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October 17, 2017

Inventor's Semiconductor Background Was Source of New, Safer Lithium Battery




(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Mike Zimmerman likes to shock his guests by using a hammer to drive a nail through a solid polymer lithium metal battery.

Nothing happens -- and that's a good thing.

Mr. Zimmerman's battery is a new spin on lithium-ion batteries, which are widely used in products from smartphones to cars. Today's lithium-ion batteries, as anyone who has followed Samsung's recent problems with flammable smartphones may know, can be ticking time bombs. The liquids in them can burst into flames if there is a short circuit of some sort. And driving a nail into one of them is definitely not recommended.

With that in mind, Mr. Zimmerman's demonstration commands attention.

His Woburn, Mass., start-up, Ionic Materials, is at the cutting edge of an effort to design safer batteries. The company is working on "solid" lithium polymer batteries that greatly reduce their combustible nature.

A solid lithium polymer metal battery -- when it arrives commercially -- will also allow electronics designers to be more creative, because they will be able to use a plasticlike material (the polymer) that allows smaller and more flexible packaging and requires fewer complex safety mechanisms.

"My dream is to create the holy grail of solid batteries," Mr. Zimmerman said.

After four years of development, he believes he is nearly there and hopes to begin manufacturing within the next two years. Ionic Materials is one of a new wave of academic and commercial research ef-(p. B4)forts in the United States, Europe and Asia to find safer battery technologies as consumers demand more performance from phones and cars.


. . .


Mr. Zimmerman's background is in the world of semiconductors; he worked at Bell Labs and then a company called Quantum Leap Packaging. Several university researchers who have worked with the company believe that has lead him to a technology that will be more manufacturable than competing polymer and ceramic battery technologies now being explored.

"What is so intriguing about Mike and his folks is they are using known production techniques borrowed from the semiconductor packaging industry," said Jay Whitacre, a Carnegie Mellon University physicist who was involved with Ionic Materials when it first started and who now is chief scientist at Aquion Energy, a maker of home storage and industrial batteries based in Mt. Pleasant, Pa.

The new progress has led a number of technologists in the field to believe that batteries may finally be getting out of their rut.

"We're in a golden age of new chemistry development which probably hasn't been seen in thirty or 40 years, since the last energy crisis," said Paul Albertus, a program manager at the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. "It's a pretty exciting time to be developing energy storage technology.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "Creating a Safer Phone Battery (This One Won't Catch Fire)." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 12, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 11, 2016, and has the title "Designing a Safer Battery for Smartphones (That Won't Catch Fire).")






October 16, 2017

Costs Rise in Single-Payer Health Countries




(p. A25) As Democrats and other policy makers debate the merits of Senator Sanders's proposal, here are a few important observations about international systems that they ought to consider.

First, a vanishingly small number of countries actually have single-payer systems. . . .


. . .


Some of the highest-rated international systems rely on private health insurers for most health care coverage -- Germany's, for example, is something like Obamacare exchanges for everyone, but significantly simpler and truly universal. The Netherlands and Switzerland have both moved recently to add more competition and flexibility to systems that were already built on the use of private insurers.

Second, single-payer countries have also failed to control rising health care costs. This is important, given that Mr. Sanders's proposal was released without a cost estimate or financing plan. For historical reasons, many other countries started with lower levels of health care spending than we did. Several analyses have shown that this has almost nothing to do with higher administrative costs or corporate profits in the United States and almost everything to do with the higher cost of health care services and the higher salaries of providers here.

Although they started at a lower base -- with, for example, doctors and nurses receiving lower salaries -- countries around the world have all struggled with rising costs. From 1990 to 2012, the United States' rate of health care cost growth was below that of many countries, including Japan and Britain. In 2015, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that rising health care costs across all countries were unsustainable.behavior, more hotel rooms are available to individuals and families who need them most."

Third, it is simply untrue that single-payer systems produce a better quality of care across the board.



