AI Is Coming

I am reading a book titled “AI Super Powers China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order” by Kai-Fu Lee. It has captured my imagination as a good story about something technical. I am nearing the end, and the author is presenting how AI will begin to take over in the very near future (like 5 years). He extols the many benefits of automation and the sadness of lost jobs. I thought about it and must tell you that automation doesn’t come easy. I spent 40 years at a company that produced what the world likes to call “zip ties.” At first thought, one can believe that a zip tie is not complicated, so why wouldn’t it be easy to automate? The tie is merely a plastic strip with a molded tip and a locking head on the opposite end. The product’s geometry comprises thin sections and thick sections, sharp edges and soft edges, massive sections like the tie head and body, and tiny delicate sections like the locking mechanism inside the head. Next is the material used to mold the tie. All plastics are not the same. Some are easy to melt and mold but don’t stand up to the rigors of application; the plastic must be tough, flexible, and strong. The material we finally chose to use was Nylon 6-6, but it came with its own list of problems. To mold, the material had to be very dry, but in actual use, the molded product must contain water to make it tough, flexible, and easy to apply. The product will be stiff and brittle if left dry as molded.

Raw nylon came to us as a pellet in boxes or bags. We use a special machine to melt the pellets and then to send the melted plastic into a steel mold with the product’s shape cut into it. This requires a channel cut into the mold that extends to the cavity. To make money, we required the number of cavities in the mold to be more than one. When I first began at the company, our typical mold had sixteen cavities with a binary runner system designed to make each runner extend from the nozzle to the cavity to be the same distance. We melted and molded more nylon in the runner system than in the product. What that meant was a gross imbalance in the cost. We didn’t make money molding runners. A human manually removed each shot of sixteen parts and its runner from the mold. This operator was incentivized to process the maximum number of shots per minute.

The molded product had to be removed from the runner, moisture-conditioned, and packaged before being sent to a customer. Initially, another department did the moisturizing, packaging, and boxing. When I left the company forty years later, we had the entire process automated. As many as two hundred parts were molded at one time. The parts were degated, counted, and packaged into plastic bags of one hundred or one thousand ties. A single person performed quality checks and put ten packages of a thousand ties into a box. We stopped automating at that point because paying back the machinery was more expensive than allowing the existing QC person who tended to four machines to take the final step. What I am getting at here is that AI makes sense, but automating every process may not.

Another aspect was in mold, and molding machine maintenance. When the mold is subject to being squeezed together by a machine capable of applying a million pounds of force to keep it closed during injection, the tiny parts inside the cavity are stressed beyond imagination. The result is that when a tiny part breaks, the product from that cavity is junk, and the process has to shut down to fix the flat. We then turn to quick mold change and maintenance procedures to replace broken parts. All of this is the result of thousands of man-hours of development.

Even the author agrees that automating the human hand motion is not possible at this time nor in the foreseeable future. AI may be great at analyzing orders and finding trends, or it might even be great at finding trends in the molding process, but only with scads of data. It took an entire team of electrical and process engineers years to determine how and what to measure to predict or even see trends. Eventually, we measured the process and improved our product’s quality and consistency.

The Way We Did It in 1970

In the end, we learned that automation comes at a great cost and that the cost of maintaining the equipment continues as long as the process goes on. Changing the process becomes unthinkable once it is solid and running smoothly. When that finally happened, the powers to be decided there was an advantage to sending the whole kit and caboodle to places like Singapore, Costa Rica, and Mexico, where the labor costs are lower. Just to let you know, I left out China. That is because the wisdom of our owner was that he paid for developing his process, and he believed the Chinese should pay their way, too. We had a security system in place that rivaled the NSA and CIA to keep our competitors from stealing our technology.

In conclusion, I say this, bring it on AI we are ready for you, but are you smart enough to take on the challenge in front of you?

A Debate or a Fumble

Writing is a chore. It was fun at one time, but now I consider it work. I long for the day I wrote my opinion pieces lambasting Obama for his socialist ways. Then it was fun, exposing his transformative ideas stolen from the communist manifesto. I admit he was Mr. Smooth in his delivery and his ability to put people to sleep with his melodic big-word speeches that sounded important but were all loaded with bullshit. It is not the same with Joe Biden. His brand of mumbling through speeches doesn’t appeal to me at all. Besides, I grew up in Chicago, the home of gangsters, and he is definitely one of them. The gangsters are evil, and so is Joe.

