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Archive for July, 2011

Problem Solving or When Your Making Cars You Have All The Time In The World

The subject above was pointed out to me multiple times earlier this week. Why and by who? Well thanks for asking. By some highly placed and very intelligent engineers from Chevy Cruze General Motors plant. They were at my plant helping us to diagnose a problem that had our production facilities handicapped. Between engineers and IT support personnel we were inundated with expertise.

The point behind it all is that the IT folk, led by myself, were focused on finding the root cause of the problem and fixing it. In the process we restored service and we working, without diagnosing what caused the initial (or subsequent) outages. Root cause analysis is essential, of course, but as the production oriented engineers pointed out – you’ve got all the time in the world to troubleshoot as long as you’re making cars.

You wouldn’t think it would be possible to be operational without knowing what stopped you from doing so previously. Me neither, but it can and does happen. The focus is on production in manufacturing. Production and keeping the customer running. Everything else is secondary. In our case we isolated an entire section that was not necessary for production to run and in doing so we have eliminated the problem. Further root causes analysis is slated to take place this weekend and the problem will be resolved. Not to mention future tasks that involve increased diagnostics and tools, designating a task force of specialized technical and experienced people, and establishing an efficient but effective emergency change management process.

The moral story behind this is that there’s a line between what is needed and what is wanted. Sure, I’d love to have all the answers resolved right away, but that wasn’t what was needed at the time. We needed full production, and that’s what we established. That’s specific to that incident and industry. In other realms it is a lesson that still applies. I need a place to sleep safe from threat; I want a 20,000 square foot stone keep with a moat and modern amenities. That may be facetious but it remains a somewhat sobering thought when applied realistically.

For example, I may not like the fact that I am slated for over 70 hours of work this week in dealing with this issue, but I need a job to put food on the table and take care of my family. I may want to be unemployed so I can focus on writing and spending time with family and other hobbies. Needs always outweigh wants, both personally and professionally. I don’t suppose there’s a time when most, if not all, of us forget that.

cruze

Categories: Uncategorized

Social Media At Work?

I’ll admit I don’t know the history of Twitter. I didn’t know a thing about it until a couple of weeks ago when I boldly entered the Twitterverse. It took me forever to get on MySpace and even after I did I never cared much for it, for a variety of reasons. Next came Facebook, which lost its mystique when it opened up to the masses. Still, people flocked and since it allowed me to leave MySpace behind, I was happy. I’ll admit I enjoy how Facebook allowed me to hook up with people I’d lost touch with over the years.

Then social media took a turn. Lots of people have been blogging about it, and I guess I’m just another d-bag trying to capitalize on that, but I still wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was worth introspection. Social media is still used for the purposes listed above, but it’s also used in a capitalistic sense. Heck, I use it that way more and more myself! Tweeting about my blog, my writing, my samples, my giveaways, my everything. Sure, some people want to know and it’s useful, but others could care less. My goal, of course, is to get more people caring more and more about it. In order to do that though I have to reach the right people and try to convince and coerce others to give it a shot and (hopefully) get hooked.

More and more that’s what I see on the Social Media sites and services I use. Granted, for what I’m attempting to achieve the majority of the people I network with are in similar positions. Before I started into the realm of marketing I was annoyed by people contacting me in such a manner. These days I think almost nothing of it. It’s funny how the line in the sand can shift between selling out and growing up.

Categories: Uncategorized

Ice Princess – only a preview

As I’m ramping up to release Ice Princess it occurred to me that I haven’t put a sample out about it yet. Well it’s time to fix that! Of course the funniest part of this process (to me) is that I suspect my attempts to build anticipation and excitement about the looming release may be affecting me more than anybody else!

###

Sarah fought the urge to take her helmet off. The sun had hidden behind the red cliffs to the west and the wind whistled fiercely through the open bed of the old army truck. Even with that relief she was still miserable and hot. Too many layers of clothes that were too tight on her combined with brutal desert sun and not nearly enough water.

