« March 2014 | Main | May 2014 »


April 30, 2014

Strategic Conversations: Vital to Creative Adaptation or Reinforcers of Lazy Consensus?




MomentsOfImpactBK2014-04-24.jpg












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






(p. A15) "Moments of Impact" is at its best on the importance of promoting different perspectives. Businesses need to look at the world through as many disciplinary lenses as possible if they are to cope with the fast-changing threats that confront them. But day-to-day corporate life is all about fences and silos. Strategic conversations give companies a chance to examine their business models from the outside--and, as the authors put it, to "imagine operating within several different yet plausible environments."


. . .


Mr. Ertel and Ms. Solomon argue that companies increasingly face a choice between what Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction and what they call creative adaptation--and that strategic conversations are vital to creative adaptation. Perhaps so. But strategic conversations can also reinforce lazy consensus, as people try to justify their jobs and protect their turf. Many bold decisions are driven by the opposite of "conversations"--by senior managers deciding to lop-off functions or take the company in a radically new direction.



For the full review, see:

ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE. "BOOKSHELF; Go Ahead, Strategize; The best 'strategy meetings' unleash fresh thinking and offer maverick views; the worst and dull, unstructured time-sucks." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 27, 2014): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 26, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Moments of Impact,' by Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon; The best 'strategy meetings' unleash fresh thinking and offer maverick views; the worst and dull, unstructured time-sucks.")


The book under review is:

Ertel, Chris, and Lisa Kay Solomon. Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






April 29, 2014

More Evidence that Humans May Not Have Killed Off the Woolly Mammoth After All





On April 20, 2014 I posted an entry citing research that humans may not have been the main cause of the extinction of the mammoths. The article quoted below provides further evidence:


(p. D2) Many woolly mammoths from the North Sea had a superfluous rib attached to their seventh vertebra, a sign that they suffered from inbreeding and harsh conditions during pregnancy, researchers report.

This may have contributed to their eventual extinction, say the scientists who looked at fossil samples that date to the late Pleistocene age, which ended about 12,000 years ago.


. . .


Woolly mammoths died out 12,000 to 10,000 years ago, when flowery plant covers disappeared from the tundra. Human hunting may also have contributed to their demise.

But the cervical ribs are a clear indication that "they were already struggling before that," Dr. Galis said.



For the full story, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "Observatory; In Extra Rib, a Harbinger of Mammoth's Doom." The New York Times (Tues., April 1, 2014): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 31, 2014.)


The mammoth research summarized above was published in:

Reumer, Jelle W.F., Clara M.A. ten Broek, and Frietson Galis. "Extraordinary Incidence of Cervical Ribs Indicates Vulnerable Condition in Late Pleistocene Mammoths." PeerJ (2014).






April 28, 2014

Research on Dogs that Benefits Both Humans and Dogs




MooreEricaExaminesAkyra2014-04-24.jpg "Erica Moore examined Akyra, a shih tzu, in August before the dog was enrolled in Penn Vet's canine mammary tumor program. She had surgery there." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D6) Akyra's mammary glands were riddled with tumors, including one the size of a golf ball. She would be hard to place in a home, and the medical care she needed would be expensive. The tumors could be cancerous.

"When my husband called and said they were going to leave one of the dogs behind because she had mammary tumors, I said, 'No, you're not!' " said Bekye Eckert, 49, a dog lover who lives outside Baltimore and has cared for several animals with mammary cancer.

Ms. Eckert arranged for Akyra to be enrolled in an innovative program at the University of Pennsylvania, where veterinary oncologists are learning about the progression of human breast cancer by treating mammary tumors in shelter dogs.


. . .


Generally, two sets of tumor samples are taken from each dog, one for the pathology lab and one for Dr. Troyanskaya to use for molecular analysis. Astrid, for example, had tumors in seven mammary glands that were mostly benign. The largest proved to be malignant.

Such a large set of samples is a gold mine for Dr. Troyanskaya, who is looking for changes in the expression of a specific gene or group of genes, or pathways linking groups of genes as the tumor becomes malignant.


. . .


In the meantime, stray dogs are getting free cancer treatment that makes it easier to find them permanent homes, and they are promised care for any recurrence. More than 100 dogs have been through the program; several have been adopted by women who also survived breast cancer.

For Akyra, there was good news. She had surgery in August, and veterinarians removed the large tumor and three smaller lesions. The pathology report gave her a clean bill of health: None were cancerous. She was adopted by Beth Gardner, a relocation consultant in Devon, Pa.



For the full story, see:

RONI CARYN RABIN. "By Treating Dogs, Answers About Breast Cancer." The New York Times (Tues., April 1, 2014): D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 31, 2014, and has the title "From Dogs, Answers About Breast Cancer.")






April 27, 2014

Government Wire Inspectors Only Showed Up to Get Their Pay




(p. 121) Edison had originally planned to offer service to the entirety of south Manhattan, south of Canal Street and north of Wall Street, but engineering considerations forced him to carve out a smaller district, bounded by Wall, Nassau, Spruce, and Ferry Streets. Still, his company had to place underground some eighty thousand linear feet of electrical wire. This had never been attempted before, so it should not have been a surprise when H. O. Thompson, the city's commissioner of public works, summoned Edison to his office to explain that the city would have to be assured that the lines were installed safely. Thompson was assigning five inspectors to oversee the work, whose cost would be covered by an assessment of $5 per day, per inspector, payable (p. 122) each week. When Edison left Thompson's office, he was crestfallen, anticipating the harassment and delays ahead that would be caused by the inspectors' interference. On the day that work began, however, the inspectors failed to appear. Their first appearance was on Saturday afternoon, to draw their pay. This set the pattern that the inspectors followed as the work proceeded through 1881 and into 1882.


Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.






April 26, 2014

One Way to Appreciate All We Take for Granted




TheKnowledgeBK2014-04-24.jpg














Source of book image: http://knowledge.dsruptiv.net/en-gb/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/The-Knowledge-Full-Cover_lowres.jpg



(p. 8) Over the past generation or two we've gone from being producers and tinkerers to consumers. As a result, I think we feel a sense of disconnect between our modern existence and the underlying processes that support our lives. Who has any real understanding of where their last meal came from or how the objects in their pockets were dug out of the earth and transformed into useful materials? What would we do if, in some science-fiction scenario, a global catastrophe collapsed civilization and we were members of a small society of survivors?

My research has to do with what factors planets need to support life. Recently, I've been wondering what factors are needed to support our modern civilization. What key principles of science and technology would be necessary to rebuild our world from scratch?


. . .


. . . there are the many materials society requires: How do you transform base substances like clay and iron into brick or concrete or steel, and then shape that material into a useful tool? To learn a small piece of this, I spent a day in a traditional, 18th-century iron forge, learning the essentials of the craft of the blacksmith. Sweating over an open coke-fired hearth, I managed to beat a lump of steel into a knife. Once shaped, I got it cherry-red hot and then quenched it with a satisfying squeal into a water trough, before reheating the blade slightly to temper it for extra toughness.


. . .


. . . , it needn't take a catastrophic collapse of civilization to make you appreciate the importance of understanding the basics of how devices around you work. Localized disasters can disrupt normal services, making a reasonable reserve of clean water, canned food and backup technologies like kerosene lamps a prudent precaution. And becoming a little more self-reliant is immensely rewarding in its own right. Thought experiments like these can help us to explore how our modern world actually came to be, and to appreciate all that we take for granted.



For the full commentary, see:

LEWIS DARTNELL. "OPINION; Civilization's Starter Kit." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MARCH 30, 2014): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 29, 2014.)


Dartnell's commentary, quoted above, has been elaborated in his book:

Dartnell, Lewis. The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch. New York: Penguin Press, 2014.






April 25, 2014

Bill Clinton Says U.S. Control of Internet Protects Free Speech




(p. A11) . . . , Mr. Clinton, appearing on a panel discussion at a recent Clinton Global Initiative event, defended U.S. oversight of the domain-name system and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann.


. . .


"I understand why the reaction in the rest of the world to the Edward Snowden declarations has given new energy to the idea that the U.S. should not be in nominal control of domain names on the Internet," Mr. Clinton said. "But I also know that we've kept the Internet free and open, and it is a great tribute to the U.S. that we have done that, including the ability to bash the living daylights out of those of us who are in office or have been.

"A lot of people who have been trying to take this authority away from the U.S. want to do it for the sole purpose of cracking down on Internet freedom and limiting it and having governments protect their backsides instead of empower their people."

Mr. Clinton asked Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia: "Are you at all worried that if we give up this domain jurisdiction that we have had for all these years that we will lose Internet freedom?"

"I'm very worried about it," Mr. Wales answered. People outside the U.S. often say to him, "Oh, it's terrible. Why should the U.S. have this special power?" His reply: "There is the First Amendment in the U.S., and there is a culture of free expression."

He recalled being told on Icann panels to be more understanding of differences in cultures. "I have respect for local cultures, but banning parts of Wikipedia is not a local cultural variation that we should embrace and accept. That's a human-rights violation."



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Open Internet: Clinton vs. Obama; The former president strongly defends the current system of oversight by the U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 31, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the shorter title "INFORMATION AGE; Open Internet: Clinton vs. Obama.")






April 24, 2014

Little Estonia Prepares Defense Against Russia's Evil Empire




IlvesToomasEstoniaPresident2014-04-23.jpg










Toomis Hendrick Ilves, President of Estonia. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) Perched alone up in eastern Baltic are Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Their fear of Moscow propelled them to become the first and only former Soviet republics to seek the refuge of NATO. But now doubts are appearing. The West has responded tepidly to the Crimean aggression. Military budgets are at historic lows as a share of NATO economies. The alliance, which marked its 65th anniversary on Friday, has never faced the test of a hot conflict with Moscow.

In this new debate over European security, Mr. Ilves plays a role out of proportion to Estonia's size (1.3 million people) and his limited constitutional powers. A tall man who recently turned 60, he has the mouth of a New Jersey pol--he grew up in Leonia--and wears the bow ties of a lapsed academic. Americans may recall his Twitter TWTR -0.15% feud two years ago over Estonia's economy with economist Paul Krugman, whom Mr. Ilves called "smug, overbearing & patronizing."


. . .


Estonia managed on Thursday to get NATO's blessing to turn the brand-new Amari military airfield near Tallinn into the first NATO base in the country. This small Balt tends to be proactive. While European governments axed some $50 billion from military budgets in the last five year amid fiscal belt-tightening, Estonia is only one of four NATO allies to devote at least 2% of gross domestic product to defense, supposedly the bare minimum for security needs.

"It lessens your moral clout if you have not done what you have agreed to do," Mr. Ilves says of defense budgets. His barb hits directly at neighboring Lithuania and Latvia, which both spend less than 1% of GDP on their militaries.