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How this guy survived in the Senate for so many years is baffling. How he was ever chosen to be the VP candidate by Obama was equally baffling, except Obama is a crook too, and crooks of a feather must stick together. The biggest mystery to me is how he was ever elected to become president. I know he got more votes than Trump. That’s how. My boyhood was spent reading headlines about the “Machine” politics of Chicago’s Richard Daley. It wasn’t uncommon to have votes coming in very late from wards, which always seemed to lose a bunch of ballots and then mysteriously find them as the count proceeded. The system has been operating this way for as long as I can remember, but no one ever does anything about it. Except for Donald Trump, who finally questioned the veracity of the lost ballots being brought forth in the middle of the night from places no one ever knew existed, did anyone try to end the mystery of how they went missing and how they were found?

The audacity of the man, who is he to have challenged the process so carefully designed and developed over the years to bring home winners? The only way it seemed to beat this process was to be voted in by such an enormous landslide of votes that even the least savvy among us would understand it as a win.

Modern politics is an extravagant stage show by political actors to convince us that their process is fair and democratic. I turned on regular TV last night to watch the Republicans, who all want to become a better president and bring the system down. I’ve been watching debates since Kennedy and Nixon, and this one was the worst excuse for a debate ever. The moderators, three of them, never controlled the show. They explained how they would conduct the show, and then the free-for-all began. In most civil debates, the debaters will take sides and attack or defend the subject. This forum was composed of several candidates, and each was given a chance to answer a question posed by one of the three moderators. The candidate was given time to answer.
Before the debater could answer, the entire stage jumped into the fray simultaneously, attacking him and posing new questions. It reminded me of how when in a football game, a player fumbles the ball. In his attempt to recover, both teams attack him, pushing, shoving, grabbing, digging, and trying to steal the ball to take possession. In a ball game, the referee continues to blow the whistle and summons his co-workers to assist him in determining who really has the ball. The rules dictate that the ref has the final say in the game. It didn’t work that way in the debate. The seven debaters were all speaking rapidly to get their points in. They all shouted to be heard over all the others with the net effect that no one got anything, much less a point, to the audience.

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I watched the debate for ten minutes before I switched to Netflix to watch the final episode of Ozark, which is about Mexican drug cartels controlling US Citizens by threatening them with death. The bullet always seemed to settle arguments and disputes. Perhaps we should require that the moderators be armed to help settle disputes and conduct a civilized debate.

Technology is Good?

Finally, after more than a week, I have my new computer working to a degree. No doubt, it will take me the rest of my lifetime to figure it out. Strangely, it has the same look and feel as the Iphone I use. That of course is purposeful. More people than ever are using their phones to do all of their business. My problem with computers is crime. The computer age has developed a new form of crime associated with people using them to do their personal business, and even their work related business. I am not one of those. It seems my work life came to an end about twenty years ago when the pocket computer age began ramping up.

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My biggest problem with understanding the new PC’s is the need for passwords. It won’t be long before we will need passwords between every word we type. Although I understand the need for password protection, I personally feel the companies are going about implementing security in the wrong direction. Instead of having to issue new usernames and passwords for each device and every new application you choose to use, the gurus of silicone should learn to use their own technology, so endearingly titled Artificial Intelligence, as a vehicle for keeping criminals out of our computers. Or, maybe they can’t do that because the Artifical Intelligence they so proudly proclaim will take over the world isn’t so intelligent after all.

For the past week I found myself chasing my tail like a whirling dervish on program after program trying to find a way to use this machine. They (I assume there are thousands of, bright young nerds residing within the machine) ask for a user name, then a password. Then, they reject one or the other without indicating which is the culprit. Out of desperation I click on “forgot password” and the next revolution of tail chasing begins. I finally ended the chase by dialing Apple and begging for help. An energetic young lady with a heavy Asian accent began issuing instructions. After relinquishing control of my computer screen to her, she was quickly able to direct me to the various buttons I needed to resolve the problem.

Having solved one problem, I directed her to another, and after the third problem, I noticed an impatience on her part to help. We finally parted ways and she told me to call again if I needed more help.

