobby mills" out there, and one step down from a freestanding vertical mill. I've got a power feed for it, and it's got a built in DRO on the quill, and for the spindle RPM. I just need to put a multi-axis DRO on the table and head (and I may CNC it. There's a number of CNC conversion kits out there for it).

Significantly though, it's the smallest mill I would consider adequate for general gunsmithing; with a 1hp motor, a 21"x6" table,  16"x6" table travel, and a no-retram 90 degree rotating millhead. With a 6" rotary table, a 6" cross slide vise, a 6" tilting vise, and a full set of clamps and blocks (all of which I've also purchased) that's enough mill capacity and capability for any gunsmithing operation I can think of short of milling a full stock, or an entire precision shooting fixture.

With this, and the 26" metal lathe (and other tools of course) I've acquired; I feel that I can make my announcement.

I have set up a full machine shop, and wood shop; and I am becoming a full time (or at least most of the time) gunsmith, metal fabricator, and woodwright.

I'm an engineer by nature and by education; with degrees in aerospace engineering, and computer science. I've got almost 20 years employment in some type of engineering work (mostly in IT), and more than 10 years in technical management. I also build and repair computer systems, storage, and networking equipment.

What most don't know (though I have mentioned it here before several times), is that I'm also a trained and experienced metal fabricator, finish carpenter, cabinet maker, and furniture restorer and refinisher (both by interest, and by former employment).

I've been fabricating in wood and metal both professionally, and as a hobby, since I was a teenager.  I've also been working professionally with computers and networks since I was a teenager.

I started my first business while I was in high school, building computers and networks for doctors and lawyers offices etc... I've been working in IT ever since.

From the age of 13, I was also employed part time (and occasionally full time) at my uncles furniture restoration and refinishing shop; where I learned fine carpentry, cabinet making, and furniture finishing and restoration. On the side, I built and finished a couple of boats, more than a couple of guitars, a lot of furniture... basically anything in wood that I felt like messing with.

Other jobs I had as a teenager and during college included an apprentice fabricator at a custom bicycle shop, where I learned to weld and braze (including aluminum and titanium), and where I first learned machinework; and as an auto and motorcycle mechanic.

I've been making knives and swords since I was 17; when a friend of mine in the SCA introduced me to forging, and stock removal knife making. Right now I have several knives that I either made, or heavily modified from stock blades (regrind, reshape, refinish, new grip scales etc...); and I have given several as gifts over the years.

I started gunsmithing... (or more accurately, armorer work since I at the time I didn't do any firearms machine work. Just fitting and filing) when I was 21; working mostly on ARs, AKs, SKS's, and 1911s.

Again, I've never stopped doing that, both as a hobby, and periodically as a business. Over the past 15 years or so, I've done hundreds of trigger jobs and action jobs, and a lot of parts fitting; on Glocks, SIGs, 1911s, and various rifles; and built dozens of ARs, and Remington 700 type rifles (as well as a few other types of guns here and there).  I've also been a firearms trainer (I was NRA certified), and a shop armorer and class III armorer, for several different businesses.

Recently, I've built a number of full custom 1911s, and several precision long range rifles, on the TC Encore, Remington 700, and Winchester model 70 platforms. I've also done a few Saiga conversions, and some rebuilding and refinishing work.

The reason I haven't referred to myself as a professional gunsmith before, was because as far as I'm concerned, you aren't a gunsmith if you don't have the shop and tools necessary to build a gun from bare metal (minus rifling the barrel, which almost no-one has the machines for anymore); and I haven't ever had the space, time, and cash, all at the same time, to have such a shop.

This is the same reason why I haven't referred to myself as a cabinetmaker or furniture restorer. Without a shop to work with, you're just another carpenter.

I've done gunsmithing work for years, using other peoples gear, and using hand tools and light power tools (the dremel tool can be your friend, as well as your enemy); but I haven't been able to do the kind of work I wanted to do.

I've been doing light finish carpentry, making furniture, and restoring antiques for years, using whatever home grade tools I had at the time. Again, I haven't been able to do the work I wanted to do.

As of now, that is no longer true. Now I have the tools, and the space, to do what I want to do.

I have spent the last few months, and about $30,000; building a custom wood and metal fabrication shop, here on my property in Sagle Idaho.

