Monthly Archives: May 2014

Why Is This Poor Little LOLCat Begging You?

As per our post on April 26, this poor little LOLCat is Begging You to Stop Harper.

Why is this poor little LOLCat begging you to Stop Harper? Because when even the leading academics of China call your prime minister “Canada’s George W. Bush” and a leader who has overseen a sullying of the country’s international reputation, you know things are bad. (This quote is from Nathan Vanderklippe’s article in the Friday, May 16 edition of
The Globe and Mail print edition, page A9, in the article headlined Canada’s image in decline, say Chinese.

You have to admit, they do look very much alike in this picture!

The Board Gamers Guide to Supply Management Part XXII: Thurn and Taxis

Thurn and Taxis, by Rio Grande Games, is a very interesting game. In this game, each player is trying to build a competing postal system in Bavaria (which is now a southeast German state) in the 17th century when travel relied on (horse-drawn) carriages. In order to do this, she must build post offices in as many of the 22 major cities as she is able to, before someone else builds her 20th, and last, post office or acquires a carriage worth 7 points (which will be the 17th carriage acquired in the game). Like Ticket to Ride and Camelot, the Build, the game is very easy to learn, and the basic rules can be picked up by a new player in just a few minutes. But also like both of these games, mastery is considerably more difficult as your options depend not only on the cards available to you but what your opponents choose to do as well.

In Thurn and Taxis, you are trying to build post offices that establish a postal system, and you do so by building postal routes of three or more cities. When you have a route of 3 or more cities, you may close the route and place post offices in every city on the route that is contained in one province or in one city from every province that is covered by the route. A “good” route, when closed, will allow you to place a post office in every city on the route, but a “poor” route will only let you place post offices in some of the cities. Furthermore, the identification of the “right” route is hampered by the fact that the first player to build a post office in every city in a province gets a high score for doing so, the first player to build a post office in every province gets a high score for doing so, the first player to close a route of length 5, 6, and 7 also gets a high score for doing so, and the player to trigger the game end condition gets an additional 1 point. (Subsequent players to do the same score less.) Not only do you have to build routes, like in Ticket to Ride, but you have to build effective routes. Furthermore, to add an extra level of complexity, once you begin to build a route you must add to the route on every turn (until you close it) or you lose the route. (If you have a route of 6 you can close but decide to go for the route of length 7 for the biggest bonus, and you aren’t able to extend it in your next turn, your gamble could cost you everything, and anywhere between 3 and 6 turns of effort will vanish.)

The rules of Thurn and Taxi are easily summed up as follows. On her turn, a player, who can only use the special ability of one of the four postal officials (Administrator, PostMaster, Postal Carrier, and Cartwright) on her turn, will:

  1. Optionally use the special ability of the Administrator to replace the six cards available to him to build a route.
  2. Add a city card to her hand, and, optionally (unless it is the player’s first turn, then she must), use the special ability of the PostMaster to add a second city card to her hand.
  3. Play a city card from her hand to create a new, or add to an existing, route, and, optionally, use the Postal Carrier to play a second city card to her route.
    If she has no cards in play, or cannot add to an existing route, she starts a new route and the previous route, if there was one, is discarded.
  4. If the route is of length 3 or more, close and score her current route (by placing post offices and collecting any bonus tiles and/or carriages earned) and, optionally, use the Cartwright to acquire a carriage that is associated with a route up to two cities longer than the route she closed. If the player has more than three cards in her hand when she closes a route, she must discard down to three cards.

The only other rule is that the carriages must be acquired in value order, even if a player closes a longer route. (And that is why the first carriage of value 7, for a route of length 7, will always be the 17th carriage acquired.)

It’s simple, but just like in real supply chains, timing is everything. It mimics some of the intricacies and complexities of trying to coordinate shipments through multiple cross-docks and stops across multiple carriers. With capacity tight, do you try to acquire extra options (by taking a second city card) to guarantee capacity later? When you have extra capacity, do you expedite some goods (by playing a second city card) in the hopes of preventing inventory build-ups and storefront stock-outs later? If your current options look less-than promising, do you instead focus efforts on finding new options (by wiping the board and turning up six new city cards) instead of trying to develop your current options? Or, do you maximize the one option available to you and give a marquis customer better than expected service in exchange for goodwill and quicker payment (by using the ability of the Cartwright to score more). Like Ticket to Ride and Camelot, the Build, this game can also be played during lunch-hour and also exercises your strategic thinking, because each opponent is trying to do what’s best for them, and in doing so might undermine your best efforts (just like a competitor can swoop in and tie up all remaining capacity on a lane if you don’t get the paperwork in before them).

