We all wish for our children and grandchildren the very best education available to them whether it’s public or private.  Local school districts many times struggle with maintaining older schools and providing the upgrades necessary to make and keep schools safe and functional.  There have been tremendous changes to needs demanded by this digital age as well as security so necessary.  Let’s take a look at what The Consulting-Specifying Engineer Magazine tells us they have discovered relative to NEW school trends and designs that fulfill needs of modern-day students.

  • Technology is touching all aspects of modern school systems and is a key component of content display and communication within the classroom. Teachers and students are no longer static within the classroom.  They are very mobile and flexible which creates the necessity for robust, flexible, and in most cases wireless infrastructure that responds to and does not distract from learning.
  • Multiple-purpose use facilities with large central areas which can serve as cafeteria, theater and even gymnasium are key to this trend. Individual classrooms are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment must be flexible for the many-purposed uses as well as being able to quickly transition from one to the next.
  • SECURITY is an absolute must when considering a new school building. Site access must be limited with movement throughout the building being secure with in-service cameras and a card access.  This must be accomplished without the school looking like a prison.
  • Color tuning, a new word for me, is accomplished by painting and lighting and creates an atmosphere for maximum learning. These efforts facilitate a more natural atmosphere and are more in line with circadian rhythms.  Warmer color temperature paints can increase relaxation and reduce stressful learning.
  • IAQ-Indoor Air Quality. According to the EPA:
    • Fifty percent (50%) of the schools in the U.S. today have issues linked to deficient or failing IAQ.
    • Deficient IAQ increases asthma risk by fifty percent (50%)
    • Test scores can drop by twenty-one percent (21%) with insufficient IAQ.
    • Schools with deficient IAQ have lower average student attendance rates
    • Cleaner indoor air promotes better health for students and teachers.
    • Implementing IAQ management can boost test scores by over fifteen percent (15%)
    • Greater ventilation can reduce absenteeism by ten (10) absences per one thousand students.
  • School administrators and school boards demand facilities that are equipped with sufficient lighting and sufficient fire protection. Heating and air conditioning as well as the electrical systems necessary to drive these pieces of hardware must be energy efficient.  Emergency generators are becoming a basic requirement to facilitate card readers and emergency door access.
  • Voice evacuation fire alarm and performance sound and telecommunication systems must be provided and must be kept active by emergency generators if power failures occur.
  • More and more high schools offer advanced placement generating college credits required for admission to universities and colleges. State-of-the art equipment facilitates this possibility. We are talking about laboratories, compressed air systems, medical and dental equipment, IT facilities, natural gas distribution systems, environment systems supporting biodiesel, solar and wind turbines, and other specialized equipment.  Many schools offer education at night as well as in the daytime.
  • All codes, local, state, federal and international MUST be adhered to with no exceptions.
  • Construction costs account for twenty to forty percent (20-40%) of the total life-cycle costs so maintenance and replacement must be considered when designing facilities.
  • Control systems providing for energy savings during off-peak hours must be designed into school building facilities.
  • LED lighting is becoming a must with dimmable controls, occupancy/vacancy sensors and daylight harvesting is certainly desirable.
  • For schools in the mid-west and other areas of our country, tornado shelters must be considered and certainly could save lives when available.

These are just a few of the requirements architects and design engineers face when quoting a package to school boards and regional school systems.  Much more sophisticated that ever before with requirements never thought of before.  Times are changing—and for the better.

SMARTS

March 17, 2019


Who was the smartest person in the history of our species? Solomon, Albert Einstein, Jesus, Nikola Tesla, Isaac Newton, Leonardo de Vinci, Stephen Hawking—who would you name.  We’ve had several individuals who broke the curve relative to intelligence.   As defined by the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, IQ:

“an intelligence test score that is obtained by dividing mental age, which reflects the age-graded level of performance as derived from population norms, by chronological age and multiplying by100: a score of100 thus indicates performance at exactly the normal level for that age group. Abbreviation: IQ”

