Category Archives: Current Events

Ep. 107 – Reshaping the Supply Chain After COVID-19, with Professor Yossi Sheffi

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s show is Professor Yossi Sheffi, author of the new book, The New (AB)NORMAL: Reshaping Business and Supply Chain Strategy Beyond Covid-19.

In the interview, Sheffi explains how companies and governments around the world have dealt with the supply chain disruption over the past year’s pandemic. He also gives insight on how people can prepare for the next time the world’s supply chain is turned on its head

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

 

 

Main Points

Yossi defines supply chain as the series of activities that take a product from the raw material stage to a finished product through a series of transportation, shipping, and creation until it finally reaches the consumer. He says the final stop of the supply chain is the responsible disposal of the product after it has been used. (3:15)

Yossi gives his background. He studied civil engineering in Israel and then came to the United States to conduct operational research at MIT, where he studied network theory. Originally he wanted to utilize his education in the urban planning and transportation sector, but he became frustrated because nobody was applying what he thought were brilliant ideas. Eventually he found an opportunity working with trucking companies, using the same mathematical principles he had researched, in the end saving these businesses a lot of money. From there, he branched out into working with the customers of the trucking firms such as manufacturers, retailers, and distributors to optimize their operations. In the process, he started five companies, which he says were all successful and sold out to larger companies. Yossi said he always returned to MIT because he is passionate about teaching and research. (4:35)

Yossi says the secret to being able to do so many projects is to have a very understanding wife. He credits her with keeping their relationship strong and helping him maintain a good relationship with his kids, despite working more or less 24/7. (6:10)

Yossi discusses some of his past books which cover different aspects of the supply chain. In March of 2020, while he was working on a book about new supply chain innovations, the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic. He saw this as one of the most significant historical events in the history of the world’s supply chain, so he stopped working on the book he was writing and wrote the New (AB)Normal from March until August of 2020. He says it was essential to get the book out quickly before COVID-19 became tired, old news. (8:30)


Yossi talks about how the US is still slow in fighting COVID-19. He compares vaccination rates in the US to those in Israel. He says Israel plans to have its entire population vaccinated in two and a half months. At the time of this interview (Dec. 2020) Israel was vaccinating upwards of 150,000 people a day, while his home state of Massachusetts was only vaccinating 30,000 people daily. (9:50)

Yossi says one distinct thing about Israel’s approach to the coronavirus is that its government did not hedge its bets of the efficacy of the vaccines. It assumed the two vaccines based on the mRNA from Moderna and Pfizer were effective and ordered them before they were approved by the FDA. Ironically the country was currently in lockdown at the time of the interview, while health professionals were administering the vaccine from 5AM until 10PM (soon to be 24/7). He says the Israeli government even got some of the ultra orthodox authorities on board with administering vaccines on the sabbath by invoking a rabbinical rule that states life is more sacred than anything else. (11:45)

Yossi compares the supply chain challenges for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to those in the automotive supply chain. He says that in some ways distributing the vaccine is easier because no one is concerned about minimizing costs. (14:15)

Yossi discusses the bullwhip effect on the world’s supply chain, which was significantly apparent in 2020. He says when estimates for supply and demand become distorted because of a disrupted supply chain, the solution for manufactures to not overreact in their inventory buying is to listen to the final consumer. Thus, even Tier 2 or Tier 3 automotive suppliers should be monitoring car sales to predict upcoming production demand, rather than only listening to what the Tier 1 companies tell them. (16:05)

Yossi talks about China. He says country’s autocratic measures enabled it to quarantine successfully and get the pandemic under control. He says that early on during the pandemic, the Chinese government asked banks to give significant loans to medium and small sized companies. He says the Chinese government preferred to keep companies running rather than give money to individual citizens, while in the US the government preferred to support individuals rather than protect businesses. He says that European countries also preferred to support companies rather than individual citizens during the pandemic. He adds that it’s unclear which approach was the best choice. (19:50)

Yossi shares what he found the most shocking about how the supply chain malfunctioned during the pandemic. He says medical supplies in the United States were terribly low, leaving many hospital workers unprotected. He says the US used to have a strategic reserve of PPEs and other medical equipment, but it withered away during the Obama administration. In his new book, Yossi gives suggestions on how the United States should prepare for a future pandemic, including rebuilding a strategic inventory. He also says hospitals need to be stress tested for crises events, and a medical personnel reserve, much like the Army Reserves should be created. The medical personnel reserve would be comprised of people trained to do basic care. It would free up nurses and doctors to do more difficult work. (24:45) 

