DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

June 22, 2020


OK, I admit, I generally read a document occurring online by printing it out first.  It’s not the size of my monitor or the font size or the font type.  I suppose I’m really “old-school” and the feel of a piece of paper in my hand is preferable.  There is one thing, I’m always writing in the margins, making notes, checking references, summarizing, and it helps to have a paper copy.   Important documents are saved to my hard-drive AND saved in a hard-copy file. I probably do need a digital transformation.

The June issue of “Control Engineering” published an excellent article on digital transformation with the following definition: “Digital transformation is about transforming and changing the business for the future and creating new and better ways of doing that business.”    In other words, it’s about becoming more efficient, faster, and with fewer errors.  Digital transformation creates new capabilities and new processes, reduces capital costs and operating costs, empowers teams, improves decision making, creates new and better products and services for customers.   All of this involves being able to communicate effectively with all individuals understanding the vocabulary.  This is where we sometimes get confused.  We say one thing but mean quite another.  I would like now to describe and define several words and phrases used when discussing digital transformation.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)—Systems that can analyze great amounts of data and extract trends and knowledge from seemingly incoherent numbers.
  • Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)—Smart devices, smart machines, and smart sensors only work and make sense when they are connected and can talk to one another.
  • Machine Learning (ML)—Smart machines create and extend their own mathematical models to make decisions, and even predictions, without having to be programmed; they essentially learn from the past and from the world around them.
  • Augmented Reality (AR)—Anything and everything in the real world can be enhanced, or augmented by digital transformation. It does not have to be only visual; it can be any or all of the five (5) senses.
  • Virtual Reality (VR)—Virtual reality has been around for some by in the world of gaming.  It is also being used to create simulations, training, and providing instruction in a graphic manner.
  • Digital Twin—Digital twins are connected to their physical counterparts to create cyber-physical systems.  Digital twins get continuous real-time data streams from the physical twin, becoming a digital replica.
  • Digital Thread—A digital thread provides data from start to finish for processes—manufacturing and otherwise.
  • Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES)—Any facility that executes manufacturing orders through programming.
  • Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)—A system that interrogates and records data relative to parts, subassemblies, and overall assemblies.
  • Advanced Robotics—Autonomous robotic systems that facilitate manufacturing, parts “picking and placing”, and other operations that can be automated using robotic systems.
  • Collaborative Robotic Systems—Systems that interact with humans to accomplish a specific task.
  • Mobile Internet—Cell phones, i-pads, laptops, etc.  Any system that can “travel” with an individual user.
  • 3D Printing—Additive manufacturing that builds a product by adding material layer by layer to form a finished part.
  • Cloud and Edge Computing—On-demand data storage and on-demand computing power from any location.

I am sure other words describing technology will result from the digital transformation age.  We all need to get use to it because there is absolutely no going back.  Jump in, become familiar with available technology that can and will transform the manner in which we do business. 


A true story and one of the very best books I’ve read this year.  During the COVID-19 “lock-downs”, my wife and I have tried to obey all of the rules; i.e. 1.) Stay in: grocery store, pharmacy, doctors’ appointments, etc., 2.) Wear masks at all times when you do go out, 3.) If ordering out, do curb-side ordering only.  You get the picture.  This is week number twelve (12) and cabin fever is really showing.  The state of Tennessee has relaxed the rules somewhat and we are in Phase 2 of the “getting back to normal” but it’s a new normal.  Social distancing is a must as well as wearing masks and sometimes gloves.  Of course, some people do not obey any rules and that’s their deal.  During this very strange period of time, I have read eight (8) books as well as doing a great deal of in-house work, primarily painting.   The last book read– Forty Autumns.

HISTORY:

First, let me mention that I have never read a book detailing the lives of those in East Berlin and East Germany after World War II.  As you know, after the war, the Allied Powers controlled West Germany and Russia controlled East Germany.  This of course includes Berlin.  After the Potsdam conference, Germany was divided into four occupied zones: Great Britain in the northwest, France in the southwest, the United States in the south and the Soviet Union in the east.  Berlin, the capital city situated in Soviet territory, was also divided into four occupied zones.  Sir Winston Churchill coined the phrase “The Iron Curtin” and this became the code words for east versus west.   The division of Germany into capitalist West and Communist East did not lead to the Cold War so much as it exacerbated existing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Cold War was already well under way when Germany was divided up into East and West.

The Cold War was a long period of tension between the democracies of the Western World and the communist countries of Eastern Europe. The west was led by the United States and Eastern Europe was led by the Soviet Union. These two countries became known as superpowers and definitely caused world-wide tension between all nations.  During this period of time we saw the nuclear arms race, domestic turmoil, significant degradation of human rights for those behind the “iron Curtin”, the Cuban blockade, and the beginning of the “space race”.  It was a tumultuous time and the “doomsday clock” got very close to twelve midnight more than a couple of times. 

