« May 2010 | Main | July 2010 »


June 30, 2010

Swedish Town Wants Nuclear Waste Dump




OsthammarSwedenNuclearWasteSite2010-05-20.jpg"Osthammar is competing for the right to host a storage site for radioactive waste." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


After reading Petr Beckmann's The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear, a few decades ago, I became convinced that nuclear power was being rejected in the United States due to irrational fears based on a failure to make reasonable estimates of the costs and the benefits.

Isn't it ironic that the irrational fear of nuclear power is at long last being overcome mainly by the irrational fear of global warming?


(p. A10) . . . , in Osthammar, . . . as many as 80 percent of the 21,000 inhabitants are in favor of the nuclear waste dump. The town is now one of two finalists among the communities in Sweden that vied for the right to host the dump.

Sweden, which swore off nuclear power after less than 20 percent of Swedes approved of it in a referendum in the 1980s, would seem an unlikely place for such a competition. But it has reversed course recently and plans to begin building new nuclear reactors, adding to the 10 it already operates.

But legislation requires that before any new plants can be built, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, better known by the initials SKB, must first create permanent storage space for the radioactive waste the reactors produce.

In most countries, of course, people would sooner allow a factory hog farm or garbage incinerator in their backyards than a nuclear waste dump. But in Sweden, SKB found 18 of 20 possible towns near proposed sites intrigued by their proposition. Then it had to whittle the list down to two, Osthammar and Oskarshamn, both already the site of nuclear plants.

SKB recently said it would ask the Swedish government later this year for permission to build the storage depot in Osthammar. If the government gives the green light to Osthammar over Oskarshamn, construction could begin some time after 2015, officials said.

Claes Thegerstrom, a nuclear physicist who is the chief executive of SKB, attributed the new attitude of Swedes toward nuclear energy to fears of global warming. "In the 1980s nobody was mentioning CO2," or carbon dioxide, considered the major cause of global warming, he said. "Now, it's on the top of the list of environmental issues." Since they burn no fossil fuels, nuclear power plants do not produce carbon dioxide.




For the full story, see:

JOHN TAGLIABUE. "Osthammar Journal; A Town Says 'Yes, in Our Backyard' to Nuclear Site." The New York Times (Tues., April 6, 2010): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 5, 2010.)


Beckmann's wonderful book was:

Beckmann, Petr. The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear. Golem Press, 1976.





June 29, 2010

Wozniak: "It Was as if My Whole Life Had Been Leading Up to this Point"




(p. 155) It was as if my whole life had been leading up to this point. I'd done my minicomputer redesigns. I'd done data on--screen with Pong and Breakout., and I'd already done a TV terminal. From the Cream Soda Computer and others, I knew how to connect memory and make a working system. I realized that all I needed was this Canadian processor or another processor like it and (p. 156) some memory chips. Then I'd have the computer I'd always wanted!

Oh my god. I could build my own computer, a computer I could own and design to do any neat things I wanted to do with it for the rest of my life.

I didn't need to spend $400 to get an Altair--which really was just a glorified bunch of chips with a metal frame around it and some lights. That was the same as my take-home salary, I mean, come on. And to make the Altair do anything interesting, I'd have to spend way, way more than that. Probably hundreds, even thousands of dollars. And besides, I'd already been there with the Cream Soda Computer. I was bored with it then. You never go back. You go forward. And now, the Cream Soda Computer could be my jumping-off point.

No way was I going to do that. I decided then and there I had the opportunity to build the complete computer I'd always wanted. I just needed any microprocessor, and I could build an extremely small computer I could write programs on. Programs like games, and the simulation programs I wrote at work. The possibilities went on and on. And I wouldn't have to buy an Altair to do it. I would design it. all by myself.

That night, the night of that first meeting, this whole vision of a kind of personal computer just popped into my head. All at once. Just like that.



Source:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.





June 28, 2010

China Exports to U.S. Are Smaller than Trade Stats Imply




ImportedContentInExportsGraph2010-05-20.gif












Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.





(p. A2) The WTO says world trade fell 12.2% in 2009. On Friday, the organization predicted that trade would bounce back sharply this year, rising 9.5%.

But these figures don't tell the whole truth about trade.

According to some economists, trade in finished products--the things consumers actually buy, such as cars, computers and iPods--declined by much less than 12.2% last year. That is because as much as two-thirds of the value of goods that go into trade statistics represent intermediate parts, which are imported from other countries and used to make finished products that then get re-exported. Economists call this the "valued-added effect." If the value of imported parts were stripped out, however, global trade would have declined by between 4% and around 8% last year, economists say.

By ignoring the multinational composition of goods, conventional trade data also make trade imbalances between some trading partners seem larger than they really are.

China imports a huge quantity of parts from places like Japan and South Korea, but when those components are assembled into finished goods and shipped to the U.S., all the pieces count as Chinese exports, inflating the U.S. trade imbalance with its most polarizing trade partner.

A study by the Sloan Foundation in 2007, for example, found that only $4 of an iPod that costs $150 to produce is made in China, even though the final assembly and export occurs in China. The remaining $146 represents parts imported to China. If only the value added by manufacturers in China were counted, the real U.S.-China trade deficit would be as much as 30% lower than last year's gap of at $226.8 billion, according to a number of economists.

At the same time, the U.S. trade deficit with Japan would have been 25% higher than the $44.8 billion reported last year, because many goods that China and others export to the U.S. contain parts purchased in Japan.



For the full story, see:

JOHN W. MILLER. "THE NUMBERS GUY; Some Say Trade Numbers Don't Deliver the Goods ." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 27, 2010): A2.





June 27, 2010

Government Financing Is Not Best Method to Finance Creativity




(p. B4) Government financing is not the best method to prod companies to be creative, said Edmund S. Phelps Jr., a professor of economics at Columbia University who won the Nobel Prize in 2006. But he said it could work.

He spoke at the forum about dwindling innovation in the United States economy. China, India and Brazil are catching up with innovative output, he said, but not Russia.

A high-technology start-up, he said, inherently runs more risk if it can present its product to only one potential buyer -- the government -- rather than to a range of customers, some of whom may want the product, he said.

"If Russian politicians see that their own prosperity, and that of their people, lies in a more arms-length relationship between the government and business, that would open a lot of possibilities," he said.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER. "Russia Plans to Promote Technology Innovations." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., February 4, 2010): B4.





June 26, 2010

Not All Entrepreneurs Believe in Property Rights




OdomBobbTitanCement2010-05-20.jpg"Titan Cement's Bob Odom in March at the site of a proposed plant near Wilmington, N.C. The company says hundreds of jobs would be created." Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.


Is it just me, or does entrepreneur Lloyd Smith, quoted below, come across as a bit arrogant in believing the government should enforce his view of what Wilmington should be like, even if that means violating the property rights of the owner of the land on which the cement plant will be built? (And even if that means that would-be janitor Ron Givens remains unemployed.)


(p. A3) WILMINGTON, N.C.--The old economy and the new economy are squaring off in this coastal city, which is having second thoughts about revisiting its roots in heavy industry.

Titan Cement Co. of Greece wants to build one of the largest U.S. cement plants on the outskirts of the city and is promising hundreds of jobs. The factory would be on the site of a cement plant that closed in 1982 and today is populated mainly by fire ants, copperhead snakes and the occasional skateboarder.

The proposed $450 million plant by Titan America LLC, Titan's U.S. unit, is welcome news to Ron Givens Sr., a 44-year-old unemployed Wilmington native. Mr. Givens's father supported 12 children while working at the former Ideal Cement plant, and Mr. Givens and two brothers have now applied for jobs with Titan. "I will apply for janitor if that's what is going to get me into that plant," he said.

But thousands of opponents have petitioned local and state politicians to block the plan. They object to the emissions from the plant and say it will scare off tourists, retirees, entrepreneurs and others who might otherwise want to live here.

An initial state environmental review has dragged on for two years, and critics of the plant have filed a lawsuit seeking to further broaden the review. The governor, amid public pressure, has asked the State Bureau of Investigation to probe the plant's permitting process.

"That's their tactic: Delay, delay, and at some point Titan will leave," said Bob Odom, Titan's general manager in Wilmington, of opposition efforts.

Among the most vocal opponents is a fast-growing class of high-tech entrepreneurs and telecommuters who moved to Wilmington in recent years, drawn to the temperate climate, sandy beaches and good fishing. They argue the plant, by curbing the community's appeal, will cost more jobs and tax revenue in the long run than it produces.

"I think we can be discriminating," said Lloyd Smith, a 43-year-old entrepreneur who moved here from northern Virginia in 2001 and founded Cortech Solutions Inc., a neuroscience company with nine employees and about $5 million in annual sales.

The standoff in Wilmington reflects a broader tug-of-war across the country as communities try to kick-start employment. It is unclear how much manufacturing will power the long-term U.S. economic recovery--even in southern states that have long embraced heavy industry but have begun to feel the new economy's pull.




For the full story, see:

MIKE ESTERL. "Clash of Old, New Economy; Cement Plant Is Resisted by Some Neighbors Who Would Rather Lure High-Tech Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 6, 2010): A3.


ServicesManufactureGraph2010-05-20.jpg


















Source of graph: scanned from print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






June 25, 2010

Wozniak on the Motives and Rewards of Inventor and Innovator




(p. 147) The whole thing used forty-five chips, and Steve paid me half the seven hundred bucks he said they paid him for it. (They were paying us based on how few chips I could do it. in.) Later I found out he got paid a bit (p. 148) more for it--like a few thousand dollars--than he said at the time, but we were kids, you know. He got paid one amount, and told me he got paid another. He wasn't honest with me, and I was hurt. But I didn't make a big deal about it or anything.

Ethics always mattered to me, and I still don't really understand why he would've gotten paid one thing and told me he'd gotten paid another. But, you know, people are different. And in no way do I regret the experience at Atari with Steve Jobs. He was my best friend and I still feel extremely linked with him. I wish him well. And it was a great project that was so fun. Anyway, in the long run of money--Steve and I ended up getting very comfortable money-wise from our work founding Apple just a few years later--it certainly didn't add up to much.

Steve and I were the best of friends for a very, very long time. We had the same goals for a while. They jelled perfectly at forming Apple. But we were always different people, different people right from the start.

You know, it's strange, hut right around the time I started working on what later became the Apple I board, this idea popped into my mind about two guys who die on the same day. One guy is really successful, and he's spending all his time running companies, managing them, making sure they are profitable, and making sales goals all the time. And the other guy, all he does is lounge around, doesn't have much money, really likes to tell jokes and follow gadgets and technology and other things he finds interesting in the world, and he just spends his life laughing.

In my head, the guy who'd rather laugh than control things is going to be the one who has the happier life. That's just my opinion. I figure happiness is the most important thing in life, just how much you laugh. The guy whose head kind of floats, he's so happy. That's who I am, who I want to be and have always wanted to be.

(p. 149) And that's why I never let stuff like what happened with Breakout bother me. Though you can disagree--you can even split from a relationship--you don't have to hold it against the other. You're just different. That's the best way to live life and be happy

And I figured this all out even before Steve and I started Apple.



Source:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.





June 24, 2010

U.S. Jobs Lost Due to Law Restricting Mexican Truck Drivers




CarbonlessPaperMachine2010-05-20.jpg"Carbonless paper comes off a coating machine at Appleton Papers in March. Mexican tariffs have hit sales." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) APPLETON, Wis.--Congress's vote last year to keep Mexican truck drivers south of the border was good news for DuWayne Marshall.

Mr. Marshall, 49 years old, owns a truck and hauls loads all over the U.S. from his home in Wisconsin. "Why should I have to compete against Third World drivers within my own borders?" Mr. Marshall asked during a break on a run to San Diego. "By closing down the borders, we are saving American jobs."

Elizabeth Villagomez, 38, isn't so sure. A single mother of two teens, she has worked at a paper plant in this community near Green Bay for 15 years. After the Mexican government retaliated against the trucking ban by slapping $2 billion in tariffs on U.S. paper, produce and other goods, orders plunged and managers began slashing shifts and overtime for the unionized work force.

"The company has done all it can to cut costs," Ms. Villagomez said. "I'm at the bottom of the list if they have layoffs. It's kind of scary, not knowing if you're going to have a job."


. . .


At Appleton Papers Inc., the fight over who can drive a truck across a border 1,600 miles away has translated into falling wages and rising anxiety.

Rick Bahr, head of the United Steelworkers union local that represents more than 500 employees at the Appleton plant, said six shifts have already been cut, cutting down on overtime.

"The battle ends up union versus union, truckers versus the paper workers," Mr. Bahr said. The national steelworkers' union has been supporting the Teamsters on the issue of Mexican trucks in the U.S.

Nearly half the company's revenue, about $420 million last year, comes from carbonless paper sales. Its largest foreign customer is Mexico. After Mexico put a 10% tariff on carbonless paper, revenue from Mexico fell to $37 million in 2009 from $46 million in 2008.

Now, more Mexican customers say they will look for alternative suppliers to avoid having to bear part of the tariff costs. Just last month a major customer told Appleton it was going to get its carbonless paper from a European producer.

Even before the tariffs were imposed, the company had seen business hit by the economic slowdown and had cut its work force in 2008 and stopped other benefits, such as reimbursing tuition and matching workers' contributions to their 401K retirement plans. Company officials said it was hard to quantify what part of the business downturn could be blamed directly on the tariffs, but they noted that Appleton sold 18% fewer tons of carbonless paper in the U.S. last year, compared with 2008. The number of tons sold to Mexican customers was down 24%.

Inside the plant, the machine that coats 4,000-pound rolls of paper to make it carbonless was idle one recent afternoon. Once run 24 hours a day, it is now used only half that time.

Kevin Bunnow, 50, a 33-year veteran of the plant, said the reduction in shifts had meant a wage cut of several thousand dollars last year.

"When elephants fight, the grass loses," he said. "It didn't take me long to realize, we're the grass."




For the full story, see:

GARY FIELDS. "Trade Dispute Divides Workers; It's 'Union vs. Union' as Ban on Mexican Trucks Cheers Drivers, Triggers Cut in Hours at Paper Plant." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 6, 2010): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 23, 2010

The 'First Mover Advantage' May Be a Disadvantage




During the dot.com era one of the rationalizations for dot.com firms to be losing money was that they had to be the 'first mover' that would grab the demand-side economies of scale arising from network effects.

For a variety of reasons, including the clarity of hindsight, the current consensus if that profitability is always worth worrying about, and being first is far from a guarantee of success.

On the other hand, if the authors quoted below are correct that everyone should be a "fast follower," then who will ever make the first move?

Maybe the problem lies in the metrics of success. Maybe the main measure of success lies in moving an important project forward, rather than being the one who ends up best positioned to monetize the advance?

So, for example, maybe those who built Netscape should be proud of what they did, even though Internet Explorer ended up dominating the market.

(I use "maybe" a lot above, not out of some rhetorical pose of modesty, but because these are issues that I am really grappling with.)


(p. R4) One of the fiercest rivalries in the information-technology world has long been over platforms--products that link users in networks, like iTunes for online music or Windows for computer operating systems. It's often a winner-take-all business; platform leaders can earn huge profits as they tend to dominate markets with few serious competitors.

A myth, however, has attached itself to the history of platforms: that each platform's originator has the best chance of dominating its market for years to come.

The truth is, that is rarely the case.

Instead of there being an advantage to being first, we found the opposite to be true. Most owners of leading IT platforms today did not create the markets they now rule. In almost all of the industries we studied, the current platform leaders introduced their products after a different company had already established the market with a platform of its own.

Out of the 15 platform industries that we studied, 14 of the current leaders began as followers in a market created by a competitor's platform. In only one market, for integrated business software, was the original platform creator still the leader--SAP AG. Five were fast followers, which we define as the second, third or fourth company to enter a market. The other nine were later followers.



For the full commentary, see:

GEZINUS J. HIDDING, JEFFREY R. WILLIAMS And JOHN J. SVIOKLA. "Technology; The IT Platform Principle: The First Shall Not Be First ." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., January 25, 2010): R4.





June 22, 2010

Obama Delays Biotech Innovation




SeedApprovalDelayGraph2010-05-20.jpg



















Source of graph: scanned from the print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A8) The crop-biotechnology industry, growing frustrated as it watches the approval time for new seeds almost double under the Obama administration, is pressuring Washington to clear inventions more quickly.

The logjam at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which must clear genetically modified seeds, is slowing the launch of products that could give farmers more alternatives to seeds from crop biotech giant Monsanto Co.

Also, some biotech-industry executives worry the delays signal that the Obama administration, which has painted itself as pro-biotech, is gearing up for a far tougher analysis of the potential environmental impact of these crops, which could make it harder for inventions to reach the marketplace.

On average, a genetically modified seed takes 1,188 days to pass federal scrutiny, almost twice as long as in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington, D.C., trade group.

"There is concern we might see other countries move ahead of the U.S.," said Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, executive vice president of food and agriculture at BIO, who added that the delays "might stifle investment in what has been a very dynamic part of the U.S. economy." BIO's members include hundreds of companies such as DuPont Co., Syngenta AG and Monsanto, as well as academic institutions.




For the full story, see:

SCOTT KILMAN. "Biotech Firms Seek Speedier Reviews of Seeds; Approval Time for Genetically Modified Crops Doubles under Obama as Some Fear Tougher Stance; Feds Blame Logjam." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 28, 2010): A8.





June 21, 2010

Electronics Projects Were Wozniak's "Passion" and "Pastime" and "Reward"




(p. 127) I think most people with day jobs like to do something totally different when they get home. Some people like to come home and watch TV. But my thing was electronics projects. It was my passion and it was my pastime.

Working on projects was something I did on my own time to reward myself, even though I wasn't getting rewarded on the outside, with money or other visible signs of success.



Source:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.





June 20, 2010

Farmers in India Like Wal-Mart




WalMartIndiaFarmer2010-05-20.JPG"Mohammad Haneef, [above], a farmer in Haider Nagar, said that Wal-Mart is better than his previous clients. "You have to establish trust," he said in Hindi. "Wal-Mart has been paying on time. We would just like them to buy more."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. (Note: bracketed word added.)


(p. B1) HAIDER NAGAR, India -- At first glance, the vegetable patches in this north Indian village look no different from the many small, spare farms that dot the country.

But up close, visitors can see some curious experiments: insect traps made with reusable plastic bags; bamboo poles helping bitter gourd grow bigger and straighter; and seedlings germinating from plastic trays under a fine net.

These are low-tech innovations, to be sure. But they are crucial to the goals of the benefactor -- Wal-Mart -- that supplied them.

Two years after Wal-Mart came to India, it is trying to do to agriculture here what it has done to industries around the world: change business models by using its hyper-efficient practices to improve productivity and speed the flow of goods.


. . .


(p. B3) Here in Haider Nagar, in the bread basket state of Punjab, farmers who supply vegetables to Wal-Mart say they like working with the company. It typically pays them 5 to 7 percent more than they earn from local wholesale markets, they said. And they do not have to pay to transport produce because Wal-Mart picks it up from their fields.

Abdul Majid, who sells cucumbers to Wal-Mart, says his yields have risen about 25 percent since he started following farming advice about when to apply fertilizers and which kinds -- more zinc, less potash -- from the company and its partner, Bayer CropScience.

Mohammad Haneef, a farmer in a nearby village, said he had sold to two other companies before Wal-Mart, but one shut down and the other cheated him and paid him late. Wal-Mart is much better, he said, but its buyers are picky, taking the best vegetables and leaving him with inferior ones that he still must truck to wholesale markets.

"You have to establish trust," he said in Hindi. "Wal-Mart has been paying on time. We would just like them to buy more."



For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJAJ. "Cultivating a Market in India; Wal-Mart Nurtures Suppliers as It Lays Plans for Expansion." The New York Times (Tues., April 13, 2010): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 12, 2010 and has the title "In India, Wal-Mart Goes to the Farm.")





June 19, 2010

Economics Is More Like Biology than Physics




(p. A13) If economics is a science, it is more like biology than physics. Biologists try to understand the relationships in a complex system. That's hard enough. But they can't tell you what will happen with any precision to the population of a particular species of frog if rainfall goes up this year in a particular rain forest. They might not even be able to count the number of frogs right now with any exactness.

We have the same problems in economics. The economy is a complex system, our data are imperfect and our models inevitably fail to account for all the interactions.

The bottom line is that we should expect less of economists. Economics is a powerful tool, a lens for organizing one's thinking about the complexity of the world around us. That should be enough. We should be honest about what we know, what we don't know and what we may never know. Admitting that publicly is the first step toward respectability.



For the full commentary, see:

RUSS ROBERTS. "Is the Dismal Science Really a Science? Some macroeconomists say if we just study the numbers long enough we'll be able to design better policy. That's like the sign in the bar: Free Beer Tomorrow." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 26, 2010): A13.







June 18, 2010

Mob Museum Financed from Local, State and Federal Tax Dollars




LasVegasOldFedCourthouse2010-05-19.jpg"The $42 million museum has been financed through a series of state, federal and local grants. It is set to open next March." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 4) The idea for the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement was seeded when the city bought the 1933 federal courthouse and post office from the federal government for $1 in 2002, with the strict understanding that the building -- one of the oldest in Southern Nevada -- be used for cultural purposes.

For much of the middle of the last century, organized crime ruled the Strip, developing and managing an array of casinos, skimming their way to success. Federal prosecutors put an end to their reign in the 1980s. The city determined its historical relationship to organized crime -- and the role the courthouse played in it -- made the site a perfect fit.


. . .


The $42 million project has been financed through a series of state, federal and local grants, and the work has progressed a bit glacially as money has trickled in.

The project, once listed as one that could stimulate this city's embattled economy, was attacked by Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, when city officials suggested that it might qualify for federal stimulus money.



For the full story, see:

JENNIFER STEINHAUER. "'2 Mob Museums in Las Vegas, Ready to Go to the Mattresses." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., April 25, 2010): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 24, 2010 and has the title "Vegas Mob Museums, Set to Go to the Mattresses.")





June 17, 2010

Scientific Calculators Creatively Destroyed Slide Rules




(p. 120) I'd been a slide rule whiz in high school, so when I saw the calculator, it was just amazing. A slide rule was kind of like a ruler-- you had to look at it precisely to read the values. The most accurate number you could get was only three digits long, however, and even that result was always questionable. With a calculator, you could punch in precisely the digits you wanted. You didn't have to line up a slider. You could type in your numbers exactly, hit a button, and get an answer immediately. You could get that number all the way out to ten digits. For example, the real answer might be 3.158723623. An answer like that was much more precise than anything engineers had ever gotten before.

Well, the HP 35 was the first scientific calculator, and It was the first in history that you could actually hold in your hand. It could calculate sines and cosines and tangents, all the trigonometric and exponential/logarithmic functions engineers use to calculate and to do their jobs. This was 1973, and back then cal-(p. 121)culators--especially handheld calculators--were a very, very big deal.


. . .


There was no doubt in my mind that calculators were going to put slide rules out of business. (In fact, two years later you couldn't even buy a slide rule. It was extinct.) And now all of a sudden I'd gotten a job helping to design the next generation of these scientific calculators. It was like getting to be a part of history.



Source:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 16, 2010

Global Warming Would Benefit British Sparkling Wine Growers




RobertsMikeRidgeview2010-05-19.jpg"Mike Roberts, at Ridgeview in 2007, says making wine is easier now." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) DITCHLING, England--The English invented sparkling wine in the 17th century, but failed to profit from it because their cold, dank summers yielded crummy grapes. Three decades later, a French monk named Dom Pérignon adapted the idea and devised a winning tipple, Champagne.

The Brits are starting to claw back some ground. In January, a little-known bubbly from the U.K's Nyetimber Estate was crowned "world's best sparkling wine" at a prestigious taste-off in Italy, defeating a dozen Champagnes, including Roederer, Bollinger and Pommery. Last year, when Britain hosted the G-20 meeting, another effervescent Nyetimber was served to President Barack Obama, Germany's Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

English bubbly is on the rise partly due to better winemaking techniques. But some vintners say they're being helped by another, unexpected factor: a warming climate.

Official data indicate that the past 10 years were the warmest on record globally. In England, this led to plumper and riper grapes most seasons, especially for sparkling wines. The number of vineyards in the U.K. jumped to 416 in 2008 from 363 in 2000, according the trade group English Wine Producers

"Just 20 years ago, it was really difficult to make good wine in cooler climate areas," says Gregory Jones, who studies the effect of climate change on the (p. A18) global wine industry at Southern Oregon University. "Now it's not such a challenge."

With the help of warmer summers, "some of the risk of making sparkling wine here is gone," says Mike Roberts, founder and chief winemaker of the Ridgeview estate here, 45 miles south of London. "We have everything going for us to out-Champagne Champagne."

Last year, the fifth-hottest on record, Ridgeview's grapes ripened two weeks earlier than usual, allowing for the harvest to be brought in before the onset of wet October weather. Mr. Roberts and other English winemakers say 2009 was one of the best growing seasons they've seen.



For the full story, see:

GAUTAM NAIK. "'Warmer Climate Gives Cheer to Makers of British Bubbly; Thanks to Milder Summers, England Takes Some Air Out of France's Famous Tipple." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 11, 2010): A1 & A18.


RidgeviewEstateWine2010-05-19.jpg




















Ridgeview Estate's wine "to out-Champagne Champagne."


Source of photo: http://www.goodfoodpages.co.uk/images/listings/1580/large/ridgeview.jpg Source of quote: Mike Roberts above.






June 15, 2010

Barney Frank Calls European Agriculture Policy "Ridiculous"




(p. A13) Mr. Frank said the Jeffersonian notion that farming was a superior form of life has led to subsidies and protectionism in the U.S. Similar problems exist in the European Union. Saying EU agriculture policy is "ridiculous," Frank claimed European farmers should be bought out.

The idea that the "noble yeoman" must be protected at all costs leads to protectionism, Frank said.



For the full story, see:

Neal Lipschutz. "Davos Dispatch: Frank vs. Thomas Jefferson on Farming and Protectionism." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Jan 28, 2010): A13.


A version of the brief story appeared online as:

Neal Lipschutz. "Davos Live; Frank Takes On Jefferson Over Farming." Posted Jan 28, 2010. http://blogs.wsj.com/davos/2010/01/27/frank-takes-on-jefferson-over-farming/?KEYWORDS=Thomas+Jefferson+Protectionism





June 14, 2010

Companies Make Big Bets to Get Us What We Need




MolycorpMineralsRareEarthMine2010-05-19.jpg"The Molycorp Minerals rare earth mine in Mountain Pass, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



If the government does not interfere with the price system, then the prospect of higher prices will provide private companies and entrepreneurs the incentive to take risks to provide us with what we need. In the article quoted below, the example is rare earth minerals that are used in high technology products.



(p. B1) On a high plateau where burros and jackrabbits wander an hour's drive southwest of Las Vegas, a 400-foot-deep chasm hewn from volcanic rock sits at the center of an international policy debate.

The chasm, in Mountain Pass, Calif., used to be the world's main mine for rare earth elements -- minerals crucial to military hardware and the latest wind turbines and hybrid gasoline-electric cars. Molycorp Minerals, which owns the mine, announced on Monday that it had registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering to help raise the nearly $500 million needed to reopen and expand the mine.

Molycorp is making a big bet that its mine -- once the world leader in production of rare earth elements, but now a rusting relic -- can be made competitive again. Global demand is surging for the minerals. And customers, particularly the American military, are seeking alternatives to China, which now mines 97 percent of the world's rare earth elements.

As part of reopening the mine, Molycorp plans to increase its capacity to mine and refine neodymium for rare earth magnets, which are extremely lightweight and are used in many high-tech applications. It will also resume bulk production of lower-value rare earth elements like cerium, used in industrial processes like polishing glass and water filtration.



For the full story, see:

KEITH BRADSHER. "A Mine Owner's Risky Bet on Rare Minerals." The New York Times (Thur., April 22, 2010): B1 & B4.

(Note: italics in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "Challenging China in Rare Earth Mining.")





June 13, 2010

In the Age of Vacuum Tubes, 6th Grader's Dad Showed Him How Transistors Work




Wozniak went on to invent the personal computer.

This example would probably fit with some of what Malcolm Gladwell claims in his bestseller Outliers.


(p. 15) I have to point out here that at no time did my dad make a big deal about my progress in electronics. He taught me stuff, sure, but he always acted as if it was just normal for me. By the sixth grade, I was really advanced in math and science, everyone knew it, and I'd been tested for IQ and they told us it was 200-plus. But my dad never acted like this was something he should push me along with. He pulled out a blackboard from time to time, a tiny little blackboard we had in our house on Edmonton Avenue, and when I asked, he would answer anything and make diagrams for it. I remember how he showed me what happened if you put a plus voltage into a transistor and got a minus voltage out the other end of the transistor. There must have been an inverter, a type of logic gate. And he even physically taught me how to make an AND gate and an OR gate out of parts he got--parts called diodes and resistors. And he showed me how they needed a transistor in between to amplify the signal and connect the output of one gate to the input of the other.

(p. 16) To this very moment, that is the way every single digital device on the planet works at its most basic level.

He took the time--a lot of time--to show me those few little things. They were little things to him, even though Fairchild and Texas Instruments had just developed the transistor only a decade earlier.

It's amazing, really, to think that my dad taught me about transistors back when almost no one saw anything but vacuum tubes. So he was at the top of the state of the art, probably because his secret job put him in touch with such advanced technology. So I ended up being at the state of the art, too.

The way my dad taught me, though, was not to rote-memorize how parts are connected to form a gate, but to learn where the electrons flowed to make the gate do its job. To truly internalize and understand what is going on, not just read stuff off some blueprint or out of some book.

Those lessons he taught me still drive my intelligence and my methods for all the computer designs I do today.



Source:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.


The reference to the Gladwell book is:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.





June 12, 2010

Finding the Neanderthal in Us




VindijaCaveCroatiaNeanderthalBones2010-05-19.jpg"The Vindija cave in Croatia where three small Neanderthal bones were found." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article cited below.


(p. A3) The burly Ice Age hunters known as Neanderthals, a long-extinct species, survive today in the genes of almost everyone outside Africa, according to an international research team who offer the first molecular evidence that early humans mated and produced children in liaisons with Neanderthals.

In a significant advance, the researchers mapped most of the Neanderthal genome--the first time that the heredity of such an ancient human species has been reliably reconstructed. The researchers, able for the first time to compare the relatively complete genetic coding of modern and prehistoric human species, found the Neanderthal legacy accounts for up to 4% of the human genome among people in much of the world today.

By comparing the Neanderthal genetic information to the modern human genome, the scientists were able to home in on hints of subtle differences between the ancient and modern DNA affecting skin, stature, fertility and brain power that may have given Homo sapiens an edge over their predecessors.

"It is tantalizing to think that the Neanderthal is not totally extinct," said geneticist Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who pioneered the $3.8 million research project. "A bit of them lives on in us today."


. . .


For their analysis, Dr. Pääbo and his colleagues extracted DNA mostly from the fossil remains of three Neanderthal women who lived and died in Croatia between 38,000 and 45,000 years ago. From thimblefuls of powdered bone, the researchers pieced together about three billion base pairs of DNA, covering about two-thirds of the Neanderthal genome. The researchers checked those samples against fragments of genetic code extracted from three other Neanderthal specimens.

"It is a tour de force to get a genome's worth," said genetic database expert Ewan Birney at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, England.

In research published Thursday in Science, the researchers compared the Neanderthal DNA to the genomes drawn from five people from around the world: a San tribesman from South Africa; a Yoruba from West Africa; a Han Chinese; a West European; and a Pacific islander from Papua, New Guinea. They also checked it against the recently published genome of bio-entrepreneur Craig Venter. Traces of Neanderthal heredity turned up in all but the two African representatives.



For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Most People Carry Neanderthal Genes; Team Finds up to 4% of Human Genome Comes From Extinct Species, the First Evidence It Mated With Homo Sapiens." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., MAY 7, 2010): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated MAY 6, 2010.)



A related article, the online version of which is the source for the caption and photo above, is:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Analysis of Neanderthal Genome Points to Interbreeding with Modern Humans." The New York Times (Fri., May 7, 2010): A9.

