Category Archives: Today’s Machining World

PTSD 11 Years Later

By Lloyd Graff

Of all the weeks in the year this is the one I dread the most.

I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder which was triggered by my almost catastrophic heart attack that occurred 11 years ago this week.  It is also the week that my mother died suddenly in 1993.

I think about the heart attack every day of my life, wondering how I survived, why I survived, and when the final shoe might drop.  I don’t try to not think about it, because that only causes me to think about it even more.

The strange thing is that it wasn’t all that terrible for me when it happened, because most of the time I was drugged. I had collateral heart circulation developed over 25 years of dedicated running, so even though my most important heart artery was 99% blocked I could still function, if only in a painful and sickly way.  I had trouble breathing and thought I had pneumonia.  My wife, Risa, and I drove 55 minutes August 29, 2008, to see a friend who was an infectious disease doctor, and I walked into his office at the hospital while Risa parked.  He was treating a kid while I waited.  I remember him checking me out in the waiting area, putting a stethoscope on my chest, and saying Lloyd, I’m wheeling you to the emergency room myself.  I remember somebody yelling, “Can I cut his underwear off?” and then nothing.

Lloyd on a flatbed truck 11 years later

Then the nightmare really started for Risa and my children and many, many people who rushed to the St. Francis Hospital in Evanston to be with her.

Somehow by good fortune that morning a heart surgeon Dr. Muhammed Akbar was available to insert a stent into my blocked artery, known as the “widowmaker.”  When asked after the emergency surgery how he did it he simply pointed skyward, Risa recalls.  Without the longshot stent insertion I had virtually no chance of survival.  Bypass surgery at that point was almost certain to fail.  The hope was that I would gain strength over the Labor Day weekend, and they would do a quadruple bypass on Tuesday.

Risa and my children and sister slept in the waiting room for those four nights.  I mostly slept and got stronger.  I was unaware of what was happening.  I wasn’t worried, as best I can remember.  They suffered and waited but also had wonderful family togetherness moments.

I strengthened over the long weekend.  I was hooked into tubes and had a mask that prohibited me from speaking.

My family regaled me with songs for 45 minutes before the surgery.  I am sure it helped them and me, but I can’t remember the singing.  The only thing I think I can remember is that the Cubs were on the radio, and I heard the score was 9-6 just before I went into surgery, and they cracked my chest open.

The bypass surgery worked amazingly well.  Afterwards, the surgeon said I should be good for 20 years.  I’ve held on to that comment desperately for the past 11 years.

Now it’s 4017 days later, and I’m feeling pretty darn good.  But the event haunts me – every day.  It affects every big decision.  I think about it every time I plan a vacation or blow out birthday candles.  The memory still lingers of being wheeled into emergency surgery and not exactly being terrified, just being in shock and amazement and almost amused about being asked whether I cared if they cut my underwear off.

Will I ever forget that day, those crazy weird moments?  No, unless I lose my memory.

My PTSD is not horrible.  I live my life, often with great joy.  I am not depressed, most of the time.  But I am stuck with that memory tattoo of August 29, 2008.  The day I probably should have died, but didn’t.

Question: Do you have post-traumatic stress disorder?

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At the Track Every Day

By Lloyd Graff

Trading in used machinery is sophisticated gambling. Some people find it strange that I am utterly indifferent about sports gambling.  It has no allure for me. I once lost $25 playing 21 at a casino in Vegas and felt stupid – not for losing, but just for walking into the smoke-filled room.  Yeah, it was a long time ago.

And now, after such a long, long time in the screw machine trading and refurbishing business, we have the exhilarating and scary opportunity to reinvent a new business by finding a new cohort of machines to gamble on.  I’m finding it exciting, even enthralling at times, and pretty damn scary, too.

A very smart guy once told me that “if you don’t feel ‘it’ in the pit of your stomach, you aren’t bidding enough to get a deal.”  He was right, but that doesn’t mean fear guarantees your success. It only guarantees doubt and restless sleep.

In our machinery business, we are confronted with the wrenching reality that our traditional customers are not very interested in buying what we’ve always sold.  It’s a bit like a car dealer specializing in sedans and convertibles in a pickup truck and SUV world. Not much action. The obvious path is to switch to pickups and SUVs, but the downside is that almost everybody else has done the same thing.  For a used machinery dealer, the analog is to jump into the used Haas lathe and vertical machining center market. But that is awfully boring and terribly competitive. There is an auction every Tuesday and Thursday with Haases in it. The only sleepers are in sofa beds.

