Author Archives: Noah Graff

Swarfcast Ep. 3 – Part 2 of Miles Free Interview

By Noah Graff

Miles Free, Director of Research and Technology at the Precision Machined Products Association, opines on electric cars, economic patriotism and how American machine shops have evolved to thrive in today’s economy.

Question: Are tariffs aimed at China economic patriotism or a tool for the enemy?

Listen to Swarfcast in the player below.

Honda Assembly Plant in Liberty OH   (Dayton Daily News)

 

 

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Machinery Marriage

I often ask clients of our machine tool business where they make the most money in their businesses. They usually have an answer immediately, and it isn’t in the place where they are investing fresh money.

I’m frequently talking to folks who run multi-spindle automatic screw machines, usually cam-operated, in tandem with a host of other equipment. Many people regard these machines as antiques from the antediluvian epoch of manufacturing. These are machines that some folks say won World War II. For the uninitiated, that was the war in which we fought the Germans and Japanese, while the Russians were our allies. The world does have the ability to change.

The ironic answer I often get is that the multi-spindles make the most money, and the return on investment is off the charts because they were written off eons ago.

But the secret sauce is the knowledge of where they fit in the picture. Banging out a half million dumb parts on old Acmes or New Britains is a losing game. Increasingly, sharp manufacturers in Shanghai or Bangalore will make you bang your brains out. Subsidized steel in China and dirt priced brass in India make the simple threaded widget yesterday’s game. But, combining the raw machining strength of 6- or 8-spindle multis with the

finesse of twin-turret, twin-spindle CNC turning centers can turn 20 cent blanks into $2 medical or aircraft pieces. Running single bars through an Okuma or Nakamura will make you a bit player in a crowded cast, but combining those machines with the muscular multis that still can pull their not-so-insignificant weight, makes a potent combination that Shanghai and Bangalore can’t beat.

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President Trump’s tariffs are an annoyance which could grow into a blister if they do not bring any fundamental shifts from the Chinese. American manufacturers, particularly steel users, are today’s sacrificial lambs as the Administration vaguely pushes for China to stop stealing intellectual property. The naïveté of somehow expecting Beijing to allow one of its biggest employers, the inefficient State-run steel industry, to suddenly erode because of the tingling jab of American tariffs is quite surprising. I fret that the strong U.S. economy has made an overconfident Trump start a fight without a clear endgame.

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My son Noah is getting married next month and already receiving some gifts. It brought to mind a few memorable gifts my wife Risa and I received for our wedding that have lasted over the decades we have been together.

We still use our copper bottomed Revere Ware skillets and sauce pans almost every day. Amazingly, 48 years later, they are better than when we got them from Shirley Silverstein as a gift, because they have been seasoned. We seldom shine the copper bottoms, however.

We still have aluminum baking pans, perfect for brownies and cakes, which have remained as wonderful as they were when we received them more than four decades ago. Then there is the cookie recipe book that Risa refers to often and the old Better Homes and Gardens recipe book that never seems to age.

The ideal present does not have to last for 40 or 50 years. Luggage can be used hard for 5 or 10 years and happily discarded, and a sweater that you wear often has a finite life. My wife and I have our own good china, but she usually uses her mother’s china for Sabbath meals and special occasions.

We have several weddings coming up besides Noah’s. The Amazon gift certificate is an appealing surrogate for the special wedding gift that will be remembered fondly 50 years from today. Gifts also go out of vogue. Silver serving bowls seem like such an anachronism today. Who has the space for them to sit idly on shelves?

With wedding season at its peak, I am curious to know who has gifts that have withstood the test of time. Who has a great idea for a gift that will keep on giving or impart a memory which will last forever?

Question: Is running multi-spindles a losing game?

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Swarfcast Ep. 2 – Talking Tariffs with Miles Free

By Noah Graff

Listen to Swarfcast in the player below.

In Episode #2 of Swarfcast, Today’s Machining World’s podcast, Noah interviewed Miles Free of the PMPA (Precision Machined Products Association). Free is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the steel trade. They discussed how the recently implemented tariffs on raw materials into the United States affect the U.S. precision machining industry.

In the interview Free equated harsh raw material tariffs to economic sanctions on imports that the United States would inflict on an enemy like Russia or Iran.

