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.

My Idea Of A Green New Deal

The world will be hard pressed to give up oil for one reason alone. Where will we get plastic for all the things we use? Plastic has become a mainstay of our lives. It is in everything. Plastic is made from oil. So when we stop drilling for oil and using oil, where will we get material for plastic bottles, dishes cutlery? There are so many things made from plastic that waste disposal is a major problem. Communities are dumping their waste in the oceans with the result being that the oceans are polluted. We need better answers for how to address plastic disposal. The video below is one answer to using wasted plastic. It brings the material into another dimension of usage, a new life. The new life will be more lasting than the first life of the original product that the plastic was used for. The second life will last for decades while the first life may have only lasted for minutes, weeks, or months. Watch and tell me this isn’t a good idea for recycling?

Stealing Trade Secrets

When you are in business and working your ass off to develop a new product, and someone sneaks into your building and steals that secret, and then builds a competing product that beats yours to the market place would you be angry? I would, and I am. I don’t have any secrets because I’m not researching or developing a product, at least not anymore. When I did work, I was researching and developing new products continuously. I can vouch for the amount of energy it takes to do that. Thankfully, my boss, who happened to own the company had a tough security policy in place. His philosophy was that he pays for developing new products and his competitors should do the same. He refused to give competitors the keys to the factory.

There was nothing he could do about a competitor buying our product and reverse engineering it, or giving it to one of our material suppliers to have them analyze it. I did the same thing, but that is fair. What is not fair is stealing the key design features and or the process for making a product from the producer.

Today, I read another news article about how China has infiltrated so many of our institutions of learning and research to find shortcuts to their success. They don’t have the brain power to do the job so they use any method they can to take products to market. It seems they have the money to bribe employees within key markets but not the money to develop the same information. Actually, I think they have the money. What they don’t have is people smart enough to think for themselves.

Why does China do this? Because they can. We let them in and open the files for them to see. Yes, they are thieves and they take advantage of our country at every opportunity, but that is because we let them do it. We look upon them as a country with too many people to feed and as a backward nation so we tend to be loose with our information. It is my opinion that America will continue to get raped by China until we take action against that happening. A few new laws might help, but what will help the most are tough security policies within companies. If a company is complaining that China is stealing its secrets then that company should take a look in the mirror and examine its security rules and its philosophy on transparency. Transparency and security don’t always mix. The most secure companies operate under handicaps in the industry. I for one thought our policies about not speaking to vendors about our processes and designs made my job a thousand percent tougher because i couldn’t get technical information from vendor experts without divulging my information. The result was we had to expend more time and effort to learn what we needed when experts in companies like DuPont, Monsanto, Celanese had super labs with a myriad of Ph.D.’s hired to help customers.

Competition is what makes capitalism work as well as it does. Competition keeps companies sharp and focused. All it takes is for a competitor to tweak a design to make it better than yours and bingo you just lost. The end result is you spend more money catching up and out doing the foe. If the profit is there it is worth doing, if not, you may just give it up and sell it cheaper than him to save your initial investment. All products have a life cycle and the first one on the market may last for forty years as did the products I worked on. In today’s world the life cycle may only be eighteen months, meaning your product will be out dated by a newer product that people will want more than your tired old eighteen month one. With products that have such a short life cycle security is imperative.

What really gets me is the auto industry. Have you ever wondered how new cars always look eerily similar to each other? Sure they are noticeably different, but their general shapes and lines are similar. Many times I have seen cars in the parking lot that looked like mine but it wasn’t mine. I blame that on poor security within the auto industry. These guys must be sending each other design files via internet to compare shapes and features. Of course cars require a lot of tooling to make, such as dies, and molds. The tools are made by outside companies. This outside source is ripe for picking and giving the competition free peeks at designs. The owner I worked for understood this and insisted that all tooling needed for making our products will be done in house. Now that is expensive, but he felt it worth the money.

My advice to companies, hospitals, laboratories, etc that are losing information to the Chinese is simple, adopt a policy of ‘if you need to know it you get to know it.’ If you don’t need the information on your job you won’t get it. The key is to adopt the policy, and then to enforce it. If you don’t you will be raped over, and over, and over again. You know what is said about doing the same thing over, and over and expecting a different result, that is the definition of insanity.

Dreams

My pillow wrestled with me all night long while I dreamt sad dreams. I couldn’t believe the sadness that overwhelmed me even though I was in a deep sleep. The dream was about my former place of employment. Mind you, I retired in 2001 and yet I dreamed about the dismantling of the manufacturing plant where I spent a huge part of my life.

There was a lot of confusion that didn’t make sense as in most dreams, but the theme dealt with ending the life of a very successful manufacturing plant that began in the 1950’s and continued producing until sometime in the 2010’s. The product line consisted of two items in various sizes. One was a plastic duct for routing wire, and the second was a plastic tie to bind loose wires together. These products evolved into a catalogue of the same in various material, colors, lengths, and accessories to enhance the finished product of electricians who used them in their work. As most successful companies do, ours grew. By the time I left the company our product line was merely a section in a large catalog and a department within a larger division. The products still have life, but no longer merit the attention they once did. They still produce profit and therefore they continue to live, but at the sign of a decline the business will change the model and eventually they will be sold or dropped.

