On a visit to Standard Motor Products’ fuel-injector assembly line in South Carolina, Atlantic writer Adam Davidson asked why a worker there, Maddie, was welding caps onto the injectors herself. Why not use a machine? That’s how a lot of the factory’s other tasks were performed. Maddie’s supervisor, Tony, had a bracing, direct answer: “Maddie is cheaper than a machine.”
Davidson’s complex, poignant story, Making It in America, revealed some chilling data about where American manufacturing is headed. It’s a matter of simple math. Maddie makes less in two years than a $100,000 machine would cost, so her job is safe—for now.
Elsewhere in America, robots are getting cheaper and more sophisticated, and they’re landing better, more advanced jobs. They are driving cars, writing newspaper articles, and filling prescriptions, displacing people with years of schooling and training under their belts. It sounds like a classic sci-fi story, but that disconcerting future isn’t in the future. It’s here today.
American energy independence, for decades the preserve of quixotic rhetoric, has become a serious prospect thanks to the resurgence in US oil and gas output. The International Energy Agency this week projected that the US could overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest oil producer by 2020. Whether that happens or not, what is unfolding in the US will continue to change its economy and affect both international relations and the global energy outlook.
US energy independence is still far off. But a rebalancing of world oil production has already begun. The US will rapidly become much less dependent on oil imports and will soon join the ranks of exporters of liquefied natural gas. This is a dramatic change from the outlook just four years ago, when Barack Obama won his first presidential election. In 2008, the expectation was for decline in US oil production and an increase in imports. This fed a pervasive sentiment that American oil’s days were coming to an end.
A few months ago, I let you in on a little secret about Greek yogurt [Wikipedia]. Not all of this extra-thick, protein-rich yogurt is made the old-style way, by straining liquid out of it it. Some companies are creating that rich taste by adding thickeners, such as powdered protein and starch.
Judging by comments that I heard, a lot of people feel rather passionately that the original, strained version is morally superior. But here’s another little secret: That traditional process for making Greek yogurt is also quite wasteful.
At the Fage factory in Johnstown, N.Y., for instance, it takes 4 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of authentic Greek yogurt. What happens to the other 3 pounds? It’s strained out of the yogurt as a thin liquid called whey, and getting rid of that whey is actually a headache. Greek yogurt factories have to pay people to take it off their hands.
This may sound confusing if you heard my story about cheese-making the other week. That story described whey as a valuable source of lactose and concentrated protein that ends up in other food products (including the thickened version of Greek yogurt, in fact).
Mr. Kaspersky was in New York for the launch of a new ad campaign with the somewhat corny title of “Driving Toward Better Online Security,” starring Formula One driver Fernando Alonso. (Both men were outfitted in the appropriate shade of Ferrari fire-engine red.)
In person, Mr. Kaspersky comes off as unexpectedly jolly, for an antivirus kingpin. That Wired profile had us expecting more of a bear-wrestling Hemingway character. And while he did devote a fair bit of time to waxing poetic about off-the-grid vacations in Russia’s remote, volcano-heavy Kamchatka peninsula, Mr. Kaspersky also peppered his points with laugh lines and pulled goofy faces. Even while admitting that yes, he’s a paranoid man, he still flashes a Chesire Cat grin.
Several years before the financial crisis descended on us, I put forward the concept of “black swans”: large events that are both unexpected and highly consequential. We never see black swans coming, but when they do arrive, they profoundly shape our world: Think of World War I, 9/11, the Internet, the rise of Google GOOG +2.00% .
In economic life and history more generally, just about everything of consequence comes from black swans; ordinary events have paltry effects in the long term. Still, through some mental bias, people think in hindsight that they “sort of” considered the possibility of such events; this gives them confidence in continuing to formulate predictions. But our tools for forecasting and risk measurement cannot begin to capture black swans. Indeed, our faith in these tools make it more likely that we will continue to take dangerous, uninformed risks.
Some made the mistake of thinking that I hoped to see us develop better methods for predicting black swans. Others asked if we should just give up and throw our hands in the air: If we could not measure the risks of potential blowups, what were we to do? The answer is simple: We should try to create institutions that won’t fall apart when we encounter black swans—or that might even gain from these unexpected events.
I’ve published www.schoolinfosystem.org for 8+ years. It is (over)due for a revamp.
I’ve been thinking about the next thing, as it were. In this case, I would like to support:
a) River of news focused on education along with subsets: music, math,
art, science, reading, special and so on.
b) Features: I do interviews from time to time and periodically readers will send in their analysis of a particular topic.
c) Vertical topics such as individual schools/districts/colleges.
d) I publish a weekly enewsletter to about 2200 recipients.
I appreciate any ideas/recommendations you might have. I can be reached @jimzellmer and firstname.lastname@example.org
THIS is the final instalment of our business quotations series. Perhaps fitting, then, that we end with wealth. The creation of wealth is, after all, the ultimate purpose of business.
“Believe not much them that seem to despise riches, for they despise them that despair of them.”
Francis Bacon, philosopher (1561–1626), Of Riches
“If I was as rich as Rockefeller I’d be richer than Rockefeller, because I’d do a bit of window cleaning on the side.”
Ronnie Barker (pictured), comedian (1929–2005)
“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”
The Bible, Ecclesiastes 5:10
When the CIA director cannot hide his activities online, what hope is there for the rest of us? In the unfolding sex scandal that has led to the resignation of David Petraeus, the FBI’s electronic surveillance and tracking of Petraeus and his mistress Paula Broadwell is more than a side show—it a key component of the story. More importantly, there are enough interesting tidbits (some of which change by the hour, as new details are leaked), to make this story an excellent lesson on the government’s surveillance powers—as well as a reminder of the need to reform those powers.
Three weeks ago, we reported on the rise of online advertising. Over the past few years, online ads have quickly grown past newspaper and magazine advertising to become the second largest ad medium behind television.
We played with the numbers a little bit and found an interesting piece of information that nicely illustrates how ad markets have changed in the past decade: in the first six months of 2012, Google raked in $20.8 billion in ad revenue, while the whole of U.S. print media (newspapers and magazines) generated just $19.2 billion from print advertising. That is, Google, a company founded just 14 years ago, attracts more advertising money than an industry that has been around for more than a hundred years. Given the fact that Google operates globally, the comparison is obviously unfair and shouldn’t be judged scientifically, but nonetheless it shows how big Google’s ad business really is and how small print advertising has become.
Pairings, as I overheard at the fourth annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival, at Monona Terrace on Saturday, are hot. Certainly the concept is everywhere — and it seems the more unexpected the pairings, the better.
Pairings are about more than this wine goes well with this dish. Pairing events are more focused on slowing down the tasting experience. It’s not about eating per se. It’s about using the paired food and drink to bring out the subtle flavors within each.
I was impressed with a cheese and sake pairing session at 2010’s Wisconsin Original fest that revamped my impression of sake — high-end, artisanal sakes taste more like wine than mass-market sakes — and those featured at the tasting went well with the chosen cheeses. On the other hand, I have not had a sip of sake since that session two years ago. Old habits die hard.
At this year’s fest, Barrie Lynn, “the cheese impresario,” presented pairings of Wisconsin cheeses with Tennessee whiskeys.
Pairings, Lynn confirms, are “a Slow Food strategy.” And although when she leads a pairing session she’ll give plenty of hints for bringing out the flavors, her bottom line is to “rock out and have fun.”