(Note: the online version of the review is dated May 6, 2010 and has the title "Signs of Neanderthals Mating With Humans.")


VindijaCaveBone2010-05-19.jpg"A close-up of the bone Vindija 33.16 from Vindija cave, Croatia." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.





June 11, 2010

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Are Still a "Burgeoning Money Pit" for Taxpayers




(p. 1) If you blinked, you might have missed the ugly first-quarter report . . . from Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giant that, along with its sister Fannie Mae, soldiers on as one of the financial world's biggest wards of the state.

Freddie -- already propped up with $52 billion in taxpayer funds used to rescue the company from its own mistakes -- recorded a loss of $6.7 billion and said it would require an additional $10.6 billion from taxpayers to shore up its financial position.

The news caused nary a ripple in the placid Washington scene. Perhaps that's because many lawmakers, especially those who once assured us that Fannie and Freddie would never cost taxpayers a dime, hope that their constituents don't notice the burgeoning money pit these mortgage monsters represent. Some $130 billion in federal money had already been larded on both companies before Freddie's latest request.

But taxpayers should examine Freddie's first-quarter numbers not only because the losses are our responsibility. Since they also include details on Freddie's delinquent mortgages, the company's sales of foreclosed properties and losses on those sales, the results provide a telling snapshot of the current state of the housing market.

That picture isn't pretty. Serious delinquencies in Freddie's single-family conventional loan portfolio -- those more than 90 days late -- came in at 4.13 percent, up from 2.41 percent for the period a year earlier. Delinquencies in the company's Alt-A book, one step up from subprime loans, totaled 12.84 percent, while delinquencies on interest-only mortgages were 18.5 percent. Delinquencies on its small portfolio of op-(p. 2)tion-adjustable rate loans totaled 19.8 percent.

The company's inventory of foreclosed properties rose from 29,145 units at the end of March 2009 to almost 54,000 units this year. Perhaps most troubling, Freddie's nonperforming assets almost doubled, rising to $115 billion from $62 billion.



For the full commentary, see:

Gretchen Morgenson. "Fair Game; Ignoring the Elephant in the Bailout." The New York Times, SundayBusiness (Sun., May 9, 2010): 1-2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated May 7, 2010.)





June 10, 2010

Mr. Africa Carries a Gun to Keep the Press Free




RadioMogadishuStudio2010-05-19.jpg"Anchors read the latest news from around the world this month in the studio at Radio Mogadishu, which opened in 1951." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A6) This is a typical day at Radio Mogadishu, the one and only relatively free radio station in south central Somalia where journalists can broadcast what they like -- without worrying about being beheaded. The station's 90-foot antennas, which rise above the rubble of the neighborhood, have literally become a beacon of freedom for reporters, editors, technicians and disc jockeys all across Somalia who have been chased away from their jobs by radical Islamist insurgents.


. . .


Somalia has become one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism, with more than 20 journalists assassinated in the past four years. "We miss them," Mr. Africa said about his fallen colleagues.

He cracked an embarrassed smile when asked about his name. "It's because I'm dark, really dark," he said.

Mr. Africa used to work at one of the city's other radio stations (the city has more than 10) but decided to move on after fighters with the Shabab dropped by and threatened to kill the reporters if they did not broadcast pro-Shabab news. Mr. Africa called the Shabab meddlers "secret editors" and now he carries a gun.

"I tried to get the other journalists to buy pistols," Mr. Africa remembered. "But nobody listened to me."

Another reporter, Musa Osman, said that his real home was only about a mile away.

"But I haven't seen my kids for months," he said.

He drew his finger across his throat and laughed a sharp, bitter laugh when asked what would happen if he went home.

The digs here are hardly plush. Most of the journalists sleep on thin foam mattresses in bald concrete rooms. The station itself is a crumbling, bullet-scarred reflection of this entire nation, which has been essentially governmentless for nearly two decades.


. . .


They air the speeches of insurgent leaders, they say, and stories about government soldiers robbing citizens.

"If the government does something bad," Mr. Africa said. "We report it."



For the full story, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN. "Mogadishu Journal; A Guiding Voice Amid the Ruins of a Capital City." The New York Times (Tues., March 30, 2010): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated March 29, 2010.)





June 9, 2010

Wozniak's Dad Taught Him the Power of Technology




(p. 12) . . . my dad taught me . . . a lot about electronics. Boy, do I owe a lot to him for this. He first started telling me things and explaining things about electronics when I was really, really young--before I was even four years old. This is before he had that top secret job at Lockheed, when he worked at Electronic Data Systems in the Los Angeles area. One of my first memories is his taking me to his workplace on a weekend and showing me a few electronic parts, putting them on a table with me so I got to play with them and look at them. I can still picture him standing there working on some kind of equipment. I don't know if he was soldering or what, but I do remember him hooking something up to something else that looked like a little TV set. I now know it was an oscilloscope. And he told me he was trying to get something done, trying to get the picture on the screen with a line (it was a waveform) stable-looking so he could show his boss that his design worked.

And I remember sitting there and being so little, and thinking: Wow, what a great, great world he's living in. I mean, that's all I (p. 13) thought: Wow. For people who know how to do this stuff--how to take these little parts and make them work together to do something--well, these people must be the smartest people hi the world. That was really what went through my head, way back then.

Now, I was, of course, too young at that point to decide that I wanted to be an engineer. That came a few years later. I hadn't even been exposed to science fiction or books about inventors yet, but just then, at that moment, I could see right before my eyes that whatever my dad was doing, whatever it was, it was important and good.



Source:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.

(Note: ellipses added.)





June 8, 2010

"Climate Change Was One of the Forces that Led to the Triumph of Homo Sapiens"




Handprint30000YearsOld2010-05-19.jpg








"The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins in Washington includes this 30,000-year-old handprint from France." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. C32) The exhibition's theme is "What Does It Mean to Be Human?" And the new image of the human it creates is different from the one from a century ago. It isn't that nature has suddenly become a pastoral paradise. Some of the most unusual objects here are fossilized human bones bearing scars of animal attacks: a 3-year-old's skull from about 2.3 million years ago is marked by eagle talons in the eye sockets; an early human's foot shows the bite marks of a crocodile. In one of the exhibition's interactive video stations, in which you are cleverly shown how excavated remains are interpreted, you learn that the teeth of a leopard's lower jaw found in a cave at the Swartkrans site in South Africa match the puncture marks in a nearby early-human skull: evidence of a 1.8 million-year-old killing.


. . .