THE AUTHOR:

American-born Nina Willner was five (5) years old when she learned her maternal grandmother, Oma, lived “behind a curtain,” in East Germany. As mentioned previously, the Iron Curtain was an ideologically charged metaphor but also a harsh reality that divided many German families in the aftermath of World War II.

Willner’s rebellious mother, Hanna, successfully escaped East Germany at the young age of twenty (20), after three previous attempts. But she paid a steep, if predictable, emotional price: virtually complete separation, for decades, from her parents and eight siblings, including her youngest sister, Heidi, born after Hanna’s flight.

Like many East Germans, Hanna’s family struggled to come to terms with the regime’s totalitarian demands and to find some measure of satisfaction in their private lives. Meanwhile, only a couple of visits, a rare phone call and anodyne letters pierced the silence between Hanna and those she left behind. With even mail subject to the snooping — and often interdiction — of the ubiquitous secret police of the Stasi, it was perilous to express genuine emotions, let alone political complaints.

Ms. Willner is a former US Army intelligence officer who served in Berlin during the Cold War. The book is very careful to detail why she joined the armed service after graduating from college.  She simply wanted to show her gratitude for living in a free country and felt the Army was the best way to give back.  Following a career in intelligence, Nina worked in Moscow, Minsk and Prague promoting human rights, children’s causes and the rule of law for the US Government, non-profit organizations and a variety of charities. She currently lives in Washington, DC and Istanbul, Turkey. Forty Autumns is her first book and is a great testament to her parents, grandparents and great grandparents.  You can certainly tell her family is the uppermost thought in her life and desire to know them better takes over forty years.   A picture of Ms. Willner is show below.

THE STORY:

Forty Autumns makes visceral the pain and longing of one family forced to live apart in a world divided by two. At twenty, Hanna, Nina’s mother, escaped from East to West Germany. But the price of freedom—leaving behind her parents, eight siblings, and family home—was heartbreaking. She was definitely on her own initially and lived from day-to-day right after she came to west Berlin.  The first order of business was to find a job.  She had earlier been trained as a stenographer and being bi-lingual, found work as a translator.   After some years, Hanna moved to America, where she settled down with her husband and had children of her own.

Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna’s daughter, Nina Willner became the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though only a few miles separated American Nina and her German relatives—grandmother Oma, Aunt Heidi, and cousin, Cordula, a member of the East German Olympic training team—a bitter political war kept them apart.  Russian intelligence was overbearing to the citizens of east Germany and visitation was strictly monitored to the point of almost being impossible.  Only avowed Communists were allowed to travel. 

In Forty Autumns, Nina recounts her family’s story—five ordinary lives buffeted by circumstances beyond their control. She takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under Communist rule, revealing both the cruel reality her relatives endured and her own experiences as an intelligence officer, running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk.

A personal look at a tenuous era that divided a city and a nation, and continues to haunt us, Forty Autumns is an intimate and beautifully written story of courage, resilience, and love—of five women whose spirits could not be broken, and who fought to preserve what matters most: family.

One great part of the book is all of the black and white photographs of Ms. Willner’s family behind the Iron Curtin.  A great indication that this is a “real” story—not fiction.  It really happened and there are today survivors of that cold war period of time.   I can definitely recommend to you this great book.  Buy it—read it, then be happy we live in a country that is basically free.


Do you know who said that?  Rev. Robert H. Schuller.  Right now, as I speak, we have the COVID-19 virus, riots in just about every major city in the U.S., tropical depression CRISTOBAL in the Gulf of Mexico,  people wishing to de-fund police forces and operations, significant issues with educating young people, millions unemployed due to COVID-19, etc.  I could go on and on with what ails our country.  On top of that, we have national elections coming up in November that will decide the next president of the United States and as a citizen, I’m not that enthused about the candidates, Republican or Democrat.    There are many other issues that could be considered but other than the ones above, we are just fine. 

I subscribe to a magazine called “Foundry Management and Technology” and in the May 2020 issue there appeared a great article written by Kate Zabriskie called “9 STEPS for LEADING THROUGH UNCERTAIN TIMES”.  Excellent article.  I would like to mention the steps and add a few comments. 

