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December 31, 2016

Most Novels Portray Businessmen as Either Foolish or Evil




(p. 8) The last book that made you furious?

Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." It uses all the tricks of a fire-and-brimstone preacher to sell a message of despair and pessimism based on a really shaky, selective and biased understanding of the science of climate change.

Your favorite antihero or villain?

Harry Potter's uncle, Vernon Dursley -- a much misunderstood man who stands for all the businessmen that novelists have denigrated, while living off the wealth they created. I am being a bit facetious, but I did use to enjoy pointing out to my children that businessmen only ever appear in fiction as foolish or evil or both, when clearly they generally do the world enormous good.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

The prime minister? "The Hockey Stick Illusion," by Andrew Montford. It's a great piece of detective work on a key scientific blunder, based around the work of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, and it forensically dismantles the mistakes that led to people believing they had at last found evidence that current climate change is unprecedented in rate or scale in this millennium. It may yet prove to be so in the future, but it is not so yet.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn't?

Easy. The Bible. Not even the fine translations of William Tyndale, largely adopted by King James's committee without sufficient acknowledgment, can conceal the grim tedium of this messy compilation of second-rate tribal legends and outrageous bigotry.



For the full interview, see:

SIMON PARKIN. "By the Book: Matt Ridley." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., OCT. 18, 2015): 8.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date OCT. 15, 2015, and has the title "Matt Ridley: By the Book." The online version has added questions and answers, that were left out of the published version. The passages quoted above, were in both versions, except for those on recommended presidential reading, which only appeared in the online version.)


Ridley has a courageous and illuminating discussion of environmental issues, in:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.






December 30, 2016

Failed "War on Cancer" Gets Repackaged as "Moonshot"




(p. A15) Last Friday [January 8, 2016] a group of 15 cancer researchers cut short a meeting at the Food and Drug Administration. The reason: They had been invited to Vice President Joseph R. Biden's office to discuss his "moonshot" to cure cancer.


. . .


The idea that a concerted government push can lead to a "cure" for cancer is nearly a half century old, stretching back to President Nixon's failed "War on Cancer." The latest, which President Obama formalized in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, has a deeply emotional tinge. Mr. Biden's son Beau died of brain cancer in May, and the vice president's very public mourning and call for a "national commitment to end cancer as we know it" as he announced his decision not to run for president has moved and captivated Washington.


. . .


Unlike in 1971, when President Nixon launched his cancer war, researchers now understand that cancer is not one disease but essentially hundreds. The very notion of a single cure -- or as Mr. Obama put it, making "America the country that cures cancer once and for all" -- is misleading and outdated.

"Cancer is way more complex than anyone had imagined in 1970," said Dr. Jose Baselga, the president of the American Association for Cancer Research and physician in chief and chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.


. . .


Commitments by powerful Washington figures to cure cancer seem to come along about every decade.

Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the director of the National Cancer Institute, announced in 2003 that his organization's goal was to "eliminate suffering and death" caused by cancer by 2015.

During an appropriations hearing, Dr. von Eschenbach got into a public bargaining session with Senator Arlen Specter, then a Republican from Pennsylvania, about how much money Dr. von Eschenbach would need to advance the date of the cure.

"I asked you what it would take to move that date up to 2010," Mr. Specter asked.

"We have proposed a budget that would support those initiatives that would amount to approximately $600 million a year," Dr. von Eschenbach answered.

"Six-hundred million a year?" Mr. Specter asked. "And you can move the date from 2015 to 2010?"

"Yes, sir," Mr. von Eschenbach said.

Mr. Specter died of cancer in 2012.



For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA and GARDINER HARRIS. "'Moonshot' to Cure Cancer, to Be Led by Biden, Relies on Outmoded View of Disease." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 14, 2016): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 13, 2016.)






December 29, 2016

Europeans Regulate, or Not, Based on Which Label They Arbitrarily Apply to Uber




(p. B8) LUXEMBOURG -- Uber asserted on Tuesday [November 28, 2016] that it was helping to bolster Europe's digital economy as part of its defense in a long-awaited hearing to decide how the popular ride-hailing service should be able to operate across the region.


. . .


At the heart of the European court case -- a ruling is not expected until April, at the earliest -- is whether Uber should be considered a transportation service or a digital platform, which acts independently to connect third-party drivers with passengers.

If the company is defined as a transportation service, it must comply with national laws that may restrict how Uber grows in Europe.

Yet if the judges rule the company is just an intermediary that connects drivers with passengers, legal experts say, Uber may gain greater freedom to offer more transportation, food delivery and other services to European consumers.



For the full story, see:

MARK SCOTT. "Is Uber a Car Service or a Digital Platform?" The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 30, 2016): B8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 29, 2016, and has the title "Uber, Seeking to Expand, Defends Itself at Europe's Highest Court.")






December 28, 2016

Middle Class Income Increased 5.2 Percent in 2015




(p. B1) Working families finally got a raise.

Early on Tuesday, the Census Bureau provided some long-awaited good news for the beleaguered working class: The income of the typical American household perched on the middle rung of the income ladder increased a hearty 5.2 percent in 2015, the first real increase since 2007, the year before the economy sank into recession.

Households all the way down the income scale made more money last year. The average incomes of the poorest fifth of the population increased 6.6 percent after three consecutive years of decline. And the official poverty rate declined to 13.5 percent from 14.8 percent in 2014, the sharpest decline since the late 1960s.

The numbers are heartening, confirming that the sluggish yet consistent recovery of the American economy has finally begun to lift all boats.



For the full commentary, see:

Porter, Eduardo. "ECONOMIC SCENE; The Bad News Is the Good News Could Be Better." The New York Times (Mon., SEPT. 14, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 13, 2016, and has the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; America's Inequality Problem: Real Income Gains Are Brief and Hard to Find.")






