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May 31, 2017

Government Ignored Ebeling's Warning on Challenger O-Rings




(p. 21) Thirty years ago, Bob Ebeling drove to the headquarters of the aerospace contractor Morton Thiokol in Brigham City, Utah, to watch the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. On the way, he leaned over to his daughter Leslie and said: "The Challenger is going to blow up. Everyone's going to die."

Mr. Ebeling (pronounced EBB-ling), an engineer at Thiokol, knew what the rest of the world did not: that the rubber O-rings designed to seal the joints between the booster rocket's segments performed poorly in cold weather. A severe cold snap in Florida was about to subject the O-rings to temperatures more than 30 degrees lower than at any previous launch.

During the afternoon and evening before the launch, Thiokol engineers, relying on data provided by Mr. Ebeling and his colleagues, argued passionately for a postponement of the launch in conference calls with NASA managers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. They were overruled not only by NASA, but also by their own managers.

On the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, sitting in a conference room with his daughter and Roger Boisjoly, Thiokol's chief seal expert, Mr. Ebeling watched on a large projection screen as the Challenger cleared the launching pad. "I turned to Bob and said, 'We've just dodged a bullet,'" Mr. Boisjoly told The Guardian in 2001.

A minute later, the O-rings failed and the Challenger exploded in a ball of fire, killing all seven crew members aboard. Among them was Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher from New Hampshire who had been chosen to be the first citizen passenger in space.

Mr. Ebeling never recovered from the disaster. "I've been under terrible stress since the accident," he told The Houston Chronicle in 1987. "I have headaches. I cry. I have bad dreams. I go into a hypnotic trance almost daily."

He soon left Thiokol and the engineering profession. For the rest of his life he faulted himself for not doing enough to prevent the launch.



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Bob Ebeling Dies at 89; Warned of Challenger Disaster." The New York Times, First Section (Sun, MARCH 27, 2016): 21.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MARCH 25, 2016, and has the title "Robert Ebeling, Challenger Engineer Who Warned of Disaster, Dies at 89.")






May 30, 2017

Justified Species Extinction




(p. A1) The death toll from diseases carried by mosquitoes is so huge that scientists are working on a radical idea. Why not eradicate them?

Mosquitoes kill more humans than any other animal and were linked to roughly 500,000 deaths in 2015, mostly from malaria. For more than a century, humans have used bed nets, screens and insecticides as weapons, but mosquitoes keep coming back. They are now carrying viruses like Zika and dengue to new parts of the world.

Powerful new gene-editing technologies could allow scientists to program mosquito populations to gradually shrink and die off. Some efforts have gained enough momentum that the possibility of mosquito-species eradication seems tantalizingly real.

"I think it is our moral duty to eliminate this mosquito," entomologist Zach Adelman says about Aedes aegypti, a species carried afar over centuries by ships from sub-Saharan Africa.


. . .


(p. A8) Purposely engineering a species into extinction--or just diminishing it--is fraught with quandaries. Scientists must weigh the potential impact of removing a species on the environment and food chain. It will take years of more research, testing and regulatory scrutiny before most genetically altered mosquitoes can be released into the wild. And the strategy might not work.

Wiping a species off the face of the earth is "an unfortunate thing to have to do," says Gregory Kaebnick, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, N.Y.

He says humans shouldn't force a species into extinction to meet their own preferences. "We ought to try not to do it," says Mr. Kaebnick. One justification, he says, would be to avert a serious public-health threat.



For the full story, see:

BETSY MCKAY. "A World with No Mosquitoes." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 3, 2016): A1 & A8.


(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 2, 2016, and has the title "Mosquitoes Are Deadly, So Why Not Kill Them All?")






May 29, 2017

Employers Less Likely to Hire Older Workers




(p. A3) Using a method of uncovering discrimination well known in economics, David Neumark, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, led a study that sent out 40,000 fake résumés to employers who had posted openings. Mr. Neumark and his co-authors found that résumés suggesting an applicant was 64 to 66 years old got a response 35 percent less often than résumés suggesting that the applicant was 29 to 31.

Labeling it discrimination is another matter, however. "The one thing that people always point out is that acceptability for age stereotyping is extremely high," Mr. Neumark said. "The number of people who make age-related jokes are way more frequent than people who make race-related jokes. For whatever reason, the social stigma for age discrimination is really weak."

Aside from fairness, evidence suggests that finding ways to keep older Americans working has benefits to the broader society: Working keeps older Americans happier, healthier and more mentally engaged. And forestalling retirement could relieve some of the pressure a large aging population places on this country's social safety net.

"Governments all over the world are trying to figure how to get old people to stay at work longer," Mr. Neumark said. "If we have discriminatory barriers, then all these reforms will be less effective."



For the full story, see:

Quoctrung Bui. "As More Older People Look for Work, They Are Put Into 'Old Person Jobs'." The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 18, 2016): A3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "More Older People Are Finding Work, but What Kind?")


The Neumark paper mentioned above, is:

Neumark, David, Ian Burn, and Patrick Button. "Experimental Age Discrimination Evidence and the Heckman Critique." American Economic Review 106, no. 5 (May 2016): 303-08.






May 28, 2017

Under Communism Inventiveness Did Not Yield Economic Benefits




(p. A17) The Soviet Union may have pioneered in space with Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, but today Russia has less than 1% of the world commercial market in space telecommunications, the most successful commercial product so far stemming from space exploration. Russians may have won Nobel Prizes for developing the laser, but Russia today is insignificant in the production of lasers for the world market. Russians may have developed the first digital computer in continental Europe, but who today buys a Russian computer? By missing out on the multi-billion-dollar markets for lasers, computers and space-based telecommunications, Russia has suffered a grievous economic loss.

Accompanying this technical and economic failure was a human tragedy. Russian achievements in science and technology occurred in an environment of political terror. The father of the Russian hydrogen bomb, Andrei Sakharov, wrote in his memoirs that the research facility in which he worked was built by political prisoners, and each morning he looked out the window of his office to see them marching under armed guard to their construction sites. The "chief designer" of the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolev, was long a prisoner who worked in a special prison laboratory, or sharashka. The dean of Soviet airplane designers, A.N. Tupolev, also labored for years as a prisoner in a special laboratory. Three of the Soviet Union's Nobel Prize-winning physicists were arrested for alleged political disloyalty. Probably half of the engineers in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s were eventually arrested. In 1928 alone 648 members of the staff of the Soviet Academy of Sciences were purged.

When one looks at these statistics and at the genuine achievements of Soviet science, one is forced to ask basic questions about the relation of freedom to scientific progress.


. . .


Mr. Ings admirable effort to reach nonspecialized readers sometimes leads him to make exaggerated statements. He claims that we have "good agricultural and climate data for Russia going back over a thousand years" when in fact the data is incomplete and unreliable.


