Saturday, August 10, 2019

Killing Sprees: More Questions than Answers

Memorial flowers for the victims in El Paso
     This past weekend, August 3rdin El Paso and August 4thin Dayton, were the 16thand 17thmass shootings in the US thus far in 2019. An ABC News post reported we are averaging “one every 12.7 days this year.” That is a horrible statistic.
     We have a problem in this country. We have a big problem. Something is fundamentally wrong in our society and way of life that, first and foremost, we have killing sprees with this frequency and, secondly, that we have done nothing about putting an end to them. Either one of these two is mind boggling. Having both means to me that there is something fundamentally wrong in our society.
     Something is so very wrong that we have 17 people, just this year, who took up guns or knives and attacked others. No other country seems to have these kinds of incidents and when they do, they are extremely rare. With each occurrence, we get upset, rant a bit, and then forget about it until the next. We forget about it until the next… What is wrong with us?
  • Why is this happening here? What is wrong in our country that has this sad condition?
  • Is it due to our societal pressure to have to be successful? The relentless drive to make more money? Does this make people who aren’t ever going to achieve that kind of success begin to hate, blame others, and make a name for themselves with their own killing spree?
  • Is it due to TV and video games? Drugs? 
  • Is it because parents are not dedicated to raising their children?
  • Can any of this be quickly solved? Or are we just stuck with this problem?
     There are those who will argue it all about having too many guns and it being way too easy to buy guns in this country. It comes down to the right to bear arms as guaranteed in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution:
A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
     Almost all of the rest of the world is not so free with gun ownership. I have pellet gun but have never owned a firearm. I have never had the need to buy a gun. I do not hunt. I get all the target practice I might ever want with my pellet gun without all the maintenance and having to go to a target range to do it. I thought about having a gun for home protection. I have not acted on it because I have never felt the need to have one to protect my home or family nor did I want to also have to buy a gun safe to secure the weapon and ammunition.
     Certainly, keeping guns out of the hands of killing spree lunatics seems like a sensible
Memorial to the victims in Dayton
idea. But how do we detect who these folks are? Where do we draw the lines?
     I often comment that the Second Amendment was written in the era of muzzle loading rifles. Maybe it should only apply to firearms that were available when it was written and not every high-power repeater available on the market today.
  • How many guns should one be allowed to own? How much ammunition?
  • How do we allow hunters, sportsmen, and collectors the freedom to enjoy their passion?
  • How do we differentiate between honest law-abiding gun owners versus criminals and lunatics?
  • If we banned guns tomorrow, would it stop these killing sprees immediately? Or would it take 10 – 30 years to have an impact like the anti-smoking campaign did? 
  • Is the black market for illegal guns already well established for a ban to have any impact?
     I do not really have the answers to most of these questions. I do believe that we should start trying to answer them. We have to seriously try to stem this tide of killing sprees and I see no evidence that we really want to do that.  This leaves me bewildered and sad.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Aram Tigran

     I saw a post today on Facebook that I shared. It was of Aram Tigran singing one of his more popular songs: Ay Dilbere. It was posted on the Anatolian Armenians wall. I had just learned and performed this song a few weeks with a small trio that included a Kurdish saz player and an Assyrian drummer. I love the simplicity, in a most troubadour-like style, of this famous singer.
     After I shared the video I thought I would put my blog post about Aram Tigran in the comments. I was a bit surprised that I had not blogged about him at all. For some reason, I thought I had. Then I realized that today, August 8, 2019 is the tenth anniversary of his passing. So, it was an appropriate time to write about Aram Tigran.
     Aram Tigran Melikian was born in Qamishli, Syria on January 15, 1934. He was a son of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. His father was from Sasoun and his mother was from Silvan, a village just north of Sasoun. The main city for Armenians and Kurds then and now in that region is Diyarbekir but better known to Armenians as Tigranagert named for and founded by the famous Armenian King Tigran the Great (140 – 55 BC). Qamishli is less than 100 miles SSE of Tigranagert and about the same distance south of Sasoun and Silvan.
     Aram is beloved as an adopted son and artist amongst the Kurds. From Wikipedia, "He is considered among the best of contemporary Kurdish singers and musicians. He recorded 230 songs in Kurdish, 150 in Arabic, 10 in Syriac, 8 in Greek.” Yet, oddly, until the mid 1990s, I had never even heard of him. I was introduced to him by my good friend and amazing singer, the late Varoujan Vartanian. I met Varoujan when we were thrown together to perform a concert of Tigranagerd folk music first in Montreal and then New Jersey. Varouj could sing in the unique Tigrangerd dialect and I was amazed that he knew these songs and even moreso when he threw Kurdish songs in the mix as well. I asked him where and how he learned this great music that I was just being exposed to. Varouj told me that he learned it from his neighbor in Qamishli, Aram Tigran, who was a famous Kurdish singer. Aram was a family friend who saw Varouj’s passion for singing and took him under his wing and help him learn the folk repertoire of the region. Based on this new found knowledge, I went out and bought a few CDs and became familiar with Aram’s song and style.
     Aram sang and accompanied himself on the Cümbüş which is basically a banjo version of the oud. His songs were simple but always captivating and memorable. It could be noted that he was neither the best player or singer, but he was a good writer and composer of songs. In total, singing his own songs in his own style worked out very very well for him and his legion of fans.
     I was sad to hear that Aram Tigran passed away. He died in Athens on August 8, 2009. Tigran wanted to be buried in Diyarbakır in Turkey, but the Turkish authorities refused this request." Rumor has it that his ashes somehow made it Tigranagert.
     The Anatolian Armenians wall on Facebook had a post commemorating the passing of Aram Tigran. This quote shows the master’s dedication to peace and brotherhood between the peoples in that troubled part of the world. Their posting was in Turkish. The translation is thanks to Google Translate with some editing by me.
Dünyaya bir daha gelirsem, ne kadar tank, tüfek ve silah varsa hepsini eritip saz, cümbüş ve zurna yapacağım.
Bir gün Dünyada ne kadar tank, tüfek ve silah varsa hepsinin saz, cümbüş ve zurna olması dileğiyle, İYİ SENELER
~ Aram Tigran 
8 Ağustos 2009
Aram Tigran’ın aramızdan ayrılışının 10cu Yıldönümü.
Sireli Aram Tigran'ı Saygı, Sevgi ve Özlemle Anıyoruz... 
If I come to the world again, I will melt all of the tanks, rifles and weapons, and make sazes, cümbüşes, and zurnas. 
How many tanks, rifles and weapons are in the world? I would make them all sazes, cümbüşes, and zurnas. Happy New Year.
~ Aram Tigran n
August 8, 2009
It's the 10th anniversary of Aram Tigran's departure.
We commemorate Sireli Aram Tigran with respect, love and longing ...
    There is a statue of Aram Tigran in Diyarbekir and a park named after him in Batman, Turkey.
     I wish I had met Aram Tigran. Now, I wish I knew more about him.


If you want more on Aram Tigran

Friday, August 2, 2019

Baron Krikor Pidedjian (1935 - 2019)

     I learned today that an old friend and revered elder, Krikor Pidedjian, passed away on July 30. 
     I first met Krikor in 1967. He was the Camp Director, the Baron in Armenian, of Camp Haiastan in Franklin, MA the one and only year I attended that revered Armenian summer camp. He was one of the nicest and sweetest men I have ever met. He was always upbeat and he loved life.
     He was 32 and I as 14. He was the Baron and I was a camper. Yet, he was the easiest adult to become friends with I had met up to that point. He valued people and took joy in getting to know them. He was like this with everyone. Clearly, I am writing a post upon learning of his passing. At the same time, my Cypriot Armenian friend from Prague, Haig Utidjian, posted a lengthy tribute on Facebook. This is the kind of impact Krikor Pidedjian had everyone he met.
     I learned that summer at Camp Haiastan that he had been ordained a celibate priest and left the priesthood to marry and start a family. His love and devotion to the church never ceased. He conducted choirs. He formed and conducted cultural choirs. He went to school and became a musicologist and he written several books on the subject of Armenian music in general and Armenian Church music in particular. Per the Armenian Prelacy Facebook Page:
He wrote scholarly monographs, as well as books in Armenian and English, including Anzink Nuviryalk (Devoted Persons); Armenian Songs of Exile; The Place of Armenian Revolutionary Songs in Armenian Music; Armenian Diction; The Chants of the Armenian Church; Was Krikor Narekatzi a Composer of Hymns?; and Kristapor Kara-Murza.
I need to get a few of his books.
     I learned from Haig Utidjian’s Facebook eulogy that Krikor was distantly related to the famed musician and composer Sebouh Efendi who composed the well-known Kurdili Hicazkar Longa. I learned from the Prelacy Facebook Page Krikor was born in Alexandria, Egypt. He went to Beirut to study at the Theological Seminary of the Holy See of the Great House of Cilicia. He later went for a bachelor’s and master’s in music.
     I have three memories of Krikor that stand-out in my memory. The oldest is from Camp Haiastan. After dinner one evening, Baron outlined the evening activities ending with “Boys go to Mess Hall and girls go to Rec Hall. Everyone have good time.” To the teenage campers, this hardly was the formula for a good time. There were budding puppy-love romances that had us all looking forward to the evening social activities. Ever since I heard him say it, I have been quoting him whenever anybody suggested a good time idea that didn’t sound like all that good a time. For the life of me, I cannot recall what the activities were that evening but, the Baron’s charge has sure stayed with me.
     The second memory we while we were living in CT. We were playing for a baptism, the weather was great, and we were set-up outside. I wrote about it in a post called The April 2010 Letter Continuation:
I recall once playing an old Armenian Vanetsi folk song, Aghchigan Yerdasart. Vigen Babayan pulled me aside later and told me it was a Turkish song. He did not tell me never to play it but said it was a Turkish song. Years later played the same song, Krikor Pidedjian, an equally ardent Armenian, came up to me asking where I learned that song. I thought, "oh here we go again." But, Krikor went on to say that his mother used to sing that song to him when he was a child. He had not heard it in years and thanked me for bring back such a great memory.
     Krikor was delighted to hear this wonderfully whimsical folk song being performed anew. I was delighted by his enthusiasm. The song is about a family of three. The song talks about the daughter getting a diamond ring and the mother getting gold. But, alas, the poor father only got a ‘tuchè khakha’ that kept falling off his finger. I never knew what a tuchè khakha was but Krikor did. It was a kind of simit or bagel popular in Van when Armenians lived there. It was another unforgettable moment.
     The third? It happened this year a few months ago. I lead an International Experience tour of students to Prague. I had the great honor of meeting the esteemed Maestro Haig Utidjian there. I carried copies of three books Haig authored back to the states. I was to send one set to Krikor. I did have an entry for Krikor in my phone address book but as I had not seen or talked to him in over ten years, I thought I would call to verify the address, let him know what books I was going to send him, and, of course, to catch-up. Krikor answered the phone and, as Haig had warned me, he sounded very frail. I told him it was me, he paused and said “Oh, Mark how wonderful of you to call.” He told me his health was failing. But, as we talked, he went gradually from frail to enthusiastic asking questions and answering questions I asked him. We talked for about an hour. It was indeed wonderful and I am so thankful for that call.
    My deepest condolences to his wife Berjuhi and his sons Artovk and Datev and their families.
     May God illuminate his soul.

Saturday, July 27, 2019


     1969 was an eventful year… at least to me. 
     It was fifty years ago and I was sixteen years old. I was coming of age. It was a year full of hope and also a year of dichotomies. It was an amazing time to be sixteen and an amazingly weird time to be sixteen. I have written about before in November 2008: Was it the Weirdest of Times? 
     It was a time where some of my generation, me included, truly believed we could change the world. I attribute that to the post World War II prosperity in the United States. University education was available and encouraged for all. It was more affordable compared to these days. The labor market supply and demand was such that we were essentially guaranteed jobs, good jobs, upon graduation. We were the generation raised on TV. Everything and anything could be solved and rectified in an hour. We thought we were different. We believed we were different. We believed we could and would change the world. We had the Summer of Love. We had Hell No, we won’t Go. We had the Age of Aquarius. We had Woodstock, the moon landing, the Vietnam War, the Generation Gap, and women, blacks, Indians, and Latinos advocating for equal rights in our land of the free. It was a time of some significant changes in morals and mores for a sixteen year old to deal with on top of all the normal coming of age things sixteen years have to deal with. 
     1969 was special because of the moon landing and Woodstock. It was special given my age. It was special in how my ideas, thoughts, and vision changed and changed marked by these two important and unrelated events.     
     When John F. Kennedy laid down the challenge to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, I became fascinated with the possibilities. I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to become an astronaut. I watched every launch of the Mercury and Gemini programs. I had written Kennedy as a nine-year-old asking for information on the Space Program. I got a manila envelope from NASA full of booklets and pamphlets on the plan to get to the moon, biographies of the astronauts, and more. I read it all, several times. In watching the launches, I would take notes about any delays, the actual time of the launch, and how the mission went. I never scored a baseball game but that was what I was doing with the space program. 
     Somehow, I started losing interest midway through the Gemini program when the missions were longer then a TV show. I was dismayed by the Apollo 1 capsule fire that took the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee. Maybe I was just getting older and my interests were changing. I believe that the social turmoil of the era also competed for my attention. By the time of the Apollo 11 Mission, I was missing the childhood exuberance I had for the space program and wondering how and why I lost it. 
     Oddly, a few weeks later, Woodstock became all the rage. It came out of nowhere and captured as much or more news, from my perspective at that time, than the moon landing. And, I knew nothing about it just a week earlier. It went from being a big rock concert to becoming something much bigger. It seemed liked everyone around my age (actually a few years older), were trying to get there to be a part history, to be a part of what we thought or were being led to believe, was a turning point in the history of mankind. I am laughing, now, as I type this fifty years later, but did it seem real back then. I wrote about it in August 2004 and I am pretty much in agreement with what I wrote then. Woodstock was not the beginning of a millennial change, it was the beginning of the end that era’s peace and love movement. 
     The moon landing and Woodstock… oh, the times they were a changing and changing still.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Really? Apple?

     There was an article in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, June 28th: Apple Shares Fall as Design Chief Jony Ive Plans Exit.  From the article:
Mr. Ive, who has been at the helm of the design team since 1996, helped design the iPhone, which has driven Apple’s sales and profit for most of a decade. Mr. Ive also oversaw the development of key products such as the iPod, iPad and MacBook. 
His departure marks the end of an era at the iPhone maker as it shifts to an emphasis on services from product development.
     Really?!? Apple is shifting from a focus on products, innovative and game changing new products, to services. All I can say is wow…
     In March 31, 2012, I wrote a blog Morita and Jobsin which I talked about the legendary founders and innovative driving forces behind the innovations for which Sony and Apple were known. When Morita passed away, the innovative spirit at Sony died with him. I feared that the same could happen to Apple. It seems to be a very natural occurrence when a founder who drove and demanded innovation passes on. Corporate “wonks” take the helm. While they might be good finance, operations, or marketing, they lack the entrepreneurial soul of the founders. There is a high risk of a company known for innovative and market changing new products to become a company of line extensions that is then vulnerable to losing their edge with consumers.
     The Apple Watch work began under Steve Jobs. So, it cannot really be counted as a post-Jobs innovation. AirPods may be the only true innovation. The buzz about the latest version of the iPhone seems to have waned since they have made the price for phones with 256 GB of memory about $1,000. They were thinking everyone would continue to buy them and were bucking the trend of supply and demand. They were wrong. First the newer phones were not innovative enough, not so different in features and performance, than predecessors to justify the higher prices. Also, the market for smart phones has become saturated. Both lead to lower volumes of sales.
     The growth and success of Apple has been based on innovative market busting products and they simply have not had them since the passing of Jobs. Will forsaking product innovation for service innovation be any better for them? Only time will tell.
     IBM used to make physical products. The M stood for “machines.” They were the dominant desk and laptop company in the US if not the world. They deemed they could not cut it anymore in that market and sold their laptop business to a Chinese company: Lenovo.
     The movement from products to services is not necessarily a bad thing. Apple is making money for sure. IBM is making money. But, there is something about making things that are on the cutting edge and that everyone wants. Akio Morita and Steve Jobs understood this very well. Lastly, it is a personal thing with me. We need to be a nation that makes things that people want and helps them live better. It seems like the innovative part of the American Spirit that was so strong in the last century is slipping through our fingers like sand.
     I grew up admiring Ford, Edison, Bell, Firestone, Jobs, and even retailers like Walton and Bezos. I believe if you are not a good and competitive manufacturer of a product in your own factories, you will lose that expertise plain and simple.   Eventually you will also lose the innovative edge to whoever you outsourced the manufacturing to.  One follows the other.  To keep that innovative edge, you need a leader with scope and vision of an entrepreneur and not a corporate apparatchik.
     Almost on cue, there was another article in the Wall Street Journal on July 12: Red Wing, Iconic U.S. Shoe Maker, Labors Mightily to Bring Production Home. Red Wing Shoes is a privately held maker of industrial shoes: the safety shoes factory and warehouse workers are required or encouraged to wear. From the article:
Rebuilding U.S. manufacturing presents complex challenges for industries like footwear, electronics and bicycles, where most of the supply chain has moved abroad. Even a company like Red Wing—with a long history of U.S. production, private ownership and control over a key raw material and distribution—makes more than two-thirds of its shoes abroad. 
“The reality was that we had not developed a lot of new products for U.S. manufacturing,” said Mark Urdahl, a former General Mills executive who joined Red Wing 14 years ago and became chief executive in 2015. “You start to lose the skill set—through retirement and attrition—of people who have the ability to develop footwear here.”
     They simply exported the manufacturing and lost that expertise. The ability to develop new products naturally flowed to where the manufacturing went.
     Are shoes something we want to and have to protect? We are not a country of having governmental manufacturing strategies like China. So, in our case, it is up to the leadership in each industry to want to fight, innovate, and make the best things in the world here. I am not sure we are training those kinds of leaders these days. Jobs, Morita, Ford, and others were not financial guys. They were innovators and makers. That is probably the mojo Apple needs to find again before they sell their phone hardware business to Huawei or Oppo just as IBM sold their ThinkPad business to Lenovo in 2005.  That would be a sad day.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Multiple Shampoos?
Note:  I wanted to title this piece Shampoon but I could not make the exponent work in the title window on blogger.

     I still have enough hair that require cutting and trimming every three to five weeks. I used to go to barbershops which then gave way to salons. Now these independent businesses seem to have given way to the franchises like Great Clips, Supercuts, and, the place I have gone for the past several years, Sports Clips.
     They do a good job at my Sports Clip location and the prices are reasonable especially now that I get a senior discount. Their locations are sports themed in all the décor that gives the feel of being in an arena. There are TVs everywhere and they, by policy, are tuned to either ESPN or a live sporting event. Of course, I always ask if they can put on Oprah or the Hallmark Channel.
     There are a few irritating factors but nothing that makes me want to find another place to get my haircut. First, they are always trying to sell me an upgrade. They have a service called MVP which includes, beyond the haircut, a shampoo, a hot or cold facial towel, and a neck message. I believe it is a $10 upcharge to the cost of a haircut. I never get it, unless it is free. Second, they are always trying to sell me product such as shampoos, creams, conditioners, and other styling stuff. They always ask, quite nicely, and I always say, “No fries with that” with a big enough smile to keep things light. I get it. They are running a business and want more revenue per customer. But, I just want a haircut… that’s all.
     The last thing that frustrates me is from a purely perspective of a professor of business. Their systems are lame. Their online log in system was slow in coming and cumbersome to use. While at each store, they have my records of when I have been there and details of how I like my hair cut. This is cool but that data cannot be accessed by any other Sports Cut location which seems more 1982 to me than 2019.
     The irritants are mild compared to the value of their service and ambiance of their shops and friendliness of the ladies (only ladies) that work there. So, I am a loyal customer and actually give them my endorsement.
     But, this is not why I am writing.
     I needed a haircut yesterday. I went online and saw the wait time at my prime location to be almost an hour. Another nearby shop had no wait time. I have never been to the other shop, so I thought I would give it a try. It was bigger. While the décor was the same, it had a different vibe. It seemed hipper and edgier than the shop I go to. My stylist was a lovely, perky, young lady with short blond hair. She was energetic in both mannerism and in her pace and cadence of how she talked.
      She told me of the Double MVP promotion running in the month of July. I thought it was a buy one get one free offer. I misinterpreted thus causing a comic back and forth until she could better articulate or I could finally understand, that it was all free and involved two MVPs in the same visit. That’s right, two shampoos, two hot or cold towels, and two neck and shoulder massages during the same visit. Part of my not understanding was that I rarely want the service at all and was confused why anyone would want to double up on it. The fact that they offered the double service at all boggled my 1950s issue mind.
     So, being the inquiring person I am, I asked why people would get the double service. In her perky, charming, fast-talking way, she told me multiple shampoos and massages were quite popular with lawyers and marketing people. I found that quite specific in terms of professions favoring this added service. Oh yes, it seems some of these folks would get two, three, or four shampoos in a row. Some even get ten with the record being fifteen as far as she knew. I was kind of astonished. Now, I was the energetic and perky one, talking fast and asking questions.
      I will say that the shampoo experience is very pleasant and very relaxing. You are seated in a recliner with your head in the sink designed just for shampooing hair. They put a perfect temperature hot towel on your face and the stylist basically gives you a head massage lubricated with shampoos and, again, perfect temperature water.
      As pleasant and relaxing as it is, the thought never crossed my mind to ask the stylist to keep doing it. Never. Ever. Yet, this is a real thing. Guys are getting multiple shampoos at I am guessing $10 a pop. “What another?” Sure, why not.”
   All I could think about, but did not say, was that this was some kind of nouveau millennial lawyer marketer replacement for lap dances… which is something I have, of course, only read about.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Lee Iacocca

     Lee Iacocca passed away on July 2. He was 94 years old. His passing caught me by surprise since I had not seen him mentioned in the business news, as far as I can recall, for several years. Part of the surprise might have been because I might have thought he already passed.
     Iacocca was a big deal in the auto industry. I was well aware of that growing up in Detroit. He was the President of Ford Motor when I began working there in 1976. His ambitions and ego clashed with the ego of Henry Ford II who fired his #2 on July 13, 1978. The shock of that rippled through the company like wildfire in an era well before email and internet. Ford logged a profit of $2 Billion the year that the “Deuce” fired Iacocca.
     Much has been written about Lee Iacocca this week. He was the father of the Mustang, one the most popular and enduring cars to come out of Detroit. He was also the credited with the Ford Pinto which was most infamous for its design flaw that made it prone to gas tank explosions in rear end collisions. After Ford, he took the helm at an ailing Chrysler. There his celebrity took a quantum leap as he secured government loans to buoy the failing and became the spokesman of the company in their television advertising. At Chrysler, he introduced the K-Car and the Mini-Van, the latter of which has been as iconic as the Mustang. He also bought American Motors which brought the Jeep nameplate to Chrysler. He authored three books, two of which I read.
      Many of the articles referred to him as the first celebrity CEO. This observation also surprised me a bit because I thought of Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and others. Upon further reflection, everyone before Iacocca was a founder, inventor, or entrepreneur and not professional managers rising to the top in well established companies.
     I never met Lee Iacocca. I would have loved to have and maybe worked for him. Minimally, I would have liked to have heard him speak. I enjoyed his Autobiography (1984) and Talking Straight (1988) books. I got and read them both when they were published. Oddly, I completely missed his third book, Where Have All the Leaders Gone, which was published in 2007. I have added that to my reading list.
    Here are a few recollections and reflections when I think about this larger than life leader in the auto industry.
  • All the senior executives at Ford had access to a fleet of cars to drive. They all drove brand new Ford cars for certain. But, they also had access to the best cars in the world to drive for “competitive evaluation.” The lore around the company was that Iacocca took a Ferrari from the World Headquarters, the Glass House, to a meeting at another of the many Ford buildings in Dearborn. When it came time to return to the Glass House, Iacocca couldn’t figure out how to get the Ferrari into reverse and had to call the garage personal to come out and show him. 
  • This one I believe is from Iacocca’s Autobiography or the Detroit Free Press. On the other hand, it may have also been corporate lore. When Henry Ford II fired Iacocca, he walked him out in front of the Glass House. He pointed up at the blue oval Ford logo on the building and told Iacocca, “Do you see whose name is on the building?”
  • This one is from his Autobiography. Iacocca was amazed at how good the hamburgers tasted in the Glass House executive dining room. One day he asked the chef (I want to say his name was Bernardin) how he prepared he burgers. He took Iacocca into the kitchen, opened up the refrigerator and took out a filet, he put the filet into the meat grinder, and then formed the output into a patty. That was the secret.
  • The obituaries all referenced that Iacocca in his last years at Chrysler, he tried to expand beyond autos in a series of acquisitions. This plan put Chrysler into financial turmoil again and hastened Iacocca’s departure. He tried to take the company over again in a hostile takeover partnering with Kirk Kerkorian. That takeover did not pan out but instead lead to Mercedes Benz taking over Chrysler. I once knew about these lesser parts of Iacocca’s storied career but chose only to remember his huge successes.
  • I wonder what impact Iacocca had if had become Ford’s CEO? Would they have had the same quality focus? Would they have developed the Taurus? Certainly, Philip Caldwell, Don Petersen, and Red Poling did a pretty good job. Iacocca was certainly more popular and well-known than Philip Caldwell, but Caldwell equally, if not more, successful.
  • The Mustang came out while I was in elementary school. We were Detroit kids which meant everyone had a family member or extended family member working in the auto industry. So, it goes without saying that the popularity and excitement of the Mustang was part of our young lives. I recall my friend telling me that “My Dad designed part of the Mustang.” I said, “Wow! What part?” He responded, “The rear window molding!” I remember thinking “the rear window molding… not very exciting.” It was my first glimpse into the “not very exciting” aspects of the auto industry.
  • Again, most of the obituaries I read, alluded to Iacocca as a cigar chomping executive. Ah, for the good old days where you could smoke a cigar anywhere you wanted. Certainly, we are better off with smoke free workplaces but I would occasionally smoke one in my office or while teaching if it were allowed.
  • I wonder if any of my students would know who Lee Iacocca is? I will have to poll them when classes begin.
     To end, here are some memorable quotes from Lee Iacocca.
  • Management is nothing more than motivating other people. 
  • The one word that makes a good manager – ‘decisiveness’.
  • In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product, and profits.
  • You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere.
  • We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insolvable problems
  • The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy 40th to the Walkman!

The Original
     I was writing a bloggy bit about Apple in which I was wondering if they had lost their competitive edge in being able to innovate truly exceptional new products. In this regard, I always relate and compare Apple and Sony. They dominated the consumer electronics markets in their heyday with innovative products. The innovation was driven from the top by Steve Jobs at Apple and Akio Morita at Sony. The stream of innovative products at both companies dropped dramatically when the founding icon left the helm.
     In the midst of writing this, an article from USA Today popped up on a news feed informing me that the Sony Walkman was launched on forty years ago on July 1, 1979: Before Apple iPods and iPhones, there was Sony Walkman, 40 years of portable music. This amazing innovation was basically a small cassette player that was either clipped to one’s belt or held in one’s hand and worked exclusively through headphones. There were no speakers. The Sony Walkman was the first personal music player and Sony owned that space until Apple out innovated them with their combination of iPod and iTunes.
     Certainly, people used headphones before the Walkman. The use of headphones was usually on devices or systems that were designed to be played primarily with speakers. People used them at home with the stereo systems that were anything but portable. The headphones themselves weren’t designed with portability in mind. They were big and bulky. Transistor radios, another Sony innovation, made the radio portable but had a low-grade earbud option rather than high quality headphones. Also, with the transistor radio, one was subject to the offerings of the radio stations.
     As far as playing the music you wanted to hear when you wanted to hear it. The options were records and tape. Record were never really portable. The tape players were first reel-to-reel and also not very portable. The innovations of the 8-track and cassette players allowed for players in the car. The cassette format became the standard for two reasons, the tapes were more compact and only had two sides versus the 8-tracks needed to switch directions eight times and disrupting the music in doing so.
     The first truly portable music players were big and loud. They were called “boom boxes” and ranged in size from a cigar box on the smaller end to a case of beer on the large side. They were AM/FM radios and cassette players. There is a recurrent image of movies from the 70s and 80s of folks walking around with boom boxes on their shoulders belting out music at a volume that an entire
My Workhorse Walkman
neighborhood could hear.
     The Walkman was much more portable and much more personal. You could hear someone else’s music only if they turned their volumes up so high you could hear the music from their headphones in their ears. Forty years later, the hearing aid industry is a benefitting from generations of folks listening to loud music on headphones. You could listen to anything you wanted, provided you had the cassettes at hand.
     The original Walkman actually had two headphone jacks. The thinking was that one could walk on the beach or down the street with a significant other both listening to the same music. That was so rarely the case that subsequent models only had one jack. The Walkman was truly a personal, one person, device.
     When first introduced, the Walkman was kind of pricey for the day. When

released in Japan they were selling for $150 and, if memory serves me well, they were about that price when they came to the us a few years later. The price came down in the second iteration. At the party held to celebrate the success of the Walkman, Morita made a challenge to the engineers and designers at the end of the evening. He held a block of wood that was two-thirds the size of the Walkman. He told the engineers that this was the size he wanted the next version to be and it should have half the number of parts and half of the cost. This is the kind of creative tension Morita brought to the table!
My Walkman MiniDisk
When I finally bought one, I paid something like $50 or $60.
     When I was traveling a lot for business and commuting from Wilton, CT to Manhattan. I always had a Walkman in my briefcase. First it was a yellow sport version and later the mini-disk Walkman. Mostly, like 90% of the time, I listened to Armenian and Turkish music. About half of that music was live recordings that a group of musician friends would record, duplicate, and share. The Walkman was a big part of expanding our repertoire.
     I have very fond memories of the Walkman but easily gave them up when gifted an iPod. Innovations are really awesome and breed great loyalty until something better comes along.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Planned Obsolescence? Really? 
     Owning a house involves maintaining the house. With the turn of the century, it seems things need maintaining more often. Also, maintaining things seems to have become replacing things.
     Our house is really a great house. It is 20 years old and we love the architect designed space and flow of the floor plan. We are on our second set of furnaces and air conditioners. Even more remarkably, we are on our third set of water heaters. We bought a freezer in 2007 and it died and had to be replaced this year. The range has a ventilation fan for our countertop range. It went kaput and needs to be replaced as the parts to repair it are no longer available.
     The water heaters are $1,200 wholesale. The furnaces and air conditioners were approximately $3,000 each. The range fan is also $3,000. The freezer was a bargain at a measly $550. None of these items could be repaired. The furnaces and air conditioners were so expensive to repair that no one would do it. The water heaters and freezer could not be repaired because of the way they were designed. Therefore, everything had to be replaced. I think we only replaced one water heater and one furnace (oil burner) in my first twenty years of home ownership. That number has been eclipsed in the second two decades.
      This all offends me as Quality professional. It reminds me of a concept that I thought was long gone from the world of product development, namely, Planned Obsolescence which per Google is defined as:
a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of nondurable materials.
     This definition fits perfectly to each of the appliances I have mentioned.
      I am keenly aware that our appliances and gadgets are more complicated these days and thus potentially more prone to failure. I understand that to keep prices competitive, there is a relentless effort to reduce costs. This means using less material for the same function and using less expensive materials. There is a limit to how much cost can be reduced before quality and reliability suffer. I believe we are way past that threshold and the part of quality that we have traded off for price containment is durability and repairability.
     Has this been done on purpose? Is there some devious intent behind this? I do not think so. I believe it is an unintended consequence of trying to provide energy efficient products laden with features at the lowest possible prices. This results in products that work quite well but have shorter life-spans. I would rather have a few less features, perhaps even pay a little more, for quality base functionality with impressive durability.
     I do believe we a third wave quality and reliability revolution. The first was in 1920s and 30s when Walter Shewhart developed the system of Quality Control. The second was Post World War II when the Japanese created their system of Quality Management. We need to be on the brink of a third wave to create products that last longer with lower cost of total ownership. The products need to be repairable, perhaps even like automobiles, with a maintenance schedule designed to ensure operational quality with exceptional reliability and durability. The manufacturers that can do this will shake-up the market as Toyota did to Ford and GM in the 1970s and 80s.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

June 25, 2019

     It is my birthday. We really celebrated it on the 23rd. We were in Washington DC for the christening of our youngest grandchild. We celebrated four birthdays on three cakes. My in-law Yervant and I share a birthday: the 25th. The 25th was also the birthday of my father in-law who passed away in 2010. My oldest grandson is the next day, June 26, and my only granddaughter is the day after that. It is a wonderful cluster of birthdays. We were kind of hoping for all of us to share one birthday. But, it is better that each of the little ones has their own birthday. We can celebrate together, and the grandkids can still have their own day where we can celebrate them separately. I like it.
     So, what did I do for my birthday? The only thing on my schedule was to address the incoming class of transfer students to North Park. I welcomed them to North Park and spoke to them about the merits of meeting with their faculty advisor to ensure they plan their schedules and graduate on-time. I passed out an OpEd piece How to Get the Most Out of College by Frank Bruni in the August 17, 2018 New York Times. It is a very good piece that provides excellent advice to undergraduates. All in all, I enjoyed motivating these new students.
     Other than that, I talked to family and friends online and by phone both audio and video. The highlight, by far, were the two face time calls with my grandchildren. Hearing them sing happy birthday from DC and LA was the best. I got messages from around the corner and heard from friends around the world. There were phone calls, messages, and posts on Facebook. I tried to thank each individually on Facebook but quickly got hopelessly behind. Thankfully, I have this blog with which to thank everyone en masse. It is really heartwarming to have so many people reaching out with birthday greetings and well wishes.
     I began this blog in 2004 as an e-letter. My friend, Marilyn Zavidow, named it This Side of Fifty. Well, I am certainly well on this side of fifty. But, it is good. I am enjoying my family and have pure joy watching the grandchildren grow. I am also enjoying my encore career as a college professor. It is the best retirement pastime or hobby for me.
     This is not a birthday that ends in a five or a zero. It is an in-between birthday. But, it is a birthday that has me resolved to pay much more attention to my health and well-being than ever before. Sure, I know. I have said this a countless number of times. This time seems different. Actually, this time has to be different. I want to operate at peak performance and independently as long as I possibly can. This commitment to personal health and well-being was certainly a lesson my father, his brother, and their father and uncle advocated and exemplified in their daily life. I truly have to start being a Gavoor man.  Hopefully more on this in the coming year.
     Thanks again for all the greeting and well-wishes. I feel truly blessed.