An intelligence quotient or IQ is a score derived from one of several different intelligence measures.  Standardized tests are designed to measure intelligence.  The term “IQ” is a translation of the German Intellizenz Quotient and was coined by the German psychologist William Stern in 1912.  This was a method proposed by Dr. Stern to score early modern children’s intelligence tests such as those developed by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simin in the early twentieth century.  Although the term “IQ” is still in use, the scoring of modern IQ tests such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale is not based on a projection of the subject’s measured rank on the Gaussian Bell curve with a center value of one hundred (100) and a standard deviation of fifteen (15).  The Stanford-Binet IQ test has a standard deviation of sixteen (16).  As you can see from the graphic below, seventy percent (70%) of the human population has an IQ between eighty-five and one hundred and fifteen.  From one hundred and fifteen to one hundred and thirty you are considered to be highly intelligent.  Above one hundred and thirty you are exceptionally gifted.

What are several qualities of highly intelligent people?  Let’s look.

QUALITIES:

  • A great deal of self-control.
  • Very curious
  • They are avid readers
  • They are intuitive
  • They love learning
  • They are adaptable
  • They are risk-takers
  • They are NOT over-confident
  • They are open-minded
  • They are somewhat introverted

You probably know individuals who fit this profile.  We are going to look at one right now:  John von Neumann.

JON von NEUMANN:

The Financial Times of London celebrated John von Neumann as “The Man of the Century” on Dec. 24, 1999. The headline hailed him as the “architect of the computer age,” not only the “most striking” person of the 20th century, but its “pattern-card”—the pattern from which modern man, like the newest fashion collection, is cut.

The Financial Times and others characterize von Neumann’s importance for the development of modern thinking by what are termed his three great accomplishments, namely:

(1) Von Neumann is the inventor of the computer. All computers in use today have the “architecture” von Neumann developed, which makes it possible to store the program, together with data, in working memory.

(2) By comparing human intelligence to computers, von Neumann laid the foundation for “Artificial Intelligence,” which is taken to be one of the most important areas of research today.

(3) Von Neumann used his “game theory,” to develop a dominant tool for economic analysis, which gained recognition in 1994 when the Nobel Prize for economic sciences was awarded to John C. Harsanyi, John F. Nash, and Richard Selten.

John von Neumann, original name János Neumann, (born December 28, 1903, Budapest, Hungary—died February 8, 1957, Washington, D.C. Hungarian-born American mathematician. As an adult, he appended von to his surname; the hereditary title had been granted his father in 1913. Von Neumann grew from child prodigy to one of the world’s foremost mathematicians by his mid-twenties. Important work in set theory inaugurated a career that touched nearly every major branch of mathematics. Von Neumann’s gift for applied mathematics took his work in directions that influenced quantum theory theory of automation, economics, and defense planning. Von Neumann pioneered game theory, and, along with Alan Turing and Claude Shannon was one of the conceptual inventors of the stored-program digital computer .

Von Neumann did exhibit signs of genius in early childhood: he could joke in Classical Greek and, for a family stunt, he could quickly memorize a page from a telephone book and recite its numbers and addresses. Von Neumann learned languages and math from tutors and attended Budapest’s most prestigious secondary school, the Lutheran Gymnasium . The Neumann family fled Bela Kun’s short-lived communist regime in 1919 for a brief and relatively comfortable exile split between Vienna and the Adriatic resort of Abbazia. Upon completion of von Neumann’s secondary schooling in 1921, his father discouraged him from pursuing a career in mathematics, fearing that there was not enough money in the field. As a compromise, von Neumann simultaneously studied chemistry and mathematics. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute in  Zurich and a doctorate in mathematics (1926) from the University of Budapest.

OK, that all well and good but do we know the IQ of Dr. John von Neumann?

John Von Neumann IQ is 190, which is considered as a super genius and in top 0.1% of the population in the world.

With his marvelous IQ, he wrote one hundred and fifty (150) published papers in his life; sixty (60) in pure mathematics, twenty (20) in physics, and sixty (60) in applied mathematics. His last work, an unfinished manuscript written while in the hospital and later published in book form as The Computer and the Brain, gives an indication of the direction of his interests at the time of his death. It discusses how the brain can be viewed as a computing machine. The book is speculative in nature, but discusses several important differences between brains and computers of his day (such as processing speed and parallelism), as well as suggesting directions for future research. Memory is one of the central themes in his book.

I told you he was smart!

