Pig in a Pipe

By Lloyd Graff

If 2012 and 2014 IMTS shows were about the arrival of 3D printing, 2016 was the year of the robot. It seemed like everybody was talking about automation and robotics. Prices are coming down and ease of use is advancing. I had the opportunity to interview Esben Østergaard, the head of Universal Robots of Denmark. The company was sold last year to Teradyne, a technology heavyweight in America, which so far is adding marketing muscle but not interfering with the creativity that made the company. Mr. Østergaardis is now a very rich guy after the firm was sold for $285 million plus earn-outs if it hits profit and sales projections. His big splurge after the deal closed was buying a grand piano. But a few years ago he was living on milk and crackers in the basement of a university after his $200,000 in seed money ran out. He and an associate were desperately trying to build their inexpensive, easily programmed, out of the box robot for industry so they could convince a venture capitalist to back them.

He said the all-out commitment cost him his marriage, but he built his prototype, got some funding, and today he is running a company with 330 employees and trying to hire 10 more people each month.

Esben is tall and wiry with the athletic build of a cyclist. He was born in Iran of Danish parents. He built his first robot when he was 5 years old.

Esben Østergaard, Founder of Universal Robots

His parents were working in the Philippines on a water project in Seibu City. His folks came home one day complaining about a problem of getting cables from the beginning of a pipe to the end. The locals were tying the cable to the leg of a pig and then trying to cajole the oinking animal through the pipe. Young Esben said “you need a robot for the job” and then proposed to build it. He made the crude robot and it did the job. It was the beginning of his career.

His family ended up back in Denmark. Esben Østergaard’s career took another leap in college as his robotics team won a contest associated with soccer’s World Cup in 1998. After graduating college and beginning work on a PhD he headed for Los Angeles for work and study. In 2006, back in Denmark, he started his company on a shoestring in the college basement office.

It all began with a pig in a pipe.

*****

For a show coming on the heels of a brutal report on 2016 machine tool sales, people were surprisingly upbeat at IMTS this year. I did focus on areas that are doing comparatively better than the norm, rotary transfers, Swiss type machining, robotics and 3D printing, but the mood was pretty positive considering the discounting that is widespread in the industry. Part of the comfort level comes from the big cushion that Asian and European builders have baked into their pricing formulas because of the strength of the U.S. dollar compared to their currencies. A 10% discount to an end user will barely move the needle in Tokyo or Cologne. The home office wants to move the iron.

*****

During my two days at IMTS the only black people I saw were McCormick Place employees. I saw thousands of people in the booths and the aisles, but not one black person with a badge. The irony is that there are lots of black people working on the shop floor in America and many have well-paying jobs, but they are not decision makers who own businesses or have a lot of influence on buying choices.

It is ironic that the politicians tout manufacturing as the vehicle to bring good jobs to the African American community. My conclusion is that for many reasons black people are disinterested in manufacturing and white supervisory people have been unwilling or unsuccessful in bringing them into key roles. This is more a commentary than a criticism. There is a huge disconnect between upwardly mobile young black people and the manufacturing community. IMTS is a dramatic manifestation of the gulf.

The absence of black people in manufacturing’s elites was stark. The absence of women was obvious also. There were many women with badges on the floors of the show, primarily in marketing and administration, but very few in sales, engineering or management. We can attribute this to the legacy of educational patterns as well as gender choice and bias. The practice of hiring women for IMTS to be eye candy has diminished over time, but is still employed by some firms. Tsugami had a beautiful young model trolling the edges of its booth, seemingly engaging the curious men quite successfully.

IMTS is a bastion of white men over 40. It probably always will be. It’s a part of America I love because it’s so constant and reliable and safe. But I reject it, rationally, because it seems so backward and yesterday compared to the bigger country I live in every day.

Question: Who won the debate last night?

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The Cubs of Casablanca

By Lloyd Graff

The Chicago Cubs, my favorite team, and Casablanca, one of my all-time favorite movies, share so many common threads. One could say they are cut from the same cloth. Strangely enough, they really are.

