Thursday, July 06, 2006


Honor Among Soft-Drink Rivals, if not Thieves

Three (very former) Coca-Cola, Co. employees snuck out of the office carrying trade secrets, including samples of a new drink and formulas for a few other drinks. They offered the secrets to PepsiCo, who promptly turned around and handed the turncoats to Coke and the FBI. Undercover agents offered the soft-drink swindlers $1.5 million in exchange for the confidential secrets (note that the “secret recipe” for regular Coke was not stolen). The perpetrators opened up a bank account in anticipation of the payday, which allowed the Feds to make their arrests.

Said CEO Neville Isdell:

"Sadly, today's arrests include an individual within our company. While this breach of trust is difficult for all of us to accept, it underscores the responsibility we each have to be vigilant in protecting our trade secrets. Information is the lifeblood of the company."

Information? We thought it was high-fructose corn syrup, or maybe caffiene. Mmmm. Delicious buzz.


“Small” is in the Eye of the Contract Holder

While it’s never a surprise that a) loopholes exist in bureaucracies and that b) these loopholes are exploited, it’s still stunning to read about how these things play out in reality. Last year, the Small Business Administration awarded $4.9 billion dollars in small-business set-aside contracts to “small businesses” like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics. The New York Times has the story here.


OK, But What Would It Smell Like?

We’ve heard of biodiesel made with the leftover fat from deep fryersgreasel, some people call it, and if you run your VW or whatever with it, your car smells like French fries—but IndustryWeek has a new one for us. They report that the Vietnamese are going to make diesel from catfish fat.

While the area in and around Vietnam has plenty of natural petroleum reserves, the nation lacks refinery capacity or infrastructure, and they’re concerned about pollution. The catfish-fat fuel is the brainchild of Agifish, who has been tinkering with the mix and the process since 2004. Industrial-quantity capacity (10,000 tons of fish, which should yield about 9 million liters of diesel, according to estimates) begins next year.


It’s Still Growing

…just slower than it had been. The June Institute for Supply Management (ISM) report for the US is out, and it indicates manufacturing expanded more slowly than expected last month. After a slowing of growth in May, analysts predicted that things would start a-boomin’ again in June. From May to June, the index declined by six-tenths of a percent, from 54.4 to 53.8. It was expected to rise to 55. (Note: if the index, which involves a survey of companies in different manufacturing sectors, is over 50, then manufacturing activity is growing.) The biggest factors supplying drag appear to be employment, which contracted (GM, we’re looking at you), and a slowdown in the construction industry.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


There’s Cheaper Gold In Them Thar Hills

Over at the blog, writer Tim Minahan is musing about PC recycling. In the wake of Hewlett-Packard’s success with its computer equipment recycling program, Dell (and to a smaller extent, Apple) has recently announced it’s going to get on the HP bandwagon by offering free shipping to encourage consumers to send back their old bits-and-pieces. Minahan points out that, in addition to applying a fresh coat of green paint to their company images (and probably a having genuine desire to become more sustainable as well as profitable), these computer giants may be driven by a simpler motive: the skyrocketing costs of precious metals.

It’s true: things have come to such a pass in the metals commodity market that it’s more cost-effective for some manufacturers (mainly those who make electronic consumer products) to reclaim metals from old products than it is to buy new supplies of the stuff. A May article from the New York Times, “Panning E-Waste For Gold”, looks at the recycling process and notes that, ton for ton, you can get more metal from waste products than from a mine (8-10 ounces from everyone’s old printer cartridges and iPods vs. 6 ounces from a mine). And the recycling process is much greener than the typical mining process, which requires soaking extracted materials in chemicals such as cyanide to leach out the ore. Expect to see prospectors in your local landfill soon.

Another motivation behind the uptick in recycling programs could be strict new environmental regulations, like the EU’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive (which went into effect on Saturday). The new regulation comes on the back of a required electronics recycling program already in place within the EU. So it’s possible that, having tested the recycling programs out in the smaller EU market, Dell and other manufacturers see the sense in rolling them out to other markets (Dell’s is, at present, the only global program; you can see the pdf of the policy here).

Regardless of the motivation behind these recycling programs, we’re pleased that an industry whose products (by dint of their complex materials and “planned obsolescence”) have such potential to impact the environment is shifting to more sustainable practices. We hope that if, in the future, metals prices drop or regulations become more lenient, that the recycling programs don’t dry up as well.

If you’ve got a home machine you plan to upgrade, or if your business has machines that are out-of-date, here’s a list of major manufacturers with US recycling programs (and the products they’ll accept). There are also donation programs sponsored by both government organizations and private NPOs, if your computer equipment is still usable, and those are listed here at TechSoup. Barring that, you could always take a page from these Mac lovers, and turn your old monitors into aquariums.


Possible Bug In Flu Vaccine System

The FDA has issued a stern warning to pharma giant Sanofi-Aventis after it determined that some of its flu vaccine concentrate failed sterility tests. The concentrate was produced at the company’s Swiftwater, PA plant (which name seems darkly appropriate, given the recent flooding in that part of Pennsylvania) and according to S-A none of the contaminated product found its way into finished vaccine. That’s not satisfactory enough, however, because the FDA learned upon inspection that nobody has figured out where the contamination started; it could therefore happen again. Sanofi insists the problem won’t affect this year’s flu vaccine supply.


Independence Day (Better late than never)

Happy Fifth! We hope everyone had a fantastic 4th and were able to rekindle the spirit of ’76 by browsing US’s excellent overview of the Declaration of Independence—you could even re-read the D of I, since you probably haven’t since the fifth grade. While you’re holding those self-evident truths, you could also read about recent immigrants in Queens who appreciate their new life in the US, via the New York Times.

Or you could read about fun stuff: here’s the chemistry behind fireworks, and an explanation of how they’re made. And from Logistics Today, we have an overview of how your hotdog got from the feedlot to your barbecue via miracles of the supply chain. Welcome back to work!

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