Carl T. Holscher fights for the customers.

Tag: Planning

Trials and Treadmills

Friday night I left my house to pick up a Sole F80 Treadmill from a Craigslisting. I drove from my home in Maryland to Northern Virginia in rush hour traffic. Even so, my wife and I made it right near 7 pm, the meeting time. Only to learn there was no way this massive machine would fit into my vehicle. I needed a pickup truck. I do not own a pickup truck.

The guy we met said there was a Home Depot a few miles away, so we jumped in the car and headed there. Sure enough, 2.4 miles away was the store. Would they rent us a truck at this late hour? Now nearly 7:45 pm? Yes. Barely.

I think the woman working the customer service area took pity on us and even though it was after their rental cut-off, and my repeated promises to have the truck returned by closing time (10 pm). I walked out with truck keys. We jumped in the truck and headed back to pick up the massive fitness monster. 

The three of us were able to lift it into the back of the truck. I didn’t have any straps or twine to secure it, but I wasn’t worried about it moving around. I was going to take it easy going home and this thing was nearly 300 pounds.

Before you laugh at my treadmill moving story, here are the dimensions of this thing.

  • Height (in.): 57″
  • Length (in.): 82″
  • Width (in.): 37″
  • Item Weight (lbs.): 278

After we loaded it, I got into the truck and my wife into her car. Because we had left from difference places, we had to drive separately to the pickup. We hadn’t planned on renting a truck and adding that complexity to this purchase. But little did I know, my night was only beginning. At 8 pm…

Heading out of the neighborhood and onto I-66 then I-495 to I-270 was uneventful. The treadmill shifted once when I had to brake harder than I wanted. The problem with leaving enough space between your truck and the vehicle in front of you in DC-area traffic is an open invitation to anyone with a car small enough to zip into that space. And one of those cars zipped a little too close and braked suddenly when the car in front of them did.

Other than that, I made it across the three interstates to my exit and slowly drove through the neighborhoods near my home. The slow turns and rough roads cause the treadmill to move around more than 25 miles from the store. It moved a bit and I had one nightmarish moment as it slid towards the side when the truck hit a pothole rounding a corner.

But eventually, I arrived home with our prize.

We fought the near-freezing temperatures and gusting wind cutting through our clothes to get it off the truck and onto the lawn. I thought momentarily about trying to wrestle it inside, but I was on a deadline. I needed to get back in that truck and drive it another 25 miles back to the store. 

10 pm was my deadline. I pulled up the route on Waze and checked its estimate. 9:22 pm. I was going to make it. But I needed to get moving. Ordinarily, a 40-minute window would be more than enough to give some comfort. Not where I live. 40 minutes can easily get added to a 25-mile journey.

So I was off again. Back in the truck. This time, without cargo so I was able to drive the speed limit going back and didn’t need to worry as much. It was another uneventful drive back to the store. I gassed up the truck and returned it to the store’s parking lot.

I walked in and over to customer service where I saw the woman who had checked us out. 

“You’re back! You made it!” She nearly shouted when she saw me. I could tell she thought I was making promises when I rent the truck so she would give it to me. I was back at 9:30 pm. I had gassed the truck and was rewarded with a final cost of just shy of $40 for the truck and $9 for the gas.

So our $1500 treadmill was up to about $290 so far.

Then I had to drive home. Again.

My wife stayed behind to order dinner and get off her feet since she’d been working all day and there was no reason for two of us to drive 50 miles round trip together.

I left Home Depot. I headed home again. I arrived shortly after 10 pm to the mammoth treadmill lurking in the darkness in my yard. It hadn’t moved. It wasn’t going to without a lot of effort.

I went in and ate the best-tasting calzone I’ve possibly ever tasted. 

Then it was time to meet the next challenge. How do we get this 278 pile of metal and plastic into our house? We had a wooden dolly (a rectangle of wood with wheels). The treadmill has wheels, but they were useless over the grass, so we wrestled it on the dolly to the paved pathway to our front door.