Occasionally somebody would try to say something. A joke or a complaint, but it seldom sparked a response. Open mouths meant another hole the dust could blow in, even though most of them wore rags over their mouths. Sarah shifted her grip on the worn rifle in her hand and glanced around. She shared the back of the truck not only with the two large crates of questionable medical supplies, but also five other men. They were all dressed the same, shapeless in their collections of desert camouflage, but they knew she was a woman. They also knew her well enough to know it didn’t matter. She was off limits and one on one she could prove it.

The shade only made it worse. In the sunlight any sweat that dared to drip below her helmet was evaporated. Now it left streaks down her neck and forehead, itching as it moved the tiny particles of dust. She bit back a groan of annoyance and only barely noticed the glint from the top of the eastern ridge.

Sarah froze, her eyes widening. She studied carefully, catching another brief flash of reflected sunlight. Something was up there, something metallic or otherwise shiny. Something that could have easily been the scope of a sniper’s rifle.

She feared that moving would draw attention to her. The cliff was on the short side of two hundred feet and probably half that to the east of the road. That and the fact that the truck was moving did little to calm her racing heart. A good sniper could have made the shot with his eyes closed.

“Hey!” Sarah called out loudly enough to overpower the combined sounds of the wind, tires, and the trucks diesel engine. The others glanced at her, moving as little as possible out of efficiency or laziness. It didn’t matter, she figured movement would be what triggered an attack, not her telling the others. Unless the sniper could read her lips. “Sniper on the eastern ridge!”

She saw wide eyes that echoed what she imagined her own expression had been. The two men sitting on her right glanced up. Only one of the men on the opposite side turned to look. She cursed. It was obvious now. “Fucking amateur!”

He looked back at her, surprised, then his eyes narrowed behind the rag he used to filter out the dust. He met her glare for glare until Vince, the man on her right, rumbled loud enough for them all to hear. “I don’t see nothing, you sure?”

“No, couple times in the same spot I saw a flash. There’s no metal or buildings up there, what else could it be?”

To make matters worse, the trucks engine quieted. It slowed, taking a curve in the road that had once been wide enough for at least four lanes. Now fallen rocks and the occasional strategically placed derelict vehicle narrowed it to something the truck could barely fit through. Sarah risked a glance and saw that, past a hill made of dirt and sand, a river cut across the canyon. Leaning back to give her line of sight ahead of the vehicle, she saw a road block with two armed men waiting. Behind them was a large bridge that spanned the Colorado river.

“We’re here, be cool,” The man across from her said. Sarah glanced back up to the canyon wall and breathed a sigh of relief. The sniper, if it had been one, was behind some rocks that the turning road had put between them. The range had to be at least half a mile now too. The relief also brought a return of her earlier feelings of irritation. The sweat had gotten worse, thanks to her anxiety, and now her entire neck and upper back was itching.

“Don’t get out,” John, the man across from her, said as the truck slowed to a stop. She had worked with him before and knew his name wasn’t really John. It didn’t matter to her, but she did wonder what he’d been born with. John had vouched for her and got her the job, so she owed him that much.

The man in the passenger seat waited until one of the guards approached. He got out slowly, hands evident to show he had no trouble in mind. He did have a pistol at his side, but it was confined by a buttoned strap over the grip. Sarah looked away quickly, forcing herself to ignore the obvious and keep an eye out for anything that seemed amiss — strange clouds of dust being kicked up, smoke, or even noises that were out of place. She’d seen them all at meets that went bad in the past.

The passenger door shut, bringing her attention back from their surroundings. She glanced at John and he gave her a brief nod. She returned a tight lipped smile. It made her feel good to have someone notice her, but she knew better than to show it. Among men like these it would be taken as a sign of being girly. Next would come the leers and the jokes, and before she knew it somebody would start grabbing or pinching and expecting a good time. Then she’d have to shoot off somebody’s dick or ram her antique grenade somewhere that the sun never shined. She could save the girly stuff for between fights with her sister.

The truck jerked forward, threatening Sarah for a moment with the possibility of falling out of the open tailgate. She recovered her balance quickly, clutching her gun nervously. The tension in her neck and shoulders drained when she realized the truck was moving slowly and heading across the bridge. Only two lanes remained, the other span on the east, formerly the south-bound span, was piled high with rocks and trashed vehicles at both ends and along the sides. It made the remaining span a perfect killing zone. The tension returned in spades.

