Author Archives: Ridgely Dunn

Ep. 128 – Job Shop Apprenticeship Program, with Bill Cox

By Noah Graff

Unlike the majority of machining companies right now, struggling to find enough skilled people to fulfill demand, Cox Manufacturing in San Antonio, Texas, boasts a continuous pipeline of new talent. In fact, Bill Cox, the company’s owner, says right now the company has a stack of applications for shop apprenticeships, of which he will pick an average of one for every 50 candidates.

Cox Manufacturing specializes in producing high volumes of turned parts. I’ve been to his facility several times, and I can vouch that it’s a treasure trove of some of the best European multi-spindle screw machines, CNC Swiss and CNC turning centers. The company churns out 1.5 million parts every week, supplying sectors such as aerospace, firearms, defense, automotive and trucking, medical devices, and electronics.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite app.

 

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Hindsight is 2020

By Lloyd Graff

From a business standpoint these last 16 months have been one of the most fascinating and turbulent periods I have ever observed and dealt with. 

Last March we were entering the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a period of fear, doubt, and paralysis. Selling used machinery was almost impossible because the industrial economy was a mess. Business virtually shut down in April, employees were laid off or furloughed, and everybody wore a mask and watched TV. Making ventilators and gun parts was about all that was cooking, except cooking, which was hot because almost all restaurants were closed. 

I asked myself, Risa, and Noah how we would cope. 

My answer was to quickly let go of two employees who were obviously not needed. Neither were really bad employees, but one guy was unreliable as far as attendance was concerned, and the other was a perfectionist, which made him too slow when speed was needed. Letting them go would save over $100,000 a year, so it was not a hard decision when business was so awful.

A harder call was deciding whether I wanted to stay in business when I was losing money. I was 75 years old, my wife was recovering from heart surgery, and I had money in retirement savings to draw upon. Yet, I decided to stay in business because I liked the people I work with, I enjoyed the trading part of the business, and I could work from home quite effectively. I thought the pandemic would run its course and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would be successful.

The COVID cases kept rising, deaths were becoming scary, but at least in the machining world people were working in factories, and our primary customers were staying alive. It appeared highly likely the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would be successful and approved by the end of 2020.

Business woke up after the election. I closed the deal I had been working on for three years in the last week of 2020, which made an awful year look tolerable in the light of a miserable 10 months.

But for the first time in my business career, Graff Pinkert had no end of the year cash for employees. I regarded the 2020 losses as a personal and team defeat, despite people hanging together and working hard. 

The stock market’s stunning gains in 2020 were a bright signal that the absurdly low interest rates and the huge amount of money being pumped into the economy were indications of an impending turnaround if COVID-19 would cooperate.

Lloyd Graff at Graff Pinkert

I scrapped several machines in January that looked like they would never sell. My bank lending line was trimmed, but I still had money to buy inventory. Machinery looked cheap. Competitors appeared afraid or unable to buy. 

In early 2021, despite the January 6th Washington debacle and Trump’s recalcitrance to vacate the presidency, business was budding. The vaccines were released remarkably quickly and the machining economy began to accelerate like a sprinter at the Olympics.

I expected business to improve, but I was shocked by the first quarter and amazed by the second quarter. Even old cam multi-spindle screw machines were selling. Dinosaurs were awakening from the dead. 

I added overtime, hired one new full-time person, a summer employee, and two gig workers to provide extremely valuable skills. One of the gig workers was an electrician I had let go in April of 2020. As a full-time employee he wasn’t always fully engaged, but as a part-timer he was a star. 

Gig work, unemployment checks, and wiring refurbished homes suited him more than a full-time factory job. I also traded him a 2002 Toyota Avalon for hours worked, which enabled him to get to Graff-Pinkert without Uber. 