This is where our next set of problems began. With every dimension, it was too big to fit through our doors. So we started figuring out what to take apart and how to take it apart.

Keep in mind it’s 33° F (one degree above freezing). It’s 11 pm, windy and moonless outside. Even with the house’s exterior lights, flashlights and gloves were required.

While I looked for Allen wrenches, my wife looked up the manual and for a video on how to put it together (since no one makes a video on how to pull it apart). So we knew what and where we were looking for. Now I just needed the tools.

This is where my saving tendencies paid off. I had a collection of Allen wrenches from various Ikea installs. I hoped one of those was the right size. Thankfully, they were. It was too late to go anywhere to get the tools we needed so we would have had to left the treadmill outside overnight until we could get tools.

So I went to work removing the top display. Hoping this would make it short enough to fit through the doorway. It was only a couple of screws to remove and collapse it. But it didn’t get us enough room to get in the front door. After nearly an hour of trying, frozen and exhausted already, we loaded it back on the dolly and rolled it around to the side door. There were no stairs. Just a small step up from the paved path to the door. 

But even with the top off, it was just too big.

Because of the hydraulic system that allows the belt to descend once unfolded, it was wouldn’t allow us to collapse it without the weight of the machine holding it down. There was no way we could press it down enough to move it through the door.

We tried one direction. Then the other. And with the weight of it, I could lift it and my wife could steady it, but we weren’t able to lift all of it at once. 

Halfway in the door, when it became clear, it wasn’t going in anymore, I went to move the doormat which had gotten stuck between the belt and the door, I hoped maybe it would give us a tiny bit more room to make it inside. 

Not only did it not, but I also knocked it over and it fell on my wife’s foot and scraped down her leg. Thankfully, it didn’t break anything and didn’t land on her, more bounced off her foot as she put it. But it still put her out of commission for the night and destroyed most of the plastic parts, including the part that covers the motor and electrical system. So that was now exposed. I left it where it fell and went inside to make sure we didn’t need to get her medical help.

She was more or less OK. Just wish a sore foot. I got her some ice and pain killer and she got set up on the couch under a blanket to warm up and rest her foot.

After confirming she was OK and didn’t need anything else from me, I went back to the problem of getting this treadmill inside our house.

I crouched over it and started looking at what else I could take apart to get it inside. I was looking at the plastic covering on the underside of the belt. Could I remove the base from the track? Could I find a way to compress it or disable the hydraulic lift at all?

Yes.

Yes, I could.

As it was now around 12:30 am, still freezing cold and still windy, I was exhausted. Maybe if I was thinking clearer I would have thought of this sooner. But I looked at the lift and realized it’s the same type of mechanism that works my screen door, which I had taken apart earlier in the night.

So while I could not remove the base or track without a lot of work and tools I wasn’t sure I had. I could remove the single screw that held the hydraulic pump in place and kept the belt upright.

I couldn’t believe it. After hours of struggling. After the injury to my wife and the bruises and cuts I had and didn’t even realize until my wife pointed them out to me, possibly because I was numb.

I grabbed my trusty Allen wrench.

I removed that single screw. I stuck it in my pocket and laid the base flat to the belt.

Now, a little after 1 is, I finally had the treadmill small enough to get through my door. So I wrestled it on to the dolly and rolled it into the house. This got me halfway into the house. Through moving one side, then the other across the kitchen’s tile floor, I was eventually able to get the rest of the treadmill inside our house.

At 1 am. More than 6 hours after I left my house thinking “I will go pick up this treadmill and bring it home at a great price!” It was inside. In pieces.

It was battered. There were many plastic pieces that were broken all or partially off. I was cut and bruised. My wife had swollen and cut. I had the treadmill inside, in three pieces. But it was inside.

I went upstairs to shower and collapse into bed.

The next afternoon, after getting a good night’s sleep and taking some more pain killers, we set to work putting this treadmill back together. Thankfully, we didn’t lose any screws and there weren’t that many pieces to put back in place. We slit the remaining plastic protectors on and screwed the base together. We connected the cabling and screwed everything back into place.