. . .


The claim that the Soviet Union was a scientific state brings Mr. Ings close, in his conclusion, to condemning science itself. He sees science and technology as causing a coming global ecological collapse, and he thinks that in some ways the demise of the Soviet Union was a preview of what we will all soon face. In one of his final sentences he says: "We are all little Stalinists now, convinced of the efficacy of science to bail us out of any and every crisis." "Stalin and the Scientists" deserves attention, but a very critical form of attention. It is based on an impressive amount of study, and most readers will learn a great deal. It is, however, incomplete and overdrawn.



For the full review, see:

LOREN GRAHAM. "BOOKSHELF; No Good Deed Went Unpunished." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 21, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 20, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Science Under Stalin.")


The book under review, is:

Ings, Simon. Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905-1953. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017.







May 27, 2017

Chinese Government Stimulus Inflated Egg Futures Bubble




(p. A1) HONG KONG -- China is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into its economy in a new effort to support growth. Some of it is going into roads and bridges and other big projects that will keep the economy humming.

And some of it is going into eggs.

China's latest lending deluge has sent money sloshing into unexpected parts of the economy. That includes a financial market in Dalian where investors can place bets on the future productivity of the country's hens.

Egg futures have surged by as much as one-third since March, the sort of move that would be justified if investors believed China's chicken flocks were headed for an unfortunate fate.

But the market's usual participants say the flocks are fine. In fact, the actual price of eggs in the country's markets has fallen from a year ago, according to government statistics.

The reason for the unusual jump in egg futures, they say, is China's tendency to experience investment bubbles when the government steps up spending and lending. China's previous efforts to bolster growth unexpectedly (p. B2) sent money into real estate and the stock market -- markets that had unexplained rises followed by striking drops.

"Many commodities prices have gone up crazily," said Du Shaoxing, a futures trader in Guangzhou, in southern China. "We surely hope for a more stabilized trend where futures can reflect economic fundamentals. The way in which recent commodity prices went up is worrisome."

China's latest bubble illustrates the potential risks of its newest effort to spur growth. The Chinese economy is already burdened with too much debt, economists say. And sometimes, stopgap measures to help the economy create long-term problems.



For the full story, see:

NEIL GOUGH. "China's Flood of Cash Roils Egg Futures." The New York Times (Weds., May 2, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 1, 2016, and has the title "China Lending Inflates Real Estate, Stocks, Even Egg Futures.")






May 26, 2017

Amateur Tinkerers Keep Steam Power Alive




(p. D4) Most people, when they think of steam power, they think of rusty farm tractors from 150 years ago. But there's such a thing as modern steam power. Steam is the most direct way to get power out of heat. You can't build an internal combustion engine in your garage. But you can build a steam engine, and the interesting thing is, it can run on anything that will burn, even sawdust.

At my farm, I have about 100 steam engines, many of them homemade, plus a library of technical papers, patents, and books on steam technology. I have Volkswagen engines converted to steam, outboard boat engines, etc. I collect and preserve this stuff. I get a lot of it from old widows whose deceased husbands were tinkerers; these women are so happy to get rid of it. Some of the engines are well built, others not, but you can learn as much from a bad example as a good one.



For the full story, see:


Kimmel, Tom (as told to A.J. BAIME). "MY RIDE; Never Before Has Steam Been Quite This Cool." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Dec. 2, 2015): D4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 1, 2015, and has the title "MY RIDE; Never Has Steam Been So Cool." )






May 25, 2017

Tinkerers Build Their Own Pancreases, While Waiting for 100,000 Page Submission to FDA




(p. B1) Third-grader Andrew Calabrese carries his backpack everywhere he goes at his San Diego-area school. His backpack isn't just filled with books, it is carrying his robotic pancreas.

The device, long considered the Holy Grail of Type 1 diabetes technology, wasn't constructed by a medical-device company. It hasn't been approved by regulators.

It was put together by his father.

Jason Calabrese, a software engineer, followed instructions that had been shared online to hack an old insulin pump so it could automatically dose the hormone in response to his son's blood-sugar levels. Mr. Calabrese got the approval of Andrew's doctor for his son to take the home-built device to school.

The Calabreses aren't alone. More than 50 people have soldered, tinkered and written software to make such devices for themselves or their children. The systems--known in the industry as artificial pancreases or closed loop systems--have been studied for decades, but improvements to sensor technology for real-time glucose monitoring have made them possible.

The Food and Drug Administration has made approving such devices a priority and several companies are working on them. But the yearslong process of commercial development and regulatory approval is longer than many patients want, and some are technologically savvy enough to do it on their own.


. . .


(p. B2) "Biology isn't quite as easy as controlling the temperature in a room," said Francine Kaufman, chief medical officer for Medtronic's diabetes division. She sees do-it-yourself efforts as a sign of the interest in the technology, but distinct from the process of getting a commercial device to market. Dr. Kaufman estimates Medtronic's submission to the FDA will exceed 100,000 pages and hopes that the device will be approved in 2017.

The home-built project that the Calabreses followed, known as OpenAPS, was started by Dana Lewis, a 27-year-old with Type 1 diabetes in Seattle. Ms. Lewis began using the system in December 2014 as a sort of self-experiment. After months of tweeting about it, she attracted others who wanted what she had.


. . .


The FDA declined to comment on the project but said the agency is working with manufacturers to approve a device.

Sarah Howard became interested after she met Ms. Lewis last year. "My first question was: Was it legal?" said the 49-year-old, who has Type 1 diabetes, as does one of her two sons. "I didn't want to do anything illegal."

​After ​her husband ​built​ the system for her and her son, she said the main benefit is starting each day with her blood sugar in range and not having to wake in the night to check her son's glucose levels.



For the full story, see:

Kate Linebaugh. "Tech-Savvy Families Build Robotic Pancreas; Companies work on developing diabetes device, but approval process is too long for many patients." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 9, 2016): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the Tech-Savvy Families Use Home-Built Diabetes Device; Companies work on artificial pancreas, but approval process is too long for many patients.")






May 24, 2017

Starzl Persisted in Trying "Impossible" Liver Transplants




(p. D8) In 1967, Dr. Starzl led a surgical team at the University of Colorado in a procedure that many in the medical community had dismissed as impractical, if not impossible. Although kidneys had been transplanted successfully since the 1950s, all previous attempts to replace a liver had resulted in the death of the patient.

Indeed, Dr. Starzl's first four attempts at liver transplantation, in 1963, had failed when the patients experienced complications from the use of blood-clotting agents, which in some cases caused lethal clots to form in the lungs.