I also decided to raise the hourly workers by $4 per hour. This was partially to offset a dismal 2020, but also to reward them for a resounding 2021. It was also partly the Amazon effect. If Amazon, which is building several enormous distribution facilities within a few miles of Graff-Pinkert, could start at $15 per hour plus health care and other benefits, I figured I had to pay more. I hired two beginning laborers for $18.50 per hour to outbid Amazon. 

Labor is really a small part of our expenses, but it is crucial. I paid significantly more in bonuses to Rex and Noah, who were assuming an ever greater role in Graff-Pinkert. I paid off all of the company’s bank loans for the first time in decades. 

***

I expect the rest of 2021 will be very strong economically. More workers will start to enter the precision machining world if wages look attractive compared to restaurants, hotels, and low paying service work. 

Next year is cloudy. The pace of growth cannot continue at 8%. The recouping for 2020 will run its course. Inflation will come down. But I see the machining world improving for several years after very choppy growth for the past 20 years.

The future of the automotive industry is quite fuzzy to me at this moment. The enormous announced investment for non-gasoline cars is a huge bet on the public actually buying electric, which I see as quite iffy. If the stupid leaders of Volkswagen in Germany really plan to throw $35 billion Euros at electric, it stands a strong chance of failing.

In my business, I have placed my bet on good people and aggressive buying of what we call “sexy ugly” machines. Time will tell if they remain sexy to customers.

Question: What is the one thing you won’t forget from the last 16 months?

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Ep.127 – Creating a Successful Diverse Workforce, with Aneesa Muthana (Part 2)

By Noah Graff

Pioneer Service employs a diverse group of people—varying age groups and genders, African Americans, Latinos, and a few old white guys, too. Twelve of its 31-person workforce are women. The diversity provides the company with a great pool of talent and creates a special work environment.

Today’s podcast is part two of my interview with Aneesa Muthana, co-owner and president of Pioneer Service Inc., a thriving Swiss machine shop in Addison, Illinois.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite app.

Aneesa says that even with such a unique, diverse workplace, her company still deals with the problem of its people forming cliques, which can hurt their ability to work together.

Like in every organization, cliques emerge based on variables such as cultural backgrounds, job types, and seniority. Aneesa copes with this problem by demonstrating to her employees that she has equal respect for everyone. 

Aneesa Muthana of Pioneer Service Inc.

She likes to spend time with employees on the shop floor, devoting the same amount of her time to everyone—people of all job types, seniority, etc. She passes out water bottles on a hot days. She learns about people’s lives. She wants to show them that she cares about them and they aren’t just a number. She even tries to reveal some of her own vulnerability.

Aneesa says she recognizes that people naturally gravitate to others with similar jobs or backgrounds. What she wants is for employees to listen to each other with respect and cooperate when they come together in the huddle.  

She says her best employees almost always come from referrals by current or past employees, because employees who have already been successful at the company usually bring in people whose personalities and abilities fit with the company’s culture. 

I asked Aneesa if she had any advice for a machining company that was having trouble finding good people—a company unlike hers that didn’t have a base of strong employees who could bring in others like themselves.

She chuckled and suggested the company should join the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA), of which she soon will be president. She says that peers in the organization guided her to modernize her shop in 2012 when the company had lost 90 percent of its business. She marveled at the unique cooperation the organization fosters amongst its members, who sometimes are direct competitors. 

Companies are capable of great things when people respect each other in the huddle.

Question: Do you wish your workplace were more diverse?

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The 2020 Olympics are Yesterday

By Lloyd Graff

I am a real sports enthusiast. Basketball, track, swimming, lacrosse. Bring it on. 

Yet I didn’t even know the Olympic Games were starting this Friday night. I couldn’t care less. 

Why is an avid fan, lover of sport, somebody who still reads the sports pages in the newspaper, so oblivious to the 12 million hours of Olympic TV coverage over the next 16 days? 

Because it is corporate, bureaucratized, and packaged. It is a Nike blur. It isn’t the games that started on a shoestring in 1896. It isn’t even the political games of 1972, when 11 Israeli athletes were murdered in Germany. It isn’t the indefatigable Bob Costas, living on NoDoz as he somehow stayed on top of 50 Sports and 500 events.