The last tools to purchase were the mill, and the metal lathe (I've had a wood lathe since last year). I ordered them a few weeks ago, and the Mill arrived today (the lathe hasn't shown up yet, but it was supposed to be here today as well).

So, in this post, I am formally announcing the formation of Crispin Arms, and Crispin Fabrication; joining Crispin Press and Crispin Consulting, as subsidiaries of Crispin Enterprises.

Crispin Arms - 

Crispin Arms is a small gunsmithing shop, FFL dealer, Class 3 SOT, manufacturer of firearms and class III items (paperwork is filed and pending on all of those requiring federal licensing); maker of custom knives; and manufacturer of high precision, custom loaded ammunition.

We specialize in custom gunsmithing, ammosmithing, bladesmithing, custom fabrication in metal and wood, and firearms repair; including repair of class III items, and fabrication and fitting of hard to find and out of production parts for firearms and class III items.

Crispin Arms has particular expertise in 1911 type pistols, and long range rifles.

Crispin Fabrication -

Crispin Fabrication is a fabrication, repair, restoration, and finishing shop for wood and metal.

Services including custom machining, custom sheetmetal work, welding, custom electronics and electronics repair, wood and metal finishing and refinishing (including spray and chemical finishes, but not plating or heart cured finishes), wood and metal repair and restoration, and antique repair and restoration.

Crispin Fabrication has particular expertise in automotive, powersport and motorsport applications; aviation applications; boating and marine applications; guitar repair and fabrication; and furniture repair and restoration.

We also manufacture specialty tools and fixtures, and custom and reproduction parts, for all of the industries and interests above.

So, what's next?

Well, I've got the tools, and I've got the building.

I have a 32' x 32' fully insulated and heated shop space; with a second floor, heated, clean air, spray booth (I have both HVLP and high pressure systems. I spend the money to get a Japanese made professional turbine; because you can't cheap out on HVLP setups) , and a storage loft.

I've also got a dedicated 400 square feet in my finished and climate controlled basement; for office work, clean work, and benchwork, and for a secure storage space.

It's small, but with the way I've got things set up (everything is either on a wall, or on rolling stands) it's enough, and it's cheap to run.

The only thing space wise I don't have, that I'd really like, is a space for a vehicle lift (I have a bike lift, and an overhead hoist, and enough clear space to get a truck up on stands; but not enough for a lift), and a loading dock for truck deliveries. Frankly, I can live without them.

Now I need to finish putting the shop together, setting the tools up, setup the storage and organization etc... That's going to take me a few weeks.

I have local resources arranged for plating, anodizing, powdercoating, engraving, and anything else I can't do in my shop (including whatever machining or welding I can't do on my own).

I'm already setup to do stock removal knife making; excepting that I haven't built a heat treating oven yet (and yes, I'm going to build one, not buy one. You can build one for a hell of a lot less than the $2500 they charge for even a small 1500 degree setup).

I will also be building a forge, and hand forging implements, tools, and blades; but that is a ways down the road. 

I've got the paperwork in on my dealers and manufacturers FFL right now. That will take anywhere from a few weeks, to a couple months to clear. I don't plan on focusing on sales of new or used firearms ( I want local shops to send me business, not see me as a competitor); but I will conduct transfers, group buys, and other FFL type stuff. In the mean time, I have an arrangement with a local gun shop to do transfers, to sell my custom guns, and to act as their shop gunsmith. 

Once my FFL comes through, I will file as a Class III SOT; which will take another couple months.

I'm hoping that within the next six months, I'll be able to manufacture, customize, and repair, any kind of firearm I choose, or my customers choose to send me.

Not only that, I'm creative, and I'm skilled mechanically and in materials. I don't just copy and fix, I design new things; and new ways of doing things. I can create original designs, and I can execute them. I plan on doing any type of custom fabricating people want to pay for, and I have the skills to execute.

I'm currently taking advanced machining and advanced welding classes locally, to refresh and expand my skills. I know how to do both, but I am by no means a master at either; and I can always use more practice time, and new skills and techniques. I may become a certified welder, and get a machinists certificate in the process, simply to have as points on my resume. 