After a self-imposed moratorium that lasted three years, Dr. Starzl and his colleagues tried again. They first considered inserting a second liver, to function beneath the impaired one, as a possible route to avoiding the heavy bleeding caused by organ removal. But promising results obtained from liver surgeries on dogs could not be replicated in human patients, and that avenue was abandoned.

The team then operated on a 19-month-old girl and replaced her cancerous liver. The transplanted liver functioned without ill effects for more than a year, before the infant died of other causes. In the next year, as surgical techniques were improved, this pathbreaking success was repeated in six children and, ultimately, in adults.

Dr. Starzl later described those early liver transplants as both a "test of endurance" and "a curious exercise in brutality." It involved, he explained, "brutality as you're taking the liver out, then sophistication as you put it back in and hook up all of these little bile ducts and other structures."

"Each one," he said, "is a thread on which the whole enterprise hangs."


. . .


With Dr. John Fung, a surgeon and immunologist, and others, Dr. Starzl evaluated FK-506, also known as tacrolimus. They published their findings in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1989.

Their investigation was not without risk; other scientists showed that tacrolimus had proved toxic when tested in dogs, and they doubted that it could be safe for humans. But the unexpected result was a medical breakthrough for patients and lavish headlines for the University of Pittsburgh, which Dr. Starzl helped fashion into an international center for training transplant specialists.


. . .


A former colleague from Pittsburgh, Dr. Byers Shaw Jr., praised Dr. Starzl's "indomitable spirit" and said that FK-506, eventually approved in 1994 by the F.D.A., was a shining example of tenacity in a career spent "challenging the conventional thinking."

Dr. Shaw, who is now the chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Nebraska, observed Dr. Starzl in the operating room in the 1980s, when a patient appeared to be dying during surgery. Dr. Starzl, he recalled, showed "persistence when everything else looked hopeless."

"It affected everybody in the room," Dr. Shaw said, "as if a fear of failure was driving all of those around him."



For the full obituary, see:

JEREMY PEARCE. "Thomas E. Starzl, Pioneering Liver Surgeon, Dies at 90." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 6, 2017): D8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MARCH 5, 2017, and has the title "Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, Pioneering Liver Surgeon, Dies at 90.")


Bud Shaw paints a vivid picture of Starzl in parts of:

Shaw, Bud. Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon's Odyssey. New York: Plume, 2015.






May 23, 2017

More Than 100 Video Stores Still Open in U.S.




(p. A15) "Whoa, a video store!" said a man recently walking by Video Free Brooklyn, loud enough to be heard inside the shop.

It's true: Video-store holdouts still exist. Their goal is to keep pushing DVDs, Blu-Rays and even VHS tapes in an age when streaming movies is second-nature.

Owners and customers of the more than 100 independent and nonprofit video stores still kicking throughout the U.S., often in places with strong locavore food scenes, say the stores offer variety film lovers can't find elsewhere. It might be a deep roster of anime films by Hayao Miyazaki, or one of Dario Argento 's more obscure grindhouse efforts. They allow a browsing experience impossible online and serve as libraries for movies and TV shows that will likely never transfer to an online format.



For the full story, see:


ERIN GEIGER SMITH. "Revenge of the Video Store." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Nov. 28, 2016): A15.

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






May 22, 2017

Resveratrol Slows Alzheimer's




(p. D1) A recent human study that suggested resveratrol could slow the progression of Alzheimer's used a daily dose equivalent to the amount in about 1,000 bottles of red wine, says Scott Turner, director of the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown University Medical Center, who led the study. Such high doses can lead to side effects such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Such side effects have caused past efforts to tap the health benefits of resveratrol to founder. GlaxoSmithKline PLC shelved a project to develop a resveratrol-based pill in 2010 after some clinical-trial patients developed kidney problems. The company, which had hoped to develop the drug as a treatment for a type of blood cancer, concluded that while resveratrol didn't directly cause those problems, its side effects led to dehydration, which could exacerbate underlying kidney issues.

Now, scientists hope to overcome that problem by increasing the potency of resveratrol at more moderate doses. Researchers at the University of New South Wales, near Sydney, suspect the substance is more effective when accompanied by other ingredients found in red wine, which somehow promote its activity. They are developing a pill that combines puri-(p. D4)fied resveratrol with other compounds in wine in an effort to mimic the drink's naturally-occurring synergies.


. . .


At the University of New South Wales, researchers have combined resveratrol with two other components of red wine: antioxidants and chelating agents, which have separately been shown also to have health benefits.


. . .


The researchers recently tried the combination in a small trial involving 50 people and found it increased the activity of a substance called NAD+ that plays a key role in maintaining healthy cells.



For the full story, see:

DENISE ROLAND. "Scientists Try to Put Red Wine in a Pill." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 2, 2016): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 1, 2016, and has the title "Scientists Get Closer to Harnessing the Health Benefits of Red Wine.")


A recent article co-authored by Turner, related to the research summarized above, is:

Moussa, Charbel, Michaeline Hebron, Huang Xu, Jaeil Ahn, Robert A. Rissman, Paul S. Aisen, R. Scott Turner, Xu Huang, and R. Scott Turner. "Resveratrol Regulates Neuro-Inflammation and Induces Adaptive Immunity in Alzheimer's Disease." Journal of Neuroinflammation 14 (Jan. 3, 2017): 1-10.






May 21, 2017

Nano-Enhanced Fabrics Can Clean Themselves




(p. D3) Scientists in Australia, one of the sunniest places on the planet, have discovered a way to rid clothes of stubborn stains by exposing them to sunlight, potentially replacing doing the laundry.

Working in a laboratory, the researchers embedded minute flecks of silver and copper--invisible to the naked eye--within cotton fabric. When exposed to light, the tiny metal particles, or nanostructures, released bursts of energy that degraded any organic matter on the fabric in as little as six minutes, said Rajesh Ramanathan, a postdoctoral fellow at RMIT University, in Melbourne.

The development, reported recently in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces, represents an early stage of research into nano-enhanced fabrics that have the ability to clean themselves, Dr. Ramanathan said. The tiny metal particles don't change the look or feel of the fabric. They also stay on the surface of the garment even when it is rinsed in water, meaning they can be used over and over on new grime, he said.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL PANNETT. "An End to Laundry? The Promise of Self-Cleaning Fabric." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 26, 2016): D3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 25, 2016.)


The academic article describing the self-cleaning fabric, is:

Anderson, Samuel R., Mahsa Mohammadtaheri, Dipesh Kumar, Anthony P. O'Mullane, Matthew R. Field, Rajesh Ramanathan, and Vipul Bansal. "Robust Nanostructured Silver and Copper Fabrics with Localized Surface Plasmon Resonance Property for Effective Visible Light Induced Reductive Catalysis." Advanced Materials Interfaces 3, no. 6 (2016): 1-8.






