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March 31, 2016

After Wife's Cancer, F.D.A. Regulator Cuts Decision Time from Six to Five Months (Beyond Years Spent Testing)




(p. 1) BETHESDA, Md. -- Mary Pazdur had exhausted the usual drugs for ovarian cancer, and with her tumors growing and her condition deteriorating, her last hope seemed to be an experimental compound that had yet to be approved by federal regulators.

So she appealed to the Food and Drug Administration, whose oncology chief for the last 16 years, Dr. Richard Pazdur, has been a man denounced by many cancer patient advocates as a slow, obstructionist bureaucrat.

He was also Mary's husband.

In her struggle with cancer and ultimately her death in November, Ms. Pazdur had a part, her husband and a number of cancer specialists now say, in a profound change at the F.D.A.: a speeding up of the drug approval process. Ms. Pazdur's three-year battle with cancer was a factor, they say, in Dr. Pazdur's willingness to swiftly approve risky new treatments and passion to fight the disease that patient advocates thought he lacked.


. . .


(p. 13) Certainly there has been a change at the powerful agency. Since Ms. Pazdur learned she had ovarian cancer in 2012, approvals for drugs have been faster than at any time in the F.D.A.'s modern history. Although companies go through a yearslong discovery and testing process with new drugs before filing a formal application with the F.D.A., the average decision time on drugs by Dr. Pazdur's oncology group has come down to five months from six months. That is a major acceleration in a pharmaceutical industry where every month's delay can mean thousands of lives lost and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars in sales that, given limited patent times, can never be recovered.

When asked specifically how his wife's illness had changed his work at the F.D.A., Dr. Pazdur said he was intent on making decisions more quickly.

"I have a much greater sense of urgency these days," Dr. Pazdur, 63, said in an interview. "I have been on a jihad to streamline the review process and get things out the door faster. I have evolved from regulator to regulator-advocate."



For the full story, see:

GARDINER HARRIS. "A Wife's Cancer Prods the F.D.A." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JAN. 3, 2016): 1 & 13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 2, 2016, and has the title "F.D.A. Regulator, Widowed by Cancer, Helps Speed Drug Approval.")






March 30, 2016

Slower World of Narrative Leads to Analogies, Comparisons and Understanding




(p. A25) As the neuroscientist Susan Greenfield writes in her book "Mind Change," expert online gamers have a great capacity for short-term memory, to process multiple objects simultaneously, to switch flexibly between tasks and to quickly process rapidly presented information.


. . .


Research at the University of Oslo and elsewhere suggests that people read a printed page differently than they read off a screen. They are more linear, more intentional, less likely to multitask or browse for keywords.

The slowness of solitary reading or thinking means you are not as concerned with each individual piece of data. You're more concerned with how different pieces of data fit together. How does this relate to that? You're concerned with the narrative shape, the synthesizing theory or the overall context. You have time to see how one thing layers onto another, producing mixed emotions, ironies and paradoxes. You have time to lose yourself in another's complex environment.

As Greenfield puts it, "by observing what happens, by following the linear path of a story, we can convert information into knowledge in a way that emphasizing fast response and constant stimulation cannot. As I see it, the key issue is narrative."

When people in this slower world gather to try to understand connections and context, they gravitate toward a different set of questions. These questions are less about sensation than about meaning. They argue about how events unfold and how context influences behavior. They are more likely to make moral evaluations. They want to know where it is all headed and what are the ultimate ends.

Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use experience, knowledge and the products of lifelong education that have been stored in long-term memory. It is the ability to make analogies and comparisons about things you have studied before. Crystallized intelligence accumulates over the years and leads ultimately to understanding and wisdom.



For the full commentary, see:

David Brooks. "Building Attention Span." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 10, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book discussed in the commentary, is:

Greenfield, Susan. Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains. New York: Random House, 2015.






March 29, 2016

The "Freedom" of Soviet Cinema




(p. A13) In the world we live in--and the system we've created for ourselves, in terms of it's a big industry--you cannot lose money. So the point is that you're forced to make a particular kind of movie. And I used to say this all the time, with people, you know, back when Russia was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and they'd say, "Oh, but aren't you so glad that you're in America?" And I'd say, well, I know a lot of Russian filmmakers and they have a lot more freedom than I have. All they have to do is be careful about criticizing the government. Otherwise, they can do anything they want.


George Lucas, from an interview with Charlie Rose, as quoted in:

"Notable & Quotable: George Lucas and Soviet Cinema." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 4, 2016): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 3, 2016.)



Compare what Lucas says, with the following:

(p. 164) Auteur cinema encountered difficulties in the and 1970s, partly because its poetic language remained inaccessible for the masses and made no considerable win at the box office, and partly because its symbolism was often feared to lead (p. 165) astray Soviet cinema's political agenda. Sometimes international pressure or support could mean that film was released for screenings, while it remained undistributed or in low distribution at home. This applies to films of the leading auteurs of the period: Andrei Tarkovsky, whose Andrei Rublev was delayed for several years; Alexei Gherman, whose Trial on the Roads was banned; Alexander Sokurov, whose films were stopped during production (Anaesthesia Dolorosa); and Kira Muratova, who had two films banned and was prevented from working as director until the 1980s.

Auteur cinema, which emphasized the artistic impulse, in sharp contrast to socialist principle and was condemned, even with hindsight, by Sergei Gerasimov in 1988: 'They [the auteur filmmakers] want to preach like a genius, a messiah. That is a position that is compatible with our communist ethics.'



Source:

Beumers, Birgit. A History of Russian Cinema. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2009.

(Note: bracketed phrase in original.)






March 28, 2016

Federal Regulations Restrict Concrete Innovation




(p. B1) Chris Tuan, a professor of civil engineering for the University of Nebraska at the Peter Kiewit Institute, has been perfecting an electrically semiconductive concrete over the past 20 years.

The mixture includes a 20 percent mix of steel fibers, shavings and carbon added to a traditional concrete mix. Steel reinforcing bars serve as the conductor, and once electricity is added, the concrete heats to 35 to 40 degrees -- just enough to melt the ice and snow.


. . .


For now, the concrete can't be used in public spaces. Anything exposed and electrified above 48 volts -- much less than the 208 volts used in Tuan's concrete -- is considered high voltage and is not allowed. Federal law will have to be rewritten to change that.


. . .


Tuan said traditional concrete needs to be replaced every five years or so. Without chemical use, the electric concrete lasts much longer, with fewer potholes. His concrete is also maintenance-free, because the power cords and conductive rods are encased in the concrete and not exposed to the elements.


. . .


In 2013 Tuan also implemented his concrete on ramps in China. He recently installed a private driveway in Regency using the legally allowed 48-volt limit, which is less energy efficient.

