Archive for October, 2010

I hope folks got my reference to the great JC (thats John Coltrane – “Chasing the Trane”).

My wife made lunch yesterday and she made the exercise to “Chase the Trane”, too easy (I think).

We had baked potatoes grown in our backyard, and some grown at friends’ around 7 miles away. That was grown with my wife’s pleasurable labor (seeding, watering, weeding), in soil using organic compost that I myself piled and turned. Fair trade yes. Locus – Greenfield, MA. Organic – yes.

We had cabbage purchased from a farmstand about 3 miles from our home. I have to ask where and how it was grown.

Now the tough ones.

We had tofu under the “Nature’s Promise” brand, Stop and Shop’s private label brand (maybe others’ as well). “Distributed by Foodhold USA LLC, Landover, MD 20785, 1-877-846-9949”

Ingredients listed were water, whole organic soybeans, magnesium chloride.

Purchased from a Stop and Shop about 2 miles from my home. I don’t know if they will share the proportion of the price that is their cost, and the proportion that is value-added at the store, or what their in-store cost structure consists of. (Product purchase price, delivery costs, in store labor, in store overhead, in store profit.)

I want to thank everyone involved at every phase.

Where and how was the tofu made and packed? (The packaging materials are not listed as an ingredient, but they are part of the production process). The address listed is not an indication of where that batch was made. It obviously was made by a private label manufacturer then assigned the “Nature’s Promise” brand name on packaging, unlikely made in Landover, MD.

What is the cost structure at that point in the value “trane”? The packaging, the logistics  (Materials, labor, overhead items).

Then, the ingredients. Where were the soybeans grown? Its noted as certified organic, so I’ll assume that QAI is doing its job in attesting to that. How were they grown, how harvested? What is the supply trane for organic soybeans?

The magnesium chloride? No we’re talking about industrial chemicals of some sort, a very very different supply chain.

Finally, for a snack, I had some “Craisins”, purchased at a BJ’s a few miles from my house. Delivered from some Oceanspray plant, packaged in a ziplock pouch package. (Another industrial chemical value chain).

Cranberries (from where, how grown, how transported to where) and Sugar (from where, how processed, how grown, how transported to where).

We don’t ask about the water in a river. What cloud did you originate from? Where did your drops evaporate from? What watersheds did your rain fall, what trickles, streams, larger streams, rivers did these % of drops emerge from.

But, we are concerned that the water is water.

In the case of products, I am concerned that the labor in the product is fair labor, duly compensated, humanely treated. I want my thanks to be free from static, free from a necessary apology.

That is the difference between a product that is what it says it is. “Cranberries made and grown in accordance with law and humane conventions”, not just “cranberries”.

And, I am concerned with the miles of transport and the location of the value addition to get to me. I favor a decentral, universal employment value trane, where products are made close to home, value addition close to home. (“Close” can be 3 miles away for potatoes, or 200 miles away for packaging. “Close” is  not 3000 miles away for potatoes, and 2000 miles away for the plastic in the packaging.)

But, maybe I’m just looking for a hook, an unnecessary justification to my long life.

Something more specific than dollars spent with love and general appreciation, but actual appreciation for the specific tributary and work of others’ hand and brain.

I already have a change in view resulting from “chasing the trane”. My dollars will now be spent as a drop of appreciation, my dollar vote.

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We don’t have a clue where our products and services come from. We don’t know what materials they were made from, who did it – which real person, where, what unintended affects were caused.

With technology, there are so many components, that it is difficult to track methodically. So, I’m going to start with food. There are relatively few value-addition phases, and I can stack the deck of my analysis by my local eating emphasis. Maybe I shouldn’t do that, but pick the most complex.

For an economy, it is more important that the value-addition be done, than that moral critics address where and how that value-addition is done. But, it definitely is still important that value-addition happen humanely, non-toxicly, regionally.

I’m going to make a list of the foods that I eat starting with today’s lunch, and do what I can to trace the value/supply chain for the specific foods that I eat.

It will take a long time, if available at all. There are really no records of where a particular 1 pound bag of lentils were grown, let alone where a product with 18 ingredients came from.

There are two things that I’m seeking from this.

One goal is to gain and share an appreciation of the MANY contributions to my nutrition. I have a garden, and I know where the tomato sauce in the soup comes from, and have a way to thank the contributors (sun, air, rain, soil, gardener – my wife, compost preparer – myself). I don’t have a way to thank the growers of the rice that went into the rice pasta, the mixers, the packers, the machine designers and builders.

Its an effort to become less anonymous, less a consumer and more of a person, myself and appreciating the work of others.

One communication of thanks is the communication of spending money (oddly). If my spending money itself is an expression of love (and not just mechanic for my own pleasure or power or indifference, then even my single drip of appreciation in spending, might get back to the contributors downstream in some form.

The supply chain analysis/inquiry fits into the format of inputs – processes – outputs – outcomes.

The second goal of the exercise is to reliably identify and bring attention to additional disclosures that I would like to see on products/services. Locus (where was this product made), fair trade (was this product made with living wage labor), organic certification, etc.

The reality is that even those that adopt simple living guidelines are the beneficiaries of extremely complex processes in society, to the extent that it is difficult to derive understanding, meaning and control or influence into how things are done in our society.

There is some balance between control and acceptance. It is impossible and imposing to seek control only (not to accept how things are), and it is negligent to simply accept harmful trends and relationships without concern.

