JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 138 : 26 November 2003

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the US, we gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday in November. We give thanks for all the good things in our lives.

From me and mine, to you and yours - HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Click on any item to jump directly to that item

More on the problems of electronic voting

I got a lottt of feedback on the problems of electronic voting. Now, I don't think I'm paranoid, and I'm not easily convinced on "conspiracy theories". But, I cannot even begin to imagine the significant damage that could be caused if a US Presidential election is, after the fact, proved to be rigged.

It turns out that electronic voting machines have already caused problems. An example: During the last election in Scurry County, Texas, two unexpected landslide wins for Republican candidates struck election clerks as just one coincidence too many. The county clerk investigated and found that a faulty computer chip had caused the county's optical scanner to record Democratic votes as Republican. After two manual recounts and one electronic recount (using a replacement chip in the scanner), the Democratic candidates won by large margins and the original results were overturned.

And there have been many similar examples (see web links below). Many people just shrug this off as scare mongering, or just an occasional problem equivalent to "ballot-box stuffing". Or perhaps, it's just too difficult to think about.

Well, think on this. What happens if, without any audit trail or paper record, there is no possibility of a recount - manual or otherwise? If a touch-screen voting machine is messed with, or crashes (which happens) there would be no way to tell how people actually voted. So, what will we do? Ask the courts to rule on who won? Again?

Click If You Want To Win An Election, Just Control The Voting Machines

Click Visualize a Fair Election in 2004

Return to the TOP

The Haythornthwaite Invensys predicament

On Nov. 23, 2003, Invensys admitted that it could run out of cash by June 2004. In a letter to shareholders Invensys chairman Martin Jay wrote that the company probably would not be able to meet a June 2004 deadline to repay $1.5bn (£885m) of debt. Just days later, a US and UK pension shortfall of £634m($1.08bn) was revealed.

Clearly Martin Jay was cognizant of his fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders when he wrote that letter, albeit reluctantly. Now Invensys will be hard-pressed to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy. Knowing the situation, potential buyers will figure it's a fire sale.

If YOU were Invensys CEO Rick Haythornthwaite, what would YOU do?

You're a smart guy, age 46, you have a good track record (albeit primarily with selling a cement company for a good price); you've taken charge of a FTSE 100 blue-chip company that has dived like a dot.com to less than 5% of its value; the company is in debt to the tune of a couple billion and the banks are breathing down your neck; you know virtually nothing about automation (though you figured you could learn quickly); you hired a few hotshots (at least you thought they were hotshots) who hired more hotshots to rejuvenate the company which refuses to be rejuvenated; you've committed to selling of the good parts of the company at a good price to give yourself a chance to save the losers; you find the good companies are not selling for the price you thought you'd get; your Chairman writes a letter to shareholders admitting that the company will probably default on the debt; after climbing a little the stock has dived into the tank again; your board has decided to move the company HQ to the US and you don't wish to move. So, what would you do?

Apparently, Rick Haythornthwaite is hanging on. He cannot simply give up and quit now. Or can he?

Click UK Independent - Hopes of a rescue at Invensys look forlorn

Click UK Telegraph - Invensys admits cash crisis looms

Click Financial Times - Invensys unveils a £634m pension shortfall

Click Latest news and views on the Invensys weblog

Return to the TOP

The flip side of the Wal-Mart phenomenon

Sam Walton opened the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962 and it is now the world's largest company. With sales of about $250 billion, it is larger than all but 30 countries in the world, employing over 1 million people with 3,300 retail stores in the US alone, and 4,500 in several countries worldwide

The scale can be hard to absorb. Wal-Mart is bigger than ExxonMobil, General Motors, and General Electric. The company sells 4 times more than Home Depot, the number-two retailer. It does more business than Target, Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Safeway, and Kroger combined. It is, in fact, so big and powerful that it has become an entirely different order of corporate being.

Wal-Mart wields its power with just one goal: to bring the lowest possible prices to its customers. The prices Wal-Mart will pay its suppliers, and will charge shoppers, are expected to drop year after year. But few, outside the company and its 21,000 suppliers, know the high cost of those low prices. To meet Wal-Mart's demands, most of its suppliers have had to lay off employees, close US plants and manufacture offshore.

Wal-Mart is accelerating the loss of American jobs to low-wage countries such as China. Imports from China alone have doubled in the past 5 years. In 2002, Wal-Mart bought $12 billion from China, about 10% of all Chinese exports to the US.

Wal-Mart is as a vast pipeline that gives non-US companies direct access to the American market. The centralized Wal-Mart system connects Chinese and other suppliers into its digital network very quickly. So there is a big switch to overseas sourcing, much faster than anything ever possible before.

Wal-Mart's relentless drive to squeeze out costs is at least partly responsible for the low rate of US inflation. A McKinsey study suggests that about 12% of the US economy's productivity gains in the second half of the 1990s could be traced to Wal-Mart alone. Last year, 7.5 cents of every dollar spent in any store in the US (other than auto-parts stores) went to Wal-Mart.

