You need to read less and think more!

This blog is about getting stoked and getting worthwhile things done. There is a sea of useless information bombarding you, and this is a desert island where you beach your boat and build a hut. There are also some clever little construction tricks to be presented.



Sunday, December 9, 2012

How to clean a polished concrete floor.


Washing a stained and sealed concrete floor is a lot like washing a vehicle.  If you tried to just wash your car with a mop without drying it, it wouldn’t work very well. Your floor is no different.  

For routine cleaning,  you can mop it,  then shuffle around with an old towel (taking up the dirty water) and get it clean fairly quickly.  If you are cleaning a commercial floor and towels seem unprofessional, microfiber mops that start dry and get wet on the heals of your wet mopping work great.  

If your floor is outside, think drive-through car wash.  That is get the dirt into solution, rinse it, then break out your leaf-blower to blow-dry the dirty water off.

If the floor is really dirty, think gas-station-window washing.  You need to get the dirt into solution and then squeegee the water to a wet-vac and just use the mop or towels like you would use the paper towels at a gas station.  Remember the windshield analogy - it's all about the squeegee.  If you scrubbed your window, and used a shop vac to pull the water off, it would require a lot of paper towel action.  If you are a pro with the squeegee, you can get it fully clean in the time it takes your road-tripping companions to buy chips and drinks.   

Soap is a great invention, and the best soap for your finished concrete floor is surprisingly cheap.  The goal is generally to clean the floor without leaving a film or removing the finish, so mild or highly diluted detergents are best.  I recommend anything that starts with “Neutral” or “Neutra-”  from a janitorial supply store - NeutraClean, Neutral Quat, etc.  If the smell of Thyme is more appealing the 3M smell, try Seventh Generation,.  Here is a link that I'm not set up to get paid on:  



Sunday, November 18, 2012

concrete floor theory part 5 - the unremarkable steps to excellence

There are a dozen or so men who are no longer alive, but continue to deeply influence me through there writing and legacy.  The Saints (actual Saints - not the NFL team), business leaders like Peter Drucker, great coaches like John Wooden, often seem to have more to teach us posthumous than most of the living.

One thing Coach Wooden preached that has never left me is that it is all the little things done consistently well that add up to excellence.  One story by Bill Walton comes to mind about when he came to UCLA excited to play for Wooden.  On his first day of practice, he expected to learn deep, esoteric secrets of basketball only to be taught the absolute best way to put on his socks and shoes.  It was always about executing the little things as well as you could.  Nothing was too small to perfect.  

I've worked for years to apply that to element7concrete.  We have a written procedure describing the best way to mop a floor.  Ironically, we love concrete with its imperfections and nuances.  We doggedly pursue the ultimate in artful blemishes.    

Today then we share a trick we use on every diamond polished floor and occasionally on stained concrete floors.  Most concrete slabs have footprints in them if you look closely enough.  Some processes highlight them.  Many installers have no idea how to remove them.  Here is one that showed up last month on a honed and polished floor we did in a home designed by

Stehling Klein-Thomas Architects 

in Fredericksburg, TX.

It didn't appear until after the cream of the concrete had been ground off, exposing the fines.  After focused sanding with a handheld polisher with a pad of bonded diamond abrasives, it looked like this:

The keys are the right abrasives, moving in a way that generates maximum friction without melting the pad and creating "schmear", creating a consistent scratch pattern by hand, and stepping up to higher grit abrasives in larger, irregular blobs so that no lines catch the eye in the finished floor.  All this is probably too technical to be interesting to you so here's the point:  It is all little things, learned in the field over time, codified for consistent company-wide performance, that customers, builders, and architects never even notice that make for our excellent reputation.  We deliver day in and day out because of these little things that are not exciting to read about.  That is the point.  It's about staying on your job when nobody cares to look.  That is where excellence is made.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bold, intentional responses - concrete floor theory part 4

So you are building a house with concrete flooring, and to no one's surprise a mistake has been made.  Maybe the plumber put a pipe in a hallway instead of the bathroom (photos of that next week), or an electrical conduit gets misplaced.  That is a straight up construction error that needs a bold response.   (See last week's episode for when bold responses are not called for)

Last week, I made it sound like we do this when the customer hasn't really embraced the basics of concrete flooring.  I may have even said that "If their Walmart conditioning is strong and they are freaked out - we then need to make the objectionable part the best part of the floor."  That infers that bold responses are not needed with cool people.  Not true.



