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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

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Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 02-22-2008   #1
Bill Pierce
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This message from Leica

Der Aufsichtsrat der Leica Camera AG hat am heutigen Tage Herrn Steven K. Lee als Mitglied und Vorsitzenden des Vorstands der Leica Camera AG mit sofortiger Wirkung abberufen.

In other words, Steven Lee has been dismissed, immediately, by the Board.

Any thoughts???
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Old 02-22-2008   #2
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This is from the L-Camera Forum....


"Steven K. Lee Dismissed as Chairman
The Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG today removed Steven K. Lee as Chairman of the Board of Management of Leica Camera AG with immediate effect.

At the same time the Supervisory Board appointed Dr. Andreas Kaufmann Chairman of the Board of Management for the period until February 28, 2009."
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Old 02-22-2008   #3
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I guess for many, the question will be what does this mean for digital imaging for Leica especially as it pertains to rf ? I've read that Kauffman thought they should stick with 1/8000 on the M8 but that there was opposition to this. Can't recall if I read that here or on LUF.
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Old 02-22-2008   #4
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I don't know, from what I've read he always tried to "reinvent" the red dot's philosophy. a autofocus R system etc. Leica is tradition and as long as people are willing to purchase the finest mechanical rangefinders around it doesn't really matter.
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Old 02-22-2008   #5
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That was a short stint. Lee was supposed to be the guy who brought in fresh new thinking, wasn't he?
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Old 02-22-2008   #6
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That on going upgradeable M8 program was not going to fly.
money was needed for a truely full frame M9 development, before Leica is beaten to the punch by other manufacturers.
that money making scheme of the perpetual M8 upgrade was small potatoes, almost carny like.
Leica needs someone with vision that is not afraid to spend some money and take a calculated chance.
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Old 02-22-2008   #7
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Quote:
Leica needs someone with vision that is not afraid to spend some money and take a calculated chance.
Based on the interview with Lee a few issues back in LFI, I would have said he was that person. Leica also (nomex on) needs someone who understands its heritage but isn't haunted by the M5 and the CL. Again, I thought Lee was that person. We shall see what happens...
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Old 02-22-2008   #8
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Forget vision, what Leica AG needs is a manager that can run the company and create profit. The M8 is way behind the curve and needs a full-frame sensor -- what do they not understand about this?

Thanks for the FYI.
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Old 02-22-2008   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 35mmdelux
The M8 is way behind the curve and needs a full-frame sensor -- what do they not understand about this?
A workable full-frame sensor for an M-mount camera is, at present, so technically difficult as to be economically unfeasable or actually technically impossible. What do all who demand one, right bleedin' now, not understand about this?

The technical issues have been discussed to death. Technology moves on. Maybe one day - maybe even soon - the technology will get there. Until then it seems we're doomed to hear I want what I want, and I want it now on endless repeat...

...Mike
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Old 02-22-2008   #10
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I'd like a digital R at a reasonable price. Something easy to hold and use would be nice. It would not have to be cutting-edge to make me happy. Eight or ten MP, and I would like the sensor to be larger than APS size, but it wouldn't have to be full frame. A crop factor of, say, 1.2 would be good, if that could be done. A conventional shutter speed dial on top, and an aperture priority mode. Size, no larger than my Nikon F3, and just as comfortable to hold. Iso to at least 1200, with good noise performance.
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Old 02-22-2008   #11
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I think Mr. Lee was focused on making the right long term solutions and perhaps some good short term plays too. I think the board wanted to "sell no wine before it's time". Leica needs to bring out 4/3 prime lenses with manual focus for every focal length in the R line. Do it quick to develop a better cash flow. Stop building the next R, focus on lenses that are the best in the world and that people buy. I think Lee wanted to tell the faithful that there were good things in the pipe and the board looked at him sideways. The old Leica would never do that. Maybe not, but if Leica wants to survive they need some buzz and a way to keep the volume up. Leica has a wonderful brand, great optical engineers and they need to focus on what they do better than anyone else, build great lenses.

They are missing the point of what they should be building, trying to be what everyone thinks they want. They are not building what people need. They are putting too much into the camera. The simpler you make it the quicker you can upgrade the sensor and bring the next version out. The early Ms were simple to use and built to last. They need to go back to their roots quick. Or go back into the root cellar and not come back out.

B2 (;->
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Old 02-23-2008   #12
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I think BillBingham2 hit the nail on the head - 4/3 lenses will be bought by Leica, Panasonic, and Olympus 4/3 users, creating a buzz which may encourage other manufacturers to bring out 4/3 system cameras which in turn will create more sales of Leica 4/3 lenses. Money spinner.
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Old 02-25-2008   #13
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Well after reading everything posted on this thread"offer" a new angle to looking at Lecia's problems. Also the reason for dismissal of Steven Lee CEO.

For starters...stepping into a company that has been unable to make a successful "turn around" during teh last 25 years is kind of like being made the new Captain of the Titanic after hitting the Iceberg. You are delt a hand of cards that everyone knows but you. What that means is that there is a internal culture at Leica and outsiders are not wanted and get little cooperation. I was at Solms during the week of the Frankfurt Book Fair and visited with some interesting members of Leica staff and there was a chill in the air and Mr.Lee's fate was seen as not a matter of "if" but when as he could not get needed changes to happen.

Also just before I arrived in Solms, Leica senior management had the Porsche consulting group come in to try and develop suggestions for some of Leica's internal problems.

That is a fact I know first hand.

Second....Consumers, such as members of RFF do no seem to understand that the currency disaster of the Dollar to Euro exchange rate flux has been one of the major reasons for decline in US sales and also loss of actual profits on products sold in dollars. Leica's wiziards refused to put a currency hedge program in place several years ago when the Euro Began it's rise agains the dollar.

Just as a point of reference....many years ago one major thing that Porsche's CEO did, was to create a currencuy hedge department. This is a major reason Porsche is the worlds most profitable car company and it's stock is soaring today. however do not think Porsche is all that smart they just paid to much for VW.

Can Leica be turned around by it's new investor from Austria ? Is 100 million Euros enough. Is "Leica Land".....the conversion of the old factory the magical answer? I think not.

When Leica started out making cameras they did so as there was no camera body to hold the film that was needed. So in reality Leitz was a Lens company that "had to make" a camera body and none for 35mm film had been commerically successful to that point history. so they had a massive advantage on everyone else in the industry.

Skip forward to today......Leica is still a lens company, that is making bodies for it's lenses. Look a Tokina. they do not make a camera body and with good reason. they make lense that fit every other camera on the market.

My point is that the race for the best camera body has now been supplanted by the race for the best "software" and sensors. Nikon and the D300 and D3 have basicly pasted Leica many years. ago. Lecia still makes a excellent camera body for film.

But is not going to equal......Nikon in the production of a digital body to handle it's superior lenses on. Cutting a deal with Panasonic for internals of a new M9 is not going to make people make a mad rush to a Leica dealer 150 miles away. To spend 6 or 7 Thousand Dollars for a Digital body that does not have the bugs worked out and the lenses adapted so that the camera will accept them. The release of the M8 and it's endless list of "fixes" is a disgrace.

Leica is chasing the technology train The key phrase now is "value added"

Leica lenses still have superior value added status.....the body does not. Leica turned up it's nose at the consumer when it neede autofocus technology, and sent the message that those consumers were not deserving of Leica products.

This argument no really about cost....Nikon D3 is about 5000 or higher and the lenses are now about 2000 for the 14-28 zoom My 5x7 delivers better quality by virtue of it's larger film "sensor" But is painfully slow to use.

I Love my Leica lenses and they work well on both a Zeiss ZM or Leica M body.

Notice that Zeiss is making manual focus lenses for Nikon bodies. why? it's profitable.

Leica has many opportunites that are open to them but is color blind as the color green...as in money.

Look at some of the comments made by german dealers about the departure of MR. Lee and you will see that the culture of resistance to growth and change are reminders of the "Old European" business mind set.

I wish I could be positive but until serious proof of change in the marketing direction and introduction of products at prices levels that match the Value Added.....things do not look good.

Last edited by larmarv916 : 02-25-2008 at 23:01.
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Sony... ?
Old 02-26-2008   #14
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Sony... ?

With Sony development of a full-frame sensor bout to be launched for its upcoming camera and its ties with Contax, maybe we will see another digital rangefinder coming out before a new digi-M.
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Old 02-26-2008   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rhodie
With Sony development of a full-frame sensor bout to be launched for its upcoming camera and its ties with Contax, maybe we will see another digital rangefinder coming out before a new digi-M.
Sorry Rhodie, but what ties does Sony have with Contax (beyond both using Zeiss lenses) - I've missed that link.

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Old 02-26-2008   #16
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I have to agree with larmarv916. Leica's problems started long before Steven Lee was around, long before.

My perspective is from that of a news photographer. The Leica and other 35mm rangefinder cameras were superb tools for us from the time the introduction of high quality, high speed film like Tri-X allowed us to move to 35 from roll and sheet film cameras. They were small, quiet and focused large aperture normal and wide angle lenses with accuracy. The 35mm cameras from Leica had usually spent a long time being field tested. And they were superbly built. You probably had a new camera relubricated and the rangefinder accuracy checked with your lenses. But, until you smashed it, drowned it or had it stolen on the road, it pretty much survived with only the periodic CLA's (clean, lubricate and adjust) that all hardworking mechanical cameras received.

Even when the Pentax SLR appeared with its somewhat primitive instant return mirror and auto stop-down (but not reopen) diaphragm, the rangefinder held its own because of its ability to accurately focus those large aperture wides and normals accurately. Even today a long-based rangefinder is often going to handle those lenses, wide open with dimly lit, low contrast subjects more successfully than an autofocusing DSLR.

The standard rig was 2 rangefinders (wide and normal lenses) and an SLR (longest lens). Everybody's heroes, Bresson, Duncan, Mydans, Eisenstadt, Erwitt, used rangefinders. Walter Huen brought the Leica School to the photojournalism departments of colleges - a two day series of illustrated lectures on how to use the camera, even pointing out that for those on a budget Canon made more economical lenses that fit the Leica bodies. Even young photographers who were superbly pictorial in their vision, photographers like Constantine Manos, used Leicas.

And then that disappeared. Ownership and management changed. Folks like Hermes, the French luxury company, became involved. Suddenly the Leica was a conspicuous consumption item. People talked about the softness of the leather covering. More special runs of commemorative cameras were introduced. And you could special order cameras with particular metal finishes and colored leather covering. I was asked to test and write up a camera by a photo magazine. The person I spoke to at Leica had, until then, been working with handbags and offered to loan me a camera for testing for "several days."

To a great extent, the Leica, a superb tool, if not the only tool, simply disappeared from the world of the young photojournalist and documentary photographer.

I talked to a German Leica employee several years ago who told me they could have had a digital camera ready to go in the late '90's. If that was premature, it certainly couldn't have been worse than the introduction of the M8. A lot of faulty cameras had to be returned to Germany. I didn't get an M8 that worked properly (one just stopped working completely, another produced some kind of electronic flare that wiped out part of the image every few frames) until my third one. If the marketing of the film Leica has undergone some rough spots, these have been dwarfed by the rough spots in the introduction of the digital Leica.

I always thought the use of Leicas by some pretty remarkable professional photographers promoted its use by some serious amateurs. And I thought the increased volume in sales that the advanced amateurs provided helped keep the cost reasonable. The pros probably benefited a little more from the ruggedness of the camera; the amateurs probably were able to more often take greater advantage of the superb optics.

But I see very few M8s in the hands of young, starting photojournalists. I see them in the hands of middle aged photographers and old people like me. And, soon, that means that they won't be in the hands of the established, working photojournalists. I find that very sad. I could probably continue on with what would become the longest single message in Rangefinder Forum history. Instead, just let me end by saying I wish they would get rid of that noisy motor drive and replace it with a thumb wind or one of Tom's base winds.
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Old 02-26-2008   #17
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Leica just needs some competition.
If they can survive that, the later Leica digital rangefinder cameras will be more than superb.
the problem is will they be around long enough to do that.
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Old 02-26-2008   #18
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Old 02-26-2008   #19
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The Nikon F sold a lot of Nikkormats. The F1/F1n/etc sold a lot of AE1's for Canon. The F4/F5 sold a lot of N50's for Nikon. The EOS 1/1n sold a lot of Rebels for Canon. The current Canon and Nikon DSLR pro models are selling a lot of entry level models to snapshooters. There are big profits in those low-priced models with the professional name.

So what is today's Leica selling to Joe Six-Pack in the 21st century?

...Anybody?
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Old 02-26-2008   #20
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Bill: Post # 17 is the one of the most brilliant entries I have ever seen on RFF. Thank you.

I have said this before, but I'll repeat it....

When I first heard Larry Towell speak here, at George Eastman House (his first trip to GEH), he said, "I could work without my Leica, but don't take away my Tri-X." (paraphrased) ... IOW, the Leica is a tool, it's the <b>visual quality of the image</b> that counts. To him, that quality requires Tri-X. I have absolutely no doubt that he (and many other gifted photographers) can make superb images with another film; Tri-X, HP5+, T-Max ... that's not the point.

The point is that the importance of a camera, a film, a developer, etc., is how it supports the photographer's craft and vision. So if Leica (or Kodak, or Ilford, or Zeiss, etc.,) abandon the vision of supporting the photographer, their needs to fulfill their vision, and turn to boutique, marketing, etc., then the game is up for them.

It's funny ... I have been nearly settled on a ZI as my next RF to support my photography. The thread here about the ZI eyelets has me thinking. Something seemingly so "insignificant" (but what if an eyelet gives way disastrously????) ... maybe a used M4-P (for which Leica gets no revenue today) is a better choice.

Leica, pay attention.
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Old 02-26-2008   #21
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Very nice thread. Reading your post Bill reminds me of a friend who worked with Apple. He felt one of their big mistakes was when they decreased their effort in the education market, and allowed Dell and others to move in. Train them when they are young.....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dogman
So what is today's Leica selling to Joe Six-Pack in the 21st century?

...Anybody?
User M3 and M4 for this Joe.
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Old 02-26-2008   #22
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"Bill"....I like your historical overview of how both the "working" professionals changed mindset about equipment "tools" to get the job done in the photographic mission.

Also how dramaticly the internal management of Leica departed a 50+ year historical tradition. All for the insane idea that Leica should be a luxury brand to complement Hermes. As if really Leica was another form of jewlery for the Paris Hilton's of the dress to impress...JET SET. Leica did a deal with the Devil and that responsibility goes to the senior board members....No the everyday management and factory workers.

The real problem again comes back to the idea that the "value added" is no longer there. This is proven out by the fact that as much as Leica likes to pretend that they apperciate professional and customers. They have never really given back to customers over the years. Leica has never created an enviorment that is inclusive of normal everyday photography of it's customers.

Also now in a death struggle in a market where higher quality technology is drpooing price every day. Leica's hand is now being forced by the digital consumer demand to seek more afforadable products for people who have little or no background in photography.

As in Trius's posting that...Larry Towell is really concerned with the risk of losing his Tri-X film. I still think the Tokina business model and Zeiss's ZF and ZM lenses are really showing that the business is now splintering into lens makers and image capturing systems prividers. this is like watching the internet business shift from being a hosting company to the rise of the search engine companies....like Google over Microsoft and Yahoo.

There is a major business evoulation occuring while we speak. Cellphone are on the verge of outperforming traditional hand cameras and video is now making a bigger statement and seen by more people that traditional still images.

Read this mornings NY Times....Getty Images has now given in to the fact that they can no longer dictate prices or commerical access to advertisers world wide. That is why they have sold off control of the company to outside investors.

Now what I really want to know is what magic they expect pull off to somehow escape the cash flow crunch as sales move to lower levels. Solms just spent a tone of money putting in a new "clean room" air system just for helping reduce production related problems.

If Leica can not prove an ability to support it's "shooter's"...then what value can be seen by young photographers who are really looking for the fastest path to the finishing line of completed images.

So "Bill" how do you see this playing out. ??

Best Regards to ALL.......Laurance
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Old 02-26-2008   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter_Jones
I think BillBingham2 hit the nail on the head - 4/3 lenses will be bought by Leica, Panasonic, and Olympus 4/3 users, creating a buzz which may encourage other manufacturers to bring out 4/3 system cameras which in turn will create more sales of Leica 4/3 lenses. Money spinner.
On this I completely agree. May be a little OT on the rangefinder forum, but for the limited amount of SLR shooting I need to do I bought a Digilux 3, and I already bought a 25mm Summilux. I would like to see more options in the 4/3 mount and would welcome more Leica-designed lenses, especially if made in Germany but also if made in the Panasonic plant. (The Summilux does live up to my expectations of what a "Leica" lens should deliver.)
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Old 02-26-2008   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mfunnell
A workable full-frame sensor for an M-mount camera is, at present, so technically difficult as to be economically unfeasable or actually technically impossible. What do all who demand one, right bleedin' now, not understand about this?

The technical issues have been discussed to death. Technology moves on. Maybe one day - maybe even soon - the technology will get there. Until then it seems we're doomed to hear I want what I want, and I want it now on endless repeat...

...Mike
this kind of problem orientation, rather than solution orientation, is exactly what got Lee fired. You prove my point.

many business types don't care why you cannot do something -- find the solution, make it happen or perish. This is business, where action/inaction has consequences, not a cookie sale.

Bill Gates took what never existed, put some windows on it and turned it into a fortune. This is the example I would follow, rather than handing out excuses why something cannot be done.
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Last edited by 35mmdelux : 02-26-2008 at 21:57.
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Old 02-26-2008   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 35mmdelux
Bill Gates took what never existed, put some windows on it and turned it into a fortune. This is the example I would follow, rather than handing out excuses why something cannot be done.
Actually, the history of that is a little more complex than you make out, and its not as if other windowing systems didn't exist at the time. But that's for another discussion.

What I'd like to know is how I can get over all that negativity of mine and come and work for you. With your go-get-'em attitude, no doubt you've managed to achieve sustainable nuclear fusion, work with systems that perform faultless natural language recognition and translation, and are putting the finishing touches on cures for cancer, the end of poverty and the achievement of world peace. All without producing a single CO2 molecule, and sequestering away all the stuff released in the past so it will never again cause us concern.

You've cracked the lot! There are no difficult problems, just carping negative attitudes. The power of being "solution oriented" rather than "problem oriented" solves all. Once you've Issued Instructions, banished negative thoughts and applied The Power of Positive Thinking, no problem will ever be difficult again.

If only I'd known.

...Mike
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