During the brief 200,000-year life of Homo sapiens, at least three other human species also existed. And while this might seem to diminish any remnants of pride left to the human animal in the wake of Darwin's theory, the exhibition actually does the opposite. It puts the human at the center, tracing how through these varied species, central characteristics developed, and we became the sole survivors. The show humanizes evolution. It is, in part, a story of human triumph.


. . .


. . . at recent excavations in China, at Majuangou, stone tools were found in four layers of rock dating from 1.66 million to 1.32 million years ago; fossil pollen proved that each of these four time periods was also associated with a different habitat. "The toolmaker, Homo erectus," we read, "was able to survive in all of these habitats."

That ability was crucial. The hall emphasizes that enormous changes in the planet's climate accompanied hominin development, suggesting that the ability to adapt to such differing circumstances was the human's strength. Climate change was one of the forces that led to the triumph of Homo sapiens.



For the full review, see:

EDWARD ROTHSTEIN. "Exhibition Review; Hall of Human Origins; Searching the Bones of Our Shared Past." The New York Times (Fri., March 19, 2010): C25 & C32.

(Note: italics in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated March 18, 2010.)





June 7, 2010

Class Action Suit Did Little for Class Members, But "Enriched" Attorneys




Many attorneys are good people, including my late father, one of my brothers, and one of my favorite former students.

But a few attorneys must be conscience-challenged; for instance the ones "representing" the class in the case described below.

More importantly, class-action litigation increases the costs and uncertainty of doing business, and thereby increases the prices of the products and services we buy.

In speaking to one of my classes a few years ago, Omaha entrepreneur Joe Ricketts made a strong case for tort reform. it is hard to disagree, unless, like the Democratic Party, you are receiving large contributions from trial lawyers.


(p. B1) . . . , a 2008 settlement of a class action against Ford Motor Co., involving incidents in which Firestone tires exploded on Ford Explorers, offered certain Explorer owners coupons worth $500 toward the purchase of a new Explorer and $300 toward the purchase of any other Ford vehicle.

As of March, only 148 people had redeemed a coupon out of 1,647 people eligible. The plaintiffs' attorneys who led that litigation collected about $19 million in fees.

"It was rather absurd," said Julie Hamilton Webber of Glendale, Calif., a class member who has a 1993 Ford Explorer. "The net result was the attorneys were enriched and did nothing for the class."



For the full story, see:

DIONNE SEARCEY. "Toyota Owners May Reap Little." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MAY 20, 2010): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the slightly different title "Toyota Owners May See Little.")





June 6, 2010

Exposing the Hot Air of Wind Power





PowerHungryBKwsj.jpg
















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A15) So you want to build a wind farm? OK, Mr. Bryce says, to start you'll need 45 times the land mass of a nuclear power station to produce a comparable amount of power; and because you are in the middle of nowhere you'll also need hundreds of miles of high-voltage lines to get the energy to your customers. This "energy sprawl" of giant turbines and pylons will require far greater amounts of concrete and steel than conventional power plants--figure on anywhere from 870 to 956 cubic feet of concrete per megawatt of electricity and 460 tons of steel (32 times more concrete and 139 times as much steel as a gas-fired plant).

Once you've carpeted your tract of wilderness with turbines and gotten over any guilt you might feel about the thousands of birds you're about to kill, prepare to be underwhelmed and underpowered. Look at Texas, Mr. Bryce says: It ranks sixth in the world in total wind-power production capacity, and it has been hailed as a model for renewable energy and green jobs by Republicans and Democrats alike. And yet, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the state's electricity grid, just "8.7 percent of the installed wind capability can be counted on as dependable capacity during the peak demand period." The wind may blow in Texas, but, sadly, it doesn't blow much when it is most needed--in summer. The net result is that just 1% of the state's reliable energy needs comes from wind.




For the full review, see

TREVOR BUTTERWORTH. "BOOKSHELF; The Wrong Way To Get to Green; Once you've carpeted the wilderness with wind-farm turbines, and crushed any guilt about the birds you're about to kill, prepare to be underwhelmed and underpowered." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., APRIL 27, 2010): A15.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated APRIL 30, 2010.)


The book under review is:

Bryce, Robert. Power Hungry; the Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010.





June 5, 2010

Becker Believes the Fight for Liberty Can Be Won




(p. A13) My last question involves a little story. Not long before Milton Friedman's death in 2006, I tell Mr. Becker, I had a conversation with Friedman. He had just reviewed the growth of spending that was then taking place under the Bush administration, and he was not happy. After a pause during the Reagan years, Friedman had explained, government spending had once again begun to rise. "The challenge for my generation," Friedman had told me, "was to provide an intellectual defense of liberty." Then Friedman had looked at me. "The challenge for your generation is to keep it."

What was the prospect, I asked Mr. Becker, that this generation would indeed keep its liberty? "It could go either way," he replies. "Milton was right about that."

Mr. Becker recites some figures. For years, federal spending remained level at about 20% of GDP. Now federal spending has risen to 25% of GDP. On current projections, federal spending would soon rise to 28%. "That concerns me," Mr. Becker says. "It concerns me a great deal.

"But when Milton was starting out," he continues, "people really believed a state-run economy was the most efficient way of promoting growth. Today nobody believes that, except maybe in North Korea. You go to China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, even Western Europe. Most of the economists under 50 have a free-market orientation. Now, there are differences of emphasis and opinion among them. But they're oriented toward the markets. That's a very, very important intellectual victory. Will this victory have an effect on policy? Yes. It already has. And in years to come, I believe it will have an even greater impact."

The sky outside his window has begun to darken. Mr. Becker stands, places some papers into his briefcase, then puts on a tweed jacket and cap. "When I think of my children and grandchildren," he says, "yes, they'll have to fight. Liberty can't be had on the cheap. But it's not a hopeless fight. It's not a hopeless fight by any means. I remain basically an optimist."



For the full interview, see:

PETER ROBINSON. "'Basically an Optimist'--Still; The Nobel economist says the health-care bill will cause serious damage, but that the American people can be trusted to vote for limited government in November." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 27, 2010): A13.

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated March 26, 2010.)





June 4, 2010

At Apple Wozniak Was the Inventor, and Jobs Was the Entrepreneur




iWozBK2010-05-18.jpg















Source of book image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_TwOg8fVl5Og/SkXmn7MyaxI/AAAAAAAAAug/G-klN-KQHis/s1600/iWoz.jpg




iWoz is a fun read, with wild fluctuations in the significance of what is written. When Wozniak writes about the ingredients of inventiveness, it is significant. When he talks about his pranks, or his obsessions with certain number combinations, it is strange. (Maybe I just haven't figured out the significance of Wozniak's quirks---I once heard George Stigler say that even the mistakes of a great mind were worth pondering.)

In the next few weeks I'll be quoting a few of the more significant passages.

An over-riding lesson from the book, is the extent to which both Wozniak and Jobs were necessary for the Apple achievement. Wozniak was a genius inventor, but he did not have the drive or the skills, or the judgment of the entrepreneur.

Schumpeter famously distinguished invention from innovation. Wozniak was the inventor, and Jobs was the innovator (aka, the entrepreneur).


Book discussed:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.






June 3, 2010

"The Intellectual Energy is No Longer with the Economists Who Construct Abstract and Elaborate Models"




(p. A23) In The Wall Street Journal, Russ Roberts of George Mason University wondered why economics is even considered a science. Real sciences make progress. But in economics, old thinkers cycle in and out of fashion. In real sciences, evidence solves problems. Roberts asked his colleagues if they could think of any econometric study so well done that it had definitively settled a dispute. Nobody could think of one.

"The bottom line is that we should expect less of economists," Roberts wrote.

In a column called "A Crisis of Understanding," Robert J. Shiller of Yale pointed out that the best explanation of the crisis isn't even a work of economic analysis. It's a history book -- "This Time is Different" by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff -- that is almost entirely devoid of theory.

One gets the sense, at least from the outside, that the intellectual energy is no longer with the economists who construct abstract and elaborate models. Instead, the field seems to be moving in a humanist direction. Many economists are now trying to absorb lessons learned by psychologists, neuroscientists and sociologists.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Return of History." The New York Times (Fri., March 26, 2010): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was dated March 25, 2010.")





June 2, 2010

Did the Rothschilds Anticipate Atlas Shrugged?




DrumlummonMineRothschilds2010-05-18.jpg"A consulting geologist, Ben Porterfield, exiting the Drumlummon Mine." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 14) Marysville, a dot of a town in the mountains near Helena, was covered in gold dust in its heyday in the late 1800s. It was home to one of the great mother-lode gold and silver fortunes of the West, the Drumlummon Mine. Then it petered out -- familiar story -- to near ghost-town status through the long decades after the mine closed around 1904.


. . .


Old mysteries of law and public relations cloud the story of the Drumlummon -- especially how and why it closed in the early 1900s. Its owners at the time, the Rothschild family from Europe, were locked in an extended court battle over nearby mining claims when they announced in 1901 that the mine's lower levels would be allowed to flood because profitable ore had not been found there.

RX's mining operations director, Mike Gunsinger, said he became convinced in reading the old accounts that the Rothschilds had lied -- flooding the mine not because it was played out, but to conceal its riches. The company suing the Rothschilds eventually won, but they never had the capital to drain the water. A last attempt, by a new set of owners, failed in 1951.

"I think it was a dog-in-the-manger attitude," Mr. Gunsinger said, referring to the Rothschilds. "If I can't have it, nobody can."

That told him, he said, that the gold was still down there.



For the full story, see:

KIRK JOHNSON. "Marysville Journal; As a Near Ghost Town in Montana Watches, a Gold Mine Is Reborn." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., May 2, 2010): 14.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was dated April 30, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 1, 2010

When Life Really Stunk




(p. 51) The situation of the rural town of Marney was one of the most delightful easily to be imagined. In a spreading dale, contiguous to the margin of a dear and lively stream, surrounded by meadows and gardens, and backed by lofty hills, undulating and richly wooded, the traveller (sic) on the opposite heights of the dale would often stop to admire the merry prospect that recalled to him the traditional epithet of his country.

Beautiful illusion! For behind that laughing landscape, penury and disease fed upon the vitals of a miserable population.

The contrast between the interior of the town and its external aspect was as striking as it was full of pain. With the exception of the dull high street, which had the usual characteristics of a small agricultural market town, some sombre mansions, a dingy inn, and a petty bourse, Marney mainly consisted of a variety of narrow and crowded lanes formed by cottages built of rubble, or unhewn stones without cement, (p. 52) and, from age or badness of the material, looking as if they could scarcely hold together. The gaping chinks admitted every blast; the leaning chimneys had lost half their original height; the rotten rafters were evidently misplaced; while in many instances the thatch, yawning in some parts to admit the wind and wet, and in all utterly unfit for its original purpose of giving protection from the weather, looked more like the top of a dunghill than a cottage. Before the doors of these dwellings, and often surrounding them, ran open drains full of animal and vegetable refuse, decomposing into disease, or sometimes in their imperfect course filling foul pits or spreading into stagnant pools, while a concentrated solution of every species of dissolving filth was allowed to soak through, and thoroughly impregnate, the walls and ground adjoining.

These wretched tenements seldom consisted of more than two rooms, in one of which the whole family, however numerous, were obliged to sleep, without distinction of age, or sex, or suffering. With the water streaming down the walls, the light distinguished through the roof, with no hearth even in winter, the virtuous mother in the sacred pangs of childbirth gives forth another victim to our thoughtless civilisation (sic); surrounded by three generations whose inevitable presence is more painful than her suffering in that hour of travail; while the father of her coming child, in another corner of the sordid chamber, lies stricken by that typhus which his contaminating dwelling has breathed into his veins, and for whose next prey is perhaps destined his new-horn child. These swarming walls had neither windows nor doors sufficient to keep out the weather, or admit the sun, or supply the means of ventilation; the humid and putrid roof of thatch exhaling malaria like all other decaying vegetable matter. The dwelling-rooms were neither boarded nor paved; and whether it were that some were situate in low and damp places, occasionally flooded by the river, and usually much below the level of the road; or that the springs, as was often the case, would burst through the mud floor; the ground was at no time better than so much clay, while sometimes you might see little channels cut from the centre under the doorways to carry off the water, the door itself removed from its hinges; a resting-place for infancy in its deluged home. These hovels were in many instances not (p. 53) provided with the commonest conveniences of the rudest police; contiguous to every door might be observed the dungheap on which every kind of filth was accumulated, for the purpose of being disposed of for manure, so that, when the poor man opened his narrow habitation in the hope of refreshing it with the breeze of summer, he was met with a mixture of gases from reeking dunghills.



Source:

Disraeli, Benjamin. Sybil. paperback ed, Oxford World's Classics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009 [1845].





HP3D5006CropSmall.jpg






Most Popular Posts









If you value this blog, and want to help support the expenses of hosting and maintaining it, please consider making a donation through PayPal:










The StatCounter number above reports the number of "page loads" since the counter was installed late on 2/26/08. Page loads are defined on the site as "The number of times your page has been visited."


View My Stats