The movie’s screenplay was written by twin brothers Phillip and Julius Epstein. Cubs president, and chief architect, Theo Epstein is the grandson of Phillip Epstein.

The Epsteins did not create the script for the movie, it was an adaptation of an unpublished play written in 1939. Theo Epstein did not create the Chicago Cubs, he took an organization that was going nowhere in 2012 when he came in to rebuild the team. He inherited some decent players like Ryan Dempster who he traded for an unknown minor league pitcher named Kyle Hendricks who might win the Cy Young Award this year.

Phillip and Julius Epstein

The Epstein brothers were free agent writers who were brought in and paid $30,000 to rescue the script which had been started by Howard Koch but was considered unusable by Hal B. Wallis, the brilliant producer of Casablanca. Wallis had Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman for the leads, but he knew the script was broken, just like Theo Epstein knew he had great position players in June of 2016 but had a mediocre bullpen. He knew he needed relievers to improve the odds of winning a World Series. In a dynamite trade he sent a potential star from the Cubs A-ball minor league team to the New York Yankees for flame throwing closer Aroldis Chapman.

This was a difficult choice for Theo Epstein, the baseball purist, who had built the Cubs with players of great character and grit like cancer survivors Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester, and white bread stars like Kris Bryant who has never tasted alcohol, and Ben Zobrist, whose wife travels the country as a Christian singing icon. Theo is a lot like Bogart’s Rick Blaine who was conflicted by love, patriotism, and the demands of running a popular gambling joint in Vichy occupied Morocco. Rick held the ultimate prize during war, “letters of transit,” that were stolen by a murdered thief. Those letters meant freedom for two desperate people that he could choose, most likely himself and the love of his life, Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa).

Theo has had his moral conflicts this season. Aroldis Chapman is an accused abuser of women, but he can throw a baseball 105 miles per hour, left handed. He is the most feared relief pitcher in the game. He was deemed the piece the team had to have even if he is no saint. Like in war, in a baseball season sometimes you compromise your ethical standard for the greater good – life, victory, a World Series.

Theo Epstein is a twin, just like his grandfather and great uncle. His brother is a guidance counselor back in his home town, Boston, but his professional brother, Jed Hoyer, is his fellow architect of the Cubbies. They both came to the team via San Diego and then Boston. The folklore of Casablanca says that the Epstein brothers were struggling to come up with a conclusion for the screenplay which would tie up the loose ends. Supposedly Ingrid Bergman didn’t even know which man she would ultimately end up with when she made the movie, her husband the freedom fighter, Victor Laszlo, or her passionate lover of the past, Rick.

The climax of the movie takes place at the Casablanca airport (actually filmed at Van Nuys Airport in California). The plane is waiting. Rick holds the “letters of transit” and the Nazis are coming. Rick gives the precious documents to Victor and commands Ilsa to go with her husband for the greater good of the world. The Nazi Colonel, Strasser, arrives to stop the plane and Rick shoots him.

The Epstein brothers were allegedly discussing the ending while driving down Wilshire Boulevard in Hollywood. They came to a stop and suddenly both twins yelled out simultaneously “Round up the usual suspects,” the famous line of Inspector Renault the corrupt French police commandant. It meant Rick was off the hook for killing the Nazi officer.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer do not know how the Cubs season will end. The odds say the Cubs have a one in four chance to go all the way. Those odds haunt Theo, the workaholic perfectionist. But one thing is for sure, this year the Cubs are much more than just the “usual suspects.”

Question: Will this be the year for the Cubs?

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The Foot Soldiers of IMTS

By Lloyd Graff

On Wednesday I went to IMTS. It was going to be a 16-hour marathon because we were taking folks out to dinner after the business day, and had a 30-mile drive each way in bumper-to-bumper Chicago traffic. Emily Halgrimson, my associate at Today’s Machining World, drove, which eased my apprehension about the day. But for somebody who has had a lot of health issues, at 71, a 16-hour day in the endless din of McCormick Place is a challenge to negotiate.