Yossi gives advice to Tier 2 and Tier 3 manufacturers on how to survive a pandemic. He says they need to ensure they are not too leveraged. He also encourages membership in larger manufacturing associations so they have a voice that represents their types of businesses in Washington. (28:45)

Yossi says he is skeptical that significant manufacturing work in China will return to the US or move elsewhere because it is extremely difficult to replicate the extensive supply chain infrastructure that already exists in China. He says some final assembly of products may leave China, but the parts will continue to be made there. He says this is why it is vital to keep the manufacturing and proprietary knowledge that is already in the United States from leaving. (31:50)

Yossi says that one of the most interesting things he has learned about recently is the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Israel. He says one key difference between the vaccination process in Israel verses in the US is that in the US patients are required to sign legal wavers to protect against lawsuits, while in Israel just getting in line is considered legally signing off on the procedure. This enables much greater efficiency in the vaccination process. (32:55)

Question: What would you have done differently in 2020?

 

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2020, Yu Is Gone

By Lloyd Graff

What do I want to write about in the last blog of 2020? Baseball, naturally. 

My Chicago Cubs traded their Most Valuable Player, pitcher Yu Darvish, to the San Diego Padres yesterday for four prospects and a journeyman pitcher. It signaled the end of a six-year streak of playoffs or at least contention, that changed the way the world had always looked at the Cubs as lovable losers. It is likely the stars of the 2016 World Series winning team will be mostly gone soon, perhaps even before the 2021 season begins. 

I know you probably couldn’t care less about the ruminations of a lifelong Cubs fan, but the process the team management is going through is what every business owner and virtually every person with a life must go through at various times. 

A kid matures physically into an adult. He or she is confronted with a fistful of choices. Who are they? Are they questioning and rebellious, or happily passive? Do they learn new stuff easily, or is school work a strange foreign language? Are they possibly even stuck in the wrong person’s body?

Adults often choose a partner at a young age and discover the choice was a bad one a few years later. A business runs into headwinds because the market for their product shifts, like what happened recently in the oil patch. New technology obsoletes their special knowledge, or political pressure destroys their market as we saw with tobacco.

In a few days we sail into 2021. Uncertain waters for sure. The Cubbies acknowledged that the team they have been for half a decade can no longer win. 

The American government will have new management in Washington. A tough year, with everything revolving around a destructive virus, is ending. 

How about you? Are you stuck? Or are you feeling agile and motivated? Do you see an interesting, alluring new path, or are you just happy as a daisy sitting right where you are now?

Cubs star pitcher, Yu Darvish

Personally, I’m quite okay at this moment, although the machinery business was a bummer in 2020. Selling multi-spindle screw machines was a dismal path which we have veered from. Lingering too long in that briar patch left us quite scratched up. Getting rid of the players or product that you have won with for many years is tough, like trading your best pitcher for 18-year-old prospects. But it is exciting too. It gives you hope.

When you know in your bones that the old course is a certain loser, the smart thing to do is to study the options, talk to the scouts–and jump.

Happy New Year.

Question: What will you miss about 2020?

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Ep. 106 – The Machining World of 2020, with Noah and Lloyd Graff

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

On today’s show we’re looking back on the year 2020.

Obviously, it was a tough year for the majority of people around the world. Loved ones were taken away, and many businesses couldn’t stay afloat. There were a lot of things that sucked. But there were a few pleasant surprises along the way as well. People adapted, they embraced limitations, and even found new opportunities for success.

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

 

 

Main Points

Lloyd says that one of the first things that comes to mind when he thinks of 2020 is his fear of getting COVID-19. He says his brain is constantly occupied by considering all of the safety precautions he has to take. (1:55)

Noah says he is tired of everyone talking about COVID-19 almost as much as he is tired of the actual presence of the virus. (2:30)

Lloyd says one interesting trend he has noticed in 2020 is that despite Tesla’s stock quadrupling and the media’s dire predictions about man made climate change, Americans are buying a lot of SUVs and trucks, rather than electric cars. He says this should be a positive signal for the precision machining industry that the internal combustion engine is going to stay relevant for a while. (3:13)

Noah and Lloyd comment about a weak cam multi-spindle market in 2020 and remark that CNC multi-spindles are too expensive for a lot of endusers. (5:10)

Lloyd talks about how the PPP was a successful governmental program despite the fact that some fraudsters took advantage of it. He says the PPP was essential for medium and small companies when business fell apart in April. He says if it had not been for the PPP small businesses would have been decimated and the supply chain would have been in disarray. However, it was not as successful for various small businesses who didn’t have relationships with good bankers. The big question now is if the PPP money will be taxed. This will affect a lot of businesses, including Graff-Pinkert. (5:30)