December 27, 2016

Video Gamers Become "More Optimistic, Creative, Courageous and Determined"




(p. 10) The principles of game design, McGonigal argues, can be used to turn not only leisure into productivity, but also sickness into health. By reframing recuperative tasks such as going for a walk, reconnecting with a friend or writing a short story as gamelike quests, healing can be systematized. Moreover, when you begin to tackle these life quests (McGonigal provides nearly 100 examples) you will, she writes, enter a "gameful" state, becoming more optimistic, creative, courageous and determined. By applying the psychological attributes that games unlock to real-world scenarios, we become like Mario as he guzzles a power-up and transforms into Super Mario.

McGonigal's promises come thick and early, propped up by the results of two clinical studies. The 30-day program contained in the book will, she writes, "significantly" reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and decrease suffering. It will increase optimism, make you "more satisfied" and even lead, incredibly, to a life "free of regret." McGonigal claims that every day for more than five years she has heard from someone telling her that the program changed his or her life.



For the full review, see:

SIMON PARKIN. "Taking Games Seriously." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., OCT. 12, 2015): 10.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 12 [sic], 2015, and has the title "'SuperBetter' and 'The State of Play'.")


The book under review, is:

McGonigal, Jane. Superbetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient--Powered by the Science of Games. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.






December 26, 2016

Vacuum Tubes May Be Revived




(p. B1) PASADENA, Calif. -- The future of computing may be in its past.

The silicon transistor, the tiny switch that is the building block of modern microelectronics, replaced the vacuum tube in many consumer products in the 1970s. Now as shrinking transistors to even more Lilliputian dimensions is becoming vastly more challenging, the vacuum tube may be on the verge of a comeback.


. . .


The Achilles' heel of today's transistors is the smaller they get, the more they leak electrons. In modern computer chips, as much as half of the power consumed is lost to electrons leaking from transistors that are only dozens of atoms wide. Those electrons waste energy and generate heat.

In contrast, Dr. Scherer's miniature vacuum tube switches perform a jujitsu move by using the same mechanism that causes leakage in transistors -- known by physicists as quantum tunneling -- to switch on and off the flow of electrons without leakage. As a result, he believes that modern vacuum tube circuits have the potential to use less power and work faster than today's transistor-based chips.


. . .


Vacuum tubes are one of a range of ideas that engineers are looking at as they work to create chips that can do more while using less power. Other promising approaches include exotic materials such as carbon nanotubes and even microscopic mechanical switches that can be opened and closed just like an electronic gate.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "Grandma's Radio Helps Computer Chips Shrink." The New York Times (Mon., JUNE 6, 2016): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JUNE 5, 2016, and has the title "Smaller Chips May Depend on Vacuum Tube Technology.")






December 25, 2016

Chinese Government Executes Farmer Who Killed Official for Destroying His House




(p. A9) . . . when Mr. Zhou heard last week that the Chinese government had executed the farmer, Jia Jinglong, he was furious. He saw it as a sign that the ruling Communist Party was imposing harsh punishments on the most vulnerable members of society while coddling the well-connected elite.

"The legal system isn't fair," Mr. Zhou, 57, said, adding that local officials had "turned against the common people."

President Xi Jinping has made restoring confidence in Chinese courts a centerpiece of his rule, vowing to promote "social justice and equality" in a legal system long plagued by favoritism and abuse.


. . .


But the furor over the execution of Mr. Jia, who had sought revenge on officials for demolishing his home, has raised doubts about Mr. Xi's efforts, with people across the country publicly assailing inequities in the justice system and asking why high-level officials often escape the death penalty.

"The perception is that the people are powerless and vulnerable against corrupt officials," said Fu Hualing, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. "What is surprising is that Xi Jinping has been in power for four years, and that narrative has not changed."



For the full story, see:

JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ. "Villager's Execution in China Ignites an Uproar Over Inequality of Justice." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 21, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 20, 2016, and has the title "Villager's Execution in China Ignites Uproar Over Inequality of Justice.")






December 24, 2016

Infrastructure Costs Often Exceed Benefits




(p. A13) Most federal infrastructure spending is done by sending funds to state and local governments. For highway programs, the ratio is usually 80% federal, 20% state and local. But that means every local district has an incentive to press the federal authorities to fund projects with poor national returns. We all remember Alaska's infamous "bridge to nowhere."

In other words, if a local government is putting up only 20% of the funds, it needs the benefits to its own citizens to be only 21% of the total national cost. Yet every state and every locality has potential infrastructure needs that it would like the rest of the country to pay for. That leads to the misallocation of federal funds and infrastructure projects that benefit the few at the cost of the many.


. . .


Japan tried infrastructure-heavy serial fiscal stimuli for decades and is trying again under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Yes, Japan now has many new bridges, roads and paved drainage ditches, but the spending has done little to improve Japan's meager growth rate.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL J. BOSKIN. "All Aboard the Infrastructure Boondoggle; Whoever wins on Nov. 8, a flood of public-works money is coming. Cost-benefit tests are crucial." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 1, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 31, 2016.)






December 23, 2016

Blockchain Can Cut Out Financial Middlemen




(p. A9) Blockchains are basically a much better way of managing information. They are distributed ledgers, run on multiple computers all over the world, for recording transactions in a way that is fast, limitless, secure and transparent. There is no central database overseen by a single institution responsible for auditing and recording what goes on. If you and I were to engage in a transaction, it would be executed, settled and recorded on the blockchain and evident for all to see, yet encrypted so as to be villain-proof. "The new platform enables a reconciliation of digital records regarding just about everything in real time," write the Tapscotts. No more waiting for that check to clear. It would all be done and recorded for eternity before you know it.

The digital currency bitcoin is currently the best-known blockchain technology. If I wanted to pay you using bitcoin, I would start with a bitcoin wallet on my computer or phone and buy bitcoins using dollars. I would then send you a message identifying the bitcoin I would like to send you and sign the transaction using a private key. The heavily encrypted reassignment of the bitcoin to your wallet is recorded and verified in the bitcoin ledger for all to see, and they are now yours to spend. The transaction is likely more secure and cheaper than a traditional bank transfer.


