Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Recent Reading

A nice article on the inspiring work of Jonny Hunter and his Madison, Wisconsin-based Underground Foods. Among many other things, they make a very fine summer sausage

How our slate cheese boards are made: images.

Singles Day, November 11, is China's Cyber Monday. Alibaba, China's biggest online retailer found out bra size could indicate spending power. Correlation? Causation? Who cares. Data marketing is weird. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Recent reading on meat

The lack of small, local slaughterhouses is often cited as one of the obstacles getting in the way of you and me buying affordable meat from small, local farmers. There's a bill being proposed to change slaughterhouse oversight rules in a way that would make it easier for them to get off the ground. The article quotes from some people we work with like Will Harris and Greg Gunthorp.

One argument against raising animals for meat is that it redirects calories to animals that we could otherwise eat. Except...
"...most of the feed that livestock eat is not edible by humans. Globally, just 18 percent of animal feed is made up of grains or other crops that people might otherwise eat. The rest is crop residues, grass, and waste from milling grain and other food processing. And so, despite the inefficiency of converting calories to meat, animals are able to give humans access to energy that they wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise."
Many more interesting points in the article Can meat ever be environmentally friendly?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Tinned tuna Buddha

Hong Kong Airport, Terminal 1, Departures Hall, Non-restricted area, 10,000 tins of tuna—not Ortiz.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Nice facial hair infographic

From a Reddit user's analysis of this study by Dwight Robinson, hat tip to Vox. Mostly, thank you internet.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cruise ship lean

 Changeover times a zillion: a 6,000 passenger cruise ship comes into port for a same-day turnaround. A great article about the logistics of changeover for the biggest cruise ships in the world. Some excerpts about eliminating motion, transport and waiting waste:
To prevent long immigration control lines from forming, departures are staggered over a few hours. Passengers begin to leave their cabins about 7 a.m. and must be off the ship by 10:30 a.m. The main bottleneck is juggling the flow of bags. Passengers are handed color-coded tags for their luggage, which is collected the night before the ship reaches the port.
The ship recently received four out of five stars on for the whole trip; the embarkation process was rated five out of five by most reviewers

They also figured out a way to clean rooms faster by borrowing from techniques used in auto manufacturing. The company conducted time and motion studies on their workers to identify where they could be more efficient.

On turnaround day, they have a precise list of tasks to perform. They first take out the dirty linen and towels and line them up in the hallways in green and red bags. The efficiency specialists decided that bedsheets and towels should be separated before they are sent to the laundry room.
Attendants work alone, except when they fit new sheets to the beds, when they pair up. That task should take three to five minutes at most, said Edna Pli, the head housekeeper. Thanks to this precise flow, 189 housekeepers can get more than 2,700 rooms ready by noon.
Hat tip to my friend Bill W who is engineering a sculpture for the sister ship. It's similar to this one his company Hypersonic did in Massachussets.

Friday, April 24, 2015

When I introduce a new product how much should I make? Here's an idea: zero.

You've got a brand new product. You've never sold it before. In fact, no one has ever really sold anything quite like it. Also, it's not really one new product. It has many variations—color, size and so on—so it's more like dozens of new products.

Here's your problem. How many of each kind should you make?

It's a classic manufacturing dilemma. The typical approach is to guess. No one calls it guessing of course. You dress up the process to make it seem like you're not guessing. You have math and formulas. You have spreadsheets. You title the spreadsheets "forecasts" which is another word for "guesses" but sounds way more scientific. And you are wrong. Always. You make too many of some versions, too few of others.

Another approach is to not make any—at first. You wait until one is ordered, then build it to order. Sure, you have to have all the components on hand so those aren't built to order, but most of the components are probably shared between the different variations so it's not that big of a deal. The big benefit is that you never have the wrong level of finished goods inventory. It's always zero. The only products that exist are the ones that are already paid for.

Apple introduces their watch this week. Build-to-order is the approach that some believe they are taking. There are demo versions of watches out there but, when you buy one, the order goes to China and someone in a pink dust suit starts making your watch. 

Will Apple keep doing this forever? I don't think so. For one, FedExing a single watch at a time out of China is expensive. Another reason is that build-to-order creates a long lead time for the customer—days, if not a week or more (though Apple doesn't seem to care much about long lead times when they introduce products, to some extent it appears to be their strategy). If Apple does build to order they're probably doing it to learn about the demand. Once they see which versions sell in what quantities they can begin to build inventory ahead of time.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Apple Pay may not be a big thing for retail shops, but it may be huge for online shopping.

