Thanks to Hurricane Irene, I nearly had to write this editorial by lamplight. My home was spared of wind or water damage, but we lost electricity for three days, starting at noon on Sunday, the day after the storm hit New York and New Jersey. A nearby friend — it was a localized outage, affecting around 500 homes and our local shoping strip — graciously offered to put us up, but as dusk settled that first evening and my wife and I read our Kindles by their in-case reading lamps, we decided that it would be just fine to stay in the dark. Our friend still invited us to come by and have some dinner and recharge our devices (Kindles, iPhones and iPads).
By the end of the second unelectric day, I’d achieved satori. I told myself I didn’t need electricity at home (well, not much), as long as I could drive somewhere to recharge and get online (didn’t want to bump up against my iPad’s 3G monthly data-limit, after all). In its wake, Irene left a mild climate, and the evenings were wonderfully cool, so air conditioning wasn’t a necessity.
Outside of the thrumming of some neighbors’ portable generators, the nights were quiet and dark and the sky was full of stars. Except for occasionally blinding myself with my iPhone’s LED-flashlight app while walking the dogs, I was pretty happy to take a little TV and internet shabbat.
All I had to worry about was the ticking time bomb of Temperature Excursion.
I had confidence in the integrity of the full-sized freezer in the garage. We had no reason to open that one up after the blackout, and I’d presciently stored several bags of ice in there before the blackout hit. The deep-frozen meats in there could probably survive a few days.
It was the refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen that troubled me. With each passing, powerless hour on Monday, its brushed steel gaze taunted us. “Why not open me up and see how cool your food is?” it seemed to say. “Don’t you want to get a little something from the cheese-drawer? Surely you won’t be letting out that much cool air . . .”
Tuesday morning was trash day, but our electric company predicted no power until at least Wednesday. Would I junk the ’fridge’s contents? Not even check to see if that herb-crusted salami was still good? Surely my wife’s sriracha would kill any microbe that came in contact with it!
And still the ’fridge stood, implacable, unadorned by kids’ crayon drawings or other magnet-bound decorations, looming over us like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Except potentially filled with pathogens.
I thought, “Kevin O’Donnell would never let me live it down if I got sick off of spoiled food while finishing the same issue that contains his Seven Signs of an Unhealthy Cold Chain article, plus another cold chain piece and a logistics interview!” Then I thought, “I may not live it down if I die from eating spoiled food!”
P.S.: The power didn’t get restored for another 20 hours. No lie: fewer than five hours after it got electricity back, the local McDonald’s had a line of customers outside its drive-through. They were craving food that had gone 60+ hours without refrigeration.
What I’m Reading
How Novartis Plans to Avoid the 'Patent Cliff'
Eva von Schaper, Bloomberg BusinessWeek – http://buswk.co/oM9X3E
Our #2 Top Pharma company faces $10 billion in lost revenue in the next few years due to generics. This short article details several of Novartis’ strategies to ameliorate that situation.
The impact of mergers on pharmaceutical R&D
John L. LaMattina, Nature Reviews Drug Discovery – http://bit.ly/nGu4Wg
Comment: A scathing take on how M&A paralyzes pharma R&D. We hear this sort of indictment all the time, but this time it’s written by the former R&D president of Pfizer. He offers some followup to the article at his blog: http://johnlamattina.wordpress.com/
The Most Human Human, by Brian Christian
Comment: I wrote about this book in my June column, vis-a-vis an interview I heard with its author. Among other topics, it’s about the way our interactions with computers and screens change the way we relate to people. There’s a fantastic chapter about chess and the development of opening theory that illustrates how we become less human even as we excel at the things that are supposed to make us rise above the animals.
What are you reading?