. . .


The layman, . . . , might want to wait for a more penetrable explanation of blockchains to come along--as one surely will if the authors' predictions are even one-zillionth right.​



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Bitcoin Is Just The Beginning; Imagine a personal-identity service that gives us control over selling our personal data. Right now, Google and Facebook reap the profit." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 27, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 26, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Tapscott, Don, and Alex Tapscott. Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World. New York: Portfolio, 2016.






December 22, 2016

Tesla Fights Car Dealership Monopoly




(p. B4) Tesla Motors Inc. filed an application for a dealership license in Michigan, setting up a potential legal fight over the state's ban on selling cars directly to consumers.


. . .


About a year ago, Michigan passed a law prohibiting car makers from selling directly to customers in the state without an independent dealer as an intermediary. Tesla has opposed such dealer-franchise laws, calling them anticompetitive. Tesla allows customers to order vehicles directly from the company, something that other manufacturers are prohibited from doing.

A formal denial of its application by Michigan could prompt Tesla to pursue additional legal avenues to fight a law it calls "very harmful."

"Tesla is committed to being able to serve its customers in Michigan, and is working with the legislature to accomplish that. The existing law in Michigan is very harmful to consumers," a Tesla spokeswoman said. "Tesla will take all appropriate steps to fix this broken situation."


. . .


Michigan and Texas are among a small group of states that have a flat prohibition on any direct sales. The laws were created to prevent car makers from building their own stores that would ​then ​compete with independent​dealerships. Michigan Automotive Dealers Association couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Such competition could potentially undercut independent dealerships' prices and undermine investments made in their stores, according to lawyers and economists who have scrutinized dealer-franchise laws.



For the full story, see:

Ramsey, Mike. "Tesla Seeks License to Sell Cars in Michigan." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 2, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 1, 2016, and has the title "Tesla Motors Files for a Dealership License in Michigan." The online version is slightly different from the print version. The passage quoted above is from the online version.)






December 21, 2016

Udacity Entrepreneur Counters Creeping Credentialism




(p. B2) Udacity, an online learning start-up founded by a pioneer of self-driving cars, is finally taking the wraps off a job trial program it has worked on for the last year with 80 small companies.

The program, called Blitz, provides what is essentially a brief contract assignment, much like an internship. Employers tell Udacity the skills they need, and Udacity suggests a single candidate or a few. For the contract assignment, which usually lasts about three months, Udacity takes a fee worth 10 to 20 percent of the worker's salary. If the person is then hired, Udacity does not collect any other fees, such as a finder's fee.

For small start-ups, a hiring decision that goes bad can be a time-consuming, costly distraction. "This lets companies ease their way into hiring without the hurdle of making a commitment upfront," said Sebastian Thrun, co-founder and chairman of Udacity.


. . .


Mr. Thrun, a former Stanford professor and Google engineer who led the company's effort in self-driving cars, said he was also trying to nudge the tech industry's hiring beyond its elite-college bias.

"For every Stanford graduate, there are hundreds of people without that kind of pedigree who can do just as well," he said.



For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR. "Udacity, an Education Start-Up, Offers Tech Job Tryouts." The New York Times (Fri., NOV. 18, 2016): B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 17, 2016, and has the title "Udacity, an Online Learning Start-Up, Offers Tech Job Trials.")






December 20, 2016

Farmer and Mechanic Invented Pivot Irrigation System




(p. D1) LINDSAY, Neb. -- Paul Zimmerer's contribution to agriculture is now forever immortalized.

A recent ceremony in Lindsay dedicated a memorial to the late inventor whose irrigation system dots the landscape throughout the country.

Zimmerer, inventor of the Zimmatic Pivot Irrigation System, died July 31, 2008, at the age of 94.


. . .


Dave Albracht, chairman of the Lindsay Village Board, said Lloyd Castner, a member of the Platte County Historical Society, first approached him about a memorial.

"I'm sure everybody knows that the small towns struggle, and Lindsay wouldn't be where we're at if it wasn't for the Paul Zimmerer family," he said.


. . .


Zimmerer opened a blacksmith shop in 1955 and sold modified car engines to be used on irrigation wells. His idea became the foundation of one of northeast Nebraska's largest companies, Lindsay Corp.

He was a farmer and mechanic and owned Zimmerer Auto Repair and Gas Station in Lindsay before founding Lindsay Manufacturing Co., which is now Lindsay Corp."



For the full story, see:

Patrick Murphy. "Memorial dedicated to Zimmatic Pivot inventor." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., Nov. 25, 2016): 4D.

(Note: ellipses added.)






December 19, 2016

Dignity and Equality Before the Law Unleashes Creativity in the Poor




(p. A23) We can improve the conditions of the working class. Raising low productivity by enabling human creativity is what has mainly worked. By contrast, taking from the rich and giving to the poor helps only a little -- and anyway expropriation is a one-time trick.


. . .


Look at the astonishing improvements in China since 1978 and in India since 1991. Between them, the countries are home to about four out of every 10 humans. Even in the United States, real wages have continued to grow -- if slowly -- in recent decades, contrary to what you might have heard. Donald Boudreaux, an economist at George Mason University, and others who have looked beyond the superficial have shown that real wages are continuing to rise, thanks largely to major improvements in the quality of goods and services, and to nonwage benefits. Real purchasing power is double what it was in the fondly remembered 1950s -- when many American children went to bed hungry.

What, then, caused this Great Enrichment?

Not exploitation of the poor, not investment, not existing institutions, but a mere idea, which the philosopher and economist Adam Smith called "the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice." In a word, it was liberalism, in the free-market European sense. Give masses of ordinary people equality before the law and equality of social dignity, and leave them alone, and it turns out that they become extraordinarily creative and energetic.



For the full commentary, see:

DEIRDRE N. McCLOSKEY. "Economic View; Equality, Liberty, Justice and Wealth." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., SEPT. 4, 2016): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 2, 2016, and has the title "Economic View; The Formula for a Richer World? Equality, Liberty, Justice.")