I framed it in my head before I left my house. “I get to do this,” I said to myself, and I really believed it, too, but I knew it would be exhausting, even if it was exciting and exhilarating at times.

This is the hard part of aging for me. I want to do IMTS. I almost have to go to see clients and stay current, but it is physically very demanding, even for much younger people. For the folks who draw the job of setting up the exhibits for the big displays it is a 3-4 week trial by fire. Complicated machines with a million things that can go wrong are shipped by flatbeds to McCormick Place where union guys do the unloading and placement. For some of the big players like Okuma, Mazak and Haas, budgets are in the multi-millions of dollars. There are always last minute snafus and virtually every company is running up to the deadline to prepare for IMTS.

Mickey Tajariol, who runs ZPS Corporation of Zlin, Czech Republic, told me their new machine the “Penta” a fascinating and innovative multi-spindle bar machine, was completed two days before it had to be loaded in a container.

At Hydromat, the rotary transfer machine builder in St. Louis, their new larger Eclipse CNC station prototype was still in need of a sheet metal protective cover a day before shipment to Chicago. Bruno Schmitter, who runs the company, gave his approval only after sitting and then bouncing on the painted cover himself and then checking for any dents. It passed the Schmitter test, and was shipped.

Lloyd Graff next to a car body and chassis made with additive technology in a couple days at Oak Ridge Tennessee lab.

Mindy Mikami of Okuma in Charlotte had a major role in getting their massive exhibit to Chicago. How they not only got the enormous double column machining center reassembled in the front of aisle 8500 in the South Building is a McCormick Place Miracle. I invited Mindy out for ice cream or a drink on the Friday before the show to renew acquaintance, but she was working until later than I could stay in the city.

To me, the folks who work the show day after day, set it up and tear it down, are heroic. For the big builders particularly, IMTS is their main face to the public. It’s their chance to shine. It is a great chance to reconnect with customers and attract new potential buyers. It confirms their technical capability to a probing herd of potential doubters.

Big exhibitions like IMTS and EMO in Europe force the builders to continue to innovate. The Internet or even a showroom does not ratchet up the adrenaline like a competitive circus does. The feedback and questions during IMTS force changes in the prototypes when they are sent back to the factories. I think IMTS also fosters great camaraderie in the team and exposes the players who cannot or will not sacrifice for the group.

I believe everybody should do a few trade shows during their working career. And if you do not have the “privilege” of working a show, I strongly recommend that you walk IMTS or something similar for a couple of days, not just to appreciate the iron, but also the heroic foot soldiers who make it all come together.

Question: What’s your most memorable IMTS experience?

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The Art of Framing

By Lloyd Graff

Beverly Sills, the wonderful soprano opera singer, was on one of her “if it’s Thursday it must be Seattle” concert tours. She had her routine publicity meeting with the local press. A columnist asked her if she hated to have to do the grind of eight concerts in seven days. She answered him abruptly, “I don’t have to do this, I get to do this.”

She had framed her work in a way that transformed it from a “grind” to a “joy” in her language and her mind.

Our choice of words to ourselves and others is crucial to our happiness. Is a man or woman fat, obese, a blob? Or well-rounded, zaftig, husky or voluptuous? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – but also the ear – for language.

For children, words and tone can have a huge impact on their desire or disgust for education. Multiplication tables can be boring drudgery, or a fun game to learn. The tables can be put into a song to make them brain sticky, or be deadly and elusive printed on a slab of paper.

frame-jpThis year’s presidential campaign is a framing exercise at its ugliest. Donald Trump has learned the art of framing in business. He doesn’t build tall buildings, he builds Trump Towers. To Trump, Hillary Clinton is not “Mrs. Clinton” or the “Democratic Candidate” but always “crooked Hillary,” hoping to make the characterization an indelible tattoo.