Of course, I'll be working locally, through the blog, and through my contacts in the gun world, to generate business. There are a lot of folks out there who have seen my work on 1911s and precision rifles; and a lot of people who have felt my trigger work. I am willing to bet you that many of them would say they've never felt a better trigger than on one of my 1911s, or on my S&W 625.

There's also a few folks who have seen (or own) my custom furniture and wood working pieces; and they'll tell you they've never seen a better piece, with a better finish, than I make.

Tomorrow, I'm going to post an example of a product I intend to sell, made by hand, in wood and metal; and that I can make and sell many of, with relatively low overhead.

As I mentioned in the other post, we've got a few months worth of living expenses banked; but until I can get the shop in full swing, I'm going to be taking IT contracts, and possibly a full time position locally if I can find one worthwhile. I'm actively looking as of now.

Frankly, getting out of debt and then setting up the shop were both FAR more expensive than I thought they would be, totalling almost $80,000 altogether. After the IRS took its share of my severance,  I paid off our debt, and I paid for the shop; there is a lot less left over than I am happy with (I originally intended to have a full years worth of bills and expenses banked).

The fact is, until I can book between $5,000 and $7,000 a month in revenue, I'm not going to be able to do this full time.  In fact, I may never be able to drop IT consulting entirely; but I see the value in having the tools, and keeping up the skills, for these pursuits.

Every good gunsmith I know has a multimonth (or in some cases multi-year) backlog of work of course; but it took them years to get to that point. I expect it will take me some time to get to the point where I have as much gunsmithing and fabricating work as I can handle; if I ever get to that point. 

Over the next few years, I think it's going to be very valuable, to have the skills and tools to work locally, on things that need to be built and repaired locally.  I think having those skills, tools and equipment, will, long term; provide at least as much value as I could provide with the much higher revenue I would be generating in IT consulting.

Plus, it's just something I want to do.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be doing a number of posts about setting up the shop, the tools, the costs, the services well be offering etc...

Oh and of course, I need to setup the web sites for Crispin Arms and Crispin Fabrication. Haven't done that yet. 

I'll also be doing tool reviews, and posts about building the shop fixtures, furniture, some of the projects I've done lately, and items I'm offering for sale.

Also, I'm going to get back to real gun blogging. I have a lot of content queued up and ready to go; with a bunch more partially written waiting for me to finish. I plan on having at least three major updates or substantive posts every week; and I'd like to get one out every day if I can.


So... why am I doing this, AND computer work, AND publishing?

The fact is, it's tough for a small business owner out there.

The only single one of these businesses that could (at least for now) provide enough revenue on it's own to be self sustaining, and to provide my family with the standard of living I want (at least without working more hours a week than I'm happy with) is the IT consulting; so that's what I've spent most of my time and effort on over the past 15 years.

Even under the best of circumstances, I don't think I could provide for my family with nothing but gunsmithing and gun sales revenue, or publishing revenue, or local computer systems building and repair; or even all of them combined.

It's just not viable at my scale.

To keep the lights on here, costs us about $4500 a month; between rent, utilities, bills, food, and gas. That's a net income requirement, just to pay the bills, of about $54,000 a year. That doesn't account for any savings, any vacations, any recreation etc... That's just paying the bills for the house and shop, two cars, and eating.

If we add in say, 20% on top of that to account for "extras" such as savings, retirement, emergencies, eating out occasionally etc... that's another $10,800 or about $65k a year total net, to maintain our standard of living.

In a normal salaried job, that means something like an $85k a year salary; which isn't exactly nothing, but I've been making far more than that working in IT for the past 15 years (at least 50% more than that most years, double that in some years).

 I'm just not going to be able to make that much, or anything near it; in the other businesses.

For the fabricating and gunsmithing; at an $85/hour shop rate, and $65 per hour bench rate (presume 1920 hours per year to account for sick time and vacations), if I presume I can maintain 50% billable hours in a year (a very big assumption) at 3/4 bench and 1/4 shop time, thats a gross of $67,200. Net... maybe half that after taxes and expenses.  I would have to maintain something between 1200 and 1400 billable hours a year to reach the income levels we need. I can ever get to that point, it will be years from now.