"If the government or if insurance agencies approve this technology, then everybody can use it," Tuan said. "But right now, it's almost cost prohibitive."



For the full story, see:

Reece Ristau. "In Concrete World, This Is Hot Stuff." Omaha World-Herald (Tues., JAN. 15, 2016): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Special Concrete Mix Can Melt Snow and Ice All by Itself -- Just Add Electricity.")






March 27, 2016

The Use of Virtual Reality (VR) in Education and Training




(p. B5) The thing that's especially difficult to convey about "room-scale" VR--the kind enabled by the HTC Vive, where you can actually walk around with a headset on, exploring a virtual environment in exactly the same way you would experience a real one--is just how compelling it is. "Any VR experience is so much more engrossing than any you'd have on a flat screen," says Patrick Hackett, senior user interface designer at Google for the Google Cardboard VR headset.

That has potentially huge implications for education.

Amir Rubin, head of VR software company Sixense, is working with a client on a system to train thousands of technicians to decommission nuclear-power plants. "Any application that has high liability, where teaching students has a high cost of insurance, and is high risk, we're seeing people ask for VR training," says Mr. Rubin. At Stanford, Dr. Bailenson is taking students on virtual tours of the world's great works of art--letting them clamber over and deeply experience, for example, Michelangelo's "David."



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "Virtual Reality Isn't Just About Games." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 3, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 2, 2015.)







March 26, 2016

The Value of Longer Life




(p. C6) With the seeker's restlessness that seems not to have left him until his last breath, . . . [Dr. Paul Kalanthi accrued] two B.A.s and an M.A. in literature at Stanford, then a Master of Philosophy at Cambridge, before graduating cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine. He returned to Stanford for a residency in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience. His training was almost complete when the bad diagnosis hit.


. . .


And then everything changes. In a single moment of recognition, everything Dr. Kalanithi has imagined for himself and his wife evaporates, and a new future has to be imagined.
. . . A job at Stanford for which he was the prime candidate? Not happening. Another good job that would require the Kalanithis to move to Wisconsin? Too far from his oncologist. Long-term plans of any kind? Well, what does long-term mean now? Does he have a day, a month, a year, six years, what? He's heard the advice about living one day at a time, but what's he supposed to do with that day when he doesn't know how many others remain?



For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "Books of The Times; Singularly Striving Until Life Steps In."The New York Times (Tues., July 7, 2015): C1 & C6.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 6, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'When Breath Becomes Air,' Dr. Paul Kalanithi Confronts an Early Death.")


The book under review, is:

Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air. New York: Random House, 2016.






March 25, 2016

Ethanol Adds Carbon Dioxide to Atmosphere




(p. A9) Before long, it may be politically safe to take a wise step and eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).


. . .


Today, ethanol's downsides have become clear.

First, it increases the cost of driving. Current ethanol blends provide fewer miles per gallon, so drivers pay more to travel the same distance. According to the Institute for Energy Research, American drivers have paid an additional $83 billion since 2007 because of the RFS.

Second, ethanol adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than it eliminates by replacing fossil fuels. The Environmental Working Group says that "corn ethanol is an environmental disaster." The group explains: "The mandate to blend ethanol into gasoline has driven farmers to plow up land to plant corn--40 percent of the corn now grown in the U.S. is used to make ethanol. When farmers plow up grasslands and wetlands to grow corn, they release the carbon stored in the soil, contributing to climate-warming carbon emissions." And then there is the carbon emitted in harvesting, transporting and processing the corn into ethanol.



For the full commentary, see:

MERRILL MATTHEWS. "The Corn-Fed Albatross Called Ethanol." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 6, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 5, 2016.)







March 24, 2016

Locally Sourced Chipotle's Swift, Severe and Surprising Fall from Grace




(p. B1) Chipotle emphasizes fresh, locally sourced ingredients. It was the first major chain to reject genetically modified food. Chipotle has embodied the notion of doing well by doing good.

So it may not be too surprising that its fall from grace has been swift and severe.

Since July, when five customers became ill with the E. coli bacterium after eating at a Chipotle restaurant in Seattle -- the first food-borne illness connected to the chain since 2009 -- Chipotle has been confronted by a rash of outbreaks. At least six incidents have occurred over the last six months.

"I've been involved in every food-borne illness outbreak, small and large, since 1993," said Bill Marler, a Seattle-based lawyer who specializes in representing victims of food-borne illnesses and has filed several recent cases against Chipotle. "I can't think of any chain, restaurant or food manufacturer who's ever reported that many outbreaks in just six months. Underlying that has to be a lack of controls."



For the full story, see:

JAMES B. STEWART. "Common Sense; New Chipotle Mantra: Safe (and Fresh) Food." The New York Times (Fri., JAN. 15, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 14, 2016, and has the title "Common Sense; Chipotle's New Mantra: Safe Food, Not Just Fresh.")






March 23, 2016

Japan Population Down a Million in Five Year Period




(p. A12) TOKYO -- Japan's population shrank by nearly a million during the last half-decade, official census figures confirmed on Friday [February 26, 2016], an unprecedented drop for a society not ravaged by war or other deadly crisis, and one that helps explain the country's persistent economic woes.

It was the first time since Japan began collecting census data in 1920 that a nationwide count recorded a decline in the population, though surveys based on smaller samples have shown a downward trend for years.



For the full story, see:

JONATHAN SOBLE. "Japan Lost Nearly a Million People in 5 Years, Census Says." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 27, 2016): A12.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2016.)






March 22, 2016

Greek Corruption, Fraud, Evasion and Public Worker Job Security




(p. A11) Mr. Angelos, a former Journal correspondent, travels through Greece as a journalist first, and a native son second, to conduct a mostly unpleasant archaeology. By way of background, however, he first tackles the pervasive issues of disability and pension fraud, rampant tax evasion, and public worker job protections. These are the very problems that Greece's European lenders sought to remedy through a series of supposedly helpful but also punitive and ineptly administered reforms. Mr. Angelos dismantles the facile narrative accepted by many in the eurozone, in which hardworking Germans must clean up a mess made by their lazy and "Oriental" southern neighbors. But he is equally tenacious when it comes to exposing the misconduct of Greek politicians, not to mention the country's corrupt system of career tenure and its, well, truly Byzantine bureaucracy.

Mr. Angelos's book allows us to see how these problems play out, sometimes farcically, in the lives of actual people. There's a cranky grandmother on the island of Zakynthos who receives generous blindness benefits even though she can see perfectly well. There's the arrogant former prime minister who accepted millions of euros in bribes to buy useless submarines on behalf of the Greek government.


. . .


. . . the book's single most flattering portrait is of Yiannis Boutaris, the tattooed, wine-making, freethinking mayor of Thessaloniki, who courts Turkish tourism, refuses to kowtow to the church and publicly acknowledges the crucial role of Jews in the city's history.