May 20, 2017

"The Powers of a Man's Mind Are Directly Proportioned to the Quantity of Coffee He Drinks"




(p. C9) . . . certain aspects of 18th-century Parisian life diluted the importance of sight. This was, after all, a time before widespread street lighting, and, as such, activities in markets (notably Les Halles) were guided as much by sound and touch as by eyes that struggled in the near dark conditions. Natural light governed the lives of working people, principally because candles were expensive. Night workers--such as baker boys known as "bats," who worked in cheerless basements--learned to rely on their other senses, most notably touch.


. . .


"For Enlightenment consumers, a delicious food or beverage had more than just the power of giving a person pleasure," writes Ms. Purnell; taste, it was held, could influence personality, emotions and intelligence. Take coffee, "the triumphant beverage of the Age of Enlightenm ent." Considered a "sober liquor," it stimulated creativity without courting the prospect of drunkenness. Sir James Mackintosh, the Scottish philosopher, believed that "the powers of a man's mind are directly proportioned to the quantity of coffee he drinks." Voltaire agreed and supposedly quaffed 40 cups of it every day. Taste was also gendered: Coffee was deemed too strong for women; drinking chocolate was thought more suitable.



For the full review, see:

MARK SMITH. "The Stench of Progress." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 11, 2017): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Purnell, Carolyn. The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.






May 19, 2017

Workers in Open Offices Are Less Able to Focus and Take More Sick Days




(p. R7) Noisy, open-floor plans have become a staple of office life. But after years of employee complaints, companies are trying to quiet the backlash.

Many studies show how open-plan office spaces can have negative effects on employees and productivity. As a result, companies are adding soundproof rooms, creating quiet zones and rearranging floor plans to appeal to employees eager to escape disruptions at their desk.

Companies are "not providing sufficient variety in spaces," says David Lehrer, a researcher at the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California, Berkeley. Mr. Lehrer studies the impact of office designs on employees, and lack of "speech privacy" is currently a significant problem, he says. Employees in open-plan offices are less likely to be satisfied with their offices than employees in a traditional office layout, Mr. Lehrer adds.


. . .


Companies with open offices, . . . , soon encountered the downsides. For one thing, workers took increased sick days--a 2014 Swedish study of more than 1,800 workers found open-plan workers were twice as likely to take sick days as workers in traditional offices. The reason, the researchers hypothesized: the spread of germs and increased environmental stress of working in an open space. Workers also complained of an inability to focus and were generally less content with their work environment, the study said.

Now, companies are again "realizing people actually have to be productive," says Ned Fennie, partner at San Francisco-based architecture firm Fennie + Mehl.



For the full story, see:

ALINA DIZIK. "Open Offices Lose Some of Their Openness; Companies look for ways to add privacy and quiet areas without reverting to the traditional design." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 3, 2016): R7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 2, 2016, and has the title "Open Offices Are Losing Some of Their Openness; Companies look for ways to add privacy and quiet areas without reverting to the traditional office design.")


The 2014 Swedish study mentioned above, is:

Bodin Danielsson, Christina, Holendro Singh Chungkham, Cornelia Wulff, and Hugo Westerlund. "Office Design's Impact on Sick Leave Rates." Ergonomics 57, no. 2 (Feb. 2014): 139-47.






May 18, 2017

"Slow Is Smooth and Smooth Is Fast"




(p. B2) WASHINGTON -- Jeff Bezos, the billionaire chief executive of Amazon, founded a rocket company as a hobby 16 years ago. Now that company, Blue Origin, finally has its first paying customer as it ramps up to become a full-fledged business.

Mr. Bezos announced that customer, the satellite television provider Eutelsat, on Tuesday. In about five years, Eutelsat, which is based in Paris, will strap one of its satellites to a new Blue Origin rocket to be delivered to space, a process it has done dozens of times with other space partners.


. . .


Blue Origin's deal with Eutelsat is a "definite statement to the industry that Blue Origin will be a viable commercial launch vehicle," said Carissa Bryce Christensen, the chief executive of Bryce Space and Technology, a consulting firm.


. . .


Mr. Bezos "is investing because he wants to transform people's lives with space capabilities, but the expectation has always been that this will be a successful business," Ms. Christensen said.


. . .


Mr. Bezos said he was approaching his space project with an abundance of patience.

"I like to do things incrementally," he said, noting that Blue Origin's mascot is a tortoise. With such high costs and risks with each rocket launch, it is important not to skip steps, he said.

"Slow is smooth and smooth is fast," said Mr. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post and a clock that will keep time for 10,000 years. "I've seen this in every endeavor I've been in."



For the full story, see:

CECILIA KANG. "Blue Origin, Bezos's Moon Shot, Gets First Paying Customer." The New York Times (Weds., March 8, 2017): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 7, 2017, and has the title "Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos's Moon Shot, Gets First Paying Customer.")






May 17, 2017

Seeking a "Safe Space" to Protect Taxpayers from Wasteful "Spending on Political Correctness"




(p. A1) WORCESTER, Mass. -- A freshman tentatively raises her hand and takes the microphone. "I'm really scared to ask this," she begins. "When I, as a white female, listen to music that uses the N word, and I'm in the car, or, especially when I'm with all white friends, is it O.K. to sing along?"

The answer, from Sheree Marlowe, the new chief diversity officer at Clark University, is an unequivocal "no."

The exchange was included in Ms. Marlowe's presentation to recently arriving first-year students focusing on subtle "microaggressions," part of a new campus vocabulary that also includes "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings."


. . .


(p. A3) In August [2016], the University of Wisconsin system, which includes the Madison flagship and 25 other campuses, said it would ask the State Legislature for $6 million in funding to improve what it called the "university experience" for students. The request includes money for Fluent, a program described as a systemwide cultural training for faculty and staff members and students.

But that budget request has provoked controversy. "If only the taxpayers and tuition-paying families had a safe space that might protect them from wasteful U.W. System spending on political correctness," State Senator Stephen L. Nass, a Republican, said in a statement issued by his office, urging his fellow lawmakers to vote against the appropriation.

Mr. Nass's objection to spending money on diversity training reflects a rising resistance to what is considered campus political correctness. At some universities, alumni and students have objected to a variety of campus measures, including diversity training; "safe spaces," places where students from marginalized groups can gather to discuss their experiences; and "trigger warnings," disclaimers about possibly upsetting material in lesson plans.

Some graduates have curtailed donations, and students have suggested that diversity training smacks of some sort of Communist re-education program.

The backlash was exemplified recently in a widely publicized letter sent to new freshmen at the University of Chicago by the dean of students, John Ellison.

He warned that the university did not "support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE SAUL. "Campuses Cautiously Train Freshmen Against Subtle Insults." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 7, 2016): A1 & A3.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 6, 2016, and has the title "Campuses Cautiously Train Freshmen Against Subtle Insults.")






May 16, 2017

Panopticon: "Bentham's Most Infamous Idea"




(p. C6) Perhaps the most fascinating chapter of the book, highlighting Mr. Crawford's ability to mix philosophy and reporting, is the one about the panopticon. The idea of an annular building with a central observation tower was conceived by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). The utilitarian is known most superficially by students of and visitors to University College, London, as the eccentric who willed that, after his death, his body be preserved seated on a chair in a glass case.

Mr. Crawford fleshes out the story, noting that, in fact, the smartly dressed Bentham figure that sits inside a glass display case today is actually a skeleton of the man, his head a wax replica of the real one that did not survive the preservation process. When I was a regular at University College one summer, I was told that the cabinet holding the "Auto-Icon" (Bentham's term) was rolled over to the lecture hall on occasion, something that I don't recall witnessing.

The author's real purpose in discussing Bentham's most infamous idea is to describe the utopian--or dystopian, depending upon one's point of view--concept. In one embodiment, it took the form of a rimless wagon wheel, in which someone situated at the hub could oversee activities in all directions, making the layout ideal for insuring that workers in a factory did not take more breaks than allowed, inmates did not misbehave in a prison or students did not cheat on an exam.

Bentham's insight was that the mere fact that those being observed knew that they were being watched would cause them to alter their behavior for the better. Could Bentham have imagined that his idea would form the foundation of our surveillance society? Looking at our culture today--with its CCTV, smartphones and so on--to some it surely seems that we live in a permanent panopticon. "All this," Mr. Crawford writes, "from a 'simple idea in architecture.' "



For the full review, see:

HENRY PETROSKI. "What Goes Up." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 11, 2017): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2017, and has the title "The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings.")


The book under review, is:

Crawford, James. Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings. New York: Picador, 2017.






May 15, 2017

For $9,000, No Chicken Need Die, When You Eat a Pound of Chicken




(p. B3) A Bay Area food-technology startup says it has created the world's first chicken strips grown from self-reproducing cells without so much as ruffling a feather.

And the product pretty much tastes like chicken, according to people who were offered samples Tuesday [March 14, 2017] in San Francisco, before Memphis Meats Inc.'s formal unveiling on Wednesday.

Scientists, startups and animal-welfare activists believe the new product could help to revolutionize the roughly $200 billion U.S. meat industry. Their goal: Replace billions of cattle, hogs and chickens with animal meat they say can be grown more efficiently and humanely in stainless-steel bioreactor tanks.


. . .


On Tuesday [March 14, 2017], Memphis Meats invited a handful of taste-testers to a San Francisco kitchen and cooked and served their chicken strip, along with a piece of duck prepared à l'orange style.

Some who sampled the strip--breaded, deep-fried and spongier than a whole chicken breast--said it nearly nailed the flavor of the traditional variety. Their verdict: They would eat it again.


. . .


The cell-cultured meat startups are a long way from replacing the meat industry's global network of hatcheries, chicken barns, feed mills and processing plants. But they say they're making progress. Memphis Meats estimates its current technology can yield one pound of chicken meat for less than $9,000. That is half of what it cost the company to produce its beef meatball about a year ago. The startups, however, aspire to produce meat that can be cost-competitive with the conventionally raised kind.



For the full story, see:

JACOB BUNGE. "Startup Serves Chicken From the Lab." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 16, 2017): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 15, 2017, and has the title "Startup Serves Up Chicken Produced From Cells in Lab.")






May 14, 2017

As Consumers Accept Surge Pricing, More Will Accept Congestion Pricing Too




(p. B2) With remarkable consistency, the research finds the same thing: Whenever a road is built or an older road is widened, more people decide to drive more. Build more or widen further, and even more people decide to drive. Repeat to infinity.

Economists call this latent demand, which is a fancy way of saying there are always more people who want to drive somewhere than there is space for them to do it. So far anyway, nothing cities have done to increase capacity has ever sped things up.

The extent of this failure was chronicled in a 2011 paper called "The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion," by the economists Gilles Duranton, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Matthew Turner, from Brown University.

The two went beyond road building to show that increases in public transit and changes in land use -- basically, building apartments next to office buildings so that more people can walk or bike to work -- also fail to cut traffic (or do so only a little).

This doesn't mean public transit and land planning are bad ideas, or that widening freeways is a bad idea. When roads are bigger, more people can get around. More people see family; more packages are delivered; more babies are lulled to sleep. It just means that none of those measures have done much to reduce commute times, and self-driving cars seem unlikely to either.

That's where charging people during busy times comes in. "Maybe autonomous cars will be different from other capacity expansions," Mr. Turner said. "But of the things we have observed so far, the only thing that really drives down travel times is pricing."

This is because the average person prefers the privacy and convenience of riding in a car.


. . .


"This idea of congestion pricing is not completely dismissed the way it once was," said Clifford Winston, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

Mr. Winston said the eventual introduction of self-driving cars would probably lessen consumer opposition to paying more to use roads during peak periods. Ride-hailing apps have taught consumers to accept surge pricing, and people are generally less resistant to paying for something new. The result would be something like variably priced lanes dedicated to fleets of robot vehicles.

If that happens, one of the hidden benefits of this revolutionary new technology will be that it got people to accept an idea that economists started talking about at least a century ago. And you get home a half-hour earlier.



For the full story, see:

Conor Dougherty. "A Cure for Traffic Jams." The New York Times (Weds., March 8, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Self-Driving Cars Can't Cure Traffic, but Economics Can.")






May 13, 2017

Brits Saw America "as a Place to Dump Their Human Waste"




(p. 11) . . . , Isenberg -- a historian at Louisiana State University whose previous books include a ­biography of Aaron Burr -- provides a cultural ­history of changing concepts of class and inferiority. She argues that British colonizers saw their North American empire as a place to dump their human waste: the idle, indigent and criminal. Richard Hakluyt the younger, one of the many colorful characters who fill these pages, saw the continent as "one giant workhouse," in ­Isenberg's phrase, where the feckless poor could be turned into industrious drudges.


For the full review, see:

THOMAS J. SUGRUE. "'Hicks' and 'Hayseeds'." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JUNE 26, 2016): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 24, 2016, and has the title "A Look at America's Long and Troubled History of White Poverty.")


The book under review, is:

Isenberg, Nancy. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. New York: Viking, 2016.






May 12, 2017

Muzzled Chinese Historian Dares to Publish Truth of Cultural Revolution




(p. 7) BEIJING -- It seemed that China's censors had finally muzzled Yang Jisheng, the famed chronicler of the Mao era. Last year, he had finished writing a widely anticipated history of the Cultural Revolution. But officials warned him against publishing it and barred him from traveling to the United States, he has said, and he stayed muted through the 50th anniversary of the start of that bloody upheaval.