Most of the attention that Apple Pay and the other new mobile payment systems have received has centered on how (or why) paying for a latte on your cell phone is better than whipping out a credit card. Some people say why bother, but I think that's because credit cards are pretty good for that kind of task. The brick-and-mortar application for mobile payments is small beer. It's an incremental improvement. It's online shopping where Apple Pay may become revolutionary.

The ability to enter a totally secure credit card online with just a thumbprint solves a lot of problems for our mobile website. I'm convinced one of the main reasons people don't shop on their phones — even if they are on mobile-optimized sites like ours — is that they have to type. People have to enter all kinds of info like addresses and credit card info on a phone's dinky keyboard and that sucks. The other reason is that they need to remember passwords but all their passwords are on their laptops or buried in some other secure password-remembering App that's a pain to access.  Apple Pay can solve all that.

Apple Pay could let your finger print be your password to a site. Apple Pay knows your billing address so presumably it could automatically enter that when you finger print too, saving you from typing your  address. Apple Pay could allow the mobile browser access to the phone's contacts where you have 99% of your likely candidates for a ship-to address (chances are if you're sending a gift you know the person and they're already in your contacts). That means you could log in, enter your billing address, credit card info, and ship-to address in one  thumb print and maybe 2 more clicks. Think about that. You find something online with your phone. You click the link to a shopping website. Then you place a complete order in 3 clicks. You wouldn't need to download the company's app, it can all happen in the browser. A website could take an order from a new customer, too, in just 3 or 4 clicks. This could be a big deal. 

Designing a warehouse event space out of pallets

Adam's pallet construction studio.

Adam Moskowitz owns the cheese importer/distributor/warehouser hub Larkin in Long Island City, Queens. (He's also the impresario behind the great Cheesemonger Invitational.) I visit his warehouse from time to time to taste incoming batches of Manchego for Essex St. Cheese.  For most of the last year he's been outfitting a room as a teaching space. I've seen it grow from a typical concrete-and-cinder block slab to a warm, fantastic space. It's called Barnyard and most of it is decorated with parts of pallets that come with the cheese imports. Pallets on the lights, pallets as tables, pallets as chairs. Awesome idea.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Your debt and the government's debt. Why are they different?

There are some concepts that, even though they've been in circulation for many years, are still hard for most of us to wrap our minds around. Like Einstein's theory of relativity. Or how global warming makes winter storms. Or, especially recently, government debt. 

What's so strange about debt?

First there's debt that's intuitive. Most of us would probably say debt is OK when it allows us to do something that's long-term beneficial that we couldn't otherwise do. Like buy a car or a house. 

But when things get financially tough we all feel we should hold as little debt as possible. That's sound strategy for a person or a family. Even a city.

But countries are different. Just as how, in the theory of relativity, the normal rules of life break down when we approach light speed, so it is with money when you approach the  size of a country. At that large a scale, when things get financially tough, it's actually in the country's best interest to take on more debt, not less. 

Paul Krugman does a good job explaining why in a short article that contains no numbers and no graphs and very few wonky words,  Full disclosure: I studied economics and physics and I understood the theory of relativity (kind of) even before I understood the theory of government debt. I wish I had Krugman as a professor!

Monday, February 2, 2015

The urban density math of snow plowing

I caught this piece today that said 25% of Detroit's streets were plowed a day after the city's biggest snowfall since 1974. Whether or not that's good or bad here's another way to look at it.

Detroit has 1,884 miles of residential side streets and about 700,000 residents. That means every resident has to pay for about 14 feet of plowing.

New York City has 6,000 miles of streets and 8.4 million people. Even though that measure includes all roads, not just residential side streets, the fact that there are so many more people means big per capita savings. Each New York City resident only has to pay for 4 feet of plowing—over a 70% savings.

It's just a reminder of the uphill battle depopulated cities like Detroit have. The people leave but the streets don't go away.

Detroit can't copy New York's density but they might want to borrow one of its tricks that can create savings. The Big Apple owns very few plow trucks. Instead they just mostly stick plows on garbage trucks, like in the picture above. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sharing = creativity

A structural look at innovation. Hat tip to Nicole R.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Recent Reading, Screwed up animal husbandry edition

"If, thanks to an experimental inspection program, a meatpacking firm produces as much as two tons a day of pork contaminated by fecal matter, urine, bile, hair, intestinal contents or diseased tissue, should that count as a success?" The kind of problems you get when you let the meat industry regulate itself.

Foie gras is for assholes. Mark Bittman makes the totally valid point that any furor about lifting the California foie gras ban is totally misplaced. Foie gras from force fed ducks is small potatoes. It's the rest of our animal husbandry sytem in America that's cruel, and it's on an epic scale.