McCloskey's commentary, quoted above, is related to her book:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.






December 18, 2016

Wind Turbines Kill Bats




(p. D2) Wind power can help the world fight climate change, but it's not so great for bats.

A new study of wind turbines in Britain found that each turbine killed one to two bats each month on average, with some killing more than 60. The researchers said that the efforts that are required in many countries to assess the environmental effect of planned wind farms have proved faulty and inadequate in measuring the risk to bats.



For the full story, see:


JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Kind to the Planet, Not to Bats." The New York Times (Tues., Nov. 15, 2016): D2.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date NOV. 7 [sic], 2016, and has the title "When Bats Look for Meals Near Wind Power, Bats Die." The online version is much longer than the print version, and differs somewhat, even where they overlap. The passage quoted above is from the online version.)


The "study" summarized in the passage above, is:

Lintott, Paul R., Suzanne M. Richardson, David J. Hosken, Sophie A. Fensome, and Fiona Mathews. "Ecological Impact Assessments Fail to Reduce Risk of Bat Casualties at Wind Farms." Current Biology 26, no. 21 (Nov., 7, 2016): R1135-R1136.






December 17, 2016

Federal Regulations Suppress Organic Innovation In Order to Protect Incumbents




(p. A1) If a fruit or vegetable isn't grown in dirt, can it be organic?

That is the question roiling the world of organic farming, and the answer could redefine what it means to farm organically.

At issue is whether produce that relies solely on irrigation to deliver nutrients to plants -- through what is known as hydroponic and aquaponic systems -- can be certified organic. And the National Organic Standards Board, an advisory group that makes recommendations to the federal secretary of agriculture, will get an earful on the topic at its meeting in St. Louis this week.

On one side are the growing number of big and small growers raising fruits and vegetables in these soil-free systems. They say their production methods are no different from those of farmers who grow plants in dirt -- and, they add, they make organic farming more sustainable by, for instance, reducing water use.

"Soil to me as a farmer means a nutrient-rich medium that contains biological processes, and that doesn't have to be dirt," said Marianne Cufone, an aquaponic farmer and the executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, which lobbies for aquaculture.


. . .


(p. B2 [sic]) The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 states: "An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation and manuring."

"To me, it seems simple and always has been," said Sam Welsch, chief executive of OneCert, an organic certification business in Nebraska that has refused to certify hydroponic produce. "There are things the law and regulations require you to do to the soil that you cannot do in a hydroponic system."


. . .


Colin Archipley's farm, Archi's Acres, grows kale, herbs and other produce hydroponically in greenhouses in San Diego. He is frustrated that there is even a debate over whether his produce is organic.

"The reason this has become such a big deal is that systems like ours are becoming more popular because they're more efficient, which means farmers are more sustainable and profitable," he said. "That's put competition on farmers, specifically in Vermont, and so what this really is about is market protection."



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "Is It Organic? Ground Rules May Be Changing." The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 16, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 15, 2016, and has the title "What's Organic? A Debate Over Dirt May Boil Down to Turf.")






December 16, 2016

Space Trash Start-Up Aims to Be Quicker than Government




(p. D1) Mr. Okada is an entrepreneur with a vision of creating the first trash collection company dedicated to cleaning up some of humanity's hardest-to-reach rubbish: the spent rocket stages, inert satellites and other debris that have been collecting above Earth since Sputnik ushered in the space age. He launched Astroscale three years ago in the belief that national space agencies were dragging their feet in facing the problem, which could be tackled more quickly by a small private company motivated by profit.

"Let's face it, waste management isn't sexy enough for a space agency to convince taxpayers to allocate money," said Mr. Okada, 43, who put Astroscale's headquarters in start-up-friendly Singapore but is building its spacecraft in his native Japan, where he found more engineers. "My breakthrough is figuring out how to make this into a business."


. . .


(p. D3) "The projects all smelled like government, not crisp or quick," he said of conferences he attended to learn about other efforts. "I came from the start-up world where we think in days or weeks, not years."


. . .


He also said that Astroscale would start by contracting with companies that will operate big satellite networks to remove their own malfunctioning satellites. He said that if a company has a thousand satellites, several are bound to fail. Astroscale will remove these, allowing the company to fill the gap in its network by replacing the failed unit with a functioning satellite.

"Our first targets won't be random debris, but our clients' own satellites," he said. "We can build up to removing debris as we perfect our technology."



For the full story, see:


MARTIN FACKLER. "Building a Garbage Truck for Space." The New York Times (Tues., Nov. 29, 2016): D1 & D3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 28, 2016, and has the title "Space's Trash Collector? A Japanese Entrepreneur Wants the Job.")






December 15, 2016

Intellectuals Embrace Despair




(p. A23) Public conversation is dominated by people's ahistorical insistence that this country is sliding toward decline. As Arthur Herman writes in his book "The Idea of Decline in Western History," "The sowing of despair and self-doubt has become so pervasive that we accept it as a normal intellectual stance -- even when it is directly contradicted by our own reality."


For the full commentary, see:

Brooks, David. "The Age of Reaction." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 27, 2016): A23.


The book quoted in the above passage from the Brooks commentary, is:

Herman, Arthur. The Idea of Decline in Western History. New York: Free Press, 1997.






December 14, 2016

Uber Reduces Need for City Parking Spaces




(p. B8) Landlords battling high land costs are turning to a new partner: ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc.

As urban real estate becomes ever-more expensive, some property developers are shrinking or killing their parking spaces and offering Uber subsidies and other incentives instead.

Developers of shopping malls, stadiums and theme parks, meanwhile, are reimagining their exterior footprints to account for more Uber traffic, playing with new ideas such as widening curbside drop-off areas resembling those found at airports--some with concierges offering beverages--and shrinking parking lot space.

The moves show how ride-sharing is starting to change the way cities and urban landlords think about real estate.



For the full story, see:

ESTHER FUNG. "Dear Tenant: Your Uber Car Is Here." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Nov. 23, 2016): B8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 22, 2016, and has the title "Dear Tenant: Your Uber Is Here.")






December 13, 2016

Gates Foundation Funding "Second Green Revolution"




(p. A12) URBANA, Ill. -- A decade ago, agricultural scientists at the University of Illinois suggested a bold approach to improve the food supply: tinker with photosynthesis, the chemical reaction powering nearly all life on Earth.

The idea was greeted skeptically in scientific circles and ignored by funding agencies. But one outfit with deep pockets, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, eventually paid attention, hoping the research might help alleviate global poverty.

Now, after several years of work funded by the foundation, the scientists are reporting a remarkable result.

Using genetic engineering techniques to alter photosynthesis, they increased the productivity of a test plant -- tobacco -- by as much as 20 percent, they said Thursday[November 17, 2016] in a study published by the journal Science. That is a huge number, given that plant breeders struggle to eke out gains of 1 or 2 percent with more conventional approaches.

The scientists have no interest in increasing the production of tobacco; their plan is to try the same alterations in food crops, and one of the leaders of the work believes production gains of 50 percent or more may ultimately be achievable. If that prediction is borne out in further research -- it could take a decade, if not longer, to know for sure -- the result might be nothing less than a transformation of global agriculture.


. . .


"We're here because we want to alleviate poverty," said Katherine Kahn, the officer at the Gates Foundation overseeing the grant for the Illinois research. "What is it (p. A24) the farmers need, and how can we help them get there?"

One of the leaders of the research, Stephen P. Long, a crop scientist who holds appointments at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and at Lancaster University in England, emphasized in an interview that a long road lay ahead before any results from the work might reach farmers' fields.

But Dr. Long is also convinced that genetic engineering could ultimately lead to what he called a "second Green Revolution" that would produce huge gains in food production, like the original Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, which transferred advanced agricultural techniques to some developing countries and led to reductions in world hunger.


. . .


The work is, in part, an effort to secure the food supply against the possible effects of future climate change. If rising global temperatures cut the production of food, human society could be destabilized, but more efficient crop plants could potentially make the food system more resilient, Dr. Long said.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "Taking Aim at Hunger, By Altering Plant Genes." The New York Times (Fri., NOV. 18, 2016): A12 & A24.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 17, 2016, and has the title "With an Eye on Hunger, Scientists See Promise in Genetic Tinkering of Plants.")


The Science article co-authored by Long, that is mentioned above, is:

Kromdijk, Johannes, Katarzyna Głowacka, Lauriebeth Leonelli, Stéphane T. Gabilly, Masakazu Iwai, Krishna K. Niyogi, and Stephen P. Long. "Improving Photosynthesis and Crop Productivity by Accelerating Recovery from Photoprotection." Science 354, no. 6314 (Nov. 18, 2016): 857-61.







December 12, 2016

Prehistoric Hunter Suffered from Ulcer-Causing Microbe




(p. A7) Microbes that once troubled the stomach of a prehistoric hunter known as "Otzi the Iceman," who died on an Alpine glacier 5,300 years ago, are offering researchers a rare insight into the early settlement of Europe.

In findings reported Thursday [January 7, 2016] in Science, an international research group analyzed remnants of ulcer-causing microbes called Helicobacter pylori exhumed from the well-preserved mummy of the Neolithic nomad. With modern DNA sequencing technology, they reconstructed the genetic structure of this ancient microbe--the oldest known pathogen sequenced so far.


. . .


"We know he had a rough lifestyle," said Frank Maixner at the European Academy Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, who led the team of 23 scientists. "We found a lot of pathological conditions."


. . .


The researchers also determined that the bacteria had inflamed his stomach lining, indicating that the prehistoric hunter, fleeing into the icy highlands where he was shot in the back with an arrow and beaten, may have been feeling ill on the day he was murdered.



For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Iceman's Gut Sheds Light on Human Migration." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 8, 2016): A7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 7, 2016, and has the title "Otzi the Iceman's Stomach Sheds Light on Copper-Age Migration to Europe.")


The research summarized in the passages quoted above, was more fully reported in:

Maixner, Frank, Ben Krause-Kyora, Dmitrij Turaev, Alexander Herbig, Michael R. Hoopmann, Janice L. Hallows, Ulrike Kusebauch, Eduard Egarter Vigl, Peter Malfertheiner, Francis Megraud, Niall O'Sullivan, Giovanna Cipollini, Valentina Coia, Marco Samadelli, Lars Engstrand, Bodo Linz, Robert L. Moritz, Rudolf Grimm, Johannes Krause, Almut Nebel, Yoshan Moodley, Thomas Rattei, and Albert Zink. "The 5300-Year-Old Helicobacter pylori Genome of the Iceman." Science 351, no. 6269 (Jan. 8, 2016): 162-65.







December 11, 2016

Do Manic Spells Help or Hurt Entrepreneurial Boldness?




(p. C1) In an author's note, Mr. Kidder explains that "A Truck Full of Money" is a kind of sequel to "The Soul of a New Machine" (1981), his Pulitzer Prize-winner about the race to build a next-generation minicomputer. Fair enough: The writer is returning to his roots.

But a book about a software guy and software culture in 2016 isn't nearly as novel as a book about hardware guys and hardware culture in 1981, and Mr. Kidder is not in the same command of his material.


. . .


(p. C4) There is, however, an element of Mr. English's story that's quite striking, one that makes "A Truck Full of Money" feel very much like a Tracy Kidder book.

In his 20s, Mr. English was told he had bipolar disorder. For a long time, he kept his diagnosis a secret. But today, he is wonderfully open and courageous about it.

Many of Mr. Kidder's subjects are coiled with enough energy to launch a missile, of course, but Mr. English has a psychiatric diagnosis to go with it. The questions Mr. Kidder raises -- Are Mr. English's manic spells responsible for his entrepreneurial boldness? Or does he succeed in spite of them? -- are well worth probing, and Mr. Kidder's portrayal of living with manic depression is as nuanced and intimate as a reader might ever expect to get. On a good day, Mr. English's mind is gaily swarming with bumblebees. On a bad one, though, he's "Gulliver imprisoned by the tiny Lilliputians, laid out on his back, tied to the ground with a web of tiny ropes."

