Monday, October 12, 2009

Back On The Bayou

It's been a few days now since I arrived in Texas City. After leaving Yosemite I headed east, crossing Nevada, southern Utah, then cutting the southwestern corner of Colorado before heading south and then east into the Texas panhandle. After stopping in Dallas to look at some equipment for my youngest sister Nina I headed south towards Houston and eventually Texas City on the gulf coast.

I pretty much drove straight through until I arrived in Colorado, where I visited Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde is a series of canyons cut into table top mountains. The area is known for it's abandoned pre European cliff dwellings. The national park service operates tours of the dwellings. I spent a day taking the tours before leaving. I was hoping to do some backpacking while there but the park service doesn't allow it. The dwellings are similar to ones that I came across in Arizona during El Viaje #1, but larger. They're located under overhanging rock, so they're well preserved. The prevailing theory is that they were abandoned because of climate change.

I still wanted to get another backpacking trip in before leaving the mountains. I found a wilderness area in northwestern New Mexico called Ojitos which was near my route, so I stopped there for a few days. After exploring the canyons and mesas (including another outing without food) I left the mountains for the flat lands.

I've been pretty busy since arriving, mostly helping Nina with the bakery. She's been wanting to open up a store front for a while now (so far she's been operating on a bake to order basis) but hasn't had the time get everything together. After visiting multiple vendors I found a good used display case which is now on order. We're also upgrading the signage in preparation. Just this morning we settled on final design for the building's sign. The store front should be ready by the end of this month. Nina's given me a couple of lessons in baking and cake decoration. I'm not a natural at it. Fortunately she just hired another employee, who does have a talent for it.

I've lined up some tastings later this week with a few venues in Galveston, a nearby resort town. One of the venues is the San Luis, which is the premier resort on Galveston Island. Hopefully it'll go well and drum up additional business.

Nina's done a great job with the customers and her products. All the customers I've spoken to have been impressed with her work. "Bad ass" is a description I've heard uttered on more than one occasion. I think she's got her recipes and decoration techniques down pat. She'd probably disagree with my assessment, but that's why she's good at it.

There are a series of operational issues that we're working to address as well. In HP wafer fab parlance, rework rates are high. Pans end up with too much or too little batter, ingredient quantities are miscalculated when they are scaled, and ingredients sometimes run out in the middle of a recipe. It all leads to inefficiencies, both in terms of time and ingredient usage. The solution we're implementing is a combination of characterization (figure out exactly how much batter you need for each combination of recipe and pan) and tool development. The idea with the tool is that you input the pan size and recipes, then it calculates the ingredient quantities for you based on a database of recipes and the characterization data. The tool will also output how much batter to put into each of the different pans based on the characterization data. Hopefully it'll cut down on the waste. We're starting out with her two most popular recipes and proceeding from there. If it works out I'll eventually add a supplies management component. Since the tool will know how much ingredients are being used it should be able to track the amount remaining in inventory and raise a flag when quantities are low so that orders can be placed for additional ingredients.

I started running again since arriving. My leg still hurts a bit but I'm managing to keep up with Nina. She picked up running after she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes earlier this year. With a change in diet and exercise she's lost 40 pounds so far. She had stopped running for a couple of weeks but is back at it again. We're hoping to break her record for longest continuous run later this week.

Other than that I've been hanging out with my nieces and nephew, my friend Elmo, and enjoying my mom's home cooked meals. I haven't seen my brother Jose yet. At some point I'd like to get a kayak and take it out on the bay. Since there aren't any hills here I need to find some other way to get my thrills.

Photos from the most recent leg of El Viaje are posted here. The photo at the top is the inside of kiva, a type of underground dwelling which the Mesa Verde residents used for their religious rituals.

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