Monthly Archives: October 2012

Gun – No Gun

I am one of the dwindling number of Americans who have never owned a gun – or a rifle, semi-automatic, shotgun, or RPG.

I did practice using a rifle (M-16) with targets shaped like people in Basic Training, but the idea of firing at a real living person terrifies me. Tramping into the woods to hunt and kill deer or ducks doesn’t excite me either, though I can imagine that the camaraderie of friends dressed up in orange and camo, packing rifles on a camping trip in the woods could be exhilarating.

I just have no fascination with guns. I do not want them in my house or even close to me. I know this puts me in an effete club of sissies to a lot of folks. I’m writing this blog as a question to gun people. Why do you like firearms so much? Or maybe you don’t, but you regard them as necessary instruments of protection in a dangerous, disintegrating world.

I admit my ignorance in understanding the attraction of pistols and rifles. Skeet shooting I can understand because it is a skill, like playing ping-pong. But I just don’t feel the romance of guns.

So tell me your story about why you own a gun or rifle and what it means to you. And if you do not own one, why? If you hate them, why? Do you feel safer with guns around the house, or more threatened? This is a question that has rolled around in my head for a long time. Am I one of the last gun shunners in America?

Question: Why do you own a gun? Or, why don’t you?

Lloyd Graff is Owner and Chief Space Filler of Today’s Machining World, and Owner and Chief Space-Filler of Graff-Pinkert & Co.

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Should God Bless America?

Steven Tyler sings the National Anthem at the AFC Championship Game 2012

Do we now have two National Anthems? The “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America”? At Yankee Stadium they play the Banner before the games and the Irving Berlin masterpiece in the seventh inning (and not just during playoff games).

Frankly, I think “God Bless America” is definitely more inspiring, more melodic, and much easier to sing and remember.

I do love the creativity that various artists have shown on national television, starting with the remarkable Jose Feliciano rendition of the awkward Star Spangled Banner. The song is just plain old and lacking meaning today – “Rockets red glare?” Please…

On the other hand, “God Bless America” is fascinating to me because of the irony of Berlin – Jewish, but not practicing, invoking God in his heartfelt homage to the country he loved, a place which had given him a fabulous opportunity to escape the tenements of New York City.

I wonder if any of you ever question our overarching pride as Americans as we ask God to bless America rather than the unlucky folks who live in Honduras or Kazakhstan, and do it with gigantic American flags billowing. But I admit, I love the song and would gladly have it replace the Francis Scott Key oldie. I guess I am as jingoistic as the next guy when it comes to musical taste.

Questions: Do you like the dual anthems or should we settle on one?

Does the concept of “God blessing America” bother you?

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Manufacturing a President

A little more than two weeks to go before the 2012 American election.  It seems like business is stuck in the mud–slinging.

I’m going to make the contrarian case that this is precisely the time for people to take action, because almost everybody is so scared about the outcome of the election.

If the President is re-elected, many people I talk to think it will be a bad thing for small business and manufacturing. But if you listened to his arguments, Obama is gung ho for small business and manufacturing, and the remarkable thing is that this segment of the economy has generally prospered since he took office. The “Jobs Act” of 2010 has been helpful by extending very favorable tax incentives for investment. These goodies end December 31, 2012.

Small business definitely fears Obamacare and it has been a significant deterrent to hiring because the regulations are still cloudy, but our business is seeing reductions in rates for next year for the first time in memory, which my agent tells me is a reaction by hospitals and insurance companies to compete for clients heading in to life under Obamacare.

I know the Obama haters will be furious about these remarks, but my point is that from an economic standpoint, our community has generally done well during Obama’s tenure and the GM/Chrysler bailout. Would we have done better with McCain? I don’t know, nor do you.

If Governor Romney wins, which I now believe is quite possible, I think a Republican administration with a leader like Romney will also be favorable for business. Regulation, particularly EPA meddling will subside. Obamacare, though unlikely to be repealed, will be restructured to consider the burdens on small business. And the mood will improve without the annoying confrontational posturing of Obama.

Either man will face the “fiscal cliff” immediately. I think there is a 90% chance of some kind of deal, even if it is the deferral of a compromise for a year. The Simpson-Bowles proposal is the framework for an ultimate resolution of the gridlock and I can feel the country moving toward a consensus that the debt crisis and entitlements must be addressed now. Neither party wants to be blamed for pushing the country into another recession after we have barely moved out of one.

My belief is that neither Obama or Romney will be a savior, but the country will survive under either man, because fortunately the President does not run the economy–though he is blamed for it. What I see now is a business environment paralyzed by fear of the unknown election outcome and the “fiscal cliff” stalemate. Whoever wins, the unknown issues will likely be clearer in six months. But by then the accelerated write-offs will probably have expired.

In case you care, I have tentatively decided to vote for Mitt Romney, almost as an act of faith, because his tax proposal does not add up unless the mortgage interest deduction is eliminated which strikes me as highly unlikely.

But our country has survived four years of Obama and we will pull through if we have four more. Maybe he will move more toward the center since Bill Clinton has become his key political adviser.

If my assessment is correct, and with the stock market up almost 7000 points from its low in 2009 tends to confirm it, the country will be ok.

In the next two months we will have the opportunity to acknowledge our fear of the future yet make decisions that will help us cope with what will come our way.  The pessimism and indecisiveness is palpable at this moment. The opportunists will take advantage of the moment.

Question: If Romney wins the election will you be more likely to invest in more equipment?

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Printing Money?

A 3D printed guitar.

One of the more interesting areas developing in manufacturing today is the three-dimensional printing of parts. The process is in vogue for the rapid prototyping gang. It merited a front cover story in The Economist’s April 2012 issue and was a hot area at IMTS. Recently, somebody printed a guitar of playable quality. Another party copied most of a gun, which made some law enforcement folks shiver. With the availability of guns legally and illegally, plastic guns are probably the least of our worries.

Publicly held firms like Stratasys have been bid up to stratospheric levels, partly because sales have been robust, but more because the expectations that a Hewlett Packard, desperate for a home run – or just a whiff of hope for a withering PC business – might pay a fat price for the promise of 3D printing.

Today the profits come from the relatively tiny rapid prototyping firms. The caché derives from the hobbyist, tinkerer and entrepreneurial first adopters. Will this group embrace the technology as it comes down in price, or will the 3D printer be tomorrow’s bread making machine? (I did love my bread maker back in the day, but I threw it out long ago).

To me, the most disturbing aspect of 3D printing is its potential to disrupt the value of intellectual property. The Internet has just about killed the newspaper and magazine industry and made a mess of the traditional music business. If you can make your own Gibson guitar at home, the real Gibson is going to be hurting.

Perhaps the whole idea of patents, copyrights, and brands will be obsolete in a few years. Maybe the meaning of “property” in intellectual property will soon be an artifact. The high-stakes legal battles taking place between the tech giants like Apple, Google and Samsung may be the last vestiges of the concept that intellectual “property” can actually be identified, protected, bought and sold. Eastman Kodak, now in bankruptcy, hoped its trove of patents were worth billions of dollars, but struggled to get any bids.

So is 3D printing the eventual replacement for the Mazak lathe, the Minster press, or the CNC router? Could be, if you have a 10-year time frame. I am curious if the people in the machining community see it as the next big thing in manufacturing, or the next bread machine – destined to end up in the gadget scrap heap by 2020.

Question: Is 3D printing a niché player, or will it be a major industrial/consumer product?

VIDEO: Printing a bicycle with a 3D printer

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Advertising Fatigue on the Web

I am suffering from a case of auction advertising fatigue on the Web. Every morning I see 15 or 20 ads for auctions on various sites. I used to open most of them looking for a nugget of useful information. Now I just feel overwhelmed, and maybe open a couple. Machine tools are my business and even I won’t open the undifferentiated commoditized email barrage, so I doubt most people care anymore.