Today, I turned on the new computer fully intending to resolve any password issues on my own, only to be stopped in my tracks when the screen lit up. I touched the button to give it my fingerprint, and that triggered a response asking for a password. I proudly typed in the one password I had memorized for this machine and WHAT???? The gremlin within announced that either my username or password was incorrect.


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Dreams, dreams, dreams, what do they mean, and where do they come from? This morning, after my 6 a.m. pit stop and return to bed, I fell into a deep sleep that was not deep enough to black out dreams. In fact, that early morning second sleep seems to be conducive to dreaming wild ones. I haven’t worked for a living for twenty-two years, yet I saw myself doing what a Chief Engineer does: manage people, discuss solutions to technical problems, and create new products when they come to the desk. The level of my activity was intense.

Then, the dream fast-forwarded to a time when the company decided to move my division to another part of the world. I was no longer doing things a Chief Engineer normally does. I was doing nothing, except purging my paper files to reduce records to what would be necessary for the foreigners to operate, which is nothing in my experience. My staff was down to a secretary, and a few engineers left to manage the move of our stuff to Singapore.

I kept coming to work, and there was less to do each day and fewer people. I saw my desk with the PC atop, but the bookcase, and conference table with chairs were gone, as was the side chair to my desk. The wall was barren of the white board where I drew sketches on countless new projects and outlined myriads of projects, but the clean space was conspicuously still there. I sat staring at a computer, waiting for some emergency from the production floor to need my attention. Behind the wall, the production floor was empty for one lonely molding machine pushing out parts automatically without any human intervention. We had to build an inventory of this part number to cover the time that the machine and mold were on a six week fast boat to the Far East.

I came in the next morning, and my desk and PC were gone, and in the corner of the office lay a pile of miscellaneous clothes from the now-empty closet. I began to daydream about the forty years I spent in this space and all the seemingly important activities I had immersed myself in to feel important while neglecting my wife and kids in the name of making a living. I was all alone in an empty office, in an empty building, my wife dead long before, and my kids dispersed all about the country, earning a living for themselves. I was feeling sadness even though I was sleeping.

The dream didn’t end there. The sadness continued to overwhelm me, but time had moved on. I was now sitting in my car parked in front of the apartment building that I looked at for years from my office window. However, the office was no longer there. In its place stood a six-unit, three-story condo building. Behind this new apartment where the factory once took up 50 acres of land there was now streets and sewers, and power poles. There was not a shred of evidence that there once existed upon this land a living breathing factory that employed thousands of people twenty-fours hours a day to make simple electrical products used by electricians around the world. The sadness kept getting stronger and deeper, and my brain finally began to sense sounds coming from the house, water running, the aircon blower spinning, and I told myself to kill the sadness, get up, and take a walk.
Here I sit, mid-day still feeling blue about life in the past that I can’t change.

Finding Life On Mars

Many of you have read my posts regarding my reading habits. The last time I went to the library, I made the mistake of looking at the non-fiction genre. It happens every time, I find an interesting nonfiction topic, and I buy into it. This time, the book is “The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” I would be better served reading a book about finding intelligence on planet Earth. I picked it because it is short, 155 pages, and I am writing a story involving space travel. Maybe, just maybe, I will learn something.

Wrong. The first sixty pages were like reading a collection of doctoral theses on the biology involved with finding life in Martian rocks. The language is way too technical and boring. To liven my life, I began reading the second book I picked up at the same time. It is “The Secret to Happiness.” This is fiction, but the story involves dealing with depression and helping others. I finished the story in two days and loved it. Then I picked up the doctoral thesis collection to finish. I read another two chapters and decided I didn’t need, want, or enjoy this kind of education. I was about to close the book and put it into the take-it-back pile.

The little man sitting on my shoulder whispered into my ear, “Quitter.” Okay, I told myself I’ll read on, and I am glad I did. It is like the entire narrative changed gears and became interesting and understandable. The authors switched from discussing life outside of the world as a biological search to one of practical matters like all the space probes that have been sent on their way into space, and what we didn’t learn from them. Other than learning what not to do on the next space probe they have decided to get some real answers. The problem they have is that it takes so long for these space probes to get to their intended destination that many of the problems they are equipped to learn from are non-problems any more.

The final chapters have been a joy to read, but getting past the first pages was definitely a bore and a waste of time. The publisher could have saved a lot of money by not using the information.

I’ll give this book two stars.