Monthly Archives: November 2014

First World Problems

By Noah Graff

Photo courtesy of www.funnyjunk.com

As Thanksgiving is upon us, a few issues will likely preoccupy many Americans.

Many of us will be unhappy with the quality of the cooking, and our dinner guests will annoy us. On Thursday, some people will be saddened by the result of a football game.

I like to classify these issues as “First World problems.” When I get annoyed because I haven’t eaten lunch by 3pm, or I get some grease on my pants from leaning on a dirty screw machine, or maybe I’m just having trouble dunking a cookie in my glass of milk (see photo), I smile and tell myself, “These are ‘First World problems,'” and I feel better. Seriously, if you ask people who know me, they will tell you that I spout this line all the time. Sure, people do have real, tough problems living in this First World nation of the USA, in my opinion one of the best countries in the world to live in. But sometimes, we need to just remind ourselves to take a step back for some perspective. I’m not going hungry, I don’t live in a war zone, I’m healthy (as far as I know), I live in a decent home, my government — although far from perfect — gives me freedom (maybe not as much as I’d like), and I don’t have Ebola. Perhaps my life is pretty simple and easy compared to that of most people. But I believe it’s mostly up to you whether you want to feel thankful for what you have in this world or focus on problems, many of which are trivial.

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One First World problem some of us will be encountering Thursday will be the social awkwardness that sometimes comes with spending time with “friends” and relatives.

Personally, I love my family and feel very comfortable spending time with them, but I know not everyone has that luxury, and starting and sustaining a conversation can be a painful struggle for anybody.

I recently bought a book on a whim that has been useful in navigating some awkward social challenges. It’s a book about small talk, called What to Talk About.

The book is hilariously written and gives practical suggestions for making conversation at family get-togethers, at work, or on a date. One of the main principles the book encourages is to make your conversation partner tell stories. For instance, rather than ask someone, “How was your day?” the book suggests to ask, “What did you do today?” Or, instead of asking someone, “What do you do?” ask them, “What’s your story?” If someone starts talking about how the weather that day is cold, instead of responding with, “Yeah, it sure is cold,” you ask them about the craziest coldest day they have ever experienced.

To combat awkward pauses in conversations the book suggests playing the “Versus” game. Come into your conversation armed with some canned comparison topics to bring up during a lull, such as, “pie vs. cake,” “breaking up in person vs. breaking up by phone or text,” “caffeine-free vs. gluten-free for the rest of your life,” and “wine vs. beer.”

I love this book. It’s brilliant. It even has a wonderful section about what to say on a date if you fart by accident.

It’s my sincerest hope that all of you have a fun, relaxing, socially un-awkward holiday. I hope you are able to appreciate the great gift it is to live in America, despite its flaws. People all over the world would kill to switch places with us.

Questions:

What is your first world problem?

Cake vs. pie?

Caffeine-free vs. Glutten-free for the rest of your life?

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3D Printer for Christmas

By Lloyd Graff

An at-home 3D printer by Cubify. www.cubify.com

Is 3D printing going to radically change manufacturing as we know it? I see General Electric investing mega millions in 3D printing of components for jet engines. The top management at GE sees additive technologies as the future of manufacturing. Hewlett Packard sees the 3D printer as their big consumer product of the next 10 years. They think it will stand next to the traditional computer ink printer business as a profit center by the 2020s.

I ask you, the smart folks of old school manufacturing, is 3D the next big thing, or just an interesting adjunct technology like wire EDM, Waterjet, and laser?

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Malcolm Gladwell, the fascinating author of Blink and David and Goliath, calls NFL football a “moral abomination.” He argues that one third of the players will sustain life altering injuries. He sees football losing the interest of young men across the country, except in the Southeast and Texas. He thinks Roger Goodell is clueless about what to do about the players and the sport and that the game is headed toward extinction.

I love Gladwell as a writer, but I think he is overstating the case on pro football. The game is still coining money because the TV Networks are starved for programming that reaches a male demographic. The incredible popularity of Fantasy Football (i.e. legal gambling) has given the game an enormous shot of testosterone. But Fantasy Football does not require a live audience. The games could be played without people in the stands and still provide the statistics for betting.

Personally, I have lost my taste for NFL games, unless an artist like Aaron Rogers or Peyton Manning is playing. The Chicago Bears bore me. The injuries in every game make me feel like I’m in Rome at the Coliseum watching the Gladiators.