Hillary Clinton has not been as skillful or persistent as Trump in her framing. She could use the “Dangerous Donald” or “Reckless Donald” description incessantly like her opponent. She may yet do it or leave it to her ad makers.

In the used machinery business that I’m in we occasionally use the phrase “crème puff” to describe a lightly used piece of equipment. I remember chuckling when I heard my father describe a National Acme 2” RB6 he bought which had been stored in the Atchison, Kansas labyrinth of caves for 20 years at a constant 58 degrees and 37% humidity, as being a crème puff. He said it with such conviction that I not only wanted to descend into those caves, but also try out one of the machines for dessert.

Proper framing demands not just the right words, but the proper tone. When my son, Noah, joined me in the machinery business, he struggled to develop his enthusiasm for trading in greasy, chip-filled 30-year-old bar machines. They carried no romance for my son, who made movies in his spare time.

I thought there was no need to call a Wickman a rose. It was what it was and that was ok for me, but not for Noah.

He finally redefined the business for himself. He was a “treasure hunter.” The treasure was disguised as a machine tool waiting to be discovered and turned into gold by somebody with superior knowledge and the guts to correct its mispricing. That was worthy work for an ambitious romantic.

Question: How do you frame your daily work? How could you do it better?

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Cubs Cancer Winners

By Lloyd Graff

The Chicago Cubs have two superb leaders, Anthony Rizzo, who is a contender for National League Most Valuable Player, and Jon Lester, whose 15-4 record makes him a solid possibility for the Cy Young award. Both men are terrific team players and lead by example, but they share another attribute that sets them apart from their peers. Both are cancer survivors, diagnosed while playing, taking a year off for chemotherapy, and coming back to play much better than before being diagnosed.

They share something else. Both give of their time, notoriety and money to support cancer research and patients. Rizzo spends virtually every off day in Chicago at Lurie Childrens’ Hospital visiting child cancer patients, and Lester has a line of wine whose proceeds go to the Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Both players were diagnosed with Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes.

It is not just coincidence that they are both on the Cubs. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who make the personnel decisions for the Cubs, were both with the Boston Red Sox during their glory years. Epstein and Hoyer drafted both Lester and Rizzo for Boston. Lester was already a star pitcher when he was diagnosed with cancer. Rizzo had been traded to San Diego as a minor leaguer and had just reached the Majors when he was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Hoyer had moved on to San Diego and made the trade that sent Adrian Gonzales to Boston for four prospects including Rizzo. Rizzo was traded to the Cubs for a first round draft pick, Andrew Cashner, who could throw the ball through kryptonite until beset by arm trouble. Rizzo has become a perennial All-Star First Baseman.

Anthony Rizzo visiting at Lurie Childrens’ Hospital

John Lester signed with Cubs last year for about $30 million per season and is justifying the contract this season, at 32.

Whether the Cubs win the World Series this year, these two men will always be winners.

*******

For me, the most entertaining show on TV is American Ninja Warrior. The idea behind the show actually came from a similar Japanese program. Contestants attempt to traverse an extremely challenging obstacle course, ending with a Warped Wall, a brutally steep incline to be run up after surviving a devilish, exhausting course. Week after week contestants try their luck on the courses around the country. Newbies may wait in line for weeks to get their chance, while other candidates who have shown their worth in previous years, come back to try again.

American Ninja skillfully edits back stories about some of the competitors into the one or two hour show. Both men and women compete with no relief given to the women. There is no prize money except for the ultimate winner, who somehow finishes the impossible Mount Midoriyama gauntlet in Las Vegas. Last year, there were actually two men who bested the Vegas challenge, but only the fastest one got the million-dollar prize.

Ninja is really the height of happy amateurism. Contestants train together and cheer for one another to get through the obstacles. Ninja Warrior gyms have sprouted up around the country and many people have built their own challenging courses to practice on. Some folks come on in silly costumes, but the courses are so tough that injuries, some serious, are not uncommon, particularly in practice.