For the full commentary, see:

LANHEE J. CHEN and MICAH WEINBERG. "'Medicare for All' Is No Miracle Cure." The New York Times (Tues., Sept. 19, 2017): A25.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "The Sanders Single-Payer Plan Is No Miracle Cure.")






October 15, 2017

Regulations Reduce Health Care Quality and Increase Health Care Cost




(p. A15) There are two million home health aides in the U.S. They spend more time with the elderly and disabled than anyone else, and their skills are essential to their clients' quality of life. Yet these aides are poorly trained, and their national median wage is only a smidgen more than $10 an hour.

The reason? State regulations--in particular, Nurse Practice Acts--require registered nurses to perform even routine home-care tasks like administering eyedrops. That duty might not require a nursing degree, but defenders of the current system say aides lack the proper training. "What if they put in the cat's eyedrops instead?" a health-care consultant asked me. In another conversation, the CEO of a managed-care insurance company wrote off home-care aides as "minimum wage people."

But aides could do more. With less regulation and better training, they could become as integral to health-care teams as doctors and nurses. That could improve the quality of care while saving buckets of money for everyone involved.


. . .


. . . the potential cost savings are considerable. There are 2.3 million Medicaid patients receiving long-term care at home. Imagine if even half of them replaced one hourlong nurse's visit a month with a stop by a trained aide. Assuming the nurse makes $35 an hour and the aide $15, that's an immediate savings of roughly $275 million a year.



For the full commentary, see:

Paul Osterman. "Why Home Care Costs Too Much; Regulations often require that nurses do simple tasks like administer eyedrops." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 13, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 12, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to the author's book:

Osterman, Paul. Who Will Care for Us? Long-Term Care and the Long-Term Workforce. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2017.






October 14, 2017

"We Need an Economy That Is Much More Flexible, Much Faster Moving"




(p. A9) France has stagnated for years under chronically elevated unemployment and slow growth. The country's strong worker protections and expensive benefits have been blamed by some for being at least partly at the root of the problem.


. . .


Mr. Macron's chan ges make it easier to hire and fire workers and allow some workplace issues to be negotiated directly at the company level, rather than through industrywide agreements, in hopes of stimulating both growth and job creation. The government focused especially on smaller businesses with fewer than 50 employees -- the majority of French businesses -- which have complained bitterly about excessive red tape and regulations.


. . .


"We are entering into an economy built on innovation, skills, digitalization," said Mr. Macron in an interview Thursday with the weekly newsmagazine Le Point.

"To succeed in this world we need an economy that is much more flexible, much faster moving."

Employees will no longer have jobs that last for a lifetime, but periods of unemployment are more likely to be temporary and go in hand-in-hand with more frequent job changes and retraining, he said.

Among the changes in the decrees published Thursday is license for employers to directly negotiate with their workers over certain workplace issues rather than having to follow industrywide agreements. That will allow a car parts factory in one region to have a different agreement with its workers than a similar company elsewhere.

Small companies especially are being given more leeway to bargain directly with workers or their representatives, without the mediation of unions.



For the full story, see:

ALISSA J. RUBIN. "Economy Idle, France Relaxes Its Labor Law." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 1, 2017): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 31, 2017, and has the title "France Unveils Contentious Labor Overhaul in Big Test for Macron.")






October 13, 2017

Tinkerer Won Nobel for Gene Targeting




(p. B15) Oliver Smithies, a British-born biochemist and inveterate tinkerer who shared a Nobel Prize for discovering a powerful tool for identifying the roles of individual genes in health and disease, died on Tuesday [January 10, 2017] in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was 91.


. . .


Dr. Smithies's discovery, known as gene targeting, allows scientists to disable individual genes in mice to understand what the genes do. The loss of a gene typically brings about changes in the appearance or the behavior of the mice, providing important clues about the gene's function.


. . .