For the full review, see:


CHRISTOPHER BAKKEN. "BOOKSHELF; How Greece Got to 'No'; On the island of Zakynthos, a grandmother receives generous blindness benefits--even though she can see perfectly well."The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 7, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 6, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Angelos, James. The Full Catastrophe: Travels among the New Greek Ruins. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015.






March 21, 2016

Ugly, Invasive, Depressing Federal LEDs Disrupt Sleep and Increase Risk of Breast Cancer




(p. B1) In my repellently contented middle age, I don't seek blue light. Like most sane people, I spurn restaurants whose lighting glares. I recoil from mirrors under fluorescent tubes. I switch on an overhead only to track down a water bug while wielding a flip-flop. Yet each evening from March onward, in the Brooklyn neighborhood where I live part of the year, it seems as if the overhead is always on.

Along with other parts of South Brooklyn, Windsor Terrace is an early recipient of the Department of Transportation's new light-emitting diode streetlights. New Yorkers who have not yet been introduced to these lights: We are living in your future.

Our new street "lamps" -- too cozy a word for the icy arrays now screaming through our windows -- are meant to be installed across all five boroughs by 2017. Indeed, any resident of an American municipality that has money problems (and what city doesn't?) should take heed.

In interviews with the media, my fellow experimental subjects have compared the nighttime environment under the new streetlights to a film set, a prison yard, "a strip mall in outer space" and "the mother ship coming in for a landing" in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Although going half-blind at 58, I can read by the beam that the new lamp blasts into our front room without tapping our own Con Ed service. Once the LEDs went in, our next-door neighbor began walking her dog at night in sunglasses.

Medical research has firmly established that blue-spectrum LED light can disrupt sleep patterns. This is the same illumination that radiates in far smaller doses from smartphone and computer screens, to which we're advised to avoid exposure for at least an hour before bed, because it can suppress the production of melatonin. . . .

While the same light has also been associated with increased risk of breast cancer and mood disorders, in all honesty my biggest beef with LEDs has nothing to do with health issues. These lights are ugly. They're invasive. They're depressing. New York deserves better.


. . .


Even fiscally and environmentally conscientious California has compromised on this point. Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco have all opted for yellow-rich LEDs. These cities have willingly made the modest 10-15 percent sacrifice in efficiency for an ambience that more closely embodies what Germans call Gemütlichkeit and Danes call hygge: an atmosphere of hospitality, homeyness, intimacy and well-being.


. . .


As currently conceived, the D.O.T.'s streetlight plan amounts to mass civic vandalism. If my focus on aesthetics makes this issue sound trivial, the sensory experience of daily life is not a frivolous matter. Even in junior high school, I understood that lighting isn't only about what you see, but how you feel.



For the full commentary, see:

LIONEL SHRIVER. "Ruining That Moody Urban Glow." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., OCT. 18, 2015): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 17, 2015.)






March 20, 2016

Working for Uber Allows Flexibility for Aspiring Actors




(p. 8) Not long ago, being a waiter at the Ivy or a salesman at Fred Segal was considered the reliable way to earn a living until one got a big break in a Wes Anderson film and got picked up by a major Hollywood agency like CAA or WME.

But Krystal Harris, 27, an actress who appeared in the recent Kevin Hart film "About Last Night," quickly realized those sorts of jobs were overrated. So now she works primarily for Lyft.

"I was a lead hostess at three different restaurants," Ms. Harris said. "It really didn't allow for much flexibility at all. I ended up getting fired for going to an audition. Even when I got my shifts covered, they gave me a hard time."

In 2013, she turned her Ford Escape into a roving cash register. She had total control over her hours, never needing to clear her schedule with anyone for a last-minute audition. There weren't even rules against working for both Uber and Lyft.

When acting gigs were hard to come by, she drove as many as 40 hours a week, earning what she estimated was about $20 an hour after Uber and Lyft took their commissions (generally around 20 percent). If the casting gods shined on her, she simply shut off the apps.

"When I'm really on a roll, I don't have to work," she said. "As long as my insurance and registration are up to date, I can go back."

Mr. Totten had a similar experience. Before driving for Uber, he worked at a half-dozen restaurants. All those jobs ended when he had to take off for auditions, or was caught trying to learn lines on the job. Once, he refused to shave because a casting director was looking for someone with stubble.

"My look is my scruff," said Mr. Totten, who is blond and blue-eyed, with a James Dean meets 90210 appeal. "As soon as I started driving for Uber, things got better."


. . .


(p. 9) Recently, Mr. Totten considered getting a new side job. "I'm probably going to do Postmates," he said, referring to the app-based service that delivers artisanal food in under 60 minutes and guarantees its drivers a minimum of $25 an hour. "You can't live on this anymore."



For the full story, see:

JACOB BERNSTEIN. "Drivers With Head Shots." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., JAN. 24, 2016): 1 & 8-9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 23, 2016, and has the title "The New Side Job for Actors and Artists in Los Angeles: Driving.")






March 19, 2016

Regulatory Costs Slow Development of Lifesaving Antibiotics




(p. A13) In the 1980s, 29 new antibiotics were approved; another 23 were approved during the 1990s. But only nine new drugs made it to market from 2000-10, and a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows few drugs in development for the most serious microbial threats such as multidrug resistant Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.


. . .


To revitalize the search for lifesaving antibiotics, the Food and Drug Administration needs a new way to approve them. Legislation proposed in both the House and the Senate would create a new regulatory pathway that would enable the FDA to approve drugs specifically for patients whose serious infections can't be treated with existing drugs, and for whom there are few or no other treatment options.

For these patients, the FDA would be empowered to approve new drugs based on fewer or smaller clinical studies than for antibiotics intended for broader use. The goal is to reduce the cost of development and accelerate the availability of new drugs for a targeted public health need.



For the full commentary, see:

JONATHAN LEFF And ALLAN COUKELL. "How to End the Regulatory Slowdown for New Antibiotics; With the threat from lethal drug-resistant bacteria growing, the FDA needs to speed up its approval process." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 3, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 2, 2015.)






March 18, 2016

"Ordinary People Should Have a Go"




(p. A11) The classical archaeologist and now big-picture historian Ian Morris, whose last book argued that war is good for you, now explains why coal is too. In "Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels," Mr. Morris puts "energy capture" at the center of human values since the Ice Age, through three eras: the Foragers to begin with; the Farmers after about 8,000 B.C.; and, in the past few centuries, the Fossil Fuelers.


. . .


A culture favorable to liberty and dignity for commoners came out of the Reformation and 16th-century Holland, spread to Britain and Britain's colonies in the 18th century, and resulted after 1800 in an explosion of ingenuity.