  • Know the path that is not linear.  Change is NOT linear.  Robert Burns said: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong. The saying is adapted from a line in “To a Mouse,”: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.”  We structure goals, we plan the work then work the plan but as hard as we try, Mr. Murphy steps in to confound our efforts.  Recognizing and addressing required changes to plans is healthy and necessary.  We must sometimes adapt to reality and alter our flight path.
  • Identify leaders and stakeholders early.  You know who these people are. Who on your team demonstrates leadership ability?  Who on your team consistently proposes ideas that “have legs?  These people help to instill confidence and support your efforts in providing solutions.
  • Construct a solid plan.  Regardless as to the size of the project, adequate planning is essential.  Without a plan, you have no expectations from the people you supervise and they have no real responsibilities relative to accomplishing the ultimate goal.  You must have a plan of approach, with timelines and “get well dates”. 
  • Identify goals early.  COMMUNICATE those goals early also.  Let your team know where they are going and what is to be expected.  Do this early in the program.  Write it down.  No verbal assignments—write it down and post the goals where all can see.
  • Define and redefine changes as necessary.   During hectic times, rumors abound and seem to grow rapidly.  When details and planning are absent, people talk and they worry.  Knowing what’s happening will instill confidence in your team members and avoid unnecessary conflict between team members.
  • Do not discount the past.  Change may mean setting aside old ways, and projects that once were vital are discarded.  Some team members may feel slighted, or that their contributions have been worthless.  This is rarely true and this fact needs to be stated by the team leader.
  • Do not hide challenges.  Great plans can falter and/or fall apart depending upon circumstances.  Do not hide challenges when they occur.  Communicate those challenges and allow team members to voice input and possible solutions.
  • Carefully listen to all concerns.  Not listening, can definitely lower or eliminate morale and make team members feel defeated.  Sometimes situations get scary and that’s when team members need to be at their best.
  • Clearly state new or adjusted performance objectives.  Kill uncertainly.  Clearly state NEW performance objectives including deadlines.  Don’t hide the truth from your team.  Modify an action plan to compensate for changes.

To repeat:  TOUGH TIMES DON’T LAST, TOUGH PEOPLE DO.

INFLUENCERS

June 6, 2020


Some of the most remarkably written articles are found in the publication “Building Design + Construction”.  This monthly magazine highlights architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) describes building projects and designs around the world.  Many projects underway are re-construction and/or refurbishment of existing structures; i.e. schools, churches, office buildings, etc.  The point I’m trying to make, the writing is superb, innovative and certainly relevant.  The April edition featured INFLUENCERS. 

If you investigate websites, you will find an ever-increasing number of articles related to Influencer Marketing.  Influencer marketing is becoming, or I should say, is a significant factor in a person choosing one product over another.   One of our granddaughters is an influencer and her job is fascinating.  Let’s look.

DEFINITION:

  • the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.
  • a following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche.

CLASSIFICATIONS:

There are various classifications depending upon circumstances.  Those are given below.

Mega-Influencers Mega influencers are the people with a vast number of followers on their social networks. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Utube, etc. are social instruments upon which influencers ply their trade.  Although there are no fixed rules on the boundaries between the different types of followers, a common view is that mega-influencers have more than 1 million followers on at least one social platform.  President Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton and of course several others may be classified as Mega-influencers. 

Macro-InfluencersMacro-influencers are one step down from the mega-influencers, and maybe more accessible as influencer marketers. You would consider people with followers in the range between 40,000 and one million followers on a social network to be macro-influencers.
This group tends to consist of two types of people. They are either B-grade celebrities, who haven’t yet made it to the big time. Or they are successful online experts, who have built up more significant followings than the typical micro-influencers. The latter type of macro-influencer is likely to be more useful for firms engaging in influencer marketing.

Micro-Influencers Micro-influencers are ordinary everyday people who have become known for their knowledge about some specialist niche. As such, they have usually gained a sizable social media following amongst devotees of that niche. Of course, it is not just the number of followers that indicates a level of influence; it is the relationship and interaction that a micro-influencer has with his or her followers.

Nano-InfluencersThe newest influencer-type to gain recognition is the nano-influencer. These people only have a small number of followers, but they tend to be experts in an obscure or highly specialized field. You can think of nano-influencers as being the proverbial big fish in a small pond. In many cases, they have fewer than one thousand (1,000) followers – but they will be keen and interested followers, willing to engage with the nano-influencer, and listen to his/her opinions.

If we look further, we can “drill down” to the various internet providers hosting the influencer packages.

Bloggers— Bloggers and influencers in social media have the most authentic and active relationships with their fans.  Brands are now recognizing and encouraging this.  Blogging has been connected to influencer marketing for some time now.  There are many highly influential blogs on the internet.  If a popular blogger positively mentions your product in a post, it can lead to the blogger’s supporters wanting to try out the specific product.

YouTubers—Rather than each video maker having their own site, most create a channel on YouTube.  Brands often align with popular YouTube content creators.

Podcasts— Podcasting is a relatively recent form of online content that is growing in great popularity.  It has made quite a few household names now, possibly best epitomized by John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneurs on Fire.  If you have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy podcasts, Digital Trends has put together a comprehensive list of the best podcasts of 2019.  Our youngest son has a podcast called CalmCash.  He does a great job and is remarkably creative. 