In addition to gene targeting, Dr. Smithies invented a method of separating proteins with a jelly made from ordinary potato starch, a major advance that was cheaper, easier and more precise than existing technologies. His invention, called gel electrophoresis, is in wide use today.

Behind Dr. Smithies's breakthroughs were ingenious homemade contraptions cobbled from everyday objects and junk. He thought of himself as an inventor and toolmaker and acknowledged that he could not pass a rubbish bin without pausing to inspect the contents -- a trait he said he shared with his paternal grandfather, who used to pick up nails and straighten them for later use.

His tinkering did not go unnoticed. Colleagues at Oxford University, where Dr. Smithies pursued his graduate studies, set aside their discarded equipment for him, labeling it, "NBGBOKFO," or "No bloody good but O.K. for Oliver."


. . .


To Dr. Smithies, the process of invention was straightforward. "You use whatever is lying around, and you see something that needs to be done, and you try to do it," he said. "I think it is making things work, you know, somehow."



For the full obituary, see:

DENISE GELLENE. "Oliver Smithies, Tinkerer Who Transformed Genetics and Won a Nobel, Dies at 91." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 12, 2017): B15.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 11, 2017.)






October 12, 2017

Price Gouging Rewards Conservation and Increases Supply




(p. B1) On its face, the very idea of price gouging, especially during a natural disaster, feels outrageous. Indeed, 34 states have anti-gouging laws meant to protect consumers.

However, in a small slice of the world of economists and businesses, there is a fascinating debate about the topic -- with many arguing that price gouging is actually a good thing.


. .


(p. B6) "Price caps discourage extraordinary supply efforts that would help bring goods in high demand into the affected area," Michael Giberson, an instructor with the Center for Energy Commerce in the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University, wrote in an opinion piece from several years ago that was widely circulated around parts of Wall Street this weekend. Meanwhile, he suggested, "You discourage conservation of needed goods at exactly the time they are in high demand."

He added, "In a classic case of unintended consequences, the law harms the very people whom lawmakers intend to help."

Consider this scenario, as described by Matt Zwolinski, the director of the Center for Ethics, Economics, and Public Policy at the University of San Diego: If a hotel that normally charges $50 per room were allowed to double the price to $100 a night during an emergency, "a family that might have chosen to rent separate rooms for parents and children at $50 per night will be more likely to rent only one room at the higher price, and a family whose home was damaged but in livable condition might choose to tough it out if the cost of a hotel room is $100 rather than $50."

The result, he contended in a paper titled "The Ethics of Price Gouging," is that allowing higher prices "increases the available supply -- as a result of consumers' economizing behavior, more hotel rooms are available to individuals and families who need them most."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Price Gouging Can Aid Victims? Why Some Economists Say Yes." The New York Times (Tues., Sept. 12, 2017): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 11, 2017, and has the title "Hurricane Price Gouging Is Despicable, Right? Not to Some Economists.")


The article by Zwolinski, mentioned above, is:

Zwolinski, Matt. "The Ethics of Price Gouging." Business Ethics Quarterly 18, no. 3 (July 2008): 347-78.






October 11, 2017

"Hurricane Superstar" Had No Use For Global Warming




(p. 24) William M. Gray, whose pioneering research helped him make hurricane predictions for three decades and allowed the East Coast and the Caribbean to gird for their fury, died on Saturday [April 23, 2016] in Fort Collins, Colo. He was 86.


. . .


Dr. Gray issued his first data-driven seasonal forecast in 1984. He eventually aggregated measures of atmospheric conditions, water current and water temperature to predict the number and intensity of tropical storms, rather than their paths or potential landfalls.


. . .


Dr. Gray was skeptical about the causes of climate change, prompting vitriolic exchanges with other scientists. Judith A. Curry, who was chairwoman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, accused him of "brain fossilization."