None of Wal-Mart's stores are unionized. In 2002 about 33% of the employees were temporary. The company is the target of persistent unionizing efforts, but has aggressively fought off all attempts. But this success for the centrally controlled behemoth has changed the local landscape in a lot of communities, and caused a lot of hardship with drastic changes in the tax-base.

While the Wal-Mart still appears to promote "Made in America", about 83% of Wal-Mart products are NOT made within the US. Anti-Wal-Mart activists report that some contract companies use prison slave labor in China. In Bangladesh in 1992, a Wal-Mart contractor was reported to be using teenagers in "sweatshops", 80 hours a week, at $0.14 per hour. So, how much of these cheap prices come from sources like that?

This relentless drive for lower-prices - where will it end? The search for lower costs at all costs is not limited to just Wal-Mart - it just highlights the problem. In the global village, cause and effect are clearly visible, and often the end may not justify the means. Thinkaboutit...

Click This was summarized from Fastcompany, Dec. 2003
The Wal-Mart you don't know:

Click Encyclopedia Wal-Mart

Click Wal-Mart watch

Return to the TOP

Automation Unplugged - Pinto's Preface

You might enjoy these extracts from the Preface of my book:
    I've walked the crazy catwalks with instrument technicians in hot humid environments at Dow Chemical in Freeport, TX and Baton Rouge, LA. I've peered down the vats in the breweries at Busch and Miller. I've sweated out the deadlines at the jet-engine test-beds with engineers at GE in Cincinnati and West Lynn, MA., and Pratt & Whitney in CT. and FL. I've pulled wires through the panels at Edison power plants in Chicago and Cleveland. I've fixed weighing machines in Japan, where the engineer was impressed with a president who could actually use a soldering iron.

    I've helped specify instruments for systems integrators in Singapore and Beijing, and a gold mine in Borneo. I've been through the customs lines in New Zealand and San Paolo, Brazil, where they wondered what I what kind of contraband I was carrying as they picked out the Action Paks from my suitcase. I have dropped my rugged industrial computer 3 feet to the floor, impressing German audiences with the thud and convincing them to use it in a major printing press.

    I've sold industrial instruments that have helped British and French engineers drill the Channel Tunnel. I've helped British Steel make steel in Sheffield and watched a roll of molten steel move past the window outside, as the bar graph tracked its progress on the screen in the cozy cage over the catwalk. I've helped start up Heinz ketchup machines, baby-diaper-making machines, bottle-filling machines, pineapple slicing-and-dicing machines. I’ve been to cement plants in Mexico, coffee plants in Brazil, sugar plants in Australia, automobile plants in France and Spain.

    I can go on with these memorable scenarios for a few pages more - but you get the point. Industrial automation is NOT just one application or market. It is a conglomeration of fragmented applications and markets. That is at once the problem and the challenge. The products and instruments and systems are used for a bewildering variety of problems and requirements. The knowledge is specialized, the product usually customized, the quantities are not huge. But the problems are always challenging, and the results rewarding.

For those who read my eNews regularly, and have read my articles in print, or on the web, I hope you enjoy the collection of my writings in "Automation Unplugged". For those who may have missed some of my prognostications, pointers, prose and poetry, I hope you'll like what you read and come back for more.

Click Read "Automation Unplugged" - Complete Table of Contents

"Automation Unplugged" is now available online from the ISA website and several others (see web links below).

Click Buy the book on the ISA website

Click Automation techies, buy from AutomationTechies.com

Click Amazon.com - buy with 1-click

Click Readout - UK and Europe shipments

Return to the TOP

Pseudo scientific constants

Dick Morley's humor-net came up with this interesting list (original source unknown) which I think you'll enjoy.
  1. Ratio of an igloo's circumference to its diameter = Eskimo Pi
  2. 2000 pounds of Chinese soup = Won ton
  3. 1 millionth of a mouthwash = 1 microscope
  4. Time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement = 1 bananosecond
  5. Weight an evangelist carries with God = 1 billigram
  6. Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour = Knotfurlong
  7. 365.25 days of drinking low calorie beer because it's less filling = 1 lite year
  8. 16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone = 1 Rod Serling
  9. Half of a large intestine = 1 semicolon
  10. 1,000,000 aches = 1 megahurtz
  11. Basic unit of laryngitis = 1 hoarsepower
  12. Shortest distance between two jokes = A straight line
  13. 453.6 graham crackers = 1 pound cake
  14. 1 million microphones = 1 megaphone
  15. 1 million bicycles = 2 megacycles
  16. 365.25 days = 1 unicycle
  17. 2000 mockingbirds = two kilomockingbirds
  18. 10 cards = 1 decacards
  19. 1 kilogram of falling figs = 1 Fig Newton
  20. 1000 grams of wet socks = 1 literhosen
  21. 1 millionth of a fish = 1 microfiche
  22. 1 trillion pins = 1 terrapin
  23. 10 rations = 1 decaration
  24. 100 rations = 1 C-ration
  25. 2 monograms = 1 diagram
  26. 8 nickels = 2 paradigms
  27. 2.4 statute miles of intravenous surgical tubing at
  28. Yale University Hospital = 1 I.V. League

Return to the TOP


Michael Tsoukias, [zibbo@ev1.net] warns from his own practical experience with electronic voting:
    "I have served as Election Judge in my Houston, TX precinct for many years, and I am intimately familiar with the voting machine details. As of 2002 we moved to the e-slate voting machines (by HART).

