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March 31, 2012

Quantum Computers May Revolutionize Nanotechnology and Drug Design




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"Scott Aaronson." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below.




(p. D5) When people hear that I work on quantum computing -- one of the most radical proposals for the future of computation -- their first question is usually, "So when can I expect a working quantum computer on my desk?" Often they bring up breathless news reports about commercial quantum computers right around the corner. After I explain the strained relationship between those reports and reality, they ask: "Then when? In 10 years? Twenty?"

Unfortunately, this is sort of like asking Charles Babbage, who drew up the first blueprints for a general-purpose computer in the 1830s, whether his contraption would be hitting store shelves by the 1840s or the 1850s. Could Babbage have foreseen the specific technologies -- the vacuum tube and transistor -- that would make his vision a reality more than a century later? Today's quantum computing researchers are in a similar bind. They have a compelling blueprint for a new type of computer, one that could, in seconds, solve certain problems that would probably take eons for today's fastest supercomputers. But some of the required construction materials don't yet exist.


. . .


While code-breaking understandably grabs the headlines, it's the more humdrum application of quantum computers -- simulating quantum physics and chemistry -- that has the potential to revolutionize fields from nanotechnology to drug design.


. . .


Like fusion power, practical quantum computers are a tantalizing possibility that the 21st century may or may not bring -- depending on the jagged course not only of science and technology, but of politics and economics.



For the full commentary, see:

SCOTT AARONSON. "ESSAY; Quantum Computing Promises New Insights, Not Just Supermachines." The New York Times (Tues., December 6, 2011): D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated December 5, 2011.)





March 30, 2012

Museum Visitors Vote With Feet for Reagan Over Lincoln




(p. 9A) For the first time since it opened, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Mu­seum in Springfield, Ill., is no longer the nation's most visited presidential museum. It's been overtaken by Ronald Reagan's museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

Lincoln's museum had been tops since it opened in 2005, rid­ing the appeal of its Disney-like re-creations of the president's life. But last year it counted 293,135 visitors -- short of Rea­gan's 367,506.




For the full story, see:

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. "Hail to the new chief." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., March 18, 2012): 9A.






March 29, 2012

Small Is Beautiful as Life Adapts to Global Warming




SifrhippusFirstHorse2012-03-10.jpg "Artist's reconstruction of Sifrhippus sandrae (right) touching noses with a modern Morgan horse (left) that stands about 5 feet high at the shoulders and weighs approximately 1000 lbs." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. D3) The horse (siff-RIP-us, if you have to say the name out loud) lived in what is still horse country, in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming, where wild mustangs roam.


. . .


Its preserved fossils, abundant in the Bighorn Basin, provide an excellent record of its size change over a 175,000-year warm period in the Earth's history known as the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, when temperatures are estimated to have risen by 9 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit at the start, and dropped again at the end.

Scientists have known that many mammals appear to have shrunk during the warming period, and the phenomenon fits well with what is known as Bergmann's rule, which says, roughly, that mammals of a given genus or species are smaller in hotter climates.

Although the rule refers to differences in location, it seemed also to apply to changes over time. But fine enough detail was lacking until now.

In Science, Ross Secord, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Jonathan Bloch, of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville; and a team of other researchers report on the collection and analysis of Sifrhippus fossils from the Bighorn Basin.

They report that the little horse got 30 percent smaller over the first 130,000 years, and then -- as always seems to happen with weight loss -- shot back up and got 75 percent bigger over the next 45,000 years.


. . .


"It seems to be natural selection," said Dr. Secord. He said animals evolved to be smaller during warming because smaller animals did better in that environment, perhaps because the smaller an animal is, the easier it is to shed excess heat.




For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "As the Planet Heated Up, First Horse Got Tinier ." The New York Times (Tues., February 28, 2012): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 23 [sic], 2012 and has the title "A Tiny Horse That Got Even Tinier as the Planet Heated Up.")





March 28, 2012

Innovative Entrepreneurs Need to Be Able to Fire People




(p. 116) Jobs met with the remaining employees soon after the layoffs and brought his reality distortion field with him. "You're seeing your friends packing their stuff up and pushing it out to their cars," Phillips remembered, "and yet somehow he had convinced you that that was the greatest possible thing that could happen."

Within the Silicon Valley community, the talk was not of the way Jobs had handled his former employees at Pixar, but of his having kept Pixar going at all. It seemed to make little sense from a business point of view. For all his bravado about RenderMan, his motivation was likely a matter of status as much as economics. After his rise and fall at Apple, the onus was on him either to create another success story or to leave his peers to conclude that the first one had been a quirk of fate.

"It wasn't really working," Smith said of Pixar's early years. "In fact, that's being kind of gentle. We should have failed. But it seemed to me that Steve just would not suffer a defeat. He couldn't sustain it."



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 27, 2012

Diamond to Teach Creative Destruction Colloquium in Fall 2012






CreativeDestructionColloquiumPoster2012PortraitTopHalfCropped.jpg

Colloquium Rationale:

Creative destruction is the process through which innovative new products are created, and older obsolete products are destroyed. In transportation, for example, cars creatively destroyed the horse and buggy, trains creatively destroyed horse-drawn wagons. Such innovations contribute to longer and richer lives, but may come at the cost of greater uncertainty in the labor market. Schumpeter claimed that the process of creative destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. Although Nobel-prize-winner George Stigler has described creative destruction as "heresy," a growing number of economists and non-economists have found the concept useful in understanding the world. While most of the emphasis will be on the implications of creative destruction for business and the economy, the discussion will sometimes involve issues related to information science, sociology, medicine, law, engineering, psychology, literature, political science, architecture, and history.





You can hear me talking about last year's version of the Creative Destruction Colloquium (which was offered last year under a different course number and a slightly different title) in the following YouTube video:











March 26, 2012

During Dreams Brain Extracts Meaning from Fragile Memories




(p. C4) In the past, people often had one explanation for sleep and another for dreams. That now seems wrong. One of the chief functions of sleep seems to be achieved during dreaming: the consolidation of memory. Sleep certainly improves memory performance of several different kinds: emotional, spatial, procedural and verbal.

But the new thinking is that, during sleep, the brain reprocesses or transforms fragile new memories into more permanent forms, sets them in mental context and extracts their meaning. And dreaming is a symptom that this is going on.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; To Sleep, Perchance to Dream--But Why?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 3, 2011): C4.





March 25, 2012

Purging Senescent Cells Makes Mice More Youthful and Vigorous




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"CELL SUICIDE. A subdermal fat layer, middle, in a mouse purged of senescent cells. These mice can run much longer and have larger fat deposits." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.





(p. D3) Until recently, few people gave much thought to senescent cells. They are cells that linger in the body even after they have lost the ability to divide.

But on Nov. 2, in what could be a landmark experiment in the study of aging, researchers at the Mayo Clinic reported that if you purge the body of its senescent cells, the tissues remain youthful and vigorous.


. . .


. . . the startling result is plausible because it ties together an emerging body of knowledge about senescent cells. And it raises the possibility that attacks on the cells might postpone the diseases of aging and let people live out more of their life span in good health.


. . .


The finding was made in a strain of mice that age fast and usually die of heart arrhythmia. So despite their healthier tissues, the mice purged of senescent cells died at the usual age of heart problems. Dr. van Deursen's team is now testing to see whether normal mice will live longer when purged of senescent cells.

The treatment was started when the normal mice were a year old, and they have now been treated for five months. Next month they will run treadmill tests to see if they are in better shape than a comparison group of untreated mice, Dr. van Deursen said.

The genetic method used to purge mice of senescent cells cannot be used in people. Instead of trying to remove senescent cells from elderly people, Dr. Peeper believes, it may be more effective to identify which of the factors that the senescent cells secrete are the source of their ill effects and to develop drugs that block these factors.

But Dr. van Deursen thinks it would be better to go after the senescent cells themselves. In his view it should be easy enough by trial and error to find chemicals that selectively destroy senescent cells, just like the targeted chemicals now used to treat certain kinds of cancer. And unlike the cancer cells, which proliferate so fast that they soon develop resistance, the senescent cells cannot replicate, so they should be easy targets.

Several companies and individuals have already approached the Mayo Clinic to explore developing such drugs. "They think it's possible, and they are very enthusiastic," Dr. van Deursen said. "So I can guarantee that there will be initiatives to find drugs that kill senescent cells and mimic the system that we have developed in the mouse."


. . .


"If you remove the senescent cells you improve things considerably, but you can't reverse the process or completely stop the aging because it has other causes," Dr. van Deursen said. "Personally I think we can slow aging down, and over time we will become more and more successful.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "In Body's Shield Against Cancer, a Culprit in Aging May Lurk." The New York Times (Tues., November 22, 2011): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated November 21, 2011.)





March 24, 2012

The Intensity of Entrepreneur Jobs




(p. 114) As Jobs was criticizing the Pixar managers for failing to hit a delivery date on a project, Smith interrupted and said, "Steve, but you haven't delivered your board on time"--meaning, a board for the NeXT computer.

It was the sort of remark Jobs normally might have put up with, but it seemed Smith had crossed a line by joking about Jobs's [sic] computer. "He went completely nonlinear," Smith recalled. "He went crazy on me and started insulting my accent."

Jobs had homed in on a sensitive spot. Smith's native southwestern accent, which he had mostly suppressed since his days as an academic in New York City, sometimes reemerged in moments of stress. Jobs mocked it.

"So I went nonlinear, too, which I had never done before or since," Smith remembered. "We're screaming at each other, and our faces are about three inches apart."

There was an unspoken understanding around Jobs that the whiteboard in his office was part of his personal space--no one else was to write on it. As the confrontation went on, Smith defiantly marched past him and started writing on the whiteboard. "You can't do that," Jobs interjected. When Smith continued writing, Jobs stormed out of the room.

To outward appearances, the conflict blew over, but the men's relationship would never be the same.



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 23, 2012

Faraday and Einstein Were Visual and Physical Thinkers, Not Mathematicians




Faraday_Chemical_History-of-a-CandleBK2012-03-08.jpg













Source of book image: http://www.rsc.org/images/Faraday_Chemical_History-of-a-Candle_180_tcm18-210390.jpg





(p. C6) Michael Faraday is one of the most beguiling and lovable figures in the history of science. Though he could not understand a single equation, he deduced the essential structure of the laws of electromagnetism through visualization and physical intuition. (James Clerk Maxwell would later give them mathematical form.) Albert Einstein kept a picture of Faraday over his desk, for Einstein also thought of himself primarily as a visual and physical thinker, not an abstract mathematician.


. . .


Faraday's text is still charming and rich, a judgment that few popular works on science could sustain after so many years. Though he addresses himself to an "auditory of juveniles," he calls for his audience to follow a close chain of reasoning presented through a series of experiments and deductions.


. . .


. . . : "In every one of us there is a living process of combustion going on very similar to that of a candle," as Faraday illustrates in his experiments.

In his closing, he turns from our metabolic resemblance to a candle to his deeper wish that "you may, like it, shine as lights to those about you."



For the full review, see:

PETER PESIC. "BOOKSHELF; Keeper of the Flame." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 7, 2012): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Book under review:

Faraday, Michael. The Chemical History of a Candle. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press 2011.






March 22, 2012

Lower Grades for Male Spectators When Their Team Wins




(p. C4) Big-time college-football teams may build school spirit, but they also hurt the grades of male students in the bleachers--at least when the teams are winning, a study suggests.

Economists at the University of Oregon tracked the grades of students there (athletes on all teams excluded) from 1999 through 2007, mapping them against the record of the Ducks, whose fortunes varied from season to season.



For the full story, see:

Christopher Shea. "Week in Ideas: Education Dumbed Down by Football." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 24, 2011): C4.


Paper summarized:

Lindo, Jason M., Isaac D. Swensen, and Glen R. Waddell. "Are Big-Time Sports a Threat to Student Achievement?" NBER Working Paper # 17677, December 2011.






March 21, 2012

In History, Documenting Your Sources Matters More than Your Credentials




DysonGeorge2012-03-09.jpg









George Dyson. Source of photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.





(p. D11) BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- More than most of us, the science historian George Dyson spends his days thinking about technologies, old and very new.


. . .


Though this 58-year-old author's works are centered on technology, they often have an autobiographical subtext. Freeman Dyson, the physicist and mathematician who was a protagonist of Project Orion, is his father. Esther Dyson, the Internet philosopher and high-tech investor, is his sister. We spoke for three hours at his cottage here, and later by telephone. A condensed and edited version of the conversations follows.


. . .


. . . today you make your living as a historian of science and technology. How does a high school dropout get to do that?

Hey, this is America. You can do what you want! I love this idea that someone who didn't finish high school can write books that get taken seriously. History is one of the only fields where contributions by amateurs are taken seriously, providing you follow the rules and document your sources. In history, it's what you write, not what your credentials are.



For the full interview, see:

CLAUDIA DREIFUS, interviewer. "Looking Backward to Put New Technologies in Focus." The New York Times (Tues., December 6, 2011): D11.

(Note: question bolded in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated December 5, 2011.)


Dyson's most recent book is:

Dyson, George. Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. New York: Pantheon Books, 2012.






March 20, 2012

Tool Makers Cannot Predict Creative Ways Tools Will Be Used




(p. 89) Jobs had no use for small-minded naysayers. His experience had taught him that if you offered a better computer, well priced and accessible, there was no limit to what human ingenuity could achieve with it. No one, after all, had thought of electronic spread-sheets when he and Wozniak rolled out the Apple II, in 1977, but within two years, a spreadsheet program called VisiCalc--created in an attic by a first-year Harvard MBA student and a programmer friend--was one of the strongest drivers of Apple Il sales. The PIC was not a consumer product like the Apple II, but the principle was the same. "People are inherently creative," Jobs remarked to an interviewer a few years later. "They will use tools in ways the tool makers never thought possible."


Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 19, 2012

"No Street Protester Has Yet Endowed a University Department"




AmericanEgyptologistBK2012-03-08.jpg











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







(p. A13) Over the next three decades, Breasted would excavate a series of sites in Egypt, the Sudan and the Near East. He would also develop an important ability to identify rich and influential benefactors and to gain their confidence without resorting to sycophancy. . . . Notable among the Maecenas figures he cultivated was John D. Rockefeller.

Rockefeller had been an early patron of the University of Chicago; he might have done something for Near Eastern studies in any case, but it is clear that without Breasted's energy and enthusiasm, Rockefeller's scholarly philanthropy would never have taken the course it did. Eventually, he provided the funding for an entire Oriental Institute in 1931. (The OI, as it is affectionately known, had existed from 1919 but essentially as a concept between academic committees.) Together with its Egyptian offshoot, Chicago House, the OI is perhaps the leading center of Egyptology and Assyriology in the world. At the moment, on both sides of the Atlantic, we are hearing a lot about the evils of bankers and capitalism, but as far as I know no street protester has yet endowed a university department.



For the full review, see:

JOHN RAY. "BOOKSHELF; From Illinois To Mesopotamia; Excavating sites in Egypt and the Near East, writing groundbreaking books and developing a talent for courting wealthy donors." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 23, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


Book under review:

Abt, Jeffrey. American Egyptologist: The Life of James Henry Breasted and the Creation of His Oriental Institute. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.






March 18, 2012

Simple Heuristics Can Work Better than Complex Formulas




(p. C4) Most business people and physicians privately admit that many of their decisions are based on intuition rather than on detailed cost-benefit analysis. In public, of course, it's different. To stand up in court and say you made a decision based on what your thumb or gut told you is to invite damages. So both business people and doctors go to some lengths to suppress or disguise the role that intuition plays in their work.

Prof. Gerd Gigerenzer, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, thinks that instead they should boast about using heuristics. In articles and books over the past five years, Dr. Gigerenzer has developed the startling claim that intuition makes our decisions not just quicker but better.


. . .


The economist Harry Markowitz won the Nobel prize for designing a complex mathematical formula for picking fund managers. Yet when he retired, he himself, like most people, used a simpler heuristic that generally works better: He divided his retirement funds equally among a number of fund managers.

A few years ago, a Michigan hospital saw that doctors, concerned with liability, were sending too many patients with chest pains straight to the coronary-care unit, where they both cost the hospital more and ran higher risks of infection if they were not suffering a heart attack. The hospital introduced a complex logistical model to sift patients more efficiently, but the doctors hated it and went back to defensive decision-making.

As an alternative, Dr. Gigerenzer and his colleagues came up with a "fast-and-frugal" tree that asked the doctors just three sequential yes-no questions about each patient's electrocardiographs and other data. Compared with both the complex logistical model and the defensive status quo, this heuristic helped the doctors to send more patients to the coronary-care unit who belonged there and fewer who did not.



For the full commentary, see:

By MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; All Hail the Hunch--and Damn the Details." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 24, 2011): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


A couple of Gigerenzer's relevant books are:

Gigerenzer, Gerd. Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.

Gigerenzer, Gerd. Rationality for Mortals: How People Cope with Uncertainty. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008.





March 17, 2012

Internet Companies Respect the Value of Your Time




JainArvindGoogleEngineer2012-03-08.jpg "Arvind Jain, a Google engineer, pointed out the loading speed of individual elements of a website on a test application used to check efficiency, at Google offices in Mountain View, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) Wait a second.

No, that's too long.

Remember when you were willing to wait a few seconds for a computer to respond to a click on a Web site or a tap on a keyboard? These days, even 400 milliseconds -- literally the blink of an eye -- is too long, as Google engineers have discovered. That barely perceptible delay causes people to search less.

"Subconsciously, you don't like to wait," said Arvind Jain, a Google engineer who is the company's resident speed maestro. "Every millisecond matters."

Google and other tech companies are on a new quest for speed, challenging the likes of Mr. Jain to make fast go faster. The reason is that data-hungry smartphones and tablets are creating frustrating digital traffic jams, as people download maps, video clips of sports highlights, news updates or recommendations for nearby restaurants. The competition to be the quickest is fierce.

People will visit a Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a thousandth of a second).

"Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web," said Harry Shum, a computer scientist and speed specialist at Microsoft.


. . .


(p. A3) The need for speed itself seems to be accelerating. In the early 1960s, the two professors at Dartmouth College who invented the BASIC programming language, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, set up a network in which many students could tap into a single, large computer from keyboard terminals.

"We found," they observed, "that any response time that averages more than 10 seconds destroys the illusion of having one's own computer."

In 2009, a study by Forrester Research found that online shoppers expected pages to load in two seconds or fewer -- and at three seconds, a large share abandon the site. Only three years earlier a similar Forrester study found the average expectations for page load times were four seconds or fewer.

The two-second rule is still often cited as a standard for Web commerce sites. Yet experts in human-computer interaction say that rule is outdated. "The old two-second guideline has long been surpassed on the racetrack of Web expectations," said Eric Horvitz, a scientist at Microsoft's research labs.



For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR. "For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait." The New York Times (Thurs., March 1, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 29, 2012.)



WebSpeedGraphic2012-03-08.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






March 16, 2012

Lasseter's Epiphany: "This Is What Walt Was Waiting For"




(p. 52) In a trailer on the Disney lot, Lasseter huddled with Rees and Kroyer to look at the first computer-generated scene to come in--a race among drivers in virtual motorcycles known as light cycles. The scene had no character animation and its graphics were rudimentary, but it brought Lasseter an epiphany. The dimensionality of the scene was something he had never witnessed before. If this technology could be melded with Disney animation, he thought, he would have the makings of a revolution. Until then, three-dimensional effects in animation had required difficult, costly sessions with the multistory "multiplane" camera, practical for only a few key sequences in a film, if that. The computers could even move the audience's point of view around a scene like a Steadicam. The possibilities seemed infinite.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," he said later. "Walt Disney, all his career, all his life, was striving to get more dimension in his (p. 53) animation . . . and I was standing there, looking at it, going, 'This is what Walt was waiting for.'"

He was not able to interest the animation executives in it; they did not care to hear about new technology unless it made animation faster or cheaper.



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 15, 2012

"The Astaires' Defiant New World Optimism"




AstairesBK2012-03-07.jpg













Source of book image:
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/513pEMI-LeL._.jpg





(p. C6) The Astaire universe was made of crazy joy, that guiltless worldview unique to the art of the American 1920s. The Astaires' trademarked exit was the gleefully mischievous "runaround," in which they trotted about the stage in ever increasing circles as if joined at the hip, expanding their geometry till they reached the wings and vanished. It was goofy and expert at once, a way of defining musical comedy as the state of being young, cute and in love with life.


. . .


"For all their jazz-fueled modernity," Ms. Riley writes of the Astaires' London réclame, they were "anti-modernist." This pair was more than sunshine. The sheer zest with which they frisked through a show ran "counter to High Modernism's pervasive sense of the instability of the self and the universe." This was the time, Ms. Riley notes, of "The Waste Land," "Ulysses," "Vile Bodies." Art was in despair. But the Astaires' "defiant New World optimism" proved a remedy: meeting cute, assuming disguises and high-hatting the blues with fascinating rhythm. It's a very American notion: that a strong foundation in popular art creates a positive worldview in general. Call it the audacity of charm.


. . .


They don't make shows that way anymore, and Ms. Riley's book is thus a resuscitation of a naive but perhaps more authentically native showbiz, an art of natural forces. "The Astaires" is a salute to an America at ease with itself and doing something wonderful in the song-and-dance line that seemed, for a time, like the hottest thing in the culture.



For the full review, see:

Kathleen Riley. "BOOKSHELF; Sibling Revelry." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 3, 2012): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Riley, Kathleen. The Astaires: Fred & Adele. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.






March 14, 2012

Majority of Marine Creatures Thrive in Greater Acidity




(p. C4) The effect of acidification, according to J.E.N. Veron, an Australian coral scientist, will be "nothing less than catastrophic.... What were once thriving coral gardens that supported the greatest biodiversity of the marine realm will become red-black bacterial slime, and they will stay that way."

This is a common view. The Natural Resources Defense Council has called ocean acidification "the scariest environmental problem you've never heard of." Sigourney Weaver, who narrated a film about the issue, said that "the scientists are freaked out." The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls it global warming's "equally evil twin."


. . .


If the average pH of the ocean drops to 7.8 from 8.1 by 2100 as predicted, it will still be well above seven, the neutral point where alkalinity becomes acidity.


. . .


In a recent experiment in the Mediterranean, reported in Nature Climate Change, corals and mollusks were transplanted to lower pH sites, where they proved "able to calcify and grow at even faster than normal rates when exposed to the high [carbon-dioxide] levels projected for the next 300 years." In any case, freshwater mussels thrive in Scottish rivers, where the pH is as low as five.

Laboratory experiments find that more marine creatures thrive than suffer when carbon dioxide lowers the pH level to 7.8. This is because the carbon dioxide dissolves mainly as bicarbonate, which many calcifiers use as raw material for carbonate.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Taking Fears of Acid Oceans With a Grain of Salt." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 7, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis in first paragraph in original; ellipses between paragraphs added.)






March 13, 2012

Upper Class "Have Lost the Confidence to Preach What They Practice"




Coming-ApartBK2012-03-07.jpg













Source of book image:
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-K9jKNHD0vwE/Tzn4yKgEtII/AAAAAAAAC8Q/2wZqk1Hl1V4/s1600/murray-coming-apart.jpg




(p. 9) The problem, Murray argues, is not that members of the new upper class eat French cheese or vote for Barack Obama. It is that they have lost the confidence to preach what they practice, adopting instead a creed of "ecumenical niceness." They work, marry and raise children, but they refuse to insist that the rest of the country do so, too. "The belief that being a good American involved behaving in certain kinds of ways, and that the nation itself relied upon a certain kind of people in order to succeed, had begun to fade and has not revived," Murray writes.


For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE. "Tramps Like Them; Charles Murray Argues that the White Working Class Is No Longer a Virtuous Silent Majority." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., February 12, 2012): 9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 10, 2012 and has the title "Tramps Like Them; Charles Murray Examines the White Working Class in 'Coming Apart'.")







March 12, 2012

CalArts Was One of Walt Disney's Last Projects





It is a nice minor coda to Walt Disney's life that the CalArts school that he founded provided a starting point for many of the next generation of great innovative animators, including John Lasseter.


(p. 47) CalArts was Walt Disney's brainchild; he had started the planning of the school in the late 1950s and provided generously for it in his will. Walt and his brother Roy formed it in 1961 through a merger of two struggling Los Angeles institutions, the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and the Chouinard Art Institute. The doors opened at the school's consolidated campus in Valencia in 1971, five years after Walt's death.


. . .


(p. 48) The storms of the 1960s had mostly receded by the time Lasseter arrived. At CalArts, he found his own kind of liberation: Here, he no longer needed to conceal his passion for cartoons. His twenty classmates from across the country were animation geeks like him. Others had been corresponding with the Disney studio just as he had, and even making their own short films. Many would go on from CalArts to perform significant work at Disney or elsewhere; among them were future stars John Musker (co-director of Aladdin, Hercules, and The Little Mermaid) and Brad Bird.

First-year classes took place in room A113, a windowless space with white walls, floor, and ceiling, and buzzing fluorescent lights. The teachers made up tor the setting, however: Almost all of them were longtime Disney artists with awe-inspiring animation credits. Kendall O'Connor, an art director on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, taught layout; Elmer Plummer, a character designer on Dumbo, taught life drawing; T. Hee, a sequence director on Pinocchio, taught caricature. The program was rigorous and the hours long; the fact that the campus was in the middle of nowhere made it easier to focus on work. Tim Burton, who entered the program the following year, remembered the experience: . . .



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 11, 2012

"Innovation and Invention Don't Grow Out of the Government's Orders"




ZhouYouguangTrendyOldGuy2012-03-07.jpg""You can have democracy no matter what level of development. Just look at the Arab Spring."- Zhou Youguang" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) BEIJING. EVEN at 106 years old, Zhou Youguang is the kind of creative thinker that Chinese leaders regularly command the government to cultivate in their bid to raise their nation from the world's factory floor.

So it is curious that he embodies a contradiction at the heart of their premise: the notion that free thinkers are to be venerated unless and until they challenge the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party.

Mr. Zhou is the inventor of Pinyin, the Romanized spelling system that linked China's ancient written language to the modern age and helped China all but stamp out illiteracy. He was one of the leaders of the Chinese translation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the 1980s. He has written about 40 books, the most recent published last year.


. . .


His blog entries range from the modernization of Confucianism to Silk Road history and China's new middle class. Computer screens hurt his eyes, but he devours foreign newspapers and magazines. A well-known Chinese artist nicknamed him "Trendy Old Guy."


. . .


THE decade-long Cultural Revolution that began in 1966 wiped out Mr. Zhou's lingering belief in communism. He was publicly humiliated and sent to toil for two years in the wilderness.


. . .


About Mao, he said in an interview: "I deny he did any good." About the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre: "I am sure one day justice will be done." About popular support for the Communist Party: "The people have no freedom to express themselves, so we cannot know."

As for fostering creativity in the Communist system, Mr. Zhou had this to say, in a 2010 book of essays: "Inventions are flowers that grow out of the soil of freedom. Innovation and invention don't grow out of the government's orders."

No sooner had the first batch of copies been printed than the book was banned in China.



For the full story, see:

SHARON LaFRANIERE. "THE SATURDAY PROFILE; A Chinese Voice of Dissent That Took Its Time." The New York Times (Sat., March 3, 2012): A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date March 2, 2012.)






March 10, 2012

"Crises Are an Inevitable Concomitant of Risk"




(p. 11) Some economic risks are worth taking, and crises are an inevitable concomitant of risk. Crises, like firm failures, can be seen as a manifestation of the Schumpeterian process of creative destruction. The role for economic analysis is to ensure that the creation dominates and that the destruction is not too costly.


Source:

Eichengreen, Barry. Capital Flows and Crises. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.






March 9, 2012

Web Sites Expose Petty Corruption




RamanathanSwatiBribeSite2012-03-07.jpg "Swati Ramanathan, a founder of the site I Paid a Bribe, in India." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) The cost of claiming a legitimate income tax refund in Hyderabad, India? 10,000 rupees.

The going rate to get a child who has already passed the entrance requirements into high school in Nairobi, Kenya? 20,000 shillings.

The expense of obtaining a driver's license after having passed the test in Karachi, Pakistan? 3,000 rupees.

Such is the price of what Swati Ramanathan calls "retail corruption," the sort of nickel-and-dime bribery, as opposed to large-scale graft, that infects everyday life in so many parts of the world.

Ms. Ramanathan and her husband, Ramesh, along with Sridar Iyengar, set out to change all that in August 2010 when they started ipaidabribe.com, a site that collects anonymous reports of bribes paid, bribes requested but not paid and requests that were expected but not forthcoming.

About 80 percent of the more than 400,000 reports to the site tell stories like the ones above of officials and bureaucrats seeking illicit payments to provide routine services or process paperwork and forms.

"I was asked to pay a bribe to get a birth certificate for my daughter," someone in Bangalore, India, wrote in to the Web site on Feb. 29, recording payment of a 120-rupee bribe in Bangalore. "The guy in charge called it 'fees' " -- except there are no fees charged for birth certificates, Ms. Ramanathan said.

Now, similar sites are spreading like kudzu around the globe, vexing petty bureaucrats the world over. Ms. Ramanathan said nongovernmental organizations and government agencies from at least 17 countries had contacted Janaagraha, the nonprofit organization in Bangalore that operates I Paid a Bribe, to ask about obtaining the source code and setting up a site of their own.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "Web Sites Shine Light on Petty Bribery Worldwide." The New York Times (Weds., March 7, 2012): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date March 6, 2012.)



RaguiAntonyBribeSite2012-03-07.jpg











"Antony Ragui started an I Paid a Bribe site in Kenya." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.








March 8, 2012

Funding Was Scarce to Develop Computer Graphics




(p. 29) As in Catmull's graduate school days, however, the Walt Disney Co. was not interested in computer graphics. Walt had died of cancer in 1966, and the company was now run by a caretaker chief executive, Esmond Cardon "Card" Walker. Some of Disney's technology experts saw great promise in the NYIT group's work, but that was as far as it ever went.

Who else hail pockets deep enough to support a major research effort into computer animation for filmmaking? It might cake a decade, or even longer, before computer costs came clown enough for (p. 30) a feature film to be anywhere near the realm of possibility. The only option, it seemed, was to keep making progress on the technical issues--On NYIT's dime--while waiting for Disney to call.



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





March 7, 2012

Hero Was Oblivious to What Others Thought




PressEyal2012-02-29.jpg














Author Eyal Press. Source of photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.







(p. C26) Maybe the refined intellectual, engaged with ideas, manages to think herself above petty concerns like nationalism? That was what Mr. Press suspected he would find in Aleksander Jevtic, the Serb who pulled many Croatians from a line of men destined to be tortured or killed in 1991.

"Aleksander Jevtic had somehow avoided internalizing this us-versus-them thinking," Mr. Press writes, "which I assumed had something do with his education and intellect, a rare skepticism and levelheadedness that enabled him to see past the blinding passions and compellingly simple ideas that drove the logic of hate."

But when Mr. Press at last meets Mr. Jevtic, he finds not a Balkan Isaiah Berlin, nor a soldier-philosopher like Orwell. This lifesaver, this ethical prince among men, turns out to be a slovenly couch potato living off rents he collects from a building he owns: "He also liked sleeping late, hanging out with friends, and watching sports" on his "giant flat-screen television."

Mr. Press surveys the findings of social scientists and neuroscientists, but none of them have entirely figured out where bravery comes from. Every beautiful soul is different.

Mr. Jevtic's wife is Croatian, which certainly helped him think of the enemy as human. But Mr. Jevtic is also a misanthrope, and his natural social isolation helped him hear the call of an instinctive decency; he didn't care what his fellow Serbians, including his commanding officers, might think.

He "wasn't in the business of making good impressions," Mr. Press writes. "His obliviousness to what others thought wasn't necessarily his most becoming feature. But it had served him well in 1991."



For the full review, see:

MARK OPPENHEIMER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Loneliness in Doing Right." The New York Times (Fri., February 24, 2012): C26.

(Note: the online version of the review is dated February 23, 2012.)



The book under review is:

Press, Eyal. Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.



BeautifulSoulsBK2012-02-29.jpg











Source of book image:
http://jacketupload.macmillanusa.com/jackets/high_res/jpgs/9780374143428.jpg









March 6, 2012

"Amazed by the Short-Term Psychology in the Market"




(p. A1) Even after European leaders appeared to have averted a chaotic default by Greece with an eleventh-hour deal for aid, worries persist that a debt disaster on the Continent has merely been delayed.

The tortured process that culminated in that latest bailout has exposed the severe limitations of Europe's approach to the crisis. Many fear that policy makers simply don't have the right tools to deal with other troubled countries like Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal, a situation that could weigh on the markets and the broader economy.

"I don't want to be a Cassandra, but the idea that it's over is an illusion," said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard and co-author of "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly." "I am amazed by the short-term psychology in the market."


. . .


(p. B3) "I don't think we're anywhere near the endgame," Professor Rogoff of Harvard said.



For the full commentary, see:

PETER EAVIS. " NEWS ANALYSIS; For Greece, a Bailout; for Europe, Perhaps Just an Illusion." The New York Times (Weds., February 22, 2012): A1 & B3 (sic).

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated February 21, 2012.)



Rogoff and Reinhart's thought-provoking and much-praised book is:

Reinhart, Carmen M., and Kenneth Rogoff. This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.






March 5, 2012

Few Jobs from Billions Feds Spent on Green Stimulus




WindFarmTexas2012-02-29.jpg "County Commissioner Rosaura Tijerina supported tax breaks for the Cedro Hill wind farm, but it brought few new jobs." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Alfredo Garcia was among the residents of Webb County, Texas, banking on a windfall from federal stimulus money.

Mr. Garcia expanded his Mexican restaurant from 80 to 120 seats, anticipating a rush of new patrons springing from the nearby Cedro Hill wind farm, a project built with the help of $108 million from U.S. taxpayers.

When construction ended, Cedro Hill had just three employees and Mr. Garcia's restaurant, Aimee's, filed for bankruptcy protection. "Nobody came," said Mr. Garcia, a county judge who closed Aimee's last year, putting 18 people out of work.

Companies have received more than $10 billion to create jobs and renewable energy by building wind farms, solar projects and other alternatives to oil and natural gas under section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program expired in December, and President Barack Obama proposed last week that Congress revive it in the 2013 budget.

On federal applications, companies said they created more than 100,000 direct jobs at 1603-funded projects. But a Wall Street Journal investigation found evidence of far fewer. Some plants laid off workers. Others closed.

The discrepancies highlight broader challenges calculating the economic benefits of stimulus spending. Jobs have been an important measure influencing distribution of more than $800 billion in stimulus money, which also has included tax breaks and spending on roads, sewers, schools, health and public assis-(p. A10)tance. Yet the number of jobs created or saved is largely based on formulas, mathematical models and reports by recipients, rather than actual tallies.



For the full story, see:

IANTHE JEANNE DUGAN and JUSTIN SCHECK. "Cost of $10 Billion Stimulus Easier to Tally Than New Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., FEBRUARY 24, 2012): A1 & A10.



WindStimulusRecipientsGraph2012-02-29.jpg















Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ story quoted and cited above.








March 4, 2012

Storytelling Trumps Technology in Making Good Movies




(p. 28) The calamity of Tubby the Tuba forced them to confront an unpleasant fact--namely, that they were in the wrong place for making good movies. Money was nor enough, they could now see. Technical genius was not enough (though Tubby had grave technical problems, too). Splendid equipment would not be enough. For them to make worthwhile films someday--not just the R&D exercises (p. 29) they showed at SIGGRAPH meetings--there also had to be people on board who understood film storytelling. Schure, although blessed with great foresight, could not be their Walt Disney.


Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)






March 3, 2012

Freedom Grew from the Greek Agora




Culture-Of-FreedomBK2012-02-29.jpg











Source of book image: http://images.borders.com.au/images/bau/97801997/9780199747405/0/0/plain/a-culture-of-freedom-ancient-greece-and-the-origins-of-europe.jpg





(p. C9) A city's central space reveals much about the society that built it. In the middle of the typical Greek city-state, or polis, stood neither a palace nor a temple--the dominant centering structures of Asian and Egyptian cities--but an open public square, an agora, useful for gatherings and the conduct of business. When Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, first encountered Greeks on his western boundaries, he sneered at the race of shopkeepers who hung about the agora cheating one another all day. Yet that same race would later defeat his descendants, Darius and Xerxes, in two of the most consequential battles the Western world has seen, at Marathon in 490 B.C. and at Salamis 10 years later.


. . .


Mr. Meier's approach runs counter to a tendency in recent classical scholarship to trace Greek ideas to non-Greek sources or to seek common ground on which East and West once met. The polis itself has been claimed in the past few decades as a Near Eastern, or Phoenician, invention; Carthage too, it seems, had an agora at its hub. But Mr. Meier takes pains to dismiss this claim. Relying on expertise amassed in his long academic career, he reasserts the uniqueness of Greek political evolution, the mysterious and somewhat miraculous process that culminates, at the end of this account, in the emergence of Athenian democracy.


. . .


After surveying the crucial reforms of the Athenian leader Cleisthenes, the foundation stones of the world's first democratic constitution, Mr. Meier asks: "Was it just a matter of time before the Attic citizenry was reorganized--so that Cleisthenes did something that would have happened sooner or later anyway? Or were Cleisthenes' achievements beyond the scope of men less able and daring?"



For the full review, see:

JAMES ROMM. "The Greeks' Daring Experiment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., FEBRUARY 11, 2012): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Meier, Christian. A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011.





March 2, 2012

Amateurs Can Advance Science




(p. C4) The more specialized and sophisticated scientific research becomes, the farther it recedes from everyday experience. The clergymen-amateurs who made 19th-century scientific breakthroughs are a distant memory. Or are they? Paradoxically, in an increasing variety of fields, computers are coming to the rescue of the amateur, through crowd-sourced science.

Last month, computer gamers working from home redesigned an enzyme. Last year, a gene-testing company used its customers to find mutations that increase or decrease the risk of Parkinson's disease. Astronomers are drawing amateurs into searching for galaxies and signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. The modern equivalent of the Victorian scientific vicar is an ordinary person who volunteers his or her time to solving a small piece of a big scientific puzzle.

Crowd-sourced science is not a recent invention. In the U.S., tens of thousands of people record the number and species of birds that they see during the Christmas season, a practice that dates back more than a century. What's new is having amateurs contribute in highly technical areas.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Following the Crowd to Citizen Science." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., FEBRUARY 11, 2012): C4.





March 1, 2012

The Impact of Cheap Smart Phones on Africa






WalesJim2012-02-26.jpg








Jimbo Wales

Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


















(p. 2) PHONING: A friend of mine bought me an Ideos phone on the street in Kenya for about $80. This is an Android phone that's a bit smaller than an iPhone, but a lot cheaper. This is really exciting because at that price point, hundreds of thousands and soon millions of smartphones are going to be sold across Africa. The impact for people's access to knowledge in some very difficult places is enormous.


For the full interview, see:

Jimmy Wales as interviewed by KATE MURPHY. "DOWNLOAD; Jimmy Wales." The New York Times, SundayReview (Sun., February 12, 2012): 2.

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated February 11, 2012.)






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