Posts Tagged ‘experience’

Politics – My Take on Things Pt. 1

October 17, 2011

I rarely look at the political stage with high regard. It is showmanship and theater and beauty contest, and to the casual observer, it is filled with nothing but soundbites. I have a great many friends who are prone to listening for the soundbite, and critical thinking simply does not enter into the picture. I find this highly troubling.

Here are a few thoughts from my brain. Let’s see what the Republican debaters say tomorrow! Probably not much of any substance.

Tax Reform –

The current fallacy of modern taxation – the fairness pitfall is that money working for money (an investment) currently has a lower tax rate (15% capital gains rate) than labor or intellect working for money (up to 35% marginal tax rate). Money Talks – heck, the Supreme Court has ruled on more than one occasion that money is a protected vehicle of Free Speech. Corporations are afforded many of the same rights as people, and in some instances more rights and new rights that people don’t get to tap. My fear is that corporate influence will easily defeat meaningful tax reform.

Tax policy can drive significant elements of our economy. Want to encourage domestic investment? Lower the capital gains tax rate below the personal income tax rate. I bet that was the rationale for creating a lower capital gains tax rate in the first place – to keep investment dollars here in the US rather than see them go to Europe or Japan, though I have never seen that thought in print. I wonder what Congress’ actual rationale for establishing the lower gains rate was?

My view of personal income taxation is that all taxes – social security, medicare and internal revenue taxes should start to be assessed on the first dollar in excess of the annualized minimum wage plus some amount related to the number of dependents. A minimum wage worker, a welfare recipient or someone living in poverty should not be burdened by any taxes. Internal Revenue taxation is not too far from this principle. What is the justification, though, for the ceiling on Social Security wages  – why excuse the wealthy from this particular tax burden? Why excuse realized investment gains from social security and medicare taxes? I am genuinely asking the question – why was it done this way?

Market Volatility and the Occupy Wall Street Movement –

I am amazed that the “masses” who have lost relatively large portions of their 401K plan values and home value are complacent to “sit and take it” as they contemplate disappointing retirement prospects. They are still hopeful, I guess… One day, their losses will drive them to pick up signs and step beside the Occupy Wall Street protesters nationwide. There could be a ground swell of protest as the markets continue to dance around until dipping sharply with the next European financial calamity. My bet is that the Occupy Wall Street movement will grow dramatically next year.

Want to make the securities markets rational and suck the volatility from programmed trading out of the markets? Charge a Federal sales tax on every securities transaction whether at the market, an option or a future! I wonder how much tax revenue a 1% Federal financial transaction tax would generate? Hmmm… It won’t return the losses to the invested middle class, though.

Budget Deficits and Jobs

President Obama knows that troubled finances demand reform on the inflow and the outflow – on both ends. He “gets it”. I like President Obama, but he has a tendency to begin negotiations with an intransigent opponent with a meager appeal from the middle ground, and not something dramatic from the edge – you can’t move someone who is uncompromising towards the middle by starting from the middle – you can’t make radical change happen with baby steps. The President said that cutting the Federal Government’s mission and scope cuts jobs – he’s right. Cutting the Federal budget by 10% would potentially cut almost a half million Government jobs by my estimate at the very time when the President has challenged Congress to expand employment. The real challenge is to spend money smarter. I like President Obama, but I have to admit that I am disappointed by his small ambition to fix big problems.

I wish Robert Reich, President Clinton’s Secretary of Labour would run for President. He understands a thing or two about the “jobs economy”. He “get’s it” like few others do. I like Dr. Reich.

If Congress forms an “Infrastructure Bank” to rebuild roads and bridges and FAA systems and waterway systems to spur employment, it will only employ a small fraction of the unemployed. And it is unlikely to be sustained into the long term. A good idea with a small employment impact… But borrowing the money to rebuild infrastructures right now is cheap – a bargain! The newly reemployed in these programs would be dominantly manual laborers. There are vast numbers of highly skilled unemployed and underemployed who represent a huge untapped potential if employed and working hard – the “tails” are significantly unemployed – the least experienced and the most experienced face enormous hurdles in the labor market, and these programs do not address these highly (and narrowly) skilled workers very aggressively.

