mm366: Blast from the Past! No. 17

May 1, 2008

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

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Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From our early days, originally posted August 15, 2007.

mm102: Fast Cities 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I’ve always been a city guy, happier (even in its suburbs) than when away in some rural village, or bucolic resort. In fact, some would call my suburban home town more of a city than a suburb, and that’s just the way I love it.

And, I’ve always been secure in the knowledge that, no matter at what altitude and attitude I find myself on this breathtaking roller-coaster that is my life, I can count on my city to, eventually, provide me a livelihood. There’s just too much going on not to.

And during some extended times of un- or underemployment it was a matter of adjusting my own assumptions — the city was creating jobs every second, and I finally came to understand that I had to recreate myself to match up to one.

So, even while my faith in my home town has never wavered, even while one emotional center of gravity has shifted 2,000 miles west, it’s fun to encounter some more objective analysis about why my city makes me stay, no matter what.

And that brings me to the following story, first encountered in hard copy form (which means I’m probably 2 months late — an Internet eternity — in discovering it). I call special attention to the following tidbit:

Worldwide, the pace of urbanization is only accelerating. This year, for the first time, more of the earth’s population will live in cities than in rural areas–a cool 3.2 billion, according to United Nations estimates.

Take a look at the top of the story here:

fastcompany_thumb

Fast Cities 2007

From Chicago to Shanghai, urban centers that are shaping our future.

From: Issue 117 | July 2007 | Page 90 | By: Andrew Park


You’re smart, young, newly graduated from a university with the whole world before you. You could settle in a small town with well-tended lawns, pancake suppers, and life on a human scale. Or you could truck it to the big city, with all its din and dog-eat-dog lunacy. Your choice?Fuhgedaboudit: There is no choice. For all the challenges cities face–congestion, crime, crumbling infrastructure, environmental decay, plus occasional issues with basic civility–they are still where jobs and youth gather, where energy begets even greater energy, where talent masses and collides. Worldwide, the pace of urbanization is only accelerating. This year, for the first time, more of the earth’s population will live in cities than in rural areas–a cool 3.2 billion, according to United Nations estimates. “In a world where we can now work anywhere, we’re tending to concentrate in fewer and fewer places,” says Carol Colletta, president of CEOs for Cities, an advocacy group. “Smart people are choosing to live near smart people.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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mm287: Attention Wal-Mart shoppers! China’s transportation infrastructure thanks you.

February 16, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Always useful, and often picking up on trends little noticed elsewhere, The Economist, best magazine on the planet, is at its typical best describing China’s massive infrastructure boom.

economist

China’s infrastructure splurge

Rushing on by road, rail and air

Feb 14th 2008 | BEIJING | From The Economist print edition

China’s race to build roads, railways and airports speeds ahead. Democracy, says an official, would sacrifice efficiency

“IT’S like approaching the Forbidden City, it’s absolutely incredible.” The adjective is one that Mouzhan Majidi, chief executive of Foster + Partners, liberally attaches to Beijing’s new airport terminal, designed by his British firm. The world’s largest, designed in the gently sinuous form of a Chinese dragon, it was planned and built in four years by an army of 50,000 workers. “The columns on the outside are red and you see them marching for miles and miles,” says Mr Majidi.

A little hyperbole is understandable. The terminal is 3km (1.8 miles) long. The floor space is 17% bigger than all the terminals at London’s Heathrow combined (including about-to-open Terminal Five). Chinese officials like the Forbidden City analogy. Just as the towering vermilion walls and golden roofs of the imperial palace inspire visitors with awe, China wants its golden-roofed terminal to impress those arriving for the Olympic games in August. Part of a $3.8 billion expansion, which included the opening of a third runway in October, it is due to open on February 29th, weeks ahead of schedule.

The numbers are mind-bending. Beijing’s airport is now the ninth busiest in the world. The longest sea-crossing bridge: 36km (22+ miles), six-lanes, between Shanghai and Ningbo (anyone else never hear before of Ningbo, much less that it’s important enough to build the longest bridge in the world to get there?).

Read the rest of this entry »


mm266: Follow-ups and other voices heard

January 26, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Responding to some internal and, interestingly, external disquiet regarding this space’s latest experiment with themes available here at the incomparable WordPress.com, we have, as we’re sure you’ve noticed, changed again.

Our latest choice is less visually jarring, at the cost of some blandness. Our critics might tell us that bland is beautiful, compared to the mess we left behind, and we apparently agreed. Responsiveness to the audience – what a concept!

Let us know whether you think we’re in a better place.