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Physical inputs – Air, food, water, light, stimuli to sensations (heat, visual, sound, smells, tastes)

Physical processes – Sensing, breathing, metabolism, purification, muscular, speaking

Physical outputs – Sounds, movement


Mental inputs – Sensations, media, words, facial and body language

Mental processes – Ignoring or attending to sensations (including influencing what sensations we are exposed to), communications. Thinking. Body language. Reflection/meditation.

Mental outputs – Communication

Outcomes – Harm, indifference or kindness

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Systems approach. Simple.  It is the modern basis of much quality control methodology for large corporations’ products and services. Its not rocket science but ultimately simple and elegant, even in the business of delivering rockets.

It applies to every entity at every scale, person, community and/or organization, the very same “quality” process.

What are the inputs (physical and communications)? Are they sufficient to maintain a healthy business, organization, family? Are they balanced, do they support the entity’s purpose? Are they helpful, neutral, wasteful or harmful?

In precision manufacturing environments, the characteristics of the inputs are a critical quality parameter.

Within the boundaries of the entity and its influence, what happens, what processes occur? What is done with the inputs? How are they put together, organized? How are they understood? How are the processes designed? What controls or criteria of quality are applied and at what control points? What value adding activities are done? How are they transferred further through the system? How is energy used? How is creativity applied? Are people inspired, motivated, willing even?

Processes occurring within the boundaries of a person or organization are potentially in control. Everything else is outside of one’s control. A person or organization may have influence on specific decisions or even social norms. But, ultimately only what is within one’s “walls” are potential to be in control (and even that only to a limited extent).

Finally, in relation to the outside world, what are the entities’ outputs, physical and communication? What are intended outputs with what characteristics, and what secondary and unintended outputs (externalities)? For outputs conveyed to intended parties, what are the outputs’ characteristics, helpful, neutral, wasteful, harmful? For externalities, what are the outputs’ characteristics, helpful, neutral, wasteful, harmful?

Outcomes are an entirely different matter.

Outcomes are the qualitative result, the meaning of the outputs primarily. To a customer, is the outcome a satisfied customer, a fair exchange, value added? To a friend, is the outcome a trusting relationship? For externalities, is the outcome a toxified world, an unfriendly neighborhood, a hostile home? Or, is an externality helpful, one entities’ waste transforming into another’s food, supporting co-evolution?

Ultimately, we are judged on results. It doesn’t matter if I tried to be a supportive father, the only question is whether my sons are supported, enlivened, motivated. It doesn’t matter if I tried to deliver a quality product or service, but whether the intended output was actually satisfying.

Inputs, processes, ultimate quality controls are means to get to the ends of actual successful outcomes. They are dependable though and comprises the basis of ISO quality parameters.

Business effectiveness is a different beast. That reaches the scope of satisfying relationships, of which a product or service is just the means, the conversation content, to a satisfying relationship.

Righteousness (the outcome of a sensitive, disciplined life) is even a different beast from a satisfying relationship. Righteousness is also a satisfying relationship, but achieving a much deeper and complete dimension of quality, satisfying from far more perspectives, and affecting far more persons than just two contracting.

A child tries, an adult delivers.

A mature adult accounts and is accountable, and over time achieves a quality that is worth the life lived.

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1. Technology chosen

2. Utilization

3. Settlement design

4. Population

These are multiplying principles, significant and complete.

The two largest uses of fossil fuels in every society, are for space heating and transportation.

Using transportation as an example. If we:

1. Construct and choose technology that doubles the average fuel mileage of vehicles (private, public and commercial) then we will cut fossil fuel consumption by 50%. That includes the component of availability of technologies, and the choice to actually use them. Right now, average mileage of private cars is around 25 mpg. My internal combustion Toyota Yaris gets around 41 mpg in practice. 50 mpg is not out of reach.

2. Choose cooperative transit. That includes ride-sharing, mass transit modalities (from vanpools to commuter trains and subways) and it includes piggy-backed long haul trucking and/or train hauled modular containers delivered in smaller configurations on the “last mile” for public safety concerns. The average number of passengers in vehicles currently is around 1.2 per trip. (I think it is less, even less than 1.1). 2.5 per trip is not out of the question.

3. We live in sprawl. We work far from where we live. The average commute currently is in the range of 16+ miles/trip, and takes an average of 26 minutes. That could be halved by full employment policies applied in each locale, and greenbelt zoning.

The cumulative effect of doubling mileage per gallon, doubling the number of passengers/freight per trip, halving the distance traveled commuting and freight, would result in a net savings of 87.5% of fossil fuel consumed.

It provides a distinct framework for approaching the problem. One component is important, but far far less effective than moderate efforts on all fronts.

The downside is that social trends also go the other way. As the economy improves people still buy SUV’s (which have the multiplying effect of making small vehicles  less safe on the real road – reduced visibility, more extreme damage in accidents between an SUV and a sub-compact made of light composites).

People still enjoy the luxury of privacy in their trips.

And, we still build communities in sprawl, and in this recession people are willing to drive further and further in their commute to land a job.

If we reduce average gas mileage from 25 to 23 mpg, decrease the average number per trip from 1.2 to 1.1, and increase the average commute from 16 mi to 18 mi, we will increase fossil fuel consumption by 33%.

Those small changes accumulating.

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