We are in the last phase of this year’s American Ninja Warrior. My (cousin?), Jesse Graff, an L.A. stuntwoman, has been the star this year, getting to the Las Vegas finals versus the fittest men you will see this side of the Olympics. My whole family is rooting for Jesse to win it all. I heartily recommend that you watch this NBC show. It is what TV does best.

Question: Do you have an inspirational cancer story?

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Bye Bye Blues

By Lloyd Graff

About two months ago I finally accepted that I was in a prolonged funk. I was not profoundly depressed. I could laugh and have fun. I wasn’t hopelessly bogged down, but I was mentally and physically sluggish. Television was my primary recreation. I looked forward to weekends, yet I barely got out of the house. Exercise was a chore. Many mornings I dreaded leaving for work. My interest in intimacy was a memory. I often woke up at 3:00 a.m. wallowing in a soup of futility. I relied on my wife Risa more than I wanted to just get through.

I described my feelings, probably too often, and she frequently asked me “if I wanted to see somebody,” a euphemism for getting help from a therapist.

Risa and I took a vacation in June to Palo Alto, California, where my daughter Sarah lives with her husband Scott and three children. At the time, Scott was struggling with his own miseries at work. Risa and Sarah left for a retreat weekend during our stay, leaving Scott and I home to watch the kids. We talked about our dissatisfaction about the status quo over a wonderful Saturday meal of California fruit, cheese, hummus and carrots. Scott asked me if there was anything I felt like doing and I told him I really wanted to sing.

Courtesy of Mother Nature Network

Scott, the computer professional from Google, set up a program to play just about any song in the world and display the lyrics in print big enough for even me to read. And he and I sang and sang. It was a beautiful mood elevator and gave me a glimpse of the way I used to feel much of the time.

Around the same time, I reluctantly started taking a small dose of an antidepressant called Cymbalta, made by Eli Lilly. I also started scrubbing my underarms everyday with testosterone, which my body was producing only in minuscule amounts after treatment for prostate cancer in 2008.

In a confluence of misery, smart medicine, and my own reality check, I finally was in a place to shift out of funkdom.

After my heart attack and prostate cancer diagnosis eight years ago I had lived in a state of sad gratitude – grateful to be alive, but chronically short of fun and fearful of the next health debacle.

I’m writing this piece today because I know I am not alone in experiencing these kinds of feelings. It is also the 8th anniversary of what we now call the “Heart Miracle,” a blocked left anterior descending artery, which kills 98% of the people who have it, that I survived.

On August 29, 2016, I am in a happy place. I rarely feel that awful sense of futility that soaked me in sadness almost every morning. I have a bounce in my step and I think I am capable of actually making smart business decisions. I think there is a good chance I’m going to live for a while. Before, I often wondered if I’d get through the week.

Perhaps you find this article surprising because I’ve been able to “bring it” consistently in this blog. I’ve found that with my writing I have the ability to tap into the happier more intuitive parts of my unconscious to blog with energy and insight, even when I was living most of the time in the Blah.

I know I am not alone in my feelings. Inertia and stuckness is a suffocating enemy that I know well. For many of us those imposters deposit their viruses in our bodies. We may have indolent serotonin, stunted sex hormones, or a wacky thyroid. Our internal juices have a mind of their own. A good therapist or internist can be a godsend when life just stinks.

Things actually can get better. These days I’m actually believing it.

Question: What do you do to get rid of the blues?

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Take Me OUT OF the ball game?

By Russell Ethridge

I like baseball. I’m not one of those folks who keep box scores or who can tell you offhand a pitcher’s earned run average, but I enjoy the subtleties of the game and the tension that builds in the park in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run at the plate. If only I could watch it from my $39 seats! My complaint isn’t about the sight lines or an obstructed view. I usually score lower deck seats just outside the first base line that provide a great view of the infield and the action at first. But unless I’m near the front rows, I can’t see much of the game because of the constant parade of people up and down the aisles who apparently can’t sit in their seats for more than a few minutes before deciding they need some other form of stimulation to stave off the boredom of what is admittedly a slow paced event. I’m not complaining about the people I stand up for who are leaving my row, although they are part of the problem. Their obstruction is temporary and brief. But if you’re next to an aisle that runs between you and the action, watching the game is like trying to look at a sandlot game through a picket fence as you drive by, only you’re sitting still and the fence is the constant stream of humanity looking for another beer or in today’s parks more sushi.