Dr. Gray was less alarmed than many of his colleagues at the rate of climate change and attributed it to natural causes, like the circulation of heat-bearing ocean currents, rather than to the human-made greenhouse effect of heat-trapping gasses from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.

"After unveiling the first Atlantic seasonal hurricane forecasting system in 1984, he became a hurricane superstar and darling of the media," Chris Mooney wrote in 2007 in "Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming." "But he had absolutely no use for the notion of global warming, much less the idea that it might seriously affect the storms he'd spent a lifetime studying. And he had no problem saying so -- loudly and often."

In an interview with Westword, a Denver online newsletter, in 2006, Dr. Gray said, "When I am pushing up daisies, I am very sure that we will find that humans have warmed the globe slightly, but that it's nothing like what they're saying."



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "William M. Gray, 86, a Predictor of Hurricanes' Fury." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., APRIL 24, 2016): 24.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date APRIL 20 [sic], 2016, and has the title "William M. Gray, Hurricane Predictor and Climate Change Skeptic, Dies at 86.")


The book by Mooney, mentioned above, is:

Mooney, Chris. Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming. Orlando, FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007.






October 10, 2017

For Kiva Funding, Entrepreneurs Must First Convince Friends or Family




(p. B6) Lending platform Kiva.org is scrapping its traditional approach to microfinance in the U.S. and instead is turning to something it calls social underwriting.

Before businesses can gain access to a no-interest crowdfunded loan of up to $10,000, Kiva is asking them to get 10 to 20 friends, family members or others to put up at least $25 each.

Kiva, a non-profit organization better known for providing financing in some of the world's poorest countries, has found that this new approach improves repayment rates and believes it will provide a much-needed boost to its U.S. operation, where growth has been challenging.


. . .


Kiva said about 30% of entrepreneurs who start the private fundraising process can't get enough people to vouch for them, while 92% of those who overcome that hurdle raise the money they seek. If the program in the U.S. succeeds, Kiva said it may export the private-fundraising model worldwide.



For the full story, see:

Ruth Simon. "Microfinancing Model With a Personal Twist." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 17, 2015): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 16, 2015, and has the title "Kiva Sets New Rules for U.S. Borrowers to Get Crowdfunded Loans.")






October 9, 2017

Ann Arbor Recovers from Borders Bankruptcy "with Remarkable Speed"




(p. B6) ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A patch of sidewalk on the south side of East Liberty Street, four blocks from the main University of Michigan campus, has returned from the dead with remarkable speed.

At almost any hour of day, and especially at mealtimes, a mix of bargain-seeking undergraduates, white-collar tech workers and middle-class townies weave in and out of the restaurants, coffee shop and bank that now line the corridor.

The foot traffic is almost enough to make many in this city feel lucky that the single previous occupant of this red brick low-rise building on the 600 block went bankrupt five years ago. Almost, that is, because that previous tenant was the flagship Borders store.

"In some ways, the neighborhood is stronger and more interesting and more vibrant than it was when Borders was here," said Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. "As much as I loved Borders -- and I mean, I loved it -- in the evolution of this building, it's better than it was."

Such talk is probably still sacrilege for some local nostalgics, who remember that the store was started by a pair of brothers and Michigan graduates before it turned into an international book chain, but it is difficult to argue on a dollars-and-cents basis with the transformation.

For more than 70 years, the site in this pivotal city block was occupied by a single-business anchor, first a regional department store, Jacobson's, and then, for decades, Borders.

The chain's bankruptcy -- which, by 2011, was almost overdue as customers had long since turned en masse to the internet to buy books -- created a once-in-a-generation release of a large piece of real estate. Suddenly available: a 50,000-square-foot former bookstore that fronts a full block of busy Liberty Street and a 45,000-square-foot adjacent building that previously housed Borders' corporate headquarters.

There were many ideas about how to use all that space, but one option was immediately taken off the table: installing another anchor tenant.

"We wanted, on purpose, to have a multipurpose building," said Ron Hughes of Hughes Properties. "I think it's better for the city as well."



