Category Archives: Today’s Machining World

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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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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Ep. 102 – Growing a Community of Passionate Customers, with George Breiwa

By Noah Graff

On today’s episode we continue our season talking about companies who produce their own products.

Our guest is George Breiwa, founder of DynaVap, a company that produces a unique type of vaporizer, using Index multi-spindles and CNC Swiss lathes. George says that one of the keys to the company’s success is growing and nurturing a community of passionate customers.

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

 

 

Main Points

George describes DynaVap’s VapCap 2020 M vaporizer, which he prefers to refer to as a selective thermal extraction tool. To operate the VapCap M a user removes a temperature indicating cap and places a chosen substance (often dry herb) for consumption inside the extraction chamber. Then the user applies a portable heat source to the VapCap such as a lighter. George also showcases a battery powered induction heater that can be used with the VapCap. (3:10) 

George talks about the differences between thermal extraction (using a vaporizer) and smoking. He says that when burning a smokable substance, portions of it are burned away rather than extracted, whereas with thermal extraction, the plant material is heated to a temperature where the active compounds evaporate and can be extracted, leaving everything else behind with minimal chemical changes a no incomplete combustion byproducts like tar, resin and carbon monoxide. (Fingers crossed that I summarized him correctly!) (5:05)

Noah asks George about the health ramifications of using DynaVap’s vaporizer. George says health and safety depends on the substance being extracted and if it is done in moderation. He suggests that using a VapCap is a healthier alternative to smoking. (6:40)

George describes how DynaVap’s products are machined. Tube stock is custom drawn at the mill in variable thicknesses to manufacture the various parts. Again, he shows the 2020 M VapCap, which does not require tools to assemble or disassemble its four parts. The 2020 M can be purchased in a variety of colors. George describes one color called rosium (see video), which he describes as pink, gold, and blue with a little bit of green. The color is produced through a process called PVD (physical vapor deposition), which he says is very commonly used when producing carbide cutting tools for CNC machines. He also describes another model the company sells called AzuriuM, which starts as blue but changes to several different colors when exposed to heat. (8:40)

George talks about the value proposition of DynaVap’s product, which uses an external heat source (like a lighter) rather than using a built-in battery like a typical vaporizer. He says the VapCap’s small size and portability are significant advantages. DynaVap’s products can fit in a person’s pocket and also are extremely durable because they don’t have sensitive electronic parts. He says a person can throw a VapCap on the ground or even drive over it with a car and it will hold up. He says he is confident DynaVap’s products will remain functional for 20 to 30 years if taken care of properly, and the only parts that may need to be replaced are the o-rings.(12:30)

George talks about how DynaVap makes its products. He says the tip is machined on an INDEX multi-spindle (MS22-8 with double NCU). (14:20)

George discusses the company’s approach to marketing its products. DynaVap focuses primarily on growing relationships with the customers it already has, giving them the tools and knowledge to talk about the product with others. He says the primary way people are introduced to the product is by personal interaction with others who already have it. (16:05)

George talks about the impact of building a community around a product. He says many of DynaVap’s customers learn about its products in online communities like Reddit. He says the ability to customize a product to suit a personal preference is highly appealing to the company’s customers. DynaVap designs its products so that creative people can customize certain components. It shares necessary dimensions with the public and even supplies certain materials for customers to make after-market accessories like interchangeable stems. Meanwhile, the high-precision parts are still made by DynaVap. DynaVap’s community of users post photos online of their homemade components. (18:50)

George explains that the starting cost of a DynaVap vaporizer is $75, while the top of the line models sell for $180-190. (21:05)

George says the most important factor in the company’s growth is its user community and “social proof.” This wasn’t something he initially realized, but he discovered that the more the company supported and engaged with customers, the more the customers shared their love of the products with others. (22:30)

George talks about how the DynaVap’s numerous online videos show how passionate he is about the company’s products. (23:55)

