Vocations through time

It’s vocation reminiscing week — today’s job well-remembered, if not remembered well:

working as an instructor for three terms/semesters for the vocational trade training business known as “ITT Technical Institute,” teaching incoming customers (i.e., students) about learning methods, Python programming language and SuSE Linux-based computer servers.


And one last glance back at my sewer flow monitoring job — while I was working with Rick and Adam, we moved on to Erie, Pennsylvania, for another temporary flow monitoring project.  In the middle of the project, I flew down to Cape Canaveral to see my brother in-law’s experiment, called BATSE, catch a ride on a space shuttle launch, completing the circle for when I worked on the space shuttle main engine controller at Rocketdyne in the 1980s after the Challenger accident, which was even more fitting since the founder of the sewer flow monitoring company worked on the Apollo space program (he was part of the German rocket team designed the V2 rockets under the guidance of Wernher von Braun), turning the life science telemetry equipment from measuring astronaut blood flow into measuring the flow of liquid through sewer pipes — technology transfer!  Meeting interesting friends along the way…


Deena Ramos, Klingon warrior, and her husband, James “Hardhat” White


Dear Brenda, you were such a fun friend at the right time in my life…

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Before ADS, there was my first real corporate office job, working for GE Aerospace on the U.S. Navy test equipment called CASS, to whom us humble employees were awarded coffee cups for a job well done!:

CASS-gold-coffee-cup GE-coffee-cups GE-coffee-cups-2


Barbara’s bartering banter

Barbara, tell us your story:

Bartering as a Lifestyle

I’ve learned to live on very little money in order to support my lifestyle as an artist. I haven’t had medical insurance since 1985 and luckily I’m very healthy but whenever I have needs, such as dental work, and once, a doctor, I asked around and found someone I could barter with. I’ve bartered for airline tickets, amazing places to live, places to stay while I’m traveling overseas and this continent, and car repairs. I usually barter my art, but I’ve met people with skills such as massage, hairstyling, jewelry making, and bookkeeping, to name just a few, who have done well with barter. If you are willing to work, create art, or have something to trade, then you’ve got something you can barter with. I’ve found that there are many times people might not want to spend money but will barter.

When I quit my systems analyst job and didn’t want to be stressed out about money, as a single person I learned that caretaking other people’s property allowed me the freedom to make my art. This lifestyle has landed me in extremely beautiful places, with my rent, utilities and, depending on the situation, food, salaries, vehicles, and use of swimming pools, as part of the deal. On this blog site I intend to tell my stories as well as those I’m collecting from other people, and pass on some web sites that will help you meet up with other people interested in bartering.

In my twenties I traveled around the world and found wonderful opportunities for work exchanges along the way. In Australia I lived for a couple of years in the outback where I rented a house on a two hundred acre farm for the low rent of $80 a month in exchange for keeping an eye on my landlord’s cows. In Bodh Gaya, India I spent a couple of weeks in a Thai Buddhist monastery, in exchange I spent an hour a day helping one of the monks with his university studies. In Israel I lived on a kibbutz for three months and did a variety of jobs in exchange for everything I needed. I learned that honest, loyal, hard working people were really appreciated and could get jobs anywhere in the world.

In my thirties I finally settled down and worked as a computer programmer until I sold two of my short travel stories to a magazine and a piece of art that I’d created was accepted for an important juried show the City of Los Angeles was sponsoring. I quit my job and began looking for ways to survive as an artist, which in L.A. meant long-term house sitting and scenic painting for movies.

In my forties my first creative work exchange was as a scenic painter for the New Hope Theater in Pennsylvania. I spent the summer painting sets in the Pocono Mountains while living in a beautiful resort hotel. I stayed for two months in an apartment in Venice Beach, CA in exchange for doing all the black and white still photography for a video project an artist friend was working on. On vacation in Jamaica I met a woman who lived in a beautiful villa on a hillside overlooking the Carribean and ended up house sitting it for a week when she had to go away. While there I learned wood carving from a local artist.

One of my favorite work exchanges was for a real estate investor in Bel Air, CA. For three years I worked two days a week as his office assistant in exchange for a salary and a nice little apartment in one wing of his house. I had full use of the grounds and swimming pool. It was while living in Bel Air that I began carving large sculptures for the Treepeople Park in Beverly Hills. I finally left Bel Air to do a summer work exchange at the Avondale Forest Park in County Wicklow, Ireland where I carved a large sculpture (see photo above) from a famous tree that had died. After this experience many of my work exchanges were art related.

Several times a week I will update this site with these stories and many more. I’m hoping to interview Ryan McDonald of The One Red Paper Clip fame, have a piece on house swapping, do an article on business barter sites, and much more. Don’t get me wrong, money is great, but if you don’t have much, there are alternatives with bartering. World travel, living in millionaire homes, the sky’s the limit on what you can manifest.

You can see some of my work on these blog sites:

If you have questions to can contact me at: byates3347@gmail.com

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Barbara’s Bartering Blog

The Local and the Cosmic

My father taught me one important lesson — never take a job because you have to and, even if you need it, don’t act like you do.

Maybe you heard it differently when I directly quoted my father.  We sat in his car, I a teenager off from high school for the summer, he working as an “energy efficiency” expert in the role of extension agent for Virginia Tech.  We looked out of the windshield at the small entrance to the factory Dad was visiting that day.

“Son, I want you to observe the people you meet today.  There are two types — those who work in the front office and those who work on the factory floor.  This little burg in an Appalachian mountain valley is what they call a company town.  The people on the factory floor do most of their shopping at the local store, which is run by a member of the family that owns and operates the factory.  They wouldn’t leave this valley, no matter what, and the factory owners know that.  In return for giving the workers better than poverty wages, the owners and managers make sure the workers put in a hard day’s work and spend most of their paycheck getting goods and services they would not have, had the factory not been here.  Most of the workers are in debt to the owners because they buy more than they can afford.”

This particular factory made ready-to-wear clothing just like other factories in the area — socks, jeans, that sort of thing.

The owners weren’t bad people but some of them were less caring about the condition of their workers than others.

I remember one factory where the owner complained that he wasn’t getting the level of performance out of the machinery that was promised by the manufacturer.  A manufacturer rep had inspected the equipment and said nothing was wrong.  The owner contacted the Va. Tech extension office and requested assistance.

When Dad arrived, he interviewed the owner while I sat up front with the secretary for the factory.  She was a pretty, young woman who had gone to business school and could type and take dictation as well as manage the petty cash and the file cabinet organisation.

Because I was a good-looking, red-headed teenager, wherever we went Dad sat me down with the secretary to get the scuttlebutt and opinion of the owner/manager.

Sometimes, he took me along for a tour of the factory, especially if he needed a go-fer to measure distances or equipment size.

In this case, Dad made me stay with the secretary because the boss was a little agitated and wanted to personally unload on Dad about adult stuff.

After Dad toured the plant with the owner and one of the shift supervisors, he collected me, along with a box of jeans that the secretary insisted on giving me as a present for being so kind and attentive.

On the way back to the extension office in the basement of a wing in the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon, Dad told me what the boss had said.

Basically, the man wanted to increase factory output to at least 100 percent capacity in order to stay profitable and ahead of the cheap knockoffs that were starting to flood the market.  If so, he could lower prices and remain competitive.  If not, he would either have to let workers go or close the factory and he didn’t want to abandon the business because it had become his life’s work and he wasn’t ready to give it up.

Dad returned to the factory without me and took temperature measurements around the equipment (mainly large cutting or sewing machines).  The temperatures were only slightly elevated and did not account for a lower-than-expected output.

He returned a second time, with me along to observe.

He asked me to strike up a conversation with one of the workers and ask dumb, “innocent” teenager questions about what’s it like to work in the factory.

Dad already knew what I reported back to him before I told him.

It was not the equipment that was the bottleneck which slowed down production.

It was the workers.

They were operating in temperatures that were too high for humans to tolerate for eight to ten-hour shifts at a time, especially in the summer.

Dad submitted his findings to the boss, who did not accept that the workers, whom he trusted as loyal and hard-working, were the cause of the problems, and requested that Dad redouble his efforts to find the root cause.

