December 3, 2013 11:12 am
For the past 27 years, PNC Financial has been keeping track of the changing price of the”Twelve Days of Christmas,” watching how gold rings and dancers and swans have changed in price with time. Imagine it’s 1986, and a young Christmas-obsessed entrepreneur is thinking through all of the ways he could turn some coin. After all, someone must be raising all those hens, or crafting the golden rings, or piping the pipes—surely one of those industries comes with healthy margins.
Of the twelve days of Christmas, the gifts are:
- a partridge in a pear tree
- two turtle doves
- three french hens
- four calling birds
- five golden rings
- six geese-a-laying
- seven swans-a-swimming
- eight maids-a-milking
- nine ladies dancing
- 10 lords-a-leaping
- 11 pipers piping
- 12 drummers drumming.
So which job should an ambitious young person choose?
Using PNC’s historical data, we’ve charted out the changing price of these iconic Christmas gifts. (Click the graphs to zoom in.)
Looks pretty good, right? Almost all of the Christmas industries have shown some solid growth over the past few decades. Dancing ladies seem to be doing particularly well; drummers and pipers are locked in step.
But here’s the thing about this Christmas story—it lasts for 12 days. And as the carol goes, the presents are trotted out more than once. Sure, there’s a partridge in a pear tree on the first day, but there’s also another partridge in a pear tree on day two, and day three, and twelve. So, maybe the earning potential for a single french hen isn’t so great, but you’ll be selling 10 days worth of them.
Here’s how the Christmas industries change when you take repeat performances into consideration.
We can see three industries standing above the crowd: swimming swans, dancing ladies, and leaping lords command a high price.
But there’s another factor to consider here. All that money for dancers? It’s going to get split nine ways. So, sure, your dancing troupe may be doing well, but your career as a dancer would be much less lucrative.
So what can we learn about choosing a Christmas-based career when individualized earning potentials are taken into consideration? Maybe it’s time to get some swans.
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December 2, 2013 12:20 pm
Disposable foam lunch trays may soon become a thing of the past. The Urban School Food Alliance, composed of urban school systems in New York, Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, aims to make school lunches more sustainable (and, in the long term, economical, the New York Times reports. The alliance’s first step: compostable lunch trays.
The trays, made out of sugar cane rather than polystyrene, can be turned into compost along with any uneaten food scraps students leave behind, the Times reports. Although foam trays are cheaper at about 4 cents a pop, the compostable versions, which currently cost 15 cents, could potentially earn back what schools spend on them through the sale of compost. Initial trials in these six cities will keep some 271 million food trays out of landfills.
Currently, the alliance is attempting to settle on one manufacturer to supply the trays nationwide. Here’s the Times:
If a winning bidder is chosen, the other alliance members will be able to piggyback on the contract, placing their own orders without having to navigate a separate bidding process. The call for bids names all six districts and says they must all be allowed to place orders at the same price.
So far, the Times says, 21 companies have been in touch about entering the bidding process. After the compostable trays are in place, the alliance plans to move on to introducing healthier food—such as antibiotic-free chicken and pesticide-free produce—as well as less wasteful utensils and packaging.
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November 26, 2013 9:45 am
On Friday, the FDA sent a warning letter to Anne Wojcicki, the CEO of 23andMe, a personal genome testing service, telling the company to stop selling their product immediately. This was a particularly intense letter. It cited the lack of evidence for several claims the company has made about the medical usefulness of their genetic results and the dangers of those claims, and it’s been described as “unusually stern” and “brutally scathing.”
“You don’t need to be an expert in the regulations covering medical tests to know that the Food and Drug Administration has just about had it with Silicon Valley’s 23andMe,” writes Scott Hensley at NPR.
The issue is not that company does genetic testing, but that it markets the test as medical service that can help people plan healthier lives. But, really, this debate isn’t about 23andMe, but a broader question of how to deliver and interpret personal genetic data. Can people interpret their own results and act in a medically appropriate way?
The FDA points to the BRCA gene as an example:
For instance, if the BRCA-related risk assessment for breast or ovarian cancer reports a false positive, it could lead a patient to undergo prophylactic surgery, chemoprevention, intensive screening, or other morbidity-inducing actions, while a false negative could result in a failure to recognize an actual risk that may exist.
The bigger problem, as Christine Gorman points out at Scientific American, the $99 kit from 23andMe can give you data but can’t analyze it for you. Simply getting your genetic sequence without comparing it to others isn’t all that useful. You need analysis to identify medical risks, Gorman writes:
Using home gene kits to imagine where your ancestors might hail from is one thing. That’s basically the 21st century equivalent of looking up your horoscope–entertaining but not really a matter of life and death. Cheap sequence data from 23andMe and other gene testing companies has much greater potential to harm without the proper interpretation of the results, which is still quite difficult and expensive in most cases.
23andMe has never been approved for medical use. The company applied to the FDA for clearance in September of 2012, and not only failed to qualify, but failed to address any of the questions and issues the agency brought up regarding that application, according to the FDA. In fact, the FDA says in its letter, it hasn’t heard a word from 23andMe since May. Most proponents of 23andMe don’t dispute whether the company has played by the rules with the FDA. Instead, they’re arguing that the rules are stupid. At the Conversation, Gholson Lyon writes:
Somehow the US and UK governments find it acceptable to store massive amounts of data about their own citizens and that of the rest of the world. They are happy spending billions on such mass surveillance. But if the same people want to spend their own money to advance genomic medicine and possibly improve their own health in the process, they want to stop them.
More to the point, patients have a right to make dumb decisions if they want to. We don’t ban patients from reading medical textbooks or WebMD, even though doing so undoubtedly leads to some harmful self-diagnoses. In a free society, patients have a right to accurate information about their health, even if medical professionals and regulators fear patients will misuse it. That includes information about our genetic code.
For Lee and Gholson, the question isn’t really about whether or not 23andMe has failed to work with the FDA or not, but rather about our intrinsic right to our own data. And 23andMe’s seemingly complete failure to work with the FDA could set all sorts of genetic testing services back, according to Matthew Herper at Forbes:
The FDA would probably like to be able to regulate genetic tests much the same way as it does drugs, regulating each individual use to make sure there is enough data to support it. But that’s untenable; there are about two dozen drugs approved each year, while there are tens of thousands of genes that mean different things in different combinations, or when there are different changes in them.
For now, if it wants to be on the bleeding edge of personal genetic testing, 23andMe will have to try and patch things up with the FDA. They have 15 days to respond to the FDA’s letter, but it might already be too late.
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November 25, 2013 1:48 pm
To keep employees around, new research shows, managers should actively promote a fun-filled environment. But keeping those happy workers, however, does come with a cost. The more a manager is on board with the fun and games, the less productive employees under his or her control will be.
Researchers at Penn State University decided to investigate employee retention after hearing complaints about high turnover rates in the hospitality industry. “If you don’t like your job at Chili’s you can go to TGI Friday’s down the street,” explained hospitality professor Michael Tews. This is a bane for managers, however, who have wind up spending all of their time hiring and training new employees rather than making money.
The researchers interviewed 195 servers from an unnamed but popular U.S. restaurant chain to get their take on this issue. The researchers compared the servers’ descriptions of how much fun they had at work and how pro-fun their managers were—including whether they threw company parties, hosted good-spirited sales competitions and acknowledged employee birthdays—with each restaurant’s sales.
Fun-loving managers, it turns out, have the highest employee retention rates. But they also suffer from overall lower sales performance. If employees were broken down by age, however, the data show that older employees actually increase their sales performance at funner jobs. Younger workers, apparently, are less adept at balancing a work-play mix than older ones.
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November 22, 2013 2:16 pm
Fuel cells, as a technology, are nearly 100 years old, and concept cars powered by hydrogen have been a mainstay at auto shows for years. A hydrogen fuel cell-powered SUV from Chevrolet recently marked its 100,000th mile, and now, finally, fuel cell cars are ready for prime time.
At the Tokyo and Los Angeles motor shows this week, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai announced that they have cars that are nearly road ready. A fuel cell SUV, a modified version of the Hyundai Tucson, will be on sale in the U.S. in the new year, while Toyota and Honda are pushing to have a mass-manufactured fuel cell SUVs by 2015.
Many car companies are working on fuel cell cars, says Extreme Tech, including “Honda/Acura, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Ford/Lincoln, General Motors, Honda/Acura, Nissan/Infiniti, and Toyota/Lexus.” Some auto makers also have electric or gas-electric hybrid vehicles
But if the roll out of electric vehicles has taught us anything, says Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, it’s that just because the cars are capable doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily see mass-market approval. People still need to buy them.
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