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I heard an incredible journalistic piece by Ira Glass and cohorts on his NPR radio program, “This American Life.” Glass followed a car dealership, Town & Country Jeep Chrysler Dodge on Long Island, for a month as it attempted to meet the quota of 129 new cars to be sold in October of 2013. He followed the eight salespeople and the sales manager as they struggled to meet the formidable goal, knowing that their livelihoods hinged on hitting that arbitrary number. Chrysler paid a bonus of $85,000 to the dealership each that it hit its quota, but one less car sold meant the dealership received nothing. Commission and bonuses all were contingent upon hitting the magic number.

Glass found out that the dealership often lost money on sales toward the end of the month as the salesmen became desperate for deals. He interviewed all of the people on the floor, exploring what made one guy, Jason Mascia, a 28-year-old “sharp dresser” with bursting self confidence and off-the-map drive, outsell every other salesperson every single month.

The story absolutely fascinated me from a human interest standpoint, but also from a business point of view. I wrote a piece several years ago for Screw Machine World (predecessor of Today’s Machining World) about a small machining company in Iowa whose management set goals for shipping a preset amount of product each month. If the goal was met, the employees got a shopping spree at the local grocery.

Personally, I have found it difficult to set useful sales goals in a used machinery business selling illiquid but valuable used machinery, but I know that other companies do manage to do it. I have set sales goals for Today’s Machining World, but they are more for me than other people.

I am curious how folks who read this blog use or do not use goal setting to reach financial objectives. What are the consequences of missing the arbitrary goals? Do you lose good people who can’t stand the pressure? Do you make money because there are marks that must be reached?

Question: Are sales quotas useful in your business?

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My Noble Paws

By Emily Halgrimson

 

Me and my four dogs: L to R Golden mix Dex, Beagle Penny, Pittbull mix Bean, and Chihuahua mix Max. All rescues, of course.

I got started in dog rescue about four years ago when I adopted my beagle, Penny. She was bought by a dog rescue at an Amish dog auction in Ohio, which is similar to  a machinery auction. Animals used for breeding are numbered and auctioned off to the highest bidder with selling points like “four healthy litters last year!” and “breed in demand!” The Amish are well despised in the rescue community for their treatment of dogs, which to them are akin to cattle. Penny’s feet were splayed wide and raw from the chicken wire she had lived her life on, and at five years old she was emaciated at only 16 pounds (she’s now a happy 40).

A year later, not long after my divorce had been finalized, I fostered Max, a small Chihuahua mix, for a local rescue group. After one week, I knew I had found my second dog. He and Penny bonded immediately and complimented each other. Plus, Max was a man-hater, which echoed my own feelings at that time of my life.

Now, three years later, I’m the Director of Happy Tails Rescue Inc. The rescue is run by all volunteers and has no shelter, instead using a network of wonderful foster homes that take care of the dogs.

An emaciated Pittbull I rescued this year from a hoarding case. It look a long time but he eventually found a great family. Wonderful, sweet dog.

Dog rescues act as go-betweens for dog shelters and the public. Shelters are over-run, under-staffed and have limited space, so when they become too full or have a dog that has sat too long, instead of euthanizing, a good shelter will reach out to local rescues to “pull” the dog. Rescues then take the dog straight to the vet for a thorough exam, a heartworm and fecal test, vaccinations, and make an appointment to have the dog altered (spayed or neutered). They find a screened foster-home to commit to caring for the dog until they find a “forever home.” Popular breeds can be adopted out in a week or two, but Pittbulls, Chihuahuas, seniors, and black colored dogs can take months and months to find homes for. A rescue like Happy Tails can handle 10-15 dogs at a time, depending on available funds for vetting and the elusive good, open foster home.

My dogs and my foster dogs watching me in the front yard.

It costs $150-$250 on average to vet a dog, and dogs are usually adopted out for around $200 — less if the dog is a senior, although a senior dog almost always costs a lot more to vet, with dentals and bloodwork. People often complain that adoption fees are too high, but they don’t understand that when they adopt a dog from a rescue they’re getting a fully vetted dog. If they were to do all that vetting themselves they’d spend much more than the adoption fee.

Sites like Craigslist and Facebook’s “Free Pet” Community are a bane to the dog rescuer. “Free” dogs can be scooped up by dog fighters or people selling dogs to research facilities. A dog rescue volunteer often feels like no matter how hard they work, how many dogs they pull, or how much money they collect from sitting for hours at weekly adoption events at Petsmart, they’re barely making a drop in the bucket. The supply of dogs in need never ends.

One of 14 Shih-tzus we helped rescue from a large rural breeder this year. This is what the parents of pet store dogs usually look like.

The need is so great, the way we throw out our senior dogs or our no-longer-cute-puppy 1-year-old hyper dogs, never ceases to amaze. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” said Mahatma Gandhi. We aren’t doing very well — over 20,000 animals are euthanized each week in the U.S., while we put on our blinders to the suffering we perpetuate and breed and buy and breed and buy.