Our strategy has been to go to Outer Mongolia searching for bargains and hauling them back to civilization.  My son Noah likes to travel to Outer and Inner Mongolia so he wants to try this approach.

I also want to search for the guavas and jackfruit in the produce department, the exotics that only the people with weird tastes dare to inhabit?  This is a long jaunt from the Acmes and New Britains of my youth that we once sold by the truckload.

Our real niche seems to be in the European descendants of the Acmes and New Britains, the CNC multi-spindles like Index and Schutte that are so darn complicated and daunting that they confuse even people who have grown up with their simpler, now often discarded, cousins.

When you place bets on machinery you don’t know like family, you are going to lose some of the time.  Try to tell your banker, “Well, I bought that washer, that robot, that Hydromat thing, to experiment.”  They may get the intellectual gambit, but they get rather annoyed about losses. They think you are always supposed to win in business.  This is when resilience and being part of a team that understands the value of defeat as an educational tool, one that realizes that business is a continuum, are so vital.  To succeed in the long game of business you have to build in defeat cushions. If you are going to gamble you are going to lose. If losing is “unacceptable,” which seems to be the position of football coaches like Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, you are going to end up desperately needing a shrink or a sabbatical.

I hate losing or being wrong, but I also love the action of being in business and trying really hard to win every day, knowing that setbacks are inevitable, and dealing with change is maddening.  

I think about the option of leaving the game.  Noah often asks me, “Dad, was it always this hard?”

Honestly, I can’t even remember, Noah.  Let’s just get it on.

Question: Do you view business as gambling?

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Better With Age?

By Lloyd Graff

I watched one of the greatest tennis matches ever played on Sunday.  I suppose you are thinking, who cares about tennis on the TMW site, but give me a chance on this.

Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time with 20 Grand Slam titles, dueled Novak Djokovic, perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time with 15 Grand Slam titles (at the time).  It was Wimbledon, in London, England, the biggest tournament of the year, perfect weather, playing on a grass court.  Both players had their parents attending.  Federer’s wife and their four kids were in the family box seats, and Djokovic’s parents were with his son.

It had all the ingredients of a classic.  These guys have played each other almost fifty times.  They respect each other, but they don’t really like each other.  They are lions in the tennis jungle.  The biggest of rivals, these matches are what they live for.  They are wars.  The winners have the most endurance, focus, and luck.

Sunday they played 5 sets and were tied 12 games each in the 5th when a newly installed tiebreaker rule went into effect.  Federer and Djokovic are old men as singles tennis players go.  They are 70 years old between the two men.  Federer has been playing major tournaments for 20 years, Djokovic 15 years.

The point is that age is overrated today.  In business, the arts, politics, sports, talent is what counts.  If you can do it, you do it.  If you can’t, get out, but don’t let “them” tell you when you are finished.

The crowd Sunday was almost entirely for “Rah Jah, Rah Jah,” as they indicated by chanting between many of the points.  Novak said after the match that he attempted to hear the crowd chants as “No Vak, No Vak.”  He said it worked most of the time.  Djokovic is used to being the hated favorite and has learned how to use it for himself rather than an excuse to lose.  There is a lesson for us all in his toughmindedness in the biggest matches with everybody against him.  He would glance at his family box to see his parents, sometimes holding his young son, cheering avidly for him.

These men are “all in” regarding training, fitness, nutrition, and the mental game.  They know their bodies.   Between matches they use intravenous hyperalimentation to get the extra nutrients to recover from the previous match and be in top shape for the next one.  Sunday, after five hours of the most grueling exertion, they were both hitting 120 mph serves on the lines, playing long rallies, and going to the net and racing back for lobs.  Their concentration was immaculate—and astounding.

A match like Federer-Djokovic is an inspiration.  It says to me that just because other folks are retiring or cutting back it does not mean I have to.  Just because I had a heart attack 11 years ago it doesn’t mean I can’t be active now, at 74.  It also tells me that if I am serious about business or fitness I have to be committed to it.