Social Posts Only— The vast majority of influencers now make their name on social media.  While you will find influencers on all leading social channels, the standout network in recent years has been Instagram, where many influencers craft their posts around various stunning images.   

Now, if we go back to “Building Design + Construction”, they interviewed five influencers that apply their skills to the AEC profession.  I will give you, through their comments, the thrust of their efforts:

CHRISTINE WILLIAMSON— “My goal is to help teach architects about building science and construction.  I want to show how the “AEC” parts fit together.”

BOB BORSON—He is the cohost of the Life of an Architect podcast which gets about two hundred and sixty (260) downloads per day.  He would be a nano-influencer.  “Influencer” is a ridiculous word.  If you have to tell people you’re an influencer, you’re not”.  His words only.

AMY BAKER—Launched her Instagram account in 2018 and is the host for SpecFunFacts.  She discusses specifications and contracts and has around one thousand (1,000) followers.

CATHERINE MENG– Ms. Meng is the host of the Design Voice podcast. 

MATT RISENGER—Mr. Risenger hosts “Buildshownetwork”.   He first published Matt Risinger’s Green Building blog in 2006.  This was the manner in which he publicized his new homebuilding company in Austin, Texas.   To date, he has seven hundred (700) plus videos on YouTube.  Right now, he has six hundred thousand (600,000) subscribers.

CONCLUSIONS:  From the above descriptions and the five individual influencers detailed in the AEC magazine, you can get some idea as to how influencers ply their trade and support design and building endeavors.  Hope you enjoyed this one.


THE WORLD—A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

I have just completed reading the book mentioned above.  Mr.  Richard Haass does a marvelous job in giving the reader a very quick but extremely concise history lesson, both past and present.  He is NOT judgmental or condemning but informative and simply provides history in a factual manner.

RICHARD HAASS:

Dr. Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, the preeminent independent, nonpartisan organization in the United States dedicated to the study of American foreign policy. An experienced diplomat and policymaker, Dr. Haass was director of policy planning for the Department of State from 2001 until 2003, where he was a principal adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell on a broad range of foreign policy concerns. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate to hold the rank of ambassador, Dr. Haass served as U.S. coordinator for policy toward the future of Afghanistan and was the U.S. envoy to the Northern Ireland peace process. He was also special assistant to President George H.W. Bush and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs on the staff of the National Security Council from 1989 to 1993. A recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal, the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award, and the Tipperary International Peace Award, he is the author or editor of fifteen books, including the best-selling A World in Disarray. A Rhodes scholar, he holds a BA from Oberlin College and both master and doctor of philosophy degrees from Oxford University. He has received honorary degrees from Central College, Colgate University, Franklin & Marshall College, Georgetown University, Hamilton College, Miami Dade College, and Oberlin College.

THE BOOK:

The World—A Brief Introduction is designed to provide readers of any age and experience with the essential background and building blocks they need to make sense of this complicated and interconnected world. Mr. Haass indicates in the very first part of the book the very real fact that our schools seem to be failing at fully preparing students in history, both past and present.   This book will empower the reader in managing the flood of daily news. Readers will become more informed, discerning citizens, better able to arrive at sound, independent judgments. While it is impossible to predict what the next crisis will be or where it will originate, those who read The World will have what they need to understand its basics and the principal choices for how to respond.

In short, this book will make readers more globally literate and put them in a position to make sense of this era. Global literacy–knowing how the world works–is a must, as what goes on outside a country matters enormously to what happens inside. Although the United States is bordered by two oceans, those oceans are not moats. And the so-called Vegas rule–what happens there stays there–does not apply in today’s world to anyone anywhere. U.S. foreign policy is uniquely American, but the world Americans seek to shape is not. Globalization can be both good and bad, but it is not something that individuals or countries can opt out of. Even if we want to ignore the world, it will not ignore us. The choice we face is how to respond.

I would like now to give you several facts from Dr. Haass’s book that will indicate the level of detail presented and some flavor for the discourse:

  • A recent survey of over eleven hundred (1100) American colleges and universities found that only seventeen percent (17%) require students to take courses in U.S. government or history, while only three percent (3%) require them to take course work in economics.
  • One survey of the top American colleges and universities showed that less than one-third required history majors to take a single course in U.S. government.
  • Approximately one-third of Americans who graduate from high school do not attend any college and only forty percent (40%) do achieve a degree.
  • During WWI, as many as two hundred thousand (200,000) British forces were killed or wounded in a single campaign.  This was the battle for the Gallipoli peninsula.
  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact were structured to provide communication between countries and to preclude additional strife and war in Western and East Europe.
  • No religion claims a majority of the world’s people. Nearly one-third of the world’s population is Christian (close to two point three billion).  One point eight billion people are Muslims.  Just over one billion are Hindus, nearly five hundred thousand are Buddhists and approximately fifteen million are Jewish.  More than one billion claim no religion at all.
  • The Middle-East and North Africa have fifty-three percent (53%) of the world’s oil reserves.  The Middle-East and North Africa have forty-five percent (45%) of the world’s natural gas reserves.
  • Africa has four hundred and five million people living on less than two U.S. dollars per day. South Asia, two hundred and twelve million, East Asia forth-seven million, the Americas, twenty-six million, Middle East and North Africa, fifteen million, Central Asia, five million and Europe, four million.  Less than two dollars per day.
  • The Americas leads the world in homicides with sixteen point two (16.2) per 100,000 people.  These are 2017 statistics.
  • A significant number of terrorist attacks occurred in 2017 with Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the Philippines being the most troubled.
  • In looking at the stockpile of nuclear warheads: Russia has 4,330, the U.S. has 3,800, France has 300, the UK has 215.  There are five others with nuclear capabilities.
  • Over one percent (1%) of the world’s population has been displaced due to war, economic conditions, crime, and environmental conditions.
  • The U.S. dollar is the most widely held reserve currency.
  • In looking at the human development index considering 1.) Education, 2.) Income and 3.) Life expectancy, the United States is number thirteen on the list with Norway ranking at ninety-five point three (95.3%).
  • Over five hundred thousand (500,000) Syrians have lost their lives and a majority of the population have been made homeless as a result of the conflict in Syria.  The Syrian government has played a major role in that horrible number.

I could go on from there with many more examples from Dr. Haass’s book but you get the picture—now buy and read the book.  Dr. Haass has fifty-six pages of notes and sources he has consulted during research for this book.   He has the numbers.

WORDS MATTER

June 1, 2020


We all know that words matter.  What we say and what we think really do effect people in a multitude of ways.  Washington Irving said, “ A tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use.”  Robert M. Helsel said,” He who dares to speak with a razor sharp tongue, shall in end, bare the final scar.”  Well, I think we can all agree that being overly critical and unkind can produce real issues between the speaker and the recipient. 

If that is the case, how about those times when we just do not get the message correct.  We know what we mean but it just does not come out as intended.  We all do it at times. 

I have examples below showing the brighter side of providing a “mixed-message”.  These are actual statements written to deliver information and content.  Church Bloopers, if you will.  Let’s take a look.

  • Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled.  Proceeds will be used  to cripple children.
  • The outreach committee has enlisted twenty-five visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
  • The Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10:00. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B.S. is done.
  • Low self-esteem support group will meet Thursday at 7:00 to 8:00 P.M. Please use the back door.
  • For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
  • The pastor will preach his farewell message, after which the choir will sing, “Break Forth into Joy”.
  • Miss Carlene Mason sang, “I will not pass this way again, giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
  • Ladies don’t forget the rummage sale. It is a good chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house.  Bring your husbands.
  • The sermon this morning: Jesus Walks on Water.  The sermon tonight: Searching for Jesus.
  • Next Thursday, there will be tryouts for the choir.  They need all the help they can get.
  • Barbara C. remains in the hospital and needs blood donors for more transfusions.  She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Jack’s sermons.
  • The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind and they may be seen in the church basement Friday.
  • This afternoon there will be a meeting in the north and south ends of the church.  Children will be baptized at both ends.
  • Weight Watchers will meet at 7:00 P.M. Please use the large double door at the side entrance.

Care must always be taken to say what we mean and mean what we say in a fashion that is straight forward, concise, and meaningful.  “I’m saying the obvious”.

JACK REACHER

May 25, 2020


Last year a good friend of mine introduced me to the writer Lee Child.   Mr. Child created the character Jack Reacher who is, in my opinion, one of the most unique and interesting individuals in literature.  He is not quite a shining hero and has numerous flaws but he gets the job done.

JACK REACHER—THE CHARACTER

Reacher left home at eighteen (18), graduated from West Point. Performed thirteen (13) years of Army service, demoted from Major to Captain in 1990, mustered out with the rank of Major in 1997. Born on an Army base in Germany. His father chose his name; it read “Jack-none-Reacher” on the birth certificate faxed to the Berlin Embassy. They called his brother Joe, but nobody ever called Jack by his first name. How it came about, no one knows but Jack was always called Reacher.

His father was career military so as kids, Jack and his brother moved so much that spending a full school year in any one place felt weird. “Our friends just kept disappearing. Some unit would be shipped out somewhere and a bunch of kids would be gone. Sometimes we saw them again in a different place. Plenty of them we never saw again. Nobody ever said hello or goodbye. You were just either there or not there.”

