Marked “Confidential”

During my career I worked in several companies. My first job during college was with International Harvester Co. Advanced Research dept. I never worried about keeping my work secret because I was a grunt who never got close to anything confidential. After graduation from college, I began as a rookie for Danly Machine Company. Even though I earned engineer wages my work involved helping a journeyman assembler on the production floor at night. I was kept in the “dark.” Eventually, I graduated into the R&D department working on customized machines. Next, I ventured upward to the Electromotive Division of General Motors in the R&D department. At least at GM I did some serious design work on a super secret project involving a Sterling engine. Two years later, I moved to Westinghouse Air Brake formally named WABCO. My job was Senior Design Engineer for a line of quarry mining machines. It was the first time that was working on a product that someone would actually put to work. One of my proudest projects was to design the world’s largest jaw crusher built to order for a mining company in the Yukon Territory of Canada. They mined, what today is probably outlawed, asbestos ore. I learned that asbestos is found in nature in the form of fibers. In the Yukon the fiber was exceptionally long making this particular asbestos extremely valuable. The problem is that it was found in permafrost. Permafrost being frozen earth is as hard as ice and requires blasting, digging, and crushing to a manageable size. My crusher was used to break huge boulders of frozen asbestos into smaller chunks. Since no one ever went to the Yukon they never saw my machine work, and it didn’t need to be a secret.

Things changed drastically when I left WABCO to begin work for a plastics manufacturer named PANDUIT. If the owner ever heard me call his business plastics manufacturing he would fire me on the spot. We made ELECTRICAL products from plastic. Panduit was steeped in security. On day one I had to sign non-disclosure agreements, and swear upon a bible to keep my mouth shut even to my immediate family about what I, or the company did. They issued a badge for the sole purpose of opening doors. Each door was programmed and my badge was coded only to get in and out of the space I worked in. Information was doled out on a need to know basis. Since I was totally new, I didn’t need to know anything, and was kept in the dark about how my project was to fit in the scheme of things. As time moved on so did I. My need to know eventually expanded to know just about everything in the division. We taught our people to label our internal correspondence on products, and processes as “Confidential”. It wasn’t long before everything we did within engineering department was labeled confidential. It was too difficult to define what was, and what wasn’t, so we erred on the side of safety by marking everything with “Confidential.”

This practice made my retirement move-out very easy, I sorted my documents into two piles, save and shred. The rule was to wind up with one very short pile of save, and a mountain of shred. It worked and I never moved any documents to my home.

This long story is the result of my hearing how the FBI raided Past President Donald Trump’s home looking for precious confidential documents. Trump should have learned from Hillary that the safe way was to destroy all evidence of documentation, both paper and electronic, and to worry about consequences later. How can anyone accuse you of stealing secret documents if they don’t exist anymore?

A Mystery to Me

The huge shortage of new cars continues to baffle me. I have read many articles and listened to some videos explaining the shortage of computer chips that is the root cause. I just don’t buy the story. To me, this is a fake news story that is bigger than any used to bring down President Trump. In the mean time, people continue to drive old cars, or buy used ones at prices that the new ones brought two years ago. The fleet grows older as the shortage continues. My own car just turned 177,000 miles and celebrated it’s sixteenth birthday. I have friends who insist that my car is young and brag that their car has close to three hundred thousand miles. I will agree that the quality and reliability of modern cars has improved exponentially with the advent of electronic ignition, fuel injection, and CNC machines that can control metal part tolerances to four digits. Assembly has tightened gap tolerances with the assistance of computer controlled robots, and dipping car frames in electrostatic baths before applying primer and paint with robots that never get bored with monotonous spray patterns to give each car the same coverage. Yes, all of these wonderful technologies use computer chips in their controllers, and the cars use many computer chips to eliminate troublesome mechanical switches throughout. I understand all of that. I can even believe that the modern car has as many as forty chips deployed throughout. What I don’t believe is that modern car companies didn’t see the shortage coming. I also, don’t believe the chip manufacturers are out of capacity to make chips. Both car companies and chip producers have been in business for a long time. They couldn’t possibly have lost their ability to forecast demand. I can believe they might be a few percentage points off of a forecast, but not so far off that their businesses are in jeopardy.

Making a computer chip takes smarts, most of which comes from people in the USA, but the manufacturing cost is high and the result is that chip makers farm the manufacturing to cheap labor countries like China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines. By transferring the making to those countries they get chips at a lower cost and make more money. The problem is that when a pandemic hits the labor pool those companies sink. I truly believe COVID had some effect on chip production, but not all.

