Archive for the Business Technology Category

How Will Children Grow Up to Be Manufacturing Professionals?

National Manufacturing Month October, 2016

Readers of a certain age will remember familiar patterns in the evolution of their childhood thinking about the inevitable “What Will I Be When I Grow Up?” question. For developing males, it went something like Cowboy-Fireman-Police-Doctor-Outfielder, while females might have followed more of a Nurse-Housewife-Model-Actress pattern.

And then, we actually grew up.

Cowboys and Housewives?  How quaint. Half a century ago well over half the popular entertainment programming featured cowboys and/or housewives. On a scant four broadcast channels, westerns and family sitcoms topped the ratings, while today those stereotypical roles have essentially become the washed-up driftwood on popular culture’s trash-strewn thousand-network beach. Some might say yesterday’s cowboys are today’s superheroes. And yesterday’s housewives have evolved into working sitcom moms. Let’s not pretend that Harriet Nelson and June Cleaver weren’t at least partially idealized.

In those not-so-distant days, in the real world, most people ended up working in manufacturing and supporting industries, so there always needed to be a coming-of-age shift from romantic fantasy to occupational reality, at least for those children maturing into members of the corporate and institutional workforce. The shifting demographic status of the housewife designation is another matter we’ll drop out of this thread, at least for the time being.

Image says October is National Manufacturing Month

And in any case, add up all the cowboys, firemen, police, doctors, outfielders, nurses, models and female actors, among those of us born in the 50s and 60s (and now in our 50s and 60s), and you may reach somewhere around 15% of the employment mix. The rest of us working stiffs—meaning most of us—are in sales, engineering, tech, healthcare, education, service and information, finance—and of course, manufacturing. Back in 1964, children didn’t put on Salesman suits, or Librarian tunics, for Halloween trick-or-treating.

It is October, and National Manufacturing Month is upon us once again in the USA. The good news is that technology, and its indivisible partnership with an exploding universe of information, is delivering to our developing workforce an amazing preview, and menu, for what to do with their lives.

Juvenile fantasies of adult vocations have shifted from old-west and domestic dreamworlds to superhero and comic-book roles, and easy and universal access to personal technology and its wide and clear window upon the world have made the transition to real-work evaluation and aspiration faster, more transparent, and way easier.

Five or six decades ago, information about working in engineering and the sciences would have been a relatively high grasp for any child younger than high-school age. That was when Choo-Choo-Charlie was an engineer, after all, and engineers drove trains.

Now, STEM programs, library services, public and private education, the internet, and popular culture have brought technical, technological, and vocational diversity to an ever-younger audience. Changes in the nature of work and industry itself are rigorously measured and predicted to bring notification of future employment trends to bear on career education and training tracks. The ensuing self-categorization lines up batches of ready workers preparing for the hot jobs of each next decade and generation. Nerds and geeks are cool now. We take our children to work once a year. Science, engineering, technical support, services, coding, and manufacturing technology are together an ever growing, ever evolving and interacting mesh of opportunities, many of which didn’t exist in their present form a generation ago.

One interesting manifestation of the parallel progress of technology and information is the Maker movement. Makers have their own events (Faires), mavens, magazines, Youtube channels, Wikis, networks, blogs, and podcasts.

In the Maker culture, information is shared, designs are traded, and creativity is celebrated. When DIY information began spreading out to millions of sites and documents and videos on the web, and useful technical instructions on how to repair, build and adapt complicated systems started the snowball rolling, it was only a matter of time before unexpected connections began to form. Innovation— integrating preconstructed modules, 3d printing, embedded software, traditional crafting, personal technology, open source sharing, and creative thinking— resulted.

Maker culture has already innovated and inspired numerous concepts and products that have been adapted for mass manufacturing, including environmental, energy, personal technology, household, transportation, and medical breakthroughs. It’s a major the new path for revitalizing American industry, and economic development for urban as well as rust-belt communities.

Who’s doing the making? Girls, boys. High school and college students. Farmers, 4H clubs, apartment dwellers, and tinkering dads in suburban mancaves.

And women. The ones already doing double duty at home and somewhere in an office. Make that triple duty, because they’re Making, too.

For more on the Maker Movement, check out the following links:

Email us or comment below—your reactions, thoughts, insights. Or, ideas about indirect heating and heat transfer in innovating new integrations as discussed above.

