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July 31, 2013

Falling Computer Prices Cured the "Digital Divide"




(p. 304) The more evident the power of the internet as an uplifting force became, the more evident the divide between the digital haves and have-nots. One sociological study concluded that there were "two Americas" emerging. The citizens of one America were poor people who could not afford a computer, and of the other, wealthy individuals equipped with PCs who reaped all the benefits. During the 1990s, when technology boosters like me were promoting the advent of the internet, we were often asked: What are we going to do about the digital divide? My an-(p. 305)swer was simple: nothing. We didn't have to do anything, because the natural history of a technology such as the internet was self-fulfilling. The have-nots were a temporary imbalance that would be cured (and more) by technological forces. There was so much profit to be made connecting up the rest of the world, and the unconnected were so eager to join, that they were already paying higher telecom rates (when they could get such service) than the haves. Furthermore, the costs of both computers and connectivity were dropping by the month. At that time most poor in America owned televisions and had monthly cable bills. Owning a computer and having internet access was no more expensive and would soon be cheaper than TV. In a decade, the necessary outlay would become just a $100 laptop. Within the lifetimes of all born in the last decade, computers of some sort (connectors, really) will cost $5.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






July 30, 2013

The French and Japanese Believe Water Cleans the Anus Better than Dry Paper




TheBigNecessityBK2013-07-21.jpg

















Source of the book image: http://jacketupload.macmillanusa.com/jackets/high_res/jpgs/9780805090833.jpg



(p. C34) Ms. George's book is lively . . . . It is hard not to warm to a writer who can toss off an observation like this one: "I like engineers. They build things that are useful and sometimes beautiful -- a brick sewer, a suspension bridge -- and take little credit. They do not wear black and designer glasses like architects. They do not crow."


. . .


In Japan, where toilets are amazingly advanced -- most of even the most basic have heated seats and built-in bidet systems for front and rear -- the American idea of cleaning one's backside with dry paper is seen as quaint at best and disgusting at worst. As Ms. George observes: "Using paper to cleanse the anus makes as much sense, hygienically, as rubbing your body with dry tissue and imagining it removes dirt."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; 15 Minutes of Fame for Human Waste and Its Never-Ending Assembly Line." The New York Times (Fri., December 12, 2008): C34.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 11, 2008.)


The book under review, is:

George, Rose. The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008.






July 29, 2013

Biofuels Are Bad for the Planet




(p. A13) Biofuels are under siege from critics who say they crowd out food production. Now these fuels made from grass and grain, long touted as green, are being criticized as bad for the planet.

At issue is whether oil alternatives -- such as ethanol distilled from corn and fuels made from inedible stuff like switch grass -- actually make global warming worse through their indirect impact on land use around the world.

For example, if farmers in Brazil burn and clear more rainforest to grow food because farmers in the U.S. are using their land to grow grain for fuel, that could mean a net increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, the main "greenhouse gas" linked to climate change.


. . .


A study published in February [2008] in the journal Science found that U.S. production of corn-based ethanol increases emissions by 93%, compared with using gasoline, when expected world-wide land-use changes are taken into account. Applying the same methodology to biofuels made from switch grass grown on soil diverted from raising corn, the study found that greenhouse-gas emissions would rise by 50%.

Previous studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline reduces greenhouse gases. Those studies generally didn't account for the carbon emissions that occur as farmers world-wide respond to higher food prices and convert forest and grassland to cropland.



For the full story, see:

STEPHEN POWER. "If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Are Biofuels To Blame? It's Not Easy Being Green." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 11, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)



Two relevant articles appeared in Science in the Feb. 29, 2008 issue:

Fargione, Joseph, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Peter Hawthorne. "Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt." Science 319, no. 5867 (Feb. 29, 2008): 1235-38.

Searchinger, Timothy, Ralph Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, Fengxia Dong, Amani Elobeid, Jacinto Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz, Dermot Hayes, and Tun-Hsiang Yu. "Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases through Emissions from Land-Use Change." Science 319, no. 5867 (Feb. 29, 2008): 1238-40.






July 28, 2013

Children of Chinese Entrepreneurs Want to Work for Government




XieChaoboJoblessEngineeringStudent2013-07-23.jpg













"Engineering student Xie Chaobo has yet to land a job." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A1) BEIJING--Xie Chaobo figures he has the credentials to land a job at one of China's big state-owned firms. He is a graduate student at Tsinghua University, one of China's best. His field of study is environmental engineering, one of China's priorities. And he is experimenting with new techniques for identifying water pollutants, which should make him a valuable catch.

But he has applied to 30 companies so far and scored just four interviews, none of which has led to a job.

Although Mr. Xie's parents are entrepreneurs who have built companies that make glasses, shoes and now water pumps, he has no interest in working at a private startup. Chinese students "have been told since we were children to focus on stability instead of risk," the 24-year-old engineering student says.

