Monday, October 29, 2012

October 2012: Another Potpourri



October 22:  Every few months, I am at a loss of what to write about in my monthly letter.  When this happens, I think about the tag line of this monthly letter endeavor:  A Monthly Letter of Musings and Meanderings.  When this happens, I simply muse and meander.  So that is what I will do this month, even though there I risk of being perceived and duly teased by Ara Topouzian for contemplating my navel.  Dear readers, I boldly take that risk.
It is early morning.  I am sitting in a Starbucks sipping coffee and writing.  Early morning is my favorite time to write though lately, for the past few years, I have been doing it at the end of the day.  I have, since childhood, liked the early morning.  The day is fresh.  If I get up early enough, there is both quiet and solitude.  I have no desire to turn on anything electronic with the exception of either iPad or PC.  There is no need for music or TV.  All of that din will come later in the day. 
I like to be alone with my thoughts.  It can be my thoughts about what I am writing, reading, or just pondering over a cup of coffee.  I feel totally connected and in charge at this time.  In charge of what?  I am not sure.  I just am not worried about the things one has to worry about when the rest of the world around me wakes up and starts imposing schedule, tasks, and other demands on my time and attention.
Growing up, we lived in a house in Detroit.  The window next to my bed had an eastern exposure.  I purposely did not lower the window shade down to the sill in the summers.  I wanted a gap where the sun would shine through at a little after dawn and wake me up.  I would do that to enjoy the quiet and peace of that hour.  I would read in bed.  I had a good hour before the rest of the house began to stir.
This being said, I probably could not be alone all of the time.  I certainly could not be, like the Tom Hanks character, stranded on a deserted island with only a volley ball as a companion.  I would need an internet connection or, minimally, a good supply of paper and pens.  I would most definitely need to and interact with people.  I relish family and friends.  I like interacting ad working with colleagues.  It is part of a healthy lifestyle. It is good for the soul.
It is good for the soul, as long as I also get my time alone too.  I am sure I am not the only person like this. 
October 23 - Sleep Deprived:  It is not like I am a captured enemy agent that they are trying to break by seriously keeping from any kind of normal rest pattern.  It is more that I am ineffective in planning and execution.  Thus, tasks pile up and I get behind.  At some point, for shear preservation, I have to pull long hours just to get things done.  The trade-off is sleep.  I have slept only four hours the past two nights.  I do not do well with this little sleep.  I get cranky.  I get sleepy and not able to concentrate at normal sub-par level.  I make idiotic errors.  You can just imagine how embarrassing this is a math instructor when plusses inadvertently become minuses, 2s turn into 7s, or the simple ability to do arithmetic in one’s head is no longer reliable.
I have to get more sleep tonight.  It is not really debatable.  I could stay up longer and try to get things done, but my productivity is slipping at this point.  I just fell asleep for a few minutes between the last sentence and this one.   Perhaps, doing my daily writing in my easy chair with my legs up was not what I should have opted for today.
Others get by on less sleep.  They somehow made it a part of their lifestyle.  It is probably just a matter of getting used to a new schedule or routine.  I read once that it takes thirteen days to acclimate.  Maybe I could get to a twenty hour day.  It would only take two weeks to get there. 
I read about armies that marched non-stop around the clock to surprise the enemy.  I have heard about artists, obsessed and driven to finish a project, working crazy hours driving themselves to get it done.  I had a professor of Mechanical Engineering once who said we could call him anytime from six in the morning until three in the morning.  I remember slowly realizing what this fellow said.  I asked if what I thought I heard was what he meant.  He said yes, I had heard right.  I was both amazed and impressed.  
I was in a coffee shop this morning near North Park University in Chicago.  It was around 6:45 am.  I was getting a little breakfast before class.  I was the only person in the store.  I had already ordered and was just waiting for my breakfast sandwich.  A younger fellow came in.  Judging from his age, demeanor, and backpack, I guessed he was a student.  His hair was a bit shaggy and he sported a German Army fatigue jacket (where does one buy such a thing?).  I thought that he would have fit in perfectly back in the day when hippies roamed the campuses.  He greeted me with a "How are you doin'?"  I answered, "Sleep deprived, but doin' OK... and you?"  I guess the words "sleep deprived" resonated.  He gave a brief soliloquy on the subject.  He talked about modern times, a 24/7 mindset, TV, electronics, and more.  He actually looked like he needed sleep more than I did.
There have always been workaholics.  I do believe that Abraham Lincoln was one.  We get the phrase burning the midnight oil because of folks like him who worked into the wee hours of the morning by candle or lamp light.  There is no stopping these kinds of driven folks from living on less sleep than the rest of us need. 
But in this modern age, there is something about to be said about television and all the other electronic media diversions that are at our fingertips.  The less motivated among us can easily keep the same crazy hours as the intensely motivated simply by plopping themselves in front of the TV and watching movies we have already seen six times.  We can log into facebook or surf youtube at 11:30 pm and... poof... an instant later it is 2 am.  What was accomplished? Nothing substantive.  The next day we might even be able to recall what it was exactly we were watching or doing.  The only certain is that we will be operating on less sleep the next day.  There is something about the mesmerizing glow of TV and computer screens that hypnotizes us.  
October 25 – Quality Mismanagement:  There is a rather distressing story in the news.  There is an outbreak of fungal meningitis that the healthcare world is dealing with.  The background of this case is unique and a bit scary.  There is a company in Massachusetts called the New England Compounding Center.  This company produces a steroid used in the treatment of back pain.  They produced tainted steroids that were used to treat back pain.  The product was tainted with a kind of black mold.  As the steroid is injected directly into the spinal fluid, unsuspecting medical professionals were basically infecting their patients and causing meningitis in a most efficient manner.
Needless to say, The New England Compounding Center is now shut down. 
Once upon a time, all pharmacists were compounders.  They made up medicines to order as needed.  They used mortars and pestles to grind and mix the various components.  Now, they are sub-suppliers in the industry.  They operate on a larger scale and not subject to the same FDA restrictions and regulations as pharmaceutical companies.   Compounding centers operate in the gray area of the world of pharmaceutical manufacturing.  These compounding centers seem to be what other industries call subcontractors or third party manufacturers.
In the world of deregulation and everyone doing everything they can to reduce costs, bad things are simply more likely to happen.  Regulations exist for a reason and are necessary.  Sure, it is easy to sermonize about freedom and the elimination of regulations that stifle free enterprise, but erring on the side of no regulation and no enforcement of regulation simply increases the risk to society in general.  Think of a deregulatory extreme of eliminating all traffic laws in the name of liberty and independence.   The result would be chaos caused by everyone valuing their independence more than every one that of everyone else. 
In the field of Quality Management, we are always looking for measures that we can use to monitor performance.  These measures are called Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Some measures are financial and others are process driven.  These measures are needed not only to monitor operations but the gauge if improvement activities are working.  Some measures are maximized (bigger is better KPIS), some are minimized (smaller is better KPIs), and others are optimized at a particular target.  We usually view cost as a smaller is better KPI whereas efficiency is a bigger is better measure. 
For some reason, we think these are the only two:  bigger is better or smaller is better.  We overlook the target measures.  Think of watering a plant.  Clearly the amount of water is neither bigger is better or smaller is better.   If there is no water, the plant will shrivel up and die.  If there is too much water, excluding plant that live in water, the plant will die.  There is an optimal target for watering for most plant species. 
The same is true for regulation.  Too much indeed stifles free enterprise.  Not enough leads to chaos and puts the health and welfare of people at risk.  There has to be some rules.  There most definitely needs to be more rules governing how Compounding Centers operate. 
Rules are good.   They are necessary but not sufficient.  Regulations without enforcement will eventually become the same as having no regulations.  There has to be a tangible risk of being caught and prosecuted for ignoring the regulations.  So, there needs to be inspection too. 
We have laws that forbids people from hijacking airplanes.  We have the TSA in place, at no small expense, inspecting everyone that gets on the planes and preventing them from carrying on any items that could be used to hijack an aircraft.  Everyone hates it.  It stifles our freedom and consumes our resources including time.  No one screams about regulating this.  Why not?  We collectively realize the value of this.
We need to have to do the same with foods, drugs, and medical care in general.  With the size of our population and complexities of the supply chains, we need to take some level of regulatory enforcement to protect ourselves.
One would think that pharmaceutical manufacturing must be done in a clean and sterile environment.  Medicines that cause even worse diseases than they are used to treat are something we simply assume cannot happen.  It is dependent on our society collective insisting on a certain standard of health and safety.  Government is the natural way to setup and administer this collective need ad desire. 
What The New England Compounding Center did is an egregious act and a major quality issue.  We need some regulation to keep things like this from happening.  We need budget to fund a staff of inspectors and auditors to provide "incentives" to do the right thing.  In the zero-sum, profit is all that matters, game the unscrupulous play, regulation with the proper risk of real penalties can drive proper behavior.  It is that simple.  Regulation needs to be optimized.  There is a very real difference between optimization and minimization. 
Among several concerns, investigators found a "leaking boiler" and pools of water near a supposedly "clean room" in which medicine was made, according to the report. The investigators were worried that procedures might not have been followed to ensure sterility of products; additional concerns were raised regarding a nearby recycling center operated by New England Compounding Center's parent company.  Read more.  

