Monthly Archives: July 2012

Emotional Robots, IMTS (again), and Obnoxious People

This is a very life-like humanoid called Jules. Humanoids are any being whose body structure resembles that of a human.

Are you worried about robots? I wasn’t until I saw the video of a robot built in Pisa, Italy, that could show emotion by change in mechanical facial muscles. The face looked so real it was scary. When they perfect the synching of the voice and face we will be close to the day of the robot girlfriend. Could this be the solution to the shortage of women in China? (see below for a video)

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My niece Joann Minerbi lives in Los Angeles and has been a graphic designer for almost 20 years. Her field has been commoditized and many jobs exported, and she feels burned out. She is thinking of training to become a CNC machinist and is wondering what options exist in the L.A. area to learn the skills and get a well paying position. Any suggestions?

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Seven weeks until IMTS in Chicago and the only people who have mentioned it to me are those in the machine tool fraternity. For better or worse the big American show may be on its way to being an artifact as people shop for machines and accessories online. IMTS, which is put on by AMT, is already proclaiming 82,000 visitors even though the show has not yet taken place and there will be a lot of people just from the army of folks exhibiting. I see IMTS as important, even just as a biannual get together for machinery insiders.

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Mike Trout, a 20-year-old, will most likely be Rookie of the Year in the American League and may be the Most Valuable Player. He is being compared to Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. Yet Mike Trout was the 25th player drafted in 2009. He is The Natural, yet so many teams, scouts, and general managers undervalued him – even Billy Beane. The kid was amazing in high school but he was from New Jersey – and the conventional wisdom is that great players come from Florida, Texas, California or the Caribbean. Stupidity is buried in conformity of thinking.

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Isn’t Joe Kernan on CNBC’s Squawk Box the most obnoxious person on TV? He does have a lot of competition – Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, and Ed Schultz come to mind. But Kernan absolutely nauseates me with his know-it-all smugness. Any other candidates come to mind?

Question: Where is the best place to train to be a CNC operator in your area?

Watch a video of the Android robot capable of expressing human emotions here.

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A Review of R. A. Dickey’s Wherever I Wind Up

R. A. Dickey’s story is an inspiration that great books and movies are made of — a person from humble beginnings in the pursuit of perfection.

For those living under a rock since Opening Day of the baseball season, R. A. Dickey is a 37-year-old pitcher who labored 15 years in professional baseball, mostly in the minors, with occasional brief, unsuccessful stints in the majors. He seemed out of baseball, but re-invented himself as a knuckle-ball pitcher. His performance for the New York Mets in the first half of this season has drawn comparisons to some of the most dominant pitching streaks of the past 50 years. His 13-1 won-lost record is currently the best in baseball this season. He has pitched two consecutive one-hitters, along with 44 consecutive innings without an earned run.

But his personal story is far more compelling. Dickey describes himself as a wayward kid with a street-fighter’s sensibility. He is the child of divorce with an unfeeling father and an alcoholic mother. He’s the victim of childhood sexual abuse, first by a female babysitter, then later by an older boy. Forever in fights as a kid, he describes himself as a scrapper, rather than a fighter. A scrapper keeps coming back, no matter how badly he gets beat up. Eventually, he persevered and succeeded.

After several years in the minors, in 2006 Dickey earned a spot in the starting rotation of the Texas Rangers and an opportunity to start the fifth game of the season. But his early childhood would come back to haunt him and he lost confidence in himself. He writes, “I am 31 years old, and darn tired of being mediocre, one part retread, one part restoration project.” Even though he warmed up with an excellent, fluttering knuckle-ball, once the game started he lost confidence. His knuckle-ball turned into a beach ball. He got out of rhythm and got bombed. He set a modern record of ignominy, giving up 6 home runs in only 3 innings. He says, “I pitched with fear. I let doubt rob me of any shot I had of succeeding.” He then was demoted to the minors.

Dickey reevaluated himself and pitching. He concluded that the best pitchers are not necessarily the ones who throw the hardest. The best pitchers are the ones who have a plan, and know how to execute it—who know how to compete and never stop doing it. (As a White Sox fan, I am reminded of a recent almost identical comment from Jake Peavy, a pitcher whose many injuries and reconstructive surgeries would have sidelined a lesser competitor long ago. Peavy is also having a career comeback year). Talent is often overrated, and willpower undervalued.

In a fit of depression-induced bravado, Dickey attempted to swim the Missouri River and nearly drowned. His survival was semi-miraculous, and Dickey concluded that God still had something more in store for him. Dickey credits his wife Anne’s support over the years in bringing him to where he is today. He is also seeing a psychotherapist for his demons, especially the sexual abuse.  His faith, family and therapist changed his life. When he found inner peace and his pitching improved.

Dickey worked tirelessly in the minors to perfect his knuckler and was named Pacific Coast League Player of the Year.

Finally, in 2010 Dickey signed a contract with the Mets, and the rest is history. He was called up in May, and pitched well. 2011 was even better, and this year he’s phenomenal—a 37-year-old phenom!

Dealing with some of the demons of his past, Dickey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last winter, risking $4.25 million of his 2012 salary to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking of children.