If we look at his service awards, we see the following:

Top row: Silver Star, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit
Second row: Soldier’s Medal, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart
Bottom row: “Junk awards” (Or so he calls them.)

“Medals?” we ask?  And he answered:


“Dozens of the damn things,” he said. “You know how it is. Theater medals, of course, plus a Silver Star, two Bronzes, Purple Heart from Beirut, campaign things from Panama and Grenada and Desert Shield and Desert Storm.”


“A Silver Star?” we asked. “What for?”
“Beirut,” he said. “Pulled some guys out of the bunker.”


“And you got wounded doing that?”  “That’s how you got the scar and the Purple Heart?”
“I was already wounded,” he said. “Got wounded before I went in. I think that was what impressed them.”

What he doesn’t have: A driver’s license, Federal benefits (doesn’t want them), tax returns (doesn’t do them; he hasn’t filed taxes since he left the Army).  Major, US Army retired, travels from place to place taking nothing with him but the clothes on his back and a toothbrush.  He is definitely a wondering star which is why he is so unique.  He wears his clothes until needing new ones, trashes the ones he has, and starts out again. 

The stories that I love are basically about the knight-errant, the mysterious stranger. And the reason why people think that’s an essentially American paradigm is the Westerns. The Westerns were absolutely rock solid with that stuff. You know, the mysterious rider comes in off the range, sorts out the problem, and rides off into the sunset. It is just such a total paradigm, but not invented in America. That was imported from the medieval tales of Europe. The knight-errant: literally a knight, somehow banished and forced to wander the land doing good deeds. It’s part of storytelling in every culture. Japan has it with the ronin myth; every culture has this Robin Hood idea. So really, that character was forced out of Europe as Europe became more densely populated and more civilized. That character no longer had stories in Europe; it had to migrate to where the frontier was still open and dangerous, which was America, essentially. So, the character, I think, is actually universal and historic, most recently, normally represented in America. I think the Westerns saw it firmly adopted by America, so yeah, right now, we think of this as a completely American character, but really, it’s more historic than that. But I’m very happy to have that reference made.

LEE CHILD

James Dover Grant CBE (born 29 October 1954), is primarily known by his pen name Lee Child. He is a British author who writes fiction “thriller” novels, and is best known for his Jack Reacher novel series. … His first novel, Killing Floor (1997), won both the Anthony Award, and the Barry Award for Best First Novel.

As mentioned, Mr. Child was born in 1954 in Coventry, England, but spent his formative years in the nearby city of Birmingham. By coincidence he won a scholarship to the same high school that JRR Tolkien had attended. He went to law school in Sheffield, England, and after part-time work in the theater he joined Granada Television in Manchester for what turned out to be an eighteen-year career as a presentation director during British TV’s “golden age.” During his tenure his company made Brideshead RevisitedThe Jewel in the CrownPrime Suspect, and Cracker. But he was fired in 1995 at the age of 40 as a result of corporate restructuring. Always a voracious reader, he decided to see an opportunity where others might have seen a crisis and bought six dollars’ worth of paper and pencils and sat down to write a book, Killing Floor, the first in the Jack Reacher series.

Lee Child has written twenty-two (22) Reacher books and has numerous short stories to his credit.   I have read eight (8) Reacher novels and what I find very interesting is there are no two plots remotely similar—same Reacher style but differing in outcome and story line.    Always interesting twists in each and generally a surprise ending awaits the reader.  Also, very interesting and somewhat challenging;

there is a great diversity of characters in each Reacher book.   Mr. Child takes great care in developing each character, thus giving the reader enough background information to keep our undivided attention.  Another thing, most of the characters are really evil, mean and contemptuous scum.  The worst of the worst.  Keeps things really interesting as to how Reacher overcomes all adversaries to achieve an eventual successful outcome.  The good guy always wins in the Lee Child books.

Now, one “bone to pick”, Tom Cruise played Jack Reacher in two movies and Mr. Cruise was not quite the fit needed relative to the character in Lee Child’s books.  Reacher is six foot five inches tall.  Cruise is five foot seven.  Reacher is two hundred and fifty pounds, Cruise probably, one hundred and seventy-five at the most.  Don’t get me wrong, Cruise is a very good actor but that was a real flaw in casting.

I think you will certainly enjoy Reacher the character and all of the Child books.  Mr. Child is a “word-smith” in the truest since of the word and can certainly weave a great mystery novel. 


First, let us define a collaborative robot or cobot:  “Cobots, or collaborative robots, are robots intended to interact with humans in a shared space or to work safely in close proximity.  Cobots stand in contrast to traditional industrial robots which are designed to work autonomously with safety assured by isolation from human contact.   Cobot safety may rely on lightweight construction materials, rounded edges, and limits on speed or force. Safety may also require sensors and software to assure good collaborative behavior.”