Noah says used CNC Swiss machines were a very hot item in 2020.  Lloyd says companies had great years if they were in the firearms business or doing medical work related to fighting COVID-19. However, medical work for applications other than fighting the pandemic was soft because many medical procedures were postponed while hospitals focused on fighting COVID-19. Also the commercial aerospace business was soft because of Boeing’s internal problems and less people flying. (7:30)

Noah and Lloyd remark that despite the CNC Swiss boom, Graff-Pinkert recently bought several cam multi-spindles including an ACME-GRIDLEY 1-1/4” RB-8 and 1-5/8” RBN-8. Lloyd says that it could be a good year in automotive because of a strong demand for SUVs. (11:15)

Lloyd says a surprising trend in 2020 was that the stock market thrived despite the pandemic. Not only are all the major stock indexes at all time highs, profits for major companies are also expected to be at all time highs. However, this does not include the oil companies, who had terrible years. (12:40)

Lloyd says that using Zoom to communicate with family was something significant for him in 2020. He has not seen has not seen his grandchildren in California for a year, but he feels like he has stayed close to them. (13:40)

Noah talks about he and his wife, Stephanie, moving in with his parents for the month of October while their condo was having work done. The ability for Stephanie to do her work via Zoom made it possible. While Noah went to the office at Graff-Pinkert, Lloyd, Risa, and Stephanie all enjoyed sharing a communal workspace at home. (14:30)

Lloyd says he personally knows many people leaving big cities like New York to move near their parents because the ability to work remotely has enabled them to go wherever they want. He says rent prices in New York are decreasing and real estate markets in places like Phoenix, Arizona, or Boise, Idaho, are booming. (16:00)

Noah says one thing he is looking forward to in 2020 is continuing to produce the Swarfcast podcast. He says it is fulfilling to him to provide listeners with helpful knowledge and entertainment. (18:40)

Lloyd and Noah reflect on whether more young people are going into manufacturing. Noah says he meets a lot of young people when selling machines. Still, he is not sure whether the owners of the companies he meets are indicative of the overall workforce in the machining industry. Lloyd ponders why more African Americans don’t go into the machining business. (19:20)

Lloyd says in 2021 he is looking forward to not talking about COVID-19, not fearing the pandemic, and being together with his family again. (21:30)

Noah says he appreciates that the pandemic has influenced he and his wife to spend more time with his brother and nephew because they have less choices of people to see and activities to do. He hopes they continue to do this after the pandemic ends. (22:00)

Noah and Lloyd discuss their favorite TV shows they binge watched in 2020. Lloyd says Outlander was his favorite show. He also liked The Right Stuff and Tehran. Noah also liked Outlander and Tehran, and lately he has gotten into watching The Mandalorian. (24:30)

Noah and Lloyd end the interview saying that one of the best parts of 2020 was getting to work together—usually. (27:30)

Questions: What are you looking forward to in 2021?

What favorite TV shows did you binge watch in 2020?

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Greeks and Turks Fighting COVID-19

By Lloyd Graff

The Aegean Sea is 186 miles wide, separating Greece from Turkey. The countries have a different alphabet and language, and for a thousand years they have hated each other. 

But today’s blog is about two Turkish doctors and a Greek veterinarian who came together to rescue us from COVID-19.

The story starts with Uğur Şahin, whose parents moved to Cologne, Germany, from Turkey to work at the Ford factories in the mid-1960s when Uğur was 4 years old. At a young age, Uğur committed himself to developing a cure for cancer, and became a doctor and scientist. 

His wife, Özlem Türeci, two years younger, also came to Germany as a young child. Her father was a surgeon at a small Catholic Hospital. She wanted to emulate the selflessness of the nuns she had observed in her dad’s hospital and also became a doctor and researcher.

The two dedicated scientists eventually met one another and fell in love. They got married during a lunch break and then rushed back to their medical research.

They were recognized for their impressive research, but like many visionaries they could not find the freedom and support they wanted working for a large pharmaceutical company, so they started their own company in 2001.

They received the backing of twin billionaire brothers, Thomas and Andreas Struengmann, to finance a company called Ganymed Pharmaceuticals. The brothers previously had made a fortune backing the early developer of Lipitor and saw a future in the research of Şahin and Türeci.