Speaking of unemployment, it is laughable that the official rate and the generally acknowledged actual rates are different by between a factor a half or a third…  The Government is wasting money to count a statistic that is simply and utterly wrong, and openly acknowledged as such. It’s a waste of my taxes for the Government to determine the unemployment rate. CNN can do better (and does). 14M unemployed; 11M underemployed; and how many uncounted?

My real concern for the future state of unemployment, in all candor, is that I’m not wealthy enough to employ security people to insulate me from the hardship of the unemployed. I don’t want indigents camping in our city parks or in my front yard or knocking on my door for food and other handouts. And they are already starting to knock on my door… This is one likely kind of societal impact from unemployment if it grows by a few more percent amidst Federal and State budget cuts that whack “survival” benefits.

This isn’t too organized a rant. Sorry about that. More later – maybe next Monday.

I need – I need a really good adhesive…

September 25, 2011

I have another “pet project” in my brain – a stainless steel gadget with three pieces that need to be joined together. I want this thing to be seamless to the touch – I can’t use fasteners. I have played with brazing and soldering with limited success – surface preparation is crucial to a good join, and any void or other flaw in the braze or solder eventually leads to corrosive failure from inside the join. So, I turned to adhesive technology – I need a really good adhesive…

I thought this would be a simple problem to solve.  I contacted 3M and Henkel (Loctite) – I figure I need a notch or two below the exotic, and these two companies should be able to help me. These companies have comprehensive product lines, tech support staffs are accessible, and there are plenty of publications from these companies to refer to. Now, have you ever called the IRS with a complicated question? And you called back to see if the second answer you got matched the first answer? They didn’t? Well, it seems that adhesives are a little like taxes…

Here is the problem description:

  • Substrates: 316L stainless steel to 316L stainless steel;
  • Static Forces: 100Kg of sheer force and 10Kg cleavage force (like bell peel) – pulling and twisting, in other works – no compressive force;
  • Dynamic Forces: Occasional impulses of force that double and triple the sheer and cleavage stress – no vibration;
  • Ordinary Physical Environment: 35C to 45C, 95% humidity (noncondensing – slightly acid from sea salt) – no submersion; may be exposed to water, detergent and drying heat to clean every month or so;
  • Color: Colorless, off-white, tan, light grey would be good – not black;
  • Join #1: Plate to plate (flat to .1mm) 1cm x 1.5 cm;
  • Join #2: Wire to plate – 3mm diameter wire with 1 cm over the plate.
  • Working time: At least several minutes – almost anything will work – not an issue…;
  • Cure time: over night, but up to 3 days will work – can heat cure if necessary – also not an issue;
  • Non-sag (viscous): not an issue for Join #1 – a high viscosity adhesive may be helpful for Join #2;
  • Production: several per week maximum; adhesive budget for up to $50/week.

With all that, I would have thought that someone would have said, “You obviously need product A for Join #1 and B for #2.  Those are obviously your best choices.” But, I got a different answer every time I talked to someone. How frustrating. No one who was accessible had any experience using the adhesive products they were discussing. These companies were not paying for experience that was facing the customer! Dad-gum-it. Experience for products with a broad range of critical applications is crucial, and it wasn’t there.

To 3M’s credit, I eventually got indirect access to a chemist, but I couldn’t talk to this employee directly. To Henkel’s credit, I eventually got direct access to the product line manager who knew the product line frontwards and backwards. These individuals were ultimately helpful. To the credit of both of these companies, they sent me several free samples of a variety of products (in lieu of a definitive answer) to play with and determine for myself what would work best. 3M sent me a dispensing gun, and Loctite made sure I had plenty of hard to get 10:1 static mixing nozzles. These companies did everything possible to get their products in my hands.