Over the past decade, the number of new graduates from Chinese universities has increased sixfold to more than six million a year, creating an epic glut that is depressing wages, (p. A10) leaving many recent college graduates without jobs and making students fearful about their future. Two-thirds of Chinese graduates say they want to work either in the government or big state-owned firms, which are seen as recession-proof, rather than at the private companies that have powered China's remarkable economic climb, surveys indicate. Few college students today, according to the surveys, are ready to leave the safe shores of government work and "jump into the sea," as the Chinese expression goes, to join startups or go into business for themselves, although many of their parents did just that in the 1990s.



For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY and VALERIE BAUERLEIN. "Tesla Clashes With Car Dealers; Electric-Vehicle Maker Wants to Sell Directly to Consumers; Critics Say Plan Violates Franchise Laws." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): B1-B2.



ChineseStudentAfterGraduationPlans2013-07-23.jpgSource of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






July 27, 2013

In 1916 a Single Home Motor Would Drive All Home Machines




(p. 301) By the 1910s, electric motors had started their inevitable spread into homes. They had been domesticated. Unlike a steam engine, they did not smoke or belch or drool. Just a tidy, steady whirr from a five-pound (p. 302) hunk. As in factories, these single "home motors" were designed to drive all the machines in one home. The 1916 Hamilton Beach "Home Motor" had a six-speed rheostat and ran on 110 volts. Designer Donald Norman points out a page from the 1918 Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog advertising the Home Motor for $8.75 (which is equivalent to about $100 these days). This handy motor would spin your sewing machine. You could also plug it into the Churn and Mixer Attachment ("for which you will find many uses") and the Buffer and Grinder Attachments ("will be found very useful in many ways around the home"). The Fan Attachment "can be quickly attached to Home Motor," as well as the Beater Attachment to whip cream and beat eggs.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: the quote above omits the copy of a 1918 electric motor ad that appeared in the middle of the original paragraph.)






July 26, 2013

Mencken's Prejudices: Fresh, Vital, Withering and Gleeful




BuckleyChristopher2013-07-21.jpg











"Christopher Buckley." Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.





(p. 5) Which book has had the greatest impact on you? What book made you want to write?

H.‚ÄČL. Mencken's "Prejudices." He wrote these six volumes in the 1920s, but their zest, sinew and cut-and-thrust are undated, fresh and vital nearly a century after their ink dried. No American writer -- except perhaps Twain and Bierce -- could be so withering and gleeful at the same time.



For the full interview, see:

Buckley, Christopher. "By the Book: Christopher Buckley." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 7, 2013): 5.

(Note: the bold in the original indicates a question to Buckley by the unidentified NYT interviewer.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date July 3, 2013, and has the title "Christopher Buckley: By the Book.")


The six volumes mentioned in the interview, have been reprinted in a two volume set:

Mencken, H.L. H.L. Mencken: Prejudices: The Complete Series. New York: Library of America, 2010.






July 25, 2013

Slow Patent System Makes U.S. Look Like Third World Country




(p. 118) The absurd length of time and the outrageous cost of obtaining a patent is a national disgrace. If we heard it took two to five years to obtain title to real property somewhere, we would assume it was a corrupt third world country. And yet that is how long it takes to receive a patent now, depending on the area of technology.


Source:

Halling, Dale B. The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws and Regulations Are Killing Innovation. Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge Publishing, 2009.






July 24, 2013

Laws to Protect Car Dealers, Keep Car Prices High




TeslaGalleryVirginia2013-07-23.jpg "Tesla 'galleries' such as this one in McLean, Va., can show but not sell cars." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) RALEIGH, N.C.--Elon Musk made a fortune disrupting the status quo in online shopping and renewable energy. Now he's up against his toughest challenge yet: local car dealers.

Mr. Musk, the billionaire behind PayPal and now Tesla Motors Inc., wants to sell his $70,000 Tesla electric luxury vehicles directly to consumers, bypassing franchised automobile dealers. Dealers are flexing their considerable muscle in states including Texas and Virginia to stop him.

The latest battleground is North Carolina, where the Republican-controlled state Senate last month unanimously approved a measure that would block Tesla from selling online, its only sales outlet here. Tesla has staged whiz-bang test drives for legislators in front of the State House and hired one of the state's most influential lobbyists to stave off a similar vote in the House before the legislative session ends in early July.

The focus of the power struggle between Mr. Musk and auto dealers is a thicket of state franchise laws, many of which go back to the auto industry's earliest days when industry pioneer Henry Ford began turning to eager entrepreneurs to help sell his Model T.

Dealers say laws passed over the decades to prevent car makers from selling directly to consumers are justified because without them auto makers could use their economic clout to sell vehicles for less than their independent franchisees.