For the full story, see:

STEVE FRIESS. "Square Feet; Going Small Energizes a Downtown." The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 9, 2016): B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 8, 2016, and has the title "Square Feet; At the Former Home to Borders Books, a Tech Hub Now Sprouts.")






October 8, 2017

Churchill's "Natural Curiosity and General Optimism about Life"




(p. A11) In a newly unearthed essay sent to his publisher on Oct. 16, 1939 -- just weeks after Britain entered World War II and Churchill became part of the wartime cabinet -- and later revised, he was pondering the likelihood of life on other planets.


. . .


The manuscript was passed on to the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Mo., the site of famed 1946 Iron Curtain speech, in the 1980s by Wendy Reves, the wife of Churchill's publisher, Emery Reves. It had been overlooked for years until Timothy Riley, who became the museum's director last year, stumbled upon it recently. Soon after news of the discovery, two other copies were found in a separate archive in Britain.


. . .


Largely self-educated in the sciences, Churchill had boundless curiosity for practically anything, an attitude he once described as "picking up a few things as I went along."


. . .


He was the first prime minister to hire a science adviser. Frederick Lindemann, a physicist, became Churchill's "on tap" expert and once described him as a "scientist who had missed his vocation," said Andrew Nahum, who organized an exhibition on Churchill and science at the Science Museum in London. He found a separate copy of the essay in the Churchill Archives Center at the University of Cambridge.


. . .


In the interwar period, Churchill wrote numerous scientific articles, including one called "Death Rays" and another titled "Are There Men on the Moon?" In 1924, he published a text asking readers "Shall We All Commit Suicide?" in which he speculated that technological advances could lead to the creation of a small bomb that was powerful enough to destroy an entire town.

Churchill's recently unearthed article on extraterrestrial life was probably written in the same vein and was probably intended to be published as a popular science piece for a newspaper.

Two other scientific essays -- one on cell division in the body and another on evolution -- are stored in the museum's archives in Fulton, Mr. Riley, the museum director, said in an interview.

Churchill had a "natural curiosity and general optimism about life," Mr. Riley said. He had "a willingness to see technical and scientific advances improve not only his immediate world or his country, but the world."



For the full story, see:

KIMIKO de FREYTAS-TAMURA. "A Lost Essay from Churchill on Alien Life." The New York Times (Weds., FEB. 16, 2017): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 15, 2017, and has the title "Winston Churchill Wrote of Alien Life in a Lost Essay.")






October 7, 2017

Libertarian Lessons from the "Little House"




(p. C25) Nothing about Laura Ingalls's birth to a modest Wisconsin family on Feb. 7, 1867, suggested she would become one of the most significant voices in the canon of the American frontier. A century and a half later, the contribution Laura Ingalls Wilder made still seems astonishing -- a fact not lost on her publisher. As a new anniversary-themed batch of "Little House on the Prairie" books rolled in this fall -- with homespun-looking covers and introductions by luminaries including Laura Bush and Patricia MacLachlan (author of the gentle Newbery Medal-winning novel "Sarah, Plain and Tall") -- I found myself plunging back into the "Little House" world I'd loved as a child, with a strange feeling of urgency.


. . .


"Little House in the Big Woods" was published in 1932, when Laura was 65 and Rose, her only child, was long divorced, an accomplished, but increasingly broke journalist and author. Rose Wilder Lane had lost both her own money and money she invested for her parents in the 1929 stock market crash, and they were scrounging by, with Almanzo hauling loads and Laura selling eggs and apples and writing occasional pieces about farm life.