This Great Enrichment, which Mr. Morris acknowledges but does not explain, increased income per head not by the 100% or 200% of earlier efflorescences but by anything from 2,000% to 10,000%. Routine materialism of Mr. Morris's sort can't explain the most important secular event in human history. He wants to pin it all on energy capture. The correct story is one of ideas of human equality changing, starting with a conviction novel in the 17th century in northwestern Europe that ordinary people should have a go. This led to massive innovation, among which was energy capture. We do not have a fossil-fuel civilization. We have a free and ingenious one.



For the full review, see:

DEIRDRE MCCLOSKEY. "BOOKSHELF; Oil on Troubled Waters; In this telling, progress is explained by the rising use of fossil fuels. Yet the Industrial Revolution was powered by water, not coal.."The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 6, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 5, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Morris, Ian. Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve, The University Center for Human Values Series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.






March 17, 2016

Americans Should Not Be Required to Join a Private Organization Against Their Will




(p. A15) I am one of 10 California teachers suing to end compulsory union dues in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which will be heard by the Supreme Court Jan. 11. Our request is simple: Strike down laws in 23 states that require workers who decline to join a union to pay fees anyway. In our view, paying fees to a union should not be a prerequisite for teaching in a public school. No one in the U.S. should be forced to give money to a private organization he or she disagrees with fundamentally. Teachers deserve a choice.


. . .


I was a member of the union for years and even served as a union representative. But the union never played an important role in my school. When most teachers sought guidance, they wanted help in the classroom and on how to excel at teaching. The union never offered this pedagogic aid.

Instead, the union focused on politics. I remember a phone call I received before a major election from someone in the union. It was a "survey," asking teachers whether they would vote for so-and-so if the election were held tomorrow. I disagreed with every issue and candidate the union was promoting. After that conversation, I thought about what the union represents. Eventually, I realized that my dues--about $1,000 a year--went toward ideas and issues that ran counter to my beliefs.


. . .


A Gallup poll last year found that 82% of the public agrees that "no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will." That's all we're asking.



For the full commentary, see:

HARLAN ELRICH. "Why I'm Fighting My Teachers Union; I don't want to be forced to pay for a political agenda I don't support. Now the Supreme Court will rule." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 4, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 3, 2016.)






March 16, 2016

Old Photographic Technology Makes a Limited Comeback




(p. C1) The Phoenix artist Annie Lopez wanted to stand out among her contemporary peers. Instead of trying to invent something utterly new, she has been turning to a 174-year-old photographic printing process -- cyanotypes, once used for copying architectural drawings -- and giving it her own distinctive twist.

Ms. Lopez created a dress pattern cut from tamale wrapping paper and printed all over with cyanotypes, which have a distinctly cyan-blue color. She printed the cyanotypes herself, in a process that took about 25 minutes per sheet of images. No darkroom was needed.

That ease has brought cyanotypes roaring back to relevance, attracting a surprising number of true-blue adherents showing their work in galleries.


, , ,


(p. C2) Anna Atkins, considered by many to be the first female photographer and the first person to create a book of photo-based images, blended science and art in botanical cyanotypes, starting in the 1840s. Atkins's "Honey Locust Leaf and Pod" (circa 1854) is featured in the Worcester show.

The fine-art application was scarce for more than a century after Atkins's day -- rare enough that Steichen once called his use of cyanotypes a "secret" in a letter to his friend and mentor Alfred Stieglitz. For fine artists, it was often considered an "ugly stepchild" of the larger medium, Ms. Burns said, "because it was too easy."

Amateurs embraced cyanotypes more easily. "In terms of popular usage they were big until the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and women's periodicals were giving people instructions on how to make them," Ms. Burns said. "But then they fell off the map of photography."

Well into the 20th century, the long-dormant medium was awakened by artists looking for something different.

"As of the 1960s, people started to be interested in reviving old photo processes," said Dusan Stulik, a former senior scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute who has studied cyanotypes for decades. "Cyanotypes handle subtle light well, and they are fairly sturdy."

On a gut level, cyanotypes produce a result that is universal. "The color blue strikes some chord in us that goes beyond words," said the San Francisco photography dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel. "It's that simple."



For the full story, see:

TED LOOS. "Photography's Stepchild Snaps Back." The New York Times (Sat., Feb. 6, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 5, 2016, and has the title "Cyanotype, Photography's Blue Period, Is Making a Comeback.")






March 15, 2016

Global Poor Fell from 29% in 2001 to 15% in 2015




(p. A6) UNITED NATIONS -- Poverty may be down worldwide, yet that does not mean that yesterday's poor are today's middle class. Data analyzed by the Pew Research Center concluded that more than half the world's population remains "low-income," while another 15 percent are still what a report issued by the center on Wednesday called "poor."

The share of the global poor, defined as those who lived on $2 a day or less, fell from 29 percent in 2001. Most of the people in that category, though, took "only a moderate step up the income ladder," the report concluded: 56 percent were "low-income," in 2011, living on $2 to $10 a day.



For the full story, see:

SOMINI SENGUPTAJ. "Study Finds Low Incomes Constrain Half of World." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 9, 2015): A6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 8, 2015.)






March 14, 2016

"Science Is Not a Body of Infallible Work, of Immutable Laws"




(p. 1) . . . , "Failure: Why Science Is So Successful" is a breath of contemplative fresh air. Stuart ­Fire­stein, a professor in the department of biological sciences at Columbia University, is best known for his work on ignorance, including inviting scientists to speak to his students about what they don't know. In a tone reminiscent of Lewis Thomas's "The Lives of a Cell," the book is a collection of loosely interwoven meditations on failure and scientific method.


. . .


If we succeed by failing, then we should be freed from the monolithic road to academic tenure; science should be taught as an adventure in failure. With a delightful combination of feigned naïveté and keen eye for the messy ways that great discoveries occur, he goes so far as to suggest writing a grant proposal in which you promise to fail better. He knows this isn't how the world works, but nevertheless argues that change will take place "when we cease, or at least reduce, our devotion to facts and collections of them, when we decide that science education is not a memorization marathon, when we -- scientists and nonscientists -- recognize that science is not a body of infallible work, of immutable laws of facts. . . . And that most of what there is to know is still unknown."



For the full review, see:

ROBERT A. BURTON. "Error Messages."The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., Jan. 3, 2016): 8.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 29, 2015, and has the title "'Black Box Thinking' and 'Failure: Why Science Is So Successful'.")


The book under review, is:

Firestein, Stuart. Failure: Why Science Is So Successful. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.






March 13, 2016

More Evidence for Stigler's Capture Theory




(p. A15) WASHINGTON -- Marilyn B. Tavenner, the former Obama administration official in charge of the rollout of HealthCare.gov, was chosen on Wednesday to be the top lobbyist for the nation's health insurance industry.