George says that getting customers to have a great experience with a product requires educating them. He says DynaVap devices are simple to use, but they do require users to learn how to operate them properly. He draws a comparison to a chef’s knife. Most people know how to use a knife, but how many people do so correctly? (25:00)

George states that while using DynaVap devices may seem to require more work than similar products, few customers seem concerned. The company’s user community also provides resources to overcome the initial learning curve. (26:35)

George says community enrichment of customers is a very important aspect of bringing a new product to market. He says if the customers don’t know who you are and you don’t know who your customers are, then you need to familiarize yourself and engage with them, or you will not be successful. (27:55)

George shares something he recently learned. He reports that traveling to Europe right now is not difficult. He just spent two weeks in Amsterdam on business. He traveled on commercial airlines in major airports and experienced no issues or concerns. His COVID-19 test was negative upon his return. (28:30)

Question: What online communities do you belong to?

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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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Hard to Find a Good T-Shirt

By Lloyd Graff

One of life’s mysteries for me has been the scarcity of great t-shirts.

I am not a clothes hound. My dad liked clothes. He had his suits tailor made by unintelligible Italian tailors who held pins in their mouths while they were talking. Once, he took my brother Jim and I to pick out suit fabric. We inspected bolts of luxurious fabric for our own future custom suits. I remember picking a ridiculous brown plaid. I rarely wore the suit. It never really suited me because it had padded shoulders like my father favored, to make his slender frame look more like a weight lifter’s physique.

I still have that plaid suit in my closet. It is one of the few physical items I ever kept from him, not because I like the garment, but because it was so him. I still gaze at it often, because it has so much meaning for me after all these years.

I receive several apparel catalogs every day. I seldom buy much because I hate returning stuff and the items hardly ever look or feel nearly as good as in the picture. I hate buying pants or socks, sweaters, shoes, or underwear. But I have a weakness—t-shirts.

The t-shirt is very “in” today, with many musicians and movie stars wearing them for dress. I wear mine every day as a single layer, or under a fleece or sweater. I guess I have a collection. I pare it down from time to time, but a t-shirt is the first article of clothing I choose each day. I want it to feel right. It has to be all cotton and soft. I never want to feel a seam.

I prefer Pima cotton, preferably from Peru. Some days I desire a little heft, but usually I search out the lightest, airiest jersey I can feel. The difference is maybe a fraction of an ounce, but I can assess it immediately when I lift it a centimeter.

Generally my t-shirts have no message and never a picture. I do have a shirt from a high school reunion that is not Pima cotton, but it has been washed so many times it now almost feels like it. I also have a beloved Powell’s Book Shop t-shirt from Portland, Oregon, which used to be America’s biggest bookstore before Amazon destroyed the genre. It is an ugly pea green and I adore it.

I still own several t-shirts made by American Apparel of Los Angeles. The company had a rather salacious reputation for risqué advertising and the predatory behavior of its founder,  Dov Charney, but they made feathery t-shirts for men. 

The perfect t-shirt in Pima cotton

The top of my tee collection however is held by the A-list shirts sold in The Territory Ahead catalog. They use Peruvian cotton, they run big, the colors do not fade over a decade, they sell both short sleeves and long, and they do not have pockets. They make them up to XXL and also in extra long.

Sadly the company went bankrupt a couple years ago without warning. When Territory went bust, I was truly depressed for a few hours, then I began to search for a replacement. I couldn’t find one. All I could do was hope for its return from the dead.

It finally happened several months ago. When I saw the announcement on Google I called the purchasing company, J. Peterman Outfitters of Cincinnati, and gave them my name for when the t-shirts returned. With the first sighting, I ordered one of each of the five colors they started with. Sadly there were no white or black, which were my favorites.

They were delayed, but they finally arrived.

They were good—very good. Yet not quite as light and airy as the Pimas of 1999.

It’s life.

We get used to disappointment. 

Perhaps only original Jays Potato Chips are as wonderful as they always have been.

