Dreams, Dreams, Dreams

There has to be a formula for what a person does to stimulate dreams, like eating a particular food or drinking a specific beverage. In my case, none of that is key. Although I know I dream if I eat late or drink too much. Last night was no exception. I drank the exact wine I always drink, in the same quantity. I ate the same portions for supper, but I had a milkshake with Lovely. If it was the milkshake, then the dreams were somewhat happy. The theater of my mind showed films of times past when I was young and still in college. The scene occurred in a field on the International Harvester Research Farm during a summer internship 1958.

A group of starched white shirt IH executives came to the field to watch a demonstration of a new machine called a hay crusher. The function of the crusher was to split the stem of green hay. Lab experiments proved that doing so would speed the drying process and allow the hay to be baled much sooner and with more nutrients preserved. My part was the least important of the execs and engineers. I drove the Farmall 560 tractor with the crusher attached over a windrow of newly cut hay. I made one pass, and the crowd of white shirts all ran to the crushed hay to pick up a handful for first-hand observation. A consensus was that the machine did a credible job of crushing. Then, one of the higher white shirts asked, “What happens if a farmer runs the machine through a muddy field? Won’t the mud mixed with hay plug the machine and jam things up?” One of the lower white shirts asked me to drive down to the creek with a five-gallon bucket and to fill it with mushy mud.” I did as requested and returned. The highest white shirt himself spread the mushy mud along the top of the windrow of newly mown hay. He wouldn’t be ambushed by some youngster who improperly applied mud. My direct supervisor took me aside and told me to drive to the end of the row and proceed forward upon signal in fifth gear and at max throttle. (At this point, I must explain that the hay crusher was a simple device consisting of two counter-rotating rollers: one was smooth, and the other was a cylinder with a series of ridges welded to it. The hay fed through the rollers was crimped and crushed between the rollers.)

I sat on the Farmall 560 at the end of the row, waiting for the signal to advance. Then, it happened: the top white shirt dropped his hand holding a white handkerchief, and I moved the throttle lever to full speed ahead and hung on for dear life. The tractor built speed and bumped down the windrow, crushing hay. As I hit the muddy section at full speed, the tractor never slowed, but mushy mud hit my back and flew all over. White shirts ran in all directions to get out of the line of fire as the counter-rotating rollers were slinging mud far and wide. I wanted to laugh but feared for my job instead. It was a successful demonstration, and no one got hurt, but they sure got dirty. The dream ended because I woke myself laughing out loud.

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?


Sometime in the nineteen seventies or eighties when I worked for a living, my job involved making cable ties. These devices are often referred to as Zip-ties. The difference between a cable tie and a zip tie is like that between a Mercedes and a Yugo, they both perform the same function but there is a world of difference between them.

One thing that fell into my realm was determining the root cause problem of cable ties that failed in a customer’s hands. I-was lucky if I had a single specimen returned, and it was a miracle if the customer could provide the QC number. The number traced the date of manufacture, the molding machine that made it, and the batch of material that we used. Unfortunately, 99.9% of the time that information was lost.

I spent a lot of time examining the broken sample under a high power microscope. After a number of years of performing this visual autopsy I learned a lot about failure analysis. In other words I got pretty good at recognizing failure modes. The majority of fails resulted from sharp corners that became stress risers in certain environmental conditions, namely a very dry atmosphere that would dry out the nylon material. Most of these mechanical defects could be fixed by softening the sharp edge of steel in the mold cavity that produced the stress riser.

Failure analysis didn’t always point at an edge or corner. Very often the fracture point was from inside the plastic itself. Very often the fracture plane pointed toward a pin-point, like the “eye of the tiger”. About once every hundred samples I detected a black spot tinier than a spec of dust much smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

During this same time period there were news reports on the sighting of unidentified flying objects which we all called UFO’s. It was a natural to name this cable tie failure mode as a, get ready for it, “UMO” or “unidentified molded object.”

A few times I sent the broken sample to duPont for analysis using their electron beam microscope. They would send me photos which showed the pin-point spec looking like a planet in a galaxy. They couldn’t identify the spec either.

At the beginning, using UMO to describe this specific failure mode, I had to do a lot of explaining of what it meant. The search for this critter went on beyond my days at the company. It wasn’t until the powers to be decided to totally instrument our process that we began to actually identify the conditions that existed during the formation of a UMO.

I retired in 2003 and by that time everyone in the company used the UMO term daily. All of our nylon suppliers also used the term. It took thirty years for acronym to become recognized. If you Google UMO or unidentified molded object you will find nothing like the UMO in the molding sense, and probably never will either.

Just as I never really identified the UMO’s in my universe neither have the residents of the planet Earth come even close to understanding what a UFO is, but this month the USA shot down four of them.

Taught Hatred

During World War Two I was taught to hate the Japanese. It didn’t matter that I never knew a single person of Japanese heritage, but the teaching was effective. I learned to hate Japan and Japanese people. At the time we had limited sources for news, mainly newspapers delivered to the house, or newsreels at the movie houses. Our regular paper was the Sun-Times dropped on our porch every day. I delivered the paper myself to many neighbors. Although we didn’t go to the movies often, but when we did, we saw government screened images of the war before the featured film. I would have been five or six years old at the time. Mom and Dad didn’t go to the movies often, so the film images of war that I saw were limited. The headlines on the newspaper featured large scale photos of war with large bold print proclaiming battles. Inside, the stories added wordy pictures of the carnage that went on. Whatever it was, I don’t really know, but I was seeded with a lifetime hatred for all things Japanese.