Plus, the base game supports a couple of expansions, including All Roads Lead to Rome which includes two mini-expansions to the game that give you even more options to balance. In the mini “Offices of Honor” expansion, nothing changes in the base gameplay but if a player balances her usage of the different postal staff members, she will occasionally get extra help. Each time a player uses a postal staff member, she gets a token indicating her use thereof. When the tokens for a particular staff member run out, each player must turn in 1 to 4 different tiles to the supply. If a player returns 2 different tiles, she gets to take an extra face-up city card. If a player returns 3 different tiles, she gets a victory point. And if a player returns a set of 4 different tiles, she may place one of her post offices anywhere on the game board, even if such placement triggers the generation of victory points in her favour. (In real life, if you use each of your carriers for routes and modes they are best at, and use them wisely, your on-time delivery percentage shoots up.)

In “The Audience”, in addition to having to build postal routes, you are also transporting 5 clergymen to attend an audience with the Pope in 5 different carriages. When a route is closed, for each city card in the close route in which a post office was not built, the corresponding carriage transporting a clergyman is moved one city closer to Rome. Your goal is to not only get your clergymen to Rome, but get them their in the right order. The ministrant should arrive before the priest who should arrive before the deacon who should arrive before the bishop who should arrive before the cardinals. Sounds easy, but your clergyman share a carriage with one clergyman of each other player, and you don’t know which clergyman the other players have assigned to each carriage. In other words, while you are trying to advance a particular carriage to get your ministrant there first, the other player is trying to hold it back because it contains her cardinal whom she wants to get there last. So the choice of routes gets even more strategic because if you build a route that ends up advancing the carriage with your cardinal and bishop too fast, you’re not going to score many bonus points at the end of the game. This expansion serves to add another element of randomness to the game, just like unexpected disruptions add another element of randomness to logistics planning.

It’s a good, simple, logistics-themed game to play when you have a lunch hour to spare.

Screening Questions to ask Prospective Suppliers

A recent article over on Supply Chain Digital on nine crucial questions to ask prospective suppliers was in the right direction when it presented a small set of questions to screen prospective suppliers. Before inviting a supplier to an RFP, the following questions should be included on every RFI:

Can we have a copy of your Code of Ethics?
If the vendor doesn’t have one, or won’t give it to you, sound all the sirens and run for the hills. No organization can afford a publicity disaster these days.

Can you provide 3rd party proof that you live up to it?
It’s one thing to say you have an ethics policy, it’s another to follow it — and another yet to have true third party proof that you do. Make sure the certification is from a true third party and not from a small consortium of vendors that fund the certification agency.

Can we have a copy of your Quality Assurance Process?
If the vendor doesn’t have one, or won’t give it to you, then you need to ask yourself what kind of quality you can expect.

What certifications do you have with regards to this process? ISO? ASQ? etc.
If the vendor doesn’t have any certifications, how much faith can you put into the process the vendor is using?

Can you provide references from current AND former clients who did business with you for at least 2 years?
You don’t want references who have been with the vendor less than a year because the blush is still on the rose and they will be full of peace and love for the vendor. You need a real review from an experienced customer who can tell you what’s good and not so good. No vendor is perfect, and if the not so good is not relevant to your business, then their imperfection is irrelevant. Plus, if customers’ left, why? Was it due to a change in business? Or poor performance? If the customer left for due to a change in business, and they still have a good reference for the former supplier, then that speaks volumes. If the customer left due to continuously poor performance, that also speaks volumes.

Do you understand our business? Explain!

If the supplier has never supplied a customer in your vertical, and you have special needs, this could be an issue. It could also be an issue if they have never supplied a customer with special needs in your vertical or you have considerably different requirements than the average company in your vertical. Make sure the vendor has a good understanding of who you are as a company by asking this open ended question.

Who are your top competitors? Why are you better for us?

Everyone has competitors. If they don’t, then they are misguided or selling a product or service no one needs. There are no Blue Oceans any more, just open oceans that are only sparsely sailed (by a few companies who are eager explorers). Make sure they give you a few real competitors as well as a good reason as to why they are better, as this will serve to not only enforce their answer to the previous question (and let you know if they really understand your business) but let you know that they have attempted to be honest in their assessment.