Now Mr. Yang has broken that silence with the publication of his history of the Cultural Revolution, "The World Turned Upside Down," a sequel to "Tombstone," his landmark study of the famine spawned by Mao's policies in the late 1950s. The 1,151-page book is the latest shot fired in China's war over remembering, or forgetting, the dark side of its Communist past, a struggle that has widened under the hard-line president, Xi Jinping.

"I wrote this book to expose lies and restore the truth," Mr. Yang writes in the book, which has been quietly published in Hong Kong, beyond the direct reach of Chinese censors. "This is an area that is extremely complicated and risky, but as soon as I entered it, I was filled with passion."

Since Mr. Xi took power in 2012, the Communist Party authorities have denounced historians who question the party's lionization of its past and exhume grim events like the Cultural Revolution, which Mao started in 1966, opening a decade of purges and bloodshed.

Tens of millions were persecuted and perhaps a million or more people were killed in that convulsive time. But officials say dwelling on such events is subversive "historical nihilism" aimed at corroding the party's authority.



For the full story, see:

CHRIS BUCKLEY. "Historian's New Mao Book Turns Acclaim in China to Censure." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JAN. 22, 2017): 7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 21, 2017, and has the title "Historian's Latest Book on Mao Turns Acclaim in China to Censure.")


The English translation and condensation of Mr. Yang's earlier book, is:

Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. Translated by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.







May 11, 2017

Fewer Regulations and Lower Taxes Rouse "Animal Spirits" in Small Businesses




(p. B1) More than any other president since Ronald Reagan, President Trump is moving to strip away regulations and slash taxes, said Jeffrey Korzenik, an investment strategist with Fifth Third, a large regional bank in the Midwest and Southeast. In meetings with clients, Mr. Korzenik has been making the case that these policies will rouse the slumbering animal spirits in businesses across America.

"And now we have seen this huge spike in small-business confidence since the election," Mr. Korzenik said, pointing to a chart. "So I have to ask you: Do you feel more confident now?"

There was a moment of silence, broken only by a howling northwestern Ohio wind that rattled the floor-to-ceiling windows in the bank's boardroom.

Then, with rapid-fire speed, came the responses.

The president of a trucking company spoke of a "tremendous dark cloud" lifting when he realized he would no longer be feeling the burden of rules and regulations imposed by the Obama administration.

The owner of an automotive parts assembler gave thanks that he would not be receiving visits from pesky envi-(p. B3)ronmental and workplace overseers.

And the head of a seating manufacturer expressed hope that, finally, his health care costs would come down when the Affordable Care Act was repealed.

"My gut just feels better," said Bob Fleisher, president of a local car dealership. "With Obama, you felt it was personal -- like he just didn't want you to make money. Now we have a guy who is cutting regulations and taxes. And when I see my taxes going down every quarter -- well, that means I am going to start investing again."


. . .


A heavier regulatory burden and uncertainty born of a weak economic recovery have kept small-business owners from making big bets in investments or hiring.

But in Toledo, this reluctance is changing -- and quickly.

Louis M. Soltis owns a small company that manufactures control panels for large factories and machines. After four years of not adding to his work force of 22, he has seen orders for panels jump in the last two months and is looking to take on as many as six new workers.

There may not be a direct correlation between his surging order book and the new president, but there is no doubting the psychological boost.

"That guy is a junkyard dog, doing his tweets at 3 a.m. and taking on the news media -- I just get strength from him," Mr. Soltis said over a wine-soaked dinner with a large group of his small-business friends and peers from around town. "And I have to say, it makes you feel gutsy -- ready to step up and start investing again."


. . .


Yet there is a downside to animal spirits that persist too long, especially in labor markets, like Toledo's, that are operating on the tight side.

And that is a sharp uptick in inflation.

In his presentation to Fifth Third's banking clients, Mr. Korzenik raised this issue, suggesting that the broader economy was in the "seventh inning" of what has been a pretty long business cycle.


. . .


Still, no one in the room seemed overly concerned. As the group saw it, the party was just beginning.

"Most businesses I know are just taking a deep breath, happy that there is finally someone in the White House who understands what they do," said Mr. Fleisher, the owner of the Lincoln car dealership. "So you say we are in the seventh inning -- well, I am not sure we are."



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "Small Businesses' Hopes Are Up." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 13, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 12, 2017, and has the title "The President Changed. So Has Small Businesses' Confidence.")






May 10, 2017

Restaurants Add Labor Surcharges to Help Pay Minimum Wage Costs




(p. B1) In lieu of steep menu price increases, many independent and regional chain restaurants in states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are adding surcharges of 3% to 4% to help offset rising labor costs. Industry analysts expect the practice to become widespread as more cities and states increase minimum wages.

"It's the emerging new norm," said Sharokina Shams, spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association. She said California restaurants are adding surcharges as the state lifts the minimum wage every year until it reaches $15 an hour by 2023. It is currently at $10.50 an hour for employers with 26 or more workers.


. . .


While adding a surcharge risks turning diners away, some restaurateurs say they want customers to understand the consequences of higher wages on a business with profit margins of generally between 2% and 6%.


. . .


(p. B2) Sami Ladeki added surcharges to the menu at six Sammy's Woodfired Pizza & Grill restaurants in San Diego and eight more across California. He said it was a mistake to call the charge a state mandate, and has changed the wording. But he remains critical of rising minimum wages.

"This is not sustainable," said Mr. Ladeki, who says he makes a profit of around 1% charging $12 to $14 a pizza. "People are not going to pay $15 or $20 for a pizza."


. . .


David Cohn, who owns 15 restaurants in San Diego, including BO-beau, said his 3% surcharge wasn't a stunt.

"We want people to understand there is a cost," Mr. Cohn said. "How do we stay in business with margins shrinking and competition increasing?"



For the full story, see:

JULIE JARGON. "New on Your Dinner Tab: A Labor Surcharge." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 10, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 9, 2017.)






May 9, 2017

"Warfare Among Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers"




(p. A7) The scene was a lagoon on the shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya. The time about 10,000 years ago. One group of hunter-gatherers attacked and slaughtered another, leaving the dead with crushed skulls, embedded arrow or spear points, and other devastating wounds.

The dead, said the scientists who reported the discovery Wednesday [January 20, 2016] in the journal Nature, seem to have been scattered in no apparent order, and eventually covered and preserved by sediment from the lake. Of 12 relatively complete skeletons, 10 showed unmistakable signs of violent death, the scientists said. Partial remains of at least 15 other people were found at the site and are thought to have died in the same attack.

The bones at the lake, in northern Kenya, tell a tale of ferocity. One man was hit twice in the head by arrows or small spears and in the knee by a club. A woman, pregnant with a 6- to 9-month-old fetus, was killed by a blow to the head, the fetal skeleton preserved in her abdomen. The position of her hands and feet suggest that she may have been tied up before she was killed.

Violence has always been part of human behavior, but the origins of war are hotly debated. Some experts see it as deeply rooted in evolution, pointing to violent confrontations among groups of chimpanzees as clues to an ancestral predilection. Others emphasize the influence of complex and hierarchical human societies, and agricultural surpluses to be raided.


. . .


Marta Mirazon Lahr and Robert A. Foley, of Cambridge University and the Turkana Basin Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and a team of other scientists, concluded in Nature that the find represented warfare among prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

Luke A. Glowacki, a postdoctoral researcher in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University not involved with the discovery, agreed. "There's no other find like it," he said.

With Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, Dr. Glowacki has traced the evolutionary roots of human warfare in chimpanzee behavior. And, he said, this find "shows warfare occurred before the invention of agriculture."



For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "Prehistoric Massacre Hints at War Among Hunter-Gatherers." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 21, 2016): A7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 20, 2016, and has the title "Prehistoric Massacre Hints at War Among Hunter-Gatherers.")


The Nature article mentioned above, is:

Lahr, M. Mirazón, F. Rivera, R. K. Power, A. Mounier, B. Copsey, F. Crivellaro, J. E. Edung, J. M. Maillo Fernandez, C. Kiarie, J. Lawrence, A. Leakey, E. Mbua, H. Miller, A. Muigai, D. M. Mukhongo, A. Van Baelen, R. Wood, J. L. Schwenninger, R. Grün, H. Achyuthan, A. Wilshaw, and R. A. Foley. "Inter-Group Violence among Early Holocene Hunter-Gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya." Nature 529, no. 7586 (Jan. 21, 2016): 394-98.






May 8, 2017

China's "Ruthless" One Child Policy Forced Some Women to Have Abortions




(p. 15) Deng Xiaoping, China's leader after 1978, had set a target of quadrupling the country's per capita national income by 2000. China's planners decided that they could achieve this goal only if, in addition to increasing the size of the pie, there were fewer people to share it.

So they determined, in their words, to "adjust women's average fertility rate in advance." The man who ran the program that treated women as if they were production functions was a rocket scientist, Song Jian, who had worked on ballistic missiles. Song went on to help manage the giant Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. His was a world in which unintended consequences were not important.

Population control was not unusual in the 1980s. India also had a fertility-­control program. The United Nations gave its first-ever population award to the Chinese minister for population planning in 1983 (along with Indira Gandhi). But China's application of population control was particularly ruthless.

In 2012, Feng Jianmei, a factory worker pregnant with her second child, was taken to a clinic, forced to sign a document consenting to an abortion and injected with an abortifacient. She was in her seventh month. Pictures of her lying next to her perfectly formed seven-month dead fetus went viral. But hers was hardly an unusual case. In the 1990s, population targets became a major criterion for judging the performance of officials. It is no surprise that they carried out the one-child policy ruthlessly. Reading this account, one wonders why rape as a weapon of war is (rightly) seen as a war crime, whereas the forcible violation of women's bodies in pursuit of government policy wins United Nations awards.



For the full review, see:

JOHN PARKER. "Little Emperors." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "''One Child,' by Mei Fong.")


The book under review, is:

Fong, Mei. One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






May 7, 2017

Entrepreneur Rothblatt Was Highest-Paid Female CEO in 2013




(p. 3) Martine Rothblatt, a serial entrepreneur, has a unique perspective on female 1 percenters. She not only founded Sirius Satellite Radio, but also founded and serves as chief executive of United Therapeutics, a pharmaceuticals company. Ms. Rothblatt was the highest-paid female chief executive in the country in 2013, with compensation of $38 million, yet she does not see her success as a victory for women. She was born as Martin and underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1994.

"I've only been a woman for half of my life, and there's no doubt that I've benefited hugely from being a guy," she told Fortune magazine.

In an interview, Ms. Rothblatt had some surprising suggestions for helping women reach the top. She supports eliminating "say on pay" rules that allow shareholders to vote on executive compensation, and eliminating shareholder advisory groups. "If shareholders do not like the pay a woman is receiving as C.E.O., they should simply sell the stock, and vice versa," she said.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT FRANK. "INSIDE WEALTH; Plenty of Billionaires, but Few Are Women." The New York Times, Sunday Business Section (Sun., Jan. 1, 2017): 3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 30, 2016, and has the title "INSIDE WEALTH; Why Aren't There More Female Billionaires?")







May 6, 2017

Music Cassettes Still Thrive




(p. D11) . . . thanks to music fans who are rediscovering the format's appeal--whether the ability to craft heartfelt mixtapes or the comfort of having tangible music--cassettes are making a comeback. Sales figures for streaming music and even vinyl may dwarf those of cassettes, but the format still thrives: An estimated 129,000 tapes sold last year, up from 74,000 the year before, according to Nielsen Music.

Blame the resurgence, in part, on Justin Bieber. So says Gigi Johnson, director of UCLA's Center for Music Innovation. When the heartthrob released a cassette version of his Grammy-nominated album "Purpose" in 2016, more than 1,000 copies of the retro iteration sold (a relatively significant sum). The Weeknd's Grammy-winning release "Beauty Behind the Madness" saw similar sales in cassette form, as did over 20 other albums last year, including the "Guardians of the Galaxy" soundtrack and reissues of works by Prince and Eminem.

Although four-digit sales figures might seem paltry, Ms. Johnson deemed 2016 "a breakout year" for cassettes. "You can expect to see many more artists embracing tapes this year and next," she said.


. . .


"I keep waiting for this to be a fad that will fade out," said Ms. Johnson of UCLA. "But we're almost a decade into this and it keeps growing."



For the full story, see:

NATHAN OLIVAREZ-GILES. "GEAR & GADGETS; Can't Stop the Music." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 11, 2017): D11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 9, 2017, and has the title "GEAR & GADGETS; Why Cassette Tapes Are Making a Comeback.")






May 5, 2017

Most "Small Firms Do Not Innovate"




(p. A11) The neglect of small businesses stems in part from the sense that they aren't very dynamic--that in contrast with startups, they don't really grow or change from year to year. In a 2011 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Erik Hurst and Benjamin Wild Pugsley of the University of Chicago found that most of the people running these companies are content to stay small and continue offering the same kinds of products or services as competitors.


"Most firms start small and stay small throughout their entire lifecycle," they write. "Also, most surviving small firms do not innovate along any observable margin."

Profs. Ruback and Yudkoff are challenging that attitude. Their argument is that well-trained and energetic new managers can bring process innovations to these businesses that can fundamentally alter their trajectories. In many cases, the firms purchased by Harvard Business School graduates have begun hiring and growing. The alumni who are running them can make a good living today--and potentially see very good returns in the future, if and when they sell their better-run, more-profitable firm at a premium.