Many of the features of Mr. English's biography fit a familiar pattern. He was a low-achieving student with a high-watt intelligence. He discovered computer programming in middle school and was instantly smitten; today, he thinks fluently in layers of code -- "each hanging from the one above, like a Calder mobile" -- and his brain is a regular popcorn maker of ideas.


. . .


When he's "on fire" (his term), he grows irritable with the slow dial-up connection of other people's brains. He exaggerates. He slurs his words. His ideas range from extremely creative to flat-out wackadoo.


. . .


Over the years, Mr. English has tried a Lazy Susan of medications to subdue his highs and avert his lows. Many left him feeling listless and without affect. Being bipolar meant constantly weighing the merits of instability versus a denatured, drained sense of self.



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "Books of The Times; The Road from Mania to Wealth and Altruism." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 13, 2016): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 12, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'A Truck Full of Money' and a Thirst to Put It to Good Use.")


The book under review, is:

Kidder, Tracy. A Truck Full of Money: One Man's Quest to Recover from Great Success. New York: Random House, 2016.


Kidder's wonderful early book, is:

Kidder, Tracy. The Soul of a New Machine. 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1981.







December 10, 2016

U.S. Start-Up Helps Foreign Start-Ups Navigate U.S. Bureaucracy




(p. B7) Stripe, the San Francisco-based e-commerce start-up, thrives when other businesses do well. So the company wants to help many more businesses get off the ground.

That is the reason behind Stripe Atlas, a new product the company unveiled this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. It aims to make it easier for entrepreneurs to set up small businesses in the United States. If all goes according to Stripe's plan, Atlas could let start-up founders sidestep some of the bureaucratic hurdles that often hamper building a new business.

Determining eligibility requires little more than filling out a form. After that, Stripe will incorporate an entrepreneur's company as a business entity in Delaware, and provide the entrepreneur with a United States bank account and Stripe merchant account to accept payments globally.



For the full story, see:

MIKE ISAAC. "A U.S. Start-Up Offers to Lend a Hand to Foreign Entrepreneurs." The New York Times (Thurs., FEB. 25, 2016): B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 24, 2016, and has the title "Stripe Atlas Aims to Ease the Way for Foreign Entrepreneurs.")






December 9, 2016

Under Communism, Guests Accepted "Terrible" Service "Because the State Was Paying"




(p. A4) The service, even the management admits, is terrible. "We would not even qualify for two stars," said Yuri Kurtaba, the sanitarium's director of maintenance. There is no room service and no Wi-Fi outside a tiny area near the lobby, and the swimming pool has been empty since the war.


. . .


(p. A10) Ms. Gaivoronskaya 's sanitarium is no longer closed to the public, as it was in the old days, but otherwise everything is left pretty much as it was. It offers a pebbly beach on the Black Sea, a statue of Lenin in the lobby, high-ceilinged rooms with chandeliers, bad plumbing and rotary telephones, as well as glorious sunshine well into late fall.


. . .


Sergey Rogulov, a 39-year-old driver from St. Petersburg, said he liked the shabby Stalin-era interiors -- "it is like time travel back to the U.S.S.R." -- . . .


. . .


Ms. Gaivoronskaya , the veteran sanitarium worker, said she missed the old days, when guests tended not to complain much because the state was paying.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW HIGGINS. "GAGRA JOURNAL: Bad Pipes, Stunning Views and a Tourism Renaissance." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 13, 2016): A4 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 12, 2016, and has the title "Bad Pipes, Worse Service: A Soviet Riviera Jewel Is Reborn and Booking Up.")






December 8, 2016

Authentic Entrepreneurs See a Problem They Want to Solve




(p. 2) It seems like so many people want to be entrepreneurs these days.

Authentic entrepreneurs are often what I call accidental entrepreneurs. It's not their aspiration to be on the cover of a magazine. They see a problem in the world and they want to solve it, and entrepreneurship is just a way to get there.

The ones who show up and say, "I want to be an entrepreneur. What do I do first? Give me the to-do list," that's not authentic entrepreneurship.

I do think entrepreneurship can be taught, but there is no playbook. The people who are doing it to get rich and be famous are there for the wrong reasons. There's no harder way to get rich than to be an entrepreneur.



For the full interview, see:

ADAM BRYANT, interviewer. "Corner Office; Humility Is the Mother of Invention." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., NOV. 20, 2016): 2.

(Note: bold in original. The bold is interviewer Adam Bryant. The non-bold is interviewee Jodi Goldstein, the Managing Director of Harvard Innovation Labs.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date NOV. 18, 2016, and has the title "Corner Office; Jodi Goldstein of Harvard Innovation Labs: Humility Is the Mother of Invention.")






December 7, 2016

"The Stone Age Did Not Come to an End Because We Ran Out of Stone"




(p. A11) Far from recovering a sense of hopefulness during the relative peace of the 21st century, gloominess has become the default position of the intellectual classes in the Western world.


. . .


Ronald Bailey begs to differ. As his book demonstrates, a careful examination of the evidence shows that, at least in material terms (which is not unimportant, particularly for the world's poor), life is getting better. The overriding reason for this, according to Mr. Bailey, is continuing technological progress, facilitated--and this is crucial--by the global triumph of market capitalism.

Among the scares examined by Mr. Bailey in "The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century" are overpopulation, the exhaustion of natural resources (particularly oil), the perils of biotechnology and genetic modification, and global warming.


. . .


No doubt the age of oil will one day come to an end. But as my old friend Saudi Arabia's Sheikh Yamani used to point out, the Stone Age did not come to an end because we ran out of stone.


. . .


"The End of Doom" is not quite in the same class as Matt Ridley's classic, "The Rational Optimist," but it is a good book and deserves to be widely read.



For the full review, see:

NIGEL LAWSON. "BOOKSHELF; Apocalypse Later; Despite an explosion in population greater than Malthus could have ever imagined, global living standards are higher than ever." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 27, 2015): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 27, 2015.)

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review, is:

Bailey, Ronald. The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2015.






December 6, 2016

Rat Ticklers Find Ticklishness Has Deep Evolutionary Roots




(p. A12) As Michael Brecht and Shimpei Ishiyama of the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin point out in their report, tickling raises many questions. We don't know why it evolved, what purpose it might serve and why only certain body parts are ticklish. And what about that disappointing and confounding truth that all children and scientists must grapple with: You can't tickle yourself.

The researchers were also inspired by earlier studies. " 'Laughing' Rats and the Evolutionary Antecedents of Human Joy?" published in 2003 in Physiology & Behavior, reported that rats would emit ultrasonic calls when tickled. Ultrasound is too high for humans to pick up.


. . .


The scientists found that tickling and play, which involved chasing a researcher's hand, both caused the same ultrasonic calls and the same brain cells to be active. The scientists also stimulated those cells electrically, without any tickling or play, and got the same calls.

And they found that you can't tickle rats when they are not in a good mood, something that is also true of people.


. . .


And the similarity of tickling in rats and humans is, Dr. Brecht said, "amazing." They even have similar areas that are susceptible for unknown reasons, including the soles of their hind feet, but not of their forepaws.

That similarity suggests that tickling is evolutionarily very ancient, going back to the roots of touch as a way to form social bonds in the ancestors of rats and humans.

"Maybe," Dr. Brecht speculated, "ticklishness is a trick of the brain to make animals or humans play or interact in a fun way."



For the full story, see:


JAMES GORMAN. "When Tickled, Rats Giggle and Leap, Researchers Find." The New York Times (Fri., NOV. 11, 2016): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 10, 2016, and has the title "Oh, for the Joy of a Tickled Rat.")


Ishiyama and Becht's recent report, discussed above, is:

Ishiyama, S., and M. Brecht. "Neural Correlates of Ticklishness in the Rat Somatosensory Cortex." Science 354, no. 6313 (Nov. 11, 2016): 757-60.


The earlier paper mentioned above, is:

Panksepp, Jaak, and Jeff Burgdorf. ""Laughing" Rats and the Evolutionary Antecedents of Human Joy?" Physiology & Behavior 79, no. 3 (Aug. 2003): 533-47.


Another paper in this line of research, is:

Rygula, Rafal, Helena Pluta, and Piotr Popik. "Laughing Rats Are Optimistic." PLoS ONE 7, no. 12 (Dec. 2012): 1-6.







December 5, 2016

Serendipitous Discoveries "Happen in Medicine All the Time"




(p. 18) In the late 1950s, Dr. Jude was a resident at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, experimenting with induced hypothermia as a way to stop blood flow to the heart by cooling it down and allowing surgical procedures to be performed without fatal loss of blood.

In experiments with rats, he found that hypothermia often caused cardiac arrest, a problem that two electrical engineers down the hall were addressing in experimental work on dogs, using a defibrillator to send electrical shocks to the heart. William Kouwenhoven, the inventor of a portable defibrillator, and G. Guy Knickerbocker, a doctoral student, had seen that the mere weight of the defibrillator paddles stimulated cardiac activity when pressed against a dog's chest.

Dr. Jude immediately saw the potential for human medicine and began working with the two men.

In July 1959, when a 35-year-old woman being anesthetized for a gall bladder operation went into cardiac arrest, Dr. Jude, instead of using the standard technique of opening the chest and massaging the heart directly, applied rhythmic, manual pressure.

"Her blood pressure came back at once," he recalled. "We didn't have to open up her chest. They went ahead and did the operation on her, and she recovered completely."


. . .


Dr. Jude played down his importance in developing CPR, a breakthrough that The Journal of the American Medical Association had recently compared to the discovery of penicillin.

"It was just serendipity -- being in the right place at the right time and working on something for which there was an obvious need," he told the alumni newsletter of the University of St. Thomas in 1984. "Things like that happen in medicine all the time."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Dr. James Jude Dies at 87; Helped Develop Use of CPR." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., AUG. 2, 2015): 18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date AUG. 1, 2015, and has the title "Dr. James Jude, Who Helped Develop Use of CPR, Dies at 87.")






December 4, 2016

Never Say Die




(p. A7) LONDON -- During the last months of her life, a terminally ill 14-year-old British girl made a final wish. Instead of being buried, she asked to be frozen so that she could be "woken up" in the future when a cure was found -- even if that was hundreds of years later.

"I want to have this chance," the teenager wrote in a letter to a judge asking that she be cryogenically preserved. She died on Oct. 17 from a rare form of cancer. "I don't want to be buried underground," she wrote.

The girl's parents, who are divorced, disagreed about the procedure. The teenager had asked the court to designate that her mother, who supported her daughter's wishes, should decide how to handle her remains.

The judge, Peter Jackson, ruled in her favor. Local news reports said he was impressed by the "valiant way in which she was facing her predicament." He said she had chosen the most basic preservation option, which costs about £37,000, or nearly $46,000, an amount reportedly raised by her grandparents.

"I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they might find a cure for my cancer and wake me up," the teenager wrote in her letter to the judge. Local reports said she had told a relative: "I'm dying, but I'm going to come back again in 200 years."


. . .


"The scientific theory underlying cryonics is speculative and controversial, and there is considerable debate about its ethical implications," the judge said in a statement.

"On the other hand, cryopreservation, the preservation of cells and tissues by freezing, is now a well-known process in certain branches of medicine, for example the preservation of sperm and embryos as part of fertility treatment," the statement said. "Cryonics is cryopreservation taken to its extreme."

Zoe Fleetwood, the girl's lawyer, said her client had called Judge Jackson a "hero" after being told of the court's decision shortly before her death. "By Oct. 6, the girl knew that her wishes were going to be followed," Ms. Fleetwood told BBC Radio 4. "That gave her great comfort."



