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Feb
03

Control Talk

I like talking. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you don’t like to talk. I think it just means your conversations are more introspective and analytical and for me more substantial than superficial. I look at Control Talk and ISA Automation Week as opportunities to capture expertise before it is gone forever. One of my main goals before I ride off into the sunset is to prevent the loss of knowledge gained and foster communication for the future.

Over the last 8½ years I have enjoyed talking to interesting besides experienced leaders in the automation world who have broadened my horizon and hopefully the perspective of readers of Control magazine. As I look back, the big names that pop into my head are Terry Blevins, Mike Brown, Mark Coughran, Brian Hrankowsky, Sheldon Lloyd, Robert Otto, Randy Reiss, Michel Ruel, Mark Sowell, Terry Tolliver, Vernon Trevathan, and Hunter Vegas. Some of them (Mike, Mark, Randy, and Hunter) have a sense of humor as strange as mine and helped create some of the more memorable “Top Ten” lists.

You would think I would be running out of things to talk about until you remember that the expertise gained and lessons learned in industry are largely undocumented because users are not given the time or incentives to communicate. There are exceptions such as Monsanto Engineering Technology where Dr. James Fair created an atmosphere for freely seeking and sharing knowledge by publishing articles and books. Many process manufacturing companies and plants at best permit the individual employee who sees the bigger picture to attend or present at a technical conference.

Fortunately, I met enough interesting people at ISA Automation Week and Emerson Exchange to have prospective interviewees for the next 2 years of Control Talk. The interview takes less than an hour and is more a discussion than a script of questions and answers so we are free to go where the material takes us. It is easy afterwards to create the questions. You just need to be a great listener and have an open mind. Stan and I have known each other so long we can read each others mind.

The idea for the cartoon usually just pops into my head within a few minutes after I say to myself “Hmm – I need to send Ted a cartoon description”. The illustrator Ted Williams has no knowledge about automation other than what he saw working in the reproduction department at ISA. Now Ted is at Duke. Ted has an interesting sense of humor and is able to transfer my idea into something visually entertaining. I don’t review the cartoons so Ted has complete artistic freedom. Sometimes we end up with some strange stuff but that is part of the humor and surprise offered. The top ten lists are usually created while jogging or by synergy with the interviewees. Nancy Bartels, the managing editor at Control, has a great sense of humor and has contributed to some of the lists. Nancy makes the whole experience fun despite a monthly deadline. Soon after I have seen the proof pages for the next issue, I need to start on a new column. I just finished an interview for March with Mark Nixon and JJ Moore that is a real eye opener on virtualization. It is a nice follow-up to the Jan and Feb columns on the virtual plant The Virtual Plant – Better than the Real Thing