Shortly, after WW II ended the United States became involved in the Korean conflict. This time I was a teen ager and went to the movies regularly. Again, the brainwashing about Koreans who vaguely look like Japanese began. I still hadn’t met anyone who was of either Japanese or Korean ancestry.

It wasn’t until I went to the University of Illinois that I began to meet people of different races. There was a large population of Chinese, Indians (from India) and a few Iranians. Many of my professors in engineering classes were from India. That is when I finally began to see different people as people and not as war. It turned out that one of them was an Iranian named Dark Mirfahkrai. We became fast friends and I once asked him if he would stay in America after he graduated. He explained that he pledged his allegiance to the Shah and felt a moral obligation to return to his homeland. I learned that foreign people were not much different than I was. I did dislike foreign teachers only because I couldn’t understand what t hey said. Their pronunciation of English was horrible. But thanks to the quiz-classes that were a part of the lectures I survived. Most of these were led by upper class men who were headed for Master Degrees.

When I entered the working world another source of input crept into my life. There were always story’s about how our major industries were being lost to the Japanese. My fellow workers were often very vociferous about companies that raced to leave America for cheap labor in Korea and Japan.

In the nineteen sixties we were invaded by Japanese car companies with cute economy cars that were considerably cheaper than USA made product, namely, Nissan and Toyota. Nissan was so afraid to market a Japanese sounding car that they didn’t put their real name on the product. Datsun was really Nissan, and stayed Datsun for a number of years. I fell in love with a cute little Toyota Corolla station wagon, and bought one for less than eighteen hundred dollars. The VW Bug was priced at that and I was tired of the problems I had with mine so I opted to change.

Owning that little car is what caused me to develop a deep seated hatred for Japan and all things Japanese. Up until the Toyota I owned cars for a minimum of eight years, I sold the Corolla after two years and during those twenty-four months it spent six months in the dealer service department. That is when I coined the phrase “Jap-Crap.”

About that time I met my first real bona-fide Japanese person. Mike Fujimoto was Council Level Boy Scout volunteer. His name was well known throughout the Chicago Area Council and he was a true Scouter. I attended several of his training sessions and he turned my thinking around about Japanese. He was American born of Japanese migrant parents, just like I was American born of Hungarian parents. He was in scouts to give his son the best possible experience he could have, as was I. I didn’t hate Japanese people as much after I met Mike, but I did hate Japanese cars and their shitty quality. I never even looked at a Japanese car for forty years after that. My kids, on the other hand, would not buy American. I had friends at work who bragged about their great experiences with Honda and Toyota, but I stayed firm. What finally got to me is when my Assistant Chief Engineer Hank told me he had to take his Honda in for service at 140,000 miles to replace the gas filler tube. I finally relented and bought a Toyota Avalon sixteen years ago and I still love it. Everything still works, and there is no rust anywhere, and it still runs great, and I now love Jap-Crap.

This brings me to the real reason I am writing this story. I just finished reading “Bridge to the Sun” by Bruce Henderson. It is about American born Japanese men who joined/or were drafted to fight in WW II. It has totally erased my hatred for Japanese Americans, and Japanese people. I learned that these people should be commended for putting up with fighting two wars simultaneously, first was WW II against the Japanese, and second the racist hatred they endured from their own people, us, me.

It Finally Happened

For the past fifty or more years I have been working with woodworking machines. One thing I have learned is that kick-back on a table saw can be serious. For fifty years I have taken extreme care to set up my cuts so the possibility of a kick back was minimized. Today, I experienced a serious kick-back. A small piece of wood caught the spinning blade and shot back at me like a bullet. Ouch that hurt! It happened as fast as a bullet too. There was no time to react. In fact I didn’t realize the kick-back until the piece hit my arm at the inner elbow. I thank God that it didn’t hit me in the head. I would have dropped like a rock.

Insurance companies are always citing that accidents will happen, and show the probability. It is not that you will never have an accident, no matter how careful you are, it is only a matter of when it will happen.

In my case this happened because I was too comfortable with the cut I was making. The piece I wanted to end up with was small, and I thought the time it would take to jig it to reduce the possibility was not worth the effort. I know now that I was wrong. If the piece is small the possibility of a serious kick back is as great as working with a large piece. Small pieces get sucked into the spinning blade and are shot back with tremendous velocity.

Today, I learned a valuable lesson. Slow down and take every cut as if it is the one than will kill you.

Accident Statistics

A National Consumer League (NCL) fact sheet reports even more disturbing numbers, “an estimated 33,400 individuals required emergency department treatment to address injuries caused by table saws. Of these 30,800 (92 percent) were related to the victim making contact with the saw blade.” (2)

NCL goes on to explain, “More than 4,000 of these injuries require amputations – an average of 11 per day.” (3)

A survey conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported the estimated total of table/bench saws related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms for a two-year period was 79,500. This total represents 78% of the estimated total stationary saw injuries of 101,900. The numbers are based upon National Electronic Injury Surveillance System data. (4)