Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Better Budget for NY?

I just came across this report, written in January of this year, by the Empire Center for New York State Policy.  It's a very nice piece covering a brief history of how the state ended up in this budgetary mess, and what we'll have to do to get out.  Those in state government will be deeply troubled -- it will require some governing, not just tax increases.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Still No Government in Iraq ran a nice piece over the weekend by veteran Middle East reporter Andrew Lee Butters.  The article describes nicely the maneuvering by Allawi and Maliki to form a majority coalition -- and most importantly, to be named Prime Minister.

It seems that a lack of government is having little effect on Iraq, and many would argue that given the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi government, that no government is actually better.  The longer-term implications of this impasse, however, are most definitely negative.  The Iraqi government is locked in a struggle for legitimacy.  Who can provide for the needs of the people?  Who can provide security?  Is it Al Qaeda?  Iran?  For the future of Iraq and the Middle East, the answer had better be the lawfully elected Government of Iraq.  The longer this stalemate goes on, the less legitimate the government is seen in the eyes of the people, and the greater the opportunity for other players to exert influence on the population.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

China the World's Largest Energy User

China Becomes the World's Largest Energy User

This shouldn't come as a surprise, but it did happen a couple of years earlier than anticipated by most experts.  Reasons include better energy efficiency in the US as well as the fact that the current economic troubles had less of an effect on China.

Now, more than ever, China is competing with the US and the world for access to energy.  Chinese oil companies have become major players in the redevelopment of Iraqi oil fields, and Chinese oil companies dominate the oil industry in areas where the US won't operate, such as Sudan.

Whatever your stand on global warming, oil drilling, and carbon trading, it seems we all have to agree that energy independence, or at least less reliance on foreign energy, is an issue of national security.  Increasing demand and flat or declining supply guarantees not just higher prices ahead, but the real possibility that sufficient supply may not be available at any price.  What do you think?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Letchworth State Park

I took the day off today and drove to Letchworth State Park.  It's a beautiful place, with some very nice trails suitable for running or walking.  The views of the river gorge are really refreshing, given the generally flat terrain in this part of the country.

But don't worry about stubbing a toe or anything, the nannies have made sure it's all safe.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Space Shuttle, it's dead, Jim.

This article in The New York Times got me thinking about the future of the US Space Program.  What will happen when Shuttle is mothballed?  For the first time in decades, the US will not have the ability to put a man in space.

I don't think I'm a Trekkie (at least I've never been to a convention!), but I am/was a huge fan of most things Star Trek.  I think like most engineers of my generation, I was influenced by Star Trek, and part of the reason I became an engineer was to contribute to advances in manned spaceflight.  I, and I think most engineers, took the best jobs we could find upon graduation, and for many, it was far away from the space program.  Still, my imagination goes into warp speed when I start thinking about exploring the stars and distant worlds!

So, what is the role of a space program?  Let's put aside for a moment national pride -- the type that fuels the current Chinese program, or the type of competition that fueled the US-Soviet programs for decades.

I see a space program as a key component of a nation's investment in basic science and technology.  In general, basic science is very risky (returns hugely uncertain), and so difficult to fund in the private sector.  Many initiatives in space require resources that only the federal government can muster.  A fan of small government, I would advocate a hybrid solution, with most of the actual government expenditures going to private companies.  What do you think?  Is the space program:

A.  Research into basic science and technology that fuels our imagination and improves our lives.


B.  A waste of taxpayer dollars.  Space programs will be developed by the private sector when there's a business motive to do so.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Use Catprint for Your Printing Needs

I'm currently finishing a project to become certified as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.  I'm fortunate to be doing my project with my very good friends at Catprint, a high-quality, short-run digital printer.  If you need printing done, please consider them.  To learn more, check out this great story about them that was published in Rochester Business Journal.

My project is especially challenging, as Catprint is a small company.  Catprint is growing quickly, and the fact that the owners are interested in improving efficiency and productivity at this stage of development is real testimony to their forward-leaning nature.  Catprint ships to clients all over the U.S., so it doesn't matter where you are located, you can benefit from using Catprint.  My project is focused on Catprint's shipping operations.  I'm working to keep shipping costs under control while still offering the guaranteed delivery dates that Catprint's customers demand.  It's a great project, and to be able to apply Lean Six Sigma tools to a young and innovative company is really a special challenge.

Do you own a small company?  Have you benefited from Lean and/or Six Sigma tools?  I'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The End of Cheap China Goods?

I just saw an interesting AP article on rising manufacturing costs in China.  Labor costs have been on the rise in China for years, as has the value of the Yuan.  Certainly, prices are still lower in the Chinese interior, as compared to the seaboard, where most of the development has taken place.  Still, this trend will continue.  In the current economic climate, manufacturing costs in the US are becoming more competitive.  It seems to me that a little balance is not a bad thing; that the current economic situation is forcing us to consume less and maybe save more.  What do you think?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day!!

Happy Independence Day!!

To my fellow veterans, thank you for your selfless service.  Because of you, and your many sacrifices, we enjoy another day of freedom.

As we celebrate today, and reflect upon the history of this great land, let us look back to those ideals that our Founding Fathers set forth in our founding documents.  Whatever your political persuasion, I would urge you to decide on issues only after careful consideration of the Constitution and other guiding works such as the Federalist Papers.  There's really no need to wonder what our Founding Fathers were thinking.  It's all in black and white.

Take a minute today and learn more about our Constitution:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Iraq's State-Owned Enterprise Problem and China's Solution (Again)

When China started to privatize its state-owned enterprises (SOEs), it could have auctioned them off to the highest bidder.  I'm sure large auctions happened in many cases.  In many other cases, the factories were sold (given?) to people with contacts inside the party.  While that may not seem morally correct, the end result really did serve a large number of people.  In fact, selling (giving?) the factories at low prices indicates an understanding that most SOEs are really worth nothing more than the land they are on, and maybe some equipment value.  As businesses, SOEs are, for the most part, disasters. By getting SOEs into the private sector quickly, many people were put to work in productive and viable businesses.

Iraq has a similar problem.  The government of Iraq owns hundreds of factories, which employ hundreds of thousands of workers, who don't even show up for work.  Essentially, the SOEs have become another means to distribute government rations.  Still, the Iraqi government, with advice from some US advisors, continues to overvalue these terrible companies and desperately offer them to foreign investors.  Better they use China's models -- give them away to businessmen who will rapidly make them productive.  Of course, a few connected people will get wealthy.  Other than making some feel jealous, who cares?  The end result will be thousands of Iraqis returned to work.