I tend to be an aficionado of conspiracy theories, and have dreamt up a new one to chew on. What if the Green New Movement is in bed with all the car companies of the world? What if these car companies have pledged their allegiance to the Greenies to halt standard car production in favor of electric cars. How will they deal with the huge fleet of modern gas consuming vehicles in the WW fleet? As it turns out the chip shortage has been a great excuse for not making new cars while the older ones keep on ticking. That gives them time to convert manufacturing to all electric cars. I am shocked to learn that Cadillac, a division of General Motors is switching to all electric cars by 2025. The list doesn’t end with Cadillac. Add the following to the list of Greenies headed toward batteries:

Jaguar, Audi, Alfa Romeo, Rolls Royce, Mini, Volvo, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Fiat, Renault, Nissan, Volkswagen, GM, Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota. These companies are committed to selling zero emission vehicles by 2020-2030. Only Toyota who has been selling the Prius since the 1990’s has a delayed date of 2050. Hmmm. Maybe Toyota knows something the rest of them don’t. Toyota is also betting on hydrogen powered cars over electric.

All the facts support my theory of a conspiracy to save the world by forcing electric cars down our throats.

I have but one more question: what happens if after the entire world is solar, wind, battery, and hydrogen powered, and that includes, cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ocean going ships, and Antarctica melts anyway? Do we really want to waste our energy (pun intended) in trashing fossil fuels?

Just In Time = Almost Too Late

Today I am reminded of my training as an engineer in manufacturing about the Just In Time principle. What reminded me? A flower I planted from seed. I have planted this flower every year for the past ten years with good success, that is, until this year. Maybe the seeds were affected by COVID, but the end result didn’t happen as it should have. I planted the seeds in late May and within a few days they germinated and began to grow. They grew, and grew, and grew, but only the foliage. There was not a flower within sight for well over four months. I distinctly remember that the package stated seventy days from germination to flowers. It is now the third week in October and the damned plant finally began to show flowers. It is a simple Morning Glory. My recollection is that in prior years I enjoyed these blooms beginning in August. What happened this year is strange. All I know is that we are about two weeks away from a killing frost and there are still only a few blooms showing in a mass of foliage. Disappointing to say the least. At least the plant met the deadline of blooming before a the frost shuts it down, or Just in Time.

In the manufacturing world of the eighties and nineties Just in Time manufacturing was a system used by the Japanese car companies to streamline their assembly process. The company I worked for was steeped in the study of these concepts. Basically, just in time means that parts arrive at the assembly line minutes before they are needed to put into the unit. Why waste providing warehouse space to hold parts before they are needed. Put that together with the labor required to unload and stock the warehouse and then to unload it again when it is needed. The factory floor is less cluttered with inventory meaning a smaller factory is needed, and the company doesn’t pay for goods to sit around waiting for a time to be used. It works and does save money, but at the price of too many employees’ nervous systems overloading when a car is coming down the line and you still don’t have the next part needed. Therein, we coined the phrase “almost too late.” The Japanese system relies on parts manufacturers being located within a one day drive from the assembly plant. The vision is that raw materials flow from the ground to the steel mill, to the component manufacturer to the assembly plant in a smooth uninterrupted flow, just like water flowing through a pipe from the well into your glass.

Recent headlines during COVID citing the computer chip shortage are prime examples of a just in time system that failed. How any auto company allowed that to happen is beyond me. It is, however, easy to visualize happening when the chips are a part of a JIT system and the company making the chips suddenly has a huge shortage of manpower down with the virus, and it is non-stop for a year, meaning that the shortage continues as more and more employees get the virus as time marches on. Henry Ford’s original idea of building a process that was vertically integrated so that his company made every part of the car, without involving outside suppliers solves this problem. The trouble with vertical integration is that the factory becomes so frickin huge it is impossible to manage. It also means that one company has to be expert at making thousands of discreet components all of which require their own experts. Separate companies specializing in discreet components can become very adept at making starters, radiators, brakes, etc. Even body parts like fenders, and hoods require experts in stamping and processing large sheets of metal.

In a phone discussion with a Ford employee this morning I learned that at this time Ford has more cars to sell than any company on the planet, and Ford is building more cars than any other car company. I can testify that the Ford dealer in my town finally has new cars and trucks on the lot.

Zero-day Hacked Bugs

Every once in awhile I read a non-fiction book that challenges my intellect. The most recent is called “This Is How They tell Me The World Ends,” by Nicole Perlroth. This account on cyber security scared me to death about the internet and computers in general. It is my conclusion that the only way one is safe from being hacked on the internet is to shut off the computer and pull the plug, and never plug it back in. If you are using a laptop the only way I can think of is to disconnect from the web, and pull the battery.