The Internet auctioneers have diminished the quality of their offerings by both showing the reserves and hiding the reserves. I think eBay has actually become more transparent because it has become more an advertising vehicle than a selling medium, at least on the industrial side.

I am highly cynical about most auctions today unless I am looking for items like shelving or office equipment. Many auctions are extensions of the dealer process without the opportunity to negotiate directly with the seller. Because auctions are supposed to imply unfettered, unimpeded competitive bidding but do not deliver it, they are becoming more and more ignored events by sincere buyers.

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This should be a period of aggressive buying of machinery. Business has been strong for at least two years and tax breaks are available now but could vanish next year. IMTS just whet a lot of appetites, but I see a lot of tentativeness. I think it will subside after the election, but the Caterpillar and Cummins profit warning will add to the sense of caution.

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Wall Street is extremely gloomy. Small business hates Obama, but is just “mild” about Romney. Teachers are striking and winning raises from weak governments. Nevertheless, the stock market has had a big year. Retail is doing rather well with a very nice “back to school” period. Restaurants that have tweaked their menus toward value are thriving. And Silicon Valley is red hot.

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I just spent several days in Palo Alto, toured the Google campus (lunch was delicious and FREE) and observed the crazy housing market firsthand. Prices for homes are rising rapidly now, and that is from stratospheric levels that never tanked. My 3,000 square foot house in Chicago worth $150,000 on a good day would be worth $2.5 million in Palo Alto. And 1,200 square foot, 50-year-old houses rent for $4,000 a month. It’s a different world in the land of Google, Apple and Stanford.

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The Web is certainly working for some people. I read an interesting article in Bloomberg’s Businessweek (excellent publication now, 10 times better than the old rag and far superior to Forbes and Fortune). The piece told about a site for teachers called “Teachers Pay Teachers” (TPT), which is a marketplace for lesson plans. One teacher has made $1 million for the last year or so churning out extremely clever and thoughtful lesson plans and units for kindergarten. Teachers buy the lessons because they are really good and save them enormous amounts of time. The site takes a 15 percent cut. Business is brisk and expanding rapidly.

I also learned in Bloomberg Businessweek that my dead cell phone has value. An outfit called EcoATM has installed 150 automated kiosks where people can stick their old phones into a machine and it will spit out a cash offer. If accepted, the seller just leaves the phone and takes the cash. A slightly damaged iPhone 4 or 4S is worth $175, a beat up Samsung Galaxy S is $60. Nifty idea that fills a need. The used phones are then refurbished and many end up being exported.

Question: Do you wish you were living in another time?

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A Remarkable Season

Pitcher Steven Strasburg

It’s October and I can’t resist writing about one of my true loves – not politics – baseball.

It’s been another remarkable regular season. Baltimore and Washington make the playoffs. The Orioles and Yankees stay within a game of each other for the last two months of the season. Washington benches their stud pitcher Steven Strasburg for the last month and the playoffs because they believe a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery should not pitch more than 160 innings. Amazing stuff.

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Here’s another shocking story, courtesy of Hanan Fishman of Partmaker. Tsuyoshi Nishioka signed a $9.5 million dollar contract with the Twins after winning the 2010 batting average title in Japan. He broke his leg in the first week of 2011 and never could pull his game together. He spent 2012 in the Minors, batting .258. Minnesota owed him $3,250,000 for his last year on the deal, but he declined the payment.

“I take full responsibility for my performance, which was below my own expectations,” he said. “At this time I have made the decision that it is time to part ways. I have no regrets and know that only through struggle can a person grow stronger,” he said in a statement. Never heard that from Kevin Brown.

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R.A. Dickey, knuckleball pitcher of the New York Mets, has had a Cy Young worthy season at the age of 37. He went 20-6 with a 2.73 Earned Run Average, five complete games and three shutouts. He also wrote Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, a fascinating autobiography–and he really wrote it himself. The guy is an accomplished writer of prose and poetry. He is one of only two National Leaguers to win 20 this year and he did it for a mediocre Mets team.

