JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 270 : 25 August 2009

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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Pinto Bucket-list trip - Greece tour & cruise

Some of you have noticed that the last eNews issue was dated over a month ago (15 July 2009). The lapse was because I was on vacation - in Greece. A Grecian vacation has always been high on my "bucket-list", and this trip was beyond my expectations.

Although tours are typically hurried and regimented, we decided to take a Trafalgar tour - they're fairly well known in Europe and we were well pleased.

We started in Athens, at an excellent hotel right below the Acropolis (the word denotes the highest point in a city). The Parthenon was built in 500 BC and, as if to greet us, it was all lit up at night - we have a spectacular photo from the hotel's rooftop restaurant. The just recently opened Parthenon Museum, just a short distance away, was built to house the rich archaeological finds that have been unearthed during excavations. The floor is glass, through which you can see excavations of an ancient village below.

Our land tour included the Corinth Canal, and then ancient Corinth, dating back to 5,000 BC – I couldn't help remembering that Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians a mere couple of millennia ago.

We were on route to Mycenae and the remains of Agamemnon's palace.' Then we drove through the mountains of Arcadia to Olympia – the site of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC. We strolled through the temples of Zeus and Hera – I tell you, those Greek Gods were fun-loving and temperamental.

Next we took the bridge across the Gulf of Corinth to mainland Greece, and then on the slopes of mighty Mount Parnassas to Delphi, home of the Oracle. It turns out that the Oracle was a series of old, epileptic women who made undecipherable pronouncements, interpreted as riddles by the priests. So, for example, they’d predict the outcome of a battle with a double-meaning riddle that turned out to be true. Hey, I'm thinking of developing my own Oracular website with similar predictions about business and politics...

Then there were the monasteries of Meteora, perched on gigantic rocks above the ancient battlefields in the plains below. The Greek word meteora means "suspended in the air", and these rocks, apparently under water millions of years ago, eroded into fantastic peaks upon which medieval monks built monasteries, several of which are still active. There are still some high, isolated caves there, accessible only by rope-ladder and inhabited by modern-day hermits.

The cruise which followed would not have been the same without the history lessons and overview of the land tour. The Greek cruise-ship was OK, but not up to the standard of the big cruise-lines. With less than about 1,000 passengers, it was small enough to dock at most of the islands; we still had to take tenders to the port when it anchored offshore at small Santorini.

The cruise took us to Mykonos, playground of the rich and famous (spectacular, I'd go back); Ephesus (now in Turkey, lots of biblical and earlier history); Rhodes (where we went up to the Fort on mules); Crete (we tasted their wine), Patmos (apostle John wrote the Book of Revelations here); and finally Santorini (a volcanic explosion destroyed a large part of this picturesque island, which means you have to climb down lots of steps, or take a mule, down to the port).

Of course, there are Olive trees everywhere in Greece – apparently, they don't need much upkeep and live for a few hundred years. In Greek mythology, goddess Athena created the first tree during a battle with Poseidon. She planted an olive tree at the Acropolis, and provided Athens with food, oil, shelter and wood. First cultivation of olives began after 2000 BC in Crete. To the people in the Mediterranean, olive oil has been more than something to cook food. Homer called it Liquid Gold. And there are lots of Olive soaps and beauty treatments.

There are lots of other Greek products worth sampling. Greek Ouzo is and alcoholic aperitif similar to the French Anis, which I don't much like; though I do like their liqueur Raki, and their sweet wine, Vin Santo. Hey, we discovered that having Greek yogurt and honey every morning cures everything and does wonders for the libido – try it! You can get some at Trader Joe's.

Beyond just mentioning these appealing names and a juicy tidbit, it's difficult to write even a short-description of each, and I’m running out of room. You'll find lots of links on the Internet (some provided below) which will help you to plan your own trip.

We took thousands of pictures, which are now in the process of being sorted out. That will take months – at least until I start planning my next bucket-list trip....

