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79 posts categorized "Miscellaneous"

September 02, 2013

Labor Day 2013

In the United States, the first Monday each September is set aside to honor the contribution that working people have made to America's progress and prosperity. There really hasn't been much to celebrate over the past couple of decades. Although productivity has risen, wages have remained stagnant. Additionally, the unemployment rate continues to hover above 7 percent. On the bright side, it could certainly be worse; there are much higher unemployment rates in some other countries.

Labor Day was the brainchild of the labor movement. It never hurts to tell your members that you managed to secure another paid day off for them. In some ways, the labor movement is an anachronistic remnant of the industrial age. That's not to say that the labor movement isn't still required. There are companies, industries, and nations where worker exploitation still takes place and working conditions remain unsafe. If the labor movement is going to remain relevant in most developed countries, however, it will have to change with the times. Instead of fighting to maintain every industrial era job, unions should be on the cutting edge of determining how the labor force is going to change and then ensure that they have programs in place to assist members to adapt to changing times. Organizations that prove themselves valuable will always have a place in society.

Perhaps the biggest change that labor unions (and non-union workers as well) will have to confront is the rise of robots. Nobel laureate Paul Krugman writes, "There's no question that in some high-profile industries, technology is displacing workers of all, or almost all, kinds." ["Robots and Robber Barons," New York Times, 9 December 2012] He continues:

Labor Day 2013"For example, one of the reasons some high-technology manufacturing has lately been moving back to the United States is that these days the most valuable piece of a computer, the motherboard, is basically made by robots, so cheap Asian labor is no longer a reason to produce them abroad. In a recent book, 'Race Against the Machine,' M.I.T.'s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee argue that similar stories are playing out in many fields, including services like translation and legal research. What's striking about their examples is that many of the jobs being displaced are high-skill and high-wage; the downside of technology isn't limited to menial workers. Still, can innovation and progress really hurt large numbers of workers, maybe even workers in general? I often encounter assertions that this can't happen. But the truth is that it can, and serious economists have been aware of this possibility for almost two centuries. The early-19th-century economist David Ricardo is best known for the theory of comparative advantage, which makes the case for free trade; but the same 1817 book in which he presented that theory also included a chapter on how the new, capital-intensive technologies of the Industrial Revolution could actually make workers worse off, at least for a while — which modern scholarship suggests may indeed have happened for several decades."

One of the reasons that some people are skeptical about masses of workers being displaced by technology is that the global economy can only grow if people (not robots) are buying things. If no one has work, no one is earning disposable income and economic depression is the ultimate result. Only shortsighted governments and businesses would pursue strategies that inevitably ensure economic ruin. Most businesses understand that their most important assets are their employees.

I'm an optimist. I believe that work will be found for humans, even in a highly technological age. Clearly, however, that work will involve many activities that weren't even imagined by industrial age workers. I'm not prescient enough to predict exactly how the future will unfold; but, I am pretty certain that we will be celebrating Labor Day rather than Robot Day for the foreseeable future.

July 04, 2013

Independence Day 2013

Happy 4th of July 02On this day each year, the United States commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. That document declared independence from Great Britain. Not everyone in the colonies was thrilled about this development, but to the victors go the spoils and so the Fourth of July has become a festive day of parades, picnics, family and community gatherings, and, most of all, fireworks. Last year, the United States imported more than $218 million worth of fireworks from China (and many of those fireworks were set off on the 4th of July).

Back in 1776 there were an estimated 2.5 million people living in the colonies on the east coast. Today over 315 million people will celebrate America's independence from coast to coast. Part of that celebration will include food (and lots of it). Here are some interesting facts from the U.S. Census Bureau about the food people are likely to consumer today:

  • Chances are that the pork hot dogs and sausages consumed on the Fourth of July originated in Iowa. The Hawkeye State was home to 20.3 million hogs and pigs.

  • Chances are good that the beef hot dogs, steaks and burgers on your backyard grill came from the Lone Star State, which accounted for nearly one-sixth of the nation's total production. And if the beef did not come from Texas, it very well may have come from Nebraska (estimated at 5.1 billion pounds) or Kansas (estimated at 3.8 billion pounds).

  • There is a good chance that one of these states — Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi or Texas — is the source of your barbecued chicken.

  • And it probably comes as no surprise that the main ingredient in your potato salad comes from Idaho (which has 345 million acres of land dedicated to the crop).

Regardless of what you eat, who you are with, or how you celebrate, we hope the day is filled with happiness and joy. And please, be careful and have a safe holiday!

May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

Eagle on gravestone clearAlthough Memorial Day was first celebrated to remember the war dead from the U.S. Civil War, it was eventually celebrated to remember those lost in all wars. It was meant to be a day of somber reflection and reconciliation. Unfortunately, each year there are more men and women to remember. Michael N. Castle once stated, "These fallen heroes represent the character of a nation who has a long history of patriotism and honor - and a nation who has fought many battles to keep our country free from threats of terror." Allen West isn't happy that the meaning of the day is being lost. He writes, "While there are towns and cities still planning Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some think the day is for honoring anyone who has died, not just those fallen in service to our country."

On this day we certainly should honor and remember those who gave their lives in service to their country; but, I don't think it is a bad thing to honor and remember all those who have passed before us. Centuries ago John Milton wrote, "They also serve who only stand and wait." To Milton, who had gone blind, this meant that everyone has a place in this world and, through whatever honest labor they perform, they help built the society in which they live. That service also deserves recognition. This Memorial Day is particularly poignant in light of terrorist attacks during the Boston Marathon and the recent devastating tornado in Oklahoma that took so many lives.