For the full commentary, see:

MATTHEW KAMINSKI. "THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW; An American Ally in Putin's Line of Fire; Estonia's president, who was raised in New Jersey, on how Crimea has changed 'everything' and what NATO should do now." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 5, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 4, 2014.)






April 23, 2014

Edison Was Too Frugal to Buy a Yacht




(p. 148) Edison spent the weeks preceding his first Chautauqua visit at the Gillilands' to get comfortable with the new version of himself that he was trying on: a gregarious bon vivant, uninterested in work, filling summer days with frivolous entertainments such as boat rides, card games, and a variation of Truth or Dare for middle-aged participants. He seriously considered buying a yacht, before he came to the realization that his self-transformation was still incomplete--he recognized that he still lacked the ability to disregard the frightful expense.


Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 22, 2014

Today Is 14th Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elián González




GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2014) is the 14th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.








April 21, 2014

Where Ideas Go to Launch Versus Where Ideas Go to Die




(p. 1) PALO ALTO, Calif. -- THE most striking thing about visiting Silicon Valley these days is how many creative ideas you can hear in just 48 hours.


. . .


Curt Carlson, the chief executive of SRI International, which invented Siri for your iPhone, recalls how one leading innovator (p. 11) just told him that something would never happen and "then I pick up the paper and it just did."

What they all have in common is they wake up every day and ask: "What are the biggest trends in the world, and how do I best invent/reinvent my business to thrive from them?" They're fixated on creating abundance, not redividing scarcity, and they respect no limits on imagination. No idea here is "off the table."


. . .


What a contrast. Silicon Valley: where ideas come to launch. Washington, D.C., where ideas go to die. Silicon Valley: where there are no limits on your imagination and failure in the service of experimentation is a virtue. Washington: where the "imagination" to try something new is now a treatable mental illness covered by Obamacare and failure in the service of experimentation is a crime. Silicon Valley: smart as we can be. Washington: dumb as we wanna be.



For the full commentary, see:

Thomas L. Friedman. "Start-Up America: Our Best Hope." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., FEB. 16, 2014): 1 & 11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 15, 2014.)






April 20, 2014

Humans May Not Have Killed Off the Woolly Mammoth After All




MammothTusk2014-04-10.jpg "A mammoth tusk." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D2) A 50,000 year analysis of Arctic vegetation history reveals that a change in diet may have led to the demise of the woolly mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros and other large animals, according to a study in the journal Nature. About 10,000 years ago in the Arctic steppe, grasslands began to replace forbs, a flowery plant cover. Animals may have relied on forbs as a source of protein.


For the original story, see:

"'Observatory; Tiny Plants' Loss May Have Doomed Mammoths." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 11, 2014): D2.

(Note: Sindya N. Bhanoo is listed as the author of the second "Observatory" short entry, but it is not at all clear if that is intended to imply that she also is author of the first "Observatiory" short entry on the "Tiny Plants Loss . . . " Her name does not appear anywhere in the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date FEB. 10, 2014, and has the title "'SCIENCE; Tiny Plants' Loss May Have Doomed Mammoths." )


The study in Nature mentioned above, is:

Willerslev, Eske, John Davison, Mari Moora, Martin Zobel, Eric Coissac, Mary E. Edwards, Eline D. Lorenzen, Mette Vestergård, Galina Gussarova, James Haile, Joseph Craine, Ludovic Gielly, Sanne Boessenkool, Laura S. Epp, Peter B. Pearman, Rachid Cheddadi, David Murray, Kari Anne Bråthen, Nigel Yoccoz, and Heather Binney. "Fifty Thousand Years of Arctic Vegetation and Megafaunal Diet." Nature 506, no. 7486 (Feb. 6, 2014): 47-51.






April 19, 2014

Gas Company Literally Tried to Short-Circuit Edison's Lights




(p. 104) The willingness of Edison to turn his laboratory into a public theater had succeeded, only too well. When he appeared, a shout, "There is Edison!" rang out, causing a surge of bodies in his direction. One report claimed that the crowds "more than once threatened to break down the timbers of the building," a statement that may not have been hyperbole; the lab assistants were convinced that collapse was possible and hurried outside, bolstering the floor supports below with telegraph poles and lumber. Where the realm of science ended and that of entertainment began could no longer be distinguished, judging by the printed condemnation of the behavior of a minority of the visitors who "cared nothing for science, who regarded the laboratory as they would a circus."

In the laboratory itself, the lights were arranged on a table to resemble a miniature layout of Menlo Park, and Edison had assigned assistants on all four sides to look out for sabotage. Their vigilance was needed that day, as one man was caught applying a jumper wire that ran under his clothes and down both sleeves, deliberately short-circuiting four of the lights. He turned out to be an electrician employed by the Baltimore Gas Company and was marched out, with language ringing in his ears "that made the recording angels jump for their typewriters," Edison later recalled.



Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.






April 18, 2014

In the Gilded Age Moguls Cleaned Up Their Own Mess and the Economy Was Not Hurt




HarrimanVSHillBK2014-04-09.jpg












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






(p. A13) Takeover wars seem to have lost their sizzle. What happened to the battles of corporate goliaths? Where have they gone, those swaggering deal makers? "Harriman vs. Hill" is a corporate dust-up that takes us back to the beginning of the 20th century, when tycoons who traveled by private rail merrily raided each other's empires while the world around them cringed.