Will Roger and Novak eventually be supplanted by great new players?  Yes, but nobody appears to be ready to beat them now.

They aren’t going to make it easy, either.

Question: Have you gotten better with age?

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Swarfcast Ep. 20 – Scott Roy on Machines that will Think Like Humans

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

In today’s podcast we interviewed Scott Roy, a Senior Staff Engineer at Google who specializes in artificial intelligence.  He also happens to be my brother-in-law (Lloyd’s son-in-law).  One of Scott’s most recent projects at Google is to improve the way machines communicate with people in diverse human languages—last week he was working on communicating in Bengali.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Scott Roy.

Scott believes that one day machines may have the sophistication and human-like qualities of Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He says there is a good chance machines will be able to feel emotions like love or the joy of watching baseball, and people will be able to teach them ethics.  Although he recognizes the risks of possible harm to humans by super intelligent machines, his work is motivated by his vision of a relationship in which machines enable people to thrive.

Question: Are you more excited or afraid of super intelligent machines?

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Swarfcast Ep. 4 – Our Family Treasure Hunting Business

By Noah Graff

Listen to the podcast with the player below.

In today’s podcast Lloyd Graff and his son Noah delve into their family used machine tool biz… er treasure hunting business. They discuss how Noah came to work at Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert, what it’s like working together and basic alchemy.

Question: Would you like being in business with a family member?

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Machinery Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question: Is running multi-spindles a losing game?

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A Real Piece of Work

Lloyd Graff

Chicago Public Schools teachers with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis

Chicago Public Schools are laying off 462 teachers, because the budget is a hopeless mess and the Teachers Union is much more interested in protecting the pensions of incumbent and retired teachers than retaining young untenured teachers. Meanwhile, Charlotte, North Carolina, is desperate for 200 teachers to start the school year, and the suburbs of San Francisco are bending their certification standards to fill their teacher needs.

But I doubt many of the Chicago layoffs will quickly pack their bags for Charlotte or the Bay Area. It’s just too hard for most people to make those kinds of quick shifts.

It’s a different story in the shale oil fields of North Dakota, where so many folks have been living in trailers because they couldn’t build homes fast enough last year in the Williston Basin. But few of those folks would pick up their lives to get teaching jobs in San Francisco.

The job market is not really fluid and borderless. The national unemployment rate is supposedly 5.3%, but I think the number doesn’t make sense. There should be significant wage pressure at 5.3%, but the government says there is little.

There are very few strikes these days. The push to raise the minimum wage is politically and ideologically driven without a widespread national clamor. People are still stitching together part-time jobs and the demand for independent contractors rather than full time staff seems to be here to stay despite that bright 5.3% number.

The U.S. workforce participation levels are extremely low by historical standards, 62.6%. The last time we were at that level was 1977 and Star Wars, was the flick of the day. In 1977, 30 million people worked in government and services. Today, 80 million plus are in those fields. In 1977, 19 million people worked in manufacturing. Today, it’s 12 million. Women have jumped into the workforce and men have bailed out. Eight of 10 men were working in 1977, today it’s seven.

One thing has baffled me for years in the machining field. Why does almost everybody tell me how difficult it is to hire people to run machines, when I know there are plenty of able people lurking in jobs that are not their cup of tea or are at firms that are closing or in trouble?

Several months ago we were looking for a screw machine rebuilder with setup experience for Graff-Pinkert. Noah Graff made a study of viable advertising methods and we chose to do a campaign with Career Builder. To my surprise, we found many interesting candidates, some from Chicago and others willing to move. We were offering a liberal wage and health insurance package, but I would not call it a wage disrupter.

What it indicated to me was that many potential hirers are too passive and use pedestrian methods to reach out for employees. There are people out there looking to better themselves.

The Charlotte school system should be calling Chicago for the emails and phone numbers of the teachers who are getting pink slipped and send recruiters to Chicago on the next plane.

But the best teachers may not even be teaching today. My three granddaughters were fortunate enough to be taught in their pre-school by a former marketing person at Bank of America. After he had been downsized out of his job at Bank of America he came to the school to work as a maintenance man, but when the opportunity arose he morphed into a superb teacher of young children.

