Sunday Reading – 12/27/15


The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

California snowpack exceeds average for first time in years – A series of powerful snowstorms in the Sierra Nevada has resulted in a small milestone in drought-stricken California: The snowpack is now higher than average for this time of year.

The storms, which are likely to continue into Friday, have fattened the mountain snowpack to levels California hasn’t seen for two years, said Steve Nemeth, water supply forecaster for the state Department of Water Resources.

The announcement was welcome news to a state that has struggled with extremely dry conditions for more than four years. However, experts were quick to point out that California’s drought is far from over.

Statewide, the snowpack is 111% of average for the date. In the northern Sierra, it is 116% of the norm; in the central Sierra, 121% of average and in the southern Sierra, 85% of the norm. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Must ‘Reshore’, Not Offshore Jobs – The jobs exist. It’s a matter of creating the infrastructure and incentives to bring them home. On-shoring or re-shoring is the process of doing exactly that. Instead of shipping American jobs abroad, companies ship them back home.

Companies like Kent International recognize the increasing appeal of building their businesses locally. Last year, the bicycle manufacturer shifted its manufacturing from Asia back to the U.S when it realized that the cost to produce its bicycles locally would be cheaper than Asia by 2017. Now the town of Manning, South Carolina has another 175 full-time jobs.

To be sure, few companies have followed Kent’s lead. According to a 2014 survey from IPC-Association of Connecting Electronics Industries, “(o)n-shoring is a relatively rare phenomenon.” But more firms are expected to imitate the bike manufacturer. Indeed, the Boston Consulting Group predicted that 2015 would represent a “tipping point” for American manufacturers to onshore their jobs.

It’s easy to see why. Not only are costs increasing to build products and services overseas, but savvy companies realize that localized operations can create business efficiency and time zone and language advantages that can’t be achieved in foreign countries. There are other reasons to keep labor and production localized: rising international transportation costs, growing concerns around intellectual property theft, and closer proximity to customers.

In my previous company, Emerge Digital Group, we built an internal-training program based on an internship model. We lacked the funds to hire the “best and brightest,” yet I was in for a surprise. The best and brightest weren’t those who could fetch the fattest salaries; they were the ones who worked the hardest and wanted it the most. Read More > at Real Clear Markets

Are Antibiotics Making People Larger? – …Antibiotics do, of course, save many lives in the appropriate medical context. But in animals, antibiotics are rarely given to treat illness. They are given blindly to entire populations to prevent possible infections—which is never indicated medically. Even less medically warranted—actually contrary to the interest of the animal—antibiotics are given as appetite and growth stimulants. In the 1950s, shortly after the advent of modern antibiotics, ranchers noticed that cattle that were treated for infections would put on weight. Because ranchers are paid by the pound, rather than by the number of cattle sold, the idea had appeal. By the 1970s, blanket administration of antibiotics to promote growth became common practice.

Because people so enjoy eating meat and cheese for various reasons—note the 76 million Facebook users who will watch when Buzzfeed posts a video of a pepperoni grilled-cheese sandwich or the 108 million who watch the bacon-wrapped grilled-cheese sandwich—animals must be quickly grown to great sizes in order to accommodate the demand for meat that will serve a planet of 7 billion humans. As that number approaches 8 and then 9 billion, the need for antibiotics in meat production will be only greater. And despite the fact that ranchers have known for decades that antibiotics cause their animals to gain weight, the idea that this has a similar effect on people is somehow just now seeping into the heads of everyone else.

…In 2014, Martin Blaser and colleagues at New York University found that steady exposure of mice to penicillin early in life predisposed them to become obese. That and similar evidence has begun to win over many scientists, including Johnson and Lee Riley, chair of the division of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California, Berkeley, who comes off even more assured that the relationship is affecting humans. Read More > in The Atlantic

Inside Chipotle’s Contamination Crisis – For a long time, smug worked pretty well for Chipotle Mexican Grill. It’s grown into a chain of more than 1,900 locations, thanks in part to marketing—including short animated films about the evils of industrial agriculture—that reminds customers that its fresh ingredients and naturally raised meat are better than rivals’ and better for the world. The implication: If you eat Chipotle, you’re doing the right thing, and maybe you’re better, too. It helped the company, charging about $7 for a burrito, reach a market valuation of nearly $24 billion. Its executives seemed to have done the impossible and made a national fast-food chain feel healthy.

…Almost 500 people around the country have become sick from Chipotle food since July, according to public-health officials. And those are just the ones who went to a doctor, gave a stool sample, and were properly diagnosed. Food-safety experts say they believe with any outbreak the total number of people affected is at least 10 times the reported number. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get sick from contaminated food every year.