. . .


Mr. Haeg conveys a vivid picture of the Gilded Age in splendor and in turmoil. Champagne still flowed in Peacock Alley in the Waldorf-Astoria, but fistfights erupted on the floor of the exchange, and a young trader named Bernard Baruch skirted disaster with the help of an inside tip, then perfectly legal. There were scant rules governing stock trading, the author reminds us--no taxes, either. "If you won in the market, you kept it all."

In that era, moguls were left to clean up their own mess.   . . .


. . .


Though hardly a cheerleader, Mr. Haeg is admiring of his cast, nostalgic for the laissez-faire world they inhabited. Observing that the economy wasn't upset by the stock market's mayhem, he concludes that, "in a perverse way, the market had worked."



For the full review, see:

ROGER LOWENSTEIN. "BOOKSHELF; When Titans Tie the Knot; Businessmen of a century ago didn't place 'competition' on a revered pedestal. Merger and monopoly were considered preferable." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 14, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 13, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Harriman vs. Hill,' by Larry Haeg; Businessmen of a century ago didn't place 'competition' on a revered pedestal. Merger and monopoly were considered preferable.")


The book under review is:

Haeg, Larry. Harriman Vs. Hill: Wall Street's Great Railroad War. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.






April 17, 2014

Re-Use of Plastic Bags Increases E. Coli Infections




(p. A13) Though reducing plastic-bag use might be good for the environment, encouraging the re-use of plastic bags for food-toting may not be so healthy for humans. After San Francisco introduced its ban on non-compostable plastic bags in large grocery stores in 2007, researchers discovered a curious spike in E. coli infections, which can be fatal, and a 46% increase in deaths from food-borne illnesses, according to a study published in November 2012 by the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University. "We show that the health costs associated with the San Francisco ban swamp any budgetary savings from reduced litter," the study's authors observed.

Affirming this yuck factor, a 2011 study from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found bacteria in 99% of reusable polypropylene bags tested; 8% of them were carrying E. coli. The study, though it mainly focused on plastic bags, also looked at two cotton reusable bags--and both contained bacteria.

Bag-ban boosters counter that consumers just need to wash their bags and use separate bags for fish and meat. If only my washing machine had a "reusable bag vinegar rinse cycle." A paltry 3% of shoppers surveyed in that same 2011 study said they washed their reusable bags. Has anybody calculated the environmental impact of drought-ravaged Californians laundering grocery bags?



For the full commentary, see:

JUDY GRUEN. "Becoming a Bagless Lady in Los Angeles." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 8, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 7, 2014.)


The 2012 study mistakenly labelled above as "published" is:

Klick, Jonathan and Wright, Joshua D., Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness (November 2, 2012). U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 13-2. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2196481 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2196481


The 2011 article mentioned above, is:

Williams, David L., Charles P. Gerba, Sherri Maxwell, and Ryan G. Sinclair. "Assessment of the Potential for Cross-Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags." Food Protection Trends 31, no. 8 (Aug. 2011): 508-13.






April 16, 2014

Very Cold January Puzzled Global Warming True Believers




NiagraFallsInJanuay2014.jpg "Niagara Falls in January." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3) At the exact moment President Obama was declaring last month that "climate change is a fact," thousands of drivers in Atlanta were trapped in a grueling winter ordeal, trying to get home on roads that had turned into ribbons of ice.

As the president addressed Congress and the nation in his State of the Union speech, it was snowing intermittently outside the Capitol. The temperature would bottom out later that night at 13 degrees in Washington, 14 in New York, 1 in Chicago, minus 6 in Minneapolis -- and those readings were toasty compared to some of the lows earlier in January.

Mr. Obama's declaration provoked head-shaking from Congressional climate deniers, and unleashed a stream of mockery on Twitter. "As soon as he mentioned 'climate change' it started snowing on Capitol Hill," said a post from Patrick J. Michaels, a climate skeptic at the Cato Institute.

The chortling was predictable, perhaps, but you do not necessarily have to subscribe to an anti-scientific ideology to ask the question a lot of people are asking these days:

If the world is really warming up, how come it is so darned cold?



For the full commentary, see:

Justin Gillis. "BY DEGREES; Freezing Out the Bigger Picture." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 11, 2014): D3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 10, 2014.)






April 15, 2014

Arc Lights Leapfrogged Gas Lights Before Incandescents Leapfrogged Them Both




(p. 85) The gas interests had been dealt a number of recent setbacks even before Edison's announcement of a newly successful variant of electric light. An "enormous abandonment of gas" by retail stores in cities, who now could use less expensive kerosene, was noticed. The shift was attributed not to stores' preference for kerosene but as a means of escaping "the arrogance of the gas companies." Arc lights had now become a newly competitive threat, too. The previous month, Charles Brush had set up his lights in an exhibition hall in New York and then added a display in Boston. Sales to stores followed in several cities; then, as word spread, other establishments sought to obtain the cachet bestowed by the latest technology. William Sharon, a U.S. senator for and energetic booster of California, retrofitted the public spaces of his Palace Hotel in San Francisco with arc lights that replaced 1,085 gas jets.


Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.