The Turkish doctors eventually became enthralled with a line of research developed in the United States at the University of Pennsylvania called messenger RNA, which they saw as a pathway to developing a variety of drugs and possibly leading to a cancer cure based on using the body’s immune system. They started a second company in 2008 called BioNTech, which included messenger RNA in its range of cancer research technologies.

They sold their first company in 2016 to Astellas Pharma to focus on messenger RNA at BioNTech. The Struengmann brothers continued to support BioNTech and now control 47% of the company. The significant fortune that Şahin and Türeci have aquired does not mean much to the couple, who bicycle to work from their modest apartment near their office in Mainz, Germany. To them, the money is primarily a vehicle to fuel their research.

Drs. Özlem Türeci, Uğur Şahin, and Albert Bourla

This is where the Greek connection begins. The research on messenger RNA at BioNTech showed promise for a flu vaccine to Dr. Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, the American drug giant based in New Jersey. Like many huge Pharma companies, Pfizer possessed the pieces that a relatively peanut sized company like BioNTech lacked. Pfizer also had loads of cash and manufacturing plants, including a vaccine facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was underutilized. Many of Pfizer’s major research efforts had failed to produce a breakthrough drug in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Also its enormous acquisition of Wyeth in 2009 was considered unsuccessful. 

Pfizer’s board was desperate for fresh leadership, with its huge money making drugs having only a few years left before they went generic.

Dr. Bourla, though he had worked at many different divisions in several countries, was something of an outsider. With a background in veterinary medicine, he was brought in to shake up the behemoth Pfizer in 2018. One of his early moves was to establish a relationship with the young startup in Germany, BioNTech, run by the two Turkish doctors.

Albert Bourla grew up in Thessaloniki, Greece. He is the same age as doctors Şahin and Türeci. His ancestors were Sephardic Jews who had emigrated to Greece after being thrown out of Spain 600 years earlier. In World War II 45,000 Jews living there were rounded up and killed by the Nazis from 1941 to 1943.

Dr. Bourla’s family fled to the mountains, joined the partisans, and survived the war. They decided to return home after WWII. Albert Bourla grew up in Thessaloniki and studied veterinary medicine at the city’s university. After college, he joined Pfizer in the field of veterinary medicine and held several positions throughout Europe and in the US, culminating in becoming the head of vaccines for Pfizer.

Bourla still has a summer home near Thessaloniki, where goes back each year to be with the family and friends he left behind. But he did not go back this summer because he was all in with the two Turkish doctors from Germany, with whom he had become close friends. Dr. Şahin says some of his contractual arrangements with Pfizer are still unsigned because he has complete faith in Dr. Bourla to live up to them.

The two Turkish doctors and the Jewish Greek animal doctor had just one abiding goal this year–kill COVID-19 and save millions of lives. The first shots were given in New York City on Monday, where Albert Bourla lives today. We all rejoiced, including Greeks and Turks together.

Question: Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine?

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Ep. 105 – Selling Cow Bone to Medical Manufacturers with Mary and Jim Rickert

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the first episode of our new season about companies related to medical manufacturing.

Our guests are Jim and Mary Rickert, owners of Prather Ranch in Fall River Mills, California. Prather’s closed herd, in which no female cattle have been introduced since 1975, enables it to sell cow bone and other organic matter to medical manufacturing companies that require material from disease free animals.

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

 

 

Main Points

Jim and Mary Rickert talk about the history of Prather Ranch, which has been operated as an agribusiness since the 1860s. They bought the ranch in the ’80s. (3:30) 

Mary and Jim explain that Prather Ranch has a closed herd, which means that no new female cattle have been introduced for a significant period of time. It is a quite large ranch, with 2,600-2,800 cattle. The primary ranch hasn’t had any females introduced since 1975, and Prather’s backup closed herd has not had any female animals introduced since 1992. The animals are constantly tested for illnesses, and if they are infected they are removed from the herd. Also Prather Ranch only uses its own trucks to transport animals between ranges to further prevent infection coming in from the outside. They say their ranch is the truest example of “herd immunity.”   (4:10)

Jim and Mary talk about the Prather Ranch’s primary business, selling organic beef. The ranch even has its own slaughter house, which no other ranches have, to insure the meat undergoes the strictest health standards. (8:40)

Jim and Mary talk about their secondary business. In addition to selling beef to consumers, Prather Ranch supplies companies in the biomedical sector with raw biomaterials that come from its cattle. Biomedical companies want to buy organic materials from Prather Ranch because they can feel secure that the livestock don’t have diseases, such as Mad Cow Disease. (10:00) 