Twenty minutes later Sarah’s nerves were no less calm. The road to Moab had been turned into a high desert slalom course with boulders and broken down hulks of vehicles or machinery. Beyond that, down a slight hill, the once welcoming town of Moab lay nearly pristine and untarnished by the ruin of civilization. The only thing missing, as the sun dipped lower into the western sky, was electricity.

People lined the streets, watching the truck. They were armed, though only a few of them held weapons in hand. Sarah stared back at them, not letting her eyes linger on any one for long. Some men, some women, and very few children. All in all she fought to keep her disdain off her face. The last thing she needed while trapped in a virtual mountain stronghold was to piss off the natives.

The truck pulled off onto a side street, rumbling along through the otherwise silent city. It stopped before the Allen Memorial hospital. Among buildings that looked old and run down the small hospital reminded her of abandoned Native American ruins she had seen once on a job that took her into Southern Arizona.

“Let’s get this stuff inside!”

Sarah pulled her attention away from the building and hopped down from the back of the truck. She winced from the impact on her cramped legs, but moved aside without complaint so the others could climb out with her. A final survey of the surrounding area, complete with houses in various states of disrepair, and she slung the rifle she carried over her shoulder.

Sarah helped carry the first box in, taking through the lobby but stopping when some locals at the registration desk told them too. It was placed beside a wall, then for lack of any encouragement to do anything else, Sarah and Vince walked back out to the truck, pausing only to let Reggie and the inexperienced Matt take their box into the building. They rejoined John and a tall Mexican man named Tony by the truck.

Reggie and Matt joined them a few minutes later, preceding another man wearing a white coat. He was older, in his sixties, with a shiny strip of nothing on top of his head and some gray fuzz along the sides. He walked up to them, smiling widely and pulling a cooler on wheels behind him. “We really needed this, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it!”

“You can show us,” The man running the job said as he came around the side of the truck. His name was Shawn Miller, but Sarah knew little about him. John had done all the subcontracting for the hired help, other than the driver.

“Right! Yes, of course, sorry about that.” He reached into his coat, causing all of them to tense and a few guns to shift. The doctor didn’t seem to notice. He pulled out a couple stacks of bills, fresh looking money at that, and handed them to Shawn. “Here you go. And water, as much water as you can drink! It’s all clean and good. We’ve got people running constant purification off the Colorado. Gets all the mud and anything from upstream out of it.”

Shawn flipped through the money, appraising it quickly. He nodded, satisfied, and turned to the others. “You heard the man, grab yourselves a drink if you want one, we earned it after that drive!”

Sarah’s wasn’t the first hand in the cooler. Plastic jugs of different sizes, no doubt used and reused many times, were filled with cool water. It was far from cold, but a dark room in a desert basement could feel like refrigeration after all the sun they’d had. She forced herself to take it slowly after the first few refreshing gulps.

“Food too, it’s the least we can do. There are some camp sites still set up you passed on your way in to town, you can stay there tonight. Our hunters should be back in soon, if they’re not already. They’ll bring in some food.”

Sarah paused long enough to offer the doctor a smile. She wasn’t too sure what passed for edible animals near Moab, but she also knew she wouldn’t turn it down unless it happened to be another person. She couldn’t imagine being that hungry.

She slipped over and grabbed a couple more bottles of water, shoving two in her pockets and holding a third in her hand. She shrugged when John stared at her, then had to take a drink to hide her smile as he and the others did likewise. She figured the doc wouldn’t have told them to drink all they could if he didn’t mean it.

The ride back to the campsite was a little more relaxed. With the expensive cargo delivered, there was no reason to worry. That and the extra leg room made it almost a pleasant experience. Or at least as pleasant as was possible for Sarah under stifling body armor and too many layers of clothing.

The camp required no real set up either. They occupied four cabins, Sarah and John splitting one while the others split up amongst the other three. Each held framework for bunk beds and a full size mattress. The mattresses were long since gone, but that left a plank of wood in the full size and enough flat metal bands in the bunks to offer a makeshift hammock.

