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.



Saturday, June 20, 2015

No workaholic beverages beyond this point.


"People intoxicate themselves with work, so they won't see how they really are." - Aldous Huxley's Spandrell character (the first slacker?) in Point Counter Point

Not me. 

I think I “over-work” because I see how I really am. Yesterday, someone bid me farewell for the weekend like this: “Be good…and if you can’t be good, be busy.” She is very insightful. 

Is it possible to be unrestrained and not at all monstrous? Is being truly natural overrated or the secret path? The Ten Commandments seem to be written on all of our hearts, yet how natural is it to occasionally covet our neighbors stuff? 

How natural is it to worship marvelous things rather than the unseen? 

How natural is it to dishonor our parents as teenagers? 

How natural is it to tire of our spouses and commit adultery  at least of the heart? 

But then, how natural is it to admire the strongest restrainers of these natural impulses?

I was taught that contradictions do not exist: they were error codes directing me to check my premises. 

Premise 1: I decide what I believe in and what I want from life. 
Premise 2: Some beliefs serve us (I believe I am a force for good), and some limit / harm us (I once believed I was bad at math). 
Premise 3:  The more aligned my goals are with my deepest desires, the more effective I will be.
Premise 4 (The Kicker): I can’t escape the belief that many of my natural desires are opposed to what is good. 

I’ve heard this called The Spirit vs. the flesh. It seems that all spiritual practices are aimed at the undivided self. If anyone can explain to me how to get there without destroying "the flesh", I would love to hear it. 

So what does all this have to do with creative work with concrete?

Concrete fossilizes our intent. The day we cast is captured in the casting. Our hands must ultimately betray our hearts. The world puts its mark on it as well: the heat and water in the air, the wind, the leaves that fall in, the animals that track across…it’s all there for our grandchildren to later find. 

That’s why we put element7 in the concrete. We battle on, and lose ourselves in the fight when we are weak. 

“Work for work’s sake” gets a bad rap because it is a retreat from the harder work of meaningful relationships. At least for me it is. The side affects of this “addiction” are financial abundance for dozen of other families and mine, popularity, skills, self-esteem, and fun. Frankly though, parts of my heart get more numb every year. I just hope I can become what I am suppose to be before my clock runs out. I hope that for all of us. 

Thank you for reading. Let's get together for coffee if you have something to share.





Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mise en Place

That's French for "put in place". I learned it as bastardized noun from a talented and salty old cook. "Got your Mise-en-Place?" meant "I see you standing there, is your shit together so I don't want to smack you for being lame when the rush comes?"

Before I dove into business, I was a vested member of local 226 Las Vegas Culinary Union. There I was taught that unless you are cooking or interacting with a guest, you are preparing.

Before the throng comes, you had better have your veggies diced, your station clean, and everything ready to go so you could provide 1st class service no matter what.

That concept carries over well into decorative concrete, and probably everywhere. I was told be an utterly defeated rival yesterday that we are hard to compete with. My pride swelled for a moment, but I realized the reason for that is nothing more better preparation.  While they sleep, we plan and plan and plan and get ready. We care more, try harder, and have this insight. Hopefully now you do, too.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tale chasing as art (an abstract digression).

I once heard that many professionals are like olympic tails-chasers. We improve our nutrition, get coaches, learn the newest techniques to go faster, be more effective, etc.. Some of us spin with astonishing speed. Others are beautiful in our spinning. Others are surprisingly effective at just catching their tale; showing skill and flexibility, they barely spin, and they are able to give themselves a nice bite on the base. We are all just chasing our tails, though.


This reality has weighed on me for years. I’m kind of OK with it. Truthfully, I have fun chasing my tail. I’m thankful for the freedom to do it (stray dogs don’t do it - their world is too dangerous).  I know I will die someday. So, I might as well make the most of this time. Most of all, there are frankly parts of my life I am less comfortable with than my tail-chasing exercises. We seem to be built for pursuit of some sort. The truest pursuit may be spiritual, but to assume that one cannot be reached by those forces outside of a specific bodily position seems demeaning to said forces. I feel like my dharma now is to just go. I hope I am doing it right.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

101 stuff

About Shiny Concrete.

There are two ways to make concrete shiny: mechanically and topically. Mechanical polishing is more durable, easier to maintain, and arguably prettier when the colors are to be muted. 

Concrete that is made shiny by a material on top (sealed or coated), will be very stain resistant, but prone to scratches and scuffs. Solvent based sealers are OK outside as the solvent melts the scratches, and the smell goes away quickly. However, these floors inside are a bad idea.

That’s right - the industry standard for stained concrete interior flooring (sealed or coated; maintained with mop-on floor finish) is a bad idea. It’s dumb because some day it will all have to come off and get re-done, and in a finished space, that is a mess.  There is a third option to consider, though. 

Paste wax richens color like nothing else, and is very easy to re-apply. Because it goes into the concrete (rather than just on top), owners can go years (usually 3-5) before re-waxing. Some of the wax stays on top, and will buff extra shiny at first, but this is not the point of the finish. These floors wear in like unwashed jeans: They start off stiff. Then they get a line in them. They work into a very comfortable and attractive color and texture over time (arguably less “sharp looking”, but attractive). 

So, the point is some “shiny” is more sustainable than others. Some is worth it (full time janitorial staff at schools, airports, malls, etc.). Some is not (over-application of floor finish in homes). For interior floors, we install diamond polished and paste wax because we know concrete should wear like blue-jeans.

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A 17 hour day-in-the-life

I don’t fancy myself interesting, or especially insightful. However, I do enjoy my life more than anyone I know.  Friday, February 27th, 2015 held this for me. I hope in sharing this there is something that inspires you to re-arrange things to be as fun and productive as you can be.

  • 4AM, I woke up and planned out the day for the 3rd or 4th time. A great crew leader who has been with me for 8+ years called in sick, the forecast is super-cold. Pointing the 16 other guys on the front lines in the right direction means either creating $1000s of value, or devouring profits from an otherwise great month.
  • I plan on making a 6AM yoga class, but by the time I am ready, it is too late, and I have 3 projects I have been meaning to plan/estimate/bid for 2 days now. So, I decided to stay home and keep working. I know I am better all day if I take that hour in the morning, but I’m in great shape already, and think the extra 90 minutes of planning this morning trumps yoga.
  • I get to drop my 4th-grade daughter off at school. She makes me very happy.
  • I arrive at the shop. The “Red Team” and “Yellow Team” are already on the road. Those 2 crew-leaders have 10+ years experience each, and understand their projects well. Surely jobs are better when there is no need to deal with your boss. 
  • The lead for the "Brown Team" asks for the day off. It’s 30 degrees out, and likely won’t break 40 today. We can do what his team was to do Monday, so I give his him and his team the day off and re-adjust.
  • The “Blue Team” rolls out to a re-finish job for an architect’s personal house in Austin. I personally line him out with all kinds of oddball materials, as we don’t fully know what we are going to be up against there.
  • Today, I will be personally leading a project in Westlake. I am not on the front-lines too much anymore, but I usually come out for high-end placement projects. This one is a massive pair of fireplaces.
  • A few months ago, I developed a new product that resurfaces old concrete with post-consumer crushed glass, and need to square up with the company that trucked that material in from Austin and bagged it (no glass recycling pickup in Marble Falls). I manage to get one load back to the shop and pick another up before running to the site we will be pouring today (concrete ordered for 1:30PM)
  • Before we can leave the shop, the Blue Team calls with a serious challenge: the floor they were to re-finish was “stained” with some lame paint product. We can easily make it shiny, but the color comes off with a easy scrape, and we preach the gospel of concrete floors that are durable above all else. Cool thing is, after 100s of projects together, that crew leader and I almost form a nexus, and I can fully understand what is happening there in less than 2 minutes over the phone. I have revised our project worksheet template dozens of times over the last 5 years, and in 2 more minutes I can estimate the cost with a fair margin, and hand the deal off to Annie or Kathryn to write the paperwork to up the project from re-wax to complete re-finish. I have a 2 minute conversation with the owner/architect, and frankly admit that to strip off the paint, acid stain, chemically harden, diamond polish and finish out that floor costs more than I might want to invest in a home I was about sell. She is very bright and decisive and within 15 minutes of the first call from the Blue Team, we have a change order, a game plan, and another future fan.  I grab the material they will need to chemically remove paint and we race to pick up another load of up-cycled glass and meet the concrete truck on site.
  • We get on site at 12:50, and hustle to use the glass as filler in the form. It only saves $20 or so (between the concrete omitted and my cost for the bagged glass on a trailer there), but it means 90 cubit feet less stuff in a landfill, and energy saved in making cement. Frankly, the “Green-Building” ethos is a bit lost on this $4M house project we are a part of on Lake Austin.
  • Troy Lemon, the best straight-up artist in concrete I know is still down from Michigan and finishing the forms. He is very expensive as a hired-hand, but he is the only person I know that can do this job as good as I can (probably better).  I have paid him over $2,000 on this project alone, but it has freed me up 3 full days and the work is excellent. 
Here is a form with the glass, a floating form for the drop and Troy's head.