The customer who commissioned us for this floor was extremely cool.

The electrician and the contractor who poured this slab foundation (our team just did the scoring, polishing and staining here) are cool too.  But being human, they make mistakes, and the electrical conduit that was to be centered under the kitchen island ended up about 2' off the mark.  


Luckily the owner had an interesting piece of limestone with a small fish fossil that seemed to fit the kitchen really well.  So, we cut out a rectangle to accommodate it within 1/16" and mortared it in with anchoring cement.  We overfill the cement and consolidate the material well by handling the trowel or putty knife with a very shaky hand.  After at least a few hours, hone it down with a 100 grit resin bond pad on a handheld polisher and then rough up the fossil with a needle scaler.  

It's been a couple of years since this was put in, and I'm told that the fossil has intrigued and impressed dozens of  house guests so far.  Since the floor has our unique 505 finish, it actually looks better now than it did in 2010 even with no maintenance yet.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Proper reactions to not finding a unicorn - concrete floor theory part 3


The perfect concrete floor is like a unicorn - I can imagine it, but have never seen one.  Concrete slabs are handmade with every re-do leaving clues.  Human effort and the material converge with on the pour day and the nuances are frozen in time.  This is why for a customer, commissioning a concrete floor is more like going to a concert than going to Walmart.  You have to abandon your consumerist conditioning a little to enjoy it.  It is not a mass-produced product for you to buy in a plastic clamshell package.  It is both an event frozen in time and a dynamic process.  

So we are going to have “imperfections”, and we know it going in.  The owner's response then leads our response.  If they are cool, the remarkable nuance starts to seem cool.  If sanding it out looks better, we just do that (often without a discussion).  If their Walmart conditioning is strong and they are freaked out - we then need to make the objectionable part the best part of the floor.  So, there are four responses to encountering them.  

  1. Get excited.  The leaves that fell into your slab were a gift from nature.  The footprint from the man running the trowel machine is an artist's signature.  The raccoon that created a blob on the floor that won't react with acid stain now is reminding us that human's are not alone in this world.



2.   Cover it with a rug.  Honestly, concrete floors with no rugs tire the body and make for spaces with bad acoustics. The whole point of concrete floors can be rugs.  If you like carpet, and opt for rugs over polished concrete, you can clean them yourself with a pressure washer outside on the driveway much better than a professional cleaning company can clean carpet.  If your style changes, you can donate your rugs.  Rugs can be re-purposed indefinitely - Folks in Haiti would love the crappiest rug you can find.
3.  Sand it out.  Especially if the floor is sanded with a big machine anyway (we process every floor with diamond abrasives), we can often just sand it and fade it out.
4.)  Do something bold and intentional.  This is an article unto itself, and most of the best examples of this I can think of were never photographed.  The sad truth is, it is hard to balance doing work with this talking about work.  When we get really busy, the blogging drops off, except now I have been making a point of putting content out weekly regardless of how much work we have coming in.  Something is suffering and I will go fix it now.  Thank you for reading.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The space between the lines - concrete floor theory part 2


Surprise.  Our brains squirt dopamine on themselves when we encounter Novelty.  This is part of why:
  • many women will go shopping today.
  • many men will watch football today.
  • I work with concrete.
  • you are browsing the internet now.


The chemicals won't last for long, so we keep looking at new stuff until we have had our fill.
"One question still remains - how much more art can we take" - Fat Mike of NOFX  
Too much though, and we want to go home to Familiarity.  Familiarity puts serotonin into our blood, and is why I felt so delightful riding to Austin after a catfish dinner at the Hill Country Cupboard.   



This is also why we love music we grew up on.  Though it may be really great music, at this point the novelty is gone, and we are there listening because it feels like a blanket right out of the dryer.  This is also why we love concrete flooring - the first floors were stained in the 1920's and it hasn't gone out of style yet.  Therefore, I hope/pray/expect much of the work we do to be there when I am long gone.

Good design creates good feelings.  A well designed space balances Novelty+Familiarity well.  Architects and designers work hard to do this in many dimensions (the "bones" that create the spaces, the lines of the furniture, how light is used, etc.).  In contrast, the floor is easy:
More novel finishes demand less patterning to stay appealing.  The photo below was a floor we did in Fredericksburg for a couple with remarkable taste.  Anne selected a color I frankly didn't "get" at first, and she was totally right.  