After staking their claims they made their way back out to the first cabin where Shawn and his driver were bunking. They already had a fire pit going and an old steel grate ready for whatever critter was unlucky enough to serve as dinner.

The sun was nearly finished with the day, having long since slipped past the eastern ridge of the valley. They gathered around the fire for warmth. John pulled out an old canteen and took a sip from it, something Sarah noticed and raised an eyebrow at. He smiled and offered it to her, which drew the interest of a couple of the other mercenaries.

Sarah stared at it then shrugged and picked it up. Without thinking about it, she took a drink and nearly coughed it back out. It burned her throat and assaulted her sinuses. She finally managed to finish swallowing it down then took a ragged coughing breath. “Paint thinner?” She finally gagged out.

He chuckled and took a heavier swig of it. He grimaced slightly, then offered it to Vince, who turned it down. Tony looked interested, as did Matt, but Reggie waved it off. Sarah took a heavy pull off her water bottle to rinse out her mouth then shook her head and sighed.

“I bet you’re pretty under all that gear,” John ventured a few drinks later.

“Don’t go there,” Sarah warned.

He laughed and held up a hand. “Don’t worry, I’m just pointing out the obvious is all. I know better, I remember what you done to that Mexican that tried to get a piece.”

“Hey!” Tony leveled a glare at John, but John only flipped him off.

“Relax amigo, the guy was Mexican. I didn’t say he was a wetback or nothing. Didn’t say he tried to mow her lawn or anything like that. Just that he was Mexican. Same as I’m white and Reggie over there is so damn black he’s almost purple.”

Tony stared at him then shook his head and laughed it off. John might have been feeling warm and fuzzy but anyone who knew him knew he was crazy fast with the pistol on his hip and only a wink of an eye slower with the knife on his other hip. Sarah laughed as well, drawing attention away from the two and trying to diffuse the situation. “Wonder if that guy ever did walk straight again?”

“You kick him in the balls?” Matt asked.

John barked out a harsh laugh. “She pinned one of his nuts to his thigh with a fucking fork!”

The others grimaced and groaned, a few even reaching subconsciously to protect themselves. Matt’s jaw dropped open until he saw Sarah staring at him with a wicked gleam in her eye. He clamped his jaw shut and took a half step back.

“Dinner time!”

They all turned to see two figures approaching from the road. Rifles were slung over both of their shoulders and one held several rabbits in each hand. “Hey there y’all! Three cottontails, two jackrabbits. The jackrabbits are kinda stringy, but they eat all right.”

There was something about the girl with the rabbits that seemed familiar to Sarah. She studied her openly for a moment, then glanced at her companion. Her hair was cut short, but not so short it would be spiked up. Black and uneven, Sarah imagined Moab had nothing that passed for a hair stylist even though the other woman looked put well together. There was something about the brunette that nagged at Sarah.

“Well hey there gorgeous,” John said, eyeing up the girl with the southern drawl. Sarah winced. John knew enough to leave her alone and she wasn’t sure why that was, given he seemed to have no sense when it came to women when he was sober.

“Hey yourself tall, dark, and stinky,” She riposted with a thin smile.

“It’s called pheromones baby,” John leered. “I bet you got an all I can eat buffet going on there.”

The southern belle rolled her eyes again and tossed the rabbits she carried onto the picnic table. She started to turn away when John reached out and grabbed her arm just above the elbow. “Hang on now baby, how about—“

Even with her eyes already on the scene, Sarah was stunned by what happened. Her body reacted before her brain did, but even that wasn’t fast enough. A flash of dark hair and a figure moving so quickly it was a blur circled around the girl, using the southerner to block John’s line of site until it was too late. Sarah had her gun raised halfway up by the time John had been flipped backwards. The brunette was crouched low and obviously the cause of his sudden relocation. She scrambled onto his back, her knee jabbing into his lower back. She grabbed his hair in her fist and yanked his head back so the knife she held in her other hand that had been blacked was pricking in the hollow just below his ear.

