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Control report with Jim Montague: Beware of old guys

Feb. 23, 2021
Don't let age get in the way of constructive news

Early each year, along with some snow, there's always a flurry of interviews, too. This is usually because I'm trying to find good input for Control's edge-computing cover story in February, open process automation cover story in March, data analytics cover story in May, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) cover story in June. As the microprocessors, software, Ethernet, Internet and servers they're based on coalesce, these topics have merged into one big, overarching story.

Most interviews proceed fairly well. Sources share their experiences, knowledge and advice, and I slowly gather content that will hopefully be useful to Control's readers. However, sometimes my questions hit on sensitive areas and our interviews get temporarily derailed, while we try hash out differences and figure out where the truth is. I'm not above getting on people's nerves, of course, but I'm often surprised by the triggers.

For instance, when the subject of generic silicon devices like Raspberry Pi comes up, several sources vehemently deny they'll ever be able to serve in plant-floor automation and control applications. They say board-level PCs are too fragile, cheap, prone to burnout, unprotected and unsupported to run reliably in process industry settings.

There's plenty of evidence to support this belief. However, I've also heard the "it's not ruggedized" argument many times, usually right before someone dips a device in plastic and starts using it on the plant-floor. I also remember hearing that Ethernet could never be used in harsh environments, and now it's in all of them everywhere.

What I'm curious about is how does a reasonable, free-flowing interview suddenly shift to end-of-discussion objections and flat denial? Where is the anger and emotion coming from? I just want to know because I've heard it echoed in several interviews and presentations. In addition to the Raspberry Pi controversy, further upheaval was indicated by a few online, user-group sessions about the oil-and-gas industries, where the common undercurrent appeared to be "how can we transition to renewable energy sources?"

Fortunately, I've done so many interviews over the years that I've started to understand there's a difference between what people are saying and what they're really saying. We often choose words that sound appropriate when what we're actually communicating is unpleasant. "Fiscally prudent" sounds better than "cheap" or "selfish." I've made it a hobby to trace this type of language.

So, we say what sounds better, so what? Well, I've also noticed that a selection of different questions and initial, superficial responses, all seem to have the same underlying answer: "I'm getting old, and I'm unhappy about it."

I certainly sympathize, and hope I'm not transferring too much of me onto my sources, who make all of my and Control's stories possible. There's no denying the know-how of practically everyone I interview and write about, along with all of Control's other experts. However, in the larger context of our overall lives, I'm noticing we spend so much time acquiring knowledge that we're probably doomed to begin losing some of it before we've learned everything we want to know.

The one suggestion I can make is to not let reflexive rigidity and unhappiness prevent us from continuing to have some good experiences and gain some new knowledge for as long as we can.
There's actually been a lot of good news lately for those willing to be on the lookout. First, the latest research continues to show that birthrates will decline worldwide as women gain education and financial independence, so the long-feared population explosion likely won't happen. Second, the aforementioned transition to renewable and alternative energy sources is gaining momentum, which could help alleviate global warming if it's joined by other efforts. Third, the many GameStop investors are demonstrating the collective economic power of individuals, who will hopefully realize they can use their strength for achieving even better goals than bankrupting hedge funds.

In short, we may all do well once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. We just have to get out there and be willing to see what's going on.

About the author: Jim Montague
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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