OUR SHRINKING WORLD

March 16, 2019


We sometimes do not realize how miniaturization has affected our every-day lives.  Electromechanical products have become smaller and smaller with one great example being the cell phone we carry and use every day.  Before we look at several examples, let’s get a definition of miniaturization.

Miniaturization is the trend to manufacture ever smaller mechanical, optical and electronic products and devices. Examples include miniaturization of mobile phones, computers and vehicle engine downsizing. In electronics, Moore’s Law predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit for minimum component cost doubles every eighteen (18) months. This enables processors to be built in smaller sizes. We can tell that miniaturization refers to the evolution of primarily electronic devices as they become smaller, faster and more efficient. Miniaturization also includes mechanical components although it sometimes is very difficult to reduce the size of a functioning part.

The revolution of electronic miniaturization began during World War II and is continuing to change the world till now. Miniaturization of computer technology has been the source of a seemingly endless battle between technology giants over the world. The market has become so competitive that the companies developing microprocessors are constantly working towards erecting a smaller microchip than that of their competitor, and as a result, computers become obsolete almost as soon as they are commercialized.  The concept that underlies technological miniaturization is “the smaller the better”; smaller is faster, smaller is cheaper, smaller is more profitable. It is not just companies that profit from miniaturization advances, but entire nations reap rewards through the capitalization of new developments. Devices such as personal computers, cellular telephones, portable radios, and camcorders have created massive markets through miniaturization, and brought billions of dollars to the countries where they were designed and built. In the 21st century, almost every electronic device has a computer chip inside. The goal of miniaturization is to make these devices smaller and more powerful, and thus made available everywhere. It has been said, however, that the time for continued miniaturization is limited – the smaller the computer chip gets, the more difficult it becomes to shrink the components that fit on the chip.  I personally do not think this is the case but I am a mechanical engineer and not an electronic or electrical engineer.  I use the products but I do not develop the products.

The world of miniaturization would not be possible at all if it were not for semiconductor technology.  Devices made of semiconductors, notably silicon, are essential components of most electronic circuits.  A process of lithography is used to create circuitry layered over a silicon substrate. A transistor is a semiconductor device with three connections capable of amplification in addition to rectification. Miniaturization entails increasing the number of transistors that can hold on a single chip, while shrinking the size of the chip. As the surface area of a chip decreases, the task of designing newer and faster circuit designs becomes more difficult, as there is less room left for the components that make the computer run faster and store more data.

There is no better example of miniaturization than cell phone development.  The digital picture you see below will give some indication as to the development of the cell phone and how the physical size has decreased over the years.  The cell phone to the far left is where it all started.  To the right, where we are today.  If you look at the modern-day cell phone you see a remarkable difference in size AND ability to communicate.  This is all possible due to shrinking computer chips.

One of the most striking changes due to miniaturization is the application of digital equipment into a modern-day aircraft cockpit.  The JPEG below is a mockup of an actual Convair 880.  With analog gauges, an engineering panel and an exterior shell, this cockpit reads 1960/1970 style design and fabrication.  In fact, this is the actual cockpit mock up that was used in the classic comedy film “Airplane”.

Now, let us take a look at a digital cockpit.  Notice any differences?  Cleaner and fewer.  The GUI or graphical user interface can take the place of numerous dials and gauges that clutter and possibly confuse a pilot’s vision.

I think you have the picture so I would challenge you to take a look this upcoming week to discover those electromechanical items, we take for granted, to discover how they have been reduced in size.  You just may be surprised.

 

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

February 12, 2019


Just what do we know about Artificial Intelligence or AI?  Portions of this post were taken from Forbes Magazine.

John McCarthy first coined the term artificial intelligence in 1956 when he invited a group of researchers from a variety of disciplines including language simulation, neuron nets, complexity theory and more to a summer workshop called the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence to discuss what would ultimately become the field of AI. At that time, the researchers came together to clarify and develop the concepts around “thinking machines” which up to this point had been quite divergent. McCarthy is said to have picked the name artificial intelligence for its neutrality; to avoid highlighting one of the tracks being pursued at the time for the field of “thinking machines” that included cybernetics, automation theory and complex information processing. The proposal for the conference said, “The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.”

Today, modern dictionary definitions focus on AI being a sub-field of computer science and how machines can imitate human intelligence (being human-like rather than becoming human). The English Oxford Living Dictionary gives this definition: “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

Merriam-Webster defines artificial intelligence this way:

  1. A branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers.
  2. The capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.

About thirty (30) year ago, a professor at the Harvard Business School (Dr. Shoshana Zuboff) articulated three laws based on research into the consequences that widespread computing would have on society. Dr. Zuboff had degrees in philosophy and social psychology so she was definitely ahead of her time relative to the unknown field of AI.  Her document “In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power”, she postulated the following three laws:

  • Everything that can be automated will be automated
  • Everything that can be informated will be informated. (NOTE: Informated was coined by Zuboff to describe the process of turning descriptions and measurements of activities, events and objects into information.)
  • In the absence of countervailing restrictions and sanctions, every digital application that can be sued for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control, irrespective of its originating intention.

At that time there was definitely a significant lack of computing power.  That ship has sailed and is no longer a great hinderance to AI advancement that it certainly once was.

 

WHERE ARE WE?

In recent speech, Russian president Vladimir Putin made an incredibly prescient statement: “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all of humankind.” He went on to highlight both the risks and rewards of AI and concluded by declaring that whatever country comes to dominate this technology will be the “ruler of the world.”

As someone who closely monitors global events and studies emerging technologies, I think Putin’s lofty rhetoric is entirely appropriate. Funding for global AI startups has grown at a sixty percent (60%) compound annual growth rate since 2010. More significantly, the international community is actively discussing the influence AI will exert over both global cooperation and national strength. In fact, the United Arab Emirates just recently appointed its first state minister responsible for AI.

Automation and digitalization have already had a radical effect on international systems and structures. And considering that this technology is still in its infancy, every new development will only deepen the effects. The question is: Which countries will lead the way, and which ones will follow behind?

If we look at criteria necessary for advancement, there are the seven countries in the best position to rule the world with the help of AI.  These countries are as follows:

  • Russia
  • The United States of America
  • China
  • Japan
  • Estonia
  • Israel
  • Canada

The United States and China are currently in the best position to reap the rewards of AI. These countries have the infrastructure, innovations and initiative necessary to evolve AI into something with broadly shared benefits. In fact, China expects to dominate AI globally by 2030. The United States could still maintain its lead if it makes AI a top priority and charges necessary investments while also pulling together all required government and private sector resources.

Ultimately, however, winning and losing will not be determined by which country gains the most growth through AI. It will be determined by how the entire global community chooses to leverage AI — as a tool of war or as a tool of progress.

Ideally, the country that uses AI to rule the world will do it through leadership and cooperation rather than automated domination.

CONCLUSIONS:  We dare not neglect this disruptive technology.  We cannot afford to lose this battle.

WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY

January 12, 2019


Wearable technology’s evolution is not about the gadget on the wrist or the arm but what is done with the data these devices collect, say most computational biologist. I think before we go on, let’s define wearable technology as:

“Wearable technology (also called wearable gadgets) is a category of technology devices that can be worn by a consumer and often include tracking information related to health and fitness. Other wearable tech gadgets include devices that have small motion sensors to take photos and sync with your mobile devices.”

Several examples of wearable technology may be seen by the following digital photographs.

You can all recognize the “watches” shown above. I have one on right now.  For Christmas this year, my wife gave me a Fitbit Charge 3.  I can monitor: 1.) Number of steps per day, 2.) Pulse rate, 3.) Calories burned during the day, 4.) Time of day, 5.) Number of stairs climbed per day, 6.) Miles walked or run per day, and 7.) Several items I can program in from the app on my digital phone.  It is truly a marvelous device.

Other wearables provide very different information and accomplish data of much greater import.

The device above is manufactured by a company called Lumus.  This company focusses on products that provide new dimensions for the human visual experience. It offers cutting-edge eyewear displays that can be used in various applications including gaming, movie watching, text reading, web browsing, and interaction with the interface of wearable computers. Lumus does not aim to produce self-branded products. Instead, the company wants to work with various original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to enable the wider use of its technologies.  This is truly ground-breaking technology being used today on a limited basis.

Wearable technology is aiding individuals of decreasing eyesight to see as most people see.  The methodology is explained with the following digital.

Glucose levels may be monitored by the device shown above. No longer is it necessary to prick your finger to draw a small droplet of blood to determine glucose levels.  The device below can do that on a continuous basis and without a cumbersome test device.

There are many over the world suffering from “A-fib”.  Periodic monitoring becomes a necessity and one of the best methods of accomplishing that is shown by the devices below. A watch monitors pulse rate and sends that information via blue tooth to an app downloaded on your cell phone.

Four Benefits of Wearable Health Technology are as follows:

  • Real Time Data collection. Wearables can already collect an array of data like activity levels, sleep and heart rate, among others. …
  • Continuous Monitoring. …
  • Predict and alerting. …
  • Empowering patients.

Major advances in sensor and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technologies are allowing much more accurate measurements and facilitating believable data that can be used to track movements and health conditions on any one given day.  In many cases, the data captured can be downloaded into a computer and transmitted to a medical practitioner for documentation.

Sensor miniaturization is a key driver for space-constrained wearable design.  Motion sensors are now available in tiny packages measuring 2 x 2 millimeters.  As mentioned, specific medical sensors can be used to track 1.) Heart rate variability, 2.) Oxygen levels, 3.) Cardiac health, 4.) Blood pressure, 5.) Hemoglobin, 6.) Glucose levels and 7.) Body temperature.  These medical devices represent a growing market due to their higher accuracy and greater performance.  These facts make them less prone to price pressures that designers commonly face with designing consumer wearables.

One great advantage for these devices now is the ability to hold a charge for a much longer period of time.  My Fitbit has a battery life of seven (7) days.  That’s really unheard of relative to times past.

CONCLUSION:  Wearable designs are building a whole new industry one gadget at a time.  MEMS sensors represent an intrinsic part of this design movement. Wearable designs have come a long way from counting steps in fitness trackers, and they are already applying machine-learning algorithms to classify and analyze data.

DECISION PARALYSIS

January 5, 2019


The idea for this post came from “Plant Engineering Magazine”, December 2018.

OK, now what do I do?  Have you ever heard yourself muttering those words?  Well, I’ve been there—done that—got the “Tee shirt”.  We all have at one time been placed or have placed ourselves in the decision-making process with a certain degree of paralysis.  If you have P and L responsibilities, own a house, contemplate the purchase of any item that will impact your checkbook or finances, you’ve been there. Let’s take a look at eight (8) factors that may cause decision paralysis.

  1. RAPID CHANGE: The manner in which we conduct our daily lives has changed dramatically over the past few years. Digitalization is sweeping across the domestic and commercial world changing the way we do just about everything. The way we shop, bank, and travel can be accomplished on-line with delivery systems reacting accordingly.  Everyone, including the
    “ baby-boomers” need to get on-board with the changes.
  2. COMPLEX PROCESSES: Old-school processes are inadequate for managing today’s very complex issues. Our three sons and all of our grandchildren have probably never purchased a stamp.  Everything is accomplished on line including paying the bills.  There will come a time when every acquisition will start online.  One of the most fascinating web sites if U-tube.com.  I have never been faced with a “fix-it” problem that is not described on U-tube. It is a valuable resource.  Get ready for digitization now—its coming.
  3. DEMANDING CUSTOMERS: Today’s consumers have high expectations for attentive service, high value, and timely communication. It is no longer enough to be content with trusting the process will deliver value for the customer.  My greatest complaint with COMCAST is customer service.  The product itself is adequate but their customer service is one of the most pitiful on the planet.
  4. PHYSICAL THREATS: I do NOT mean burglars and home invasion.  Aging infrastructure systems, including our power grid, air traffic control, bridges, railways, pose significant threats to reliable communication, transportation and safety in general.  In-house and in-store equipment may not be sophisticated enough to handle growing demands brought on by our “digital world”.  Upgrades to physical equipment and programs driving that equipment become more frequent as we try to make decisions and choices.
  5. TOO MANY CHOICES: While choices are really nice, too many options can present a real burden for the decision maker.  We should and must prioritize the growing list of choices and choose the most viable options.  This includes possible vendors and companies offering choices.
  6. CYBER THREATS: We MUST incorporate systems to protect digital infrastructure.   If you read the literature, you find we are losing that battle. It’s almost to the point that every household needs an IT guy.
  7. DATA OVERLOAD: “Big data” is swamping us with information at an ever-growing rate due to an endless list of features and functionality relative to digital devices. As you well know, CDs and DVDs can now be purchased with terabyte capabilities.  Necessity is the mother of invention and this need will only grow.
  8. TIGHT BUDGETS AND FINANCES: In most cases, making the proper and correct decision will require some cost. Once again, this can cause delays in trying to choose the best options with the maximum payback in time, money and effort.

There may be others factors depending upon the situation or the decision you must make on a personal basis.    Let us now consider steps that just might ease the pain of decision-making.

  • EARLY DETECTION OF A PROBLEM: There probably are early warning signs that a problem is coming necessitating a solution. It is a great help if you can stay attuned to warnings that present themselves.  It gives you time to consider a possible solution.
  • SCHEDULE AND CONSIDER YOUR “FIX” EARLY: If at all possible, solve the problem before it becomes a panic situation. Have a solution or solutions ready to incorporate by becoming pro-active.
  • MONITOR THE FIX: Make sure you are solving the problem and not a manifestation of the problem.  We call this “root-cause-analysis”.
  • TRACK YOUR COSTS: Know what it costs to resolve the problem.
  • MAINTAIN RECORDS AND CREATE A PAPER TRAIL: Some times the only way you know where you are is to look back to see where you have been!

SEVENTEEN INCHES

December 1, 2018


I received the following article from a good friend of mine detailing a speech given by Mr. John Scolinos.  I thought it was a very important speech and decided it was very worthy of posting and you might enjoy the read.  Take a look.

Twenty years ago, in Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA’s convention.

While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend.  One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh, man, worth every penny of my airfare. ” Who is John Scolinos, I wondered.  No matter, I was just happy to be there.

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948.  He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.  Seriously, I wondered, who is this guy?

After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches.  Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage.  Then, finally …

“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck,” he said, his voice growing irascible.  I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility.  “I may be old, but I’m not crazy.   I stand before you today to share with you what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”

Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room.  “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?”    After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches?”, more of a question than an answer. “That’s right,” he said.

“How about in Babe Ruth’s day?  Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?” Another long pause.  “Seventeen inches?” a guess from another reluctant coach.

“That’s right,” said Scolinos.

“Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?”  Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear.  “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”

“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.

“You’re right!” Scolinos barked.

“And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”

“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.

“Any Minor League coaches here?  How wide is home plate in pro ball?”………..

“Seventeen inches!” they responded.

“RIGHT!  And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?”

“Seventeen inches!” came the reply.

“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls.  “And what do they do with a Big-League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches” Pause.  “They send him to Pocatello!” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter. “What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy.  If you can’t hit a seventeen-inch target?  We’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches.   We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it.  If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.’”

“Coaches… what do we do when your best player shows up late to practice?  Or when our team rules forbid facial hair, and a guy shows up unshaven?  What if he gets caught drinking?  Do we hold him accountable?  Or do we change the rules to fit him?  Do we widen home plate? ”

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold.  He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something.  When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows.

“This is the problem in our homes today.  With our marriages, with the way, we parent our kids.  With our discipline.  We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards.  We just widen the plate!”

Then, to the point at the top of the house, he added a small American flag. “This is the problem in our schools today.  The quality of our education is going downhill fast, and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate, and discipline our young people.  We are allowing others to widen home plate!  Where is that getting us?”

Silence.  He replaced the flag with a Cross.  “And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years.  Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves!  And we allow it.”

“And the same is true with our government.  Our so-called representatives make rules for us that don’t apply to themselves. They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries.  They no longer serve us.  And we allow them to widen home plate! We see our country falling into a dark abyss while we just watch.”

I was amazed.  At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable.  From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader.  I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today.  It is this: If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools, & synagogues & churches & our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …”

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside, “…We have dark days ahead!”

Note: Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine.  Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches.  He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach.  His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players—no matter how good they are—your own children, your churches, your government, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.”

And this is what our country has become and what is wrong with it today, and now we should go out there and fix it!

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