For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY and VALERIE BAUERLEIN. "Tesla Clashes With Car Dealers; Electric-Vehicle Maker Wants to Sell Directly to Consumers; Critics Say Plan Violates Franchise Laws." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): B1-B2.






July 23, 2013

If Driverless Cars Only Kill Half a Million Per Year, that "Would Be an Improvement"




(p. 261) . . . , human-piloted cars cause great harm, killing millions of people each year worldwide. If robot-controlled cars killed "only" half a million people per year, it would be an improvement!


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 22, 2013

Great-Grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt Privately Built First Highway Dedicated to Cars




TheLongIslandMotorParkwayBK2013-07-21.jpg

















Source of book image: https://lihj.cc.stonybrook.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Motor-Parkway_review.jpg




(p. 13) It survives only as segments of other highways, as a right of way for power lines and as a bike trail, but the Long Island Motor Parkway still holds a sense of magic as what some historians say is the country's first road built specifically for the automobile. It opened 100 years ago last Friday as a rich man's dream.

As detailed in a new book, "The Long Island Motor Parkway" by Howard Kroplick and Al Velocci (Arcadia Publishing), the parkway ran about 45 miles across Long Island, from Queens to Ronkonkoma, and was created by William Kissam Vanderbilt II, the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

. . .


The younger Vanderbilt was a car enthusiast who loved to race. He had set a speed record of 92 miles an hour in 1904, the same year he created his own race, the Vanderbilt Cup.

But his race came under fire after a spectator was killed in 1906, and Vanderbilt wanted a safe road on which to hold the race and on which other car lovers could hurl their new machines free of the dust common on roads made for horses. The parkway would also be free of "interference from the authorities," he said in a speech.

So he created a toll road for high-speed automobile travel. It was built of reinforced concrete, had banked turns, guard rails and, by building bridges, he eliminated intersections that would slow a driver down. The Long Island Motor Parkway officially opened on Oct. 10, 1908, and closed in 1938.


. . .


But by the end of Vanderbilt's life (he died in 1944), the public had come to feel entitled to car ownership. And there was growing pressure for public highways, like the parkways that the urban planner Robert Moses was building.

. . .


In 1938, Moses refused Vanderbilt's appeal to incorporate the motor parkway into his new parkway system. The motor parkway just could not compete with the public roads, even after the toll was reduced to 40 cents, and Moses eventually gained control of Vanderbilt's pioneering road for back taxes of about $80,000. The day of public roads had come, supplanting private highways.


. . .


The parkway marked the beginning of a process: the road was designed for the car. But in offering higher speeds, the parkway and other modern roads would push cars to their technical limits and beyond, inspiring innovation. In that sense, the first modern automobile highway helped to create the modern automobile.



For the full story, see:

PHIL PATTON. "A 100-Year-Old Dream: A Road Just for Cars." The New York Times, SportsSunday Section (Sun., October 12, 2008): 13.

(Note: the centered bold ellipses were in the original; the other ellipses were added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 9, 2008.)


The book mentioned in the article, is:

Kroplick, Howard, and Al Velocci. The Long Island Motor Parkway. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.



LongIslandMotorParkwayRouteMap2013-07-21.jpg "Approximate Route of Long Island Motor Parkway." Source of caption and map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







July 21, 2013

Students Learn More in Air Conditioning




(p. 5) My first year as a public school teacher, I taught at Manhattan's P.S. 98, which did not have air-conditioning. From mid-May until June's end -- roughly 17 percent of the school year -- the temperature in my classroom hovered in the 80s and often topped 90 degrees.

Students wilted over desks. Academic gains evaporated. Even restless pencil tappers and toe wigglers grew lethargic. Absenteeism increased as children sought relief at home or outdoors. By day's end, my hair was plastered to my face with perspiration.

It seems obvious: schools need to be cool. It's absurd to talk about inculcating 21st-century skills in classrooms that resemble 19th-century sweatshops.


. . .


Cool schools are critical if we are to boost achievement. Studies show that concentration and cognitive abilities decline substantially after a room reaches 77 or 78 degrees. This is a lesson American businesses learned long ago. . . . A pleasant atmosphere leads to more productive employees.


. . .


It isn't just white-collar laborers who work in cool climates. Amazon announced last year that it was spending $52 million to upgrade its warehouses with air-conditioning. Yet we can't seem to do the same for vulnerable children, though some of the achievement gap is most likely owing to a lack of air-conditioning. One Oregon study found that students working in three different temperature settings had strikingly different results on exams, suggesting that sweating a test actually undermines performance.

Students who enjoy the luxury of air-conditioning may enjoy an unfair advantage over their hotter peers.

We are also investing enormous sums to extend the school day and school year in many locales. But these investments won't be effective if schools are ovens.



For the full commentary, see:

SARA MOSLE. "SCHOOLING; Schools Are Not Cool." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 2, 2013): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 1, 2013.)