So, I still have a few unanswered questions:

  1. What material is 316L stainless most similar to with regard to surface bonding? Aluminum or cold-rolled steel (these two materials are commonly tested for manufacturer test data)? Is there a different answer for epoxies and for acrylic adhesives?
  2. What is the optimum bond thickness for each candidate adhesive for Join #1 (not always stated on the tech data sheet)?
  3. What is the optimum surface preparation technique for epoxies and for acrylic adhesives (there is a difference of opinion between companies)?
  4. What is the effect of monthly thermal cycling from 40C to 120C to 40C on the bond lifetime?
  5. What is the typical viscosity of a paste? A light paste?

Here are the products I have to trial – anyone recognize a winner:

3M – for Join #1 – VHB Transfer Tape, DP420, DP460; for join #2 – DP460NS (three epoxies);

Devcon – Metal Welder (an acrylic);

JB Industries – JB Weld;

Loctite H4710, H8500, H8600 (three acrylics for Join #1), E-60HP, E-214HP (two epoxies for Join #2); E-60HP may also work for Join #1.

LORD – 310 (medium viscosity, general purpose epoxy).

This will be a fun Thanksgiving project! I’ll report back… Anyone know answers to my questions???

Let’s Charter a Society of Senior Engineers

January 16, 2010

My fondest friend has been recruited for a leadership position in the Chinese Institute of Engineers, USA. Their agenda is to promote networking and opportunities for Chinese engineers in the USA. It strikes me that there may be an element of racist opportunism in this organization. They are politically aligned against the Institution of Engineers (India), though I doubt they would ever admit that publicly, and I am told that the bone of contention is the Asian-American Engineers of the Year awards – who qualifies for the award, and who decides on the award winners…

There are quite a number of racially motivated engineering organizations in the USA:

Chinese Institute of Engineers, USA
Institution of Engineers (India)
Asian Engineering Society
National Society of Black Engineers
Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
Arab American Association of Engineers and Architects
Jewish Engineering Association

and there are more – there is even an Alliance of Gay Engineers and a Society of Woman Engineers…

In my brain, I don’t see any of these classes of engineers as disadvantaged or ostracized in the workplace. I have engineer friends from every walk of life, and I suspect that a number of my diverse friends belong to some racially-identifying organization such as these.  And I am glad to see every one of my engineer friends succeed and advance their careers. At the end of the day, though, I am disappointed to see engineering societies aligned along racial lines – very disappointed indeed. I think that this promotes subtle racism and discrimination in the workplace through the natural follow-on formation of corporate cliques.

Societies should be formed to foster the advancement of new fields of science and engineering, and every society should work to promote opportunity for everyone. If there is a disadvantaged class, it certainly needs to be identified and the disadvantaging factors defeated. I think we need a Society of Senior Engineers! And while we are at it, a Society of Junior Engineers, too… I think that the IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) and the league of other engineering Societies that meet fail to promote opportunity for the junior or senior engineers – yes, these are the disadvantaged classes of engineers in the workplace today, and they need some promotion and opportunity.

Let’s charter a Society of Senior Engineers to promote the value of experience in the workplace. Or better yet, perhaps the IEEE will add this missions to their charter – I’ll write the IEEE and see what can be done. I have been a member of the IEEE for more than 35 years, and that should qualify me as a senior engineer.

Maybe we need one more engineering society (but we probably don’t)…

Stay Tuned For News!

FACTS Overcome FUD – and HAC, too.

November 9, 2009

My early product line management PLM career at Rockwell International’s Network Transmission Systems Division and later Alcatel was a “tough row to hoe”. My products were element-layer and network-layer management systems for telecom networks. For the network operator, these products were expensive to purchase, a little mysterious and esoteric for the uninformed, a heavy burden to maintain, and for 99.9% of the time these systems were nearly invisible and seemingly unneeded. Try justifying that purchase to the decision makers… It was a tough sell because there were so few facts to demonstrate a rational need. On the other side of the table, these products were especially difficult for me to garner funds for their development. I was severely challenged to show how much revenue my products would generate when our customers didn’t want to purchase these products in the first place. Worse, these particular management system products were “bargaining chip give-aways” to “seal the deal” if necessary. My customer counterparts and I were often in the most unfortunate position of having FUD as the only sales tool in our PLM toolbox. Measuring the real contribution to the bottom line for my products whether for us or our customers was impossible.