One final surprise for me was to find that despite his gruff workingman persona, Dickey was an English Literature major in college with a 3.35 GPA. The book is interspersed with beautifully written short excerpts from his 2011 diary. He reflects on universal topics applicable to life as well as baseball. He has reached the highest levels of sport and of maturity as a human being. His story is worth reading.

Question: How do you feel about players crossing themselves before they come to bat?

 

 

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The Man At Penn State

Joe Paterno’s statue at Penn State

I’ve read a lot about the terrible tragedy of the boys abused by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and the cover-up that went up to Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, the University’s President, but today it all has a personal twist that I’d like to relate.

Six weeks ago I celebrated the 50th high school reunion of my class at University High in Chicago. I got quite involved in the Internet communication in the run-up to the event, and I made it a point to meet one on one with guys I played basketball with on the team. The fellow I wanted to connect with the most was Steve Dunham who played guard on bad knees and was the leader of our group (even though I was the high scorer).

Steve has had a remarkable career as a lawyer, leading a 1,000-member law firm, and recently was lead counsel at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. We met at his hotel before the first night of the celebration and I asked him about his health. He said he was feeling good but he recently had a physical and the doctor did some blood work. When the results came back the doctor told Steve his numbers were fine but he was disturbed by a piece of information he had heard. He said, “Mr. Dunham, if you are going to take the job I heard you are taking, you, my friend, are certifiably crazy.”

What is the job Steve took on Monday? He will be chief counsel at Penn State.

At 66 years old, Steve was at the top of his field with a wonderful job in Baltimore, near his daughter and grandchildren. His wife, a professor of Chinese language, will stay behind while he comes back on weekends.

I echoed his doctor’s comments but Steve really wants to do this. I asked him why. He said ego was part of it, but at this point in his life, he wanted to “serve” and he could think of no other place where he could do something of more value than at Penn State, a great school whose reputation has been thoroughly sullied.

I’ve thought a lot about Steve in recent weeks, especially when the Sandusky guilty verdict came down, and the Louis Freeh report came out on Thursday. If anybody can sort things out and help move the University to a better place, it is my friend Steve Dunham, captain of the basketball team and the most respected kid at U-High.

But for me, talking to Steve and connecting with him in a closer way after 50 years was an inspiration. He could have stayed with what he knew at Hopkins or retired, but instead he chose to do the hardest job he had ever tried – at 66. Guts and Confidence. He never shirked from taking the big shot. Penn State is getting a winner.

Question: Should the statue of Joe Paterno at Penn State be taken down?

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Business Is Gonna Be Good

Last week, as I sweltered in 100-degree weather in Chicago, it was hard to imagine that this winter I will freeze and endure blizzards. It is always hard to imagine change, even predictable change, because our brains are usually imprisoned by the sweat and chill of the moment.

The same is true in business. We tend to be slaves to the moment, bending to the fear of failure when the possibility of success is just as likely if we give hope breath.

July 2012. We have half a year to make things happen, but it feels like the gloomsters are winning at the moment, focused on political gridlock, high unemployment, big budget deficits, and a paralyzed Eurozone.

I think “the scared” control the media because fear sells, but if we take a one to five year view of the economy in the U.S. we should be upbeat, especially if we are in the machining world.

Why am I optimistic about the long-term?

1) The American dream is a bit tarnished today but it certainly has survived. I see it most dramatically when I visit the Bay Area and see people starting businesses, or at least planning to start them, all over the place. And the people are from all over the place. I don’t know how they get into the country, but they figure out a way, maybe by leveraging a tourist visa and a credit card into a new life. I see the same thing in Chicago in the gentrified old neighborhoods near downtown. There is incredible energy and vitality, whether it’s starting a restaurant or driving a taxi. Every 4thof July I marvel at my incredible luck at being born into the rich freedom of America.

The John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois.

2) The renaissance of American manufacturing is really happening. The decline of the last 15 years is reversing. I heard the President of John Deere interviewed on July 4. He said Deere has three plants worldwide that make big combines for harvesting grain – one in China, another in Brazil, and the third in Moline, Illinois. The most efficient plant is the one in Illinois. The head of Caterpillar has made similar comments, and the remarkable re-inflation of the American automotive complex to a 14 million car pace with 70 percent of the cars bought here made here soon is an amazing success story.

3) The biggest reason for continuing high unemployment is the moribund residential housing market, but it is definitely turning around. Homes are starting to sell. You can get a mortgage today without jumping through a million hoops, and the rates are unbelievably cheap. Foreclosures are being bought by speculators for rehab, rental and flipping. Housing starts are creeping up. The rental market is smoking in most big cities. Tradesmen are finding work and buying pickup trucks.

4) The shale gas, shale oil, and oil sands revolution is in full swing in America. The dependence on foreign hydrocarbons will be a thing of the past in 5-10 years. The low price of natural gas is a momentary deterrent to drilling but the thirst for cheap oil and gas by the utility and chemical companies will fuel massive capital spending here in the coming years.

The economists are enthralled by the week-to-week numbers and the tremors from Europe, but if we keep our eye on the ball I think we should feel good about the current trends in the U.S., which should be very good for machining in North America for the next several years.

Question: Do you think unemployment would be higher under an Obama administration or Romney administration?

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