July 20, 2013

Creator of C Language Worked Late "in a Chaotic Office"




RitchieDennisInventorOfC2013-06-28.jpg











"Dennis Ritchie received the Japan Prize in May at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, N.J., for his role in co-developing the Unix operating system." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ obituary quoted and cited below.




(p. A7) Dennis Ritchie invented C, the computer-programming language that underlies Microsoft Windows, the Unix operating system and much of the other software running on computers around the world.

Mr. Ritchie was a longtime research scientist at Bell Labs, originally AT&T's research division. Bell Labs announced that he died at age 70 [his body was discovered on October 12, 2011].


. . .


Twitter and other online forums crackled with tributes to Mr. Ritchie after his death was announced.

One came from James Grimmelmann, a former Microsoft programmer who now is an associate professor at New York Law School.

"If [Steve] Jobs was a master architect of skyscrapers, it was Ritchie and his collaborators who invented steel," Mr. Grimmelmann wrote.

Long-haired and often working late into the night in a chaotic office, Mr. Ritchie fulfilled in some ways the computer-nerd stereotype. He was given to gnomic pronouncements on his creations.

"Unix is very simple, it just needs a genius to understand its simplicity" was one. Another: "C is quirky, flawed and an enormous success."



For the full obituary, see:

STEPHEN MILLER. "REMEMBRANCES; DENNIS RITCHIE 1941-2011; Pioneer Programmer Shaped the Evolution of Computers." The New York Times (Fri., October 14, 2011): A7.

(Note: ellipsis, and words in first brackets, added; name in second brackets, in original.)






July 19, 2013

The Precautionary Principle Is Biased Against the New, and Ignores the Risks of the Old




(p. 250) In general the Precautionary Principle is biased against anything new. Many established technologies and "natural" processes have unexamined faults as great as those of any new technology. But the Precautionary Principle establishes a drastically elevated threshold for things that are new. In effect it grandfathers in the risks of the old, or the "nat-(p. 251)ural." A few examples: Crops raised without the shield of pesticides generate more of their own natural pesticides to combat insects, but these indigenous toxins are not subject to the Precautionary Principle because they aren't "new." The risks of new plastic water pipes are not compared with the risks of old metal pipes. The risks of DDT are not put in context with the old risks of dying of malaria.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






July 18, 2013

Ignoring Einstein's Mistakes by Deifying Him, Makes Us Forget His Struggles




EinsteinsMistakesBK2013-07-17.jpg
















Source of book image: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41zyL4LVYxL.jpg




(p. A13) Mr. Ohanian finds that four out of five of the seminal papers that Einstein produced in the so-called "miracle year" of 1905, when he was working as a patent inspector in Zurich, were "infested with flaws."


. . .


. . . he notes Einstein's errors for a purpose, showing us why his achievement was all the greater for them.

In this Mr. Ohanian provides a useful corrective, for there is a tendency, even today, to deify Einstein and other men of genius, treating them as if they were immortal gods. Einstein himself objected to the practice even as he reveled in his fame. "It is not fair," he once observed, "to select a few individuals for boundless admiration and to attribute superhuman powers of mind and of character to them." In doing so, ironically, we make less of the person, not more, forgetting and simplifying their struggle.


. . .


. . . Einstein's ability to make use of his mistakes as "stepping stones and shortcuts" was central to his success, in Mr. Ohanian's view. To see Einstein's wanderings not as the strides of a god-like genius but as the steps and missteps of a man -- fallible and imperfect -- does not diminish our respect for him but rather enhances it.



For the full review, see:

McMahon, Darrin M. "BOOKSHELF; Great and Imperfect." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., September 5, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Ohanian, Hans C. Einstein's Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.






July 17, 2013

"The Million-Dollar Question" for "Our Long Economic Slump": Why "the Severe Downturn in Jobs"?




(p. 5) [There are] . . . two underappreciated aspects of our long economic slump. First, it has exacted the harshest toll on the young -- even harsher than on people in their 50s and 60s, who have also suffered. And while the American economy has come back more robustly than some of its global rivals in terms of overall production, the recovery has been strangely light on new jobs, even after Friday's better-than-expected unemployment report. American companies are doing more with less.

"This still is a very big puzzle," said Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard professor who was chief economist at the Labor Department during the Clinton administration. He called the severe downturn in jobs "the million-dollar question" for the economy.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "CAPITAL IDEAS; The Idled Young Americans." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., May 5, 2013): 5.

(Note: ellipsis, and words in brackets, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2013.)






July 16, 2013

Will Apple Innovate Without Jobs?




JobsSteveHoldingIphone2013-06-28.jpg "Steve Jobs, introducing the iPhone 4 in January [2011]." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B4) "The good news for Apple is that the product road map in this industry is pretty much in place two and three years out," said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. "So 80 percent to 90 percent of what would happen in that time would be the same, even without Steve."