Prather Ranch first started selling organic material from its livestock in 1990 to the Collagen Corporation, which was manufacturing collagen for cosmetic procedures. (11:00)  

Jim and Mary talk about customers that took bone from cow femurs and machined into bone screws, pins, or plates. Then those parts were supposed to dissolve inside the recipient body. People at the time also were using bones from humans, but it was hard to get enough quality bones from dead people. Mary and Jim think that bovine raw materials are generally superior than that of humans because people can know about the animals it is coming from—the animals are in a controlled environment, unlike people. (13:00) 

Jim and Mary say that the bone screws and similar products made from cow bone unfortunately sometimes are rejected by recipients because their bodies recognize they are foreign materials. Human bone can also be rejected. These types of bone transplants are less popular now and have been supplanted by synthetic bones made in a lab. (15:15)

Jim and Mary talk about a startup company currently working on a new technology that overcomes the body rejection, which is in Stage 3 of testing. 

The following is a summary of the technology:

When a person’s bone is crushed, the company machines a slightly smaller replica out of cow bone using a 3-D scanner. Then undifferentiated T-cells are extracted from the patient’s body fat. Then they 3-D print new cells based on the extracted T-cells around the reconstructed bone. Through a series of other complex processes they join the new cells to the reconstructed bones. Afterward, the patient’s body hopefully will accept the new reconstructed bones. (16:50-21:30) 

Jim and Mary talk about other biomedical technology that companies are trying to develop using bovine products to improve the people’s quality of life. Jim and Mary say that it gives them purpose to be able to give animals a healthy comfortable life, produce healthy meat, and contribute to manufacturing products that can help people’s quality of life. They say they have been officially certified since 2003 that their animals are raised in a humane manner. (21:30)

Noah asks a few beef questions. Jim and Mary say that in their opinion male and female beef tastes the same. They say the taste of beef is dependent on how gently the animals are treated—less stress means better flavor. Mary’s favorite cut of beef is Filet Mignon, Jim likes New York Strip, Rib Steak, and some hamburger if it is dry aged with the proper type of added fat. (24:00)

Jim and Mary say they have recently learned about how to handle employees who have contracted Covid-19, as two of theirs just got the virus. (26:30) 

Mary says at restaurants she is hesitant to order beef because she knows too much about the typical beef producing process. Jim says he is a lot less picky. (27:00) 

Question: Carnivorous readers—What is your favorite type of meat or favorite cut of beef?

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A Divided Holiday?

By Lloyd Graff

The election is over and still the country is divided. No. Not Trump vs. Biden. I’m talking about getting together for Thanksgiving.

COVID-19 has messed up holiday planning. My wife Risa and I have not physically been with our California family for almost a year. We see each other on Zoom frequently and talk over the phone several times a week. We send lots of photos, do game nights, and even have an occasional party, but there is no popcorn via the Internet. 

We long for the hugs, the breakfast coffee together, the kids walking into our bedroom to schmooze or crochet or complain about school. This you don’t get long-distance, no matter how close your family is.

Along with millions of other stupid, lonely Americans, we have decided to take the risk having our family fly in to celebrate Thanksgiving together. I guess an equal number of folks have decided it is not worth the risk.

people on a plane wear masks during the pandemic

Thanksgiving travel plans are riskier this year

This will not be a “carve the turkey, watch half of a football game, and wave goodbye.” My daughter and family will fly enmasse to Chicago and stay for 10 days. They plan to quarantine quite tightly for a week before leaving and take COVID tests shortly before they travel. Assuming they are all okay, they will figure out the safest way to get to the airport, wear masks and visors at the airport and on the plane, and keep their two rows of seats as virus-free as possible. We will drive two cars to the airport, leave one, and direct them to the parked vehicle when they arrive. They will drive themselves to our house. We have a big enough house to allow Risa and I to keep our distance. Despite these precautions, I do understand we are taking a risk as the pandemic reaches a holiday peak.

Risa and I have played it pretty safe all year. She had heart surgery in January, so we both classify as threatened old people who have had open heart surgery. But she has gone to the hairdresser several times, and we both have had friends come to the house. Noah and his wife just stayed with us for 28 days while they had extensive work done on their condo.

We have all had our scares. If you are not living in an igloo alone, you are going to imagine and really believe you have COVID at some point. Two people at Graff-Pinkert recently got over mild cases of the scourge.

Our family has made its call. We will be together for Thanksgiving. Noah and his wife Stephanie plan to be with us. My son Ari is still undecided about what he will do. He works in a rehab facility and lately has been doing group therapy with people who have had very bad COVID experiences. He also physically sees patients as a psychologist. He is very COVID conscious. Over the last several months our visits have been masked and mainly outside. 

I want to know what you folks are planning for Thanksgiving. Maybe we can share some helpful ideas that can lessen the risk. Holiday visiting is a gamble. We are going to take the risk with genuine trepidation. How about you?

Question: Is it a stupid idea this year for family to fly in for Thanksgiving?

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Opportunity or Obstacles?

By Lloyd Graff

I was buying bagels for my lunch, and on my ride to the deli I started listening to an NPR interview of Terry Gross speaking with writer Jerald Walker, who Gross described incessantly as having grown up on Chicago’s Southside.

Well, so did I, so I was drawn into Walker’s recollections of moving into a White neighborhood which quickly changed to all Black in the 1960s. It might well have been very close to where I grew up a few years earlier on Euclid Avenue. Michelle Obama grew up on Euclid also, 15 to 20 years after me.

Walker showed promise as a writer and eventually applied to the acclaimed Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. He was one of a tiny group of applicants to be accepted. In the interview, he talked about writing an essay about his youth in Chicago, about being pulled into petty crime by his brother, watching his sister become a heroin addict, and seeing another brother shot. He emphasized the crushing horror of his tough life in Chicago, and being raised by two blind parents.

Walker was proud of the essay for its bleakness and tough truth.

Chicago-born writer, Jerald Walker

His teacher, James Alan McPherson, a Black author himself, tore the piece apart. Walker was furious. After class, he ran after the professor and demanded a one-on-one meeting. MacPherson told Walker that he hated the essay. He told Walker that yes, it may be true and factual, but it was still a stereotype of Black oppression and young Jerald Walker was not a victim. He was an elite writer, one of the 3% of applicants who applied to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to be admitted. McPherson asked Walker to think about who he was, and Walker said he thought deeply about who he was for a year, and it changed him as a person and as a writer.

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For many years I have been trying to deal with the Black struggle in America. I live in an area which is now predominantly Black. Many of my neighbors are African-American, but I can’t say I’m close friends with them. The Black Lives Matter slogan and movement troubles me a lot because I think it emphasizes Black victimization, which I see as a huge negative, particularly for young people. It promotes anger and payback.

The “1619 Project,” from New York Times, which blames White people for almost all of the ills of Black America even today, is a huge negative for the improvement of the lives of Black Americans. On the sports front, I think the NBA showed poor judgement in allowing Black players to decorate their uniforms with Black Power slogans. I am not pleased by the societal about face regarding Colin Kaepernick, who grew up as an adopted son in a White family. He has now become a symbol of Black victimization, even though he had a successful career as an NFL quarterback and is now collecting big royalty checks from Nike for clothing naming rights.

Jerald Walker’s writing career has led him to Emerson College and a self-described “cushy” life in Boston’s 96% White suburbs. In the Gross interview, he talked about cringing at the thought of taking his 18- and 20-year-old sons back to his old neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago for his mother’s 80th birthday, after repeatedly telling them the horror stories of his youth.

I really think America is a victim of the Black victimization narrative, even though I know it has some truth to it. Will we someday become more nuanced and accepting of both the opportunity and obstacles?

I hope to see it–at least in the south suburbs of Chicago, where I live and work.

Question: Who won the election?

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Ep. 100 – Looking back on 99 Episodes of Swarfcast

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

Today is a special occasion. It is the 100th episode of Swarfcast

A lot has happened in our lives since the podcast began two and half years ago, and today we are going to look back at how the show reflected the world as it evolved.

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

 

 

Main Points

Noah talks about the podcast’s second episode, recorded in April of 2018, in which he interviewed Miles Free, Director of Industry Affairs of the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA). He plays a clip in which Miles discusses how tariffs on metals punish American factory workers and consumers. He also talks about a Chinese law (at the time of the interview) that said any foreign company in China is required to have a Chinese partner that has full access to the company’s technology. Miles says China was relaxing this law for foreign car companies. (3:00)

Noah shares thoughts about Episode 86, in which he interviewed Mike Micklewright, Director of the Kaizen Institute. Mike enthusiastically says that reshoring is happening, but he would not provide specific examples. Lloyd says he keeps hearing about the reshoring trend from machining business owners who are quoting jobs against China, but he has yet to see much proof of it actually happening yet (See Clip Below). (5:45)