Click Greece - From Wikipedia

Click Travel Guides to Greece

Click Greek Island Guide

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National Instruments' Geek Week

Just before my Greece trip, I visited National Instruments in Austin, TX. on a consulting assignment. I must tell you, this company continues to amaze me - the motivated people, the steady stream of new products, the impressive facilities campus, the continued growth even in recessionary times.

My visit was just a couple of weeks before the annual "geek bash" called NI Week - I call it "geek week". Gary Mintchell, editor of Automation World, was there. He reports in his blog (weblink below) that Founder, President and CEO, Jim Truchard (they call him Dr. T) greeted a record crowd with his opening keynote remarks: the "financial engineers" who helped create the mess we're in should go back and do "real engineering" to help get us out. The way Math has been taught in business schools has serious flaws; they are trying to apply the laws of physics to an area with a lot more variations.

NI is a company that prides itself on technological innovation. Some companies may be sales-driven, a few may be marketing-driven, but NI is still a nimble, technology-driven company. And nowhere is this seen as much as in the latest release of LabView, NI's flagship software, and the supporting cast of hardware.

National Instruments' revenue is now about $ 725M with a market-cap of over $ 2B and some $ 0.25B cash in the bank. The company has a unique corporate culture, described at some length in an article I wrote about 3 years ago, stimulated by open discussions with Dr. T. He predicted then that NI would continue to grow towards the next benchmark of $ 1B. Today, this fiercely independent company is still on track.

Click Addressing Global Challenges with Innovation at NIWeek 2009

Click Read Gary Mintchell NI blog

Click National Instruments - Culture of Growth & Success

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Invensys - Outsourcing the Crown Jewels

The news was brewing on the JimPinto.com Invensys weblogs for months before it finally happened. The blogs were being generated by employees of Invensys Development Center (IDC) in Hyderabad, India, reporting that an Invensys deal was brewing to sell off IDC to Cognizant, an outsourcing services provider.

Clearly the weblogs had become a primary unofficial source of communications between IDC employees. But the daily stream of messages - disgruntled complaints, nervous rumors, canny comments - became so thick and heavy, that I had to request that they start their own unofficial blog; which they did.

In the meantime, Invensys was busy being reorganized as Invensys Operations Management (IOM). Management refused to comment on the persistent rumors which were circulating about the Cognizant deal. One weblog even suggested that Cognizant was buying all of Invensys, which wasn't too far-fetched since Cognizant is itself a Fortune-1000 company.

Then, in mid-July Invensys finally made the announcement. It had "entered a strategic relationship with Cognizant... to help improve the design, development and delivery of IOM products and solutions for customers around the globe." They officially confirmed the news which had been broadcast on the blogs for months.

Under the terms of the "initial 5-year agreement", Cognizant becomes IOM's global development partner, supplying "an array of development and maintenance services" and a long list of other stuff.

Cognizant is a provider of IT consulting and business process outsourcing, and also one of the world's leading SAP implementation houses. Perhaps the SAP connection explains the link with IOM CEO Sudipta Bhattacharya, formerly a SAP Veep.

Astute commentator Andrew Bond suggests in his "Automation Insider" that this looks as if Invensys IOM is pretty much handing over its crown jewels to Cognizant: all of the development for the former Foxboro, Triconex, SimSci-Esscor, Avantis, InFusion, Eurotherm and Wonderware. Wow!

Sudipta then hastily summoned some American journalists to a teleconference, apparently intended to clarify the situation. Sadly, this did not add anything, except further confusion.

Automation World's Gary Mintchell did get some clarification, through Steve Young, IOM VP of global development. Who is Steve Young, and when did he appear on the scene to make these pronouncements? He is not even listed as Executive Management on the Invensys website. Anyway, this Young fellow tried bravely to squelch suggestions that IOM was handing over control of its software "domain expertise", suggesting that they were transferring only the "heavy lifting": porting to new Windows platforms, writing drivers, and mundane stuff like that.