For the full story, see:

KIMIKO DE FREYTAS-TAMURA. "Wish of Girl, 14, to Be Frozen, Is Granted by British Judge." The New York Times (Sat., NOV. 19, 2016): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2016, and has the title "Last Wish of Dying Girl, 14, to Be Frozen, Is Granted by Judge.")






December 3, 2016

Is Asperger's a Disease to Be Cured or "a Way of Being" to Be Celebrated?




(p. C1) . . . until eight years ago, Mr. Robison, who wrote the 2007 memoir "Look Me in the Eye," a touchstone in the literature of Asperger's syndrome, had never experienced the most obvious aspect of music that neurotypical people do: its simple emotional power.

That all changed, Mr. Robison explains in "Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening," when he participated in a pioneering Asperger's study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston in 2008. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, doctors hoped to activate neurological pathways in his brain that would deepen his emotional intelligence.

Driving home after his first session, Mr. Robison cranked up a song he'd heard countless times before. Before he knew it, tears were streaming down his face.


. . .


(p. C6) "Switched On" is subversive in more ways than one. In this age of heightened sensitivity to neurodiversity, one of the most uncomfortable notions you can raise about Asperger's is that it can cruelly obscure the most basic elements of personality. The very idea is offensive and wounding to many people, because it frames a difference as a deficit; to wistfully suggest that a person with Asperger's might be someone else without Asperger's is to denature them completely, to wish their core identities into oblivion.

"Asperger's is not a disease," Mr. Robison wrote in "Look Me in the Eye." "It's a way of being. There is no cure, nor is there a need for one."

In "Switched On," Mr. Robison, 58, retains his Asperger's pride. Part of him even fears he'll lose his special gifts, on the (beguiling, I thought) theory that "perhaps the area that recognizes emotions in people was recognizing traits of machinery for me."

But he is also torn. He did not come of age when "neurodiversity" was part of our vocabulary of difference. He did not come of age when "Asperger's" was part of our vocabulary at all. He received his autism diagnosis at 40, and he has many memories of being bullied, losing jobs and mishandling social situations because of his inability to read others.


. . .


Mr. Robison still believes autism is not a disease. "But I also believed in being the best I could be," he writes, "particularly by addressing the social blindness that had caused me the most pain throughout my life."

But if the effects of Asperger's can be mitigated, what consequences will that have? And what does it mean for the future of the neurodiversity movement?



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "Books of The Times; Tradeoffs to Easing Asperger's Strong Grip." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 21, 2016): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 20, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'Switched On,' John Elder Robison's Asperger's Brain Is Changed.")


The book under review, is:

Robison, John Elder. Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016.






December 2, 2016

Poor Are Exiting High-Housing-Cost Cities




GroupsExitingHighHousingCostCitiesGraph2106-11-18.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A3) Americans are leaving the costliest metro areas for more affordable parts of the country at a faster rate than they are being replaced, according to an analysis of census data, reflecting the impact of housing costs on domestic migration patterns.

Those mostly likely to move from expensive to inexpensive metro areas were at the lower end of the income scale, under the age of 40 and without a bachelor's degree, the analysis by home-tracker Trulia found.


. . .


Another study this year from California policy group Next 10 and Beacon Economics found that New York state and California had the largest net losses of domestic migrants between 2007 and 2014, and that lower- and middle-income people were more likely to leave.



For the full story, see:

CHRIS KIRKHAM. "Costly Cities See Exodus." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Nov. 3, 2016): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 1, 2016, and has the title "More Americans Leave Expensive Metro Areas for Affordable Ones.")






December 1, 2016

Uncredentialed Loner Saved Lives with Respirator Invention




(p. B9) When the fraternity of inventors celebrate the geniuses who came up with super glue, kitty litter and the cellphone, they sometimes talk about Dr. Bird, an American original who began tinkering with gizmos concocted out of strawberry-shortcake tins and doorknobs and eventually developed four generations of cardiopulmonary devices that came to be widely used in homes and hospitals.


. . .


Dr. Bird was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995 for developing the first low-cost, mass-produced pediatric respirator, known as the Baby Bird, which has been credited by medical experts with significantly reducing the mortality rates of infants with respiratory problems.

The device, he said, saved two Idaho neighbor boys born with breathing distress. Among those aided by his inventions was his first wife, Mary, who learned she had pulmonary emphysema in 1964; his respirators, including one that used percussion to loosen secretions in her lungs, helped prolong her life until 1986.

Dr. Bird, who received the Presidential Citizens Medal from George W. Bush in 2008 and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama in 2009, lived a self-contained but busy life on a remote, 300-acre compound on Lake Pend Oreille, surrounded by majestic mountains and forests 50 miles from the Canadian border.

On the estate was his home; the headquarters of his Percussionaire Corporation, with dozens of employees who develop and market his inventions; a working farm that sustained all the residents; an airfield and hangars for his scores of restored vintage airplanes, seaplanes, helicopters, cars and motorcycles; and the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center, which he opened in 2007.


. . .


His first prototype, cobbled together from shortcake tins and a doorknob in 1953, was revised often and tested on volunteer patients with limited success. But in 1958, he introduced the Bird Universal Medical Respirator, a green box that reliably assisted breathing and sold widely to patients and hospitals. He later developed improved versions, as well as his Baby Bird ventilator.

Much of Dr. Bird's formal higher education came after his successful inventions. His curriculum vitae includes a doctorate in aeronautics in 1977 from Northrop University in Inglewood, and a medical degree in 1979 from the Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas in Brazil.



For the full obituary, see:

ROBERT D. McFADDEN. "Forrest M. Bird, Inventor of Respirators, Dies at 94." The New York Times (Tues., AUG. 4, 2015): B9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date AUG. 3, 2015, and has the title "Dr. Forrest Bird, Inventor of Medical Respirators and Ventilators, Dies at 94.")






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