But I’ll take it. They do still fit me—to a tee.

Question: What is your favorite t-shirt?

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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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The Healing Has Begun

By Lloyd Graff

September 30, 2020. End of third-quarter. First presidential debate. Baseball playoffs beginning. NBA finals start. For Jews, it’s the beginning of a new year. 

Today feels pivotal.

Sometimes you can sense things are changing. The weather has abruptly shifted in Chicago. It went from summer to decidedly fall overnight. The real apple cider has come in. The sweet corn is all but gone. I plan to buy my two bushels of 10 varieties of apples this Sunday at the farmers market from Hardin Orchards near Kalamazoo. It is my yearly ritual. My wife, Risa, peels them, I slice them. We boil them for an hour and we have applesauce for the year.

Business has shifted too. For six months, the focus was on staying alive, finding the Kleenex, arguing about masks. No longer. It’s no longer about finding hand sanitizer; it’s about finding hands to feed machines. Companies are ordering stuff and requesting that it be flown in. I looked for a propane bottle for my Weber and the hardware store was sold out. This is late September.

Apples and honey, a Jewish New Year tradition

People are no longer frozen in place. Populations are in flux. New York has been abandoned. Rentals in Florida are being snapped up early. 

COVID-19 is still a real threat for folks over 60, but despite 40,000 positive tests every day, hospitalizations are half of what they were in April and May. As terrible as COVID-19 is and has been, we are getting used to it. We expect successful vaccines and effective treatments. It has been awful, and still is, but it is not the Black Death of Shakespeare’s time that killed 1/3 of the population. 

The election will happen. It will be messy and contentious. There will be sore losers. We will endure shouts and certainly litigation. People will yell fire, they will scream robbery, and we will get through it with perhaps a few windows broken.

I am happy it’s fall. I am happy that Patrick Mahomes is still invincible. I’m sorry for you if you sold perfume at Macy’s. I pity you if you rented office space in New York. I am sad for you if you were a waitress at a pancake house in Chicago. And I am truly tearful if you are 88 years old and imprisoned in your apartment, by the rules that are supposed to help you. 

But things are really changing right now, September 30, 2020. And it will get much better soon. I believe it. We will heal, if we can just live through it.

Question: Was there a winner in the debate last night?

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Sleepless in Chicago

By Lloyd Graff

Sleep and lack of it has long been one of life’s biggest mysteries to me. Some days it feels so easy and comfortable, an effortless, pleasant activity, and the next night it is an elusive phantom that I mentally grab for and continually miss.

I used to find it much easier. Wash up. Light stretch. Hug my wife. Casually discuss the next day’s plans. Turn over, and sleep would easily take me. Not so anymore.

For years, after being told I had sleep apnea disorder, I struggled with an annoying breathing apparatus that was supposed to provide me with a healthy, peaceful night’s rest. Over time, I doubted that analysis, and finally decided that at least for me, sleep apnea was a sleep industry fraud. I slept better without the infernal breathing apparatus that I used to schlep everywhere when I traveled around the country.

I gave up the machine after my heart surgery 12 years ago. I do not miss it at all.

Like many men, I suffered from prostate enlargement for decades, which impaired my sleep. Surgery solved that issue, though one interruption for urination is normal for me after four hours sleep. That is the tough one for me. It usually happens between 2:30 and 4 a.m. These days, slumber all too frequently eludes me.

I get back in bed and nothing feels quite perfect. The quilt is in disarray. Risa may be snoring. Light sneaking past the window is annoying.

And the thoughts, the challenges, the fears, the things I should have done better the day before, the Cubs bullpen collapse. It could be anything. Lately it has been a troubling dream, or the inability to remember the number sequence of the burglar alarm disarming code. Other nights I struggle to remember whether the name of the high school English teacher I hated was Rosenstein or Rosensweig. A lot of dumb stuff, but they are stealthy and persistent intruders.

I use my tried-and-true tricks, counting 1 2 3 4 5 while breathing in, 6 7 8 9 10 breathing out. I put tape over my mouth these days to eliminate mouth breathing. Other nights I envision shooting free throws and enjoying the imagined feel of the leather basketball releasing from my fingertips.

I usually swallow a melatonin pill before going to bed, but now I add a few sprays of melatonin if sleep feels distant. Unfortunately, a couple times per week, I stay up for two hours and occasionally never reenter the sleep state.

I pay the price during the daylight hours to come, and often the following day. It also tends to increase migraine symptoms like scintillating scotoma, the half moon shaped floaters that interrupt vision for around 25 minutes.

Hopefully your sleep is always peaceful, me and the other sleep deprived world would like to know your secret.

Question: Are you a successful sleeper and do you have any advice for the rest of the world?

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The Manufacturing Rebound

By Lloyd Graff

I talk to a lot of folks in the machining trade every day, and the clear sense I am getting is that business is improving. The automotive segment is definitely firming. Auto related work has bounced back from the April, May, June, July doldrums. Demand has picked up, and car showrooms are extremely short of hot inventory. 

European and Japanese companies were also shut down, and the supply chains are strained. Guns and the medical sector are strengthening. 

We are seeing an uptick in the used machinery business. The auctioneers are surprised at how strong their sale prices are holding up. Inventory of late model Swiss-type and multi-axis CNC machines appears to be light.

On the macroeconomic front, the recent perverse behavior of stocks is being attributed by pundits to the surprising decrease in unemployment after PPP money ran out and extra layoff checks ended. Evidently some people did choose to return to work.

Small businesses, especially those travel-related and restaurants, have been severely hurt, but the wounded giant called the American Economy appears to be healing. The prospect of multiple viable vaccines being approved soon, while good for most people in business, is viewed by some speculators as negative for tech stocks like Apple and Amazon, which have continued to thrive despite the swooning economy. It appears that improving conditions are sell signs for the option trader gamblers. 

From my observation, the impending election does not seem like it will be a significant issue for the stock market, but it could be an issue small business people.

They should ask LeBron for advice. He seems to know all.

****

Do politics and NBA basketball mix well? 

Maybe the better question is does China own the NBA? Or perhaps the real question is does LeBron James play for the Los Angeles Lakers or Nike?

The three questions are tied together. LeBron signed a contract in 2019 easily worth a billion dollars with Nike, becoming its most valued endorser, though Michael Jordan trails him very closely.

The NBA also signed a $1.5 billion dollar contract last year with Tencent, the Chinese mega company, granting it the exclusive rights to broadcast all of the NBA games it chooses to air in China. The games are mainly watched by young people on their cell phones as they ride public transportation to work in the morning. 

The NBA has built academies in China to teach and promote the basketball. When Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, had the audacity to tweet critically about communist China crushing the human rights demonstrations in Hong Kong, the Beijing Party leaders bristled. Then the NBA bosses cowered and tried to make nice.

LeBron, who probably sees himself as a potential president of the United States, and heir to Oprah and Martin Luther King Jr. in America, had a real dilemma. It was magnified when COVID-19 hit midway through the 2020 NBA season. The players were undecided about continuing to play, but LeBron had the NBA, Nike, China, and Black Lives Matter all looking at him to thread the needle. It was a time to prove himself to be politically skillful before he even stepped on the court again with Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers.

I watched LeBron play brilliantly Monday in the playoff series, ironically against Daryl Morey’s Houston Rockets. Black Lives Matter signage was everywhere in the Orlando bubble, where all of the games are being played and broadcast on TNT and Disney’s ESPN. Player uniforms displayed social and political messages, and a huge VOTE sign was prominently displayed during all broadcasts. 

It is a fascinating mishmash of sports, business, politics, and LeBron, who is proving himself to be the Confucius of America in 2020.

Question: Is your business rebounding?

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