Out of desperation Rose suggested that her mother write down the stories of her pioneer childhood, heavily revised the resulting manuscript and found a publisher. In the rest of the books, as well, she provided substantial editing. Some historians insist that Rose -- who later became an outspoken antigovernment polemicist and is called one of the godmothers of the libertarian movement, along with Ayn Rand -- should be considered the books' ghostwriter. Christine Woodside's recent book, "Libertarians on the Prairie," makes this case, cataloging libertarian messages Rose embedded in the books. (Some are overt: "The politicians are a-swarming in already," says one character in "The Long Winter." "They'll tax the lining out'n a man's pockets," he cries. "I don't see nary use for a county, nohow.")



For the full commentary, see:

MARIA RUSSO. "READER'S NOTEBOOK; A 'Little House' Tinged with Red and Blue." The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 10, 2017): C25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 7, 2017, and has the title "READER'S NOTEBOOK; Finding America, Both Red and Blue, in the 'Little House' Books.")


Woodside's book, mentioned above, is:

Woodside, Christine. Libertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2016.






October 6, 2017

"Insects Can Solve Problems, They Can Learn"




(p. D6) Never underestimate the power of the bee brain.

In the latest triumph for one of humanity's favorite insects, bumblebees learned how to push a ball to the center of a platform for a sugary treat.

That may not make them a threat on the chess board, but soccer or even Skee-Ball might be within their intellectual grasp -- if it were scaled down in size, of course.

The new research finding is one more reason that scientists who study insects, of all sorts, would like to point out that just because a brain is small, doesn't mean it is simple.

Clint Perry, one of the bumblebee trainers at Queen Mary University of London, and a confirmed small brain partisan, said, "I've actually been asked if bees have brains."

In fact, a number of recent experiments have shown that "insects can solve problems, they can learn," he said. And scientists have yet to define the limits of insects' mental abilities.


. . .


The task of pushing a little ball to the center of a platform was completely arbitrary. Bees don't do anything like this in nature, where they seek out flowers for nectar and pollen. So it was a brand new behavior demanding some kind of general ability to learn.

The way the bees learned was important, too. They were pre-trained to expect a treat in the center of a platform. But having to push a ball to the center to get the treat was something they hadn't seen.

Then the researchers tried several ways of teaching the bees what to do. The bees learned best by watching a fellow bee perform the feat. After that kind of observation, 10 of 10 bees solved the problem on the first try. On later tries, they continued to improve, taking less time.



For the full story, see:

Gorman, James. "SCIENCETAKE; The Power of the Bumblebee Brain." The New York Times (Weds., FEB. 28, 2017): D6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 23 [sic], 2017, and has the title "SCIENCETAKE; Bumblebees Demonstrate the Power of Insect Brains.")






October 5, 2017

"I Believe in Free Markets and Open Skies"




(p. B1) DELHI -- When the fast-growing Malaysian carrier AirAsia wanted to expand, India looked like the ideal frontier.


. . .


Then, AirAsia discovered the difficulties of doing business in India.

While it benefited from a recent loosening of restrictions on foreign investment in airlines, AirAsia India has contended with a web of red tape and regulations for new entrants that have added significant cost and complexity to its operations.


. . .


(p. B7) . . . Mr. Chandilya acknowledges that he misjudged India's regulatory environment, which is uniquely stringent for airlines.

Taxes on aviation turbines are higher than almost anywhere else in the world. Every airline, even those with just a few planes, is also required to fly regularly to remote regions, where flights often run half full. And new entrants like AirAsia India are prohibited from flying lucrative international routes until they are five years old and have at least 20 aircraft, the so-called 5/20 rule.

"I believe in free markets and open skies, but if you look at the policies we have in place, I don't think we have that at all," Mr. Chandilya said.


. . .


Each Indian state controls its own taxes on aviation turbine fuel, and in many places it is kept as high as 30 percent. More than half of AirAsia India's operating costs are fuel-related.

High taxes also extend to maintenance and Indian airlines often choose to take their aircraft to nearby countries for that work. AirAsia India plans to send its planes to Malaysia or Singapore for servicing once they've been operational for two years.

"I talk to ministers and policy makers about how they can help the industry and promote growth, but it is very difficult to get them to understand that reducing these taxes will probably boost their states' economies," Mr. Chandilya said.



For the full story, see:

MAX BEARAK. "India's Restricted Airspace." The New York Times (Tues., JUNE 23, 2015): B1 & B7.

(Note: eilipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 22, 2015, and has the title "AirAsia Faces Red Tape and Tough Competition in India.")






October 4, 2017

Dubai Central Planners Subsidize Driverless Drones




(p. A7) Like a scene from "The Jetsons," commuters in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, may soon climb aboard automated flying taxis, soaring over busy streets and past the desert city's gleaming skyscrapers, all -- quite literally -- at the push of a button.

Passenger drones, capable of carrying a single rider and a small suitcase, will begin buzzing above the emirate as early as July [2017], according to the director of the city's transportation authority, part of an ambitious plan to increase driverless technology.

Already, the eight-rotor drone, made by the Chinese firm Ehang, has flown test runs past the Burj Al Arab, Dubai's iconic, sail-shaped skyscraper.

The drone "is not just a model but it has really flown in Dubai skies," Mattar Al Tayer, the director general of Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority, said on Monday [Feb. 13, 2017], adding that the emirate would "spare no effort to launch" autonomous aerial vehicles by July.



For the full story, see:

RUSSELL GOLDMAN. "Dubai Plans Drone Taxis That Skip Drivers and Roads." The New York Times (Weds., FEB. 15, 2017): A7.

(Note: bracketed dates added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title "Dubai Plans a Taxi That Skips the Driver, and the Roads.")






October 3, 2017

The "Grit" of the Successful Consists of "Passion and Perseverance"




(p. A11) Most people would think of John Irving as a gifted wordsmith. He is the author of best-selling novels celebrated for their Dickensian plots, including "The Cider House Rules" and "The World According to Garp." But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test. How, then, did he have such a remarkably successful career as a writer?

Angela Duckworth argues that the answer is "grit," which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal. The author, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent the past decade studying why some people have extraordinary success and others do not. "Grit" is a fascinating tour of the psychological research on success and also tells the stories of many gritty exemplars, . . .


. . .


Ms. Duckworth first realized the importance of grit as a teacher. Before she became an academic, she worked as a seventh-grade math teacher at a public school in New York. Some of her students were more inherently gifted with numbers than others. But not all of these capable students, to her surprise, got the best grades. Those who did weren't always "math people": For the most part, they were those who consistently invested more time and effort in their work.


Ms. Duckworth decided to become a research psychologist to figure out what explained their success. One of her first studies was of West Point cadets. Every year, West Point enrolls more than 1,000 students, but 20% of cadets drop out before graduation. Many quit in their first two months, during an intense training program known as Beast Barracks, or Beast. The most important factor in West Point admissions is the Whole Candidate Score, a composite measure of test scores, high-school rank, leadership potential and physical fitness. But Ms. Duckworth found that this score, which is essentially a measure of innate ability, did not predict who dropped out during Beast. She created her own "Grit Scale," scored using cadets' responses to statements like "I finish whatever I begin" or "New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones." Those who scored highest on the Grit Scale were the most likely to make it to the end of Beast.


. . .


Grit may be defined by strenuous effort, but what drives that work, Ms. Duckworth finds, is passion, and a great service of Ms. Duckworth's book is her down-to-earth definition of passion. To be gritty, an individual doesn't need to have an obsessive infatuation with a goal. Rather, he needs to show "consistency over time." The grittiest people have developed long-term goals and are constantly working toward them. "Enthusiasm is common," she writes. "Endurance is rare."



For the full review, see:


Emily Esfahani Smith. "BOOKSHELF; The Virtue of Hard Things; A study of Ivy League undergraduates showed that the smarter the students were, as measured by SAT scores, the less they persevered." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 4, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 3, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner, 2016.







