Monthly Archives: February 2017

First Family

By Lloyd Graff

Commitment to family is a bedrock value to my wife Risa and I. It comes before career, money, religion, friends, even the Cubs. It wasn’t something we preached about frequently to our children, but we built our lives together giving each other space while always staying in touch and caring about one another.

We spent last week together, the 12 of us, in San Diego. We own several weeks at a timeshare resort, and we have been using it as a gathering spot for a dozen years. Trying to pull together the schedules of busy business people, clergy, software engineers, therapists and students can only work if they really want to get together for a week, because it ultimately is not about the dates, but the desire to be with one another in person—not on social media.

Aside from Noah, the rest of our family rarely posts anything on Facebook. Over the last week I never even heard Facebook mentioned. Throughout the year we do talk on the phone to one another, send a lot of photos, and get together face-to-face, even though my daughter Sarah lives in the Bay Area with her husband and three kids. I work with my son Noah, so we are in constant touch. My son Ari is married with a baby living in Chicago. We try to see each other twice a month.

Holidays like Thanksgiving, New Years, Passover (around Easter), and President’s Day open up the calendar for extended weekends.

The Graff and Roy clans at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Feb. 21, 2017.

But family gatherings only work if you really like each other. You can love someone deep in your gut yet really not want to spend any face-to-face time with her, but on our trips we all like to break off into various pairs or small groups to spend quality time with people we don’t get to see very often. I put out a sign-up sheet requesting a walk with each of the 11 other people on the trip. I particularly wanted to walk with my grandchildren to learn about their lives without parents or siblings chiming in. I also wanted to talk to children’s marriage partners who I do not converse with so frequently. And I wanted to get to know Noah’s wonderful girlfriend Stephanie better without Noah hovering close by. This is how you build family, I think.

I will never forget eight years ago when I was fighting for my life in the hospital and Ari’s then girlfriend of short duration, Elissa, stayed close to Ari when she should have been at work. She defied her parents saying, “this is where I have to be now, school can wait.” We “talked” by me writing her notes while hooked up to tubes. Those 14 days at the hospital were truly days where family meant so much to me and especially Risa. During the first critical night people slept on the floors at St. Francis Hospital keeping a vigil. It was a family hovering together for support.

The trip to San Diego this past week was probably my best one ever. Sarah’s girls were finally big enough to play our competitive games of Taboo, Scattergories and Snake Oil. I was even able to talk about some heavy stuff like the Vietnam War to my oldest granddaughter, Eliana, on our walk.

On the last night of the trip we capped everything off by watching a fantastic documentary chronicling our trip made by Eliana on an iPad.

It was Family. It was great.

Question: What is your favorite TV show about family?

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I Love Cars

By Russell Ethridge

I am a car guy and, as I do most years, I strolled through the North American International Auto Show which is held in Detroit every January. Unlike the auto shows in smaller cities that are mostly venues for local dealers to whet the appetite of local customers, this show attracts journalists and auto industry types from around the world who come to see the concept cars and advanced technology car makers think we’ll want in years to come. Nevertheless, there is plenty of dreaming by the masses, most of whom see cars as personal statements and engines of their independence.

I waded through throngs of everyday folks gawking at cars they might never afford and stood in line to sit behind the wheel of cars I could never afford or justify bringing home even if I could. Like everyone else, I felt the shifter in my hand, touched the controls, and adjusted the seat to exactly how I’d want it. I observed it from every angle as it rotated on its platform, wondering how it would look in my driveway. I imagined how I’d look piloting the big motor version with sport rims and fat tires and what my friends would say about my new ride. I listened to the siren song of the comely model raving about the performance, driving characteristics, and luxury features of this, the latest and greatest, and I saw thousands of others lost in the same revelry. It is the revelry that comes from the chance to have your true identity (or the person you want the world to see) displayed in a mobile package that doesn’t care which side of the tracks you come from. It is your personal expression and your independence, limited only by your ability to make the payment.

1967 Plymouth Valiant (Barrett-Jackson.com)

I have always loved cars, but it is not always the big motor or great color that has me smitten. One of my top ten lifetime rides was a 1967 Plymouth Valiant with a Slant-6 motor. I bought it for $90, brush painted it Rust-Oleum brown and slammed that thing around every mountain road I could find when I lived in rural West Virginia. Legend has it that New York cabbies would run a cab with a Slant-6 until the body fell off and then run the motor in another cab until it was toast. Mine never failed, and it was running strong when I sold it for $35 with nearly 200,000 miles on the clock. I knew they were strong; I helped build them when I worked at Chrysler’s Mack Avenue stamping plant in Detroit in 1968 churning out 273 Valiant fenders an hour.

As I made my way through the displays of various manufacturers, I saw their homage to the emerging technology of autonomous cars and self-driving technology. Many manufacturers touted their lane following systems that use multiple cameras and proximity sensors so you can comfortably manage your car hands free, at least on major roads. Almost everyone has autonomous braking, and many manufacturers are making it standard equipment, a technology that will undoubtedly reduce rear-enders in stop-and-go traffic. This technology will soon be good enough (and some say it already is) that a driver will be unnecessary. Google and others have millions of crash free driverless miles in the rearview mirror, not that a rearview mirror will be needed. Truck drivers should be worried.

But how will this technology square with cars as a personal statement and driving as pleasure? What do I care about the shifter, the big motor and the sport wheels if cars become something I don’t own but merely summon when I need to get to work? Even if I own a self-driving car, will I care if it does not take the scenic route I enjoy every morning? The physical act of driving provides its own autonomy since I, alone, sit behind the wheel in full control and can decide mid-stream to stop for coffee or pin myself to the seat with a burst of delicious power. The conventional wisdom is that self-driving cars will be safer because they don’t drink and drive, don’t speed, and never fall asleep. They’ll communicate by satellite instead of horn and middle finger. Autonomy will undoubtedly bring its own benefits in the form of less road carnage and greater convenience, especially for those who don’t like driving in the first place. But will I feel frustrated riding along at 55 mph on a freeway that currently moves at 80? Will I need a special “driver’s” license to actually drive a classic sports car made well before seat belts were even required? What if I want to drive it at 80 mph? Will I be dodging legions of driverless mobile pods doing exactly 55? If that happens, I guess I’ll never again be able to be absorbed unconditionally in the sweet and immediate moment of the next turn.

It could be comforting to know that the latte slurping motorist applying make-up in the mass of metal next to you is not actually in control. Maybe I’ll be able to return some calls without violating Detroit’s no cell phone law. But it remains to be seen whether this technology portends the end of the love affair I’ve had with cars or the beginning of a beautiful, safer relationship with the road.

Question: What is your dream car?

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

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Better With Age

By Lloyd Graff

Are you getting better with age?

The question came up for me watching Tom Brady’s virtuoso performance in the Super Bowl. He threw for over 460 yards and played a brilliant second half.

I think about the issue quite a lot because I bet my livelihood on my judgement every week. If I’m slipping, will I know it before it’s too late to bail out or change course? If I go on a losing streak, does that mean I’m unlucky, or losing my mojo? My uncle Aaron Pinkert used to tell me often that the “dollar is round, sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down.” But what if it loses momentum and just stops rolling?

I do have the immense gift of working with my son Noah and living with my wife Risa, who are both into continuous improvement and generally keeping things real. They tell me when they think I’m wrong.

I recently listened to a brilliant podcast by Steven Dubner of Freakonomics. He discussed getting better through practice, not just daily laborious repetition, but purposeful focused practice. He started the podcast with an interview with Suzanne Bartman, a woman in Denmark in her 40s, whose lifelong dream was to be a professional singer. Her idol was Whitney Houston. We heard a recording of her singing before she started her training. She sang like somebody whose best work was in the shower.

Bob Fisher the Free Throw Shooting World Record holder.

Suzanne started by practicing with Karaoke tapes. She worked at it religiously, five days a week for an hour, when she wasn’t being a psychologist and a Mom. She slowly improved, but it was in little fits and starts. Eventually she hired a voice coach and her singing improved significantly. But she still couldn’t hit the “big notes” of Houston or her current idol, Christina Aguilera. But finally, after eight years of deliberate practice, her confidence grew and she was able to really belt it out. Today she is singing professionally at local clubs in Denmark.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a wonderful book, The Outliers, where he extolled the virtues of 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. But it is the intersection of talent, practice, and another ingredient, “self-belief,” that enables a Tom Brady to reach the pinnacle.

Dubner’s podcast about “focused practice” featured a great interview with Bob Fisher, a 54-year-old soil technician in Kansas, who holds 14 world records for free throw shooting, currently.

Fisher never played high school, college or pro basketball, but wow, can he shoot a basketball like nobody else. He has worked at it with a passion for 20 years and devised a unique training regimen. He practices shooting in his basement with each hand every morning and has an extensive library about shooting technique and the psychology of success. He recently made 53 free throws in one minute and then followed that by making 29 in one minute shooting blind-folded. Fisher is no Steph Curry. He’s a 5’8” guy who made himself into the best foul shooter ever, and he is still getting better.

So where does that leave you and me? I am 72 years old and I still think I can get better at business and writing. Noah and I are listening to audiobooks on business strategy. I keep writing blogs and discarding them, trying to publish a few good ones. I do worry about stagnating and falling backwards. I don’t know if I have 10,000 hours left to learn a new skill so I’m just going to keep practicing, still hoping to hit the “big notes.”

Question: Would you rather go to a 35-year-old doctor or 60-year-old doctor?

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Stealing Signs

By Lloyd Graff

Chris Correa, an employee of the St. Louis Cardinals Major League Baseball team, hacked into the computer system of the Houston Astros. Over a period of two years he stole useful information about Houston’s trade talks, draft evaluations and analytical research. He was tried and sentenced to 46 months in prison. Yesterday, MLB fined the Cardinals $2 million, money which will go to the Astros organization, and it took away two of the team’s high draft picks in the upcoming amateur player draft. No other other people in the Cardinals’ organization were prosecuted for misconduct, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the Cardinals were “vicariously liable for (Correa’s) misconduct.”

Chris Correa, St. Louis Cardinals employee who hacked into Houston Astros computer system.

As a Cubs fan, I have no real sympathy for the Redbirds, but the prison sentence seems awfully stiff for a baseball peek, compared to stealing millions of Yahoo! files, much less Vladimir Putin hacking both the Democratic and Republican Parties in the Presidential election and then leaking the information.

My guess is that the U.S. probably did some nasty damage to Putin during and after the winter Olympics, so both sides decided to call it a draw for now.

Meanwhile, a little guy named Chris is taking the fall for at least three years in the poke.

*******

The Trump honeymoon with business ended in his first week in office when he actually started doing what he said he would do while running for the Presidency. He really seems to want to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out the Mexicans and Central Americans. Trump is also threatening a big tariff on imported goods, which will drive up our guacamole tab, but also screw up the auto parts blood flow that depends on the Mexican heartbeat.

From my parochial view as a machine tool dealer, some Mexican heartburn after a decade of eating our lunch with cheap labor and a sweet NAFTA deal is not an awful thing. I view NAFTA as a calculated move by Bill Clinton to gradually stem the flow of illegal immigration into the country from Mexico by building up the Mexican economy. The experiment actually worked quite brilliantly over 20 years as Mexico prospered despite its inefficiencies, drug wars, and bloated oil industry. Illegal immigration slowed to a trickle with as many Mexicans going back to the country as coming in. Desperate people from El Salvador and Nicaragua are trying to sneak into the U.S., but Trump’s oratory about the threat of Mexican rapists coming over in hordes was as ridiculous as building a $10 billion wall.

NAFTA has probably swung a little too far in Mexico’s favor for my taste, and possibly Trump’s bluster is just an elaborate bargaining device, but I fear he is actually serious about some of his threats, which could screw up the car manufacturing business for a couple years as it re-adjusts.

Question: In a world of internet espionage, is a border wall with Mexico obsolete?

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