Ms. Tavenner, who stepped down from her federal job in February, will become president and chief executive of America's Health Insurance Plans, the trade group whose members include Aetna, Anthem, Humana, Kaiser Permanente and many Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

As the new voice for insurers, Ms. Tavenner will lead the industry in a time of tumultuous changes and challenges, including delicate negotiations with Congress over the future of the Affordable Care Act.


. . .


The board of America's Health Insurance Plans unanimously elected Ms. Tavenner at a meeting here on Wednesday, according to Mark B. Ganz, the board chairman, who is also the chief executive of Cambia Health Solutions, based in Portland, Ore.


. . .


Mr. Ganz said that Ms. Tavenner had "the trust and respect of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle."

Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, described the selection in more negative terms. "While millions of Americans are still being hurt by Obamacare's soaring costs and fewer choices," he said, "Ms. Tavenner's appointment shows how the law has created a cozy and profitable relationship for some."



For the full story, see:

ROBERT PEAR. "Head of Obama's Health Care Rollout to Lobby for Insurers." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 16, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 15, 2015.)






March 12, 2016

Yamir Jackson-Adens on How You Learn




(p. B4) PHILANTHROPISTS have poured millions of dollars into improving education in the United States -- paying for new buildings, buying new computers and even creating new charter schools.

Susan Crown, a member of the billionaire Crown family of Chicago, is trying something different. Two years ago, she began working with organizations that seek to foster character traits like grit, empathy and perseverance, which studies show can be determinants of future success.

But financing organizations that focus on social and emotional learning programs for disadvantaged children was just part of the effort. Ms. Crown said she also wanted to go deeper into understanding why some organizations succeeded so well.


, , ,


Yamir Jackson-Adens, 18, began going to the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory in eighth grade. Living in a poor section in the northeast part of the city, he said he had been bullied in elementary school, and he was still shy. The boat program intrigued him, even though he knew no one who owned a boat.

"In boat building, you learn stuff," Mr. Jackson-Adens said. "You're free to move. You don't have a whole lot of restrictions. It's more of a trial-and-error kind of thing. You learn from those mistakes. In school, if you fail, you've failed."


. . .


Next fall, Mr. Jackson-Adens will be attending Colorado State University to begin studies that he hopes will lead to becoming a veterinarian.

"Boat got me into thinking outside the box," he said. "It helped me adjust to different situations."

That is a life skill anyone could use.



For the full story, see:

PAUL SULLIVAN. "A Philanthropist Drills Down to Discover Why Programs Work." The New York Times (Sat., Feb. 6, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 5, 2016.)






March 11, 2016

Feds' Dietary Policy Is "an Obstacle to Sensible Change"




(p. A25) BOSTON -- SINCE the publication of the federal government's 1980 Dietary Guidelines, dietary policy has focused on reducing total fat in the American diet -- specifically, to no more than 30 percent of a person's daily calories. This fear of fat has had far-reaching impacts, from consumer preferences to the billions of dollars spent by the military, government-run hospitals and school districts on food. As we argue in a recently published article in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 35 years after that policy shift, it's long past time for us to exonerate dietary fat.


. . .


Recent research has established the futility of focusing on low-fat foods. Confirming many other observations, large randomized trials in 2006 and 2013 showed that a low-fat diet had no significant benefits for heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer risks, while a high-fat, Mediterranean-style diet rich in nuts or extra-virgin olive oil -- exceeding 40 percent of calories in total fat -- significantly reduced cardiovascular disease, diabetes and long-term weight gain. Other studies have shown that high-fat diets are similar to, or better than, low-fat diets for short-term weight loss, and that types of foods, rather than fat content, relate to long-term weight gain.


. . .


The limit on total fat is an outdated concept, an obstacle to sensible change that promotes harmful low-fat foods, undermines efforts to limit refined grains and added sugars, and discourages the food industry from developing products higher in healthy fats.



For the full commentary, see:

DARIUSH MOZAFFARIAN and DAVID S. LUDWIG. "Stop Fearing Fat." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 9, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Why Is the Federal Government Afraid of Fat?")






March 10, 2016

Serendipity May Be Source of 50% of Patents




(p. 1) A surprising number of the conveniences of modern life were invented when someone stumbled upon a discovery or capitalized on an accident: the microwave oven, safety glass, smoke detectors, artificial sweeteners, (p. 4) X-ray imaging. Many blockbuster drugs of the 20th century emerged because a lab worker picked up on the "wrong" information.


. . .


(p. 5) So how many big ideas emerge from spills, crashes, failed experiments and blind stabs? One survey of patent holders (the PatVal study of European inventors, published in 2005) found that an incredible 50 percent of patents resulted from what could be described as a serendipitous process. Thousands of survey respondents reported that their idea evolved when they were working on an unrelated project -- and often when they weren't even trying to invent anything. This is why we need to know far more about the habits that transform a mistake into a breakthrough.


. . .


A number of pioneering scholars have already begun this work, but they seem to be doing so in their own silos and without much cross-talk. In a 2005 paper ("Serendipitous Insights Involving Nonhuman Primates"), two experts from the Washington National Primate Research Center in Seattle cataloged the chance encounters that yielded new insights from creatures like the pigtail macaque. Meanwhile, the authors of a paper titled "On the Exploitation of Serendipity in Drug Discovery" puzzled over the reasons the 1950s and '60s saw a bonanza of breakthroughs in psychiatric medication, and why that run of serendipity ended.



For the full commentary, see:

PAGAN KENNEDY. "How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 3, 2016): 1 & 4-5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 2, 2016, and has the title "Cultivating the Art of Serendipity.")


Pagan's commentary is based on her book:

Kennedy, Pagan. Inventology: How We Dream up Things That Change the World. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2016.






March 9, 2016

The Wealth of Project Entrepreneurs Is Fragile




The stories of Alfred E. Mann (below) as well as that of Malcom McLean, the entrepreneur behind standardized shipping containers, support George Gilder's point that innovative project entrepreneurs have most of their wealth tied up in their projects. Their wealth only stays large as long as the projects continue to go well.



(p. A20) Alfred E. Mann, who started medical device companies that pioneered in the development of pacemakers for erratic hearts, insulin pumps for diabetics, cochlear implants for the deaf and retinal implants for the blind, died on Thursday [February 25, 2016] in Las Vegas. He was 90.


. . .


Mr. Mann, who spent most of his career in the Los Angeles area, became a billionaire from his entrepreneurial activities. His biggest success was MiniMed, which became the leader in insulin pumps, wearable devices that deliver insulin throughout the day, allowing people with diabetes to more precisely control their blood sugar levels.


. . .