What Will It Take for North America to Embrace Sustainable Energy?

Fracking might get us more natural gas, but the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release the natural gas is risky.

First of all, there are the hundreds of chemicals used in the fracking fluid which include a number of dangerous carcinogens and toxins such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid, and formaldehyde which can, and do, leak into ground water suppliers. For example, methane concentrations are 17x higher in drinking-water wells near fracturing sites than in normal wells. And it’s a sure thing that some of the fluid is going to leak considering at most 50% of the fracturing fluid, that is not biodegradable, is recovered.

In addition, some of this fracking fluid will evaporate and release harmful volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere that can contaminate the air and create acid rain.

If something goes wrong, the well can explode, and, in addition to killing and injuring workers, spark fires that can burn for days. This happened recently in Pennsylvania, where Chevon decided that it could offer free pizza to make up for deadly fracking explosion.

If too much gas is released, gravity can bring the earth down to fill the empty chambers and create massive sinkholes that can swallow entire towns. This is what happened last year to Bayou Corne, Louisiana.

In other words, while it works, it’s just not safe — in comparison to solar, wind, and water power which is plentiful, safe, and provided for free by mother nature. Now it won’t solve all of our energy problems, and we’re not going to be running trucks, trains, and planes on renewable energy any time soon — but, combined with natural (pump storage, etc.) and man-made “battery” arrays (which could include water and geothermal storage in addition to lithium-ion storage), it could solve more than half of our global energy problem with the appropriate balance and investment.

And if even the CEO of a known fracking company isn’t comfortable with fracking in his own backyard and is joining in on anti-fracking lawsuits (like the CEO of Exxon, as per this Salon article), that should tell us something.

Are Money Launderers Putting Your Trade At Risk?

According to a recent article in the Economist, Trade is the Weakest Link in the Fight Against Dirty Money. And, as a result, your supply chain is threatened. But let’s back up a bit. The article starts off by noting that:

Cuddly toys don’t have to be stuffed with cocaine or cash to be useful to traffickers. A few years ago American customs investigations uncovered a scheme in which a Colombian cartel used proceeds from drug sales to buy stuff animals in Las Angeles. By exporting them to Colombia, it was able to bring its ill-gotten gains home, convert them to pesos and get them into the banking system.

But this is not the only way cartels are abusing trade. For example, we also have mis-invoicing, and the example of:

A front company for a Mexican cartel might sell $1m-worth of oranges to an American importer, while creating paperwork for $3m-worth, giving it cover to send a dirty $2m back home. One group of launderers was reportedly caught exporting plastic buckets that cost $970 each from the Czech Republic to America.

And now, to make matters worse, as chronicled in Drug Cartels are ruining Cinco de Mayo, in addition to using trade to launder dirty money, when they don’t get their way, drug cartels are using violence to take control of high-value shipments, bolstering their ability to not only launder money across borders but control entire commodity markets in a country, which means they make large profits off of their money laundering activities.

So, you have:

  1. Old-Fashioned Laundering where money is converted to products, shipped, sold and converted back to money
  2. Mis-Invoicing Laundering where money is converted to products, bought low, and sold high
  3. Market-Manipulation Laundering where cartels force products high on the market through demand manipulation so they can buy high, sell slightly higher, and not attract attention because the products are being bought and sold near market price

And each threatens your supply chain.

With old-fashioned laundering, a trading partner could be buying and selling your product to launder money, putting your company at risk of being identified as an accomplice to money laundering.

With mis-invoice laundering, your company is part of the money laundering scheme, which means someone in your company is part of the money laundering scheme, and this could bankrupt your company if the DoJ swoops in and shuts your company down while the mess is sorted out.

With market-manipulation laundering, if you are a buyer or a seller of the product being manipulated, you are affected as your costs can quickly skyrocket and your product lines will be at risk if your competition senses the situation and scoops up available inventory before you do.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do on your own except maintain vigilance and make sure that your supply chain is not involved. You do this by way of regular auditors from independent third parties who report not to the people doing the trading and keeping the books, but the CEO and CFO who could be criminally on the hook if the money laundering schemes of terrorist organization are aided and abetted by the company.