Less novel finishes with less patterning make great backdrops for bold art and furniture.
The photo below was a floor we did in the Hyde Park neighborhood in Austin.  It was a remodel, and there is some subtle mottling in the floor, but overall we shot for a very muted effect to backdrop her art.



Less novel finishes with no patterning or remarkable art end up making unremarkable spaces.  I don't want to diss anyone by putting up a picture to illustrate this, but chances are you could go out to your garage and see what I mean.

Bold patterns with bold finishes can end up overwhelming.  We made this countertop for a home in the AHBA Parade of Homes 3 years ago, and frankly it was overdone.




Once in a while, it works though.  This floor+countertop was done in 2007 for an art and furniture store in Marble Falls, and everything was turned up all the way and the net result was great:



Thank you for reading. The big idea to take away is balance Novelty with Familiarity.  Take care.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Concrete meets combinatorics - Concrete floor theory - part 1


The best reason to saw-cut a pattern into a polished concrete floor is to add a layer of craftsmanship and precision to something that is variegated and handmade.  The challenge with this is to make sure your design is timeless.  The whole point with concrete flooring is simple elegance, and so whenever we add a layer, we must design carefully.  We want to pick patterns that are novel enough to be worth doing, but familiar enough to be comfortable.

"Tile patterns", aka grids, are the most common thing then as stained concrete is inherently novel to most, and we are very used to seeing squares in flooring.  With concrete floors, we find the prettiest sizing to be surprisingly big.  23-36" spacing makes the squares big enough to see the movement in the concrete finishing yet small enough to register as a decorative pattern.  Smaller than this doesn't look good:


A more novel pattern, though still familiar enough to be subconsciously pleasing, is a harlequin pattern.  This is just that same grid, but at 60 degrees rather than 90.  The resulting shape is a diamond with 60 and 120 degree angles.  Such a diamond also happens to be what two equilateral triangles would look like stacked.  Non of this geometric explanation is consciously thought of when you look at it, but it is part of what makes it appealing.    



Lastly to be described in Part 1 here is overlapping patterns.  Simple shapes cut to overlap and generate smaller, congruent shapes end up being timelessly appealing.  Here is a overlapping square pattern:
Here's how this all comes together to make something timeless and elegant:
This very imperfect slab had been painted to look like it was acid stained and we were called in when it started flaking off: 

    The overall look before we started evoked exclamations like "meh."

    After grinding it, the amount of rocks shown varied a lot, so a tight overlapping diamond pattern was cut to give that layer of precision we started this blog with.  

    Like we said earlier, scored and stained concrete looks best with bold proportions.  Though this porch totaled less than 300sf, we cut diamonds over 7' long.  Once finished the tight scoring and color separations balance the natural nuances of the slab to make something that is evocative yet really old looking.  




Thursday, June 7, 2012

What does element7 mean?

"Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.” 
 Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values


The shortest answer to "what is element7" is that it refers to the spiritual perfection we seek to inject into our work.  Last month I indulged a bit in explaining my love of Christ and Christian theology, and from here out we endeavor to give more/shorter/more enigmatic examples of the intersection of inspiration and manual labor.  Hopefully it will be more fun to read and more inspiring.  


Next week will feature a short story on simple, inspired geometric patterns that seem to work themselves out as (saw cut) patterns on floors curiously well.  







Tuesday, May 8, 2012

wonderfully meaningless/the real reason why

Previously, I shared how my "wasted youth" of skateboarding taught me 3 great things.  In this moment, I am thankful you are reading the quick 4 chapters that have lead me to the real plot of my story.  I have not written this out of vanity:  my intent is for you to find enough of yourself here to be pulled up by something immeasurably bigger than you or I.  

After really realizing how deeply and delightfully pointlessness playing with a skateboard was, the 18 year old Cory was confronted with a Southern California economy that had almost no interest in my midwestern work ethic.  After some 100 or so man hours earnestly spent seeking entry level employment, I was forced to either take a very corny straight-commission-sales job, seek a life of crime, or suffer malnourishment.  So I learned to sell.  This begat a love of hustling for money which soon proved as hollow as skateboarding (though I still appreciate the art of both).

From money, I went to seeking knowledge.  Feeling like I missed the boat to college,  I voraciously read independently to sate my curiosity and insecurity.  Later, I enrolled in college and outworked anyone I met.  This all seemed like progress:  prosperity is generally regarded higher than skateboarding, and it's hard to argue chasing money over seeking knowledge.