    "The advantages are numerous:

    • Very much quicker setup and takedown time
    • After-polls paperwork is reduced from 3-4 hrs to less than 2 hrs.
    "There are 2 fundamental disadvantages:
    • In case of recount, all you get is the electronic numbers that you got the first time, and
    • it is conceivable (and possible) that the machines come to the polls with the results already programmed, and that all the election process is a fraud. It is the equivalent of having the old ballot boxes pre-stuffed, or switched en route to the counting centers.

    "This is a concern that I heard from many voters. I have raised it to the local County office and was ignored. It does not help that all four of the nation's electronic voting equipment are reported to have very close ties to one major party - guess which. It looks like we are exchanging convenience for a lower degree of security.

    Interesting sidelight: Out of 11 volunteers that operated the previous election here, 8 of us are immigrants. The turnout was less that 20% in Mayoral/city/municipal elections. There is a runoff next month because there was no clear winner, and again, of the volunteers for the next election 6 of 8 are immigrants. Draw your own conclusions..."

Return to the TOP

Mark Goede [markgoede@centurytel.net] wrote regarding the founding fathers' view on the threats to Democracy:
    "George Washington's farewell address when he left office had much to do with the threat to our nations democracy, and where we are with the "liberal versus conservative" viewpoints of today. In it, he warns against divisiveness within our own country, relating in his time to the quarrels between the Federalists and the "states-rights" supporters. He wished to remind the people that, despite our differences, we are still united by common bond of our own unique choice of political leadership, and not to let our differences divide us. He also warns against using our ideologies to alter the structure of our government, in that it would result in a weakening of our political system and a lessening of our liberties.

    "All in all, I find that he seems to touch on a problem we see today. Party and "group ideology" are leading to an end to rational discourse on subjects important to our democracy. People should be aware that it is not for our country, or our flag (or any other symbol, for that matter) that we must fight for, but we should be fighting for our own individual freedoms and liberties that we live under. Any threat, external or internal, to our system of government and our personal liberty should be what we must guard against."

Return to the TOP

Peter P Wilson [bald1@internet.co.nz] from New Zealand on the threats from China rising:
    "You've still not got the full picture. For over a decade Motorola, Raytheon, Hughes, Lockheed Martin and others have been getting information to China, with the sole objective of getting satellite launch costs to a very economical 12M $USD, the approx cost of a 'Long March' launch. As a consequence, China can now deliver instant sunrise anywhere on the face of the planet.

    "The USA has a policy in place to militarize space over the next 15 years. There is a comprehensive PR work already published on the matter. I've seen it. Could have been a superbly crafted piece of disinformation, but I doubt it.

    "Possible fly in the ointment? Chinas burgeoning middle class foments a popular democratic uprising, overthrowing the self perpetuating meritocracy, and settling, eventually, on a constitutional democracy. A period of maximal instability a la Russia lasting about 5-7 years.

    "The US has its eye on the ball, but the gopher holes on the field of play are going to break ankles. International affairs is not the subtle ballet we are led to believe by Clancy et al, but a rather unsophisticated display of paranoia and egoism, and always to the detriment of humanity at large.

    "Please, oh please, tell me I'm wrong!"

Return to the TOP

JimPinto.com eNews - on the web

If you've missed a couple of issues of eNews, or wish to refer to earlier items, please note : You can see ALL past issues online at :

Click Index of ALL past JimPinto.com eNews

eSpeak to me

If smell something fishy in your pond, please e-let me know and I'll check it out. Please send your tips and alerts, your news, views and stews. I'd like to e-hear from you.

If you have comments or suggestions for Growth & Success News, please contact me directly at : Click Jim@JimPinto.com

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

If you got this eNews through someone else, you might like to subscribe for a regular free copy, direct to your own email. Just click your mouse on :
Sign up for regular hot news, views and stews

Or, if you're lazy (you may miss some privileges) simply send a blank email message to :
Click Sign-up@JimPinto.com
with subject line : "sign me up for JimPinto.com E-mail news".

To be removed send a blank email message to
Click eRemove@JimPinto.com with subject line "Remove".

Stay in e-touch!


Return to eNews Index Return to eNews Index

Return to Jimpinto.com Homepage Return to JimPinto.com HomePage

If you have ideas or suggestions to improve this site, contact: webmaster@jimpinto.com
Copyright 2000-01-02 : Jim Pinto, San Diego, CA, USA