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Letters to the Editor For July 2008

June 9, 2008
Workplace issues; Web 2.0

The Price of Progress

> Re: "Lincoln Electric Supporting Effort to Relieve Welder Shortage."

Isn't this a self-inflicted wound? In the past, in shipbuilding, the car industry and heavy industry there were a multitude of welders. However as robotics have taken over, so the role of the human welder has deteriorated to a point at which they have become a specialist.

This is not surprising, and is a consequence of the natural trend towards short-term strategy.

Welders have become specialists, and it is reasonable to expect them to be paid as such. Even with this injection of cash, what incentive is there for youngsters to join this trade? I would venture a guess and say none whatsoever, because the future of this trade continues to be uncertain.

Rob Wendes, founder
Nicecupoftea Ltd.
London, England

The High Cost of Low-Cost Labor

> Re: "Want to Improve Your Business? Walk the Floor."

To Al Weatherhead all that I can say is: "Amen." I learned long ago that the person most knowledgeable about the specific details of an operation or task is the individual who is doing it every day. They provide the seeds of potential benefits and/or problems from which the greatest innovations and improvements have grown.

As for the comment about the pursuit of low-cost labor to improve results, again right on target. Labor arbitrage is the worst way to pursue true and sustainable cost reduction. The export of poor processes to be performed by lower cost labor yields only a temporary and surface-level upside. Performed at any price wasteful processes still generate waste! And as the Chinese are learning, there are always sources of even lower-cost labor.

The objective must be to build value-driven processes and then determine the best location in which to perform each of the tasks considering the total cost associated with each alternative.

Millard Humphreys, consultant
Allison Park, Pa.

A Better Way to Fly

> Re: "Brandt on Leadership -- Customer Service From Hell," May 2008

Been there, done that, wore out the t-shirt that proclaimed, "MY LUGGAGE IS BETTER TRAVELED THAN I AM, THANKS TO (fill in the airline of choice)."

I finally gave up and learned to fly a small plane. My buddy and I kicked in together and bought an older single engine light plane. Dealing with the yearly inspection is a hassle, but trips of less than 400 miles are faster (door to door) than using the airlines, often cheaper, and there's never a lost bag, unhelpful ticket agent, or take-off-your-shoes-and-let-me-paw-through-your-things-while-we-put-you-through-a-metal-detector nonsense.

There's usually a small airport close to wherever you need to go, and the people there are almost exclusively salt-of-the-earth, friendly, helpful folks. Auto rental agencies almost always know exactly where all the small airports are and you can usually have a car waiting -- or borrow the airport's courtesy car for free! They usually have one. Business travel used to be virtually no fun at all and it jacked up my blood pressure. Now I look forward to it.

Dennis Baer, supplier quality assurance engineer
Troy, Mich.

The Democracy of Web 2.0

> Re: "Defining Web 2.0."

I hear a lot of discussion around defining Web 2.0; I think a simpler definition is better, such as "user-based collaboration and content generation." There are a number of people who want a clear-cut definition of exactly what Web 2.0 is and everything that encompasses it. This is analogous to asking for a list of every animal that has ever existed before they are willing to talk about dogs or buffalo. Web 2.0 is still growing and evolving and this is why it is still so hard to define.

The biggest issue facing Web 2.0 is not technology. Most of the technology used in Web 2.0 has been around for quite some time. It is the application of this technology that is unique and challenging. Web 2.0 is analogous to the concept of democracy, elements of which have been around since before the ancient Greeks. Democracy has evolved over time and been integrated into something far different than what the ancient Athenians would recognize. Similarly, the elements of Web 2.0 continue to evolve and are being integrated into something different.

Craig Tobias, solutions architect
Cisco Systems
Austin, Tex.

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