If you want to learn about Trump’s new tariffs listen to this interview!

This interview was conducted in April, so at times Free will refer to tariffs as a potential threat rather than a current one.

Question: How are tariffs affecting your business?

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Ep. 1 – TMW Launches Swarfcast

By Noah Graff

Listen to Swarfcast in the player below.
At long last, Swarfcast, Today’s Machining World’s podcast, is up!

Swarfcast centers around similar topics that readers have enjoyed in Today’s Machining World during its first 18 years. Wow, that’s awhile.

Each week, Lloyd and Noah Graff will interview colorful people who will give their take on the machining business and a whole array of topics that we think our readers (and now listeners) may find interesting.

In the first episode, Noah interviews Lloyd (his dad). Lloyd reflects on the last 60-some years of his life—as a 12-year-old kid submitting articles to Readers Digest, to trying out for the Chicago Cubs, to owning a used machine tool company and a magazine.

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Gratitude 2017

By Noah Graff

Soon I’ll be 38 years old. I often question whether I have used my time wisely so far to reach a daily happy existence and positively impact the world. At this time of year I dwell on the past 12 months and I regret all the times I was lazy. I wish I had not been scared to try new things. I wish I had not burned so much time and energy obsessing over trivial things.

But before I get down on myself too much and before I set my goals for next year I feel it is important for me to list a few of the things I feel grateful for in 2017. The year has had some highlights and I believe to live a mentally healthy life it’s important to take time for gratitude and perspective. I guess sharing this is more for my own personal benefit rather than for you readers, but perhaps you will find a few things interesting and it will inspire some of your own reflections on 2017.

Gratitude list for 2017

I got engaged to my girlfriend Stephanie.
I ate Stephanie’s Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies.
I ate my mom’s cake.
I worked on my diet (a recent endevour).
I developed a morning ritual.
I developed my idea muscle.
I started getting more sleep.
I learned the concept of 54321.
I worked on investments and even bought a few tulips…er Bitcoin.
I traveled to interesting places for business and pleasure.
I visited San Sebastián, Spain, with Stephanie.
I met many new people—some better than others.
I began some new relationships—both personal and professional.
I worked on my negotiation skills.
I gave to charity (but not enough).
I volunteered (but not enough).
I helped Graff-Pinkert go from two so so years to an excellent one.
I danced.
I took lovely rigorous jogs.
I got to be artistic (but not often enough).
I cared about people.
I learned about INDEXs, and Nakamuras and Schüttes.
I made some money.
I treasure hunted.
I listened to fascinating books and podcasts on my commutes to work that hopefully changed my life.
I watched fun movies and TV shows like Vikings and The Last Jedi.
I planned a little for the future (but not enough).
I watched the Cubs beat the Nationals in one of the craziest baseball games ever.
I spent time with my family and got to work alongside my dad.
I gained some perspective.
I felt gratitude and appreciated life when I remembered to.

Question: What are you grateful for in 2017?

Nestle Toll House Cookies

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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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The Best We Can Get?

By Lloyd Graff

Gillette Fusion Razor

Gillette Fusion Razor

I recently discovered that I was out of cartridges for my Gillette 5-blade razor (the Fusion). I hopped over to the local Walgreens to buy a new package.

It was an ugly experience. The Gillette cartridges were locked up, requiring a buyer to hunt for a salesperson to come over to unlock the booty. Then I had to figure out which razor blade model I owned and whether I wanted to fork over $25 for four precious 5-blade cartridges in one over-wrapped package.

Gillette, now a division of Proctor & Gamble, has been developing high-tech razors and blades over the last decade which last longer but make shaving more expensive. Its advertising has flogged the high-tech blades, mercilessly extolling the wonderful experience of shaving while dulling one of the great American brands by being greedy and dumb as the market for their products was starting to shift.

As men and women get older they tend to shave less often. Younger men and women are hairier these days with the disheveled look in vogue.

One indicator is how few Major League Baseball players are clean shaven. Beards are in. Just look at Jake Arrietta and Clayton Kershaw, the best pitchers in the game, and Bryce Harper, the top position player.

The other wild card that Gillette did not expect is the dollar shave club phenomenon. Many men are choosing mail order low tech blades that offer a less expensive monthly bill and fresh blades daily. They have eliminated the distasteful trip to Walgreens or Target to unlock the precious cartridges from the store safe. You would think they were illicit goods like original Sudafed.

Gillette razor blades are one of many iconic products that got too fat as cash cows of obese conglomerates like P&G. I doubt the old independent entrepreneurial Gillette of Boston would have locked themselves into overpriced high-tech blades that shavers are starting to reject in droves.

Gillette is not the only once revered label that consumers are starting to hate. The mattress market is also shifting quickly.

A few years ago beds and mattresses were mostly sold in department stores and furniture emporiums. Brands like Sealy, Simmons and Beautyrest dominated. The big names gradually merged together looking to monopolize the market and keep the price high for traditional spring products.

But they were blindsided by memory foam mattresses which were cheaper to make and better to sleep on. Independent chains popped up almost overnight to sell the new foam products and accessories. Then Internet sales, boosted by media campaigns challenged brick and mortar. Today the mattress market is fragmented and competitive.

The beer and booze market have also seen both consolidation and a challenge from independents. The behemoths still dominate with enormous advertising budgets and control of the vital distribution, but craft beers have a growing audience for young buyers and independent vodka and whiskey makers are proliferating.

The latest challenge to a regulated monopoly is in the hearing aid business. Audiologists and doctors have pretty much sewn up the high end market for hearing devices. The average hearing aid costs $2,000 to $3000 including visits to the professionals. A company called Etymotic Research has developed an in-ear amplifier to be sold over the counter, which they call the Bean. The cheapest model retails for $299. So far the FDA has protected the incumbents like Siemens and Sonova which control 95% of the $5 billion world wide market. The Bean can currently be sold only for “recreational” use (hunting and birding). But the White House is now pressuring the FDA to give Etymotic’s products a hard look. I foresee this tightly controlled business as a prime target for entrepreneurial attack. The over-the-counter hearing aid will be in Walgreens and Target soon—I predict 2016 or 2017.

Fat monopolies are still vulnerable to humble entrepreneurs in America. May it always be so.

Questions: Do you have a mattress that you love?

Have you tried the Bean?

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A Reminder of Life Without Freedom

Noah Graff

 

You don’t know what freedom is unless you don’t have it.

Life in Havana, Cuba

Tonight Passover begins! It’s the Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. I love the holiday for its distinct rituals, reflection about the story of the Jewish people and the meanings of the words “slavery” and “freedom.”

What does it mean to be a slave?

Are we slaves to our jobs, to our phones, to addictions, to depression? Or is that just Passover seder table froth?

What does slavery in 2016 look like? A few images come to mind such as human trafficking of prostitutes and women abducted by Boko Haram. But perhaps it is better to ask what a lack of freedom looks like in 2016.

I have a friend in Cuba who I met when I was there on vacation. We have been emailing every few weeks for over two years. We compare notes about what is happening in each other’s country according to our respective media. She has told me about her employment journey over the course of that period. She was working at a bank when I met her, then she was a waitress, and now she works in a flea market.

Don’t let the special guests at baseball games and the new cruise stops fool you. Cuban people feel desperate, probably more desperate than they have felt in a long time.

Salaries in Cuba still average $20 per month. People still do not have the freedom to say what they want nor travel where they want. They have very little freedom to start businesses. Police lurk on every other street corner, reminding people that their dictatorship government still makes the rules. Because of modern communication technology Cuban people in 2016 know about the freedoms enjoyed in other countries, which makes them extra pissed off about their situation.

When my friend tells me about her problems I try to console her. I say that it sounds horrible and that I can’t even fathom how hard it must be to live in her shoes. I tell her that she is a survivor and that when the communist government finally falls she will be able to do great things because making it through the misery will have made her a strong person.

I suggest to her that she appreciate the good things that she has—beautiful weather, good friends, relatively good health and the fact that bombs aren’t going off around her. I think she does appreciate those things, but they are not enough for her to feel satisfied. She wants what everybody in trouble longs for—hope. She wants to feel that a life of freedom will be possible for her one day, because when there is freedom there is hope.

Question: Are you hopeful about the future?

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My Germany – Salsa and Screw Machines

By Noah Graff

German Messerschmitt Me 262: First Ever Jet-powered Fighter Plane (Missing Swastika)

I recently spent two weeks traveling through Germany, visiting various screw machine shops and dealers. Before I began visiting customers, I took the opportunity to spend my first weekend in the country as a tourist in Munich. I chose to start the trip in Munich because the first annual Munich Salsa Congress was taking place. (I try to go salsa dancing in every place I travel for work.) I also had read that the city was beautiful and ranked as one of the best places to live in the world. And I planned to visit Dachau, the concentration camp only a half hour out of town. I had never been to a concentration camp, so as a Jew, I felt going there was the right thing to do.

Before I left, I asked my dad what he knew about Munich, as I regard him as well traveled and generally quite culturally literate. My father’s answer was that Munich made him think of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, and the dreadfully tragic 1972 Olympics held there, during which Palestinian terrorists murdered nine Israelis. But I went in with an open mind, maybe because those things had happened before I was born. I was excited about the salsa dancing, seeing the famous beer garden in the city’s English Garden, and anticipating the rush I get from traveling internationally. It’s so refreshing to me to walk around in a place where people don’t speak English, don’t use dollars, and think and act differently than Americans.

Despite that I was running on fumes after two hours of sleep over the last 36 hours, I hit Munich’s sights right away. I visited the Deutsches Museum, a museum dedicated to German engineering with a lot of emphasis on aircraft history. I thought it was only fitting that I should go to an engineering museum in Germany, on a trip dedicated to visiting German manufacturers.

One display that caught my eye was an Me 262 jet fighter plane from WWII (the first jet fighter ever used) , which curiously was missing the swastika decal on its tail. People told me prior to the trip, that in Germany–as well as some other European countries–you can be jailed for wearing a swastika. Although that first seemed strange to me, coming from the Land of the Free, I get it. The law may stem from the fear that the icon could somehow fuel a renaissance of Naziism–the government doesn’t want to take any chances, even if it infringes on freedom of expression. Later that day, in a store window, I noticed some old coins from WWII that had little white stickers on them, which I realized were covering small swastikas. Seeing the stickers after just seeing the altered airplane decal was slightly unsettling to me. It made me ponder if the people in Munich were trying to forget their horrific past. But the swastika represents the darkest period of the country, which German people are repeatedly taught to feel ashamed of. Can I blame them for not wanting to look it on a daily basis?

The Road to Dachau Concentration Camp

Sunday, my final day in Munich, I visited Dachau. I felt a little strange asking people at the train station how to get there. Were they thinking, “that tourist must be going to the concentration camp”? I learned that Dachau is actually the name of a small village, with its own train stop a half hour from Munich. When I arrived at the stop, I had to walk about 30 minutes to reach the camp. There was a bus from the train station, but I didn’t know when it would come, and I decided it would be more fitting to walk from the station, like the prisoners had to 70 years ago. Before I arrived at the camp, I was taken aback by all the normal homes throughout the town. There were nice modern condos a mere 200 feet from the camp gates. Does it bother people to look at the rusty barbed wire fence outside the camp every day? I’m not sure. Would it bother me to see a plantation in Georgia where Americans were enslaved for centuries? I must admit, I think I might get used to it.

Exploring the camp was moving, as I expected, but I didn’t break down in tears as I walked in the crematorium where the bodies were disposed of, saw the “showers” and the cramped barracks. It was a surreal experience. It was hard to believe I was actually there, standing in the place where all of the horrific atrocities occurred against my ancestors. It made all of the Holocaust stories I had read about and seen in movies more real–that was important. But I must confess, I cried more watching Schindler’s List.

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Aside from the hotel desk clerks in Munich, who were somewhat cold and disinterested in my tourist questions, I really liked the people I met throughout Germany. The machine shop owners I visited were generous with their time, took me out to lunch, and gave me a thorough education on how running a business in Germany works. (It’s tough. We forget how good we have it here.) Unfortunately, most of the guys I visited usually don’t buy used machines, but they treated me with respect and maybe they will give me the time of day if I can find them an INDEX MS 32. (There is another blog coming soon specifically about my visits with customers.)

I drove all over the country, traveling around Stuttgart, then up to Cologne. On the way to Cologne, I spent the night in Karlsruhe, a medium-sized university city. The place was dead by the time I sought out food around 10:30 p.m. Every restaurant was closed aside from a little kebab shop, likely owned by Turkish folk. Germany is full of wonderful kebab shops run by its considerable Middle Eastern population.

In the restaurant, I met a German college student named Christoph who helped me order my kebab, because I wanted to tell the guys at the counter not to add yogurt, but they didn’t speak English. For the next half hour we ate our delicious kebabs, talking about German culture and politics. He told me about the Germans’ shame from the Holocaust, saying that until Germany’s 2006 World Cup victory, the people were even bashful about waving German flags. He also talked about the generational differences among Germans, and the country’s complex views of Israel.

Salsa Dancing in Berlin

One of the highlights of the trip was that I got to go salsa dancing in Munich, Cologne and Berlin. I was quite impressed with the dancers. The women were able to follow my L.A. salsa style, even though they generally only knew the very different Cuban style. I am blatantly stereotyping now, but when I think of German people, I think of people with a high technical aptitude and people who are willing to follow rules. Perhaps those characteristics made the German women such good salsa dancers. In any case, they know what they’re doing. I’ll be happy to go back there soon.

Question: What do you think of when you think of Germany?
Noah Graff is a machine tools dealer at Graff-Pinkert & Co. and an editor at Today’s Machining World.

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Going Once, Going Twice … Human Interaction

Tecomet Auction. Bidding on machine with with pizza crust sitting atop

I attended the Auction of Tecomet Wednesday this week in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. It was just the fourth auction I’ve gone to since I started working at Graff-Pinkert almost two years ago. Auctions generally turn out to be a pretty interesting experience for one reason or another. They’re usually pretty grueling, standing on a cement floor all day, subsisting on a few granola bars or the swill they serve in the classic auction “roach coach.” This sale’s auctioneer had been kind enough to cater with Dunkin Donuts in the morning and order pizza for lunch, some crust of which sat on a precision jeweler-type lathe as it was bid upon.

I didn’t plan to buy anything when I went to the sale, although there were a few pretty pieces on the block — a bunch of Citizens from the late 90s to early 2,000s and two Tornos Deco 2000/20 machines. I attended the auction mainly as a reconnaissance mission to watch prices of the CNCs. I also came to network, as it was a good opportunity to mingle with competitors and prospective customers. I wanted to learn from them, and I also just wanted to be seen there.

I roamed the auction for a while with a former auctioneer who was bidding on a few small items that he planned to sell on eBay if he won them. He told me that 10 years ago, before today’s ubiquitous online auction bidding, a sale like Tecomet’s would have attracted 500 live people to the auction site — I estimate Wednesday’s auction drew around 50. He said that auctions used to be grand events, with intense bidding fueled by energy and enthusiasm that can only be created by people bidding in person.

After enduring five boring hours of mostly small-dollar items, the interesting stuff finally got going. The two Deco 2000s were the most expensive items at the sale, and one man onsite bought them both for $105,000 each. I’m pretty sure I remember one other person on the floor who bid $80,000, but the rest of the opposing bids emanated from somewhere in cyberspace. I have to wonder, if Internet bidding had not been available and the sale had 500 people like in the bad ol’ days, would the price of the machines have gone higher?

Today, we consumers live in what I would call an “Auction Age.” It started in the late 90s, when eBay brought auctions to the fingertips of the masses with a user-friendly, un-intimidating platform that was unprecedented in commerce. In the last decade, eBay and Amazon have conditioned consumers to believe that paying retail is for suckers. What’s more, leaving the house to buy stuff is stupid as well.

Online auction bidding has enabled auctioneers to sell capital equipment to people who sit in their offices 2,000 miles from the sale, who can get work done rather than standing all day waiting for other people to bid 40 dollars on shelving. But this convenience comes at a cost, especially for an auction mingler like myself. The atmosphere and energy that comes from community on the auction floor has been eroded. Today, the masses have replaced that venue of community by using virtual connections through email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and eBay. Every day I communicate with hundreds of people who I never would have had regular contact with 20 years ago. The communication available using the Web is mind boggling, but how powerful are those virtual connections? Even talking on the phone has been widely supplanted by texting, chatting, and emailing. What benefits have these convenient connection mediums robbed me of as they remove my desire for genuine physical contact with other people?

Question:  Has Facebook improved your life?

 

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