If a justification effort turns to the tools of FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt, any seasoned executive will recognize the “ploy” from a subordinate and is likely to reject the “amateurish” effort outright. And if the seasoned executive can, they will often wield the tools of FUD themselves on less experienced adversaries to disarm a conflict or force an agreement – FUD is fast to foist and often effectively glosses over many troublesome details.

I learned a number of valuable lessons from the old PLM days, and I continue to pass them onto my clients at every opportunity:

1) In the absence of facts, hire the best salesperson you can to sew the seeds of hope, ambition and confidence – HAC – to counter FUD. In a battle exclusively of metaphor and hyperbole, charisma wins out to justify a “leap of faith”.

2) FACTS overcome FUD – and HAC, too – always! It is always worthwhile to discover facts and master their presentation. Facts tell a story that FUD can not.

Pay Peanuts, Hire (fill in the blank)…

October 31, 2009

There is an old phrase that I don’t particularly like – I think it belittles people: “Pay peanuts – hire monkeys…” A better word for “monkeys”? Maybe I’ll think of one before I get to the end. But the point of this phrase is clear:

You don’t get an expert if you don’t pay for one.

And non-expert employees don’t capture exceptional opportunities.

I’m going to rant on this topic – please bear with me while I lay it out, and then trust me to “tie the bow” at the end. I have a home project that entails unusual materials (but not exotic) and modern 3D fabrication methods, and I am using some very modern software tools to move my project forward. My materials are 316 stainless steel and titanium grade 6. I am using 1/8″ wire rod bent into several 2D and 3D forms; I need common hardware such as clevis pins made of these materials. Nothing in this sounds exotically high-tech to me, but I have hit one brick wall after another – mostly due to the ignorance of the employees of the suppliers and service providers with every company I have dealt with.

Hardware – I need a small clevis pin in 316 stainless – many manufacturers will make this part for me for an extravagant sum – one large stateside manufacturer actually stocks this part and will sell it to me through their mid-scale distributor for a reasonable price. Fine.

“Mr. Distributor, I need a clevis pin with these dimensions in this material, please.”
“We sell this size in zinc-plated steel.”
“Please order this size and material from this particular supplier – please order this specific part number – it is exactly what I need.”
“OK, it is on order”
“What did you actually order?”
“They sell the stainless for $2 each – that’s what we ordered.”
“316 stainless?”
“What’s 316?” “Is it stainless?”
“You didn’t order the 316 stainless?”
“No, I guess we didn’t – we’ll reorder and be sure to use your part numbers this time.”
“Great – thanks”

“Mr. Wireformer, I need this 3D form in 1/8″ 316 rod, please.”
“Send us a dwg file – no problem.”
“What format version do you want – 2000 or 2007?” (my cad software exports to dwg-2007 more reliably than dwg-2000…)
“I don’t know – just send us a file, and we’ll see if we can use it…”
“OK – here is dwg-2007.”
“We can’t open it.”
“OK – here is dwg-2000.”
“We can’t open it”
“What software are you using?”
“AutoCAD LT.”
“This is a 3D drawing, not 2D – your software won’t work well with a 3D drawing.”
“OH – OK, we’ll get our expert to look at this – he has AutoCAD.”
“OK.”
“Our expert says that the file has no units – I don’t know what he means, but that’s what he says…”.
“Please ask him to use the dwg-2007 file and look at properties for units – he should see that they are inches.”
“OK.” “He says that he can’t use the 2007 file.” “He says that the 2000 file doesn’t have units.” “He says that you sent him a pipe part – he needs the path.”
“OK – here is a 3D line drawing.”
“He says that the curves are too complicated.”
“What does he suggest – what kind of curve is useful?”
“He doesn’t know how to answer your question…” “He says to please figure it out and send us a better file.”

It turns out that the wireformer needs dwg-2000 format line drawings with any elliptical elements converter to poly-splines – that answer from my software manufacturer’s user forum. Now, we’re talkin’. It also turns out that the wireformer’s AutoCAD user could have converted my pipes to lines, and converted my elliptical segments to splines – if he knew how – but he didn’t…

What is obvious here is that these employees at the supplier and wireformer are pleasant to talk to, but they are naive in their field – they are not experts – nowhere close. A conversation “business owner to business owner” revealed that these companies have shed their experts, opted for lesser-paid employees, and try to turn away unconventional requirements.

I find this same trend with several of my own clients. In a nutshell, a few of my smaller clients have steadily shed their expert engineers over the years. They offshore technical services as much as they can, and I guess that they cross their fingers that they can address their opportunities when they come. These clients are each grumbling that their business is declining and that they are less and less able to attract business from their long-standing service provider customers because they are more and more often technically noncompliant.

My advice to my clients and also to their service provider customers: pay for expertise – hire a few more talented engineers – your deficient resources won’t deliver exceptional products and services. Engineers build the future, and more importantly, they make it work!

Yes, I’m just an engineer!

September 28, 2009

Several weeks ago, a local VC pronounced to me: “Sorry, not interested – you’re just an engineer… We want a Ph. D.”

What? I was asking for a few hundred thousand to churn out a proof of concept for a software product idea of mine. My reception was somewhat icy cold, and the partners assembled apologized for their sour demeanor and explained that the economy had dealt them one failure after another lately. Following my upbeat “pitch”, the overwhelming criticism of my proposal, business plan and idea in general was that it was not being delivered by a scientist – a lofty Ph. D. – rather, by “just an engineer…”. I replied, “How many of you took the elevator up from the lobby this morning? You all “risked life and limb” to use the product of engineers, not scientists.” “How many of you use a cell phone? Order from Amazon.com?” All the inventions of engineers…”

I went just a little further to explain that, “Scientists discover the underpinnings of something that is new. Engineers build it, and more importantly, make it work!” This sadly went over their heads. My opportunity would not be forthcoming from this group this morning. I might return later, but for now they were not receptive – sometime, you have to take your lumps and move on.

I was going to take my lumps and move on without a second thought until this morning when I listened to an IEEE Spectrum podcast featuring an interview with Judith Estrin who I know from her brief stint at Cisco Systems ten years or so ago.

Closing the Innovation Gap

Her message: we are not focussed on innovation today – we are focused on “flipping” which is ultimately just transferring ownership and is not productive or sustainable in the long term. This podcast is worthwhile to listen to. It resonates so closely with my parting message to these VC’s…

Yes, I’m just an engineer – a good one – and I focus on innovation. Want to make money in a few years with less risk? Invest in innovation – not just discovery. While investing in discovery, invest too in building and creating – invest too in small starts – make the best use of your engineers! Engineers will build your future and make it work!

Experience is often undervalued

July 20, 2009

The value of experience is often overlooked or understated. That is my opinion, born of “experience”… I say that tongue in cheek, but time and again I am taken aback by the naive attitude of many managers I talk to every week who look to hire talent with solutions for the problems at hand.

A job posting two years ago by a well known company calling for 20 years of collective experience was filled by a young man who, apart from his “short time in the chair”, was otherwise qualified and obviously talented. With only six years of experience, though, and a high risk product management problem to solve, my own judgement would have been to “keep looking”, but this young fellow was hired! Hired, failed, fired, sued – what a mess transpired…

A year ago, I volunteered to help pick up the pieces – for a fee. But, my offer was refused, “… we can fix this problem ourselves without any high caliber, highly experienced outside help.” The company’s problems persist to this day, and law suits and countersuits continue to distract this company from its vital business mission. The reason that a less experienced applicant was hired? He was inexpensive at probably half the salary of a fully experienced hire. There is huge value in experience and relationships – when needed most, it is like “gold”.

I called this company today to offer my services once again. The answer from the person who by now I know fairly well was, “Our product management problems today are relatively ordinary and mundane. Today, we really just need a good attorney… Do you know what they charge PER HOUR?” (yes, I do…)

So I preach to my clients, “Hire the best you can, but hire experience rather than a credential if you can, because you will benefit in the long term – it will save you money.” I can’t prove it, but I know “from experience”.