Cyber security is something that bugs the crap out of me. I have written just recently about my hatred for using passwords. Companies like Google, and Apple are password paranoid. I always tell people that the only one being protected from getting into my programs and sites is me. I don’t remember passwords at all, and these companies are forcing users to input passwords for every segment of their business. Take Google for instance, I am now familiar with Google, but I wasn’t really interested in Google Drive, Google Photos, or Google anything. They now require user names and passwords for each individual segment of their business. Apple has iPhone, Icloud, and Ipie all demanding user names and passwords. I confess that I don’t get into these segments very often so I don’t remember those details. I keep a 3 x 5 card file with the information as my password manager. The trouble with my system is that it is antiquated and cannot keep up with the digital world. In the case of Apple, I have a stack of 3×5’s stapled together that are 1/4 inch thick with information. Usually, by the time I need to use one of these passwords Apple has deemed it too old and requires a new one. That blows the hell out of my system to make all passwords the same. Recently, by the recommendation of my friends, I am searching for a digital password manager that will replace my card file. I am convinced that it might be easier to give in and use the suggested long complicated passwords generated for me and to forget about keeping track of anything. Except, now that I have read this book I cannot knowingly give in to the hacking world by allowing easy access into my world. It is bad enough that every professional program that I use is froth with hacker entry points that would easily circumvent my passwords.

Let me digress for a moment from the general theme of this post. I like to read news, that is genuine news, and not all the political clap-trap being put before us as news. Over the last few years there have been some notable stories I have followed and forgotten. One of them was a story about a mysterious bug that took over Iran’s computers and disabled (destroyed) several thousand computers they used to control their centrifuges to enrich Uranium. At the time, there was no proof, but the speculation was that the United States and Israel were responsible. Another story, more recent, involved a complete power blackout in Ukraine that crippled the country for days that was attributed to Russia.

As it turns out, both of these stories are accurate and both hacks caused extensive and expensive damage to the countries they were perpetrated on. STUXNET was the invention of the U.S. Our government genii invented this mechanism by sewing several known software-bugs together and also invented a way to sneak it onto an Iranian computer. It took a while for this new bug to work it’s way through the Iranian network, but eventually, it infected a lot of machines, which in turn infected the devices controlling the centrifuges. I give our government an “A” plus, plus, plus for committing an act of war upon Iran without hurting people.

According to author Perlroth, the United States unleashed a weapon that other countries either never thought of, or were afraid to undertake. The end result was a string of cyber attacks by Iran on the U.S. and also from other countries all using “zero-day” openings in software that allowed hacks to occur(a zero-day opening is a hole in software that allows another hacker to enter and infect the program). For years Hackers have been finding these openings in programs and a market for them has developed. At first they were being sold for a few dollars each. As brokers began to understand the value of the bugs the prices shot up. The hope was always that the company whose software the bug was found in would buy it and fix it. Instead, the bugs were sold to the highest bidders which were often countries that could benefit by using these bugs in cyber warfare. The STUXNET was developed using several zero-day bugs. The prices on the market shot up to $250,000 and higher. The U.S. with its deep pockets bought many at millions of dollars a bug. They didn’t use them but rather stored them for future use. After STUXNET, the cyber world got the idea to do the same and wage war the same way.

On the Ukrainian front a special task force of Russian hackers was assigned the task of developing cyber war. They began by developing small discreet components which caused trouble in the Ukraine but because of the size of each they were not considered dangerous. What the world cyber experts did not figure out was that Russia was testing the Ukrainian systems with their hacking bugs. Eventually, the world found out that Russia’s goal was to shut off the lights of a country, and this was probably a test to determine how to shut off the lights in America.

This book is loaded with story after story of hacks that were publicized, but the public didn’t think much of them or was too dense to accept the fact that these wars were taking place on a regular basis. When we think of countries going to war against one another we think of planes bombing sites, tanks shooting buildings to pieces and soldiers shooting each other in the field. We don’t think of war being computers in banks and hospitals being crippled with millions of dollars of damage, or you and me having a bank account hacked and drained of our savings. Luckily, so far that is because the damage is restricted to the computers whose programs had the zero-day bug in them.

Another example is Russia’s attempt to influence the election in this country. I truly believed the crap that Hillary was the one trying to cause our problem, but she was accurate in blaming the Russians. Trump (my hero) on the other hand sided with the Russians to aid him in his quest for the presidency. All I can think of in his defense is the story about Senator Harry Reid from Nevada claiming that Mitt Romney didn’t pay his taxes. After Romney lost to Obama and everyone was asking Harry how he could tell such a blatant lie is “that Obama won the election didn’t he?” This has truly soured me on the election process and politics in general. All of the lies that were told about Russia trying to affect the election were not lies, they were true, but Trump took advantage to use the Russian influence against Biden.

