Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Frankenfood

I just finished reading an article from Fortune about the problems plaguing Big Food.  The article, “Special Report: The war on big food” (https://fortune.com/2015/05/21/the-war-on-big-food/) was interesting but I think it missed something.  The author clearly did his research and spoke with quite a few food company executives.  They can’t seem to understand why their mass-produced, mass-marketed, smartly packaged, and heavily advertised brands aren’t selling the way they used to.  They blame the fringe elements who rail against GMOs, who scream for dolphin-safe tuna, and who want their chickens to run free.  They point to how cost effective their strategies are and how slick and efficient their business processes are, producing ever more food to feed a hungry world.  They don’t understand why consumers buy organic, buy from small producers, or… *gasp*… buy fresh.

What they really need to do is look in the mirror.  The reality is… their food tastes like crap.

Think about the most bland, tasteless thing you can eat.  How about a bologna and cheese sandwich on white bread?  I’ll even throw on some cheap yellow mustard.  Crap, right?  No one wants the bologna that they sell at the deli counter.  And why is cheese wrapped by the individual slice?  Hell, it’s not even real cheese.  It’s a “cheese product” that tastes more like plastic than cheese.  And mass-produced white bread might as well be made of sawdust.  Yellow mustard is mustard in name only and probably has more bright yellow coloring than actual mustard in it.


Now, imagine thick slices of bread fresh from a local bakery, mortadella from your local Italian market sliced thin and piled high, maybe some fontina or gouda, and a hearty, whole grain mustard.  Cripes, just writing that is making my mouth water.  This is the food you *could* have.  The crappy sandwich is the one that Big Food wants you to eat.  Is that really a choice?

UPDATE:  I got into an argument over GMOs and the person I was energetically disagreeing with pulled out the one line that pro-GMO folks use all the time and that irks the shit out of me...  "GMOs are no different than selective breeding.  Humans have been doing this for thousands of years!"

I call bullshit.

Claiming any relationship between what scientists are doing now and what Gregor Mendel was doing with peas is as disingenuous as it is condescending.  Saving the seeds from the tallest or fastest growing plant or the one with the prettiest flowers is not adding DNA from brazil nuts to corn to add resistance to something or other.  Crossing various strains of tomatoes to create hybrids is not the same as snipping DNA from completely unrelated species in the hopes of cooking up something new.  Lord Tweedmouth didn't create Golden Retrievers by adding deer DNA (or whatever) to an existing dog breed.  He carefully bred together existing dog breeds and slowly created the characteristics that he wanted in his hunting dogs.

There are many good arguments to be made for GMOs.  It may very well be that GMOs are going to be necessary to feed the exploding human population.  They may be perfectly safe to eat.  But don't try to rationalize the frankenfood aspects of how these new variants are created by trying to claim that this is the same as selective cross-breeding.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Corporate IT and Top Chef

I stopped watching ‘Top Chef’ a couple of seasons ago.  It isn't that I didn't like the concept of the show or that I don’t like cooking shows, in fact, it’s just the opposite.  I love cooking shows and I love watching talented chefs create amazing dishes from everyday ingredients.  My problem is the ‘Top Chef’ judging system.

In case you've never seen ‘Top Chef’, the contestants participate in various culinary challenges and at the end of each episode; the person who did the worst is eliminated.  All well and good.  The problem is that the judging system rewards mediocrity.  There’s no running score, no collected achievement, no history of performance.  All that counts is how you do on the specific challenge in front of you today.  You can be the absolute best for three weeks in a row, blow one dish, and find yourself packing your knives.

Invariably, as the group of contestants winds down, there is at least one chef left who sucks.  They've never done badly enough to be the absolute worst, but they've been consistently in the bottom half.  Try something daring and fail?  You’re gone.  Try something average and do ok?  Live to survive until the next week.

Unfortunately, this reminds me of a lot of the IT shops I've worked in over the years.  You don’t get rewarded for taking risks or trying to be innovative but sure as hell you’ll get punished for failing.  Big Corporate IT staffs are notoriously risk averse for just this reason.  The problem with this is two-fold.

