Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Toyota recall reminds me of biodiversity issues

The article in question makes a point: "The massive size of the newly announced recall underscores the risks manufacturers like Toyota face when they share basic components on a wide range of vehicles hoping to improve manufacturing economies of scale."

This is the same issue farmers face when choosing to grow a single type of crop, and the world faces as we trample individual cultures.  It's an interesting problem, because you can't argue with the profitability of such decisions, but you need to be wary of the unintended consequences.

The article:
Toyota to hold world's biggest car recall for 16 years - Bottom Line

This also makes me think of the book I'm reading, 1491 by Charles Mann.  In it, Mann describes how the original Americans not only engineered corn from the original plant teosinte, but developed a method of farming called a "milpa" which is essentially the exact opposite approach, in agriculture, of that taken by Toyota in sharing a single part across multiple models. 

Wikipedia quotes Mann:
"A milpa is a field, usually but not always recently cleared, in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once including maize, avocados, multiple varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilis, sweet potato, jícama, amaranth, and mucana.... Milpa crops are nutritionally and environmentally complementary. Maize lacks the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, which the body needs to make proteins and niacin;.... Beans have both lysine and tryptophan.... Squashes, for their part, provide an array of vitamins; avocados, fats. The milpa, in the estimation of H. Garrison Wilkes, a maize researcher at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, "is one of the most successful human inventions ever created."

The point here is that Toyota receives the intended benefit of reduced cost and a simplified supply chain through standardizing on a particular part across models and product lines, but it receives the unintended consequence of increased exposure in the event of part failure, and also increased exposure to supply company failure if it decided to source the part from a single manufacturer.

Had Toyota selected a milpa-like approach on the part, such as sourcing multiple variants of the part, and sourcing those parts from multiple suppliers (to be fair I think Toyota spreads supplier risk already) then complexity is certainly increased, but risk is reduced, and one can imagine a host of other unintended benefits.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Intelligence effort improperly collected information about citizens, not terrorists | Lubbock Online | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

This is just wrong, and it needs to be fixed.  I'm glad to hear the program is on the chopping block.

Intelligence effort improperly collected information about citizens, not terrorists | Lubbock Online | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: One fusion center cited in the Senate investigation wrote a report about a Muslim community group's list of book recommendations. Others discussed American citizens speaking at mosques or talking to Muslim groups about parenting.

No evidence of criminal activity was contained in those reports. The government did not circulate them, but it kept them on government computers. The federal government is prohibited from storing information about First Amendment activities not related to crimes.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Understanding people based on email address

As much as we try to avoid it, we all quickly summarize the people around us based on small bits of information.  Nobody said it was fair, but we judge people based on dialect, race, clothing, posture, and even walking gait.  Because I work in technology, I thought I would share some of my admittedly unfair biases based on email address.

These are currently in no particular order, and I expect to update this post several times as I think through this issue.

  • or
    • Didn't fully use the internet until they bought an iPhone.
    • Loves to hate Microsoft products.
    • Brings out phone to show pictures of children, food, or recent vacation shots in an aggressive, unpleasant manner.
    • Will freak out when MobileMe shuts down in June, 2012.
    • Thinks the term "App" means something specifically about iPhone.
    • Believes Steve Jobs was an inventor/scientist.
    • Old person.
    • Probably does not know what a scroll bar is.
    • Thinks PowerPoint users are technology geniuses.
    • Externalizes internet problems.
    • Believes that prior to retirement, Bill Gates knew when they opened an email.
    • Frequent Facebook poster, uses "post to board" instead of "private message" causing everyone embarrassment.
    • Probably a converted AOL user.
    • Knows how to unplug a router to restore Comcast service, or has a younger person around who does this for them.
    • Doesn't know IMAP from a hole in the ground.
    • Thought the hacker scenes in "Swordfish" were believable.
    • Leaves hundreds of application windows open and rarely restarts machine.
    • Watched Tron 2010 in 3D the first month it came out.
    • Owns an Android phone but has bought at least one Apple device.
    • Has an opinion about password length.
    • Owns, or has considered owning a Prius.
    • Wears goofy shoes.
    • Cuts off bicycles when driving, but hogs lane when riding bike.
    • Buys the magazines found at grocery store cash registers.
    • Forwards spam email to friends.
    • Computer(s) infected with multiple viruses
    • Never backs anything up.
    • Asks people simple questions that could easily be Googled from the phone they are holding.
    • Possible creationist.