My belief is that most young people do not have enough life experience to know what kind of work will be fulfilling and financially rewarding for them to make a career choice at an early age. I think one reason for the declining work participation rate, especially for men, is that they feel like they have wasted their work lives in boring work and would rather drop out than take another dead end job. Also, government welfare programs and disability options encourage people to stay out of the workforce. A former employee of ours who says he would like to work part time for us now is paranoid about losing his disability status, so he languishes on his couch as his viable work options vanish.

The U.S. labor market is very hard to make sense out of. I think that if the Federal Reserve decides to raise interest rates in September because the economists think we are near full employment, they will be making a mistake. The labor market is a lot looser and inefficient than that 5.3% unemployment number represents at first glance.

Question: Do unions still work for the working person?

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Is Efficiency Sometimes Unhealthy?

By Noah Graff

For the May issue of Today’s Machining World, I interviewed Carl Hoffman, author of the new book, the Lunatic Express. The book chronicles Hoffman’s travels throughout Asia, Africa, South America and the U.S., during which he attempted to use the modes of transportation commonly used by natives, notorious for discomfort, tardiness and poor safety.

One thing Hoffman described to me is how the concept of time in Third World countries differs from that in the First World. In countries like India, the Congo and Columbia, people generally have a different expectation of what it means for things to start “on time.” People never know whether a train or bus is coming in one hour or three. Waiting for things for long periods of time, and arriving to destinations late is just an accepted way of life.

It’s mind boggling to me how anything gets done at all in places with such a low priority on punctuality. How can businesses operate if it’s unknown if workers will show up?

One would think the people of these countries would be happier if things functioned the way they do in the U.S.? It’s always so frustrating to me, knowing that precious time has slipped away that could have been used for things I care about. After all, time is a limited commodity. Once you lose it, it’s gone forever.

Yet many people I know from these places where things move so sloooooowly say they often feel more relaxed and centered when they return home to Slowville. And more and more it seems like us First Worlders in our civilized, efficient habitat are stressed out and paying top dollar for shrinks to help us chill out. We pay money to go to yoga classes and lie on the couch watching reality shows to slow ourselves down.

Is total efficiency sometimes unhealthy?

Jeepney Stop in Manila, Philippines

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Machining Industry Scuttlebutt, The Acme Bell Tolls

Bob Atherton of RACO Industrial Corporation recently passed away at 82. In the rough world of used machinery dealers Bob always stood out as a gentle but indefatigable player. His company continues under the leadership of Jack Boescher who worked with Bob for many years before buying into the firm.

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We hear that exhibitors are dropping like fall leaves from the upcoming EMO Milano show in Milan, Italy.
EMO has always been a magnificent opportunity to display wares and meet and greet, but this year it is more a conclave of woe. Hard to imagine, but the European market may be more horrible than the American one at the moment. With many builders teetering on insolvency, a significant number have decided to cut their losses.
Hopefully, by September 2010, business will have rebounded enough to justify the huge cost of exhibiting at McCormick Place in Chicago for the upcoming IMTS show.

Question: What are your best (worst) trade show memories?

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The iPod Doctor

By Noah Graff

In the next issue of Today’s Machining World I interview Demetrios Leontaris, otherwise known as the iPod Doctor. He has a business driving all over New York City in his Aztec, fixing broken iPods, PDAs, laptops and smart phones belonging to everyone from Wall Street guys to construction workers to teenagers. On average, to fix an iPod he charges between $59 and $100 and change—a heck of a lot less then the price of a new one.

What I found so refreshing about the way Demetrios’ runs his business is that he hates to say “no” to people who need something fixed, which he admits isn’t always the best business practice. After the interview, I told him about my external hard drive that stopped working. It had about 700 gigs of memory, mostly comprised of video footage from some of my most important projects. Lacie, my hard drive’s brand, doesn’t even attempt to fix defective drives. They offered me a free replacement, but I didn’t want a new drive, I wanted my data. They suggested I send it to a company that extracts data from busted hard drives, but those services cost thousands of dollars.

Demetrios said he would take a crack at it, so I sent it to him, even though I knew that by letting him open it up my warrantee from Lacie would go bad. A few weeks later he proclaimed that after many tedious hours of attention he had both restored my data and got my drive working again. He charged me $375, which I happily excepted.

Question: Have you ever taken on a customer’s machining issue when rationally you probably shouldn’t have? Do you have trouble saying “no” to a challenge?

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