Monthly Archives: July 2020

Ep. 91 – Producing Automotive Parts in Brazil with Rogerio Salvatico

By Noah Graff

On this week’s episode we’re continuing our tour of the machining world outside the United States.

Today’s stop is Brazil, where I’m speaking with Rogerio Salvatico, Industrial Manager at Engemet, a major precision parts supplier for Tier 1 and Tier 2 Automotive in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

(3:00) Rogerio gives his background. He grew up in São Paulo, Brazil. During high school he attended a specialized school with technical classes in the afternoon. When he was 17 he started an apprenticeship at Mecano Fabril, a machining company producing automotive components. The first machine he learned on was a Haas SL10, which he says he immediately fell in love with. He says for him the idea of CNC machining parts for cars was fantastic. Mecano Fabril had 60 Wickman cam multi-spindle screw machines.

(4:20) Rogerio says that after high school he went to university to study engineering. Later he went to work for Engemet, a large automotive parts supplier, where after eight years he became engineering manager. 

(5:30) Rogerio says São Paulo has a lot of industry and technical schools. He says the city has a lot of opportunities for people to work in the machining industry because lot of automotive suppliers are located nearby. 

(6:30) Rogerio says Engemet is primarily an automotive supplier. It supplies parts for Tier 1 and Tier 2, both cars and trucks.

(6:50) Rogerio states that most of the parts Engemet makes are for domestic use, though the company has supplied some firms in Germany. He says Brazil has factories of most of the major car companies from around the world. He says most of the cars manufactured in Brazil are sold in Brazil.

(8:20) Rogerio talks about Embraer Brazil, a Brazilian owned company that is the third largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, behind only Boeing and Airbus. He says many regional jets in the United States are produced by Embraer, usually models with 100 seats or less. He says Boeing recently tried to merge with Embraer, but the merger was stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

(10:20) Rogerio says that the salary of a machine operator in Brazil starts at around $500 a month, however this number is misleading because the current economic crisis has made the Brazilian reais plummet. He says when the currency is stable it is around 3 or 4 reais to the dollar. Recently the currency fell to 5 reais to the dollar and at one point it was around 6 to one dollar.

(12:20) Rogerio says that because of the falling Brazilian currency a lot of customers are asking domestic vendors to make parts that they were buying overseas in the past. He says this is a big opportunity for Brazilian manufacturing companies. However, current automotive parts volumes are at 40% of their average because of lower demand for cars during the pandemic. 

(15:00) Rogerio says there are a lot of machining companies in Brazil doing medical and dental implant components. He says there are also many companies machining components for the oil and mining sectors. 

(17:00) Rogerio shares that he hopes the Brazilian economy is going to improve before the end of the year. He says the country was optimistic the economy was going to have a good year at the beginning of 2020.  

(18:00) Rogerio says that it is pretty difficult to borrow money in Brazil. He says the country’s interest rates are very high, and it’s hard to buy capital equipment from abroad because used machine tool imports are taxed at 30 percent.

(20:20) Rogerio explains that it’s hard to start an automotive or aerospace parts supplier in Brazil because it takes so much capital, but he sees a lot of startups in the Dental and Medical sectors. 

(21:45) Rogerio says that Brazil’s president Balsonaro has been called the country’s version of Trump because he is pro free markets and often makes impulsive remarks. (Watch the clip below).

 

(23:15) Rogerio says that people in Brazil’s favelas (ghettos) sometimes work in machining shops, but it isn’t easy for them to get those jobs.

(25:15) Rogerio likes that people in Brazil are social and enjoy life. He says that families there spend a lot time together and he loves the country’s food and music. He says when the economy is good Brazilians are content, but when the economy has problems a lot of people want to leave. He says he would like to move to a smaller city in the country because it’s peaceful and without much crime, while still having a lot of industry.

(27:00) Rogerio says that Brazil is the seventh largest economy in the world. He says the country has a lot of opportunities to prosper in the future because of its manufacturing, oil, mining, and finance industries. However it’s still developing, so life there isn’t always easy.

Question: Is Brazil a place you would like to visit?