The same goes for publishing. If we were lucky, and managed to attract say, six reasonable selling books a year, and another six contract publishing jobs, we MIGHT manage to GROSS $60k a year. Net... half that or less (materials costs are much higher as a percentage than in gunsmithing).

I don't know if this is going to work. I know I can do it, but it's also a huge risk, and there may be no payoff... but I'm working at it as hard and as smart, as I know how; and I'm going to do my damndedst to make this a success.

Because I want to build things, and make things again; and because I want control of my own destiny.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Keeping a Promise

In 2008 and 2009, we found ourselves in a horrible situation. We were going to lose our children, because we were running out of money to fight the legal battle.

You all saved us.

I still... what I feel about that I can't even say. I literally tear up thinking about it... I just can't deal with it still.

In 2009, we raised some of the money we needed, by taking pre-orders for a cookbook of me and Mels recipes. Unfortunately, shortly after that, our legal and financial issues became... let's just say they became much more difficult, and much more complicated.

The upshot of it is, the book hasn't come out yet. It's been over two years, and the book isn't out.

Over the past two years, Mel has refunded the money of anyone who asked for it. Not many did, and a large number of folks have contacted us and told us to just keep the money, that they were happy to help out with the custody case; but we were happy to refund the money of anyone who asked.

We appreciate that greatly, and it's important that you all know, that without that money, we would have lost the kids simply by default.

There was never any intent to deceive or mislead, and frankly, the fact that we haven't published it, printed it, and shipped it has killed me these last two years. I put my name behind something and made promises, and I couldn't keep them. I HATE that.

We weren't conning anyone, we weren't acting in bad faith, and we weren't cheating anyone, and I knew that... but I HATED not delivering on the promises we made.

Let me be clear about something: In 2009, we bought all the materials, all the equipment, all the EVERYTHING we needed to publish the book. The book was written, photographed, laid out, typeset, and pre-pressed. We were in fact ready to push the button and print for a long time, but for the very irritating legal hangup that I can't talk about. Then, unfortunately, the drive the working files on died, and my backup of it was corrupted. Legal issues are no longer preventing us from publishing the book, though I am still legally prevented from talking about what it was. We also need to start over on everything but the equipment and the text.

I wish I could refund everyones money. I can't. I can't afford it personally, and even if I could, it would be a big legal problem if I did so.

We can't refund the money. What we are going to do, is fix it.

Over the next couple months, we're going to get a bunch of other things fixed; and as soon as we are able, the cookbooks will be published and shipped. It is going to take several months, and a lot of work, but we're going to ship the book.

I give my personal promise, that unless some catastrophe prevents it (I have to caveat it after the last few years), we will ship cookbooks by the end of April. I'd like to commit to an earlier date, but we've got a lot going on, and we simply can't do that.

If we could, we'd ship the cookbooks, AND give everyone their money back. We can't.

...But everyone is getting their book, with all new pictures, taken in our much nicer kitchen in Idaho, with a professional camera and lighting, and the highest quality printing and binding etc... etc...

That's one of the things we're going to be doing. The publishing company has already been set up properly in Idaho (something we had a problem with in Arizona actually, and part of the legal issues I can't really talk about), and the equipment is ready to go.

The BIG Change...

On July 28th, at 8am, I received my midyear performance review from GigantoMegaBankCorp.

GigantoMegaBankCorp reviews employees on a 1-5 integer scale, on 5 major categories, each weighted differently. Each category make up as little as 5%, and as much as 35% of your overall score. Each category consists of between 3 and 15 weighted subcategories, scored, averaged and rounded down to the absolute value' to reach the score in the major category. The overall score is also then giving a weighted average, and rounded down to absolute value. 1 and 2 indicate unacceptable performance and minimum acceptable performance respectively, 3 indicating "good" performance, 4 indicating "exceptional performance" and 5 indicating "outstanding performance".

Performance reviews are used or a lot of things; but from a tangible standpoint, your performance review is used as a multiplier for your annual bonus, your profit sharing award, and your stock option grant (these are all substantial portions of your annual compensation in the financial industry, frequently more than half; but in my case, all of those things combined make up about 1/3). In order to get any "incentive based" or "performance based" compensation, you must average at least 3.0 overall, AND receive no score on any major category lower than 3 (though you can be rated 2 or 1 on any given subcategory. If you make an average of between 4.0 and 4.9, you get 125% of your "target" bonus, and baseline stock options and profit sharing. If you make an average of 5 (for which, obviously, you have to receive nothing but 5s), you get 150% of your target and baseline.