The consensus in animal rescue is that the longer you do the work of saving animals, the more you dislike people. You’re continually confronted with the selfish and heartless side of people. We get calls for dogs burned with cigarettes, dogs hung up as training bait for dog fighting, dogs tossed out of car windows and over bridges, Mama’s with their newborn puppies on the street with ingrown collars, dogs that can’t walk because their nails have grown in circular from neglect, dogs without a single hair on them because the fleas have had their way so long, dogs that have been starved into complete skeletons, dogs that have their growth stunted because as they grew they never left their crate so their bones re-shaped. Every day there’s another case like this, another reason to cry over the suffering humans inflict.

Pregnant Oreo the day I brought her home from Animal Control

Two weeks ago, I was at a nearby city’s Animal Control on a late Friday afternoon and came across a very pregnant Chihuahua. The conditions of Animal Control vary city to city, but this was Halloween and in Northwest Indiana it was a blustery day. The kennels are made of concrete and have a heavy metal door that drops like a guillotine to separate the inside from the outside. The wind whistled under the door and the very pregnant Chihuahua was curled up in a small dog bed on the concrete floor. I said “crap” under my breath and knew I was in for a long weekend. I scooped her up and brought her home. No question, if Mama Chihuahua (who we named Oreo) had given birth there that weekend she and the pups would have died. Cold drafts are an enemy to puppies, and newborn Chihuahua puppies can fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. I didn’t need this new commitment as I already had a litter of six four-week-old Lab mix puppies I had sunk over $1300 in vet bills into, as two of them had developed serious pneumonia and were hospitalized for a week undergoing nebulizer treatments.

I settled in the poor old Mama, who had been found on the streets as a stray, at my house into a nice comfy crate with a bed, and she gobbled up two large bowls of wet puppy food. She was terrified, but not aggressive, and she flinched when I pet her. Not a sign of an easy life. I was shocked by how old she was — at least six or seven from look of her teeth and frail bones.

Mama Oreo with her five healthy baby girls born November 3, 2014

By Sunday night Mama had gone into labor, and Monday morning at 5:00 a.m. the first baby appeared, dry, feet first, and stuck tight. I knew immediately this was bad and I grabbed Oreo up, put her in the car, and rushed to the emergency vet only a mile or so from my house. The first baby hadn’t had a chance, but over the next five hours I waited in the waiting room while Mama Oreo had five healthy baby girls. A morning off of work and $350 later, we came home and settled Mama and the babies in. She’s a good Mom, and even the runt, who is half the size of the others, is hanging in there.

Every puppy (and Mama Oreo) will be completely vetted with checkups and vaccines, spayed, and microchipped. We will then screen adoptive homes for them through applications and vet reference checks, and do home visits for each puppy. Rescues are there to fix the problem of homeless pets, and do not want to leave any chance open that a dog in their care will contribute to the problem of unwanted litters or end up in a shelter. That’s why they’re so picky about choosing adoptive homes.

I want people to be aware that that gas chambers are still used in some states (like Michigan) to kill unwanted animals; puppies bought at pet stores have parents who will suffer horribly their whole lives; thousands of beagles are hooked up to breathing masks and piped in oven cleaners and other chemicals in labs until 50% die from the fumes;  and there are people out there care so deeply and feel the pain of these animals so palpably that they’re willing to sink their life savings into easing their suffering.

It’s a whole new world out there when your eye is on the four-legged creatures that look up at us with such love. “Think occasionally of the suffering which you spare yourself the sight,” said Albert Schweitzer.

Emily Halgrimson is Today’s Machining World’s Managing Editor and Marketing Manager. To support her “Noble Paws” please email her at emily@happytailrescue.org

Question 1: Do you prefer animals to people?

Question 2: What is your noble cause?

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In Dogged Pursuit

By Lloyd Graff

My father had an expression he often used when the phones were quiet and business was snoozing, “It’s time to start ‘dogging.'” He meant it was time to get on the phone and start connecting with people. Time to make something happen. Lately, I’ve started “dogging” again and the cool thing is that it’s working better than the Internet, prospecting, or that old stand-by, “hoping for something good to happen.” Besides making some deals, I’ve learned stuff by talking to clients or “would be” clients.

Here are a few nuggets I’ve learned recently.

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There is some really terrific technology out there in the metal turning sphere and some of my clients are taking advantage in a big way. I have one client who sees the new technology from Index of Germany as his “unfair advantage.” He has several large diameter Index multi-spindles he bought new over the last few years. Around IMTS he placed orders for four 22mm Indexes for $9 million. He is quite confident this gamble on the most sophisticated turning equipment on the market will pay off big for him. He does not have a guaranteed contract to keep the machines busy, but he believes in himself and believes in the Index advantage enough to commit the investment. This guy has seen his old standby equipment of Brown & Sharpes and Davenports become obsolete with Chinese competition. His answer is to plunk down $9 million on Indexes for his company, which is doing $30 million a year in sales.

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Not far from away from the Index believer is another independent thinking entrepreneur who had followed a similar path of heavy capital investment to stay ahead of the crowd, but now he is changing course to play “small ball.” He heard about a failing screw machine firm, picked up the building for a song and then began buying old 7/16” 6-spindle National Acmes for a $1000 a piece. He refurbished the machines, bought top of the line tooling and accessories, and hired trainees at a low hourly rate. He started selling time on the old cheap multis for a third of what he had been charging at his original factory running the modern expensive equipment. Now he is making good money. He can sell his services cheaply enough to undercut Far-Eastern suppliers. He can even solicit work from other screw machine houses.

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A few other tidbits from around the country.

Business is very good – except where is isn’t. The Oil Patch all of a sudden has heartburn. Business was fabulous for the last four years as the shale boom accelerated, and then suddenly the price of crude oil started to plummet. The Saudis, for internal political reasons and business necessity, raised their output just as the U.S. reached self-sufficiency in oil. The oil sands region in Alberta was hitting its stride even without the Keystone pipeline. Europe was in recession and the Russians had to sell oil to keep their economy afloat and Putin’s ambitions alive. Suddenly we now have $3 gasoline in America. Most of the rigs in the U.S. are still in use but this trend is not your friend if you are making stuff for oil and gas.

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And then there are the farmers who stopped buying tractors when corn and soybean prices fell into the furrows. The $8 corn of the ethanol boom is now under $4 a bushel. The harvest this year and last was epic, but just like in oil, too much is not always a good thing. For the firms doing Agriculture related work, especially in the Midwest, times are tough.

What I’ve learned by getting back on the phones and off the email opium is that contrary to popular opinion, decision makers will actually talk to you if you are interesting and a good listener. And there is a lot to be gained by spending an hour a day doggedly dogging on the phone.

Question: Do you prefer dealing with people on the phone or via email?

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Lighten Up a Little

By Lloyd Graff

From the book series “Walter the Farting Dog”

The election is over. Thanksgiving is in three weeks. Basketball and hockey are rolling. So it’s time to start thinking how 2015 might be different.

What stands out for me is the sense of disgust and futility amidst what in most years would be considered terrific economic figures. This election was all about “pissed off,” not ideas. Pessimism seems to reign.

I know I feel it in my own business, even though the numbers for the year show a big improvement over 2013. I think for the people I work with the angst also exists.

Why aren’t people happier?

I think it’s a lot about leadership. My beloved Chicago Cubs just hired the effervescent Joe Maddon as Manager because he brings joy into a team, and that translates into money and victories. What struck me about Maddon at his press conference was that this guy is such a rarity. He is happy, ebullient, and shows joy all over his face and body. He is unlike virtually anybody else in the game, including the executives who hired him. But they could recognize that his rare energy works even if they don’t have it themselves.

Fun without substance is a phony façade but if it is in a package of smarts like in Maddon it is gold.

Looking at politics, Barack Obama of 2008 had an energy and upbeatness that sustained him and propelled him to the Presidency. Today he seems to have lost it. The country is looking for a smile and a feeling of energy. It was the strength of a Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan to make us feel better as a people. An Al Gore or Mitt Romney, and the current Barack Obama come across as flat as white bread.

The task of a good leader is not to be a comic, but to generate confidence and hope. Reagan said you had to be an actor to be President. The Gipper was good at both.

A leader of a business needs to throw off that positive vibe, if not always in public, definitely in one on one meetings. In my own case, I find myself so focused on problems and tasks that I too often give off my personal lunar eclipse. I am fortunate to work closely with my son Noah who can identify my Darth spirit and point me toward a course correction. This is enormously helpful because often I don’t even realize my own dark vibe.

A leader, particularly a President, needs a compatriot who can tell him the truth about himself. The sullen senator Harry Reed could darken a room just by sticking his toe in the door. He should hire a jester to have breakfast with.

Somebody needs to give President Obama and old Harry Reed the gift we sent to my granddaughter Chava who just celebrated her 7th birthday. She is a serious child who became a vegetarian at four and is a conscientious ballet enthusiast. We sent her “Walter the Farting Dog,” who has a wonderful assortment of appropriate sounds. Walter came with a book, too. Chava and her sisters called us in full laughter to thank us for Walter.