For the full commentary, see:

NITIN NOHRIA. "Appreciating the Big Role of Small Businesses." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 3, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 2, 2016,)


The published version of the Hurst and Pugsley paper mentioned above, is:

Hurst, Erik, and Benjamin Wild Pugsley. "What Do Small Businesses Do?" Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Issue 2 (Fall 2011): 73-118.







May 4, 2017

Walt Disney "Tossed Out the Corporate Playbook"




(p. 4) Here is something that might surprise you: Walt Disney, that icon of American ingenuity, was in financial straits through most of his career. You probably thought he would have been a business genius -- a model for others to study. But Disney was an atrocious businessman, constantly running his company into the ground. At the same time, though, he was a corporate visionary whose aversion to typical business practices led to the colossus that the Walt Disney Company became.


. . .


Disney could have expanded the company steadily, building on the success of Mickey Mouse. Instead, he placed a huge and highly risky bet on feature animation. "Snow White" was four years in production and cost over $2 million ($33.5 million in today's dollars), most of it borrowed from Bank of America against the receipts of the cartoon shorts. The gamble paid off. "Snow White" earned nearly $7 million ($117 million today), most of which he immediately sank into a new studio headquarters in Burbank, Calif., and a slate of features.


. . .


He didn't care one whit about money. Even his wife, Lillian, complained that she didn't understand why he didn't have more of it. After all, she said, he was Walt Disney. Had he not been the studio's creative force, had the studio not been so closely identified with him, he almost certainly would have been ousted. As it was, both the bankers and his brother pressured him to rein in his ambitions and compromise on the quality of his films.


. . .


And though Disney's capriciousness and constant reinvention of his company drove his brother and others crazy, it also kept re-energizing the Disney studio and led, in 1955, to Disneyland -- a triumph that at last put the company on solid financial footing. Not incidentally, Disneyland sprang from another of Disney's beliefs: that it was hard to wring greatness from a bureaucracy. He and his team designed the park as a separate entity from the studio, WED Enterprises.

None of this would have been possible without Roy Disney's understanding that his primary job was to realize his brother's dreams. He was the businessman whom Disney needed to deal with other businessmen. Walt Disney, at his core, was an artist who tossed out the corporate playbook and operated, as artists usually do, by inspiration. In the end, the company flourished precisely because Disney was such an indifferent businessman.



For the full commentary, see:

NEAL GABLER. "A Visionary Who Was Crazy Like a Mouse." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., SEPT. 13, 2015): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 12, 2015, and has the title "Walt Disney, a Visionary Who Was Crazy Like a Mouse.")


Some of what Gabler discusses in the commentary quoted above, is also discussed in his biography of Disney:

Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.






May 3, 2017

U.S. Science Agencies Omit Margin of Error in Warming Stats




(p. A13) The year 2016 was the warmest ever recorded--so claimed two U.S. agencies, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Except it wasn't, according to the agencies' own measures of statistical uncertainty.

Such fudge is of fairly recent vintage. Leaving any discussion of the uncertainty interval out of press releases only became the norm in the second year of the Obama administration. Back when he was presenting the 2008 numbers, NASA's James Hansen, no slouch in raising climate alarms, nevertheless made a point of being quoted saying such annual rankings can be "misleading because the difference in temperature between one year and another is often less than the uncertainty in the global average."

Statisticians wouldn't go through the trouble of assigning an uncertainty value unless it meant something. Two measurements separated by less than the margin of error are the same. And yet NASA's Goddard Institute, now under Mr. Hansen's successor Gavin Schmidt, put out a release declaring 2014 the "warmest year in the modern record" when it was statistically indistinguishable from 2005 and 2010.


. . .


. . . other countries like the U.K. and Japan also do sophisticated monitoring and end up with findings roughly similar to the findings of U.S. agencies, yet they don't feel the need to lie about it. For instance, the U.K. Met Office headlined its 2016 report "one of the warmest two years on record." A reader only had to progress to the third paragraph to discover that the difference over 2015 was one-tenth the margin of error.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "Change Would Be Healthy at U.S. Climate Agencies; In the Obama era, it was routine for press releases to avoid mentioning any margin of error.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 4, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)







May 2, 2017

Founder Movie Is Unfair to Entrepreneur Ray Kroc




(p. 1D) McDonald's franchise owner Jim Darmody of Omaha notes that the Hollywood film about Ray Kroc doesn't always put the self-proclaimed "founder" of the fast-food chain in a good light.

"The movie makes it seem like he stole something from the McDonald brothers," Darmody said. "But I can't fault him. He bought it from the brothers and made it a dynasty."


. . .


(p. 3D) Ray Kroc not only made a fortune that his wife turned into philanthropy, Jim said, but also created opportunities for people like himself.


. . .


Darmody said the McDonald's Corp. has an excellent inspection program at stores for consistency and cleanliness.

Communities, he said, also have benefited from the presence of McDonald's.

Kroc died in 1984. His widow, Joan Kroc, who died in 2003, left her $1.5 billion estate to charity.


. . .


. . . in a 1993 phone interview, Dick McDonald told me that he and his brother had no regrets about selling to Kroc for what later seemed a pittance.

"Neither of us had any youngsters who would go into the business," said Dick, who had come up with the idea for golden arches. "I guess we could have stayed and piled up millions. But as my brother once said, 'What can we do with $40 million that we can't do with three or four million -- except pay a lot of taxes?' "


. . .


Darmody, who has flipped a few burgers, said he learned some things from the movie, including how the brothers came up with the speedy production system. But without Kroc, he said, McDonald's wouldn't be what it is today.



For the full story, see:

Michael Kelly. "Following in the Footsteps of Founder." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., March 2, 2017): 1D & 3D.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Mach 4 [sic], 2017, and has the title "Kelly: McDonald's franchise owner in Omaha says 'founder' Ray Kroc created opportunities for people.")






May 1, 2017

How Uber Resisted Regulation




(p. B1) Uber Technologies Inc. has for years employed a program that uses data from its ride-hailing app and other tools to evade government officials seeking to identify and block the service's drivers, according to a person familiar with the matter.


. . .


Uber has set up GPS rings around government offices, tracked low-cost phones and looked for other clues that regulators were targeting its drivers, such as frequently opening or closing the app or using credit cards tied to city agencies, according to the Times report. Once identified, Uber kept regulators out of vehicles by failing to send drivers their way, according to the newspaper.



For the full story, see:

GREG BENSINGER. "Uber Used Program to Evade Authorities." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 6, 2017): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 4, 2017, and has the title "Uber Used 'Greyball' Program to Circumvent Authorities." )






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