A picture is probably worth a thousand words so take a look.

You will notice the lady above is “collaborating” with the robotic system above.  They BOTH are providing an assembly operation.


The robotic system shown above is drilling a hole in flat metal material while the worker watches.  The drill pattern has been previously chosen and programmed into the computer driving the system.

HISTORY:

The first definition of a cobot comes from a 1999 US patent filing for “an apparatus and method for direct physical integration between a person and a general-purpose manipulator controlled by a computer.”   This description basically refers to what we would now call an Intelligent Assist Device or IAD. An IAD is the ancestor of modern cobots, which resulted from the efforts of General Motors to implement robotics in the automotive sector of our economy.   This new device could move in a non-caged environment to help human workers in assembly operations.  For safety reasons, it had no internal source of motion power.  Please note the “non-caged” description.  For safety reasons, most robotic, non-COBOT, systems are surrounded with safety barriers to protect employees.  COBOTS are generally not of that category. 

In 2004, robotics developer KUKA released their LBR3, a lightweight COBOT with motion of its own.  This was the result of a long collaboration between company and the German Aerospace Center Institute.  Its motion-controlled capabilities were later refined in two updated versions and released in 2008 and 2013.

In 2008, Universal Robots released the UR5, a COBOT THAT COULD safely operate alongside employees, eliminating the need for safety caging or fencing.  The robot helped launch the era of flexible, user-friendly and very cost-effective collaborative robots.  These gave small-to-medium manufacturers the possibly of automating their facilities without investing in cost-prohibitive technology or in a complete make-over of their manufacturing capability.

As with all revolutionary technology, COBOTS were initially met with significant skepticism by the manufacturing industry.  Many facility managers saw them as technological marvels but questioned the possibility of integrating them into actual working environments. Today, however, the market for industrial COBOTS has an annual growth rate of fifty percent (50%) and it is estimated that it will hit three billion USD ($3.00 billion) in global revenue by the end of 2020.

There are limitations at the present time relative to applying COBOTS to manufacturing processes. The most important ones are the need for fine dexterity—for example, when picking up small and delicate pieces and the ability to make decisions rapidly to avoid obstacles without stopping production.   Some of these issues are being overcome by integrating vision systems allowing the COBOT to adapt to environmental changes.  This include obstacles of different nature and variation in the position of the object they are supposed to pick up and locations where they must be dropped off.   This new technology not only eliminates the need for precise positioning, but allows manufacturers to finally combine safety and maximum productivity.  The increased sensitivity will allow several COBOTS to work together independently, performing different tasks without colliding.

LOSING BUSINESS

May 18, 2020


Cuando yo era nina, mi familia y yo siempre ibamos de vacaciones a Montevideo or a Rio de Janerio. 

Did you understand the sentence above?  If not, maybe you should have. Let’s look:

 When I was a child, my family and I always used to go on vacation to Montevideo or to Rio de Janerio. 

I certainly did NOT know that in 2015, the United States had more Spanish speakers that Spain.  According to the U.S. Census Office, by 2050 there will be one hundred and thirty-eight (138) million Spanish speaking people in the U.S.  This would make our country the largest Spanish-speaking country on the planet.

Spanish is not the only language you and your employees may need to understand when doing business.  In the U.S., about sixty-five (65) million residents speak a language other than English. Forty (40%) percent of those are limited or have no English proficiency.  This to me is very striking.  From this, we must ask, how many of us speak ONLY English? 

In 1978 I worked for a company that designed and manufactured water heaters, both residential and commercial.  We had recently secured a customer located in the Netherlands that was very interested in our commercial product.  That new customer required our product to meet the standards of the Dutch Gas Institute in Apeldoorn, Holland.  I was in charge of the engineering effort at that company and as such was designated to fly to Apeldoorn and work the product through the testing and approval process.  The staff at the Gas Institute were extremely helpful during my three-week visit and did everything possible to make my stay successful.  While there, I met the receptionist for the Institute and signed in and out with her every day.  She not only spoke great English, but five other languages as well.  I was amazed at her language abilities.  One other thing I discovered, she was not paid enough by the Institute to afford an automobile.  She road a bicycle to and from work.  Imagine being able to speak fluently in six languages and not be able to own a car.  It seems that’s not so uncommon in western Europe because most people are multi-lingual.

I really never understood why Americans are not embarrassed about their considerable lack of language skills.  In my opinion, and it is my opinion, we sometimes come off to people in other countries as being arrogant.  We cannot be bothered to learn another language.  QUESTION:  Could this great lack of language skills be costing us from an economic standpoint?   According to a fairly new study from the American Council on Teaching of Foreign Languages, twenty-two percent (22%) of manufacturing companies reported they could not pursue or lost business due to language barriers.