Dad told me that this is the difference between management and labour.

He rewrote his findings, suggesting that to lower the equipment temperature down to a more productive capacity, large industrial fans should be installed in both ends of the factory (basically a long metal building, thinly insulated against cold).

The boss took Dad’s suggestion as a good sign that the manufacturer rep had missed something obvious, felt better for consulting Dad and installed the fans.

The factory output increased significantly. The boss was happy and gave Dad a great recommendation.

I recall that incident any time I hear a major figure in business such as Elon Musk wax poetic about the future or give away patents.

We get so wrapped up in our jargonese that we sometimes forget the fact we are one species on an insignificant planet of a solar system in one of a few billion known star systems we call the Milky Way Galaxy.

On the door mat labeled “WATCH CATS,” on the exact same spot where Merlin sat for a photograph, rests a telescope pointing down toward the ground, reminding me that my feet are usually stuck to terra firma rather than floating amongst the stars.

Merlin spent most of his life in this house and I spent most of the last seven years in this house with him and his brother Erin, who sits nearby.

Merlin taught me a lot in his sixteen years on this planet.  I was never completely sure who was management and who was labour but I didn’t care — symbiotic love clouded the logic in such thoughts.

I think Elon gets the same message…


Returning to centre

For several years, I had meditated upon the quietude of life on the edge of a forest.

I had personally celebrated seasonal events, recording them here, such as tree leafing, flower blooming and concentrated water vapor succumbing to gravity in the form of rain.

In other words, I had developed a new persona after years of cultivating the office manager role.

But my benefactor, my sponsor of this adventure — my wife — wanted her own adventure using her disposable income to include me with her so we took up the social interaction known as ballroom dancing, which led to Balboa and then West Coast dance forms.

We met new friends whom I have transformed into fictional characters here and elsewhere.

My wife saw that our disposable income had soon been almost all spent on dancing, including out-of-town weekend competitions and dance studio showcases, not to mention weekly lessons.

Her happiness lessened.

Thus, it was no surprise that, while visiting a partner of one of our dance instructors, we were [in]voluntarily shown images of polyamorous/swinger sessions involving some of our dance instructors in an unidentified hotel room, my wife found yet another reason to distance ourselves from the dance instructors who had been burning through my wife’s disposable income.

My wife is purely monogamous — I am her only intimate mate.

She has zero interest in extramarital bedroom activities.

It was one thing for her to suspect the possibility that the out-of-town events served as a cover for swingers to get together on the pretense of dance competitions.

It was quite another for her to visually be exposed to images confirming her suspicions.

It raised a lot of questions for her such as the likelihood that a dance instructor and/or another person with whom she socially danced would pass on a debilitating or incurable infection they acquired through extramarital sexual encounters — a bloody sneeze, an open wound accidentally contacting her mouth or other mucus membrane, etc.

Plus there was for her the stigma of general association with swingers, an activity she did not condemn but also not condone, something she was not involved with at any time or in any way during her upbringing.

So it seems we are probably finished with social dancing for now, if not forever (she also has a bone spur under her Achilles tendon that makes walking AND dancing painful).

Although I thoroughly enjoyed social dancing with others, despite the minimal risks, even if I wasn’t all that good, I am happy to return to my hermit’s life in the woods, conjuring up my scientists and team of comedy writers to keep me entertained while watching the flora and fauna around me change with the seasons.

I have other celestial bodies in the universe to explore, leaving alone the political, military and religious arguments of my species.

Next on my list, however, is building a grave marker for Merlin and a small bridge across the wet-weather creekbed that separates our driveway from the woods where Merlin is buried.  I would love to construct something fanciful such as the one below but will be satisfied with a simple marker and a minimalist bridge.





WHAT I WILL PROBABLY BUILD (agile design methodology)…



Meanwhile, I’m staying away from Facebook — my satire/sarcasm is lost on the literalists (as opposed to Federalists (or just not exclusively them)), and some of my posts seem to bring out the “crazies” in large numbers?

I am a forest introvert at heart — best keep to my natural surroundings and enjoy life with Rick as long as he lives!