In all, Mr. Mann started and largely financed 14 companies, nine of which were acquired for a total of almost $8 billion, according to MannKind.


. . .


In 1979, while running Pacesetter, Mr. Mann was visiting a cardiac ward and was challenged by a doctor there to work on diabetes, which caused many of the heart problems in patients. That led to the creation of MiniMed and later to MannKind, which developed a form of insulin that is inhaled instead of injected.

MannKind, Mr. Mann's last big venture, may also have been his Waterloo, eating up much of his fortune.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer suffered a costly marketing flop with an inhaled form of insulin in 2007. After that, other big insulin manufacturers dropped their own plans for similar products.

But Mr. Mann, who was chief executive of MannKind for many years, would not give up. He insisted MannKind's inhaler was better than Pfizer's and that its insulin had desirable medical characteristics beyond being inhalable. He put about $1 billion of his own money into the company he had named for himself, keeping it afloat through years of setbacks.

"I believe this is one of the most valuable products in history in the drug industry, and I'm willing to back it up with my estate," Mr. Mann told The New York Times in 2007.

The inhaled insulin, called Afrezza, was finally approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014, but sales have been dismal. In January, Sanofi, the big French drug company, pulled out of an agreement to market the product. MannKind is now in danger of going out of business, though it is vowing to survive.

"Our resolve is now stronger than ever to continue Al's legacy of medical innovation, as a tribute to this remarkable man, who did so much to help mankind," Matthew Pfeffer, chief executive of MannKind, said in a statement Friday.

Mr. Mann, who worked seven days a week even when he was in his 80s, was divorced three times.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "Alfred E. Mann, 90, Pioneer in Medical Devices, Is Dead." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 27, 2016): A20.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2016, and has the title "Alfred E. Mann, Pioneer in Medical Devices, Dies at 90.")


Gilder defends entrepreneurial wealth in:

Gilder, George. "The Enigma of Entrepreneurial Wealth." Inc. 14, no. 10 (Oct. 1992): 161-64, 66 & 68.






March 8, 2016

Proletariat Loses Money Investing in Ponzi Scheme Supported by Chinese Communists




(p. B1) HONG KONG -- At every turn in his improbably rapid rise, Ding Ning, 34, went to great efforts to convey the image of strong government backing for his Internet financing business.

There was his company's lavish annual meeting and banquet last year in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, where China's legislature meets and where top government leaders host official functions. Adding a splash of celebrity to the event were Zhou Tao, a nationally famous actress and host on the government's main television broadcaster, and several mid-ranking officials, bureaucrats and lawmakers.

There were the positive profiles in state-controlled media, as well as the company's advertising on official TV. There was the section of his company's website devoted to building Communist Party spirit.

But it all came crashing down in dramatic fashion for Mr. Ding this week, when the police alleged that his financing business, Ezubao, was a $7.6 billion Ponzi scheme and announced 21 arrests, including of Mr. Ding. The company was shut down.


, , ,


(p. B7) In interviews, former staff and investors described the signals of strong state support as one of the keys to Ezubao's rapid rise.

"Many people joined Ezubao because they saw the support from the government and from some government officials," said Feng Zhe, 36, a Beijing resident who worked as a salesman at the company from June of last year until December.

Mr. Feng said a number of his friends and family members invested in Ezubao's products and suffered losses. "Many people bought their products because the government has lent the company credibility," he added.



For the full story, see:

NEIL GOUGH. "Feeling Twice Victimized." The New York Times (Sat., Feb. 6, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 5, 2016, and has the title "Ponzi Scheme in China Gained Credibility From State Media.")






March 7, 2016

"Recyclers Around the Country Face Losses"




(p. B1) . . . recycling is a commodities business. The paper, metal, plastic and glass that recyclers collect, sort and sell competes against so-called virgin materials. And right now, many commodities are cheap.

Abundant oil is the latest headache for recyclers. New plastics are made from the byproducts of oil and gas production. So as plentiful fossil fuels saturate global markets, it has become cheaper for the makers of water bottles, yogurt containers and takeout boxes to simply buy new plastics. This, in turn, is dragging down the price of recycled materials, straining every part of the recycling industry.

In Montgomery, Ala., Infinitus Energy opened a $35 million recycling center in 2014. By last October, it was hemorrhaging (p. B5) money and shut down. Montgomery's recyclables are now going to a landfill, and a once booming local business, United Plastic Recycling, filed for bankruptcy last year.


. . .


. . . as recyclers around the country face losses, they are passing their costs along to cities and counties. Increasingly, local governments are receiving nothing at all for their recyclables, or even having to pay companies to accept them.

Last year, the city government in Washington, D.C., paid Waste Management $1.37 million to accept the recyclables it collected from residents.



For the full story, see:

DAVID GELLES. "Losing a Profit Motive: A Skid in Oil Prices Pulls the Recycling Industry Down With It." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 13, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 12, 2016, and has the title "Skid in Oil Prices Pulls the Recycling Industry Down With It.")






March 6, 2016

In India's Public Education System, Teachers Are Often Truant




Matt Ridley has a chapter in his recent The Evolution of Everything, where he cites evidence the low quality of public education in much of the less-developed world. The quality is so low that many poor parents scrimp to pull together modest funds to send their children to modest private schools where the teachers actually show up.



(p. A1) DEORIA, India -- The young man, having skipped school, was there to plead his case, but Manoj Mishra was having none of it. When the truant offered a letter from a relative of a government minister pleading for leniency, Mr. Mishra grabbed it and, with a frown, tore it in half and dropped it to the floor.

Similar scenes played out repeatedly in Mr. Mishra's fluorescent-lit office recently, as one truant after another appeared before him, trying to explain an absence from school.

But these were not students who had been pulled in for truancy. They were teachers.

Mr. Mishra, a district education officer in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, is fighting one of the biggest obstacles to improving the largest primary school system in the world: absent teachers. His tough punishments and refusal to back down, chronicled in the local newspapers, have turned him into a folk hero. As he walks along the dusty streets of the wheat-farming villages a couple of hours' drive from Nepal, older people touch his feet in a sign of respect. Young women pull out their phones and take selfies by his side.

When Mr. Mishra arrived in Deoria in 2014, 40 percent of the district's teachers were absent on any given day from its 2,700 schools, he said in a recent interview. Nationwide, nearly 24 percent of rural Indian teachers were absent during random visits for a recent study led by Kar-(p. A6)thik Muralidharan at the University of California, San Diego. Teacher absences run as high as 46 percent in some states.


. . .


With the largest population in the world under the age of 35, India is trying to grow by leveraging what is often called the "demographic dividend." To prepare more than 200 million primary school children for jobs in a modern work force, India passed legislation a decade ago that more than doubled education spending, increased teacher salaries and reduced class sizes.