The demand for language skills is greater than it has ever been and that gap seems to be gradually widening.  In order for that gap to lessen, we are going to have to address several foundational issues relative to teaching languages.  So, whose job is it to teach languages?  I know for a fact that it is much easier to learn a second or even third language when you are in grammar school, middle school or even high school as opposed to learning languages as an adult.  Been there, done that, got the “T” shirt. Right now, fewer than twenty percent (20%) of students in middle and high school are learning a second language.  In my opinion, languages should and MUST be required for graduation.

Why don’t we make foreign languages a strategic focus throughout the recruitment process and in doing so, we will find that more and more high school students and college graduates will pay attention to the need.   If hiring is dependent upon language skills, we will find more students getting on board at an earlier stage in their education.  Next, train talented candidates and employees who lack the required skills to improve their proficiency.  It seems to me that companies, specifically multi-national companies, must identify and cultivate a pipeline of multilingual talent.  Partner with colleges and universities and trade schools to offer internships and job opportunities for qualified students and recent graduates with the linguistic and global competencies your organization needs and requires.  

While being able to speak another language is essential to the current economic reality, the overriding benefit is that it allows us to gain insight into other cultures with a side effect—we become a better person.  Just a thought. 

THE BONE TREE

May 11, 2020


The Bone Tree was written by Mr. Greg Iles, who is, in my opinion, a fabulous writer.  Let’s look at a very quick biography of Mr. Iles right now.

GREG ILES:

Greg Iles was born in Germany in 1960.  His father ran the US Embassy Medical Clinic during the height of the Cold War. Mr. Iles spent all of his younger years in Natchez, Mississippi, and graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1983.  Demonstrating his artistic abilities in another manner, he spent several years playing music in the band “Frankly Scarlet.” The year after he was married, he gigged on the road for fifty (50) weeks out of fifty-two (52), and realized that this lifestyle was simply not sustainable with a family. He quit the band and began working eighteen hours a day on his first novel, Spandau Phoenix. Spandau Phoenix is a thriller about the Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess.  When Greg sold this manuscript, he left the music business altogether to complete the book. Spandau Phoenix was published in 1993 and became the first of eight (8) New York Times bestsellers.

Over the course of the next few years, he broke the formula adhered to by most commercial novelists in writing a variety of genres. Perhaps surprisingly, each found a place on the bestseller list, and today, readers look forward to discovering what new subject Greg has explored in his latest novel.

The novels of Mr. Iles have been translated into more than a dozen (12) languages and published in more than twenty (20) countries worldwide.  At the present time, 11 May 2020, he has sixteen (16) published books to his credit.   Greg currently lives in Natchez, Mississippi, with his wife and their two children.

THE BONE TREE:  Clinic during the height of the Cold War.  Iles spent his youth in Natchez, Mississippi, and graduated from the University of The Bone Tree is an incredible followup to Natchez Burning.  One of the best middle installments of a trilogy I have ever come across. At the very heart of Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree books is family – not just one family – several. The deceit and lies they tell and the lengths they will go to love and protect their own is outstanding. They absolutely pull no punches in protecting each other.

The Cage family (one that has been prominent in several books written by Mr. Iles), is revered by most in Natchez – even when their choices are not understood; while the Knox family incites fear in women and men alike. Good does not just battle evil in the Bone Tree. It is not a place that most can find. And is not a place you want to visit. For most do not escape.

Hard choices are made daily and evil wins out… most of the time. But champions like Dr. Tom Cage, Penn Cage and Caitlin Masters take up the cause to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, like Viola Turner and Henry Sexton. Dr. Tom Cage, having suffered more than most will stop at nothing to protect what he holds dear. Caitlin Masters works tirelessly to try and discover the mysteries of the Bone Tree. She finds it and discovers the true evil that lurk there.  

The themes in this book are riveting and heartbreaking: the roots of racism/modern-day racism in the south; and a conspiracy theory regarding the death of JFK (and the deaths of RFK and MLK).  It is these themes interwoven with the beloved characters of Tom and Penn Cage that make this book impossible to put down.  Now, one caution, The Bone Tree is a whopping eight hundred and four (804) pages long.  The reason for that length—meticulous descriptions of each character AND the situations the characters experience as they travel their way trying to find the truth.  If you choose to read this book, you will find the very root of evil.  The Knox family is truly one of the most disgusting families found in literature.  They are, to a person, evil personified.   Their evil is counterbalanced with several people tirelessly working to discover the truth.  And with that, you have a truly fascinating book.  I have no idea as to why Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree have not been made into a motion picture. 

Hope you enjoy the read.

%d bloggers like this: