Voices: Montague

Use your own head

Executive Editor Jim Montague implores us to think and act like a reporter, don’t trust opinions (including mine and yours), remember to take all stories with a grain of salt, and of course, don't despair.

Jim Montague, Executive EditorBy Jim Montague, Executive Editor

I REALLY hate columnists. Puffed up with the gas of fermenting expertise, most swell like bagpipes, Whoopee cushions or large intestines, and can spout sage wisdom and sublime thoughts on many topics. However, to me, it usually looks like just another lazy attempt to phone in another column, and get paid for little or no work. Talk is cheap, and generalized opinions and unspecific advice are the cheapest of all.

Do I sound jealous? Well, sure. That’s because I’m not an expert. I have no reservoir of knowledge to drawn on. As a reporter and editor, I’ve always had to go out and find the sources and experts for virtually every story I ever wrote and many of those I edited. But I can’t do it any other way because I don’t know enough on my own. So, I’m naturally a little envious of those who can talk extemporaneously, and write without reporting. Still, I think I’ve had to listen and learn more about what’s actually happening. I’m just a conduit for people on the plant-floors or whatever community I’m covering, whether defined by technology, profession, or geography.

So what can I tell you? Have I stored up any overall knowledge or gathered any common threads after 8½ years of covering industrial control and automation? Certainly, just give me a second to inflate, I mean, inhale.

First, try to think and act like a reporter. Treat areas of your professional and personal life as reporting exercises. Go out, interview folks at the scene, try to be friendly and helpful, answer the reporter’s classic questions (who? what? why? when? where? and how?), and write it up with concrete nouns and active verbs in a few clear, prioritized paragraphs.

The payoff for asking enough questions is (ta da!) answers, which are often surprising, entertaining, highly counterintuitive and enlightening. For example, when seeking cable and connector trends for this issue’s feature, I was reminded that going wireless actually requires more cables and connectors both on the sensor/transmitter side and at the receiver/data processing end. Similarly, this issue’s cover story ["Traing, Tips and Techniques"] shows that inadequate training can actually make Ethernet more costly than other networking systems.

Second, don’t trust opinions (including mine and yours) of anyone who apparently hasn’t gotten up, gone out, and found out what’s going on for himself. Even reporters usually wait around to be told what the story is. See the police reporters in the classic movie, His Girl Friday, with Cary Grant and Greer Garson, who do nothing but play cards until their phones ring. Today’s less-amusing examples include the endless parades of celebrity drivel, tear-jerking shock trials, revolving/conflicting health breakthroughs, “How Clean Are Those Hotel Sheets?” and most wars, which serve to distract U.S. citizens and taxpayers from the fact that many of their pension funds and health care insurance are poised to vanish faster than you can say Savings and Loan debacle and Resolution Trust Corp. Remember?        

Third, take all published stories with a large grain of salt. Even the best, most conscientious efforts are snapshots that are constrained by time and context. Just because it’s in print doesn’t mean it’s written in stone. I’ve always thought many readers might trust the media more and resent it less, if they participated more in governing their communities, and didn’t rely solely on media accounts that consequently made them feel somewhat captive. I’ve also found that people don’t mind paying taxes as much when they attend the budget/spending meetings of the taxing bodes that affect them. There are always plenty of seats, and most boards are starved for public input because they’re unsure about many decisions, and feel guilty if they just try to look busy.          

Fourth, don’t despair because it’s also a self-focused opinion that’s probably wrong too. (Ha!) Every 10th or 12th person will have something useful or even priceless to say, which will more than make up for all uncommunicative, unimaginative ding-a-lings in between. In fact, many boneheads will almost involuntarily come up with some useful input if you ask them a bunch of questions, and then give them time to percolate. Editors are a fine example. Burp!

More from this voice

Title

Use your own head

Executive Editor Jim Montague implores us to think and act like a reporter, don’t trust opinions (including mine and yours), remember to take all stories with a grain of salt, and of course, don't despair.

03/21/2006

Seeing deeply into process control technologies

Executive Editor Jim Montague finds that even if there’s nothing new under the sun, what’s truly new may be a deeper understanding and appreciation of what we thought was so familiar.

08/07/2006

The only evil

There are two kinds of network security. Real and imagined, and it can be hard to tell them apart, especially if you don't know how they work and the problems they're supposed to solve.

09/06/2006

Is automation in your future?

Is automation really a profession? As HMIs and historians fade into the fabric of manufacturing, what has automation done for us lately? Executive Editor Jim Montague muses in this month’s Control Report.

09/11/2006

Oh the humanity!

In this installment of Control Report, Executive Editor Jim Montague finds the process control and automation field is awash in irony, unexpected twists and tragic comedies that would make O. Henry proud.

10/10/2006

A big grain of salt

Executive Editor Jim Montague warns us not to let frequently repeated misconceptions and outright lies about new technology get in the way of statistics, because they can serve almost any purpose.

11/01/2006

Industrial PCs take on new functions

A roundup of products new to the market shows the advanced computing functions and diversification of industrial PCs is allowing new forms and new functions for process control applications.

11/10/2006

Blood and guts

Executive Editor Jim Montague notes that taking a closer look at biological processes can help adapt or improve existing process controls and systems. Read why in this month's installment of Control Report.

12/11/2006

Seeds with teeth!

Senior Tech Editor Jim Montague muses that maybe it's time to think up some new incentive programs for individuals and teams to make more and better innovations in process control applications.

01/05/2007

Real-world education

Many newly minted control and automation engineers find they need months of training to learn how their employers apply their technologies because of lack of coordination between schools and employers.

02/01/2007

Luddites unite!

Tradition for its own sake is useless, of course, but tradition based on common sense is crucial for the success and safety of process control engineers and their applications.

03/01/2007

On the same page

Many plant-floor engineers and IT technicians report they’re coming to a new appreciation of the efficiencies and savings that can be generated by simply integrating their industrial and corporate networks.

03/09/2007

Can Foundation fieldbus (FF) stay hungry?

FF may be facing unexpected challenges in its task to remain useful as it integrates ever more closely with EDDL, COTS Ethernet, and Internet-bsed and/or wireless networking. Executive Editor Jim Montague reports.

04/10/2007

Can we Talk?

There is some major-league wriggling going on as participants try to avoid simply discussing whether many U.S. oil and gas producers and their supporting industries are doing their best on process safety.

05/10/2007

Get up, out and about

Though some engineers say their industries and job prospects have recovered recently, many say that their administrators’ main mission is to wring as much short-term cash as possible from their operations.

06/04/2007

Maybe You Didn’t Hear Me

Why do engineers and their companies tolerate safety standards that aren’t enforced until after accidents occur, and why do they accept safety device certifications that only cover compliance in lab-based settings?

07/13/2007

Action Figures of Summer

Jim Montague talks about the few process control-related heroes found in the mainstream media and in less-hyped branches of literature and the fine arts.

08/01/2007

Survey Snapshots Wireless Users

CONTROL recently conducted its first SP100 Wireless Survey of almost 500 readers about where and how they use wireless in their plant-floor applications.

08/01/2007

Follow in Batch’s Footsteps

Can batch standards, methods and concepts break through their technological limits to the world of ideas?

08/31/2007

Wireless Applications Coming to Light

Wireless case studies are scarce, so it’s ironic that Emerson, Honeywell, Invensys and others are coming up with them.

09/27/2007