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New Year 2014 Wishes

Posted by on 26th January 2014

By now most cultures have celebrated their New Year’s Day. We already have a few things to celebrate as we start our new fiscal year. We’ve completed our enterprise resource planning system, ERP. You know, the boring stuff, the necessary evil. But it really works, it really helps us do a better job of organizing our business. Also we’ve started manufacturing Encole sight glasses. For this year we wish to add another tab in the header of our website. This tab will be “Distributors”, where a world map will start showing the Encole logo in various parts of Canada, Latin America, Europe, and South Africa. We currently sell in these areas and people are constantly asking us if we have stocking distributors. We should. This is going to be interesting to see if the Distributors we find would want to sell their existing lines through the Encole.com catalog.

Another wish is to balance our passion for being fiscally productive with passion for finding joy in the moment.

A couple of my friends very capable of riding no longer ride their motorcycles. Incidentally, both had an R6, a hoot motorcycle to ride. I cannot imagine how they live in Silicon Valley after being bitten by celestial feelings of riding, perfect weather year around, and suddenly not riding. Oh, yes, on a bike you are above traffic and there is always traffic in the Bay Area. So you have tangible benefits of a fun commute to work. Actually, the commute part on a bike is really secondary, with the fun built into every ride. Suddenly arriving to work for an exciting day at the office are very balanced. I think the joys of the moment most people seek are so clear to find in riding. Here are a few examples.

Fun. Mental sharpness. Quick decision making. Somewhat athletic activity. That roller-coaster feeling. Machine’s instant response. Satisfaction in “I can do it”. A hand waive to fellow bikers on the road. Human connection with others. A connection between man and machine.

I can’t think of more at the moment, but in a word, these are attributes of Passion. What do we want from life? I think bikers have a leg up on this. My really big wish is for more people finding a way to live their passions, not necessarily by biking, but in something, anything. Happy New Year everybody, 2014 is upon us, make a wish. Write it down, read it every day and put a plan behind it. It will come true!

Encole Quality Assurance Philosophy

Posted by on 19th January 2014

Recently we’ve stepped into the realm of big business. Our customers are asking us for our Quality Plan. That is how we guarantee that our products work, work consistently and meet the stated performance specifications. We do have a plan. And we do strive to provide quality products. So, we have this to share without divulging too much know-how and our proprietary methods.

Introduction to Quality Plan at Encole is this:
There is a sense of pride in our work. At the end of the day we are confident in our products. We take comfort knowing that somewhere in the world we’ve created a satisfied customer. This sense of confidence and achievement cannot be accomplished at random. Our internal processes are guided by consistently following our Encole’s quality assurance principles:

  • Product quality assurance by vendor relations and compliance with standards.
  • Attentive and clear communications with customers.
  • Easy-to-use tracking of workflow through ERP and PDM.

 

This quality plan has no part number and it’s not a controlled document as our specific manufacturing documents. This is really more our quality philosophy than a plan that is intended to be freely shared with Encole employees, affiliates, suppliers and customers. Internal manufacturing instructions have proprietary information and cannot be shared outside of Encole.

Product Quality Assurance by Vendor Relations and Compliance with Standards
Encole manufactures high performance sight windows in various types such as NPT-threaded, Metric-and SAE-threaded, Conflat-flanged and ASME-flanged viewports in different sizes. We are constantly looking for new products to develop and sell.

Product quality starts when creating a great design. This step involves our engineering personnel who have appropriate education and training in the fields of mechanical, electrical and manufacturing engineering, optics and applied physics. Several of our engineers have advanced degrees such as Master’s Degrees and PhD. Our general approach is to retain excellent relationships with our qualified personnel and affiliates. This is generally accomplished by creating freedom from fear of making wrong decisions and reassuring job security by diversifying our products across target industries in every part of the world. We believe that lasting relations with our affiliates are important to consistent quality. We have the same approach with our vendors, subcontractors and suppliers.

After design work is completed comes the next critical step in quality assurance. It’s technical and easily sustainable with our adhesion to standards and procedures.

Every finished product has a Bill of Materials, (BOM) and associated Manufacturing Assembly Instructions & Procedures, (MAP). Every drawing of a part or an assembly complies with the ANSI Y14.5M-1994 Drafting Standard. This is the current standard in the USA today for Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing, GD&T. Encole engineers are trained and experienced in the art. Several of Encole affiliates hold certifications in CAD systems used in production of part drawings.

