Machines need TLC too….

My 11-year old snowblower began making harsh, jerky movements during its most recent use. Though I ignore the jerkiness for a bit, knowing oil etc. were freshly checked and replaced, I made a mental note to check it out once done. I was dismayed to find, once back in the garage, that the metal beneath the auger blades was ripped-up, bent, broken, and destroyed. The shave plate was still there but the body behind it was gone.
source: wikipedia

I had to make a decision on whether to buy a new snowblower and trash this one, call a repair shop and spend a couple of hundred bucks and wait two weeks, or just slice off the metal and hope for the best. Being American in the 2000s, I was heavily leaning toward the first option.
It was then I remembered my neighbor’s son who had asked me last winter about any odd-jobs related to small engine repair items. It is his hobby and he dabbles in all sorts of machines. Jake came over to look and instantly suggested that we buy a new shave plate and skid shoes for the blower and he’d cut the bent-up and rusted portions of the body, cut a new piece of metal from his stock and weld it to the body. He’d then drill new holes and attach the shave and skid plates. All I’d need to do is paint the new surfaces. Again, being a member of the ‘new’ economy of throw and re-buy, I distrusted him, but the old green-cred and the desire not to throw away two hundred pounds of metal and engine won. I had him check out the machine, buy the parts locally and take my snowblower late Thursday evening.
I was surprised, then to find the snowblower sitting outside my garage FRIDAY morning. Jake had taken it Thu evening and spent a couple of hours cutting, welding, shaving, drilling and returning my snowblower to usable status. Bent edges were fixed and the machine was good as new. I simply owed him for the parts and labor. But before giving me an invoice he went a step further and told me exactly what I needed to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again – rebalance my snowblower prior to storage. Though the steps are well documented at Sears, Lowes, etc. (see here), I’d never bothered reading or following. Stupid Stupid Stupid.
I might have to give this repair thing a shot more often. And not forget that there are real skills still being learnt by young people in this country who love machines – making them, repairing them, using them, and modding them. We need them!
Now, to dig out similar maintenance sheets for my camera, lawn mower, trimmer, and other machines I rely on regularly. And to move Jake’s number to my speed dial!

My article on open records and Government contracts in the DMRegister

This article appeared in December 1, 2013 issue of the Des Moines Register’s Business section. It is encapsulated here and the original article is here to discuss my opinion on open records/FOIA as they relate to government contracts and the innovation economy.
The massive debacle that is Obamacare’s website launch is the latest example of what happens when you shut out the innovation economy from government contracts.
As the largest buyer in the country, the U.S. government spends amounts as mundane as a few hundred dollars for goods to hundreds of millions in technology for its various agencies. The services are procured using requests for proposals, or RFPs, multiple award master contracts and, in many cases, no-bid contracts.
These are meant to inject transparency and equal footing for service providers. But they do not.
As a former government contractor, one of the greatest challenges was even finding RFPs to respond to. In the world of public sharing of information, federal, state and even local governments hide behind a labyrinth of systems when they file their requests. Registration systems pre-screen vendors and respondents while creating bond and insurance requirements only a chosen few can meet. This filters out the innovation economy.
It is no surprise that innovation centers of the U.S. aren’t home to government contractors. Innovators don’t have, or don’t spend time developing, lobbyists who simultaneously act as salespeople. Innovators are usually first to market with new ideas and products and are, thus, not often able to provide three or more customer references for people who have used the products.
While Obamacare’s website is the latest technology solution to fall victim to a lack of innovative solutions, it’s certainly not the first. Between 2000 and 2005, the FBI spent $170 million on an ultimately abandoned software application that ended up being “incomplete, inadequate” and “unusable under real-world conditions,” according to a Washington Post report. The job was done by an American defense contractor.
We must demand more public access to how our dollars are being spent and give innovators a chance to help.