Sunday, January 31, 2010

NUMMI

The NUMMI automotive plant in Fremont, CA has gotten a lot of attention over the past 25 years. It is (was) where Toyota first planted its manufacturing presence in the United States back in 1984. It is important to mention that they reopened the plant after GM shut it down a year earlier. Toyota made an agreement with GM to share the plant with them. It was a landmark moment.

What GM got was hands on experience in Lean Manufacturing. Toyota gained experience in dealing with American workers (and culture).

The experiment is over. GM pulled out of the plant last year and Toyota is pulling out this March 31. The above video shows what happens as a result. While some part of me thinks it is unfair to post it another part of me thinks that it also illustrates to position the UAW has put themselves in now that there is no more money in the pot for them to take. The rank and file membership should be angry, but not just about what is happening at the moment but the path they have been taken on going back to the early 1970s.

So what did Toyota of America learn? Well, to put plants all over the South in Right to Work states. Looking at the big picture it appears bad. But I don't see it that way. The workers in Huntsville, Alabama; Georgetown, Kentucky; Princeton, Indiana; San Antonio, Texas; Buffalo, West Virginia are well paid and motivated. They helped catapult Toyota to the number one spot.

The winds of change have hit though. Toyota is facing an recall of epic proportions because of faulty equipment along with the target on their back because of being number one. It's a pile on now, folks.

What has GM learned? Not much of anything besides that Lean Manufacturing principles are just about impossible to learn and implement in a Union environment. There is good in that however. Lean Manufacturing is a great philosophy, but it isn't the be all end all. It has to work in conjunction with innovation and ingenuity. Lessons that GM is currently learning and ones that Toyota is relearning now.

I'm sure there will be a number of essays and books written after the dust settles at NUMMI that will explain all that went wrong and right there. But really the only thing that matters is that a plant running since 1962 will be shut down with 5400 employees out of work.

I'll leave it to writers much better then I to unravel what happened.

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NOTE: If you follow the link on 'writers' you'll find something much more enlightning then the article written by someone that actually worked there (scroll down and find Nick).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

iPad Anybody?


From a historical perspective it's fun living in a time that has someone like Steve Jobs around. I read a headline today that mentioned something like Jobs coming down the mountain like Moses with his tablet. For the Apple faithful it is very much like that. But for me it seems like Apple has become more of a gadget make it better money grabber then innovator. Wait, the iPod you say? Bah, just a Walkman. Did I just say that? Yes I did, and I should delete that, but I won't. Let me splain that...

Hundreds of years ago Apple put out the Macintosh. The device at that time was considered revolutionary. It was an all in one machine with a keyboard and... and! a thing called a mouse. I know that sounds about as exciting now as having two windows open on your screen at once, but back in 1754 that was mind bending. In the years that followed old Mac moved into dominating the creative arts like design and video editing (kinda) and, well, that's about it. I think somewhere in there they buried themselves in that and Microsoft took advantage and became a tool that just did what people wanted to do at the time. Which was play solitaire and write term papers with Word Perfect (because it had spell check).

Flash forward to modern times, if you will. Apple is still riding off that innovation steam of yesteryear pushing products that make nice what others have done. I don't see this as a bad thing. They do it very well. These days it's easy to see in hindsight that OSX changed the game. That the iPod and iPhone and iTunes thump the competition. But they aren't anything like the invention of the mouse. What is, I suppose.

The iPad, to me, is a giant iPod Touch. That's pretty neat. I think it fits into the lives of people who believe that connectivity in the home should be as abundant of throw pillows. It's clearly not made for any specific industry or work place (although functionality can be found there). It's not a book reader. It can't do things a student would need it for in class. I'm just having a hard time finding a place for it. I mean, I like the idea of a tablet with bright colors. It does seem like some sort of future device. However, in 1993 the MessagePad appeared like it was as well. Don't remember that one? Neither did I till I looked it up. In some regard you could see that as a precursor to the iPhone. Maybe it was... or maybe it was just a thing that inspired a line of Palm Pilots.

Perhaps technology is passing me by. I dunno. What I see is Apple cashing in for the time being and turning it into an OSX machine down the road (with a camera facing forward, but then again, who cares). In a way, it's smart. But in another way, it makes it seem just plain useless.

I like the direction of the iPad just like I could see liking the direction of the Macintosh Portable back in '83. Would I have purchased that monster? No. But did it inspire the laptop to what it is now? Yup.

Boy, would I have liked to have seen that Apple fan at work back in 1983 whipping out that 16 pound portable on the conference room table. "I waited in line for 10 hours to get this sweet machine!"

16 pounds. Who can sell a portable anything at 16 pounds? Steve Jobs, that's who.

Wow, this post is going back and forth and up and down. I'll finish it off with this then... Apple. Innovators and great salesmen, Hot Tub Time Machine looks awesome and I want to play Mass Effect 2.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Auto : Looking at What's Coming


So I've got today (mostly) off work. Whilst laundry is going I'm tooling around looking at what GM has got in the oven for us coming down the road. I've never purchased a brand new General Motors car. I've had a few, but never new. I don't know anyone who has purchased a new GM, nor have can I recall if I have even seen a new one on the road, save for the new Camaro.

It's safe to say I'm a bit behind in what interiors feel like. I've been to the Columbus Auto Show every year for the past few, I guess. Exteriors are easy, you can look at them and make a determination on if you like them or not. Interiors are different. They have to be functional above anything else. I can look at an interior in photos and not have the slightest idea on if they are good or not because, mainly, the photos are usually with the side of the car or the roof stripped off.

What I'm getting at is the following: Interiors for new GM vehicles are changing radically and I feel as if they are including useless functions. Call me old or whatever, but what the heck is going on with the GMC Granite's interior? It's more of a command center for the FAA then a car dash. And the plastic bar in the middle of the bucket seat, what the bunghole is that? It's a slippery slope to climb when software is improving at an exponential rate. Once this car is a few years old the value of it will be even less.

I guess I understand you want to make a good first impression with a new car, especially at car shows, but I think they have just gone too far. Right? Am I wrong to think that GM must have too many designers with too much time?

Anyway, I went over the the official GMC Granite website to see what they had there. Maybe they would explain themselves. Turns out they do. Below is straight from the site. They listed their inspiration (prepare yourself):

1. BLOCKS-Clean, simple, solid, versatile and functional. And just so addictive to play with.

2. PINEWOOD DERBY-What makes Pinewood Derby so much fun is customizing it. Racing them is fun too, but it's really about making them your own.

3. LUCHADOR MASKS-Mysterious. Hilarious.

4. RUNNING SHOES-Nothing combines design, durability, style and functionality better then today's running shoes.

5. BULL DOG-Strong, sturdy, and so tough.

6. CONTEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE-Showing how beautiful function can be.

To start with Bull Dog is one word. Bulldog. Secondly, well, jeeze... I just can't find the words. I get where they are going with it describing inspiration for some of the aspects of the car but I tend to think this the sort of stuff that would be discussed in my middle school art class. In fact I think it would get a failing grade if I listed it because it is so incomplete. Contemporary architecture can mean just about anything. I know they don't have to explain everything, but if they are going to put it out there over and above engineering (Professional Grade) then maybe they should. Why would they put that out there when no one will buy the car based those points? I think the only thing they forgot was:

7. BASKETBALL-Because it totally rulz.

Doesn't #6 cancel out #4? Wait, maybe if I think of it as having all these things then I would be satisfied as a human being. I find the inclusion of the Bulldog interesting. I would have thought it good to list a bulldog as THE inspiration, but listing it with the other things makes little sense. Is the bulldog suppose to be the engine and the shoes the interior? Does every aspect of the vehicle have a dash of all six items?

Looking at my desk here right in front of me I'll see if it stands up to what they list. Hey, why not? maybe I could design something as awesome as the Granite? Here goes:

1. MOUNTAIN DEW CAN-The throw back can. Ya-hooo! Real sugar. The real deal is always better.

2. SHARPIE PEN-Because when you say it with a Sharpie, it means something.

3. PIECE OF YELLOW NOTEPAD PAPER-Cause you have to have something to write on with that Sharpie

4. BLANK CDS-Music is just so essential.

5. COLUMBUS BREWING PALE ALE-Micro brews give you something to think about. And you'll need a few when reading this post.

6. GOOGLE ANDROID PHONE-It's a reminder of how rad technology is these days and it's just as fun as blocks.
Pretty good eh? I wonder what kind of awesome car would come out of that inspiration? Something mind blowing I'm sure.

As an added note, I notice that right below this are pictures of my z28. Me thinks that came out of a bit of my inspiration list. Just replace the micro beer with Beast Light and you are there. In fact the list would have gone 1-6 with that.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

1986 Z28 Camaro



Got my hands on a V8 TPI Camaro today and like what I see. I've never driven one till today and I must say that it is outrageously fun. A giant 5.0 LB9 V8. It's rated at 190 HP / 285 torque. Lots of jump, which is where the fun comes in. Oh, and the rear wheel drive. It's so light in the back if you press the gas your tires will spin. There's just something about a car that made for something other then functionality. The growl it makes will frighten off grown men. In certain states you can't even drive it (or couldn't afford to get it up to emission standards). In Ohio, if it runs, you can drive it. It's also crazy to think that next year it will be 25 years old. A classic in some books.

So, bring on the redneck jokes, crack open a Miller Light and crank up Slayer. It's a monster V8 ripping across roads in the mid-west!

Stick it you damn Toyota Prius! video

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rock Band Challenge

I've spent a more then a few hours over the last week or so playing Rock Band 2. Here are some songs I enjoy playing the drums to - and my score (drums only, hard or expert):

Interpol: PDA 150,225

The Cars: All I've got Tonight 151,800

The Killers: Spaceman 114,150

Boston: Peace of Mind 183,900

Sonic Youth: Teen Age Riot (haven't finished on hard, I stink)

Not sure why I feel the need to post this on other then I just continue to like playing the game. These songs are a blast to play but also just pretty good songs, but don't quote me on that. One of my most favorite things is to play this game... pounding on the drums, singing my lungs out with Buttercup on the guitar when it is about 2 degrees outside in the middle of winter. I mean, I could add Under Pressure by Queen on here or Fat Bottom Girls. Have you ever walked onto a manufacturing production floor, equipment blaring, tools turning, people shouting and heard Fat Bottom Girls playing on some radio in the corner? No? Well, it's something to behold. Something indeed.

I'll remember that for my memoirs. Wait, this is my memoirs.
Buttercup! Stand still so people can see you.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Helvetica and Up for Grabs

Finally got some time off (like, a day) and was able to sit back and watch a couple documentaries.

First up was Helvetica A Documentary by Gary Hustwit. I tend to think, or like to think, that I'm never too far away from design in my life. But this movie reminds me of just how far I am away from it. The way a graphic artist or designer has to think is almost completely foreign to me at this point and this movie drove that home.

Helvetica is an interesting movie about the font, plain and simple (like the font!). But the people they talk to have great things to say, not just about Helvetica, but about design in general.

Next up is Up for Grabs. This was a more straight forward doc about Barry Bonds 73rd home run. I heard at one point that the ball fell into court so this looked interesting to me as I didn't know how it ulitimatedly ended up in the hands of comic book legend Todd McFarlane. The story up to the point where it got into his hands is horrific and hysterical at the same time. Very fitting subplot to the Barry Bonds legacy.

Here's a pretty good brief on the movie. HERE.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Michigan Be Damned


This is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation website:

"Jeffrey Reed, a resident of Bridgman, Michigan, assembles vehicles for AM General. Because his workplace is unionized, he works under a monopoly bargaining agreement which forces him either to join the UAW or pay compulsory union fees to it in order to keep his job. However, Reed, a devout Catholic, believes financially supporting the UAW union violates his sincerely-held religious beliefs due to the union hierarchy’s support for special rights for homosexuals and abortion-on-demand.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, union officials may not force any employee to financially support a union if doing so violates the worker’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. The statute requires union officials to attempt to accommodate the worker – most often by redirecting the mandatory union fees to a mutually agreed upon charity – to avoid the conflict between an employee’s faith and a requirement to pay fees to a union he or she believes to be immoral.

However, because Reed is refraining from full dues paying union membership based on his faith, UAW union bosses forced him to pay a $100 premium and continue to pay 22 percent more than the amount workers who object on non-religious grounds must pay. Both full UAW members and secular objectors are allowed to pay an amount less than full dues if they wish to cut off the use of their union dues for political activities."

So here we go. Unions, in particular the UAW, are a polarizing group. Some critics will use broad brush strokes when tearing them down, others will get stuck in the black hole which is Union Law.

It makes me sick to hear things like the above quote. I try and search out both sides of the fence. The good and the bad. I don't see any good. All I see is a state and region that has fallen apart. If the UAW feels like they have any leverage in negotiating any sort of contract at this point in history then they have to take responsibility for what is happening. Putting the blame on "the man" doesn't fly when you are the man. Would someone please call this group out? Please? In the wise words of my father... "you live in pig slop, you're going to get dirty".

The big three also has to understand and make public the roll the UAW plays. They are your workforce, they drive your company. Don't let them hide behind a wall of sad stories because much of it has to do with the contracts they, themselves agreed to. The sad stories are on the UAW's hands. The UAW asked for more then your parents could give. Quit treating it like an endless money tree and realize that you have broken the back of not only an American institution, but an entire region. You have raped your employees and left your industry in ruins. Now that the money is gone, ask yourself... now what?

