Monthly Archives: October 2017

Living and Dying With…

By Noah Graff

Why did I devote the previous two weeks to watching the Chicago Cubs during the playoffs?

Sure—athletic feats are impressive and entertaining to watch. But why do I ecstatically jump up and down when my home team gets a big hit or strikes out an opposing batter?

Why do I hurt when we strike out, when we make an error, when we lose? And why do I use the first person plural when referring to the Chicago Cubs?

I don’t know any of the players personally, though our electrician Julio is friendly with fellow Dominican reliever Pedro Strop. Virtually none of the Cubs players grew up in Chicago. But I am a member of the Cubs religion. I was raised in a Cubs household. So what affects the Cubs players affects me as well as my family. During Cubs playoff games we have an active group text between my dad, my sister Sarah and brother-in-law Scott living in California. If you look up and down our text thread you will see plenty of color commentary filled with passionate “Yeses!,” superstitious animal emojis (usually sent by me) and questioning if “things are going to be ok.”

Why do I have such emotional investment in the games? Why do my dopamine levels rise when the action on the field takes place? When the Cubs win, why does everything just seem right with the world? When they lose why do I feel empty?

Cubs fan watching a game at Sluggers in Chicago.

My conclusion is that a sporting event is live theatre. The Cubs were the protagonists and the Dodgers were the antagonists. But the protagonists were not just the Cubs players, they were the Cubs fans as well.

Theatre starts with an exposition. “The 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs were playing the Dodgers in game four of the NLCS playoff series trying to reach the 2017 World Series. (Indulge me as I try to hold onto the one highlight of the series). Cubs hurler Jake Arrieta was pitching against the Dodgers’ Alex Wood. It was a ‘win or go home’ elimination contest for the Cubs.”

The plot built until the climax when the Cubs’ Wade Davis stopped the final charge with a 6-out save! We won, and all was well. Sports competitions are dramas (often a tragedies). But unlike in a traditional drama on a stage, the athletes are the characters and they are REAL —not actors! The resolution (probably) does not cause someone to die, but the story is live and real.

The 2017 World Series between the Dodgers and Astros will be another great drama. But I am not a protagonist in this series like I was when my Cubs were playing. Some other lucky protagonists will live and die, on and off the field.

Question: Do you prefer watching sports on TV or live at the stadium?

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It’s Life

By Lloyd Graff

All this death is killing me.

The list of people with cancer who I care about keeps growing by the day. A friend from high school who was organizing my class reunion was hit by pneumonia and died in a week. Three hurricanes, an earthquake, the Las Vegas massacre, then the wildfires in California incinerating whole neighborhoods. It stinks, all that death out there.

I just “celebrated” (endured) the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur where Jews spend the day fasting and considering who will live and who will die this year. More consideration of death. I hate it.

Maybe my close call with death nine years ago with my heart attack has sharpened my consciousness of the temporariness of life.

This morbid thinking does cut both ways. It can make you feel miserable and totally stuck or it can free you up because you so desperately want to take advantage of the today you have.

My wife is into saving money these days because she is fearful of all of the awful things that could befall her if she lives a long time. After my brush with death, correctly or not, I don’t figure I’ll have to worry about that so much.

For me, the fear of dementia is more of an everyday worry, unlike the longterm fear of death. I’m starting to hear of high school classmates who have spouses with it. It just seems so devastating and heartbreaking to have to endure the condition with a loved one.

What is the antidote to these depressing feelings? For me, it is work, writing, exercise and love. Creating, giving of myself—I don’t know if it pushes off the inevitable, but it sure is more fun than constantly contemplating my own death or somebody else’s who I love or care about.

As I am writing this piece, I keep circling back to the importance of my work to me as a vehicle for creativity. The element of chance in assessing the value of flawed aging pieces of machinery provides riskiness every day, but when there is no risk there is little reward. Risk carries the companion of validation and fun. Arguing about a deal with Noah and my associate, Rex, keeps my juices flowing. Being wrong in business means I lose money. It’s not life and death. It’s just life.

Question: Would you rather die at age 80 knowing you would be in perfect health until then, or potentially live longer with no health guarantees?

George on Death, Seinfeld

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Buildability

By Lloyd Graff

I love to watch the Shark Tank reruns on CNBC. The stories of committed entrepreneurs putting it all on the line in orchestrated mini-dramas in front of the “Sharks” is really quite absorbing.

But the one thing I never see on the program is the entrepreneurial manufacturer looking for the backing to buy a Haas Mini Mill or Okuma lathe to start his business. In our machinery business we virtually never see a young man or woman buying a used machine to make fittings for Parker Hannifin or John Deere.

I asked Bryan Harvey of Thompson Auctioneers if he sees many young entrepreneurs buying their first machines at his sales and he said it is “extremely rare” except perhaps for the folks in Bangkok or Bangalore, India, who follow their sales assiduously on BidSpotter.

Is the fledgling entrepreneur in manufacturing now an artifact in America? Maybe not.

I called Matt Hertel who started Pocket NC, a $4,000 5-axis CNC mill builder in Bozeman, Montana, and he gave me a different picture.

Pocket NC

Matt and his wife, Michelle, started production on the machine in 2015 after moving back to Bozeman from Seattle. They raised their startup money not on Shark Tank, but through the novel Kickstarter approach online. They had already built several prototypes of the mill, and Michelle had blogged extensively about the market and buildability of a $4,000 5-axis mill to prepare a community for the ultimate Kickstarter campaign.

The Hertel’s had tried conventional money raising forays, doing a dog and pony show on video for the private equity titan Blackstone Group. He was told that it was probably the worst received pitch of the year.

But Kickstarter loved them. They raised $350,000, which was to be paid off in product produced. Each $4,000 contributor to Kickstarter was repaid with a 5-axis mill.

Matt Hertel told me that the most successful Kickstarter event of all time may have been for potato salad. An entrepreneur with a $10 minimum contribution raised $70,000, which he paid off in a giant potato salad bash.

In its first three years in business Pocket NC has been quite successful and has sold little mills to a wide assortment of bigger companies and tiny startups. One just went to Europe to a guy who is making a bicycle washing machine.

I posed my question about an apparent dearth of machining startups to Matt, and his feeling was that I was looking in all the wrong places.

Matt believes the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, even in the Millennial world, but you need a community, whether it be online via Kickstarter or in coffee shops or incubators in Bozeman. Matt says that in his Montana home there is a community of folks eager to help anybody with an idea and the guts and skill to try to bring it to fruition. You cannot create a milieu like that artificially with government funding and Big Brother hovering. A grant from Google or IBM to jumpstart an incubator in Chicago or Cleveland unfortunately will not work. The community needs to grow organically like it has in Bozeman. Could it happen in Detroit or Cincinnati? Maybe, but I do not see it happening yet. But with precision manufacturing as strong as it is today we may begin to see it. As the Baby Boomers hang it up and old businesses dissolve, there will be opportunities for startups where we have not seen any for the last decade.

If potato salad can do it …

Question: Is it a good time to start a business in the United States?

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