The first four years I was with GigantoMegaBankCorp, I was never rated less than a 4 on any category, always received 5 ratings in several categories (in fact, one year I got all 5s and got 150% bonus); and I received multiple sizable bonuses, and several promotions. I started off as an Architect 4 on contract, with no title other than "Systems Architect" and no direct management responsibility. I ended up as an Architect 6 {the highest architect rank that is actually still an architect and manger, and not purely a manager} and "Chief Architect" of the biggest division of the bank, leading a team of 8 senior architects, and managing project teams of dozens, even hundreds).

For 2010 I received mostly 3s and 4s in the major categories, but I received one 2; and therefore I didn't get any bonus or stock options. As most people reading this probably know, 2010 was a bad year for me, and yeah, it had a negative impact on my performance. In 2011 though, I've generally been turning it around pretty well, now that I'm receiving the proper treatment for my health problems (among other things).

The midyear review is generally just a "guidance" number, intended to give you an idea of where you are for the year, and any changes you may need to make for your end of year review; however, if you received a lower year end review score, the midyear also replaces it as your "current review" score, for internal job applications, promotions, transfers etc...

From 800am to 830am, I went over my review with my manager. I got a 4 overall on my midyear review, with very positive comments, plus some additional suggestions about how I could make sure I get a 4 or better for the full year, which my manager was confident I would reach.

At 830am, there was a mandatory meeting for nine members of my department plus their managers, including me. The director of my department, the chief architect of GigantoMegaBankCorp over all, announced that subsequent to our recent major re-organization (following our purchase of another major bank 18 months ago), an analysis of our "senior technical and executive staff" had been conducted, and we would be taking a manadatory 15% across the board staff cut (9 people), with specific cutting targets in the three highest grades; and that the positions of the staff members in that meeting were being eliminated, and we were being "displaced" as of October 3rd.

He then opened the bridge to the rest of the department, and made the announcement to everyone.

Under the terms of my "displacement", I worked my position from the announcement until August 3rd, when I went to "transitional leave"; where I was still paid, but did not have any active duties or position; the purpose of which is to allow you to try to find another job within the company.

From October 3rd on, I could either remain on "continuation leave", and be treated as an employee for most purposes, including benefits, employment verification, internal positions etc... for six months, or I could take a lump sum payment for the amount of base salary I would have received for that same period.

Also, because I was an active employee for ten months of the year, if I was bonus eligible, and a bonus is distributed for 2011 (it would be distributed between the last two weeks of February and the first two weeks of March), I will receive 83% of the bonus I would have received; and my stock options and grants that would have matured, will mature.

In theory, those two things combined should be worth about $30,000 pre-tax come March, on top of the severance; but it's very uncertain.

I decided to take the severance package. My wife works for GigantoMegaBankCorp as well, with the same benefits eligibility, so we just switched benefits around so that she's the primary member, and I'm the spouse; so our benefits are covered.

As of October 3rd, I have been officially laid off from the job I held for more than five years; as chief architect of the retail division of a major financial institution.

Unfortunately, since that time, I have been contractually prohibited from speaking about it publicly, or in any detail.

It was a great job in some ways, a horrible job in others... just like any job...

...but the thing is, it was a job I was doing for someone else.

It was a job that, fundamentally, I was never happy with; because it wasn't getting me (or my family), where we want to be.

On the other hand, it was also a job that gave me a reasonably large severance package...

...Big enough, that my family and I could have lived on it for at least a year; maybe as much as two years if we cut back to the absolute minimum, and you include the PTO payout, and the cashout of my 401k... Or at least it was big enough for that, before the IRS got ahold of it.

Just an aside, the IRS took about $37,000 in regular taxes from me this year so far (that's January to October 7th. Actually, it's a bit less than usual; the last few years they've taken around $50k to $60k per year, but I didn't get a bonus this year, which they withold at a higher rate), then they took about $27k out of my severance package. I decided to cash out my 401k rather than roll it over {I don't like the market for the next two years, and I honestly think the prepayment penalty is less than I'm going to lose, between inflation and market losses. I think I have better uses for that money} and AFTER the prepayment penalty, they took another $7k . That's a total of about $71,000 in tax withholding.