And, lest you, as does yr (justifiably) humble svt, miss our logo, as the new theme doesn’t allow header customization, here’s a fix.

l-hc780x95

Okay, let’s move on, shall we?

It’s a big planet, and there are a multiplicity of viewpoints and a waterfall of information pouring into this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© every nanosecond.

So, we’re taking a breath, and taking an alternate look at a couple of topics covered earlier.

You guessed it: another episode of SASB: Short Attention Span Blogging!©

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Culling the planet’s herd

A couple of days ago, we explored some of the implications of the FDA’s approval to introduce cloned meat and dairy products into the marketplace. The concern is that as producers go for the easy, repetitive score, i.e., clone what works and eliminate the rest, the planet will permanently lose something important: species diversity.

This week’s NYTimes Magazine explores the issue from a different direction (and continent!), selective breeding rather than cloning (two sides of the same coin, actually).

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herdextinct

A Dying Breed

By ANDREW RICE | Published: January 27, 2008

GERSHOM MUGIRA COMES from a long line of cattle-keepers. His people, the Bahima, are thought to have migrated into the hilly grasslands of western Uganda more than a thousand years ago, alongside a hardy breed of longhorns known as the Ankole. For centuries, man and beast subsisted there in a tight symbiotic embrace. Mugira’s nomadic ancestors wandered in search of fresh pasture for their cattle, which in turn provided them with milk. It is only within the last few generations that most Bahima have accepted the concept of private property. Mugira’s family lives on a 500-acre ranch, and one sunny day in November, the wiry 26-year-old showed me around, explaining, with some sadness but more pragmatism, why the Ankole breed that sustained his forebears for so many generations is now being driven to extinction….

In recent decades, global trade, sophisticated marketing, artificial insemination and the demands of agricultural economics have transformed the Holstein into the world’s predominant dairy breed. Indigenous animals like East Africa’s sinewy Ankole, the product of centuries of selection for traits adapted to harsh conditions, are struggling to compete with foreign imports bred for maximal production. This worries some scientists. The world’s food supply is increasingly dependent on a small and narrowing list of highly engineered breeds: the Holstein, the Large White pig and the Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens. There’s a risk that future diseases could ravage these homogeneous animal populations. Poor countries, which possess much of the world’s vanishing biodiversity, may also be discarding breeds that possess undiscovered genetic advantages. But farmers like Mugira say they can’t afford to wait for science. And so, on the African savanna, a competition for survival is underway….

The Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency of the United Nations, recently reported that at least 20 percent of the world’s estimated 7,600 livestock breeds are in danger of extinction. Experts are warning of a potential “meltdown” in global genetic diversity. Yet the plight of the Ankole illustrates the difficulty of balancing the conflicting goals of animal conservation and human prosperity. An estimated 70 percent of the world’s rural poor, some 630 million people, derive a substantial percentage of their income from livestock. Increase the productivity of these animals, development specialists say, and you improve dire living standards. The World Bank recently published a report saying it was time to place farming “afresh at the center of the development agenda.” Highly productive livestock breeds, the World Bank asserts, are playing an important role in alleviating poverty.

As controlled interbreeding takes place, Africa’s indigenous cattle are gradually converting into distinctly highly productive Holsteins.

One additional advantage of the imported genetic stock: Ankole cattle require huge swaths of grassland; Holsteins can be penned. Writer Andrew Rice quotes some experts who say that “ethnic” warfare in Rwanda and Darfur as “really a fight over grass.”

The diversity the planet is losing is dire:

Many tropical breeds may possess unique adaptive traits. The problem is, we don’t know what is being lost. Earlier this year, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization released its first-ever global assessment of biodiversity in livestock. While data on many breeds are scant, the report found that over the last six years, an average of one breed a month has gone extinct. “The threat is imminent,” says Danielle Nierenberg, senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental group. “Just getting milk and meat into people’s mouths is not the answer.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

A Dying Breed – New York Times

A lengthy, but most worthwhile read. The law of unintended consequences is one that will never be repealed.

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Ultimately, it’s ALL recycled, isn’t it?

The water crisis in the Southeast and Western U.S. was approached a couple of weeks ago here.

Wired magazine has an intriguing update.

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waterpurification

New Purification Plant Answers California’s Water Crisis

By Dave Bullock | 01.25.08 | 8:00 PM

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, California — As Southern California faces a worsening water crisis, Orange County has implemented a $480 million microfiltration system so advanced it can turn waste water into drinking water.

Fewer words than intriguing pix in this story.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

New Purification Plant Answers California’s Water Crisis

Facilities like this one are going to have to become the norm if people insist on living in the desert.