I plugged it in and it powered on. I was happy. I was afraid we had broken something, most likely a cable when we were moving it. But it wouldn’t start. The motor wouldn’t turn. It seemed to be in a display mode. None of the buttons worked. Panicking a little bit, I then realize we didn’t have the safety key in place. The bright red piece of metal and plastic that acts as an emergency stop.

Once we found where we’d put it, set it in place, and pressed start, the machine sang and slowly started the motor running and the belt moved.

Success! We had done it.

Even with the replacement plastic pieces costing another $70, we had a working treadmill. All said and done, it was still far cheaper than buying it new anywhere.

The final cost breakdown was:

  • $240 for the treadmill
  • $40 to rent a truck
  • $9 for gas in the truck on return
  • $30 in gas (estimated) for the driving back and forth
  • $70 for replacement plastic parts

$389 for a $1500 treadmill. Not counting our time, blood, sweat and tears.

Not everyday is a success

I pride myself on success. I want every event I lay my hands on to be a success. But some days, you lose. This is one of those days.

Just as every win is made up of all the parts going right, a loss is made up of parts going wrong.

Here’s what went wrong today.

Unclear Information

First, there was unclear information available on the Intranet. This information led to an event being created and overbooked. The site can support 200 people and over 500 registered.

I found this out the day before the event was scheduled to start. In an effort to avoid disaster, I worked with the organizer to set up the event on a site that can accommodate 1,000 people.

Even with 500 registrants, my rule of thumb is about 3/4 at most actually take part. So the new site was setup, but this meant new information had to be sent to the 500+ registrants late in the day before the event.

I was able to get the registration list from the organizer and reformat it to import the list into WebEx. When I setup the event, I had WebEx send all of them an updated invitation to the event.

In addition, another email went out advising everyone of the change in web link. I also answered about a dozen emails from people who understandably had questions.

350 People on a Party Line

Second, due to the event’s size, the organizer had booked a phone line to handle the large number of people. I didn’t think anything of it, as I’ve worked with this group before and they knew what they were doing.

The moment the event started, I knew we were in trouble. I was hearing people. A lot of people.

The large phone line should have been booked to allow anyone with a Host code to speak, but to set everyone who dialed in with an Attendee Code to Listen-Only mode. I should not have heard anyone but the presenter.

I heard everyone. And everyone heard everyone else. What happened next was 20 minutes of:

  • Babies crying
  • Hold music
  • People talking over each other
  • People yelling at those people to be quiet
  • People asking everyone to mute their phones

It was a disaster. There’s no civil way to handle 350 people on an open phone line. We were handling questions over a text-chat in WebEx so there was no need to have the attendees be audible.

We got an operator on the line and she informed me she could not mute the participants as it was not setup for her to do so. She pleaded with the mob to mute their lines as well. And most people did. She was able to silence some hold music from two lines and find a line causing static.

So eventually the presentation began, 25 minutes after it was scheduled.

Poor Planning

Third, there was poor planning between myself and the person presenting. I should have contacted them beforehand and made sure they were comfortable with what they needed to do. I should also have reminded them about a bug with our WebEx setup cause by a Microsoft Patch which broke Application Sharing.

I did not. And they tried to share the PowerPoint slides, a new wave of I can’t see. Can you? and “Where are the slides, all I can see if a green screen? Is something wrong? Along with the people who knew what needed to be done providing advice.

Meanwhile, in an effort not to talk over the people on the line, I had emailed the organizer and was using the WebEx chat to relay instructions on how to solve this problem.

The presenter did figure it out shortly and shared the slides by uploading them straight to WebEx and the event could begin.

Timeliness

The organizer gave me the name of the person who I would turn the event over to. We agreed to get dialed in no later than 15 minutes before the event was scheduled to start.

I started the event 20 minutes before the start time and waited. And waited. 20 attendees. 50 attendees. 100 attendees.

I emailed the two contacts I had, including the person I was supposed to turn the event over to, no response, which didn’t surprise me since they were preparing for the event.

Finally the presenter logs in, about five minutes before the event was set to begin. There were over 150 people on the line when she did. Any hope I had of talking things over with her were already drowned out by the people having problems.

I tell everyone I work with to give themselves extra time before their event. And if they’re unsure of any part of anything, to allow even more time. There are a lot of things we can do to troubleshoot an event, but the options narrow drastically without time.

I made too many assumptions.

I do this all the time. I spend my days planning, scheduling and supporting events and meetings. I forgot about all the things I know and take for granted.

I assumed a level of knowledge that wasn’t there. I assumed I didn’t need to remind the organizers of certain things. I should have.

This failing was a group effort. Though the event did eventually started and the people on the phone quieted down. There was some great information shared and good questions asked.

So in the end, the event did take place and did end somewhat successfully. But it wasn’t something I want to replicate.

Fixes

I’ve gone over what went wrong. Now here’s what I did the prevent this from happening again.

  • I located and updated the information on the Intranet which gave unclear information.

The information was all correct, but it was unclear and I saw how people were assuming they could host large events themselves. I rewrote part of the page to make it crystal clear how to requested a large event and who to contact in for scheduling and help.

  • Next time I work with someone to book a large phone line, I will make sure they’ve set it up as an Operator-Assisted call.

This gives us the benefit of having Host codes that presenters can dial-in with to discuss and plan the event prior to the start. This also allows us to mute all attendees by default. If the organizer wants to have a verbal Q&A session, it can be conducted with the operator managing the phone lines and opening lines upon request and muting them again.

It’s how we’ve setup other large events and it works very well to keep the event quiet, focused and without the crying babies and hold music.

  • I won’t assume the presenters or organizers know what I know. I will review with them best practices and stress the importance of showing up early.

I need to be more proactive. I need to remember to approach every event as if its my first one. I need to look at it with fresh, beginner eyes and not assume things or overlook details. With a little extra planning and if I had been more proactive, this meeting could have been more successful than it was.

How do you spend your day?

The idea of what people do all day has been rattling around my brain for weeks now. I am so curious how people spend their days at work. What do you fill 8 hours with?

Ever since I left college I’ve only had one type of job. I’ve either worked as a Desktop Support Technician ((The guy who comes to your desk when you have computer problems.)) or a Help Desk Monkey. ((The guy you call and report/complain your computer problem to. Hang up. Then curse at.))

Due to the limited scope of the work I’ve done, I have absolutely no idea what most people do for 8 hours a day. How does an Accountant spend their time? What does Human Resources do all day? The lawyers and other legal types, what do you do all day?

I’ve worked in retail and I’ve worked in a print shop so I have some limited experience with retail and sales jobs. But seriously, what do you do all day?

I am not trying to downplay or belittle what you do. I just don’t know what it is. I am curious.

I stumbled across this question because I’ve been thinking about how I work and how my days go. I have very little ability to plan out how a day will go or built breaks and time to work on pre-defined projects within the given day.

My day changes from hour to hour and sometimes minute to minute. I can have a couple of hours planned out or have a basic idea of what I want to accomplish before I go home. Then, a couple of seconds later a high priority ticket comes in, or a VIP call hits my queue, or a computer decides to die in the middle of a big deadline or an important meeting. ((For the record, computers prefer to commit suicide around 3:30pm on a Friday.))

Since my day is so fluid and I’m unable to plan an entire day out ahead of time let alone a week or multiple weeks. I am curious what consumes your days.

Can you plan a whole day out or a half day and are you able to stick to that plan?

Is your job fluid and changes moment to moment so you never plan more than the next task or the next few minutes?

Tell me, what fills your workday?

I am very curious to hear about your days. Please leave a comment, write me an email ((peroty@gmail.com)), or post to your blog and leave a link in the comments.