Seeking knowledge alone makes one pretty douchey, though.  Once you realize you are the "Cliff Clavin" of the room enough times, you start seeking other forms of growth. Then,  you realize that the grow without contribution is pretty hollow, too.

The point of this little biography is that I found that with each deeper pursuit, I found wisdom from the previous, but fell more quickly into doubt that it would soon fall flat.  Business is a better lifetime sport than skating, but it truly isn't much more meaningful.  Knowledge is of greater value than money, but if it becomes your god you become increasingly austere, prideful, and un-fun to be around.  Relationships suffer.  Growing as much as you can to contribute as much as you can to humanity is clearly better than just making yourself into the ultimate game show contestant.  It's easy to see in hindsight the progression and laughable to think it all started with skateboarding.  However,  the problem with this is you end up becoming your own God, and you are lead to choices where your values are in conflict with what you know at your core is really right.  I came to one conclusion from two different fronts.  Here I will describe the so-called left brain front, and maybe share the other later.  It's hard to write about the flavor of carrots, though.

The Math department at UNLV was rich in students of a type of discreet mathematics called game theory.  As I began to understand the work of John von Neumann, Oskar Morgenstern, and the work of Kurt Goedel that made that possible, I began to understand the nature of this world more deeply than I could easily describe today.  I also began to realize the mathematical necessity of an element of the this big, crazy system of decision makers (humanity) that is both entirely of this system and outside of this system.

This gets pretty deep, but the fact is there really seems to be a vast intelligence behind the good of this world.  There is something twisting and perverting those good things into bad things, and there is something inside us that knows it.  Deep down, when we are really honest, we know and confess that is just not enough within us to right it all.  If we seek Truth long enough, we come to an uncomfortable truth.  Mathematically it is alluded to in Goedel's incompleteness theorem (summarized as the fact that any system, at least as sophisticated as arithmetic, must have exactly one axiomatic element that is at once of the system and outside of the system, on which the entire system is based).  Anthropologically it is found in the curious existence of an internal rulebook that varies surprisingly little among very disparate people groups.  Sociologically and economically it works itself out in this balance all leaders face between the potential greatness of the individual and their curious inclination towards depravity.  

Any idea what I am alluding to? 

I fear that flag waving attracts enemy attacks, and the most precious allied princes and princesses may find themselves in the fray without training.  So I invite the spiritually inclined (anywhere on the confused/weak to certain/strong spectrum) into discussion.  I'm just a man, but in Christ I have found some irrefutable answers.  I realize this is a long and heady post, and I applaud and thank you for your time and attention.  I sincerely appreciate you.  

    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    What skateboarding taught me about life, love, art, and business.

    As an awkward 12 year old,  I was too nearsighted to play baseball or hockey well, to prideful and vain to wear the glasses that my parents weren't too cheap to buy (this did not include the cool ones), and I had no neighborhood kids to play with.  What I did have was a lot of energy and long concrete driveway. So I started skateboarding.  A lot.

    When I started to commit myself to learning tricks, I unknowingly enrolled in an amazing school.  I deeply learned 3 great lessons.  I will explain those here, and later I will share how this understanding lead back to a life of meaning and excitement after confronting the fact that it is all a game, and much of it might not matter.

    First off, 80% of landing anything is your mental image of making it, and the state you put yourself in.  Most skaters are surprisingly affected by the video parts they watch before they go skate, the shoes and clothes they are wearing, and all of them visualize tricks often and intensely.  Big handrails, drops, and anything worth filming requires that you banish all images of failure from your mind and really use rituals to put yourself into state.  Watch someone filming for a deadline, and you may witness some real craziness, as we all come to realize the gravity of the mental and the paradoxes of trying to maintain a mindset on your own steam.

    The second great lesson of the skate spot is that you can only learn one thing at a time.  I have learned, forgotten, and re-learned dozens, maybe hundreds of tricks, and I have never learned two simultaneously.  Moreover, the best riders are always doggedly persistent in there learning of new things.  Some are clever enough to do this subtly while others struggle so hard it becomes a bit of a spectacle.  All athletes learn the value of persistence, but what is cool about skateboarding is there is usually no coach to push you and most skate almost solely to learn new tricks or apply them to new things.  You have to learn how to keep yourself to a difficult task for no good reason other than to get it.  I think artists, surfers, and musicians probably get this similarly, and the derivative sports get it too.