October 28 – On the lighter side:  I read a quote today.  I liked it so much I posted, well actually reposted it on Facebook.  It was from the great American cowboy and humorist, Will Rogers.

Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want to impress people they don't like.

They used, and to some extent, still call this "Keeping up with the Joneses."  We tend to think of this buying to keep up with or to be ahead of others as a purely American thing.  It is not hard to believe this since we are the biggest consumers and spenders in the world.  I think it is more of a human condition and somewhere above safety, food, and shelter on Maslow's Hierarchy. 
Will Rogers was one smart fella.  He started off as a vaudeville performer doing a cowboy rope act.  He got to talking while doing rope tricks and his keen wit and observations gained him popularity and notoriety.   He was one of the most famous and well known men of the 1920s and 1930s.  He appealed to everyone in the tough times that were there roaring twenties, prohibition, and The Great Depression.  He was one of those comedians that, while he made fun of almost anyone, he did not offend.  He made people think, laugh, and mostly agree with him.  Here is an example of an epigram playing on another epigram.  It shows the layers and sophistication of his humor.

When I die, my epitaph, or whatever you call those signs on gravestones, is going to read: "I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I dident like." I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.

Note that didn't is spelled dident in the above.  Will Rogers preferred this spelling.
As he became more known as a satirist, humorist, and social observer, his career changed.  He was a constant guest on the radio, appeared in seventy something movies, and had a syndicated column that ran in newspapers across the US.  Will Rogers was just over a quarter Cherokee and grew up in Oklahoma on what was then known as the Indian Territories.  
With the election winding down, I will close this letter with a few apropos quotes from Rogers.

  • I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
  • Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated.
  • The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets. 
  • Alexander Hamilton started the U.S. Treasury with nothing, and that was the closest our country has ever been to being even.
  • Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Michigan Win #900

     I just got home after the Michigan - Michigan State game in Ann Arbor. After
four straight losses to MSU, the Wolverines eked out a victory, 12-10, without scoring a touchdown. With this victory today over the in-state rivals, the Michigan Wolverines became the first team in college football to reach achieve 900 victories. It was fitting that this victory was against MSU and also a victory that broke that prevented the Spartans from getting their longest victory in this series.
     It has been a tough year for the Spartans. After a banner 2011 season, there was great expectations this year. They have struggled to a 4-4 record and 1-3 in the Big Ten. Their defense has kept them in games but they have had trouble mustering enough offense. They did, however, score the only touchdown of the game. They also completely shocked Michigan with by faking a punt and running for a first down which led to their second score, a field goal, that gave them a 10-9 lead. Their defense was tough. They held Michigan to four field goals. For the third year in a row, they held Denard Robinson in check. He ran less than one hundred yards which is below his average. MSU did this with their talented defensive line and line backers. They all played their roles, stayed in their lanes, and hit Denard hard. Denard did break one long run. It looked like he was gone but the State defenders pursued, had the angle, and forced him out of bounds.
     Michigan's defense was their strength as well in what was a great defensive
battle. They held State's great running back, Le'Veon Bell, to 68 yards which is about an equal amount under his average this season. State did do a great job keeping Denard in check. But, when it counted, with two minutes left in the game and Michigan down by one, Denard did what he had to do to get Michigan in position for Brendan Gibbons to kick the winning field goal with five seconds left in the game. It was great drama and a fitting end. If Michigan was to win this game, it should have been at the end of this tough and hard fought game.
     No one on the Michigan team had experienced beating Michigan State. No
one on the Michigan State team had ever experienced losing to Michigan. Rivalries need the give and take. We won two, you won three, we won, and then you one.  That is what fuels rivalries. Winning, or losing, six or more in a row takes most of the excitement out of a rivalry.
     900 hundred wins is a great milestone in this storied program. It was a good win.  It was a great game that could have gone either way. State could have won 10-9. They would have been elated. But, it went our way today. We were all happy to again be in the win column against our cross state rivals. 

     Go Blue. Go State. Good game.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dear Telemarketers: Stop Calling!



I work from home a few days week.   When I do this the phone rings all day long.  Most of these calls, like 95% of them, are what I would easily call nuisance calls.  These days, a month before the elections, half the calls recorded calls from candidates of the two major parties.  Number two in terms of call volume are also prerecorded and come from companies that want to offer me a credit card with lower interests than they believe I currently have.  The last class of calls is actually with human beings on the other end soliciting donations to any number of charities or trying to sell me window cleaning, chimney sweeping, furnace duct cleaning, and other such services. 
I hang up on the prerecorded calls.  Sometimes, if my wife is not home, I will yell a few obscenities into the phone and then hang up.  I wonder who actually listens to a whole pre-recorded message.  I have done an informal poll of my friends.  No one admitted to ever listening to the entirety of one of these kinds of calls. Most actually just look at the caller ID and simply don’t answer.
With the human beings, they will begin with something like “Is this Mr. Gavron?”  The mispronunciation of my last name is a good indicator that they want to sell me something that I probably have no need of or interest in.  I just say “what do you want, what are you trying to sell me?”  They retort with “I am not trying to sell you anything.”  “Really?  Then what are you calling about?”  “To tell you of an offer.”  “Is the offer free or do I eventually have to pay for what you are so graciously offering?”  When they answer invariably that it will cost me, I do not let them get into a sales pitch.  I just say, “I am not interested and take me off of your list” and then I hang up.  It is truly a nuisance but I try to have a little fun with it all.
 It is getting to the point that I just am not answering the phone if I do not recognize the name on the caller ID.
All this has made me question, whatever happened to the No Call Registry?  It seemed like such a good idea when it was introduced.  It actually seemed to work for a while, but It does not seem to be working at all anymore.  I checked and www.donotcall.gov still exists.  I verified that both my home and cell phones are registered.  So, why am I still getting calls on my home phone?
I have found a few articles that say the list is not working.  Complaints were in the range of 60,000 in 2010.  So far this year, complaints are over 200,000. The Federal Trade Commission runs the Do Not Call Registry; they claim the registry is still working.  I do not think it is nearly as effective as it was when it first started.
Here is what I believe is happening.  As telemarketers of every ilk are realizing that the there is little enforcement, they have simply ignoring the law.  It will only get worse.  Speed limits work when there is a non-zero chance of getting a ticket.  The same principle applies here.  I am in favor of the Federal Trade Commission getting tough with law breaking telemarketers. 
I believe the government should get tough.  This would be an effective use of my tax dollars.  Actually, I would consider voting for anyone who promises to make the Registry work.  That phone call I would take!

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Detroit Lions Revisited


      Last year on October 10, the Detroit Lions were on Monday Night Football. They were playing the Chicago Bears.  The game was in Detroit and the Lions won that game  24-13.  They looked awesome doing so.  As a result of that win, they stared the seasons at 5-0.  There was a lot of buzz about this team.  People began to believe that the Detroit Lions may have finally and fully turned the corner and were an elite NFL team. I had written two very short sentences in the piece.

      "Finally.  I hope it lasts."

      I am not so sure it has.  Since then they have played 15 games and they have won only 6 of them.  That record includes the remainder of the 2011 season and this season to date.  This year they are 1-3.
Am I shocked?  Am I disappointed?  Are Lions' fans shocked or disappointed?  Probably not.  This is what being a Lions' fan has been since I was old enough, circa 1960, to like the team.  We are given glimmers of hope, a moment of potential greatness, then that hope is dashed as the team slides back to the point where we are, all again, wishing for them to be at least mediocre.
      We are all feeling like the silver and honolulu blue may have just done it to us again.  How long could a team be bad?  Even awful teams should get their day in the sun even if it is purely random.  A year agoThey were 5-0.  It was their best start since 1956.  That is a long stretch.  Not only were fans were excited, but the entire sports world was psyched by this start.  Maybe this was the beginning of something special.  Maybe the Lions, dare we say it, might actually go to the Super Bowl.
     The Lions then proceeded to lose the next two games.  They did win enough to end the 2011 season with 10 wins and six losses.  They won enough to make the play-offs which they lost in the first round.  That's OK.  It was the third year of improved records in a row.  2011 was their first winning season since 2000.  It was their first 10 win season since 1995.  There was reason to be optimistic.  All Lion fans were looking forward to the next season.  We were excited by this hard hitting, gritty, team.   The city needed this rough and tough team to succeed.
      This season so far, they are 1 and 3:  one win and three losses.  Next in line, they play the Philadelphia Eagles, the Chicago Bears ad the seattle Seahawks.  They will not be favored to win at least two of these games.  They could be 2 and 5 or 1 and 6 and thus back to their old ways that have effectively frustrated generation after generation of their fans.
      This season is only four games old.  They could still make something of it.  Time will tell.  But, I am back to the skeptical Lions fan I have always been appreciating a team that wins 30% of the time the best that I can.  One thing I know for certain is that the Detroit Lions will not lose this week... they have a bye.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cooley High School



Photo Courtesy of Anthony Lockhart see more of his
photos of Cooley at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/71288712@N00/

In my September letter about the City of Detroit, I referred to Cooley High School in the neighborhood where I grew up and went to school.  I would have gone to Cooley High had I not gone to Cass Tech and then moved to Livonia.  I loved the architecture of Cooley High School.  It looked more like a college building than a city of Detroit Public High School.  The inside was as grand, as I recall, the entrance and the auditorium were simply beautiful.  There are very few high schools built today with such attention to style, grace, and beauty.   Today’s architecture is less ornate and concerned both with maximizing function and managing costs. 
My good friend Tim Miller wrote me shortly after I posted my letter.  I have known Tim since grade school.  We were in Boy Scouts and great friends back in the day.  We used to play tennis, baseball, and toss the football around at Cooley High School.  It was a great campus.  I looked forward to going to high school at what seemed like a wonderful place.  Tim wrote as he often does to comment on my letters.  He reminisced about the old neighborhood and the year he spent at Cooley.
In 1968-1969, Cooley was not the High School we had thought about going to.  The building, the architecture, had not changed but the student body had changed.  The change reflected the changing demographics of the city.  Cooley was transition from being an all-white school to an all-black one and it was not a smooth one.   Cooley’s transition was simply a reflection of the times.  Whites were abandoning the city.  Black people were expressing their discontent with years of discrimination.  It was just two years after the Detroit Riots of 1967 that polarized the city and divided the races.  Tim’s year at Cooley, before his family moved to Livonia, was tough.  He was jumped his first day there, he was shot at his last day, his friend from middle school who was black stopped socializing with him due to the polarization of the races, and other minor day to day pressures that made a not entirely pleasurable experience. 
Photo Courtesy of Anthony Lockhart
see more of his photos of Cooley at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/71288712@N00/ 
Tim wrote that he had visited the old neighborhood recently and visited his old church, Cavalry United Methodist, which was across from Cooley High School.  He told me Cooley was no longer a high school.  I was saddened to hear this much more than I would have anticipated.  It was such a grand edifice, that I just assumed it would be a grand and great high school forever.
What happened?
Cooley just became another victim of what was generally happening to Detroit.  Cooley closed on July 30, 2010 due declining enrollment.   It is a shame.  It was probably necessary as they closed several Detroit Schools at the same time.  In the greater scheme of what has happened to the city, the closing of one high school is but a small chapter or maybe even a footnote.  It is a symbol.  Everyone that loves the city has memories of what made the city grand for them back when the city was grand. Cooley High has been such an icon for me.
Why was I so impressed with Cooley?  Why did the architecture impress me so?
Cooley was designed and built in what is called the Spanish or Mediterranean Renaissance style.  It is one of the few examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture in Michigan.  Most other examples of this style architecture are in places like Miami and Southern California where the climate is more like the lands in which this style of architecture was created.  The architects of the building were Donaldson and Meier, a firm founded in Detroit in 1880.  Other notable buildings from this firm include the David Stott and Penobscot buildings that help define the Detroit skyline.  The firm also designed the Beaumont tower on the Michigan State University and the Dental Building and Alumni Hall at the University of Michigan.  It would be interesting to know how they chose this style of architecture for the building.
Cooley High School just after it opened in 1928
Cooley High School was built in 1928.  The first classes at the school commenced on September 4 of that year.  The City of Detroit had expanded.  Greenfield Township and the Village of Strathmoor were annexed by the city and houses were built to accommodate the randomly growing population of the city.  The previous high school in the area quickly became too small.  Cooley was built as the new high school.  The old high school became Robert Burns Elementary School where I attended from kindergarten through 7th grade.  Cooley was named for Thomas Cooley (1824 – 1898) who was the chief justice of the Michigan State Supreme Court. 
Cooley in 2008
The school population grew with the neighborhood population.  1,570 students were enrolled when the Cooley opened its doors.  Enrollment grew to 3,750 by 1932.  Cooley was a pretty large high school for its day.  In fact, Cooley was the third largest high school in the Detroit Public Schools at the time of its closing. 
The most notable graduates of Cooley High School was Jimmy Hoffa, the famed leader of the Teamsters, and Mike Ilitch the owner of Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Tigers, and the Detroit Red Wings.  Cooley produced three major league baseball players:  Joe Ginsberg, Bill Roman, and Milt Pappas.  Milt Pappas used to return to Cooley when his team, the Baltimore Orioles, was in Detroit.  He would warm up on his high school field to the delight of the youngsters.  I believe Milt used to like to see the young ballplayers in his old neighborhood.  I also believe Milt enjoyed pitching from the old high school mound.
The Cooley Auditorium
I never went to school there.  But it was a cornerstone, and as I said icon, of our neighborhood growing up.  We only lived two blocks from the school.  I learned to swim in the Cooley pool.  I learned to play tennis on the Cooley tennis courts.  I hit my first home on the make-shift ball field we used next to the big boy high school field at Cooley.  I felt special every time I entered the building simply because of the grandeur and design of the building inside and out.  I attended plays and concerts in the magnificent Cooley auditorium.  Look at the beautiful photo of Cooley on this site click here.  There are several comments under the photo on the closing of the school which are worth reading.
Time passes, things change, and nothing lasts forever.  The closing of Cooley hurt a bit more than architectural closings.  I hope the school is not torn down.  I hope it can be reborn as a school or other useful community building someday.  It is a treasure worth saving.