During the design process each part goes through numerical revision as needed to engineer the part. We use CAD systems such as SolidWorks and Pro-E. During this phase we perform engineering due diligence by analyzing the part for mechanical and thermal stresses using finite element analysis, FEA. The goal is to determine the theoretical Factor of Safety, FOS. When parts have been designed we perform tolerance stack-up analysis to finalize production drawings. Upon request we can furnish our sample drawings. Once the engineering process is complete, the parts are promoted to Production Lifecycle Status, and revisions become alphabetical. Alphabetical parts are our revenue units and any changes are treated through an Engineering Change Order, ECO. Typically to enact an ECO, a request has to be made from Marketing.

Our incoming inspection of articles starts with a report provided to us from our fabrication shops. We specify “Inspection Dimensions” on the face of a drawing and typically parts are rejected should the specifications be not met. Our fabrication facilities for metal parts, or quartz, or ceramic components have clean rooms with coordinate-measuring machines, CMM with resolutions to 0.0001 inches, that is 1”/10,000. This resolution is more than enough to measure deviations, as most of our parts, with the exceptions of optical components, have tolerances of 0.001 inches.

In addition to the dimensional report from the fabrication shop we perform a secondary inspection at our facility in San Jose, California, where we mainly perform the functions of inspection, assembling, testing, and final packaging.

On our assembly drawing we specify the bill of materials of every component that goes into the finished product and also the MAP, (Manufacturing Assembly & Instruction Procedures). This document clearly shows how to put together an assembly or a sub-assembly of the product. MAP is a typed document with its own part number, PDM- controlled. MAPs are located on the assembly floor. The document has a list of tools and fixtures used in production of the product, with photographs and instructions on how to actually use the tooling.

Each fabrication step has its own MAP. Our production workflow typically is broken down into the following steps:

  1. Initial inspection of individual parts
  2. Individual parts cleaning
  3. Assembling according to BOM
  4. As applicable, use of heating equipment
  5. Post assembly cleaning
  6. Testing
  7. Final Inspection
  8. Packaging.

 

With the product packaged and ready to ship our quality assurance does not stop. Customers depend on us, sometimes with technical advice on choosing the right sight glass or help with the logistics of expediting, availability and pricing.

Attentive and Clear Communications with Customers
First off, we try to minimize telephone transfers for incoming customer calls. When people call they want to talk to a person, not a machine. From there, we simply listen.

Easy-to-Use Tracking of Workflow Through ERP and PDM
Underneath Encole.com is a very powerful database that makes our work a joy. We have a web-based system with tracking Customer Orders as they are generated via the shopping cart on Encole.com, or manually entered on customer’s purchase orders, PO. In addition we have a Requisition System tracking orders Encole makes with our suppliers. The system was developed custom. This is not a commercially available one, making it secure and tightly fit for our needs. It’s intuitive and easy to use, taking full advantage of the hard-to-error approach.

WTF: A review of The World’s End

Posted by on 2nd September 2013

My fellow Americans, we as a Nation need to take a moment and meditate upon the fact that the British kick our collective ass at comedy. It’s just a fact.

No.

Shhhh ….

Don’t argue.

Okay look: Go and watch the British and American versions of “Death at a Funeral” and then come back and shut up.

Ready? Good.

This is not a low-brow versus high-brow thing. The premiss of The World’s End, which I will not spoil for you, is insanely ludicrous. It’s just that the Brits can put people in bizarre, unbelievable circumstances and have them do bizarre, unbelievable things without turning them into the buffoonish barely human grotesqueries that seem to populate most mainstream American comedies.

Not only is British comedy smarter, but they take time to set-up and craft their jokes while their American brethren rely heavily on silly slapstick sight gags. For example, throughout The World’s End, as circumstances become increasingly incredible, Oliver “O-man” Chamberlain (played to uptight perfection by Martin Freeman) repeatedly exclaims, “W. T. F.?” until an exasperated Gary “The King” King (played with reckless abandon by Simon Pegg) replies, “WHAT THE FUCK DOES WTF MEAN?!??”

The World’s End is about five childhood friends who haven’t seen each other in decades reuniting in middle age to recreate the best night of their young lives: a pub crawl involving 12 pubs along the Golden Mile, terminating at The World’s End. As youths they failed to complete this epic journey and Pegg’s manic man-child Gary is now determined to finish the crawl “if it kills us.” And then, as they say, mayhem ensues.