First, young technical studs who are looking for interesting projects aren't looking for the career safety of doing COBOL code maintenance.  They’re looking for doing something with cutting edge technologies.  Eventually they get tired of working for a management chain that preaches innovation but punishes free thinking and they move on to smaller, more nimble IT shops where they actually can get their hands on some new technologies.

Second, when layoffs come, and they always do in Big Corporate IT, the people that get axed will invariably include anyone who made his manager look bad in the last year.  Hey, didn't Bob try out that new virtualization platform and make me look bad to the boss?  Let’s put him on the list.  Well, yeah, Charlie isn’t the best at his job but we went to college together!  I can’t lay him off!

The net is that our Big Corporate IT staffs tend towards being a cluster of B- / C+ students.  Our executive management can chirp, “We want to be like Google!  We want to be like Microsoft!” until the cows come home.  Until they can get middle management to act that way, Big Corporate IT will continue to be the mediocre ‘Top Chef’ contestant that somehow manages to just squeak through.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tax the rich? We already do...


In all probability, the tax load on higher income Americans is going up.  It's simply the reality of the current fiscal situation.  However, before we go too far with the "they should pay their fair share" argument, let's look at what higher income Americans already pay today.  My numbers are based on IRS data for 2009 tax returns, which is the most recent that they have posted on their web site.

Let's do some math...

Americans who filed income tax returns in 2009 with adjusted gross income of $75,000 or more made up a little over 20% of all returns (29 of 140 million returns).  That group paid $727B or 84% of all income taxes paid.  In other words, 1 out of every 5 income tax filers paid 5 out of every 6 income tax dollars.  The other 4 out of 5 filers paid only 1 dollar out of 6.  Push the dividing line to an AGI of $100k and it ends up being 12.5% of filers pay $646B / 75% or 1 of every 8 tax filers paid 3 of every 4 dollars in income taxes.  That's where any income tax revenue increase, by definition, has to come from.

The ugly reality of the fiscal corner we've been painted into by decades of irresponsible federal spending is that taxing higher income Americans is inevitable.  Lower income taxpayers simply don't make enough to make a difference even if we all paid higher tax rates.  Let's look at the numbers from the other direction.

Filers who had AGI of under $50k made up 66% of all returns but paid only $61B in taxes or 7% of income taxes paid.  Filers with an AGI of under $75k made up 79% of all returns but paid only $139B or 16% of taxes paid.  Using a cut off of $75k as an example, you could increase tax rates by 10% on everyone under $75k per year in AGI and only generate another $14B in taxes, not enough to even make a dent in the deficit reduction target of $500B that we need.  You might as well leave rates alone on lower income tax brackets because it won't make a difference anyway (at least not as it relates to deficit reduction).

Higher income Americans will just have to carry more of the burden, as they do already.  Before we vilify people for having the audacity to dare be successful, maybe we should thank them first for paying the bills.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Typical Request to IT Security


This is what you sound like, people:

"I put up a new web app and I need your approval.  I already spent $250,000 dollars on it and five business units are running on it every day so we need to get this done quick.  It runs on IIS 2.0 and NT 4.0 but don't worry too much because it runs on the original unpatched versions, not those crazy, patched up, service pack versions that have all those holes.  It's really easy to install because it mostly uses default settings and everything runs on the same server; the app, the database, the authentication mechanism, the works.  And it's easy to manage because all of the programmers from the company we bought it from still have full admin rights to the box.  We don't have to worry about integrating with AD because all of the user ids and the passwords are managed right within the app.  And you can add new ones with a text editor so we don't need complex user management."

"There's only a little patient and doctor data so there shouldn't be any compliance issues.  It has addresses, some basic demographic data (age, sex, height, weight, that kind of stuff), and social security numbers but there are no test order codes or test results so we should be OK on the PHI front.  There's a module for people to enter their credit card numbers but we haven't told anyone about that so if they put their card numbers in, it's their own fault."

"Can you please approve this in the next couple of hours?  I already told people that you did so it's really just a formality."

"Thanks."