"The real challenge for Apple," Mr. Yoffie continued, "will be what happens beyond that road map. Apple is going to need a new leader with a new way of recreating and managing the business in the future."


. . .


His design decisions, Mr. Jobs explained, were shaped by his understanding of both technology and popular culture. His own study and intuition, not focus groups, were his guide. When a reporter asked what market research went into the iPad, Mr. Jobs replied: "None. It's not the consumers' job to know what they want."


. . .


Great products, Mr. Jobs once explained, were a triumph of taste, of "trying to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then trying to bring those things into what you are doing."

Mr. Yoffie said Mr. Jobs "had a unique combination of visionary creativity and decisiveness," adding: "No one will replace him."



For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR. "Without Its Master of Design, Apple Will Face Challenges." The New York Times (Thurs., August 25, 2011): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses in text, and bracketed year in caption, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 24, 2011, and the slightly longer title "Without Its Master of Design, Apple Will Face Many Challenges.")





July 15, 2013

Chinese Peasants Applied Precautionary Principle to Scythe Technology




(p. 249) In a letter Orville Wright wrote to his inventor friend Henry Ford, Wright recounts a story he heard from a missionary stationed in China. Wright told Ford the story for the same reason I tell it here: as a cautionary tale about speculative risks. The missionary wanted to improve the laborious way the Chinese peasants in his province harvested grain. The local farmers clipped the stalks with some kind of small hand shear. So the missionary had a scythe shipped in from America and demonstrated its superior productivity to an enthralled crowd. "The next morning, however, a delegation came to see the missionary. The scythe must be destroyed at once. What, they said, if it should fall into the hands of thieves; a whole field could be cut and carried away in a single night." And so the scythe was banished, progress stopped, because nonusers could imagine a possible--but wholly improbable--way it could significantly harm their society.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






July 14, 2013

Record Companies Refused to See Efficiency of Napster Distribution System




AppetiteForSelfDestructionBK2013-07-13.jpg











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






(p. A15) . . . the central character in "Appetite for Self-Destruction" is technological change.


. . .


Record labels scrambled to negotiate with Napster and develop a legal version of the service with multiple revenue streams. The attempts all failed. In Mr. Knopper's telling, there were unreasonable demands on all sides. But he faults music executives for "cling[ing] to the old, suddenly inefficient model of making CDs and distributing them to record stores. . . . In this world, the labels controlled -- and profited from -- everything." In the new world being ushered in by Napster, he writes, control was shifting "to a snot-nosed punk and his crazy uncle."

The labels' inability to reach an agreement with Napster destroyed "the last chance for the record industry as we know it to stave off certain ruin," Mr. Knopper writes in a typically overheated passage. Had a deal been consummated, he suggests, a legal version of Napster might have generated revenues of $16 billion in 2002 and saved the industry. Whether or not the author's estimate is accurate, his larger point remains: The music industry's big mistake was trying to protect a business model that no longer worked. Litigation would not keep music consumers offline.



For the full review, see:

JEREMY PHILIPS. "BUSINESS BOOKSHELF; Spinning Out of Control; How the record industry missed out on a chance to compete in a new digital world." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., February 11, 2009): A15.

(Note: first two ellipses added; third ellipsis in original.)


The book under review is:

Knopper, Steve. Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age. New York: Free Press, 2009.






July 13, 2013

Due to Global Warming, Chicago "Winters Have Softened"




(p. 20) Before anyone accuses me of being some latter-day A. J. Liebling, whose 1952 book "Chicago: The Second City" infuriated residents, let me say there are some good things about living here. The beauty of Lake Michigan. A former rail yard has become Millennium Park. Thanks to global warming, the winters have softened.


For the full review, see:

RACHEL SHTEIR. "Chicago Manuals." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., April 21, 2013): 1 & 20-21.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 18, 2013.)






July 12, 2013

The Decay of River Rouge's Diseconomies of Scale




RiverRougeFordRollingHall2013-06-28.jpg "The rolling hall at Ford's River Rouge plant, one of Andrew Moore's photographs of Detroit." Source of caption and of the Andrew Moore photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Ford's River Rouge plant near Detroit is a standard textbook example of diseconomies of scale (aka diminishing returns to scale). The image above is an apt illustration of the consequences of diseconomies of scale.


(p. 19) A Connecticut native, Mr. Moore moved to New York in 1980, living near South and John Streets in Lower Manhattan. At night he would wander the neighborhood taking pictures of the construction of the South Street Seaport, which kindled an interest in documenting "life in flux," he said. "I like places in transformation, the process of becoming and changing."


. . .


Photos like those of the enormous rolling hall at Ford's River Rouge plant and a sunset over the Bob-Lo Island boat dock were inspired, Mr. Moore said, by 19th-century American landscape painters like Frederic Church and Martin Johnson Heade.



For the full story, see:

MIKE RUBIN. "Capturing the Idling of the Motor City." The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sun., August 21, 2011): 19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 18, 2011.")


Andrew Moore has a book of his photos of Detroit:

Moore, Andrew, and Philip Levine. Andrew Moore: Detroit Disassembled. Bologna, Italy: Damiani/Akron Art Museum, 2010.






July 11, 2013

Millions Die Due to Precautionary Principle Ban of DDT




(p. 248) . . . , malaria infects 300 million to 500 million people worldwide, causing 2 million deaths per year. It is debilitating to those who don't die and leads to cyclic poverty. But in the 1950s the level of malaria was reduced by 70 percent by spraying the insecticide DDT around the insides of homes. DDT was so successful as an insecticide that farmers eagerly sprayed it by the tons on cotton fields--and the molecule's by-products made their way into the water cycle and eventually into fat cells in animals. Biologists blamed it for a drop in reproduction rates for some predatory birds, as well as local die-offs in some fish and aquatic life species. Its use and manufacture were banned in the United States in 1972. Other countries followed suit. Without DDT spraying, however, malaria cases in Asia and Africa began to rise again to deadly pre-1950s levels. Plans to reintroduce programs for household spraying in malarial Africa were blocked by the World Bank and other aid agencies, who refused to fund them. A treaty signed in 1991 by 91 countries and the EU agreed to phase out DDT altogether. They were relying on the precautionary principle: DDT was probably bad; better safe than sorry. In fact DDT had never been shown to hurt humans, and the environmental harm from the miniscule amounts of DDT applied in homes had not been measured. But nobody could prove it did not cause harm, despite its proven ability to do good.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 10, 2013

Samuel Adams Is Underrated Founder Because He Burned His Paper Trail




SamelAdamsALifeBK2013-07-09.jpg















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




(p. A17) "Samuel Adams: A Life" makes it abundantly clear why the British so detested Adams. He started talking independence more than a decade before the Declaration and did more than anyone to organize opposition to colonial taxes and to make "no taxation without representation" a rallying cry. . . .


. . .


If Mr. Stoll's biography lacks the narrative power of books on other Founders, such as David McCullough's "John Adams," the reason may be that the paper trail left by Samuel Adams is frustratingly short. He destroyed much of his correspondence during the revolutionary years, fearful that it could fall into the wrong hands. Some of the letters that remain end with the words "burn this." This Adams wasn't playing for the history books. He was trying to plot a revolution. Mr. Stoll makes a convincing case that Samuel Adams is not just the most underrated of the Founders but also one of the most admirable, down-to-earth and principled (he worked to abolish slavery).



For the full review, see:

JONATHAN KARL. "Revolution Is No Tea Party; Rabble-rouser, wordsmith, strategist and defender of liberty." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 3, 2008): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Stoll, Ira. Samuel Adams: A Life. New York: Free Press, 2008.






July 9, 2013

Why Wind Power Has Not, and Will Not, Replace a Single Conventional Power Plant




(p. A17) After decades of federal subsidies--almost $24 billion according to a recent estimate by former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm--nowhere in the United States, or anywhere else, has an array of wind turbines replaced a single conventional power plant. Nowhere.

But wind farms do take up space. The available data from wind-power companies, with which the Environmental Protection Agency agrees, show that the most effective of them can generate about five kilowatts per acre. This means 300 square miles of land--192,000 acres--are necessary to generate the 1,000 megawatts (a billion watts) of electricity that a conventional power plant using coal, nuclear energy or natural gas can generate on a few hundred acres. A billion watts fulfills the average annual power demand of a city of 700,000.


. . .


The promise that wind and solar power could replace conventional electricity production never really made sense. It's known to everybody in the industry that a wind turbine will generate electricity 30% of the time--but it's impossible to predict when that time will be. A true believer might be willing to do without electricity when the wind is not blowing, but most people will not. And so, during the 30% of the time the blades are spinning, conventional power plants are also spinning on low, waiting to operate during the other 70% of the time.



For the full commentary, see:

JAY LEHR. "OPINION; The Rationale for Wind Power Won't Fly; Physical limitations will keep this energy source a niche provider of U.S. electricity needs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 17, 2013.)






July 8, 2013

Project Entrepreneur Would Rather Change the World than Buy a Luxury Car




HoffmanReidGreylockPartners2013-06-28.jpg"Reid Hoffman at Greylock Partners foresees a tectonic shift coming in the Web, with data and its many uses as the new linchpin, replacing identity and relationships." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 5) As an executive vice president, it was up to Mr. Hoffman to manage external relations. "He was the firefighter in chief at PayPal," Mr. Thiel says. "Though that diminishes his role because there were many, many fires."

