Monthly Archives: January 2010

George Orwell was way ahead of his time

It has been a while since my last post, as any food industry news seems insignificant when compared to the events unfolding in Haiti.   Still, I could not help but shudder as I read that New Hampshire narrowly passed a measure that limits the adoption of RFID/EPCs, electronic product codes, or smart tags, on consumer products, by 186 to 170, a mere 16 votes.
RFID is found on driver’s licenses, E-Z pass, so why all the fuss?  Well, EPCs are in fact mini-computers that are attached to each product.  Such computers could remind you, via email/SMS, when you are down to your last can of coke, soup, etc., interrupting far more important tasks for what is essentially ads or spam.  As I place products in my cart, the location of my products, and my exact location as well, would be known to my Grocer, and to the manufacturer, thousands of miles away!  If you ever needed to use your grocer’s bathroom before, you surely wouldn’t now, as it would be as if you had LoJacked yourself- sound intrusive?    I certainly thought so several years ago when I first heard the folks at MIT, funded by their neighborhood Proctor & Gamble, plead for support from the NIH for the commercialization of this technology, yet they hadn’t completed any studies, nor planned to study, its affect on food safety.  Specifically, does the requisite hertz employed to communicate with the tags,  affect the composition or shelf life of products? and is certain packaging more susceptible than others?   All very necessary questions in light of the recent mercury contamination detected in cans of tuna.

So, why is this vote so close?  Jobs, plain and simple.   When elected officials have the opportunity to bring jobs to their region,  due diligence often falls by the wayside.    Commerce cannot come at the expense of ethics.   And why am I so alarmed?  The high court ruled last week that corporations may make limitless contributions to the candidates they favor.   It is only a matter of time then, before the companies like  P G & G buy the passage of such bills.    Make your voice heard or you have no one else to blame for what may be “Orwellian” times ahead

Safety in [cell] numbers

I am no different than many women struggling to balance my commitments to work and family.    Yet, I  have another “family”,  and I do not mean the “Tony Soprano” kind, but my community of users who need updated information as soon as it becomes available.  Never  was that more apparent to me as I proceeded to enter all the recall messages for the list of affected Tylenol products on Friday.

The past week has been particularly busy for manufacturers, and supermarkets, as they remove  [possibly] tainted products from store shelves,  and this is where ScanAvert’s value is best demonstrated.   If you weren’t aware, one of the many features ScanAvert offers, is automated delivery of product recall messages for products scanned.   And so, my daughter waited patiently for her ride as I insisted on some uninterrupted time to enter this information, just as her brother did on Wednesday when Parker’s Farm recalled its product line.  Still,  it was with some surprise, and much comfort, when I saw the recall message on my cell phone for the Tylenol pain reliever in my own cupboard.   My family members don’t have food allergies, conditions or dietary values that I need to monitor, and our occasional prescribed drug is usually an antibiotic, but I scan each and every product I purchase, and even those residing in my pantry or medicine cabinet, since I’m not always aware what other family members may have purchased and I urge all of you to do the same.  Otherwise, I, and perhaps you, might  have been oblivious to the potential harm in the cupboard.   I’m reminded of that toupe’d owner of The Hairclub for Men, who claimed, “I’m not only the president, but I’m also a client” and this week that statement truly resonated with me.

Fat ‘n’ Lazy

Another season of holiday gifts has come and gone.  The top sellers, no surprise, were video games, with most revenue reaped by celluloid violentainment designed for maximum kill, minimum energy expenditure.    The simple question, ‘wanna play?’  used to conjure up images of barbies, or kickball in the street,  but now takes on a whole different meaning as our kids communicate in the virtual world of x-box live.

As video gets more refined and sophisticated, the action on the screen holds an inverse relationship to the action of the player as we become more sedentary.  An entire generation is being raised to mimic paraplegics by choice.  And that is a scary thought.  Kids who don’t get off their asses, soon won’t. This generation of our kids will be the laziest, least fit population of Americans yet. While we can lament the lack of physical activity that is essence of video games, we must recognize how they affect the mind as well. Recently it was reported that inmates had a higher snack consumption in childhood than their non-incarcerated counterparts. That does not mean that sweets and potato chips induce violence and lawlessness, but that the caregivers of these individuals failed to set limits when they were young. If we fail to set limits now, what will be the repercussions for our children’s future work ethic, production for our economy, ability to support retirement beneficiaries, security, integrity, generosity, morality, vestment in their community, health and longevity necessary to raise their own children?

As parents we need to embrace the simple word “No”, and start including it in our vernacular on a frequent basis.   Find innovative hiding places for those controllers, and protect them as you would your passwords.   Another sensible thought is a tax on companies who profit from this sedentary lifestyle they are peddling.   With childhood obesity rates hovering at 13% this could be the next epidemic, after smoking, related to consumer habits. With such enormous profits in the gaming industry, this tax, akin to the tax levied on tobacco companies, could underwrite the future health bills related to their sedentary customers. So while you prioritize your New Year’s resolutions of visiting the gym, sticking to your diet, getting more sleep, your kids need one too.  Let their’s be the one you follow through on

ScanAvert Usage

An overseas colleague and I were ruminating on how to educate the public on barcode scanning.  He is interested in licensing ScanAvert and claimed that his native population was far more knowledgeable and experienced in adapting to  factors that can interfere with scanning success.   His view was that non-US populations read data while their US counterparts have the attention span of humming birds and and only patience for what can be absorbed in a video game.    From some of the comments we read, we fear he may have a point;   more than one blogger wrote that our service would be great if it assured privacy of its users.   While we prominently place this privacy pledge everywhere, it cannot be read by the blindfolded.   Many of our users select diets without reading the displayed terms that diet safeguards against, even though they must acknowledge they have read the terminology.   As the saying goes.. “You can lead a horse to water but cannot make it drink.”

So we begin our new year hoping our members, and those new to us, have downloaded our most recent version which includes a Custom Diet box for those of you who would like to add a diet or term(s) not already in our list.   Once you add a custom diet, it is visible to you/your login but not added to our drop down menu of common diets.  This was our best solution since we were bombarded with so many specific diets, it would require scrolling down several pages to view all the diets our users requested.   This empowers you to evaluate which source has the “best” or “most complete” list of terms for you/your family.

With a single scan, ScanAvert delivers product compatibility, label content and product images for that product as well as ten substitute products.  This requires a robust Internet connection.  We think the Android-embedded scanner  is very accurate,  however there are some idiosyncracies that pertain to not only ScanAvert but other barcode scanning solutions, although we deliver far more content than the average barcode scanning application so may be more affected.   In testing in the NY metro area we have noted that if the connection is weak or interfered, the query [scan] is halted.   Often,  merely re-scanning delivers the query result/information.    We have also noted that large cases, refrigeration aisles, can require an adjustment in position, and certain retailers have better mobile access than others.   For precisely this reason, I switched grocers and my shopping task is just as efficient as it was before;  adaptation is an amazing thing, in tasks and technology.