Now it’s NBC and its 30 affiliate networks, including Fubu TV, Peacock and the Golf Channel. And who cares if the US plays Iran in basketball at midnight this Saturday. Even the mullahs will forget to watch.

The one thing we MUST remember about these games is who is wearing what footwear. It no longer really matters if the United States or Russia or China wins more gold medals. The only important issue is Nike versus Adidas in all of its permutations.

This is why I am so upset that the American Ninja Warrior semi-finals from the Tacoma Dome were shelved for a week to make room for Ivory Coast vs Germany Olympic soccer.

American Ninja Warrior is what the Olympics used to be. The athletes are real people, genuine amateurs. They have been practicing in local gyms and on improvised home designed and built equipment. They have no sponsors, most of them don’t even wear shoes when attempting to navigate the obstacles, and the seasoned competitors often fail to get past the first round. The participants root for one another. Many of them have other careers. Their personal stories are filled with trauma and tragedy, which makes us want to follow them year after year.

It is packaged television, and the obstacles are contrived to send the most Warriors into the water, but many of the obstacles are designed by devotees of the show.

Neither Nike or Adidas is a sponsor. Contestants sometimes have green hair and carry a few extra pounds. Women compete head-on with men. Gender is not an issue like in women’s weightlifting at the Olympics. 

American Ninja Warrior is apolitical. COVID-19 is not an issue. 

Fubu TV and Peacock can play backstroke all night for two weeks. Give me reruns of American Ninja Warrior. The 2020 Olympics start Friday night, but they are yesterday to me.

Question: What event do you care about at the Olympics?

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Ep. 126 – Creating a Successful Diverse Workforce, with Aneesa Muthana (Part 1)

By Noah Graff

Several months ago, I called Pioneer Service Inc. when I noticed online they had a used Doosan for sale. The woman who answered the phone beamed with enthusiasm. She told me that she couldn’t wait to come to work every day because of how much she loved her job and the company she worked for.

So, for our current season about how machining companies find good employees, I knew I needed to interview Aneesa Muthana, a favorite past guest on the podcast, and the co-owner and president of Pioneer Service Inc. What is Aneesa’s secret? What is in the Kool-Aid she is passing out to employees on the shop floor that gives them such passion for their jobs?

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite app.

Pioneer Service is a Swiss machining company in Addison, Illinois, established in 1990 by Aneesa’s uncle. Aneesa joined her uncle as a partner in 1993, on the condition that she would assume full control of the operations of the company. When she came to the company it was an old school screw machine shop filled with Brown & Sharpes. In the last seven years the company has replaced its Brownies with a fleet of high-tech CNC turning equipment—mainly Star CNC Swiss lathes and a few turning centers. Aneesa says she particularly likes the output and reliability of the Stars. The company makes parts for many sectors such as medical, aerospace, biotech, and electric vehicles such as TESLA.

Aneesa grew up working at M & M Quality Grinding, a centerless grinding company her parents started. She says that at 11 years old, while cleaning tanks on the shop floor, she fell in love with the production business. Yet despite making a very good living at her family’s company, she left her job at age 23 when she felt she could could no longer progress in her career there. 

When the Covid-19 crises hit in 2020, Aneesa was faced with the dilemma of whether to furlough employees when parts orders were put on hold. Despite some questioning from her management team, she chose to keep producing parts at current quantities, rather than furlough employees or cut overtime. She didn’t want to create instability in her 30-person workforce, and she anticipated correctly that orders would eventually resume. 

Like many machining companies in 2021 Pioneer Service is having a great year, but despite having held onto her employees during the crises Aneesa says she is always searching for new good people and always has to try hard to keep the ones the company currently has.

She finds some new employees on LinkedIn but says the best ones usually are referrals from current or former employees. Pioneer Service pays competitive wages, starting at $17 per hour, and Aneesa says she is committed to creating a company culture where employees feel respected and valued, so it sometimes surprises her when employees are enticed to leave by competitors who offer very modest pay raises or perks. 

Aneesa says sometimes applicants with experience seem to check all the right boxes for a position, but if she senses they will not treat coworkers well she will not hire them. 

She says she is committed to having all her employees feel like their voices are being heard and that they belong. Half of Pioneer Service’s employees are women, and the company also employs some African Americans, a long underrepresented group in the machining industry. A workplace where people feel comfortable and accepted is vital to maintain such a diverse group.

Aneesa has recently become a payed professional speaker, and often she is asked to speak on behalf of women in manufacturing. I asked her if she gets tired playing the role of “the woman advocating for women in manufacturing.” 

She says she likes to talk about women in manufacturing to empower them. She wants to educate and inspire women leaders to participate in male dominated industries. Also, inspiring women does a service to society and the economy because it brings more quality people into the workforce. 

Aneesa also wants expose other groups besides women to opportunities in manufacturing such as young people or people in the inner-city. She says to be successful in a profession people need to feel like they belong, so it is up to business owners and leaders to make people feel that way.

She tells audiences that although machining is a male dominated industry, she hangs with the guys, and they’re not monsters. She says women can’t portray men as villains and then expect them to accept them. She says it’s good for people to talk about their pain, but everyone, no matter what background, has gone through pain, so it’s important not to feel like a victim and blame others.

Question: Did your company keep all its people during the pandemic? Why?

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Stuck in the Mitt

By Lloyd Graff

My plan was to write about the machining world. “Nuts and bolts tonight, dad,” Noah nudged me before I left work. “Leave the baseball,” was how he ended the sentence. 

When I got home, I read a little of the Wall Street Journal looking for inspiration. I accidentally fell into a column by Bob Greene, who once wrote brilliantly for the Chicago Tribune. The article was about giving a Rawlings baseball glove to a friend to connect him with his youth and cheer him up. It was a beautiful piece, and I immediately wanted to share it with friends and family. 

I was curious about what happened to Bob Greene, whose work is rarely seen these days. I Googled him and found a long article about the rise and fall of the brilliant Bob Green, my contemporary and a much better writer than I ever could hope to be. 

Greene has evidently had a tough personal life after reaching the top of journalism and writing several acclaimed books. His wife died, he has been accused of being a womanizer, and he is in pain about some of his most acclaimed pieces. An article he wrote after 11 Israelis were killed at the 1972 Olympics is still on many people’s refrigerators. It was a classic piece of personal journalism, the kind I often attempt to emulate. Yet Greene says he wishes he never wrote it.

Greene often writes seemingly heartfelt, sentimental articles, yet later talks about them with cynicism. He writes from his gut, then rejects them as he descends into anger and despair. 

Who is the Bob Greene I love to read? After reading this long article about the man whose writing stands out as something to be cherished and shared, I knew I should share it with others who I knew would also adore it.

I understand the Bob Greene question. Is he being honest in his work? Is he writing from the heart or just to make it publishable? Is Bob Greene an amazing writer or a phony–both? Can somebody be a jerk one day and a saint the next? Do I really care whether Bob Green is a miserable human being if he can write with such humanity that he can move me to tears?

After all, I don’t really know who Bob Greene is as a person. Maybe he has come out of a dark period in his life and he really is the person who gifted the Rawlings baseball glove, and then he bought one for himself. He writes that the glove is being shaped now with neatsfoot oil. 

We all go through tough periods in our lives and doubt our own sincerity. Bob Greene, I love your writing. I have loved it for 40 years. I’m going to buy a friend a mitt, too. Thank you so much for your 500 wonderful words.

Question: Do you care if someone is a jerk if they do great work?

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Ep. 125 – Hiring Ex-Felons, with Kathryn Shibelski

By Noah Graff

On today’s podcast I interviewed Kathryn Shibelski. Kathryn is a second chance hiring advocate. Her firm, KES HR Consulting, works with companies who are considering hiring incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people. The job candidates have often been convicted for drug offenses, white collar crimes, sex crimes, and even murder. 