April 14, 2014

Detailed Government Rules Impede Progress




TheRuleOfNobodyBK2014-04-08.jpg












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






(p. A13) The rulebooks should be "radically simplified," Mr. Howard says, on matters ranging from enforcing school discipline to protecting nursing-home residents, from operating safe soup kitchens to building the nation's infrastructure: Projects now often require multi-year, 5,000-page environmental impact statements before anything can begin to be constructed. Unduly detailed rules should be replaced by general principles, he says, that take their meaning from society's norms and values and embrace the need for official discretion and responsibility.

Mr. Howard serves up a rich menu of anecdotes, including both the small-scale activities of a neighborhood and the vast administrative structures that govern national life. After a tree fell into a stream and caused flooding during a winter storm, Franklin Township, N.J., was barred from pulling the tree out until it had spent 12 days and $12,000 for the permits and engineering work that a state environmental rule required for altering any natural condition in a "C-1 stream." The "Volcker Rule," designed to prevent banks from using federally insured deposits to speculate in securities, was shaped by five federal agencies and countless banking lobbyists into 963 "almost unintelligible" pages. In New York City, "disciplining a student potentially requires 66 separate steps, including several levels of potential appeals"; meanwhile, civil-service rules make it virtually impossible to terminate thousands of incompetent employees. Children's lemonade stands in several states have been closed down for lack of a vendor's license.



For the full review, see:

STUART TAYLOR JR. "BOOKSHELF; Stop Telling Us What to Do; When a tree fell into a stream in Franklin Township, N.J., it took 12 days and $12,000 for the necessary permits to remove it." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 8, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 7, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Rule of Nobody' by Philip K. Howard; When a tree fell into a stream in Franklin Township, N.J., it took 12 days and $12,000 for the necessary permits to remove it.")


The book under review is:

Howard, Philip K. The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2014.






April 13, 2014

Solitary Swimming Helps Creativity and Problem-Solving




(p. 5) Ms. Nyad has spent a lifetime in the water, chasing an elusive mark in marathon swimming, and she has written about the exhilarating out-of-body experience she has when powering through long distances. The medium makes it necessary to unplug; the blunting of the senses by water encourages internal retreat. Though we don't all reach nirvana when we swim, swimming may well be that last refuge from connectivity -- and, for some, the only way to find the solitary self.


. . .


For better or worse, the mind wanders: We are left alone with our thoughts, wherever they may take us. A lot of creative thinking happens when we're not actively aware of it. A recent Carnegie Mellon study shows that to make good decisions, our brains need every bit of that room to meander. Other research has found that problem-solving tends to come most easily when our minds are unfocused, and while we're exercising. The neurologist Oliver Sacks has written books in his head while swimming. "Theories and stories would construct themselves in my mind as I swam to and fro, or round and round Lake Jeff," he writes in the essay "Water Babies." Five hundred lengths in a pool were never boring or monotonous; instead, Dr. Sacks writes, "swimming gave me a sort of joy, a sense of well-being so extreme that it became at times a sort of ecstasy." The body is engaged in full physical movement, but the mind itself floats, untethered. Beyond this, he adds, "there is all the symbolism of swimming -- its imaginative resonances, its mythic potentials."

Dr. Sacks describes a sublime state that is accessible to all, from his father, with his "great whalelike bulk," who swam daily and elegantly until 94 years of age, to the very young.   . . .


. . .


I asked Dara Torres, who has logged countless training hours for her five Olympics, what she thinks about when she's swimming. "I'm always doing five things at once," she told me by phone (at the time, she was driving a car). "So when I get in the water, I think about all the things that I have to do. But sometimes I go into a state -- I don't really think about anything." The important thing, she says, is that the time is yours. "You can use it for anything. It depends where your head is at -- it's a reflection of where you are."

The reflection of where you are: in essence, a status update to you, and only you. The experience is egalitarian. You don't have to be a great swimmer to appreciate the benefits of sensory solitude and the equilibrium the water can bring.



For the full commentary, see:

Justin Gillis. "BY DEGREES; Freezing Out the Bigger Picture." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 11, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 10, 2014.)






April 12, 2014

Rob Lowe: Libertarian Nerd




LoweRob2014-04-08.jpg










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



(p. 12) Chris Traeger on NBC's "Parks and Recreation" was a total nerd. Was it hard for you to play such an uncool character? My deep dark secret is that I was a nerd in school. I liked the theater. I liked to study. I wasn't very good at sports. It took being famous to make me cool, which, by the way, I never forgot.


.. .


. . . what do you believe? My thing is personal freedoms, freedoms for the individual to love whom they want, do with what they want. In fact, I want the government out of almost everything.



For the full interview, see:

Brodesser-Akner, Taffy, interviewer. "''It's Time to Get Back in the Pool': Rob Lowe on Aging into the Good Roles and Cashing in on His Scandalous Legacy." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., APRIL 6, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date APRIL 4, 2014, and has the title "Rob Lowe on the Problems With Being Pretty.")






April 11, 2014

Edison, Not Antitrust, Reduced Power of Hated Gas Monopolies





Counterbalancing the angst of those hurt by the death of an old technology is sometimes the triumph creative destruction provides to those who were less well-served by the old technology. Some look to governments to restrain a dominant technology; but sometimes a more effective way is to replace the old technology through creative destruction's leapfrog competition.


(p. 84) Gaslight monopolies had few friends outside of the ranks of shareholders. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, gaslight had been viewed as pure and clean; seventy years later, its shortcomings had become all too familiar: it was dirty, soiled interior furnishings, and emit-(p. 85)ted unhygienic fumes. It was also expensive, affordable for indoor lighting only in the homes of the wealthy, department stores, or government buildings. The New York Times almost spat out the following description of how gas companies conducted business: "They practically made the bills what they pleased, for although they read off the quantity by the meter, that instrument was their own, and they could be made to tell a lie of any magnitude.... Everybody has always hated them with a righteous hatred."

