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.


I’m probably the last person on the planet to have read “Where the Crawdads Sing”.  Well I’ve been busy of late but this COVID-19 has demanded that my family and I stay locked down for a period of time.  Other than painting every stationary object in our house, i.e. woodwork, doors, baseboards, etc etc, I’ve had time to do some reading.  

This book presents a story of fiction and survival and what the depth of loneliness feels like when a young girl is abandoned first by her mother, then her four siblings. Kya ( (Catherine Danielle Clark). Kya is ten years old in 1952 when she is deserted by all the members of her family and left to make it alone in the marsh country of North Carolina.  They leave one-by-one due to a very abusive alcoholic father who takes out his many failures on his wife and his five children, Kya being the youngest.  Kya’s mother is the last to leave after she is beaten by her husband for no apparent reason.  What she doesn’t understand is why they left her behind. She remains alone while her father comes and goes until one day, he doesn’t come back at all. It was gut-wrenching as she sits on the beach with the gulls, not wanting them to fly away and leave her too. Heartbreaking how she is neglected and abandoned, remembering the beatings, trying to figure out a way to eat.

 Kya is absolutely on her own and forms a significant attachment and great understanding of the environment around her, which becomes a necessity for survival in the marshlands of Barkley Cove.  She definitely works that to her advantage by literally living off the land. She learns to fish, cook and clean just by remembering how it used to be and what her mother taught her over the years. Barkley Cove is a very small community and where she goes for groceries and gas.    An all-purpose store in that small town is run by an extremely kind and generous couple who have lived on the marsh their entire life. She exchanges mussels and smoked fish for gas for her motor and a few groceries. Two very kind individuals, Jumpin and his wife Mabel, give her used books, shoes, anything that she can get donated. They were her only friends for a period of time.  Then she met Tate.    Tate, who was once a friend of her brother, finds her alone and begins to offer help and company. He teaches her to read and then her life begins to take a turn toward something more than isolation and running barefoot through the woods.  He teaches her to read and write and from there she becomes a human sponge for discovering facts about the environment she is forced to survive in.  She inhales books on birds, flowers, tides, trees, and the marsh itself.  All self-taught.

Let me give you a very quick summary of the major characters in the book.

  • Kya (Catherine Danielle Clark)
  • TateA very good friend of Kya’s oldest brother Jodie.
  • Chase Andrews—Not a good guy but he does become a love-interest in the book.
  • MaKya’s mother.
  • PaKya’s drunken father.
  • JodieKya’s oldest brother.
  • JumpinAn extremely kind colored man who helps Kya greatly. Jumpin keeps Kya alive by buying muscles and smoked fish from here. 
  • MabelJumpin’s wife.
  • Sheriff Ed JacksonThe sheriff of Barkley Cove.
  • Miss Pansy PriceMiss Price calls Kya “swamp trash”.  That phrase never leaves Kya.
  • Mrs. Singletary—The wife of the grocery owner.
  • Ms. Culpepper—The truancy officer in Barkley Cove.
  • Scupper—Tate’s father.
  • Sunday Justice—The local jail house cat.

There are other characters in this book and each is described in a rich fashion.  It’s amazing to me as to how the author weaves them into the narrative and how they react and respond to events occurring in Barkley Cove. 

Now, one thing you really need to do is study the map given at the very first few pages of the book.  That map, shown below, is key to understanding the “lay-of-the land” in and around the marsh.  This is a marvelous book and one that has been on the best seller list for many months.  You need to check it out.

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