Industry Magazines on an E-Reader

Why aren’t there any trade publications formatted for e-reader tablets such as the Nook, Kindle, Kobo, Iriver, Sony?

I’ve asked several publishers of magazines in the processing sector, magazines covering the chemical industry and related vertical sectors if they are planning portable versions of their publications.

Sometimes they look at me funny, or if we’re speaking by telephone, there’s a pause while I imagine them looking at the phone funny.

Then, they tell me about their digital version. And I say no, that’s not useful to me. I hate reading lengthy stuff on the computer screen, and these digital versions with their virtual-folded page corners and zoom buttons, just don’t really help me consume this sort of content comfortably.

But I went and looked at several of the digital editions that I receive, and found—and the publishers didn’t even mention this, except for one—that some of them have a PDF button, so I downloaded several of these PDFs to see how well they would work on the Nook. I have the original, E-Ink version of the Nook, and I use it to read Barnes and Noble ebooks, Google Books public-domain ebooks, and Overdrive Epub ebooks from local libraries. I also side-load lengthy reports and content collections, and long web pages and blog posts that I want to read, usually using a device-management tool called Calibre.  A very convenient utility, Calibre converts several formats, including PDF, HTML, DOC, and can also gather up RSS feeds and turn them into EPUB format for consumption on e-reader devices. It does lots more too.

I downloaded three PDF editions of industrial magazines:  March 2011 Chemical Engineering, and May issues of Plant Services and Packaging Digest.

After experimenting with converting these PDF-format files to the Epub format that naturally reflows and resizes on the Nook, (the conversion process distorted the files to the point of unreadability) I transferred them intact, as PDFs, to the devices.

I read them on the two devices I have access to:  My original Barnes and Noble Nook, with its monochrome E-ink display, and my daughter’s much newer LCD Nook Color.

The winner on my Nook was:  Packaging Digest.

PD was the clear winner, and there was a clear reason:  When the publisher of PD made the PDF file, they put more effort into the quality and usability of the document. 

Mainly, they included a table of contents, which in a well-formatted PDF creates a set of hyperlinks that show up on the left side of the Adobe Reader when the file is opened on a desktop computer, and these links are very convenient for navigating within the document.

On the Monochrome Nook eReader device, the table of contents items are also recognized as navigation links for the document, making it much easier to glance at the titles of the features and articles, and quickly and easily select an article and begin reading (without paging through stuff you’re not interested in.)

Image of Packaging Digest article, Nook

Article Title Page, Monochrome Nook

The other two magazines also worked okay for reading on the devices.  But without the convenient contents links, the process was much clumsier.  I had to page through to the actual table of contents page, and when I got there, note the page number of an article I was interested in reading, then use the Nook’s Go To Page feature, which is a slider function on the LCD screen, and isn’t especially precise.

Also, on the Nook, in the issues without contents links, it was more difficult to differentiate sections of advertising from sections of editorial. 

Article on Nook Color

Chemical Engineering Article on Nook Color

The performance of the Nook Color was about the same for all three magazines.  Because I was forced to use PDF format, many of the functions that would make these magazines usable and vibrant on this 7″ LCD screen just don’t work.  Turning the device to read in landscape mode, for instance, doesn’t work in the native PDF reader.  This lack requires more pinching and zooming to read various sections of the 3-column format that magazines–whether industrial or consumer oriented–use in common.

Chemical Engineering Cover on Nook Color

Chemical Engineering Cover on Nook ColorChemical Engineering Article

All these problems would be solved by publishers releasing device-dedicated versions of the magazines.  The problem is, what about delivery?

Side-loading content to these devices is not a problem for techie types, and really not overly difficult for anybody who is accustomed to moving files of any sort from machine to machine–for instance, MP3 music or audio files from a desktop or laptop to a portable audio player like an Ipod or a Sansa. 

Still, ideally there should be a mechanism to make professional reading on these devices as convenient as leisure reading.

Maybe it’s time for the trade magazine publishers to band together and develop an Ap.  Chances are, some members of the industrial audience will begin accessing portable content on Smartphones or multipurpose tablets before they have dedicated  reading devices like these.

No Business Like Show Business

I arrived at the trade show a few minutes after the doors opened; there was a fellow out in the lobby area talking generalities to early arrivals like me. I decided to skip the pep talk and went straight into the exhibit hall.

First I meandered down a couple rows, browsing the booths without stopping in anywhere. Most of the displays were modern, colorful, medium sized, and many featured video screens.