Edison credited the gas monopoly for providing his original motivation to experiment with electric light years before in his Newark laboratory. Recalling in October 1878 his unpleasant dealings years earlier with the local gas utility, which had threatened to tear out their meter and cut off the gas, Edison said, "When I remember how the gas companies used to treat me, I must say that it gives me great pleasure to get square with them." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle printed an editorial titled "Revenge Is Sweet" in which it observed that the general public greatly enjoyed the discomfort of the gas companies, too: "To see them squirm and writhe is a public satisfaction that lifts Edison to a higher plane than that of the wonderful inventor and causes him to be regarded as a benefactor of the human race, the leading deity of popular idolatry."



Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






April 10, 2014

Deconstruction Theory as an "Elaborate Cover for Past Sins"




TheDoubleLifeOfPaulDeManBK2014-04-04.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.evelynbarish.com/uploads/1/8/2/7/18270381/847645.jpg?478



(p. 14) Barish, a retired professor of English at the City University of New York Graduate Center, has devoted many years to tracking the elusive trail of the noted literary scholar who made headlines posthumously in 1988, after a researcher in Belgium discovered the trove of literary criticism he had published in that country's leading pro-Nazi newspaper during World War II. De Man, who had emigrated to the United States in 1948, earned a doctorate at Harvard in 1960 and went on to a dazzling academic career, forming a generation of devoted disciples. When he died in 1983 at age 64, he was a revered figure. The author of brilliant if difficult essays on modern literature, he had been among the first to embrace deconstruction, the influential theory elaborated by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Deconstruction focused on linguistic ambiguity, infuriating critics who viewed it as a dangerous relativism.


. . .


Detractors maintained that despite obvious differences, the two were cut from the same intellectual cloth: The ideas about "undecidability" in language were an elaborate cover-up for past sins. The most hostile critics seized the opportunity to strike a decisive blow against deconstruction, as a doctrine with unavowable antecedents in Nazism.

Now, almost 30 years later, when the theoretical avant-garde has moved on, "The Double Life of Paul de Man" revives the man and his fall. This time, we get a story of the professor not just as a young collaborator, but as a scheming careerist, an embezzler and forger who fled Belgium in order to avoid prison, a bigamist who abandoned his first three children, a deadbeat who left many rents and hotel bills unpaid, a liar who wormed his way into Harvard by falsifying records, a cynic who used people shamelessly. Some of these accusations have been made before (and documented), but Barish develops them and adds new ones. Her conclusion is somber: She places de Man not among the charming scoundrels but among the false "new messiahs" of history.



For the full review, see:

SUSAN RUBIN SULEIMAN. "The Deconstructionist Deconstructed; 'The Double Life of Paul de Man,' by Evelyn Barish." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MARCH 9, 2014): 14.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 7, 2014, and has the title "The Deconstructionist Deconstructed; 'The Double Life of Paul de Man,' by Evelyn Barish.")


Hand's book is:

Barish, Evelyn. The Double Life of Paul De Man. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2014.






April 9, 2014

Patent Trial and Appeal Board May Be Invalidating Low Quality Patents





One of the common complaints about the U.S. patent system for the past couple of decades is that the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been approving too many low quality patents, that are then used by patent holders to extort licensing fees or out-or-court settlements from alleged infringers. One way in which the America Invents Act, signed in September 2011, tried to respond to the complaint was to strengthen the post-approval re-examination process for patents. The article quoted below suggests that the strengthened process may be having the intended effect.



(p. B4) The Patent Trial and Appeal Board is a little known but powerful authority that often allows a company embroiled in a lawsuit to skip the question of whether it infringed a patent--and challenge whether the patent should have been issued in the first place.

The board was launched in September 2012 as part of the massive patent overhaul passed by Congress the previous year and is currently staffed by 181 judges, many of whom have deep experience in intellectual property or technical fields like chemical and electrical engineering. Through last Thursday it had received 1,056 requests to challenge patents, far more than were received by any federal court over the same time period.

The board is part of the Patent and Trademark Office. But so far, it hasn't shied away from upending the office's decisions to issue certain patents. As of last week, the board had issued 25 written decisions concerning patent challenges, and upheld parts of challenged patents in only a few of them.


. . .


In recent months, Randall Rader, the chief judge of the Federal Circuit, has been one of the board's most outspoken critics. At a conference of intellectual-property lawyers last fall, the judge called the board's panels "death squads...killing property rights."

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Rader said the board is too quick to toss out patents that demonstrate only modest innovation. "The board needs to incentivize human progress--and understand that it often happens one small step at a time," he said.

But many company lawyers think the board is doing exactly as it should--taking a skeptical look at patents that have added little to the world.



For the full story, see:

ASHBY JONES. "New Weapon in Intellectual Property Wars; Panel Can Upend Patent Decisions, but Some Say It Goes Too Far; 'Like Getting CAT-Scanned, MRI-ed, and X-Rayed'." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 11, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis inside paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2014, and has the title "A New Weapon in Corporate Patent Wars; Patent Trial and Appeal Board Can Upend PTO Decisions, but Some Say It Goes Too Far.")






April 8, 2014

Government Regulations Slow U.S. Use of Drones




DronesThreeSophisticatedCommerical2014-04-03.jpgThree sophisticated drones. From top to bottom, the Insitu ScanEagle, the Yamaha RMAX, and the Trimble UX5. Source and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) After Greek land surveyor George Papastamos bought his first drones a year ago, he let go most of his workers. Now, instead of a team of 12, he shows up to work sites with just a drone and an assistant.

"I could see this was the future," said Mr. Papastamos, a second-generation surveyor from Athens. The drones have improved his maps and lowered his costs, enabling him to win more business. "It is much, much more profitable," he said.

As U.S. regulators and courts grapple with when and how to allow the use of drones for commercial purposes, flying robots already are starting to change the way companies do business in countries from Australia to Japan to the U.K. They are showing the potential to provide cheaper and more effective alternatives to manned aircraft--and human workers--in industries like mining, construction and filmmaking.

The U.S. is "the world leader in producing drones," but "the reality is the rest of the world has moved further ahead of us in terms of commercial applications," said drone researcher Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University.



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS. "From Farms to Films, Drones Find Commercial Uses." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 11, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2014, and has the title "Drones Find Fans Among Farmers, Filmmakers; FAA Still Debating Rules but Drones are Spraying 40% of Japan's Rice Fields.")






April 7, 2014

William Vanderbilt Helped Disrupt His Gas Holdings by Investing in Edison's Electricity




(p. 84) But even the minimal ongoing work on the phonograph would be pushed aside by the launch of frenzied efforts to find a way to fulfill Edison's premature public claim that his electric light was working. A couple of months later, when asked in an interview about the state of his phonograph, Edison replied tartly, "Comatose for the time being." He changed metaphors and continued, catching hold of an image that would be quoted many times by later biographers: "It is a child and will grow to be a man yet; but I have a bigger thing in hand and must finish it to the temporary neglect of all phones and graphs."

Financial considerations played a part in allocation of time and resources, too. Commissions from the phonograph that brought in hundreds of dollars were hardly worth accounting for, not when William Vanderbilt and his friends were about to advance Edison $50,000 for the electric light. Edison wrote a correspondent that he regarded the financier's interest especially satisfying as Vanderbilt was "the largest gas stock owner in America."



Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: ellipses, and capitals, in original.)






April 6, 2014

Some Geographical Clusters Are Due to Chance (It Is Not Always a Miracle, When Good, Or the Environment, When Bad)




HandDavidStatistiician2014-04-04.jpg











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




(p. 12) Your latest book, "The Improbability Principle," aims to prove that extremely improbable events are in fact commonplace. Can you explain that a bit? Things like roulette wheels coming up in strange configurations or the same lottery numbers hitting two weeks in a row are clearly very rare events, but if you look at the number of lotteries and the number of roulette wheels, then you realize that you should actually expect these sorts of things to happen. I think within the statistical community people accept this. They're aware of the impact of the law of truly large numbers.


. . .


You also write that geographical clusters of people with diseases might not necessarily be a result of environmental issues. It could just be a coincidence. Well, they could be due to some sort of pollution or infectious disease or something like that, but you can expect clusters to occur just by chance as well. So it's an interesting statistical problem to tease these things out. Is this a genuine cluster in the sense that there's a cause behind it? Or is it a chance cluster?



For the full interview, see:

Chozick, Amy, interviewer. "'The Wonder Is Still There'; The Statistician David J. Hand on Eerie Coincidences and Playing the Lottery." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., FEB. 23, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date FEB. 21, 2014, and has the title "David J. Hand's Lottery Tips.")


Hand's book is:

Hand, David J. The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.






April 5, 2014

18 Unions Each Spent More on Politics than Koch Brothers




(p. A13) Harry Reid is under a lot of job-retention stress these days, so Americans might forgive him the occasional word fumble. When he recently took to the Senate floor to berate the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch for spending "unlimited money" to "rig the system" and "buy elections," the majority leader clearly meant to be condemning unions.

It's an extraordinary thing, in a political age obsessed with campaign money, that nobody scrutinizes the biggest, baddest, "darkest" spenders of all: organized labor. The IRS is muzzling nonprofits; Democrats are "outing" corporate donors; Jane Mayer is probably working on part 89 of her New Yorker series on the "covert" Kochs. Yet the unions glide blissfully, unmolestedly along. This lack of oversight has led to a union world that today acts with a level of campaign-finance impunity that no other political giver--conservative outfits, corporate donors, individuals, trade groups--could even fathom.


. . .


The Center for Responsive Politics' list of top all-time donors from 1989 to 2014 ranks Koch Industries No. 59. Above Koch were 18 unions, which collectively spent $620,873,623 more than Koch Industries ($18 million).



For the full commentary, see:

KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. "POTOMAC WATCH; The Really Big Money? Not the Kochs; Harry Reid surely must have meant the unions when he complained about buying elections." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 6, 2014.)






April 4, 2014

Gary Becker's Grandson Ponders Opportunity Cost of College




HarboeLouisYoungTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg



"Louis Harboe with his parents, Frederik Harboe and Catherine Becker. Louis, now 18, got his first freelance tech job at age 12. Last year, he attended the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 1) Ryan was headed to South by Southwest Interactive, the technology conference in Austin. There, he planned to talk up an app that he and a friend had built. Called Finish, it aimed to help people stop procrastinating, and was just off its high in the No. 1 spot in the productivity category in the Apple App store.