Not as cheap as piping it in from the Great Lakes, Orange County, but that’s not on the table anyway.

All the water on the planet has been here since the catalytic cataclysm that created it in the first place. We’ve been drinking recycled water forever.

Thanks to this Fountain Valley facility and others soon to follow elsewhere, engineers have simply shortened the recycling time.

shortattention_thumb2 ©

Democracy, it’s a virus

… and it could be catching on in China.

Several months ago, monks in Burma led massive demonstrations noted here, against the government which were ultimately suppressed, as usual, by the oppressive regime.

In Shanghai, people have been massing to demonstrate against expansion of a maglev high-speed rail line. The Washington Post has the story.

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shanghaicitizensprotest

Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt

By Maureen Fan | Washington Post Foreign Service | Saturday, January 26, 2008

SHANGHAI — Bundled against the cold, the businessman made his way down the steps. Coming toward him in blue mittens was a middle-aged woman.

“Do you know that we’re going to take a stroll this weekend?” she whispered, using the latest euphemism for the unofficial protests that have unnerved authorities in Shanghai over the past month.

He nodded.

Behind her, protest banners streamed from the windows of high-rise apartment blocks, signs of middle-class discontent over a planned extension of the city’s magnetic levitation, or maglev, train through residential neighborhoods.

They live in China’s most Western mainland city, and they’ve learned the advanced Western concept of NIMBY (Not in my back yard). And they’ve taken to the streets.

And Shanghai’s government has been forced to pay attention.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt – washingtonpost.com

The single most relentless enemy of authoritarian governments is the middle class. Even George III’s Venezuelan nemesis, Hugo Chavez, failed in his attempt to modify the constitution.

Citizens who have attained middle class status by dint of hard work, and loosened societal constraints, can embrace artifacts of civilization available to those living above the subsistence level.

Such as education.

Satellite television (Ronald Reagan and CNN both helped end the Cold War, to MUDGE’s generation’s eternal surprise).

The Internet and its blogs and bulletin boards (those portions that the Chinese government can’t censor).

Cellular telephones with text messaging.

Don’t think there’s much of a middle class in Burma as yet. So that 2007 effort was doomed. Like Chicago Cubs fans everywhere, one can only say, “wait until next year!”

Short Attention Span Blogging

… is only short for the reader, not, for heaven’s sake, the blogger! But kudos to faithful reader for getting this far!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm118: Overhaul of Air Traffic System Nears Key Step – washingtonpost.com

August 27, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Those of us victimized by the airlines, airport management, the TSA, too many too small aircraft in the skies (per Patrick Smith, most recently quoted here and here) can find a glimmer of hope in this report:

washingtonpost

Satellite Network Projected to Cut Flight Delays but May Take Years to Complete

By Del Quentin Wilber

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2007; Page A01

The federal government is expected this week to award a contract worth more than $1 billion to build the key components of its next-generation air traffic control system — a high-tech network that officials say will alleviate chronic flight delays.

The system comes at a critical time, officials say, with flight delays at record levels and commercial aviation expected to continue growing steadily. The network will rely on satellites, rather than radar, to guide aircraft, and it is expected to allow planes to fly closer together and take more direct routes, saving fuel and time while reducing pollution. Government officials say it will also improve safety by giving controllers and pilots more precise information about planes.

An ambitious plan, to be executed of course by the lowest bidder.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Overhaul of Air Traffic System Nears Key Step – washingtonpost.com

And, of course the ADS-B system is controversial in the U.S. (happily adopted in lots of the rest of the world, but what do those gals and guys know about technology, anyway?) — everybody who wants this system in the U.S. wants someone else to pay for it.

And I can’t help but feel, the way the story is written, that the air traffic controllers union feels that should the national system be improved it will come at the expense of employment of controllers. Hey, guys, traffic’s expanding! Jobs for everyone! (Of course, if it’s just a matter of talking on a two-way satellite radio, and looking at a screen, the everyones might be working out of their homes in Bengaluru, or Shanghai, but that’s details.)

Of course, this writer will probably be more concerned about a different variety of wings by the year 2020 (if alive, I’ll only be 18 years away from retirement!), but we can all dream, can’t we?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm102: Fast Cities 2007 | Fast Company

August 15, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I’ve always been a city guy, happier (even in its suburbs) than when away in some rural village, or bucolic resort. In fact, some would call my suburban home town more of a city than a suburb, and that’s just the way I love it.

And, I’ve always been secure in the knowledge that, no matter at what altitude and attitude I find myself on this breathtaking roller-coaster that is my life, I can count on my city to, eventually, provide me a livelihood. There’s just too much going on not to.

And during some extended times of un- or underemployment it was a matter of adjusting my own assumptions — the city was creating jobs every second, and I finally came to understand that I had to recreate myself to match up to one.

So, even while my faith in my home town has never wavered, even while one emotional center of gravity has shifted 2,000 miles west, it’s fun to encounter some more objective analysis about why my city makes me stay, no matter what.

And that brings me to the following story, first encountered in hard copy form (which means I’m probably 2 months late — an Internet eternity — in discovering it). I call special attention to the following tidbit:

Worldwide, the pace of urbanization is only accelerating. This year, for the first time, more of the earth’s population will live in cities than in rural areas–a cool 3.2 billion, according to United Nations estimates.

Take a look at the top of the story here:

fastcompany

Fast Cities 2007

From Chicago to Shanghai, urban centers that are shaping our future.

From: Issue 117 | July 2007 | Page 90 | By: Andrew Park


You’re smart, young, newly graduated from a university with the whole world before you. You could settle in a small town with well-tended lawns, pancake suppers, and life on a human scale. Or you could truck it to the big city, with all its din and dog-eat-dog lunacy. Your choice?Fuhgedaboudit: There is no choice. For all the challenges cities face–congestion, crime, crumbling infrastructure, environmental decay, plus occasional issues with basic civility–they are still where jobs and youth gather, where energy begets even greater energy, where talent masses and collides. Worldwide, the pace of urbanization is only accelerating. This year, for the first time, more of the earth’s population will live in cities than in rural areas–a cool 3.2 billion, according to United Nations estimates. “In a world where we can now work anywhere, we’re tending to concentrate in fewer and fewer places,” says Carol Colletta, president of CEOs for Cities, an advocacy group. “Smart people are choosing to live near smart people.”

Of course, not all “urban agglomerations,” in the parlance of demographers, are created equal. Rapid growth has a way of laying bare the gap between cities that merely get bigger and those that actually flourish. For every Karachi, which is on pace to double its population every 20 years but mired in poverty and violence, there’s a Shanghai, the emerging creative engine for an entire continent. For every Havana, which looks pretty much the same as it did 40 years ago (except worse), there’s a Curitiba, which has spent 40 years mapping its extremely livable future. For every St. Louis, a spot as bland as a flat Bud Light, there’s a hip joint like Fort Collins, Colorado, a high-tech hub that’s also the microbrew capital of America.

In other words, there are winners in this battle for the future. We call them Fast Cities. They are cauldrons of creativity where the most important ideas and the organizations of tomorrow are centered. They attract the best and brightest. They are great places to work and live.

I’m not sure that people who know me would describe me as “fast,” but I live in one of Fast Company’s Fast Cities, so I must be, right?

The rest of this introductory article is linked just below; take a look, and explore their expanded lists. I was fascinated; hope you’ll be too.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Fast Cities 2007 | Printer-friendly version

I know lots of people who’ve toured China. They talk about the Great Wall, the Yellow River cruise, the Forbidden city, etc. But I’ve long said that the only part of immense China that remotely interests me is Shanghai — the Chinese Chicago. Of course, it is or will be soon more accurate to describe Chicago as the North American Shanghai!

Now, admit it, who among my reader have ever heard of Curitiba, Brazil, or even Chandigarh, India (everyone’s heard of Bengaluru — formerly Bangalore — but Chandigarh?)?

I still recall a stint during one of the low-altitude aspects of afore mentioned roller-coaster when I was a temp secretary in a corporate HR office, putting together a diversity presentation. BTW, that experience helped me understand that in corporate America, “temp” is a contraction of “contempt,” which of course is how temps are treated, mostly.

But I digress. The point I was going for is that as part of the diversity training, it was presented that in a list of the 10 most populous cities in the world, New York doesn’t make the cut. Cities mostly in Central Asia that I still haven’t really heard of since made the top 10 — I wonder if 12 more years of our global roller-coaster have changed that.

And after a little research, here’s an update. Seems that the diversity propaganda I helped spread might have bent the facts a bit to prove a point, because there’s NYC a strong No. 4, and not one of those dusty Central Asian megalapoli made the list.

topcities

It all depends on how the metropolitan areas are defined, I’m sure, but I’m glad to see that my town, Chicago (had you guessed?) made the top 27(!) in this list I found courtesy of that other search engine, Ask.com.

But of course, (she keeps telling me) size isn’t everything…

Anyway, I’m happy to live in a Fast City — no question that it has helped keep me gainfully employed (at least mostly), intrigued, inspired and manifestly not bored (and I hope not boring!) for almost six decades.