But Cognizant did not see it that way. Their own version of the press release stated that the deal "will enable Cognizant to further expand its customer base in discrete manufacturing, process manufacturing, energy and utilities..." and this continues with a complete list of areas which are key to IOM. Clearly, there was no agreement regarding whether the transfer was mundane "heavy lifting" or precious "crown jewels".

All this did not go over well with IDC in India. As reported in their copious weblogs, they had been suffering management problems and a high rate of staff churn. More than 95% of the 400 employees accepted Cognizant's offer of employment. The earlier weblogs now seemed prescient. And they still offer insights into how this whole debacle was triggered.

But, the problems don't stop at IDC in India. Back home at Wonderware in California, the source of the Invensys crown-jewels, exits are taking place at an alarming rate. Sudipta remains mum.

After all this idiocy: the IOM name and strategy change, the puerile website redesign, the transfer of the Wonderware crown jewels - comes the latest laugh. The IOM people have renamed the long established and highly successful "WonderWorld" events for this year as "OpsManage09". One can only guess how the hitherto highly successful WonderWare sales channel will greet this gross lack of commonsense.

Is Ulf immune to all this noise? Or, is he just pretending to be asleep? As he was when Paulett Eberhart was creating havoc with Foxboro? The Invensys weblogs reported that he had sold off some of his stock, and that the Cognizant deal was done simply to clean up the balance-sheet prior to the sale of the company.

Stay tuned for the continued comedy of errors. Hey, will you attend "OpsManage09"?

Click Read more in Andrew Bond's Automation Insider

Click Read the Invensys weblogs

Click Read Gary Mintchell's Feedforward weblog on Invensys

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Healthcare Technology Revolution

Healthcare is being transformed through a technology revolution termed Healthcare 2.0. This is led by the introduction of electronic health records that can be turned into searchable medical databases, providing a "smart grid" for medicine that will not only improve clinical practice but also help to stimulate research. Devices and diagnostics are going digital, advancing such long-heralded ideas as telemedicine and personal medical devices for the home.

In the past medicine had taken a paternalistic stance - the all-knowing physician dispenses wisdom. But today, the web has a plethora of medical advice. I can look up symptoms and side-effects for any medication, without waiting for my doctor to interpret these things for me.

On the doctors' end, digitization of medical information connects doctors not only to everything they need to know about their patients, but also to other doctors who have treated similar disorders.

Healthcare 2.0 information is available to the patients too, empowering them to play a bigger part in managing their own health affairs. Individuals take more responsibility for their own health and prevent problems before they require costly hospital visits. That means putting electronic health records directly into patients' hands.

The technology for a "Health 2.0" model already exists, and the standards needed to guarantee its smooth running are being developed and used widely. Devices will use USB or Bluetooth, and data transmitted between devices will use an IEEE standard in the same way that Wi-Fi networks do.

Focusing on preventative care and actually keeping people healthy actually provides a massive economic benefit not just to the healthcare industry, but to the economy as a whole. More healthy people contributing to production, output and consumption can do quite a lot for the economy. If the incentives could be aligned such that people are paid for staying healthy, rather than having illness treated, then there's a lot of money to be made without resorting to the old inefficient mess that is today's healthcare system.

Warning: U.S. insurers and health systems don't seem to want to adopt new technologies. That's because they make more money the sicker you are. Pharmaceutical companies make easy money with monopolies that limit the spread of useful drugs, to make their drugs expensive. Actual drug costs are nearly totally hidden from most consumers. There are lots of built-in artificial scarcities in the system, which make them rich. Opening up the flow of information will change that.

It's time to fix the healthcare system.

Click Medicine goes digital

Click Is the future of healthcare online?

Click Will technology improve healthcare delivery?

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Manufacturing Innovation

We must recognize that major parts of the economy - government, banking, insurance, health care, consumer services - use physical wealth, but do not create it. Financial services now comprise 45% of earnings of companies on the S&P 500 index, up from 10% just a quarter-century earlier.

Manufacturing is a primary wealth-producing sector and historically is responsible for this country's relatively high standard of living compared to other countries. Manufacturing has now declined to about 11% of America's GNP. The continued decline is ominous.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) has an initiative that identifies emerging technologies that are making a positive impact on manufacturing. SME's Manufacturing Enterprise Council collaboratively selected five "innovations that could change the way you manufacture":

  • Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM): Use of additive fabrication processes; manufacturing components layer by layer, direct from 3D digital data, without machining, molding or casting.
  • Ultra capacitors: Electrochemical capacitors that have an unusually high energy density and provide significantly more storage power, with unparalleled life span.
  • Self-Assembling Nanotechnology: Manufacturing at the microscopic level.
  • Intelligent Device Integration (IDI): Monitoring, managing and servicing of intelligent devices over the Internet.
  • Integrated 3D Simulation and Modeling: Desktop supercomputers will revolutionize simulation and modeling, acting through microscope, telescope and time-machine operations to manage, view and tool a complete manufacturing system.
Perhaps a fortuitous result of the current recessionary environment is that the manufacturing decline is being recognized and addressed in new and innovative ways.

Click Automation World - Fundamentals: Manufacturing Innovation

Click SME - Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture

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Russell Kinner [RKinner@ssoe.com] shares some stories about how small companies blossom and thrive, and then decline:
    "I had a boss who did just as you suggest at a small engineering firm. He hired the best people he could find, gave them the tools they needed and then stayed out of their way. We did have to perform (as measured by the satisfaction of our clients and repeat business) and our performance exceeded what any of us could expect to do by ourselves. We challenged each other to do better. There was no cutting down colleague to get ahead; we all wanted to help everyone exceed their expectations. And that translated into success for the company. It was a great time in my career.

    "Fast forward to today. That company with the great boss had its founders retire and the place lost direction, finally being sold a skeleton of its former self. I found work at a major automation supplier for 4 years and was caught up in one of their many RIFs. Fortunately, I was caught in one of the early RIFs (almost 3 years ago) and ended up at a 1000 person Engineering/Architectural firm. So, I was inadvertently pushed back into a larger company, but love where I am.

    "Getting laid-off is not something I want to experience again, but they did me a favor. I now see a career future, not just serving my time until I can retire. In fact, I really don't see retirement in my future, I hope to work (maybe a few less hours each week) until my physical health won't let me.

    "My bucket list is full, so a few days off occasionally to check some of them off (as you did on your recent trip) would be a good thing."

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Jim Johnson [JamesRoss.Johnson@swagelok.com] tells us why his digital textbook venture failed. But Apple may now get in the game:

    "In 2001 my daughter and I founded a company with a goal of marketing text books in a digital format. We signed a contract with the National Association of College Bookstores to be the exclusive provider of digital text books through their bookstores, which control around 45% of the nation's college bookstores.

    "Our venture failed - because the publishers of the text books were unwilling to provide their content in a digital version. We were proposing to sell text book content by the chapter, or even by the page, so an instructor could utilize the best parts of a number of text books for the same price as a single hard copy text book.

    "Apple noticed us and my daughter is now a Senior Manager at Apple in their iTunes University program. She works with Universities and other entities to provide digital educational content through iTunes.

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John Blaesi [John.E.Blaesi@conocophillips.com] feels that another, higher degree won't help him:

    "One reason I am not currently seeking another degree or a higher degree is the very structured and limited courses that I need to take to obtain that degree. Courses that I am not interested in or I do not think apply.

    "In the past 2 hours, I have utilized information and/or education from engineering, IT, finance, legal, and psychology. I don't know of any one degree that offers all of these and I don't think anyone person should have five degrees just to occupy my chair."

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