Obviously, the idea of hiring people with criminal records could seem quite risky for a number of reasons, but according to Kathryn, second chance hires can thrive in the right work environment and even surpass the performance of employees with no criminal background.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite app.


Main Points


Strengths of Formerly Incarcerated People

In various areas around the United States there are programs in prisons that train inmates in trades such as machining. 

Kathryn says formerly incarcerated people are often the most devoted, loyal employees. One reason for this is their gratitude for the opportunity just to have a job. Many ex-felons have few options for employment, so its extra important for them to hold onto their jobs, both for supporting themselves and to fulfill parole obligations. 

Also, formerly incarcerated people often come into jobs with a unique set of skills. In prison people are forced to be resourceful. They have to solve daily practical problems using limited resources that people on the outside take for granted.

 

Other Reasons for Second Chance Hiring

Companies who employ second chance hires can receive tax breaks through the work opportunity tax credit. Also, Federal bonding programs protect employers against losses caused by the fraudulent or dishonest acts of at-risk bonded employees.

Finally, Kathryn encourages companies to hire second chance employees because it helps communities end a cycle of repeat offenses that often occur when people are released from prison.

 

Second Chance Hiring Obstacles

One of Kathryn’s main services is helping companies with on-boarding second chance hires.

Often formerly incarcerated people lack resources that many of us take for granted, such as a bank account, transportation to get to work, and a decent place to live. Companies who hire them have to be ready to help their new employees cope with these challenges.

One of the greatest challenges for companies to successfully hire second chance employees is getting their current workforce to buy in. Kathryn is a proponent of employers keeping an open mind to people with all types of criminal backgrounds, but she says that every company needs to choose for themselves which candidates they feel comfortable working with. Everyone at a company has to be on board for second chance hiring, not just the top managers. Often at least one individual at a company has had a bad past experience with a certain type of offender, and this may cause it to rule out many candidates immediately.

Another criterion companies need to consider is how long a candidate was incarcerated. People incarcerated for a decade or more often become institutionalized, making them prone to emotional issues.

Kathryn admitted to me that even she has her own personal difficulties regarding certain types of offenders, but she still firmly believes that everyone deserves a second chance to turn their lives around. 

When reasoning with people who are resistant to second chance hiring, Kathryn suggests to them to think about their own friends or relatives who have made past mistakes or had poor luck navigating the U.S. criminal system. Have they made it back successfully?

To get in touch with Kathryn and learn more about her services, the best way is to go to her LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathrynshibelski/.

Question: Would you consider hiring an ex-felon?

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Prison of Perfection

By Lloyd Graff

Major League Baseball is facing a major league problem. Its audience is bored and fading away.

For a fan like me, this is a minor problem. I love my team, the Chicago Cubs, but if they are awful and boring, I can switch to Netflix, reading, or a podcast for entertainment. But for the baseball industry and the gambling community, which make their very profitable livelihoods from fans like me, baseball and boring cannot afford to go together for long before it really starts to hurt.

From an entertainment standpoint, it is not too hard to figure out why the sport is shrinking. Major League Baseball has become the prisoner of its own perfection. A game with 20 strikeouts is becoming commonplace. Pitchers routinely throw in the mid 90s, and many are stunningly accurate. A top pitcher in today’s game is aiming his pitches not at the center of the plate, but at a corner of the strike zone, 4″ by 4″. 

Good scouting and computer records have identified hitters’ weaknesses. If you combine tremendous velocity with computerized analysis and superb accuracy, plus catchers’ well-honed ability to “frame” pitches, deceiving fallible umpires by subtle movements of their gloves, you end up with strikeout after strikeout.