Perhaps the best way we can honor the dead this Memorial Day is by contributing to help the living whose lives have been thrown into chaos. One of the organizations that is first to the scene of a disaster and offering help is the American Red Cross. If you want to donate to the Red Cross, you do so by clicking on this link.

As sobering as it is to remember our dead, it would be foolish to deny that Memorial Day also marks the unofficial beginning of summer. That means many of you will be celebrating the day with family and friends with cookouts and activities. There is nothing wrong with that either. Those who have gone before us expect us to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Have a safe and memorable holiday.

May 13, 2013

Enjoying Food: Taste, and Our Other Senses

Any true connoisseur of food understands that all of our senses (taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing) play a role in how we experience and enjoy food. I agree with the website WeGotTaste.com, which states:

"The human body is amazing! Our body gives us a variety of different methods to interact with the world we live in. We receive information from the world via our senses. Each sense is distinct and different. ... Two people can be in the same situation but based on what they sense, they will each experience something different. Everyone relies upon their senses differently and some of the senses may be more accurate than others. ... The sense of taste teaches us flavors of food. We learn what things taste like so we can recognize what is good and bad for our body to ingest. With the variety of foods there are to eat and enjoy, it is not surprising that eating is one of our favorite things to do. Our senses all interact with each other and pass on information to our brain. Once received, our mind interprets everything and logs it away into memory. This process is what creates the individual experiences we enjoy."

Most people are aware of the close connection between the sense of smell and the sense of taste; but, they may not be aware of other sensory relationships associated with how we enjoy food. Let's begin with discussion with the basic sense of taste.

Taste

Taste is a complex subject, but let me provide you with the Cliff's Notes version of how our sense of taste works:

Taste buds"The stimuli for taste are chemical substances dissolved in water or other fluids. Taste can be described as four basic sensations, sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, which can be combined in various ways to make all other taste sensations. Taste receptors (called taste buds) for these sensations are located primarily on various areas of the tongue: front, sweet; sides, sour; sides and front, salty; and back, bitter (see the attached figure). There are about 10,000 taste buds, which are situated primarily in or around the bumps (papillae) on the tongue. Each papilla contains several taste buds, from which information is sent by afferent nerves to the thalamus and, ultimately, to areas in the cortex." ["The Chemical Senses: Taste and Smell," CliffsNotes.com, 26 April 2013]

Some people now add a fifth sensation, umami, a Japanese word that can be translated "pleasant savory taste." The medical description of taste may not make food and flavors sound very exciting, but you have to admit that it is amazing that four or five basic sensations can produce the phenomenal number of tastes we experience when eating. As noted above, there is special relationship between the senses of taste and smell. So it's natural that we next discuss the sense of smell.

Smell and Taste

Before they started flavoring children's medicines, there were some pretty nasty tasting concoctions prescribed by doctors. Inevitably, mothers would tell their children to hold their noses while swallowing the stuff. For many children, the act of holding their nose while consuming something unpleasant was their first exposure to the relationship between taste and smell. The Cliff's Notes page says this about smell.

"The stimuli for smell are volatile chemical substances suspended in the air. These molecules stimulate the olfactory receptors, which are in the upper portions of the nasal passages. Neurons from these receptors bundle together to form the olfactory nerve, which travels to the olfactory bulb at the base of the brain. The theory of smell is not well understood (for example, how an odor of apple pie can evoke pleasant childhood memories)."

Interestingly, new research claims that the nasal passage isn't the only area in the body that contains odorant receptors. ["Odorant Receptors Found In Non-Olfactory Cells," Medical News Today, 8 April 2013] The article reports:

"In a discovery suggesting that odors may have a far more important role in life than previously believed, scientists have found that heart, blood, lung and other cells in the body have the same receptors for sensing odors that exist in the nose. It opens the door to questions about whether the heart, for instance, 'smells' that fresh-brewed cup of coffee or cinnamon bun, according to the research leader, ... Peter Schieberle, Ph.D., an international authority on food chemistry and technology."

I'll return to Dr. Schieberle's work later in this post. The next sense I'd like to discuss is sight.

Sight and Taste

Most of us are aware that food presentation is important. Debra Zellner, a professor of psychology at Montclair State University, believes that how a food looks can affect its taste. ["Professor Talk: What Attracts Us To Certain Foods?" by Mike D'Onofrio, Montclair Patch, 17 February 2013] Dr. Zellner states:

"Colored beverages are perceived to smell stronger. But when people drink it, it tastes weaker. It is what is called a contrast effect, where people are expecting something that is stronger than what they get. ... How a food is prepared on a plate can [also] have an effect on a food’s taste. We did an experiment where we used the same chicken salad but prepared one neatly on a plate, and the other unbalanced and messy. People tasted both plates said the chicken salad on the neatly prepared plate tasted better, so presentation also matters."

Terry E. Acree, Ph.D, agrees with Professor Zellner, he claims, "The eyes sometimes have it, beating out the tongue, nose and brain in the emotional and biochemical balloting that determines the taste and allure of food." ["Biochemical Balloting: 'Seeing' The Flavor Of Food," Science 2.0, 20 April 2013] "Years ago," he states, "taste was a table with two legs—taste and odor. Now we are beginning to understand that flavor depends on parts of the brain that involve taste, odor, touch and vision. The sum total of these signals, plus our emotions and past experiences, result in perception of flavors, and determine whether we like or dislike specific foods." The one sense that Acree didn't mention was hearing.

