Old News-Day 44-Quarantine-Senior Living

Providing seniors with living accommodations is big business. All around the Chicago area there are numerous senior living communities that cover all the desires of older people and their wish to live independently. Not all seniors want independence, many want security, safety, and health care. Many of these businesses offer all levels of care. If all you want is an apartment without any extras, you can have it, If you want someone to look in on you every day, you can have it, if you need help getting dressed, or with bathing and toileting, you can get it. If your memory is shot and you can’t remember your name but you are physically in good shape there is an app for that too.

I don’t call my brother very often, but when the Covid-19 thing was still being referred to as the Corona virus from China I called him. When we do talk we will spend an hour covering all the kids and everything family related, then we go on to the important things in life, like world peace, war, terrorism, and corona.

Seniors at play

Two years ago, my brother Bill sold his house, and checked himself into a senior retirement community near where he lived. He likes it. His wife died four years ago and he got tired of keeping a house going. It was his time. I am wresting with the same decision myself. Getting back to my point. When the President announced his guidelines for how to deal with the virus I began my diary, and my brother’s community went into a lock-down. The management recognized that if the bug got into their halls there would be hell to pay. Immediately, they took the conservative approach. All they needed to hear is that the virus prefers older people. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make, after all the home is a money making machine. Death ends the money coming in and without money the place goes broke. That is the practical side, the human side is that pre-mature death ends the life of some really amazing people. This is a Christian home, and Christians believe in the right to life. They will expend monumental effort to sustain it.

Here are some of the things he told me today. His meals are delivered to his room every day. Normally, meal time is when seniors socialize in the dining room, but not anymore, the dining room is closed. They do not allow any visitors. Service people are allowed only after they have been checked for the virus and on a need for service basis. Relatives are not allowed. Social activities are held virtually, i.e. over the in-house tv channel. They conduct activities where you are allowed to stand in your open doorway while the activity director at the end of the hall uses a megaphone to give instructions on the game being played, or the exercise being done. Bill takes walks on the grounds and on the golf course next to the home. Any congregation of people outside is not permitted and broken up by the staff. Staff is checked every day before they are allowed to enter. They are screened for symptoms, those with symptoms are immediately sent home.

I asked Bill if they had anyone with the virus yet. “No,” he said and the residents will probably kill anyone who gets it. None of them wants to be known as the ‘one.’

When I listened to the news today, I heard a reporter interview the head of the VA. The question was a typical liberal question trying to find someone to place the blame on for the horrible stories we have heard regarding deaths at nursing homes. In this case she asked about what went wrong at the Massachusetts State run nursing home where seventy veterans died. VA Director Robert Wilkie answered the questions with a narrative of what the VA has been doing to control the virus inside the VA hospitals. He has it all right. They are not doing a single thing that can be criticized. Regardless, the reporter was relentlessly pushing to get someone to blame. My answer which was not heard because my voice doesn’t carry to New York was this: any jerk who wants an answer should look into the home where the problem is and start asking questions at the very top of the management. Read their mission statement, did they follow it? Do they even have a mission statement? Examine the records for their audit inspections, have they been cited for violations of their procedures? Do they have procedures?

I don’t know, but these reporters make some pretty big money yet they don’t seem to be able to engage their brains with any logic. I looked up reporter’s salaries and found that the one I was listening to makes eight million dollars a year. That is a lot of dollars for reading questions from a teleprompter, and watching a timer to know when to end the segment.

If COVID-19 Has any value it will be in the way we run our country and the way we live our lives from this point on. There is a good chance that the word ‘virtual’ will predominate our future. Until such a time as we can kill the COVID-19 permanently we will be social distancing, and avoiding crowds.

Today, I took package to the post office and was surprised by the crowd that lined up all the way out of the building. Everyone was staying six feet away from the one in front of him. The PO erected a barrier from the ceiling to the countertop with plastic film to separate us from them. We are paying serious attention to the recommendations. We all have the attitude that the guy next to me might be the one who gives it to me, and he is thinking the same about you.

Anyway, as the country begins to open up it is more and more apparent that seniors will have to live by a different set of rules. There is one problem with that, people like me don’t think we are old, we think we are twenty-five even though our bodies may be eighty-five. In my mind a senior is someone who is pushing a hundred years.

He is ninety-four, she is ninety-one

There is an old Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.” This is an interesting time.

Day 32-Quarantine-Science and Common Sense

I watched with great interest as Dr. Birx explained the process she and her team were using to analyze the corona virus. My mind flashed back to one of my trips to Singapore. I never went there for pleasure it was always a two week minimum troubleshooting and training trip. This particular time we were having trouble maintaining our production output with our most popular product we fondly referred to as the PLT1M. At home, we could maintain a production rate of over 98%, in Singapore they had dropped into the eighties. The molds were the same in both places but their’s was older than ours. I suspected the tool needed maintenance. I was not disappointed when I got there. The production team was being flogged by Corp to keep the numbers up. It was tantamount to running a car on bald tires on a cross country trip and stopping only long enough to pump up the flat with air before proceeding. They knew they needed new tires, but didn’t or couldn’t stop to find, buy and install new tires. Needless to say, these stoppages were killing their production.

Our production manager was in a quandary. He knew what was required, but didn’t know how to make it happen. His allegiance and pay check were dependent upon his making product as promised to Corp. I spent the better part of three days talking to the maintenance crew, production foreman, set up men, asking what their biggest problems were. When the mold was downed for maintenance, I was there to help the toolmaker analyze the problem and watched him repair. While I was doing that, the general manager visited the bench at least every twenty minutes to determine how fast the mold could be put back into service. President Trumps COVID-19 task force is faced with a similar situation, i.e. too many questions and not enough answers. The pressure comes from the public in the form of reporters asking dumb questions about when will? Problems of this magnitude need careful analysis. then, each problem needs to be prioritized for urgency and magnitude. Dr. Birx has reported each time with the most emergent problem. Behind the scenes others are working on more analysis, and solutions. She delegates everything she can, and reports progress on the most important issues.

In my case the problem I came to solve required some serious toolmaking capacity. I learned from the staff all the projects the tool makers were working on, and listed them. What phase were these projects in, and why were they needed? As I experienced in our home toolroom the number of projects were endless, but at home if an emergency popped  up we were trained to respond to the needs of production. Sadly, molds to make new products always lost out to the current money makers. Our staff in Singapore didn’t have new products to work on so I had to dig deeper. In their case whenever a mold needed repair they deferred making spare parts. My job became one of determining how they could use available resources to solve their problems. They were using the bulk of their capacity fixing the flats.

In the middle of my visit I came down with some sort of flu that caused me terrible discomfort. I locked myself in the conference room and began to analyze Singapore’s toolroom capacity. Thank God for spread sheet programs. Without same, I would still be there trying to do the job. By the end of my flu, I was able to show them how to use their available capacity, and how to prioritize projects to get their production up. At the same time, when I came home I initiated projects to make new tooling to replace the tired tooling Singapore was using. At that same point in history I was on a task force of Chief Engineers tasked with implementing a new concept to utilize all of the toolroom capacity of our combined divisions to run projects to completion quicker. The team leader was looking for projects to test his new concept. I happened to have a few for him to take on, and he did.  That is not unlike the COVID-19 Task Force finding and sourcing both government and private sector laboratories, and equipment to use idle capacity to its fullest.

A couple of years later I sat in a meeting with our CEO and overheard him ask one of the division managers how we got to the point of production over capacity in Singapore. It was then, that I knew my trip was productive.

President Trump’s effectiveness is derived from his experience working in the private sector at real jobs like building skyscrapers. He learned from hands on experience to troubleshoot, look for the root cause of the problems and to prioritize. The members of his task force all use the same methods, Trump’s leaderships evident in his ability to follow up on all aspects of the most important issues. His daily involvement conveys the seriousness of the solution to the team. He is also a great cheerleader, his positivity and optimism are contagious

I am confident that we will get through this corona virus problem. What we need to brace for is the political battle that looms on the horizon. All of the political blaming will be in the category of Monday Morning Quarterbacking. The party out of power will be placing blame on Trump. They will come up with, what if he had done this, or he screwed up on that. But the problem will be over and it will be mute questioning and blaming because we don’t get a repeat. If we do get a repeat our health care system and testing is improved and will be better able to function as a result of COVID-19.

Time Take the Next Step

We have a Republican House of Representatives, Senate, and President, but we can’t get things done. I continue to hear why we can’t do stuff, but never a word about how we can get stuff done. As an engineer I spent my life solving problems. When a customer complaint came in I had to find a way to solve the issue. Too many times people would suggest ways to solve the problem, and I immediately listed reasons why the suggestion wouldn’t work. Finally in exasperation, our Executive Vice President told me one day “stop looking at why things won’t work and think of how to make them work.” It was like a light went on and I changed my paradigm. My teams began solving problems we considered impossible before. I consider that phrase to be one of the most significant pieces of advice I ever got, and I wish Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan would hear the same.


What is the next step for Republicans? If elected leaders can’t learn how to cooperate with the President then we the people must find people who will, and elect them to replace the losers now in place.


I Feel For Toyota

During my fifty-three year career in manufacturing, I developed a flair for solving a problem. It is not easy.  In order to find the root cause you have to continue to ask why until people think you are nuts.  My last job was manufacturing a product that we made in the billions. The item is relatively simple in appearance, but it is highly functional. The product is a cable tie. The original purpose of the cable tie was to hold wires together.  Over the years, people have learned to find many applications for this unique item.

My team designed the product, designed and made the molds that produced the product, and set the quality requirements of the manufacturing process. Often we received a complaint. Usually, a customer told us the ties were breaking. He wanted us to fix the problem. Our sales staff immediately replaced his defective product. Most of the time, it was a single package.  My engineers always asked for samples of the failures and any unused samples from the package that the failure ties came from. The failed tie often contained clues to why it failed.  The unused samples gave us some product to test in our lab. If we were very lucky, the Quality Control number was still on the package. That number allowed us to trace the manufacturing process variables.

Usually, I received a handful of broken ties from the complaint. With those samples, it became my job to determine what caused the failure.  I will not bore you with the details of how I proceeded, but if I could not duplicate the problem in the lab, I was looking for a needle in a haystack. Many times, we shut down our highest producing mold until there was an answer.  Talk about pressure to do something.  I can only imagine what is going on within Toyota right now, but I have a good feeling for what it is. I feel for the engineers whose job it is to solve the problem.

Currently, I drive a 2005 Toyota Avalon. I have rehearsed my reaction to a runaway acceleration many times. I only hope that if it happens that I have enough time to react appropriately before I kill myself or someone else. I have dubbed my car the Death Star. At this writing, I am listening to the Senate questioning of the CEO of Toyota. The man, Akio Toyoda from Toyota, said their fix might not be the answer to the acceleration problem. That is a nice way of saying they still do not have a clue about what is causing the problem.

I also studied the quality process taught by US guru Joe Duran, and utilized by the Japanese car companies. In this program, Duran taught that it is cost effective to shut a line down when you find a problem, and leave it down until you fix the problem.  That is a hard concept to swallow. Most manufacturing companies do not buy into it. Mine often did, but the justification for shutting down a mold had to be great. In Toyota’s move to stop selling cars, and to shut down their factories until they fix the quality problem, they practice what they preach. They will come out as winners in the long term.

In the meantime, I bet there are at least a thousand engineers running like chickens with their heads cut off trying to duplicate the problem. As they analyze every aspect of the design, they will come up with ideas that are very probably the answer, and they will implement solutions. They may even stumble upon the root cause and re-create the problem. That is when I will believe they have solved the problem, and until then I drive the Death Star.