But children's already low performance has fallen. Pratham Education Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts an annual household survey, reported that in 2005 about 60 percent of fifth graders in rural India -- where most people live -- could read at a minimum second-grade level, but that in 2014 less than 50 percent could.

Teacher truancy is among the more prominent causes of that failure, experts say. Teaching jobs pay well and are sometimes obtained through political connections. But those who get them often do not want to travel to the remote areas where many schools are. In areas with weak local governance, not showing up has become the norm, and people feel powerless to complain.



For the full story, see:

GEETA ANAND. "Saturday Profile; Truant India Teachers, Meet Your Nightmare." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 20, 2016): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 19, 2016, and has the title "The Saturday Profile; Fighting Truancy Among India's Teachers, With a Pistol and a Stick.")


The Ridley book mentioned above, is:

Ridley, Matt. The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge. New York: Harper, 2015.






March 5, 2016

New Middle-Skill Jobs Combine Technical and Social Skills




DemingGraphOnMathSocialSkillJobs2015-10-18.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below, based on Deming paper cited further below.




(p. 4) For all the jobs that machines can now do -- whether performing surgery, driving cars or serving food -- they still lack one distinctly human trait. They have no social skills.

Yet skills like cooperation, empathy and flexibility have become increasingly vital in modern-day work. Occupations that require strong social skills have grown much more than others since 1980, according to new research. And the only occupations that have shown consistent wage growth since 2000 require both cognitive and social skills.

The findings help explain a mystery that has been puzzling economists: the slowdown in the growth even of high-skill jobs. The jobs hit hardest seem to be those that don't require social skills, throughout the wage spectrum.

"As I'm speaking with you, I need to think about what's going on in your head -- 'Is she bored? Am I giving her too much information?' -- and I have to adjust my behavior all the time," said David Deming, associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University and author of a new study. "That's a really hard thing to program, so it's growing as a share of jobs."


. . .


"If it's just technical skill, there's a reasonable chance it can be automated, and if it's just being empathetic or flexible, there's an infinite supply of people, so a job won't be well paid," said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It's the interaction of both that is virtuous."

Mr. Deming's conclusions are supported by previous research, including that of Mr. Autor. Mr. Autor has written that traditional middle-skill jobs, like clerical or factory work, have been hollowed out by technology. The new middle-skill jobs combine technical and interpersonal expertise, like physical therapy or general contracting.

James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, did groundbreaking work concluding that noncognitive skills like character, dependability and perseverance are as important as cognitive achievement. They can be taught, he said, yet American schools don't necessarily do so.



For the full commentary, see:

Claire Cain Miller. "The Upshot; The Best Jobs Require Social Skills." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., OCT. 18, 2015): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 16, 2015, and has the title "The Upshot; Why What You Learned in Preschool Is Crucial at Work.")


The Deming paper referred to above, is:

Deming, David J. "The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market." National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., NBER Working Paper # 21473, Aug. 2015.


The Autor paper referred to above, is:

Autor, David. "Polanyi's Paradox and the Shape of Employment Growth." National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., NBER Working Paper # 20485, Sept. 2014.


The Heckman paper referred to above, is:

Heckman, James J., Jora Stixrud, and Sergio Urzua. "The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior." Journal of Labor Economics 24, no. 3 (July 2006): 411-82.






March 4, 2016

Technology Extends Capabilities of Older Japanese




(p. A1) TOKYO--At an office-building construction site in the center of Japan's capital, 67-year-old Kenichi Saito effortlessly stacks 44-pound boards with the ease of a man half his age.

His secret: a bendable exoskeleton hugging his waist and thighs, with sensors attached to his skin. The sensors detect when Mr. Saito's muscles start to move and direct the machine to support his motion, cutting his load's effective weight by 18 pounds.

"I can carry as much as I did 10 years ago," says the hard-hatted Mr. Saito.

Mr. Saito is part of an experiment by Obayashi Corp. , the construction giant handling the building project, to confront one of the biggest problems facing the company and the country: a chronic labor shortage resulting from a rapidly aging population. The exoskeleton has allowed Mr. Saito to extend his working life--and Obayashi to keep building.


. . .


(p. A14) The Fujisawa Aikoen nursing home about an hour outside Tokyo started leasing the "hybrid assistive limb," or HAL, exoskeletons from maker Cyberdyne Inc. in June.

In Hokkaido, 60-year-old potato-pickers use rubber "smart suits" making it easier to bend over. Baggage handlers at Tokyo's Haneda airport employ similar assistance.

In cases where older people simply can't do the job or aren't available, Japanese manufacturers are turning to robots, which help them keep costs down and continue growing.

Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, Japan's largest bank, employs a small robot speaking 19 languages to greet customers, while a Nagasaki hotel staffed mainly by robots opened in July. Komatsu Ltd. is developing self-driving vehicles for construction sites, while industrial robot maker Fanuc Corp. is designing machines that repair each other.

Toyota Motor Corp. is testing in homes its "human support robot," a videophone/remote-controlled android that allows family and friends to perform tasks for distant elderly people as if they were in the same home. In one demonstration, a young man uses a tablet to look around a bed-bound older man's room, then directs the robot to open the curtains and bring the older man a drink.

SoftBank Group Corp. earlier this year drew global attention when it put on sale in Japan an automaton called Pepper, which it called the world's first robot capable of understanding emotions. One of the earliest uses for the 4-foot-tall white humanoid is as a nursing helper.

In a Kanagawa Prefecture test, Pepper entertained a room of 30 80- to 90-year-olds for 40 minutes. He led them in light exercises and tested their ability to recognize colors and letters. Women patted his head like a grandchild.

Showing a video of Pepper with a dementia patient on another occasion, Shunji Iyama, one of the developers, says the robot may sometimes work better than people. "That man keeps repeating himself over and over again," Mr. Iyama said. "If Pepper were human, he'd get fed up, but he just repeats the same reaction and doesn't get tired."



For the full story, see:

Jacob M. Schlesinger and Alexander Martin. "Graying Japan Tries to Embrace the Golden Years." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Nov. 30, 2015): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 29, 2015, and has the title "Graying Japan Tries to Embrace the Golden Years.")






March 3, 2016

To Get the High-Hanging Fruit, Grow Shorter Trees




Dr. Gennaro Fazio, a plant breeder and geneticist with the USDA's Agricultural Resource Service tells us . . . :

"In taller apple trees, the fruit that is high up, exposed to the sun, ripens the fastest. Low-hanging fruit doesn't get much sun, and it's not as ripe -- not so delectable, you could say -- as the higher fruit. You want to pick the low-hanging fruit last, so it has more time to develop."

But according to Fazio none of this ultimately matters: the idiom "low-hanging fruit" has been rendered totally and utterly irrelevant by the changing nature of apple tree genetics.