  • The “mud” shows up, we get the integral color in, it looks perfect, and we get the truck poured out in about an hour. 


Here is the leftover bucket of color. The architect, Eric Barth of A Parallel Architecture requested "Grey but warmer and elevated", and then backpedaled a lot thinking that he was not communicating completely. I understood perfectly, made 3 mockups that were all gorgeous, and scaled the lightest one from 1 cu. ft. to 4 yards. for this project.


  • The Blue Team picks up the chemical stripper. I realize after they leave that I should give them the 2 apprentice/laborers I had with my and track them down on TX 360.
  • I then hit up 3 stores in Austin to find more electric blankets for the fireplaces we poured. The temps are not forecasted to pass 40 in the next 48 hours, so keeping that concrete warm artificially is paramount. The challenge is that big retailers order x-amount of blankets and heaters/year and by late February in a rough winter Home Depot, Walmart, Target, etc. are all sold out. Chatting with my wife while driving I find out that Tuesday Morning had some on clearance. I’ve never been to a Tuesday Morning store, but it is like a Ross for Housewares, and there I find electric blankets marked down from $200 to $60 to $6.  I am stoked. I high-five everyone in the store I can and race back to the job site.
  • The Project Manager where we are pouring is a chatty guy and we are both stuck in Austin Rush Hour Traffic.  We talk about the day, and I was lamenting about the re-wax turn re-finishing job the Blue Team wrestled with. In that conversation, I realize that I am the only contractor I know that cares about concrete flooring that wears like blue jeans. I look forward to the economy going South again so all the chumps trying to make quick money will go out of business again. 
  • Once we are done troweling the concrete, we make our little hot-house around it with scrap lumber, plastic, and electric blankets.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Can you refer anyone near __________

Probably not. I have not met 6 other people in my industry that were truly driven to make the most durable, aesthetically timeless surfaces possible. There are better people than me in this game, but not many that care about the net impact of our work. Different ethos over time leads to wildly different practices.  So we have been intensely focused on the inside - working daily on The Way We Do Stuff - trying to make this thing scalable.  Still not there. Some days, I feel so far away it is almost hopeless.

If you feel the weight of the world, drive hard, and sometimes wonder about your drive you are not alone. You should not necessarily stop, though. There seems to be something in that striving. Maybe it is chasing after the wind. Maybe it is right as rain. For a minute I doubted, but I am back on my grind. I still push. I still drive. I still fight to make something that will make the built environment and the builders of it better. I hope you do the same.