From that $71,000 in withholding, I estimate my actual tax liability for the year from all the compensation I earned from GigantoMegaBankCorp, to be about $40,000; so in theory I've got a pretty damned big tax return coming.

The funniest thing...

Since I entered the ranks of the "unemployed", I've been busier than I ever was when I was "employed" (which, yes, is part of why I wasn't particularly happy with the job).

First, on July 28th at 830, I was laid off... On July 28th at 1130, I got my first phone call with a job offer. I didn't take it, for several reasons; the first of which being that if I accepted another job before October 3rd, I wouldn't get the severance package.

At the same time, I also got a couple of temporary contract gigs, that were providing me with significant outside income; and of course I had offers pending from October 3rd on.

Anyway, even after the IRS took damn near half (ok... not quite that much, but a hell of a lot), my "displacement settlement" was enough to live on for at least a year, presuming we made some cuts etc...

We've decided to go a different way.

I'm not very happy with the way things are right now... in a lot of different ways.

I love my wife and family, I love where we live...

...but....

Lot's of other things though... I'm not really happy with.

Yes, I could make a lot of money continuing what I have been doing the last 10 years; moving back into consulting again or taking a similar position at any number of other companies in the finance, medical, or technology industries.

Frankly, there aren't a lot of people who can do what I do, and there are a lot of companies that need it.

But...

I am tired of either working for another big company, or being dependent on them as a contractor or subcontractor; and in my primary field, that's where the money is.

My wife and I have thought a lot about this, done a lot of research, weighed a lot of options, and done a lot of soul searching...

A LOT of thinking, researching, and soul searching.

About three months worth in fact...

We've decided to do something different.

Instead of going for another big money contract gig, or laying back for two years, or just banking the money...

We've decided to do something different.

The first thing we've done is, Mel has transitioned to full time employment with GigantoMegaBankCorp, and will be earning a reasonable amount of money (plus our medical benefits).

The second thing we've done, is get out of the hole we've been put in by the last five years.

All my personal debt excepting our car loans, all my medical bills, all the remaining legal bills, all my credit cards... everything... and a bunch of Mels debt (not all unfortunately, she owes a hell of a lot because of the custody case, and we wouldn't have anything left to live off of) is now paid off.

It was a deep hole, and because we've been in it for several years, our credit getting worse every day; it was a high interest hole. We were rolling loans over periodically at high interest rates (including pawn and payday loans at times); so, that we were paying about half interest and half principal on the majority of those payments to the tune of several thousand dollars a month.

No, that's not a good situation to be in. It was also a situation we didn't have a choice about. Our savings went entirely into the legal and medical bills; and we needed that money, right then, for things that couldn't be put off, and that was that.

No, we're not stupid... we were left without options. I would pay off as much as I could, when I could, in the background; but it was repeatedly two steps forward three steps back.

The last two years also put either Mel or me, or both of us together; into about $30,000 worth of collections, some for Mels stuff, but a lot for medical bills my insurance didn't cover, and which because of the those other things, we couldn't always pay or couldn't pay in a timely manner (for example, in January and February of 2011, I had $16,000 in un-covered medical expenses, $3000 for my brothers funeral, $5000 in legal bills, $3000 in medical bills for the kids relating to the custody issue. That $27,000 screwed us up until like September); screwing up our credit rather badly.

Note: One major point of irritation there. My insurance company has this irritating habit of paying a bill, then six months later, they do a "payment review" and they charge back a part of what they originally paid from the original service provider. Then, the original service provider bills me; and, not knowing this, or missing it in the FLOOD of paper I get every day (there's a lot of medical bills associated with being a cancer patient. Often hundreds of pages a week) I get sent to collections after 90 days... very irritating.

That's in addition to about $20,000 worth of other unsecured or high interest debt (personal loans, payday loans, pawn, credit cards etc...) ; for a total of about $50,0000

It's all paid off now.

The entire remainder of our debt is either secured, low interest, or personal on a no interest basis.