Before heading into any specific booth I scouted the peripheral areas, noting the locations of the conference center, the networking lounge and resource center. I checked the times of the industry presentations, made notes to attend at least one, and picked up a few publications at the resource center, putting them into my briefcase to peruse later.

As the morning passed, I chatted with several people in several of the booths. I learned about their products and how they present their services, exchanged business cards with a few sales reps by noon, threw my name in for several prize drawings (Ipads and Ipod Touches are still popular prizes), and then in the afternoon I spent time in the conference center listening to presentations, and in the networking lounge discussing the presentations, and some web marketing technologies, with other attendees and some of the presenting companies.

Throughout all of this, I was sitting in my office, playing my banjo, and eating Tastycake Butterscotch Krimpets.1 This was a virtual trade show. Actually, the above describes a bit of a hybrid experience, consisting of two virtual events, both on the ON24 presentation platform.

Virtual Trade Show Booth Thumbnail

Booth at Material Handling Show

First was the Material Handling trade show presented July 14 by Globalspec. Lift trucks, conveying equipment, data processing, supply chain, warehouse management topics and software, were all presented and discussed in the booths, in the chat areas, in provided powerpoints and delivered lectures in the virtual auditorium.

The second event I attended was presented by Vocus, the online public relations and marketing software developer. “Retweet: Engagement Means Business” took place July 28, and was more of a virtual conference atmosphere. Social media, web communications, blogging, relationships, Youtube guidelines, explaining Twitter, role of Facebook in B2B… Lots of 2010 marketing-buzz topics were explored, lots of resources discussed.

For both virtual events, the ON24 platform worked. People really did move throughout the environment and partake in all the different offerings much like they would at a live event. I did experience a small technical glitch at one of the events, suddenly finding myself in a virtual “Cone of Silence”2 when all the interactive features simply ceased functioning. Chat attempts and message sends returned only a stony and disquieting noninteractive emptiness. Logging out and back in solved the problem. The presenters were very concerned and responsive about the issue when I later communicated to them about it.

The Virtual Briefcase is where you put stuff you want to look at later. Powerpoints, PDFs, whitepapers, videos, links to web pages and web tools, product specs, etcetera, can be viewed on the spot, or you can click a little briefcase icon to take it all with you to read or view later. If you’ve met somebody you want to exchange contact information with, either in a networking area or a floor booth, you can chat, email, or exchange virtual business cards, with a click of the mouse.

Navigation may take a while to get used to. It does help to thoroughly explore the virtual space in advance, clicking all the links in the interface, to figure out how everything works before you go out and about.

Before you leave (log out), you can visit “My Information” and download all the information in your briefcase, and the contacts you’ve made. They email you a link to a zip file.

Have you ever been on the plane home from an event and thought “I wish I’d had time to hear that session on Chiral Symmetry vs. Specific Rotation with Biomembrane Technology?”3 One great advantage of a virtual trade show is that, in many cases, the presenter archives key parts of the event for attendees, or even new on-demand registrants, to consume later.4

Thumbnail Image of Virtual Auditorium at Online Conference

Virtual Auditorium

Please comment here if you’ve had some interesting experiences or have thoughts about virtual events. Also, if you’d like to discuss any of these topics (web interactivity, B2B social media, process industries, etc.) specifically you can email me here

Paratherm Corporation will be exhibiting at Industrial Processing, a virtual trade show event presented by Globalspec, on Wednesday August 25, 2010 11:30 AM – 6:00 PM EDT (8:30 AM – 3:00 PM PDT). Come chat with us about thermal processing. Register here

The archived version of Vocus’s Retweet conference is available until January 28, 2011 at

Globalspec’s archived events are available for 30 days (usually longer) at

  1. Just kidding about the banjo and krimpets
  2. The Cone of Silence was first seen on Get Smart starring Don AdamsRevived in Rowan Atkinson’s 2003 spoof Johnny English when the cone failed to funny effect.  Scientific American podcasted about the scientific feasibility of the C.O.S. here
  3. Well, I confess I’ve never actually had that specific feeling but I do remember wishing I had been able to squeeze in the Chris Smither performance at a music festival…you get the idea…
  4. In addition to the on-demand archived content, there are no plane rides, no sandwich lines, no stinkin’ (show) badges, no hotel reservations—making the virtual experience valuable, yet perhaps not quite as personal and vibrant as the living, walking, breathing organism.