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)

3 x 5 Note Pads

When I worked for a living I had a boss who was famous for never forgetting things. Actually, he owned the company and died a billionaire. Whenever he spoke to one of his managers on the phone or in person he made a note of it on a 3 x 5 note pad that had one’s initials on it. The company phone directory used our three name initials as a form of speed communications. We all knew each other by initials, mine is JSR. The Owner was JEC. JEC kept a separate note pad for each of his engineers. If he had an idea for an invention he jotted a few words on a 3 x 5 and stacked the notepad on his desk. He would line up all the people he wanted to call and ask his secretary to begin calling to tell you to come see him. He might have a dozen people lined up on a given day. I was lucky enough to work in the same compound of buildings as he did, so I was expected to get there early. Others came from different divisions around Chicago. Some of those people had a forty-five minute drive to come.

When JSR arrived at JEC’s office he was asked to wait just outside the door until JEC became free. The man didn’t waste a minute. While he was waiting for me, he used the time to call someone else. When he spoke to you he pulled his stack of 3 x 5’s with your initials on them and began asking for progress reports. Usually, he was more interested to tell you about an new idea he had that I was to work on. Many times, by the time I got back to my office (5-10 minutes) he was calling for a progress report on the new idea. That was a signal to me that I had better get things going fast. It wasn’t just me that got this special attention, everyone he talked to can tell similar stories.

That my friends is how you become a billionaire. Write your ideas down, take a baby step to begin, and follow up with many baby steps fast until you have a product that makes money. In his case his batting average was greater than 50%. So when JEC asked me to work on an idea I knew from experience that it would be a winner.

Every once in a while JEC would ask me to conduct an experiment which I knew from my experience would fail. He made me conduct the experiment and get test results to confirm his notion. I always thought it was a giant waste of time, but eventually I determined that he needed concrete data to convince him of the failure. If he got data that conflicted, I had the joy of repeating the experiment over, and over. Many times, JEC designed the experiment himself to be sure I wasn’t putting my thumb on the scale to produce a failure. Eventually, with several failed tests he accepted defeat and went on to a new idea, or a new approach to make his idea work.

When a JEC idea for a product worked we were to immediately request a patent. Last week I found one of my files with a list of all the patents I got for design details that came from developing JEC’s ideas. I was surprised and pleased when I reviewed the list. My brain kicked in when I saw the patent drawings and my memory was nearly as sharp as it was when I did the work. I have a few patents , but JEC has thousands. He believed in using the patent system to protect his product ideas from his competitors.

It has been twenty years since I worked as an engineer, but frequently I dream about work. In the dream I am up to my neck in design problems, meetings, and personnel issues. The dreams are so real it is hard to believe so much time has transpired since I actually experienced the joy of working.

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?