As of today, we're completely out of the hole, but for the cars, and Mels remaining personal debt.

By the way: relating to that, part of Mels personal debt is all the people who ordered cookbooks that were never delivered. There's actually a very good reason why that happened, having to do with legal issues as well as financial issues; it sucks, it's wrong, but there wasn't anything I could do about it; and there's an even crappier reason why we are legally prevented from talking about . The next thing I post is going to be about that, but I don't want to interrupt this post for that info.

Also as of today, including Mels pay, and my unemployment benefits ($336 a week for six months by the way), we now have about 6 months of living expenses banked. If we get the tax return and the bonus etc... it's more like 12 to 18 months.

On Monday, presuming what I've been waiting for happens, I'm going to write about what we did with the rest of the money and what I'm planning on doing for the next few years.

Note: I was wanting to post this on Tuesday by the way, but events overtook me again, and I wasn't able to say the things I wanted to be able to say until today, and I didn't want to say anything else until I was able to say this. The reason I'm not posting the rest today, is for the same reason. I should be able to do so on Monday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

See, I told you I wasn't QUITE dead... yet...

... though I admit, it turned out to be "a week from tomorrow" instead of tomorrow" as I thought it would be on the 14th; I intend to make up for it. This should be the first of at least three posts today.

...

...Which will almost certainly jinx it and i wont be able to write for another month... ...but Ill proceed on the notion my plan will reach frution this day.

However, it's 0945 and im in a cafe in Sandpoint; and i need to dump a bedful of frozen trash at the refuse station 5 miles south of town, so I can be ready for my "big thing" of the day, which is coming in via truck freight between 10 and noon...

...Or it would be if it weren't for the 6 full inches of mixed ice, slush, and snow alternately melting and refreezing; on the roads from the state highway to our house. Theres no way in hell a semi is getting into our road, never mind our driveway (a 7% grade).

I talked with them yesterday and asked if there was any way the could send up a city truck or box van, but no. So, instead of the white glove service I paid extra for, I'm going to need to meet them in a clear parking lot off the state highway, and do a liftgate transfer into my truck bed. Then I need to figure out how to get an unbalanced 500 pound pallet out of my truck bed, without a loading dock, forklift... even a pallet jack.

In freezing rain, onto ice and snow.

Fun.


(I'm thinking of rigging a cradle hoist under the pallet and lifting it with my 3 ton shop crane and engine hoist/leveler)


Oh and did I forget to mention, I'm in the middle of a severe bout of insomnia and haven't slept in 75 hours? It's oing to be an interesting day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Still not dead

And I believe I will be able to start writing again tomorrow.

I'm hoping and trying for it anyway, since I've got a backlog like you wouldn't believe, and a list of "posts to write", many already partly written, with at least marginally interesting content... about a mile long (over 100 anyway).

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

I'm not ACTUALLY dead...

...I've just been busier than hell these last couple weeks.

Several VERY BIG THINGS are afoot here, and I will be writing several very long posts about them, when I finish what is taking up so much of my time right now.

Oh and good news, there is less of me to be busy, once again. I've managed to get down as low as 380; though I'm still bouncing around the entire range between 380 and 400.

Monday, November 07, 2011

So Much For Close Your Bank Account Day, At Least Here

So supposedly Saturday was close your bank account with the EEEEVIL big banks day. I will not grace the morons with a link to this supposed nationwide protest.

My bank is the only bank in town open on Saturdays of course.

So as a company we decided on a policy of quickly and politely closing their accounts and giving them cash for the balances. We ordered more cash in all denominations just to be prepared. We were all prepped for what might happen through an all-hands meeting a few weeks ago, during which the manager somehow managed to not use any swear words (it was a mighty effort for her).

I was working the full shift yesterday. How many accounts did we close?

None. Absolutely none. Opened a few though.

However, I did spend all day taking cash in. Approximately three times as much as a usual Saturday. The irony hit us all pretty hard.

Evidently "close your bank account day" didn't reach North Idaho.

However, I would like to note that we are an odd branch. As my immediate supervisor said yesterday, "this is probably the only branch in the company where if a man walks in wearing camo and a ski mask while carrying a rifle, our first response is "What did ya get?"