Baseball IS slow, and Major League Baseball struggles to think of ways to speed it up. There are long moments of no action followed by bursts of activity which, even if you miss them, are captured for replay on large screens. Who needs to pay attention? You hear the roar and look up at the big screen that probably provides a better view anyway. “Let’s get something to eat” you say to your date, and maybe you have another 16 ounce $10 beer that will inevitably find its way through your urinary tract resulting in yet another trip up and down the aisle. Multiply these three or four trips by the number of people sitting in seats below you and you’ve got a river of humanity between you and the action. Just looking at a ballpark reminds me of the physics phenomenon called Brownian motion that describes the constant movement of all molecules. No one can sit still unless, of course, they have a smart phone. If the game can’t keep people in their seats, at least their phones do.

When you have the distraction of a smart phone, you’re less inclined to entertain yourself by shopping and dining on the concourse. Instead, you can miss the action by taking selfies and communicating with people who you MUST share the immediate moment of the game you paid to watch. But then you totally miss important moments because you are screwing around with your phone. Next time you watch a baseball game on TV, just look at the crowd behind home plate. At least half the folks have their heads in their phones. I don’t care if those people want to spend their time and the price of admission playing with their phones. At least they’re sitting still with their heads down.

Hockey, at least in Detroit, has addressed the stream of humanity issue. Those arriving late or returning from the concourse with beers and a pizza are held at the top of the aisle until there is a stoppage in play. In addition, since the venues are generally smaller and the aisles steeper, the site lines are usually more direct and less subject to obstruction. I’m not sure such a policy would work at a baseball game, but I’d like to see something done to reduce the traffic up and down the aisles. One friend says it is never a problem for him at Comerica Park because he has upper deck club seats with catered food, a bar, his own restroom, and a living area with multiple TVs where his guests can watch the game just like from home. I guess for the tens of thousands of dollars you pay for a suite, you get to have all your friends watch the game on TV in a place that is not your living room and where other people prepared your food. Another friend says it isn’t a problem for him because he’s in the upper deck cheap seats where the crowd is less dense (unless we’re playing Boston or Cleveland) and the people can’t afford the exorbitant food and beer prices.

The institution of baseball has done many things to remain relevant in an age where we have the attention spans of gnats. Interleague play, big replay screens, giveaways, and historical figures or giant sausages racing around the bases all attempt to keep us entertained. When I go to a sporting event, however, it is because I want to see a game, not a circus, and baseball owners need to remember not to continually distract or obstruct us.

Question: Do you prefer your sports on TV or at the Stadium?

Russell Ethridge is a prominent attorney in the Detroit area and longtime contributor to Today’s Machining World.

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Machine Tool Jenga

By Lloyd Graff

IMTS is coming in a couple of weeks, so it is a good time to assess where the industry is right now.

It is apparent in retrospect that $100 oil was a bubble. It enabled a fracking boom in the United States and an oil sands boom in Alberta. Both have crashed and deflated, giving the machine tool industry a mega migraine.

Oil has rebounded from a low of $33 a barrel to almost $50 now. But the competition for market share between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two of the few producers who have extra capacity and can afford to sell at low prices, has kept prices down and discouraged new drilling in the U.S. and Canada. Big Oil’s offshore projects are starting to be played out, but Big Oil is just learning how to frack. The rig count (oil rigs in use) is rising slowly now, but not enough to move the needle much in the machine tool world.

The oil drop, and subsequent drop in machine tool sales in North America has once again demonstrated that the economy is like a huge Jenga game. Take one piece out of the infrastructure and the entire building can collapse.