Hearing and Taste

The WeGotTaste.com page states, "Sounds affect the interpretation our mind gets, but not as much as smells and sight." We're all familiar with certain sounds associated with food, like sizzling bacon, popping corn, or percolating coffee. Nevertheless, the folks at WeGotTaste.com conclude, "Sounds do not really affect the way food tastes. Taste and sound are brought together in the mind, but do not have a whole lot of meaning together." A mother and blogger who goes by the nom de plume "mealtimehostage" isn't so sure. She writes:

"Back in January, my friend came down with a doozy of a cold, the kind that finds its way into every sinus nook and cranny. Excessive mucous accumulating in the back of her nose prevented retronasal airflow into her nasal cavity. I found it intriguing how congestion had altered her senses, and changed her preferences and perceptions of food. ... The congestion also affected my friend’s hearing, creating intermittent periods of muffled sounds, followed by periodic crackling and popping. Not uncommon with a cold, but I’m sure you're asking. What on earth do ears have to do with our sense of taste? My knowledge of ear anatomy is limited at best, but I do know the ear canals and sinus cavities are all somehow connected. Interestingly, the ear is where we find one particular nerve that has a profound effect on taste nerves and the pain fibers on the tongue."

Although mealtimehostage makes it perfectly clear that she has no scientific or medical background, she found studies that linked childhood middle ear infections and "selective eaters." The nerve she talks about is the chorda tympani. She found the following description of that nerve:

"The chorda tympani is responsible for the taste perception on the front of the tongue. If that nerve becomes damaged, tastes at the back of the tongue actually get enhanced to preserve overall 'taste constancy.' But other cues that go into our sensory experience of flavor, including texture, smells and chemical sensitivity, are also enhanced." ~ Derek Snyder, Yale University neuroscience graduate student

She discusses a couple of other studies she found of interest including one that reported "when a small sample of adult selective eaters were asked if they had middle ear issues, 27 out of 34 respondents reported they had suffered from some form of middle ear issue in early childhood." Mealtimehostage may just be on to something.

Touch and Taste

Whether you've consciously thought about the relationship between touch and taste, you have subconsciously made the connection. Mushy cereal, soggy potato chips, and other not-so-appetizing foods may still be nutritionally valuable; but, because of how they feel, they become unpalatable for most of us. There is probably an evolutionary explanation for why the feel of some foods repels us. A mushy apple, for example, may indicate that it has gone rotten and could be dangerous to eat. John S. Allen, a neuroanthropologist, wrote a book entitled "The Omnivorous Mind," in which he "explores our biological equipment for taste and the ways in which each culture builds a unique cuisine upon a shared cognitive blueprint." ["An Accounting For Taste,"by Leo Coleman, Wall Street Journal, 20 May 2012] In a review of the book, Coleman writes:

"[Allen] observes ... that crispness seems to be a desirable quality of foods, whether in the crunchy crickets treated as a delicacy by some cultures or in Kentucky Fried Chicken. Such universals suggest that a deeply ingrained culinary capacity is an essential part of every human's 'biocultural' equipment, comparable to the cognitive capacities for language and empathy that indisputably marked important frontiers in human evolution."

In other words, touch may have a more profound effect on our sense of taste than we may have imagined. Earlier, I wrote that I would return to the work being done by Dr. Schieberle. I wanted to end this post discussing his work because it involves how the senses affect taste. The Medical News Today article reports, "Schieberle's group and colleagues at the Technical University of Munich work in a field termed 'sensomics,' which focuses on understanding exactly how the mouth and the nose sense key aroma, taste and texture compounds in foods, especially comfort foods like chocolate and roasted coffee." The article continues:

"For example, baked beans and beans in foods like chili provide a 'full,' rich mouth-feel. Adding the component of beans responsible for this texture to another food could give it the same sensation in the mouth, he explained. Natural components also can interact with substances in foods to create new sensations. The researchers use sensomics to better understand why foods taste, feel and smell appetizing or unappetizing. They use laboratory instruments to pick apart the chemical components. They then put those components together in different combinations and give these versions to human taste-testers who evaluate the foods. In this way, they discovered that although coffee contains 1,000 potential odor components, only 25 actually interact with an odor receptor in the nose and are smelled. 'Receptors help us sense flavors and aromas in the mouth and nose,' said Schieberle. 'These receptors are called G-protein-coupled receptors, and they were the topic of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012. They translate these sensations into a perception in the brain telling us about the qualities of a food.' Odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system also were the topic of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Of the total of around 1,000 receptors in the human body, about 800 of these are G-protein-coupled receptors, he said. Half of these G-protein-coupled receptors sense and translate aromas. But only 27 taste receptors exist. And although much research in the food industry has gone into identifying food components, little effort has focused on the tying those components to flavor perceptions until now, he said."

Undoubtedly, a lot more research is going to be conducted about relationships between our senses and how they can affect our perception of flavors.

January 01, 2013

Happy New Year 2013

Traditionally at the beginning of each new year one takes stock of his or her circumstances and makes resolutions that will help them become a better person. Helen Keller once stated, "Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host Happy-new-year-images (199)against difficulties." Difficulties and challenges face everyone at some point in their life. How you deal with those challenges makes all the difference in the outcome achieved. If you think this is going to be a bad year, you'll probably be right. If you think it's going to be a good year, you will also probably be right. As Ms. Keller stated, "Your success and happiness lies in you."

If you are looking for reasons to be optimistic, here a few:

Real Estate Sector Recovery

Tomer Potruch predicts "there is really no choice for house prices but to SKYROCKET in 2013. It’s not only the printing, it’s the economic recovery, the low interest rates, it’s the employment coming back, it’s business waking up, all of that together will push real estate during this year (and 2014) back to 2007 highs. This sector, especially real estate in eastern Europe and the USA will boom." ["Predictions for 2013 — the boom and the bust," The World's Next Great Investing Columnist, 15 October 2012]

Medical Breakthroughs

Marty Nemko writes, "For the decade since the human genome was decoded, it seemed clear that breakthroughs in individualized medicine were imminent: for example, cancer treatment customized to a person's genetic makeup. But nope, no real breakthroughs yet. However, recent exchanges with leading genetics researchers—Stanford University's William Newsome, the Beijing Genomics Institute's Steve Hsu, University of California’s Richard Haier, and Executive Director of the Society for Neuroscience Marty Saggese—force me to continue making my heretofore wrong prediction [that breakthroughs are imminent]. One word of career advice to the next generation of science- and math-oriented students: 'biotech.'" ["Job Market Predictions for 2013 and Beyond, Part I," US News, 3 December 2012]

Food to Get Tastier and Healthier

Boulder, Colo.-based, Sterling-Rice Group predicts "Food palates will move beyond sweet, salty and fatty to tart, acidic and bitter; Chefs will exchange butter and bacon for broth and beets to create better-for-you food that tastes good; Asian cuisine will be in the spotlight behind the spicy and fresh flavors of Thailand, Vietnam and Korea; Vegetables will get their chance to star as the main dish; ... The number of local artisans will increase, making it easier to think globally without the travel; Small plates for sharing will be replaced with smaller, singular servings of meat, veggies or starches for a truly customized dining experience; Look for fruit used with savory flavors, incorporated as appetizers, soups and alongside meat dishes; From gluten-free to vegan, more restaurants will offer all-inclusive menus and services to accommodate all consumers' Popcorn will be the 'snack of the year,' and will be served sweet or savory, in ice cream, as croutons and everywhere in-between." ["Trending: Food predictions for 2013," by Alicia Kelso, FastCasual.com, 7 November 2012]

The Movie "Lincoln" Could Bring Home the Gold

Most critics seem to agree that Daniel Day-Lewis is the odds on favorite for winning his third Oscar. The movie should also garner a nomination for Best Picture. Sally Field is likely to be nominated as Best Supporting Actress and Tommy Lee Jones as Best Supporting Actor. Other likely nominations include: Michael Kahn, Best Film Editing; John Williams, Best Original Score; Best Make-up and Hairstyling; Joanna Johnston, Best Costume Design; Rick Carter, Jim Erickson & Peter T. Frank, Best Production Design; Janusz Kaminski, Best Cinematography; Tony Kushner, Best Adapted Screenplay; and, of course, Steven Spielberg, Best Director. Speaking of Spielberg, the famous movie director, once said, "All of us every single year, we're a different person. I don't think we're the same person all our lives."

Those are just a few good things coming your way. My wish for you this coming year is that you become the person you want to become and achieve the things you want to achieve. From all of us at Enterra Solutions, may you have a happy and prosperous New Year.

December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

We have a lot to celebrate this holiday season. Among our blessings is the fact that we didn't all perish last week as many pundits believed the Mayan calendar predicted we would (see my post entitled Unless the Mayans Were Right -- Welcome to the New Year). Our ancestors from the northern hemisphere were smart to initiate one of the most festive holidays of the year in the midst of winter's gloom (maybe you folks down under should come up with one of your own festive holidays for June!). An article on the History Channel site reports:

"The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight."

In countries that celebrate the Christmas season (which now often begins beforeHappyHolidays Thanksgiving in the United States), children and adults alike have come to cherish the lights, the carols, and the warm feelings of giving that are associated with it. Although Christmas is a religious celebration associated with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, even many non-Christians get caught up in the sentiment and trappings of the season. What I like most about the season is the generosity associated with it. Thousands of organizations in the United States provide drop-off points for the United States Marines' Toys for Tots campaign. Dedicated Salvation Army bell ringers man their kettles to collect cash for those in need. Food banks hold drives to replenish their shelves for the months ahead. And, in the past, few years, good Samaritans have gone into big box retail stores that have lay-away plans and have paid off the toy purchases for total strangers. That is the spirit of the season that I enjoy each year. The poet E.C. Baird wrote about the "Christ Spirit" in a poem of the same name. He penned:

I am the Christmas Spirit—

I enter the home of poverty, causing palefaced children to open their eyes wide, in pleased wonder.
I cause the miser’s clutched hand to relax and thus paint a bright spot on his soul.
I cause the aged to renew their youth and to laugh in the old glad way.
I keep romance alive in the heart of childhood, and brighten sleep with dreams woven of magic.
I cause eager feet to climb dark stairways with filled baskets, leaving behind hearts amazed at the goodness of the world.
I cause the prodigal to pause a moment on his wild, wasteful way and send to anxious love some little token that releases glad tears—tears which wash away the hard lines of sorrow.
I enter dark prison cells, reminding scarred manhood of what might have been and pointing forward to good days yet to be.
I come softly into the still, white home of pain, and lips that are too weak to speak just tremble in silent, eloquent gratitude.
In a thousand ways, I cause the weary world to look up into the face of God, and for a little moment forget the things that are small and wretched.

I am the Christmas Spirit.

If you are looking for worthy organizations to donate to this holiday season, Nicholas Kristof recommends the following:

Heifer International (heifer.org) -- donate money to purchase farm animals

International Rescue Committee (rescue.org) -- donate money to send an Afghan girl to school

Shining Hope for Communities (shininghopeforcommunities.org) -- donate to help fight against social injustice

The Hawa Fund (vitalvoices.org/hawafund) -- donate to support a hospital, school and refugee camp in war-torn Somalia operated by Dr. Hawa Abdi.

Polaris Project (polarisproject.org) and Fair Girls (fairgirls.org)-- donate to support the fight against human trafficking in the United States and abroad

There are opportunities to help everywhere you look.

I hope that this holiday brings you much joy and happiness. The late President Calvin Coolidge wisely stated, "Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas." From all us at Enterra Solutions, we wish you a very, merry Christmas.

December 24, 2012

North Pole Supply Chain and Risk Management Strategies

Running Santa clear"Gartner likes to publish the Top 25 Supply Chains every year," writes SAP's Richard Howells. "Unfortunately, there’s one supply chain the esteemed analyst firm continues to overlook. And it just so happens to be the greatest supply chain success story of all time. I'm talking about The Santa Claus Supply Chain." ["Santa's Supply Chain: Best in the World?" Forbes, 28 November 2011] Douglas Kent, Chairman of the European Supply Chain Council's Leadership team, agrees that the greatest demonstration of supply chain execution happens every Christmas Eve. Each and every year, Kent notes, implementation of Santa Claus' "seasonal supply chain requires perfect execution." ["Why Santa is the Leader in Supply Chain Management," Process Excellence Network, 21 December 2011] Kent asserts that this mastery of "the art of Just-In-Time" logistics is all the more impressive considering it involves a "family-run operation headquartered [at] the North Pole." Kent continues:

"Only an elusive professional known by his various regional identities such as St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle or simply 'Santa Claus' could possibly manage the adversity and diversity that the Christmas supply chain demands of him. His reputation speaks for itself. He has been in business for as long as I can remember and yet his business remains headquartered in the far north, in a land of perpetual snow. Here [at the] North Pole - an unusual mix of staff resides that includes his wife, the lovely Mrs. Claus, nine reindeer and countless magical elves, who assist him in this global operation. Mrs. Claus clearly runs the show, while the elves make all the toys in the workshop and the reindeer provide the transport for the sleigh, all those presents and the plump and jolly CEO himself! This seasonal supply chain requires perfect execution. The difference between 'just-in-time' and 'just-too-late' may result in a flood of tears from a deserving child who was sure that when the letter was sent to Santa – his/her request would arrive on Christmas Eve in a neatly wrapped package with a special note written personally by Old St. Nick himself. How does Santa manage such a complex supply chain? We have a few theories although the details will forever remain a mystery or at least a secret!"

Kent believes the real secret behind Santa's success is his laser-like focus on customer satisfaction. "Santa is intently focused on ensuring that his deliveries are exactly what the customer wants and meets their needs," he writes. As a result, Santa's supply chain is demand driven. In fact, Kent insists, "[A] demand-driven supply network (DDSN) is the only method of supply chain management he can possibly employ." Kent also emphasizes that Santa makes good use of economies of scale as well as his location (i.e., "a single workshop located in a land free from bureaucracy").

The administrative staff at SciQuest isn't so sure that Santa uses a single workshop. The job just seems too big. ["What if Santa Had a Supply Chain Problem?" 7 December 2011] The staff lays out the magnitude of the challenge this way:

"Think about it: there are 1.9 billion children in the world. ... Let's say that the average toy delivery metric is one toy per child. Actually, let's make that an average of two, taking into account the unfortunate millions who will not get any toys at all, balanced by the children of the New York, Chicago and Los Angeles suburbs. So, two toys per child: 3.8 billion toys. Let's assume that these 3.8 billion toys -- accounting for multiples of the very popular ones -- represent 19 million types of toys. Let's speculate that these toys are produced by 1.9 million vendors, each in several varieties to satisfy different national or local regulations, power supply requirements and cultural variations. So Santa has a supplier network of 1.9 million vendors, providing 19 million item types in an average of six varieties, totaling 3.8 billion units. Gee, how many Procurement Elves are in his department anyway?"

Although it seems like Santa has everything under control, even Santa must face occasional supply chain disruptions created by natural disasters. Tanita Sharma writes, "Natural disasters negatively impact on businesses, especially on supply chains, on the short as well as on the long run. The storm Sandy, which hit northeastern United States, is an example. It has caused delays in shipments of retail stores, since all the communications routes were stopped because for days during and after the storm." ["Sandy causing delays in Santa Claus’ supply chain," Tanita Sharma's Blog, 18 November 2012] So how does Santa deal with Supply Chain (or Enterprise) Risk Management? John Bugalla, managing principal at ermINSIGHTS, offers a few thoughts on that subject. ["ERM at S. Claus, Inc.," Risk Management Monitor, 6 December 2012] He writes:

"During the summer months, the North Pole's post office (Zip Code 00000) is usually a placid place. But when the calendar turns to October 1, the pace of activity quickens. Letters from boys and girls around the world start arriving in droves signifying the building excitement of the young customer base of the largest employer in the company town, S. Claus, Inc. Hundreds of letters a day arrive in October, thousands in November and millions during the second and third weeks in December and each one must be carefully sorted and checked twice by the audit and compliance department as part of an automatic appeal process. Each letter contains lists chock full of special requests for the person who made the North Pole so famous: a certain Mr. S. Claus, chairman and CEO of S. Claus, Inc. Mr. Claus expects perfection so everyone working at the company is focused on the mission-critical fourth-quarter deadline. There can be no identification and delivery mistakes and no disappointed customers."

Bugalla agrees with Sharma that supply chain disruptions represent an ever-present threat to perfect supply chain execution and, in order to achieve perfection, Santa must "adopt and implement [an] enterprise risk management (ERM) process." Bugalla explains:

"Mr. Claus assumed the duties of chief risk officer and an ERM charter was drafted that set the tone at the top: there is no tolerance for risk. The S. Claus board-level risk committee, executive risk committee and internal audit group work together. S. Claus with the understanding that success results from embedding the ERM process into a carefully crafted strategic plan. Both the unacceptable downside of failure and the upside gain resulting from efforts to increase their customer base have been analyzed and incorporated into actionable items."

In addition to natural disasters, like Superstorm Sandy, Bugalla identifies other possible risks, like "rumors of a possible shut down of hundreds of local post offices around the United States." The greatest risk, Bugalla insists is supply chain complexity associated with rapid product release. He explains:

"One item on the risk map is of deepening concern, however, because it has been migrating from green to yellow to red far more frequently than ever before. It is a unique supply chain risk – the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets. Every time a new model is announced, usually in the third quarter, holiday demand escalates rapidly. The concern is that these high-tech gadgets are among the few items that are outsourced because the workforce of elves is busy making more traditional items (hula hoops are still big in some corners of the world). Nevertheless, quality must be maintained. The S. Claus brand name is considered priceless and cannot be put in jeopardy. So procedures have been put in place to ensure that these products meet the same standards as anything else that S. Claus, Inc. produces."

Santa also faces labor- and monetary-related challenges that most people don't usually think about during the holidays. Bugalla explains that there "is the curious relationship between S. Claus, Inc. and the temporary 'helpers' located around the world." While any job is good to have around this time of year, permanent employment is better, even if the temporary employer is Old St. Nick. Concerning monetary challenges, Bugalla writes, "The foreign exchange exposures are enormous. There has been a great deal of volatility this year, especially in Europe, and Mr. Claus has had to employ a hedging strategy to take advantage of any upside gain while also protecting the downside risk, since that is, in essence, risk management."

This Christmas Eve, however, we shouldn't worry about how Santa does it, we should just be grateful that he does perform perfectly year after year. As Santa exclaims at the end of each successful year, "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!"

December 13, 2012

McCormick® Flavor Forecast® 2013

MKC US-FlavorForecast-Cover-3-1024x712The end of the old year and beginning of the new year traditionally finds pundits offering their predictions about what the future is likely to hold. When it comes to predicting what flavors will influence food dishes, no one does it better than McCormick & Company. McCormick started making its predictions 13 years ago to welcome in the new century. "The report is an annual spotlight on the emerging trends that the company expects to drive in terms of flavor innovation over the next several years." ["McCormick® Flavor Forecast® 2013 Reveals Flavor Trends Expected To Drive Global Innovation In Food," PR Newswire, 6 December 2012] Alan Wilson, Chairman, President and CEO of McCormick, stated in the press release, "Through the Flavor Forecast, McCormick leads the way in identifying flavor trends that serve as catalysts for innovation in many favorite retail brands and restaurant menus, including our own products. With our global team of experts – spanning consumer and industrial segments in more than 100 countries – McCormick has a unique capability of identifying new and emerging trends on a global scale." He went on to say, "At McCormick, it's our passion for flavor that helps us deliver such a strong track record of identifying the trends consumers will come to love." An overview of this year's Flavor Forecast can be seen in the following video.

The press release goes on to note that "past reports have helped move once unfamiliar ingredients and trends into mainstream popularity." One example that demonstrates the impact of the annual Flavor Forecast is chipotle. The ingredient was not well known until it was discussed in the 2003 Flavor Forecast. In the years that have followed, the mention of chipotle in U.S. menu items has "increased by a staggering 214 percent." The press release continues:

"The trend of infusing foods with cocktail-inspired flavors appeared in the 2008 Flavor Forecast. About 3,000 new grocery products have been launched since then featuring a variety of flavors like whiskey, ale, bourbon, brandy and more. The much-anticipated Forecast report is created by a team of McCormick chefs, sensory scientists, dietitians, trend trackers, marketing experts and food technologists from around the world. In its second year as a global report, the Flavor Forecast showcases trends and flavors taking root in cultures spanning Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and North America."

This year's Flavor Forecast "has identified five trends that the company believes will drive new product development and innovative menu additions over the coming years. Ten accompanying flavor combinations illustrate how these trends are coming to life through taste." The five trends are labeled: Global My Way; No Apologies Necessary; Personally Handcrafted; Empowered Eating; and Hidden Potential. Concerning these trends, Kevan Vetter, a McCormick Executive Chef, stated, "Around the world, we're seeing a fascinating collision of tradition and innovation. Authentic, real ingredients are still at the core – though now they're being enjoyed in unique, updated ways that reflect a much more personalized approach to cooking and eating." Here's how the press release discusses the first trend: Global My Way:

"One leading trend featured in this year's Flavor Forecast is 'Global My Way,' which describes how people are discovering formerly 'ethnic' ingredients beyond their traditional uses, incorporating those flavors into everyday eating. 'Don't be surprised if in the next few years Japanese Katsu, a tangy cross between BBQ and steak sauce, and cajeta, a Mexican caramel, gain the broad appeal that once-regional tastes like Asian hot chili sauce have achieved,' said Vetter. [The ingredients featured in this trend are:] Japanese Katsu Sauce & Oregano – Tangy flavors of BBQ and steak sauce create the next go-to condiment; [and,] Anise & Cajeta (Mexican caramel sauce) – Sweet, rich delight transports desserts and savory dishes to new places."

Food blogger Maura Hernandez, who is "always looking to share Mexican food and culture in new ways," writes, "I'm always trying to incorporate my favorite Mexican ingredients into non-Mexican dishes, or to put a Mexican spin on a non-Mexican dish by infusing a traditionally Mexican flavor. Chef Vetter shared with me a tamal recipe that pairs with a Japanese katsu sauce, which I thought was pretty cool and that I'm looking forward to trying out soon." ["2013 McCormick Flavor Forecast gives Mexican food a global twist," The Other Side of The Tortilla, 6 December 2012] The next identified trend -- No Apologies Necessary -- is described this way:

"No Apologies Necessary – Diving headfirst into sumptuous flavors to enjoy the gratification of a momentary escape. [Ingredients featured are:] Decadent Bitter Chocolate, Sweet Basil & Passion Fruit – An intensely indulgent combo that delights all the senses; [and] Black Rum, Charred Orange & Allspice – An instant tropical getaway, this sultry collision balances richness and warmth."

"I really do love the No Apologies Necessary approach," writes Aggie, founder of the website Aggie's Kitchen. "I'm excited about experimenting with a few new to me spices this year, for example allspice. I will not be apologizing for anything while sipping on one of those Charred Orange Coladas, that's for sure!" ["McCormick Flavor Forecast 2013," 6 December 2012] Christi, from the website Love From the Oven, writes, "Food and flavor are wonderful delicious things, and we really should not apologize for wanting to savor and enjoy them. I love the No Apologies Necessary aspect of the Flavor Forecast, as I know that for my family, often it is sitting down at the table for dinner or dessert, where we get to stop, we get to slow down and we get to enjoy each other and our food, and that is a trend I hope to see more of." ["McCormick’s Flavor Forecast For 2013," 10 December 2012] The next trend -- Personally Handcrafted -- is described this way in the press release:

"Personally Handcrafted – A hands-on approach showcasing the very best of ourselves. [Featured ingredients include:] Cider, Sage & Molasses – Rustic and comforting, this combo brings natural goodness to every meal of the day; [and] Smoked Tomato, Rosemary, Chile Peppers & Sweet Onion – Smoky, sweet and spicy flavors energize handcrafted ketchup, sauces, jams and more."

Christi writes, "As a baker, this trend really resonates with me. ... That little extra time and effort to what we put into our foods, is paying off and looks to be something we will be seeing more of as we move forward." Caroline, from the website Chocolate & Carrots, writes, "All of the trends sound quite interesting to me, but the two that stick out to me the most are Personally Handcrafted and Empowered Eating. It just makes the most sense that for me, making things from scratch and making them healthier is just who I am. It’s like these two trends were made for me! I love the idea of everyone having the tools to make what tastes good to them, for themselves and making it healthier." ["Flavor Forecast 2013," 6 December 2012] Caroline's comments are a good segue into the next trend -- Empowered Eating. The press release states:

"Empowered Eating – Creating health and wellness harmony through a highly personalized, flexible approach. [Featured ingredients include:] Farro Grain, Blackberry & Clove – Healthy ancient grain rediscovered with powerful hits of fruit and spice; [and] Market-Fresh Broccoli & Dukkah (blend of cumin, coriander, sesame and nuts) – Satisfying flavors and textures, mixing unexpected varieties of broccoli with Middle Eastern spice blend."

Aggie writes, "I've always believed that food should make you feel good – and I don't mean feel good in a sugar high or stuffed and satisfied type of way (though you can say there are times for that!). Food is fuel and your body really does reap the rewards when it's taken care of – and it goes without saying … it should taste good too! I have my eye on a few McCormick recipes that really showcase spice combinations that are packed with flavor and will enhance any meal that is labeled 'healthy'." Christi adds, "More than ever, eating can be personalized to fit your needs, whatever they may be. ... Many are going for a fresher farm to plate way of eating, some are focusing on eating local, while others may be selecting specialized diets to fit their personal health needs. This is certainly a time when eating your way is not only acceptable, but to be embraced." The final trend -- Hidden Potential -- is described this way in the press release:

"Hidden Potential – A waste-not mentality, uncovering the fullest flavors from every last part of the ingredient. [Featured ingredients include:] Hearty Meat Cuts, Plantain & Stick Cinnamon – A new take on meat and potatoes, these ingredients inspire creative approaches that unlock their full flavor potential; [and] Artichoke, Paprika & Hazelnut – Ingredients you thought you knew invite new explorations, unleashing their deliciously versatile starring qualities.

Jeanne, from the website Cook Sister, writes, "I have been an adherent of the 'Hidden Potential' trend for ages, living by the motto of waste not want not and going so far as to lug back big bags of woody asparagus ends from Somerset to make a creamy asparagus soup; or slow-cooking odd cuts like oxtail to make a delicious oxtail stew." ["Easy homemade hummus with South African chakalaka spice – inspired by the 2013 McCormick Flavour Forecast," 6 December 2012] As you can tell from the comments drawn from cooking and recipe sites, the annual McCormick Flavor Forecast has almost immediate impact in the food world. You can join in on the fun. The press release states, "To explore the future of global flavor with inspired recipes and mouthwatering photos, visit http://www.flavorforecast.com/#the-future-of-flavor." If you love cooking, it's worth the visit.

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

The Thanksgiving holiday in America traces its origins back to 1621 when Plymouth colonists broke bread with Wampanoag Indians in an autumn harvest feast. It would take nearly 250 years before that first harvest feast was recognized as an official holiday. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. ["Thanksgiving," History Channel] The History Channel site continues:

"In November 1621, after the Pilgrims' first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American's 'first Thanksgiving'—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days. While no Thanksgivingrecord exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a 'fowling' mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations."