Can you imagine Obama bringing “Walter the Farting Dog” to a meeting with Congressional leaders? It’s something Joe Maddon would do. It might change the course of history if Barack Obama tried it.

Question 1: Have you heard a good joke lately?

Question 2: Does the 2014 election matter to you?

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Can New Labor Laws Get the Indian Economy Going? Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to turn his country into China. It’s going to take a while.

Courtesy of The Atlantic. By MATT SCHIAVENZA

With its creaky infrastructure, tight labor laws, and famously large bureaucracy, India has never been the easiest place in the world to do business; The World Bank ranks the country 134th out of 189 countries in its “ease of doing business” rankings.

Since becoming India’s prime minister in May, Narendra Modi has vowed to change this reputation.* On Thursday, Modi announced a series of reforms to India’s labor laws, including one allowing employees to tie their Provident account—a government-supported payroll funding scheme—to their personal bank account. This will make it easier for people to hold onto their money when they change jobs, thus increasing labor flexibility. Modi also changed India’s system of factory inspections, announcing that inspectors will be assigned to factories based on a computerized system. Before, factory owners were subject to impromptu visits, leading to complaints that India’s “inspector raj” system was arbitrary and unfair.

Read more here.

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Inflation, I Hardly Know You

By Lloyd Graff

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi

We are all in this world economy together, and for most of my life the basic rule of money was that it would lose value year after year because inflation would always take its 2-4% nibble. But it is starting to look like that rule, that seemingly immutable act of the god of the economy, has been turned on its head.

The Europeans led by the bone rigid Germans and the limpy wimpy head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, are dragging themselves into deflation. The Japanese, with their country of old people, have been in deflation for almost 20 years and are desperately trying to manipulate themselves out of it with a monetary scheme that unfortunately won’t make more children or import immigrants. The United States has plenty of unused assets, Silicon Valley pushing down prices, a torrent of shale oil gas and coal, and a flat birth rate with a stupidly restrictive lid on immigration. (Fortunately, resourceful people still sneak in to lubricate the economy and provide needed human energy, but it would make more sense to let them in legally).

So here’s the deal. We’re in the “no inflation,” “look out for deflation,” “do you really want a mortgage?” blues for quite a while, and we better figure out how to live with it and make it work for us.

I think we are seeing the reaction to non-inflation in the house ownership rates in the U.S. Despite tax benefits, home ownership is shrinking steadily here. We are under 65% now and dropping quite abruptly. This is partly due to the post 2008 recession, but even with 3% growth in the economy it is still plummeting.  Now the banks are reluctant lenders, but one reason for that may be that they do not see house inflation bailing them out on loan defaults.

Car leasing is now 26% of new car transactions, double the 2009 rate. It is rising virtually each quarter and now used car leasing is starting to catch on. I see it as a reaction to non-inflation, though I will admit other factors are in play — like city life.

The machine tool market is also a place where we are seeing flat or receding prices. Swiss CNC prices have fallen in recent years for both new and used. The strengthening dollar versus the Yen and Euro will exacerbate this trend. The Yen is at a 7-year low, 112 to the dollar. The Euro is down 10 cents or 8% in the last 90 days.

Think of what you can buy a Haas VF-3 for today, new. Inflation, I used to know you.

Wages – we all know the routine. Flat, flatter, flattest, unless you can program or know the recipe of a secret sauce. In the face of non-inflation Al Sharpton and Elizabeth Warren and every joker who wants to run for President will push for a higher minimum wage. There is a social argument to be made, but the economic likelihood of it actually helping more people than it hurts because the number of low wage employed recedes, makes the higher minimum wage hard to support.

So how do you play it if you believe that we have non-inflation and Europe and Japan are wallowing in deflation for what looks like the next several years?

The U.S. stock market averages hit record highs on Friday. Money has poured into stocks because savers cannot afford to buy low interest bonds or put money in a non-saving bank account. If real estate appears stagnant better to be a renter unless you can find a hot local area. Gold? You couldn’t pick a worse place to bury money with non-inflation.

If you have a business or a skill it may make sense to invest if you really believe in yourself.

For a retiree this is a tough moment. Inflation hurts a Social Security income. Non-inflation is neutral. But people with nest-eggs they need to invest are almost forced into dividend paying stocks. People who have much of their savings in their homes face a real quandary. Do you sell now into a weak market and look for a rental that may not be as nice as your home, or do you live in your homey home that has rising property taxes and shrinking equity? Tough choice.

Question: Inflation. Deflation. Which is worse for you?

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