I wrote several times advising not to trust any election in any state that uses computers in the process. there is only one thing worse than using a computer and that is using a computer that is connected to the internet. Author Perlroth used several more examples in her book like the Russian hacking of the DNC. She also explained that hacking into a state’s voter database invites the opportunity to change a voter’s party or to change his vote, and a number of other egregious offenses.

Finally, I am getting back to the point where I broke off above. What can be done about all this shit happening worldwide against us? First, we can regulate the entire software industry and require that they have controls in place to monitor their products. Except, regulation stifles corporations from creativity in favor of safety. Congress won’t buy it. Why don’t we require software companies to ask the public to find these zero-day bugs and pay for them, so they can fix their products? Again, it requires a Congress that is not in the pocket of lobbyists. Why don’t we offer tax incentives for companies who will comply with hack free software? Again, the answer is lobbyists.

There is no easy fix for this problem, but I would certainly be in favor of government regulation of the software industry to produce programs that would offer us some degree of protection from cyber warfare. Our Constitution dictates that the government protect the people. Just as banks are regulated to protect us why not software? Especially software that can be used to harm both the people and the country.

There is a lot more in this book that I have not tried to cover such as China’s role in the world. It is a huge subject, and Nicole Perlroth spent many years researching for her book. Once you read the story, the title will make perfect sense.

Technology Is Beautiful, When It Works

One of my favorite sayings is “technology is wonderful when it works, when it quits working life suddenly becomes horrible. A couple of weeks ago I experienced a failure of the connection between my phone and my ears. We sent a man to the moon and recently landed an unmanned ship on Mars, but we are still unable to produce a hearing aid that works effectively. My aid is made by Siemens, a German company the size of General Electric. Their products are world renown for reliability. One of their most reliable products is jet engines. Yet, when it comes to the lowly hearing aid it lacks something. Probably because everything they make is the size of a locomotive and the hearing aid is the size of a pea. The hearing aid I currently used is a now called Signia. Siemens finally decided to break off the hearing aids from their parent company and to let it stand on its own. That is common is big business. Cut it loose and let if fly on its own.

Bluetooth technology is separate from Siemens, and most likely Siemens has a license agreement with Bluetooth to connect their hearing aids to the rest of the world and to my ears. It is Bluetooth that allows my phone to be piped into my ear. For a hearing impaired person that is a miracle. Listening to a phone conversation over a common phone or a device like the iPhone is not a pleasant experience. First, if I hold the phone too close to my ear I get a shrill feedback. Second, If I accidentally touch my cheek against the touch pad I readily disconnect myself in favor of some app on my phone. Third, phone companies today cut the amount of energy and effort it takes to transmit real sound over the airwaves. They conveniently cut frequencies that they deem unnecessary for people to hear a conversation. To a hearing impaired person these missing sounds contribute to their handicap. When I get the sound piped into my ear directly, it is a thousand times more effective. The same holds true for televisions and radios. With the Blue Tooth device sending the sound directly into my ear the experience is enjoyable. As opposed to listening to a program via tinny-television speakers into a tiny hearing aid microphone located behind my ear and then piped into my ear canal through a tiny hearing aid receiver. I love my Blue Tooth, except when it stopped working.

My trusty Bluetooth pendant has hung around my neck for three plus years without any disruption in service. Each night I plug it into a charger and in the morning I rehang it on my body. The necklace is really an antenna it uses to transmit signals. If I take the necklace off I no longer get sound piped directly into my ears. I made an appointment with my audiologist to have it fixed.

Siemens Easy Tech Pendant for Bluetooth

In the past year I have had a couple of problems with my hearing aids and have had to take them in for service. Because of COVID I could not enter the building. I called when I arrived and they came out to my car to learn what the complaint was. This time, I called thinking the routine is the same. It changed. They now allowed me to enter and I was able to sit opposite the technician and explain my problem. I asked him where Dr. Laura was. He said she no longer works for us. I know she would have been able to resolve the problem much quicker but she wasn’t there any more. Mike as he is called honestly told me he has never seen a device such as mine. After all it is three years old and technology changes rapidly. He found a number on the device and called it. Luckily, the other end knew of this model and told him it is repairable for a fortune. Visions of spending a fortune to have this device repaired and then my hearing aids crash. This is the third set I have owned and each has failed at three years and a few months. Regardless, it is only money so I went for the repair. Hopefully, the aids will last long enough to make it worthwhile.

Technology is beautiful when it works, but when it doesn’t I want to stomp on it.