Mr. Hoffman emerged as a connector and high-level strategist. He packed his schedule with meetings, charmed credit card companies and soothed the regulators.

PayPal survived, and when the company went public, in 2002, Mr. Hoffman and many of his colleagues became multimillionaires.

Mr. Thiel splurged on a Ferrari. Mr. Hoffman wanted to buy an Audi but instead invested his newfound riches in one of the first solar panel companies to come out of Silicon Valley, Nanosolar, and bought an Acura instead.

"I started to think about the value of money," he says. "I thought if I only had $75,000, would I rather invest in a luxury car or make a play in changing the world?"

Nanosolar became a multibillion-dollar enterprise.



For the full story, see:

EVELYN M. RUSLI. "A King of Connections; How Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn Became Tech's Go-To Guy." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 6, 2011): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date November 5, 2011, and has the title "A King of Connections Is Tech's Go-To Guy.")






July 7, 2013

The Precautionary Principle Stops Technological Progress




(p. 247) All versions of the Precautionary Principle hold this axiom in common: A technology must be shown to do no harm before it is embraced. It must be proven to be safe before it is disseminated. If it cannot be proven safe, it should be prohibited, curtailed, modified, junked, or ignored. In other words, the first response to a new idea should be inaction until its safety is established. When an innovation appears, we should pause. Only after a new technology has been deemed okay by the certainty of science should we try to live with it.

On the surface, this approach seems reasonable and prudent. Harm must be anticipated and preempted. Better safe than sorry. Unfortunately, the Precautionary Principle works better in theory than in practice. "The precautionary principle is very, very good for one thing--stopping technological progress," says philosopher and consultant Max More. Cass R. Sunstein, who devoted a book to debunking the principle, says, "We must challenge the Precautionary Principle not because it leads in bad directions, but because read for all it is worth, it leads in no direction at all."



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






July 6, 2013

In the England of the Late 1600s, Coffeehouses Were "Crucibles of Creativity"




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Source of book image: http://www.drinkoftheweek.com/wp-content/plugins/simple-post-thumbnails/timthumb.php?src=/wp-content/thumbnails/23682.jpg&w=250&h=400&zc=1&ft=jpg



(p. 8) Like coffee itself, coffeehouses were an import from the Arab world.


. . .


Patrons were not merely permitted but encouraged to strike up conversations with strangers from entirely different walks of life. As the poet Samuel Butler put it, "gentleman, mechanic, lord, and scoundrel mix, and are all of a piece."


. . .


. . . , coffeehouses were in fact crucibles of creativity, because of the way in which they facilitated the mixing of both people and ideas. Members of the Royal Society, England's pioneering scientific society, frequently retired to coffeehouses to extend their discussions. Scientists often conducted experiments and gave lectures in coffeehouses, and because admission cost just a penny (the price of a single cup), coffeehouses were sometimes referred to as "penny universities." It was a coffeehouse argument among several fellow scientists that spurred Isaac Newton to write his "Principia Mathematica," one of the foundational works of modern science.

Coffeehouses were platforms for innovation in the world of business, too. Merchants used coffeehouses as meeting rooms, which gave rise to new companies and new business models. A London coffeehouse called Jonathan's, where merchants kept particular tables at which they would transact their business, turned into the London Stock Exchange. Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, a popular meeting place for ship captains, shipowners and traders, became the famous insurance market Lloyd's.

And the economist Adam Smith wrote much of his masterpiece "The Wealth of Nations" in the British Coffee House, a popular meeting place for Scottish intellectuals, among whom he circulated early drafts of his book for discussion.



For the full commentary, see:

TOM STANDAGE. "OPINION; Social Networking in the 1600s." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 23, 2013): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 22, 2013.)



The author of the commentary is also the author of a related book:

Standage, Tom. A History of the World in Six Glasses. New York: Walker & Company, 2005.






July 5, 2013

Office Workers Switch Tasks Every 11 Minutes and Take 25 Minutes to Return to Original Task




(p. 12) As economics students know, switching involves costs. But how much? When a consumer switches banks, or a company switches suppliers, it's relatively easy to count the added expense of the hassle of change. When your brain is switching tasks, the cost is harder to quantify.

There have been a few efforts to do so: Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. But there has been scant research on the quality of work done during these periods of rapid toggling.



For the full commentary, see:

BOB SULLIVAN and HUGH THOMPSON. "GRAY MATTER; Brain, Interrupted." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., May 5, 2013): 12.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2013.)



The Gloria Mark paper referred to in the commentary is:

Mark, Gloria, Victor M. Gonzalez, and Justin Harris. "No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work." Proceedings of ACM CHI'05, Portland, OR, (April 2-7, 2005): 321-30.