I suspect that many of those dishes might not suit today's palate. If you want some recipes for dishes that may be more fitting for today's Thanksgiving feast, check out McCormick's recipe suggestions. Logistics for that first autumn feast were fairly simple. In most cases, the person that raised the vegetables or shot the game also transported the goods directly to the homes of consumers. Things have changed considerably over the past 4 centuries. Keisha A. Simmons writes, "By now, you’ve probably thought about all the logistical details like: what items are required to bring the meal together; who’s responsible for bringing each dish; what time guests should arrive; and where dinner should be served so there’s enough room for everyone." ["Thanksgiving Dinner and Your Supply Chain? It’s All About Logistics," Welcome to upside, 13 November 2012] Simmons admits that you probably don't have "full knowledge and control over many of these elements, you can only trust that everyone involved will come through – on time and as promised." She notes that UPS can't be quite so trusting when it comes to helping clients get their goods. Her point is well made. The logistics behind getting all of the ingredients from producers and manufacturers into the stores and eventually to your table is far more complex today than it was several hundred years ago.

Fortunately, most of us don't have to worry about whether our will be food on store shelves for us to buy. That's just one of things for which we should be grateful on this holiday. Simran Khurana writes, "The tradition of Thanksgiving dinner teaches us to appreciate the finer things in life. If you want this tradition to continue, you must invest positive energy into the Thanksgiving dinner, and make it a joyous affair. Let your enthusiasm and energy revitalize everyone. Prepare a great Thanksgiving toast and inspire others with your positive words. Make this your best Thanksgiving dinner." ["Best Thanksgiving Quotes"] One of the quotes that Khurana suggests we remember is from Frederick Keonig, "We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have."

I hope you have a wonderful day and find time to express thanks for what you have.

September 11, 2012

Vulcanized! -- In Search of an AI Mind Meld

In the famous sci-fi series Star Trek, a race of people known as the Vulcans had the ability to meld minds; a technique that allowed two people to share thoughts, experiences, knowledge, and emotions. The most famous of Vulcan was Mr. Spock, who was portrayed by actor Leonard Nimoy. The Vulcan mind meld was a humanoid to humanoid experience. In a mind melding twist, Dmitry Itskov, a 31-year-old Russian media mogul, has founded a project whose aim is to meld human minds with machines by the year 2045. He calls his project the 2045 Initiative. The Initiative's web site states:

"The main objectives of the Initiative are: the creation of a new vision of human development that meets global challenges humanity faces today, realization of the possibility of a radical extension of human life by means of cybernetic technology, as well as the formation of a new culture associated with these technologies."

To meet these objectives, Itskov has established a very ambitious timeline. The website describes the timeline this way:

"2015-2020 -- The emergence and widespread use of affordable android 'avatars' controlled by a 'brain-computer' interface. Coupled with related technologies 'avatars' will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc. Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.

"2020-2025 -- Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, 'avatar', will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning bodily life. Such technologies will greatly enlarge the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make all kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.

"2030-2035 -- Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence, expand human capabilities and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times. The final result at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.

"2045 -- This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive! Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on."

It's hard to categorize this as an artificial intelligence effort. The initiative begins with the goal of placing human intelligence (i.e., a human brain) into a machine that can keep it alive. Eventually, the Initiative hopes to be able to upload that intelligence into a robot and eventually into a hologram that can live forever. It's straight out of science fiction. The Initiative's website concludes:

"Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots will become affordable and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however: humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover, prerequisites for a large-scale expansion into outer space will be created as well."

The so-called transhumanist movement has embraced Itskov's efforts. Katie Drummond reports that Itskov is "investing plenty of his own money to kickstart the necessary research." ["Russian Mogul to 'Forbes' Billionaires: Limitless Lifespans Can Be Yours," Forbes, 19 July 2012] Drummond indicates that Itskov would like the help of world's billionaires in pursuing his dreams. To that end he has issued an open letter to them. In that letter, Itskov wrote:

"I urge you to take note of the vital importance of funding scientific development in the field of cybernetic immortality and the artificial body. Such research has the potential to free you, as well as the majority of all people on our planet, from disease, old age and even death."

Itskov told Drummond, "This project is leading down the road to immortality. Nobody wants to die." To reach the objectives of the Initiative, Itskov has developed a roadmap, an interactive version of which can be found on the project's website. A static version of that roadmap is shown below.

2045 roadmap

Although the Initiative wants to find ways of preserving human intelligence, artificial intelligence does play a role in the plan. If you have seven minutes to spare, you should watch the attached video to see how the Initiative promotes it ambitions.

Commenting on the Initiative, Dario Borghino writes, "When speculating on seemingly unobtainable goals such as this, one must be careful not to believe that improbable technological advances automatically become more likely simply by looking further away in the future." ["'Avatar' project aims for human immortality by 2045," Gizmag, 25 July 2012] Borghino continues:

"This is the cognitive trap that, for instance, has seen many leading IT experts predict the development of a human-level artificial intelligence at roughly twenty years in the future for at least the past five decades. Looking at Avatar's proposed timeline, Itskov's project seems to suffer from the same fallacy. Certainly, if we borrow Carl Sagan's rule that 'extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof,' the project comes up short for the time being; it does, however, have the merit of basing most of its steps on technology that is either in the works or of general interest. And with the rate of technological change continuing to accelerate, the project's goals may be within reach, although not necessarily within the project's aggressive timeline."

I believe Borghino is justified in his skepticism. The 2045 Initiative is certainly ambitious. However, other people's skepticism shouldn't keep Itskov from pursuing his dreams.