Not only is The World’s End laugh-out-loud funny throughout (which is not something I say very often) but it also carries deeper messages about getting older and the danger of nostalgia which are delivered in heartfelt interludes that are interspersed through the hilarity and insanity. The film is so finely crafted that if you pay attention you will realize that the plot is actually spelled out by the names of the twelve pubs, from The First Post to The World’s End. Some action or event takes place in each pub that is relevant to its name.

Sadly this film marks the end of the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy (after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). But happily it is also Simon Pegg’s strongest performance to date. Pegg’s Gary King is a ball of unbalanced energy with not an iota of self-awareness. It’s not just that he won’t ever admit that he’s wrong, it’s more that he doesn’t understand the concept that he COULD be wrong. By turns infuriating and adorable, witty yet clueless, he is the male personification of a hot mess. You don’t want to be friends with Gary, but you definitely want to be friends with his friends so you can hear the stories.

With an excellent cast and a razor sharp script this is a thoroughly enjoyable, if incredibly off-beat movie.

Annihilation Porn – A Review of Pacific Rim

Posted by on 13th July 2013

Pacific Rim
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Pearlman

For nearly 90 years, since the original version of The Lost World was released in 1925, creative geeks have yearned to realize their dreams of presenting a visually realistic fight between giant monsters on the silver screen. If you have to ask “Why?” then you have never been or have never met a 12yo boy. These attempts have been so furtive and fallen so short that the camp value of the shoddy special effects has become an endearing feature of the genre. The creative visions behind the films have been universally frustrated by the limitations of film technology and the true glory of the epic battles has remained trapped within the heads of the directors. Until now.

With Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro finally realizes the nearly century-old dream of presenting titanic battles that are fully believable. You know, visually. If impossible giant monsters battled even more impossible giant robots through the streets of Tokyo, this is what it would look like. And geeks everywhere rejoiced.

The problem is that del Toro wasn’t willing to stop there. He also wanted to make a fully realized movie with a substantive plot. Big mistake. The film has been praised as the only summer blockbuster this year that is not really about 9/11, which is an interesting and fair analysis. But what interests me more is Variety’s Justin Chang’s referring to these types of movies as “annihilation porn.” The analogy is apt because when you go to a movie like Pacific Rim (or watch porn) you are not looking for deep insight into the human condition, thought-provoking plot, or adept character development. Your needs are more immediate and more … basic.

Del Toro gets off to a good start with a simple and effective explanation for the monsters as an invading force from another universe through a dimensional breach (I said it was simple and effective, not believable, but it’s much better than any Godzilla origin story ever). He veers off course a bit with the explanation of how we developed robots the size of skyscrapers that can perform mixed martial arts: global international cooperation. I mean, c’mon! Inter-dimensional breaches are one thing, but effective leadership on a global scale? Please.

Not to worry, though. The “suits” in charge soon re-insert heads in rectums and decide to kill the robot program in favor of (and I swear I am not making this up) ringing the entire Pacific ocean with an “impenetrable” Wall of Life over 1000 feet high. I mean, have any of these guys ever SEEN a Godzilla movie? A wall? The monsters plow through it like a toddler through a stack of blocks.

Anyway, the point is that the plot is needlessly baroque. Blah blah need two pilots blah blah my parents were killed blah blah cancer JUST SHUT UP AND LET THE MONSTERS FIGHT! Why oh why is this thing over two hours long?

Which is not to say that you shouldn’t see it. This sort of genre film is basically review proof. Your decision on whether to see Pacific Rim was likely made before you hit puberty. You’re either the sort of person who must see this film, or you’re not. And you won’t be disappointed. The effects are amazing, the set design is gorgeous, and the fights are (barely) plentiful enough to satisfy your inner 12-year-old. But when the BluRay comes out I imagine that there will be a lot of fast-forwarding to get to the good stuff. So I guess it really is annihilation porn.

Drifting into Dirty Wars: Thoughts on the War on Terror

Posted by on 30th June 2013

There are two recent works of investigative journalism that should be required for all American citizens. The first is a book called “Drift” by Rachel Maddow, and the second is the film “Dirty Wars” by Jeremy Scahill. Both tackle the issue of American military power and its use in the post-9/11 world, but with very different granularity.

In “Drift” – subtitled “The Unmooring of American Military Power” – Maddow takes a very high-level view and documents the gradual shift in the way in which the US decides to go to war. The US Constitution mandates that a declaration of war be accomplished through an act of Congress, however, the last time that Congress formally declared war was 70 years ago in 1942 for World War II. It is worth noting that there were actually 6 declarations of war associated with WWII as we declared war on Japan, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania with separate Congressional votes. Such niceties seem almost incomprehensible today.

Instead Congress has gradually ceded its oversight of military matters to the Executive Branch to such a degree that today the President can unilaterally order a military action virtually anywhere on the globe via drone-launched missile strikes without even having to admit that a strike took place. The reason for this is clear: The public does not like war. In an open democracy the lack of popularity of war could infringe upon the government’s ability to act freely in pursuit of its policy goals. Hence, the less the public knows the better.

As Maddow points out, this process started before 9/11. In fact, it was a key driver of the elimination of the draft in 1973, since it is difficult to hide the fact that we are at war when people are being randomly plucked from the street to go and fight. However, the process accelerated dramatically after 9/11 when we, as a nation, accepted without question the ludicrous proposition that we were going to war with a noun.

Merriam-Webster defines war as: “A state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations.” And herein lies the problem. Terrorism is not a state or a nation. Neither is al Quaeda. A classically defined war ends when one of the nations involved surrenders. “Terrorism” will never surrender.

On a side note, it is true but not often pointed out that George W. Bush was actually correct when he stood on that aircraft carrier under the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner: The war between the US and Iraq ended as soon as Saddam Hussein was overthrown. What followed for a good decade longer was not a war, but rather an occupation. This is inconvenient because history doesn’t tend to paint occupiers in a favorable light and so Americans don’t like to think of themselves as occupiers. Nevertheless, words have meanings and when the government of Iraq fell the war was over, by definition.

While the trend toward less public oversight of the military is certainly worrying, Maddow takes a fairly academic tone and paints this as primarily an issue of public policy. By contrast, in “Dirty Wars” Jeremy Scahill puts his boots on the ground and examines the direct consequences of this policy up close and personal. While important, the film is difficult to watch because Americans are brought up to think of themselves as the Good Guys. When talking to the survivors of the collateral damage caused by hellfire missiles it becomes difficult to see Americans as the Good Guys.

In one particularly chilling episode, Scahill is interviewing a Somali warlord in Mogadishu who is known for his ruthlessness. It is worth pointing out that he is not known for ruthlessness when compared to average citizens; he is known for ruthlessness when compared to other Somali warlords. This warlord calls Americans the “masters of war” and claims that he has learned a lot from us. Think about that for a moment.

Scahill backed into this story almost unintentionally. He was a reporter in Kabul doing fairly standard war reporting when he became curious about the terse summaries of “night raids” that were being issued on an almost daily basis. Little more than a location and the number of al Quaeda killed and usually containing the phrase “no civilians injured” these updates made Scahill curious as to who, exactly, was conducting these raids with such incredible precision.

So he went to find out.

His first stop was Gardez, Afghanistan, a place far outside any zone considered remotely green where journalists seldom, if ever, went. What he found there was a family who told a horrific story about a joyful family gathering to celebrate a recent birth that was terminated by a hail of gunfire from US Navy SEALs. The dead included an American-trained local police commander and two pregnant women. From a strategic perspective in the War on Terror this was an unfortunate failure of intelligence resulting in collateral damage. These things happen. But from the perspective of this Afghan family it was not only an event of life-altering devastation, but also an act of incomprehensible evil. The next time you’re at a baby shower try to imagine soldiers from a far-off nation dropping out of the sky from helicopters and shooting up the festivities.

One of the men Scahill interviewed said that he had wanted to strap on a suicide vest and go kill as many Americans as possible. Not because he hated our freedom, but because we killed his pregnant wife and his sister for no reason that he could discern or comprehend. Fortunately his father talked him out of it, but the episode illustrates the difficulty in attacking an ideology through military means. There is a tendency to create more enemies than you eliminate.

Initially, unfortunately, the military denied the version of events reported by Scahill and others and tried to discredit the journalists. In fact, the Afghans claimed that the American soldiers had actually used knives to dig the bullets out of the dead bodies in order to leave no evidence behind. But eventually the commander of the SEALs who conducted the raid, Vice Adm. William McRaven, visited Gardez to apologize to the family in person, oddly offering to sacrifice a goat in penance.

At the time McRaven was in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC: a shadowy counter-terrorism organization that reports directly to the President. And it is with JSOC that Maddow’s book and Scahill’s film really overlap. JSOC is, effectively, the personal hit squad of the President of the United States. They operate on direct orders from the President, with no Congressional oversight and without the knowledge of the normal military command structure or even the CIA, much less the American public. JSOC is the ultimate logical conclusion of Maddow’s drift from America being a country that goes to war rarely, but goes to war together, to us being a country in a continual military conflict that takes place out of sight and is conducted by a tiny few.

One of the consequences of this policy that Scahill documents is the extrajudicial execution of an American teenager at the order of the President. This was not collateral damage; this 16yo US citizen was the intended target. Regardless of how you feel about the President, the military, or the effectiveness of the War on Terror, surely this sort of power is too easily abused to be tolerated.

Neither Maddow nor Scahill argue that the US is evil or that we are killing innocent people on purpose. And neither deny that US policy has been incredibly effective at dismantling al Quaeda. Rather they point out that our (perfectly understandable) desire for safety has created a system without checks and balances that single-mindedly pursues its goals with no thought to any unintended consequences.

How did we get here?

I believe that the American public tacitly adopted a “zero tolerance” policy after 9/11. Those events were so horrific and traumatizing that we, as a nation, declared “Never again!” The government, as is perfectly correct in a democracy, took us seriously and started going about the business of figuring out what would be required to completely eliminate terrorism. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in American foreign policy, the military option was not only the primary solution considered, but was really the only solution considered. This put us on a slippery slope, and the public’s agreement to look the other way as long as there were no more attacks led us straight to JSOC.

The problem, I believe, was in the initial assumption of zero tolerance. This was perhaps understandable as we were reeling in the aftermath of 9/11, but it was never revisited. We just sort of assumed that obviously as Americans we should not have to put up with terrorist attacks and we never questioned whether that makes any sense.

It doesn’t make any sense.

This may sound radical at first blush but it really is not. Let me explain. Let’s take a look at a couple causes of preventable deaths that are far more common than terrorist attacks: gun violence and traffic accidents. Both gun violence and traffic accidents cause a little over 30k deaths per year in America. Each. Roughly speaking that’s a 9/11 per month. Each. A 9/11’s worth of people are killed by guns in this country and another 9/11’s worth of people are killed by cars in this country each and every month. And we tolerate it.

It’s tempting to say that this is sad and unfortunate, but it is unavoidable. Let’s put aside guns and just look at traffic deaths. Are they really unavoidable? Anyone who has ever watched a NASCAR race has seen a car slam into a brick wall at 200MPH only to have the driver walk away without a scratch. What this tells me is that there is really no technological reason for people to die in car crashes. We have the technology to make cars essentially totally safe. The downside, of course, is that these totally safe cars would only cary one person and would cost a couple hundred thousand dollars. Alternatively, we could mandate that all cars be constructed so that they are physically incapable of exceeding a certain safe speed. Pick a number: 25MPH? 35MPH? Sure it would take longer to get places, but think of the lives saved!

We don’t do this, of course, because either of these solutions would be an incredible imposition on what we have come to accept as the American way of life revolving around individual freedom of movement. You can dress it up in fancy patriot language, but the bottom line is that we don’t do it because it would be inconvenient. We don’t generally think of it in these terms, but essentially we as a culture have decided that we are willing to tolerate the equivalent of a 9/11 attack each and every month in exchange for the convenience of owning an affordable car.

Shouldn’t we be willing to tolerate a 9/11 attack a decade – or heck every year – in order to guarantee that our President cannot kill pregnant women or American teenagers on a whim without repercussions? Benjamin Franklin once famously said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” In other words: Freedom isn’t free. For the incalculable benefit of living in a free and just society we should, nay we must, accept the cost of increased danger. This would be true even if the danger were appreciable, but it is not. The death rate from terrorism never has and never will remotely approach the death rate from traffic accidents. And no one is arguing that we should eliminate cars.

It is time that we reign in our out-of-control security apparatus, restore a system of checks and balances, and bravely accept a future that is (slightly) less certain. Please vote accordingly.

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