Another relevant Gloria Mark paper is:

Mark, Gloria, Daniela Gudith, and Ulrich Kloecke. "The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress." Proceeding of the Twenty-sixth Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI'08), Florence, Italy, ACM Press (2008): 107-10.






July 4, 2013

Walker Says Those Who Call Him "Patent Troll" Want His Property Without Paying




WalkerJayPatentDefender2013-06-28.jpg














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




(p. B1) Jay Walker turned his idea for "name your own price" Internet auctions into a fortune by starting Priceline.com Inc. Now the entrepreneur is trying to cash in on his ideas by suing other companies.

Since it was founded in 1994 as a research lab, Walker Digital LLC has made much of its money by spinning out its inventions, like online travel agent Priceline and vending-machine firm Vendmore Systems LLC, as independent businesses.


. . .


Mr. Walker defends his newly aggressive tactics, which some critics compare to those of "patent trolls," a derogatory term for firms that opportunistically enforce patents. Without the lawsuits, he said, his patents could expire while other companies exploit them. Patents have a 20-year lifespan.

"Not only are we not a troll, but the people who want to label me are often the same ones that want to use our property and not pay," Mr. Walker said in an interview.



For the full story, see:

JOHN LETZING. "Founder of Priceline Spoiling for a Fight Over Tech Patents." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 22, 2011): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 3, 2013

Amish Break the Golden Rule




(p. 237) If we apply the ubiquity test--what happens if everyone does it?--to the Amish way, the optimization of choice collapses. By constraining the suite of acceptable occupations and narrowing education, the Amish are holding back possibilities not just for their children but indirectly for all.

If you are a web designer today, it is only because many tens of thousands of other people around you and before you have been expanding the realm of possibilities. They have gone beyond farms and home shops to invent a complex ecology of electronic devices that require new expertise and new ways of thinking. If you are an accountant, untold numbers of creative people in the past devised the logic and tools of accounting for you. If you do science, your instruments and field of study have been created by others. If you are a photographer, or an extreme sports athlete, or a baker, or an auto mechanic, or a nurse--then your potential has been given an opportunity by the work of others. You are being expanded as others expand themselves.


. . .


. . . as you embrace new technologies, you are indirectly working for future generations of Amish, and for the minimite homesteaders, even though they are not doing as much for you. Most of what you adopt they will ignore. But every once in a while your adoption of "something that doesn't quite work yet" (Danny Hillis's definition of technology) will evolve into an appropriate tool they can use. It might be a solar grain dyer; it might be a cure for cancer.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)






July 2, 2013

Property Rights, Flexible Work Rules, Open Markets Are Keys to Economic Growth




BalanceBK2013-06-28.jpg











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







(p. A11) Messrs. Hubbard and Kane argue, as do others, that certain policies and core principles are the key: property rights, flexible work rules, open markets. For the authors, such matters explain economic growth entirely.

To those who would cite the primacy of technological breakthroughs, Messrs. Hubbard and Kane assert that inventions only spark growth if there are systems in place (such as intellectual-property rights) that enable inventions to flourish and their value to spread. "The wheel and the windmill were invented many times," they write, "then forgotten, until finally one society had the institutional framework to implement them widely and pass them on permanently." In short, "institutions explain innovation."



For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; How the Mighty Fall; The Roman empire eventually lost its economic vitality thanks to price controls, heavy taxes and state-sponsored debt relief." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 21, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 20, 2013.)


The book under review, is:

Hubbard, Glenn, and Tim Kane. Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






July 1, 2013

Mainstream Climatologists Lower Best Guess Estimates of Global Warming (and Find High End Estimates "Pretty Implausible")




(p. D1) Since 1896, scientists have been trying to answer a deceptively simple question: What will happen to the temperature of the earth if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles?

Some recent scientific papers have made a splash by claiming that the answer might not be as bad as previously feared. This work -- if it holds up -- offers the tantalizing possibility that climate change might be slow and limited enough that human society could adapt to it without major trauma.


. . .


In 1979, after two decades of meticulous measurements had made it clear that the carbon dioxide level was indeed rising, scientists used computers and a much deeper understanding of the climate to calculate a likely range of warming. They found that the response to a doubling of carbon dioxide would not be much below three degrees Fahrenheit, nor was it likely to exceed eight degrees.

In the years since, scientists have been (p. D6) pushing and pulling within that range, trying to settle on a most likely value. Most of those who are expert in climatology subscribe to a best-estimate figure of just over five degrees Fahrenheit.


. . .


What's new is that several recent papers have offered best estimates for climate sensitivity that are below four degrees Fahrenheit, rather than the previous best estimate of just above five degrees, and they have also suggested that the highest estimates are pretty implausible.

Notice that these recent calculations fall well within the long-accepted range -- just on the lower end of it.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "BY DEGREES; A Change in Temperature." The New York Times (Tues., May 14, 2013): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 13, 2013.)






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