Ronald J. Riley, Inventor & Entrepreneur

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I discovered fairly early in life, during high school, that a major flaw in humanity is that when we band together we tend to lose our empathy for members of the group. This is a flaw that impacts all aspects of our life. I have seen examples running the gauntlet from my 100 person graduating class to our biggest institutions. In general, corporations, schools, churches, unions, government, and so called public service organizations - have a tendency to become self serving.

What happens is that the bureaucracy becomes more interested in feathering it's own nest than serving it's members. The bigger and older the organization the more likely it is to fail to serve the interests of it's members. I am sorry to say that I see this problem in:

1) Our public and yes, private schools.

A) Examples are Lake Fenton schools where I have had experience with one to two teachers a year who do not really want to teach.
B) The university of Southern Florida, where they persecuted and imprisoned one of their own students in an attempt to take his inventions with no compensation. C) Township government who rolls over for every sleazy developer who wants to degrade our area for their own benefit.    


2) In large corporations. Some examples of organizations where I have had such experiences or had knowledge of others having such experiences are:

A) Ford Motor Company G) Rockwell
B) General Electric H) Sears
C) Kroger  
D) Litton  
E) Northwest Airlines  
F) Radio Shack  

---- to name a few.

3) In all levels of government from local to federal, with the problem being far worse at the federal level,

4) In churches, such as the Baptist and Catholic denominations which I menton because the Baptist's have treated members with aid horribly (including those who contracted aids through a transfusion), and the catholic over their handling of priests who abused children.

5) In public service organizations such as Girl Scouts.

6) In unions, who in more then a few cases no longer serve their members best interests.

It is amazing how organizations, groups of people, can do things to their members or others, which they would never consider doing in a one on one relationship.

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In the early 1970's I decided to switch from the medical electronics industry to industrial controls. This was driven by an intense dislike for the politics of the medical industry and also by the extremely high markups on product in the industry. It was my feeling that the price gouging had to blow-up in the industry's faces at some point and it would be wise to be somewhere else when that happened. In retrospect, I probably made a big mistake because it is only recently that very high profit margins of the industry has been a problem. And furthermore the medical industry has been unusually friendly to inventors, while the heavy automation industry where I ended up, is notorious for not treating inventors well.

I have been an activist since I was a teenager. My first serious excursions into activism were in regards to second hand cigarette and cigar smoke. I joined Action On Smoking And Health (ASH) in the mid seventies. At that time the tobacco companies ruled supreme, and the great majority of people thought we would never prevail over tobacco.

My interest in the issue was driven by the fact that I am very allergic to second hand smoke. I was often forced to breath smoke in my employment. The problem was acute during the summer, when my immune system was overwhelmed by pollen and molds. Six months out of a year I stayed out of restaurants and other public establishments where people were allowed to pollute the air. Exposure to secondhand smoke triggered pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining of the lungs. This is a very painful condition.

Smoking was generally banned in medical settings, but not in the automation industry. I took a job with Fluid and Electric Control as a detailer to learn the standards of the industry. We were all in a large room. A clique of three detailers, one of whom had aspirations of becoming a controls engineer, would intentionally light cigars at the same time to pay me back for advancing faster than they were. The room would have clouds of smoke at head height, in strata much like a cumulous cloud formation.

I became a militant opponent of smoking as a result. At the time public health laws mandated 25% of seating in restaurants be set aside as no smoking areas. The law was widely violated, and it was not unusual for many eating establishments to simply remove the ash tray from your table when you requested a non smoking area. I made a point of filing complaints with the health department against establishments who did not comply with the law.

One problem was that the health department was loath to enforce the law. I would follow up on complaints by visiting the establishments who were not in compliance with the law, and when necessary file complaints with ASH about the health department's failure to enforce the law.

As I rose in corporate circles, I started actively educating management about the costs associated with employees who smoke. Those costs are substantial, and as self funded medical insurance became much more common the incentive to control the costs associated with employees who smoke became much greater.

I have used a host of tactics to force restaurants, especially chains like Elias Big Boy and Burger King, both of whom were especially obstinate, to comply with the law. I made a point of taking whole groups of people for business meetings, and when the establishment (Bennigans) told us they did not have non-smoking space available, leaving the establishment with all that business. Restaurant managers hate to see groups of half a dozen to a dozen people walk out.

For me the issue of being able to enjoy a breath of air which is not polluted, has been a twenty plus year fight, similar to what it takes to prevail as an inventor over those who believe they can take our inventions with no compensation. And it is clear that we are well on our way to winning the battle over second hand smoke.

It is my belief that smoking should be confined to consenting adults in private. No one should have a right to expose children, theirs or others, or any other adult to second hand smoke.

As I matured I moved on to a variety of other issues such as consumer fraud, theft of individual's intellectual property by large companies, First Amendment issues, and the issue of incredibly poor management coupled with waste of taxpayer money by public schools.

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A battle which has not gone so well is exploration of space. It is my feeling that humanity has made a terrible mistake by not vigorously pursuing space exploration.


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