“What the f—“

“Nobody touches her without asking permission first,” The brunette hissed at him. “Got it?”

John sputtered for a moment, then grew quiet as she twisted the knife and caused a trickle of blood to run down the line of his jaw. “Yeah,” he muttered, “I got it.”

The knife pulled back enough so that the dark haired girl could smash his face into the ground. She stood up and turned to her surprised companion. She reached out and wrapped her hand behind the girl’s neck and pulled her in for a fierce kiss that left little doubt as to whom John had been supposed to ask permission from in the first place.

The brunette broke the kiss then turned and stared at Sarah and the others with a determined look. Sarah felt the rush of familiarity again, but still could not place it. She lowered her gun, realizing the fight was over. A glance at the others and she saw only a couple had the presence of mind to have their own guns readied. She waved at them and they, too, relaxed their stances. The two women retreated, hand in hand, though the southerner still had a dazed look on her face.

“You all right?” Tony asked, coming over to kneel next to John.

John groaned and spat onto the ground. It was a mix of dirt and blood. “Fucking dykes.”

“When you gonna learn to keep it in your pants?” Sarah’s question drew a round of forced laughs from the others. It cut the tension, but left her staring after the two girls until they disappeared into the dusk.

* * * *

“What was that?”

“Lost your accent,” Tanya noted.

Jessie stumbled, her foot catching on some uneven pavement. She caught herself, glancing back to confirm that she had tripped on a pothole, then hurried to catch up to Tanya. She pulled the girl around, catching her swinging wrist to do so. “Stop it! What was that? Was that real? Did that really bother you that much? Is there—”

“You were in trouble,” Tanya interrupted her. She looked down at Jessie’s hand on her arm, then back up at the former movie star. “No woman left behind, that’s all.”

Jessie stared at her, then tightened her grip when Tanya tried to pull her hand away. “Bullshit. Don’t fucking lie to me Tanya. We’ve been through too much. I’ve been through too much!”

“Jess, get a grip,” Tanya snapped, yanking her arm free. “I’m sorry that I’m not drooling over you. I’m sorry your clinging to me because it’s the only thing you’ve got left. Carl’s gone! Your career’s gone. The world is a shitty place and there’s not a fucking good thing about it. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you everything’s going to get better.”

Jessie stared at her, her mouth hanging open. Tanya continued, barely pausing to take a breath. “I’m not in love with you – I’m not even attracted to you. You’re welcome to stay with me, but I’m tired of feeling like I’m walking on a tightrope around you. If you can’t handle it, that’s fine, I can. Jessie, you’re not my mom. You’re not my girlfriend. You’re not my sister. We’re just two people in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Jessie continued to stare. Tanya looked away, blinking as she did so, and walked quickly through the deepening night towards the lodging they’d been assigned at a place that had once been called the Gonzo Inn. The city council had wanted to keep an eye on them when Russell brought them in late last year, now even after they’d been accepted they hadn’t bothered trying to find another place to stay. Up until a few moments ago it had been good enough for Jessie, now she wondered if anything would ever be good enough again.

###

Ice Princess is the soon to be released sequel to Wanted. It will be available at the usual places (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Novel Concept Publishing). If you’re interested, check it out – or check the prequel (Wanted) out.

Jason Halstead can be found on the web at the following locations:

Webpage: http://www.booksbyjason.com>
Blog: http://booksbyjason.wordpress.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Books-by-Jason/161622180537541
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3527553.Jason_Halstead
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/booksbyjason
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jason-halstead/7/ab4/514
Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/JasonHalstead

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Jason-Halstead/e/B0049AXHP2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1309130738&sr=8-1
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Jason-Halstead
Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JWHalstead

Categories: Uncategorized

My review on the review progress

A week or so back I put out some requests for people willing to do a pre-release review of an upcoming book. Thanks to a handful of daring souls it’s happening and I’ve reached my limit of pre-release reviews. The really humorous part, to me, is that I’ll have more reviews for Ice Princess when it’s released than I have on any other single book – from release until now!