But, I’d sure like to see Shanghai. And, maybe Curitiba…

It’s it for now, thanks.

–MUDGE

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mm082: Knock Knock, It’s Your Big Mac

July 24, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I fight a battle with myself all the time: The Economist or Business Week — how to choose? Both take time to read carefully. Both reward the careful reader. Here’s a story from a couple of issues ago that just tickled me…

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Europe July 12, 2007, 8:44AM EST text size: TT

Knock Knock, It’s Your Big Mac

From São Paulo to Shanghai, McDonald’s is boosting growth with speedy delivery

by Michael Arndt

Mickey D delivers? You bet. While Americans suffering from a Big Mac attack typically pull up to the drive-through window, in the developing world the fast-food chain increasingly does the driving. In traffic-choked cities from Manila to Montevideo, McDonald’s deploys fleets of motor scooters to get hot food to customers fast. “I’m too lazy to go out and stand in line,” confesses Nada Abou el Soud, a Cairo high school student. She says she calls in an order for a Mc- Chicken combo meal at least once a week, dropping about $4.25 each time, including a 70 cents delivery fee.

All told, McDonald’s delivers in some 25 cities, with a half-dozen more on deck. The company just launched deliveries in Taipei, with 1,000 drivers, is expanding Shanghai to citywide service this summer, and is testing the concept in Beirut and Riyadh. In Egypt, where the setup was pioneered in 1995, deliveries now account for 27% of all McDonald’s revenue and up to 80% at some restaurants. Globally, delivery sales are expected to total more than $110 million in 2007, up from $90 million last year, the company says. While that’s spare change for the $21.6 billion giant, the business is growing by 20% to 30% annually, more than triple the chain’s overall rate.

NO CLEANUP
It’s profitable, too. Delivery margins usually top the 13% to 14% that McDonald’s outlets generally yield. That’s because the courier fee, which runs from 50 cents to $1, covers the cost of handling phoned-in orders and the fleets of drivers and motorbikes. “And we don’t even have to clean up a table,” notes Timothy J. Fenton, president of McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) operations outside the Americas and Europe. “It’s incremental profit for us.”

The business is emblematic of the change in thinking at the Oak Brook (Ill.) company. From McDonald’s start in 1955, headquarters dictated pretty much every detail of running a franchise. But as revenue growth stalled several years ago, management began encouraging experimentation. So while the basic menu and layout of a McDonald’s is still pretty much the same everywhere, restaurants in China now have latitude to substitute corn for fries in Happy Meals, some in the U.S. blend fruit smoothies, and those in Australia and France have coffee lounges that feel like a Starbucks (SBUX). “Management is looking beyond Oak Brook for inspiration,” says UBS Securities (UBS) analyst David S. Palmer. “They’re becoming better at sharing the best ideas around the globe.”

McDonald’s opened its first location in Egypt in 1994. Its local licensee quickly suggested adding delivery after noticing that other fast-food chains, and even five-star hotels, offered the service. The first trial took place six months later at two outlets. One key was setting up a call center with a single toll-free phone number for metropolitan Cairo. The other was hiring hundreds of scooter drivers to snake their way through the city’s thick traffic to make their drop-offs before the McNuggets get cold. Today, almost all of McDonald’s 35 restaurants in and around Cairo deliver, while only a couple have drive-through windows. McDonald’s has mimicked this setup as it has expanded the service to other countries.

One place, though, that the Golden Arches won’t come knocking is the U.S. The delivery model works well in congested cities where there’s no affordable space for drive-through windows, but plenty of cheap labor to ferry the food to customers. Except in Manhattan, where a handful of McDonald’s deliver phoned-in orders to nearby high-rises, land isn’t an issue in U.S. cities and people find it easier to pick up meals themselves. But with ever more sales coming from abroad, Ronald McDonald will be plenty busy making the rounds for some time.

With Caroline Ghobrial in Cairo


Knock Knock, It’s Your Big Mac

Remember the conversation years ago? McDonald’s is so American, it won’t go over over there.

Well that battle has been won. And one of the reasons is obvious — they are not afraid to try a different delivery model, and of course different menus, where appropriate.

BTW, in the four plus years that MUDGE has been trying to maintain a low carb existence, I’ve eaten at a McDonald’s just a couple of times, and that on the road, where dependability (and the promise of a reasonably clean restroom) is paramount.

This sudden avoidance of mine was a radical change from old habits (several visits per week, week in and week out, for all my adult life), and I’m sure the resulting revenue impact just from the loss of my business alone was a primary factor when Mickey D decided that the overseas thing just had to work.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE