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March 31, 2013

Energy-Efficient Buildings Increase Indoor CO2 Pollution and Impair Decision-Making




(p. C4) Carbon dioxide at levels normally found indoors is usually considered benign, especially compared with carbon monoxide. But a study finds that even modestly elevated CO2 can impair decision-making.


. . .


Given the emphasis on energy-efficient buildings, which are often more airtight, the study suggests that carbon dioxide might be an indoor pollutant to worry about--especially in conference rooms, where important decisions are hashed out.



For the full story, see:

Daniel Akst. "WEEK IN IDEAS; Week in Ideas: Daniel Akst; POLLUTANTS; Blame It on the Air." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 27, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date October 26, 2012.)


The study summarized is:

Satish, Usha, Mark J. Mendell, Krishnamurthy Shekhar, Toshifumi Hotchi, Douglas Sullivan, Siegfried Streufert, and William J. Fisk. "Is Co2 an Indoor Pollutant? Direct Effects of Low-to-Moderate Co2 Concentrations on Human Decision-Making Performance." Environmental Health Perspectives (Sept. 20, 2012): 1-35.

(Note: it is not clear to me if Environmental Health Perspectives is an online journal or an online working paper series. Whatever it is, it is affiliated with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.)





March 30, 2013

Chinese Communists Starved 45 Million in Mao's Famine




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Source of book image: http://reviews.libraryjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/xun.jpg




(p. C5) It is difficult to look dispassionately at some 45 million dead. It was not war that produced this shocking number, nor natural disaster. It was a man. It was politics and one man's vanity. The cause was famine and violence across rural China, a result of Mao Zedong's unchecked drive to turn his country rapidly into a communist utopia and a leading industrial nation.


. . .


(p. C6) . . . important pieces of evidence are being covered up . . . : Some originals transcribed in Zhou Xun's chastening documentary history, "The Great Famine in China, 1958-1962" ( . . . ) have since been reclassified by the Beijing authorities and vanished once more into closed files.

In 2010, Frank Dikötter produced "Mao's Great Famine," an authoritative account of the catastrophe, written with a bravura seldom seen in Western writing on modern China. Impassioned and outraged, Mr. Dikötter detailed the destruction, the suffering and the cruelty or hubris of China's leaders. Sorting through forgotten and hidden documents with great intellectual honesty, Mr. Dikötter ended his journey pointing his finger directly at Mao, who notoriously said, as he called for higher grain deliveries from the countryside at the height of the famine: "It is better to let half the people die so that the other half can eat their fill."


. . .


As a teenager in 1959, Mr. Yang watched his father die of starvation. Years later, while working in a senior editorial post at Xinhua, China's state-controlled news agency, he began his own search for the truth behind the famine. The author spent 20 years tracking down survivors across China and using his authority as a respected Communist cadre to access provincial archives. It was, in part, expiation for his shame in not questioning his father's death.


. . .


There is no memorial anywhere in China to the victims of the famine, no public monument, no remembrance day. Graves are not marked and mass burial grounds have disappeared into the landscape. The famine's very existence has been denied. The Communist Party will only admit to "food shortages" and "some difficulties" during the Great Leap Forward. They claim that these setbacks were a result of natural disasters.

Mr. Yang set about writing his book as a tombstone for his father and for every victim who had died from starvation. He was also erecting a tombstone for the system that brought about the Great Famine. First published in Hong Kong in 2008, Mr. Yang's work is banned in China. The reason is clear: The book challenges the very foundation of the Communist Party's authority.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; A Most Secret Tragedy; The Great Leap Forward aimed to make China an industrial giant--instead it killed 45 million." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 27, 2012): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 26, 2012.)



Books under review:

Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

Zhou, Xun, ed. The Great Famine in China, 1958-1962: A Documentary History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.


The Dikötter book mentioned, is:

Dikötter, Frank. Mao's Great Famine. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010.






March 29, 2013

Greater Efforts to Save Premature Babies Inflates U.S. Infant-Mortality




(p. A13) The federally chartered Institute of Medicine issued a comprehensive report last month on the state of American health. Saying that "Other high-income countries outrank the United States on most measures of health," the report concluded that the U.S. "is among the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is far from the healthiest."


. . .


As the report's authors point out, the U.S. has the highest infant-mortality rate among high-income countries.


. . .


Doctors in the U.S. are much more aggressive than foreign counterparts about trying to save premature babies. Thousands of babies that would have been declared stillborn in other countries and never given a chance at life are saved in the U.S. As a result, the percentage of preterm births in America is exceptionally high--65% higher than in Britain, and about double the rates in Finland and Greece.

Unfortunately, some of the premature babies that American hospitals try to save don't make it. Their deaths inflate the overall infant mortality rate.



For the full commentary, see:

SALLY C. PIPES. "OPINION; Those Misleading World Health Rankings; The numbers are distorted because, for instance, U.S. doctors try so hard to save premature babies." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., February 5, 2013): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 4, 2013.)





March 28, 2013

Driving to MobileIron Job Interview in $100,000 Car, Tells CEO Tinker You Are Not Hungry Enough




TinkerRobertMobileIronCEO2013-03-09.jpg "Above, Robert Tinker, the chief executive of MobileIron, at its offices in Mountain View, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B2) "There are disruptions everywhere," said Robert Tinker, the chief executive of MobileIron, which makes software for companies to manage smartphones and tablets. "Mobile disrupts personal computers, a market worth billions. Cloud disrupts computer servers and data storage, billions of dollars more. Social may be one of those rare things that is totally new."

Relative to the size of the markets that mobile devices, cloud computing and social media are toppling, he says, the valuations are reasonable.

But most of these chief executives are also veterans of the Internet bubble of the late '90s, and confess to worries that maybe things are not so different this time. Mr. Tinker, 43, drives a 1995 Ford Explorer that has logged 265,000 miles.

"If somebody comes to a job interview here in a $100,000 car, I know he's not hungry," he said. "The reality is, I've taken $94 million in investors' money, and we haven't gone public yet. I feel that responsibility every day."



For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "A Billion-Dollar Club, and Not So Exclusive." The New York Times (Weds., February 5, 2013): B1 & B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2013.)






March 27, 2013

Jobs' Protest Against Mortality: Omit the On-Off Switches on Apple Devices




(p. 571) . . . [Jobs] admitted that, as he faced death, he might be overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in an afterlife. "I like to think that something survives after you die," he said. "It's strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures."

He fell silent for a very long time. "But on the other hand, perhaps it's like an on-off switch," he said. "Click! And you're gone."

Then he paused again and smiled slightly. "Maybe that's why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices."



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed "Jobs" added; italics in original.)






March 26, 2013

New York Resisted Roosevelt's Enforcing "Stupid" Vice Laws




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Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/i/island-of-vice/9780385519724_custom-e38a25fc66f104a049d4d24aa39dbe92d42fbd57-s6-c10.jpg



(p. C9) . . . as Richard Zacks's excellent "Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York" ably shows, while we might like to believe that the stretch from 1970 to 1995 represents the city's nadir, it was just about business as usual in New York over the centuries.

From its time as a Dutch colonial outpost, the city has always been pretty bad. You'd almost think New Yorkers prefer it that way. Of course, we don't like fraud, robbery, assault, arson, rape or murder any more than anyone else does. But the deliberate injury of one's fellow citizen isn't the only way to break the law. There are also those crimes that fall under the broad category of "vice": things such as gambling, prostitution, indecent exposure and selling alcohol at a convenient time. Historically, the average New Yorker has not greeted these acts with the same immediate urge to suppress that many of his or her fellow Americans have had. You don't get a nickname like "The City That Never Sleeps" without having a certain amount of things worth staying up for.


. . .


In the end, Mr. Zacks's exhaustively researched yet lively story is a classic battle between an irresistible force, Roosevelt's ego, and an immovable object, the people of New York's unwillingness to follow laws they thought were stupid. In this case, the object won, and handily. Mr. Zacks's account of the way the city's saloonkeepers instantly turned their establishments into hotels to take advantage of a loophole in the law is particularly amusing. Eventually, the police department, not unsympathetic to the Sunday tippler, began finding ways to wriggle out from under the commissioner's thumb, and beer-friendly Tammany Hall, with the people solidly behind it, began peeling away his allies.



For the full review, see:

DAVID WONDRICH. "BOOKSHELF; Teddy's Rough Ride." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 17, 2012): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 30, 2012.)



Book under review:

Zacks, Richard. Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-Loving New York. New York: Doubleday, 2012.






March 25, 2013

Scientist Sees Benefits in Plan to Increase Global Warming




(p. D2) Plants are . . . part of one theoretical plan for turning Mars into a suitable environment for human beings, a process called terraforming.


. . .


Chris McKay, a Mars expert at the NASA Ames Research Center, theorizes that engineers would first have to encourage the kind of global warming they want to avoid on Earth. This could be done by releasing greenhouse gases, like chlorofluorocarbons or perfluorocarbons, into the atmosphere. The goal would be to increase the surface temperature of Mars by a total of about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit.


. . .


With the rise in temperature, heat-trapping carbon dioxide would eventually be released from the planet's south polar ice cap, producing a further average temperature rise of even greater magnitude, perhaps as much as 70 degrees Celsius, or 126 degrees Fahrenheit.

These high temperatures would melt ice to produce the water needed for living things.



For the full story, see:

C. CLAIBORNE RAY. "Q & A; At Home on Mars." The New York Times (Tues., December 11, 2012): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 10, 2012.)


McKay wrote up some of his ideas in:

McKay, Christopher P. "Bringing Life to Mars." Scientific American Presents: The Future of Space Exploration (1999): 52-57.






March 24, 2013

Many Corporations Refused to Finance Semiconductors




FairlchildSemiconductorEightFounders2013-03-08.jpg "Shown in 1960, the eight engineers who founded Fairchild Semiconductor and revolutionized world technology in "Silicon Valley," an "American Experience" documentary, . . . ." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


(p. C4) "Silicon Valley" is a deceptively grand title for the new "American Experience" documentary Tuesday night on PBS. "Fairchild Semiconductor" would be more accurate.


. . .


One startling image shows a handwritten list of the many corporations that declined to bankroll the eight pioneers before Fairchild Camera and Instrument said yes. If any of them had possessed more foresight, the silicon chip might have belonged to National Cash Register, Motorola, Philco, BorgWarner, Chrysler, General Mills or United Shoe.



For the full review, see:

MIKE HALE. "Men Who Took Silicon to Silicon Valley." The New York Times (Tues., February 5, 2013): C4.

(Note: ellipses in caption, and in quoted passage, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 4, 2013.)



The "Silicon Valley" program first aired on PBS on 2/5/13 and can be viewed at:

http://video.pbs.org/video/2332168287






March 23, 2013

"The Ante for Being in the Room" at Apple Was Brutal Honesty





The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 569) I don't think I run roughshod over people, but if something sucks, I tell people to their face. It's my job to be honest. I know what I'm talking about, and I usually turn out to be right. That's the culture I tried to create. We are brutally honest with each other, and anyone can tell me they think I am full of shit and I can tell them the same. And we've had some rip-roaring arguments, where we are yelling at each other, and it's some of the best times I've ever had. I feel totally comfortable saying "Ron, that store looks like shit" in front of everyone else. Or I might say "God, we really fucked up the engineering on this" in front of the person that's responsible. That's the ante for being in the room: You've got to be able to be super honest. Maybe there's a better way, a gentlemen's club where we all wear ties and speak in this Brahmin language and velvet codewords, but I don't know that way, because I am middle class from California.

I was hard on people sometimes, probably harder than I needed to be. I remember the time when Reed was six years old, coming home, and I had just fired somebody that day, and I imagined what it was like (p. 570) for that person to tell his family and his young son that he had lost his job. It was hard. But somebody's got to do it. I figured that it was always my job to make sure that the team was excellent, and if I didn't do it, nobody was going to do it.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 22, 2013

Adolphus Busch Was First to Pasteurize Beer




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Source of book image: https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTAFP9Hrx5IMUu1VH2WgoGcF43prrX2QiZx1J770DEx8BcGm55p1g



(p. C9) The first King of Beers was a German immigrant who came to America just before the Civil War. Adolphus Busch set down roots in heavily Germanic St. Louis, used an inheritance to buy a brewery-supply business and married into the Anheuser family, which owned a struggling brewery of its own. Installed as president of the family business (re-christened Anheuser-Busch), Adolphus purchased a beer recipe--you have to love this--used by monks in a Bohemian village named Budweis. The crisp, pale lager was known as Budweiser.


. . .


Adolphus certainly knew how to sell beer. He was the first American brewer to pasteurize his product, meaning that he could store it longer and ship it greater distances. He bought his own rail-car company and glass bottler; in the age of trusts he was a one-man conglomerate. Anticipating the family taste for luxury, Adolphus maintained baronial mansions in St. Louis, Cooperstown, N.Y., and Pasadena, Calif. His style was grand or, as Mr. Knoedelseder puts it, "over-the-top gauche."



For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. "BOOKSHELF; Fall of the House of Busch." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 1, 2012): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 30, 2012.)





Book under review:

Knoedelseder, William. Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer. New York: HarperBusiness, 2012.






March 21, 2013

Unemployment Increases Risk of Heart Attack




As a defender of the process of innovation through creative destruction, I try to be alert to evidence on creative destruction's benefits and costs. The highest cost is usually viewed as technological unemployment. The evidence below will have to be examined and, if sound, added to the costs.


(p. D6) Unemployment increases the risk of heart attack, a new study reports, and repeated job loss raises the odds still more.


. . .


After adjusting for well-established heart attack risks -- age, sex, smoking, income, hypertension, cholesterol screening, exercise, depression, diabetes and others -- the researchers found that being unemployed also increased the risk of a heart attack, by an average of 35 percent.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS BAKALAR. "Job Loss Raises Threat of Heart Attack." The New York Times (Tues., November 27, 2012): D6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 26, 2012.)



The Dupre article mentioned above, is:

Dupre, Matthew E., Linda K. George, Guangya Liu, and Eric D. Peterson. "The Cumulative Effect of Unemployment on Risks for Acute Myocardial Infarction." Archives of Internal Medicine 172, no. 22 (Dec. 10, 2012): 1731-37.

(Note: the Archives of Internal Medicine has been re-named JAMA Internal Medicine.)






March 20, 2013

Many New Tech Entrepreneurs Shun "Fast Cars and Fancy Parties"




LibinPhilEvernoteCEO2013-03-09.jpg

















"Phil Libin, chief of Evernote, at its headquarters in Redwood City, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.





(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- The number of privately held Silicon Valley start-ups that are worth more than $1 billion shocks even the executives running those companies.

"I thought we were special," said Phil Libin, chief executive of Evernote, an online consumer service for storing clippings, photos and bits of information as he counted his $1 billion-plus peers.

He started Evernote in 2008 on the eve of the recession and built it methodically. "A lot of us didn't set out to have a big valuation, we're just trying to build something that lasts," Mr. Libin said. "There is no safe industry anymore, even here."


. . .


(p. B2) Silicon Valley entrepreneurs contend that the price spiral is not a sign of another tech bubble. The high prices are reasonable, they say, because innovations like smartphones and cloud computing will remake a technology industry that is already worth hundreds of billions of dollars.


. . .


The founders of the highly valued companies are old enough to remember past busts, and many shun the bubble lifestyle of fast cars and fancy parties.

Mr. Libin, who said he grew up on food stamps as the son of Russian immigrants in the Bronx, became a millionaire when he sold his first company, Engine5, to Vignette in 2000.

"The company I sold to, there were purple Lamborghinis in the garage. I got into watches," he said. "Maybe a half-dozen, nothing over $10,000, but I needed this glass and leather watch winder."

Evernote started as the financial crisis hit. "One night I was almost busted again," he said, "and there was that watch winder on the shelf, mocking me."

"Every job out there is insecure now," he said. "People sell 10 percent of their stock, and they have an incentive to make the other 90 percent worth more. They are still working, but not worrying about what will happen to their home or their kids."



For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "A Billion-Dollar Club, and Not So Exclusive." The New York Times (Weds., February 5, 2013): B1 & B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2013.)






March 19, 2013

Real Entrepreneurs Do Not Launch a Startup in Order to Cash In and Move On





The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.

I agree with the part about real entrepreneurs not going public quick in order to cash in. But I disagree that the real entrepreneurs are mainly interested in building a lasting company. I think that often they are mainly interested in getting a project, or a series of projects, done (and done reasonably well). Recall that when Walt Disney couldn't convince Roy Disney to pursue the Disneyland project, Walt left the main Disney company to pursue the project through a secondary rump Disney company.


(p. 569) I hate it when people call themselves "entrepreneurs" when what they're really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They're unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That's how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or two from now. That's what Walt Disney did, and Hewlett and Packard, and the people who built Intel. They created a company to last, not just to make money. That's what I want Apple to be.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 18, 2013

Much of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" Was Funded Out of Producer's Own Pocket




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Source of book image: http://www.awn.com/files/imagepicker/23/artofpeanuts-cover-620.jpg



(p. C10) Of all the "Peanuts" television specials ever made, the first--"A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965)--was the Charlie Browniest. The 25-minute special was an underdog, just like its hapless protagonist, and barely made it on the air. CBS gave producer Lee Mendelson so minuscule a budget, we learn in Charles Solomon's "The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation," that he was forced to fund the rest out of his own pocket--even though Coca-Cola had already guaranteed sponsorship. When "A Charlie Brown Christmas" pulled in sensational ratings, CBS grudgingly asked for follow-ups. "We're going to order four more," a network executive told Mr. Mendelson, "though my aunt in New Jersey didn't like it either"--a line that Schulz might have written.


. . .


"A Charlie Brown Christmas" established the template, mixing morals and gags in a way that made the peachiness seem endearing. The perfectly pitched dialogue, written by Schulz himself, was voiced (at his insistence) by actual children. The expressionist use of line and color was introduced by director Bill Melendez, and the understated yet supremely catchy Latin jazz scores were the work of pianist-composer Vince Guaraldi and his combo. The tune Guaraldi called "Linus and Lucy" came to be synonymous with "Peanuts" for the generations that grew up on the specials.

While the movements of the characters--especially Snoopy--could be antic, Guaraldi's scores set a cool counterpoint and provided a sense of serenity that was utterly unique. The characters weren't always moving--sometimes they would stop and simply listen to each other--and Schulz insisted that there be no laugh track. He made the climax of the drama Linus walking to the center of the school stage to recite from the gospel of Luke--a decision daring even in its day, not least because it stopped the action for an extended period to show a hand-drawn character delivering a lisping speech.



For the full review, see:

WILL FRIEDWALD. "BOOKSHELF; Cheers for Chuck." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 22, 2012): C10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 21, 2012.)


Book under review:

Solomon, Charles. The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2012.






March 17, 2013

NYT Climate Blogger Sees Evidence "Trending" Toward Less Global Warming




"Worse than we thought" has been one of the most durable phrases lately among those pushing for urgent action to stem the buildup of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

But on one critically important metric -- how hot the planet will get from a doubling of the pre-industrial concentration of greenhouse gases, a k a "climate sensitivity" -- some climate researchers with substantial publication records are shifting toward the lower end of the warming spectrum.

There's still plenty of global warming and centuries of coastal retreats in the pipeline, so this is hardly a "benign" situation, as some have cast it.

But while plenty of other climate scientists hold firm to the idea that the full range of possible outcomes, including a disruptively dangerous warming of more than 4.5 degrees C. (8 degrees F.), remain in play, it's getting harder to see why the high-end projections are given much weight.


. . .


In fact, there is an accumulating body of reviewed, published research shaving away the high end of the range of possible warming estimates from doubled carbon dioxide levels.


. . .


(. . . recent work is trending toward the published low sensitivity findings from a decade ago from climate scientists best known for their relationships with libertarian groups.)

Nonetheless, the science is what the science is.



Revkin, Andrew C. "CLIMATE CHANGE; A Closer Look at Moderating Views of Climate Sensitivity." Dot Earth: New York Times Opinion Pages Climate Blog. (posted February 4, 2013).

(Note: ellipses added.)






March 16, 2013

Antarctica Has 595,000 Emperor Penguins--Double Previous Count




EmperorPenguinsAntarctica2013-03-10.jpg "Using satellites, researchers counted Antarctica's emperor penguins at 46 colonies like this one near the Halley Research Station, finding numbers twice as high as previously thought." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A2) Antarctica has twice as many emperor penguins as scientists had thought, according to a new study using satellite imagery in the first comprehensive survey of one of the world's most iconic birds.

British and U.S. geospatial mapping experts reported Friday in the journal PLoS One that they had counted 595,000 emperor penguins living in 46 colonies along the coast of Antarctica, compared with previous estimates of 270,000 to 350,000 penguins based on surveys of just five colonies. The researchers also discovered four previously unknown emperor-penguin colonies and confirmed the location of three others.

"It is good news from a conservation point of view," said geographer Peter Fretwell at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England, who led the penguin satellite census. "This is the first comprehensive census of a species taken from space."

Although all of Antarctica's wildlife is protected by international treaty, the emperor penguins are not an officially endangered species. But they are considered a bellwether of any future climate changes in Antarctica because their icy habitat is so sensitive to rising temperatures.



For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Emperor Penguins Are Teeming in Antarctica." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 14, 2012): A2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 13, 2012.)






March 15, 2013

Jobs Believed Great Companies Decline When Salesmen (Rather than Engineers and Designers) Take Over





The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 568) I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of (p. 569) the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they're the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn't know anything about product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don't matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 14, 2013

Foreign Aid Is Not Effective




BeyondGoodIntentionsBK.JPG
















Source of book image: http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9781580054348_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG



(p. C8) In 2002, Tori Hogan was a 20-year-old intern for the international nonprofit Save the Children, helping write a report on the effect of humanitarian aid on children. In a dusty refugee-camp high school in Kenya a teenage student told her: "A lot of aid workers come and go, but nothing changes. If the aid projects were effective, we wouldn't still be living like this after all these years." That remark ended Tori Hogan's "dreams of 'saving Africa,' " she writes in "Beyond Good Intentions," a book that bypasses sweeping condemnations of the aid industry to reach sometimes less satisfying zones of nuance.


. . .


The most savage writing on this topic comes from authors who have devoted chunks of their lives to conflict zones. In "The Crisis Caravan" (2010), Dutch journalist Linda Polman quotes, to devastating effect, Sierra Leone rebels who claim that they launched mass amputations in 1999 to compete with Congo and Kosovo for international attention and development aid. Michael Maren, the author of "Road to Hell" (2010), lost his child to the aid effort in Somalia.



The book under review is:

Hogan, Tori. Beyond Good Intentions: A Journey into the Realities of International Aid. pb (appears there was no hb edition) ed. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2012.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



The Polman book mentioned above, is:

Polman, Linda. The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010.


The Maren book mentioned above, is:

Maren, Michael. The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity. New York: The Free Press, 1997.






March 13, 2013

To Avoid Economic Crises We Need to Look at Evidence from Economic History




(p. 1093) Methodologically, the most fundamental and forceful message from the book is that, by ignoring history and the fact that crises remain frequent, recurrent, episodic events--in both rich and poor countries--almost everyone, including researchers and policymakers, made themselves vulnerable to the wishful thinking encapsulated in the book's title. There is a deeper statistical point here. Crises, and for that matter large recessions and other phenomena that are of first-order interest given their implications for economic activity, occur at quite a low frequency. They are rare events, meaning that they do not occur so frequently, at least for most countries in a short-span time series. Thus recent experience can be an unfaithful guide for scholars and statesmen alike, a good example being the complacent thinking that accompanied the erstwhile Great Moderation of recent decades even as financial pressures built up nationally and internationally. Possibly the most important lesson that readers will take away from this book is that if we are to do better in future, from our policy thinking in the chambers of power to our macroeconometric analyses in academe, (p. 1094) we need to admit the existence of, and come to grips with, a much broader universe of evidence.


For the full review, see:

Taylor, Alan M. "Global Financial Stability and the Lessons of History: A Review of Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff's This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 4 (Dec. 2012): 1092-105.

(Note: italics in original.)


The book that Taylor reviews, is:

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







March 12, 2013

Resveratrol Activates Sirtuins to Switch on Energy Producing Mitochondria





A new study, just published in the prestigious journal Science, appears to substantially vindicate the recently beleaguered resveratrol longevity research of David Sinclair:


. . . a new study led by David Sinclair of the Harvard Medical School, who in 2003 was a discoverer resveratrol's role in activating sirtuins, found that resveratrol did indeed influence sirtuin directly, though in a more complicated way than previously thought.    . . .    . . . activated, the sirtuins do several things, one of which is to switch on a second protein that spurs production of the mitochondria, which provide the cell's energy. This would explain why mice treated with resveratrol ran twice as far on a treadmill before collapsing from exhaustion as untreated mice.


For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "New Optimism on Resveratrol." New York Times "Well" Blog    Posted on MARCH 11, 2013. URL: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/11/new-optimism-on-resveratrol/

(Note: ellipses added.)


The Sinclair article (see last-listed co-author) is:

Hubbard, Basil P., Ana P. Gomes, Han Dai, Jun Li, April W. Case, Thomas Considine, Thomas V. Riera, Jessica E. Lee, Sook Yen E (sic), Dudley W. Lamming, Bradley L. Pentelute, Eli R. Schuman, Linda A. Stevens, Alvin J. Y. Ling, Sean M. Armour, Shaday Michan, Huizhen Zhao, Yong Jiang, Sharon M. Sweitzer, Charles A. Blum, Jeremy S. Disch, Pui Yee Ng, Konrad T. Howitz, Anabela P. Rolo, Yoshitomo Hamuro, Joel Moss, Robert B. Perni, James L. Ellis, George P. Vlasuk, and David A. Sinclair. "Evidence for a Common Mechanism of Sirt1 Regulation by Allosteric Activators." Science 339, no. 6124 (March 8, 2013): 1216-19.






March 11, 2013

Open Systems Limit the Integrated Vision that Creates Great Products





The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 568) People pay us to integrate things for them, because they don't have the time to think about this stuff 24/7. If you have an extreme passion for producing great products, it pushes you to be integrated, to connect your hardware and your software and content management. You want to break new ground, so you have to do it yourself. If you want to allow your products to be open to other hardware or software, you have to give up some of your vision.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 10, 2013

Ibrahim's Celtel Provided Private Infrastructure to Aid African Growth




LessWalkMoreTalkBK2013-01-29.jpg

















Source of book image: http://media.wiley.com/product_data/coverImage300/04/04707432/0470743204.jpg



I was searching for a biography of the entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim who founded the innovative African cell phone company Celtel. The closest I have been able to find so far is Less Walk, More Talk which looks promising, but which I have not yet read.

Arguably, cell phones in Africa have provided important infrastructure that has made it somewhat easier to be productive there, and hence made a contribution to economic growth.



The book is:

Southwood, Russell. Less Walk More Talk: How Celtel and the Mobile Phone Changed Africa. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.






March 9, 2013

Chicago Gun Ban Laws Do Not Stop Chicago Gun Deaths




(p. A1) CHICAGO -- Not a single gun shop can be found in this city because they are outlawed. Handguns were banned in Chicago for decades, too, until 2010, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that was going too far, leading city leaders to settle for restrictions some describe as the closest they could get legally to a ban without a ban. Despite a continuing legal fight, Illinois remains the only state in the nation with no provision to let private citizens carry guns in public.

And yet Chicago, a city with no civilian gun ranges and bans on both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, finds itself laboring to stem a flood of gun violence that contributed to more than 500 homicides last year and at least 40 killings already in 2013, including a fatal shooting of a 15-year-old girl on Tuesday.

To gun rights advocates, the city provides stark evidence that even some of the toughest restrictions fail to make places safer. "The gun laws in Chicago only restrict the law-abiding citizens and they've essentially made the citizens prey," said Richard A. Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.



For the full story, see:

MONICA DAVEY. "Strict Gun Laws in Chicago Can't Stem Fatal Shots." The New York Times (Weds., January 30, 2013): A1 & A18.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 29, 2013, and has the slightly different title "Strict Gun Laws in Chicago Can't Stem Fatal Shots.")






March 8, 2013

Most in NYC Oppose Bloomberg's Nanny State Soda Ban




OgunbiyiRocheDrinksLargeSodaTimesSquare2013-02-23.jpg "Theodore Ogunbiyi-Roche, 10, who is visiting from London, drank a large soda in Times Square . . . " Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A18) . . . , New Yorkers are cool to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's plan to prohibit sales of large sugary drinks in city restaurants, stadiums and movie theaters, according to a . . . poll by The New York Times.

Six in 10 residents said the mayor's soda plan was a bad idea, compared with 36 percent who called it a good idea. A majority in every borough was opposed; Bronx and Queens residents were more likely than Manhattanites to say the plan was a bad idea.


. . .


. . . those opposed overwhelmingly cited a sense that Mr. Bloomberg was overreaching with the plan and that consumers should have the freedom to make a personal choice . . .

"The ban is at the point where it is an infringement of civil liberties," Liz Hare, 43, a scientific researcher in Queens, said in a follow-up interview. "There are many other things that people do that aren't healthy, so I think it's a big overreach."

Bob Barocas, 64, of Queens, put it more bluntly: "This is like the nanny state going off the wall."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM and MARJORIE CONNELLY. "60% in City Oppose Soda Ban, Calling It an Overreach by Bloomberg, Poll Finds." The New York Times (Thurs., August 23, 2012): A18.

(Note: ellipses in caption and article added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 22, 2012, and the title "60% in City Oppose Bloomberg's Soda Ban, Poll Finds.")






March 7, 2013

Steve Jobs: "Never Rely on Market Research"





The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 567) Some people say, "Give the customers what they want." But that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, "If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, 'A faster horse!'" People don't know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 6, 2013

Entrepreneur Ping Fu Learned the Resilience of Bamboo




BendNotBreakBK2013-01-13.jpg











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








(p. A11) The history of American business is full of immigrant success stories--of men and women who flee poverty and oppression in their home countries, arrive on our shores with only pennies in their pockets, and go on to build companies that generate wealth, create jobs, and provide innovative products and services.

Count among them Ping Fu, the Chinese-born chief executive of the high-tech company Geomagic, which provides 3D-imaging for such modern-day miracles as customized prosthetic limbs. If your child wears orthodontic braces, chances are that they were designed for his teeth with the help of Geomagic technology. Ms. Fu founded the company in 1997, 13 years after arriving in San Francisco with $80 in her purse and three English phrases in her vocabulary: "hello," "thank you" and "help."


. . .


In the U.S., Ms. Fu worked as a maid, a waitress and a baby sitter while learning English and studying computer science. She eventually landed at Bell Labs in Illinois before striking out on her own. "I was a reluctant and unlikely entrepreneur," she writes. In China, "I had been hardwired to think that money was evil, and traumatized as a child because of my family's success." Encouraged by her Shanghai Papa to follow in the family's entrepreneurial tradition, she and her then-husband launched Geomagic. In her book, she traces the challenges she faced in building a company--obtaining funding, winning customers, managing a growing staff of professionals.

Ms. Fu's life story raises a core question about the development of the human psyche: Why is it that, confronted with the kind of horrors that Ms. Fu experienced as a child, some survivors succeed in later life while others fail, overcome by the trials they endured?

Ms. Fu credits the tranquil, happy childhood she experienced for the first eight years of her life. She also points to the Taoist teachings of her Shanghai Papa, who taught her to admire the flexible nature of the bamboo trees that grew in the family garden. Bamboo, he told her, "suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back from even the most difficult times."



For the full review, see:

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. "BOOKSHELF; The Art Of Resilience; Ping Fu endured gang-rape and political prison in China before arriving on our shores and founding her own high-tech firm." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 9, 2013): D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 8, 2013.)



The book under review is:

Fu, Ping. Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds. New York: Portfolio, 2012.






March 5, 2013

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions Have Little Effect on Global Warming




My colleague Mark Wohar, and his co-author David McMillan, have used sophisticated econometrics to analyze a very long time-series dataset on carbon dioxide (CO2) and temperature. They find that CO2 has little, if any, effect on temperature. Here is the abstract of their paper:


(p. 3683) The debate regarding rising temperatures and CO2 emissions has attracted the attention of economists employing recent econometric techniques. This article extends the previous literature using a dataset that covers 800,000 years, as well as a shorter dataset, and examines the interaction between temperature and CO2 emissions. Unit root tests reveal a difference between the two datasets. For the long dataset, all tests support the view that both temperature and CO2 are stationary around a constant. For the short dataset, temperature exhibits trend-stationary behaviour, while CO2 contains a unit root. This result is robust to nonlinear trends or trend breaks. Modelling the long dataset reveals that while contemporaneous CO2 appears positive and significant in the temperature equation, including lags results in a joint effect that is near zero. This result is confirmed using a different lag structure and Vector Autoregressive (VAR) model. A Generalized Method of Moments (GMM) approach to account for endogeneity suggests an insignificant relationship. In sum, the key result from our analysis is that CO2 has, at best, a weak relationship with temperature, while there is no evidence of trending when using a sufficiently long dataset. Thus, as a secondary result we highlight the danger of using a small sample in this context.


Source:

McMillan, David G., and Mark E. Wohar. "The Relationship between Temperature and CO2 Emissions: Evidence from a Short and Very Long Dataset." Applied Economics 45, no. 26 (2013): 3683-90.

(Note: bold added.)






March 4, 2013

Stanford Meta-Study Finds Organic Food Is No More Nutritious than Much Cheaper Non-organic Food




StrawberriesNonorganicWatsonvilleCalifornia2013-02-23.jpg "Conventional strawberries in Watsonville, California. Researchers say organic foods are no more nutritious and no less likely to be contaminated." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A20) Does an organic strawberry contain more vitamin C than a conventional one?

Maybe -- or maybe not.

Stanford University scientists have weighed in on the "maybe not" side of the debate after an extensive examination of four decades of research comparing organic and conventional foods.

They concluded that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. coli.

The researchers also found no obvious health advantages to organic meats.


. . .


The conclusions will almost certainly fuel the debate over whether organic foods are a smart choice for healthier living or a marketing tool that gulls people into overpaying. The production of organic food is governed by a raft of regulations that generally prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, hormones and additives.

The organic produce market in the United States has grown quickly, up 12 percent last year, to $12.4 billion, compared with 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic meat has a smaller share of the American market, at $538 million last year, the trade group said.


. . .


In the study -- known as a meta-analysis, in which previous findings are aggregated but no new laboratory work is conducted -- researchers combined data from 237 studies, examining a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and meats. For four years, they performed statistical analyses looking for signs of health benefits from adding organic foods to the diet.

The researchers did not use any outside financing for their research. "I really wanted us to have no perception of bias," Dr. Bravata said.



For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce." The New York Times (Tues., September 4, 2012): A20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 3, 2012.)






March 3, 2013

Profits Allow You to Make Great Products, But the Products, Not the Profits, Are the Motivation





The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 567) My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It's a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything: the people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in meetings.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.







March 2, 2013

Organic Food May Be Less Healthy than Non-Organic Food




Schwarcz, Joe - The Right Chemistry BK 2013-01-12.jpeg

















Source of book image: http://www.leckeragency.com/sites/default/files/books/Schwarcz,%20Joe%20-%20The%20Right%20Chemistry%20Cover.jpeg



(p. D7) . . . , when did "chemical" become a dirty word? That's a question raised by one of Canada's brightest scientific minds: Joe Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal. Dr. Schwarcz, who has received high honors from Canadian and American scientific societies, is the author of several best-selling books that attempt to set the record straight on a host of issues that commonly concern health-conscious people.

I've read two of his books, "Science, Sense and Nonsense" (published in 2009) and "The Right Chemistry" (2012), and recently attended a symposium on the science of food that Dr. Schwarcz organized at McGill.

What follows are tips from his books and the symposium that can help you make wiser choices about what does, and does not, pass your lips in 2013.


. . .


ORGANIC OR NOT? Wherever I shop for food these days, I find an ever-widening array of food products labeled "organic" and "natural." But are consumers getting the health benefits they pay a premium for?

Until the 20th century, Dr. Schwarcz wrote, all farming was "organic," with manure and compost used as fertilizer and "natural" compounds of arsenic, mercury and lead used as pesticides.

Might manure used today on organic farms contain disease-causing micro-organisms? Might organic produce unprotected by insecticides harbor cancer-causing molds? It's a possibility, Dr. Schwarcz said. But consumers aren't looking beyond the organic sales pitch.

Also questionable is whether organic foods, which are certainly kinder to the environment, are more nutritious. Though some may contain slightly higher levels of essential micronutrients, like vitamin C, the difference between them and conventionally grown crops may depend more on where they are produced than how.

A further concern: Organic producers disavow genetic modification, which can be used to improve a crop's nutritional content, enhance resistance to pests and diminish its need for water. A genetically modified tomato developed at the University of Exeter, for example, contains nearly 80 times the antioxidants of conventional tomatoes. Healthier, yes -- but it can't be called organic.



For the full story, see:

JANE E. BRODY. "PERSONAL HEALTH; What You Think You Know (but Don't) About Wise Eating." The New York Times (Tues., January 1, 2013): D7.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date DECEMBER 31, 2012.)



The Schwarcz books mentioned above, are:

Schwarcz, Joe. The Right Chemistry: 108 Enlightening, Nutritious, Health-Conscious and Occasionally Bizarre Inquiries into the Science of Daily Life. Toronto, Ontario: Doubleday Canada, 2012.

Schwarcz, Joe. Science, Sense & Nonsense. Toronto, Ontario: Doubleday Canada, 2009.






March 1, 2013

Google's Eric Schmidt Saw that "Regulation Prohibits Real Innovation"




(p. A13) Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, gave a remarkable interview this month to The Washington Post. So remarkable that Post editors preceded the transcript with this disclosure: "He had just come from the dentist. And he had a toothache."

Perhaps it was the Novocain talking, but Mr. Schmidt has done us a service. He said in public what most technologists will say only in private. Whatever caused him to speak forthrightly about the disconnects between Silicon Valley and Washington, his comments deserve wider attention.

Mr. Schmidt had just given his first congressional testimony. He was called before the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee to answer allegations that Google is a monopolist, a charge the Federal Trade Commission is also investigating.

"So we get hauled in front of the Congress for developing a product that's free, that serves a billion people. OK? I mean, I don't know how to say it any clearer," Mr. Schmidt told the Post. "It's not like we raised prices. We could lower prices from free to . . . lower than free? You see what I'm saying?"


. . .


"Regulation prohibits real innovation, because the regulation essentially defines a path to follow," Mr. Schmidt said. This "by definition has a bias to the current outcome, because it's a path for the current outcome."


. . .


Washington is always slow to recognize technological change, which is why in their time IBM and Microsoft were also investigated after competing technologies had emerged.

Mr. Schmidt recounted a dinner in 1995 featuring a talk by Andy Grove, a founder of Intel: "He says, 'This is easy to understand. High tech runs three times faster than normal businesses. And the government runs three times slower than normal businesses. So we have a nine-times gap.' All of my experiences are consistent with Andy Grove's observation."

Mr. Schmidt explained there was only one way to deal with this nine-times gap, which this column hereby christens "Grove's Law of Government." That is "to make sure that the government does not get in the way and slow things down."

Mr. Schmidt recounted that when Silicon Valley first started playing a large role in the economy in the 1990s, "all of a sudden the politicians showed up. We thought the politicians showed up because they loved us. It's fair to say they loved us for our money."

He contrasted innovation in Silicon Valley with innovation in Washington. "Now there are startups in Washington," he said, "founded by people who were policy makers. . . . They're very clever people, and they've figured out a way in regulation to discriminate, to find a new satellite spectrum or a new frequency or whatever. They immediately hired a whole bunch of lobbyists. They raised some money to do that. And they're trying to innovate through regulation. So that's what passes for innovation in Washington."



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Google Speaks Truth to Power; About the growing regulatory state, even Google's Eric Schmidt--a big supporter of the Obama administration--now feels the need to tell it like it is." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., October 24, 2011): A13.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs added; ellipsis internal to Schmidt quote, in original WSJ commentary.)


The original Eric Schmidt interview with the Washington Post, can be read at:

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-10-01/national/35278181_1_google-chairman-eric-schmidt-regulation-disconnects







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