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Best of Swarfblog: Making the Nut

By Lloyd Graff

Lloyd is deflected by a few big machinery deals this week so we thought it was appropriate to run this piece from the archives. Making the Nut was originally published January 10, 2018.

We all absorb things from our childhood that literally wire our cerebral cortex and remain with us as we mature. There are images, sayings, emblems of fear and instigators of smiles. We soak up stories and develop a narrative that frames our lives.

As I thought about writing this piece the line I remembered most vividly from my father while growing up, of a thousand things I heard from him, was, “You’ve always got to make the nut.” To him that meant you had to cover your costs every month. Losing money in business was FAILURE. It was just about the worst thing you could endure short of death.

I was reminded of this after hearing a captivating interview with Sara Blakely, inventor and owner of Spanx, a fabulously successful young company that germinated when Sara cut off the feet of a pair of pantyhose and envisioned a new undergarment that nobody else had imagined. She was interviewed by James Altucher whose podcast I highly recommend.

One of the first things she talked about was her nightly dinner table conversations with her dad. He used to ask her, “How did you fail today?” This was not to tear her down, but to get her comfortable with the idea of failure. She got comfortable with failure when most kids were trying to ace every test or hit a home run every time up at bat.

She also became comfortable with embarrassing herself. Later, she even tried to be a stand up comedian, even though she wasn’t great at it.

Her father was trying to help her understand that failure wasn’t like death. It was a setback, something to learn from. Something even to laugh about – not the end of the world.

This was very different from the narrative I grew up with. I felt like I was the “designated winner,” and I was always expected to be the best. Failure was for other people.

Not that I was always successful, but success was always expected. Just like my father always had to “make the nut,” I felt like I always had to be successful to be valued, though that may not have really been the case.

Sara Blakely’s experience of having a parent normalize failure, though not extol it, was much healthier. Being able to experience disappointment without withering or blowing up seems like an ideal way to grow up healthy and be comfortable taking risks.

Through the years, I’ve had plenty of failure. I’ve lived through excruciating periods when I didn’t “make the nut,” and my life did not end in disaster.

In retrospect, I wish I had not gone through childhood and high school always being “successful” even when I knew in my heart of hearts that I failed often, like almost everybody else.

I also feel sad for my father who was so terrified of losing money in business, of not “making the nut” even for one month. He was always desperate about economic security, though by most standards, he had nothing to worry about financially.

“Failure” is such a subjective word. Sara Blakely’s father attempted to frame it for her in a positive way. If he truly succeeded at it, I think he was one of the very few.

Question: What was one failure that you learned from this week?

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Ep. 90 – Running a CNC Swiss Shop in the UK with Tom Pearce of CIRC Manufacturing

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the second episode of a season in which we’re talking to folks in the machining world outside of the United States.

We’re making a second stop in the UK to talk to Tom Pearce, founder of CIRC Manufacturing in Westbury, England, a small CNC shop specializing in producing flow control products using a Citizen Swiss lathe and Hitachi 4-axis mills. Tom talked about entrepreneurship in the UK and his company’s first consumer product, a luxury pen machined from exotic super alloys.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

(2:10) Tom gives his background. He says he started as an apprentice electrician working with his father. Later he did maintenance engineering and installations in a big rubber factory that made strips and slabs of custom rubber compounds. Then he decided to start his own company. 

(7:10) Tom talks about starting CIRC Manufacturing. He says that while working at the rubber factory he taught himself to TIG weld on the weekends and started a welding side business. In 2014 one of his welding customers in the oil refining industry told Tom he had a job that was going to go big time and said this could give him enough work to start his own business. Tom says his dream was to start his own business so this opportunity gave him the impetus to quit his job and do it. Unfortunately, the big job he was promised never came. Tom had just signed a five month lease on shop space, so he took some small welding jobs. Then he got a lot of work welding cabinets for electronics, which enabled him to grow a business.  

(10:30) Tom says he thinks British people have an entrepreneurial spirit because he sees more and more people wanting to be self-employed.

CIRC Manufacturing’s New Luxury Pen Made of Exotic Super Alloys on a Citizen

(11:30) Tom talks about a luxury pen (see photo) he designed made from exotic super alloys such as Inconel and Nitronic 16. CIRC Manufacturing is now producing the pens on a 1993 Citizen L320. Tom says he thought it was a good product to sell because it is a product that people already want. He says the pen is important for showcasing his company’s capabilities as well has creating a new revenue stream. It is priced at 200 GBP. Tom says he spent months resurrecting the Citizen, but it now is a very reliable machine. He jokes that the tooling on the machine likely costs more than the machine itself.

(17:50) Noah asks if most English people are happy living in England. Tom says he thinks they are, but he admits he is speaking as someone who lives in the country side, so he can’t speak for everyone around the country.

(19:00) Tom says that his biggest challenge is to find the right people to work in his shop. He says the challenge is not necessarily because of a lack of talent available. He says he is most concerned with finding people he can work well with. Currently Tom has one full time employee, one independent contractor, and his mother does the office work.

(21:00) Noah asks Tom how he thinks British people view machining. Tom says living in the country he sees enthusiasm for machining, but he says that people in bigger cities may be less interested. But, he says he thinks that recently machining seems to be being portrayed as a little more hip on the Internet and on social media.

(23:25) Tom says that 2020 would be a good year if his company could finish as well it started. He says it started off well but when COVID-19 hit, he couldn’t get material he needed from Germany for several weeks. He says business fell off for a short time but has picked up.

(24:00) Tom says that CIRC Manufacturing’s specialty is flow control products—parts for metering, instrumentation, shafts, pins, and bushes. He says on the Citizen he makes pins and shafts, and for parts 20mm and larger he uses two Hitachi Seiki 4-axis mill turn machines. 

(25:00) Noah asks Tom to tell him something interesting he has learned in the last week. Tom says he learned how much work two men and a couple of old CNC machines can put out in a week. 

(26:30) Tom says that people can find out more about his company, CIRC Manufacturing, by going to his website, www.circmfg.co.uk. 

Question: What was the first machine tool you ran?

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Staying Too Long

By Lloyd Graff

Maria Konnikova, doctor of psychology, journalist and professional poker player, said that the hardest but probably most rewarding lesson she has learned is that to win consistently you have to fold when you see you are likely to lose, even after making a sizable bet on your hand.

This is a life lesson I see playing out vividly in the days of COVID-19 for people in business. In the machining industry, smart leaders shut down plants early in April, cut people or furloughed them, even if some were great workers they would have recruited with bonuses in 2019. Many also saw it as an opportunity to trim the marginal troublesome people who they will figure out how to do without even when business is strong again.

We also see the wrestling match between staying the course and cutting your losses in pro sports. 

The Chicago Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky, a quarterback who played only 13 games in college but was considered by some to be the next coming of Tom Brady out of high school in Mentor, Ohio. Ryan Pace, the Bears general manager, traded up one spot with the San Francisco 49ers to draft Mitch #2 in 2017, ahead of Patrick Mahomes II and Deshaun Watson. In his three pro seasons, Trubisky has been mediocre at best, ranking last among starting quarterbacks in the NFL last season. 

Yet Pace is bringing him back this year, though he signed journeyman QB Nick Foles to compete with him. Pace has refused to cut his losses. He has apparently not been willing to fold his losing hand after making a high stakes bet.

In baseball, the Cubs threw in their cards in 2011, hired new management, and cleaned house on the field. After three miserable seasons but several great draft picks and trades, the Cubs made the playoffs in 2015 and won the World Series in 2016. GM Theo Epstein is at the crossroads again this year with a fading team. He still has young players like former MVP Kris Bryant, who appears already to be in decline, and he has a pitching staff with no young stars. The question Cubs fans are asking is whether Epstein is waiting a year or two too long to throw in his cards for another tough rebuild.

Personally, I have found that changing course in business is the single hardest thing for me to do. Admitting an investment is a mistake, firing a nice person who is a mediocre employee, or worse, changing a direction that proved successful for many years but seems like it has lost momentum now, is extremely difficult for me.

I have also seen bad marriages linger for decades in some cases because of the sunken costs of children, familiarity, and financial security, which hold people together when the love is long gone.

Maria Konnikova said that she gave up more than one long-term relationship after internalizing the lesson of walking away from a losing hand in poker. Teaching this kind of resiliency and flexibility to children, and hopefully making it a part of your own DNA is much harder than tossing in a pair of aces. 

Question: When have you stayed too long?

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Ep. 89 – Machining in the United Kingdom with Joe Reynolds of MTD

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the first episode in a multi-part series in which we’re interviewing people in the machining world outside the United States. Our first stop was England, where we interviewed Joe Reynolds.

Joe is Director of MTD, a company with several popular websites based in the UK that market prominent machine tool builders and inform people in the machining business on the latest news and technology. He also refers to himself as a “Swarf Guru,” so of course we had to interview him!

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

(3:20) Joe shares his background. Originally, he was an engineer and did a 6-year apprenticeship. He worked in sales with a few American companies before starting his own tooling company. Then at the EMO trade show 10 years ago he met Paul Jones, founder of Machine Tool Direct (MTD), which would be later known as MTD. Together they have grown the business to a staff of around 25 people. 

(4:35) Joe explains that MTD is a marketing company for machine tool companies as well as other industrial products firms. Joe says they work with Europe’s largest and most familiar CNC machine tool companies. 

(5:05) Joe describes how MTD works. Its websites focus on talking to people about CNC machines and other machine shop products. The sites feature tons of videos showing the products in action. MTDCNC.com is the most popular.

(7:40) Joe talks about the MTD Podcast. He says that anything that happens in the four walls of a machine shop is a good topic for discussion on the show, from the technology and tooling, to the people behind the scenes. 

(9:20) Joe debunks Noah’s preconceived notions about the UK machining industry. Noah says he has heard that the UK is no longer a major manufacturing center these days. Joe says that UK mainstream media would agree with Noah’s assessment. However, he says a deeper knowledge of the business reveals that manufacturing is massive in the UK. He says it represents 20% of the country’s GDP and nearly 80% of its total exports. He says the average annual salary in the machining field is about 32,000 Sterling, which is above the national average across all industries. He says the country has fewer factories, but they are more efficient. He says the UK is still lagging behind some other countries in Europe as far as adopting automation. 

(12:00) Joe claims that “approximately 80,000 businesses are doing something with a piece of metal in the UK.” He also mentions that the UK is working at improving certain disparities in the industry, including the fact that just 1 in 8 women are employed in manufacturing. He says the country is also struggling with an aging workforce. He says before the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation was 20,000 people short of the skilled labor needed to support the industry.

(14:00) Noah talks about his preconception that there is an occupational “caste” system in the UK. Joe says that this may have been true in the past, but things are changing for the better in England. Joe says that 20 years ago his peers questioned him going into engineering. He also reports that the perception of machinists is improving in the UK. He says there are more apprenticeships and more people are realizing that factories are cleaner and the money is good. 

(18:15) Joe talks about how the country is coping with COVID-19 and how that has impacted the machining industry. He says the government intervened with what it calls a furlough scheme. He says things aren’t as bad as you read in the papers, and that much like in the US, machining companies in the UK range from really hurting to doing well. 

(19:30) Joe describes the Ventilator Challenge, implemented by the UK government in response to the shortage of ventilators. He says the country’s manufacturing sector quickly produced 14,000 ventilators. The initiative helped some companies through a difficult time.

(20:20) Noah and Joe discuss Brexit. Joe claims 50% of people think it’s a good thing while 50% do not. He says the consensus is that it would be best if the country leaves with a deal. He says a good outcome would be the loosening of restrictions on relationships with countries outside of the EU and on exporting to those countries. He says some people believe that the UK doesn’t get enough out of the EU to justify the money it contributes to it. He says fewer companies are leaving then expected because of Brexit. 

(23:30) Joe talks about major companies with factories in UK, including: Boeing, Nissan, Ford, Toyota, Lotus, Jaguar, and Rover. He also lists aerospace companies such as Boeing, Airbus, and Spirit Airways. He says that Boeing chose to build a factory there, even when it knew that Brexit was coming.

(25:20) Joe says the UK is a good place to start a business. (see video) He compares machining company startups in the US to those in the UK. He says he sees a lot of US machining companies starting out in home garages, which is very rare in the UK. He says in England around 60% of machine shops are SME (small to medium enterprises) and have less than 10 people on staff. He says there has never been a better time to start a machining company in the UK, even with the COVID-19 pandemic. He says it is easy to borrow money and find grants, and machine tool dealers will sell machines with deferred payments and zero deposit up front. Joe asks Noah if the American Dream is real. Noah says that many Swarfcast listeners would say that it is. Noah says Americans have a tendency to lump all foreign countries together, which doesn’t provide an accurate picture of businesses overseas.

(30:00) Joe says that a lot of reshoring of manufacturing is occurring in the UK. He says it was already happening due to automation and robotics, as well as rising labor costs in China, and COVID-19 has accelerated the trend. 

(31:00) Joe says that revenues at his company are up and his websites are doing well despite COVID-19. 

(32:00) To view Joe’s various websites, visit MTDCNC.com (machine tools), MTDMFG.com, swarfandchips.com, and MTD.network (supply network). The MTD podcast is available on all the podcast platforms.

Question: Is America still a good place to start a business?

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Unforgettable

By Lloyd Graff

Some things in life are unforgettable. 

By chance last night I started watching a Netflix documentary on David Foster, one of the foremost music producers in the last half-century. Unbeknownst to me, Foster has produced artists like Barbra Streisand, and groups like Chicago and Earth, Wind, and Fire. He also produced Natalie Cole’s album on which she sang the great song, Unforgettable, in a duet with her late father, Nat King Cole, singing from a tape.

Nat King Cole with daughter, Natalie Cole

This song has always been a favorite of mine, not just because it is a wonderful piece of music, but because the duet performance that Foster put together connects me in a profound way with my own father, Leonard Graff.

One of my happiest memories of my childhood was standing around the family’s piano while my sister Susan played, and I sang along with my dad and Sue. Nat King Cole was an extremely popular artist when I was growing up, and we probably sang Unforgettable together.

In later times, I would often listen to Cole’s records, tapes, and CDs. Unforgettable, and his other huge hit, Mona Lisa, were my favorites. To this day I have those two songs playing frequently on my car stereo.

Over time, Unforgettable took on more meaning for me as I joined the family business and my father and I worked so intimately together. After he died in 1997, I longed for the closeness of that father-son relationship that was reinforced almost every day in the give-and-take of making the business successful, working alongside my brother Jim.

When I hear Natalie Cole make absolutely amazing music with her dead father, who comes alive in her beautiful voice, it brings back that relationship I had with my own dad. Sure, it had its rocky moments, but we had so many beautiful, unforgettable moments of joy and magic that stream back yet today as I get the amazing opportunity to work with my own son Noah.

Natalie Cole also went into the family business, but her father died when she was young. Somehow Foster, the producer, brought the two of them together in that incredible single. Their synchrony is stunning, especially when you see an image of Nat King Cole singing the song seated at a keyboard, while Natalie is doing it live.

When a family, and even a family business, somehow finds that elusive synchrony, it provides real joy. I still feel it with my dad even though he has been gone 23 years now. And when that lyric comes through the Acura radio, “when someone so unforgettable thinks that I am unforgettable, too,” hits my ear, even today my father comes alive in my heart.

Question: Do you have any unforgettable moments with a parent that you’d like to share?

 

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Ep. 88 – Collaborative Robots on Haas Mills with Timo Lunceford

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the show is Timo Lunceford, general manager of Swiss Productions, a 25,000-square-foot Swiss CNC shop in Ventura, California, that specializes in fluidic medical components.

Recently Swiss Productions introduced two 7-axis collaborative robots to work in tandem with two Haas CNC mills. Timo says the robots increase the production on each machine by the equivalent of 30-40 hours per week.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

(3:00) Timo discusses his background. He Joined Swiss Productions at age 20 when he married the owner’s daughter. He has worked his way up from the very bottom to Vice President and General Manager.

(6:00)  Timo describes how Swiss Productions grew from an 8,000-square-foot shop with just 12 machines to a 25,000-square-foot facility with over 50 machines. He says 70% of the company’s business is making medical device fluidic components. It also manufactures parts for irrigation, automotive, and aerospace industries.