I’m actively choosing to consider that a mark of growing success. I know that my sales have been inching up thanks to my version of some avid marketing (more blogging, more tweeting, more writer networking sites).

Now the conundrum I’m faced with is trying to understand the short story. I’ve got a couple out there and I’m struggling to write more, but are they something I should just post for free or sell? Seems like most writers go the latter route – a decent short story sold at a cheap price can rack up some decent volume over time. I’ve got loads of issues regarding short stories though – probably enough to make another blog post for another time.

And speaking of other blog posts, I’m always interested in hosting other writers. Should anyone read this and be interested shoot me an email at jason@booksbyjason.com and we can make it happen!

Categories: Writing

A Clown Named Bubbles

Yesterday was a long day. The plan was to show up at work at 6am, test the changes made to the production line over the last two weeks during shutdown, then head off to a golf outing (also work-sponsored). What really happened was eleven hours later I left work feeling reasonably satisfied we’d resolved the problems and that we could start up successfully on Sunday night.

I came home hungry, exhausted, and still a little angry at how the day had unfolded. We had house guests arrive before I made it home for the weekend – which I should stress to admit was not a problem at all for me – then I got wrapped up in doing the necessary evening events that keep the kids and wife happy. The saying that a happy wife = a happy life remains true, after all!

During all this I was stressing a little that I had not launched hardly any tweets about my writing and publishing and other activities. So I tried to slip out personal quips as the evening unfolded. My favorite, and the one that had everyone around the table laughing explosively, was when I mentioned that I’d just tweeted “Blowing bubbles by the campfire. No, nobody invited a clown.” If you tie it into the subject and realize how late it was by then, you might understand why it was suddenly so funny. Or you might be offended, especially if you’re a clown.

Bubbles the clown

Bubbles the clown doesn't seem amused

Categories: Uncategorized

Stealth Reviews

Here I am trying to hunt down people to do some pre-release reviews for a new book I’ve got coming out (Ice Princess, sequel to Wanted) and I get a zealous email from a reader who’s begging me to pick her. She even pointed out that she did a review on Wanted. So naturally, I had to go and check it out…

Lo and behold, somebody else had done a review as well, and that was practically a month ago. Well what the heck? They caught me sleeping or something – or Amazon needs to include notifications to authors or publishers when a review is posted on a product. I like that idea better.

Anyhow, without furhter delay, I’m going to copy and paste those reviews so I can bask in a few moments of personal triumph:

“This sci-fi book kept me engrossed from beginning to end. Fast-paced, suspenseful, and very believable. The author took care to provide enough background on each of the characters so that the reader can understand what makes them tick. I read this book on an airplane, and was actually irritated when the plane landed because I was so wrapped up in the storyline! This is my first read by this author (Jason Halstead), but I’ve already bought another of his books. I hope there’s a sequel to “Wanted,” as I was definitely left wanting more of the story and characters.
-Kim D.”

“I don’t write very many reviews but I didn’t see one for this book yet. Bought it on a whim and was pleasantly surprised. No complaints about the writing and the book was entertaining. Maybe a little light on plot and back story but a lot more interesting than most of the mindless expensive action bestsellers that people seem to lap up. Very worth reading for the price, looking forward to a possible sequel and will be looking at the rest of the author’s books.

Keep up the good work!
-Jon Lorisen”

 

Well there, the moment has passed but that was still fun for me. If either (or both) reviews pushed you over the line and made you want to check it out, here you go:

Wanted, by Jason Halstead

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0053KJ2QU

Categories: Writing

An opportunity for brave readers

This isn’t about me – this is about you, whoever you are. I have a book that is soon to be released, once the cover art is available. The thing is, I’d really like to have some reviews ready to roll with it. Soooo, if you’re up for a free sci-fi read of a near future Earth that’s been plagued by dirty bombs and plagues, let me know at jason@booksbyjason.com.

Wanted, a science fiction novel by Jason Halstead

Wanted, by Jason Halstead


Let me possibly increase your interest – the book in question is the sequel to Wanted. Convince me you’re going to review it and I’ll send it your way. Timeliness is important, but I figure there’s two to four weeks of time available.

Categories: Uncategorized
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