Of all the machine tool builders Doosan of Korea may have been hit the hardest by oil’s fall. Doosan’s parent company has major financial problems in its home country and has finally sold the machine tool division, its most salable piece, to stay afloat. Several deals had broken down but a Korean venture capital group finally closed a deal in May.

Doosan has continued to build stock and has an enormous pile of machines in Long Beach, California. Some sources say they have 1000 machines sitting there, which explains their discounting. Doosan’s glut of machines naturally affects its competitors who have also suffered from the oil and gas downturn and price cutting.

**********

The auto industry has thrived over the past two years with gas prices hovering around $2 per gallon. Low interest rates and aggressive financing have buoyed sales around the magic 18 million per year mark. At the moment sales are trending down a bit, though light trucks and crossovers are still strong. The auto industry is not adding more plants here. Production in Mexico for cars and components is booming, but that is not helping the U.S. machine tool users much.

Medical manufacturing in America is decent, but the medical device excise tax is pushing some items offshore, particularly to China.

Homebuilding should be thriving in America now with 1.55% 10-year Treasuries but it isn’t because family formation is slow, young people are paying off college debts, and lending institutions are very tough about extending mortgages. The crash of 2007-2008 still overhangs the market and seems to affect every lending decision. We continue to hover around 1,150,000 annual housing starts, which means a mediocre market for fasteners, furniture and floor cleaners, thus fewer lathes and presses being sold.

Big companies have a lot of liquidity but they seem less focused on plant expansion and more on mergers and trimming costs. If one looks at the great business success stories of the last 10 years, few if any are in manufacturing. Amazon, Google, and Facebook do very little manufacturing. Apple makes almost everything in China.

The self-driving car appears to be coming soon. It will mean some changes in the way autos are made. Hopefully it will make for fewer accidents, which will mean fewer repair parts are needed. Unfortunately it also means less manufacturing.

Put it all together and it is not bad, but not really bullish for the machine tool industry in North America headed into IMTS 2016.

Maybe you have a different view?

Question: Do you prefer oil prices to be high?

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Back to School

By Lloyd Graff

It’s back to school week in my neighborhood, which means later meals and parents waiting in our living room.

My wife Risa will be practicing her profession in our home. She is an Educational Therapist, helping kids develop optimal learning skills and self-sufficiency in their educational careers.

Risa has been developing her own skills in this profession for over 40 years, though she looks no older than 40 to me. Because she teaches outside of the school systems she has the freedom to develop her own unique teaching techniques and style.

She likes to play educational board games with her students like Pass the Pigs and Chocolate Fix. With the games she engages even the angriest and most recalcitrant students to think spatially and strategically. A puzzle game called Rush Hour teaches kids to plan ahead, pause to think and explain what they’ve learned.

The games used by Risa also help her students develop learning stamina and persistence. Surviving and developing as a learner is so hard for a lot of kids. Risa used to say that she was in “the make school easier business,” but she no longer uses that phrase. Her life’s work has now evolved into a more holistic approach. There are a myriad of factors in a student’s environment that affect whether he or she will succeed.

Risa Graff giving a presentation on the use of games at Association of Educational Therapists Conference.

She tells parents at the beginning of a new school year that her objectives include the following:

• Developing a positive mindset about one’s capacity for learning.
• Learning to become mentally engaged in all kinds of tasks.
• Developing persistence even when a task is perceived as difficult.
• Finding joy in learning.
• Learning to set personal academic goals and monitor progress.
• Learning the power of pausing to reflect and to plan ahead.
• Learning to monitor thinking and work production while in the process of doing the task.
• Learning a variety of strategies and which to choose for a specific task.
• Gaining a sense of empowerment by beaming more aware of strengths, needs and emerging skills.
• Learning how to transfer a positive mindset and specific executive functioning skills to skill tasks, employment and life skills.

