Girl Scout Camp

By Noah Graff.

Girl Guides log book in Weihsien Concentration Camp. 1941

On Thanksgiving our family goes around the table and each one of us tells what we’re happy about and thankful for in our lives.

What’s fascinating about humans is how one person can feel miserable by a certain set of circumstances, while a different person feels happy and thankful about the same scenario.

National Public Radio’s “This American Life” ran a story earlier this year chronicling a group of girl scouts held captive in a Chinese concentration camp during World War II. In 1941 a group of mostly British and American children, who were attending a boarding school in the city of Chefoo, China, were shipped off to a concentration camp called Weilsien after the Japanese invaded the country. Their teachers also were sent to the camp, but the children’s parents, mainly missionaries, were sent elsewhere.

In the camp, the teachers took it upon themselves to maintain the dignity of the children, enforcing strict rules of conduct in an environment which could have easily resulted in a collapse of standards of discipline. For instance, when the children were served their meager meals of bread and water the teachers would correct the students if they had poor table manners such as slouching or chewing with their mouths open.

There was a large troop of girl scouts among the children, called “Girl Guides.” The Girl Guides’ leaders, known as Brown Owls, sought to run the troop as if it were any other Girl Guide troop whether in a concentration camp or not. They kept up the spirits of the girls by giving them tasks to earn merit badges and making them sing songs. The girls had contests to see who could collect the most coal shavings left over by the guards, which the prisoners would then recycle to make their own coal bricks to keep warm. The positive energy of the children inspired the depressed adults in the camp when they saw the kids always smiling, singing and insisting that everyone keep washing.

The radio program interviewed Mary Previte, one of the Girl Guides, who at 82 years old recounted her experience in Weilsien with such enthusiasm that it almost seemed as though she was describing life at summer camp, rather than a concentration camp.

She said that she couldn’t feel depressed when they sang beautiful songs, such as Psalm 46, with the words, “God is our refuge, our refuge and our strength. And on it goes. In trouble we will not be afraid.” She said the songs made her and the other prisoners feel safe and gave them the spirit they needed to survive.

We can’t ignore all the hardship and problems swirling around in the news and in our own personal lives, but if life ever feels unbearably bleak and joyless, think of the girl scouts in the Chinese concentration camp who could feel happy and safe just from some leadership, merit badges and songs.

Listen to the NPR podcast here:

Question: What are your favorite memories as a boy scout or girl scout when you were kid?

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We’ll Always Have Paris

By Lloyd Graff.

Donald Trump’s brand is his outrageousness, but mixed in with his narcissism and insults are some occasionally thought provoking statements. After the Paris attacks he said that if people had been armed, the loss of life would have been minimized in Paris.

I actually think he is right about that, though it may not be a winning argument for everybody on the street packing a firearm. Military, paramilitary or martial arts training is a plus for civilians who will not be passive victims. The three Americans who disarmed the terrorist recently on the Brussels to Paris train are a case in point. Two of them were ex-military. The widespread military service in Israel with many soldiers off duty but armed is a deterrent to terrorists. In Europe, many police officers are not armed. In America most officers carry a weapon, as do guards in public venues. The idea of weapons being available to personnel at schools is not appealing, but what used to be “unthinkable” is “thinkable” today.

The horror of the past week recalls the classic 1942 film, Casablanca, dripping with irony today. The terrorist mastermind was from a Moroccan family living in Belgium. Today’s refugees are fleeing war in Muslim countries to find freedom in Europe. But I’ll never forget Rick a refugee in Morocco saying to Ilsa, “We’ll always have Paris.”

“We’ll always have Paris”


I have found two provocative studies on medical issues, both hopeful. One is based on a huge empirical study of 200,000 nurses and doctors over a 30-year time period. The study watched them age and die. One remarkable finding was that the death rate for the non-smokers who drank 3-5 cups of coffee a day was 15% lower than that of the non-coffee drinkers. For those who drank more than 5 cups, longevity was 12% higher. Caffeininated versus decafinated had no significance. For smokers, the longevity increase was zero. Bring on the joe.

The other study is much smaller but quite remarkable, as reported by Leslie Stahl on the CBS Sunday Morning news show. She visited Indianapolis where  a group of Parkinson’s patients are seemingly arresting the progression of the debilitating illness by pursuing boxing. Their vigorous monitored workouts, which include footwork, light bag, heavy bag and actual ring fighting, seem to significantly improve their outcome with the disease. On the face of it, this seems counter-intuitive, as professional boxers such as Muhammad Ali sometimes suffer from the ailment later in life, but more and more data is coming out on the value of such exercise, including punching.

I have seen a variation with my wife Risa. She is an “over 50” World Champion in Taekwondo. She also has been diagnosed with osteoporosis. At 64 she is working on her 4th degree black belt with no symptoms of osteoporosis, though the tests of her bones indicate its progression.

Exercise, particularly the kind associated with boxing and martial arts, seems to have a significant positive impact.


It is unfortunately looking less and less likely that the beloved Section 179 depreciation allowance for capital equipment buyers will appear in December as it did last year. Many small and mid-size businesses have kept money in reserve the last few years to buy new and used machinery in December when section 179 popped up like a very early crocus.

The Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) will get a chance to testify before Congress on December 3 for it, but with the Christmas holidays and gridlock in Washington it still seems unlikely to me that there will be enough momentum to whisk in 179 before the clock runs out for 2015. A real shame.


Funny coincidence for a big basketball fan. LeBron James and Steph Curry, both winners of the Most Valuable Player Award in the NBA, were born in the same hospital in Akron, Ohio, 39 months apart. Who do you think is the more dominant player in the game, today?


Earlier this week Starwood Hotels was acquired by Marriott for approximately $12 billion. One huge hotel chain acquiring another huge chain. This is in an interesting corporate combination of complimentary lodging companies getting married, but it doesn’t signal a bunch of new hotels or resorts being built.

What is more stunning to me is the investment of $1.5 billion in June by a private equity firm in a very young company called Airbnb, a clever website which connects a visitor from Philly with a vacant apartment in Norfolk and takes a piece of the action for arranging the match. Without building a room or cleaning a swimming pool, Airbnb has brought hundreds of thousands of vacant homes and apartments into play.

This presents a new and probably unexpected, competitor into the lodging world without putting a spade in the ground.

Personally, I have yet to use Airbnb or its competitors, but my son Ari used it extensively on a vacation to Sardinia last year. I am very intrigued by the prospect of staying in a unique space in a fun place that I would have never had access to before.

Will Airbnb justify the recent pricing in the private investment world? Who knows? But I do think the gobble gobble merger strategy of the big chains is partially a reaction to the very real threat that a business like Airbnb presents to old school firms like Starwood and Marriott.

Question: Should we allow thousands of fleeing refugees into the United States?

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Toehold on Business

By Lloyd Graff.

Scott Livingston

Scott Livingston is an entrepreneurial, extremely energetic guy who has spent his life in the machining world. He also knows when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

Nine years ago he opened a satellite facility in Guyamas, Mexico, five hours south of Tucson, to augment his successful aerospace components operation in Hartford, Connecticut.

Scott wanted to take advantage of the comparatively low labor rates in Mexico. He studied the issues he knew he would face as a small business owner starting from scratch in a country with a different language and work style. The area had a technical school in place, a semi trained young workforce and an accessible location.

Livingston knew it would not be easy to expand into Mexico, but he was very confident he could make it work with enough skill, energy and money. Expanding in Connecticut was difficult with a shortage of skilled people and very expensive real estate.

In 2006, his firm, Horst Engineering, opened its Mexican operation.

The demands on him were great. He had a first child on the way, and then the recession struck, which affected his core aerospace business. But he persevered, traveling to Mexico every few months.

He and his wife also pursued their other passion, bicycle racing, which they excelled at, competing frequently in weekend races.

Scott finally pulled the plug on Mexico this year. He said the most difficult thing to navigate was the lack of capable infrastructure that a small business relies upon. Heat treating was non-existent in the area and coating capability was inadequate. Horst had also made a strategic acquisition in New England that needed his attention. And there was always the lure of bike racing. Five trips to Mexico in the last 12 months were a physical drain, and it meant a lot of time away from home and Horst.

Scott decided to open a new facility in nearby South Windsor to consolidate Horst’s Swiss screw machines in one building. He now has three buildings, two in the Hartford, Connecticut, area and one in Massachusetts.

But now Scott also has his own branded product to complement Horst’s traditional strength as an aircraft vendor.

Livingston’s love of bicycling inevitably brought him into the burgeoning sport of cyclocross, which he describes as “steeplechase on a bike.” Bikers endure steep inclines on dirt, grass, snow and asphalt in the events. They dismount four times during a race and must carry their bikes. There are stomach churning rolling vaults on self-propelled wheels. “Fun,” he says.

It’s got some “America Ninja Warriors” challenge in it, and according to Scott the sport is spreading like wildfire all over the world. Livingston and his wife and children are all heavily involved in it. He sponsors racers, promotes events and is now producing “toe spikes” for participants in cyclocross. He markets them primarily on the Internet and sells them as part of a kit to the sport’s aficionados. A pack of four spikes sells for $15.99. They come in different lengths to perform better in various elements. His ice and snow spikes retail for $16.99 per set. The spikes look like a perfect screw machine product, which has to warm the heart of an owner of a fleet of Citizen Swiss machines.

Scott Livingston, New Englander and bike lover that he is, seems to relish the awful weather that cyclocross throws at him. No more hustling down to his shop in Mexico. He’s all in on schlepping his bike through the mud and snow, keeping a sturdy foot grip with his very own Horst toe spikes.

Question: Could you imagine converting your leisure passion into a business?

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The Court For Bad Decisions

By Russell Ethridge.

I am one of thousands of small court judges whose work in the justice system is at the retail level. I move streams of low level offenses through a system that provides little insulation from the jagged shards of life. There are few silk stocking lawyers in my court, and the arguments I hear are hardly esoteric. The largely unsuccessful war on drugs and the ill advised release of the mentally ill have added greatly to my case load, but mostly my Court is about watching life’s bad decisions and bad luck play out for people who already live on the margins. Sure, I handle your neighbor’s drunk driving or domestic violence case, but if you’re reading this, I bet your neighbor had the resources to hire a lawyer, get a good plea deal, pay fines and court costs, and get the treatment du jour that convinced the system that he or she is really an okay person who just screwed up. The rub for small court judges comes from all the other defendants with no resources and few life anchors—and that’s most of them. What kind of justice system do they face? I ask myself that question most court days as I read pre-sentence reports and wait for my clerk to tell me it’s showtime.

What should I do with the 19-year-old shoplifter with three kids by three different men, none of whom live with her or pay child support? She has no job and gets government assistance and claims she can’t pay fines or the cost of the shoplifter diversion class she’s required to attend to keep the offense off her record. Should I ignore that she arrives with an iPhone 6, designer handbag, and great hair and nails? Does she go to jail? If she does, is it because she’s poor or because she has poor priorities? Along with the $40.00 per day jail fee, my community will pay the cost of caring for her kids while she does her 30 days. When she’s released, she still won’t have a life plan.

What do I do about the 20-year-old charged with possession of a joint and his fifth driving on a suspended license charge? He dropped out in 10th grade and literally, I mean literally, has never met his father. He’s worked part-time in fast food, but he lost his last gig due to a “no call, no show” attendance policy and a previous low level charge that got him locked up because he couldn’t post bond. In that instance he was pulled over because his plates didn’t belong to the car he used to get to work. He’s so hopelessly behind in fines, court costs, and state fees that he’ll never get a license which means few job prospects in a town with no mass transit.

Most of the defendants in my court are black, but I sit in enough other courts to know that it is not all about race. Poor decision making knows no color line. Nevertheless, I occasionally have to defend the system to the defendants who claim they were racially profiled by explaining how the police couldn’t see the driver’s skin color at 2:00 a.m. but could see a headlight out and a bad plate. The fact that the driver has an arrest warrant for failing to show up in another court just makes it tougher for me. What bond do I set for someone who has already shown they won’t come to court when ordered? If it’s too high, he will sit in jail and lose his job. If I kick him loose, I may never see him again, at least until he’s stopped in another town and we’re notified that we can pick him up if we want to take two officers off the street to drive across town. The cops call it “catch and release,” just like trout fishing. I tell these defendants that most success in life comes from merely showing up, but it is a lesson I can’t teach in two minutes to someone whose father never showed up.

This dilemma appeared in stark relief in Ferguson, Missouri, where the death of Michael Brown, a black man killed in an encounter with a white cop, triggered riots and a national discussion of small court practice that some call “pay or stay.” The local judge there resigned, and the new judge reportedly dismissed thousands of outstanding arrest warrants that were issued for people who didn’t pay. A Supreme Court ruling years ago made it illegal to jail someone simply because they could not pay a fine, but where is the line? Who really can’t pay and who really won’t pay? Should poverty be a “get out of jail free card” the same way money is, sort of? There are judicial end runs around this such as ordering community service and then jailing those who fail to comply, but those cost money and are hard to supervise. What if your life choices render you poor? Do they also make you dumb? Whose fault is it that you thought having three kids by 19 was a good idea? Why were you driving a car with an invalid license plate with a joint in the ashtray in a world where every cop has a computer in the car? I am not afraid to ask these questions from the bench, but I am regularly met with blank stares from people who apparently haven’t given much thought about anything beyond the next five minutes.  Maybe that’s the problem.

Most of the people who find themselves in my court have limited decision making skills. Is it because they’ve never had the guidance of a parent or a role model who showed up every day and made sure they did too? There are many days when I’m excited that a young man I trusted with probation actually got a job or enrolled in school. I pat myself on the back for my good judgment regarding human character, only then to be smacked on the head with a stack of arrest warrants to sign for those who breached my trust by failing to appear in court. Most days, however, I just clean up the mess of a society that, whether through neglect or good intentions gone wrong, has let the edges of its fabric tatter.

Question: Do we jail too many people in the U.S.?

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A German Holiday

By Noah Graff.

Berlin Wall remains, running along the Spree River

I spent last weekend in Berlin, Germany, for a little vacation after a business trip in Europe. When I told my dad I was going to Berlin and asked him his thoughts, he told me the same thing he said before I went to Munich, all that comes to his mind is one thing—Nazis. It’s not like I don’t think about Nazis and the Holocaust as I walk the streets of Germany, but I’m generally able to compartmentalize those visions in order to appreciate the many good German people I’ve met and the enjoyable cultural experiences of the country.

The following is a little peek into my Berlin experience last weekend—a pleasant, fascinating, enjoyable experience in a city that I would definitely visit again.

After you read my piece, please read the one written by dad, giving his thoughts on my trip, that coincided with the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the coordinated terrorism of Synagogues and property owned by Jews throughout Germany and Austria by Nazis on Nov. 9, 1938.

My first impression of Berlin was its sheer vastness. Often to get from my hotel on the eastern edge of the city to a tourist destination or a night club it would take 25 to 40 minutes on an extensive public transit system. The city has a certain grittiness to it that reminds me of New York. It’s not that it’s dirty, but many of the buildings and the streets have a weatheredness to them. It’s also a hodgepodge of architecture, featuring some centuries old churches and historical buildings that survived the war’s bombings, along with buildings in what was formerly West Germany constructed after World War II in the ‘50s and ‘60s. In the section that was once East Germany, there are more modern buildings constructed after the city was unified following the end of the Cold War in 1989, as well as some buildings remaining that the Communist regime constructed. Much of the Berlin Wall still exists, running throughout the city, kept as a reminder of the brutal occupation by the Russians of East Germany for over 40 years. The wall was kind of beautiful to me as a tourist, colorful with graffiti over its entire length, its broken remains a symbol of freedom that overcame oppression. My understanding is that much of the wall was commissioned by the government to be painted by professional artists from around the world, although I saw sections that common local graffiti artists paint over every day. It seemed like many Berliners cleave to the wall as an important symbol of their identity. I was told on my tour that there is often an outcry when developers construct luxury buildings obscuring the Wall and the views of the other side of it.

Berlin souvenir shops sell mocking replicas of the hats that the Soviet soldiers who once occupied the East wore, and t-shirts with illustrations of old cars breaking through the Wall. Monuments featuring the Soviet hammer and sickle symbol remain, protected in impeccably groomed parks, faithfully cared for by the city. On my three hour bike tour we visited some of those Communist monuments and learned about life in the once divided city, but we saw no monuments remembering the Holocaust. On my tour our guide never once mentioned the Holocaust. I know from reading TripAdvisor there are many spots throughout the city which pay homage to the horror of Nazi times, such as the Holocaust museum, but I covered a lot of ground around Berlin that weekend and did not bump into even one Holocaust reminder just by chance. That’s on the agenda for the next time there I guess.

Berlin has a great down to earth vibe. The prices are surprisingly cheaper than most European cities I’ve visited or major U.S. cities like Chicago and New York. Dinner prices generally ran between 10 and 30 Euros, although usually I just ate Döner Kebab sandwiches for 5 or 6 Euros from one of the thousands of Turkish joints spread throughout in the city.

Noah Graff standing at the gates of the Berlin’s hip club, Sysiphus

When going to Berlin’s trendy dance clubs that it is famous for, its best to not wear fancy clothes or shoes. Before going out I read complaints online of people being rejected at clubs just for wearing button down shirts. I went to one of those trendy clubs on my first night in Berlin. I was on a train going to a Latin dance club (big surprise) when I met two Norwegian guys, Daniel and Nicolai. We struck up a conversation while they were messing with their iPhone app for train directions and they asked me if I wanted to go with them. Of course I said yes when Daniel told me that the club they were going to, named Sysiphus, was an old gutted out old high school in the middle of nowhere East Berlin.

After getting off the train we walked a half a mile down a residential street until we saw a huge strange gate with large scary ducks illustrated on it. We arrived at the entrance around 1:00 a.m., a relatively early time for a club such as this on a Friday night. At clubs like Sisyphus many people arrive on Friday night and literally stay there partying all weekend, not leaving until Sunday morning. The bouncers made us put stickers on our phones’ camera lenses so we couldn’t take photos inside the club. The club had lots of eccentric decorations inside that would have made for some awesome photos. I guess they figured the mood would be spoiled if everyone was breaking out their cameras to record the decor, and I also think the camera ban added to the place’s mystique.

In a huge dark room in the old high school building a few thousand people, intoxicated in a myriad of ways, swayed to house music spun by a DJ with spiked bleached hair, 5 to 10 piercings throughout his face, and a black sleeveless t-shirt—that’s what I remember at least, as I had no camera. Outside the high school was a large outside space perfect for milling around, meeting people and chilling out. I sat with my new Norwegian friends who were drinking and smoking on old ratty couches scattered about the common outside area. Sometimes we sat in a half destroyed cab of an old semi truck, also outfitted with old couches, as we tried to avoid getting wet by the light rain and ate surprisingly tasty vegetarian pizza and pumpkin soup.

While we chilled out, soaking in the precious ambiance, my drunk Norwegian companions, one of whom was half Jewish, jokingly pondered what would happen if out of the blue one of us yelled “Hitler!” We were in a place filled predominantly with inebriated ravers in their early 20s. Would they be offended by such a gesture?

One of the many strangers we struck up a conversation with at the club was a short German guy in his early 20s, who later informed us that he also had a Jewish father. We posed the question to him about what would happen if we yelled out “Hitler.” He laughed a bit anxiously and said that “Hitler” was the equivalent of the “N” word in Germany. You stay away from it, unless you want big trouble. What sort of trouble would ensue, we had no idea, but it was clear that the joke would not be well received.

An American Jew, a German with a Jewish father, A Norwegian with a Jewish Mother, and a Christian Norwegian huddled together at a trendy alternative dance club at 2:00 a.m. discussing what would happen if we yelled “Hitler.” That’s what I saw in Berlin, Dad.


By Lloyd Graff

Monday, November 9, was the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the day that the Nazi extermination of Jews began in earnest in Germany. The irony of my son Noah cavorting in Berlin on the anniversary of that day that so many people I have known recall with abject horror, was not lost on me.

When Noah told me he wanted to add on a couple days to his business trip to Europe to go to Berlin, I gasped silently to myself, “Of all places to go…” I thought of Adolph Hitler, goose stepping soldiers in parade uniforms, the burning synagogues and broken glass. Why Berlin? Any place but Berlin, the Führer’s capital.

Noah is half my age. World War II and the Holocaust are “Schindler’s List” to him. I was born during that war. His grandparents suffered during that war. I have several friends whose families were gassed in German concentration camps and Noah wanted to party in Berlin on Kristallnacht.

It wasn’t that I resented him having fun over the weekend, but the images from Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda masterpieces made for the Third Reich and her Patron, Adolph Hilter, are the images I will carry in my bones, forever.

I did not begrudge Noah joyfully taking a bike tour of the beautiful city where Jesse Owens showed up Hitler for America during the 1936 Olympics.

The world has changed a lot since 1936. But the horror wrought by Hitler’s Germany endures for me.

Am I happy Noah had a ball in Berlin a few days ago on the eve of Kristallnacht?

Not really.

Question: What do you think of when Germany is mentioned?

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Robots are a Live Option

By Lloyd Graff.

The actual R2-D2 from the new 2015 Star Wars film.

Since I discovered Universal Robots I have been fascinated by the product and its potential to improve productivity for companies doing manufacturing. The firm is based in Odense, Denmark. It started up on a shoestring in 2005, with just a handful of people with an idea for a compact, portable interactive arm that would be cheap enough to be useful for even tiny companies, and small enough to put in the trunk of a car.

The company struck the sweet spot of a growing market. In May, Universal Robots sold out to Teradyne, a Boston based company specializing in test equipment. The owners received $285 million plus incentives that could take it to $330 million. Most of the money went to the venture capital firm that put up the seed money. Two of the three founders left during the tough times in 2008, but they retained their stake in the company. That same year Universal Robots sold their first robot.

I recommend Universal Robots’ videos for excellent examples of informative industrial advertising that sells without selling.


We are in the middle of the NFL season and the beginning of the NBA. The two biggest stars today are Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, both coming off championship seasons.

Both players defied the “experts” who said they would never even be able to play in college.

Tom Brady was not recruited coming out of high school. He had skills which he showed at Mater Dei High School in the Bay Area, but he was not a “natural.” His father believed in him and made 100 video tapes which he mailed to major colleges around the country. The only college that liked what they saw was the University of Michigan, which needed a backup quarterback behind the “great” Drew Henson who was a terrific athlete even though he turned out to be just a mediocre quarterback.

So Brady went to Ann Arbor to be a backup. But a funny thing happened there. Henson struggled in the Big 10 but old George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees saw the super-jock Henson as his next Mickey Mantle. He signed Henson to a big baseball contract with the stipulation that Henson could not play college football.

Brady seized his opportunity and played extremely well for the Wolverines. But still the pro football scouts doubted his ability because Brady was “not an athlete.” Brady’s time for the 40-yard dash was an almost laughable 5.2 seconds and he had only a 24” vertical jump, one of the worst ever recorded for a backfield player.

But Bill Belichick took a chance on him in the 6th round of the draft. Today Brady is considered by many as the greatest NFL quarterback – ever.

Steph Curry also had a Dad who believed in him, Dell Curry, who played in the NBA for 16 seasons. But no major college saw his son as a starting guard. Steph wanted to go to an ACC school like North Carolina or Duke but they just saw him as a scrawny kid with a jump shot who was living on his father’s reputation.

Only one school, Davidson, in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina offered Steph a scholarship to play basketball. Davidson University was not exactly a basketball powerhouse. Curry was disappointed, but he turned the Davidson offer into an opportunity. He played three seasons at Davidson, averaging 28 points per game as a Junior.

Last year he was the MVP in the NBA.


My new grandson is a month old, but if I could give him some career advice today it might be to become a farmer – but not the old fashioned pitchfork type.

Many predictions say that the population of the world will grow 50% over the next 35 years. Even without climate change this will challenge our ability to produce good, edible food. Some resourceful folks at MIT have come up with a possible solution to food production growth.

Their research began with the quest for the perfect strawberry to be grown year round in Boston. They decided to try to duplicate the weather and nutrients of the strawberries grown in Northern Mexico in a greenhouse where every variable was controlled by computer. They were able to produce the perfect strawberry and increase yearly output by three times. By growing the berries in Boston they eliminated freight, packaging, labor and waste. The cost per quart, despite the big capital investment in the project was competitive.

This research could turn farming on its head and make urban farming – growing food within 60 miles of a big city – a viable option. Not only will the quality be superior to the freighted or processed product, but the cost will potentially be lower.

I think the local entrepreneurial farm will soon be a very interesting business proposition.

Question 1: Have you used robots successfully, yet?

Question 2: Do you plan to see the new Star Wars movie?

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A High Class Trade

By Lloyd Graff.

Patek Philippe Ref. 5016R Grande Complication watch in rose gold

Patek Philippe makes very expensive time pieces, mainly watches. It is a Swiss manufacturer of beautiful pieces of mechanical jewelry that start at $10,000 per instrument and escalate from there. The company has a loyal following in America and a thriving business. What they do not have is enough watch repair people.

There are interesting similarities with the machine tool world which sells beautiful, complicated expensive things that occasionally break down.

Patek Philippe is making a determined effort to solve their repair problem. They are training their own talent. They advertised widely looking for candidates to learn the watch repair trade over a two year training period and apprenticeship in New York City. They did not try to make it sound sexy. It was going to be demanding work, requiring a meticulous nature and perseverance. The pay would eventually be good, but no bonanza. They got 200 applicants and ultimately chose just six to start the course. They came from all walks of life, different ethnic groups and a wide range of ages. Both the company and the students are making a major investment in their futures. It is the kind of long term thinking that should serve them well. The machine tool builders should follow Patek Philippe’s model.


Hudson City is a New Jersey based bank that has been quite successful in the mortgage funding business over many years, but now they are in hot water with the regulators for granting hardly any of those home loans to African Americans and Latinos. They have to pay a $33 million dollar fine or deal with almost endless litigation which would hinder a lucrative merger which is now pending with M&T Bank.

When I read this story about Hudson I immediately thought of two attractive 2500 square foot homes directly across the street from my home. They have been mainly vacant for seven years. They have had occasional renters, one had a squatter who left in the middle of the night, but no permanent owner or resident during that period.

The suburb my wife and I have lived in for 36 years is well maintained, nicely policed, filled with lovely parks and amenities. Its residents are probably 60% African American and 40% white. But who notices. The schools however, have almost all African American kids.

When I read about Hudson it made me angry and yet my business side said “I get it.” The simple way out for a financial institution is to situate its branches in rich areas, mostly white, that are deemed “safe” to lend. If you get in trouble with the regulators, quietly pay your fines, move on, and merge.

Racism lives on in the financial system. Banks play it safe and pay the officers well. And the lovely vacant homes on my street stay empty – year after year.


The World Series ended Sunday with a fascinating drama playing out in the New York Mets’ dugout.

Matt Harvey, New York’s starter in the fifth game, had pitched a shutout going into the 9th inning. The Mets led 2-0 after 8, with Harvey pitching a flawless 7th and 8th. Harvey is a tough guy with a big ego who sat out last year after Tommy John ligament surgery. He had thrown 110 pitches and the Mets ace closer Jeurys Familia was ready to get the last three outs.

Harvey went to his manager, Terry Collins, after the 8th and virtually demanded that he be allowed to finish the game. Collins acquiesced to Harvey and let him take the ball for the 9th. Harvey walked Lorenzo Cain, the lead-off man. And then Collins almost inexplicably allowed Harvey to pitch to Eric Hosmer, a tough left-handed hitter who had tormented the Mets through the entire series.

Hosmer hit a ringing double to left. Kansas City tied the game and put the Mets out of their misery in the 12th inning.

Terry Collins will forever be second guessed for his 9th inning decision with Matt Harvey. His choices were tough. Do you listen to your ace pitcher who totally believes in himself, or do you trust the numbers that tell you that the brilliant relief pitcher with bat breaking stuff will get you the win?

Familia had not been perfect against KC in the series, but he was fresh and had a different look for the Royals hitters.

I feel for Collins. He went with his heart and lost the bet.

Fabulous drama. The kind of decision that makes baseball still my favorite sport after all these years.

Question: Would you have left Matt Harvey in to pitch the 9th inning of Game 5 of the World Series?

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All Eggs In One Basket

By Lloyd Graff.

I was talking to a client recently about his company’s business strategy. I loved his transparency and clarity about his approach.

He said that he and his management team had chosen to be an automotive supplier. He was only interested in quoting on long run, high volume work in which his company could add real value. He did not want to run a little of this and a little of that. He did not want to really diversify to even out the shifting sands of automotive demand. He would take his chances with market swings.

He is riding high now with automotive running at 18 million units in America. He knows it will change, but he is confident in the rightness of his strategy.

What do you think about this kind of the “all in” approach?


My company, Graff-Pinkert, has a client who was running a Wickman multi-spindle screw machine 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a high-low clutch that was slipping badly with every index. The brass part on it, which could run optimally at 6 seconds, was running at 12 seconds, and the clutch was so hot, even with oil dripping on it, the clutch plates were starting to melt and fuse with the housing.

But the company management refused to stop the machine to replace the clutch and do other maintenance because “we’ve got to get the parts out the door or our customer will get another source.” The expedient trumped the common sense once again.

In this particular case, the machine started smoking and they had to shut it down and search desperately for a replacement clutch. We see cases like this every week, in which companies delay obvious maintenance or repairs because they are slaves to the god of production and expediency, running inches from catastrophic breakdown everyday. This reckless approach was not caused by malice, just laziness and poor planning.

Do you see this problem in your factory? How do you prevent it from becoming the norm?


From my observation, every successful firm has a few “glue people” who keep things going despite the chaos of everyday business.

Successful companies recognize the glue people and give them wide latitude to solve problems without getting fouled up by ignorant procedures and bureaucracy. The task of wise management is to identify the key people, hold onto them, and encourage them.

There is another group of “glue people” who I see getting on airplanes every time I travel. These service mechanics going on house calls keep the world’s fragile infrastructure and machinery running despite poor maintenance, occasional sabotage, and daily wear and tear. No matter how much money these folks make they are underpaid compared to the value they add.


I was talking to a client recently about his choice of CNC machines for his Mexican factory. He said that when they started up in Mexico they bought all Mori Seiki machines, but in recent years they have been buying exclusively Okuma. I asked him why.

“Simple answer,” he said. “Okuma opened a service center in Monterrey. They are able to send a capable service person the same day we have a problem. Mori was too far away,” he said.

I find it surprising that service is seldom advertised clearly by machine tool builders, when it is often much more critical in the perception of the buyers than technical superiority. Haas has built its long-term success on the Haas vans rolling around its markets with able fix-it people and immediately available spare parts.

Service is hard to execute well, but it remains the single most important piece of a successful machine tool business.


I saw an email blast this week from Hardinge, America’s premier collet maker, promising 5-day delivery on collets for Swiss-type screw machines. I applaud Hardinge for raising their game on delivery. I imagine it was a decision made for competitive reasons. What I find interesting is that normal lead times for multi-spindle screw machine collets remain at 18 working days, though the company occasionally delivers faster.

I think Hardinge believes it is bulletproof on multis but vulnerable on Swiss. With the number of multi-spindle machines shrinking, and new machines all coming from Europe, they may be correct, but it would be an interesting business experiment to see if their volumes increased by shortening delivery times. Perhaps, a premium for shorter lead times, like UPS or FedEx employ, would also be a worthwhile market test.

Question: Do you believe in “all in” or diversification?

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For the Love of the Game

By Lloyd Graff.

Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 in game four of the National League Division Series at Wrigley Field. Associated Press.

My Chicago Cubs have been berry berry good to me.

I know many of you are not baseball fans, but bear with me for awhile as I write about my baseball season rooting for the Chicago Cubs and how I feel today after my team was swept in four games by the New York Mets on Wednesday.

I have loved baseball since I was 5 years old. My Mom was a fan. She grew up near Wrigley Field and could easily walk to games, though I think she seldom went even though her father was an avid follower of the Cubs. When she married my Dad at 19 they moved to the Southside of Chicago where he was from, a huge culture shock for her in many ways. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, usually defined by ethnic and racial backgrounds, but also by one’s baseball team preference. She moved from the urbane, wealthy North Lake Shore Drive area to an upwardly mobile Jewish ennclave on the Southside, surrounded by Irish Catholics and African Americans who were devoutly tied to the White Sox.

So I grew up amidst rabid Sox fans who ridiculed me for rooting for my Cubbies.

But I have held to my Cubs religion all these decades. I would drift away at times as the team was generally awful. The Wrigley family made billions in the gum business, and Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley coined money broadcasting his team on WGN TV whether they won or lost. The Cubs were usually a laughing stock but they usually had excellent radio and TV broadcasters, and stars like Ernie Banks to keep interest alive.

Occasionally a good team would come together like in 1984 and 2003, but they did not have staying power and quickly disintegrated into mediocrity or worse. But finally, after all the depressing decades, a new regime running the Cubs has built a team of talented, extremely young players with a brilliant manager in Joe Maddon to mold them into a winner. Management did not overhype the new players, but if you followed the team you felt something good was actually going to happen soon. Maybe not in 2015, but pretty soon.

From the beginning, this season felt quite different to me. It was apparent from Spring Training that Maddon was cerebral, comedic and psychological. He is a baseball lifer who seems to have absorbed the essence of the game in his bones and still loves it like a kid. He is not a jock, but he totally understands jocks and respects their talent. He is also unafraid of the players or of being wrong. He was free to make controversial decisions like replacing incumbent shortstop Starlin Castro with rookie Addison Russell (he moved Castro to second base), and batting the pitcher eighth.

I watched all this with utter fascination from the first game in April. The Cubs virtually had a whole new team by May from the 73-win team of 2014. Joe Maddon was loving it. The players were improving every week and they were winning a few more than they were losing. Maddon brought in a magician one day, had a pajama party on a night flight from California, and brought in party dresses and hairdressers as they dressed up like girls going to a prom. The kids were having fun – and winning. As a fan I could feel it. I was devouring baseball articles every day, learning esoteric sabermetrics and listening to Maddon deliver management treatises after games.

Players who had been decent became very good and some showed true greatness. Jake Arrieta transformed into a legitimately elite pitcher in the second half of the season with a dominance comparable to that of a Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. He averaged less than one run a game over his last 20 starts, an absurdly low number. When he pitched the players knew they would win. And they did.

For a fan like me or my son Noah, it felt like the great days of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s. Coming to our beloved Wrigley Field, it was magical, amazing and just so much fun. And the beauty of it was that I could savor it. The season felt like a blessing that I was privileged to have. After almost dying seven years ago, every game with this team felt like a gift and part of my reprieve from death.

My daughter Sarah who lives in California came in with her husband and three girls and insisted we go to a game. It turned out to be the pivotal game of the regular season as the Cubs swept a four game series against the Giants, their rival for the wild card slot in the playoffs.

And the beautiful thing is that her daughters were becoming Cubs fans like their parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents.

During these playoffs at least six of us, composed of friends and family all over the country, group texted during the games, everybody adding pithy comments during our highs and lows. My seven-year-old granddaughter Chava texted about her team, spelling words phonetically, as she watched and cheered the Cubs in front of the TV in Palo Alto. My wife Risa, who had always been indifferent but tolerant of my love for the Cubs, finally became an avid fan herself, swearing liberally when the Cubs goofed up or the other team scored. The circle had closed for five generations, and it felt so good.

We were all frustrated by the Mets sweeping the Cubs in the National League Championship Series, but I was not heartbroken. After all these years, I had my best season ever rooting for the Cubs! The playoffs were all gravy.

My wonderful granddaughter Chava summed up my feelings in her last text Wednesday night, “Let’s get excited for next year cuz thats when theyll win it!”

That’s my payoff for all these long years of being a Cubs fan.

Question: What is your sports religion?

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Born Different

By Lloyd Graff.

I have been listening periodically to a brilliant book by Andrew Solomon entitled Far From the Tree. It is ridiculously long, 40 hours on audio, but every time I hear it I learn something.

Solomon writes about the lives of people who are born “different” from their parents and most other people in the world. He sympathetically tells their stories and the stories of the people who are close to them.

While telling a story of the family of a Down Syndrome child he reads this short essay written by Emily Perl Kingsly, the child’s mother. I found it very moving and hope you find it worth reading. Welcome to Holland.

-Lloyd Graff

Emily and her son Jason who has Down Syndrome.

Welcome to Holland
By Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved. c1987

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.

Question: If you could do it all over again would you have kids?

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