    Lastly, there is the realization at some point that many fun things are a bit of a gamble, and often we need to block out the reality of the loss to enjoy it.  When skating a handrail for instance, sacking ones testicles on the railing is much more bad than landing the trick is good.  But if we were perfectly rational and never took risks, it would be no fun.  Life is similar.  Loving someone truly is a great risk.  Going into business is a great risk.  Building wealth in a litigious and envious culture is a great risk, and I didn't know what real fear was until I had a beautiful son and daughter to protect and provide for.  All of this holds the potential for a hard fall, yet I still feel like the luckiest guy on the planet to be out there in it.

    So get your head straight, get stoked, focus, persist, and try something big.  Thank you for reading. Next time I will share how I found a endless spring of reasons to use these lessons learned.  
         

    Thursday, February 23, 2012

    Abundant everything.

    In my junior year of high school my economics teacher introduced me to the "first law of economics": scarcity.  Supposedly, there are unlimited desires and limited resources, so we all need to fight over the size of the slice of our pie.  Three years later I learned that it was complete BS.  In fact, I think scarcity may be one of the most pernicious lines of crap I've been fed.  In fact, when I ponder some of the biggest, fastest growing, most dynamic, companies in the US, they all dominate industries that didn't really exist 20 years ago.  It's a bit boggling when you step back, but
    • social media
    • smartphones
    • tablets computing
    • online retailing
    • search engines 
    are all phrases that were not in the public's consciousness in 1992.  As always, innovation and creativity expand markets indefinitely and add value to all.  There is no fixed edge to the pie.

    What does this have to do with concrete, craftwork, or small business?  Well, I found out recently that this also applies a little to the personal wattage we have to do our daily things.  I was honored recently to speak at the Concrete Decor Show, and I really wanted to bring some substance to the talk.  I had attended so many classes where it seemed like the presenter was just filling time with rhetoric and didn't have many real points to make.  I so did not want to be that guy.  So instead, I made the densest 80-some slide presentation I could, and ran through it in a little over an hour (rather than the 2 expected).  I was excited, not well paced, and I'm pretty sure I totally overwhelmed at least a third of the room.  I really hope I'm just being hard on myself and that at least a handful of people got real value out of it, but what I re-learned is that all we ever have is this moment.  Therefore, there is no limit to how many things we can do really well if we stay there.

    When I was delivering my ideas, I thought that it would be a process over time, and I was gearing it to what their next step would be with the worksheets and programs I had written for estimating jobs and doing inventory within a decorative concrete company.  I felt like there wasn't enough time to get it all in.  I re-learned that this moment right now, we can either be fully engaged and performing, or out of phase; that whenever we are in future time or the past we burn much more energy than when we are in flow.  Lastly, I discovered that there is an endless supply of creative energy to tap into, and that excellence in one area (fitness, understanding Scripture, business performance, loving truly, creating great art, what-have-you) often pours over into all other areas.  Conversely, "not sweating the small stuff" is only a good transitional strategy out of neurosis.  There is no small stuff.  There is no big stuff.  There is just stuff.  And we can make a lot of it great or we can make it lame.  It's all in this moment.

     

    Sunday, January 1, 2012

    The paradox of work for work's sake.

    Aldous Huxley once wrote "They intoxicate themselves with work so they won't' see how they really are."  That stung me when I first read it years ago, but tonight burying myself in work sounds pretty good.

    Life can get overwhelming, and stay overwhelming long enough to need a rest; time to step back and recover so one can look at what's vexing them with fresh eyes.  Some of the problems we create for ourselves are just too big to solve in one sitting.  What better to bury yourself in that work?  The side effects include respect, money, opportunity for others, a good-night's sleep...There are definitely worse things to intoxicate oneself with!

    I guess the difference between the healthy imbibing of over-working and "workaholism" (not a fan of the term but it fits here) is knowing what you are about and why you are doing it.  Blindly driving yourself into oblivion is what it is regardless of the vehicle you choose (nightlife, work, alcohol, thrill-seeking, obsessive parenting, cause-following, etc.).  It is categorically bad.  However, there is a proper time to over-do.  I decided that my life was about growth, contribution, and fun (in that order) years ago, and after emotionally exhausting myself today,  ceasing the dialogue in my mind and getting busy making cool stuff sounds fantastic.

    It may have been Churchill who first said "There are two kinds of drinking problems: those that drink too much, and those who do not drink enough".  While that is more of a dubious affirmation for imbibers than a real revelation of truth, it would be hard to argue against that statement if one replaced "drinking" with "over-working".  Stay balanced, my friends.