Throughout his life the owner re-invested his profits to make more stuff. Out first plant (the one in my dream) became one of eight around the world. Eventually, the product I spent my life designing, improving, and making became a Division. Each of the manufacturing plants had their own product specialties, and they also grew. Of the seven domestic plants in the towns of Tinley Park, New Lenox, Romeoville, Cummings, Burr Ridge, Lockport, and Orland Park four have been moved to foreign countries. Three of the plants were sold and repurposed by the new owners. Only one, the one I toiled in, is gone from the face of the earth, and now I am having dreams about it.

I don’t miss being there anymore, and I am forgetting the names of the people with whom I worked, but I still recognize their faces although with an extra twenty years on them it takes a few seconds to register who they are. Why my brain decided to play this movie about the dismantling of the Tinley Park plant makes no sense to me. The second thing that makes no sense is the feeling of sadness that overwhelmed me. Maybe it is because four of my former bosses have passed as well as the owner, and their souls were uneasy last night. What did I do to poke my mind into this confusing whirlwind of disconnected stuff being removed, sold, destroyed, or sent someplace else?

All day, I’ve been feeling down because of this dream. Maybe it was because I took a bike ride yesterday instead of a walk. My entire body might have gone into automatic as it did for the many years that I commuted by bicycle to the office. I didn’t drink anything unusual, nor did I over eat. I will never solve this mystery and once this post is online I will put the whole affair to bed.

I enjoyed the fire fly display the night before much better.

Day 40-Quarantine-Security

My boss, owner of the company, had a preoccupation with security. Most of us didn’t understand it at first, but got the idea with time. He was an inventor who liked to test his ideas for success in the market place. If an invention was good, the product sold. If it was a dud, it flopped. His record, however of dreaming up great ideas vs dumb ideas was to his favor. I always thought the eyes of God were upon him and he capitalized on it.

Our security in the plant was simple. If you needed to know something you could know it. If you didn’t need the information for your job, then you stayed in the dark. It wasn’t until 2016, sixteen years after I retired from a forty year career that I read the book titled The Girls Of Atomic City, The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win WW II. The story is about the development of the atomic bomb known as the Manhattan Project. Scientists needed enriched uranium in large quantities to develop the weapon. A sister project was begun in the Smokey mountains far away from Los Alamos where the actual bomb would eventually be made. All they started with was a piece of property in the middle of nowhere miles from any city or town. A clean sheet of paper. They hired people from the big cities under contract. They paid huge salaries and made the employees swear to secrecy. They established laboratories, dormitories, factories, transportation systems, and life sustaining towns within the boundaries of this government property. They operated on a need to know basis. If a particular process required ten operations each separate from one another, each was kept secret from the others. If your job was to drill a hole in a piece, and you didn’t need to know what the hole was for, or why it was needed you drilled the hole and passed the piece on to the next department. You didn’t know who worked there or what they did there, nor why. Passing from one department to another required getting a security check before being allowed to enter, even if you worked in the department. When I read this description of how they treated security I understood where our system came from. My company operated exactly the same way.

I was a long time employee when I finally asked the boss why we are so careful about our confidential processes. His answer, “I spent a lot of time and money learning how to make our products, if our competitors want to make the same thing as good as we do, let them learn on their own.” Great idea, if they actually do it by experiment, but it is much easier and quicker if you steal the process.

A billboard posted in Oak Ridge. 31st December 1943. The town of Oak Ridge was established by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the Clinton Engineer Works in 1942 on isolated farm land as part of the Manhattan Project. The site was chosen for the X-10 Graphite Reactor, used to show that plutonium can be extracted from enriched uranium. Tennessee, USA.  (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
Social Distancing to Keep Your Job a Secret
A Very Heavily Enforced Policy

When my company finally decided to establish a manufacturing facility in the far east we did it with security in mind. My boss wouldn’t trust a Chinaman with any of our proprietary manufacturing processes, but he did like making money. He sent his crew to Singapore, a small Island City-Country off the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula south of China. The population was eighty percent Chinese, they speak a form of English, and they are a free market economy. Whereas China is a socialist country, speaks only Chinese, and believes that capitalism is stupid.

Because the boss still didn’t believe the new operation should have our state of the art processes, he chose to send only the archaic high-cost operations to take advantage of the lower labor rates, and then applied the same or even stricter security rules as we used in the US. I’ve told this story before about one of our managers visiting cable tie manufacturing plants across Asia and finding one that made a carbon copy of our design. He challenged them and their reply was “yes, we copy you because you have the best design.” They spent some money to get our design, so I guess it was okay? Wrong, our designs are patented and protected. I never did find out if we sued them or not, I didn’t need to know.

We hear a lot about China stealing designs and intellectual property. What most people think about is stolen music, or lyrics, or art. Intellectual property includes all forms of designs. They steal designs daily. Of course many of our companies, mine included, encourage the theft by recognizing they do it, and looking the other way instead of prosecuting them. I think the reason is because we don’t know how to prosecute or sue a Chinaman in their courts, or even if they have any courts.

We can thank COVID-19 for raising our awareness about the problem of sending products to China for low cost manufacturing. Our drugs are now made there, not here. So, they can hurt us big time by delaying shipment or even denying shipment if they want to. They are now making aircraft carriers, airplanes, war materials all patterned after our best designs. In some cases we gave them the designs. I still remember slick Willy Clinton agreeing to send them plans for missiles.

A time will come when Americans will again look for the label to say Made In America meaning the United States of America and not America, China. For your edification the Japanese out smarted us for awhile by making things in the town of Usa, Japan, and then labeling the product Made In USA. We better hope and pray that our homeland companies continue to make ammunition on our shores. 

Tracey J Boothe Publishing Blog

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