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I love R.A. Dickey, but there is one pitcher in baseball who truly dominates and is worth the price of admission – Justin Verlander of the Tigers. Not only is he the best in the game, but he does it with a joy and passion that is truly a delight for anybody who loves the game.

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Miguel Cabrera of Detroit and Josh Hamilton of Texas have had amazing hitting seasons with Cabrera winning the Triple Crown, the first time anybody has accomplished the feat since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Both guys had major substance abuse issues – Cabrera with alcohol, Hamilton with drugs. Both guys possess fabulous talent, had wrecked their careers, and found their way back. Hamilton is a free agent after this year. May these great players hold their lives together.

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The Chicago Cubs, after 104 years of futility, have suffered probably their worst season ever. Theo Epstein took over and got rid of the team’s best players under the theory that he would rather start over from the bottom than just be mediocre for years. The Cubs will rebuild from the Minors following the approach of Washington and Oakland. Sign as many power arms as you can and develop the kids into pitchers. Trade for hitters or sign them out of Cuba. There is a lot of wonderful baseball talent in Cuba waiting to sneak out. Post Fidel, we will see more of it.

Question: Is there a remarkable season for your favorite sports team you love to reminisce about?

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Resumé Inflation

Gilda Radner’s famous “Roseanne Rosannadanna” character was famous for the line “Oh never mind” after a long rambling rant on Saturday Night Live.

Richard Gonzalez, Chief Operating Officer of Abbott Laboratories (market cap $108 billion) has a Bachelors Degree from the University of Houston and a Graduate Degree in Biochemistry from the University of Miami. Except he really doesn’t.

Niaspan, Abbott’s potential blockbuster drug, was going to be the next big thing in cardiovascular care – except a study published after it hit the market showed it didn’t do anything to prevent heart attacks.

Is there a link between a COO who fudged his credentials and a drug his company over-hyped? Do we care if Harvard jocks cheated on tests or if Derrick Rose faked his ACT score to get into Memphis costing the school its NCAA trophy?

I’ve been grappling with these issues since I read Phil Rosenthal’s excellent column in last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune about Gonzalez’s reported degrees. Maybe I wouldn’t have cared as much if I hadn’t paid a lot of money for Niaspan pills and struggled with its side effects until I heard it was ineffective in its primary goal – to reduce the risk of heart attacks.

I have generally looked at resumés as plausible fictions. I care more about the tone and footnotes than the “credentials.” I am also very interested in what is omitted from a resumé – jail time, drug abuse history, ADD, illness and recovery, psychotherapy, religious observance, sports team preference, physical fitness, underwear preference. OK, laugh, but I care if a person has a sense of humor and a basic candor and honesty. I know Human Resources prefers the bland and measurable to the touchy feely stuff. I care about the person more than the credentials. So, my question is: If you fake the credentials do you necessarily disqualify yourself for a job – even if you are caught?

Richard Gonzalez, Abbott Board Member, is scheduled to be the CEO of AbbVie, Abbott Laboratories’ pharma division that is being spun off from the rest of the company. Gonzalez must be considered a topnotch executive to get this job after 30 years at Abbott. He made $5.5 million in compensation last year. His Board is not kicking him out because of the college degree flap like Yahoo! did with Scott Thomson and Bausch and Lomb did with Richard Zarrella. I see the point of forgiving a mistake. Like Gilda Radner’s Saturday Night Live character, Roseanne Roseannadanna, used to say – “Oh, never mind.”

But then there is that little Niaspan thing – the big drug that couldn’t. Can we draw a straight line between Gonzalez and Niaspan?

“Oh, never mind.”

Questions: Is embellishing a resumé a big deal?

If you found out your most valued employee had not divulged a drug abuse history what would you do?

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