(7:55) Timo speaks about the company’s unique experience manufacturing parts for the medical industry. He says a major part of growing in that sector is networking and developing relationships around the world. 

(10:40) Timo talks about introducing collaborative robots to the machine shop. The company recently purchased two OB7 cobots from Productive Robotics. Timo says the company chose that brand because it seemed to be very user friendly and features 7-axis models.

(12:20) Timo says that at first employees were suspicious about the role of the robots in the shop. However, soon they realized that their jobs were not at risk and that the robots handled tedious labor, which freed them up to complete more interesting tasks.

(12:50) Timo describes how the OB7 robots help make valves for syringe pumps working in tandem with Haas mills. The robot picks up the unfinished valve, opens up the door of the machine, blows out the collet inside the machine and puts the unfinished part in the machine. Then, it opens a collet holding a finished part, takes the part out and drops it into a bucket. The robot then closes the collet, closes the machine’s door, and hits the start button on the machine. The robots can run lights out.

(14:40) Timo discusses the uniqueness of the OB7 model and how it is programmed through demonstration.

(15:45) Timo speaks about how the shop has increased the productivity of their two Haas mills by 30-35% using collaborative robots. He estimates the shop saves 30-40 production hours a week on each machine.

(16:20) Timo says that time is the most precious commodity for both the business and its employees. For the last 10 years, employees at Swiss Productions have enjoyed a 4-day workweek (10 hour days). He says that automation is playing a part to save the company money and give employees more time with their families.

(19:30) Timo says that Swiss Productions has remained operational throughout the COVID-19 pandemic because it is considered an essential business. He shows a picture of the syringe the company makes components for and describes how it is incorporated in tests for the virus. (see video above) He says last week he learned that the syringe component has been used in over 9,000 tests per day. He says that knowing that the parts his company makes save lives gives him purpose.

(21:00) Timo says he wants to understand how every part his company makes is used and how it makes a difference in the world. He says that sharing this knowledge with employees gives them purpose and motivates them to do great work. He encourages everyone in the machining business to go to work with a passion because it is an opportunity to change the world.

Question: Why are you NOT using robots in your shop?

 

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Bet Your Life

By Lloyd Graff

“Life is a game of incomplete information.” 

These are the words of Maria Konnikova, a writer and psychologist who learned how to play poker and then played on the professional poker tournament circuit to write her new book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win.

Konnikova read from her book and discussed it with Stephen Dubner on the Freakonomics podcast this week. I found it particularly relevant because our family is now wrestling with a difficult decision while knowing that we have incomplete information, fear, and personal history to contend with.

The question is whether to get together as a family for a week to celebrate our recent 50th wedding anniversary.

I know many other people are grappling with whether to get together as a group for an extended period of time, requiring travel, expense, and above all, the possibility of people getting very sick.

My daughter and her husband and three children live in the Bay Area of California. The COVID-19 epidemic has subsided significantly there, and they have followed the local protocols religiously. The plan has been for them to come to Chicago in early August, and with my sons and their families, to go to South Haven, Michigan, for a week on the shores of Lake Michigan. This trip was planned a year ago, long before the pandemic. 

The economic question of paying for or canceling the three cottages in Michigan forced a decision upon us this week. If we gave up the cottages before July 9th we would not be penalized for backing out. 

We had a lot of imperfect information on which to make our decision. How dangerous was it from a sickness standpoint to travel by air from California? Are the COVID-19 tests accurate for both the current illness and antibodies? Could we maintain social distancing with 11 people, including kids who like to hug and play games and eat together? 

What Konnikova stressed throughout her interview was that in life we are always dealing with uncertainty. A doctor does her tests, takes a history, monitors symptoms, reads the journals, and talks to her peers to make a diagnosis, but then can still get it wrong. In poker you have to deal with the unseen down cards as well as deceptive techniques like bluffing. This could be similar to receiving lousy information from a patient.

But ultimately, a poker hand, a diagnosis, or even a trip, forces you to make a call. If a doctor is hesitant the patient will detect it, which may affect the outcome. A hesitant play in poker is an easy tell for a smart opponent to take advantage of. 