Through the years I’ve seen kids with wicked Learning Disabilities (LD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD) tame the devil of disorganization and frazzledness to become stars in school, get into the Marine Corps, go to college or occasionally end up with a Doctorate. Not long ago, when I was at a doctor’s appointment at the University of Chicago with a specialist in neuro-ophthalmology, I was shocked to run into a former student of Risa’s who was on rotation at the U of C Medical School.

When Risa first saw him he was on the verge of being kicked out of high school because he was hopelessly disorganized. Underneath his chaos of lost notebooks was a brilliant kid. Risa and “Hal” worked very hard together for a year and half to help him develop the strategies he needed to access his amazing brain and allow him to demonstrate it to his teachers and himself.

Not every kid with learning or behavior problems flourishes like “Hal.” Some kids can’t pull it together and parents can sometimes sabotage the program, but Risa continues to see each new school year as a huge opportunity to make a difference in her students’ lives.

I learn about her students indirectly, through dinner conversation or by observing them concentrating on a jigsaw puzzle in our living room.

For so many kids, school is a torture. Risa makes a difference for a handful of fortunate ones every year.

Question: Are you happy with the education your kids have received?

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The Summer of ’61

By Lloyd Graff

Lloyd is on vacation this week. Below is one of his favorite summer blogs he wanted to share with you again. It was originally published in August 2015.

Summer jobs for younger people used to be common and highly desirable. Twenty years ago almost two thirds of high school kids found paid summer work. Today the statistics say only one out of three hold summer jobs.

Many factors have contributed to this fading away of summer employment. Unions are blamed for vetoing non-union hires in some plants and offices. Minimum wage increases make summer hires less attractive because employers have to pay inexperienced people more than they deem them to be worth. Wealthier parents often push their kids to volunteer or take enrichment courses or summer school makeups to help them get into selective colleges. Physical challenges like Outward Bound trips are seen as character building exercises.

But the old fashioned summer job, like unloading a Pepsi truck or testing urine in a lab, or cleaning filthy machines, can be a character builder with a lot of value, especially for young people who have lived in relatively sheltered environments.

I remember my first summer job, when I was 16 years old. I put a $6 ad in the Chicago Tribune classifieds, under “situations wanted.”

I advertised that I had writing and journalism skills, which was accurate, even if it was for the sports department at the high school paper.

Amazingly, I got a call from a man named Hadley who owned a bulletin board publication called the Civil Service News and was trying to build a magazine named Midwest Ports.

Teenagers de-tasseling corn. A traditional summer job in the rural midwest.

He interviewed me at his office in downtown Chicago in the building next to the Schubert Theater, a live performance venue near State and Madison. I guess I passed inspection, because he hired me.

The job was an education for me, but not for the journalism. Hadley was a curmudgeon who had a drinking issue. He wore sunglasses in his office. I soon realized that Midwest Ports was a boring magazine that nobody was going to read, but the Civil Service News was a sought after rag that people coveted because it carried all the fresh job openings.

Things went quite well for about a month and then suddenly, without notice, Hadley fired me. He gave me no explanation. He just said, “kid, you’re fired, get out of here.”

I was aghast and perplexed. I asked the secretary who had befriended me in the office what I had done wrong. She motioned for me to leave the office and go down to Wimpy’s restaurant on the first floor where she met me a few minutes later.

She told me point blank that Hadley had found out I was Jewish (how, I don’t know) and fired me “because he hates Jews.”

This was 1961, I was 16, and my cool summer job was over. Boom.

I had made a few bucks, enjoyed the excitement of taking the Illinois Central train into downtown Chicago, and got a dose of anti-Semitism that I had only known about from my parents’ occasional stories.

I think that kids who don’t do summer jobs, no matter how menial or nasty, miss out on something important. They need to learn how to navigate the work world with its rigors and nasty folks. For the elite kids headed to fancy colleges it is a chance to work with the people they may have to fire one day in a managerial position. It’s part of the critical seasoning process everybody needs to be successful.

Despite it’s rude ending, I cherish that first summer job.

Question: What was your most memorable summer job?

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