Are all Unions crooked, corrupt and greedy? No. In the past have they served the greater good? Yes. Do they now serve the greater good? No. My focus of Union dislike right now is on the shoulders of the UAW. They glory days are long gone gentlemen. 30 years gone. You've bankrupted a once proud American Auto Industry and a once proud state that is now a wasteland. A goddamn wasteland.

I know the sad stories, I've met some of the people. You got yours, now the rest are left with rebuilding the ruin you have created. Look around you - people of the Detroit UAW. Look around real good. Are you happy with what you see? Do you still think none of this is your fault?

If you see what I see then work to change it. Take pride in the products you build not the entitlement history has given you. Fight for a better product. Live the core values you proclaim. Don't exist to "create a success record at the bargaining table". EARN that right. Show the world that America, the great experiment, open arms to the world, can and will concept, design and produce products that are far superior to anything the rest of the world has to offer.

Earn now what your grandfathers earned for you. They are ashamed at what you have done to all their hard work. Right the ship and earn their respect. You want it? Then earn it. Now's the best time to prove it then any other time. NOW.

How's that for a broad goddamn brush stroke.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Gangs All Here

An Uncharted 2 Cutscene:

The Other Ones

While the last quarter of 2009, for me, was dominated by Uncharted 1 and 2 (finally getting the PS3) there was the rest of the year filled with great games.

The good ones:

Next up, or should I say right behind Uncharted is Modern Warfare 2. This game broke up my playtime between Uncharted 1 and 2. Yes, everything points back to those games. I'm looking at this strictly from a time played standpoint. Like Call of Duty 4, I played the heck out of this game. The single player experience was just as good as the first one and the online side of it chewed up many an evening. It's unfortunate that I'm looking at this from a time played standpoint, but I feel like if I'm spending time with it then I must think it is good, right? I'm questioning myself on that one now for some reason.

Another good one for me this year was Beatles Rock Band. It took all the great gameplay experience from Rock Band and put a very well done coat of Beatles goodness on it. What does that mean? I don't know. My experiences with the Beatles take me back to some of my fondest memories spinning the White Album on my parents record player. It's interesting to me that I found myself able to sing and play drums to songs I haven't heard in probably 15 years. Anyway, Rock Band 2 itself is still in rotation at my place due to some great download choices. The games are great, and when the mood catches you right you'll find yourself three hours in sweating out Spaceman on hard at 12am. Always a good sign for a game.

Forza 3. This game gets how a racing game (or any game for that matter) should function. The controller melts away in your hands the longer you play and you start feeling like you really have control of the car you are driving. You know it's strengths and it's weaknesses. Hearing the engine rev up on a late 80s early 90s Trans Am or Camaro hooks me every time. I've got an 88 Camaro. The Turn 10 team did their homework right down to the thing bottoming out on the slightest bump. Very well done.

The one that should be next up behind Uncharted:

Braid. It felt like a game my college self would have made if I could've. If anyone hasn't played it they should. Most gaming experiences feel similar but Braid will take your mind to a different, more creative place. I felt the same way about Monkey Island from Xbox Live. Another great one to check out.

The other ones:

Madden 10. The yearly money maker for EA was better then it probably ever has been. This game puts me (sadly) at three Madden games on the current generation. No mas. Good. But not this year.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. What happened guys? I waited with such anticipation for this game and what I got was a sort of, well, I don't know. They took my most treasured experience from the previous game, mission editor, out. I know the PC version has this, but I'm not upgrading to get it. The original Xbox had that feature, why not this one? Was it sacrificed for multiplayer? the better graphical look? I don't get it. Anyway, I played the game enough and thought it was okay. I can see where the effort was and parts of it are wonderful, but it had very little in the way of creating any kind of special, memorable experience.

A good one that got away:

Red Faction: Guerrilla. I got it and started it up. Had lots of interesting and fun things going on but it got shelved. I'm hoping to get back to it.

That it really. I was hoping to be able to post a giant failure of a game that would be funny to make fun of, but I really don't have one. We'll chalk that up to a sunny attitude during a dark and snowy Ohio night.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Helltown Game of the Year


I had to do it this year because there was a game well deserving of it.

Uncharted 2.

To say this game is a remarkable achievement is an understatement. There isn't much I can say here that isn't said by others out there other then the wonderful way they handle relationships between characters. Never before has any video game come close to Uncharted in this way. It just isn't about hitting you over the head with cut scenes and dialog. It's in the way characters react to situation in a way that is more complex and impressive and doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator. It has to be witnessed to be believed.

Outstanding game and best game I have played in a long time.