Lloyd says that tariffs didn’t result in the immediate return of work from China, but they planted the seed for companies to analyze their relationships with Chinese suppliers. He says the pandemic dramatically changed how American businesses see working with China because it made the supply chain much less reliable. (7:15)

Noah plays a clip from Episode 72 with Daniel Hearsch, Managing Director at Alex Partners, a global supply chain expert. Daniel gave his best and worst case predictions for the impact of COVID-19 on the manufacturing economy. Back in late February when the interview was recorded, Daniel felt in a best case scenario American businesses would feel pressure for 4-5 months, with the stock market also taking a hit and the government providing some intervention. However, he also describes a worst case scenario, where people don’t take the threat seriously and the virus spreads, leading to further shut downs and slowing of business in the longer term. He seemed to be predicting more of the best case scenario in the interview. (8:50)

Lloyd discusses his feelings about doing business internationally in 2020. He describes it as being incredibly difficult due to travel restrictions, even between the US and Canada. Noah relates that Graff-Pinkert has had several deals fall through because it is so difficult to cross the border to inspect machines. (11:30)

Lloyd provides a counterpoint, saying that Graff-Pinkert also sold several Davenports screw machines to Chinese companies who were in a rush to receive them. He says that the fear of deteriorating international relations may have contributed to their sense of urgency. (12:20)

Lloyd says that for him, one of the most interesting guests on Swarfcast was Aneesa Muthana, owner of Pioneer Service Inc. a CNC shop near Chicago. (Episode 33). Aneesa provided a unique viewpoint as a Muslim woman in the machining business. We play a clip where Aneesa talks about diversity in her company and how she selects the most qualified candidates instead of placing limitations on herself and her business. She says she tries to make the environment of her company a welcoming environment for a diverse workforce, which has helped her employees thrive. (12:50)

Lloyd and Noah expand on the topic of diversity and how the podcast has not been as diverse as they would have liked. They wonder whether this might be a reflection of the machining industry itself. Noah shares that regrettably few women and African American guests have appeared on Swarfcast. He suggests it is something that the podcast may try to rectify in upcoming episodes. Lloyd shares his impression that the inclusion of women in machining is more of a concern to machining business owners than the inclusion of ethnic or racial minorities. (15:30)

Noah describes his process for selecting guests for the podcast. He says he looks for people with interesting stories who have something valuable to teach the podcast’s audience. Lately, Noah says he has looked at how the show’s content can provide practical benefit to listeners. He talks about a recent episode with Mike Campo of Firetrace, which addresses how to prevent machine fires (Episode 98). (17:30)

Noah talks about another one of his favorite interviews from Episode 80 and Episode 81, with Chris Voss and Brandon Voss. Chris, a former FBI hostage negotiator, and his son Brandon, apply hostage negotiation techniques to the business world. In the clip, Chris says that part of a successful deal is making sure a counterpart feels as if they have made a great deal. He says it’s important to play the long game with negotiation, to keep customers coming back. (18:15)

Noah plays a clip from another one of his favorite interviews, Ari Meisel. Ari calls himself an “Overwhelmologist.” He talks about time management and automating one’s business as well as other parts of one’s life. Ari talks about how he distinguishes “owning a business” versus “owning a job.” Ari feels every business owner should strive to be replaceable. He says business owners run a businesses with their ideas, not their hands. (20:10)

Lloyd says he learned a lot from this particular episode and from working with Noah, who attempts to use a few of the principals Ari describes. Lloyd says that he respects Noah’s discipline when enforcing a work-life balance. (23:00)

Noah talks about some of the recent changes to the podcast. He has started making seasons with specific themes. Also he now asks the same question to every guest about what they learned last week. (23:50)  

Noah asks Lloyd what he learned in the last week. Lloyd says he has learned (or relearned) that people actually want to connect with him. The day before he and Noah recorded the podcast he reconnected with someone from a men’s group who he had not spoken to in over a decade. Lloyd also received a phone call from someone who read a recent Swarfblog Lloyd wrote on aging. He had never met this person but was pleased and astonished to learn how his words had resonated with the man. (24:45)

Noah says that one of the reasons he enjoys recording Swarfcast is that it might make a little difference in someone’s life. He feels if the show can entertain or teach listeners something new he has made a small impact on the world.

Question: What’s your favorite episode of Swarfcast?

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As Old as You Look

By Lloyd Graff

My high school class has a Yahoo group to connect with classmates from yesteryear. It is usually dormant except for an occasional obituary notice.

Yahoo recently announced that it is abolishing such groups, perhaps because Facebook has made them an anachronism. The notice has awakened our group. An old friend of mine volunteered to rejuvenate the internet group on Google, which has brought out thank-yous from around the country.

As each person pops up on the Web, I feel a sense of relief that they are still alive and lucid. Sometimes it is a spouse or friend who joins the group for a now-deceased member of the class of 1962. It is sobering to watch the names appear and wonder why some do not.

One of the tough things about the COVID-19 pandemic is realizing that the virus almost selectively kills off older people. For most young folks, it is an annoyance. The unlucky or sick or terribly obese are its targets from ages 30 to 60. From 60 to 75, you probably fare okay if you started out healthy. But over 75 it is truly a scourge, and that is where I will soon reside.

Lloyd in front of his childhood home in Chicago

I swing between the acceptance and rejection of age. One of the most objectionable aspects of Zoom and Skype is that I get to see myself as others see me. I find it different than looking in a mirror in the morning. I expect to look a bit haggard then, and the mirror usually confirms it. But Zoom allows other folks to inspect the configuration of your neck, unless you pull a Pelosi and cover up with a colorful silk scarf. They can see your hair thinning and the expanding sag under your eyes. And maybe they detect the occasional search for the perfect word that used to flow without effort.

But the really weird thing is that on a good day I can ignore all that baggage and feel 35, not 75. I want to go out and shoot baskets. I see no reason why I can’t run six miles before work. And my voice has the timbre of youth. 

I do have the privilege of continuing to work and write a blog, which most of my classmates have chosen not to do or have been forced by ailing health or arbitrary bosses to stop doing—unless they are running for President.

Acknowledging my age to myself is awfully scary. I do it, though, every day when I run through my morning prayer ritual and remember friends and family, many of whom died at a younger age than I’ve already attained. The upside for me is to consider that I probably was scheduled to die 12 years ago when I somehow survived a heart attack that is lethal for most people.

Now I get to be what people used to think of as old. I get to wade in the lovely illusion of youth. I daydream of the swish of 10 straight 3-pointers rotating off my fingertips.

Life is strange. I relish it. I cherish it. It’s an amazing privilege to be able to dunk at 75.

Question:  Do you feel younger than your age?

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What it Boils Down To

By Lloyd Graff

This was a good year for applesauce. My farmers market guy, Mr. Hardin from near Kalamazoo, selected a bushel of apples, Honeycrisp, Mac, Fuji, Cortland, Jonagold, Gala, and a few Golden Delicious. Risa and Noah’s wife Stephanie peeled them, Noah and I sliced them up, and then we boiled them into the applesauce which will never last until next October.

Applesauce is a ritual for us every year. It’s a punctuation mark for the end of summer. College football is a mess, back to school is back to chaos, but for apples in the Midwest it has been a wonderful year, though not for the orchard man who relies on farmers markets to get a decent price. COVID-19 has crimped the crowds. Markets where I go in the Southern Suburbs of Chicago are drawing half the normal attendance because of fear and masks and a general fatigue.

But nothing deterred us this year. The ritual of making sauce was more compelling than ever in 2020. We aren’t the only ones. Ball Corporation, the famous jar maker, is painfully short of lids for the canners. People are searching the Web from eBay to Etsy to find extra jars and lids, and it is generally fruitless. Even plastic containers are short for winter storage.

I don’t think it is so much that folks fear shortages or think they will save money. It’s the participation in a yearly ritual, performed as a group with family and friends, that attracts people.

The Graffs gathered for traditional applesauce making.

When I was growing up, the biggest sign of fall was pulling out the football, corralling a group of guys, and heading to the park for an afternoon of touch football. Three on three, maybe four on four, counting “one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand” before you could rush the quarterback. We used to play on the street to add a little zest to the game. Parked cars were part of the challenge. Sorry to pull age, but Fortnite is pretty hollow next to catching a high spiral between a Chevy wagon and a Mercury convertible.

If you were religious, you had the fall holidays to miss school. But this piece is about the secular rituals that separate the seasons.

Today, people barbecue all year round. Growing up, the barbecue began in June. It was a charcoal affair. Kingsford did not own the market then. A mushroom was just a toadstool, cauliflower was for boiling, and propane resided at country homes. 

The finished product.

But even then, my mom made applesauce in October, and we loved it. It was demonstrably better than Mott’s, with its preservatives and possibly even corn syrup (I can’t bear even saying the words). It’s the ritual of it, the sacred event that you took for granted until you got old enough not to take any yearly event for granted.

Thanks, Mr. Hardin. The apples were superb this year. But the sauce won’t last past March.

Question: What are your sacred rituals?

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