When "low-hanging fruit" became a metaphor in the late 1960s, the majority of apple trees in the U.S. were 25- to 30-foot tall goliaths--and the only fruits within reach were those that lingered on lower branches. Today, however, the majority of apple trees are what arborists refer to as "dwarfs."


. . .


Once hesitant that the smaller trees wouldn't produce as much fruit, apple growers realized dwarf trees were actually far more profitable. "Farmers get a higher yield per acre," says Heather Faubert, of the Rhode Island Fruit Growers Association. "With the taller trees, you could only plant about 20 trees per acre; now, you can get as many as 2,000 in the same space."

The result of these smaller trees is that the lowest-hanging fruits are actually no longer the easiest to pick. In fact, picking them requires repeatedly bending over to knee-level, a maneuver that can prove incredibly straining on the lower back.

"The ergonomics of picking apples have completely changed," says Fazio. "It really no longer makes sense to go for the low-hanging fruit. The phrase is irrelevant."



For the full story, see:

Priceonomics.com, "Should You Literally Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit?," Feb. 5, 2016, URL: http://priceonomics.com/should-you-literally-pick-the-low-hanging-fruit/.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The web page was excerpted in:

"Notable & Quotable: 'Low-Hanging Fruit'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Feb. 10, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 9, 2016.)






March 2, 2016

George Washington as Entrepreneur




(p. C7) While Washington was only an adequate battlefield general, Edward G. Lengel, who oversees George Washington's papers at the University of Virginia, makes a strong case in "First Entrepreneur" that he was a superb military administrator--skills he learned as a young man serving in the French and Indian War as an aide-de-camp for commanding officers. By carefully monitoring all aspects of the complex business of running a military operation, he held his ragtag army together despite a frequent lack of money, clothing, weapons and food. Without Washington's management, the Continental Army would likely have disintegrated and the Revolution fizzled out. Mr. Lengel brings needed attention to this vital and neglected aspect of Washington's generalship.

Washington was also a superb administrator of his own assets. Born to modest wealth, he married into much more and worked hard and creatively to maximize his return on investment. By the end of his life he was one of the new country's richest men.

Tobacco, the cash crop that had brought prosperity to Virginia, was declining in profitability by the mid-18th century. It exhausted the soil, and prices had been falling on the British market. Washington began to rotate and diversify his crops, import better seed, and exploit Mount Vernon's other assets, such as the springtime fish runs up the Potomac.

By the end of his life, Washington was not only growing new crops but manufacturing as well, turning his wheat production into both whiskey and flour. When the American inventor Oliver Evans developed a new, more productive type of flour mill, Washington quickly installed one. When the king of Spain sent him a donkey, named Royal Gift, Washington put him to work fathering mules, which were more efficient than horses at farm work. As Mr. Lengel makes clear, Washington was always a bottom-line man, a fact that makes this often remote figure more human.



For the full review, see:


JOHN STEELE GORDON. "Washington Discovers America; Washington traveled through all 13 states to promote the newborn federal government." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Feb. 13, 2016): C7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 12, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Lengel, Edward G. First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His--and the Nation's--Prosperity. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2016.






March 1, 2016

Spread of Dynamic Pricing Increases Economic Surplus




The theory of consumer and producer surplus implies that total economic surplus will be greater when pricing changes as supply and demand shift. Dynamic pricing increases the extent to which that is possible, and so should increase the total economic surplus (which is the sum of consumer surplus and producer surplus.) Dynamic pricing should also reduce the time consumers waste waiting for the product or service, when pricing is below the market clearing level (like when there are more people seeking a taxi, than there are taxis at the location).



(p. B1) Adult passes to the Indianapolis Zoo used to cost $16.95. Now they set customers back $8 or $30--or almost anywhere in between.

The zoo prices tickets like airfares, changing prices daily based on advance sales and expected demand. It discounts cold weekdays in February and boosts prices after school groups book dozens of tickets. Since introducing such dynamic pricing last year, the zoo's admission revenue has grown 12%.


. . .


Backed by vast amounts of data and powerful software, more businesses are varying prices by the day, the hour, or even the minute. Online sellers have used such tactics for years, but frequent price (p. B4) changes are increasingly common in the physical world, amplifying the effects of supply and demand on everything from parking spots to golf-course greens fees.


. . .

Previously, a taxi at rush hour went to "the person who happened to be on the right street corner," said Ian McHenry, the president of Beyond Pricing, which helps homeowners price their rented guest rooms like big hotels. Now, rides go to people willing to pay more, and fewer people "hit the jackpot and get that underpriced reservation or baseball ticket or open cab."


. . .


"This is not a passing fad," said Peter Fader, co-director of the University of Pennsylvania's customer-analytics initiative. Amazon is making dynamic pricing the norm, he said, "and then it's going to become imperative for the brick-and-mortar players to figure out how to do this."

The trend is good for business, helping companies charge more for in-demand items and offload surplus goods. Caberfae Peaks ski resort in Cadillac, Mich., said its revenue per customer has surged 17.6% since it began dynamically pricing its advance-sale tickets five years ago.

Variable pricing can also influence behavior. Uber and Lyft raise prices during peak times in part to lure more drivers onto the road.

Highway operators use dynamic pricing to regulate traffic. Over the past two years, Ferrovial SA unit Cintra has opened several toll roads in the Dallas area that can change prices every five minutes to keep speeds above 50 miles an hour. The toll for one 7-mile stretch, for instance, fluctuated between 90 cents and $4.50 in a recent week.

The Indianapolis Zoo said it adopted dynamic pricing in part to limit crowds after opening a new orangutan center last year. The strategy worked: two-thirds of guests visited on weekdays this summer, compared with 57% in 2013.

And Gogo Inc. shifts the price of its in-flight Internet between $8 and $40 based on a flight's route, day and time to limit the number of users and keep speeds high.

Andrew Sullivan, a products manager at a California manufacturer, recently paid $34 for the Wi-Fi. "It's a drag as a consumer," he said. "You're not getting any additional value when you're paying twice as much for the same commodity."

Consumers typically resist dynamic pricing when it is introduced, but then quickly acclimate, Mr. Fader said. Five years ago, Major League Baseball teams caught flak when they began changing ticket prices based on factors such as date, opponent, weather forecasts and seats remaining.

"Now pretty much every one of them is doing it routinely, and doing it with a remarkable lack of backlash," Mr. Fader said. "The first time, it's 'That ain't right.' The second time, it's all right."



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS. "The Price You Pay Depends on Time and Day." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 14, 2015): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Now Prices Can Change From Minute to Minute." The three contiguous paragraphs quoted near the end above (on the orangutan center, on Gogo, and on Wi-Fi) appeared in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)






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