For our family, the indecision about the trip was causing anxiety for all of the adults involved. The underlying fear was the awful “what if my wife and I got COVID and ended up in the hospital.” We’ve both had open heart surgery, so the dire possibility could not be ignored. 

We gave in to the 1% or less possibility of a bad outcome for the family trip to Michigan. But we still have the opportunity for the family from California to stay at our big house with its large backyard in Chicago.

What Konnikova stressed is that there is no such thing as objective reality. However, the best poker player or the smartest decision maker has the ability to get outside of herself to see her own biases, fears, and assumptions. 

The question about the anniversary get-together is whether we can look at our fear for what it is and be wise and gutsy enough to accept the extremely small but real risk. I have reached that point, but my wife still isn’t sure that the risk is worth the reward. 

Konnikova’s book deals with the fact that life is not poker. It’s a lot messier. The consequence of a bad decision about COVID-19 could be death, while in poker it’s just losing chips. But the skills in poker and in life have many things in common. Developing a legitimate personal confidence that you will be right much of the time, while accepting that bad cards occasionally can kill the best of players is the way to live your life to the fullest.

Question: Would you go to a family gathering?

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A Gap in My Perception

By Lloyd Graff

We just recorded the biggest gain in stock prices for any quarter since 1998 with American unemployment at unprecedented levels. You don’t need to read the obvious in this blog, so let’s talk Yeezy, Kanye West, and Gap.

Gap stock rose 42% in one day last week when Kanye West announced he was designing a clothing line with his Yeezy brand on it, exclusively for Gap for 10 years. Gap’s value jumped $2 billion dollars with the news.

Being no fan of hip hop music, but mildly interested in West because he grew up near where I did on Chicago’s South Side, and because he met cordially with Donald Trump at the White House, I checked out Yeezy. The brand has turned Adidas from the German blahs to Jordan-esque cool with outrageously priced sneakers. A Yeezy pair of gym shoes may sell for $500 a pair if you can get them.

I really don’t feel the allure of celebrity apparel, but undoubtedly West is hot today and Gap, where Kanye worked as a kid, is capitalizing on his caché. Will Kanye West become a fading yesterday in a year? Not likely, with the magic of his wife, Kim Kardashian, continually polishing his image?

***

Another brand that fascinates me with its phenomenal stock performance is Peloton. The company sells an exercise bike and will lose more than $100 million this year. Yet it is worth more than Ford and Chrysler, and its stock has more than doubled since it went public a few months ago.

You don’t buy a Peloton at Dick’s Sporting Goods or Target. For $2,000 you can buy the hardware, but the secret sauce is the $40 a month subscription fee, which brings you a huge array of virtual programs. It also buys you status, because the Peloton bike is the Tesla of exercycles. Like Kanye’s $500 Kicks, it is the brand of the cool rich folk on the 40th floor of Manhattan high rises. And you can use it without having to schlep to the gym and put on a mask with the other infectious plebeians.

The branding is working brilliantly. The company is worth $16 billion.

***

Another fascinating story is Nikola, headed by Elon Musk wannabe, Trevor Milton. The company went public a couple weeks ago and has a market cap approaching $30 billion. They plan to build hydrogen powered semi-trucks at a yet-to-be-built plant near Phoenix. They might get a vehicle on the road in a couple of years. They are also taking reservations for a battery powered pickup truck called the Badger, which will eventually compete with Tesla’s Cybertruck, which Musk is already testing.

Nikola’s branding is clever, right down to the name, which is a play on the first name of the famous Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla.

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One other stock I like to follow is DraftKings, which is an online sports betting company. The stock goes up and down with the likelihood of playing the baseball, basketball, and football seasons. When COVID flares up and players fall ill, the stock price falls. The company is valued around $10 billion dollars now. It is a play on the likelihood of a viable vaccine in a short period of time.

An assessment of Gap, Peloton, Nikola, and DraftKings, paints a colorful picture of America around the 4th of July 2020. The promoter and the entrepreneur are definitely alive. Should we be joyful or sad? Not a Yeezy question.

Question: Did Gap make a good deal?

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