Another addition to the pitching arsenal is “spin rate.” Again, the computer mavens are spoiling the game by analyzing the effect of spin and the movement of pitches, which shrewd pitchers and their coaches translate into manipulation of pitches, to accentuate hitters’ weaknesses. Add in sticky materials, which pitchers can hide in their scalp or uniforms, and you get even more pitch movement, which fosters batter failure.

Hitters have not solved the problem of pitcher mastery to bring more balance to the game, partially because of their tendency to overswing to pad their home run statistics, for which the teams have rewarded them by paying huge bonuses. 

Because taking walks is infrequently lauded by management, players are now swinging without remorse, hoping for a lucky long ball. The result is, again, more hitting failure. It used to be that a 200 hitter was banished to the minor leagues. Today, he may bat cleanup if he hits more than one homer per week.

Jacob deGrom has a 0.95 ERA in 2021, CREDIT: USA TODAY

Jacob deGrom has a 0.95 ERA in 2021

Add in dynamic relief pitching, which features pitchers who specialize in throwing 100mph and pitch only one inning. With starting pitchers generally limited to 100 pitches maximum, the bullpen becomes extremely important. The “closer,” who pitches the ninth inning, is often the highest paid pitcher on the team. Put it all together and you have the formula for “boring ball.” 

The leaders in the sport have just begun to figure out how baseball is killing itself with its precision and velocity on the mound. Pitchers are now inspected after every inning by the umpire, checking them for sticky stuff. It does not seem to be changing pitcher-batter balance yet.

Some folks are proposing that the pitcher’s mound be lowered or even moved back a few feet. Others want robots to call balls and strikes to combat umpire fallibility in the age of spin and velocity.

These changes are probably necessary to combat the hitter failure rate. Every sport needs to change with the times. Basketball added the 3-point shot, and football has made it harder to crush the quarterback because people want to see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, not some pretender. 

Sports needs to be fun, with a balance between offense and defense. When hitters rarely swing successfully, even fans who have loved the game for decades, tune it out.

Question: Are you losing interest in baseball?

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Best of Swarfcast: Ep. 75 – Using Blockchain in Manufacturing with Jim Regenor

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Jim Regenor, founder of VeriTX, a company which helps clients dramatically reduce lead times and increases readiness for military and airline customers with blockchain technology.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

With today’s 3-D printing technology parts can be produced on site so clients don’t need to wait for products to be sent by land or sea. All that needs to be sent is the digital information for how to produce the parts on site. Blockchain insures the digital information is correct.

Main Points

(3:30) Jim gives background on his company Veritx which he established in August of 2019. He characterizes the company’s product as “a digital parts catalog for regulated industries that reduces long lead times and increases readiness for military and airline customers.”

(4:35) Jim talks about a proof of concept with the Department of Defense where blockchain could reduce the lead time for an F-15 part from 265 days down to 6 hours from order to delivery. He says that the United States military still uses some aircraft from as far back as the 1950s, so being able to deliver spare parts efficiently can be difficult when many of the original aerospace suppliers have gone out of business.

Jim Regenor, founder of Veritx

(8:00) Jim gives his background. He spent 31 years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He was on the Security Council for the Bush and Obama Administrations, and he also ran a large logistics operation, with 15 locations in 11 countries across three continents—many of them war zones. He said he was moving roughly 570,000 tons of cargo and about 2 million people a year, and found himself constantly needing spare parts.

(9:25) After he got out of the Air Force, Jim ran the military aftermarket division at a Tier 1 aerospace company called Moog Aircraft Group. The company had acquired a 3-D Printing business in Michigan and realized that 3-D printing would become an enabler for digital 4.0 schema and how industries would interact. This led him to world of blockchain.

(11:00) Jim says that 3-D printing coupled with blockchain enables what he calls the fourth modality of logistics. Instead of transporting physical parts by land or sea, digital information to make the parts is sent on the cloud. Then parts are manufactured on site with 3-D printing. Blockchain enables the information to be sent properly.