At Chipotle, three different pathogens caused the five known outbreaks. That wasn’t inevitable or coincidental. “There’s a problem within the company,” says Michael Doyle, the director of the center for food safety at the University of Georgia. Chipotle has gotten big selling food that’s unprocessed, free of antibiotics and GMOs, sometimes organic, sometimes local. “Blah, blah, blah,” says Doug Powell, a retired food-safety professor and the publisher of barfblog.com. “They were paying attention to all that stuff, but they weren’t paying attention to microbial safety.” Whatever its provenance, if food is contaminated it can still make us sick—or even kill. Millennials may discriminate when they eat, but bacteria are agnostic.

…The company was influenced in ways it doesn’t always admit by the biggest, most industrialized chain of them all: McDonald’s. The company invested about $340 million in Chipotle from 1998, when it had 13 restaurants in Colorado, until 2006, when the two parted ways. McDonald’s taught Chipotle supply-chain economics. Chipotle often derides fast-food chains and their factory farms, enlisting the likes of Willie Nelson to make plaintive music videos about crop chemicals and steroidal cattle. But Ells respects McDonald’s size. In an interview with Bloomberg in 2014, he said Chipotle could one day be “bigger than McDonald’s in the U.S. I mean, that’s not an unreasonable way to think about this.”

…The source, or sources, of E. coli were somewhere in that supply chain. Because restaurants from Oregon to New York served contaminated food, the problem most likely originated with one of Chipotle’s big suppliers, not one of the local farms. E. coli is spread through human and animal feces. The harmful microbes can be transmitted to crops in irrigation water, or if animals are allowed to defecate in the fields, or if manure isn’t properly treated. Cooking food long enough at high enough temperatures or properly sanitizing it kills E. coli. Hard-to-clean produce that’s eaten raw is considered high-risk. At Chipotle that’s the tomatoes, lettuce, and cilantro—in other words, the same stuff that gives Chipotle its fresh-tasting advantage. Read More > at Bloomberg Business

Private car ownership is on the road to becoming a rarity – A century after the Model T, the world has a problem with cars. The U.S. and China will consume about 40 million light vehicles in 2015, according to IHS. Globally, we’re on track to hit 100 million vehicles in 2020.

That’s not a lot of cars. That’s an ocean of cars, an inundation, wave after wave breaking on the shores of the industrialized world. And yet policy makers and common folk alike have been powerless against the siren song of the automobile. Even in the most car-blighted burg in the world, the toxic parking lot they call Beijing, the appetite for the automobile—as status item, as luxury, as totem of personal mastery in a fragile postcolonial mind-set—is driving millions more into its smoggy embrace, despite limits on ownership and the government’s rising alarm.

Within a generation, automobiles will be endowed with what’s known as Level 4 autonomy—full self-driving artificial intelligence for cars—which will not so much change the game as burn down the casino. Autonomy will make it possible for unmanned automobiles to be summoned, via app, to your location. And not just any passing tramp steamer, but exactly the vehicle you need for the occasion, cleaned and fueled, for as little or as long as you need (offers may vary in your state). When you’re done—poof!—it will go away.

You don’t pay for the car. You pay for the miles. And only the miles. It’s a whole new way to fly. Let’s start small. Need a pickup for three weekends a year but don’t want to pay for the other 49? Autonomy can make that happen easily without a visit to the dreaded U-Haul depot. Need a car to take mom to the doctor’s, or fetch a spouse from the airport? A decade hence, major auto makers and smaller players will be at each others’ throats for the privilege of sending consumers vehicles a la carte, for a one-way trip, an afternoon, a weekend, a month. These transactions will move through the glowing bowels of your monthly credit accounts, and you won’t even feel them. Read More > at Market Watch

Marc Andreessen: ‘In 20 years, every physical item will have a chip implanted in it’ – …But the era of sensors has only just dawned, according to renowned technology investor and internet pioneer Marc Andreessen. In 10 years, he predicts mobile phones themselves could disappear.

“The idea that we have a single piece of glowing display is too limiting. By then, every table, every wall, every surface will have a screen or can project,” he told the Telegraph. “Hypothetically you walk upto a wall, sit at a table and [talk to] an earpiece or eyeglasses to make a call. The term is ambient or ubiquitous computing.”

Which is why he has invested $25m into Californian startup Samsara, which is the first of a new generation of “internet of things” devices that solves huge industrial problems, rather than turning your fridge or your toothbrush into a portal to the web.

“This second wave of companies, they don’t want to just do “internet of things”,” Andreessen said. “They are showing up three years later, saying ok I know exactly how this is going to get used. It’s for real businesses in industrial environments.” Read More > in The Telegraph

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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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