October 2, 2017

Venezuelan Communist Economy Continues to Collapse




EmptyShelvesVenezuela2017-09-11.jpg"Empty cases and shelves in a grocery store in Cumaná, Venezuela, last year." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 6) CARACAS, Venezuela -- Food shortages were already common in Venezuela, so Tabata Soler knew painfully well how to navigate the country's black market stalls to get basics like eggs and sugar.

But then came a shortage she couldn't fix: Suddenly, there was no propane gas for sale to do the cooking.

And so for several nights this summer, Ms. Soler prepared dinner above a makeshift fire of broken wooden crates set ablaze with kerosene to feed her extended family of 12.

"There was no other option," said Ms. Soler, a 37-year-old nurse, while scouting again for gas for her stove. "We went back to the past where we cooked soup with firewood."

Five months of political turmoil in Venezuela have brought waves of protesters into the streets, left more than 120 people dead and a set off a wide crackdown against dissent by the government, which many nations now consider a dictatorship.

An all-powerful assembly of loyalists of President Nicolás Maduro rules the country with few limits on its authority, vowing to pursue political opponents as traitors while it rewrites the Constitution in the government's favor.

But as the government tries to stifle the opposition and regain a firm grip on the nation, the country's economic collapse, nearing its fourth year, continues to gain steam, leaving the president, his loyalists and the country in an increasingly precarious position.


. . .


In one nine-day stretch in late July and early August, the price of the bolívar, the national currency, fell by half against the dollar on the black market, cutting earnings for people who make the minimum wage to the equivalent of just $5 per month.


. . .


"Bolívars are like ice cubes now," said Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, who leads the Latin America practice at Greenmantle, a macroeconomic advising firm, and teaches at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. "If you're going to go to the fridge and take one, it's something you have to use right now, because soon it's going to be gone."



For the full story, see:

ANA VANESSA HERRERO and NICHOLAS CASEY. "In Venezuela, That Empty Feeling." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., SEPT. 3, 2017): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 2, 2017, and has the title "In Venezuela, Cooking With Firewood as Currency Collapses.")






October 1, 2017

Simple App Takes Entrepreneur from Rags to Riches




(p. B1) When Facebook bought WhatsApp for more than $19 billion in 2014, Jan Koum, a founder of the messaging company, arranged to sign a part of the deal outside the suburban social services center where he had once waited in line to collect food stamps.

Mr. Koum, like many in the tech industry, is an immigrant. He was a teenager when he and his mother moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1990s, in part to escape the anti-Semitic tide then sweeping his native Ukraine. As Mr. Koum later told Forbes, his mother worked as a babysitter and swept floors at a grocery store to survive in the new country; when she was found to have cancer, the family lived off her disability payments.

Tales of immigrant woe are not unusual in Silicon Valley. But Mr. Koum's story carries greater resonance because his app has quietly become a mainstay of immigrant life. More than a billion people regularly use WhatsApp, which lets users send text messages and make phone calls free over the internet. The app is particularly popular in India, where it has more than 160 million users, as well as in Europe, South America and Africa.


. . .


(p. B7) One of the secrets to WhatsApp's growth has been a focus on simplicity. The app is purposefully unflashy, and it does just a few things -- texts, voice calls and video calls. As a result, it is supremely easy to use even for people who are neophytes to digital technology. This is one reason immigrants find it so powerful; it has given them access to a wider set of relatives who might have shunned the social networks that came before.

Adoption of WhatsApp often follows a curious pattern -- older relatives often suggest it to younger ones, rather than the other way around.

"My aunt, who's in her late 70s, was the one who really pushed me to get on it," Ms. Reef said. Now, she said, she uses it nearly every day; lately she's even gotten her children to use it.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "STATE OF THE ART; A Shared Lifeline for Millions of Migrants." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 22, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: eilipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 21, 2016, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; For Millions of Immigrants, a Common Language: WhatsApp.")






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