(14:10) Jim characterizes blockchain as a distributed ledger. He gives an example of several people in a room in which one person owes another person 10 dollars. Every person records that 10 dollars is owed in their ledgers. If the person who owes money tries to lie and says he only owes 9 dollars, the people in the room have records to prove he lying. This concept means that information can be sent through a decentralized transparent system and cannot be corrupted. All records are transparent so that there is a consensus. For blockchain applications, sometimes hundreds or thousands of computers keep the ledger. This can be used to establish value for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, but it can also work well for other applications such as logistics because it enables people to track the entire lineage of an asset.

(17:20) Jim gives an example of Walmart using blockchain to track the supply chain of its lettuce from harvest to store shelves to combat the E. coli problem last year.

(19:00) Jim says that many companies are using blockchain right now and data can be tracked with user interfaces. He says for the supply chain for aerospace blockchain records the entire process, starting with the initial requirements being sent to a designer. Then each stage such as the design of a part, manufacturing, quality control, etc. is recorded individually. Everything is transparent and correct, insuring a good final product. If people realize there is a design flaw, it is easy to go back and find the mistake because each stage has been recorded with blockchain.

For more information about Veritx go to veritx.co or email Jim Regenor at jim@veritx.co.

Question: What’s your experience using blockchain?

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Playing Stupid

By Lloyd Graff

Kyle Schwarber, playing for the Washington Nationals, is on a roll. He has hit 15 homers in a 17-day span, the first major leaguer in history to accomplish that feat. His remark after his last two-homer game was striking: “To be honest with you, I want to play stupid, just keep going up there and take your at-bat. Don’t remember the one before, just live in the present. Just go out there and have a short memory.”

Watching the NBA playoffs a couple days ago, I watched Trae Young, the 22-year-old superstar of the Atlanta Hawks on his way to a 49-point performance. He was unconscious, just playing on fire. Toward the end of the hard fought game, he dribbled at full speed down the center of the court, 15 feet from the basket, he tossed the ball high off the backboard. A leaping teammate received it like the amazingly perfect pass it was and cleanly dunked it. 

You can’t plan a play like that. You can only improvise it when you “feel it.” Your teammate is in sync and “feels it” simultaneously. Could he have shot the ball and made it? Maybe. But the play he made was one play out of a game of terrific plays that I will remember and write about. He was “playing stupid,” totally in the moment, and focusing perfectly by not thinking. 

These moments are rare in life. Even more rare in work, but I think perhaps you can train yourself to cultivate them and identify them during and after they occur. 

Kyle Schwarber of the Washington Nationals at bat

For me, a signal is spontaneous tears. I usually don’t cry when I am sad or fearful. I feel the tears creeping out of my ducts when I somehow reach some precious connection, those seconds of sharing something rare and unique when two people touch one another. It’s that instant of insight, or synchrony that makes me feel human and special. It might be a memory, lost forever you thought, that pours through your body and empties out in precious teardrops. Speech becomes a stammer. You wish you could bottle it and be able to return to it whenever you need it. But you can’t, and you know it.

Noah and I were sharing a few special moments yesterday in a conversation across the big round table my father and I used to share. We were talking about our family, how hard it is to make lifelong friends, and a malady we both share. We both occasionally have simple partial epileptic seizures, in which our hearing gets uncomfortably loud for a few minutes. They often come at inconvenient times. I told him how I tried to fake my way through them over the years, and he related how he bluffed his way through one when he was walking down the aisle during his wedding.

It was a special moment of candor between father and son, when we thought we’d be talking about the relative values of used automatic screw machines. You don’t plan for those moments. They come from trust and honesty and something deep in your gut. 

You can’t reach for them. You have to be like Kyle Schwarber, batting lead-off, smelling the breaking pitch on the inside half of the plate, then swinging at the perfect millisecond to intersect bat and ball. You have to feel it in the most stupid, brilliant way, then savor it in your gut as you round the bases with fans cheering, unconscious in the perfect moment.

Question: When was the last time you were caught up in a special moment?

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