. . .


Ryan is now 17, a senior at Boulder High. He is among the many entrepreneurially minded, technologically skilled teenagers who are striving to do serious business. Their work is enabled by low-cost or free tools to make apps or to design games, and they are encouraged by tech companies and grown-ups in the field who urge them, sometimes with financial support, to accelerate their transition into "the real world." This surge in youthful innovation and entrepreneurship looks "unprecedented," said Gary Becker, a University of Chicago economist and a Nobel laureate.

Dr. Becker is assessing this subject from a particularly intimate vantage point. His grandson, Louis Harboe, 18, is a friend of (p. 6) Ryan's, a technological teenager who makes Ryan look like a late bloomer. Louis, pronounced Louie, got his first freelance gig at the age of 12, designing the interface for an iPhone game. At 16, Louis, who lives with his parents in Chicago, took a summer design internship at Square, an online and mobile payment company in San Francisco, earning $1,000 a week plus a $1,000 housing stipend.

Ryan and Louis, who met online in the informal network of young developers, are hanging out this weekend in Austin at South by Southwest. They are also waiting to hear from the colleges to which they applied last fall -- part of the parallel universe they also live in, the traditional one with grades and SATs and teenage responsibilities. But unlike their peers for whom college is the singular focus, they have pondered whether to go at all. It's a good kind of problem, the kind faced by great high-school athletes or child actors who can try going pro, along with all the risk that entails.

Dr. Becker, who studies microeconomics and education, has been telling his grandson: "Go to college. Go to college." College, he says, is the clear step to economic success. "The evidence is overwhelming."

But the "do it now" idea, evangelized on a digital pulpit, can feel more immediate than academic empiricism. "College is not a prerequisite," said Jess Teutonico, who runs TEDxTeen, a version of the TED talks and conferences for youth, where Ryan spoke a few weeks ago. "These kids are motivated to take over the world," she said. "They need it fast. They need it now."



For the full story, see:

MATT RICHTEL. "The Youngest Technorati." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Fri., MARCH 9, 2014): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 8, 2014.)






April 3, 2014

As a Young Inventor, Edison Patented Fast




Edison filed patent applications as fast as the ideas arrived.


Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.






April 2, 2014

In Hard Times Entrepreneurs Need Advice on How to Fire




TheHardThingAboutHardThingsBK2014-03-30.jpg












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






(p. A13) Every entrepreneur has experienced what Ben Horowitz terms "the struggle." That's when things are going really, really badly. It's when, as he puts it in "The Hard Thing About Hard Things," "people ask you why you don't quit and you don't know the answer." But there always is a way, Mr. Horowitz believes, and it's the ability to spot the next move during the struggle that separates winners and losers.

Mr. Horowitz has authority on this subject. He was a successful tech CEO, having co-founded the pioneering cloud-computing company LoudCloud and subsequently overseen its evolution into a software firm, Opsware. He's also one half of the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Among the firm's winning bets: Facebook, Skype and Twitter.


. . .


The book, the author says, is written primarily for "wartime CEOs"--those like the late Steve Jobs, who returned to Apple in 1997 at a time when the company was verging on bankruptcy. Jobs recognized that to survive, Apple had to ditch most of its products and focus singularly on just four computer models.

Wartime CEOs don't need classic management books that "focus on how to do things correctly, so you don't screw up," Mr. Horowitz argues. What the author offers instead is "insight into what you must do after you have screwed up. The good news is, I have plenty of experience at that and so does every other CEO."


. . .


Parts of the book are dedicated to providing practical leadership advice: how to hire, fire and scale and when to sell and when to spurn offers. Some of the advice is counterintuitive. He dismisses the "don't bring me a problem without bringing me a solution" management maxim by asking: If an employee can't solve the problem he encounters, do you really want him to hide it?



For the full review, see:

DANIEL FREEDMAN. "BOOKSHELF; Business Tips From Karl Marx; Born to a family of Marxists, Ben Horowitz now invests in tech startups. Among his winning bets: Twitter and Facebook." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 6, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Hard Thing About Hard Things,' by Ben Horowitz; Born to a family of Marxists, Ben Horowitz now invests in tech startups. Among his winning bets: Twitter and Facebook.")


The book under review is:

Horowitz, Ben. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.






April 1, 2014

Decline in Hours Worked Shows Weakness in Labor Market




(p. A15) Most commentators viewed the February [2014] jobs report released on March 7 as good news, indicating that the labor market is on a favorable growth path. A more careful reading shows that employment actually fell--as it has in four out of the past six months and in more than one-third of the months during the past two years.

Although it is often overlooked, a key statistic for understanding the labor market is the length of the average workweek. Small changes in the average workweek imply large changes in total hours worked. The average workweek in the U.S. has fallen to 34.2 hours in February from 34.5 hours in September 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That decline, coupled with mediocre job creation, implies that the total hours of employment have decreased over the period.


. . .


. . . , although the U.S. economy added about 900,000 jobs since September, the shortened workweek is equivalent to losing about one million jobs during this same period. The difference between the loss of the equivalent of one million jobs and the gain of 900,000 new jobs yields a net effect of the equivalent of 100,000 lost jobs.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "The Hidden Rot in the Jobs Numbers; Hours worked are declining, resulting in the equivalent of a net loss of 100,000 jobs since September." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 17, 2014): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 16, 2014.)






HP3D5006CropSmall.jpg


















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


View My Stats